1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Bethesda Softworks – 11/11/11 (PC)
Skyrim is one of those games that you have waited on for years and take a few personal days for. I know because that is exactly what I did and Skyrim did not disappoint. In a year filled with a lot of major releases it is amazing this game stands alone. With a couple hundred hours of game play, the option to potentially do anything you can imagine and the modding community for PC just getting started Skyrim is a game that I will play for years. As with all Bethesda games there are bugs (of course saying bugs is putting it lightly if you play on PS3) but in a world this massive it would be impossible to prevent. Overall Skyrim is an experience that is altogether different from any other game this year, because it is the story you tell, and that alone earns it the top spot.
2. Portal 2 – Valve Corporation – 4/19/11 (PC)
Portal 2 by all accounts should have been a total disaster. The original Portal was a masterpiece whose only flaw was its length and many thought it wouldn’t be possible to have a sequel live up to that standard. Yet Valve released this years Portal 2 and not only did it live up to the expectations of many Portal fans but surpassed them. Wheatley and Cave Johnson are two characters introduced that might be loved as much if not more than Portal’s GLaDOS. The puzzles are top notch and the music makes for one of the best gaming soundtracks of the year. Part of Portal 2’s greatness is the story and how it is delivered throughout the game and really leaves it to you to get more out of it. Whether you are studying the paintings on the wall, reading the science fair cardboard cutouts or any other clue to Aperture Science’s past or just simply blazing through shooting portals at will you are guaranteed to have a great time.
3. Bastion – Supergiant Games – 8/16/11 (PC)
Supergiant Games is an independent developer with only seven employees. Yet this indie game could have easily been my number one or two game of the year. Bastion has everything you need for a great game. Interesting story? Check. Brilliant art style? Check. Exciting gameplay? Check. One of the best soundtracks for a game I have ever heard? Double check. The emotional impact of your choices and the resulting ending is easily one of my favorite moments in gaming in 2011, perhaps ever. (Kudos to Darren Korb on an excellent soundtrack)
4. Batman: Arkham City – Rocksteady – 10/18/11 (PC)
In a year of sequels, none were as anticipated by me as Batman: Arkham City (obviously, my website is themed around the Dark Knight). The original Batman: Arkham Asylum was the first Batman game that I had played that was any good. The combat in Arkham City was as tight and exciting as Arkham Asylum and the detective elements were strong, which is important for the world’s greatest detective. I didn’t care for the openness of the world probably due to my obsessive nature to collect Riddler trophies however this definitely was one of the best games I played this year and I hope that Rocksteady makes another Batman game soon.
5. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – Nintendo – 11/20/11 (Wii)
The Legend of Zelda holds a special place in my heart. Having grown up on the series, and Ocarina of Time being my favorite game of all time, I always make time to throw on my green tunic, shield and sword. Skyward Sword starts slow and picks up around hour twenty. The ending is great and really ties the franchise together. I honestly think this game could have been higher if there was less filler, they could have made this an excellent 20-25 hour game and instead made a good/great 60 hour game. My only other complaint would have to be the motion controls. At times the motion controls worked flawlessly and other times I wanted to just have buttons to press, OK most of the time I wanted buttons to press. In the end, I will still buy the next Zelda because Nintendo still knows how to create a game without bugs or quirks in level design.
6. Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Eidos Montreal – 8/23/11 (PC)
The original Deus Ex is one of my favorite PC games of all time. After playing Invisible War, the 2003 sequel, I was a little disappointed and wasn’t holding very high hopes for Human Revolution. What I found was a game that could be proud to share the name of the original. The flaws in this game such as the animation during dialogue and the boss battles being pretty damn lame do not keep me from enjoying the gameplay. The choices you make just deciding how to play the game are fantastic and the fact that I am a sucker for dystopian stories and transhumanism doesn’t hurt either. Eidos Montreal weaved together a great story with good questions about the future of mankind and did it in a way that still lets me sneak through vents.
7. Terraria – Re-Logic – 5/16/11 (PC)
This game surprised me more than any other game this year. I bought it on sale on Steam and didn’t like it the first time I played it. I came back to it during a lull (one of the few this year) and ended up loving the pure joy of creation. I have read that there are many things to do in this game such as taking down a large worm or fighting large bosses, I honestly don’t care about any of that because the most fun I had in Terraria wasn’t by fighting anything but instead creating bases, armor, weapons, bookshelves, beds, jetpacks and flower pots. I honestly think Minecraft created a new genre of games and I look forward to future endeavors by this indie developer.
8. Gears of War 3 – Epic Games – 9/20/11 (360)
Epic’s Gears of War series is a game that is best played co-operatively with friends. The co-op alone is enough to put it on this list, however 2011’s Gears of War 3 has much more to offer. The story in GOW3 wraps up the franchise nicely and does it in a way that won’t sour fans. The multiplayer is decent and worth putting a few hours into but all-in-all nothing to write home about. The “dudebro” dialogue that has been criticized in the past has been toned down and in its place are some great moments. Cole Train in the stadium and the scene with Marcus, Dom and Gary Jules’ “Mad World” will be remembered as two of my favorite gaming moments of this year.
9. Mortal Kombat – NetherRealm Studios – 4/19/11 (360)
Some might think I am crazy for putting a fighting game in a top ten list for games of the year, but this years Mortal Kombat was just that good. The gameplay was the same great gameplay I have come to expect from a Mortal Kombat title, and despite the online issues at release, the main thing that stuck with me in this game was the story. Yes, the story! It might be that you need to have played the previous games to appreciate it but the way they tie all the characters stories together is amazing. I am impressed with NetherRealm Studios and while this game certainly has flaws, the story was actually what cemented itself on my top ten.
10. Battlefield 3 – DICE – 10/25/11 (PC)
The story is weak, short, typical and the co-op is equally lame. Where this game shines is the multiplayer. It is hard to describe the mayhem that takes place in multiplayer. Tanks, fighter jets, helicopters, assault rifles, grenades, rockets and large open maps. I witnessed a jet destroy a tank subsequently to be shot down by a RPG and then crash into a heavily contested area destroying a small group of people. Battlefield 3’s Frostbite Engine is pretty amazing and I look forward to its implementation in the years to come.
Honorable Mentions: Orcs Must Die
Games I didn’t get time to play that probably would have made this list: The Witcher 2, Uncharted 3, Dark Souls, Saints Row: The Third, Rayman: Origins, LA Noire, Super Mario 3Dland (so many games this year)
Biggest Disappointment: Dragon Age II