With our official Game of the Year content on the horizon, I thought about taking a minute to look at a few titles that should definitely be on your radar, as a majority of these didn’t quite live up to a fabled ‘Top 10’ countdown list. These may not be the be-all-end-all greatest titles of 2012, but these games are all selections that I’ve greatly enjoyed this year, and I fully believe that if given the chance, you’ll find something to love, as well.
These titles aren’t really ‘ranked’, perse, as a lot of these games I enjoyed a great deal, but can’t quite quantify where they’d stand on a list. Game of the Year lists are a hard nut to crack, and there’s a lot of favorites that get left on the cutting room floor. It’s an ill fate to be sure, but I just wanted to throw a shoutout to these games, as I firmly believe they shouldn’t be forgotten or ignored.
PENNY ARCADE'S ON THE RAIN-SLICK PRECIPICE OF DARKNESS 3
While I’m hit-and-miss with Penny Arcade as a franchise, I really enjoyed Episode 1 and 2 of the Penny Arcade adventure/RPG series by HotHead games. When I heard that fan-favorite (and fellow Penny Arcade forumites) Zeboyd Games took the reigns of the third installment, I was giddy. I loved Breath of Death VII and Cthulu Saves The World, and I’m happy to say that Penny Arcade OTRSPOD 3 continues the tradition of nostalgic 16-bit RPG goodness, with the depth of current releases, and the humor of Penny Arcade in their prime.
The game works in a class-based system, not unlike Final Fantasy V, and rewards the player for breaking the game systems in new and exciting ways. It’s also a decently-sized adventure, giving you a dozen or so hours out of the gate, with free DLC promised down the pipeline to lengthen the adventure. For me, this game took the love I have of SNES-era Final Fantasies, took away random battles (hooray!), added a fun and very rewarding class system (hooray!), and did it all for less than the price of a McDonalds combo meal (HOORAY!). A perfect way to spend $5 if you have an old-school RPG craving.
SINS OF A SOLAR EMPIRE: REBELLION
The only reason this isn’t in my Top 10, is because it already received that honor in my 2008 GOTY list. While Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion doesn’t reinvent the formula that I fell in love with in ‘08, it improves on everything dramatically. The ease of use of the UI, the graphical overhaul, the usage of Steamworks for multiplayer/achievements, and the addition of Titans units all lead to a ‘best of’ package for the best 4x/RTS hybrid I’ve ever played.
The space 4x genre can be a daunting genre to enter into, and a majority of gamers would be hard-pressed to even call games like Galactic Civilzations or Alpha Centauri a ‘game’ at all. With the numbers, diplomacies, text-heavy interfaces, and complex tech trees, many people feel they’d have more fun with Excel on a crunch week than a 4x title. Sins totally changes that perception, and focuses on the unit control, political backstabbing, and armada building aspects better than any game I’ve played in the genre. The real-time unit control feels more in-tune with a Company of Heroes, Starcraft, or even League of Legends, than a Civilization or Alpha Centauri. The game eases new and old players alike to its systems, and by the end of the lengthy (and incredibly user-friendly) tutorial missions, you’ll feel as if you have the potential to take over entire star systems.
With the ease of gameplay taking care of the overwhelming sense of ‘getting into a groove’, you can focus on the true fun of these titles: diplomacy. Things not going your way, because your allies are hoarding all the good stuff? Hire pirates to backstab your allies, without breaking your peace treaties. Your enemy hogging all of the good mineral systems? Build a massive starfleet, and jump into their home system while they’re away, bombing their homeworld and taking control of their government. Sins turns many 4x conventions on their head, and the game is better for it. A true masterpiece of game design, and a perfect entry point into the space strategy genre.
Growing up on Sierra titles for my PC, I will always have a soft spot for good point-and-click adventure games. Sadly, though, it seems the bigger budgets, high-quality voice acting, licensed soundtracks, and sequelitis of the games industry over the past three years or so has seen a decline of these titles. Enter Wadgeteye Games. Over the past few years, they’ve been creating and publishing true successors to the glory days of old. My first introduction was with the cult-classic Gemini Rue last year, and this year brought us the truly wonderful Resonance.
A story of an experiment gone wrong, Resonance focuses on four main characters, all of which have a hand in the game’s proceedings. The story is told through the eyes of the four characters, all of which are criss-crossing and entangling into one another in innovative, unique ways. The UI is minimal (much like Gemini Rue and Primordia) and really allows you to get immersed in the story moreso than fidgeting with awkward controls or lame pixel hunting. I’m also playing through Primordia, Wadgeteye’s newest release, and it’s definitely living up to the quality I’ve come to expect with the company. If you, like me, long for the days of great point-and-click adventures, just know that there are fantastic entries out there for you to discovery, and Resonance is a brilliant example of that.
KINGDOMS OF AMALUR: RECKONING
With the drama of 38 Studios over the course of the year, it’s sometimes hard to remember that they actually made a videogame, and a pretty good one, at that. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is the videogame equivalent to eating a candy bar: It’s light, it’s fun, and it hits a sweet spot that may not be incredible filling, but dammit, it tastes good while you’re eating it.
Take a little bit of Fable, sprinkle in some God of War, a bit of R.A. Salvatore writing, and add a nice helping of korean-mmo fetch quests, and you’ll have something much like Kingdoms of Amalur. While that may come off a bit catty, know that it’s a fun ride while it lasts, but don’t think you’re going to get the depth or sense of accomplishment like you would from something like The Witcher or the first Dragon Age. You create your character, enter the world of Amalur, and start your adventure after waking up from the Well of Souls.
You have three distinct types of character you can create, focusing on Might, Finesse, and Sorcery (which takes care of your classic rpg trifecta of melee tank, damage per second, and spellcasting), and your personality can cause some neat conversation options to show up during key quests. It plays solidly, and has a combat system that really responds to more action-oriented players: I highly recommend using a controller, even if you’re playing on PC. The game isn’t revolutionary, and some parts are downright broken, but I can’t say that I didn’t spend many nights staying up far passed when I should’ve been in bed, to collect some more herbs, or kill a few more bandits, in order to make the life of the NPCs in Amalur a little more bearable.
Torchlight 2 is a great click-based action game. It hits the same notes that Diablo 2 did back in the day, but brings a new aesthetic to the mix. It’s an example of old gameplay mentalities brought to the modern era, and for that, I appreciate Torchlight 2. The reason why it didn’t quite fit into my Top 10 list, though, is that the content didn’t feel as meaty, or memorable, as Diablo 2, or even Diablo 3. Yes, Diablo 3 ended up being my biggest disappointment of the year (as you can hear on Power Hour Episode 8), but the game was still memorable, and I have passionate opinions about it, which is more than I can say for Torchlight 2.
By no means is TL2 a bad game, it just has a strong case of the ‘been there, done thats’ for me. The loot is nice, the world is fun to look at, but the true stars of the show are the mod support, and the offline/online functionality. You can use your single player character in LAN or Online multiplayer, and vice-versa. You’re always progressing, so you never feel as if you’re wasting a moment, no matter how you play. If you didn’t experience the magic of Diablo 2 back in its heyday, I STRONGLY urge you to try Torchlight 2, as it’s eerily similar, yet has its own distinct personality. A game that I should’ve loved, but a game I ended up simply liking, instead. Regardless, a good game is a good game, and Torchlight 2, no doubt, is a good game. Just not Game of the Year material for me.
WORLD OF WARCRAFT: MISTS OF PANDARIA
This is my ‘political’ choice of the year. For all intents and purposes, Mists of Pandaria SHOULD be on my Top 10, because I’ve had more enjoyment, and spent more time in it, than any other game this year. However, that doesn’t stop it from being the fourth expansion pack to an 8 year old MMO, so not everyone is going to get the same fulfillment out of it that I am. I can’t realistically expect people to drop $100+ for the complete World of Warcraft experience, in order to really understand where I’m coming from, so that’s why it doesn’t make the official list.
Mists of Pandaria spices up the world of Azeroth, giving a breath of fresh air to a universe that has been marred by death, destruction, and overall ‘evil’ taking over the lore. Sure, it’s cool to have dark volcanos, treachery, and massive flame dragons that have ‘kill everything’ as their favorite hobby, but it was getting tired, and the fanbase was leaving because of it. Enter Pandaria, a fresh new take on Warcraft lore, a world that hasn’t been destroyed, or taken advantage of. It’s pure in its purpose, and really showcases a pacing and understanding of the world and storytelling that Blizzard had seemed to forget about years ago.
This is the most fun I’ve had in World of Warcraft since Burning Crusade opened up Outland, and Blizzard should be commended for it. It’s put the fun back into the game, and while during Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm I was worried about farming for slightly better gear, and raiding religiously for achievements, in Mists of Pandaria I’m getting more fulfillment out of exploring the zones, reading the quest texts, and understanding the overall story arch Blizzard is trying to convey with this expansion. The focus is back on what makes MMOs wonderful to begin with in my view, and that’s why it absolutely deserves an honorable mention.
MASS EFFECT 3
Put down your pitchforks, haters, I’m well aware that the ending of Mass Effect 3 was a bad call. It many ways, it was the WORST call for such an acclaimed series, and not even the patches, additional DLC, or indoctrination theories could save the day after dropping the ball so freaking hard. For me, though, Mass Effect 3 delivered a better shooting experience, a suprisingly coherent multiplayer mode, and some grade-A badass story moments. For every starchild dream sequence, you had an actual strong storytelling moment that was exactly in the right place, at the right time. Without spoiling too much, there’s no better example of that then the story of Mordin. Mordin, in Mass Effect 2, was a character that really didn’t do anything for me. Sure, he had the ‘I know more than you, silly human’ character nuances, and understood what his role in this grand space opera was a little too well, but in Mass Effect 3, he really came into his own. He had a full character arc, and the Mordin we see in Mass Effect 3 is a much more mature, well-rounded, and studied version of the Mordin we saw in Mass Effect 2. He was influenced not only by Shepard’s decisions, but also minor quibbles and story beats that were out of anyone’s control. He was letting the experience sink in, and it was changing him, little by little.
When Mass Effect 1 launched way back in 2007, I fell in love. Sure, the RPG mechanics were almost too indepth, the shooting mechanics were average at best, and that goddamn Mako wouldn’t stop bouncing around on planetside escapades, but there was something there. There was potential, and that potential was not only met, but surpassed with Mass Effect 2. I think Mass Effect 2 would be one of my Top 3 games of this generation, and could easily be on my ‘Top 10 Games I’ve Ever Played’ list. Everything fit perfectly together, and the story worked not only as a space opera, but also worked as a fun recruitment buddy-cop movie, and a ‘choices in videogames’ example that every game would look to for inspiration. It was Bioware at their finest, and I still think the influence of it will be felt long into the future of this business. Mass Effect 3, though, didn’t live up to those lofty expectations. It seemingly treaded water in key areas, some story beats simply didn’t make sense, and the most criminal element was Bioware shaping Shepard in a way that wasn’t expected, or warranted. They removed a lot of choice from the Shepard character, and his story beats would happen in such a way that was confusing at best, and downright groan-worthy at worst.
For me, though, Mass Effect 3 was a decent end for the trilogy as a whole, even if it wasn’t necessarily a great sequel for Mass Effect 2. If you go back and play the original Mass Effect, you’ll realize how far Bioware has come since then, and that’s something to celebrate. Would we all change the ending if we were on the writing staff? Sure. Would we all be able to fix the many problems Mass Effect 3 had as a game if we worked at Bioware. I’m sure we’d all love to think so. The only problem is, we don’t. We are consumers to the product that Bioware gives us, and while they made a few monumental mistakes that takes away from the impact of the trilogy as a whole, I still think the Mass Effect total experience is worth playing through, and I will remember it fondly. I’ll remember how the franchise evolved into a great action-RPG hybrid, the amazing science fiction universe that Mass Effect introduced me to, and the overall feeling of fulfillment I had in meeting all of these unique characters, and the decisions I made throughout my journey. The overall experience stuck with me, and as silly as it sounds, it changed my perception on what a long-term, slow-burn story can be like in videogames. Mass Effect 3 may have its fair share of mishaps, but the Mass Effect Trilogy as a whole stands out as one of the best gaming experiences I've ever had. It'd be criminal not to acknowledge that. This one’s for you, Mordin.
I hope you guys enjoyed this little rundown of some games you should focus your attention to! While these games are great in their own ways, it’s now time to dissect the greatest releases of the year: This article is the official kick-off for Nitrobeard’s Game of the Year 2012 coverage, so in the coming week you’ll see all of our top picks, whether it be in video or text form, all leading up to the grand finale: Nitrobeard’s Game of the Year 2012 Podcast! It’s a true battle royale, as the Power Hour and Free To Play crew come together to find the true winner of 2012, the title that we’re proud to call Nitrobeard’s Official Pick! We hope you all enjoy, and here’s to 2013 being the best year for Nitrobeard yet!