As some of you may know, I hate making “best of” lists, as it’s always a case of what one DIDN’T experience not making the cut almost always being as good or (or better) than what was chosen. That goes double for public choice where popular seems to outstrip good by a few leagues. That said, if you kidnapped me, tied me to a couch with a bunch of random strangers and submitted them to some rather strange blood testing to see who was infected with an alien virus, I’d fess up beforehand that yes, I’m one of those Things just because I hate me the hell out of needles and sharp objects (unless I’m in the kitchen cutting up stuff to cook). I’d also probably admit that out of all the games I’ve played this year, I probably put MORE time into a few than most did because I liked them a lot more than most did. Okay, that and my backlog is insane and I no longer review too many games in a “speed to the finish!” manner, as that’s how you miss some important stuff…
Anyway, I’ll drop in a few favorites over the next few days and maybe into next month depending on how much stuff I wrap up by the end of this year. Which is almost over. Eeek. Let me start with (and by the way, this “list” is in NO order, so don’t go assigning numbers or else I’ll dress up as a big zero and wait for you in a dark alley with a hard rubber mallet, a burlap sack and three pounds of candy corn. You do the math on that (and try to figure out what the hell is going to happen, as I have no idea at all – that stuff was on sale at the dollar store, I had three dollars and change and that’s what I bought). THAT said, let me change the subject to the actual subject and post one of my favorites below:
Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen (PlayStation 3/Xbox 360): Capcom’s expansion pack to its 2012 surprise sleeper was and is a favorite because not only does it contain the entire first game on that disc with an all-new and stupidly deadly new area, it adds some very nice content from the start if you were smart enough to buy the original game. Granted, you lose that awesomely cheesy J-Rock opening tune (that’s actually very catchy once you laugh out loud at how it sounds like a Rush cover band playing their own song) in favor or a more mellow sounding track. But other than that, the land of Gransys is all yours for the exploration.
What works for me are everything from the deep character creation process (you can probably create a lead character that looks pretty close to yourself) and, if you’re starting out for the first time, that sense of scale that hits you after the tutorial and opening sequence. Once you step outside that starting point and see the wind kick up some dust down the steps and send it scattering into the breeze, that’s pretty much the moment you say “Well, let’s do some exploring!” and less than twenty minutes later, you’re hooked into the world and its assorted dangers. Then again, Gransys’ many hidden secrets can be entirely ignored in favor of straight up leveling your party and seeing the main plot to its conclusion if you like, but you’d be missing out on a great deal of content.
Of course, the freedom the game allows you to go anywhere means that at SOME point, you WILL stumble upon a door tucked under an old bridge, a cave entrance past some very angry goblins protecting it or some rusty gate that just so happens to require the key you’d found a few days earlier in a dungeon many miles away. That’s when you take that deep breath, check your supplies and venture forward into the dark with your toes crossed in those new boots you’ve crafted and enhanced. You’ll need those fingers uncrossed to fight whatever not so wee beasties are lurking in that formerly dark hole, by the way. Toss in that wonderful Pawn system that allows you to buy temporary party members that can help out against the mobs plus random boss battles that always seem to occur when you’re not wanting them to or when you’re overconfident and need a reminder of what an overpowered dragon can do (The Desolation of Smug, I call it) and you get something that’s going to keep you busy for quite some time.
I’m sitting here typing this in the library and I want to leave now and play this some more. I won’t, however because I still have more recent games to finish up and review. But I know this one is going to be pulled back out eventually, as Dark Arisen’s SUPER hard Bitterblack Isle will make even the most confident player weep a little if they’re still easily frightened by some pretty nefarious monsters all set on “puree” and looking for a fight as soon as you set foot on that death trap place packed with many treasures (and many more traps)…