2013 may have been the year of Luigi, but for it was all about pirates and aliens. And animals. I don’t usually play the games everyone rants about. I’m a PC gamer, with a niche taste in strategy games, but I do have a young daughter who is beginning to take an interest in what daddy does. That means a lot of the games on my list were kid-friendly titles that surprised me with their complexity, rounding out my list of actually complex strategy titles.
Number 5 – Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes
The colons may have pushed out the original title Elemental: War of Magic, but Stardock excellently revised its terrible 2010 release this year to become one of my favorite fantasy strategy games. The focus on heroes, items and quests was the missing piece – orchestrating an expanding empire by moving your heroes around the map and performing quests is tons of fun. With all of the customization options, you can play around with leveling up your heroes in a new robust skill tree system for endless playthroughs. That is until your kid starts bugging you to play with her. Which leads me to …
Number 4 – Skylanders Swap Force
It’s easy to dismiss the toy and gaming line of Skylanders as a cheap cash-in. The series DOES print money for Activision, but it only works because it’s a fantastic game that just happens to have a clever monetization scheme. The world is rich and colorful, and the gameplay of simple puzzles and combat is perfect to breeze through, but has a deep underlying strategy needed to succeed. What really made me excited about Swap Force was how quickly my 2 year old latched on to the concept. She immediately started pulling the guys apart and clicking them back together, and gets a kick out of swapping out the skylander I’m playing with every five seconds. The best part? She’s started grabbing the controller out of my hands and making rudimentary strides towards moving the guy on the screen around. I’ll make a gamer out of her yet!
Along the same lines, I’ve had a great time building zoo exhibits on the Xbox One while my daughter watches. We’ll take turns making faces at the monkeys, and she squeals with delight when she gets to press A to clean up the poop. What surprised me about Zoo Tycoon is how much I played it after she went to bed. Somehow, Microsoft has delivered an extremely solid simulation game on a console by appealing to the kids who might like cute animals as well as the parents who love min-maxing ticket prices, unlocking different species of rhinoceros and completing the oddly addictive timed challenges. It’s silly how enjoyable it is just to drive the carts around the zoo you’ve built – an e-brake spinout in a tiger cart will make you smile no matter how old you are.
Number 2 – XCOM: Enemy Within
The game I probably have spent the most time playing this year has got to be XCOM. Ever since I heard about the additions planned for Enemy Within, I was excited to see how they affected both the strategic and tactical layers. The MEC units and gene-modded soldiers certainly make the early to midgame more fun, while the EXALT guys are little more than a nuisance, but I ultimately love all the new toys. Every day at the Escapist office we talk about new strategies to try out, and every night I find myself playing one more turn until it’s 3 in the morning.
But as for pure creative joy, I have to hand it to the pirates from Ubisoft my favorite game of the year.
Number 1 – Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag
I may have a soft spot for the Assassin’s Creed games, but Assassin’s Creed 4 lets me push the pleasure pedal in so many different and beautiful ways that I don’t really care what you think. Let me just collect the last sea shanty for my crew to bellow as we close with an English Man-o-War, loose a cannon volley, and storm the decks in full Assassin regalia. Instead of a single city, or the wilderness of AC3, we have the open seas as the world to explore in Black Flag. I don’t even care about the whole pirate plot – even if it IS entertaining – I just want to glide over the waves until I get scurvy and my teeth fall out. Now if only Ubi had made a PS3 to PS4 save converter …
That’s it. My favorite games of 2013. They’ve kept me pretty busy this year, and I didn’t even mention BioShock Infinite, The Wolf Among Us and the expansion to my altogether favorite series Civilization. Oh man, I have a lot to play over