If time is money, escapism is 2017's best value.
Between America's political meltdown and other alarming world events, the pull of video games has only grown stronger. But unlike a fancy meal or few tickets to an IMAX movie, the $60 you spend on a brand new, top-tier (or AAA, as the industry calls them) video game can net you literally hundreds of hours of entertainment -- as opposed to just a couple.
Of course, you need to be willing to invest that amount of time to get the payoff, and not all of us are, for myriad reasons.
But as a lifelong gamer who enjoys nothing more than ending my days in far-off worlds -- whether it's a painstakingly recreated Egypt or a sci-fi universe that has never existed -- these five titles were worth every minute of my time.
Horizon: Zero Dawn
As predictable as open-world "map games" have become, Horizon: Zero Dawn -- a PlayStation 4-exclusive that deserves wider release -- innovates not via gameplay but gorgeous visuals and a refreshingly diverse, well-written story that explores the post-post-apocalyptic future. With civilization as we know it long-since forgotten, young warrior Aloy unravels an interwoven mystery involving robot dinosaurs, thrilling third-person combat and a light RPG element that's as slick as it is straightforward. The eye-popping vistas, nearly bug-free code and genuine sense of wonder are just as satisfying. Bonus: Most of the game is set in Colorado and Utah, featuring fully explorable versions of Red Rocks, downtown Denver and Colorado Springs, and various high-country landmarks.
Assassin's Creed: Origins
This fleet, open-world stealth/combat series has recreated time periods ranging from the Crusades to the French Revolution and Victorian England. So how does the relatively flat, simplistic Ptolemaic Egypt stack up -- especially in a game whose mechanics are based around dizzying feats of parkour? Shockingly well, as it turns out, despite the fact that tallest structures aren't buildings but craggy, sand-swept mountains. Mixing history with bloody combat and stunning backdrops, this purported origin story to the decade-old series follows a Medjay (warrior-priest) named Bayek across his vast, dangerous travels. The aesthetics brilliantly balance source material and modern sensibilities while evolving the franchise's influential open-world design. Like Horizon: Zero Dawn, it also delivers endlessly compelling action without employing a single gun.
Mass Effect Andromeda
Offering 100-plus hours of gameplay is not a virtue in itself, and the follow-up to (or really, reboot of) this beloved RPG series certainly has its bloat. But the depth of content and sense of freedom in this often beautiful game only reinforce the desire to explore every last corner of it. As with previous Mass Effect titles, the characters tend to ring truer than in most of gaming, from their moral conundrums to their competing priorities and romantic motivations. Graphics glitches and menu layout aside, the care put into this game is evident from its disaster-movie opening scenes to its dozens of engaging twists and turns. It's a galaxy in the palm of your hand.
TRANSFORMERS: Forged to Fight
OK, so this isn't a console game, and in fact was released for mobile devices in April to capitalize on the (near-unwatchable) new Transformers movie, "The Last Knight." Fortunately, Michael Bay & Co. seem to have had nothing to do with this surprisingly addictive, one-on-one fighting title. With dozens of detailed characters from the 1980s Hasbro line/animated series, as well as newer villains and heroes, it's like watching your toys come to life, except with upgradable powers. And unlike other free-to-play mobile fighting games (Mortal Kombat X, Injustice 2) you can squeeze dozens of hours of enjoyment out of it without spending a penny to level up -- provided you're willing to commit to the familiar gameplay loop.
Destiny introduced an ambitious (if muddy) sci-fi world and tweaked well-worn first-person-shooter mechanics for a new generation. And like the original, Destiny 2 is unabashedly designed to be a massive, never-ending time-suck. In fact, grinding up to level 300 (or higher) in this sprawling, always-online game is overtly part of the appeal, given the endless combinations of customizable weapons, armor and other character-gloss designed for social one-upping. But with a more robust single-player campaign, smart DLC (this month's newly released Curse of Osiris) and an overall more polished experience -- from graphics to inventory management -- Destiny 2's frantic, neon-splashed chaos justified its demanding time investment.
Also worth checking out from 2017:
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
What Remains of Edith Finch
Note: Without a Nintendo Switch console, I was not able to play the well-reviewed Super Mario Odyssey or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild games, or they would undoubtedly be on here as well.
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