While 2012 certainly wasn't as strong as 2011 as far as role-playing game releases go, one thing we'll always remember this year for was thebeginningoftheKickstartercraze and the immortalization of GameBanshee and its audience. So in that respect, it might be one of the greatest years in role-playing video game history and, at the very least, a year that will always have given birth to an "old school" CRPG resurgence. Things to be thankful for, in any event.
Despite throwing a vast majority of our money at Kickstarter pledging, we did manage to scratch together enough coin to pick up many of the RPG releases this year. Here are our picks for the best of the best:
Best Character System
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (Winner)
At the core of any good RPG is a good character system, and we felt hat was a strength with this year's title from 38 Studios, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Featuring a classless system that allowed you to either specialize in one role or combine them in interesting ways, it also granted special bonuses based on your skill selections by way of its "Destiny" mechanic.
Even more surprisingly was how it blended in its action-based character growth with non-combat options, all of which were useful. Alchemy, Blacksmithing, Lockpicking, Persuasion, and so on were all valid choices for every character class, and often opened new dialogue or quest options. For a game whose selling point was its combat, Amalur had a surprising amount of depth outside of it.
Dragon's Dogma (Runner-up)
Dragon's Dogma, Capcom's party-based attempt to penetrate the open-world action-RPG market, which ironically ended up being more successful in Japan than in the rest of the world, is certainly a rich game in terms of character progression options. With nine vocations (the game's term for classes), each with its own stats progression and a number of active and passive abilities to mix and match, the game offers many creative ways to kill the larger-than-life monsters inhabiting its world. Had there been more of a focus on non-combat progression and ways to interact with the world outside of violence, we might not be handing out a runner-up entry.
And while it's true that the advancement options in Dragon's Dogma wouldn't have made the cut during years prior, playing with the various options offered by the game, from the solo-focused Assassin to the frail but powerful Wizard, is undeniably fun. With an expanded re-release slated for this April, which promises to offer even more abilities and new critters to try them on, here's to hoping that they will flesh the game out far enough to be considered for 2013's Game of the Year list, too.
While this long-in-development "neoclassical" RPG didn't wow us in every respect, what is undeniably a strong point of it is its unique setting and story. Inquisitor is grounded in the literal Dark Ages, but blends it with a dose of devilish magic. Conspiracy and paranoia are at the heart of its plot, and investigation into the most established hierarchies of the land is driven by lengthy, lore-filled dialogues that we just don't see a lot of these days.
It takes a bold developer to build a game around real-world events and institutions, and it's surprising, after seeing how well they pulled it off, that it doesn't happen more often. Inquisitor is a throwback to days where discovering and learning about a world was at the forefront of the RPG experience.
Guild Wars 2 (Runner-up)
While we normally don't rank MMOs as among the genre's best games when it comes to storytelling, Guild Wars 2 defied the standard. While its world isn't the most unique out there, and its "kill the dragon" story won't turn heads for its originality, what makes it stand out is how it manages to weave the details of your character into a lengthy, personalized story that responds to your choices in character creation and during quests.
In a single-player game it'd be impressive, but in an MMO it's nearly unheard of. We found ourselves more engaged by Guild Wars 2's quests than many games which are far more story-driven. Combine that with sharp, well-acted dialogue and the result is an MMO experience that even staunch single-player RPG fans can enjoy.