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Arkham City, Skyrim, and Game of the Year

There is no doubt in my mind that Skyrim ought to be Game of the Year. It's an expansive, immersive journey through an enormous fantasy world that just keeps on giving. Then why have I only played 60 hours of it? I have so many friends who by now have completed every main quest line and are still avidly playing. Yet I just don't think to myself "I want to play Skyrim." Why not? Is it because I played more than 200 hours of Oblivion? That's partly it, but to explain it more fully, I'm going to draw your attention somewhere else for a moment: Arkham City.

Batman is enjoying quite a lot of popularity right now, and rightly so. The Dark Knight was a perfect sequel to Batman Begins, and we're all waiting eagerly for the next film. In the meantime, Arkham Asylum came out, more or less out of the blue, and showed us that the beat-em-up genre of the 80s and early 90s we all loved so much as kids is far from dead. It was dark, brutal, and not afraid of blood. The sound effects were suitably crunchy, and the criminals believable. I actually prefer Mark Hamill's energetic, excitably insane Joker to Heath Ledger's dark and contemplative interpretation. Not to say I didn't love The Dark Knight, nor am I saying the movie would be better with the more traditional Joker, but for that true Batman feel, the Joker as Mark Hamill's been doing him since the 90s feels right. But I digress.

Arkham City took everything Arkham Asylum did right and improved on it, often in ways nobody even thought of. The game is a masterpiece, and I've probably put more hours into it than I have Skyrim, and I'm still playing it. The endless Challenge modes, the Catwoman DLC, the thought that went into making Nightwing and Robin distinct from not only Batman, but also from each other, it all keeps me coming back for more. There hasn't been a moment in gaming that is more satisfying that disabling an enemy's gun and slowly walking up to him, watching him panic as the gun stops working, then taking him down just as he throws the useless thing to the ground. And this is but one of hundreds of different ways to engage an enemy, each one just as feasible and just as fun as any other.

This may be why I love the game so much: every encounter truly is different. Playing with your enemies and manipulating them is not only possible, but encouraged. I especially like the "intimidation bonus". The game is also so polished that I have only once ran into an enemy clipped into a wall. I've never found any bugs or anything else that takes away from the immersion of the game. something that cannot be said of Skyrim. Two open-world games, and yet one plays much better than the other. I love Skyrim, but at least once an hour something would happen that would make me say "Really, Skyrim?" Back when the game was first launched I was tempted to actually make an entire forum thread about those moments, encouraging others to tell their stories of broken suspension of disbelief. However, I was too lazy to record every moment, preferring to pretend they hadn't happened in order to not ruin the game for myself.

It's this sort of thing that takes so much away from Skyrim. Even in its fully-patched form today, it still feels janky sometimes. The fact that mountains can be climbed by jumping and strafing awkwardly up, in true Elder Scrolls style, makes me wonder why they didn't just make a mountain-climbing animation. Much of the time I'm exploring Skyrim's many fjords and mountains, trying to climb to the top, I am not sure if I've been following the designated path or just making my own until I reach the summit and look around.

The combat also only ever happens one way. Sure, there's stealth, there's magic, but it all boils down to running backwards while healing and madly slashing/casting/shooting until the enemy dies. Turning the difficulty up actually makes the game less realistic instead of more because every enemy can take ten fireballs to the chest before even flinching. Turn the difficulty down to a realistic level, and it stops being fun. I understand that realism isn't always the best for an RPG, but when the rest of the game is so insistent on making you feel like you're really there, it's very confusing when I still take damage despite using a shield, and putting ten arrows into a man's head sometimes doesn't kill him.

Skyrim may have more hours of playtime in it, but Arkham City is more fun in nearly every way, and I'd be lying if I didn't say it was my personal game of the year.