3. Dragon Age: Inquisition (Bioware / EA)
There's something about Bioware and their ability to put together strong narratives. With Dragon Age: Inquisition they came up with a gallery of characters that left no-one indifferent. Whether it was the annoying antics of Sera (some of us simply saw no recourse but to sack her from the Inquisition), the brilliance of Dorian's Tevinter arrogance, or the brilliant character quest-lines of Varric, Blackwall and Solas. It's a narrative that evokes emotion.
Whether we're navigating the Orlais court, deciding the fate of our defeated enemies from our throne, or romancing one of our companions or advisors, the main story bits and side content of Dragon Age: Inquisition is quality throughout. Even the seemingly menial operations on the War Room table provided us with a sense of a greater universe and events and people on the fringe of our grand quest to free Thedas of The Elder One.
One of the neatest things about a Bioware RPG is how your selection of companions for a specific mission will result in different flavours to the cutscenes and during the many long hours free-roaming the various lands of Thedas many entertaining conversations played out between the companions without our involvement. The depth of what's on offer in terms of narrative is even greater when you consider the world state choices you can go into the game with (via Dragon Age Keep) and after comparing notes on our choices and paths through the game we can only conclude that one play-through is simply scratching the surface of the narrative that's on offer here.
2. The Banner Saga (Stoic)
The Kickstarter-backed game from Stoic captured our hearts at the beginning of the year, and it's a testament to the quality of the game that it has endured in our minds to hold off more recent games with much bigger budgets.
The fantasy setting of The Banner Saga pulls from Nordic legend, and weaves together different narratives from characters in the run up to a cataclysmic event. Players are in charge of caravans of people, whole communities on the run from death and destruction. As the leaders of these caravans you're forced into making some very tricky decisions, and these decisions nearly all have some kind of consequence further down the line.
The story is carried by some memorable characters, depicted via lush Disney-like graphics. Your attachment to the various characters is only heightened by the fact that you regularly have to take them into battle, and as a result you're constantly levelling them up and equipping them with new gear. It makes you want to protect them even more, and heaps added significance on the decisions you make in other parts of the game.
1. Always Sometimes Monsters (Vagabond Dog / Devolver Digital)
There's a plethora of important themes and messages hidden away in Always Sometimes Monsters, but the beauty of the game is that it allows you to find many of them on your own, and to interact with the world as you see fit.
It's a distinctive game in so much as it has been made in RPG Maker and therefore comes with the limitations of that software, but what it lacks in mechanical quality and visual flair, it more than makes up for with heart.
One of the cleverest tricks that this modern-day RPG pulls is that at the start it gives you a room full of people at a party and then lets you pick who you want to be. At that moment everything is rosy, but fast-forward a year and the situation has taken a turn for the worse, and a promising career sits on the edge and the love of your life is set to marry someone else. Cue a cross-country trip to see your former squeeze and rediscover yourself in the process.
Along the way you'll meet a huge range of characters, graft for your food, and do your best to get to the wedding on time. It's a little clunky in places, but Always Sometimes Monsters is a brave game in so many ways, and asks questions of the player that others wouldn't dare.
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