Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 Top Ten Great Games

At this time of year everyone has lists, and I’m not an exception to “the list” syndrome.  This is 2012’s “great games” list for me.  As with all lists this is very subjective so I hope you take it with the grain of salt it’s supposed to be taken with.

Number 10: Mass Effect 3-----------
At number 10 we have Mass Effect 3 which caused quite the stir earlier this year when they turned all the excitement and adventure of the first two games and narrowed it all down to three choices by a “star kid.”  The game caused such conflict here in the Yee household that it was traded away as soon as we saw the ending.  

Ending to the saga aside the game itself was a great continuation of the series.  The multiplayer, while it felt a little tacked on was a lot of fun and still worked in the universe.  Now that the “Leviathan” DLC is out (and earned the Giant Bomb award for “PLEASE STOP”) the game sounds “complete” which might help those who waited or have never played the whole series (like PS3 owners) but for me the story is over and it’s all academic.  Even though I’m torn on the ending the game itself is still number 10 on my list.

Number 9: Sword of the Stars II: The Enhanced Edition----------
Number 9 is just like number 10 in that it offers me mixed feelings.  I really enjoyed Sword of the Stars 1 and felt it was a worth addition to the 4X space genre that I love so much with Master of Orion. (Which is still in my top ten games of all time) So when I found out back at E3 2011 that they were doing a sequel I put it on my “day one buy list.”  Then it came out and it happened to be between paydays so I didn’t get it at launch and I’m VERY glad I didn’t.

The game launched in a very unplayable state.  Patches a plenty came along and the community was up in arms at the horrible state of the game.  Then later on in 2012 I bought the game hoping it had been enough time for it to be “stable” and playable.  Turns out it kinda was but not enough for me to stick with it.

Fast forward to November 30th this year when I get an email saying they’ve “re-released” it all fixed up with the first DLC and “enhancements.”  I was given a free upgrade to this version of the game which technically turned my 2011 disappointment into a 2012 great game.  The game is quite playable and while I dislike the need for fleets (especially for the bugs!) the game is still quite the feast of 4X greatness.  Though not in the top five that seat is taken by someone else.  

Number 8: Scribblenauts Unlimited----------
This is just a fun and silly game that’s finally on the PC.  I had played around a bit with the Nintendo DS versions of the game but in the end it wasn’t on a system I owned.  Now the PC version has Steam Workshop support which means custom words including licensed works that the company couldn’t include with the game!

So now I don’t have to ride on a horse in game, I can ride on a Tauntaun or use a Portal gun or any other crazy device the community creates.  Beyond that the game is basically the same “use words to solve puzzles” formula they’ve been using for years and that’s not a bad thing.

Number 7: The Walking Dead
This is a hard one for the list as I haven’t finished it yet!  Honestly though from what I have completed I don’t know how this couldn’t be on my top ten!  The acclaimed Walking Dead series  follows more in line with the original comic than the A&E series and is a series of adventure games released throughout the year that managed to give weight and consequence to your choices throughout the game.  Then at the end of every chapter it let you check your choices against the community and see how good/evil you were compared to everyone else.  

Honestly the artwork takes a little getting used to but it doesn’t take long to become immersed in the gritty life and death struggle of your band of normal people just trying to make it out of a world gone mad!  If you haven’t played these yet do so now!   The season is done and by all accounts the ending will leave some in tears it’s that good!

Number 6: Planetside 2-----------------
I really enjoyed the first Planetside but I think we can all agree it was a bit too ambitious for the tech at the time.   Well Sony has tried again with Planetside 2 and I’m enjoying the heck out of the idea all over again!  The concept is simple, instead of preset engagements between teams of 16 or 32 lets just map a continent and see what happens.  

You end up with some of the greatest first person shooter moments I’ve ever had as tank columns roll up on a base covered by air support.  Dog fights and strafing runs spread out as the tanks attack and the transport release waves of troops.  Defenses are attacked, strong points taken, and the wave rolls on.   All the while you are one small part of a giant offensive push to retake land that you choose how to approach.  It’s quite the experience.

The downsides are why this is only number 6 on my list.  Constantly being the only dude defending a base is annoying.  1000 cert points that can take a week or two’s worth of work to get to unlock ONE gun is annoying.  Though you can pay money to unlock the gun which reeks of “pay to win.”  Disappearing enemies not due to them cloaking (which some can dang it!) but due to draw distance and lag?  Not fun.  In the end the fun out weighted the negatives enough to put this at number 6.  

Number 5: FTL: Faster than Light
What list could be complete from me without the Kickstarter darling that is FTL?  One of my first backed Kickstarters the game is a great balance of random events and player choices.  You can pause and issue commands all you want and you’d better because there’s so much to do!  
Keep the shields up!  We’re on fire!  Enemy borders!  All this and more can and does happen with every engagement.  

Each game is easily completed in a single sitting but if you can’t don’t worry there’s only a single save so you can come back right where you left off and no sooner.  The game is very punishing but rewarding at the same time. I’m not the most forgiving on tough games as I get frustrated easily but this one pushed me right to the line yet still gave me the tools to figure it out and get by on my own and that was quite rewarding.  

Number 4: Guild Wars 2
Guild Wars 2 is an obvious choice for this list as it is my wife and I’d MMO of choice.  Guild Wars 2 takes the Theme Park MMO formula and enhances and tweaks it just enough to make it pretty darn near perfect in my opinion.  Though you have to think of it as a Theme park with signs saying where things are than a guided tour.  Unlike Star Wars The Old Republic whose storyline basically walks you through the linear world path ahead of you,  Guild Wars 2 doesn’t have a quest system that really guides you step by step.  It’s more of a “while you’re in the area” kind of automatic quest system.

Another good point about Guild Wars 2 is that there’s not that much need to group up.  When you’re out adventuring you can just help out someone else or they can help you and everyone benefits.  Looking for the same boss monster?  Just jump in and help kill it and it counts for you too!  Trying to harvest some materials?  Don’t worry that tree/rock/plant spawns for everyone equally so you’re not stealing it from me.  

The game is very laid back and open and it works really well for my wife and I as we can come and go as our schedule allows.  Even better with the “Holy Trinity” of Healer/tank/DPS doesn’t really exist in GW2 so when you’re looking for a group for a dungeon instance you can just grab anyone you want.  Also you don’t even have to worry about their level as they will be lowered to the instance’s level to allow everyone to play together. The game is really nice for those who can’t spend huge amounts of time playing which makes it perfect for number 4 on this list.

Number 3: Endless Space
The best 4X Space game since Master of Orion 2.  

Now that’s saying a lot. In fact, that’s saying TOO much, but it is pretty darn close to reality.  Endless Space entered my consciousness as a “pay for Alpha and help shape the game” scheme that tickled my 4X space senses.  The game is GORGEOUS with bright colors and slick interface when needed.  That screenshot?  Yeah that’s what battles ALWAYS look like, that’s not a special freeze and zoom or just a battle zoomed in too small to actually fight, the combat always resolves in a Star Wars flashy combat sequence.

Which is why it’s not as good as the Master of Orion series.  While yes you get all the fun of designing your ships and creating your fleets, once you’re in actually combat you basically watch. You pick a “card” for long, medium, and short range phases of the fight but other than that you have no control of your ships.  You can retreat individual ships that are doing poorly.  No special weapon setups that the AI can’t run on it’s own.  Nothing interesting, and not much beyond an auto resolution.
Does it work?  Yep.  Is it fun?  Yes again.  There’s just a desire for more that isn’t here and isn’t intended.  In some ways it’s exactly the same level of depth of Master of Orion 2, in others it’s thin.  It’s that strange balance that takes getting used to but still earns Endless Space number 3 on my list.

Number 2: Mechwarrior Online
As one of the editors of the Mechwarrior Online Google+ Page is it any wonder Mechwarrior Online makes number 2 on my list? A free to play game very much in the vein of World of Tanks; Mechwarrior Online brings back the giant mech battles of the 90’s in a quick drop in and fight battle system.  Currently 8 vs. 8 battles (two lances) of randomly matched opponents drop into a single fight and duke it out in team battles.  

The “pay to win” concerns are lessened since nearly everything you can buy with real money you can buy with in game money.  Only a few cosmetic items and hero mechs (which are special layout mechs with custom paint schemes with money boosts) can be bought with cash only.  Since the mechlab allows players to customize any mech to their own playstyle the hero mechs don’t matter as much as a stock mech can often beat down a “hero mech” just due to better player weapon setups.

While I do love the game, it is very much still in Beta.  Jump Jets only recently were patched to act more in line with how they were supposed to.  PPC’s only recently got a speed tweak yet still seem to be more heat factories than damage dealers.  LRMs and SRMs keep going from over powered to useless and back again.  All the things you associate with Beta but for those who know Battletech lore it actually seems quite fitting for the 3049-3050 timeframe where new, or “lostech,” starts re-entering the battlefield.  

All in all the game gets number 2 due to the community I’ve found, the old memories it brings up, and the combat that makes you think.  It’s free to play so why not join in and give me more targets to shoot at?

Number 1: XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Anyone who didn’t see this one coming hasn’t been paying attention to me much.  :)

Honestly Firaxis the creators of Civilization series taking up the mantel of my beloved XCOM and bringing it into the modern day?  How could I not buy that on day one? The original XCOM is still in my top ten of all time and this modern version does much of what I wanted them to do in an update.  

The combat is still very life and death where one wrong move can get an entire squad wasted.  Yet at the same time you can have a single soldier save everyone else and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.  The base building, while not quite as deep as the original is still quite serviceable.  Plus there’s a multiplayer mode that lets you finally give the aliens orders!

Firaxis even managed to squeeze a bit of story into the game with different “beats” occurring in every game which defines what “phase” of the invasion you’re in.  All in all the game is a blast to play, is tough yet gives you the tools to make it as hard or as easy as you can handle.  In the end it is the game that lived up to my expectations going in and then some.  Well done Firaxis, I’m looking forward to more content and even a sequel!  

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