The #5 RPGs of the Decade (that we think you should play)
Editorial - posted by DarkUnderlord on Tue 18 May 2010, 02:29:38
In our last article, we took a look at the last decade of RPG's, covered some of the high-lights and most of the low-lights and got the opinions of a few developers on which RPG was most memorable for them. In this article, we're going to pick the 5 most notable RPGs of the decade that we think you should play (if you haven't already that is). That's not quite a top #5 and it's not quite not a top #5 but it's the games we think fit the following criteria:
- We played them. A lot.
- They were the best in their field.
- They had a big impact on the RPG world.
- Everything else sucked too much.
You would have thought this verywould be a tough pick for us at the Codex as there were a decent number of notable RPGs released in the last 10 years. Quite frankly though, it was more the over-whelming sucktitude of RPGs in general that actually made it hard to pick.
Some RPGs were notable for all the wrong reasons. Some were good in some areas but failed in other areas (sometimes it was the RPG parts they failed at, other times it was the non-RPG parts). But for whatever reason, we decided that whatever they are, they're definitely RPG-type-things that are worth checking out.
Though before we get into revealing our final choices, what were our personal picks for RPG of the decade?
Codex Staff Personal Picks
When you look at the list of the games released in the last decade, it's difficult to choose the best one. Some of them are great titles; all of them have glaring flaws. Since I guess Arcanum will be the most popular choice, I decided to swim against the tide and put my vote for Gothic 2 + Night of the Raven. The main reason is that it's filled with choices & consequences on a local scale, which greatly increase replayability and the feeling that the game world is "alive". There are numerous occasions on which a problem may be dealt with in a few exclusive ways, which lead to quests and changes in the game world unobtainable otherwise. Mind you, almost none of this are "big" changes; it's the multitude of smaller influences your character has on the world which makes the whole experience close to my ideal of a "role-playing" game. (The game is also a prime example of how a ton of meticulous NPC scripting may make for a lot more believable world than any currently known kind of RodentAI.)
In my opinion The Witcher devs would do well to learn from this and put more choices in the sequel; yes, we got the whole "I could've done otherwise and this wouldn't have happened" thing already, so you can put the slides + narrative budget elsewhere.
Of course, as a true Sarmatian patriot I have to add that The Witcher did everything Gothic 2 did well ten times better and was firm on its way to become the beacon of light in the desolate darklands of the doomed genre, but the evil foreign publishers effectively killed it by enforcing stupid design decisions to cater for the mentally & morally degenerate Western markets, thus adding another one to the list of Polish martyrs who sacrificed their well-being for the good of us all.
My crpg of the decade? Quite honestly I must say that crpg-wise this entire decade has been something of a disappointment. There were a number of enjoyable ones released, sure, but nothing really stood out for me. Which puzzles me since I have played and enjoyed rpg's since the late 80's. Have I finally become the bitter old wanker I always aspired to be? Is skyway right and is everything turned to shit? Or have I just played too many rpg's and do they start to become stale and predictable?
Whatever it is, the rpg's of the 2000's just never really appealed to me like their predecessors did. Still, if I really have to name a contender I'll go for Anachronox. Sure, it felt unfinished, had a horribly protracted and even dull start and, for christsakes, when you look really closely at it the game looks remarkably similar to a railroaded jrpg. Yet Anachronox lured me in and made me enjoy it more than any other rpg in years. Somehow the freshness of the setting, the sense of humor that permeates the entire game and the fact that for once my party was comprised of grumpy geriatrics, alcoholic superheroes and a shrunken planet make up for all that. This rpg entertained the heck out of me, and that is something which I really value in my games.
My pick for best RPG of the decade is Arcanum. There were many RPG in the 00's which I've enjoyed, but Arcanum is by far the one I liked most. I loved the steampunk-fantasy setting and the complex character system with lots of possible character builds. The story, while not its strongest point, was good and some quests were really well-designed. I also loved the villain and the many different ending slides. Tarant and Caladon are two really well-designed cities with a great atmosphere. While Arcanum also had its bad sides (the combat), overall it was a really awesome game.
My second choice would be Morrowind, for the huge amount of background lore and the joy that is exploring the countryside and dungeons. With its unique and consistent setting, the many details and hidden places and the beautiful art design, it was a game that I loved to play despite the admittedly mediocre gameplay.
baby arm (erroneously known as "Jason" on our forums):
At the risk of confirming the existence of a Codex Hivemind, my choice for RPG of the Decade goes to Arcanum. My original impression at the time it came out was disappointment. The developers of one of the greatest games of all time, Fallout, were wasting their time on a fantasy title (steampunk wasn't in my vocabulary back then). I was hoping for something sci-fi, post apocalyptic, cyberpunk, or basically anything other than yet another sword & sorcery wankfest. But eventually boredom got the best of me and I picked it up, probably the best impulse buy I've made in my life.
The first indication that I was wrong about it came when I started thumbing through the manual. The "period" language, the unnecessary but interesting fluff about Natural Law vs Supernatural Law, the stylish drawings of ogres carrying shotguns all managed to grab my attention and let me know we were far from the Forgotten Realms. What really hooked me, though, was my first playthrough as a gunslinging, picklocking, pickpocketing technologist. Yes, the combat was unbalanced and sometimes frustrating (those goddamn golems), not to mention some mediocre dungeon crawls. But that didn't stop me from travelling over nearly every inch of that map, talking to every character, picking every pocket, digging through every trash can (just in case, you understand), and loving every minute of it.
I haven't played Baldur's Gate 2. Pretty sure that's the one I installed and got up to some Fort with Goblins or something in it down South and got annoyed. You guys know I never really got into the Infinity Engines games right? Oh yeah, and D&D. D&D sucks (that might be why I never finished NWN).
Honourable mention to ToEE though for making me like D&D combat. Everything before that just seems... meh. Oh it's built on D&D's 3.68B-12 rule-set. I don't care. I also hate that games built on D&D often don't seem to explain the D&D system (in the manual or the game) very well and assume I'm some kind of gay larper who sits in my mum's basement rolling dice with friends on weekends. It's like I'm supposed to bring this assumed knowledge to the table and know all about the best ways to multi-class my Paladin before I even get passed the installation stage.
For some reason, I liked ToEE though. Though that might be the turn-based combat reminiscient of UFO: Terror From the Deep (Are we ever going to see decent turn-based combat in a AAA title again?). Definitely not RPG of the decade material though given I finished the game by mistake just from talking to some Witch and telling her "no, I don't want to buy your stupid mushrooms" or some bullshit.
My pick goes to Arcanum for reasons I'll outline when I write this article up, seeing as everyone else picked that too... except VoD, who's a god-damned fag (and Trash, who doesn't count). Though I'll give honourable mentions to The Witcher and Morrowind as games I enjoyed as "good for what they were" ("linear-railed-story-shit" and "open-world-explorer-look-at-the-pretty-graphics-shit").
... and VentilatorOfDoom vs Monolith in "Arcanum vs Baldur's Gate 2: Which is Better and Why?":
Mon: Arcanum is probably going to be my choice, but I have to put more thought into this.
VoD: I'd take ToEE, Bloodlines, BG2, MotB over ARC any day.
VoD: Yes I like BG2 more than ARC. And I have the balls to admit it on the Codex. I hope you don't hate me now.
Mon: 1. Out of sheer curiosity, why? 2. Does "I'd take BG2 over ARC any day" mean you'd rather pick BG2 as your RPG of the decade than Arcanum?
1 and 2 might be the same question, depends on how you see that whole RPG thing, and if "RPG of the decade" should be the RPG that, according to your reasoning, achieved most regarding RPG standards, or simply the game that still fits into the RPG category and was chosen for some arbitrary reasons that mostly concern you. Mind you, I'm not judging. Might be your arbitrary reasons are damn convincing. Might be this separation is totally artificial and... arbitrary.
But thinking back of how I perceived Arcanum at the beginning and how I didn't like it all that much because 1) all that running around wasted my time, 2) most combat seemed to be shit and 3) the story didn't seem to have much going for it, I thought I'd better ask. Because it wasn't until I gave it another go that I realized that this game has much more to offer than I thought (effectively minimizing problem 2 and eliminating problem 3, given the many ways the story can unfold and what the game takes into account). Even if I were not able to look past the, say, balancing problems, shit combat, lower production values and ugly grafics, having experienced what Arcanum has to offer, I still couldn't put it below a BG2, which did all those things right. So, yeah. Arcanum, RPG of the decade.
VoD: Would I pick BG2 over Arcanum? Yes, or one of the other games I mentioned because I'd have a hard time to decide which one I liked most.
But anyway: achieved most regarding RPG standards means what? Skillchecks? Alternate quest solutions? A deliver the orb from A to B quest becomes magically awesome just because you can decide at the end whether insignificant NPC A or insignificant NPC B dies? That's pretty cool I presume, that you can decide, but it stays a deliver the orb from A to B quest. If skillchecks, C&C (regardless how minor) and different quest solutions are enough to determine what game achieved most, then I'd like to remind you that ToEE had all that too. Plus brilliant combat to boot.
But anyway, I'm a combat fag not a C&C fag, so ARC loses by default anyway.
I played it 3 times. How often do I need to replay it until I realize that it's the best RPG ever?
-not a single memorable combat encounter
-spell system with a lot of useless spells or spells that just don't function
- meh character system where DEX > everything
- being forced to run back and forth over the continent while fighting identical random encounters again and again.
... and finally, after a drunken session at baby arm's (if someone finds my pants, let me know), here are the #5 RPGs of the decade that we think you should absolutely play (if you haven't already that is) as chosen by the Codex.
#5. Diablo II
Good God I hear you cry but yes, it is true. As we said in our last article, the Diablo series affected the entire RPG genre for better or for worse. Despite our contempt for its lack of "proper" RPG features (that is, it has nothing beyond levelling up and phat loot with numbers attached) Diablo 2 was the most notable Action-RPG of the decade. Every other A-RPG simply paled into comparison against the King.
We also played it a lot.
Yes, for about 4 or so months, a group of Codexers were lead by our beloved Saint_Proverbius into some forest / dungeon / cave where we would whack things over the head until they died, search for Griswold's Armour and find shiny runes to affix to our equally shiny swords.
We called ourselves the POWAH ARMOR MANZ and it was great fun.
Until we all got bored and moved onto Anarchy Online for a while.
Diablo II is what it is and for what it is, it ain't too bad at all. It might be considered a bit dated now by the next-gen crowd but it still sits at the top of the A-RPG fiefdom, ruling over all it surveys. At least until Blizzard actually manage to release Diablo 3.
When they do, we'll probably play that too as our equally beloved Leonard Boyarsky (of Fallout and Arcanum fame) is involved and we have high hopes that he might add something interesting... on top of all the usual whack-a-mole business and loot droppings that is.
Morrowind came out just before the Codex was founded and we've had a love / hate relationship with it ever since. We've hated it openly in our forums for its shitty combat, lack of decent dialogue system (NPCs were more information vending machines, who would drop wikipedia style inter-linked text-bites at every click of the mouse), linearity and lack of real choices and consequences.
But we've loved it almost equally as well. Enough so that in our very first year in review in 2002, 3 out of 4 Codex Staff picked it as one of their Games of the Year...
... mainly because of its shiny graphics and lots of stuff to do:
Calis: Many have lauded this game's accomplishments, and deservedly so. Its predecessor, Daggerfall, was a mixed bag. It offered a similar kind of freedom, but was plagued by bugs and a general feeling of pointlessness. Morrowind offers a huge, breathing game world with gorgeous graphics and a whole lot to do. On top of it all, the game is very, very mod-able which adds to the fun. Of course the game isn't perfect: interface flaws, steep system requirements and a less than perfect dialogue system all detract from the fun. The fact still remains, however, that Morrowind is without a doubt one of the most amazing accomplishments of the year.
Mistress: Probably a more obvious choice than my first two, Morrowind is a game that, for me, both promised and delivered. It is by no means perfect, but it is definitely impressive. In sharp contrast to my other choices, Morrowind comes complete with stunning graphics, but past that is an immersive world, full of things to do. So full in fact, that I am still playing, as no doubt are many others. The combat could be better, the dialogue system could be greatly improved, and I could certainly use a more powerful PC to go with it, but I still often lose an afternoon or two wandering around this vast game.
Exitium: If there was one word for which to describe Morrowind best, that word would have to be 'alive'. Morrowind is a game that comes close to fulfilling my vision of a simulation of a real political world, filled with real geopolitics, real rivalries and real outcomes to decisions made by the player. That very aspect of being 'alive' would also cover the atmosphere in the game's well designed environments, its inhabitants and the plethora of events that come to shape the game's evolving world. As with all things fair, I must say that Morrowind is by no means perfect, but it does an outstanding effort at making the attempt.
Its successor Oblivion was a step backwards in many ways. For starters, it was nowhere near pretty enough and while the move away from information vending machines was nice, the "list of topics" it was replaced with was really no better. It also introduced some weird-ass dialogue mini-game where you would joke / threaten / persuade someone all in the one conversation before giving up and bribing them just so you could ask for "Rumours".
If you absolutely must play an "open-world", "wander around and do everything without any consequences what-so-ever" game that was released this decade, Morrowind is it.
#3. Gothic II + Night of the Raven
The Gothic series is widely known to be the best bunch of German RPGs ever made. This wide-spread opinion, while not entirely correct, still holds strong because of the following reasons:
- The Realms of Arkania Trilogy is just so damn obscure among the gaming crowd, and only the oldschool hardcore CRPG-ers know about it.
- The Gothic games are, in fact, really good games.
While Gothic 3 was considered a disappointment (mostly because it was a horrible bugfest), it was still a good game and did everything Oblivion tried to do a lot better. Last year, Risen, the new game by Gothic developer Piranha Bytes, earned much praise for fixing everything Gothic 3 did wrong and, basically, being exactly like the first two Gothics.
Gothic 2 was, in the eyes of most fans, the very best installment of the series. It had a reasonably-sized world (quite large, but not too large), every single encounter was hand-placed which led to perfect balancing, and it had the best NPC schedules since Ultima VII. The capital city of the game really felt alive, with NPCs going about their daily business, going to the pub in the evening and sleeping at night. Many quests had multiple solutions (there were at least three ways to enter the city, and the expansion added another one) which, sometimes, required you to use your brain.
There were, however, some elements of the game that scared some people off and prevented the game from becoming as popular as, say, the Elder Scrolls series. First and foremost were the clunky controls that you could get used to after ten minutes of playing, but which scared off many people. Combine this with the high difficulty of combat, especially in the beginning where a single second of carelessness could get you killed, and you get a lot of people who become frustrated and quit.
Nevertheless, the unforgiving combat managed to create a constant sense of dread when exploring the wilderness. When you gave the game a chance, it managed to immerse you into its superbly crafted world unlike any other and you'd find yourself exploring the wilderness and running from monsters the whole night long.
tl;dr: Gothic 2 was a great game, with strong design and a lot of love for detail, with many features that the Codex loves so much, such as Choices and Consequences and an incredibly high difficulty. If you've never played it, do so now, because you've missed the most interesting action RPG of the whole decade.
#2. Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn
Dragon Age (a game we mentioned little in our last article) was supposed to be the "spiritual successor" to BioWare's masterpiece, Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn. Some say it achieved even more, being the best RPG since Arcanum. Everyone else Others thought it failed miserably at that.
Anyway, BioWare trying to recreate the BG2 experience doesn't come as a surprise considering the success and acclaim BG2 gained them. It was, after all, the start of their unstoppable crusade to turn RPGs into emotionally engaging dating sims. BG2 pretty much defines the BioWare RPG experience. There's romance, annoying NPCs, more romance, more annoying NPCs, combat.
But there was even more:
Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn is an absolute masterpiece. If you are interested in AD&D or role-playing games whatsoever, then this game is a requirement to your collection. Hell, this game is a must-have if you are simply human. I will warn you, however, your expectations of what a good game really is will be redefined. You probably won't see another game quite like Baldur's Gate II until... well, until Neverwinter Nights.
You're probably shitting your pants - with hindsight - about the mentioning of NWN, but there's still some truth to it. BG2 had an amount of content and replayability you will hardly find in modern games. The storyline was good enough and while it was a pioneer of RTwP combat, it excelled at providing memorable and challenging encounters despite of it. The memory of winning the final Ascension fight (immediate 100 bonus points to Dave Gaider for making the Ascension mod for Throne of Bhaal) after 16 hours of trying to keep everyone alive in vain, all the while being riled up by the adrenaline pushing bhaalspawn battle music, isn't something I'd forget that easily. A genuine achievement after suffering frustration. Heck, there are whole sites dedicated to single combat encounters in BG2.
So long story slightly shorter, yes, BG2 is a must-play. Plus which games, except certain rogue-likes, let you kill this fucker?
#1. Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura
We'd better get this out of the way at the start: The combat is shit and the game's main-plot is a bit linear. Despite that, it was the sheer breadth and depth of choice in Arcanum (at least, more than what you normally get in an RPG) that made us pick this as our number #1 RPG that was released this decade that you really oughta play (if you haven't already that is).
Simply put, Arcanum is a role-playing game that allows you to at least reasonably play the role you choose in some way. You can use Magic (with its over-reliance on the "Harm" spell) or Technology as your primary combat approach or go for a bit of both (if you can work around the consequences). Focus on becoming a superior Technologist and you get to wander around the country-side with your own army of Automatons backing you up. Stick to magic instead and summon creatures to do your bidding or ignore both and simply use your persuasion skills to collect an army of NPC followers along your way... or of course, shun it all and go alone and maybe for some extra fun, even choose to do it as a big, dumb stupid brute.
As for your personal weapon of choice you get to take your pick of axes, swords, firearms and even some decent throwing weapons. Sadly, combat will be a necessity thanks to the game's "OH GOD LET'S JUST STUFF THIS DUNGEON FULL OF MONSTERS" design in some areas but it's really the awesome quests that make Arcanum a worthy Codex pick.
Set in a steam-punk world where Magic and Technology are clashing, it's your standard fantasy fare but with a nice unique twist. Akin to Morrowind, there's lots of stuff to do and a big world to explore but unlike Morrowind, you actually will have some choices to make and those choices will affect some of the things you will be able to do. There are also some really, really, really well-designed quests and an interesting host of characters to meet.
If you haven't played Arcanum yet, you can pick it up from GoG for a measly $5.99. While the game's WorldEd editor never quite took off with very few fan-made content modules actually being released, there have been some fan-made patches released (like most of Troika's games). We recommend you grab the High Resolution Patch (details here) along with the Unofficial Arcanum Patch, both of which were made by the same butthurt modder we like to call: Mr. Butthurt Dopey Face (he's had so many alts and name changes now that it's hard to keep up).
We're sure you'll enjoy Arcanum as much as we all have. We're also pretty sure you'll loathe the combat bits as much as we all have too.
RPG of the Decade - Your Choice
In our last article, we asked you to send in a nomination of your favourite RPG of the decade. Without further ado, here are the entries we received:
Wizardry 8 is great, so are BG2, IWD2 and Kotor, but I gotta go with Arcanum.
Arcanum. ARCANUM IZ TEH GRATEST RPG EVA. EVA!
To The Codexian Coxics,
This is an easy one. It has to be Bioware's Neverwinter Nights. While it's main single player campaign is simply 'above average' (which wouldn't even be in my top rpgs by itself) with a great expansion in HOTU; the entire package brings to computers what pnp has been doing for decades - the actual ability to do free form role-playing with the only limitation being what the dungeon master and players can come up with within, of course, the basic confines of the D&D rules. Even that can be altered a lot through the NWN toolset.
Most other RPGs - even the best ones when it comes to C&C, multiple solutions, etc. ala ARC or FO - ar elimited that you basically go through the same story/quests no matter what. With NWN, you can play the game for hundreds of hours and play through different stories with different characters with different creators. You can play with other PC parties,mmorpgs, single player campaigns (including recreations of past favorite D&D pnp campaigns), DM run campaigns. It is your choice if your campaign will be heavy on combat, heavy on dialogue, heavy on puzzles, heavy on C&C.
Bottom line is that NWN is the ultimate CRPG because it's the only true RPG to be found on the computer that actually succeeded in its goal unlike a couple of others that 'got there first' but completely mangled it.
So, yeah, NWN is the definitive RPG of the decade.
Game over, roofles, lalala.
Somewhere between Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn and Arcanum: of Steamworks and Magick Obscura.
To be honest it's hard to choose just 1 rpg, but if i had to it would have to be fallout (1/2 but not tactics or 3) and heres why.
It's the first game that went another direction, instead of dragons and goblins it went deathclaws and geckos, instead of swords and potions it went stimpacks and bazooka's.
The original open ended game where you could start at one point but go anywhere you feel (fallout 2 running straight to narvana and getting the good stuff) aswel as this building up npc relationships and having the freedom to be as good or as bad as you want to be (slaver, pornstar, jesus).
To conclude, it was a tight decision... But fallout just outweighs Torment as my rpg of the decade. (even thou it's slightly out of it) but if that isn't close enough, then planescape torment wins :D. (which I recommend to the codex to check out for hardcore pure rpg value (undead immortal guy wakes up covered in tattoo's and suffering from amnesia))
Man, that's a hard choice. There were some very standout titles this decade, each with its own excellence.
Since you include 2000, Deus Ex has to be high on my list. It's one of the rare games that I have installed on newer and newer machines and played through all over again every few years. I generally dislike shooters, but Deus Ex and the first Mass Effect have been such good RPGs that I've loved them anyway - and Deus Ex included so much cool stuff based on consipiracy theories - not too mention the eerie way in which Warren Spector's tale echoes the real-world events of the next year.
And this was the decade that brought us the KOTOR games, which showed that a pure RPG with no action mechanics at all could be cool and visually exciting. KOTOR 2 in particular showed careful thought about the characters and their interactions, filling the party with morally grey but variously believable and empathetic characters - though it was a real tragedy that it had to be shipped incomplete. In my mind making Mass Effect a true shooter was a giant step backward from the KOTOR series, even as the story and character freedom gained by getting rid of the licensed IP was a huge step forward.
And no hit list of the decade should fail to mention Dragon Age, which brought the character interaction and emotional involvement that Bioware does so well, to new heights. I don't think I've ever angsted much over a game decision before, but deciding to take Morrigan's offer so I could keep my promise to Leliana was very emotional for me.
Speaking of emotions, while I think the console JRPG format has pretty much reached the end of its limited appeal - If I want a book, I'll read a book, I don't want to play an uninteresting combat game to earn each chapter, thanks - I have to mention the "dreams" sequences in Lost Odyssey as a high point for the genre. The game itself was engaging and fun as nothing since Xenosaga I has been, too.
So it's a tough field to choose among. Forced to pick just one, I think I will, just barely, give the nod to KOTOR 2 as the best RPG of the decade.
There have been some very good RPGs in the last decade but for me the choice is very easy, Baldur's Gate 2. The game just had it all. Great story, great customization, great tactical combat, great characters, great long campaign and a good setting. The game just had more depth to it than anything else on the list in my opinion. Since I'm as much of a strategy gamer as an RPG gamer the party mechanism and tactics of combat I think is what really pushes this so high above the others for me. Also always had a soft spot for the D&D setting. Really the only negative is that the world could have been more open but I know that if they had done that they would have lost some of the details that made the game great.
Not only is this the best RPG of the decade but the best of all time for me. Some older games such as the Ultima games come close but were just weak in one area or another (Ultima for example had poor character customization and combat could have had more depth).
Morrowind - why do people keep saying Oblivion is better than this? Oblivion had stupid scaling, less interesting continent, less interesting story and added a bunch of silly simplicities (like better weapons always weighing more). Morrowind is the best open world RPG ever made, not Oblivion.
Vampire:Bloodlines - cool unique game
For me, based on the list of games presented, the best RPG of the decade would be Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.
First of all, I love everything Star Wars, so yes I am more than biased here.
Second, I have yet to finish playing lots of games. From the list, I count only 9 games that I have played and finished. I count 20 other games that I have started to play (and yet to finish the games or I just finished the demo and did not bother to buy the games). Among the 9 games I have finished, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic would be the best.
Third, regardless of my limited experience with RPGs, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is indeed a terrific game. Good and evil alignments, impressive NPCs, rich Star Wars atmosphere, HK-47's jokes (that never fail to make me laugh), great graphics, excellent combat systems, what more can you ask?
If I am to say the second best game of my choice, then it will be Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, but for the first place it will be Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.
Geneforge 1. The game has unique atmosphere, gameplay and themes, reminiscent to the original Fallout. Setting is, while not exactly original, a unique blend between sci-fi and fantasy. I particularly like the departure from the more cliche good/bad choises in favor of the more moral based ones with corresponding consequences. The lacking luster visual bring extremely detailed descriptions to the unique enviroments and monsters, or leave the more intricate stuff to one's imagination. And what is more fitting for an RPG?
Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines. Even though unfinished thanks to the retarded publisher and technically way below the average, it remains one of the best and most ambitious RPGs I've ever played.
Morrowind is my favorite game. It captured me early on, and still hasn't let go. I still find things to do and the large amount of quality mods ensures that I will keep on doing so. Most importantly, the writing isn't total shit, unlike Bethesda's more recent entries - the in-game books are actually readable, and the story is more nuanced then "zomg the bad guiz r takkin over tha world you (Mr. American) must defeet them!!"
To pick a game to nominate as the RPG of the decade, though, I'd have to say Arcanum. Why that instead of my favorite? Because game developers should have that as their biggest influence, rather than Fallout 3 (shit), Oblivion (shittier), or Halo (shittiest). Awesome setting, good writing, characters that are actually people you'd want to interact with, the kickass soundtrask just about everything was something developers should aspire to. Except for the ridiculous bugginess and clusterfuck of a real-time combat system.
In my opinion it was Arcanum.
Such a unique RPG setting integrating the late 19th century class struggle, religion and racism overtones with magic(k) vs technology antagonism. The main plot was constantly intriguing as were the side quests (the unsolvable Siamese skull conspiracy, the Stillwater Giant etc.).
You could help to settle labour disputes and help exploited half-orcs, save a girl from constant raping by helping her escape to amazon camp and lots of other good-guy acts.
In the same time, you could kill all the important NPCs and talk with their spirits instead, steal booze from gang members, desecrate ancient burial grounds and blast chickens with dynamite.
Comat-wise the vanilla game was unbalanced in favour of magic(k), but, hey, magicians couldn't make robots, flamethrowers and time bombs.
Af far as roleplaying goes - for me it doesn't get better than that.
Whilst I realise I am pushing the definition of decade just a little here - my favourite RPG remains ADOM. (I justify it through 1.0 being released this decade...)
It isn't quite as old as it looks - as it is a Roguelike and most roguelikes feature ASCII graphics. But unlike other roguelikes, it has a (fairly) believable world and a detailed mythology and story. I've been playing it for maybe 5 years and haven't got close to a win. But it is hands down the best roguelike, and my favourite RPG.
Deus ex, since it has the most engaging atmosphere, great action mechanics, story, character advancement and writing. All of these elements combined turned out the best gaming experience ever, and if you classify as an rpg, by default, its the best experience ever.
My pick is Arcanum. Probably the one RPG I've done most playthroughs of, just to try new options, new methods, new characters. Playing as a technologist is a hugely rewarding experience, and the game seems to always trick you into playing just a little more, like needing to play the next round in Civilization. Might have spent more time with Fallout 2, but Arcanum is just as massive, engaging, well-written and immersive. On top of that you get your C&C, original character system, an extremely interesting world to explore and and a true feeling of being in a living place that goes on for miles and miles. Bugs and combat are the obvious minus, but nothing that bothers me too much.
My pick is without a doubt Dungeon Lords. Most of the codex will likely select some boring rehashed bioware infantry engine shit like Balder's Gates, or perhaps Fallout 2, but these are very stale games for the aforementioned reasons that I will explain to you.
Firstly, Dungeon Lords is fresh, and made by renowned developer D.W. Bradley, maker of Wizardry 5-7 of which are certainly the best Wizardry games to hit worldwide shores here, 8 being a relatively weak sequel to good previous good installements of Wizardry franchise. Its fresh because of its very many different features of which a minimal amount of titles possess in these years, as most games are led by large marketers that do not allow innovation in today's games anymore.
Graphics in dungeon lords are perhaps lacking for console generation, but they are good for time period they came out (~2005). Gameplay and story, however, are through roofs. Dungeon lords features very unique never-before-seen caster system that is more than just right click of today's generation, and you had to combine various things to create new spells -- very unique. Many races and classes were available for the get-go, and combat was available against many seperate enemies of very interesting natures.
You can also do weapon combos via mouse movements, not unlike mouse gestures on Macs, and Black and White. Game has arching storylines and many diverse branches in different arcs.
RPG of the decade?
Since the decade started in 2001 (yeah, fuck you, too) that neatly eliminates BG2 from the possible list. Which in turn makes my choice quite easy: G2 - NotR
Because it seems so effortless. Just like Gothic it was intended as an action adventure, but nevertheless it blew most of the aRPG competition out of the water when it came to RPG elements. It was one of rather few sequels that actually managed to improve upon the prequel while retaining consistency and feel. It has great dialogue, NPCs and story (yes, I manage to completely ignore the Dragons *shannowmindtrick*). But the best parts are definately the melee combat and exploration.
Combat: The combat actually deserved the adjective "action" because it did not just consist of clicking fast or worse clicking fast and being able to pause and issue orders as in Diablo, Dungeon Siege, et al. Combat required skill and timing. The only drawback being that you could never hit multiple enemies simultaneously. The way skills affected combat style is also the best I've seen yet. From holding your weapon clumsily to becoming a weapons master. And the difference wasn't just graphical and damage wise it also changed speed and the timing required for combos. The better the character's skill was the easier it was to get the timing for combos right. (And the prettier the combos looked.)
Exploration: True open world exploration that is only limited by the player/character's skill and inventiveness. My fondest memory of any exploration danger vs reward scenario is my acquiring of the Drachenschneide, one of the best two-handed weapons in the game. I came across a cave in a none too dangerous area with two skeletons in it at a rather low character level. I managed to lure them out, one by one, and after some fiddling, dying and reloading I managed to put them to rest. With that feeling of success I explored some more, turned a corner and stood in front of 3 undead paladins who quickly made mincemeat out of me. After a lot more fiddling, dying and reloading I had to accept that I couldn't kill even a single one of those bastards... So I made an inventory of my possibilities and found 3 scrolls of smite evil in my inventory... Well, since I only had enough mana to use one at a time, the ensueing fight still put me on my toes but I persevered and found the Drachenschneide as a reward. It took another 3-5 level-ups before I had the strength to actually use it, but my, was that a sweet experience.
Honorable mentions in no particular order:
Mount & Blade: If only it were a full game and not just a combat simulator with some fluff tacked on.
Wizardry 8: If only there had been less filler combat.
ToEE: Less bugs, a more stable engine, a story, no Hommlet and most importantly better encounter design.
Incursion: Finish the game already!
For me it has got to be MotB.
It may very well be because I never really got into Arcanum, or because I never played whatever game 'X' you feel is best, but MotB is the best RPG i played this decade. I like the character creation, Love the story, setting and NPC's. Oh, and I think I'm one of the few that don't mind the engine or camera. On top of that, the quests were usually interesting and the incredibleness of the evil path was good enough to actually DEMAND a second playthrough, and not just a flip-flop at the end like in most other RPG's with this system.
Rpg of the decade?
NeverWinterNights 2: Mask of the Betrayer.
My favorite RPG for this decade was Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. There was just so much to love about this game: From the kick-ass introduction with Captain Picard, all the way to the fantastic and believable game world, I felt immersed in a game like never before. Oblivion perfectly captured the essence of RPG, which is running around on a horse killing stuff. There was that handy GPS that allowed me to find the action (hard and) fast, without roaming aimlessly and all the enemies were cool. Also, they were a decent challenge, not too easy but not too hard - I liked that because it made me feel like a true hero. The storyline was awesome to the max, with big fucking dragons and demons battling it out, plus I could join all these guilds and be the supreme ruler of all of them. I used to avoid RPGs like the plague because they were boring with stupid text and words, but Oblivion dragged the genre kicking and screaming to the next generation. It wasa extreme, awesome and looked great. 10/10!
Do I even need to motivate why I would pick Arcanum? Ignoring the sub-par combat mechanics it was a great game. With well written dialogue, with good quests, a well-defined world and people that reacted to you in a realistic way. And creating a character in it was just awesome.
I'm going with Morrowind. I've played it daily for about a year and must have racked well over 1000 hours in total, and it was just for the mod free xbox version (I didn't have and could not afford a half ass decent PC at the time so I bought an xbox to play it). I don't give a shit about choices and consequences as long as the story is good and I get to explore with as few restrictions as possible and Morrowind delivers on both fronts. Not to say that it doesn't have its problems (in particular, ES enchanters beat the living shit out of any other type of character, something that held true for Oblivion too and Oblivion doesn't even have an enchanting skill).
Wizardry 8 gets screwed again. :(
Don't worry baby, I still love you.
Azrael the cat:
For an on-topic post, I'm going to nominate Deus Ex. Not because it was the game I replayed the most out of all on this list, though it takes that title (admittedly, BG2 was ahead until I lost one of my disks). Not because it was the game I had most fun playing, though it takes that one as well. And not because it was the game that I 'appreciated' the most, or thought was the most intelligent or creative, or displayed the most developer brilliance: I'm not even sure Deus Ex would take those. And not because it was part of the short burst of games who briefly elevated gaming's scriptwriting, giving many of us hope that gaming could develop into an interactive artistic and narrative medium, as well as a series of fun mechanics. For those few games that carried it, the ability to convey an intelligent interactive narrative and themes, while still combining them with the humour and action needed to make them work in a game,was and still remains mindblowing. But their legacy hasn't been pretty. The intelligent writing has deserted us, but they left a generation of gamers for whom 'crpg' meant 'interactive story' and little else as core requirements of the genre. The interactive story took over from the game mechanics, just as those like myself had hoped, but instead of the artistic pieces we had naively hoped for, we received the 'Michael Bay of Gaming' storywriting as games like Mass Effect turned the western crpg into glorified third person shooters with dialogue and a dating sim.
I'm going to nominate Deus Ex because out of the games that were 'truly great' during the last decade, it represents the only one that could still conceivably produce a spiritual successor. Even if Arcanum was updated with the greatest turn-based combat of all time, together with a great real-time with pause alternative combat system, and stellar up to date graphics and marketing, I don't believe it could sell enough to be reform a stable mainstream genre. Games like Wizardry 8, BG2 and Arcanum - not to mention their more often more complex ancestors - were the products of many small steps of genre development. Gamers coming new to those products today would simply have too much to learn...at least for a generation of gamers who don't expect or want to 'learn a game' before they can play it well. Deus Ex, on the other hand, took baby steps away from a traditional FPS but did it brilliantly. Using very simple crpg mechanics, a highly intuitive skill/crpg system, efficient dialogue, it gave gamers the ability to make choices while still allowing a FPS gamer used to purely linear experiences to play it in a similar fashion and not feel like the game resented him/her for it.
Any gamer that has played FO3 could easily play Deus Ex. The same could probably be said for players with experience of Mass Effect. Both of those games did less with much greater complexity.
It's a negative nomination for largely pessimistic reasons, but it's probably the best hope for a new genre of great games. Because it could still work, without any dumbing down - you could even 'intelligent it up' for gamers now used to managing small squads while combing upgradable shooting and abilities. It's the only game on the list that shows you can make a game simple enough for today's audience, and it can be both a great game and a great seller.
Mass Effect 2.
Humanity has risen!:
I'm going to go with an unusual choice and pick Divine Divinity. I remember loading it and dismissing it as a gothic Diablo clone, but then I progressively got hooked into it and quickly I couldn't let go anymore. Larian simply succeeded in combining the best of Diablo's hack 'n slash mechanics and sandbox-style gameplay and exploration, making the end product an accomplished, mindless slasher as well as a full-fledged, free-roaming RPG. The loot in it was my favorite in any game I've ever played, and the interface was extremely elegant and simple to use. Other games have had deeper combat, and better plots, but as far as pure fun factor and personality are concerned, DivDiv is king.
As soon as you leave the initial village it's a rollercoaster ride, and every new NPC encounter is memorable. Every location has its own story, and the quests are all extremely imaginative and unique. The game doesn't take itself seriously in the slightest, and everywhere you go Larian is poking fun as the typical high fantasy tropes, which makes it a breath of fresh air compared to all the other tolkienesque romps. And it's absolutely packed with content, with more than 120+ hours of extremely solid gaming.
Add to this one of the most atmospheric, varied and original game soundtracks that has ever been made, and you get a game that's like no other. It turned me into a Larian fanboy for life.
Paula Tormeson IV:
Arcanum, good for what it is, was just the old stuff extended over a larger area, like Fallout that received nerve damage and grew unnaturally big. And NWN was a MMORPG that occasionally larped a single-player game. I would not call that innovative either. The last decade was indeed incredibly bland and dull, if your standard is what-could-have-been instead of what came before, although it was a pretty feeble period however you look at it.
The only RPG that was something seriously new was Gothic 2: Night of the Raven, and even though it was the only RPG that was something seriously new, most RPG gamers did not notice that it was, since the herald of it, Gothic 2, was superficially the same thing, and, in turn, looked somewhat similar to its prequel, Gothic.
The whole development was like a man taking his first step on the dark moon's surface, but you had seen many steps taken before, and it was likely, albeit wrong, that you would see the moon-step as just another step too. What really happened was that we had a genre which focused on travel quests ("find this item", "deliver that note", "talk to Paul on the other side of X"), but did not have interesting travel. Night of the Raven made travel interesting, fun, and CHALLENGING.
In this game, you don't seek out monsters for easy xp on your messenger trip to a friendly neighbouring castle — the monsters seek YOU out, and you will want to avoid them if your life means anything to you. That's how I experienced it, anyway.
My top 5:
Baldur's Gate 2 - most well-rounded RPG I've ever played
Arcanum - C&C at its finest + interesting setting + deep character creation system
Morrowind - massive sandbox world with great atmosphere and deep lore, and just lots of stuff to see and do
Mask of the Betrayer - fantastic story/setting/characters + plenty of C&C
Icewind Dale - great combat, very replayable, and excellent presentation (art design, music, voice acting etc.)
I haven't played Wizardry 8, and I'm not considering hybrids like Deus Ex.
The best RPG of the decade is BG2 for me. Sure, there are rpgs with better combat, more c&c, better world exploration and better story. But there is no rpg that combines all this things together as flawless as BG2. The world was detailed, enemies had a reason to be where they were, lots of different places etc. and basically the ultimate Forgotten Realms experience. It was an old-school partybased rpg up to date to the modern times. Wizardry 8 would have been similar good but the ridiculous number of fights against 100 monsters every 2 steps ruined the experience totally.
The second place is Gothic for me. Yeah right, Gothic not Gothic 2. The atmosphere and scope of Gothic 1 was perfect for a 3D game. It was more an action-adventure with some rpg-stats and less a rpg for me but the rpg-elements were well done (exploration, getting better, c&c).
The atmosphere was unique and reminded me a lot of the movie Escape from New York transferred in a fantasy setting.
Gothic 2 expanded the rpg aspects but the setting was a bit less believable. The whole island was just fourfold the size of the mine valley with just one city and a couple of huts.
The third place is Morrowind for me. A huge strange island to explore with lots of interesting lore and factions. It was easily a cheap but equal replacement for a cultural holiday trip for me Shocked
This took a while to think about. The article was great, the posts here were good (up until Drog started up his diva/prima donna bullshit) and now I guess I'll add my own entry to the list.
It seems that I almost have some kind of subconscious push to say Arcanum, but the truth is that it is not my RPG of the decade despite being one of the best RPGs I have ever played - but for all its glory, splendor and style, much of it failed to capture me. Maybe it was because dialog was entirely floating text or because every combat encounter was a snore for anyone who had even a passing level of experience with RPGs, but I just can't bring myself to name it the game of the decade. In many ways I'm glad, because Arcanum really is somewhat of a no-brainer as a pick for RPG of the decade.
A game however that I can and want to give this respect to is Gothic 2 (NotR included, but even without it...). A wonderful living world with plenty of exploration, a combat system that was as dependent on your skill as it was on your character's build, proper choices and consequences, hidden quests and secrets, a very lush populated environment with scenery that still puts modern games to shame, and wonderful quest design. It also featured the best fucking expansion pack ever, and despite the shoddy stitching on the VO for some of the expansions added lines, it had not only another great mini world to explore but involved a huge tie-in with the original game and offered amazing challenge and reason to replay. Pretty much EXACTLY what an expansion should do, and it did it in spades. If not for the bugs, I'd say it is almost perfect... but I never had any issues with bugs, so I will say it. It is almost perfect, and the reason I say 'almost' is because our local philosopher and scholar Volourn schooled me hard that one time about how nothing can be perfect (I think it was something like "ffs moran roo-nothing is perfect-fles" or so. I have difficulty understanding his language at times, so forgive me for the bad translation.)
So yeah, I agree with some of the others that Gothic 2 was pretty much the RPG of the decade.
Annie is right.
Persona 4 is gaming excellence and several cuts above the typical angsty cardboard cut-out teenie drama typical of JRPGs thanks to the wonderful localization by Atlus, excellent writing and solid voice acting. This game has some of the most NATURAL and mature dialogue of ANY RPG.
Not to say it doesn't drop the ball and get appropriately goofy (it IS a JRPG after all) but this is once in a while as opposed to most of the time.
The soundtrack and art design also stand out and though the core IS a dungeon crawler, it is NO cakewalk - the challenge level stays consistent and the skill system works.
In essence, Persona 4 is what JRPGs should strive for.
But speaking of strictly PC RPGs, I'd say my RPGs of the decade are:
Baldur's Gate 2
Love them all for different reasons. If I had to pick one it would be Baldur's Gate 2 with Arcanum close behind.
But fuck, Tim Cain picked Oblivions??? I'm shocked.
My vote goes to Deus Ex.
While in itself relatively light on role-playing elements, it set an example for how the FPS and RPG genres could be blended successfully. It demonstrated that character skill and player skill can co-exist and make for compelling gameplay. Deus Ex had its share of flaws, but not such as would ruin the overall experience. It might have been a bit too long, but unlike too many other titles, it didn't feel unfinished, unbalanced or rushed out of the door. The only game to follow a similar model while adding more role-playing elements (rather than eliminating them) to the mix was Bloodlines. Unfortunately, only the first half or so actually lived up to the older game's legacy.
Other games that I thought did especially stand out, for different reasons, are (in chronological order): Baldur's Gate II, Gothic, Morrowind, Bloodlines. Arcanum, while merely good, was a blueprint for a terrific game and is admirable for its ambition alone.
RPG of the Decade: Jagged Alliance 2
Runner up: Knights of the Chalice
Third: Silent Storm/SS: Sentinels
Hmm that might get me in trouble... I'll disqualify JA2 and SS by labeling them as "tactics" games. I'll also disqualify roguelikes as their own genre.
RPG of the Decade: Knights of the Chalice
Excellent AI, excellent encounter design, classic D&D character development, extremely focused with little wasted time, kept even the incredibly bitter and cynical adult version of myself which hates everything mesmerized throughout. Had some dungeons where I was really struggling to use/conserve all my resources to survive, which is sorely needed in CRPGs to make the dungeons have at least a little bit of tension.
Although to be fair, the early game was probably a lot more fun for me than it will be for most people as the campfire in the Orc fort was originally placed in a hard to notice area and I missed it and had to wait until after the boss to rest, making the dungeon much more challenging and enjoyable than it would otherwise have been. Also eventually you figure out crafting ruins the resource conservation/survival element, but the battles can still carry it, these are some of the best battles ever put into a CRPG.
Runner up: Baldur's Gate 2
Some ridiculously high number of hours of B - C+ level D&D combat and adventuring, plus nice character development. Sure, the combat system isn't exceedingly tactical, but I can name 50 RPGs with worse combat, this combat was also a far cry from say KOTR, you still had to use tactics for some encounters and I imagine most people died a bit first time through. They say quantity has a quality of it's own, I'm not sure that's always true, as 100 hours of D level content sounds like hell to me. But this game had both decent quality and ridiculous quantity, so it was great back then although my patience for it would be lower today I'm sure.
Third: Icewind Dale 1
Better atmosphere than BG2, full party was a big plus too, but ultimately not as memorable encounters and suffered from certain problems like NPC groups getting split apart on pulls.
A proper P&P system with thousands of hours of playtesting adapted to a CRPG just has a much better chance of having good mechanics, compared to something made up from whole cloth by non specialists in a couple of months. (Sir Tech did ok with making up systems though.)
Honorable Mention: Odium
Nice combat system, bonus points for the extremely limited resources early on, creating a need to struggle to conserve resources, not much wasted time. Sadly limited resources do not last.
DISHONORABLE mention (bad)
All Action "RPGs" and those people who put them on RPG of the decade lists.
Arcanum - due to massive gameplay and character development failures, we've been over this one ad nauseum
Wizardry 8 - Speed patch made it almost playable, awesome character development, but ruined by multiple 15- 30 min combat with some randomly generated alligators or something in order to get anywhere, Tried it twice, got bored twice.
TOEE - It's like KOTC with awful encounter design, the most boring town in any RPG, and an extremely poor difficulty curve. Tried it twice, got bored twice. What a waste, they make that awesome engine then have like one fun battle in the first 5 hours (the main moat house room).
Pool of Radiance 2 - Speed patch made it almost playable, but combat is almost repetitive and boring as Wizardry 8, although at least they're not random battles. Better battles than Wizardry 8, but almost no character development at all. Tried it twice, got bored twice.
Wizardry 8 would be my pick. There's a lot of good games there, and I've beaten a handful of them, but nothing compelled me to play it through to completion like Wiz 8 did.
For those who were counting:
- Arcanum (7)
- Baldur's Gate 2 (4)
- Gothic 2: Night of the Raven (3)
- Deus Ex (3)
- Wizardry 8 (2)
And in alphabetical order there were mentions of: ADOM, Divine Divinity, Dungeon Lords (joke nomination), Oblivion, Geneforge, Knights of the Chalice, Mass Effect 2 (not a real nomination), Morrowind, Neverwinter Nights, Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines and some ass who picked Fallout even though it wasn't even released this decade.
For our competition, all the names of those above were entered into a hat and at random, we drew three winners:
- stony3k (Arcanum)
- Ronald Abadi (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic)
- Dandelion (Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines)
They'll each be getting a free game of their choice from Good Old Games.