No, this is not the promised and not-much-anticipated review of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. I have yet to finish the game. If I had finished the game, I fear I would have simply regurgitated the disappointment expressed in my previous editorial on the subject. No, as we plough into 2012, a new year that is yet young, untarnished, and filled with hope, I want to take a moment to look back at 2011. At a time when friends-lists everywhere are filled with end-of-the year memes and resolutions, I cannot help but relate it to the games I played in the last year. So, here are five games that shaped my experiences in 2011.
Audiosurf is a racing game. Well, it is a puzzle-racer that changes based on user-picked tracks of music. It will take any music file and turn it into a track where players then collect various combinations of colored blocks for points. As a result, players have a near-endless supply of tracks and various characters that collect points in different ways. For example, Mono’s goal is to collect only colored blocks and avoid all gray blocks. This is a simple game, a great way to unwind after a long day’s work, and another avenue to explore and appreciate music.
This game is also the first game I bought on Steam and opened up the way for a year where 90% of the games I purchased and completed were downloadable titles. Whether through Steam or PSN, 2011 was a year filled with platformers a gamer could spend an afternoon with, indie titles that could be bought for a fraction of the price, and a newfound appreciation of the growing world of digital media. Before Audiosurf, I was wary of spending my hard-earned cash on games that “did not come in a box.” A year later, my computer and PS3 are both filled with new games but my shelves are bare.
2. Dragon Age II
Dragon Age II, despite its many shortcomings, was the only RPG I completed in 2011. I might even go so far to say that with the exception of World of Warcraft, it was the only game I spent more than 30 or 40 hours on. In a bygone era, where a young Thea believed that all the best things came from the mystical and far-away land of Japan, she would not touch a piece of media if it did not have a “J” in front of it. JRPGs were her weapon of choice. JRock was playing through her speakers. I am quite glad I am not that Thea anymore.
Now, the majority of my gaming experience is had through casual puzzlers and various platformers, and the very thought of an RPG makes me shiver with dread. Dragon Age II was a small triumph. It taught me that yes, I can complete games that take more than an afternoon. And yes, the world of western RPGs just might be worth revisiting. So, I picked up Skyrim, spent several hours trying to figure out alchemy, accidentally selling all of my armor and weapons except for a helmet, and punching wolves to death. After that, I decided Skyrim might be something to try and tackle in the new year.
3. World of Warcraft
It is Christmas 2010; I am starting a new job and swearing off the world of MMOs for good and for all. Yeah, right. Blizzard dangled a sparkly new Pegasus mount and a promise of Diablo III and there was no turning back.
But how did this game define my experiences in 2011? Well, aside from eating up the majority of my free-time, World of Warcraft offered me a sense of accomplishment that the rest of my life was sorely lacking. I finally managed to reach level 85. I finished a series of quests to obtain my Singing Sunflower pet (and am now thoroughly obsessed with Plants vs. Zombies). World of Warcraft allowed me to set small goals that I was able to meet and exceed. Yes, a part of me pales when I realize that in a year or so all my gear-grabbing will be for naught. However, this time around I am less looking for gear and more looking at collecting mounts, pets, reputations, and that will always instill a little sense of accomplishment.
Blizzard’s constant turn towards making their world-encompassing MMO more accessible has created a much more enjoyable experience for someone like me. Someone who hardly wants to spend 6 hours a day playing a game and instead can spend 30 minutes and still come away with a sense of satisfaction.
4. Assassin’s Creed II
I played this game early on in 2011 and this was the game that made me fall in love with this franchise. Assassin’s Creed was an interesting concept with an interesting character that fell in-line with my love of a certain desert-dwelling assassin from a certain series of R.A. Salvatore books. So I bit. I played through the first game and did not come away thinking “Wow, this is a game I will love forever.” Then, I picked up Assassin’s Creed II and within the first fifteen minutes of play I was in love.
So, for me, 2011 in games boiled down to a lot of Assassin’s Creed and some other indie games. I followed Ezio’s story from start to finish (though I did not quite ‘finish’) in the span of a few months and it was quite the ride. I love games with good stories. I like stories that include dashing assassins and characters with questionable morals. So, really, what reason was there for me not to love this series? It only saddens me that Ubisoft has taken into their heads that more is more, when really, less is more.
Still, with Ezio’s story complete, I cannot help but wonder what the next installment will bring. Will our new assassin find himself in the trenches of The Great War? Hmm, I wonder. I guess I can really thank this series for getting me interested in games again because before Assassin’s Creed found its way into my PS3 it really was little more than a glorified DVD player.
Bastion, without a doubt, is the best game I played this year. Bastion combines visual artistry, top-notch voice acting, and a killer soundtrack to create a game that really should be a part of every gamer’s library. Not only is this game pretty, but its hack-and-slash gameplay and the ability to fluctuate the difficulty with the use of items makes this game highly accessible to any level of gamer. Whether a player is looking for a challenge or just looking to spend an afternoon immersed a beautiful, post-apocalyptic world, there is something here for everyone.
Bastion taught me two things: video games really can be works of art and my PC can be used for more than puzzlers and MMOs. I always saw a certain degree of artistry in the world of video games, but for the most part my eyes were compartmentalized to character design or environment designs. Bastion’s various elements, from gameplay, to voice acting, to graphics, all work together to form a whole and true work of art. Interestingly, I now own more games for my PC than I do for all my other gaming consoles combined. Before 2011, the only games that found their way onto my computer were Blizzard RTS titles and MMOs.
In summary, 2011 was the year that thrust me back into gaming. I did not play a lot of games, or, I started a lot of games but never finished them. Still, it was a year that taught me to venture out of my comfort zone. I learned not to be afraid of games that do not come with boxes. I learned that western RPGs are pretty awesome. I learned that Artemis Entreri is not the only ass-kicking fictional assassin. But, most of all, I learned that I need to play more games.
Goodbye 2011! Hello 2012! I look forward to a year of more games and more adventures. So, readers, I cannot help but ask what games defined your 2011 experience?