As we enter a new decade in 2010, it is worth taking a look back at the last decade and what has been happening in the PC role playing game genre (and no, we won’t debate whether or not 2010 actually starts the new decade). Certainly the 2000′s have been a decade of change for PC gaming in general, as the decade started with the PC as the only real place for shooters and large open-area games, went through a perceived crisis in the middle of the decade based on a large impact from piracy and DRM and the advent of consoles that could handle previously PC-dominated genres, and has ended with PC gaming making a very strong resurgence with both independent and all levels of commercial developers releasing major games across all genres over the last couple of years. The last few months have seen sites trying to pull just a few games from the decade across genres and platforms, but too often the discussion generated by those lists focuses on the inclusion or exclusion of certain games instead of discussing the games themselves.
As you might have noticed, I am all about PC RPGs – so instead of a narrow list, over the next several weeks I will present a series of articles containing huge list of 50 games – 5 per year for each year of the decade – that have helped to shape the genre over the last decade.
Some ground-rules of how I did things: I only looked at games that are centered around the single-player experience (e.g. no World of Warcraft); only looked at games released in North America; excluded Flash-based games (e.g. Dragon Age: Journeys); included some hybrid genre games so long as there were significant RPG elements. Each game will get looked at in terms of what it offered, what makes it noteworthy, and what it is like playing the game now. There is no attempt made to rank the games in any way except that we will only highlight five games per year, relegating a bunch of others to a list of ‘also released that year’. Each year will also get a couple of ‘special awards’, with the intent of highlighting a few games that stood out in some humorous way from the pack. Oh – and it should be noted that we haven’t said that making the list indicates having a positive impact or being a good game, just that the game had a significant impact!
The final decision I had to make was how to break up the articles – and since most of us can better remember what we did last year than the events of a decade ago, I’m going to start at 2009 and work my way back to 2000.
But since we’re already a few months into 2010, why don’t I give you a little taste of what is come by highlighting two games at opposite ends of the spectrum:
Game: Mass Effect 2
Released: January 2010
Key Features: From my review: Mass Effect 2 is already a favorite for ‘best game of 2010′ in spite of being released only a few weeks into the year. Any game looking for that title will have a very high bar to surmount, because between the story, characters, interactions, combat, production values, and overall flow Mass Effect 2 presents an amazing space opera. I have discussed the game with folks from forums dedicated to older hardcore RPG fans as well as younger console-centric gamers, and have yet to find someone who didn’t find the game genuinely a blast to play.
Why it is on the list: I have already read too many times that ‘Mass Effect 2 is not a RPG’. Sorry, it might focus on the shooter elements in terms of gameplay, and have numerous simplified systems, but between the story, characters, choices, consequences, and so on … this is a wonderful role-playing experience. My female ‘Trislyn Shepard’ Paragon Sentinel is very different than my ‘Willin Arndt’ Renegade Soldier. Mass Effect 2 belongs on any list of 2010 games in general, and RPGs in particular, due to the incredible production values, immersive story-telling, great characters, and fun combat.
Current Outlook: The combination of free and paid DLC that has come out has kept folks playing and talking about the game. That said, the paid DLC so far has been pretty lousy, and teamed with the inconvenient DLS install system it is a pain. Regardless, there is no doubt this will be one of the biggest commercial and critical successes of the year.
Availability: Pretty much everywhere … digital and retail.
Game: Greed – Black Border
Released: January 2010
Developer: Clockstone – Headup Games
Key Features: Greed – Black Border is a top-down sci-fi action-RPG shooter. From my review: I can’t stop myself from brain-dumping a summary: this is a game that will satisfy no one. Those looking for a story will be disappointed. Those looking for a loot-fest will be disappointed. Those looking for an innovative combat experience will be disappointed. Those looking for interesting dungeon design will be disappointed. Those who loved Clockstone’s Avencast … will be disappointed.
Why it is on the list: Like the ‘demotivators’ of 1990′s internet fame, sometimes the purpose of a game is a warning for others. That is pretty much the case here. Gamers who like action-RPGs tend to focus on something – story or combat or loot. This game can’t decide what to focus on, and it shows in the poor execution.
Current Outlook: Despite being just a few months old, this game is already dead. No one is playing, nobody is interested, and no one will remember it … unless perhaps someone does an equivalent of a ‘Netbook Gamer’ series in a decade …
Availability: Steam, GamersGate, Direct2Drive, and Impulse … and the price is already dropping!
So there you have it … I hope this quick introduction has whet your appetite for my next article: a look at the games of 2009!