Looking Back at 2011


Last January, I wan’t looking forward to much on the Xbox. In fact, there were just two games: Mass Effect 3 and Batman: Akham City. Unfortunately Mass Effect 3 was delayed, but Akham City more than made up for that. The game had everything I loved about the first Batman game but added improvements, and even though I’ve finished the game, I still pop it into my console occasionally to beat on some thugs.

Outside of Arkham City, my Xbox didn’t get much playtime, which I guess is why it decided to red-ring on me in December. I had hoped by waiting through the first few manufacturing runs and getting an Elite, that I had dogged all of the overheating problems with Microsoft’s console. I was wrong. The repair process was relatively painless: go online and submit a repair request, print out a label, box and ship it out. I just wish it hadn’t cost me $99.


The PC had a few more titles I was excited about: Minecraft, Portal 2, Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War 2 – Retribution (could the title be any longer?), and Warhammer 40k: Space Marine. Well okay, Minecraft was a bit of a cheat since it was pretty much already released. Portal 2 was as good as I hoped it would be, and I got to have some extra fun by playing through the co-op version with MMOGamerChick. DoW Retribution I’ve barely touched. I really really loved the original Dawn of War games, but the shift in focus from base building to boss battles has soured me a bit on the franchise. Space Marine made up for my disappointment in Retribution though, the game was over the top gory fun. Some people may try to tell you that using a chainsword on an Ork get’s old, but they’re lying to you.

Unlike with Xbox, this last year also had two big surprises for me on the PC platform. First there was the colossal disappointment of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. This was a game I was not anticipating in the slightest, but ended up buying because of the wave of good press and excitement from friends. Unfortunately, I only put five hours into it before running headlong into a boss battle geared for the exact opposite type of character that I was playing. I realize I’m in the minority opinion on this game, but I still strongly believe that you don’t build a game around choice and then take it away during the central moments of the game.

The second big surprise happened in exactly the same way, but with opposite results. Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim was another game that I wasn’t anticipating at all. Like DXHR, I hadn’t played any of the earlier games in the series, and even though the screenshots looked good and I thought I might like it, I was wary of letting myself get sucked along with the ground again. In the end, I did end up going ahead and getting it, and I’m so glad I did. Skyrim has been a Minecraft-like experience for me (which is ironic given the legal battle between the companies). Just like I got sucked completely into Minecraft last year and played nothing else for months, my gaming time was wholly subsumed by Skyrim. Today, I’ve put 117 hours into just one single-player game. One hundred and seventeen hours. That is incredible, considering a good single-player game usually lasts me no more than 40 (like Red Dead Redemption or Arkham City). But even more incredible is that after more than a hundred hours, I’m not even halfway through the main story line.

PC was much more exciting this year than I thought it would be. I’m not sure that 2012 will be though, but I’ll save that for later.



Trion had the perfect situation this year. From January to November, they had the only new major MMO title. I think they capitalized in it very well too. They’ve been continually releasing new content and making tuning changes. Honestly if anything, I think Trion’s proved it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. They’ve been updating the game so much, that when I came back after a month away, it felt like I’d been gone for six months or more.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

BioWare ended up releasing much later in the year than I expected. This ended up being a good thing both because they had more time to get things right, but also because they managed to get through the hype backlash I was expecting before release (or even beta). There’s not too much more I can say about TOR as far as 2011 goes beyond I got in at launch, had no problems, have seen no queues, and am immensely enjoying the Jedi Knight story line.

Champions Online

Champions has been a fun game to hop into of f and on over the year, especially the few times I’ve gotten to play with Scott. The game had a successful F2P launch and has released some good story content with their first Comic Series and a third Adventure Pack. While I haven’t had that original love of the game rekindle, I’m sure I’ll continue to login anytime I get an urge to play superheroes.

Lord of the Rings Online

Last year, I was feeling pretty down on LotRO. The F2P conversion caused an explosion of gold store buttons in the interface that just got under my skin. My disinterest continued for most of the year, including well into the development cycle for Rise of Isengard. It wasn’t until I saw a developer diary with some video about the making of Orthanc for the game, that I had any interest in returning to Middle-Earth.

Once I got back in the game, I was motivated enough to finish Volume 2 of the Epic Quests, get caught up on Volume 3 in Enedwaith, and charge on towards Isengard. I didn’t make it to level cap before Skyrim started dominating my playtime, but I was really happy with the new work Turbine has done on the game and I’ve finally trained myself to not see the store buttons.

Star Trek Online

And lastly, we come to the MMO that I’ve had both the most and least fun with during 2011.

The game started out very well. We had an anniversary event, an excellent renovation of Earth Spacedock, and then a third Featured Episode Series, Cloaked Intentions. The Series 3 was the best one so far and featured great missions, fun voice work, and the music from Amok Time.

Unfortunately, that was the high point of the year. We did get the Foundry followed by a good revamp of ground combat in Season Four, but we also got Atari selling Cryptic, Dan Stahl leaving the Executive Producer role, Free-to-Pay announced, and no new story missions.

Whether it was Dan leaving, the change in ownership from Atari to Perfect World, or the announced F2P transition, the high level of communication and transparency that I loved in 2010 has vanished. The last Engineering Report was released in August, with no word about if or when it’s coming back. The last Ask Cryptic was in September. Granted, the temporary Executive Producer Stephen D’Angelo did write a lot of blogs during the F2P development, but I found them pretty thin on details.

Overall, it’s been a disappointing year for me in STO. I guess I have to have at least one MMO to be down on at the end of every year.

I love Arkham City, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

Batman: Arkham City is an excellent sequel to Arkham Asylum. If you are a fan of Batman, then I assume you’ve already played the standard game.  Arkham City is just like it except it’s more and better. Go play it now, although if you haven’t finished Arkham Asylum and intend to then do that first or Arkham City will spoil the ending for you.

It is the Mass Effect 2 of the Arkham series. Rocksteady has improved the combat with more animations, gadgets, and moves. I particularly like the smoke pellet and I can remember panicking and dropping down into a group of armed enemies in AA many times, so it’s nice to have a countermeasure. The boss fights are also better here. They are challenging but not stupidly so, there’s always a trick involved and they don’t require multiple deaths to figure out. There are no hitpoint sponges. In general, the game does a good job of introducing new mechanics, training you to use them, and then building on those with additional challenges. There are no sudden increases in difficulty, and no sudden shifts in play-style.

I played and beat the game on normal difficulty, which is the mode I usually pick. There’s a hard mode which removes the counter indicator and makes the enemies more difficult, but I prefer to err on the side of too easy than too hard. After all, I mainly play games for the story and the experience of the environment, not for any sense of achievement.

Besides the combat improvements, Arkham City has similar pacing to Mass Effect 2. The game’s plot is a combination of urgent main storyline and explorable open world with side-missions. I know that mix of pacing really bothers some people, but I’m not one of them. If you prefer to just focue on the main story, most of the side-missions are completable after the main story mission is finished (and the one or two that aren’t are obvious, or were to me). In some ways that might be a better way of finishing the game, since there are areas you can’t reach until you get certain gadgets which you don’t get until you’ve completed sections of the main story. I spent a lot of time trying to get to certain Riddler trophies before I had the means to actually do it.

One item I was a little worried about was the number of villains being added to the game. As a child of the 80’s and 90’s, I’ve seen several comic book hero movie franchises including fall prey to the “too many villains” trap, where they try to pack so much into a single film in order to top the previous one that they don’t have from for plot, dialog (beyond one-liners), or character. Fortunately, Arkham City pulls it off. The main story focuses on Joker, Penguin, and Strange, and they are all fleshed out well (although the Joker steals the show as always). The cool part was the side-missions which included Bane, Mad Hatter, Deadshot, Riddler, Zsasz, and several others. The Catwoman/Two Face side story was fun too. With the exception of Joke and Riddler, I enjoyed the shift in focus from Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, and Killer Croc in the original game. Hopefully in the third (I’m assuming they’ll be one) game Rocksteady can pull out a few more interesting villains for Batman to face off against.

So like I said at the beginning, if you liked Arkham City then Arkham Asylum is that plus a little bit more. More combat, more gadgets, more environments, and more villains.

Last minute Asylum.

I am a procrastinator, I just finished Batman: Arkham Asylum last night. I’ve been meaning to finish the game for months, yet every night when I sat down to play I always ended up firing up the PC first and losing my night to a game there instead of turning on my 360.

Despite my tardiness in finishing, Arkham Asylum is an amazing game. It completely nails the feeling of being Batman. I could say it’s the best Batman game ever, but that’s hardly an achievement. Instead I’ll say that Arkham Asylum does for Batman what Spiderman 2 and Hulk: Incredible Destruction did for their respective heroes. If you’re a Batman fan, go play it. Except if you’re a Batman fan you probably already have.

So now, I can play Arkham City tonight guilt free when St. Amazon brings my present, although I’ll have to set an alarm so I don’t forget about the Adventure Company roleplaying session.

The other cool thing for me about finishing Arkham Asylum: this is the first time, as far as I can remember, that I’ve ever picked up a game I’d stopped playing and finished it.

E3 2011: Day 1

I’m not at E3 and I didn’t watch any of the live streams, but I’ve been catching up on the news of the day.

SW:TOR – Yet another movie. It’s a geat movie and it breaks my heart how much better it is than Episodes 1 and 2 (I gave up and never saw 3), but this is a game not a movie. I want to see more gameplay video.

Batman: Arkham City – I caught this inteview and gameplay demo on RPS, and man does this game look great.

Minecraft – It’s cool that Minecraft is coming to XBLA. I’m not interested in Kinect integration though and I’m not sure I’ll bother to buy the Xbox version. Half of the fun of Minecraft is modding it after all.

Mass Effect 3 – I’m surprised how much they’re showing of the game. I expected Bioware to be pretty quiet about it since it was pushed back. I’m honestly struggling a little bit with what I’m seeing in the many videos. It looks like the pace of combat has sped up considerable, which is great if you’re an FPS fan but I’m not. Still, I’m keeping in mind the lessons from ME2 where the marketing gave me a lot of bad vibes that turned out to be completely false.

Kinect Sidenote: All of the Kinect tie-ins worry me a bit. I’m really hoping Microsoft doesn’t manage to figure out something cool enough that’ll make me want to buy one. It’s not that I hate the Kinect or anything, but my Xbox is in my office which is a small fourth bedroom in my house, and there just isn’t room to set one up and stand 8 feet away from it. Well not without remodeling.

Sony Update: I’m adding this a day late since I didn’t watch it live or stay up to see the post-conference news about it. I was impressed with Tretton’s apology, but I think Sony would’ve done itself a world of good to do that earlier though. Not being a PS3 owner, more of the news I didn’t care about but there were two things I wanted to mention.

PS Vita – That is not a good name, but that’s nitpicking. As cool as the technology sounds, the only thing I thought about when reading about the new portable was that I have a PSP that’s in a box in my closet and I haven’t played with it in more than a year. Even when I was using it, it was basically a Lumines machine. They did get the price right at least.

Dust 514 – Being an exclusive is a mistake. Yes, I’m sure there were business/technical issues with Microsoft but I don’t care. CCP’s new shooter is going to be competing with a lot of established brands and limiting sales to just one console is not a good idea. I’m under the impression that the game is not coming to PC, but hopefully I’m wrong about that. Then again even if it does, I have to wonder if PC players and PS3 players will be able to play together. They can’t in DCUO.

Catwoman: Arkham City?

I’ve watched this trailer more than a dozen times today and I’m still not sick of it yet.

Ironically, I haven’t actually finished Arkham Asylum yet even though I keep planning to. Maybe this’ll provide the missing incentive?

When Catwoman was originally announced I didn’t really care. She’s an interesting side character but Batman is always the main attraction of Gotham City. The gameplay footage in this trailer looks amazing though, it almost seems like she could carry the whole game. Almost.

Catchy song too.

Looking Forward to 2011 – Console/PC

I debated just tacking this onto the end of my 2011 MMOs post, since it could be condensed down to:

Mass Effect 3! Mass Effect 3! Minecraft! Minecraft!

But that feels a bit lazy and January is way too early for me to give into laziness, that’s what March is for.

Console Games

There’s only two games I’m excited to play on the Xbox 360 this coming year:

  • Mass Effect 3
  • Batman: Arkham City

Do I really need to explain why? Fine.

Mass Effect 3

Bioware has shown marked improvement in the game-play from 1 to 2, I can only imagine 3 with be even better. Honestly, I’m not sure how though, the mining mini-game was really the only part that was below excellent.

The story, characters, and dialogue have been consistently good through out the first two games, despite my concerns based on the way Mass Effect 2 was marketed. It will be shocking if they somehow manage to drop the ball for the finale.

Batman: Arkham City

It’s the rare superhero game that really recreate the experience of being an iconic hero from the comics. Besides Batman: Arkham Asylum only Spider-man 2 and Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction come to mind. I’m very interested to see if Rocksteady Studios can pull off a sequel. Will they be able to improve on the combat and the detective mode issues without losing the magic from the first game?

PC Games

I’m sure I missed one or two, but this was all I had in my wish-lists on Steam and Amazon.


Obviously there’s going to be a lot happening with Minecraft this year. Notch’s company, Mojang, is up and running, he’s got developers and an artist helping out now, and he’s got big plans. While I’m excited to see Notch does this year with all the resources at his disposal, to be totally honest, I’ve already gotten more than my $14 worth.

Portal 2

I hate puzzle games and platformers, yes even Mario Bros. I loved Portal though. The game did an excellent job of training you on how to solve the puzzles in the game and the difficulty curve always managed to challenge me without causing my to break my keyboard. I’ve been on a complete media blackout regarding this game, all I know is that it’s scheduled for 2011 and I want it.

Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War 2 – Retribution & Warhammer 40k: Space Marine

An expansion for DoW2 and a 40k shooter are both due out this year. I loved the single player game for DoW2 but it took a while before I really started to like the multi-player mode, mostly I just missed the base building. Still, I’m very excited to get to play my favorite race from DoW1, the Imperial Guard.

The shooter, Space Marine, looks interesting and given Relic and THQ’s track record with DoW 1 and 2, I’m definitely going to give it a shot. I’m assuming I’ll get the PC version, but there is an Xbox 360 version scheduled as well.

Looking Back at 2009

I think 2009 was a good year for games, even MMOs. Sure WoW is still on top, Warhammer continues to struggle, there’s not been any revolutionizing innovation in the MMO genre, but I don’t really care about any of that. All of the games I started the year playing (EVE and LoTRO) I still enjoy, and I found a new game (Champions) that I like an expect to be playing through the whole of 2010. (more…)

Arkham Asylum – Partial Review

Thank you Mr. UPS Man! on Twitpic On Wednesday, the UPS guy dropped off my copy of Batman: Arkham Asylum.

I’ve been able to put about five or six hours into the game so far, which means I’ve seen most of the basic gameplay including a boss battle or two.  I was pretty happy with the demo and I was hoping the game would be as fun.  I have been surprised and thrilled to find that the full game is better.  This is the best Batman game that I’ve every played.  It does an amazing job of delivering the experience of being Batman, like Spiderman 2 and Hulk: Ultimate Destruction did for their respective characters.

Tycho at Penny Arcade sums up my feelings well:

We wrapped up Batman yesterday, and it was unrelenting in its quality. I hope you already know that for yourself – that you have maneuvered its perils and triumphs firsthand, and are aware that developer Rocksteady has delivered a cornerstone experience that defines what the medium was about in the year of our Lord two-thousand and nine.

I especially like the description of this game as having unrelenting quality.  The opening cut scene, the voice work, the animations, the mid-game cut scenes, the mechanics, the boss fights, everything I’ve seen and played so for in this game has been excellent.

If you’re a Batman fan, this is a must buy.

Now Excited for Arkham Asylum

Growing up Batman and Spider-man were my two favorite superheroes.  My experience of both were limited to Saturday morning and weekday afternoon cartoons.  Living in a small town, I didn’t get any exposure to comic books until I got to college.  I’ve enjoyed the recent reboot of the Batman movie franchise and I loved the Spider-man movies, although the last one was the worst of the three.  I’m also reading some of the classics.  Currently I’m reading Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, and I’m planning to get Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: The Long Halloween next.

So despite being a Batman fan, I wasn’t really looking forward to Batman: Arkham Asylum until I saw this video over at Destructoid.  If you like the Frank Miller era Batman, go watch this now.  The game play looks good, the atmosphere looks awesome, and the graphics look fantastic.  It sounds so minor, and it’s not something I’ve really though much about, but I think Batman’s cape is a major element to the character and this game really seems to have nailed it.