After enjoying my one day off this week (because training screwed my schedule up), it’s time to finish up my list of favorite games. And we’re finally getting into some recent games. But before that, I was thinking about what all of these games have in common that makes them my favorite. And the one trait that they all share is that I have played them many, many times. I think that’s the mark of a good game: something you can pick up & play even years later & still enjoy it. Because let’s face it, you couldn’t really have enjoyed a game if you beat it once, put it down & never touched it again. In fact, with the exception of the two games that aren’t compatible with the 360, I still own every game on this list. And technically I could still play them since my old XBox still works, but it’s on a tiny TV in the tiny guest room, so it’s not that appealing.
But with that ramble out of the way, on to the rest of the list!
# 5 – Legacy of Kain: Defiance
The Legacy of Kain series is one of the best gaming series made. If it were a novel, it would be on the best-seller list. It shows how to do a game story well. It has an intriguing plot with twists & turns, compelling & believable characters & philosophical questions, not to mention a fantastic crew of voiceactors through ever single game. I won’t attempt to give a full summary of the plot here because it took them four games to tie everything up (Blood Omen 2 is outside of the main storyline). To give a brief explanation, the series revolves around the vampire Kain & his “son” vampire-turned-wraith Raziel as they travel through time, fighting each other & trying to discover if there’s such a thing as free will in a doomed timeline.
The reason I picked Defiance as my favorite out of the five games was because it was the final chapter & tied up all of the plot holes the series had given us. It was the only game to allow us to play as both Kain & Raziel, & to me the best part of the game was bouncing back & forth between the two. Not only did the story develop naturally along two different paths that joined together in the end, but because the story switches between times, I thought it was cool to see the same places in different times. Plus, Kain & Raziel are two of the most memorable characters in gaming. I can’t help but like both of them & want them both to succeed. And Kain is a proper vampire. He’s not some angsty teen. Hell, he doesn’t even look human by the end. And he can literally suck the blood out of a person from five feet away!
The gameplay in Defiance wasn’t spectacular, but it was functional. The combat & puzzles are fairly simple, but everything else in the game made up for it. I just wish I could play it on the 360.
#4 – Jade Empire
Jade Empire was the first BioWare game I ever played, & I’ve been a fan ever since (current bad decisions notwithstanding). It still has what I consider to be one of the greatest plot twists in gaming history. I won’t spoil it if you haven’t played it yet, but if you have I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. I can still clearly remember sitting there, staring at my TV in disbelief for a minute before saying, “Oh my god, these people are geniuses!” The narrative of this game is easily the best part. The whole story is so tightly weaved together that you can look back on certain moments & see the subtlety. Not only that, but the pseudo-Chinese/Japanese world Jade Empire is set in is very vibrant, alive & interesting. Great story, great characters, great sidequests & a dash of humor to round things out.
That’s not to say it’s a perfect game. The combat doesn’t stand up to the story’s quality. It’s too easy & repetitive. I can’t hold that against the game too much, however, because it was BioWare’s first attempt at real-time combat (versus the turn-based combat in their previous title, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic). They tried to change things up by giving you a variety of fighting styles, but I rarely encountered a situation where I couldn’t use my sword.
I plan to start a new blog series called Retro Reviews, looking at older games in a Then-Now perspective, & Jade Empire will be my first review, so I’ll only say one more thing: Seriously BioWare, why no Jade Empire 2?
#3 – The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim
What is there to say about Skyrim that haven’t already said? I’ve loved the Elder Scrolls games since Morrowind. If I wasn’t limiting myself to one game per series, three of the games on this list would be the Elder Scrolls. I don’t think any franchise has done the open world thing better than Bethesda. And each game only gets better. Morrowind was a vast & dangerous world full of quirky characters. Oblivion was a beautiful game that let me talk with the God of Madness.
I think a big part of why Skyrim is my favorite so far is the way they revamped the skills system. It feels much more dynamic & logical to have all skills available to the player at all times & for them to just improve as you use them rather than having a set class. Plus, picking a perk is more involved than just having a skill given to you for reaching a new rank. And lest we forget, it has dragons! Anatomically correct dragons — by which I mean they closer resemble birds than lizards with wings sticking out of their backs.
#2 – Okami
Technically I shouldn’t be putting this game on my list because I haven’t finished it yet, but that just proves how much I love this game that I haven’t even finished it yet & it’s already my second favorite game ever. Okami is amazing. There’s no other word for it. Every aspect is amazing. It was the only game that I knew I absolutely had to get after my dad bought the Wii. This game is one of the must visually stunning anythings I’ve ever seen. I love the water color-calligraphy art style. The game has a great sense of humor, & Amaterasu is the most adorable heroine in any game. And even with my problems with the Wii motion controls, the whole idea of using ink to change the world is unique & exciting.
It saddens me that this game hasn’t done better financially. It’s one of the greatest games that nobody played. In fact, the Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition lists it as the Least Commercially Successful Winner of a Game of the Year Award. I think it is precisely the reasons so many people love the game (it’s uniqueness) that frightens a lot of gamers off. But games like Okami are what being a gamer is all about. You can’t just stick to the same old tried & true formulas. Okami is what an adventure game should be like.
I’ll give a proper review once I finish the game, but I will say this much… GO BUY IT!
And my Number 1 favorite game of all time is…
#1 – Mass Effect 3
I have to admit, I wanted to give this rank begrudgingly. I’m still a bit miffed about the ending. But cutting out the last fifteen minutes of the game, I loved every part of Mass Effect 3, & the trilogy is firmly planted as my favorite gaming series. A large part of why the third chapter is my favorite is because of the previous two games. It’s because it is the conclusion of everything that’s happened up until them. The liberation of the Krogan from the Genophage. The peace between the Quarians & the Geth. The way the relationships with the characters from my squad play out. Everything from the previous games was leading up to this.
I think ME3 struck a good balance between the first & second games. While it keeps the action orientation from ME2, with the ability to target specific parts of an enemy & interrupts, it also brought back more of the RPG aspects from ME1 with the different ways to evolve your powers & weapon customization. Although I was disappointed BioWare didn’t bring back the full-blown planet exploration from the first game, I was immensely relieved they got rid of that stupid scanning.
All missteps aside, the Mass Effect trilogy is a great franchise, probably one of the greatest of this console cycle. I love it so much I’m even in the middle of replaying the series from the very beginning.
So there you have it, my list of my favorite ten games. Of course such things are always subject to change if I play an even better game. It’s these games that I look to when I see some of the same old muck developers crank out to remind myself why there is no other media like video games.