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2010: The Year in Review

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2010: The Year in Review

Editorial - posted by DarkUnderlord on Thu 27 January 2011, 01:09:34

Tags: The Year in Review

<h2>Start with a bang.
If 2009 was the year stuff didn't happen, then 2010 is perhaps as good as it gets to the year stuff did happen. Sort-of. The year opened with a bang as BioWare released Mass Effect 2, the sequel to their previous space romance simulator Mass Effect. It was a design goal right from the start for you to be able to continue with your Mass Effect save games into Mass Effect 2. What remained to be seen was how BioWare would overcome the problem of finishing the first game with an awesome character capable of kicking ass and chewing space-gum - and yet still allow you to level-up your stats in the sequel. The answer of course, was an ingenious and revolutionary system that...
... who am I kidding? You started off dead. Yes, that game which you played so valiantly through in order to successfully defeat the <span style="text-decoration: line-through;">Rapists</span> evil space robots was a bit of an accident. It turns out Commander X-TREME™ is actually a combat douche who's easily overcome in an ambush... only when you aren't controlling him of course. Not to worry! Friendly space aliens resurrect you, allowing you the opportunity to conveniently re-assign skills and alter your appearance as you wish. Choices and consequences sure are fun.
This also means that the small stuff like the amount of money you had also don't carry over. You only get a bonus based on whether or not you got enough to trigger the "rich" flag or not. More importantly however, is how the decisions you made in the original affect the sequel. Who did you let live and die? Who did you decide should take control? How do these decisions affect the sequel? In true BioWare fashion, none of this really means anything either, other than how high your Respect-O-Meter is in some circumstances, who gets a scholarship named after them and how many e-mails you get. Oh but with the one exception of course, that your love interest is carried over too. How sweet.
Now, at the end of Mass Effect 2, Commander Action Boots can die as well - depending on how you play. Will he be resurrected in the third and final sequel? No, that would be too easy. BioWare have declared that your death at the end of #2 is the normal everyday "dead" kind of death that leaves you, well, dead. If you want into Mass Effect 3 you either start a new Commander Growly Face or play #2 again until you get a save-game that has you survive. There's no word yet on how BioWare intend to force a character re-balance on you for the third. Maybe you eat a poisonous potato, causing a stroke which forces you to re-learn everything in rehab? Here's hoping. Whatever the case, BioWare have promised "more RPG bits" and "less shooty bits". Here's hoping. Oh wait, I already said that.
<h2>Here be Dragons.
The Dragon theme of 2009 continued in 2010 with two expansions and a prequel. Drakensang: The River of Time was first off the mark. The reviews aren't bad, it's just a pity the company went bankrupt and was bought out by guys who make online browser games. The curse of the RPG-makers strikes again!
The expansions we were graced with were Dragon Age: Origins' "Awakening" and Divinity II's "Flames of Vengeance". We actually do have a review copy of FoV and I'll be playing that and shooting up a review sometime soon. Honest. No doubt I'll be complaining about the lack of Dragon sequences and quest compass like the other retards. Awakening meanwhile, is pretty much what you'd expect. That is, more Dragon Age.
Dragon games will continue in 2011 with Dragon Age 2 promising to be something awesome and of course, Drakensang 3: The Browser Game. Divinity 3 has also been confirmed but no word yet on a release date. Probably sometime after Larian Studios are bought out by a porn studio and the game is turned into Divinity 3: Harder & Faster.

<h2>It's an indie world in which we live.
In the Official RPG Codex 2010 Games List™, indie games out-number entries from major developers this year. It's not surprising given all the major RPG developers fall over and die as soon as they make anything remotely interesting, leaving us with little other than BioWarian romance simulators (but in a variety of different settings) and Obsidian's... Well, we'll get to Obsidian later.
Spiderweb Software (aka the one man show that is Jeff Vogel) did it again with the release of Avernum 6. It's like Avernum's 1 thru 5 only with a 6 on the end. However it also marks the end of an era as Jeff is in the midst of re-making his engine, crafting all-new systems and promising to make an all-new series that will be "the most attractive" he's released but with all the good stuff that keeps his fans clamouring for more. I guess all of that means it'll be like Avernum's 1 thru 6 only in 32-bit colour.
Speaking of 6's, a fan project that has been long in the making also saw its release in 2010. The Ultima 6 Project saw its version 1.0 birth. The only down-side is its a mod for Dungeon Siege. RPGWatch liked it though.
And if you like Diablo, then you might want to sus out Din's Curse, from Soldak Entertainment (if only their graphics guys could speak to Vogel). Unlike Diablo though, it features dynamic quests that change over time. Leave that small group of monsters alone and they WILL grow up to destroy town. There's even an expansion out now.
On the minor indie front 2010 also saw Desktop Dungeons 0.15, Grotesque Tactics: Evil Heroes (a turn-based strategy RPG parody), Winter Voices (also turn-based but one which has no love) and Mount & Blade: Warband (which is like Mount & Blade only with... erm... uhh... well it's Mount & Blade).
Last but not least, 2010 also saw the release of Eschalon: Book II. Unfortunately it doesn't reach far above being "a nifty little game" according to Elwro and as we all know, Elwro is always right. Except for those times when he's wrong. You can download the demo and try for yourself if you disagree.
Regardless, it once again looks like the future of the RPG industry rests in the hands of a small group of people with too much time on their hands - and an interest in risking bankruptcy.
<h2>Mainstream Fail.
When indies make a game, their "success" can be lauded even if the graphics are shit, the gameplay is overly dependent on a single enjoyable aspect and the story could be better. In some cases, indies can be praised simply for finally being released or for only doing one thing really, really well (such as Mount & Blade's combat). Mainstream titles however, are granted no mercy.
Their graphics must shine, worthy of their AAA budget, the story needs to be good and the gameplay absolutely must be superb, in every area. Any singular aspect which fails can bring a AAA title down to being not just merely a BB but an out-right F-. Perhaps that's why Obsidian Entertainment's Alpha Protocol received no love?
Alpha LoloFAIL was going to be awesome. It was an RPG through and through but not just your standard fantasy-fare with +1 Vorpal Swords of Beheading and Hawt Sexy Chainmal of Romance++. No, Alpha Popamole was going to be based in a deep and intriguing spy-world. Where you, Mr. Spy, could choose your approach through missions with consequences that would affect who gave you information, what sort of quests opened up and how the game unfolded. Inspired by the three J.B's, you could be a suave James Bond and take your missions shaken, not stirred. Stealth through them like Jason Bourne (or did Jason Bourne explode through them?) or simply interrogate the fuck out of everything that moves Jack Bauer-style.
At least, as always, that was the plan. What with all the dark epic gritty redefining of RPGs for teh kiddies, like most grand plans when it came to fruition, it seems a lot of it got lost along the way. After the hoo-ha last year in some leaked minutes that "Mass Effect felt more RPG" than the much vaunted Alpha Turd, Obsidian would have to deliver.
And deliver they did.
Delivered that is:
Needless to say, it was far from perfect. But still, some people like it. If it was an indie game, perhaps it would've been praised highly for daring to aim for something better and still providing something fun? But no, it's a mainstream AAA title. We expect better. Our standards are higher for those.
Still aren't sure about Alpha Brotocol? Read and cast judgement yourself.
... and where would we be speaking about 2010's failures without mentioning Gothic 4: Arcania? Yes, 2010 was the year JoWood Entertainment learned the valuable lesson that just because you call something something, doesn't mean it is. For those that don't know the story, the Gothic series are a bunch of much lauded RPGs here on the Codex. Made by Piranha Bytes the series has garnered praise and acclaim over the years.
However, Gothic 4 was not to be developed by Piranha Bytes - the series creators. For some reason unbeknown (probably because of some bad Gothic 3 reviews and a poorly received expansion), JoWood (the publishers that owned the IP) decided to give it to a bunch of dickheads so that they could fuck it up completely. Piranha Bytes went on to release Risen in 2009 - with much love -  while Arcania came out this year to... a lot less praise. Sadly, our official review copy of Arcania never arrived but Darth Roxor still managed to give the game a proper run-down. He didn't like it so much.
<h2>War... War never changes.
War may never change but it seems that Fallout does. The Fallout series started in 1997 as an isometric turn-based RPG from Interplay that received a lot of acclaim for its choices, consequences and many varied ways of playing through the main quest. It was followed-up with an equally enjoyable sequel a short 10 months later.
... and then something weird happened. Has anybody ever asked to play Quake the House Building Simulator or Doom the Management Sim? No. Yet why is it that when it comes to RPGs, the better they are, the more likely they are to be turned into an FPS or some kind of action game? We saw it when the turn-based strategy series X-Com became a failed FPS and then a failed real-time combat game and it's precisely what happened to Fallout.
Fallout's two brilliant RPGs were followed with not a third brilliant RPG but some-kind of tactical game in Fallout Tactics. At least it still had a turn-based option but things only went down-hill from there. Interplay was originally bought out by a weird French man who tried to sell it repeatedly and yet, despite his original company failing, Interplay lived on. Through-out this time we had another Fallout game released in Brotherhood of Steel (an action game we won't dare go into) only to then see the Fallout license sold, or sort-of sold, to Bethesda, with Interplay holding onto the rights to develop a Fallout MMO.
Despite the apparent confusion, Bethesda managed to release <span style="text-decoration: line-through;">Fallout 3</span> Oblivion with Guns, garnering a few game of the year awards along the way. 6 years later though, and Interplay and Bethesda are fighting it out in court over who owns what, who's allowed to do what and what is it exactly that defines a "Fallout" game? It would seem Fallout is cursed.
Yet none of that stopped Bethesda licensing out Fallout to Obsidian Entertainment <sup>[Editor's Note: Technically Bethesda "hired" Obsidian to work on Fallout as out-sourced developers.]</sup> so they could have a shot at making their own Fallout game, Fallout: New Vegas. As most <sup>[Editor's Note: Isn't it only 2, or possibly 3?]</sup> of the original developers of Fallout worked there it was almost as if Fallout was coming home. Almost. It was even eerily similar to an April Fools joke we made in 2005. It remained to be seen - with this complete clusterfuck of licensing deals, lawyers, bad sequels and dead companies to fight through - whether Obsidian would actually be able to make a decent Fallout game.
In the end, they did - or at least they made the best of Oblivion with Guns that they could. With Chris Avellone working his writing magic <sup>[Editor's Note: I think the more important thing is that when writing about New Vegas' writing, you mention the Lead Writer was one John Gonzalez. And he was also the "Creative Design Lead". I think it's this guy who should get more credit.</sup><sup>]</sup>, Mark Morgan on the music <sup>[Editor's Note: Mark Morgan didn't actually work on FNV. They just re-used some of his old Fallout songs in parts.]</sup> and the project being lead by none other than the Josh Eric Sawyer <sup>[Editor's Note: Sawyer never worked on any of the previous Fallouts. Shouldn't we just re-write this part and say FNV was created by an entirely new group of people? It's a bit like Obsidian hiring the janitor who cleaned up after the Fallout gold party and then saying "Look! Original guys from Fallout are on the team!"]</sup> - the man who in 2004 predicted:
<p style="padding-left: 30px;">15. Where do you see computer RPGs going? Straight to hell. There are very few companies making high-profile PC RPGs these days. Troika is one of the last pure PC RPG developer in the U.S. that I can think of. European companies seem to be one of the only bastions of hope. There are exceptions, of course, but I just don’t see a lot of buzz for anything new these days. I predict that we may go through another dry spell, followed by a new wave once someone realizes that no one is making any high-profile PC RPGs.
It would seem that high-profile RPGs are in the money now and the new wave is upon us. And who do we have to thank for this? Bethesda. Fucking Bethesda Softworks. The guys who we blame for dumbing this RPG shit down in the first place.
Fuck you Bethesda.
<h2>Looking forward.</h2>
It is therefore fitting that the high profile RPG of 2011 will no doubt be Bethesda's own Elder Scrolls V: Rimjob. Scheduled for release on 11.11.11, they're promising a new engine and... not much else other than yet more dumbed down skills. It's guaranteed to make Bethesda even more money which they can spend fighting with Interplay over the Fallout license.
We're also expecting the conclusion of the Mass Effect series with Mass Effect 3 and the continuation of the Dragon Age saga with Dragon Age 2. Once again, RPG developers show that sequels are where the action is at.
Normally I'd now lament how much of a shitty 2011 it was shaping up to be except that...
Thursday is coming.
<h2>Appendix: Official RPG Codex 2010 Games List™</h2>
For those who prefer bullet points, here is The List™ of games we recognise as RPGs that were released in 2010:

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