I’m getting this up a little late this year, but it’s just as well since I played a couple of qualifying games over the holidays that definitely deserve their spots on the list. To explain this list: I play games on a fairly idiosyncratic schedule, and tend not to play a lot of games just as they come out. So to give as many games their due as reasonable, I do these lists on a one-year delay. So these are my favourite games that were released in 2011.
Honourable Mention, older game: Dungeons & Dragons Online
My first MMO. I spent 6 months of last year playing once or twice a night in a static group of folks from Gamers With Jobs. I played a barbarian, basically the easiest character out there – trigger your buffs, run up to the enemies, hit them with a giant axe. Rinse and repeat. It made for this great, relaxing social experience. Turbine should be particularly commended for capturing a lot of what specifically makes tabletop Dungeons & Dragons fun. I’ve grown very attached to my character. Dungeons feel dangerous, not just because of monsters, but because of traps. And fighting a beholder, or a golem, or some other iconic monster feels every bit as epic and terrifying as it should.
10) Batman: Arkham City
I didn’t like Arkham Asylum. It’s well-crafted, but it didn’t hook me. Throw in a proper open world, though, and add some flexibility to the combat toolkit, and you’ve got yourself a winner.
9) Dragon Age 2
I can’t think of a 2011 game that made me angrier than this one. But it made me angry because it made me care, and for that, it belongs on this list.
8) Dark Souls
I don’t like Dark Souls so much as I respect it. It’s remarkably that a game brimming with so much outright hostility towards its players was such a success. But there’s something magical about the process of struggling and learning and exploring the game’s world.
7) To The Moon
A late addition. This is very much game as literature. Besides an inspired early sequence, the gameplay ranges from mediocre to terrible. It’s a point and click adventure game with laggy, unresponsive controls and without any significant puzzles. But man does it tell a good story, and tell it well. And not of the sort that tends to be told in games. Quietly tragic is just not an emotion games tend to aim for.
6) Deus Ex: Human Revolutions
A stealth game that actually got me to play stealthily and non-violently. Sure, it has some hiccups (boss fights; the endings), but on the whole it was a tense experience, one that rewarded patience and exploration rather than going in guns blazing.