Mass Effect was perhaps already more of a third-person shooter than it was an RPG, but Mass Effect 2 takes it a few steps further, shedding many remaining vestiges of role-playing games and essentially becoming a story-driven shooter with some RPG elements. As such, it's a solid candidate for our RPG hybrid category.
Where Mass Effect was occasionally awkward in pretending to be an RPG when it didn't want to be, its sequel benefits from dropping the pretense and focusing on what it wants to do. The story is nothing to write home about and that's the biggest knock on it, but as a shooter with RPG elements it is an enjoyable romp.
Din’s Curse (Runner-up)
While it may be overshadowed by larger-budget action RPGs, including 2009’s Torchlight to which it is inescapably compared, indie RPG Din’s Curse is nevertheless justified in standing tall amongst its better-known competition. Just as the player must do in its chaotic, deadly dungeons, Din’s Curse picks its battles carefully. One of these chosen fights is a focus on replayability. While some repetitiveness is inevitable over time in a game with dynamic content, Din’s Curse always seems to have something new in store, even after dozens of hours of play. Whether it’s an unexplored branch of the games’ 18 class specialty skill trees, the thrill of new and even unique treasures in a very deep list of item and enchantment combinations, or a surprise twist of events that makes a town’s storyline memorable, players enjoy a steady stream of interesting new experiences.
But the aspect that truly makes Din’s Curse stand out among its peers is its embrace of the ‘action’ side of the action-RPG subgenre. This is not limited to merely combat style; in Din’s Curse, the clock is always ticking. Inaction will bring the town to its doom. The quests are not make-work activities but responses to events occurring and evolving in real-time. They compete for the player’s attention, and it is rarely possible for all of them to be completed successfully - and consequences result. Prisoners will die, monstrous alliances will be formed against the town, defenses will not be erected in time, and sometimes towns will be lost to the forces of evil on the player’s watch. It’s a different kind of RPG, but an exciting change of pace for jaded gamers.
RPG of the Year
Fallout: New Vegas (Winner)
Following the RPG Hybrid of the Year win by a shooter with RPG elements comes an RPG with shooter combat for our RPG of the Year. Ignoring its shooter combat for a moment, it is clear throughout this title that Obsidian was striving to bring back as much of Fallout's core PnP sensibilities as they reasonably could.
Some of these additions are rather tepid, such as the addition of a “hardcore mode” (a strong idea that fell short in execution), but the title goes well beyond that by offering a solid character system and presenting us with many opportunities to use various skills to resolve missions.
More than any Fallout before it, New Vegas is a faction-driven game, and it does this exceedingly well. While perhaps lacking in moral ambiguity, it does seek to avoid clearly offering right and wrong choices, and offers four major faction paths to make sure the player can find an option he is comfortable with. The factions, major or minor, are generally believable and well-written, and are at the core of what makes this game tick.
And we’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Vault 11 is really awesome.
Avernum 6 (Runner-up)
It is not often an indie RPG comes up in our RPG of the Year category, as their being created by a small team with limited man-hours puts them at a relative disadvantage. Avernum 6 falls into this category, being another title in a long series from man-machine Spiderweb Software’s Jeff Vogel, who produces these independent RPGs at a steady rate.
Because of these limitations, each one is fairly similar, and Avernum 6 is no exception. So why does it come up here? Spiderweb may have benefitted from a lack of traditional competition this year, but Avernum 6 still deserves to be put on a pedestal for what it represents: the culmination of everything that was good about the Avernum franchise. Avernum 6 does exceedingly well in expressing all Jeff Vogel has learned over the years, and is an excellent RPG, indie or not.