The Ten Ton Hammer Best of 2012 Awards

With the end of another year looming on the horizon, we look back at the titles that made 2012 a memorable year for gamers. Join us for the Best of 2012 Awards at Ten Ton Hammer.

Looking back at the past twelve months in online gaming has become an annual holiday tradition for the team at Ten Ton Hammer. While many families gather to decorate trees, consume liberal amounts of eggnog, or squint sideways at one another, our family enjoys nothing more than busting out our time machines to take a virtual trip down memory lane.

At first glance, 2012 has been an offbeat, but nonetheless eclectic year for the gaming industry. The console world continues to hold its collective breath, waiting for next generation hardware to finally become a reality. As a result, indie gaming is once again on the rise, and the concept of online gaming has grown to encompass an even bigger chunk of the mobile market. And let's not forget the mountain of new gaming projects that continue popping up on Kickstarter at a steady pace.

When it comes to major MMO launches and expansions, 2012 has shown us that diversity can be a very good thing indeed. Settings, combat systems, and even business models have all gone under the microscope with many of the newest releases. The net result has been another stellar year for MMO gamers.

What follows are Ten Ton Hammer's top picks for 2012; those titles that sparkled so brightly as to be worthy of receiving one of our highly coveted Best of 2012 awards. You won't find any glad-handing here (yes, we're looking at you VGAs) -- each award was granted based on the knowledgeable opinions of our expert staff, most of whom have been deeply involved in the MMO industry since its initial inception.

So join us as we take a look back at the best of the best that online gaming has had to offer us over the past year. Not only do we look forward to hearing your opinions on our picks in the comments, but you can also make your voice heard in our poll for the Most Anticipated Game of 2013. And if you're feeling truly adventurous, be sure to check out our first annual Addon Awards, where we give props to the hard work done by some of the most dedicated gamers around.

Back in the day, shooter fans had much slimmer pickings when it came to worthwhile titles to choose from. With fewer releases in any given year, those that were truly worthy of a massive, loyal fan base quickly rose to prominence. The dividing lines were even more clearly defined once you factored in that online multiplayer modes were still a very hit-or-miss proposition in most cases (if they existed at all, depending on the title).

Man, how times have changed. These days, online shooters are a dime a dozen. It seems like a new one is released every few weeks, each clamoring for attention in an increasingly saturated market. For an online shooter to be worthy of notice, it needs to not only provide a truly original experience, but one that gives gamers ample reasons to invest their time in on an ongoing basis.

This is exactly what we were looking for when we sat down to decide on our winner for Best Online Shooter of 2012. While there were a few worthy contenders, at the end of the day it became readily apparent that only one title this year had that special something to take the genre boldly into the future rather than simply rehashing the same, tired old mechanics as has become all too common with online shooters these days.

With Planetside 2, Sony Online Entertainment has injected the online shooter space with a few key ingredients it has so desperately needed for a very long time. While a great setting and an even greater variety of weaponry certainly matter, Planetside 2 also adds meaningful persistence and player progression into the mix. It also packs in a reason for community interaction perhaps better than any other game released this year.

SOE tossed each of those ingredients into its magical MMO blender, and packaged the results in a free-to-play wrapper, all but eliminating the barrier for entry in the process. Even if running and gunning isn't your particular forte, the ability to make a meaningful contribution via your vehicular prowess by land or air only helps Planetside 2 stand out as the clear victor of our Best Online Shooter of 2012 award.

At the end of the day, any MMO out there is only as good as its community. Flashy combat systems, compelling stories, and killer graphics will only take a game so far. If the game fails to provide a space for a solid community to form, it can all too easily devolve into a massively single-player game.

Determining which MMO is worthy of the Best Community award is typically a somewhat daunting task due to a variety of factors. For instance, even in a single game the community can have an altogether different impact depending on which server you end up playing on. But we weren't only interested in assessing what the community is like in-game; its broader impact across the web also plays a crucial role.

Taking the above into account, it became readily apparent that the community behind one game clearly stood out from the crowd. While our selection here may be viewed as somewhat controversial, we nonetheless feel that one particular MMO community this year is truly deserving of winning our Best Community of 2012 award.

This will no doubt be somewhat of a bittersweet victory for the City of Heroes community. However, when the game's closure was announced earlier this year, we couldn't help but stand up and take note of how quickly the players mobilized in an attempt to keep their favorite game alive. In many ways, the initial reaction itself was somewhat expected. After all, who wouldn't want to vocalize their desire to keep a favorite game going?

The City of Heroes community impressed us by turning what could have been a directionless outcry into a concerted effort to find some kind of positive resolution. And when it became apparent that their efforts were in vein, this group impressed us once again by refusing to simply walk away completely.

Instead, their energies have been refocused into not just one, but two new projects where they will have much more direct control over its ultimate fate. We wish the teams behind Plan Z: The Phoenix Project and Heroes and Villains the best of luck. We tip our hats to these folks and the rest of the City of Heroes community -- a group that is collectively worthy of our Best Community of 2012 award.

The past few months have been a whirlwind of activity when it comes to expansions. In fact, 2012 saw more major expansions launch than triple-A MMOs, including such notable entries as World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria, RIFT: Storm Legion, and EVE Online: Retribution to name a few.

While expanded content is always a good thing, a truly great expansion needs to build upon the core game's strengths in meaningful ways. Not only does it need to provide more interesting things to do, but also add something entirely new into the mix beyond additional landmass, generic quest hubs, or an increased level cap.

This year's winner for Best Expansion not only hits each of these marks squarely on the nose, but adds one of the coolest new gameplay features we've had the opportunity to experience this year.

The competition for best expansion was pretty fierce this year; perhaps more so than it has been for quite a while now. But once again Turbine rose to the occasion and delivered another kickass installment for the ongoing Lord of the Rings Online saga. Riders of Rohan not only continues the storyline progression, bringing players into a much beloved locale in Middle Earth for the first time, but it packs in a lot of excellent gameplay to boot.

From the very outset we were highly impressed with how mounted combat has been implemented. While Turbine isn't the first developer to take a crack at such a system, Riders of Rohan takes what could have simply been a cool diversion and made it central to the expansion. Not only does this help further immerse players into Tolkien's world, but does so by capturing the spirit of the region in meaningful ways.

As noted in our official review for Riders of Rohan earlier this year, the score really helps to create the setting as much as the graphical improvements that were bundled into the expansion. All this and much more contributed to Turbine being the recipient of our Best Expansion for 2012. In fact, this is the second year in a row that the developer has locked in the best expansion category, neatly following up last year's victory for Rise of Isengard.

Awesome combat systems may get the lion's share of attention when it comes to MMOs, but only a handful of games end up being truly worthy of the full MMORPG moniker. I know, I know... the idea of an MMO built as a killer role-playing game experience sounds like crazy talk in this day and age. Thankfully, 2012 proved that MMOs can still provide plenty of worthwhile RPG hooks.

Immersion is a word that gets tossed around a lot in the gaming world, but few genres really address it on a fundamental level the way a good RPG can. NPC's need to feel like they're part of a living, breathing world; like their existence matters beyond doling out quests like virtual homework assignments, or dropping loot like Halloween candy into a decorative treat bag. The atmosphere created by the graphics and audio are equally as important, as is the overall connection the player feels to their character.

While most MMOs attempt to address each of these things to varying degrees of success, RPG fans usually have to look towards single-player titles to properly scratch their RPG itch. Every once in a while, however, a developer rises to the challenge of reminding us exactly why MMO and RPG shared such a tightly knit bond in the first place.

While Funcom's previous entries into the MMO space - Anarchy Online and Age of Conan - may have felt twice removed from the developer's adventure gaming roots, with The Secret World it has gotten back to the essential ingredients that helped put them on the map to begin with. The Longest Journey titles are some of the best that adventure gaming has to offer, and Funcom has finally managed to bring the same richness of storytelling into TSW.

TSW may draw heavily from myth and urban legend, yet it still manages to bring something wholly unique to the table in terms of MMO settings. The graphics and audio really bring the atmosphere Funcom was attempting to create with TSW to the forefront, providing one of the best storytelling canvases we've had the pleasure to experience this year.

Could The Secret World have worked as a single-player game rather than an MMO? We'd like to believe it could, and wouldn't be all that surprised if the developer goes on to create other RPGs within their expertly crafted setting. But at the end of the day, TSW manages to work on both levels, neatly adding a hefty dose of RPG peanut butter to an MMO chocolate wrapper.

PC gaming offers few constants. Despite some strong console efforts - DC Universe Online, Final Fantasy XI and XIV, and Phantasy Star Online to name a few - MMORPGs remain solidly in the PC camp. In like manner, strategy games are still largely in the PC domain. Look no farther than RTS games such as the StarCraft series or MOBA games like League of Legends (which are essentially scaled-down, co-op RTS) to prove the staying power and mainstream appeal of PC strategy gaming.

But few strategy games reach the coveted status of becoming more than games, becoming hobbies in and of themselves. Becoming not just something that you play as a means to entertain yourself, but becoming part of your identity. Browse the forums at,, or any of a number of passionate strategy gaming communities to see what I mean.

But few strategy games have the balance of depth, character-based charm, and accessibility to make it out of the niche marketplaces and Internet backwaters and into the mainstream. Among the n 2012, Civilization V: Gods and Kings was certainly an excellent strategy game in this vein. But if the mark of an excellent strategy game is one that provides interesting decisions at each stage of your eventual conquest, then perhaps the mark of a truly superior strategy game is one that provides compelling and fun reasons to keep playing even when all your plans blow up in your face. Crusader Kings II is just such a game.

Crusader Kings II is like a music box - it's seemingly simple yet elegant presentation masks its incredible internal complexity. The Clausewitz-engine fueled AI is second-to-none - not only will the neighboring Islamic ruler wait until you and your Castillian counterpart start fighting for the title of King of Spain, he'll wait until you've exhausted both your funds and armies and your Pope took the rest crusading, declare holy war, and sweep in to conquer both you and your former enemy. A steady stream of DLC keeps the eventual (read: weeks later) replay fresh, adding in everything from Islamic rulers, Byzantine plots, and, most recently, nothing short of an Aztec invasion.

One of CKII's master strokes is providing checks and balances - demesne limits and the system of titles and claims prevent your rule from growing (or disappearing) too quickly. Micromanagement is also kept to a minimum - whether you're an English duke or the Holy Roman Emperor, your demesne (the holdings you directly rule) is limited. Your vassals control the rest, but keeping them unambitious and happy is a whole other side of the game.

As a sandbox strategy game, Crusader Kings II has a steepish learning curve - succession laws and rules regarding demesne ownership can be tricky, and it takes a few failed regimes to learn that the game really is about protecting your succession over the centuries despite everything the game throws at you. But as a sandbox game, it's up to the player to set his or her own goals. Before tackling challenging empires like volatile Brittania or the sprawling Abbasid dynasty, new players might want to explore some historical what-ifs like uniting the earls of Ireland into a kingdom that never was, creating a Basque nation, or solidifying Polish control into a nation that can withstand being the good stuff in the sandwich between two land-hungry empires. In the process, you'll learn a lot about the age-old roots of problems that extend to modern day.

With a newly announced merchant republic DLC in the spring and centuries (and continents) of room to expand, Paradox will continue to reduce my sleep time and productivity in 2013, rounding out an already deep, compelling, and charming grand strategy experience. And for all of these reasons, Crusader Kings II is our choice for Best Strategy Game of 2012.

Many MMOs do not rebound whenever they begin to decline in subscribers. When subscribers begin to leave it is as if a black hole shows up and swallows them whole, never to return to the game again. Yet sometimes there is a game that turns on the afterburners and escapes the ever hungry black hole of doom and switches from declination to growth.

One of the many MMOs to reach such statue was Dungeons and Dragons Online which suffered from declining subscribers and what looked like the doors eventually shutting on it forever. They took a strong, bold move and went from a subscriber only system to a free-to-play, effectively turning the boat around and revitalizing the game, which is still going strong today.

This year has been a strange year with many MMOs receiving makeovers in the attempt to rescue it from the endless pit of doom. One game emerged from the salon with a face that resembled a newborn and its players fleeing the black hole and returning back to its loving embrace. That game is World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria.

It’s no secret that World of Warcraft: Cataclysm was not a great expansion. It wasn’t the expansion itself that was a game killer, while it was oft-kilter and atypical, many players still trogged through the content. The mortal wound came when not only was it a so-so expansion, but there was nearly a year between the final patch (of only three patches) and the next expansion. During that wait, the game suffered heavy losses and millions of subscribers jumped ship to try other games like Star Wars: The Old Republic, TERA, and The Secret World.

When the expansion came, it was like a wind of change, a surprise for many. Numerous angering issues in Cataclysm were now resolved and a plethora of features were added. The talent system was revamped to make it more user friendly and fun. The raid finder was polished and presented as a viable form of endgame for players seeking to see content, but not see WoW as a job. Pet battles, while mocked and ridiculed, actually came out nearly perfect – a fun and eccentric way to pass time in the world’s favorite MMO.

There were many, many, many other changes in the game. Ranging from static mana pools to the pet and mount journal. The key point is that they all added up to what was a reinvented WoW, a game that had upset and disfranchised the masses but now is presentable, lovable, and full of happy players content to battle the evils residing within Azeroth.

2012 has been an interesting year for the MMO industry. No two major launches were quite the same; combat systems, settings, and core game mechanics drew from a much broader spectrum than your typical cookie-cutter, EverQuest template MMO that typically decorate store shelves.

Active combat systems have risen to prominence this year, with the lines beginning to blur at a steadily increasing rate when it comes to what defines an FPS multi-player mode and a true MMO experience. Storytelling has also returned to the forefront, as MMO gamers have collectively grown beyond the point of weariness with lackluster kill ten rats questing, or spending larger amounts of quality time in a game setting that feels flat or even forgettable.

In other words, the status quo is beginning to change, and to be honest it's long overdue. When it comes to taking the industry boldly into the future - and not just arbitrarily for the sake of challenging convention - one game this year truly sets itself apart from the crowd. It may not completely revolutionize the way we play MMOs moving forward, but our pick for Best MMO of 2012 has clearly thrown down the gauntlet, and let it be known that the status quo simply doesn't cut it anymore.

ArenaNet is one of those rare game developers that has always marched to the beat of its own drummer. Rather than simply tapping out the same tired cadence we've all grown a bit too familiar with as new MMO releases parade by each year, Guild Wars 2 attempts to take the industry in new directions, bringing some much needed vitality and swagger to the genre.

GW2 is an expertly crafted game, and the passion and creativity of the developers shine through in every aspect of gameplay. GW2 also manages to pack in more value than pretty much any other game released this year, offering a compelling experience whether you're a diehard PvE traditionalist, hardcore competitive gamer, master strategist, or role-playing enthusiast.

In a blog post from ArenaNet developer Colin Johanson earlier this year, he described how one question factored into each element of Guild Wars 2 as it was being created: is it fun? A highly successful launch and a rabid fan base have hopefully provided Colin and co. a measurable answer to that question. Guild Wars 2 is an incredibly fun and immersive gaming experience, and one that will no doubt have a major influence on MMOs long into the future.

While deciding which game was deserving of our Best MMO award may have been a more challenging task in previous years, when we sat down to decide our winner this time around, there was no question that Guild Wars 2 is clearly the Best MMO of 2012. We've been nothing less than impressed by the quality of the overall experience - be it the combat system, original races, compelling personal stories, the amazing soundtrack, or even the massive content updates that have been added for free in the live game - and know that Guild Wars 2 has a very bright future indeed.

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About The Author

Reuben "Sardu" Waters has been writing professionally about the MMOG industry for eight years, and is the current Editor-in-Chief and Director of Development for Ten Ton Hammer.

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