Game of the Year 2008

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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:

Best Story/Writing

Best Story/Writing Winner
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.

Best Story/Writing Runner-upNo 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!

Best Graphics

Best Graphics Winner
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.

Best Graphics Runner-upKing'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.

Best Sound/Music

Best Sound/Music Winner
King's Bounty: The Legend (Winner)

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.

Best Sound/Music Runner-upFable 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

Most Anticipated of 2009
Diablo III

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.

Independent RPG of the Year

Independent RPG of the Year Winner
Mount & Blade (Winner)

It feels somewhat awkward to give the independent RPG of the year award to a game that by most standards barely qualifies as an RPG, but it has been clear for years now that what Mount & Blade lacks in RPG depth it makes up in doing what independents of any genre specialize in: thinking outside the box and offering truly new, innovative gameplay. Mount & Blade's combat gameplay is a triumph, and by its own is reason enough to play the game. While it's not necessarily a blind recommendation to RPG fans, this game wins the title on the strength of how well it does what it wants to do.

Independent RPG of the Year Runner-upAvernum 5 (Runner-up)

It's not necessarily the strongest title of the series, but Avernum 5 still lives up to the expectations people have of Spiderweb's games by offering a rich game world filled to the brim with interesting locations, believable characters, and expansive dialogue. In some ways, its size is a mark against the game as combat becomes steadily less interesting as the game progresses, but overall this is still a solid product and a worthy addition to the series.

RPG Hybrid of the Year

RPG Hybrid of the Year Winner
King's Bounty: The Legend (Winner)

It pains us to have to give King's Bounty: The Legend our hybrid award rather than the top RPG win, but the game clearly is more about turn-based strategy than character development and story-driven decision-making. Those willing to put up with the game's "Treasure Seeker" storyline will find a well-designed and attractive game world, a superb tactical combat system, a solid set of rules for character progression, and enough skills, spells, rage abilities, and item variations (kids, anyone?) to keep their interest for dozens of hours. Make no mistake, King's Bounty: The Legend is easily the best game listed in these awards.

RPG Hybrid of the Year Runner-upMount & Blade (Runner-up)

A problem long suffered by action RPGs is that the action itself isn't all that fun, either because it is too easy or too simplistic. Mount & Blade's action might be simple in some ways, but it isn't simplistic. The game achieves what many swordplay RPGs can only dream of - offering the player intuitive and interesting combat mechanics that are enjoyable enough to serve as the game's foundation. The RPG elements are mostly an afterthought, but the progress in real-time combat that Mount & Blade represents should not be underestimated.

RPG of the Year

RPG of the Year Winner
Fallout 3 (Winner)

While 2008 wasn't a noteworthy year for role-playing games, we have to admit that we were pleasantly surprised with Bethesda's iteration of Fallout 3. The main quest leaves a lot to be desired and the game plays more like Oblivion than the original Fallouts, but the team did get quite a few things right. The side quests are well done (save for some morality issues), the devastated Washington, DC setting is an interesting backdrop for the series, and Interplay's original post-nuclear world is fairly well-represented. Best of all, Fallout 3 improved upon some of our biggest issues with Oblivion, like the auto-leveling mechanics, voice acting diversity, and uninspired side quests. Maybe next time we'll get a better PC interface, too.

Overall, Fallout 3 is a much better game than many of us expected, though its flaws may have held it back from this award in a stronger year.

RPG of the Year Runner-upFable II (Runner-up)

Despite the fact that the original Fable didn't live up to the many claims made by Lionhead's Peter Molyneux, its sequel actually does in many ways. The game may be a bit shallow when it comes to traditional RPG elements, but it does offer a large, open world with plenty to do and see without ever having to pursue the primary (and well-written) storyline. Becoming a real estate tycoon, mastering the local shooting range, sacrificing an entire town to the dark gods, or pursuing your dream of being a cross-dressing bigamist are just a few of the many options available to your hero at any given time. The clever use of your dog as a treasure-seeking sidekick is a nice touch, too. If the game had actually included a decent co-op component like it was supposed to, Fable II might have stood a better chance at taking our top award.