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Page 1 of 32007 was a strong year for gaming, no doubt about it. There was something for everyone this year, and for the first time in what seems like ages many of us actually found ourselves overwhelmed with the number of high quality titles requiring a play through. As far as the role-playing genre goes, this year will go down as one of the best we've ever seen for independent releases and AAA titles from both Europe and North America.
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.
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