As far as the role-playing scene goes, 2008 will most likely be remembered as the year of the rehashes (Mass Effect PC, The Witcher: Enhanced Edition), failures (Age of Conan, Space Siege), and "what might have beens" (Gothic 3: Forsaken Gods, Rise of the Argonauts, Too Human). Beyond those entries, though, a few exceptional titles did sneak their way into our hands last year. Here are our picks for the games that stood out above the rest:
Fable II (Winner)
In a year where open-world sandbox gameplay was overly prominent, Fable II stands out as having the best storyline to tie it all together. The story isn't necessarily thought-provoking, but the narrative that supports your quest to destroy the spire and end Lucien's fanatical goal to eradicate the existing world in favor of a new one is solid and will easily keep your interest throughout the 10-hour campaign. Add to that a thick layer of charm and humor, and you have yourself a deserving winner.
No Award Given (Runner-up)
As no game other than Fable II stood out in the story and writing department, we did not award a runner-up position in this category. Hopefully next year we'll have more writing to praise!
Fallout 3 (Winner)
Fallout 3 is not an unequivocal graphical triumph; despite sporting a realistically grim post-nuclear setting, Bethesda still has some room for improvement in the character animation, facial modeling, and world design departments. But, much like Oblivion was in 2006, Fallout 3 is one of the best-looking games of 2008, and in pure graphical fidelity it usurps all others to take our award for this year's best graphics.
King's Bounty: The Legend (Runner-up)
While Fallout 3's graphics make the most use of pure 3D power, King's Bounty stands as a shining example of how graphics can dazzle without requiring state-of-the-art hardware. The detail present in the game's environments, world design, combat animations, and various icons is nothing short of amazing, and quite worthy of any praise we can heap at it. As such, Katauri Interactive stands as one of the only developers in recent years to successfully approach a Blizzard-like style of graphical polish.
There isn't a wide variety of music in King's Bounty: The Legend, but what's there supports the setting and combat scenarios effectively. In addition, the selection of sound effects for the game's many spells and rage abilities feel spot-on and underscore the enjoyability of combat. While KB's music and sound effects may not have been enough to win any other year (especially with the lack of voice acting), in 2008 they managed to outshine the competition.
Fable II (Runner-up)
Fable II's atmospheric score (composed by Danny Elfman and Russell Shaw), witty voice acting, and realistic weapon effects are all well above average, making the entire game a treat to listen to. Had the NPC commentary not been so overused and there have been a bit more musical diversity between regions, Lionhead's sequel would have probably cinched the top spot. Perhaps they'll figure out how to make the sound and music flow more perfectly in Fable III, but for now this is a great start.
Most Anticipated of 2009
To be honest, we don't really expect Blizzard's action RPG sequel to make it on store shelves in 2009. Until we actually hear differently, however, we're going to attempt to convince ourselves that this year marks our return to hell. Blizzard rarely fails to deliver quality games, and we're hoping this tradition continues with Diablo III despite concerns over auto-attribute allocation and art style. Assuming the sequel's traditional RPG elements are expanded upon, as promised, this is the game we're most looking forward to at the moment.