GMG Favourites of 2012 - Rob

Rob's turn at the soapbox with his favourite games of 2012:

Guild Wars 2 is one of the most un-MMO-like MMOs that I’ve ever played, and I’ve played quite a few. It’s a real shame that more people haven’t given it a chance beyond the first twenty levels. It may look like WoW or Rift, but underneath the hood it’s a very different game.

One of the things that sets Guild Wars 2 apart is the amazing art direction. I’m not talking about the size of the textures or the amount of bloom they can throw in, though the game is very pretty. For me the real beauty of the world is in the variety of the environments and the attention to detail in every area you come across. The game feels like it was crafted around the world rather than the other way around, and exploration and discovery is a game in itself.

Another thing that isn’t immediately obvious from a few hours play is how it tweaks just about every aspect of MMO games in a way that sounds subtle but makes a huge difference. It’s torn down genre rules that have been long established but never made any sense to me.

Why do I need to pay a subscription? Why can’t I play with my friends on other servers? Why can’t I play with my friend who isn’t as high a level as I am?
So many MMOs have failed to answer those basic questions, but Guild Wars 2 provides solutions so simple they feel like they should have always been there.

I was worried when I heard XCOM was being remade. It was one of those games that I had so many fond memories that I didn’t want anyone tampering with it, and as a multi-format release with a single UI across consoles the PC Master Race part of me figured there was a lot that could very easily go wrong. I was imagining quick time events, a tutorial lasting half the game and bits where you had to mash X as fast as you can to open or door or reload a gun.

Then I heard Firaxis was making it, and everything was OK again.

The new XCOM game managed to get nearly everything right in its reinvention, removing those “features” that should remain in the past, like the absurd difficulty curve, and replacing them with a first class strategy game that’s really easy to pick up within minutes and nearly impossible to beat on harder difficulty modes.

My favourite part of XCOM was one of the core features of the original: Units can, and so often do, die horribly. I miss the finality of permanent death and the attachment it allows you to develop. In most games, a bad decision is a temporary set back at worst - a mark in a chart against whether or not you get the “good ending” or a restart to a checkpoint.

In XCOM, a bad decision can utterly ruin your day, resulting in the death of an important squad member, or the failure of a pivotal mission. The game constantly reminds you of this and isn’t afraid to let you know suck, which makes it a great deal more tense, exciting and ultimately rewarding than more story driven games.

I spent many years staring blankly at screenshots of Paradox’s Map-Em-Up games, like the popular Hearts of Iron series, without really understanding the appeal. Surely if you want a bit of PC strategy there’s more immediate, accessible options available games that take place beyond a myriad of menus and a dull looking map of the world?

How wrong I was.

Crusader Kings 2 is supposedly a strategy game about managing a country during the middle ages. This description does the game a disservice though, as it’s actually about people, and how absolutely mental they can be when they have power. The lack of graphics may turn off some, but it also allows for a level of depth in the simulation that you rarely find elsewhere. This is a game about marriage, children, relationships with your family and the hilarious results of experimenting with humanity on a grand scale. It’s “Risk” in presentation, but it’s  “The Sims” in detail.

Starting out as my home country and eventually turning all of the United Kingdom, Ireland and most of Northern France into the Empire of Kent was hugely satisfying (Rob, you're just being ridiculous, "Empire of Kent"... -James), and even if you do manage to get bored of the content and all of the DLCs on offer, there are some awesome mods available, including one that turns Crusader Kings 2 into the best Game of Thrones game ever.

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What's your GOTY for 2012?