2012’s gaming canon: the penultimate five titles on our list from a wonderful year of games
What makes a good story? Games like Mass Effect are written and designed by teams of people to deliver a good story, but some of our favorite stories from this year came from games that set you free to do whatever you'd like in their world. There is something to be said for creating a minimum set of rules instead of tightly scripting the experiences, and some of our games today found success with that formula. Random encounters and mechanics can often be just as exciting as something prepared by hand.
One of the first big Kickstarter success stories is released on the PC, and it is great. You control a small crew as you run from pursuing ships and try to fight and upgrade your way across space. Each round begins fresh, every time you play you get to tell yourself a story, and you unlock new ships as you play. The game is easy to learn, but the first time you try to balance putting out fires, dealing with enemies who are boarding your ship, and balancing your power and ammunition you will understand why it's so easy to get hooked. It doesn't look like much in screen shots, but the game play beats out most games with triple the budget. Want to read about it? FTL is Firefly by way of the Rogue-like genre, and it’s punishingly brilliant Video game music composed on a banjo: The man behind FTL’s soundtrack Two men, $200,000, and a successful Kickstarter: how FTL did everything right
Guild Wars 2 (PC)
Guild Wars 2 took everything commonplace and stagnant about MMORPGs and twisted the genre on its head. Why do we have to invite people to do group quests? Why do we take turns killing monsters or collecting herbs? Why do I perform the same attacks with different weapons? Guild Wars 2 removed such arbitrary limitations and focused on one thing: rewarding players. You want to craft? XP for you! You want to explore your home city? XP and a prize! Want to do PvP but are concerned about an uneven playing field? GW2 boosts everyone to max level. The game has a healthy community, interesting plot, colorful character races, and although the graphics aren't bleeding-edge, they're nothing to scoff at, either. Best of all however, is the fact that the game is something you buy once, and play for free. Who'd have thought a free MMORPG could be such a huge success? Guild Wars 2 all but killed the subscription model, and we see more and more games strive to emulate its principles. Want to read about it? Everything you know about MMOs is wrong: how Guild Wars 2 subverts expectations Guild Wars 2 killed the subscription fee business model, on the Internet, with the cash shop
Journey (PlayStation Network)
Thatgamecompany has a penchant for crafting remarkable, yet minimalist, game play. In flOw, you were an evolving worm-like creature who consumed smaller, amoeboid-like life. In Flower, you pushed petals and seeds across vast plains with gusts of wind. Now, in Journey, you are a robed, silent traveler on your way to the peak of a mountain. The game's soundtrack and visual aesthetics are bold and striking, yet relaxing at the same time. Journey's story is special, and nothing out there quite resonated with our emotions the same way. It's not a thrill ride, it's not popcorn entertainment, it's an investment, and one worth exploring. Want to read about it? A heap of broken images: why you must play Journey The Art of Journey coffee table book is beautiful, and holds a few surprises
Dishonored (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC)
Dishonored has a rocky first few hours; the game can feel frustrating before you unlock the first few powers and learn how the game's system's work. Stick with it, as Dishonored gives you a refreshing amount of freedom to finish each mission, and keeps a running total of the amount of people you kill. Your decisions determine the game's ending, and the difference is drastic. I played while trying to limit the characters I killed, and often their survival seemed more torturous than a quick death by my sword or arrow. EIther way you play, people will be punished. There is no multiplayer, and a cleverly designed dinner party can play out different ways as you replay the scenario. Dishonored feels classical in design, for good or ill, and it's one of the more satisfying games of the year. Want to read about it? Dishonored is the story of a man, a little girl, and the people he’ll kill to keep her safe A dark game of Clue: the making of Dishonored’s murder mystery level The art of looting: the ideas behind Dishonored’s design
If you want to hear some of the best game stories of the year, talk to a DayZ enthusiast. This mod requires both ARMA 2 and it's expansion pack Operation Arrowhead, and in fact its existence caused the sales of those two games to soar. You're presented with a huge area to explore when you enter a server, and both zombies and other players are out to kill you and loot your body. Survival is hard, death is cheap, and it's incredible captivating. Grab some friends and work together. Talk your way out of bad situations. Take prisoners. Kill everyone you see. There is no real reward or punishment for good or bad behavior, except the ability to live for a slightly longer period of time. There's nothing fair about it, and that's part of the fun. Want to read about it? In DayZ you’ll be able to kill real players in the virtual setting for actual cash We continue our march through the best of 2012 with the final five games tomorrow. Until then, how are we doing?