Page 1 of 4Yet another year has passed by, and much to our grinning surprise, it's going to go down in the history books as one of the best twelve-month stretches of role-playing game releases in, well, a very long time. And while there were many strengths exhibited by this year's lineup, we felt that character development came to the forefront a bit more than it has in recent years, and that's prompted us to add an entirely new category to recognize the games that haven't overlooked a good progression system in order to cater exclusively to the cinematic-seeking crowd.
Yes, loyal RPG fans, there was something for everyone this year. So let's get started:
Drakensang: The River of Time (Winner)
The Dark Eye tabletop system was created in 1984, and through years of refinement and updates, reached a fourth edition in 2001. Drakensang: The River of Time's character system is based on this current version of The Dark Eye, and with nearly 30 years of iteration behind it, it's not much of a surprise that The River of Time offers the most intricate character system of 2011.
Its breadth is on display right from the character creation screen, where it provides a selection of 22 archetypes across 3 different races. Following these initial customization options, you're then presented with an assortment of other options as the game progresses. As adventure points are acquired, they can be allocated toward 8 attributes, 13 combat skills, 23 non-combat skills, 11 branches of special abilities, and 58 spells/miracles. Not all skills are equally useful, and some overlap with the functionality of spells, but the various non-combat skills come into play often during dialogue, thieving, and item crafting. And while the game's combat isn't anything we haven't seen before, the sheer variety of skills, spells, and weaponry available to you means that you can mix things up during each battle, should you choose to.
Frayed Knights: The Skull of S'makh-Daon (Runner-up)
If there was one game that was heavily fueled by its mechanics this year, it was Frayed Knights: The Skull of S'makh-Daon. Though it starts players out with four fixed characters, its system quickly opens up to allow for a huge amount of flexibility and variety in building them. With hundreds of options available, solid game balance, and plenty of different strategies to tap into, Frayed Knights made us agonize over each and every stat point and level-up in the best possible way. And considering that it was one of only a few titles that allowed us to build entire parties this year, it had an edge on most of its competition right from the start.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Winner)
This year brought stiff competition to the story category from big publishers and indies alike, from CD Projekt, to Bethesda, to Spiderweb Software. Despite all that, it was the follow-up to the beloved Deus Ex, Human Revolution, that ultimately won us over. Paring back the conspiracy theories and amping up the transhumanism theme, Deus Ex: Human Revolution was as notable for us not just in the way that it got us to care about its characters and world, but also for how it kept us talking about it well after we'd finished with the game. Few titles out there, even RPGs, manage to get us to think deeply about important issues, and we're pleased to count Human Revolution among them.
Drakensang: The River of Time (Runner-up)
2011 had some well-scripted titles and no lack of intricate plots, so it might seem odd to pick out this quiet German title with competent but not outstanding localization. However, The River of Time stands out by being different from the standard fare, and by doing what it does extremely well.
Specifically, the setting, quests, and dialogue have a light-hearted, quirky tone that does not necessarily click for everyone, but which we view as a breath of fresh air in this era obsessed with grimdark and "mature" stories and settings. Similarly, the story it tells is a smaller, contained one, and while its political scope increases as the story continues, it never becomes an ego-stroking "epic" story. The player character isn't really the story's protagonist, either, and the small cast of characters allows it to flesh out some of them in a way that smaller-budget games often can't. These elements are all very unusual in cRPGs nowadays, and its that uniqueness that is the main strength of TRoT's story.