This was a great year for video games and an especially great year for video game characters. We’ve had great years before, but this year introduced a roster of really memorable faces and voices. We hunted robots and zombies and even searched for the meaning of life with our awesome non-player characters (NPCs) this year. Here’s our list of the best NPCs of 2017.
Clementine from The Walking Dead: A New Frontier
Clementine was the star of Telltale’s second season of The Walking Dead but returns to supporting character status in the third adventure. I was a little bummed that I wouldn’t be playing as Clementine, but this works surprisingly well for the series: Clementine’s a compelling character who is as much to play alongside as to play as. She’s grown from the girl you protect in the first game to this warrior who frequently saves your life in the third series. As new protagonist Javier, you make a lot of mistakes leading your ersatz family through a world of living dead. Clementine, however, is a great companion. She appears early on to even the odds you’re up against and develops a bond with you throughout the adventure. In many ways, she’s the opposite of Javier; she’s decisive, ruthless, and extremely competent in any situation. The two develop a wonderful brother-sister bond that brings out the best of both characters. Whether she’s the lead or a great NPC next time, I’m already looking forward to seeing her again.
Sylens from Horizon: Zero Dawn
Effortlessly voiced by the extremely talented Lance Reddick, Sylens is almost the exact opposite of what you normally get from an NPC who is largely a disembodied voice in your ear. Generally, your audio support is helpful, informative, and inspiring. Sylens, on the other hand, is challenging, doubting, and argumentative in your interactions. He’s just the kind of jerk to keep you going from one killer-robot infested ancient fortification to the next. He clearly has his own agenda, but you grow to trust him as he grows to respect you. Impatient, secretive, and completely unconcerned with your welfare, Sylens is the perfect anti-sidekick and – again – the fact that he’s voiced by incredible Lance Reddick makes him all the more memorable.
The Entire Crew from Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus
Wolfenstein is a fine action series with some creative levels and exciting gameplay, but the game really shines in its slow moments. The sequences when your complex hero walks the streets of a subjugated United States or reflects on his dark childhood resonate, but the best sequences happen when you get to interact with your interesting and engaging crew. Your party of misfit scientists and guerrillas (led by your extremely pregnant wife) work hard and play hard. They drink together, they grieve together, they fight together, and they celebrate their victories as hard earned triumphs. It’s amazing that a first-person shooter has the best game about fellowship you’ll see this year, but – trust me – you’ll find yourself blasting through the levels just to get back to the cutscenes with your crew.
Alan Watts from Everything
Everything is one of the best gaming experiences we played this year. You roam the universe, taking the form of every animal, mineral and vegetable you come across. You can become a sheep or a shoe or a satellite or a seahorse or a subatomic particle. The premise is fascinating but could easily become boring as the novelty wore on. However, the game hides a series of lectures from Alan Watts throughout the universe and you discover snippets of these lectures at regular intervals. His insights into the nature of the universe and the underlying unity of all of existence gives meaning to your experience in the game. He’s your hidden partner in the game, giving your experience a sense of purpose and encouraging you to turn over every stone in the universe just to hear what he says next.
AND THE BEST NPC OF THE YEAR: Jaal from Mass Effect Andromeda
Mass Effect Andromeda wasn’t as good a title as we were hoping for, but Jaal was the awesome new character that the series deserved. While much of your crew will remind you of characters from the earlier titles, Jaal is something new. He’s intelligent and emotional, mysterious but earnest, and he has some of the best incidental dialogue in the game. You might rotate through the rest of your crew throughout the game, but you’ll always come back to Jaal. He’s got the best story, the best lines of dialogue, and – frankly – the best romance options of any character in the game (of any character since Liara, honestly). Mass Effect Andromeda puts you through hours and hours of exploring barren worlds looking for random waypoints, but Jaal makes it all seem worthwhile. It’s weird to say after a forty-plus hour game, but I wish we had more time together.