2011 may have been a dire year for everything else, but it was a corking one for dungeons. What better place to escape the woes of economic meltdown than somewhere dank, dark, foetid and virtual, populated by rats, bats, giant spiders, reanimated skeletons and copious demons, and studded with treasure chests? For dungeon-divers, it was a vintage year.
So, we thought it would be fun to share with you our favourite games for dungeon-trawling, starting with the most recent ones before working our way back through the annals of dungeon history.
1. Dark Souls
From Software's fearsomely hard opus, with its refusal to compromise in any manner whatsoever, has rightly been hailed as one of the finest RPGs ever. And more or less the whole game is one big dungeon - it begins with your character locked in a cell, and every building in the game is made from moss-encrusted, dripping grey virtual stone. If you're looking for the definition of a proper RPG, Dark Souls is it - any true aficionado of dungeons will tell you that. And that, when you're playing it, you die roughly as many times as in every game you've ever played before, all added together. Possibly the most enjoyable game ever - if you're a major-league masochist.
2. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
It's hard to think of a meatier or more epic game than Skyrim, and with more than 150 dungeons in the game, Bethesda was really spoiling us. They weren't just generic, either, plonked down to break the monotony of traversing lush, fertile countryside and meticulously designed towns. Oh no: the vast majority of them had keenly observed storylines, and offered sufficient rewards for us to become obsessed with visiting them all. Indeed, given Skyrim's overarching scope, you could probably spend an entire virtual lifetime checking them all out.
3. Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Shigeru Miyamoto's latest opus may have only arrived in time for the Wii's death-throes, but by crikey, it was a mighty fine game. And most of the different areas of its game world had at least one dungeon to traverse. In true Zelda style, doing so mainly involved some wildly inventive puzzle-solving, coupled with taking out a vast array of enemies. But above all, mini-bosses and big bosses which really took some dispatching. Ambience-wise, Skyward Sword's dungeons may not be the most forbidding ones you'll come across. But take it from us: they're great fun to tramp around, and are deeply memorable.