Role-playing and adventure games each used to have their own category in the Games 100, back in those crazy days when Roberta Williams roamed the plains and gold boxes stuffed with floppy treasures and code wheels were stacked on every shelf.
I’m pretty sure I remember my predecessor/boss, Burt Hochberg, even having separate categories for different kinds of adventure games, such as “humorous” and “science-fiction,” but the again Burt was always pretty specific about his game categories. This may merely be a gin-induced false memory, but I swear I remember him asking me once, “Tommy my boy, do you think we should give an award for Best Puzzle Game Played With Marbles”? (In my memory, Burt always sounds like Jackie Mason for some reason.)
Well, “RPG” has become a remarkably fluid category. It’s almost de rigueur for action games nowadays to have some element of role-playing (achievements, skills, leveling), thus blurring the lines. Meanwhile, the graphical adventure genre cratered about a decade ago and never really recovered, no matter how hard Telltale Games keeps trying to bring it back. I have so few in each category that they wound up being combined.
Meanwhile, “Action” games have grown like the giant fungal mats of Oregon. RPGs are becoming more actiony and action games are becoming more RPGish. What is Red Dead Redemption? Clearly there is a role-playing game at the heart of it, but the part of me that finished every Gold Box, Baldur’s Gate, Ultima, Might & Magic, and Wizardy game balks at calling RDR a real RPG. It’s just … not.
My dividing line is usually stats. If a game is has character building, races, classes, stats, skills, experience points, leveling, narrative, and questing, then it’s an RPG. If it’s missing any of those features, then it’s probably not an RPG. Unless I think it is. It’s pretty confusing.
Well, this year was kind of a no-brainer for the RPG award. BioWare is one of the finest purveyors of RPGishness around, and Mass Effect 2 is a wonderworld of riches. The second outing sharpens the gameplay, expands the universe, and delivers a new, even more compelling storyline. Although the original had the look and control of a third-person action game, it was an RPG in its particulars. The sequel streamlines the combat and pushes it a little more to the forefront, but does so without sacrificing any of the character and narrative depth that made the original such a hit.
2010 was also the year I got serious about digging deeper into DragonAge, and I have not yet reached the bottom. It’s a truly beautiful piece of work.