Despite all the doom and gloom over loot boxes and shoddy publisher practices, 2017 was another great year for gaming. This was especially evident in the indie sector, which was packed full of awesome new releases. In fact, there were arguably too many good indie games coming out, and many of them slipped through the cracks. It’s with this in mind that I decided to do something a little different with my 2017 indie round-up article. I could have made this easy and just loaded my list with games like Cuphead, Original Sin 2, Hollow Knight, A Hat in Time, and all the other big indie darlings that have shown up in most end-of-the-year lists. Instead, I want to focus on 10 indie games that may have slipped under your radar. There’s a few on the list you’ve probably heard about already, but hopefully you’ll discover a game or two you didn’t know existed.
Grim Dawn – Ashes of Malmouth (PC)
My first entry could be considered cheating, since the original Grim Dawn made my list last year. However, the Ashes of Malmouth expansion pack adds a ton of new content to a game that was already highly replayable. Crate Entertainment could have stopped at adding two new story chapters, two new classes, and increasing the level cap; that alone would have been worth the $18 price tag. Instead, they just kept adding new content. New environments, new Constellations to further customize your playstyle, new optional super bosses that push your skills to the limit, and many small quality of life enhancements like illusionists and respec options that allow you to tweak your character’s performance and appearance to perfection. Ashes of Malmouth is what expansions used to be in the golden era of PC gaming, and further cements Grim Dawn‘s status as arguably the best ARPG release in years.
Do you remember Bloodline Champions? I’m guessing you probably don’t, since it was a pretty big flop when it came out in 2011. Bloodline Champions took the MOBA genre and distilled it down to its most fun and intense aspect: the teamfights. Luckily, Stunlock Studios didn’t give up on this idea, and the end result is Battlerite. Much like its predecessor, Battlerite strips out complicated item builds, farming, towers, jungling, and many other MOBA gameplay quirks so that teams of players can focus on annihilating one another in best-of-five arena combat. Matches are quick and brutal, with most games only lasting about five to seven minutes. Almost every ability is a skillshot that needs to be aimed, and the game’s clean UI ensures that you always know exactly what’s going on. While Battlerite does have loot boxes for cosmetic items, it still features one of the most fair business models in any free-to-play title, and you can buy every champion as part of a $30 bundle. It has its flaws, but Battlerite is my current go-to competitive multiplayer game.
Cryptark (PC, PS4)
Cryptark is the latest game by Alientrap, the indie developer best known for their Greek pottery-inspired Metroidvania game, Apotheon. Cryptark is a 2D rogue-lite shooter that places a massive emphasis on risk vs reward. You play as a hardsuit pilot working for a salvage company that raids space hulks in search of ancient alien artifacts. While these ships are long-abandoned, their security systems are still active, making your operations an extremely difficult and deadly job. Profit margins are razor thin, which is where the risk vs reward aspect comes in. Each piece of equipment and round of ammunition costs money, and the less you bring into an operation, the greater your potential profits. Likewise, each mission has optional objectives, and most ships have weapons and equipment you can repurpose for yourself. Do you play it safe, or take risks by bringing less equipment and pursuing those extra objectives for more cash? Either way, you’ll probably die a lot.
Nex Machina (PC, PS4)
Housemarque of Resogun fame returned last summer with Nex Machina. Like Resogun, Nex Machina is a arcade-inspired trip full of neon visuals, a pulse-pounding synth soundtrack, and challenging twin stick action. Your enjoyment of Nex Machina will ultimately come down to how much you like chasing high scores and hidden secrets, because that’s the entire point of the game. The arcade mode can be completed in under two hours on the standard difficulty, but each world has tons of secret levels to uncover and hidden objects to destroy to pad out your high score. It’s pure arcade action polished to a mirror shine, and if that’s what you’re after then you need Nex Machina in your life.
X-Morph: Defense (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
X-Morph was one of 2017’s surprise hits for me. Every other game on this list is something I knew was coming. X-Morph came out of the blue, from a small Polish company whose only previous title was an obscure car combat game called Zombie Driver that originally released on mobile nearly a decade ago. X-Morph is a blend of tower defense and top-down shooter that lets you play as resource-hungry aliens here to strip-mine Earth. You place towers along routes to protect your core like in most tower defense games, but in X-Morph the towers are mostly just there to delay and thin out the enemy hordes. The majority of the heavy lifting is up to you and your highly advanced, transformable alien aircraft. The tower variety isn’t as great as many games in the genre, but this is balanced out by the solid twin stick shooting mechanics and awesome boss fights against enormous military vehicles. There’s a demo available too, so I urge you to give X-Morph a chance.
Aztez, along with the next two games on my list, are a good example of how difficult it is for solid indie titles to find exposure in the saturated post-Steam Greenlight, post-Steam Direct world. Had Aztez been released a few years back, I have a feeling that it would have been a smash hit. In a postmortem with Engadget back in October, the developers mention that they only sold around 2,000 copies since their August 1st release date. That’s a huge shame, because Aztez is a really deep and satisfying 2D brawler about uniting the Aztec Empire under your bloodstained banner. The game features a turn-based strategy element where you select missions and expand your territory, but that’s not really the focus of the game. The combat is why you buy Aztez, and it has everything that a fighting game fan could hope for. There’s blocks, counterattacks, cancels, screen-clearing special attacks, multiple weapons that you can swap between mid-combo, and much more. The developers clearly put their heart and soul into building Aztez‘s fighting system, so show them some love and give this game a try.
Hob (PC, PS4)
Hob is the latest, and sadly last, title from Runic Games, the developer best known for the Torchlight series. Runic Games, along with the developers of Gigantic, were closed down only a few months after release as part of a round of layoffs and downsizing by Perfect World Entertainment. Hob had the misfortune of releasing at the end of September, a time span that saw a complete avalanche of new releases. It came out the same day as Ruiner, and was sandwiched between Tooth and Tail, Heat Signature, Cuphead, and several other titles. Hob might not be the longest or deepest Zelda-like adventure game, and it’s wordless narrative didn’t quite work, but I still enjoyed exploring its vibrant and whimsical world. Hopefully the remnants of Runic can find a new home and continue to make great games.
SteamWorld Dig 2 (PC, PS4, Vita, Switch)
Image & Form
SteamWorld Dig 2 is another game that contained all the ingredients necessary to become far more successful than it actually did. It’s the critically-acclaimed sequel to a beloved platformer, made by an indie company that has garnered a lot of good faith over the years, and yet the PC version seems to have slipped past a lot of people’s attention. SteamWorld Dig 2 is a huge improvement over the original in every way. It adds more gadgets, a better upgrade system, and a larger world to explore. It’s still not a particularly long game, and outside of the optional Trials it’s not very challenging, but it’s just about everything I could have wanted from a SteamWorld Dig sequel. It’s a relaxing, charming Metroidvania-lite, and I look forward to Image & Form getting on that SteamWorld Heist sequel.
Pyre (PC, PS4)
I’m sure just about everyone reading this is aware of Pyre. It’s probably the least obscure game on this list, and the newest title by indie darling Supergiant Games. Yet, when it came to the big end-of-the-year lists, I noticed that Pyre wasn’t showing up as much as I expected. Whereas the previous two Supergiant games were action RPGs, Pyre was more of a visual novel mixed with a sports game, and I think that probably turned a lot of people away from it. It was a pretty jarring genre shift, but in a lot of ways Pyre is perhaps the most fleshed out Supergiant game. It includes a colorful cast of likeable characters and the developer’s signature vivid art direction and excellent soundtrack. The Rites might not be what most people wanted from a “combat” system, but they grow on you after a while. The choice of having a branching narrative with no real failure state is one of Pyre‘s greatest strengths, and I hope to see it appear in future Supergiant titles.
Heat Signature (PC)
Finally we come to Heat Signature, the new game by the creator of Gunpoint. Heat Signature is another pretty big genre shift for what its developer is known for, jumping from a story-driven puzzle game to a top-down rogue-lite about boarding starships and throwing people out of windows. On second thought, that last part is a very Gunpoint-like feature. There’s no real story or campaign in Heat Signature. There’s backstory and conversations with NPCs, but for the most part Heat Signature is about forming your own narrative. You choose a procedurally generated character and embark on heists, kidnappings, and assassinations in a lawless galaxy. The ultimate goal is to complete a “signature heist” and retire your character so you can do it all over again. It can get pretty repetitive, but the wide variety of interesting gadgets give you quite a few options for tackling each mission. Heat Signature certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you enjoy the rogue-lite gameplay loop of continuously playing through procedurally generated content, then it’s worth checking out.
Also Read: The Best Free Video Games of 2017
There was no shortage of cool indie games in 2017, and this list barely even scratches the surface of what released throughout the year. Looking ahead, 2018 will be no different, and I’m sure there will be countless new games in the coming year that never get their chance to shine. No doubt I’ll return this time in 2019 with another list of awesome indie games that went overlooked, and hopefully you’ll all discover some great games that you never knew existed. Until then, you can expect semi-regular indie game coverage from me on Indie Game Source.