Earlier in the year I finally dragged myself kicking and screaming away from Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for a good wash having ploughed over 130 hours of my life into becoming a rock hard level 69 dragon slayer and shouter of magical words – that's almost a whole week in real time without sleep.
I never used to be worried about how long I played for, but with most games now attached to some online service like XboxLive or Steam you can be find out exactly how much of your life has been spent inside pixel-based universes whether you want to or not. I find the recent concept of “achievements” a bit dubious too: a series of goals designed to offer replay value for the hardcore. It's all well and good for genetically-cloned killers like Mr 47 from the Hitman series, who can wander through a level multi-tasking assassinations in a various different ways, but with a lot of games it just feels like filler, which I can take or leave.
I try to make a distinction between where my enjoyment ends and where “grind” begins; repeating something I've done before for a reward that's disproportionate to the length of time it take to acquire. Not so much an achievement, as a reward for perseverance, especially when there's just so many game now to play.
2012 was a bumper gaming year with the second half full to the brim of exciting ways of filling whole days with top notch escapism away from the rigours of cold, hard reality. I'm an avid gamer and my “gamer type” is someone who like a good narrative, more Dishonoured , less Bejeweled . Bearing that in mind, these are my top three games of the year:
Mass Effect 3
Mass Effect 3 brought the space opera of commander Shepard and his battle against the reapers to its epic conclusion. Three conclusions. Or maybe just two conclusions depending on how you'd played the game. The tough “grey area” decisions you were forced to made affected how the storyline played out, investing players so much that there was a public outcry at the limited and slightly ambiguous endings that finally came. Fans petitioned developers, creating a bizarre deus ex machina moment, a bit like telling God you're not happy how you left the building and insist on another go on his ride, and lo the game received an new director’s cut ending for the commander.
When the Bioshock Infinite 's floating city of Columbia disappeared behind thick rain clouds of release date hell, the steam-punk stealth-’em-up Dishonored blinked into existence seemingly out of nowhere, looking like Half Life 2 , playing like Thief and feeling like an animated oil painting. It offered loads of ways to complete each level and I immediately fell in love with it as it teased the back of my brain with stealth-based nostalgia. How long did I spend sitting behind boxes for minutes on end watching guard movements, rendering them unconscious then accidentally throwing their bodies into the river, where they all drowned, rendering my effort not to kill anyone fruitless?
I had my reservations about Borderlands 2 . The first game was a little bit dusty and bland, but the sequel was a vast improvement. Multi-coloured Mad Max meets fisher-price gun shop of carnage, it introduced a season pass for its “DLC” – the new slang term for “downloadable content” – so you could pay upfront for four new adventures of add-on content. Nothing new for players of either Mass Effect or the Elder Scrolls series, but by offering the extras up-front, for what was already a long game, it felt new and exciting, like a watching a great telly show that you know won't get cancelled after it's first season. Hurrah!