Video Games
25 Top RPGs of the Last Five Years

The Escapist Staff | 1 Aug 2014 21:00
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17. Shadowrun Returns

Developed by Harebrained Schemes. Published by Harebrained Schemes. Released on July 25, 2013. Available on PC, OS X, iOS, Android and Linux.

shadorun returns cover

Justin says: There's just something about the Shadowrun setting that I just can't get enough of. The set-up isn't even terribly deep, built on a simple premise of what if you took a cyberpunk setting and shook that up with an equal parts fantasy. So you end up in a place where that elf is just as likely to throw a fireball at your face has she is to use her cybernetically enhanced reflexes to blow you away with an assault rifle. The central conceit is that players are "shadowrunners", in a world all but run buy megacorperations they often need jobs done off the books and will hire mercenaries, shadowrunners, to do their dirty work.

Shadowrun: Returns comes to us via Kickstarter crowdfunding. The Shadowrun setting hasn't been treated too kindly in recent years, so it's not a big surprise that ended up being one of the Shadowrun: Returnsearly darlings of Kickstarter.

The game itself hits all the important notes for a Shadowrun adventure, it's almost as if it got pulled straight out of book. What really sells the game though is the great characters and equally great writing. You're free to develop your character however you want: maybe a cyberteched up combat machine or would you rather be a stealthy decker/hacker. Some of the payoffs don't feel quite as strong, but there's a big cast of NPCs you can hire to accompany you on runs. Even that aspect is really well implemented. Unskilled runners might demand less of a cut of the reward than the best-of-the-best, but you want a bunch of chumps covering your back when the mission inevitably goes sour.

16. Path of Exile

Developed by Grinding Gear Games. Published by Grinding Gear Games. Released on October 23, 2013. Available on PC.

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Jon says: Serving up a novel and interesting twist on the Diablo isometric hack and slash formula, Path of Exile freed that genre from stale patterns and lack of innovation by killing sacred conventions, starting with boring gold and exclusive class systems, and ending with allowing you to customize and define how each of your individual abilities work. Path of Exile then added a weird setting, with varied types of monsters and odd things to discover in the world. Even better, Path of Exile proved that it could keep the magic flowing, relatively quickly releasing a first expansion of game content. Add all of this to the ranked score and tournament system, with incentives for starting new and varied characters to keep the game fresh, and you've got a real winner in the world of not just RPGs, but free to play games in general. Path of Exile seems to escape the expectations of grind that come with isometric games, because reworking your character's skills is never much further than collecting a new set of gems.

15. Xenoblade Chronicles

Developed by Monolith Soft & Nintendo SPD. Published by Nintendo. Released on April 6, 2012. Available on Wii.

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Paul says: A sci-fi RPG for the Nintendo Wii, Xenoblade Chronicles takes place in a world of endless ocean where two races, the humanoid Homs and the mechanical Mechons are locked in an epic battle for survival over the corpses of two slain titans of ages past. Players control Shulk, a young man who after gaining control of a legendary energy blade, sets off to battle the Mechon that destroyed his home town.

Although originally released in Japan, this game received such high acclaim and hype that it was one of the targets for Operation Rainfall, a fan campaign hoping to persuade Nintendo to localize several games made for the Wii but never released in North America. Once it did land, though, critics praised how it revitalized the JRPG genre and set a high bar for those to follow with excellent characters, voice acting, and game play. It's most definitely a title any Wii owner should have in their library.

14. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

Developed by 38 Studios & Big Huge Games. Published by 38 Studios & Electronic Arts. Released on February 7, 2012. Available on PC, PS3 and XB360.

kingdoms of amalur cover

Greg says: In a game created by a studio head known for Elder Scrolls: Morrowind, written by a bestselling fantasy author and bankrolled by a baseball pitcher, what could go wrong? Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was the first release in a new IP that would form the basis of a major MMO set in the same world and it may have contributed to the demise of 38 Studios by not selling enough copies to recoup costs. Despite all that, Amalur was a pretty amazing action-RPG set in a vibrant colorful world that was a joy to explore.

The world of Amalur is dense - there are many different factions of elves, fae (which are not the same), gnomes and humans. Understanding the cultures and conflicts is a steep cliff to climb, but once you are on top of it all you can really appreciate the beauty. R.A. Salvatore's talent in world-building made the game feel lived-in, but it was the action and customization that made it fun. Similar to games like Fable, you could specialize in three combat "trees" but it was a robust system that let you destroy monsters whatever way best suited your style. I especially liked how the mechanics of fate and respeccing were all explained through the lore itself rather than a gamey "just because" feel.

It's sad we never were able to explore Amalur more fully, but, hey, the IP is still up for grabs if you're interested. At least you can enjoy Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and wonder at the possibilities of what could have been.

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