3. Shogun 2: Total War (PC)
I love lots of videogame series, but there are very few where I would consider myself a true fanboy. Total War is at the top of that list thanks to its combination of thoughtful grand strategy and thrilling tactics. See, Total War is the best of both worlds. It has the broad, abstract management appeal of a game like Civilization while also retaining the ground-level tactical challenge of a game like Combat Mission. Here, you're not only managing taxes and research and populations to produce a few units of samurai and archers, but you're also going to be the one to put those units into formation and lead them on the battlefield. Each of the game's two levels are satisfying and challenging enough to be standalone experiences, but Creative Assembly have merged them into one of the greatest experiences a strategy gamer can have.
2. Star Wars: The Old Republic (PC)
Wait. Two PC exclusives? This has been a good year. I'm professionally obliged to have a passing interest in every game genre, but my personal interest in most MMOs rarely extends past the level cap. My problem has always been that the story, when it even exists, and progression systems make my character's identity non-existent. The Old Republic is the first MMO I've played where I feel like the game actually gives a damn about the choices I'm making. Sure, the characters feel a little too generic during the first several levels, but the overall story context is so strong that I really feel like I'm the hero and not just one of a hundred Jedi all waiting in line for the same monster to spawn. BioWare's always been great about adding real consequences to its RPGs, and The Old Republic is no exception.
1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PC, Xbox 360, PS3)
Remember what I said about Deus Ex? That it encouraged you to play the way you want to play? Well, Skyrim is that times a million. Not only does it give you the chance to define your character's abilities through the way you would naturally play, but it also puts the burden for discovering and directing the story almost entirely on the player. The freedom in this game is overwhelming at times, and reminds me just how much other games just lead us around by the nose, spoon feeding us pre-chewed content that we can never really participate in. What happens in Skyrim is almost always entirely up to you, which creates a tremendously satisfying sense of power and choice. The flipside, naturally, is that players can get lost in the enormity of the world and their own responsibilities in it. If you can invest part of your personality in the game and begin to bend the world around you to suit your purposes, you'll emerge with an epic story that's entirely your own. You could be the good-hearted soldier who's just trying to bring peace to the kingdom, or the opportunist mercenary who uses the turmoil to promote his or her own selfish interests, or merely a traveling explorer who is content to see the sights and leave the politics aside.
So, what were your five favorite games of the year? Remember, there are no wrong answers here. Be sure to let us know in the comments field below.