Games of Fall 2012 So Far

Fall is a magical time to be a will-deficient, easily distracted, marketing-affected gamer. For those of us easily beguiled by the new and the shiny, it’s as though we are being showered in bright, shimmering pennies, each of which presents its own special if brief fascination for us.

This season does not bring with it much time for a person like me to entrench into a single game and suck deep its briny marrow, but what I sacrifice in depth I gain in variety. Between September and December, there is simply too much to take in, and by the end of the year I know I will feel like it’s all so much noise. So I prize this moment right now, when I am still invigorated, to play the endless cascade of new while I’m not yet quite overwhelmed and exhausted by it.

I figured now might be as good a time as any to share a few thoughts I have about the games of Fall 2012. Any of these I might have written an entire article about, but like my predilections when it comes to game playing, so too I find I have very little capacity for hunkering down and talking about just one game at a time.

First of all, I have to talk about what I think are the two standout games of the season and potentially the year so far, and those are XCOM and Borderlands 2. I know that second one was supposed to be Dishonored — and don’t get me wrong that’s a damn fine game as well — but the more I think about it, the more I realize when it comes down to the most important thing, I just flat-out had more fun playing Borderlands 2 and XCOM than almost any other games this year. These are both brilliantly crafted titles that deliver on a lofty promise with exceptional grace and style.

XCOM in particular managed to navigate the minefield of nostalgia without sacrificing either accessibility in the modern age or the spirit of the original game. It distilled the original XCOM formula to its most relevant components and kept that distillation within the re-engineered framework of an accessible strategy game that is just as effective with a controller in hand as a mouse and keyboard. Frankly, even after having seen Firaxis accomplish this incredible feat, I’m still fairly certain that it was technically impossible to do what they have done, and they must just somehow be fooling us into thinking they actually did it.

Borderlands 2 wasn’t quite so tricky a beast, but still Gearbox took a great idea with a decent execution that was the original Borderlands and doubled down on the stuff that was great while pulling out some of the more tedious components. In a nutshell, that’s what any good sequel does, particularly for a newer franchise that is on the cusp of either greatness or being forgotten. The sophomore effort is far from easy, and it’s not uncommon to watch developers, publishers or both crash and burn.

After the original Borderlands, I was thinking to myself that I had played a pretty cool game and it’d be great if they ever got to make a follow up. After playing Borderlands 2, I think to myself that we are seeing a major franchise coming to life, and that we should definitely expect to see the world of Pandora stick around for quite some time.

Speaking of new franchises: Dishonored, if nothing else, is likely to go down as my favorite new IP of the year. Admittedly, this was really only a one-horse race to begin with. New IPs in a game, particularly a game invested with so much love and, more importantly, dollars, are exceedingly and unfortunately rare. Still, Dishonored would have held its own any year, and although I still haven’t been completely captured by the game, it’s hard to argue that it’s not an amazing piece of work.

What’s interesting to me is how you can look at Borderlands 2, XCOM and Dishonored and see, resuscitated within, very detailed reflections of games that we would consider classics. There are echoes of the late nineties and early aughts littered liberally in these games, and in XCOM’s case it’s openly explicit. But even playing Borderlands 2 and Dishonored, it’s easy, and I think intentional, for the player to get a Thief or Diablo kind of vibe.

Speaking of a Diablo kind of vibe, a game I thought would eat my brain and my life was Torchlight 2, which notably did not. T2 is far from a bad game, or even a mediocre game. In fact, it’s quite good from the perspective of taking Torchlight and expanding on what works. But I fear that the game missed its window of opportunity. Torchlight 2 was a game I would have played for weeks or even months had it been released in a February or June. As it is, it’s just not something that has done a great job of competing for my attention this time of year.

Interestingly (to me at least) as I think back, I now believe that had Torchlight 2 been released on a few weeks after Diablo 3, it would have done gangbusters. Of course, that would have been a huge risk to take, but I’m not sure any less a risk than heading into the world amid the full force of the autumn season. Of course, reality doesn’t always match up with the ideal, and I genuinely hope that Torchlight 2 did well, or at least well enough, for Runic.

However, for the past few months there have really been two games that have dominated far more of my hours than any other game. The first is Orcs Must Die 2, which I’ve already talked about a number of time in a number of places, but I must point out yet again how much fun I had leading orcs into deadly traps for hours at a time. I’ve been eagerly drinking up the add-on content as it’s been made available, and occasionally checking my standings against friends to ward off those would-be Orc killers with aspirations to match my prowess. And, yes, the new DLC releasing this week, “Are We There Yeti,” will probably add another 8-10 hours onto my already offensive count of time played.

The other game owning my days is the latest expansion to World of WarCraft, Mists of Pandaria. It took time, but the charm of this expansion finally did take hold for me, and I’ve already leveled an entirely new character, a member of the new monk class, up into the realm of the mid-80s. Let’s not get into the specifics around how long that kind of effort can take.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: This is an expansion built for the millions of people who have stuck with WoW for the however-many years it’s been around. I can’t really imagine having stepped away from the game for a significant length of time and then wanting to come back to embrace this very nuts-and-bolts kind of expansion. That said, at this point I actually think it’s a better expansion than “Cataclysm” was, in several respects.

Finally, my most recent purchase has been Forza: Horizon, which is a game like Mists, in that I was not immediately engaged, but have become more charmed the longer I’ve played. I love Forza games — don’t misunderstand me — and I consistently rate them among the best games available for the platform, but Horizon is a departure in almost all respects. It comes to the party with elements pulled from games like Need For Speed, Project Gotham Racing and Burnout: Paradise. It is an action-arcade racer with a simulation pedigree: two great tastes that don’t automatically taste great together.

Previous Forza games are phenomenal, and in part that may be because they have an appropriate rigidity to them. Your area of experience is constrained to specific, highly detailed, easily predictable environments, namely the stable of race tracks available, and all the attention is on the modeling of the simulation engine that makes you feel like you are driving a Bugatti, Ferarri, Mini Cooper or Citroen.

Horizon still has that engine layered in there, but there is a lot of the fine detail, rigidity and, occasionally, complexity that has been toned back. Reckless driving is rewarded rather than discouraged. Car collisions are trivial rather than potentially race ending, and running off the road into the dirt or headlong into a fence doesn’t mean agonizing seconds lost in the race as you struggle back onto blacktop. It means, “Here’s a cool opportunity to drift and then fishtail heroically back into the heart of the race.” Which, admittedly, makes sense in a Burnout or Need For Speed game, but at first feels tone-deaf for Forza.

That said, the game is growing on me, and there is no shortage of things to do. There is also an undeniable charm to taking these precious cars out of the racetrack and tearing through curving canyon roads and busy town intersections with a hapless disregard for … well, everything. And at its best you really can still feel that brilliant simulation modeling down in the deep.

There are other games, too. Games like Madden 13, Guild Wars 2, Transformers: Fall Of Cybertron, Rocksmith PC and others that have gathered my attention. And still more to come, like Halo 4, Rift: Storm Legion, Planetside 2 and FarCry 3, that I at least have an eye on, to say nothing of the early 2013 titles like Dead Space 3, Sim City and, of course, BioShock Infinite, that will provide me no winter’s respite.

To be fair, though, having too many games to talk about is a pretty good problem to have.

Comments

X-Com is definitely the standout title of the fall for me so far. I never played the original, but EU got its hooks in me in a matter of minutes and didn't let go til the end.

I had fun with Borderlands 2, but not as much as I thought I would. I haven't had a desire to go back to it since I watched the credits roll. That's probably largely due to the wide level spread on my friends list near the end of the game. There were either 1 or none within range, and that game just isn't as good solo as grouped with some buddies.

As much as I'm loving X-Com, I don't think it has much chance of besting Journey for me this year. I'll reserve that judgement for December though.

Borderlands 2 and Torchlight 2 have both sucked away weeks of time. So much so that I haven't bought OMD2 or X-Com yet because I know I'm still having fun with these other two games and those will be on sale soon enough.

I can't believe Guild Wars 2 only got a passing mention. It's not perfect, there's still lots for arenanet to do, but it has sucked a considerable proportion of my life since release, something few games have managed. Usually I chew through games one at a time, and have a load in various stages, but thanks to GW2 they sit mostly unplayed and unloved.

In case I wasn't clear enough, X-Com is a good game, and it's worth buying. But it's not the decades-spanning classic that its predecessor was. It lacks the depth for that.

X-Com was tremendous fun for one playthrough. But that's all it really supports. They took so much stuff out, and changed the way aliens 'activate', so that you really can't use a lot of the tactics they built into it. They have interesting flanking mechanics, but you can rarely use them, because advancing into a flanking position is VERY likely to set off more aliens. Usually, you have to snipe, retreat, and overwatch, and that gets really, really old after you've done it several hundred times.

There's just not enough 'there' there to call it a great, all-time classic. In a couple of years, I don't think people will really be reminiscing about this offering, and I think it's very unlikely that anyone will play it. The original will probably have playthrough threads going longer than this version, and it was created eighteen years ago.

Again, it's not a bad game. But they've stripped so much out that much of the original strategy has been lost. This is a game about fighting aliens, and the original was, within the technology limits of the time, a simulation about fighting aliens. (Even the creators didn't fully understand what was great about their game, as their own sequel was nothing like the hit the first one was.)

This sequel is a heavily scripted experience, and once you've been through the script once, there's not much reason to go through it again. Not really what I'm looking for in a strategy game, you know?

That's more what I expect from an offering like Dishonored. Yet, I actually may end up with more hours in that game than in X-COM, which I would have bet 5:1 against, a month ago. I've seen many criticisms of it, and honestly, I think most of them are perfectly correct. It's got plot problems, it's got some mechanics problems, the resolution is not especially satisfying, and the voice acting is only so-so, with a few standout exceptions. The narrative richness of the game does not live up to its level design. But, that's been true of earlier Arkane games, as well. Particularly when you consider its sorta-predecessor, Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, this is an incredible step forward on their part.

Just like with Dark Messiah, the level design is world-class, and the combat and stealth mechanics are tremendous fun. This is more or less the game Dark Messiah could have been, with a good writing team. Dunwall, the city in Dishonored, feels real in a way that I've rarely seen in video games; the proportions are correct, the layouts of buildings more or less make sense for each building's intended purpose, and the 'alternate' routes into a place aren't as screamingly obvious and out of place as they were in, say, Deus Ex 3. Maybe the high ledges are a little too wide, and maybe the tipped-over stack of crates is positioned just a little too perfectly for your purposes, but during actual play, it doesn't detract from the experience at all.

The level designers at Arkane have extraordinary skill. They were showing this same level of performance in Dark Messiah, but the rest of the company wasn't stepping up to their level.

They're still not, but they've gotten a lot closer, this go-round.

s I think back, I now believe that had Torchlight 2 been released on a few weeks after Diablo 3, it would have done gangbuster

Weird. I was thinking the exact opposite. There was no real action loot fest for years and Diablo scooped Torchlight 2, yet was way inferior of a game. If T2 had released before diablo I would have had my loot whore side sated and never have bought Diablo.

Also disappointed that GW2 only gets a 'shrug'. I've spent more time playing and looking forward to playing that game then anything else in 2012, with Borderlands 2 at second.

Usually I dive into a game and spend a ton of time before emerging and enjoying something new. About this time last year I was spending a month delving into Dark Souls, and earlier this year I spent weeks on Kingdoms of Amalur and Dragon's Dogma. However, with all the great titles coming out, I've been sipping everything at once. First some Borderlands 2, then Diablo 3, then XCOM, then Dishonored, then back to XCOM, then back to Diablo 3, then back to Borderlands 2, then back to Diablo ..., and that's not even counting the Vita games I'm also playing in small bursts. Oh yeah, FTL fits in there somewhere. I played an hour of Need for Speed the other night, and now that game tempts me as well. I'm facing a cornucopia of gaming riches, and I imagine my top 10 list for the year will be very difficult to create.

oldschool2112 wrote:
s I think back, I now believe that had Torchlight 2 been released on a few weeks after Diablo 3, it would have done gangbuster
Weird. I was thinking the exact opposite. There was no real action loot fest for years and Diablo scooped Torchlight 2, yet was way inferior of a game. If T2 had released before diablo I would have had my loot whore side sated and never have bought Diablo.
I'm pretty sure they said when D3 was released they got a bump in pre-orders. I think too many people see games as either/or, and not that one thing can reinforce another.

Yeah, I can't believe you didn't mention FTL. I haven't had a game that ate a week of time quite so quickly in a long time. Sure the AAA titles XCOM and Dishonored are outstanding, but FTL came out of nowhere was incredibly addictive.

I'd also like to throw in Mechwarrior Online. It's now in open beta and I've been enjoying the hell out of the game.

I haven't had many Fall releases myself, but I'm glad to have spent the money on Dishonored and Mark of the Ninja (Darksiders 2 and Fall of Cybertron being summer releases in my mind). Each game has me yearning to play again, and I may after making a bit more progress on my pile.

To me, that's the standard I'm going by this year. When everyone starts tallying up Games of the Year, I'm going to go with games I either went back to twice or wanted to. Which is interesting, as that means three of my top games this year are for the 3DS, a system many often neglect in that regard.

Dishonored and Mark of the Ninja really hit that sweet spot, though. Games that I can just go back to either to see what's different, to see what I can do better, or to just explore the gameplay more thoroughly.

I love XCOM. Really great game and I've sunk many hours into it thus far.

Dishonored, I'm not really sure what to think about it. The game is visually stunning and several screenshots I've taken have been used as wallpapers. The stealth is so-so (given it's stealth-lite) but the combat mostly leaves something to be desired compared to a system like Assassin's Creed (which I feel it is based on - thought obviously from a first person perspective). Strangely, unlike a lot of other people, I do not feel the influence of Dark Messiah in this title. The combat in that game was far deeper than the quick broad strokes of lightning brutality to be found in this and Assassin's Creed.
They also, inexplicably have provided the ability to increase FOV from 75-85 but not any higher - which is almost blasphemy in these days of widescreen (16:9/16:10) PC displays. I used a .ini hack to set a button to increase it to 100 degrees - which is super great, IMO and does not make me feel dizzy at all as opposed to the offered settings. There's also a rather annoying bug of, when you're offline, the game not saving any of your settings (or at least utilising the ones it has saved) so you have to go into the options and set everything EVERY TIME you load up. Similarly it always wants to "install" every time I boot the game up but luckily I can choose to "cancel" this unnecessary procedure.

Overall, I like the game world, a lot..... but there's just something... lacking. Something that I can't quite put my finger on... and, in a game this great, it feels wrong to be asking for more. Nevertheless, I am.

I think with Dishonored it had the opportunity to be a lot more, and seemed to just glance off the surface of a world that could be bigger and deeper, and the systems were just enough. I'm not sure if we'll see Bethesda/Arkane go further with it, or if they do whether they'll expand it's scope.

Scratched wrote:
I think with Dishonored it had the opportunity to be a lot more, and seemed to just glance off the surface of a world that could be bigger and deeper, and the systems were just enough. I'm not sure if we'll see Bethesda/Arkane go further with it, or if they do whether they'll expand it's scope.

I'd love it to be a seamless open world rather than the "corridor rooms" it is at present.

There's an Orcs Must Die 2 level where I have a better score than you. Good luck finding it.

IMAGE(http://i.imgur.com/aYL7N.jpg)

Elysium wrote:
But I fear that the game missed its window of opportunity. Torchlight 2 was a game I would have played for weeks or even months had it been released in a February or June. As it is, it’s just not something that has done a great job of competing for my attention this time of year.

I've said the same thing in other threads, but it's interesting to see that you feel the same way. I pre-ordered TL2 the day it became available on Steam, thinking surely it would be released no later than August. But because it was released the same week as Borderlands 2 - a game that I've been anticipating since playing the original in 2009 - I still haven't touched it. Even though I'm basically done with Borderlands 2, I'm no longer in the mood for a loot fest game, so TL2 will continue to collect proverbial dust for a while longer.

Scratched wrote:
I can't believe Guild Wars 2 only got a passing mention. It's not perfect, there's still lots for arenanet to do, but it has sucked a considerable proportion of my life since release, something few games have managed. Usually I chew through games one at a time, and have a load in various stages, but thanks to GW2 they sit mostly unplayed and unloved.

As good as GW2 is, its PvE is still to MMO-ish for my tastes, so I stopped playing after about 25-30 hours. I played a ton of GW1, but it was almost all PvP. These days, I'm not really interested in PvP, but if I were, I likely would've played GW2 longer.

Nevin73 wrote:
Yeah, I can't believe you didn't mention FTL. I haven't had a game that ate a week of time quite so quickly in a long time. Sure the AAA titles XCOM and Dishonored are outstanding, but FTL came out of nowhere was incredibly addictive.

As a backer of FTL's kickstarter, I could not be more pleased with my pledge. FTL is a superb game, despite that final boss being a huge prick. I put in 22 hours before moving on to the next new thing, but I'm sure I'll be revisiting FTL again multiple times.

I only had a mere 3 hours to play Dishonored, but what I played was outstanding.

I want to love Dishonored more than I do. I love Bioshock, System Shock, Thief, and all the games it feels like. But it's just not as fun as they are. Each of those I've played through multiple times, yet I have to make myself go back to Dishonored.

I can't put my finger on what's wrong. I love steampunk, stealth, rpglite, and magicky powers. But it's only "pretty good" so far. I keep playing Xcom, Borderlands 2, FTL and Fallout:NV with some of the latest mods.

I find it very strange that I agree with most of the criticisms I see of Dishonored, yet I love it anyway. It seems like, most times, when people say "they should have done X better', I nod in agreement. They're almost always right. Whatever the X in question is, it's probably not done as well as it could be.

With Frawg's comment, there, I can totally see not liking the game, because the world they've built is a deeply unpleasant place to visit. It's kind of horrible, actually. Yet, I think it's the best FPS in a really, really long time. Well, maybe not FPS, exactly. First Person Adventure?

I'm not sure I'm going to replay it again soon, because it's depressing, but I'm sure I'm going to revisit it, probably multiple times. I sure hope the sequel is a little more upbeat, though. After the first game, they need something a little bit more positive. "Relentlessly horrible plague" is kinda played out.

I think it's easy to enjoy Dishonored because it does so much so well. It may not be the best stealth game, or shooting game, or melee action game, etc. etc., but the fact that it does a good job of making each of those elements fun in such a large and expansive world is what makes it easy to come back to.

These options are also all open to you. It's not like you chose the Stealth class and thus any time regular fighting breaks out you're screwed. You can play the game in a large variety of ways, and if you happen to screw up then you haven't failed. You just made a mistake.

It is easy to criticize a game that tries to do so much because that means there are more possibilities to screw up. However, Arkane's "screw-ups" are pretty minute compared to how well they managed to pull this game off.

All I can think of is how nuts this year is compared to last year. I've got games on games I'm trying to get to right now.

Last year I was only really worried about Saints Row the Third and the Witcher 2, althought I know some people were Skyrimming away.

It's been a great year.

The game of the fall for me has definitely been Guild Wars 2. I honestly can't really imagine going back to WoW after playing GW2. On the other hand, I am looking forward to playing a bit of Lord of the Rings Online to explore the new Rohan content they have added. The quality of storytelling in that game and their faithfulness to the lore, as much as possible while converting it to a game, just keeps me coming back.

Beyond that, it's mostly been short burst of mostly iPad games and occasionally playing a bit of Civ V.