Shadowrun: Dragonfall - Director's Cut is a welcome return to the gritty, neon future of orcs, elves, sniper rifles, and uncaring corporate overlords. Although its turn-based tactical battle system and crackling, conspiratorial storyline drew us to it, the overall atmosphere makes it the prime choice for our PC game of the year. The game invites multiple replays to tease out all of the wrinkles of its dense cyberpunk world. Different builds for the protagonist unlock conversation options that can drastically change the course of play, both narratively and tactically. A brutish troll hacker has different opportunities than a silver-tongued elven conjurer. However, a character's nature isn't entirely determined by numbers on a screen. Choices have consequences, few of which are unequivocally ideal. This isn't to say the world is a hopeless dystopia; the bleakness is offset by a supporting cast with the potential to transform their surroundings.
The world of Shadowrun: Dragonfall - Director's Cut is frequently wet and dimly lit, but its inhabitants are able to better themselves and their homes. Humor and despair exist side-by-side, showing a human heart in a game that simultaneously appreciates the over-the-top excess of cyber-zombies and the joy of finding a new grenade launcher. Combat stays fresh because it's nuanced enough to adapt to new enemies and situations. However, it's also satisfying narratively because of how it feeds into the story's increasingly heightening stakes. Breaking into tightly guarded clubs, labs, warehouses, and corporate facilities draws on the thrill of the heist to balance visceral and intellectual kicks.
The Banner Saga caught many by surprise with its quality as an early Kickstarter project developed by newly formed Stoic Studios. Created on a relatively small budget, The Banner Saga boasts high production values with beautiful graphics, an excellent musical score by the acclaimed Austin Wintory, solid writing, and unique gameplay. The game tasks the player with leading groups of vikings and giants across the frozen tundra landscapes from one settlement to the next. On the way, the protagonists are forced to make tough decisions and face attacks by golem-like creatures. The adventure is full of tension in an effort to survive, as the decisions the player makes can draw the group into tougher battles and can also lead to the permanent loss of characters. The tactical combat offers players a familiar, yet new, experience by exchanging the traditional HP and MP systems with a power, armor, and willpower system that works well and keeps the combat fresh.
The classic hand-drawn art style is very appealing, and the character models and scenery backdrops are enchanting. By complimenting the art and the game's pacing perfectly, the epic soundtrack creates a very atmospheric experience that draws the player into the action. Attachment to the characters and their struggles becomes inevitable as the player becomes invested in their plight due to the decisions they make and the quality of the writing. The Banner Saga also offers plenty of incentive to replay the game as one can explore different dialogue paths and recruit characters unique to those paths. As the first game in a planned trilogy, the story ends in a cliffhanger, and the sequels look to build off the success of this inaugural release and continue the journey.
Divinity: Original Sin being third on a list of best PC RPGs isn't a knock against it, it's a testament to a great year of RPGs. Any other year, this game would rise to the top thanks to its deceptively simple combat, great sense of exploration, open-ended character builds, a humorous script that plays on the expectations of the genre, and a co-op experience that feels complete. Divinity: Original Sin earns the shiniest bronze one can get for one of the shiniest years of PC gaming in a long while.
by Zach Welhouse, Johnathan Stringer, Zack Webster