Posted by BuckGB at 9:49 am on 01.11.2008 (5 years ago)
And so, this seems like the perfect year for GameBanshee to start a regular “Game of the Year” feature. That title is a little deceptive, though, because we’re not going to pick an all-encompassing winner but instead focus on the RPGs that stood out in the writing, setting, graphics, and sound departments, and then offer our picks for the top role-playing games in three separate categories. Anyway, let’s get on with it.
Mass Effect (Winner)
While there were definitely some disappointing design choices that went into Mass Effect, we can’t help but recognize just how good the game’s storyline is. The concept of a legion of intelligent machines continually purging the galaxy of all life might not sound particularly gripping, but there’s a lot more to the game’s storyline than one originally expects. To make the experience even more fulfilling, the story is conveyed through state-of-the-art cinematic-quality cutscenes, as well as one of the most extensive and informative codex systems we’ve seen in a game to date.
As a whole, Mass Effect’s storyline is easily the best sci-fi tale weaved in a video game since Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. There are moments of sheer brilliance during the game’s main quest, and despite the fact that the game is only the first in a trilogy of sci-fi titles, the ending is surprisingly satisfying and sets the stage perfectly for a sequel.
NWN2: Mask of the Betrayer (Runner-up)
Obsidian Entertainment is always pretty good about incorporating a substantial story into their games, and Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer is no exception. The expansion pack includes a story that has little to do with the usual RPG fare, opting instead for one that focuses on your character and how you can right old wrongs and cure yourself of a god-given curse. The story is helped along by five possible companions, all strongly written and acted. By implementing fewer companions, Obsidian was able to spend more time on each one, developing them enough so that you’re more likely to care what happens to them. Plus, any game that writes a substantial amount of dialogue for a rainbow-colored spirit bear gets our vote.
BioShock is an easy winner in a year that had a very large selection of newborn franchises and expansive settings to work with. But where most other games show love and attention to detail in the crafting of a new world, BioShock has that and the added bonus of being one of the most attractive and unique settings we’ve ever seen.
One could question if Ayn Rand’s notoriously bad writing is something you’d really want to fit a setting on, but there’s no doubt that Objectivism – the philosophy born in her book – speaks to a lot of people. The pivotal questions BioShock asks, both in its plot and in its world, are questions dealing with freedom and humanity that a lot of people can relate to. And in a time when fantasy is still waving a supreme flag, while science fiction and even the expanding post-apocalyptic genre aren’t bringing in too much originality, this dystopic retro-50s sci-fi city of Rapture brings us something that can justly and simply be called “something else.”
Perhaps this is a part of BioShock’s connection to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Just like Atlas Shrugged was a terribly written work that is saved in collective memory thanks to the powerful message of Objectivism, BioShock could be perceived as a mediocre shooter hybrid with only a few new ideas that’s saved by the powerful message represented in its setting.
Hellgate: London (Runner-up)
Hellgate: London nearly cinched our "Disappointment of the Year" award due to EA and Flagship’s “ship first, patch later” stunt, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have one of the most intriguing settings we’ve seen in a long time. Set in a post-apocalyptic, demon-infested version of London, Hellgate introduces us to a futuristic version of the Knights Templar organization, a heavily modified London Underground, and a fusion of both modern weaponry and arcane magic.
Throughout the game, players are given a chance to see many of London’s historic landmarks in the crumbled and dilapidated state one might expect given the circumstances. A sense of reality is often used as a way to tap into a person’s emotions during films and games, but it is not always successful. Flagship’s attention to detail strengthens the setting in this aspect.
Put all of these elements together and you have one of the best settings ever to grace the action RPG genre - with even greater potential for depth if Flagship takes it in the right direction.
BioShock sometimes strikes us as a kind of confused horror game, leaning towards the easy manipulation of one’s nerves like we’d expect from, say, Capcom’s Resident Evil series. Nonetheless, BioShock floats on a balanced atmospheric soundtrack.
What pulls it up further in this category is the superb voiceover work in this game. Every voice that emanates from the game’s audio diaries is very convincing and supports the underwater city’s shattered architecture perfectly.
Mass Effect (Runner-up)
After collaborating with Jack Wall on Jade Empire’s soundtrack, BioWare opted to bring him back on board for Mass Effect. It was a wise decision, as the music created by the veteran composer fits the game’s futuristic deep space setting very well.
Where the game’s audio really shines, though, is in the voiceovers. The actors that voice the game’s various races and squad members couldn’t have better picked, as each one feels “spot on” during the game’s up-close-and-personal dialogue. Our only real complaints about the sound are that the Geth sound nearly identical to KotOR’s Selkath race and that Kaidan Alenko is voiced by the same actor that did Carth Onasi (Raphael Sbarge) in both Knights of the Old Republic games. As most people picking up Mass Effect will no doubt have already played at least one KotOR game, it seems like an odd decision to have used the same actor for such a key companion.
Despite its many strengths, BioWare's sci-fi epic was the game that most disappointed us this year. After releasing an amazing game like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic to virtually unanimous praise, you'd think the development team would have used a nearly identical formula while constructing Mass Effect. Instead, they took Mass Effect in the same direction that Bethesda took Oblivion after Morrowind's success - they developed it for the masses. The game's character development options have been drastically reduced from dozens of unique attributes, feats, skills, and force powers to a handful of talents and unoriginal biotic abilities. KotOR's hundreds of hand-crafted items with long, witty descriptions and various statistics and effects have been cast aside in favor of an uninspired equipment system with three numeric scores and a Roman numeral to define each item's power. On top of that, enemy strength and loot are scaled to the player's level Oblivion-style, the number of companions compared to all other BioWare RPGs has been reduced, inter-party dialogue is strictly limited to the ship, combat is real-time and only allows for limited strategic maneuvering while paused, and landing on uncharted planets is, well, not what it was cracked up to be.
As a result, Mass Effect is essentially an action title with subpar RPG elements, and for that it receives our "Disappointment of the Year" award. While the game is still certainly worth playing for its excellent audio, cinematic dialogue, and storyline, Mass Effect is arguably BioWare's most lackluster role-playing game to date.