The year (or world, perhaps) that is just about to end has been a fairly good one for the old RPG – there have been some stand-out AAA titles, some excellent indies and a few great sleeper hits as well. The following, in no particular order are my picks of the 2012 releases.
Best Narrative RPG
There is really only one possible choice for best narrative RPG this year, and it’s a choice that is all but guaranteed to get someone’s knickers in a twist. Mass Effect 3 was always going to be a contentious game. As the last in a trilogy, any small flaw could and would be blown out of all proportion, and any narrative misstep, either real or imaginary would be the metaphorical “slap in the face” that people on gaming forums are so often the victims of.
Some people hated the ending, and more power to them if they did. Everyone has the right to their opinion, even if that opinion is wrong.
The way I see it, the entirety of Mass Effect 3 was the ending of the series. It was essentially a series of goodbyes, a series of encounters with individuals important to Shepard, giving the player the chance to spend a little more time with their favourites and say farewell to each of them individually.
The climax may have been a little muddled, but as a culmination of the multi-year mission to save the galaxy from an alien intelligence bent on wiping out advanced civilisation, I thought it worked a treat.
Best Action RPG
2012 has been a busy year for action RPGs, with Diablo III, Torchlight II, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and The Binding of Isaac: Wrath of the Lamb monopolising a hell of a lot of my time. No matter how good they are, none of these games are my pick for action RPG of 2012.
I’m going to cheat here and mention two games that exist within the same kind of game space but are polar opposites. Borderlands 2 and Dark Souls: Prepare to Die are both excellent action RPGs but have entirely different approaches. Borderlands 2 is all about fast paced action, loot, questing and levelling, whereas Dark Souls is about a measured approach, careful, timed combat, learning from mistakes and the careful hoarding and spending of the eponymous currency/experience system, souls.
Best Indie RPG
It has been a good year for indies, with Spiderweb Software releasing their best Avernum to date, FTL turning the Roguelike on its head by placing the player in the dual roles of captain and ship instead of adventurer, Torchlight II effortlessly showing up the far higher budgeted Diablo III and Half Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax Ultimate Boy both parodied and paid tribute to old fashioned JRPGs in 30 second chunks.
Despite all the competition my favourite indie RPG of the year, and one of my favourite games of the year is Legend of Grimrock, the painfully difficult, relentlessly old-school first person dungeon crawler that had me reminiscing about Bard’s Tale, Wizardry, and Eye of the Beholder within minutes of booting it up.
I have a friend who worked for Funcom as a mission designer and dialogue writer, so I had a fairly constant drip feed of information about The Secret World and how muddled the project was looking. I’d been looking forward to the game since it was first announced, so having some fairly negative insider information kind of flattened any enthusiasm I may have had. Said enthusiasm was further flattened when Funcom laid of half its staff part way through development, then laid off more again just before release. The final nail in the coffin came when I spent some time in the horribly unpolished, buggy and unstable beta.
When I was called upon to actually review the final game my dread knew no bounds — but somehow, miraculously, the final product turned out to be really quite excellent, featuring a great skill system, some truly fantastic quests and a bunch of really enjoyable dungeons. The Secret World has just gone free to play, so if you’re looking for something pleasantly different in the RPG/MMO space, you really have no excuse not to check it out.
What are your picks for the year? Let us know in the comments.