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The Ten Ton Hammer Best of 2011 Awards

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a retrospective look back on the year is one of our favorite times of the year here at Ten Ton Hammer. Forget the tired eggnog and traditional yuletide trimmings. For us our years aren't made up of the conventional annual events that earmark the more white bread calendars. No! Our years are spiced with animated launch dates, electrifying trailers, titillating interviews, and previews that make us salivate. We are gamers and we love games.

2011 was a fantastic year. We saw enthralling RPGs, visceral action games, stupefying adventure games, and charged shooters. Some of our favorite developing companies were bought out; others were shut down. Some devcos grew to almost overnight fame while still others built upon previous successes.


We climbed mountains of snow to travel cross-continent to catch previews in San Francisco at GDC. We ventured hazardous fog to speak to animated developers in Boston at PAX East. We battled mass angry traffic in Los Angeles at E3 for a peek at some new trailers. We braved treacherous oceans by flying over them to get some hands on time in Germany at gamescom. We traversed dangerous state lines to get in line for more games in Seattle at PAX Prime. We learned multiple languages to get a taste of even more games at MIGS in Montreal and GGS in Taiwan. We travelled the world round and came back with our tales of adventure that we could share with you so that these stories could be told for generations to come on how 2011 was a top year for video games and MMOs.


So join us as we celebrate these games once again this year. We'll take our own private journey today to look back at the games of 2011 and what made them memorable for all of us this year.

say that MMOs have changed in the past few years would be akin to saying that Megan Fox is a little attractive. It would be a gross understatement and we just don't tolerate that kind of brazen falsity here at Ten Ton Hammer.

MMOs are different than they were a decade ago and one of the most pronounced trends we've been seeing these past few years are games that have been making a transition from paid subscription models to free-to-play models supported by other means, usually a cash shop of some sort for in-game items.

Not every game tackles that transition well. Many of these games were designed from the ground up with a subscription model in mind. This can often lead to a conversion to free-to-play in awkward ways that only a pubescent teen stumbling across a showering Megan Fox could illustrate. Other games, however, have been able to make such a smooth transformation that one would barely be able to tell that they were ever designed as anything but what they are today. For those games we've created an all-new award this year: The Best Transition Award.


DC Universe Online
Sony Online Entertainment

We have to admit that when DCUO launched in January of this year we began office pools on when it would be switching to a free-to-play model. It wasn't so much that we didn't believe the game could be a success, but rather we didn't believe that console gamers, specifically, would be accustomed to paying a monthly subscription for one single game.

SOE once again took the strides to test the waters as few developing companies are willing to do. No one knew if it would work, but SOE was willing to try. The brilliant thing here was that they were also equipped that should it switch over to a different model later on it would be able to be done smoothly and flawlessly, which is exactly what happened.

With a built in cash shop and alternate ways to monetize the game having been built in from the start the transition that DC Universe Online made from a subscription based game to a Station-Cash supported game was laudable. The game didn't change on any fundamental level and its fans were still able to enjoy the content they had been since launch. In fact, after the switch, we were unable to differentiate any drastic change at all to our gaming experience and that is what earned SOE the Best Transition of 2011 award.

a successful community is paramount to building a successful MMO. As social beasts by their very nature MMOs are the cool kids at the back of the bus. But what makes a great community and how is it forged?

When we were considering what titles qualified for our Best Community award, nominations had to meet several criteria. First and foremost, the game had to have tens of thousands of players interacting, cooperating, and competing on a massive level. Not just hundreds or mere thousands of bring-your-own-group players brushing shoulders toward a minimally gregarious endgame. We wanted to see large-scale factional outbreaks reminiscent of arguments over Occupy Wall Street or American Idol, where leadership ability/ charisma as well as sheer numbers could change the lines on the map.

Next, our Best Community nominees had to have built-in resources to continually stir its sizable melting pot, offering plenty of opportunities for spontaneous interaction with total strangers. A mostly helpful and industrious forum community adds some spice and variety to the mix, as does a burgeoning add-on development ecosystem.

Finally, the developer had to have the development schmaltz and marketing budget to wheedle its way into mainstream channels.


World of Tanks
Wargaming.net

In November, World of Tanks broke its own Guinness World Record peak concurrency, reaching over 250,000 users on a single server. Though Clan Wars (an elder game system where player clans vie for power and premium currency on a global map) is still in beta in the US, the randomized instant battles have spawned their own unique (and often hilarious) chat culture, and a stepwise progression from platoon battles to tiered company battles to clan battles allows players to band together at their own pace.

Great game communities don't evolve in a vacuum, and though Wargaming.net's frequent Q&As are delivered with Belorussian brusqueness, no studio does a better job of keeping its player community in the loop. What other developer tells its playerbase its roadmap for updates through the end of 2012, or discloses its plans for not one, but two franchise follow-ups (World of Warplanes and World of Battleships)? What's more, Wargaming.net has taken significant steps towards the mainstream with its flourishing community. The company that had spent GDC 2011 in a tiny, tucked-away cubicle owned a third of the West Hall floor at E3 2011, and recently purchased a number of holiday TV spots.

World of Tanks is our pick among MMOs and Online Games for Best Community of 2011, and a big GL HF to Wargaming.net and the World of Tanks community in 2012.

in an MMO happens more pronouncedly and more often than any other genre. There are several ways to grow but the most anticipated growth any game can see comes in form of an expansion.

A good expansion needs to build upon the game's license and flesh it out with more content to keep players entertained long term. This is no easy feat as MMO gamers are notorious for devouring content weeks or even days after its release. Thus the challenge becomes not only building more interesting things to do, but also constructing ways players can spend their time enjoyably without being hit over the head with blatant time sinks. Doing all of this while keeping true to the spirit of the IP and staying conscious of the fans' expectations and what made the game a success in the first place becomes a complicated weaving that several developing companies eventually blunder by producing a half-baked expansion that changes the game too drastically or is less than enjoyable by the majority of the playing population.

This year's winner is very much in tune with what their fans enjoy and are very conscious of what makes their game a unique enjoyable experience. Possibly one of the most successful expansions in the past five years the winner this year earned the award with a rock-solid delivery of exactly what was in demand.


The Lord of the Rings Online: Rise of Isengard
Turbine

Rise of Isengard continues the tradition of expanding Middle-earth, marching in time to the epic story set forth in Tolkien's books. As the One Ring continues its journey south and east, so do the players. It includes a large new zone (bigger than the zone that shipped with Siege of Mirkwood), raises the level cap by 10 and adds a new raid - an epic battle against a very Tolkien-esque dragon named Draigoch.

Dunland was never really given a lot of detail in the books, which gave Turbine's design team great leeway in creating something that is at once brand-new yet strangely familiar. The regions of Dunland run the visual gamut from hauntingly beautiful to grotesquely despoiled, and the Dunlending culture draws heavily from Welsh influences, which is certainly in keeping with the Professor's original works. While it is all newly-imagined, it really feels like it belongs with all the other parts.

Turbine has stated that Rise of Isengard is their most successful expansion to date, and its success has prompted them to keep developing new content for the game. Update 5 was released just 3 months after the initial expansion went live, and introduced a big new instance cluster and new tech in the form of an Instance Finder. It has streamlined some outdated aspects of the game by eliminating extraneous currencies and slimming down character stats, among other things. Turbine has teased that they have more such tricks up their sleeves in the coming year, which makes Rise of Isengard not only a great expansion in its own right, but a solid platform on which to keep building on an already expansive game.

are our favorite topic here at Ten Ton Hammer and we serve up hot and tasty RPGs like the Denny's of MMO sites.

We do love our MMOs but we also have an insatiable craving for a good RPG. Let's make no mistake about it--MMORPGs would not exist without RPGs. And today's RPGs are far more advanced than we could have ever imagined even ten years ago. Technology is booming and there are almost no limits to what a developer can do with it. Add to that the unbridled creativity of some of the top minds of the industry and modern RPGs are nothing short of miraculously immersive.

2011 had a few titles that were very enjoyable. But when it came down to brass tacks we needed to decide on the one game that we could live in. This game needed to be one for which we would be willing to shed our mortal coils, quit our jobs, lock ourselves away for months never to see the light of the tangible world, and be perfectly content in doing so. When we thought about it like that, "which game could I survive happily in for the rest of my life?" our winner became apparent.


Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Bethesda

Living up to the Elder Scrolls name is a tough challenge. For years the Elder Scrolls games have been staples of the RPG genre. Would Skyrim be able to fill those shoes?

It did fill those shoes, and brilliantly. The main story in the game was executed flawlessly, which is the foundation for any good RPG, but more notably was the diversity that this game took on. No longer did players need to follow very specific routes (even if camouflaged by distracting side quests) to advance their character. They didn't need to partake in skills and abilities in the game that didn't interest them in order to level up. They didn't have to define themselves as any particular class. Quite simply, in Skyrim you can do what you want when you want how you want and you will advance. If the main story doesn't interest you at all, just don't do it. Go hang out in taverns, listen to the live (and entertaining music) and flirt with the staff. Or wander the lands aimlessly stopping at what interests you whether it be a cave of magical mechanical creations or a towering haunted lighthouse.

Every element of Skyrim could easily stand alone as its own game and be enjoyable, and it's completely up to the player to pick and choose what they want to do. This approach is applied right down to combat where players can go ranged, magic, or melee, or a mixture of any of the above. This game is a magical creation as any gamer could pick it up and say "there's nothing about this game that I dislike" for the simple reason that anything you don't enjoy in game - you don't have to do!

When it comes right down to it the world of Skyrim is one that we found we could happily live in for days, weeks, months... maybe even years. And that's the hallmark of a truly successful RPG. Well done, Bethesda.

Ton Hammer readers are what keep us going and keep us in line. They'll let us know when they see something they like and they'll call us out when they see something they disagree with. They're an honest group of gamers and they have some of the most distinguished taste of any online community.

So in that regard the Readers' Choice award is probably one of the most prestigious awards. Our readers know what they like, they know what they don't like, and they won't settle for any shenanigans. When we asked them what their favorite game of the year was the responses came back loud and clear.


Rift
Trion Worlds

Trion Worlds made a huge splash in the industry with their first game ever, Rift. Here was a game that took all the elements players enjoyed from existing MMOs, added in some new clever mechanics and twists, and packaged it all up in an original IP full of rich, deep story and lore.

Trion Worlds also shocked audiences at launch with what was then being called the smoothest MMO launch in history. They were prepared for the masses, they handled the server load, they were quick on the hotfixes and best of all they were stable.

Since its launch in March of this year the game has rocketed to success drawing in more players than anyone had expected. Once in the world of Telara it's easy to see why. Rift is just plain fun and anyone who has any iota of MMO experience will find it easy and intuitive to pick up and get started. The story immediately pulls you in and the conflict in the world keeps you interested. This game was destined to success before the first Rift even opened. Big grats, Trion Worlds!

MMO Award this year had some heavy contenders. 2011 was a wonderful year that saw some better games than most years combined. We were privileged gamers who, if anything, needed a bit more time to enjoy everything we saw this year.

But we had to make a decision based on execution, integration and popularity. 2011 games were fun and each had its own successes but this year's winner was one that we're pretty sure is going to be remembered decades down the road from now and one that may very well change the roadmap of the MMOG industry... in a good way. We can't stop playing it, and we know we're not alone in our addiction.


Star Wars: The Old Republic
BioWare

Only weeks after launch, TOR has all the indications of being a wildly successful game, and the first in a long time to give the current market leader a run for its money.

Almost everything is done right in this game. It's fun but offers challenge to thrill seekers. It's exciting but paced. It's accessible and engaging. It's beautiful and big. But most of all The Old Republic successfully triumphs a challenge where no one has gone before. It has brought rich depth of personal story to the MMO space which by very definition is virtually impossible to do. And it does it brilliantly.

There are no gimmicks here. Star Wars: The Old Republic simply delivers what it set out to do: a perfect marriage of legendary BioWare story-telling RPGs and massive social worlds of MMOGs. BioWare has hit upon a very rare formula that we're pretty confident will be the new measuring stick for years to come. Mad props EA BioWare!

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