My Game of (last) Year: Dragon Age Origins
[I realize this came out last year, but this is the game that dominated my gaming experience in 2010]
Awarding something ‘Game of the Year’ can be done under a number of different criteria, but one that works for me is this: “what game really drew me in, and had me spending hour after hour with it?” That game, despite some very real flaws, was BioWare’s Dragon Age: Origins.
For me, what really sold the game was the character Morrighan. From an artistic perspective, BioWare did a good job of developing a character with some sex appeal that wasn’t overtly sexy. Courting her meant being judicious about helping that defenseless villager, but she is not a character I would describe as evil–let alone a ‘bad’ girl.
In fact, despite all her idiosyncrasies, her behavior is actually quite logical based on her upbringing. Learning the truth about her ‘mother’ Flemeth, exacting revenge, and earning her final amorous approval is something I enjoyed quite a bit. I’m not sure how I would have reacted to the ‘God baby’ endgame without having courted her first, but that’s a twist I certainly didn’t see coming.
Add this defining character into a world that feels lived in. Sure, Orlais and Ferelden bear more than a passing resemblance (with fates reversed) to England and France post-Hundred Years’ War. The prophet Andraste is clearly modeled after Joan of Arc. But look what designers did with high-fantasy regulars: dwarves and elves. The political system of the former and the political status of the latter was something I found incredibly refreshing. Elves as once-immortal beings now typically found enslaved or in refugee camps. . . that lends a darkness to the fantasy setting a thousand Drows could not.
Origins has been let down by its mediocre and poorly balanced DLC packages as well as the largely forgettable Awakening expansion but the core game that shipped in November 2009 got more love from me in 2010 than any other title in my library.
My runner-up is a game that actually came out in 2010, and sucked my time away more than anything that didn’t have Morrighan in it. This was my first experience with a DICE game and the franchises represented in it (both Battlefield and the Bad Company sub-brand), and I’ve been totally blown away by the experience.
Multi-player in BC2 is an addictive, well-balanced affair that brings tactical gameplay to the fast-paced environment of the console in a way that Call of Duty probably never will. Though the game’s success owes much to the Frostbite engine, especially the way destructible environments make each match feel like an organic battle, the real key is something more subtle. The two dominant multi-player modes (Rush and Conquest) hybridize objective and deathmatch play in a way that no other FPS does: objectives are given–and are key to each mode–but unlike other objective games, kills and kill/death ration still matters for the team. For those who care to read more, I wrote about this on Gamasutra a while back.
The reason Bad Company 2 doesn’t get the nod from me, despite being my favorite game actually released in 2010, is that the campaign is pretty forgettable. In fact, the final level has been so maddening to me I still haven’t finished it.
Disappointment of the Year
Perhaps I came into Halo: Reach with excessively high expectations. It’s a good game, but I expected greatness. On the single-player front, gameplay is solid, but two key enemies are drastically over-powered to the degree they are simply not fun to fight, despite the challenge: Zealot elites, and especially Hunters. Even worse, the story–its characters in particular–fall flat in a way that leaves ODST as the most engaging Halo story to date.
Nor, unlike Bad Company 2, does the multi-player redeem the campaign’s flaws. True, I had some pretty glowing things to say about it back in October, but the more I play the more I get tired of the Halo formula. It’s subjective, I know, but I have to bring it up. Objectively, the game is impeccably balanced, but the majority of levels fail to impress–and they’re certainly not memorable. Not in the long run.
The Noble Map Pack is well-done, and I’ll stick come back from time to time, but Reach is not addictive in the way Halo 3 was and has not superseded Bad Company 2 as my “go to” multi-player game of choice.
Moment of the Year
The last hours of Red Dead Redemption. Especially what happens after the credits roll. . . wow. I left the game there, because that’s the ending I wanted to remember.
The game as a whole is pretty flawed, but it will be interesting to see what Rockstar does with the Wild West setting down the road.
Honorable Mention: the debut of space combat in Reach at E3. I only wonder what would have happened, though, if Bungie and Microsoft had kept that under wraps and let gamers be blown away as they played the game. That surprise alone might have been enough to sway my opinion of the game.