Many quality games came out this year in both sci-fi and fantasy genres, making 2011 a strong year for games. The process of selecting ten games for this list was daunting. To finalize this list, I focused on the games that stayed with me because of their stories, characters, or gameplay (and for some, all three). These are the games that I can see myself playing again many months from now.
10. Dragon Age II
At first, I was disappointed by this game. It was different than its predecessor, ‘Dragon Age: Origins.’ Instead of six different openings with unique storylines and character customization, you play as Hawke (male or female) and learn how Hawke becomes the hero of Kirkwall. I almost quit playing this game because of the changes. What kept me playing? I realized I wasn’t being fair to the game. DA2 is its own game, and once I starting thinking that way, I began to have fun, and once my rogue did a flip to stab a guy in the back, I was hooked. The action is quick, the combat is ruthless and bloody, and the dialogue options are better than DA:O. The choices you make shapes the kind of hero Hawke becomes. Yes, some of the locations are repetitive, but the story has intrigue as you navigate the plots surrounding the struggle between the Mages and the Templars. The characters interact with each other well, and you have different exchanges between characters depending on who is in your group. And how you choose to interact with the characters also changes the course of the game, which is one of the reasons I want to play this game again.
Developer: Bioware. Publisher: Electronic Arts. Platforms: PC, Mac, Xbox 360 (played), PS3, XBLM. Rated M. Genre: Fantasy RPG. Release Date: March 8, 2011.
9. The Lord of the Rings: War in the North
I was reluctant to pick up this game. I don’t buy a game because it is a movie or a TV show tie-in, but I heard a few good things about this one, so I bought it. You play as one of three characters: the Ranger Eradan, the Elf Andriel, or the Dwarf Ferin. The locations and look of the characters are based on the films. Aragorn looks like Viggo Mortensen, but a different actor was used for his voice, which is the case for all of the characters from the film you encounter on your quest. The game looks good and sounds even better. Music and sound effects from the films are used, so when you hear the Orc horn, you know trouble is coming your way. The story feels forced in the beginning, but once your small fellowship is on its own, the story improves. The single player campaign is fine, but the co-op mode is what puts this game on this list. You can play local two-person co-op or online co-op up to three, and there is online multiplayer as well. The challenges become more interesting, manageable and engaging when you play with someone else. When I played solo, I got frustrated by my computer-controlled companions. I suggest playing this game with a fellow lover of RPGs because a good co-op RPG is rare. My friend and I enjoyed hacking, slashing and looting our way through Northern Middle Earth as we did our part in the war against Sauron, and I think you will too.
Developer: Snowblind Studios. Publisher: WB Games. Platforms: Xbox 360 (played), PS3, PC. Rated M. Genre: Fantasy RPG. Release Date: November 1, 2011.
8. Trine 2
‘Trine 2’ is one of the most beautiful, lush games I have ever played, and the 2D side-scrolling game combines platform mechanics, combat, and puzzle solving to give players a unique and challenging experience. You can play solo or co-op (online or local). There are three protagonists: Zoya the Thief, Pontius the Knight, and Amadeus the Wizard. If you play co-op, up to two others can join in the fun; if you play solo, you can switch between the characters to traverse the detailed and visually stunning landscape. The game changes action frequently; you are not constantly jumping from platform to platform or solving puzzles or fighting. The variation in the gameplay is what I enjoyed the most. The puzzles are clever and inventive, and there is more than one way to solve each puzzle, which means I want to go back and discover different ways to play through the game’s twelve chapters.
Developer: Frozenbyte. Publisher: Atlus. Platforms: XBLM, PSN, Mac, PC (played). Rated E10+. Genre: Fantasy Puzzle Platformer. Release Date: December 7, 2011.
7. Gears of War 3
Taking place 18 months after the events in ‘Gears of War 2,’ this last installment of the ‘Gears of War’ trilogy brings a satisfactory conclusion to the events on Sera, a planet colonized by humans that has been ravaged and nearly destroyed by Emergence Holes. You play as Marcus Fenix, a battle-worn C.O.G. soldier, and fight Locusts and Lambents in order to finally solve the problem of the Emergence Holes. The game is beautiful; Epic always knows how to use the Unreal Engine the best, and it better since the company developed the game engine. The campaign’s story is good, but the strongest parts of the game are the co-op and online modes. The campaign can be played solo or local co-op with up to four players. You can play the campaign online in Arcade mode; the other cooperative online modes are Horde and Beast. The game also has several competitive multiplayer modes: Warzone, Execution, King of the Hill, Wingman, Capture the Leader, and Team Deathmatch. With so many options, ‘Gears of War 3’ becomes a game one wants to play repeatedly and invest a lot of time in. If you’ve never played competitive multiplayer online before, the game’s interface is easy to use, and the community is welcoming.
Developer: Epic Games. Publisher: Microsoft Studios. Platform: Xbox 360 only. Rated M. Genre: Sci-Fi Action Shooter. Release Date: September 20, 2011.
6. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
You play as Geralt of Rivia, who has lost most of his memories as a result of events that ended the first game. Accused of assassinating a king, Geralt must discover who is actually behind the assassination. If you have never played an RPG before, I recommend you get a couple under your belt before you tackle this very dense and complex game. The world is open, and the story is nonlinear. The environment is beautiful, detailed, and rich. The action is smooth and quick. What sets ‘The Witcher 2’ apart from other RPGs are the choices you make. Choices that seem minor and inconsequential when made can impact the game hours later. Actions are not good or evil, but each decision shapes the course of the game. The narrative branches in numerous ways, leading to one of sixteen endings. Yes, the game has sixteen endings. With such a vast world, ‘The Witcher 2’ can be replayed several times with each new playthrough feeling like a new game. Great graphics and art, distinct characters, and an intriguing story structure make ‘The Witcher 2’ one of the most fascinating and challenging RPGs I’ve ever played.
Developer: CD Projekt RED. Publishers: THQ, Atari SA, Namco Bandai Games, CD Projekt RED, 1C Company. Platforms: PC (played), Xbox 360 (available May 2012). Rated M. Genre: Fantasy RPG. Release date: May 17, 2011.
‘Bulletstorm’ has a story. You play as Grayson Hunt, the ex-Dead Echo member whose thirst for vengeance leads him to ram his ship into another and causes both ships to crash on the planet Stygia. Hunt wants revenge on his former commander, General Sarrano, because the leader of the Confederation of Planets tricked Hunt into assassinating an innocent man. The characters are developed well, especially Ishi Soto, Hunt’s crewmember who is turned into a cyborg in order to save is life after the crash. While the story is solid, that’s not why I kept playing this game. I enjoyed ‘Bulletstorm’ because of the outrageous, ludicrous action. This game is a lot more than a shooter. You can use a leash to grab mutants and pull them towards you. The pull-kick-pull-kick-kill cycle never got old. And there are multiple ways to kill targets. You can kick them over the side, kick them into prickly plants, electrocute them, beat them, and set them on fire. You are rewarded for linking kills together, and the more inventive your method of execution is, the higher your score. If you want to kick back, shoot some dudes, and have some over-the-top fun after a long, hard day at work, then ‘Bulletstorm’ is the perfect game for you.
Developer: People Can Fly and Epic Games. Publisher: Electronic Arts. Platforms: PSN, PS3, XBLM, Xbox 360 (played), PC. Rated M. Genre: Sci-Fi First-Person Shooter. Release Date: February 22, 2011.
4. Star Wars: The Old Republic
‘Star Wars: The Old Republic’ has made me want to do something no other MMO has—play past the first month. The game is set during the war between the Jedi and the new Sith Empire as the two powers struggle for control of the universe. You can play as a Jedi or a Sith. There are eight different classes, and each class has its own storyline. All characters are voiced, including yours. The music is from the ‘Star Wars’ franchise, and combined with the detailed graphics, you are immersed in the ‘Star Wars’ world. SWTOR is an engaging MMO environment that has taken its time to create amazing stories, which are enhanced by fluid cutscenes. The interface is easy to use, so if you haven’t played an MMO before, this is a good one to start with. SWTOR is also very solo friendly. If you are not in the mood to be in a group, there is plenty for you to do. Group missions are optional, but one of the major appeals of an MMO is playing with friends, and forming a group is easy and helps you complete some of the more difficult side quests. If BioWare can sustain this high level of quality, then SWTOR will be my MMO of choice for the months, possibly years, to come.
Developer: BioWare Austin. Publishers: LucasArts Entertainment, Electronic Arts. Platform: PC only. Rated T. Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy MMORPG. Release Date: December 20, 2011.
3. To the Moon
Available only on Freebird’s website, this independent game is a short, heavily pixelated game that is reminiscent of older 16-bit, top-down games. What compelled me to play was a very innovative and touching story. Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts are hired by Johnny to fulfill his dying wish. To make his wish come true, the doctors have to enter their patient’s mind and change his memories, making him think he lived the life he always wanted moments before he dies. Never before has writing alone pushed me through a video game. Writer Kan Gao (also the composer, director, and designer) created characters with distinctive personalities, even the minor characters are more than one note. The interactions between Rosalene and Watts are hilarious, bringing levity to a very poignant story. I don’t want to say much about the story because it will ruin the game for you. All I will say is this: If you are not moved at all by the ending, then you are a Terminator because only a heartless, soulless mechanical beast would not be affected by the ending. I cried during the game, after the game, and I’m almost in tears now thinking about the story again.
Developer: Freebird Games. Publisher: Freebird Games. Platform: PC only. No rating. Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure. Release Date: November 1, 2011.
‘Bastion’ has all the qualities of an excellent game. The menus are easy to navigate, the controls are tight, and the action is fast. The graphics by Jen Zee are lush, vibrant, and gorgeous with just the right amount of details. Darren Korb’s soundtrack is a superb mix of Indian flare, guitar, and drums that enhances the frantic action, and the songs are hauntingly beautiful, especially “Mother, I’m Here (Zulf’s Theme).” What shines brightest about the game is how the story is told. You play as the Kid; he wakes up to find his world virtually destroyed by the Calamity. The Kid has to navigate what is left of his world to find pieces that will rebuild the Bastion, the safe haven of Caelondia. Instead using numerous cutscenes to reveal character, the narrator, Rucks (voiced by Logan Cunningham), reveals information in a nonlinear fashion about the Kid as you play. The best example of this is in the “Who Knows Where” level, which is an optional level accessed by smoking the pipe. This method of storytelling violates the “Show, Don’t Tell” rule, but “Show, Don’t Tell” is for films and TV. ‘Bastion’ is a video game, so it doesn’t need to follow the rules for films, and I’m glad the game broke the “Show, Don’t Tell” rule. By telling the story as I played, I was completely immersed in the game. ‘Bastion’ has intense action and an innovative storytelling method, which is why the game is one of my favorite games I’ve ever played
Developer: Supergiant Games. Publisher: WB Games. Platforms: XBLM (played), PC, Browser. Rated E10+. Genre: Fantasy Action RPG. Release Date: July 20, 2011.
1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
‘Skyrim’ does have glitches, but the quality of the game makes you forget the glitches exist. I can understand why some have not connected with ‘Skyrim;’ it’s a quiet game. You are alone a lot. Sometimes you have companions, but the characters don’t interact during a journey like they do in ‘Dragon Age II.’ If you want to form relationships with other characters, you can by staying in towns for a while. You can spend hours in one town by taking jobs, getting to know everyone, buying a house and getting married. The writing is exceptional throughout the game. The side quests are just as interesting as the main story. In fact, if you only completed side quests you would still have a meaningful and ample game. You fight a wide range of enemies, from wolves to dragons. You can craft for hours or play the main story straight through. The music is epic and grand, and the sound design brings the environment to life (the sound of snow crunching under my character’s feet made me feel cold). The world is open, the story is vast, and the content is diverse. The game can last hundreds of hours, which can frustrate some, but fascinates me. ‘Skyrim’ is my top game of 2011 because it is a unique experience that transcends what most video games are.
Developer and Publisher: Bethesda Softworks. Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360 (played). Rated M. Genre: Fantasy RPG. Release Date: November 11, 2011.
Agree? Disagree? What were some of your favorite sci-fi/fantasy games of 2011?