It doesn't matter how good the story is or how beautiful the cinematics are, in the end an RPG is still a game we must play. Our favorite battle systems for 2009 range from punishingly difficult to simplistically addictive. It doesn't matter how complex the systems are, RPGamers care about is having fun while experience our stories and these are the games that provided the best combat of the year.
Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes sports an addictive battle system that takes puzzle RPGs to the next level. Combat may at first appear basic, as it is simply a matter of lining up similar units vertically and horizontally. What the player will quickly grasp is how making combinations, winning extra turns, and soundly rousting a difficult opponent is incredibly satisfying. As the game progresses, the armies become more complex and the challenges faced become gradually more difficult. Might & Magic: CoH requires smarter, not harder, play, capping unit levels so that players can't simply grind to victory. Instead, it challenges the player to choose the correct troop combination and strategy to conquer the game's opposing armies and bosses. The result is a highly addictive, fun, and rewarding battle system that raised this little DS gem to the top of our list.
Dragon Age: Origins modernized the battle system first put forth in Baldur's Gate, including rechargable abilities and a smaller party of four. The addition of a World of Warcraft-style skill bar for each character in the PC version makes things easier, while mapping abilities to a PS3 or Xbox 360 controller's buttons works well enough. Dragon Age: Origins' battle system really hits its stride when players find the ideal combination of characters and use pause-and-play to maximum effect. With a range of enemies that goes from simple peasants to massive dragons, battling in Dragon Age always holds many a surprise.
When you first pick up Demon's Souls, your first impression of the combat system probably won't be that good. It will feel a bit stiff, awkward, and slow, but once you learn to give up your perception of what the game should be, you'll start working with it instead of against it. Once that happens, Demon's Souls ends up having one of the best battle systems of the year. Requiring patience, strategy, and a bit of reflex, Demon's Souls rewards those who take their time and think things through, and punishes those who jump the gun with a horrible death. In the end, the aspects that might originally be seen as too awkard or too slow end up being its greatest features.
by Becky Cunningham, Tom Goldman, Adriaan den Ouden, Michael Cunningham