Earlier this year, I made a number of predictions regarding why 2011 was going to be one of the greatest years in gaming history. I thought it would be fun to take a trip back down memory lane and revisit the reasons I gave and why many of them were wrong.

This is going to be a phenomenal year in gaming. I know that sentiment gets thrown around a lot, but this is the first year I have actually felt like that. Last year I was really only excited for one title: Mass Effect 2. I wound up also falling deeply in love with Starcraft II, the other title that was exceptionally, fantastically, mind-blowingly good. However, I was really only excited for that one game. I also looked forward to the release of New Vegas, but my anticipation steadily fell to a dribble and I never went through the motions of purchasing it or playing it.

But this year is different. I am excited and you should be, too. And these are the reasons why:

#10 – The Duke Returns

Duke Nukem Forever – Available Now

The rebirth of one of gaming’s legends is almost upon us. After a decade of failures, postponements, delays, layoffs, general silliness, and crazy shenanigans, the Duke rises from the ashes to take names and chew gum (and we can guess what he is all out of). This might not be a game you buy, or even a game you will play, but I am excited for it to be released just so I know that one of the industry’s longest running jokes actually got done and isn’t buried in a desert in Arizona.

The Duke might have made his return, but it was far from glorious. Part of me wants to applaud that the game actually did come out as a finished product. But the larger part of me is of the opinion that it would have been better to let sleeping, old, trapped in development purgatory, dogs die…. The game released to lackluster reviews and currently has a metacritic score of 54. It turns out that the Duke was better off as a fondly remembered figure rather than a pretentious has-been.

This game is still laughed about and it WAS buried in the desert or Arizona.

#9 – Two Legend of Zelda Games

Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword / Ocarina of Time on 3DS – Available Now

It has been almost five years since a Zelda game came out that I was really excited for. Sure, Phantom Hourglass was good, but it didn’t excite me. Spirit Tracks definitely didn’t do anything for me. But Skyward Sword… this I am pretty stoked about. The sword follows your arm movements, which is pretty much all we have wanted from the Wii motion controls for a long time. If Skyward Sword turns out to be a bust (which I doubt, given Nintendo’s history with the Zelda series), then I can relive the glory days in a remake of one of the best games ever made. I recently finished playing through Ocarina of Time on my N64, and it has held up wonderfully to time. For the 3DS version they are improving the graphics, sound, including Master Quest (the harder version of the game), and it will be on the 3DS so it will have 3D capability. That is enough to get me salivating.

I think that Skyward Sword was one of the greater games to be released in 2011 and should have been higher on this list. Though I was planning on buying both of these games and playing the heck out of them, neither of those purchases happened. Skyward Sword never happened because 2011 was the year that my mother stole my Wii. Ocarina of Time 3D never made its way into my hands for a few reasons, all of which had to do with the 3DS itself and will be discussed later.

#8 – Becoming the Hero(ine) of Kirkwall

Dragon Age 2 – Available Now

I loved Dragon Age: Origins. It was everything I wanted in an RPG. Dragon Age 2 promised to shake the mix up while staying true to those roots. I was incredibly excited for the newest entry and I picked up my copy a day or two after release and I marathoned my way through it. I can safely say that they were able to deliver on what was promised. The same game that we grew to love is still there, with some simplifications to combat and a focus on place and characters rather than grand, sweeping hordes and faceless enemies. Worth the hype.

Personally, I really enjoyed Dragon Age 2 despite its mixed reception. Yes, there was extensive backtracking. Yes, there was reuse of many dungeons. But for all that, I found the narrative to be intriguing, the characters interesting, and the interactions with the characters to be memorable. To this day, Anders’ role in the conclusion of Dragon Age 2 remains one of the most shocking gaming moments I have experienced.

#7 – Return to Aperture Science and IceFrog

Portal 2 – Available Now 

DoTA 2 - Sometime 2012

Portal is arguably one of the best games ever made. Even the strictest video game reviewer I know of, Yahtzee praised Portal for its perfection. You can expect more deadpan humor from GLaDOS, the robot with some serious misanthropy. Perfection was what we received in the first game, and can we expect anything less from its predecessor?

I have not had a chance to play Portal 2 yet, although it is currently sitting on my computer’s hard drive waiting to be played. Reviews of Portal 2 have been overwhelmingly positive. It racked in numerous awards including the “Ultimate Game of the Year” from the 2011 Golden Joystick Awards. Right now it is sitting pretty on a metacritic score of 95.  

In addition, Valve is gearing up for the release of the sequel to one of the most legendary games of all-time and the game that is behind the popularity of Basshunter: DoTA 2. Valve made a smart decision when it hired IceFrog, the man behind the original DoTA. If you are a fan of Defense of the Ancients, League of Legends, or Heroes of Newerth you should definitely be excited and looking forward to this game.

In stereotypical Valve fashion, DotA 2 will be forever pushed back as the years go by. Right now the game is in beta trials and will not be shipped until sometime in 2012… assuming that Valve is still around after the world ends in the Mayan apocalypse (because we all know how good Valve is at releasing games that have been in development *cough*Half-Life 3*cough*). In the meantime we have free to play games such as League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth to fill and possibly replace the void left by DotA 2’s absence.

#6 – Solving Murders

L.A. Noire – Available Now

This game was recently featured at Tribeca Film Festival, a first for a video game. It features groundbreaking animation technology, a script penned by award winning writer Brendan McNamara (possible relation to Andy McNamara?), and is being developed by Rockstar Games, one of the most respected and talented teams out there. I am calling it now; this game is up there for some serious game of the year awards.

While this game was innovative and did things that no other game has done before, responses to it were mixed. Some criticized the game for being too slow, not giving enough control to the player, for characters being “dead below the neck” a criticism of the advanced facial animations and the less advanced body animation. The story telling in L.A. Noire is fantastic, and although the game might not be game of the year material, it is certainly one of the games that people will remember in the years to come. 

#5 – Zombies! Zom-hurk! Braaaaiiiinnnssss!

Dead Island – Available Now

I like zombies. More accurately, I like laying zombies to rest. Dead Island looks like one of the highest quality zombie slaying games I have ever seen. At the very least the trailer promises some interesting storytelling and plays on the formula. Dead Space 2 was great, but I think Dead Island might surpass Visceral Games’ latest hit.

Dead Island did not surpass Dead Space 2. It was competent, but plagued with balancing issues from launch. The game was undeniably fun, but fun and creative, improvised ways of killing zombies kind of go hand in hand. Also, the fact that no one really talks about it now months after it came out, unlike games like Portal 2 or Skyrim, is a testament to the game’s lack of staying power.

#4 – Resistance vs. Gears of War

Resistance 3 and Gears of War 3 – Available Now

The franchises of the PS3 and Xbox 360 clash directly with each other, starting the first of September. Which one will prevail? My money is on Gears of War 3, but I wouldn’t count out Resistance 3 either. These are some heavy hitters and are sure to be critical and financial successes for both Sony and Microsoft.

While both of these games released to great sales and positive reviews, neither one was really on the level of, say, Red Dead Redemption or Portal. Yeah, they both wrap up trilogies, but to be honest, neither one has the greatest narrative to grace gaming. They were both fun, but… eh.  

#3 – Nintendo’s 3DS

3DS - Available Now

The 3DS. Where to start? This thing is incredible. It can display 3D images without glasses, something that many of the television companies would probably kill for. It boasts improved graphical quality over the original DS. It is going to have Ocarina of Time and a reboot of Star Fox 64. It has a camera, can surf the web, play 3D movies, and will have a virtual console service like the Wii. This is awesome and there is nothing else like it. Nintendo has already reported after the first day that it is the best selling Nintendo handheld device in history. There is a reason for that: it is awesome.

I may have jumped the gun on the 3DS. While I still maintain that it is a very impressive piece of hardware, it faltered (and still has trouble) with software support. Sure, playing retro games is great, especially revamped versions of retro games, but the fact is that a system cannot stand without good games. Nintendo had great advantages with the 3DS and quite frankly blew them in an effort to make as much money as possible. Just a quick look at the titles available at launch will elicit a small chuckle of incredulity from most gamers. Nintendo: it is not a good idea to launch a new system with the biggest title a port of a non-exclusive game (Street Fighter IV). Also, there are still no noteworthy games that are original to the 3DS (with the exception of Super Mario 3D Land). With the price drop and the Ambassador Program, it is clear that the 3DS is not the video game darling that Nintendo thought it would be, and my prediction is that once the PS Vita is released the 3DS’ situation will not improve.