The end of each year is a bonanza time for video gamers. The biggest and best games of the year tend to release in the final quarter, just in time to hit stores for Christmas, and older games released prior to that quarter usually see some pretty steep price cuts as holiday promotions. These price cuts usually happen on Black Friday, again on Cyber Monday, and then once more during the final week of the year, but in 2011 the bargain gaming deals ran all the way from Black Friday through the first day of 2012.

I’ve been playing through all the big new games that hit towards the end of the year (Saint’s Row the Third, Skyrim, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, etc), but I’ve also been keeping an eye on the special deals at Amazon, Gamefly, Steam, and elsewhere. My biggest discount purchase this time around was a Turtle Beach Ear Force X41 headset for my Xbox 360. It’s an awesome wireless headset with surround sound, and in addition to giving me great audio for the games I play on my office Xbox, it keeps Celeste from having to hear gunfire in the middle of the night.

I also scooped up a bunch of great discounted games, some for the 360 and others via Steam for the PC. Since the biggest games have already launched and nothing else enormously pressing will be hitting stores for a while (the next big releases are Soul Calibur V and Final Fantasy XIII-2 at the end of January), I have some time to play through some of my new purchases and catch up on some old stuff that’s been in my gaming backlog.

The first game to benefit from the game release lull has been the original Gears of War. I rented the game when it first came out, but I only played through a little before returning it to Gamefly. For some reason, it just didn’t hook me, but I know so many other people who are totally into the Gears franchise that I decided to give it another try. Amazon had some great deals on all three games during their Black Friday / Cyber Monday sales, so I ended up getting Gears 1, 2, and 3, along with all the Gears 2 downloadable content and the Gears 3 season pass for less than it normally would have cost me to buy just Gears of War 3.

I started Gears of War over this past week and plowed through the single player campaign in around seven hours of gameplay. It was a totally different experience than I remembered from when I rented it. I’m usually not a big shooter fan, preferring RPGs and adventure games in general. That bias might be the reason I didn’t give Gears much of a chance the first time around, but this time I saw the light. Because Gears of War focuses much more on taking cover and attacking strategically, as opposed to just running around and shooting willy-nilly, the overall combat pace is a lot slower than in games like, for example, Call of Duty. That is a big plus for me, and I also appreciated the grimy aesthetic of the game a lot more this time around.

With most of the player base having moved on to Gears of War 3, I highly doubt I’ll be going for many additional multiplayer achievements on this one, but it feels good to have an essential Xbox game marked off my completion list. I’ll be moving on to Gears 2 and then 3 soon, but I’m making a detour through roleplaying again before that. I never got far into Dragon Age II when it first released, and Celeste really has been wanting for me to play it so that we could talk about the plot. I made a deal with her that I would play DA2 whenever she got around to playing Saints Row the Third. She’s now deeply into Saints Row, so it’s time for me to head back into Ferelden.

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