Time to roll up the carpet on gaming year 2012. It’s been a great one on all fronts, bookended by the releases of the Playstation Vita in February and the WiiU, the first shot to be fired in the upcoming next-generation console wars, in November. Our coverage leaned more towards the indie scene this year, but we still kept our toes in the AAA waters. Here are the favorite games our writers played this year (please note the use of the word “favorite,” rather than “best”). Feel free to chime in with yours. And have a happy and safe 2013!
With some reservations, which I expanded upon in a longer blog entry, I claim Crusader Kings II as my favorite game of the year. I’m still playing it after several months (a good sign). The new content has expanded the game in great ways (before anyone complains about Sunset Invasion, yes, I like that too, even if I don’t enable it all the time). I get more emotionally invested when playing CKII than I do most games out there. It is, at the end of the day, more than worth the cost. And, as I’ve been ranting about for the past few months, that’s what really matters. —Jason Pitruzzello
Trauma is a Myst-style adventure about a young woman who’s recovering from an auto accident. While you explore her dreams through a series of photographs, the photos don’t fill the screen, which leads to a great sense that these smalls scraps of film are windows into this woman’s mind. Too many “art games” seem to have minimal gameplay and inscrutable narratives. I found Dear Esther to be moving, but only in spite of its own discordant nature. Trauma strikes a great balance by being interpretive but without being vague. It’s an intimate mirror of humanity, one that reflects our fears and insecurities, but without being judgmental. When we look into it, we’re startled to see parts of ourselves, but Trauma is a comforting whisper, saying “It’s ok, I’ve been there too.” It’s an experience that has made every other game I played this year look like the time-wasting fodder it is. Now that I’ve savored this sweet, intrinsic reward, it’s made leveling up and gathering points in other games seem hollow and repulsive. Trauma‘s so good that it’s ruined me for other games. —Ian Davis
As I’ve gotten older, I find I have less time, and in some cases, less inclination to stick with a game if it doesn’t grab my attention right out of the gate and have the potential to keep it long-term. So, it must say something that only a few games reside on my hard drive right now, and only one has been there for the entire past 12 months. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is an amazingly immersive game. Aside from the incredible graphics, the countless player-created mods that allow you to personalize your game, the enormously alive world and the character personalization, it’s the story and the different quest opportunities that turn your game into a fantasy novel that you write as you play. I’ve never played anything quite like it, and every time I return I know I’m in for something special. This is the mark of a great gaming experience, and it’s why Skyrim is my favorite game of 2012, and likely beyond. —Peter Gore
Missing out on something might be one of the only fears I have in life. How close was I to missing out on a gem such as Dragon’s Dogma? What possessed me to download the demo in the first place, and why did I eventually log more than a hundred hours in the full game? Simple: Dragon’s Dogma is everything I like about MMOs (teamwork, sprawling worlds, and scads of progression in both characters and armaments), but packaged in a distinctly Capcom-flavored single-player action setting. The only way to describe it is if Shadow of the Colossus, Assassin’s Creed and Dead Rising got together and decided to have an End of the World party over at the Elder Scrolls lodge. My experiences were organic, arcane and numerous. Forging shortcuts though caves, cursing my inept pawns for acting just like MMO players, and being floored by not only how you finish the game, but also being absolutely destroyed when I accidentally loaded (and autosaved over) my file, depriving me of the reward of DD‘s game-plus mode. Dragon’s Dogma has sat on my shelf ever since, staring at me amongst the underplayed games of years past. It craves more of my life essence, but I don’t think I can bring myself to do it. At least, not until the recently announced sequel (or until the Dark Arisen expansion) comes out. Yet even with crippling heartache as my deterrent, it’s still by far my favorite game of 2012, and I highly recommend it. —Andrew Clark
Yes, I’m making the easy choice. But of the 20 games that I reviewed this year, only Mass Effect 3 has managed to stay with me throughout the year. The journey actually started in 2007, and in the intervening years, my stalwart space cowboy John Shepard defeated scores of enemies, bedded several comrades, and united a universe against an ancient evil. Controversy continues about this game, even months after the release of the final chapter in the trilogy (and yes, I’m still perfectly happy about the endings), but this only goes to show how much passion and interest this series has generated among gamers around the world. I’m looking forward to seeing how the now-doctorless BioWare steers the franchise, and I’m pleased to claim it as my favorite game of 2012. —Michael Smith