Page 1 of 4Without question, 2009 was a better year for role-playing enthusiasts than 2008 was. This past year brought us the likes of Dragon Age: Origins, Risen, Drakensang: The Dark Eye, Demon's Souls, Knights of the Chalice, King Arthur: The Role-playing Wargame, Torchlight, King's Bounty: Armored Princess, Geneforge 5, Borderlands, Aztaka, a handful of MMORPGs, a few lesser known indies, and a slew of downloadable content. A pretty good selection, in other words.
Because there were so many titles to consider for this year's "Game of the Year" awards, we even recruited a couple of extra people to ensure that no games were overlooked. Contributing to the following selections are myself (BuckGB), Thomas Beekers (Brother None), Tyson McCann (Applebrown), and Jay Barnson (Frayed Knights developer and founder of Rampant Games):
Dragon Age: Origins (Winner)
It seems almost inevitable that in any year in which BioWare releases a game, it'll be a leading candidate for our best story/writing award. This year is no exception, but it's certainly a candidacy that comes with some footnotes.
To put it bluntly, the main story isn't very good. The Blight is a standard fantasy trope, the darkspawn look like they were created to be the ultimate clichÃ©, and the foreboding "Archdemon" is never really given any depth or presented as an even remotely interesting adversary.
But none of this is a deal-breaker. Dragon Age: Origins really isn't about the Blight; it's about gathering allies for the Blight, and unifying Ferelden under the guidance of someone other than Teyrn Loghain Mac Tir. Loghain is your adversary through most of the game, and he is an excellently-voiced, subtle character, whose understandable if misguided motives may well bring a measure of sympathy out of the player.
Equally, the best stories are not to be found in the main quest, but in each individual faction. With four factions to work through, Dragon Age: Origins kicks off the franchise with plenty of lore to chew through and draws your interest naturally into the motives and problems of these factions, since you do after all require their help.
The stories behind each of these factions are interesting, with dwarves, elves, and magics being freed from their standard clichÃ©s by clever twists in your expectations. Couple this with the game offering real choices and consequences, as well as some of the best-written companions BioWare has ever produced, and it's a no-brainer as a winner.
Piranha Bytes' first foray into a new intellectual property didn't exactly present us with an incredibly original plot or even a fresh setting (the former not being in-depth enough or original and the latter sharing too many similarities with its stepfather, Gothic), but Risen did excel where many other RPGs have failed: crafting a fleshy, convincing game world with believable characters inhabiting it, dominated not by purely good or bad motives but by exceedingly human motives. The level to which Risen has subtly accomplished this deep scale of grey easily fits it amongst the top of modern-day AAA RPGs.
And as an added surprise, those of us in English-speaking territories were given a professional-grade localization of the script and subsequent excellent voice acting - things often lacking in translated games.
Demon's Souls (Winner)
There's a lot of horsepower under the hood of a PlayStation 3, and Demon's Souls certainly makes use of it. This isn't a game where you sit back and marvel at character renders or sweeping forests, though. Instead, it's the painstakingly detailed environments and larger-than-life boss monsters that serve as last year's best eye candy.
Enter into battle with the Penetrator or Dragon God, or venture through the dark, medieval Europe-inspired Boletarian Palace or the creepy, hallowed prison cells of the Tower of Latria, and you'll come to appreciate the attention to detail that went into Demon's Souls. Only then is it obvious what a labor of love this game must have been to the developers at From Software.
If you haven't yet given Demon's Souls a whirl, pick up or rent a copy and sit down with it for awhile. It doesn't take long to realize that Demon's Souls is a crowning achievement of graphical fortitude and that's why it's an easy pick for our top graphics award.
Dragon Age: Origins (Runner-up)
Running on BioWare's Eclipse engine, a lot of people probably don't think much of Dragon Age: Origins' graphical prowess when comparing it to the technology powering the Mass Effect series. Keep in mind, however, that we're talking about two very different game types with completely different presentation goals.
Despite that, it is an impressive cRPG to look at, in large part because of an expansive gameworld that while nothing exceptionally original looks like it was crafted with love and care to breathe a convincing, dark universe.
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