The Best Games of 10 Years Ago: 2011
This is an annual series in which I'll revisit the best games of 1, 5, and 10 years ago. Clever readers might notice that 2011 was actually 11 years ago at this point, but in future iterations of this series I'll post in December when the offsets are still correct. If I did a 1 year ago list now it'd just be my 2021 list again, and that's no fun.
Normally these posts will be a side-by-side retrospective on my original list (and why it's wrong) and a new (now objectively correct) updated list including games I hadn't played at the time. 2011, however, is long enough ago that I still wasn't even playing 10 new games per year, let alone making any attempt to keep track of which ones I liked the most. I'm sure I had some opinions back then that were bad and wrong, but alas, I don't know what they were. You can imagine that my #1 was Hydrophobia: Prophecy if you want. That'd be a bad take.
So since I can't provide a 10-year old list to tear apart, I'll just make a new one. If you ever find yourself locked in a room with only games from 2011 but somehow still have access to a blog post from 2022, what should you play? I'll tell you! I included the platforms each game is available for and, when applicable, a link to its entry on the top 100 games of all time list I did.
Also, I'm sorry. You got a bit of a crap year. Maybe ask the cartoonish serial killer holding you hostage if you can be trapped in 2010 or 2012 instead?
Look, I said it was a crap year
10. Dragon Age II (PC/PS3/360)
Oh, man, this is how we're starting? DA2 was the red-headed stepchild of BioWare's games until Mass Effect: Andromeda came out, at which point everyone sort of forgot this existed since Dragon Age: Inquisition wasn't amazingly well-loved either and poor DA had hardly even been talked about in years. I actually like this game much more than most - I think the story has some genuinely good moments and it's much more of a roleplaying game than what you typically get from AAA games. Your party members are characters with their own goals and motivations for helping you, and it's really cool to see them grow and change based on the events of this decade-long epic of a story. All of that is great!
Alas, you can't talk about DA2 without mentioning that the combat is repetitive garbage and that 50% of the game seems to take place in the same three caves and alleyways that are repeatedly reused with new enemies. I'd love to replay this game and experience the good parts again, but that'd mean suffering through 10-20 hours of truly awful combat, and I haven't been able to convince myself that it's worth it since Inquisition came out. Not because it's better, but because it has exactly the same jarring gap in quality spread out over 60 hours.
It doesn't look as much like Borderlands as you'd think from this shot
9. Bulletstorm (PC/PS3/PS4/360/XBO/Switch)
This is a parody FPS story mixed with arcade-y gameplay that's also something of a parody. You get points for doing things like shooting enemies in their personal bits or kicking them into cacti, and you can use those points to unlock more dumb ways to get points. I don't know how well the humor has aged, but I'd venture a guess that I'd find it significantly less funny now than I did back then, if only because I played this around the time I thought Borderlands 2 was funny and it's... not. But there were other funny games that came out in 2011, so who can really say?
Check it out if you want a short, arcade-style FPS and don't mind that none of its systems or ideas are very deep.
'Tis just a flesh wound
8. Rock of Ages (PC/PS3/360)
RoA is basically the medieval intermission animations from Monty Python's Flying Circus turned into a game. You are Sisyphus and have realized that, instead of repeating an endless futile cycle of pushing your boulder up a hill only for it to roll back down, you could roll it into the castles of your enemies and conquer their lands. Or something. The story is not there to make sense.
While the silly story animations are definitely the highlight here, the gameplay is also solid. You alternate phases of rolling your boulder down the enemy's hill and of building defensive and economic structures on your own hill to try to slow down your enemy's boulder. Whoever knocks down the other's gate first wins, and the amount of damage you do to the gate is dependent on both the speed you hit it and the remaining strength of your boulder. As you keep playing, you'll unlock progressively sillier ways of stopping enemy boulders and also new boulders to use yourself. Maybe you'd rather roll a cube down the hill?
The only real fault with this game is that RoA2 and 3 now exist, and this series didn't really need 3 games. I'd play one or both of those instead, and after getting through them you probably aren't going to need any more RoA in your life.
Presenting the famous piss filter
7. Deus Ex: Human Revolution (PC/PS3/360/Wii U)
This game is famous for two things: Successfully reviving a franchise that had been thought dead, at least until the sequel probably killed it again, and likely being the single yellow-est game ever made. Everything in this game is yellow, and by default there's a yellow (piss) filter over everything to make even the things that aren't yellow look a bit, you know, yellow. Some people hate this look. I appreciated the aesthetic, but can also see how it'd get a little old.
If you've played Cyberpunk 2077, a lot of this game will be familiar because oh boy, CDPR was not subtle about their influences. The cybernetic upgrade screen and a lot of the stealth system from that game are lifted from this almost verbatim, albeit with much less interesting options. HR makes great use of small locations that are packed with secrets instead of a giant open world of mostly nothing, so it can make sure that unlocking that strength upgrade or double jump actually gives you some new and unique options for approaching your next mission. Dishonored 2 eventually surpassed the stealth here, but it was my favorite sneaky game for a long time, and there's still not much better available in 3D.
A lot of the biggest complaints about it from 2011 have since been addressed, too. The Director's Cut is all you can buy now, which adds non-combat ways to defeat each boss and makes builds that previously had critical points of failure more viable.
Now available directly in your brain
6. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (#91) (literally everything up to and including Alexa)
Look, whatever you think about this game, I think we can all agree on one thing: It does not need an introduction. You know what it is, I know what it is, and people who died 300 years ago probably somehow know what it is as well.
This was a top 10 game and my most played title on Steam for many years, but it has since been surpassed in playtime by Civilization VI and by many things in my overall list. That huge drop in ranking is largely down to me eventually coming around to the "shin-deep ocean" criticism. Skyrim is huge and full of systems, but most encounters are basically interchangeable and the systems are so light that they'd float in a helium tank. Add to that the fact that, despite playing for almost 400 hours, I don't think I can name a second character after Paarthurnax and you've got a game that is better at doing a lot of things than at doing any of them especially well.
With two exceptions, anyway. Skyrim has some beautiful and mysterious locations to discover, and it has some of the best mod tools in the business. The locations will give you a motivation to explore for a while and the mod tools can patch over the worst bits of system design, but at the end of the day they're not quite enough to get past the feeling that there's not much to this world. The passage of time and release of newer, more fleshed-out open world games have not been kind to Bethesda's snowy adventure.
I'm not sure if being a king in this game was a good idea...
5. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (#63) (PC/360)
Some people might disagree with this, but The Witcher, meaning the first game, is a bit shit. You can see where the rest of the series came from, but TW2 is what really put CDPR on the map. This is a surprisingly short RPG where your choices matter a great deal and you're constantly being presented with dilemmas where all of the options are terrible. If you want to stare at a choice screen for five minutes and then still feel terrible about what you picked, this is your game!
I mean that in a good way, though, because it accomplishes that feeling by making you care about its world and presenting believable situations in which there are no clear-cut right choices. There are a few moments in it that I'll still hold up as examples of how to do RPG choices right. CDPR would, thankfully, remember most of those lessons for TW3 before promptly forgetting all of them in their next game. Alas.
The Kid didn't realize that he'd just stumbled into a Retrospective Rumble
4. Bastion (#56) (PC/PS4/Vita/360/XBO/Switch)
Speaking of games that put their dev on the map: Bastion. This extremely brief action title was what popularized the narrator that'd be a staple of all of Supergiant's subsequent games and also introduced us to their incredible talent for creating stunning environments and Darren Korb's music.
Unlike their later games, there's nothing completely new about Bastion's gameplay, but it makes up for that by being a brilliantly executed little brawler. If you enjoyed anything about Hades' combat, there's a good chance it started here, and its individually crafted encounters to a great job of being quick while still presenting enough of a challenge to be tense. Once you have your bearings and can get through those fights without too much trouble, there are even challenge modes that greatly up the difficulty and test your skills with each weapon.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Korb's music again here, because this absolutely some of the best vocal music written for any game.
#3. Total War: Shogun 2 (#28) (PC)
Technically it was Fall of the Samurai, a standalone expansion set 200 years later, that made my top 100 list, but the base game could easily have had that spot instead. Shogun 2 might not have the scale and asymmetry of Three Kingdoms or the guns-against-swords wildness of Fall of the Samurai, but it makes up for that with pressure. Its map of Sengoku Japan is tight and you have shockingly few turns to conquer it all, so any wrong move on the strategy layer or tactical misstep in battle can have consequences that ripple out for many turns. It rewards aggressive expansion, but also requires you to carefully manage relationships with NPC factions and the current shogun lest you lose your trade routes and suffer an economic catastrophe.
Let the testing begin
#2. Portal 2 (#24) (PC/PS3/360)
Another game that hardly needs introducing. If Portal was the surprise hit of The Orange Box, Portal 2 was the seemingly impossible follow-up act. How do you match a self-contained game with an amazingly original core mechanic and better humor than just about any game before it? By doing the same thing but bigger, more creative, and somehow even funnier.
Portal 2 expands the first games puzzles beyond the confines of sterile testing rooms without losing any of the tight design that made the original a classic, and it adds in new mechanics like gel that keep them exciting over a game that is around three times longer. But it's the jokes that really steal the show, and for that, I'll leave you with this classic remix of Cave Johnson's lemon speech.
No moon here, though
1. To the Moon (#20) (PC/Switch/Mobile)
I've talked about this game a ton, so I'll keep it short here: It's a short story about valuing life's wishes and choices in the moments before death. How did our subject's life end up where it did, and would he really have wished for something else when faced with the consequences of making new choices? RPGMaker games tend to get dismissed as low-effort derivative nonsense, and while that's true for a truly disappointing number of games made with it, TtM is proof that a sufficiently motivated and talented dev can still make a masterpiece with it.
So there you have it. The 10 best games of 10 years ago, almost none of which I had actually played back then. A list from me that only has two obscure indie games on it? Madness, I tell you.
And if anyone thinks a year can't be a bit crap if it has 5 of my top 100 games on it, I see your point, but I raise you Dragon Age II and your 400th visit to that one cave with the spiders at the entrance for #10.