The Great Video Game Debate, Take 7: Role Playing Games
Well, kids, it's time for the final installment of Soul Kerfuffle, LastBestAngryMan, and my little running debate on the best and worst games of all time. For our grand finale, we will be presenting our choices for the best role playing video games of all time.
For me personally, computer RPGs will never quite match the fun, camaraderie, and creativity of tabletop games. Since you are interacting with a computer through pregenerated situations, your actions and creativity are somewhat limited and the characters will never truly truly 100% be exactly what you want. In my opinion, the games with the best and most involving stories, settings, and characters are by far the best computer RPGs since they can bring the player the closest to the experience of tabletop gaming.
Now, a quick word of recognition: computer role playing games today would not be what they are if not for Gary Gygax, the creator of Dungeons and Dragons. Even today, the mechanics he developed for tabletop role playing games have been automated and digitalized to provide the engines for just about every role playing computer game today.
That said, let's get on with the list, shall we:
#5 Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines (PC)
This game, much like Rune, was a bargain-bin impulse purchase that turned out to be extremely entertaining. Based off of White Wolf, Inc.'s Vampire: The Masquerade tabletop RPG and set in the company's "World of Darkness" version of Los Angeles, you find yourself a new fledgling vampire with a dead master and a huge debt to pay.
The computer version's game play is incredible and from my (very) brief experience with the tabletop Vampire, the character development (a key to all RPGs) was very accurately modeled. Clans, skills, and factions all seem to correspond nicely with the d6 system and the storyline (which is very well-developed) allows progression for any number of different character builds (stealthy, brute force, charming, etc...)
By far the best aspect of the game, however, are the numerous and unique characters and your interaction with them. The conversations are well-written, the voice acting is some of the best in any game, and the characters are deep, well-conceived, and all have interesting agendas and back stories (especially Therese and Jeanette).
There's a lot of goth vampire chicks too.
Unfortunately, most people have never played this game - it had the poor luck of being released around the same time Half Life 2.
#4 Neverwinter Nights 2 (PC)
Let me start off by saying the game has a lot of problems. The gameplay is repetitive ("yay, another dungeon crawl"), the feats don't work like they do on tabletop D&D, and the first solid hour of the game is so damn boring that I put it down for two years and didn't play it again until recently (I'll get into that later in the blog post, however).
So then what about NWN2 is so great that it overcomes all the negative to make it on to this list?
Easy. Characters. The first Neverwinter Nights was a great dungeon crawl game with a cool plot and some fun characters who never really developed all that much. In its subsequent iterations, the NWN Series has consistently improved upon the interactions with non-player characters by allowing more characters into a party and, well, making them not like each other.
NWN2 takes this to a whole new level with about twelve characters who can join and leave your party and many other non-party NPCs, all of whom have very different personalities, agendas, likes, dislikes (usually other characters in the party), etc... The most entertaining part of the entire game is watching them sling one-liners at each other.
Mechanically, your actions and words affect your standing with each and every one. Neglect the Elf Druid by traveling too long with the Tiefling Rogue and things are gonna get downright catty. Help the little angry Dwarven Fighter along his path to become an enlightened monk and he'll be your friend for life. Or you could always just join in when the Evil Human Ranger mocks the Gnome Bard. Now that's fun for all. In all honesty, this game has made the greatest strides towards a genuine tabletop feel. You know, except for the "meh" plot (unbelievably awesome at times, unplayable at others) and extremely boring and repetitive gameplay...
Pretty much the game in a nutshell.
#3 The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (PC)
Oblivion is the perfect marriage of my two favorite game genres: first person shooters and role playing computer games. It's challenging, involving, graphically beautiful, and absolutely one of the most open games I've ever played. There is so much to do in this game that it's borderline ridiculous. You can walk across the entire continent, pick up every fork on a table, open every dresser, talk to every person, rob every person, etc...
Honestly, the game gives you options like no other: you can develop your character with any combination of skills or morality you can think of. You really can do almost whatever the hell you want. As long as you can get away from the city guards.
Oblivion takes it's proud place on this list because of this obscene amount of freedom (take note Obsidian) combined with great writing, development, graphics, sound, music, and of course, voice talent.
Come on man, Patrick Stewart won an award for his portrayal of the Emperor!!! Just listen...
#2 Jade Empire (PC/XBox)
As I said above, for me, a game's ability to tell a good story is one of its most critical aspects. I absolutely love games like the Half-Life series, Oblivion, Warcraft III, and the King's Quest series, all of which I believe tell some of the best and most interesting stories.
Jade Empire, to me, is truly exceptional even when compared to the best of games. Personally, I think it delivers one of the most enthralling stories of any RPG ever developed. Great characters, "good/evil" mechanics, and gameplay really help move the story along nicely. Add in phenomenal graphics and music and you have one of the best games of all time (which may be true simply by the amount of awards it has won).
You'd think Ang Lee directed it.
#1 The Secret of Silverblades (PC)
Yeah, I said it - an old school gold box AD&D game from TSR and SSI. The graphics were all right, the gameplay archaic, and I don't even remember the story line. I don't even know how or when I came into possession of this game. In fact all I remember is that it was fun cutting down Red Dragons and that I couldn't play it in front of my grandmom because she thought Lucifer was going to tear through the screen and rip my soul into the netherworld.
Honestly, though, only one fact is important here - it was my introduction to role playing games in general. My grade school buddy came over one day and said his brother played Dungeons and Dragons. Next thing I knew I was rolling up my first character. Then I got the books (which nearly sent my grandmom catatonic - she got over it in time). Then I got the supplements. Then I started playing with a few friends in college.
I am the proud geek I am today because of this game.
Honorable Mentions: the 1st Final Fantasy, Fable, Darklands, NWN: Hordes of the Underdark, Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Warrior, Might and Magic: Dark Messiah, Gladius
Game I should play: Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn (PC)
Every person who's opinion I respect says this RPG has the best story, hands down. Embarrassingly, I've never played it. Guess I'm going to have to get on that...
Biggest Disappointment: Obsidian Entertainment
Instead of coming out with a worst RPG of all time (even though it probably would have been that pitifully boring and repetitive Silverfall), I'm just going to briefly mention Obsidian Entertainment in general. Yes, I know Neverwinter Nights 2 is an Obsidian Game and is on my best RPGs list. Knights of the Old Republic 2 has several great aspects as well.
The problem isn't that Obsidian makes horrendously bad games, it's that the games they develop, much like Detmer quarterbacks, never live up to their potential. They take successful game franchises like Neverwinter Nights and Knights of the Old Republic, spruce them up with pretty graphics, cool features, and some of the best characters in any game, write some interesting plot twists and turns and hooks, and then leave such huge gaping holes (especially with the endings) that players feel cheated.
Poor form, Obsidian. Hire someone to write endings for your games.