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For people like me, videogames are grand escapes into virtual worlds. But with so many demands on my time from running tabletop RPGs to feeding my baby child on the weekends, there are only so many worlds I can explore to the fullest. Here are the five games that I wanted to play whenever I could.

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5. Pirates of Black Cove (PC)

I downloaded this gem from Nitro Games on a whim, and was rewarded with nothing but delight. Imagine Sid Meier’s Pirates and Diablo put in a blender, with dash of the humor of Monkey Island, and you’ll pretty much get a Black Cove smoothie – with a shot of rum. Sailing the seas in a ship you deck out with rewards and collectibles is endlessly fun, and the naval combat is a bit more forgiving than Pirates with instant-repair consumables at your disposal. The land side of things is fun too as you have to upgrade buildings to recruit different units of scurvy dogs to fight in real time battles. The voice acting is above average, and I smirked often at the cheesy drug references and pirate-speak. Even though the game is a little rough around the edges the overall presentation and art-style is superb. Pirates of Black Cove is as much fun you can have as pirate in a PC game without an eye patch, a peg leg and an irascible parrot on your shoulder.

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4. Infamous 2 (PS3)

Cole’s trip to New Marais is a helluva fun ride. The lightning-powered accidental superhero gets a melee upgrade with the custom-made Amp weapon and the addition of brutal hand to hand combat to Cole’s repertoire makes Infamous 2 a joy. Add to that the pure fun of riding telephone lines and gliding over the gothic architecture of the New Orleans knockoff, and participating in the well-crafted comic-book morality tale is just pure gravy. Playing Cole as a good or bad guy is a nice diversion, but once you realize you get evil points for beating up street musicians, there’s just no going straight. The user-created missions is a feature that got overlooked, but I dug how Sucker-Punch extended the life of their game by opening its tools to the masses. The combination of story, atmosphere and open world mayhem made Infamous 2 my favorite action game this year.

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3. Memoir ’44 Online (PC)

Pull the ripcord, it’s time to paratroop into Memoir ’44 Online. Based on the board game from Days of Wonder that I always wanted to try, Memoir ’44 pits two opposing sides of World War II combatants in scenarios like Sword Beach or Pegasus Bridge. Players take turns playing cards to give orders to units and conflict is resolved using special dice that roll across the virtual board, so like all great strategy games, Memoir ’44 is a satisfying mix of skill and chance. You can play against the AI or other players, and you can pay up to 30 bucks if you want to design your own scenarios, but I loved being able to fire up Memoir ’44 Online for a quick strategy game fix. Stopping a panzer advance across the Rhone in the twenty minutes before my baby woke up from her nap was absolutely necessary to keep my sleep-deprived psyche sane this summer.

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2. Dragon Age 2 (PC, Xbox 360, PS3)

I know I’m going to get flak for this, but I really don’t care at this point. Dragon Age 2 is a fantastic roleplaying game with the emphasis firmly on playing the role of the champion of Kirkwall. I felt so connected to Hawke and his friends like Anders, Varric or Isabella (hubba hubba), that by the dramatic climax I was making decisions not for any gamist goal of stats or quest completion but because I genuinely cared for the characters’ well-being.

Dragon Age 2 did change a lot from its predecessor – and that really put people off I suppose – but the improvements added up to an experience that was more fun without any of the annoyances of UI or comabt that haunt most RPGs. The inventory management worked better, and it was fun pulling off the cross-class combos in the more action-oriented combat. People complained about going back to the same locations, but I personally enjoyed adventuring in a single city and getting to know its locales as well as I know the streets of Brooklyn. I lived in Kirkwall for the first half of 2011 and loved every minute of it. (And no, EA didn’t pay me money to say that.)

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1. Skyrim (PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)

Skyrim has become an obsession for me and just about everyone with a nerd pulse. I’m playing Bethesda’s RPG in its PC form, and I have almost enjoyed the metagame of researching and downloading mods more than the game itself. Ok that’s an exaggeration, because once the inventory UI was fixed and the textures improved, I have spent hours and hours roaming the tundras and plains, in search of veins of gold and collecting wolf pelts. Oh, and fireballing large numbers of bandit leaders, becoming head of the Companions and picking more than a few locks. I’ve even done a couple of the main quests! In short, Skyrim is everything that I love about gaming in one title: a world full of adventure.

That’s it folks, my five favorite games of 2011. I think it’s a delicious mix of genre and platform, and I would be happy endlessly playing any one of them over the holidays. Or you know, just Skyrim for 4 days straight.

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