Gamefront 2010: Best RPGs
It gets harder and harder every year to define RPG as a specific genre. Almost every major game from Madden to Hello Kitty feature story progression and leveling of character abilities. The challenge is to find titles these days without some role-playing element.
Even titles like Enslaved or 007, which have key protagonists, allow for customization and ability development. Call of Duty and Battlefield open up new weapon loadouts and player levels throughout, Halo:Reach even features RPG-like elements in the multiplayer achievements.
2010 was a good year for the more traditional RPG titles like Bioware’s Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Origins (DLC mostly), Square’s Final Fantasy XIII and tons of JRPGs. These are the staff picks for the standout titles and a little of our reasons behind our choices.
Fallout: New Vegas
The latest game in the Fallout series brought classic Interplay level sensibility to the Fallout 3 approach. While that should not surprise (many of the Obsidian staff started at Black Isle/Interplay), it was refreshing to see much of the earlier California/Nevada setting pay off in a modern game. The addition of a detailed crafting system, expansion of the weapons and a nice optimization of skills also went a long way toward making this my favorite RPG of 2010.
The humor and story kept me playing despite the numerous bugs and corruptions.. I mean who didn’t think the sexbot Fisto and ghoul prostitute were inspired story points?? Add to that the expansion of the New California Republic, the political power behind New Vegas and even the subtle hints back to the happeening mentioned in Fallout 3 and you have a great addition to a series of great RPGs.
Mass Effect 2!
I’m usually a pretty involved RPG fan, but this year I found myself too busy to really engage in big quest games — except for Mass Effect 2, which I anticipated from the moment it was announced and had shipped to me in all its collector’s edition glory on release day.
It didn’t disappoint.
Yeah, there were some draggy points — like endlessly scanning planets — but on the whole I was totally enamored of ME2 for the entire experience, and it’s a high contender for my favorite game of the year. More than just about any other game I played in 2010, I felt like everything hinged on my decisions, and building up my team for the final push against the Collectors was a great mechanic that brought all those little decisions home in a very real way. Sure, who you picked to be the leader of the humans felt important at the end of Mass Effect, but your decisions in ME2 were important on the level of your mission’s success or failure.
The game was more streamlined than a lot of RPGs and the combat portions had more of a mission-by-mission feel, but I appreciated the speed and flow of Mass Effect 2. The game got to the point and hit what it needed in story and gameplay without dawdling and wasting my time. And even then, with a lot of the wandering around empty planets screened out, it was still a huge and immersive experience with lots to do.
And more than anything, ME2 creates great characters and tells a compelling story, which is central to my RPG experience. To be honest, I kind of used to hate menu-based JRPG games, but they dominated my childhood and young-adult life because they told great (if convoluted) stories. So does Mass Effect 2. I’m in it because I want to know what happens next — the fact that the game is fun to play is icing, but oh, is it sweet.
Fallout: New Vegas Again
Pretty much every Western RPG presents you with a broad choice: do you want to be good or evil, super nice or a great big gaping asshole? In New Vegas, it’s very clear what the “gaping asshole” side is, but where is the “good” route through the Mojave Wasteland? New Vegas is a postmodern masterpiece, one that provides you with no easy answers, and the challenges you face along the way make it impossibly difficult at times to avoid f–king over somebody who probably doesn’t deserve it.
What’s most interesting about this game, though, is how it made me angry and, as a result, power-hungry. For the first time in gaming history, I felt like none of the characters — aside from the various travellers I brought with me and, oddly enough, the King — ever gave me credit for the insane things I had to endure for them. As the climactic battle approached, I was working for an NCR woman at the Hoover Dam, and she didn’t pay me well or even pretend I was an important part of their efforts. Through the whole game I worked for the NCR, thinking they were the lesser of the two weevils, as Jack Aubrey would say, but to them I would never be more than a common soldier.
And this is where New Vegas’ true brilliance comes into play. I said, “No more!” and went into business for myself. I would be slave to no man or army or nation. I would kick the asses of everyone who thought they had a claim to New Vegas. And I did. Thank you, Obsidian.
More love for Mass Effect 2
While it’s becoming a nebulous genre, one thing you can count on RPGs for is layered character interactions. You can often chat it up with bartenders, inn proprietors, townsfolk, children, bandits, and of course the members of your party. You know the drill. Often these conversations lead to side-quests, where you discover mysteries, hidden battles of good vs. evil.
Mass Effect 2 totally, completely nails this. I was constantly struck by the writing, specifically how well character’s were scripted. Jacob, Mordin, Tali, Jack, et al–these characters have serious, deep backgrounds and world views. It’s not just that they have well-drawn personalities, they also tend to challenge your own ethical standards without apology. It gets kind of heavy.
For instance, remember the time Mordin waxed nostalgic about developing the genophage (which is one of my favorite parts in the whole game), and how it represented some of the greatest days of his life? That part is just brilliant.
And then Mordin’s justification for said genophage is honest, practical, scientific. I found myself agreeing with him, to my own surprise. He’s explaining how he crafted a virus that severely decreased the fertility rates of a whole species, and why he did it for the “greater good.” And how he woke up excited everyday to do it. Yeesh. What do you do with that? You have to work with this guy, so you kind of need to make up your own mind and choose a side. I loved that.
But then, this for-the-greater-good ethical stance isn’t just Mordin’s. You’ll have to face it a lot. For instance, the Illusive Man. He’s a guy with brutally utilitarian views, but he’s also got this chillingly self-serving attitude. You never get the sense that he respects the gravity of his decisions, or that he loses any sleep whatsoever.
Anyway, that’s all I got. Mass Effect 2 wins for me because of the wonderfully written, deep character interactions. Bring on ME3!