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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.
Avernum 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.
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.
Mount & 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.
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.
Fable 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.
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