Getting excited about upcoming video games is a bit of a fool’s errand. Game development is a long, iterative process, and the earliest version of a given title can differ greatly from the final product. This often leads to delays, which are just about always a good thing, and subsequently to long-simmering projects sitting on lists like this one for years. Consider two of 2016’s most notable releases, Final Fantasy XV and The Last Guardian — the former was announced ten years ago, the latter, seven.
There are also indie games to think about. “Indie games” are now a bit of misnomer, used to describe an aesthetic and collection of genres that often focus on emotion as much as action, the why as much as the what. It can describe a game made by one person or 20, with money raised via Kickstarter or from the developer’s own pockets. For the purposes of this list, “indie” refers to games made outside of the big-budget mainstream. The truly indie games, the ones like 2016’s Stardew Valley or 2015’s Undertale that are passion projects, won’t ever be announced weeks or months ahead of time. They’ll just drop when they’re ready, and quickly and quietly be the one game we can’t stop playing.
It’s impossible to say with certainty that every game below will ship on the date announced (a few have no firm date announced), but the titles on this list come from studios and publishers with strong track records, and skew heavily toward the first half of the year. Its goal is not to be a comprehensive guide to everything exciting happening in games in 2017, but a snapshot of the kind of start the year will be off to, and the variety of games in store. It’s what we’ll be keeping an eye on, while we look forward to a year as full of interesting and surprising games as this one.
Gravity Rush 2 (January 18; Playstation 4)
The original Gravity Rush should have been the Playstation Vita’s killer app, the game that everyone talked about and sold countless handheld systems. Unfortunately, the Vita never really took off, and Gravity Rush remained mostly unplayed — at least, until a Playstation 4 version was released in 2016. Its central conceit is endlessly fun: You play as Kat, a gravity shifter who can, as the term implies, change the direction in which gravity works. That sounds complicated, until you realize that all you’re doing is picking a direction to fall in — upward, downward, sideways, walking up buildings or on ceilings, turning your world topsy-turvy before righting things at the last minute to dropkick bad guys. Give Gravity Rush 2 a shot, if only to see how fun flying can be when you’re really just falling up.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (January 24; Xbox One, Playstation 4, PC)
While not the first or best horror game, Resident Evil is largely responsible for the genre’s popularity and success. Since its 1996 debut, the series has redefined itself with both great success (Resident Evil 4) and failure (Resident Evil 6), but in recent years, horror games have been in the middle of a renaissance of sorts that threatened to leave its forbears behind. Resident Evil 7, then, is both the latest reinvention from a series known for it, and a clear effort to respond to changing times. Taking on the first-person perspective of many modern horror games and combining them with nigh-unstoppable foes and the series’ penchant for puzzle-solving, Resident Evil 7 looks like a terribly exciting reboot.
Yakuza 0 (January 24; Playstation 4)
The Yakuza series of games is a long-running cult favorite, with an extensive story and vibe all to its own. Often equated to games like Grand Theft Auto, but wearing the comparison poorly, Yakuza games are distinct and sometimes goofy crime stories that are steeped in cultural idiosyncrasies and lots and lots of brawling. 2017 is the perfect time to catch up, however, with the prequel Yakuza 0 set to drop Stateside in late January, and Yakuza: Kiwami, a remake of the original game, inbound this summer. That’s an unusual abundance of Yakuza — typically, games in the series take a while to make it west, as the latest game in the series, Yakuza 6, was released in Japan this month and isn’t scheduled to show up in the States until late 2018 — so take the opportunity to check it out.
Torment: Tides of Numenera (February 28; Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC, MacOS)
Computer role-playing games heavily inspired by the rules and worlds of their pen-and-paper counterparts were a big part of the ‘90s gaming scene, only to go dormant as consoles like Playstation became popular. Recently, though, there’s been a resurgence in the genre with games like Pillars of Eternity, Divinity: Original Sin, and Tyranny paying homage to classics like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights.
Torment: Tides of Numenera is the latest, and perhaps most ambitious, title from this new crop of role-playing games. It’s a spiritual successor to Planescape: Torment, which is widely regarded to be one of the finest achievements in video-game storytelling, and with a number of developers from that classic game involved, Torment: Tides of Numenera has a shot at reaching that high bar. It also gives the current generation of the game-playing public the chance to really dive into a role-playing game like those of yore, which captured the magic and possibility of tabletop games while lovingly depicting a rich world full of character and history.
Mass Effect: Andromeda (March 21; Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC)
The Mass Effect trilogy is among the most beloved sci-fi games of recent memory, but it also ended rather definitively. Set 600 years after the ending of Mass Effect 3, Mass Effect: Andromeda sets out to prove whether or not the universe created by the preceding games in the franchise is rich enough to support a new saga. The promise of the Mass Effect series has always been one about choice — the original series pivoted around decisions players made that carried across all three games — so starting anew is no small order. We’re intrigued by Andromeda, which may well end up determining whether the franchise lives up to those notorious Star Wars comparisons made at its peak.
Nintendo Switch (March)
Although not always successful (see: Wii U), a new Nintendo console is always interesting. Nintendo is a company that often shows little concern for what its competitors are doing or what the market seems to want, often eschewing more powerful systems with better graphics for devices that aspire to change the way we play. The Switch is a fascinating console on paper, one that aims to completely remove the line between portable and console gaming while also making games more social. Whether or not it actually works out remains to be seen, but the idea behind the Switch — a console explicitly designed for you to carry around and share — is a great one. At the very least, a new Nintendo console means a new wave of Nintendo games, like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (March 31) and a new, unnamed Mario.
Persona 5 (April 4; Playstation 3 and 4)
The Persona games are among the most distinct and unusual in video games, a hybrid that mashes up the monster collecting and fighting of Pokémon games with a Japanese high-school social simulator and Diablo-style dungeon crawling. It’s hard to describe a Persona game, but imagine Buffy the Vampire Slayer by way of Scooby-Doo, as teens juggle the highs and lows of teendom with a weird occult-themed mystery, paired with a jazzy-as-hell soundtrack and ebullient, stylish visual flair. Persona 5 is the first Persona game since 2008’s Persona 4, and like its predecessors will likely make for a ridiculously fun and vibrant video game.
Prey (Spring, Playstation 4; Xbox One, PC)
While it shares a name with a 2006 Xbox 360 game that really deserved a sequel, the Prey scheduled to release in 2017 has virtually nothing to do with it. In its place is a game that seems to pay homage to the classic sci-fi horror game System Shock, a game where players are stranded on a space station overrun by terrifying aliens with very little means of defending themselves. Developed by Arkane Studios, the shop that made last year’s excellent Dishonored 2, Prey looks like the game most clearly positioned to take the cerebral shooter throne left largely vacant since the Bioshock franchise (another System Shock successor) ended in 2013.
Tacoma (Spring; Xbox One, MacOS, PC)
The Fullbright Company made a splash with their 2013 debut, Gone Home, a gentle, spooky game that cast players as a young woman returning to her family home in the Pacific Northwest, only to find everyone’s gone for the night and that a whole lot has changed in their lives. Tacoma is their sophomore effort, a similar exploration-heavy game set on a space station where the entire crew is missing. If Gone Home is any indication, finding out what happened to them for ourselves will make for a terrific experience.
Cuphead (Mid-2017; Xbox One and PC)
As a video game, Cuphead doesn’t really do much that’s very new: It’s a hard as hell old-school run-and-gun game, much like Contra, where players run from left to right dodging and firing endless bullets and other assorted sundries. But look at the thing, and you’ll get why no one can stop talking about it: It’s a stunning homage to the animation of the 1930s, in all of its technicolor and strangeness.
Red Dead Redemption 2 (Fall, Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC)
A new release from Rockstar Games is always one of the biggest events in video games. The creators of Grand Theft Auto have built a reputation for creating some of the best open worlds in the business, not just filling them with things to do, but also character and culture. 2010’s Red Dead Redemption was Rockstar’s ode to the Western, a sweeping story of a criminal trying to make up for his misdeeds. Rockstar hasn’t revealed any details about Red Dead Redemption 2 other than its release window and a brief trailer showcasing beautiful landscapes, but it will doubtless be the most anticipated game of the year.
Below (TBD; Xbox One and PC)
Below was first announced in 2013, and immediately won crowds over with its minimal art style and the news that it would reunite developer Capybara Games with composer Jim Guthrie, who previously collaborated with the studio on 2011’s excellent Superbrothers: Sword * Sworcery EP, a wonderful bit of fantasy-music weirdness. There’s no firm release date for Below, which has been delayed quite a bit, but the developer stated last summer that the next announcement regarding the game would be a firm release date. Whenever it comes, it will look (and sound) wonderful.
Injustice 2 (TBD; Playstation 4, Xbox One)
Few fighting games are as cinematic and fun to watch as the current crop of Mortal Kombat titles that kicked off with the 2011 reboot of the notoriously violent series, and when developer NetherRealm Studios took on DC Comics superheroes in their 2013 follow-up Injustice: Gods Among Us, the result was thrilling stuff — not unlike Batman v Superman, if that movie was actually, you know, good. Although quite grim in its setting — in which Superman, upon accidentally killing Lois Lane thanks to the Joker’s manipulations, becomes a global dictator — Injustice was a blast to play. Few fighting-game studios are as good as packing their games with extras as NetherRealm, and Injustice 2’s marquee new feature is a gear system that will allow players to kit out their fighters with bits of armor they find and providing a dangerous amount of satisfaction to the collection-prone lizard brained among us.
Gwent (TBD; Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC)
The Elder Scrolls: Legends (TBD; PC, iOS, Android, and MacOS)
Video games inspired by collectible card games rule. They’re all of the fun of sprawling, strategic games like Magic: The Gathering with none of the clutter or stigma. In video games, they exist in two flavors: fun diversion in bigger games concerned with other things, or full-on collectible card games wherein you’re primarily building decks to play against real people online. Gwent is a fleshed-out version of the former, a surprisingly simple yet addictive component in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, while The Elder Scrolls: Legends is the latter, a full-on collectible card game designed to take on Hearthstone — the current king of digital card games. Both seem to have surprisingly fleshed-out stories and will be free to play (they’re each presently in public beta), all the better to bait you into dropping cash here and there for the dopamine rush that buying new cards always brings.
Vampyr (TBD; Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC)
DontNod Entertainment is a studio that, so far, defies classification. Their first game was the underappreciated but quite good 2013 sci-fi action game Remember Me; their second was the tender adventure game Life Is Strange, the best game of 2015. Vampyr is the young studio’s third effort, a role-playing game with a horror kick set in a version of early-20th-century London in the throes of the Spanish flu pandemic. Come for the pedigree, stay for the top-notch spooky vibe that a solid vampire game will bring — something that games haven’t really had in quite some time.
Pyre (TBD; Playstation 4, PC)
Supergiant Games is a shop that adheres to a few aesthetic consistencies: a painterly art style, gorgeous music, and a strong emphasis on storytelling. Everything else is subject to change, and does: Their first game, Bastion, was a storybook fable done in the style of action role-playing games like Diablo. Transistor, their sophomore effort, was a science-fiction strategy game. And their latest work, Pyre, is a more traditional fantasy story where players will form a Dungeons and Dragons–esque party in a world where they’ve been exiled. Supergiant makes wonderfully lush games that never wear out their welcome, and Pyre looks no different.