Well, that's it. 2011 has officially come to a close. While it was definitely a great year for gaming, this is hardly any time need to dwell on the past. Like the old adage says, out with the old and in with the new.
In keeping with that spirit, we thought we'd look at the games that are headed our way over the next twelve months. The release calendar is packed pretty tight, with high profile titles to suit just about everyone's tastes. Shooters, platformers, RPGs — they're all coming, and they all look amazing. And that's just the stuff we know about. With two new consoles scheduled to hit stores and the very strong possibility that more will be unveiled, this year packs the potential for some momentous shifts in gaming.
In the meantime, though, here are ten of the most anticipated games you'll be able to get your hands on in 2012.
#10 Borderlands 2
Gearbox built something unique with the first Borderlands. Though the game took heavy cues from Diablo and other action RPGs, the shift to FPS combat and outstanding art direction made for an experience unlike anything else on the market. For as good as it was, though, there was definitely room for improvement in the storytelling department. The upcoming sequel will seek to remedy that, bringing an added coat of polish to the strong gameplay foundation.
And if you're just looking for more of the same, you won't be disappointed either. Borderlands 2 a more diverse armory, four new characters and skill trees, and a broad patch of Pandora to explore, this time without any loading screens to break up the fun. A lot will be riding on the new character classes, three of which are still unannounced. Of course, the class we do know is the Gunzerker, a human tank that can dual-wield any gun in the game, so things will probably pan out just fine.
#9 The Last of Us
It's a testament to developer Naughty Dog's stellar reputation that The Last of Us is the only game on this list that's not a sequel. While the Jak and Daxter games were enjoyable enough, Naughty Dog really came into their own with this generation's Uncharted series, proving that they could craft a tight, cinematic experience with some of the most breathtaking setpieces and snappiest writing gaming has ever seen.
No wonder, then, that hype is already high for their next project, The Last of Us. A survival action game set in a post-apocalyptic America infested with fungal zombies, The Last of Us follows the story of Joel and Ellie, two survivors struggling to make their way across the country. Apart from those scant details, we're pretty much in the dark, but creative lead Neil Druckmann has claimed that the title will "raise the bar" for storytelling in games. That's an ambitious sentiment, but if there's anyone in this industry that can pull it off, it's Naughty Dog.
#8 Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm
Many fans were skeptical of Blizzard's decision to split the Starcraft 2 campaign into three separate releases, but now that we've all had some time to digest Wings of Liberty, the advantage of giving each race its own full length story is obvious. Heart of the Swarm should really drive that point home, as no character in the Starcraft canon is more deserving of an epic tale than the Queen of Blades herself, Sarah Kerrigan, especially given the cliffhanger ending of the last game.
Only in it for the multiplayer? No worries. Heart of the Swarm will bring a handful of new units for all races — three apiece for the Protoss and Terran and at least two for the Zerg — as well as some significant balance changes that should change the metagame dramatically.
#7 Assassin's Creed III
Assassin's Creed III is set during the War of Independence in the United States of America, and is leagues away from the Old World. Players take on the role of a young Mohawk named Connor, who joins the Assassins not for revenge like his predecessor Ezio, but for the pursuit of justice.
Players will once again continue the story of Desmond in the present day, as he solves puzzles that unlock the secrets of his memory, and of his heritage.
Assassin's Creed III can be seen as a new starting point for the Assassin's Creed series, as it allows players to go back to the basics with the introduction of a brand new character, with a brand new legacy.
#6 Guild Wars 2
The term "WoW killer" has been bandied about so much by this point that's it's lost all meaning, but it's unquestionable that the timing is right for someone to dethrone Blizzard as the king of MMORPGs. World of Warcraft has been hemorrhaging subscribers for a while now, and while The Old Republic will likely fill the MMO void for some, those who prefer high fantasy will need another option. Enter Guild Wars 2. With one innovative (and very well received) MMO under their belt, developer ArenaNet seems poised to deliver the most revolutionary online RPG in recent memory.
What's most remarkable about Guild Wars 2 is that it essentially throws out all of the genre's established conventions. Everything from the basics of combat to leveling to PvP has its own unique flair. Even the quest system, the tried and true fallback of every MMO ever made, will be gone in Guild Wars 2, replaced with a dynamic event system and a storyline that responds to your actions. With any luck, we'll be searching for a Guild Wars 2 killer in a few years' time.
#5 Mass Effect 3
Whether you opt for male Shepard, FemShep, or something else entirely, he/she/it is one of the most memorable protagonists in gaming history, made all the better by the fact that you can decide the outcome of their story. In Mass Effect 3, that adventure will finally come to its close. That means no more cliffhangers or stalling, just an action-packed conclusion to one of the best sci-fi epics ever to grace the medium.
And if saving the galaxy from a Reaper invasion isn't enough to whet your appetite, there's also the promise of a horde-style co-op mode. With support for up to four players, persistent character leveling, and a chance to impact the outcome of the single-player campaign, multiplayer should prove an interesting addition to the franchise, at least for the laughs you'll getting sending your friends flying with your biotic powers.
#4 Halo 4
Bungie may have moved onto greener (or, given the color of Master Chief's armor, less green) pastures, but that doesn't mean that we've seen the last of Halo. Developed by newly minted franchise guardians 343 Industries, Halo 4 will kick off a new story arc for the Chief, which the studio has termed "The Reclaimer Trilogy".
For the time being, 343's playing their cards pretty close to the chest, but there are a few things we can safely bet on: Master Chief will shoot aliens, they'll shoot back, and at some point the Flood will show up and they'll all shoot each other. I don't know about you, but that's good enough for me.
#3 BioShock Infinite
How in the world do you follow up on a game as revolutionary as BioShock? The answer, according to Irrational Games, is to change everything. No more Big Daddies, no more Little Sisters, no more Rapture. In fact, BioShock Infinite's story takes place before the first game and appears to be completely unrelated, centered instead upon flying city of Columbia.
While the first game's combat mechanics — a blend of gunplay and superpowered abilities — are more or less intact, they're now just the base for something much more complex. You've now got two more crucial tools at your disposal, the skyhook, which lets you grapple onto railways to move rapidly during a battle, and Elizabeth, whose mysterious powers allow her to manipulate the world around her. Thrown in some stellar writing and a radical new AI system, and you've got more than a few reasons to be excited.
#2 Grand Theft Auto V
For a lot of gamers, just hearing the words "new Grand Theft Auto" is enough to get us salivating, but that doesn't mean Rockstar is comfortable resting on their laurels. By the looks of GTA V's debut trailer, they've been doing the exact opposite, listening to all the critiques fans leveled at the last game and crafting an experience that satisfies just about every request.
Planes? They're back, with everything from crop dusters to jets on display in the trailer. A bigger world? Yep. Rockstar has meticulously recreated a huge swath of Southern California, including all the sprawl of Los Angeles. A less serious tone? If you watch closely, you'll catch all sorts of naughty jokes laced throughout the trailer, but the real proof is in the game's plot. GTA V satirizes current events by telling the story of a middle aged man who's driven back to a life of crime by the down economy. Juxtapose that with the excesses of the Hollywood lifestyle, and the jokes pretty much write themselves.
#1 Diablo III
It's been more than a decade since Diablo II hit shelves, and after all that time, it's still the best action RPG out there. Per usual, it's up to Blizzard to one-up themselves, and Diablo III looks ready to do just that, with a host of new features, gameplay changes, and, of course, another adventure in the dark world of Sanctuary.
Additions like the new crafting and skill rune systems should expand the experience without straying too far from franchise roots, while alterations to the core gameplay should help to streamline things considerably. Rest assured that none of these changes have dumbed the game down in the slightest. Instead, they've helped eliminate the minor nuisances you had to deal with in the prior games. No more manually picking up each last pile of gold. No more tedious inventory management. This is a smarter, faster version of the Diablo we all know and love, and that's definitely something to be excited about.