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Geneforge 4: Rebellion (Winner)
In a year when several promising newcomers are making noise on the indie market, it might be hard for our readers to forgive us for returning to that “boring old pick” of Spiderweb Software. For the first time in recent history, Spiderweb’s indie RPG throne looks threatened, but it won’t be 2007 that it's toppled. Regardless, you could say the veteran's product is not a popular favourite, even though it seemed like it would once again be the most likely - if not only - candidate earlier this year.
But despite the incessant and perhaps growing criticism of indie champion Jeff Vogel, Geneforge 4 is still the logical top pick. With few graphical or mechanical upgrades from the previous title, Geneforge 4 shines exactly where indie RPGs are supposed to shine - great storytelling, intricate branching plotlines, strong dialogue, and a deep setting.
While the old indie argument of “you have to get past the graphics to enjoy it” still applies, there’s a true gem to be found in Geneforge 4 – the result of Jeff Vogel’s experience as a crafter of worlds. Perhaps the independent RPG market is changing and maturing and this is the swan song of Vogel’s generation of independent RPGs, but nevertheless the crown still belongs to him.
Eschalon: Book I (Runner-up)
It was with a heavy heart that we demoted Basilisk Games’ Eschalon: Book I to the runner-up spot. Not only does the game show a lot of promise in setting, mechanics, and storytelling, but one could almost say that it sets the bar for the maturing independent market in terms of polish and production values.
And if we were ranking games by promise, Eschalon: Book I would have been a clear winner. But as it is, the world is not deep enough to match wits with Geneforge – which features a more original and interesting setting – and the game’s plot wasn’t nearly involved enough to duke it out with what we saw in Spiderweb’s title.
Titan Quest: Immortal Throne (Winner)
2007 was not a banner year for action role-playing games, with most of the entries falling solidly under the “bargain price” umbrella and only being mildly entertaining – or worse. But Iron Lore Entertainment delivered the goods in their Titan Quest: Immortal Throne expansion pack, giving players more of everything they could want in an action role-playing game: impressive battles, lots of equipment and artifacts to collect, and plenty of new ways to develop a character. Better yet, they wrapped everything up in a well designed campaign that led players through the dark and foreboding Underworld and forced them to face off against the likes of Charon, Cerberus, and even Hades himself. While some may consider Titan Quest a Diablo clone, it doesn’t change the fact that Iron Lore did such an amazing job with Immortal Throne that they elevated the genre and presented us with enough content to nab our “Action RPG of the Year” award.
What can be said of BioShock as the runner-up for our action RPG of the year award?
It might be somewhat of an odd pick because BioShock really doesn’t bear any significant RPG elements and is probably closer to a straight first-person shooter than an action RPG. But let’s be honest - since the inception of Diablo, the number of RPG elements being implemented in your typical action role-playing game hasn’t been all that impressive. And when you consider BioShock, you have to recognize how strong it is in areas that are often key to great RPGs - branching story-telling, player choice and consequence, simplified yet meaningful character development, and strong visuals in a fantastical setting.
But when push comes to shove, BioShock is present here on the merit of being a standout game during a year when there just aren’t that many strong contenders in the action RPG field. It’s not a game that you should approach expecting a deep RPG experience, but it does follow in System Shock 2’s footsteps to some degree and contains just enough role-playing elements to make it worth your time.
The Witcher (Winner)
Even though we had witnessed more than one demonstration of The Witcher before release, we really weren’t prepared for just how good CD Projekt’s CRPG was going to be. Simply put, the game excels in virtually every area that a role-playing game should. In addition to featuring an excellent story in the believable world of Temeria, The Witcher offers tough player choices, a large number of meaningful NPCs, a well-constructed character development system, and a unique and interactive combat system. To sweeten the deal, the game was surprisingly stable and well localized when compared to the many other European titles we’ve seen in recent years.
And so, despite the fact that it was the publisher’s first attempt at game development and was built around BioWare’s dated Aurora engine, The Witcher succeeded in surpassing our expectations and is an easy pick for our RPG of the Year.
NWN2: Mask of the Betrayer (Runner-up)
While the D&D 3.5 implementation was stellar in Neverwinter Nights 2, the more-or-less cliché storyline and lack of hard-hitting player choices left much to be desired. Those faults can’t be reiterated when speaking about the game’s expansion pack, however.
Mask of the Betrayer is set in Rashemen, a land of witches, berserkers, spirits, and great conflict located on Faerûn’s Unapproachable East subcontinent. At no time does the setting (or the storyline that goes with it) feel “standard”, which is a welcome change to anyone who’s grown tired of typical fantasy environments. On top of that, the expansion’s dialogue is nothing short of amazing and provides us with real consequential player choices throughout the game.
In our opinion, Mask of the Betrayer represents Obsidian’s greatest achievement since forming their new studio. Had the expansion pack been a full-fledged 40+ hour game on its own, it would have stood a good chance of wrestling away the top spot from The Witcher.
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