10. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy
Square Enix again shows both its ability to expand the Final Fantasy brand and its knowledge of stylus controls with Theatrhythm. While it probably stands up more on the music than the gameplay, the controls work about as you would expect on a portable rhythm game. A great soundtrack and solid DLC options make this one of the best 3DS titles of the year.
9. Xenoblade Chronicles
Xenoblade Chronicles is a game with history. It only made it to North America with the help of a lot of dedicated fans, yet manages to prove itself as one of the best titles on Wii. A single-player RPG that brings in a lot of MMO features, Xenoblade Chronicles brings a lot of changes, hundreds of hours of gameplay and made 2012 a much bigger year on Wii than anyone was expecting.
8. World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria
Widely expected to be a somewhat-foolish cash grab on the part of Blizzard, Mists of Pandaria has shown itself to be more than simple comic relief. Sweeping changes to all facets of gameplay, and a surprisingly dark story behind the seemingly-lighthearted introduction, has made Mists one of the biggest surprises for me this year. It isn’t going to please every former player, but it goes far to fix the flaws of Cataclysm and shows that Blizzard isn’t quite done with World of Warcraft.
7. Final Fantasy XIII-2
After the rocky reception recieved by Final Fantasy XIII, the sequel offers a lot more of what many expect from a Final Fantasy title, while keeping what made XIII great. The limited main cast gave Square Enix a chance to go for some of the most developed characters it’s ever created, and allowed for a wide array of side areas and optional content, which brings back the open feel in what has always been a fairly linear series.
6. Guild Wars 2
Guild Wars 2 is a bit of an eye-opener for the massively multiplayer genre. For one, dropping the subscription fees while implementing an ambitious open world shows that the idea of free-to-play isn’t limited to old or declining games, and that it doesn’t require awkward and expensive paywalls in front of the higher end content. Guild Wars 2 turns the accepted mechanics of an MMO on their heads, removing quests, yet not bringing back a long grind to the level cap. Guild Wars 2 promotes unplanned spontaneous teamwork, and offers one of the best MMO experiences available today. ArenaNet has changed the rules of MMOs, and I think everyone else is going to have to catch up.
5. Halo 4
Halo 4 is essentially the 360 exclusive of the year, and 343 has accepted and surpassed expectations. Halo is a tough act to follow, and Microsoft’s biggest franchise seems in secure hands now. While Halo 4 lacks the tension that Halo 3 had (both as the conclusion of a trilogy and the first Halo in HD), it sets the stage for what feels like another great story from the Halo universe. Spartan Ops, the episodic co-op story, is off to a wonderful start, and allows for a continuing story arc through new missions. Halo 4 continues to cement Halo‘s place as one of the greatest sci-fi shooters in gaming.
4. Call of Duty: Black Ops II
Now this one was a huge surprise for me. Call of Duty as a series is all-too-often quoted as the prime example of same-y sequels, yet this one blows the stereotype out of the water. Black Ops II offers one of the best single-player stories in the series, for me tied or close to Spec Ops: The Line, but Black Ops II also has military shooter gameplay down to an art. The two timelines mix wonderfully to keep things different, and Treyarch proves that it can rise above the mass of military shooters and provide a superior game.
Journey is as much an experience as it is a game. Developer thatgamecompany proves that it understands how to tell a story through an interactive environment without telling it with words or pictures, but with the game itself. Journey also offers what is likely the most civil and cooperative online play. With no form of communication other than a single sound and flash of light, you will meet complete strangers, work together to solve puzzles and feel real emotion should they disappear. Journey‘s simplistic design leaves an impression on everyone, and regardless of your stance on games as art, this is one game that deserves your attention.
2. Assassin’s Creed III
Assassin’s Creed III finally feels like the series has moved forward. Much as I enjoyed II, the last two games of the Ezio trilogy felt a bit forced, if still fun. Part of the enjoyment of the Assassin’s Creed games for me, is the historical aspects of the settings, despite being fictional, I love a game that has a few grains of history scattered within. Moving to North America during the Revolutionary War is probably one of the biggest changes to date. Though the game comes with everything we have come to love about the series, above all, the naval missions set the game apart from what has come before. And that speaks volumes for what makes III such a great game: even despite the bugs, the wide range of activities keep the game interesting between plot points. I love open worlds, exploration and discovery, and Assassin’s Creed III delivers everything the previous games had and more.
1. Mass Effect 3
Endings are just that: endings. Mass Effect 3 is about so much more than the last five minutes of the game. The long and changing road taken by BioWare with the series since 2009 has only made the story better and more involved than before. As it evolved from a more traditional stat-based RPG to a third-person shooter, Mass Effect has really symbolized the changes in gaming in the last few years. While I am speaking specifically about the third game here, the connections between them really have me thinking of them as one game, one Shepard and one story. Mass Effect 3 ties together so much of the universe BioWare has crafted, and does it in such a way that, even for those who don’t like the conclusion, we are all waiting to see what happens next. Mass Effect 3 brought home the idea that Commander Shepard is a different person to all of us: something that until now only really happened through reading, and never on a screen. Alongside the incredible single-player experience, Mass Effect 3 has for the first time brought a great online component to the series.