Feature

2015 RPG Of The Year Awards

by Kimberley Wallace on Jan 12, 2016 at 08:00 AM

This year had plenty of worthwhile role-playing games to get lost in. A slew of absorbing games, such as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Pillars of Eternity, and Fallout 4, appeared with much fanfare. Unfortunately, handheld RPGs weren't as dominant as usual, and games like Tales of Zestiria and Xenoblade Chronicles X underwhelmed compared to their predecessors. The year also had its share of unexpected darlings with Undertale and Legends of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel coming out of nowhere to earn a spot in the race to the top of the RPG pack. Read on to discover what stood out in a year full of ups and downs for the genre.

Best Narrative: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

The Witcher 3 has some of the series' best writing, showcasing that not everything in the world is as cut-and-dried as it appears. CD Projekt Red once again tackles choice and situations with plenty of shades of gray and memorable outcomes. The Bloody Baron storyline, anyone? Can you trust the vengeance-focused Dijkstra? The writing also presented a more tender side to Geralt in his quest to help Ciri fend off the Wild Hunt, and watching Ciri determine the right course for her life was exciting in its own right. The narrative may begin with you following Ciri's footsteps, but it always leads to interesting places with complex people, never once dialing back on its dark and bleak world.

Best Combat System: Legends of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel

Falcom has always had a way with combat, and Trails of Cold Steel features one of the series' best efforts. The traditional battle system has you factoring multiple elements into your strategy, such as turn order, placement, elemental properties, special craft attacks, and linking combatants for bonuses. Battles get heated, but victory makes you feel like you've outsmarted the competition.

Best Setting: Fallout 4
 

A retro-futuristic ambiance drives every aspect of Fallout's world, making every discovery exciting. This time around, Boston takes center stage. Fallout 4 recreates Massachusetts' iconic places; from its historical locations, such as Paul Revere Monument and the Massachusetts State House - complete with its Golden Dome - to other popular places like Fenway Park, now grown into Diamond City. The urban exploration is cool, but you also get to search the wilderness outside the city. Bethesda proves once again why it's one of the top developers at creating worlds; not many games feature a backdrop that compels you to explore like Fallout 4 does.

Best Tactical RPG: Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance

This over-the-top strategy/RPG continues to showcase why it's one of best franchises in the strategy/RPG sphere. Disgaea 5 is the series debut for the PS4, allowing it to add more enemies on the screen than ever before. It also brings with it new features to keep the experience fresh, such as a revenge system and alliance attacks that makes battles even more delightful. Most importantly though, Disgaea 5 doesn't forget what made people fall in love with the franchise: the humor, the insane customization, and creative ways you can kill foes. Making towers out of characters and throwing prinnies never gets old, and this entry allows you to deal damage in the billions. No strategy/RPG provided the depth and excitement that Disgaea 5 did this year, dood!

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Best Cast: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

One of the best parts of the The Witcher 3 was seeing how the cast comes together to help Ciri in her time of need. Whether it was banding together for the battle at Kaer Morhen or watching them drunkenly bond beforehand, the group held our attention. This entry finally brought us face-to-face with the complicated Yennefer and introduced us to the strong-willed Ciri, who stands as one of the best characters in the game. Throw in familiar faces like Dandelion, Zoltan, Vesemir, and more, and it felt like you built a family. The Witcher 3 gave every character their own dilemmas and moments to shine, offering moments of tragedy and laughter.

Best Remake: Etrian Odyssey Untold 2: The Fafnir Knight
 

Etrian Odyssey has been slowly building up its fanbase, becoming stronger and more accessible with every entry. The Untold series are remakes of the earlier games, focusing more on characters and story (something the franchise has often been criticized for), but also making the mechanics more friendly to newcomers. You can still have the difficulty as punishing as you want, but what makes The Fafnir Knight so great is all the new systems built into it, such as cooking and town-building mechanics. This version vastly improves the initial game by fixing criticisms and sprinkling in fun new ingredients to the formula, making it a remake done right.

Best Sidekick: Nick Valentine From Fallout 4

This private eye instantly became one of the most memorable NPCs we encountered in the Boston Commonwealth. Nick not only has a great backstory, but he also charms you with his smooth talking. His lines are straight out of a '40s noir film, reminiscent of iconic protagonists from the era, such as Philip Marlowe (The Big Sleep) and Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon), making him a great companion to have around. Also, he's a frickin' robot detective; what more could you want from sidekick?

Biggest Surprise: Undertale

This little indie title came out of seemingly nowhere to become one of the most talked-about games this year. Sure, when pitched on Kickstarter the game sounded intriguing, but Undertale is more clever than some were expecting, turning many RPG conventions on their head. Its shining moment is how it leaves players thinking after the credits rolled, making everything you've been doing come together in a fascinating way. Undertale is more more than just homage to the classics from the SNES era, and you should discover that for yourself if you haven't already.

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 Best Side Quests: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

The Witcher 3 got many things right, but an area that deserves recognition that most games struggle with is side quests. The Witcher 3 offered a bevy of them that added so much more to the world. From monster contracts and treasure hunts to events that would happen in front of you, giving you the power to influence them, they had a lot of variety. However, beyond those were story-driven quests that were handled with as much care as the main storyline. These allowed you to cause ripple effects in the world, providing more backstory on the characters and political struggles, and presenting some of the more difficult dilemmas. We still remember how we felt when one challenged us to throw a baby in an oven.

Best MMORPG: Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward

After the success of A Realm Reborn, Heavensward delivered even more compelling content to keep players logging in. For a first big expansion, it set a high bar, adding flying mounts, three new jobs, and new raids with difficulty options. Most importantly, Heavensward finally let players step into Ishgard, which the storyline had been leading up to, offering new revelations and many interesting places to go.

Best Replayability: Fallout 4
 

It feels like you're never running out of things to do in Fallout 4. Bethesda packed it with interesting NPCs and discoveries around every bend. It also added settlement-building to scratch your creative itch. Throw in a wide variety of choices, finding new weapons and gear across the land and customizing them as you see fit, and tons of worthwhile side quests and locations to explore, and this is one game you'll keep coming back to.

RPG of the Year: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

The sheer ambition and innovation of The Witcher 3 blew all the other competition out of the water this year. CD Projekt Red chose to challenge itself to create an open world that had massively impactful choices, and knocked it out of the park. Part of the excitement was seeing your decisions play out across such a vast landscape. The developer had already done intriguing things with choice in the series, but this entry stands for some of its most memorable dilemmas. With great storytelling, intense battles, and a world packed with fun activities, The Witcher 3 raised the bar for role-playing games, making it not only our RPG of the year, but Game Informer's overall Game of the Year as well.

Want to see more of the best games of 2015? Check out our action, shooter, and adventure awards.