2011 was arguably one of the more definitive years in gaming history, with so many incredible, iconic games. The big daddy of them all was Skyrim, but many other classics were released, like Arkham City and Saints Row The Third. Here’s our picks for 2011.
10. Super Mario 3D Land
The 3DS is often overlooked as one of Nintendo’s best consoles because the Switch gained traction so quickly and surpassed the 3DS in popularity by miles. But let us not forget that the 3DS had one of the best console game line-ups on the market for a solid few years, complete with gems like Super Mario 3D Land. This game combined elements of classic Mario Bros. gameplay with the free-roam mechanics of newer titles like Super Mario 64, making for a delightful and completely new style of Mario gameplay.
With bright, colourful worlds and brilliant puzzles, Super Mario 3D Land was a high point for the Mario franchise, and it’s extremely surprising that more hasn’t been done with this style of gameplay, outside the Wii U’s sequel, Super Mario 3D World. If there’s one 3DS game ripe for re-release on the Nintendo Switch, it’s this one.
Minecraft was an absolute phenomenon when it first released in 2011, and has gone on to become the highest selling video game of all time. Not only that, but it’s found its way into the hallowed halls of schools everywhere, as an educational tool for kids. When a video game is accepted into the national education curriculum, you know it’s done a pretty bloody good job.
On the surface, Minecraft is a very simple game, but that’s what makes it great. As a game for kids, it encourages the growth of imagination and inspiration, and helps them develop problem-solving kids. As a game for adults, it’s relaxing, and an excellent way to while away the hours and focus on building new structures, all while bending those oft-unused creative muscles. Minecraft expanded the potential of what games could do, and that impact is still being felt today.
8. Dragon Age II
In an age of drab fantasy RPGs, Dragon Age II stood out among the rest, with a cast of memorable characters and fantastic gameplay mechanics that included a detailed relationship tree and companion options. With flashy combat, a tight narrative and endless customisation options, Dragon Age II created an RPG for the ages.
Despite the fact that Dragon Age II takes place almost entirely in the town of Kirkwall, the story and gameplay mechanics still make it a constantly engaging and exciting world to explore, from the depths of Darktown to the noble-friendly Hightown. Dragon Age II was a high point for BioWare, and one of 2011’s best games.
7. Saints Row The Third
The Saints Row series has become known for its balls-to-the-wall crazy antics, and much of that stemmed from the now-iconic Saints Row The Third, an open world quest-based gangster RPG that featured a dick on a stick, WWE wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper, Burt Reynolds, aliens, a giant clone monster and (of course) scantily clad women. Somehow, all of these things fit together, and fit together well.
Saints Row The Third is one of the most entertaining games out there, and the continued success of the franchise (and one-upmanship in Saints Row IV) can all be traced back to the ridiculousness of the third entry. Long live the Saints, long live Saints Row The Third.
6. L.A. Noire
L.A. Noire is one of the few games on this list developed in Australia, and it’s also one of the more unique. It’s not often that video games delve into the detective noir genre, but L.A. Noire proved why more of them should. Taking place in the 1940s, the game followed detective Cole Phelps on his journey through law enforcement.
The game operates on a case-by-case basis, with gameplay based around interrogation, exploration and clue-gathering, as well as high-intensity chases and gun battles. L.A. Noire stood out as one of the best games of the year because it featured unique game mechanics, great storytelling, and even greater writing. Few games like L.A. Noire come to mind, and that’s no small thing.
5. Dark Souls
Before Dark Souls came out, how did games reviewers describe how hard a game was? It’s a real mystery, because once 2011 came around, nobody could shut up about Dark Souls. Developed by FromSoftware, the game quickly became known for its brutal gameplay, goth aesthetic and extensive world-building.
Dark Souls quickly became the new standard for action RPGs, with any game even remotely hard that’s been released since 2011 being compared to Dark Souls in some way. For those gamers looking to get immersed in a rich and deep fantasy world, Dark Souls had all the answers in 2011, and the series continues to be wildly popular today, with a remaster and two sequels joining the original game.
4. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
Uncharted 3 was a game that became an instant classic, with gorgeous and varied set pieces, a script that balanced nuanced character moments with hard-hitting action, and polished gameplay mechanics that made every level a joy to play. It’s often hard for video game trilogies to pull off three solid hits, but the Uncharted trilogy managed fantastically, and even kept the trend going with the equally-stellar Uncharted 4 released in 2016.
From the panic-inducing Atlantis of the Sands level to the frantic cargo plane sequence, there were so many eye-popping moments in Uncharted 3, and between it all, the game managed to tell an affecting tale about protagonist Nathan Drake’s history, and his relationship with long-time companion, Sully. Uncharted 3 is a game that many of us will remember for years to come.
3. Portal 2
Portal 2 at heart is a puzzler. Players control portals and navigate obstacles across a dense laboratory system as they work to defeat supercomputer GLaDOS. But this mechanic is only a small part of what makes Portal 2 so fantastic. The writing is deft, funny and well-timed, characters are interesting and complex, gameplay constantly rewarding.
It would have been easy for Valve to rely solely on the portal mechanic, but instead, the world of Portal 2 is well-developed, fun to explore and filled with interesting bits of lore and secrets to find. Portal 2 eclipsed the original game, to the point where many consider Portal just a poor prototype of the sequel. There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of solving a puzzle in Portal 2, and it’s not hard to see why the game became such an instant and enduring hit.
2. Batman: Arkham City
Superhero games were lacklustre until Batman: Arkham Asylum arrived in 2009. It was moody, dense and fantastically well-designed. And then Arkham City arrived, and completely eclipsed the scale of the original with a tightly-packed open world and secrets hiding around every crack, corner and crevice. Arkham City featured an insanely detailed world, and nearly every character in Batman’s Rogues Gallery.
Arkham City nailed the retro-goth atmosphere of classic Batman comics, with a world that oozed gloomy, neon personality and fun, lore-filled quests. Arkham City was a triumph for superhero games, and one that set a new bar for all comic adaptations. It’s a bar that’s rarely (if ever) been surpassed.
There could only ever have been one game at the top. 2011 was a year defined by The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, a game which is still one of the most popular and well-played RPGs of the era. It’s also probably one of the most re-released, with more GOTYs, Legendary Editions, Special Editions and ports than you can count. There’s a reason for that — it’s one of the rare games with flawless storytelling, a brilliant open world, so much to explore, and near-endless replayability.
There’s so much to see and do in Skyrim that players could spend days just wandering the game’s rocky mountains, hacking and slashing at draugr, vampires and dragons. But rather than wandering aimlessly, Skyrim does a fantastic job of creating a meaningful world, where exploration is rewarding and secrets can be found at every corner. Until The Elder Scrolls VI graces us with its presence, it’s unlikely that Skyrim will ever be topped in the RPG genre.
Do you agree with our list? Have your own favourites? Tell us what we missed!