2011, for some, was one of the busiest, most exciting years to be a gamer. It saw the release of some truly genre-defining titles and some incredible sequels which built on and surpassed their predecessors.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

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For starters. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. This title alone makes the year 2011 stand out against most others. I can’t think of many games that have been ported and remastered as frequently as the fifth installment in the Elder Scrolls series. Its Dragonborn concept, vast open world, and fantastic progression system have made this game stand the test of time.

Though it released in 2011, Skyrim is still a well known, highly discussed title; with it’s most recent ports coming to the Nintendo Switch and even Amazon’s Alexa. Its “slay dragons, obtain their “Thuum”, and find their words to make your voice even more badass” loop is easily one of the most addicting mechanics within video games. And that progression system?! It just made sense. The fact that you only level up what skills you actually use just made so much sense.

The outcome was a world full of unique characters that played the way the player wanted them to play. To this day, this kind of progression system has only really been mimicked in Souls-like games, but not nearly as specific as Skyrim allowed. Not to mention, how often have you heard of a 2011 title is a “must have” on Nintendo’s current console? Skyrim is just one of many that made 2011 so great though.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

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The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword landed on Nintendo’s Wii console the same year. It wasn’t just a fantastic new installment with the long-standing franchise, but it also ended up being a lot of people’s Game of the Year, and how could you blame them? Not many franchises can have a consistent masterpiece level rating with every new addition they put out. Yet, the Legend of Zelda has proven time and time again, these will be games that will always be enjoyable.

At the time of its release it was widely referred to as the “Best Game on Wii” and “The best Zelda game ever created.” Skyward Sword doubled down on its cinematic approach to telling a new tale for the Legend of Zelda series, an origin story. Its cast was full of memorable NPC’s, the villain was great, and the art style was a beautiful blend of Wind Waker meets Twilight Princess. This title also took a page from the Metroid series and utilized its available space by making it’s areas places you would need to revisit more than once.

Returning to a familiar area and being able to progress farther with your newly acquired ability kept the title feeling fresh, even if you were retreading familiar territory. This was also the title that Nintendo doubled down on the Wii’s motion controls. Skyward Sword felt tight and responsive and made the Wii’s awkward nunchuks feel fluid and comfortable within the game’s control scheme. Naturally, it’s no surprise people want to see this title on the Switch for the exact same reasons.

Dark Souls

Dark Souls Prepare to Die Edition Screenshot

Going back to the “constantly ported title” area for a moment, another groundbreaking game of 2011 is, of course, Dark Souls!

Dark Souls, while not the first souls-like experience, is one that is still highly revered (and played) to this day. This game DEFINED and sparked an entire genre. Back then, this punishing title was one that fed off of its ever-growing cult following. Today, the “souls-like” genre, or sub-genre, is a massively popular one that inspires new takes on it’s tough as nails concepts daily.

Dark Souls is still a massively popular action RPG that requires players to learn from their mistakes to overcome insurmountable odds. Its world building is bar-none and has inspired countless companies big and small to create their own “souls-like” experience. Having been an avid gamer since I was 5, Dark Souls was a game that didn’t hold my hand or come easily to me. Playing a game like this for the first time, coming off of games that make sure you’re enjoying the experience while also not letting the difficulty get in the way of that enjoyment, was refreshing.

There is no hand-holding. If I died, it was because I made a mistake, or got too greedy. Dark Souls taught you that dying was ok and that it will happen a lot, but the feeling of accomplishment when you finally beat that boss for the first time was a euphoria few other titles (at the time) could replicate. Since then, the Souls-borne/Souls-like genre has become one of the most popular in the industry, with countless other titles and companies fighting to be “the next Dark Souls.” Oh, and it’s also been ported and remastered a handful of times, along with also being available on Switch.

Dead Space 2

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Finally, another genre defining title that released in 2011 was Dead Space 2. 2011 was a year where a LOT of sequels dropped, and most of those sequels far exceeded their predecessors in almost every way. Dead Space 2 was no exception.

Building off the fantastic framework of the original, Dead Space 2 was an improvement on Dead Space in practically every way. The movement was more fluid and less robotic, the scares were bigger and better, the story was just as good, and the necromorphs were even more terrifying. It was so big, that it was spread out over TWO discs!

After Resident Evil 4, survival horror had taken a bit of a nose dive. It seemed like fresh, new ideas were hard to come by, and when they did come out, their execution wasn’t handled very well. In comes Dead Space, and practically overnight it’s like the genre had gotten a new lease on life. Dead Space 2 capitalized on everything that made the first one great and made it better. Being a new IP, Dead Space’s controls felt clunky at times. Issac moved sluggishly and felt heavy in most of what he did.

Dead Space 2 made him much more mobile and agile. Being able to use his space suit to hover around certain sections felt great and responsive. There was still a weight of his suit when walking around but it didn’t feel as restrictive. And the scares! Ohhh were the scares fantastic! Dead Space 2 left a long-standing impression on the survival horror genre and is easily one of the greatest horror games of all time, not just 2011.

Honorable Mentions

While these aren’t all the games that made 2011 great, they are easily some of the best to come out that year. Other honorable mentions include Mortal Kombat, which revitalized the series with it’s “X-Ray” finishers and a great new emphasis on story. Batman Arkham City, like Dead Space 2, built on what made Arkham Asylum so damn good and just made it better; this time giving us an entire city to navigate and explore.

Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception gave us a phenomenal story-driven experience that wonderfully tied up the trilogy. Titles like L.A. Noire and Saints Row: The Third gave us sandbox style worlds to play in and explore. Modern Warfare 3 dropped in 2011 as well and is still to this day one of the best Call of Duty titles EVER.

Portal 2, Infamous 2, and Little Big Planet 2 all dropped this year too. The Witcher 2 put the series on the map with it’s rich, beautiful medieval world and incredible story and characters. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations gave us a fitting closing chapter for Ezio and Deus Ex: Human Revelations showed us that our choices, even in a video game, can have lasting consequences. Duke Nukem Forever also dropped this year… but we don’t really talk about that.

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