2011 Game of the Year Awards: Number 1

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And here we are friends, at the end of our third-annual Game of the Year awards ceremony. We laughed, we cried and we certainly didn't argue as much about the placement of 2011's games as we had in 2010. This is a good thing.

By a near-unanimous vote (meaning three out of five of us agreed), we bring you our finest and most spectacular game of the entire year that was 2011.

As is our custom, we will next post a list of Honorable Mentions from each of our handsome and intelligent contributors during the coming seven days. It will be our individual chance to showcase the titles we think deserved a top spot but were perhaps outvoted on, or we might just tell you what Flash games were the coolest. Time (and editing) will tell.

Thank you for reading!

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#1 - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

November 2011 | Developer: Bethesda Softworks | Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows

It can be exhausting reading multiple year-end top 10 lists and seeing the same titles mentioned again and again. Reading more than one list of 2011’s best games will likely lead to repeated mentions of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and many of them will have it in the number one spot. This is not without merit; Skyrim could never be a book, a comic, a movie, or any other type of media. What makes Skyrim exceptional isn’t the narrative, but the world Bethesda created and the radically different experiences any given player can have in it.

Of the number of people I know playing Skyrim, not one of them has had an identical experience. No one chose the same specialties in combat with the same race or went the same direction in the world. Players that have already invested nearly a hundred hours into a single character may never encounter moments or segments of the world of Skyrim that I have in a fraction of that.

Volume and variety, however, are not what make it the best game of the year. What makes the latest Elder Scrolls title the best game of the year is when that volume and variety are consistently fun and interesting. Bethesda’s open-world RPGs are riddled with exciting highs and disappointing lows. At some point in previous installments it becomes easy to discover a game-breaking character build or an optimal progression with which to approach the quests and the world; this leads to a sense of repetition that ruins the experience. This is one possible reason Fallout: New Vegas got a fraction of the attention and accolades Fallout 3 did.

Skyrim has something that its predecessors in the Elder Scrolls series couldn’t offer: true gameplay role-playing. Many RPGs will provide the player the freedom to choose a specialty or style, only to show them hours down the road that they had shot themselves in the foot. Skyrim is the first title I’ve played where every different approach seems feasible. While it can sound very cliche, it is a necessity in a title offering this much freedom, and Bethesda nails it.

To truly put an exclamation point at the end of my endorsement of Skyrim as the Silicon Sasquatch Game of the Year for 2011, I’ll just say this: I’m playing what is perhaps the most broken version of the game (PlayStation 3) from a developer famous for broken games. In addition to this, my PS3 recently died, costing me my save games — a total of sixty hours, minimum. Despite all that, I still can’t wait to jump back into the world of Skyrim and build a new Dragonborn. That is the greatness of Skyrim. The allure isn’t so much about what will or does happen while playing, but the promise of what can happen that makes every experience different and worthwhile. - Tyler Martin

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The release of an Elder Scrolls game is almost a religious holiday. Casual gamers, hardcore naysayers, JRPG fans and many others put aside their differences and just play these games -- for hundreds of hours. It's a certain type of magic that not everyone appreciates or understands, but I believe Bethesda's fantasy simulators (because really, you're simulating an entire existence within a vast, albeit fantastical, world) resonate with a vast majority because they are perfectly vague.

We're given a plot that is truly inconsequential. We're dropped in a world that has few limits. We're encouraged to write our own stories and pretend -- via a polished game design that helps us coax out our inner children -- that we can be a lizard wizard, or whatever else you can imagine. In this way Skyrim is the same as Oblivion, and Morrowind by extension. But it is the most amazing iteration Bethesda has ever released.

Perhaps other games in 2011 took more risks or showed us unexpected things, but I can't deny the genius that is Skyrim's freedom to play and the brilliance of the game design that engenders an endless amount of roaming, looting, exploring and hoarding every piece of gear I find. Seriously, I need three houses just to sanely organize my stuff.

This is a better Elder Scrolls game in how it looks, plays and sounds. The character models no longer look like unfortunate troglodytes, the combat and character advancement trees are natural and logical and even a fleeting memory of the soundtrack gives me goosebumps.

I can't recommend any other game from 2011 more than Skyrim. It's an overdue fulfillment of an unspoken promise that Bethesda made to fans nearly 20 years ago when the first game came out on DOS -- technology just had to mature to give us what is the grandest vision of the best videogame escapism in existence.

You will lose yourself to Skyrim, and you should be happy about it. - Aaron Thayer