Brendan’s Favorite Games of 2011(or, the year of buggy RPGs)

–By Brendan

Hey all. It’s list time again! Hopefully, we’ll get a chance to hear from all the Power Cords contributors on which games of 2011 totally rocked their socks. To get the ball rolling, I’ll start us off! So here are the titles that really stuck with me this year.

– Favorite Indie game of 2011 –

Magicka

Magicka is a great game, developed by Paradox games. The game is a Diablo-esque Action RPG, set in a Nose Mythology-themed world where you play as a wizard, trying to stop an evil… well, wizard. The game features a full campaign, co-op on and competitive play, special challenge modes, as well as tons of downloadable content that add new story lines and challenges, including a recently released Cthulu mythos campaign. A Diablo style game with Norse mythology AND the Lovecraftian horror? Count me in!

Admittedly, when the game first launched it was a buggy mess, but most of those have been ironed out. Be warned, however, I did run into a couple here and there. By no means should that have you over look this title, but it’s worth keeping in mind.

Runner up – Dungeons of Dredmore

Missed just by a hair. I only recently picked up this charming little indie “rogue-like RPG. The gameplay is fun and addictive, utilizing completely random dungeons and loot to keep thing interesting.  The art if cheerful, and the atmosphere is humorous and full of pop-culture and geeky jokes, and references to mythology, fantasy and sci-fi works, and other games. It needs those jokes; the game uses perma-death, meaning once your character dies, you have to start up a new one. It completely changes the feel of your adventure, and makes you think a lot harder. Get it for super cheap on Steam now!

– Favorite Game of 2011 –

The Elder Scrolls V: Syrim

Surprised? I mean, I did say it might be one of the best games I’ve ever played. Huge open world; a mash-up of The Elder Scrolls lore and Nordic art style; fun combat; highly polished and interesting character progression; and some of the best quest lines in an Elder Scrolls game yet.

It’s almost a no brainer. Almost. Just like Magicka, my favorite indie game of the year, Skyrim isn’t without bugs. And some of them are pretty bad. I’ve only played this game on PC and Xbox 360, so I can’t comment extensively on the PS3 lag/bug issues. What I can say is that in my time with the game, I’ve experienced little to no lag, only one crash, and zero major bugs. But each experience with the game is different, therefor experiences with the bugs will vary as well.

Still, obligatory bug warning aside, I love this game. I have never got into an MMO before (well, at least not yet) but I can now say I’ve experienced that sense of addiction. But I think Skyrim’s is different. It wasn’t the ‘ding’, gear, or other players keeping coming back, t was the quests, the atmosphere, and the very world itself that captivated me.

I usually only like fantasy that avoids unnecessary campyness; either it takes itself seriously, or pokes fun at itself in the right way. Skyrim does both of those things, making getting into the world easy for anyone, and the well crafted mechanics of the game make it all easy to understand. I could go on and on about everything good about this game. But the fact is that this game got very, very little wrong. Everything it set out to do was accomplished, and then some.

Runner Ups –

Portal 2 

When it comes down to it, no other game this year delivered such a high quality narrative or fine tuned experience. The story in Portal 2 is by far the best of the year, and the mind-bending puzzles give such a high sense of accomplishment. Plus there’s co-op. The game also feature one of gaming’s best character’s, GladOS. Where it fall short for me is the length of the game. It’s pretty short, not as short as the original, but it’s not hard to beat in a few sittings, and once the puzzle have been figured out, there’s not much reason to return.

Perhaps now you see my dilemma. Objectively, Portal 2 should be game of the year, but for me personally, it belongs to Skyrim. My favorite thing to do in video games is explore  and discover things (blame Ocarina of Time).

But Portal 2 delivered on everything else, and while was probably the best contained experience of the year, Skyrim still takes the cake in terms of what I want out of a video game. So, if there was a tie, this would be the other winner. Go play this game!

Special Award: Best Story/ Best Level Design/ Best Voice Acting

Dead Space 2

Dropping plodding suspense, for constant edge-of-your-seat intensity, Dead Space 2 delivers a more action packed and thrilling experience than its predecessor. The controls are tighter, the story is better, and atmosphere and set-piece moments are cranked up to peak levels. No game had such a visceral experience this year as Dead Space 2. And though I say it traded in suspense for intensity, there are still some truly dreadful and terrifying moments to be had in this game. It’s everything I love about sci-fi horror movies like Alien, condensed into one hell of a 3rd person shooter/action game.

Special Award: Best Atmosphere/ Best “Oh Shit!” Moments/ Best enemy design and gore

Rayman: Origins

I didn’t get as much time with this game as I would’ve hoped, but in the next few weeksI’ll hopefully give it the time it deserves. But those brief moments were enough to convince me this is one of the best game of 2011, and possibly the best platformer to come out in nearly 10 years. I have nothing bad to say about this game. Like with Portal 2, the only reason it’s not my game of the year (besides not having quite enough time with it yet) is that while I love 2D platformers, and the entire Rayman series, was because Skyrim did things this game did not. That being said, there is absolutely no reason to not play this game. It has the most beautiful and memorable art design of any game this year. Or several years prior. Get off your butts and pick this up! (Check out our review of the demo here!)

Special Awards: Best Graphics/Best Art Design/ Best Platforming

Dark Souls

The spiritual successor the Demon souls, Dark Souls is one tough game — an action RPG that throttles you at every step. Every enemy in the game can kill you. Traps will kill you. Even other players will kill you. the point is, you die a lot in this game. But the brilliant thing about Dark Souls is that dying is very much a part ofthe game. You need to die in this game to figure out how to progress. Some people don’t seem to understand this. It’s like puzzle solving in Zelda, just much deadlier. The high difficulty makes Dark Souls hard to get into, but for those willing to stick with it, it’s one of this year must play games. (Read our review here)

Special Award: Most Rewarding Gameplay/Most Innovative Multiplayer

– Games I missed out on –

Sometimes, we don’t get to play all the games we want to in a  given year, especially us college students. I for one had several games pass me by, and if all the major gaming outlets and and award shows are to be believed, they were among some of the year’s best. Who knows, maybe if I had played these, my list could be entirely different.

The Witcher 2

I am actually quite bummed I missed out on this one. The world of The Witcher is exactly the kind of no-nonsense and gritty atmosphere I enjoy from a fantasy game because I’m pretty picky. Anyway, I’ve heard great things about this game, its narrative, voice acting, gamplay — everything. Hopefully I’ll be able to experience the second part of this great series soon.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Confession time: I like Nintendo. When I left for college a couple years ago, I left the family Wii behind, and didn’t really look back despite losing my ability to play games like Zelda and Metroid (my personal favorite game franchise). Apparently, I did not posses the foresight that I was giving up my ability to play one of the best games of 2011, Skyward Sword. I’m sure one day I’ll be able to see what the latest installment of the Zelda series holds, but for now I’m rooting for it in the year-end list season.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

As I’ve said, I’m not an MMO guy. Despite the fact that SWTOR is in MMO, there’s something refreshingly different about it. Plus, it’s made from one of my favorite developers and is basically an enormous sequel to one of my favorite games, Knights of the Old Republic. After much careful consideration, I’ve decided I may as well give the game a solid chance, and see if this universe has something to offer me. Well, once the launch is smoothed out, anyway.

Here’s hoping that 2012 delivers just as many great gaming experiences as 2011! And be sure to comment and tell us your favorite games of the year, too!

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