In one of his weekly columns on Joystiq, writer Rowan Kaiser wonders whether "classic RPGs" necessarily have to be isometric and comes to the conclusion that they don't have to. I'm honestly confused as to how he defines what a "classic RPG" is in the first place, though:
Perspective: To say that RPGs can look different from one another is an understatement. I had five different major categories: first-person (Skyrim), third-person (Knights Of The Old Republic), isometric (Fallout), overhead (Ultima VII), and tiled, which is a first person perspective where you move forward in squares, like in Dungeon Master, Wizardry, and this year's The Legend Of Grimrock.
My favorites are almost equally divided up between those five categories, and they've each got 7-10 games included. The only really interesting thing about this division: the only third-person games I listed are BioWare games. There were also a few outliers – the partial tiles of Betrayal At Krondor, and the adventure game perspective of Quest For Glory – as well as the fairly common tiled dungeon/overhead tactical combat in older RPGs.
Story Importance: How much time in the game is spent on conversation, narration, and cutscenes? A game like Rogue stands on one end, with Mass Effect on the other. I didn't try to massage this data in any way. I just listed the games, and wrote down how important I thought their stories were to them. Yet even I was surprised when this section came down with a perfect split: 17 games with a lot of story, 17 with a decent amount, and 16 with very little embedded narrative.
With the inclusion of titles like Mass Effect, I'm honestly confused as to why the label "classic" is even used in the first place.