We'll start with my Top 5 Games of the Year:
5. Dead Space 2 - Xbox 360, PS3, PC - January 25
I'm not usually a fan of the horror genre, but I've come to realize that that may be the reason I'm so drawn to the Dead Space franchise. Besides the fact that they're great games with good stories, great atmosphere and setting, and very fun gameplay, a game like Dead Space 2 wouldn't normally be something I'd enjoy. It's outside of my comfort zone, and while I naturally like my comfort zone, it's nice to try something different once in a while. It's almost like a personal mark of pride for myself that I can say I've beaten every Dead Space game that's come out so far (yes, even the on-rails one for Wii). And while they're great games and I thoroughly enjoy pretty much everything about them, I do have to admit that I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I beat Dead Space 2. Playing games where you don't always have to worry about aliens popping out of dark at you is much easier and much less stressful. Dead Space 2 is not one of those games.
4. Batman: Arkham City - Xbox 360, PS3, PC - October 18
"Gimme yo' heads!"
Following up on the hit game Batman: Arkham Asylum, Arkham City puts you in a larger, open world, adds more classic characters, and improves on the (very) few flaws from Arkham Asylum. My one complaint about Arkham Asylum was the combat, and I felt that it flowed more smoothly and was easier to master in Arkham City. The setting, story, side missions, characters, voice acting, and gameplay are all great... and I mean, come on, it's Batman. What more could you ask for?
3. Portal 2 - Xbox 360, PS3, PC - April 19
Portal 2 has the distinction of being the funniest game I've ever played. As someone who loves humor and comedy, that's a big deal for me. And when you add that and the great characters in the game (most of them new) to the awesome gameplay mechanics and puzzle design you get something really special. The new co-op mode is a lot of fun and works really well too. I played through this game almost three times this year, and while it admittedly isn't as long as most of the other games on this list (especially after you beat it the first time), that really says something about the kind of experience you get when you play this game.
2. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Xbox 360, PS3, PC - November 11
One of the most epic games I've ever played. The world is beautiful and perfectly constructed. The stories and quests are very good, and the combat, while still a little rough in spots, is definitely a step up from Oblivion. And while that stuff is all great, the main reason I play the Elder Scrolls games (and Fallout for that matter) is for the expertly crafted huge open world. Most RPGs are all about going from quest to quest, advancing both the story and the side missions, and leveling up in the process. And while that is a big part of Skyrim, the beauty of this game is the ability to just explore the world and see what secrets you can find hidden away in the mountains of Skyrim (the name of the game is also the area in which it takes place). The game has a quick travel option to go from place to place, but I often find myself not wanting to use it. I'd much rather spend the extra time walking to my next destination and seeing what kind of awesome stuff happens along the way (like defending myself from a dragon attack), or what I can discover (like another hidden dungeon). This game is truly a masterpiece in an already fabled franchise.
*another, more dramatic drumroll*
1. Star Wars: The Old Republic - PC - December 20
Deciding between this and Skyrim for my #1 game was a tough decision that took me several weeks to come to. Both games earned the right to hold that title, and in fact when I first drafted this list I had Skyrim number one and Old Republic number two. But as I continued to play Old Republic I gradually changed my mind. Because it's an MMO, Old Republic has a built-in advantage of being able to play with your friends, which is always a good thing. All MMOs have that going for them, but what really sets Old Republic apart is that I find myself wanting to play it even when none of my friends are online (even over Skyrim, which is made to be only a single player game). I messed around with WoW back in the day, and more recently played Rift and a few other free-to-play MMOs, and while they're all fun in their own way I never experienced this with any of them.
Old Republic mixes all that's great about MMOs with a story that works a lot like Mass Effect does (another game by Bioware). There are still your usual MMO fetch quests (i.e. go here and kill 15 of these, or collect 6 of these and return to me), but where the game really stands out are its "class quests". These quests advance a story and introduce supporting characters that stay with you the rest of the game. And your choices in these quests matter: like Mass Effect you usually have a choice to be good or evil, and whatever you pick affects what happens in your story down the road. There are 8 different classes (4 for each faction) all with original and unique stories that span from level 1 all the way to level 50 (the max level right now). I haven't beaten any of them yet, but I'm a good chunk into 2 of them (out of 8) and they're both really good so far. And from what I hear from other players and online, all 8 are very well made (in the Bioware tradition). You basically get 8 Mass Effect-type stories in one game, and best of all it's set in the Star Wars universe (which I'm also a big fan of). All that mixed with the space combat (which is a fun diversion) and the ability to play with several friends makes this my choice as my favorite game of 2011.
Rift - Wasn't as captivating as Old Republic, but was fun and had a lot of good ideas I wish other MMOs (including Old Republic) would steal.
L.A. Noire - A very interesting game; it tried a lot of new things and they worked out. Some parts were repetitive, but the interrogations, the story, and most of the action was great.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution - This game had some problems, but overall I really liked it and found most of it to be a lot of fun. Here's hoping for a sequel where they keep all the good stuff and iron out all the problems.
Games that may have made my top 5 list if I had had time to play them:
This is my way of giving props to games that probably deserve a spot on the list but that I unfortunately haven't gotten a chance to play yet.
-Gears of War 3
-Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
-The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
And, last but definitely least, the letdowns. Every year there are a few games that I (and many others) look forward to but unfortunately fail to meet most expectations. These aren't necessarily bad games (although many times they are). They're just... well, letdowns.
Brink - Bought this game for like $10 on sale about two months after it came out. That should tell you something.
Duke Nukem Forever - This game has been $10 for months now, and I still haven't bought it. That should really tell you something.
Dragon Age II - Not a terrible game, but for the most part it was overwhelmingly average. The characters (Bioware's specialty) were still good, but that was probably the only real bright spot in the game. The story was only okay and the environments and combat were damn near terrible. Definitely did not live up to expectations or the standard set by the first game.
Rage - Another one that wasn't all bad; in fact it started out really well. The graphics and gameplay were great, but the story started out decent and only got worse and worse until the ending, which is one of the worst endings for any game ever. The game just ends. Like stops. All of a sudden, you just win. And for a game that was in development for like five years, it's insultingly short. The "open world" is a lie and the multiplayer is not worth playing. The racing is an okay diversion but is pretty shallow and gets old pretty quick. Rage had a lot of potential but ultimately failed to reach it, or really even come close.
And there you have it: my list(s) for 2011. As always I value and appreciate any feedback, so feel free to post any comments or opinions you might have.