Remembering the last generation: The best RPG’s
The festive period is well and truly underway and it’s almost time to say goodbye to 2013, a year of real significance particularly for us gamers as it officially marks the beginning of the next generation. But whilst we have a lot of gaming related goodness awaiting us in the new year and beyond, let’s spare a thought and take a look back at some of the great memories that the last eight years provided us with. For the next few weeks, we’ll be rounding up our favourite games from the previous eight years. This week we reflected on the best RPG’s from the last generation.
Imran’s choice: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Looking back, the last generation has really spoilt us in the RPG department, with a whole heap of stellar titles for adventure fans to sink their teeth into. But if I had to go for a single title, it would have to be The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Sure, the early console versions were buggy and plagued with inconsistent frame rates and annoying glitches, but Skyrim in its current form on the PC, packed with mods, is as close as you can get to the perfect role-playing experience. But what makes it a truly great game is that it does something very few other RPG’s do. Skyrim doesn’t just emulate an adventure, it feels like one as a result of the time commitment and your progress in the game. Other titles bettered Skyrim in story and narrative, but whereas those games emulated choice and freedom but still ultimately lead you down the same road, Skyrim gave gamers the freedom to go out and carve their own adventures, making it a unique and personal experience for every player. And when it looks this good (at least on the PC version) and boasts a world so vast, it’s difficult not to just spend hours upon hours navigating mountain tops and losing yourself to its richly detailed world never knowing what you might discover next. Simply put, Skyrim is an epic tailor-made adventure, and at the end of the day isn’t that the whole point of Role-playing games?
Honourable mentions: The Witcher 2, Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age: Origins
Jamie’s choice: The Witcher 2
I’m not familiar with the Polish novels the game is based on, but part of the joy of playing through The Witcher 2’s story is unravelling and understanding its world, one which feels much closer in tone to George R.R. Martin than J.R.R. Tolkien. One of things I love about The Witcher 2 (and there are many) is the way it handles morality, choice and consequences. We’re spared the devil horns or halo, the goodie paragon and douchebag renegade and offered something far more nuanced. In Geralt’s world the choices of good or bad don’t exist, life is more complicated than that. Instead of a red and blue bar that is determined by how much charity you give or how many innocents you slaughter, The Witcher 2 gives your decision proper weight and meaning. Helping one character instead of another, doesn’t just replace them with someone else with the same lines, it literally splits the story in half and gives the player a completely different perspective on the game’s events, making replayability not just fun, but essential for getting the whole picture. The Witcher 2 managed to pull off that incredibly difficult balancing act of being accessible, whilst still maintaining its traditional RPG elements. These, combined with deep and challenging combat are just a few of the reasons why The Witcher 2 is not just one of the best RPGs from the last generation, but one of the best games too.
Honourable mentions: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Mass Effect 2, Fallout 3
Neil’s choice: Fallout 3
The last generation saw many an RPG filled with fantasy settings and mythological creatures, but Bethesda Softworks (of Elder Scrolls fame) stepped out of the shadow of dragons and the medieval ages, and proceeded to revive the cult series Fallout by bringing it into the HD generation, resulting in the marvel that is Fallout 3. In a bleak future where select members of the population were chosen to take refuge in underground “cities” called Vaults, you live out your youth under the one true constant in your life – your dad (who, coincidentally, is voiced by Liam freakin’ Neeson). However, he escapes the vault, and you make it your mission to track him down, as you follow in his footsteps. Upon your escape, you are blinded by natural light, and your eyes readjust to the real world – a real, barren and hostile wasteland. Set in the remains of Washington D.C., the wasteland is both fantastic and eerie to traverse. Bethesda’s living, breathing world allows you to meet a multitude of realistic characters with varying life-or-death situations, as you’ll soon find yourself having to make choices based on your own perception of morality; of humanity’s worth. Ultimately, the decision is entirely yours to become a figure of hope for the people, or to become an agent of evil and succumb to the vices of the Capital Wasteland. In recent times, RPGs from the West have seemed to gain the upper hand against the once untouchable JRPGs, and Fallout 3 is a prime example of this triumph. A true post-apocalyptic simulation, Fallout 3 is rightfully my RPG of this generation – and now one of my most treasured gaming experiences of all time.
Honourable mentions: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, New Vegas, Final Fantasy XIII
Dan’s Choice: Mass Effect 2
This generation we’ve been given a plethora of RPGs to get our hands on. Everything from Xenoblade Chronicles to Fallout 3 gave us amazing choice, but my best RPG of the past eight years has to be Mass Effect 2. A lot of you might be thinking why I didn’t pick the first one, which I do believe is an amazing game, but Mass Effect 2 was the game that really got me into the series. From the start where the SSV Normandy gets attacked by the Collector ship to the rebuilding of Commander Shepard and beyond, you go through an emotional story of good, evil or whatever you choose to be. And the game only gave out what you put into it. If you were someone who tried to cut corners and leave out the team missions where you build bonds with every individual member, the story could go several different ways. Very few sequels manage to top their predecessors, but Mass Effect 2 managed to improve on Mass Effect 1 in almost every single way, most notably improving the combat system to a more action orientated Gears of War style. It takes you all the way through the ups and downs of the quest to save the world, and that to me is the perfect way to escape with an RPG.
Honourable Mentions: Fallout 3, Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, Mass Effect
Bernie’s choice: Dragon Age Origins
Dragon Age: Origins did not really bring anything new to the table. What it did, however, was take what made Western Role-playing games fun and turned it past eleven. One could lodge criticism that WRPGs barely had convincing, engaging stories in contrast to the rich lore that Japanese counterparts like Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger had. Perhaps it was because while JRPGs provided you with a pre-made protagonist with his own background, it was up to the player to decide who his character was in a WRPG. What made Dragon Age: Origins so special was the fact that, the story would vary greatly depending on the character that the player made. Each character had a unique origin story, whereby the player would not only get to know the rich world of Thedas, but also his own role in it. Even as the origin story gives way to the general story, the player’s origin story is still felt profusely throughout the game. As a human noble, one might find a more personal stake in seeing Arl Howe, who betrayed his family, pay for his crimes. While other games like Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect had a clear morality chart, Dragon Age excluded it, instead relegating morality to approval ratings from party members, emphasising the fact that it’s going to be hard to please everyone. The lack of a morality system also brings up the fact that the player character will have to make some extremely tough decisions throughout his journey to save Ferelden from the Blight. Dragon Age introduced a whole new world, and while it might seem overwhelming at first, the way it told its story really grabbed the player. While the same cannot be said of its sequel, here’s hoping to another good effort with Dragon Age: Inquisition.
Honourable Mentions: Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones, Neverwinter Nights 2, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Ben’s choice: Xenoblade Chronicles
Xenoblade Chronicles is by far my favourite RPG of the last generation. Alone, the stunning vistas and detailed characters make the game an instant classic. There is nothing better than exploring Gaur Plain for the first time, only for your level 10 characters to run into a giant level 99 ape like beast, which makes you turn tail and run for all your worth. All this while other various smaller beasts run around you, sometimes trying to take you on, other times running away themselves. The world really feels alive, a living breathing universe for you to explore (did I mention that that universe is made out of the frozen bodies of two giant Gods? Awesome). Add to this a brilliant symphony of Gypsy Kings style percussion and some brilliant drops of classical strings, and you have a perfect background to the game. It’s more than just the world though; the gameplay and story are both engaging and offer the player a variety of options. The fights are a combination or real time strategy and tactical, ordering other computer controlled characters around the battle while waiting for your energy to restore so you can attack again. With a choice of seven playable characters all with very different styles, weapons and armour (all of which you can personalise with various gem stones! Again: awesome!) there are a myriad of options. I won’t go into too much of the story but it’s an excellent JRPG style tale and let’s just say those Gods – who make up the world you are running around – are more than just a backdrop.
Honourable mentions: Fire Emblem: Awakening,The World Ends With You, Mass Effect 2.
So there you have it. Let us know in the comments section below if you agree/disagree with our choices and which RPG games you loved most from the last eight years. Next week we’ll be looking at our favourite FPS games from the last generation so watch out for that!