Posted by BuckGB at 11:04 pm on 01.2.2012 (1 year ago)
Yes, loyal RPG fans, there was something for everyone this year. So let's get started:
Drakensang: The River of Time (Winner)
The Dark Eye tabletop system was created in 1984, and through years of refinement and updates, reached a fourth edition in 2001. Drakensang: The River of Time's character system is based on this current version of The Dark Eye, and with nearly 30 years of iteration behind it, it's not much of a surprise that The River of Time offers the most intricate character system of 2011.
Its breadth is on display right from the character creation screen, where it provides a selection of 22 archetypes across 3 different races. Following these initial customization options, you're then presented with an assortment of other options as the game progresses. As adventure points are acquired, they can be allocated toward 8 attributes, 13 combat skills, 23 non-combat skills, 11 branches of special abilities, and 58 spells/miracles. Not all skills are equally useful, and some overlap with the functionality of spells, but the various non-combat skills come into play often during dialogue, thieving, and item crafting. And while the game's combat isn't anything we haven't seen before, the sheer variety of skills, spells, and weaponry available to you means that you can mix things up during each battle, should you choose to.
Frayed Knights: The Skull of S'makh-Daon (Runner-up)
If there was one game that was heavily fueled by its mechanics this year, it was Frayed Knights: The Skull of S'makh-Daon. Though it starts players out with four fixed characters, its system quickly opens up to allow for a huge amount of flexibility and variety in building them. With hundreds of options available, solid game balance, and plenty of different strategies to tap into, Frayed Knights made us agonize over each and every stat point and level-up in the best possible way. And considering that it was one of only a few titles that allowed us to build entire parties this year, it had an edge on most of its competition right from the start.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Winner)
This year brought stiff competition to the story category from big publishers and indies alike, from CD Projekt, to Bethesda, to Spiderweb Software. Despite all that, it was the follow-up to the beloved Deus Ex, Human Revolution, that ultimately won us over. Paring back the conspiracy theories and amping up the transhumanism theme, Deus Ex: Human Revolution was as notable for us not just in the way that it got us to care about its characters and world, but also for how it kept us talking about it well after we'd finished with the game. Few titles out there, even RPGs, manage to get us to think deeply about important issues, and we're pleased to count Human Revolution among them.
Drakensang: The River of Time (Runner-up)
2011 had some well-scripted titles and no lack of intricate plots, so it might seem odd to pick out this quiet German title with competent but not outstanding localization. However, The River of Time stands out by being different from the standard fare, and by doing what it does extremely well.
Specifically, the setting, quests, and dialogue have a light-hearted, quirky tone that does not necessarily click for everyone, but which we view as a breath of fresh air in this era obsessed with grimdark and "mature" stories and settings. Similarly, the story it tells is a smaller, contained one, and while its political scope increases as the story continues, it never becomes an ego-stroking "epic" story. The player character isn't really the story's protagonist, either, and the small cast of characters allows it to flesh out some of them in a way that smaller-budget games often can't. These elements are all very unusual in cRPGs nowadays, and its that uniqueness that is the main strength of TRoT's story.
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (Winner)
The quality of CD Projekt RED's recreation of Andrzej Sapkowski's fantasy world is nothing short of astounding. From the majestic Flotsam forests to the believable architecture of Vergen and the elven city of Loc Muinne, The Witcher 2 is a triumph of fantasy environments, rendered with utmost care and expertise, and emphasized by the impressive technical capabilities of the RED Engine. Character designs are also very well-realized, often giving insight into their personality; furthermore, both monster and equipment designs are detailed and instill a sense of cohesiveness and culture to the title. Sure, there are a few animation-related blemishes here and there, but they don't detract from the fact that CD Projekt's sequel was at the top of the graphics pedestal this year.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Runner-up)
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim doesn't have nearly the graphic fidelity of The Witcher 2, but sacrifices have to be made for an open-world game capable of running on consoles as well as the PC platform. That said, the studio had its priorities straight in picking which battles to fight, as the strongest points of Skyrim are its wide-open, snow-covered vistas, as well as the strong art design that features believable Nordic themes throughout. Add to that some very attractive particle/weather effects, as well as some of the best water effects we've ever seen in a video game to date, and Skyrim does more than enough to ensure that the TES series impresses us yet again.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Winner)
There's no soundtrack quite as memorable or beloved as the original Deus Ex's, with its distinctly 80s-inspired score providing both catchiness and ambiance. Luckily for fans, Human Revolution managed to capture many of the familiar melodies and put them in a brand new context, seamlessly blending electronic and traditional instrumentation for music that arguably surpasses even the original game's. Human Revolution's near-future sound effects were also expertly chosen, bringing life to both the dismal urban environments and its technology. Solid and consistent voice-acting round out the package for one of the most satisfying aural experiences we had this year.
While it ultimately fell short when pitted against Deus Ex: Human Revolution's cyberpunk soundtrack, Bastion's amazing sound design should not be overlooked. Supergiant's action RPG treats players to a varied soundtrack that covers all manner of genres, as well as some of the best and well-implemented voice acting we've heard in quite awhile. Yes, folks, Bastion's focus on a single narrator makes it notable not just for the quality of its execution, but for its originality as well.
Fallout: New Vegas – Old World Blues (Winner)
Fallout: New Vegas was treated to four story-based add-ons that truly demonstrated what the post-release content model is capable of, with varied and memorable experiences that feel indespensible to the full game. Without question, Old World Blues was the best of the set. It has an irreverent tone based on the Science! films that have always inspired Fallout in smaller ways, as well as ten hours of new content, including new enemies, weapons and locations to explore. Though complaints can be leveled against the recycled nature of a few of its dungeons, and the humour may not be for everyone, there's no denying that Old World Blues provided both quality gameplay and a huge amount of value, earning it top honors as 2011's best DLC.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution - The Missing Link (Runner-up)
Human Revolution ended up being one of Eidos' most successful games this year, so it goes without saying that they were quick to release a DLC add-on for it shortly after launch. The Missing Link filled a chapter of the game's story previously only touched, and provided a surprisingly dense and character-driven story. Though the new locations were better-designed than ever before, and the hints of a wider plot kept fans talking about what's next for the Deus Ex series, the relatively short length-to-price ratio and lack of new features left The Missing Link just shy of excellence.