While there were certainly some stand-out RPGs taking up space in our living room and hard drives this year, we'd classify 2010 as something of a creative disappointment. Aside from Alpha Protocol and the burgeoning indie scene, almost every major role-playing game released last year was a direct sequel or a game based on an existing franchise. 2011 could turn out to be even worse in that regard, but given the cost of AAA development these days, I suppose it only makes sense. Still, that doesn't mean we don't occasionally yearn for the times when every year brought us a slew of unique experiences. ORIGIN Systems, we miss you.
But enough with the reminiscing! Herein you’ll find the games that gobbled up our time and managed to prove themselves as the finest role-playing titles of 2010. Since there were so many excellent independent RPGs to consider again this year, we once again recruited Jay Barnson of Rampant Games to help dole out the awards:
Alpha Protocol (Winner)
Obsidian's spy-themed RPG had a lot of things going against it from the outset, including a general lack of polish and a stealth and combat system that were fairly unsatisfying. Even the dossier and dialogue systems weren't for everyone, but system flaws couldn't take much away from the rich and colorful cast of the game. Uncovering details on characters and using your knowledge to maneuver your way into their favor or disfavor is a solid gameplay concept in and of itself, but it was made all the more rewarding when you realized just how interesting the characters were.
From the silent Sis to the stoic Marburg, from the insane Steven Heck to the awesome Konstantin Brayko, this title benefited considerably from having a small cast and focusing its storytelling around them. The main plot of the game reads like a dime spy novel, and that's how it's supposed to read. Not gritty or realistic, this was a spy-themed title throughout, and what it set out to do, it did well. Obsidian clearly did some extensive research on the game’s various locations, and the assortment of little touches that they injected made the game world all the more richer.
Fallout: New Vegas (Runner-up)
In typical Fallout tradition, Fallout: New Vegas really doesn't have an urgent storyline, but instead one humming somewhere in the background. But who says you need to be story-driven to have good writing? Not us. While a little uneven at times, New Vegas shines at telling the little stories. It has a way of making the problems at even the most minor of location interesting, and in engaging you with the problems plaguing the factions that you encounter. After a decade of waiting, Fallout: New Vegas succeeds in fleshing out the Fallout setting the way we hoped it would.
Age of Conan: Rise of the Godslayer (Winner)
Cataclysm might have stolen most of 2010's press, but if your only concern was jumping back into Azeroth, then you likely missed an entertaining and visually stunning adventure through Funcom's Rise of the Godslayer expansion pack. We always pegged a majority of Hyborian Adventures' zones as being dense and slightly claustrophobic, but Rise of the Godslayer brought us these sprawling vistas with a Far East-inspired look that fit into the game far better than we thought they would.
Populating the lands of Khitai is an assortment of wildlife, creatures, characters, and landmarks that were clearly based on a variety of Eastern cultures. Everything looks incredible and just feels right, from the Great Wall and mountains off in the distance to the smoldering ruins of a freshly raided village. As long as you have a rig that can handle it, Rise of the Godslayer is hands-down the greatest graphical treat that RPG enthusiasts were given in 2010 and easily makes Age of Conan one of the best-looking MMOs on the market.
Mass Effect 2 (Runner-up)
BioWare not only gave us a larger variety of alien settings to explore in their sequel, but they also managed to make them even more believable than what we saw the first time around. A ruined world, a derelict spacecraft, a prison ship, a jungle planet, a warzone… and some pretty damn nifty sci-fi art design, as well.
Beyond that, the sequel also manages to provide us with another cinematic experience. The cinematography doesn’t quite reach a Hollywood-like or even Final Fantasy-like quality, but it’s certainly better than what we saw in the first Mass Effect, which makes us very interested in seeing what BioWare is able to do with Mass Effect 3.