PC is the age-old platform when it comes to gaming, but it's always evolving. While 2016 brought us a new generation of Nvidia graphics cards that redefined performance-to-price value, 2017 was the year AMD got back into the fold in a big way with high-end video cards and multi-core processors. The PC wasn't showered with exclusive games, but many of the year's standouts live on the platform. With both new hardware launches and platform-specific games, we had a strong year for on PC. Here's our look back at what made PC gaming special in 2017.
Quality Over Quantity For PC Games
When we think back to some of the greatest PC RPGs of all time, the likes of Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, and the Ultima series come to mind. But in 2017, PC gamers were treated to something truly special in Divinity: Original Sin 2. The CRPG from Larian Studios had a somewhat unconventional path, in that the team used Kickstarter in 2015 to help fund the game's development. It then went into Steam early access in 2016 and fully launched in September this year. Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a modern realization of the classic D&D RPGs that came before it, but when you factor the depth of character creation, dialogue options, story branches, and combat scenarios, its seemingly infinite permutations transcend the best of the genre. It even left its mark in GameSpot history by earning a 10/10 review score. Having sold a million copies in two months, we're not the only ones to think highly of Original Sin 2.
Looking at another PC-centric genre, Playerunknown's Battlegrounds (or PUBG) thrusted the battle-royal-style game into the mainstream. Like it or not, you can't talk about games in 2017 without mentioning PUBG. Even though it lives in early access, the game sold over 20 million copies in less than a year, and occasionally tops the free-to-play MOBA phenomenon of Dota 2 in concurrent players on Steam. Brendan "Playerunknown" Greene had been involved in developing battle royale game modes in the past, but nothing took off quite like PUBG. It tops Twitch views over League of Legends, and countless stories of winning chicken dinners are told everyday. There's something special about dropping 100 players on a desolate island with the sole objective of scavenging for weapons to murder each other. The game is set for an official release before the year ends, but the hours we've already poured into it are a testament to how well it executed this genre, technical shortcomings aside.
While those two games are arguably the biggest stories for PC this year, you shouldn't overlook incredible releases that didn't dominate the headlines. Total War: Warhammer II built off its predecessor by introducing new races and tactics along with a tight single-player campaign. XCOM 2: War of the Chosen may have just been an expansion, but it's a prime example of how post-release content can drastically change a base game for the better. Additional factions and the new bond system brought another layer to the fold in the already-deep XCOM 2. Lastly, if you browse the Steam marketplace for long enough, you'd realize how many visual novels (some much more obscure than others) are out there. But one stood out in terms of flipping genre tropes on their head: Doki Doki Literature Club. It may seem like a cop-out to say 'you need to see it for yourself,' but it's the best way to approach it.
Port Authority Concludes: Satisfactory
In this era of PC gaming, the quality of a port always comes into question. Thankfully, we didn't have the same caliber of issues as past years, and 2017 is indicative of how much things have improved. Regardless of your feelings on Destiny 2, there's no denying that it feels true to the PC platform in both technical performance and controls. Bungie brought on Vicarious Visions to port the once-console-exclusive franchise. The PC version came out seven weeks after the game hit consoles, but consistent framerates and proper performance scaling with graphics options made for a relatively smooth launch. Keyboard and mouse controls were on point, which drove home the notion that PC is the best platform to enjoy the game. You probably also did a double take when you saw it living on Activision-Blizzard's Battle.net ecosystem.
The long-standing fighting franchise, Tekken, also made its PC debut. By using Unreal Engine 4, Bandai-Namco was able to bring Tekken 7 to PC with relative ease. This entry is instantly recognizable for series fans, but newcomers would find a deep 3D fighter with the dramatic-yet-ridiculous narrative intact.
The quality of games ported from console is becoming more consistent, and it should be the expectation at this point.
Although there isn't a VR component yet, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard found a home on the PC. No PC game will have a perfect launch, but the highly-regarded survival-horror thriller, by-and-large, runs well. The Dark Souls-like game Nioh made it's way to PC about 10 months after the PlayStation 4 release, and it's better late than never. It's not a perfect port since it offers limited options, but it's another great game that came to the platform this year.
It wasn't all rainbows and sunshine for PC ports, however. Nier: Automata is one of 2017's standout games for its narrative accomplishments and fusion of many gameplay styles, but the PC version has technical issues that haven't been patched, even nine months after release. Resolution problems, sound bugs, unintuitive control schemes, and inconsistent framerate lead to the rare case of preferring to play it on a different platform. Many fans of immersive sims like System Shock 2 and the Deus Ex found Prey to be one of the genre's best. However, some had lost progress through Talos I with save-corrupting bugs.
You Get More CPU Cores! You Get More CPU Cores!
There will always be new PC hardware hitting the market, but it typically takes several years for something revolutionary to come. While you could say that 2016 was the year of powerful video cards, there's no denying that 2017 was the year of great processors. Intel had been largely unchallenged in the CPU space with its Core i5 and Core i7 lineups dominating mid-range and high-end gaming PCs, but AMD disrupted the market and changed expectations of what CPUs should offer. With the Ryzen family of CPUs, AMD brought quality multithreaded eight-core and six-core configurations at a much cheaper price than anything before it. For example, the eight-core AMD Ryzen 7 1700X can be found floating around $350 at the moment, which is similar to the price of Intel's quad-core i7-7700K CPU. While Ryzen isn't as effective in pure in-game performance, its price and core count is an extremely attractive option for those who multitask with demanding applications, such as gaming and streaming from the same system.
This new standard for CPUs means PCs are capable of doing much more, much faster, all at the same time, without breaking the bank.
Intel followed up by releasing its 8th generation in the Core series of CPUs. Since 2008, Intel's flagship consumer-level processors featured a quad-core configuration, but the company packed two additional cores with release of the multithreaded i7-8700K and i7-8700. Even the mid-tier i5-8600K and i5-8400 CPUs sport six cores, and the low-end i3-8350 and i3-8100 are now quad-core processors--i5 and i3 don't feature multithreading, though. It may not sound like much, but this new standard for CPUs means PCs are capable of doing much more, much faster, all at the same time, without breaking the bank.
If you don't pay close attention to the world of PC hardware, the takeaway is that we're getting more performance for our money and trends set in motion in 2017 will definitely be felt for years to come.
Half-step Forward For Video Cards
CPUs took center stage in terms of new PC gaming hardware in 2017, but there were still meaningful strides made with video cards. AMD made a splash again by releasing the much-anticipated RX Vega cards, putting the tired "wait for Vega" meme to rest. Both the RX Vega 64 and RX Vega 56 allowed AMD to compete at the high-end against Nvidia's GTX 1080 and GTX 1070, respectively. The comparable cards trade blows in gaming benchmarks; Vega wasn't the jump many were hyping it up to be, but it's important to remember that in PC hardware, competition pushes innovation.
Even Nvidia significantly outdid themselves at the high-end with the GTX 1080 Ti that came out in March. It outperforms the GTX 1080 by roughly 30-35%, which is the largest improvement between a Ti and non-Ti version of Nvidia graphics cards. The strong showing of AMD's RX Vega 56 also prompted Nvidia to put out the GTX 1070 Ti. At the sub-$500 price point for graphics cards, PC gamers have plenty of great options.
Renewed competition from AMD in PC hardware not only leads to better options for building computers, but we're getting more performance per dollar spent.
If you talk about video cards in 2017 though, there's no overlooking the cryptocurrency mining craze that drove prices through the roof. Etherium mining was most efficiently done with mid-range GPUs, which led to price spikes in the GTX 1070, GTX 1060, RX 580, and RX 570. Around June and July, these four cards were being sold for over double their suggested retail price due to scarcity and reseller markup. The effects are still felt today, but to much lesser degree; these cards still sell slightly higher than retail price.
Other Matters In Brief
- Blizzard's 2010 real-time strategy game Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty went free-to-play, but the expansions Heart of the Swarm (unless you purchased the base game) and Legacy of the Void still have to be bought. Starcraft Remastered launched and ushered the iconic RTS into the 21st century with native widescreen, 4K, and high-definition art assets.
- Dota 2's annual tournament, The International, grew even larger with the biggest prize pool ($24.7 million) in its seven-year history. Team Liquid took first place.
- Overwatch League was established in 2017. It's a professional international esports league consisting of 12 teams. It's set to kick off the first season in January next year.
- Xbox's Play Anywhere program is going smooth. You can own Forza Motorsport 7, Cuphead, and Middle-earth: Shadow of War (among other games) on both platforms if you bought them on the Windows 10 store.
- Throughout 2017, prices for DDR4 RAM remained higher than years past.
- The Oculus Rift and Touch controller bundle dropped to $400 and the HTC Vive dipped to $600. Virtual reality is getting cheaper, but you'll have to read our VR 2017 Report Card for all the details!
There's a lot to be happy about in 2017 when it comes to PC gaming. Some truly exceptional games hit the platform, like Divinity: Original Sin 2 and Playerunknown's Battlegrounds, that led to hours devising tactics with friends and basking in the glory of coming out victorious in hard-fought battles. If you played a multiplatform game, chances are it ran fairly well on PC, with a few exceptions. Overall, the quality of games ported from console is becoming more consistent, and it should be the expectation at this point. Despite video card price spikes, renewed competition from AMD in PC hardware not only leads to better options for building computers, but we're getting more performance per dollar spent. When we look back, it has been a strong year for gaming's oldest platform.
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