Borderlands 2 does just about everything right with a sequel: more levels to explore, more characters to play around with, more multiplayer madness, and more guns. Not only that, but Borderlands 2 delivers a much more satisfying story than the first game, and features astounding voice acting. Blasting the heads off Psychos was made all the better when my merciless slaying of baddies was complimented by my character sarcastically saying, “Ouch”. On top of that, the banter heard between characters via the ECHO devices, with Handsome Jack standing out as one of the best, was not only done well technically but was actually enjoyable to listen to. It made for a story that was better in all respects from the original. Add in the series’ sense of humor and you’ve got a winner through and through.
This game has immense staying power, something critical to a Game of the Year title. With Borderlands 2 I didn’t feel like I was done when I finished the campaign: I wanted to keep playing, I wanted to level up, I wanted more loot, and I generally wanted more of everything. The side quests in the were a mix of the ridiculous and the challenging. Whether I was hunting down the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (essentially) or scrounging up random body parts to make a robot feel more human, I always was having fun. Let’s face it, the gameplay isn’t all that varied. You pretty much kill everything you see. But when the game makes me excited to go somewhere and kill something over and over there’s something special going on. I haven’t even begun to mention how fun the multiplayer is on this one either. Teaming up with three buddies and mowing down hundreds of bad guys in a gory bloodbath is more thrilling than it should be. The way each class melds together is brilliant on the developers part, making each class unique and every group you play with balanced yet varied.
Take a look back at what I’ve written here and you’ll see that one word comes up again and again: fun. Borderlands 2 always remained fun for me when I was playing. I was always progressing the story, finding new loot, leveling up, discovering a hidden easter egg, or enjoying the game’s sadistic humor. Combine that enjoyment with simple online integration, stellar multiplayer, and giving the player more of everything they wanted in the original game and Borderlands 2 is my clear contender for Game of the Year.
The biggest surprise I had the pleasure of playing this year was the sequel to the 2010 DS hit 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors for the 3DS, Virtue’s Last Reward. Not so much a game and more a “visual novel”, Virtue’s Last Reward has hands down the greatest storytelling I have seen on the young system, and perhaps any handheld. The cast of helpful yet flawed characters you get to know throughout the story make the game memorable, with twists every minute, making you want to play just a bit longer. Plenty of replay value means you’ll be keeping the game in your handheld for a long time, and the mature themes make for a perfect game for older audiences. Virtue’s Last Reward also has terrific voice acting, with characters delivering their lines with poise and enthusiasm that you otherwise wouldn’t notice in plain text. When you start to think about the game hours after you’re done playing it, and realize how to solve a puzzle, or that someone you remember talking to lied, and all you want to do is continue playing it, you’ve got something special. And Virtue’s Last Reward is just that.