It has been a while since I blogged, but I thought this would be something interesting to talk about. I've played a lot of games this year on PC and I've had some enjoyable experiences, and I thought it would be worth sharing my thoughts about the things I've had the opportunity to play over the past 12 months.
Now, I am not really going to talk about Dungeon Defenders or Football Manager 2011 since those are both games which I had started playing before the start of this year, so I don't think it is necessary to spend more time on them in this post, especially since this is going to be a long, long post anyway. I am giving you fair warning about that.
So without further ado, here's my year in PC gaming.
Starcraft II: I got this free because of a promotion at a Canadian site called Tsilon, which is affiliated with one of the major electronics stores up here. Anyway, as you well know, this is one of the most popular games in the world and it is one of the foundations of the modern eSports movement. However, I just couldn't get into this game. I wanted to like it, and in the single player mode, I was enjoying the story, but playing multiplayer soured me on the experience. I was terrible and in a way that was just demoralizing, since even though I was playing with other beginners, I was fundamentally not good enough to be competitive. Even from my relatively brief time with the game, I could tell it was very well designed, but I think that RTS's like this aren't my thing anymore.
Diablo II: After I got Starcraft II, I thought I would try Diablo II as well. This one is going to be important later in the list, but basically I liked the mechanics, but there were just some little design issues which detracted from my enjoyment of the game, like having to go back to town to sell loot and the way the quests were handed out. I have a feeling that if I had played this when it first came out, I would have been obsessed with it, but I think too much time had passed for me to experience this game at its best (especially since I didn't really get to see it played as a multiplayer game).
Mass Effect 1 + 2: Now these were some great games. I had decided to finally play them right before the final installment of the series came out because I had a feeling that if I didn't, the major plot points of them would likely be spoiled. I was not disappointed, as they were very well made and had a rather compelling storyline. Unusually for me, I also made the decision to play the game as a female version of the protagonist Shepard, a decision which I was glad I made because I liked Jennifer Hale's take on the character better than her male voice actor counterpart. I don't really have any complaints aside from the fact that I think I liked the combat system from the first game better than the one they used for the second, and I have a feeling I am in the minority with that opinion. I liked the characters, the story, the setting and the sense of continuity because of the decisions you made carrying over between games. In fact, I liked the first game so much that when it came time to play the second, I paid quite a bit of money for the DLC for the second game just so I could see everything it had to offer. I had set out to play the character in a certain way, as someone damaged and emotionally scarred, someone with an edge of bitterness, but she defied my intentions and became someone else when confronted with the hard choices, someone better and more noble than I had imagined at the beginning, and my time with my version of Shepard was amazing and it was something which may have changed how I view games in subtle ways. Unfortunately, the third part of the trilogy is on Origin, and because of some of the continuing technical problems with that platform, I am giving the conclusion of the series a pass for now.
Realm of the Mad God: This was a game I kept telling myself I would never play because it is a free MMO. And then Stumbleupon brought up the web client version of it and I tried it. It isn't bad, and because the lives of your characters are relatively short, it is easy to start and stop games, so it isn't as addictive as I feared. It falls right into that sweet spot between being really casual and being hardcore, so it is a game I can visit every couple of months for a night or two and then go on to something else. All and all, it is a lot of fun for very little time investment.
Dragon Age: Origins: I started this after I finished Mass Effect 2, and I had certain expectations because it was also a Bioware game. The first thing that I noticed, aside from the fact that the player character didn't really speak aside from some random things said during battles, was that the moral system was different that Mass Effect in that you couldn't always accurately assess whether a statement was going to be good or evil, nor could you judge if one of your companions would like or dislike your decisions, since there were party members who were more aligned to evil. I think I liked this ambiguity a little better. However, I found the battles a lot harder than the encounters in the Mass Effect series, so this game took me much longer to finish than either of those other games, which could be good or bad. By the end of it, I think I was ready for it to be over. I also liked the fact that the game had multiple endings which were based on some of the key decisions you made during the game, and some of those choices were difficult to make. While I enjoyed it, the Mass Effect games were far better in my mind, and while I liked the characters, especially Alistair and Leliana, they were not in the same league as their Mass Effect counterparts.
Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad: I bought this game when it was on sale one weekend and I played it for about a week. It was a good first person shooter but (and there is always a but), it just wasn't great. The maps were interesting, the weapons were nice and supposedly period accurate, but something didn't click for me, though I understand why there is a committed community for it. There is also a decent amount of strategy in playing it in MP, and I respect what the developers tried to do with this game. I certainly liked it better than Tripwire's previous game, Killing Floor, as it seems much more polished.
Shoot Many Robots: A decent side scrolling shooter. Not great, but entertaining in its way. There was discussion about there being some DLC, but the developer scrapped those plans and it is a shame since I think I would have liked to have seen what they had in mind for it.
Crusader Kings II: Oh my god. I loved this game. I was a fan of Paradox's previous games, and I had had the first installment of this series on my old computer, but I was never able to really get into a game of it because my processor was a little too slow. When the sequel was released on Valentine's Day this year, I had a much better computer. And it was certainly worth the wait. The game allows players to take on the role of any one of a number of
counts, dukes, kings or even emperors from medieval Europe and basically try to have your dynastic line survive through the period. And the most interesting thing is that unlike other games in the genre, war isn't even your primary option for expanding your empire. My first game, I didn't get into a war for almost a century, and I was able to keep increasing the size of my family's lands through marriage and a few well-timed assassinations. I also have to say, for a game with no dialogue and a series of characters who crop up randomly after the initial setup (which can be any day in history from September 1066 through 1337), it develops into some serious character drama.Since every character in the game has their own ambitions, some of which benefit you (such as a vassal taking land from another ruler without involving you in their own war) and some that are very bad for you (like your brother plotting to take your throne), you as the player develop strong feelings towards these people. I can think of people who I liked very much and people who I hated so much, both sets of which were merely characters born of dynastic marriage and trying to fulfill their own destinies with or without me. The game is very moddable as well, and there are quite a few people who bought it this year simply to play the Game of Thrones mod, which the mechanisms of the game are well equipped to simulate. I just want to keep gushing, but I feel I should move on.
Dungeons of Dredmor: A rogue-like dungeon crawler with a wicked sense of humor and character permadeath, featuring so many different skill combinations that it seems infinitely replayable. However, the difficulty of the title is what sort of put me off after a couple of days. I liked the art style, the humor and figuring out the systems, but knowing that the developer didn't expect most people to be able to finish the game is disheartening. But it was relatively inexpensive, and I did have fun, but I just don't think I really saw the best this title had to offer, and that is on me. But I can see the value of the experience and I look forward to seeing Gaslight Games next project too.
Torchlight 1 and 2: You remember in the Diablo II entry that it was going to be important. These games are the reason why. These games, designed by people who were instrumental in developing the first two Diablo games basically fixed all the issues I had with those games and made something that to me was awesome to play. I like to play games in single player, so the absence of multiplayer in the first game wasn't really a problem for me. The times I did play online with my character in Torchlight II, I found the experience to be enjoyable and lag free. The fact that both of these games helped mitigate the loot problems by allowing you to send your pet to sell unwanted items for you, allowing you to continue your quest was a breakthrough and really helped the flow of these titles. The gameplay was so compelling that even after I beat both of these games, I continued playing, not just to see what loot I could find (which let's be honest, is a huge motivating factor in playing one of these games) but because I just enjoyed the world it presented me and the combat system. My only real issue with these games is the fact that you can't change the difficulty of your game on the fly, because I chose a difficulty level in the second one which was a little too intense for me and it made beating it a little more frustrating than I had hoped, and really, that is a minor quibble. Torchlight II was the only game I've ever preordered from Steam, and I don't regret doing so.
Fallout 3: I had played Morrowind last year, so I was pretty familiar with how Bethesda's open world games worked, and while I had some initial worries that I may have problems with it since it wasn't fully compatible with Windows 7, it ended up running fine for me. And what an experience it was. From the beginning, I was engaged with the story the game was telling me, and with the characters I met throughout my travels as the Lone Wanderer. Because the characters were so interesting, I wanted to help them, especially those people who I could tell we good and honest, the kind of characters who through their existence made a horrifying post-apocalyptic wasteland a better place for everyone. I liked the world Bethesda created as well, filled with hidden wonders and historical depths to explore. I also respected the fact that the morality system allowed the player to do some truly despicable things if they made those choices. I didn't of course, but knowing that those options were there made the choices more interesting. In retrospect, it made the renegade responses in Mass Effect seem really tame, because the worst your could be in ME was an anti-hero, while FO3 allowed you to be a villain protagonist. I surprised myself by actually finishing the game and the major pieces of DLC too since my experience with Morrowind led me to believe I would become bored before I reached the end because there is always so many sidequests to do in these kinds of games, but it was such a great experience that I had to see it through to the end, and all my small gripes seem immaterial when compared with the enjoyment I received playing it.
Galactic Civilizations II: This one is going to be really short. I wanted to like this, but I don't like the Civilizations series, and this game is just like those games.
Kung Fu Strike: The Warrior's Rise: A really, really hard stage based beat em up/fighting game based in early modern China. I was warned it was hard, and that made me want to play it even more, and you know what? It kicked my ass. Repeatedly. But I have to say it was fair, which I respect, since it kicking my ass was my fault, not the game. It rewards precision and timing, and I wasn't doing the things I needed to do to survive. I may go back in the new year to see if I can finally beat this game, but I have a feeling it will best me again.
Castle Crashers: I've wanted to play this game for so long, but it was a console exclusive for years, but it was finally released this fall. It was worth the wait. There was this game that I loved on the Saturn called Guardian Heroes, and it reminds me so much of that. I like the fact that there are just so many characters to play the game through as, and the art style is cartoonish and loveable, and the fighting mechanics are solid, and since I love side scrolling beat em ups, this was something that I was going to love just based on that. It will be a game I will definitely be revisiting over the coming year as well.
All in all, a pretty good year for games, because even the few I didn't really like were still pretty good otherwise, so I can't complain.