4. Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer
Neverwinter Nights was a more action oriented interpretation of the Advance Dungeons and Dragons rules and I enjoyed it for this reason. This game stands out from the rest of AD&D games because it's closer to a Hack and Slash and focuses more on character progression, loot and combat than anything else.
Neverwinter Nights 2 was developed by a different studio which changed a lot of things in the game and it didn't deliver what I expected from it because the game was like a more traditional RPG and even though I enjoy story driven games a lot I wanted this series to stay as it was at the beginning.
Then in 2007 Mask of the Betrayer was released and after playing it I almost forgot what I wanted from this series. Obsidian Entertainment did such an amazing job with the story and the characters of this game and put so much thought into it, that it takes several playthroughs to be able to experience the full extent of all the possible choices in the game.
The story is a sequel to NWN 2, set after the events of the main game in a land called Rashemen controlled by red wizards. The player character is a spirit-eater, a cursed being who must feed with other creatures souls in order to exist. You start on a quest to find out the nature of your curse and a way to stop it in order to save your soul. It's up to you as the player to control the monster inside you or give in to his power. The more you feed with spirits the more you descend into the darkness and it becomes harder to control yourself up to a point where you will devour your own soul. Things are not made easy given the fact that your journey will take you to the temple of the former God of Death, Myrkul, which resides in these lands. As the origin of the spirit-eater inside you is unveiled, the journey leads you into the lands of the dead to fight for your soul.
Everything in this game is so well written. The interaction with the characters you gather into your party is complex, your conversations with them can reveal their past and the problems they are facing and you can chose to help them in order to improve your relation with them and the synergy of the group.
The number of choices you have in this game seems limitless and they don't only revolve around your dialogues but also around your actions as a spirit-eater.
The combat is one of the strongest points of the game, taking full advantage of the AD&D 3.5 rules. You start at level 18 and you can reach the epic level of 40, the skills and spells customization are amazing, there are so many options to shape your character the way you want and the way that best fits your play style.
The game is very difficult, some battles are extremely challenging and you have to use all sort of tactics in order to win, difficulty being lost in many of today's RPGs.
On the technical part, the game graphics are beautiful and look good even today, the spells effects are spectacular and make the combat even more frenetic.
Mask of the Betrayer is one of the best RPGs I have played in this decade, it's not on the same note as the first games developed by Bioware, but instead brings back the feeling of old school RPGs in this age with games focused only on action.
3. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2 - Sith Lords
KotoR 2 was developed by Obisidian Entertainment, a studio formed by many former members of Black Isle, and was published by LucasArts in 2005.
The previous title was made by Bioware and is a highly acclaimed RPG, considered by many far superior to the sequel. Even if Revan, the hero of the first game, is one of my favorite jedis/dark jedis from this universe besides Jacen Solo (which doesn't feature in any video games) and he has such an unpredictable story, I like KotoR 2 more because of the amazing characters and emotional story this game has, they really make you feel like you're part of the story and not just playing it.
The action takes place five years after the events of KotoR. With the Jedi Order destroyed and jedis almost extinct, the main character is an exiled jedi and one of the few left with the ability to connect with the force. During the story of the game, you, as the player, establish the connection with the force to gain power to defeat the Sith Lords which are reigning terror over the Republic.
Your choices make the difference in this game as you can join either the light or the dark side of the force and on your trips to the different planets present in the game you can help the Republic forces or destroy them.
The characters you team up with in your journey are very complex and have different goals and secrets. You have to pay careful attention to each of them in order to find their true nature and make them your devoted allies or you can even turn them into your enemies.
The game mechanics are very similar with the predecessor, using the same combat system and a similar set of skills for character progression. This is not a bad thing as these features were inspired from Dungeons and Dragons rules and were working really well.
The saddest thing about KotoR 2 is the fact that the game wasn't finished at release and the developers never got it to the state they initially wanted to because of the pressure from the publisher. A lot of story content was removed from the game, including the ending. There are some mods for the game which add the missing content and complete the game allowing the players to experience the real and much deeper ending of the game.
Overall, Knights of the Old Republic 2 is one of the best RPGs ever made and one of the last good games made in the Star Wars universe.
2. Fallout 2
Fallout 2 was developed by Black Isle Studios and published by Interplay Studios in 1998.
The story takes place 80 years after the action of Fallout in the same post-apocalyptic America and tells the story of a descendant of the original hero. The protagonist is in a quest to save his tribe from starvation by finding the GECK, a device thought to be able to recreate a community out of a desolate wasteland. Compared to the previous game where mutants where the danger to the new world, in Fallout 2 the threat are humans, remnants of the old government now under the name of Enclave. This faction terrorizes the survivors of this wrecked world by kidnapping and experimenting on them in an attempt to create a virus that destroys any living being with mutated DNA. In order to put an end to the horrors done by Enclave and save not only his tribe but the world reborn from the aftermath of the nuclear war, the protagonist allies with all kind of interesting characters, both human and mutant, and takes the fight to the enemy.
Fallout 2 features the same game engine as its predecessor, looking very similar to it. Apart form the graphics, the game mechanics, interface, skills and combat are almost the same. The focus of the game remains the story and the complex dialogue system, which were the strongest points of Fallout.
Despite using so many elements from the first game, Fallout 2 manages to present a different world, a world changed by the events of the first game with new feeling and new areas to explore, yet with a familiar vibe.
Sometimes it is so hard to believe how an izometric 2D game can be so thrilling and unpredictable. This is the achievement of Black Isle Studios, the best RPG developing studio that ever existed.
This title will also remain in history as one of the most buggy games ever released, probably beaten only by its predecessor.
Fallout 2 is the best post-apocalyptic game to date and although it is so old I would still recommend it, as this game is a true masterpiece. It's sad that Black Isle Studio and Interplay went bankrupt and the license is now owned by a studio that changed the game style so much, making it lose some of its unique qualities in the process.