If you're worried that a colorful, "kiddy" looking game might hurt your big nasty male sensitivities, then go ahead and leave now, and good riddance. For everybody else, Ni no Kuni is, and has been, one hell of an experience. Ni no Kuni single-handedly proves that JRPGs are still alive. It's absolutely one of the best JRPGs in years, and it shows that RPGs can succeed perfectly fine with bright colors, without an extremely complicated plot, and no blood. The combat is fact-paced, lets you play the way you want as you capture new monsters, and becomes more challenging and hectic as the game progresses. The art design is fantastic. The story is an unmitigated delight, with so many heart-touching moments that I could almost feel a tear come to my eye when the credits started to roll. Ni no Kuni is just so much more than a game. It's an experience. It's something that you can play and have fun with, learn from, and explore for many secrets, but it's also a game that you can feel. By the end, I can just about guarantee that you'll be head over heels in love with the characters, with the world, and with everything in Ni no Kuni. It's my Game of the Year, and one of the greatest games of the generation.
Man, the decision for GotY was tough... but BioShock Infinite falls just short. The great thing is that this game brings back all of the awesomeness of the original BioShock. And without the shockingly depressing atmosphere. It was an absolute joy to play. Another good plot that always keeps you guessing and on your toes. Extremely likeable characters who keep you wondering, just complex and interesting enough for you to keep coming back for more. Very good dialogue that plays into real-world problems and culture. Excellent combat that lets you choose how you want to play and keeps the pace nice and fast. Outstanding art design, palpable atmosphere, and a richly designed world with lots to discover. BioShock Infinite has everything a game needs to make it one that absolutely can't be missed. In fact, I'll even go a step farther and say that it's better than its predecessor and one of the best games of the generation. It's one hell of an adventure.
It's only been a couple days since I blogged about the competitiveness of Path of Exile, and now I'm going to be speaking in much the same way about Dota 2. Path of Exile, as I said, is one of the most competitive games released in years. Dota 2 is, quite possibly, the most competitive hardcore game of all time. I know, fighter and rts fans might not like me saying that (in addition to League of Legends fans), but I really think it's true. League of Legends has more players and more leagues, but it absolutely pales in comparison to the sheer complexity of Dota 2. Dota's map is bigger and more complex, jungling has extra twists, you can't hide behind towers as easily, the game is mercilessly unforgiving and allows heroes to snowball with just a minimal number of mistakes, the shop is far more difficult to manage, etc. Its complexity, combined with the competitiveness of leagues and ranked matches, puts it up there with any competitive game ever made. It's absolutely a hardcore gamer's paradise. If you have a thirst to learn, to match wits against other people, and to see all your effort result in domination against your opponents, then this is the game for you. The community is awful, it's true, but that's not a reason to give this game a pass. If you want something that will push you to your limits and is utterly addicting, then download Dota 2. It's free, and should not be overlooked.
While A Link Between Worlds only comes in at #4 on my list, it's quite possibly the game that makes me feel the best about the future of gaming. That is because The Legend of Zelda is one of my all-time favorite series, and the recent Zelda games were absolute disasters for me. With each Zelda since Twilight Princess, Eiji Aonuma might as well have come to my house, knocked on my door, and kicked me in the balls. That's how badly I felt about those games, part of one of the few franchises that once gave me an unmitigated amount of joy with every announcement, every game released. A Link Between Worlds is fun. Very fun. That's all it tried to be: 100% pure fun. It made compiling this year's list of best games extremely difficult because it very well could've been my GotY, as it was here on GameSpot. That shows how strong 2013 was. Yeah, there are certainly a few knocks on this game. It's not nearly as innovative as some of its predecessors, with Nintendo instead choosing to go the "safe" route of having a lot of overworld freedom, great boss battles, and fun puzzles and dungeons. It's minimalistic with its storyline (as many Zelda games are) and doesn't do anything new. A lot of content has been seen before, especially in its SNES prequel, A Link to the Past. It's not particularly difficult, easier than A Link to the Past. It's not one of the best games in the series. But it's an outstanding game nonetheless. The game progresses at a break-neck pace while still giving you the freedom to explore Hyrule's many secrets and complete as many mini-games and side quests as you want. The puzzles leading to dungeons, and inside dungeons, force you to think quickly, as the wall-walking meter depletes rapidly, and there's a lot of action thrown in to keep you on your toes. With outstanding boss battles to top off each fast-paced dungeon, and a whole bunch of dungeons for you to complete, A Link Between Worlds is easily the greatest Zelda game since The Wind Waker. No fetch quests required here, my friends, so if you have any doubts about this game, put them to rest! A Link Between Worlds is a game that no Nintendo fan should miss!
Path of Exile is the second ARPG to make my GotY list, and it's a damn good one. It was created with one thing in mind: hardcore fun for hardcore gamers. And yes, for hardcore ARPG gamers, it's exactly what you want. In many ways, it's certainly what Diablo III should've been. There are three attributes (strength, dexterity, and intelligence) and six classes that are either purely one attribute, or a mix of two. You can also find a seventh class in-game that utilizes all three. Just with that, it's easy to see how Path of Exile surpasses Van Helsing, and many other ARPGs, in complexity and replayability. But there's so much more. Sporting one of the biggest skill trees of all time, there's an almost endless amount of ways to build your characters and play the game. It's also one of the most competitive games ever to be released, with a variety of ladders and rankings for regular and seasonal play, many tournaments and races each week set up for both solo and cooperative play, and intense PvP that gives you a reason to keep leveling up even after you finish the storyline. And the storyline is lengthy in itself, offering an entertaining experience full of great boss battles, interesting dialogue, and outstanding level design. Path of Exile is an absolutely incredible game. Since it's free, there's literally no reason that you shouldn't try it out. It's a true hardcore experience.
In the second reboot of Lara Croft's character, Crystal Dynamics really comes through. There's a lot to love about Tomb Raider 2013, for both longtime fans and newcomers alike. The gameplay is really fluid, moving between stealth and action segments flawlessly. You have the choice to play stealthily or with guns blazing. The stealth mostly works well outside of a few hiccups, and the action is heart-thumping intense, especially when it comes in big bursts of enemies. Visually, it's really nice, but doesn't take the strongest system either. The art design is really good and adds loads to the atmosphere. But what I really love about this game is the character development. The story is decent: clear, enough mystery to keep you wondering, and a few good plot twists. But Lara really develops incredibly well throughout the course of the story, going from a sniveling little girl to a badass woman as the hours pass. The decisions she makes at the end of the game can be quite surprising when thinking back on how she was before all the action started happening. Oh, and yes, her character design is nice. If you want some fan service... you got it.
For a while there, I (along with many American SRPG fans) was afraid that Fire Emblem Awakening wouldn't be making it to the States. It took a while for Nintendo to announce a release date in the West, but when they did, I let out a big sigh. This is the type of franchise that the 3DS needs. If they're going to stem the growing tide of iOS games, then well-established Nintendo franchises like Fire Emblem need to be released across the globe. Like the other games in the series, Awakening has just about everything that makes Fire Emblem great: excellent strategic battles across a variety of maps where the terrain affects your characters and decisions, dozens of likeable characters, an interesting world with political upheaval and great dialogue... And, like so many games in the genre: it's hardcore. Awakening really makes you think, and it really presses your resolve. It's far from being the most difficult game in the series, but it's still exact type of "real" game experience that Nintendo needs to push away its competition. In addition to its gameplay, I really liked what they did with the 3D effects. The game's visuals are excellent. And then there's the marriage system, which was... quite interesting, to say the least. It gives the game some much needed content, if nothing else. Awakening is easily one of the best handheld games of 2013, and it should be picked up by any 3DS owner without hesitation.
I'm kinda surprised that I'm actually putting an Assassin's Creed game in my top 10. It's the first time I've done this since Assassin's Creed II. All annual-release games rub me the wrong way, and Assassin's Creed had definitely gone the way of Call of Duty. But it deserves to be here. This one's an actual improvement, unlike the last few games in the series. The ground gameplay is probably the game's weakest area (other than plot), and it's mostly the same as it has been for years. There are definitely good moments, some good assassinations, and some good stealth, but it's mostly bogged down with all the crap of the last few years. Waaay too much tailing people and listening in on their conversations. There were some pretty good battles though. But what really takes it is the naval gameplay. They've taken what we had in the last Assassin's Creed game and really made something special. I couldn't get enough of the naval combat, especially at the end when you move on from downing man o' wars and start taking on the legendary ships. Those were some thrilling battles. The legendary ships aside, there's a whole lot more side content available as well. This is by far the most ambitious Assassin's Creed world to date. There's a lot of land to explore, and it's very easy to get immersed in it all and lose many hours of your day. Outside of Wind Waker, I've never played a game with this much sea exploration in my life.
Sanctum 2 drops in just ahead of The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing for the 9 spot. If you've played Sanctum 2 or its predecessor, then you probably know why. The Sanctum games are a thrilling mix of the tower defense and FPS genres. Unlike the first one, Sanctum 2 focuses on the shooting rather than the strategy, but there's a whole lot of the latter as well. With nice art design, a wide variety of maps, many secrets, and a huge amount of character customization, Sanctum 2 is without a doubt one of the biggest sleeper hits of 2013. The leveling up system adds a whole bunch of replayability, and then there are "feats of strength" to make all the maps much more challenging. There's a lot of fun to be had here. Anybody who wants a good, relatively cheap game should take Sanctum 2 whenever they get the chance.
Ok, so I'm finally getting around to writing up my top 10 games of 2013. This top 10 is composed of 2013-released games that I was able to play. I think I played about 25 2013 games, so I guess my top 10 is really just a "top 40%" but whatever. Over half the teams in the NBA make the playoffs, so stfu. I played most of the "big-name" games anyway, with the exception of Beyond Two Souls and The Last of Us, so it shouldn't be too bad a top 10. Oh and Grand Theft Auto won't make it. It's fun, sure, but I can never bring myself to beat any of these games. I just get so tired of them after about 15 hours. All I end up doing is driving on the sidewalks running over people.
Anyway, #10 ended up being a battle between GTAV and The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, with the latter winning because it was good enough to get me through the entire game (short though it may have been). And it had lots of attitude, which I like. I'll give GTAV an honorable mention shout out. Also, I'll give an honorable mention to Daedalic Entertainment's The Night of the Rabbit. One of the best point-and-click adventures I've ever played.
Despite being in a rather saturated genre, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing really manages to stand out. Outstanding visuals immediately puts it at the top of its class, right up there with Path of Exile. While rather simplistic compared to many other ARPGs, it's got enough content to feel fresh for at least two play-throughs. It's really fast-paced, with all the action any fan of the genre would expect. It's also rather challenging, forcing you to be very careful with how you approach later situations, and giving many opportunities to try different strategies and fighting styles. Some really good boss battles top it off. But it's your sidekick, Katarina, who really stands out. She adds a lot of dry humor throughout the game, the source of all the "attitude" I spoke of earlier. She adds a lot of spirit to a genre that often feels quite lonely. And she levels up and fights with you! If you're a fan of ARPGs, I'd definitely suggest giving this game a try.