Before we kick off the new year proper, we offer up one last look back. Here is the Vagary Top 10 for 2012.
10. New Super Mario Bros. U
Before the launch of the Wii U, the New Super Mario Bros. franchise was beginning to feel stale. New Super Mario Bros. 2 on the 3DS was a gross disappointment in nearly every aspect and dashed any anticipation that people might have had for New Super Mario Bros. U. So it was a great surprise when not only did New Super Mario Bros. U turn out to be a great title but one of the best Mario titles in over twenty years. The game wass bright and colorful, filled with brilliantly designed and challenging platforming levels. It is a joy to play and while it may not be the showcase for why the Wii U exists, it is the best game on the new system and every Nintendo fan owes it to themselves to play through it.
-Chris Scott, Reviews Editor
9. Far Cry 3
Far Cry 3 earned its place at number nine by improving on its predecessor in practically every way. It makes some simple changes that fixes the faults of Far Cry 2 and build on its strengths. The result is a beautiful island paradise packed with hours of entertainment. The main plot starts off strong as the protagonist tries to rescue his kidnapped friends, exact revenge on their captors, and return control of the island to its people. But there are so many ways to make your own fun (from hunting and racing to exploring the islands with the aid of a wingsuit and parachute) that the campaign is definitely not the sole attraction.
Back in 2008, Far Cry 2 showed some real potential with its emphasis on exploration, building a vast arsenal, and planning out assaults. But the fun was hampered by constantly respawning enemy outposts, a tendency to get stranded in the middle of nowhere, and simplistic driving physics. Far Cry 3 fixes all those issues and shows what Far Cry 2 should have been. The final product still feels innovative in 2012, looks gorgeous, and easily deserves its spot in our top ten.
-Jeff Wimbush, Features Writer
8. Mass Effect 3
In spite of its divisive ending and its throwaway miscellaneous quests, Mass Effect 3 is still one of the best games of the year. After having shot and biotic-powered my way through the previous two games in the series, everything came into perspective for my Commander “Kyle” Shepard. Laying side-by-side with Liara, the blue alien my character’d had a video game relationship with over several years of my adult life, I realized just how much these games had meant to me. Our top 10 list is full of games that made relationships matter, and Mass Effect 3 is a great piece of a trilogy to attest to that importance. With an excellent and well-supported multiplayer mode, Mass Effect 3 is a must-own even if you aren’t a fan of the way the three-game-long narrative has ended.
-Kyle Baron, Editor-in-Chief
7. Crusader Kings 2
Strategy games tend to get overlooked when putting together a list of “the best of (insert year here)”. There’s an obvious exception to that rule this year (as you’ll see shortly), and then there’s the surprising revelation that was Crusader Kings II. Paradox Entertainment sets Crusader Kings four hundred years before their other most acclaimed grand strategy game, Europa Universalis (the fourth effort in that series coming 2013). Conquering medieval Europe and amassing land is also only a part of the game: the beauty of Crusader Kings II is managing relationships between your character and both their vassals and neighbors.
The choices are simply endless in Crusader Kings II. There’s a particular Count I like to start as. In one game I was handed a county by my liege, in another I took over a country and subsequently became independent, and in another game nothing major happened except for my bastard son crying for a title of land.
Once you get through the tough outer shell (the tutorial), the meat of the game is simply fantastic. Anytime I try to quit, it’s not “just one more turn” but instead “what will happen next”. And trust me, you will sit glued to your computer and wait to see.
-Don Parsons, PR Manager
6. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
A vast majority of the news you’ll hear about Curt Schilling and his now defunct 38 Studios isn’t good. Stories of conspiracies, bankruptcy, and complete mismanagement will be on the minds of gamers for years to come, as will the developer’s inability to pay back loans that some argue they shouldn’t have received in the first place. The problem is that all of this overshadows one of the greatest games released this past year: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.
KoA is an open-world, story-driven RPG with one of the most diverse character building systems we’ve ever seen, especially in console gaming. Amalur did a lot of mechanics right that games like Skyrim seem to fall short at, and the team behind the game really did a phenomenal job setting a new standard for the industry in a number of mechanics (including the opening of doors!). It’s just a shame that we’ll never see a sequel or their long-promised MMO. KoA is set in a compelling and wonderful fantasy world, created in the minds of fantasy author R. A. Salvatore and comic genius Todd McFarlane, an environment worth plenty of examination and exploration. With action-oriented combat, beautiful, lush environments, and a fully voice acted story, Kingdoms of Amalur is a game not to be missed by any Action RPG fan.
-Jeremy Goodson, Editor
I progressed through developer Thatgamecompany’s metaphor for life side-by-side with a stranger I’d come to trust and identify with. He’d stop to look at a mural or grab a collectible just as I was desiring the same thing. He’d wait for me just as I’d wait for him. And when I accidentally lead him into a trap and saw his character lying face-down on the ground, I felt awful and completely responsible, especially later on when I felt it could mean his demise.
Forget that Journey didn’t have billions of dollars behind it or that it’s less than a few gigabytes in size. The term “downloadable game” doesn’t cut it anymore; just give Journey a try and you’ll see how true that statement is.
-Kyle Baron, Editor-in-Chief
4. Borderlands 2
Borderlands 2 is more than just “more Borderlands”, which is how it appears. Yes, the characters have changed and the skill trees are different. Those things are merely the obvious differences. The one key difference that makes this a non-standard sequel is the plot. Borderlands 1 had one of the worst story arcs I recall in quite some time. But despite its lack of a story, it still managed to captivate the world with more loot and action packed into a single game than most other loot drop games combined.
The simple addition of a strong plot, with interesting and hilarious characters such as Tiny Tina and Handsome Jack (my favorite villain of the year), pushed Borderlands 2 into many “top games of 2012″ lists. There’s more loot, more characters, and more carnage in Borderlands 2, all of which can be enjoyed with friends. Friends make everything better, right?
-Don Parsons, PR Manager
3. Halo 4
Everyone thought that when Bungie left the Microsoft umbrella and went out on their own, the Halo franchise was dead. It outright scared fans of the series to learn that some unknown developer named “343 Industries” was picking up the franchise to try and keep it going. There was no way that anyone could live up to the expectations set by Bungie over the years!
Fortunately, those fears were all put to rest with the release of Halo 4. Not only did 343 do a fantastic job by staying true to beloved Halo multiplayer experience, they expanded on it and made it even better. The emotionally-driven story of the campaign is by far one of the best – if not the best – in the entire series, and the Spartan Ops mode continues to expand on it, and will into the near future. If they’re not careful, 343 Industries is going to have a hard time topping themselves upon the next release.
-Jeremy Goodson, Editor
2. The Walking Dead
If someone had told you that this year a point-and-click adventure game would be in the running for (and win in many cases) game of the year, you probably would not have believed them. Despite Telltale’s spotty record on licensed properties, they put together a moving story that, by many accounts, was more moving and superior to the big-production TV show.
If you have not played this monumental shift in the game industry, then you are missing out. This game was packed with fantastic acting, split-second decisions that could shake you to your core, and the single most memorable character this year in Clementine. If you have ever wanted a good analogue to having a child in danger (an unusual desire) then this game will run you through the ringer. Despite the fact this episodic series suffered from a host of technical issues, it overcame them to remain simply a must play title.
-William Milby, Podcast Host
A few months ago I wrote what ended up being a rather divisive column for The Strategy Gamer where I stated that strategy games have an advantage over a lot of other popular games because of their emergent narratives. Stories are told through the gameplay, allowing players a much more personal, connected experience. A short while later, developer Firaxis released X-COM- Enemy Unknown, a remake of a nearly two decade old title that both utterly proved my point and gave the gaming community at large a new appreciation for the strategy genre. Players were able to customize their squads, naming them after friends, professional wrestlers, or US presidents. This customization led to a level of ownership over their squads that was much more personal than anything they had previously experienced. When Don Parsons, my squad’s medic, stepped a little too close to the foe, and was killed, I felt legitimately sad. I let one of my friends die needlessly.
X-COM is much more than storytelling however. Excellent turn-based tactical combat is taught to the player through what must have been the easiest, best produced tutorial in the history of strategy gaming (a genre which has suffered through an epidemic of poor tutorials). Top notch production values provide compelling cutscenes, and I have to admit, listening to the entire base clap for the interceptor which had just taken down the UFO was epic. The production values extend through both the strategy base view and the tactical combat scenarios, offering a large number of widely different and beautiful environments to blast your way through. X-COM is truly the complete package, offering an excellent strategy gaming experience in a way that transcends the genre’s niche status, expanding interest to fans of good gaming everywhere. This is a triumphant experience, and one worthy of Vagary’s 2012 Game of the Year.
-Tony Odett, Features Editor