RPG fans had it good this year with strong showings from Bioware and Obsidian. Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep reminded us that the PSP still existed, the Pokemon franchise returned with a reboot that once again stole untold hours of our time with compulsive critter-catching, not to mention significant amounts of XP-earning walking, and the DS consolidated things with the brilliantly complex Infinite Space and Dragon Quest IX.
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Deep and expansive without sacrificing accessibility or charm- and provides a lengthy experience that proved enjoyable in small doses or marathon sessions. The Nintendo DS gave its larger relatives a big run for their money when it came to RPGs this year, and for JRPG fans it was definitely the console of choice. Dragon Quest IX was a big part of that.
New Vegas didn't look or play that much differently to its critically acclaimed predecessor, and it was riddled with bugs when it first emerged. But that didn't stop it from being an absolutely fantastic game. The changed and improvements were subtle, the customisation options even greater than before, the narrative focus superb. Plus Hardcore mode provided one of the most gruellingly compelling experiences of the year.
Part RPG, part space-sim, with a simple yet deceptively deep battle system, Infinite Space was one of the unsung heroes of the year. Not content with having arguably the best story of any game in 2010, it proved to be a phenomenally deep and compelling experience, even if the interface and controls were an initial barrier.
Even the PSP stepped with some RPG brilliance this year. Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep was an excellent action-RPG that delivered an engrossing blend of action, stats and a little Disney magic. The new concurrent storylines and fluid fighting mechanics made for (arguably) the best Kingdom Hearts spinoff yet… if you could surpass the learning curve.
I don't think that there can be any denying that Mass Effect 2 is one of the finest games to burst forth in 2010. Bioware tuned up their space opera in almost every department to make it a truly exhilarating experience. True, we could have done without the mining game, and the big twist was quite literally telephoned in, but for spectacular = character-driven entertainment, it was hard to look beyond Bioware once more.
One of the best sights of the whole year came one weekend when I popped up to visit Jon at his house to find him chain smoking and stomping around his back garden like the World's Least Convincing Powerwalker in training. Such was the power of the PokeWalker. The Gold/silver reboot was brilliant in its own right, but throwing a cross between a Tamagotchi and a pedometer into the mix was a stroke of genius.
Winner: Mass Effect 2
Another category in which we were pretty spoiled for choice this year. In the end Bioware bested Obsidian by a single vote, but there were strong showings across the board for this one. No, there wasn't a pinnacle moment in ME2 quite like that of Virmire in the original, but the whole game rattled along at near-perfect pacing. The combat was significantly more satisfying than before, the side missions deliciously varied, and the much of the supporting DLC was barnstormingly good. Chuck in the trademark polished characterisation, lots of choice and consequence, and a smattering of Salarian operatic brilliance and we have ourselves a winner!