Looking back, 2016 has been a pretty good year for RPGs. It kicked off with Darkest Dungeon’s full release, an example of how Early Access can succeed and produce a fantastic, brutal RPG experience. Soon after, the second part of Pillars of Eternity’s expansion, The White March, picked up the pace from the unconvicing first part through a much more engaging story and left me yearning for more Pillars, which I eventually got when I replayed the whole damn thing. We’ve also had The Banner Saga 2, which improved the original experience through much welcomed refinements in gameplay, the addition of Survival Mode and a captivating story whose cliffhanger ending makes waiting for the final part of the trilogy pure torture. Unfortunately, the expected shining star of this year, Torment: Tides of Numenera, was delayed to 2017 and we can only hope that the additional two years of development will lead to something extraordinary. Finally, 2016 saw a second release from Obsidian Entertainment with Tyranny, a narrative and C&C driven RPG set in a world where “evil had won”. Although this approach led to great reactivity and replayability, it fell short of Pillars of Eternity with its tedious combat and uninspired companions, making it my biggest disappointment of this year.
For me, the battle for 2016’s best RPG takes place between the final expansion of The Witcher 3, Blood and Wine, and Dark Souls III. They are similar in the regard that they both represent a worthy finale to the stories their series intended to tell, but excel in completely different aspects.
Blood and Wine gave its players the chance to take Geralt of Rivia on his final adventure before “retiring”, with a change of scenery to the fantastically designed land of Toussaint. The expansion featured a branching narrative with compelling themes and multiple references to the book series, the best and most diverse side quests seen so far in a Witcher title and many additions that solved some of the problems from the base game. In terms of world building, Toussaint was more lively than any other region, the Points of Interest stopped feeling like a chore, gameplay improved through better encounter design and the mutation system, and there was more of Gwent to enjoy! With around 30 to 40 hours of content, Blood and Wine gave other AAA titles a run for their money and triumphed by ending Geralt’s story in a perfect way.
Dark Souls III represented a tribute to Dark Souls fans, challenging players to partake in the final iteration of the cyclic battle between Fire and Darkness. The roster of bosses was probably the best seen so far in a Soulsborne game, showcasing great variety, attention to detail and a fair difficulty curve that encouraged the player to persist. Accompanied by an insanely good soundtrack, the boss battles were transformed into exhilarating experiences that would be hard to forget. In terms of gameplay, the excellent formula was changed by influences from Bloodborne, accelerating the speed of combat while demanding the same tactical approach. Finally, the world of Lothric was a blast to explore due to the amazing artistic and level design of most areas.
In the end, there can only be one winner. In the case of The Game Slashers’ favourite RPG of 2016, it’s going to be Blood and Wine. Overall, it just contains a ton of content of excellent quality, and any complaints I had towards it back in my June review felt and still feel very minor in comparison. Aside from being a fantastic ending for the Witcher saga, it stands as an example of how to create a proper expansion in an industry saturated with mediocre and overpriced DLCs.