The evolution of the RPG has been fascinating to behold over the last few years, with a number of key themes becoming buzzwords to describe the experience: freedom, choice, consequence. But beyond all of that is the world-building. If you're going to spend upwards of thirty hours in an environment there have to be reasons, hooks to keep sucking you back in...and 2011 was in no short supply of those.
CD Projekt plunged us back into the world of the witchers, letting us delve into an even more murky and morally grey fantastical epic than before. Assassins of Kings was an astounding sequel, one that we can't wait to see on consoles. Sequels were the order of the day this year,apart from the excellent Xenoblade Chronicles, but for this genre that didn't mean mindless iteration. Dark Souls brought stunning art direction and some fiendish, epic battles to the party; Deus Ex: Human Revolution taught us that stealth was by no means dead - we weren't sure that Eidos could pull it off after this long, but they did...with bells on; Dragon Age II was indeed far different to its predecessor and then, of course there was Skyrim, with its vast snowscapes and procedurally generated dragons.
Dear god, this category was a close one.
NB. Click on the thumbnails for price comparisons and the game's title for the relevant review where available.
Best RPG 2011: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Everyone's first few hours of Skyrim were different, this year - something that you probably can't say about many of the other games that adorned this, or indeed any other, list. For my part, I did the first two story missions and then it was off into the wilderness, the silhouette of a nearby town, the shadowy outline of a mine or crumbling ruin on my map, or a wayward fireball hurled from beyond the nearby woods all enough to sway me from whatever course I'd taken.
And that was the point. Everyone came back with different stories, different tales of how he or she had accomplished this, stolen that and defeated them. Every person on this site had different systems, ways of organising quests, focuses for the skills and upgrades, allegiances, romances, companions, victories and tragedies.
It was a flawed game, but we loved Skyrim even more because of its faults and the internet took it to heart. Endless memes, blooper reels, sight gags, tribute songs, so many ended up loving Skyrim because of its foibles and follies, not in spite of them.
The dev kit and mod tools arrive in January. We can't wait to see what people will be cooking up with those.