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Greg Kasavin's Top 10 Games of 2011

One of the minds behind Supergiant's Bastion, and the best Elder Scrolls monologist we know, shares his favorite games from 2011.

Greg Kasavin is a writer/designer at Supergiant Games, the small independent studio behind Bastion, an action RPG where an old man talks to you the whole time. Prior to getting into game development, Kasavin worked in the gaming press, most notably at GameSpot, where he was editor-in-chief for a number of years.

I wish I could have done this thing in like February of next year because I’ve got some catching up to do, what with everything that’s come out this year. For example I still haven’t played Batman: Arkham City and Uncharted 3, sequels to two of my favorite games of 2009, which I’ve been saving for a quiet moment when I can make the most of them. I’m also just far enough into The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Saints Row: The Third right now to think they’re great, but not far enough along in for them to crack this list.

That aside, I’m a bit ashamed that this list is dominated by big AAA productions even though I think smaller downloadable games can go toe-to-toe with the big guys. I played a lot of fantastic independent games this year such as Frozen Synapse, Jamestown, Atom Zombie Smasher, and The Binding of Isaac, and if this was a top-20 list, you would have seen a lot more of these in here.

But! I’m limited to 10, so here they are:

10. Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP

Sworcery is one of the only iPhone/iPad games I've played that feels like it has a soul, and offers up some kind of meaningful experience beyond a sort of frivolous, vapid sense of fast-forwarding through life's uneventful moments. I love games with a strong and specific sense of atmosphere, and S&S EP is excellent in this regard. The soundtrack is phenomenal and the game is filled with cool little details all over the place. Sworcery didn't grab me at first but when I came back to it, it hit me hard.

9. To the Moon

Like a thought-provoking movie, this one got under my skin the more I thought about it in the days after I finished it. I think one of the greatest traits of games is their ability to deliver story in an interactive way, which at its best can get you feeling even more invested than in linear media. To the Moon is a very pure effort along these lines. It delivers a great, touching, meaningful story under the guise of a 16-bit role-playing game. The music is excellent and the story's payoff is great, too. Having finished I was just glad a game like this got made at a time like this.

8. Mortal Kombat

The arcade classic Mortal Kombat II is one of my all-time favorite games and this new MK brought back many fond memories of playing it. I felt like it totally nails the essential tone of Mortal Kombat much more successfully than any MK in years, and just as important, it plays great too. It goes over the top not just in the expected ways (with gore) but as an all-around production, what with its surprisingly polished story mode and lots of depth. For example, every fighting game these days has to have a super meter of some kind but the choices around how to use the meter in MK are some of the most interesting I’ve seen in a while.

7. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

I love killing stuff in games as much as anyone and probably more, though I really appreciate when a game can be exciting and dramatic without being all about killing stuff. Ghost Trick is an excellent example of this, and also one of the most beautifully presented games I played all year in spite of its humble trappings as a portable game. The character animations are fantastic, and the writing and story are sharp and interesting. It’s a unique game.

6. Dead Space 2

Remember how I said I love killing stuff in games? I’m only just getting around to Dead Space 2 even though it released early in the year, but wow, what an incredibly high-quality production. That it’s a great horror game is almost beside the point, though it’s that as well. On the surface, the environments, animations, and audio are all outstanding--the atmosphere is awesome. Plus the game controls beautifully, and its levels are filled with big and small surprises and feel like they’re part of a deep world. In a year where I was feeling pretty burnt out on shooters, this one is my favorite. It’s not exactly a shooter, of course, and that’s part of the reason why I’m liking it so much.

5. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

True story: I played this game for 12 hours straight when I first got it, then came home and played it for like five more. Really the only thing that compares to Skyrim is Bethesda’s own previous games, and this one is even more impressive in a lot of ways. While I normally enjoy RPGs for their atmosphere, story, and game systems, Skyrim doesn’t draw me in for those reasons... it’s the sandbox side of it, like it’s this great big place I can go to relax for a while and do whatever I want. I love exploring the world and messing around in it, trying to break it and figure out how it works.

4. Portal 2

The original Portal is really an incredible game so I have to admit I was kind of nervous about the idea of a bigger, better sequel to something that was near perfect. But Portal 2 quickly won me over, thanks in no small part to Wheatley, a character every bit as strong and memorable as GLaDOS was in the original. There were just so many great little touches and genuinely smart, funny moments, and it’s rare to find a game that’s this exciting from a pure action perspective yet isn’t at all about combat. And man, what an ending...!

3. The Witcher 2

In my mind, The Witcher 2 is the best BioWare game since Mass Effect 2... and it’s not even a BioWare game! The Witcher 2 is a class act all the way. It’s one of the only games this year that wowed me with its visuals, and I loved the characters and the world. There are far too many generic, tame fantasy worlds out there. By comparison, The Witcher 2’s world feels fully realized and specific in a way that puts most other games to shame. Not only that, the narrative choices felt significant all the way through.

2. Dark Souls

Burning Zombies

Demon’s Souls was one of my favorite games of 2009 so I had high hopes for its successor. And the longer I played it, the more I realized I liked it even better. The world design was just amazing to me the more I saw of it, and no other game rewards patience, perseverance, and exploration quite like this one does. The experience can feel masochistic at times, but it hits me just right. In fact, some of the most notorious moments like the slog through Blighttown and those archer sons-of-a-bitches in Anor Londo are moments I’ll long remember in a good way. I lost myself in this game for hours at a time, and obsessed over it more than any other game this year.

1. Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together

This is an update to the spiritual predecessor of one of my all-time favorite games, Final Fantasy Tactics. Like that game, it offers an incredibly deep and complex tactical experience in addition to a rich fantasy world filled with life-and-death struggle and scores if interesting characters. As Bastion’s development was winding down and the days and nights were getting longer and longer, I still made time every night for this one game, and ended up playing it for months. I don’t necessarily think it’s the best game of the year but it’s the one I kept coming back to and the one that kept reminding me of all the reasons I love gaming.

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Posted by Ryan

Greg Kasavin is a writer/designer at Supergiant Games, the small independent studio behind Bastion, an action RPG where an old man talks to you the whole time. Prior to getting into game development, Kasavin worked in the gaming press, most notably at GameSpot, where he was editor-in-chief for a number of years.

I wish I could have done this thing in like February of next year because I’ve got some catching up to do, what with everything that’s come out this year. For example I still haven’t played Batman: Arkham City and Uncharted 3, sequels to two of my favorite games of 2009, which I’ve been saving for a quiet moment when I can make the most of them. I’m also just far enough into The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Saints Row: The Third right now to think they’re great, but not far enough along in for them to crack this list.

That aside, I’m a bit ashamed that this list is dominated by big AAA productions even though I think smaller downloadable games can go toe-to-toe with the big guys. I played a lot of fantastic independent games this year such as Frozen Synapse, Jamestown, Atom Zombie Smasher, and The Binding of Isaac, and if this was a top-20 list, you would have seen a lot more of these in here.

But! I’m limited to 10, so here they are:

10. Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP

Sworcery is one of the only iPhone/iPad games I've played that feels like it has a soul, and offers up some kind of meaningful experience beyond a sort of frivolous, vapid sense of fast-forwarding through life's uneventful moments. I love games with a strong and specific sense of atmosphere, and S&S EP is excellent in this regard. The soundtrack is phenomenal and the game is filled with cool little details all over the place. Sworcery didn't grab me at first but when I came back to it, it hit me hard.

9. To the Moon

Like a thought-provoking movie, this one got under my skin the more I thought about it in the days after I finished it. I think one of the greatest traits of games is their ability to deliver story in an interactive way, which at its best can get you feeling even more invested than in linear media. To the Moon is a very pure effort along these lines. It delivers a great, touching, meaningful story under the guise of a 16-bit role-playing game. The music is excellent and the story's payoff is great, too. Having finished I was just glad a game like this got made at a time like this.

8. Mortal Kombat

The arcade classic Mortal Kombat II is one of my all-time favorite games and this new MK brought back many fond memories of playing it. I felt like it totally nails the essential tone of Mortal Kombat much more successfully than any MK in years, and just as important, it plays great too. It goes over the top not just in the expected ways (with gore) but as an all-around production, what with its surprisingly polished story mode and lots of depth. For example, every fighting game these days has to have a super meter of some kind but the choices around how to use the meter in MK are some of the most interesting I’ve seen in a while.

7. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

I love killing stuff in games as much as anyone and probably more, though I really appreciate when a game can be exciting and dramatic without being all about killing stuff. Ghost Trick is an excellent example of this, and also one of the most beautifully presented games I played all year in spite of its humble trappings as a portable game. The character animations are fantastic, and the writing and story are sharp and interesting. It’s a unique game.

6. Dead Space 2

Remember how I said I love killing stuff in games? I’m only just getting around to Dead Space 2 even though it released early in the year, but wow, what an incredibly high-quality production. That it’s a great horror game is almost beside the point, though it’s that as well. On the surface, the environments, animations, and audio are all outstanding--the atmosphere is awesome. Plus the game controls beautifully, and its levels are filled with big and small surprises and feel like they’re part of a deep world. In a year where I was feeling pretty burnt out on shooters, this one is my favorite. It’s not exactly a shooter, of course, and that’s part of the reason why I’m liking it so much.

5. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

True story: I played this game for 12 hours straight when I first got it, then came home and played it for like five more. Really the only thing that compares to Skyrim is Bethesda’s own previous games, and this one is even more impressive in a lot of ways. While I normally enjoy RPGs for their atmosphere, story, and game systems, Skyrim doesn’t draw me in for those reasons... it’s the sandbox side of it, like it’s this great big place I can go to relax for a while and do whatever I want. I love exploring the world and messing around in it, trying to break it and figure out how it works.

4. Portal 2

The original Portal is really an incredible game so I have to admit I was kind of nervous about the idea of a bigger, better sequel to something that was near perfect. But Portal 2 quickly won me over, thanks in no small part to Wheatley, a character every bit as strong and memorable as GLaDOS was in the original. There were just so many great little touches and genuinely smart, funny moments, and it’s rare to find a game that’s this exciting from a pure action perspective yet isn’t at all about combat. And man, what an ending...!

3. The Witcher 2

In my mind, The Witcher 2 is the best BioWare game since Mass Effect 2... and it’s not even a BioWare game! The Witcher 2 is a class act all the way. It’s one of the only games this year that wowed me with its visuals, and I loved the characters and the world. There are far too many generic, tame fantasy worlds out there. By comparison, The Witcher 2’s world feels fully realized and specific in a way that puts most other games to shame. Not only that, the narrative choices felt significant all the way through.

2. Dark Souls

Burning Zombies

Demon’s Souls was one of my favorite games of 2009 so I had high hopes for its successor. And the longer I played it, the more I realized I liked it even better. The world design was just amazing to me the more I saw of it, and no other game rewards patience, perseverance, and exploration quite like this one does. The experience can feel masochistic at times, but it hits me just right. In fact, some of the most notorious moments like the slog through Blighttown and those archer sons-of-a-bitches in Anor Londo are moments I’ll long remember in a good way. I lost myself in this game for hours at a time, and obsessed over it more than any other game this year.

1. Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together

This is an update to the spiritual predecessor of one of my all-time favorite games, Final Fantasy Tactics. Like that game, it offers an incredibly deep and complex tactical experience in addition to a rich fantasy world filled with life-and-death struggle and scores if interesting characters. As Bastion’s development was winding down and the days and nights were getting longer and longer, I still made time every night for this one game, and ended up playing it for months. I don’t necessarily think it’s the best game of the year but it’s the one I kept coming back to and the one that kept reminding me of all the reasons I love gaming.

Staff
Posted by Shayera

Love you Greg!

Posted by Arrested_Developer

I think Ghost Trick might be my game of the year.

Posted by mscupcakes

Why isn't Bastion on the list?

Posted by Ehker

Need more proof Giant Bomb is Bastion biased? Just look at this list. Even the guy who made it didn't put it in his top ten.

Seriously, amazing job Greg! And nice list.

Posted by Mikewrestler5

Out of all the lists so far, this is my favorite one. It's real and genuine.

Posted by EvilKatarn

This list is pure gold. Greg has great taste.

Online
Posted by Curufinwe

Tactics Ogre is great, but I stopped playing when I ran into some Iron Golems who I only hit for 1 point of damage. I really need to finish it before Vita launches.

Posted by Encephalon

Tactics fucking Ogre?

Man. I love you, Greg.

Posted by logicfracture

Great list! Ghost Trick is a pretty crazy game. Now I just need to finish the Witcher so I can play The Witcher 2...

Posted by mutha3

@Encephalon said:

Tactics fucking Ogre?

Man. I love you, Greg.

Seriously. A man after my own heart.

Posted by Winternet

Ghost Trick love!

Posted by Overbite

@Ehker said:

Need more proof Giant Bomb is Bastion biased? Just look at this list. Even the guy who made it didn't put it in his top ten.

Seriously, amazing job Greg! And nice list.

It's generally thought to be poor form if you put your own game in your top 10 list.

Posted by the_Hollow

The Witcher 2 and Dark Souls.That's all I need to know to acknowledge good taste.

Posted by Flacracker

Greg didn't but Bastion in his list because it would be biased as hell. Same reason Ed Boon didn't put Mortal Kombat in his list.

Posted by Larsa

Holy shit, some Tactics Ogre love. Never thought i would see that here. What a great game that is.

Online
Posted by McDevy

Greg's awesome! Great list, some games I still haven't gotten to play (To The Moon, S&S EP, Ghost Trick, etc.)

I have a feeling I might love Witcher 2 more than Skyrim if I get a chance to play it too...

Posted by Jetpaction

Very nice list. You can see Greg has a soft spot for good story driven games and games that do things a little different then the rest of them out there.

Posted by admanb

Wow. Greg, you are a fantastic human being.

Posted by LiK

KASAVIN'S THE MAN

Posted by Enns

Greg picking Tactics Ogre is amazing. I'm glad it gets a mention here because GB crew can't cover everything and they don't venture much outside their preferred tastes.

Posted by Sammo21

@Ehker: LOL! Nice.

Posted by Crono

Awesome list - love the number 1. Glad to see Witcher 2 show up all around too. That game was amazing and I feel like I don't run into enough people who actually played it :*(

Posted by Terranova

I loved how Greg called the Witcher 2 a Bioware game that is not a Bioware game it's how i feel about it also this is how Dragon age 2 should have been.

Posted by plaintomato

@EvilKatarn said:

This list is pure gold. Greg has great taste.

Best list so far on GB. Just sayin'.

I love GB but sometimes I get the impression that the crew are lazy gamers...that's kind of an over-generalization and maybe it's because they have (get?) to play some of everything and jump from game to game on a release schedule instead of a want-to-play schedule. On the other hand they are doing a Chrono Trigger endurance run so...

Anyway, best list so far on GB. I haven't played Dead Space 2, but now I will just because of the company it is keeping on this list.

Posted by rjayb89

AW SHIT GHOST TRICK

Posted by AlmostSwedish

Finally some love for To the Moon.

And yes, Tactics Ogre is pretty great.

Posted by gosukiller

I'm with you Greg. DAMN THOSE ANOR LONDO ARCHERS. Shooting fucking pillars at me while I'm dangling on half a meter of path. Grrrrr...

Posted by NorseDudeTR

Kasavin with perhaps the most well written list of the year. Not surprising!

Posted by countinhallways

This list is fantastic. Great varied selection of deserving titles.

Posted by themangalist

Love To the Moon!

Posted by jdeano

Great list, lot of respect Greg!

Posted by Lifestrike

Whoa guys-

Darks Souls GOTY from three different guests.

:D

Posted by Toug

Ghost Trick! I heart Greg.

Posted by umdesch4

Wow, this is part of the reason I love this site. I would never in a million years have played Tactics Ogre, but now that I see it on the top of the list from a guy who made Bastion, I think I'll check it out.

Posted by stoic665

Very good list. I'm happy to see that Dark Souls is getting the recognition it deserves, especially when it comes from heavy-hitters within the industry. Hopefully we'll see the influence of DS in the years to come!

Also nice to see To the Moon in there... more people should play that game!

Posted by Oginam

Ghost Trick and Dark Souls.

<3 Greg.

Posted by soupbones

Spot on choice for numero uno.

Posted by Turambar

Dark Souls and Tactics Ogre both on a top 10 list, and you imported Super Robot Wars OG Saga.  Greg, you are officially my man crush.

Posted by probablytuna

Haha nice choice for the Witcher 2 screenshot. Dat ass!

Posted by the_purgatory_station

everyone keeps talking about Portal 2 ending. finally watched it. it was REALLY well done. props to those Valve folks.

look at that ... maybe i need to play Witcher 2

great list Kasavin. on a weird note, your commentary on #1 helps my with how i should write my movies list. Thanks!

Posted by Video_Game_King

Shit. That came out of nowhere. Solid choice, though. Even though I've never played the PSP version, I have to say that it's the best version of Tactics Ogre out there. For those who don't understand why, you know how the 360 version of Sonic CD is probably the best version of Sonic CD out there? Imagine that times twenty, and you have Tactics Ogre on the PSP.

Edited by SaturdayNightSpecials

I have never begun to understand a tactical RPG, but Tactics Ogre looks so cool that it's made me want to break into the genre just so I can play it.

With no success, but still!

Posted by buckybit

great list! and even 2 games I didn't know about!!

Calling The Witcher 2 the best Bioware game since ME2... ouch! haha! And that's way to polite. I'd go so far and say, The Witcher 2 is how Bioware games should have been, since they left the 2D realm and started with their 3D-Engine!

Yes. I said it. haha

Bioware - The Final Chapter ...

We all hope the good Doctors WILL che-che-checkity check themselves ...

Posted by Make_Me_Mad

I love this list, so much.

Posted by ceruelantransience

LET US CLING TOGETHER

AS THE YEARS GO BY

OH MY LOVE MY LOVE

Never played TO but I REALLY like the subtitle for some reason

Posted by Aaox

Ghost Trick being on a top ten list this year makes me ridiculously happy.

Posted by Loomies

Best GOTY list so far and totally agree!!!

Posted by Sooty

Fuck yes The Witcher 2 getting some love.

Edited by coonce

Top Ten Promo Images of 2011:

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