Posted by BuckGB at 10:57 am on 02.5.2010 (3 years ago)
Because there were so many titles to consider for this year's "Game of the Year" awards, we even recruited a couple of extra people to ensure that no games were overlooked. Contributing to the following selections are myself (BuckGB), Thomas Beekers (Brother None), Tyson McCann (Applebrown), and Jay Barnson (Frayed Knights developer and founder of Rampant Games):
Dragon Age: Origins (Winner)
It seems almost inevitable that in any year in which BioWare releases a game, it'll be a leading candidate for our best story/writing award. This year is no exception, but it's certainly a candidacy that comes with some footnotes.
To put it bluntly, the main story isn't very good. The Blight is a standard fantasy trope, the darkspawn look like they were created to be the ultimate cliché, and the foreboding "Archdemon" is never really given any depth or presented as an even remotely interesting adversary.
But none of this is a deal-breaker. Dragon Age: Origins really isn't about the Blight; it's about gathering allies for the Blight, and unifying Ferelden under the guidance of someone other than Teyrn Loghain Mac Tir. Loghain is your adversary through most of the game, and he is an excellently-voiced, subtle character, whose understandable if misguided motives may well bring a measure of sympathy out of the player.
Equally, the best stories are not to be found in the main quest, but in each individual faction. With four factions to work through, Dragon Age: Origins kicks off the franchise with plenty of lore to chew through and draws your interest naturally into the motives and problems of these factions, since you do – after all – require their help.
The stories behind each of these factions are interesting, with dwarves, elves, and magics being freed from their standard clichés by clever twists in your expectations. Couple this with the game offering real choices and consequences, as well as some of the best-written companions BioWare has ever produced, and it's a no-brainer as a winner.
Piranha Bytes' first foray into a new intellectual property didn't exactly present us with an incredibly original plot or even a fresh setting (the former not being in-depth enough or original and the latter sharing too many similarities with its stepfather, Gothic), but Risen did excel where many other RPGs have failed: crafting a fleshy, convincing game world with believable characters inhabiting it, dominated not by purely good or bad motives but by exceedingly human motives. The level to which Risen has subtly accomplished this deep scale of grey easily fits it amongst the top of modern-day AAA RPGs.
And as an added surprise, those of us in English-speaking territories were given a professional-grade localization of the script and subsequent excellent voice acting - things often lacking in translated games.
Demon's Souls (Winner)
There's a lot of horsepower under the hood of a PlayStation 3, and Demon's Souls certainly makes use of it. This isn't a game where you sit back and marvel at character renders or sweeping forests, though. Instead, it's the painstakingly detailed environments and larger-than-life boss monsters that serve as last year's best eye candy.
Enter into battle with the Penetrator or Dragon God, or venture through the dark, medieval Europe-inspired Boletarian Palace or the creepy, hallowed prison cells of the Tower of Latria, and you'll come to appreciate the attention to detail that went into Demon's Souls. Only then is it obvious what a labor of love this game must have been to the developers at From Software.
If you haven't yet given Demon's Souls a whirl, pick up or rent a copy and sit down with it for awhile. It doesn't take long to realize that Demon's Souls is a crowning achievement of graphical fortitude and that's why it's an easy pick for our top graphics award.
Dragon Age: Origins (Runner-up)
Running on BioWare's Eclipse engine, a lot of people probably don't think much of Dragon Age: Origins' graphical prowess when comparing it to the technology powering the Mass Effect series. Keep in mind, however, that we're talking about two very different game types with completely different presentation goals.
Despite that, it is an impressive cRPG to look at, in large part because of an expansive gameworld that – while nothing exceptionally original – looks like it was crafted with love and care to breathe a convincing, dark universe.
In a year of lengthy scripts in dialogue-heavy cRPGs voiced by expensive, famous voice casts, it's the game that does more with less that wins out. While Borderlands' voice acting might be considered satisfactory but not outstanding, the sound design as a whole beats out any other role-playing game we played last year.
Where the game really excels is the music. Video game music as an art has been really up and down over the past few years, and Borderlands is a showcase of how it's done. The atmospheric music setting the arid world's tone is excellent, yet it readily switches to appropriate combat music that pumps you up without getting annoyingly intrusive.
Returning to the more dialogue-heavy cRPGs, Risen stood out this year as having the best overall performance in its voice acting cast. Risen's soundtrack is solid, its sound effects are more than adequate, but it's the voice acting that serves as a masterclass.
Andy Serkis and John Rhys-Davies give subtle tour-de-force performances that help underpin Risen's excellent character writing. Piranha Bytes and Deep Silver were dedicated to getting this game's international release right, and it shows. The high quality of the cast lacking in billable names could serve as a lesson to publishers that tend to rely more on less competent Hollywood talent.
The Lord of the Rings Online: Siege of Mirkwood (Winner)
In a year filled with bite-sized and arguably overpriced DLC, Turbine's Siege of Mirkwood expansion pack for The Lord of the Rings Online stands out as a shining example of how to bring fresh content to an already content-rich game. Though it doesn't provide us with any new classes to pick from, it progresses the War of the Ring storyline within the game while also introducing us to several new areas (including the Ringwraith fortress of Dol Guldur), a unique and highly entertaining skirmish system, an extended level cap, and many fan-requested gameplay enhancements.
The skirmish system is probably the most notable of these additions, as it provides an alternative (and scalable) way to level your character, earn new loot, and experience some of the great battles of Middle-earth. It also brings something very unique to the table - the ability to have a henchman-like soldier fighting at your side, who in turn can gain new abilities and traits as you tackle the skirmishes. There was already a lot to like in The Lord of the Rings Online, but getting to experience the Stand at Amon Sûl, the Siege of Gondamon, and other such epic battles with a group of friends has to be the biggest boon to the game yet.
Fallout 3: Broken Steel (Runner-up)
Despite a few DLC launch quirks, throughout 2009 Bethesda Softworks demonstrated that they can deliver quality post-release downloadable content. And of the five Fallout 3 addons released last year, Broken Steel is the one that had the most ambition behind it.
In addition to raising the level cap and introducing new perks and equipment to the game, Broken Steel addresses a major concern that many players had - there was no way to keep playing the game after turning on the purifier at the Jefferson Memorial. Such an alteration probably shouldn't have been necessary in the first place, but it's refreshing to see a company willing to deliver on what the majority of the (vocal) community was asking for.
At a $10 price point, Broken Steel is easily one of the better game additions to reach our hard drives last year.