By Atlas 0 Comments
It's that time of year where gamers, be they journalist or average fan, makes lists of the best games of the year, or at least their favourite games of the year. This is something I am often part of; I have made top ten GOTY lists for the past several years, and have enjoyed doing so.
This year, though, I ran into a problem.
I started drawing up my list, and some games were added without a seconds thought. I am 100% confident in saying that Skyrim is the best game of 2011, with Portal 2 in second. I also really enjoyed LA Noire this year, and while Dead Space 2 and Forza 4 both failed to match the level of their predecessors, they were both excellent games well worthy of merit.
And here's where things get difficult. I wanted to add Total War: Shogun 2 to my list, because I think it's a fantastic game, but in honesty I have only spent about 12 hours with the game, which considering the depth, complexity and slow pace of the Total War games is hardly any time at all. Heading into 2011, I was pretty certain that Dragon Age II was going to end up somewhere near the top of the list. It's crazy to me, when I think back on how much I played and loved Origins, that I would end 2011 without finishing DAII, but it's the truth. I played 15 hours, and I guess I just got bored or distracted by something else, and I never managed to get back to it.
There's a fair few indie games I played in 2011, but none of them really seem worthy of such lofty status on a 2011 GOTY list. I like Dungeons of Dredmor an awful lot, but I'm not invested enough in it to give it such high praise. Terraria is another game I played and enjoyed, but again, I don't think it should belong on a top ten games of 2011 list. Magic: The Gathering - DotP2012 was one of my favourite downloadable titles of 2011, and I played a fair bit of it...but even then I can't justify putting it on a top ten list.
And that's it. Those are all the 2011 games that I distinctly remember playing and enjoying. I'm not even sure there's even ten games there.
So what the hell was I playing in 2011?
Well, 2011 was a defining year for me as a gamer, as it heralded my shifting my gaming attention to the PC, which is now my main platform for playing games. I still really like my 360 and my PS3, but a huge amount of my game time is now done on the PC, and whenever a multiplatform title comes out, I'll buy it on PC whenever possible. I have been a "gaming enthusiast" since around 2007, and this if the first full year of me owning a PC capable of playing modern games, so I had a lot of catching up to do.
So instead of creating a traditional top ten best games of 2011 list, I'm going to create a list of the top ten games I played the most in 2011, regardless of the year they were released. The games will NOT be ranked in terms of my preference - they will simply be ranked in the amount of time I spent playing them.
1a) Sid Meier's Civilisation V - 300+ hours
Civilisation 5 was my first proper experience with the Civilisation franchise - I spent a ton of time playing Civilisation Revolution, both on 360 and on the DS, and loved that game to bits. So when Civ 5 came out shortly after I got my new PC I was really excited to see what the game had in store for me. I was blown away. It's a fantastically addictive, hugely engaging strategy game that had me hooked for most of the start of 2011. My Steam time for the game is 456 hours, and I would say that at least 300 of those hours came during 2011. Civilisation 5 ranks as one of my all-time favourite PC games, and I have many happy memories of spending whole nights listening to music and playing Civ 5. This game is awesome, and I cannot say enough about it.
1b) Mount&Blade: Warband - 300+ hours
Mount&Blade: Warband is a game that feels like it was designed specifically for me. A strategic medieval fantasy simulation open-world RPG seems like the kind of game I would see in a fever dream. The fact that it actually exists, and it has some of the best combat of any game of its ilk, is remarkable. Warband is held back by its horrible aesthetics and its bad UI, and for many people this would be too much to deal with. I sympathise with that opinion, but I can't help but think that people who didn't play Warband are missing out. This is another game that I played for hours on end, often while listening to music or a podcast, and it is every bit as addictive and absorbing as Civ 5. It is, in my opinion, probably the most underrated game of this generation.
2) The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - 186 hours (and counting)
This is an obvious one. Coming into 2011, the game I held up as my favourite game ever was The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Oblivion was, in many ways, the game that turned me from a fairly casual gamer into a full-blown enthusiast. So when Skyrim was released, you can imagine my excitement. Never before have I stayed up the night of a game's release on Steam and waited for the game to activate so I can dive straight into it. This is the only game that I was truly, desperately, excited to play in 2011. I haven't finished it, but it hasn't disappointed, and the past six weeks of my life has just flown by, mostly because I have been so absorbed in this hugely expansive, utterly immersive, beautiful looking and remarkably deep game.
3) Team Fortress 2 - 150+ hours
I never thought I would put a competitive multiplayer shooter this high on a list such as this. But Team Fortress 2 is no ordinary multiplayer shooter. Its team oriented nature, outstanding gameplay and respectful community (at least on the servers I played, mostly) made it the first MP game that I have loved. I spent many a good evening on the PC Gamer UK server, and I really appreciated the game's combination of precision gameplay, sheer chaos and slower pace that allowed me to play the game for hours on end without feeling overwhelmed. I guess I should have expected Valve to be the ones to make a competitive game I could actually get behind, but regardless TF2 now holds a pretty special place in my heart for showing me that I can enjoy games with other people.
4) The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - 83 hours
Just before Skyrim came out, I decided to replay my favourite game ever. It had been a couple of years since I'd had a good run with Oblivion, and I was starting to think that maybe Oblivion was starting to show signs of age. 83 hours later, those doubts were removed. I was still able to have a fantastic time playing this game, and it reminded me of why I fell in love with it in the first place. It may not be as gorgeous to look at as it once was, but it's still a fantastic open-world RPG with tons to see and do, and it's just as immersive as it ever was. I am currently debating internally whether Skyrim deserves to overtake Oblivion as my favourite game of all-time, but despite the improvements Bethesda made in Skyrim, Oblivion's achievements cannot and should not be forgotten.
5) Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes - 60+ hours
This 2009 DS game was introduced to me via Giant Bomb, when Jeff and Ryan did a quick look of the XBLA port. I was very interested in what I saw, and found the DS game for cheap through eBay. That game is incredible. I played through the campaign twice and played several more hours of custom battles against the AI. I just love the combat in that game, the way that it's more of a puzzle game than a traditional strategy game, but also has RPG mechanics and a world to explore. The story is inessential, but overall this is a fantastic value and well worth the 60+ hours I spent playing it. No game occupied more time in my DSi in 2011 that Clash of Heroes, and deservedly so.
6) The Settlers 7: Paths to a Kingdom - 49 hours
2010's The Settlers 7 introduced me to the joy of German strategy games. This is a wonderfully deep and engaging game with a nice colourful art style that I found easy to play for hours at a time. It's got a nice combination of being a strategy game that is slow-paced and able to be played by strategy turtles like myself, but also rewards quick decisive decision making over simple APM mechanical speed. A delightful strategy game.
7) The Witcher - 38 hours
The Witcher 2 will be appearing on many people's top ten GOTY lists in 2011, but as someone who had never played The Witcher before but has a strong affinity for RPGs, I decided to experience the original game before jumping into the sequel. This meant that I unfortunately ran out of time to play The Witcher 2 before Skyrim came out, but it did mean I got to experience one of the best RPGs I've played in quite some time. While not as streamlined and as high-profile as its successor, The Witcher is still a highly playable and enjoyable game, with some of the best story telling I've ever seen in games.
8) Plants vs. Zombies - 35+ hours
As someone with a massive soft spot in my heart for PopCap Games, I was delighted to be able to experience the joys of Plants vs. Zombies for the first time in 2011. And in my opinion, it's their best game yet, as well as one of the most accessible and enjoyable tower defence games available. It also helps that this game is dripping with humour and personality, but honestly this game's mechanics are severely underrated.
9a) Forza Motorsport 4 - 30+ hours
As I mentioned before, Forza 4 fails to match the impact of 2009's outstanding Forza 3. It's still a beautiful looking, fantastic handling driving game with hours of playability, but it's a little too similar to the previous iterations of the franchise, and doesn't quite do enough to stand out from the pack. It's still 2011's best driving game, and by a mile, and I definitely enjoyed my 30+ hours with the game.
9b) FIFA 11 - 30+ hours
Although the name of the game may be FIFA 11, it's actually the game for the 2010-11 season, meaning the rosters are a year out of date. When I bought FIFA 11 it didn't really click with me, and I only played a few hours of it, but instead of picking up FIFA 12 I decided to give the game another shot. Second time round, I did get into it, and although I don't rate it as highly as the seminal FIFA 09, I still had a ton of fun playing the beautiful game in FIFA 11, and it's the best sports game I played in 2011.
10) Majesty 2 - 27 hours
The ideas behind Majesty 2 are fantastic, and it's a pretty unique strategy game with a really nice twist on the tropes of RPGs. It's a game that gets brutally difficult, and as such I have yet to finish the campaign, but it's still a very enjoyable game.
11) LA Noire - 26 hours
Enough has been said about LA Noire in the past few months - both positive and negative - but I rate LA Noire as one of the most entertaining and memorable experiences of 2011. I loved the world Team Bondi created, and few games had more ambiance and better atmosphere than LA Noire. They nailed the 1940s noir aesthetics so damn well here, and it also helps that they have an interesting story with some memorable characters and an adventure game style structure that is uncommon in mainstream blockbuster games.
12) Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 - 25 hours
I'm not a Magic: The Gathering veteran by any means, and I have never actually played the card game, but that didn't stop me enjoying the original Duels of the Planeswalkers game in 2009. The sequel is even better, with more game modes and cards than before, and playing the game has made me contemplate actually finding some like-minded people and playing the game for real.
13) Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale - 23 hours
This extremely unique indie title from Japan has a fantastic twist on the JRPG tropes that we have seen time and time again, and it's charming as all hell, with genuinely funny moments and memorable characters. Something of a guilty pleasure, Recettear is a wonderful game that I was happy to experience.
14) Might & Magic: Heroes VI Demo - 19 hours
Yeah, that's right, I spent 19 hours with a demo in 2011. I am waiting for M&M:H6 to get a price cut on Steam, and when it does I will be all over it. The demo of 6 was my first experience of the Heroes series of Might & Magic games, and I was instantly hooked by the combination of strategic turn-based combat and RPG systems. Could well be one of my most played games of 2012.
15) Dragon Age II - 15 hours
It's sad that DAII ended up as far down this list as it did, especially considering the 300+ hours I spent playing Dragon Age: Origins. But there it is.
Before I go, here's another quick list, this time of the games that could very well have made my top ten list of 2011, had I actually found the time to play them:
The 2011 List of Games I Bought But Have Yet To Play:
1) The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
2) Deus Ex: Human Revolution
4) Frozen Synapse
5) Orcs Must Die!
6) Alice: Madness Returns
8) Rock of Ages
9) Dungeon Defenders