MMO of the Year
Lord of the Rings Online
A lot of MMOs thrived this year, but their success was dampened by a lack of major updates or innovation. When it came to keeping us entertained all year long with small updates, plus throwing us the occasional party with huge loads of free content, LotRO treated its fans the best. Two new Epic Books' worth of quests alongside the franchise's memorable characters and two new regions were added; character creation and starter regions were completely revamped, in-game events were expanded and UI elements were improved—and then the game went free-to-play in September.
Turbine's signature hybrid free-to-play subscription model proved to be a great success, generously letting curious players browse Middle-earth and sample the content before deciding whether or not to open their wallets. It's quickly redefining the way a successful subscriptionless MMO is run.
The future's looking good for LotRO—even with this year's huge additions, it's wisely pacing itself to avoid burning through the books' story content too quickly. There's a long road ahead before we're knocking on Mordor's door with the One Ring, and that road is lined with good friends (LotRO's community is one of the most friendly and enthusiastic around), excellent gameplay and free updates, and at the rate Turbine is going, we'll be enjoying the journey for years to come.
Strategy Game of the Year
It's no surprise that Civilization V wins this award—Civilization has been one of the PC's definitive names in turnbased strategy for almost two decades, thanks to the deep, addictive turn-based experience that you just can't get anywhere else.
With Civ V's reinvention in particular, Firaxis has demonstrated that the series—and the entire genre of turnbased strategy—is teeming with new ideas. Its revamped tactical combat addresses a long-standing weakness of the series and made the inevitable wars between nations more engaging; its colorful graphics and redesigned interface reach out to gamers intimidated by complexity, grab them by their eyeballs and, before they realize what's happened, pull them into all-night gaming sessions that don't end until one nation rules the world; and its in-game mod browser opens up the world of user-made content to gamers who would've otherwise never known where to look for it or how to install it.
Wherever the series goes next, we'll be able to look back at Civilization V and say that it took us somewhere new and enthralling.
Simulation of the Year
Lock On: Flaming Cliffs 2
An expansion pack for a 2003 flight sim might not seem like a slam dunk for Simulation of the Year honors, but Eagle Dynamics' expertly crafted Lock On: Flaming Cliffs 2 is a truly exceptional revival of an existing favorite. By taking a strong but datedlooking sim and turbocharging it with a modern engine, an impressive international collection of warplanes, detailed cockpit renderings and freshly upgraded terrain graphics, FC2 delivers one of the best combat flight experiences that sim fans have seen in years.