2010 has been an amazing year for videogames. From indie hits to AAA blockbusters, there’s been a lot to love about this year. But there are only so many hours in a day, so many days in a week, and so many weeks in a… well, you get the idea. As in every year, we found some games dominated our days and nights and still had us coming back for more. To celebrate those games, we’re offering up our Five Favorites of 2010. Be sure to check back over the coming week for our editor’s picks for the best in games, and also stay tuned for our Five Favorite Not Games.

Steve Butts’ Five Favorite Games of 2010

Dragon Age: Origins, Awakening
Some people thought Dragon Age: Origins was too long. I was not one of them. In fact, despite the tedious march through Orzammar, I found myself wanting even more time in Ferelden. When the Awakening expansion came out, I was first in line to jump back in to see what happened to the Warden after the Blight was defeated. I was a little sad that the expansion didn’t really follow your narrative choices from the first game. I mean, even if you died at the end of the original game, your character just picks right up and carries on. And that hot girl from Orlais who was totally into me? She was nowhere to be found.

Even so, Awakening offered loads of amazing goodness for the roleplaying nerd in me. The story was fantastic, even if it didn’t feel like it had much to do with the decisions I had made in the first game. Trying to figure out what was going on with the nobles, making tough decisions about whether to protect the towns or the farms, and meeting new characters who were every bit as intriguing as those in the original game, all made Awakening one of the most captivating experiences of the year for me. On top of that, the combat was still spectacular and highly strategic, particularly towards the end of the game and the invasion of Vigil’s Keep.

Some gamers hated Dragon Age because it was too big and too nerdy, but that’s precisely why I loved it.

Napoleon Total War
I’ve been a big fan of the Total War series since back in the sprite-based days of Shogun. Even back then, I’d always sort of assumed the design was inevitably going to find itself jumping to the 17th and 18th centuries to simulate the Napoleonic War and American Civil War. And while I’m still waiting (and waiting, and waiting) for my chance to square off against Grant and Lee, Creative Assembly finally gave me the opportunity to play as the Little Corporal himself, Napoleon Bonaparte. Fighting from Vienna to Cairo to Moscow is a real blast, and even if the campaign is more tightly scripted than other games in the series, I still found myself captivated by the whole experience.

Of course, what really sells this game, even to gamers who don’t care about strategy games, are the amazing tactical battles. Watching as your brightly colored infantry and cavalry march and wheel about the battlefield, firing off muskets and charging enemy lines, really puts you in the midst of the battle. The whole visual spectacle is irresistible, and when you combine that with a grand strategic layer where you get to make big policy decisions, it’s even more compelling. It’s true that the historical nature of the game hampers replayability somewhat, but it’s still one of the best strategy games of the entire year in my opinion.

Seriosuly, after Shogun 2, let’s make this Civil War thing happen.

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood
I did not like the original Assassin’s Creed. I mean, you could see the potential there, but there was just something missing. Maybe it was the repetitive and largely meaningless missions, or maybe it was the scattered story. Whatever was missing, Ubisoft added it for the sequel. Assassin’s Creed II was one of the best games I’ve played in the last few years, and the follow up, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is just as good. It merges the game mechanics of Grand Theft Auto, mixes in a bit of Spider-Man and puts it all in a historical thriller that’s heavy on political intrigue and, yes, art history. It sounds like such a mélange, it couldn’t possibly work, but work it does.

Getting to play as Ezio the second time around, and see what’s next for Desmond and the rest of the sci-fi crew, was a real blast, but the real appeal of this game, at least for me, was the city of Rome itself. Whether you’re scaling the heights of the Coliseum and sneaking through the hallways of the Castel Sant’Angelo, Brotherhood brings the glories and corruptions of the Eternal City to life. On top of all that, the game lets Ezio recruit his own gang of assassins, which adds a satisfying strategic element to the game. Toss in a little multiplayer that actually takes some of the industry’s most familiar concepts and actually makes them feel fresh, and there’s no reason not to love this game.

Mass Effect 2
Okay, this is a gimmee. It’s easily one of the biggest and best releases of the year, so any gamer worthy of the name had to have taken notice of this one. And while it wasn’t a perfect experience, there was a lot to love about Mass Effect 2. It obviously stood on the shoulders of its giant predecessor, which instantly gave most of us a tremendous back story that had us hooked on the action from the very beginning of the game. And what a beginning it was! Mass Effect 2 starts with a huge bang, literally, and just keeps piling on the action. Yes, there are a few tedious political discussions here and there and, sure, Shepard does end up playing detective in some fairly bland scenarios, but this is probably the best and most exciting story in any videogame this year.

As you continue to dig deeper into the mystery of the Reapers and the Collectors, and try to figure out what’s going on with the Illusive Man the new Council, you’ll uncover the second chapter of what has become gaming’s most epic, engaging story. I was a little miffed that some of the hardcore RPG elements were eliminated, but in the end, the game is about the player making choices that matter. Yeah, I hated seeing some of the RPG stuff fall by the wayside, but in the end, the game still won me over. I can’t wait to see how BioWare finishes this story.

Rock Band 3
If you’d told me last year that my favorite game of this year was going to be Rock Band 3, I’d have laughed and then said something horrible about your mother. But it turns out that you’d have been right and I’d have just had to apologize to dear old Mom. Rock Band 3 has finally made the ridiculous oversaturation of the guitar game market worthwhile by combining compelling gameplay with a truly satisfying context.

Eschewing the heavily abstracted nature of most music games, Rock Band 3 introduces Pro Mode. This is basically the equivalent of Grand Prix Legends in the racing world, a sim that is far closer to the actual experience of playing music than you’ve seen in any game so far. Combined with the Pro peripherals for guitar, drums and keyboards, this is as close as you’ll get to the real thing without having to develop calluses on your fingers and buying an electronic tuner. Players will use these new controllers to play through a huge list of great songs, and progress along a thoroughly satisfying career path complete with enough unlocks and achievements to give you a constant sense of progress.

The only real downside to this game is that it really costs quite a bit of money if you want to really get the most out of it. Even so, considering what you spend, you really get your money’s worth, particularly if you have lots of friends and are willing to dig in to the Pro modes.

Be sure to check back next week for the rest of the staff’s picks.

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