In the last decade, video games have become more popular than ever. Sitting in front of your TV with a controller in hand is no longer seen as something just for the social outcasts. While this newfound acceptance has led to countless great games being produced for the masses, a larger market means that unfortunately, games have begun to cater to the lowest common denominator.
While budgets have gotten bigger, we have found ourselves in an era of repetition. Studios have begun to cling to the Call of Duty formula and claims of developers wanting ‘the Skyrim audience’ are heard all too often.
This is not to say that all games have been reduced to following these trends. This is still an era of innovation, and there are still great – if not unheard of games – being made every year. This article will take a look at some of my favorite underrated gems of the past few years. Hopefully reading this will open your eyes to look past the big-name titles that dominate the market and turn you on to some amazing games that haven’t gotten to love they deserve.
Divinity II: The Developer’s Cut (2012)
Divinity II flew under the radar when it was originally released in 2009. The year was relatively slim in terms of Role Playing Games, with the exception of Bioware’s juggernaut Dragon Age: Origins. Divinity II, developed by the small Belgian studio, Larian, simply did not have the means to properly market the game.
What a shame it is that the game did not receive more notoriety. Divinity II offers one of the deepest, most rewarding role-playing experiences in years. Combat is brutal and unforgiving, and gaining levels allowed players to invest skill points in to hundreds of different that allowed them to dominate both on and off the battlefield.
During the course of the main quest, players gained a Battle Tower, which served as your main hub between quests. Within the hub, you were given different areas that housed skill trainers, alchemists, and even a necromancer who would create undead minions that would fight beside you in combat. The customization and crafting one could partake in within the Battle Tower puts most RPGs to shame.
When not in combat, players were treated to masterfully written dialogue. Each conversation had multiple branching topics and an amazing mindreading ability that could lead to countless, and often hilarious, insights from every character you encountered.
Of course, the game’s biggest draw was the ability to turn into a dragon at any point. Doing so would take the player away from traditional action-RPG style combat and allow the hero to take to the skies and blast opponents away in a torrent of hellfire. The switch from human to dragon was masterfully executed and provided another way to tackle quest objectives, serving to add replayablilty.
With all the features listed, and a story that holds up better than most games of the same genre, it is truly a shame that Divinity II was passed over by critics and gamers alike. With the Developer’s Cut out now and at a remarkably affordable price for all the content within the game, it is a crime not to experience one of the most unique and fun RPGs this generation.
Nier is one of this generation’s strangest entries. Developed by Cavia and published by the renowned Square Enix, Nier is one of the most emotionally immersive games ever. Telling the story of a father’s journey to save his daughter from a terminal illness, Nier has puts gamers in the role of the titular character as he teams up with an intersex warrior who has the mouth of a sailor, a boy whose eyes petrify anyone who looks into them, and a Grimoire named Weiss who guides the party forward.
Nier’s narrative moves quickly, keeping players invested as you continue along the quest to stop the Black Scrawl that has begun to destroy the land and its inhabitants. After finishing the game’s emotional end, players may start the game again, allowing players to attain the game’s three bonus endings.
Subsequent playthroughs are where the heart of the game’s emotional core really shines. Aside from the additional back-story of the aforementioned intersex Kaine, players are treated to an entirely different view of the game’s events. The language of your enemies becomes clear, and the game’s bosses are shown in an entire different light. Providing any more details would spoil the surprise, so suffice to say that at least two playthroughs of Nier are absolutely necessary.
Combat is simple in Nier. Similar to the Kingdom Hearts series, players can use different weapon types each with their own strengths and combo strings. While much of the game’s combat sections are nothing out of the ordinary, there are segments in which the player takes part in a top down battles, similar to shoot ‘em up games. This extra element adds a different take on the oversaturated action/RPG market that will keep gamers interested for the game’s 15-20 hour main quest.
Nier is certainly worth a purchase. With its current bargain bin price tag and one of the greatest stories ever told in video games, players looking for a game with some serious substance can’t go wrong with Nier.
Alpha Protocol (2010)
Developed by Obsidian Entertainment of Knights of the Old Republic fame, Alpha Protocol was marketed as a ‘tactical espionage thriller’. Players take the roll of wet-behind-the-ears Agent Michael Thorton, who is tasked with assassinating a terrorist leader responsible for orchestrating a passenger plane crash in the Middle East.
During the game, what seems like a relatively cut and dry mission for the new agent turns to anything but that. Upon finding his target, Thorton begins to unravel a conspiracy that leads deeper than he ever could have imagined.
With the help of an eclectic cast of characters (including Steven Heck, a complete and utter psychopath who might just be the funniest character in video game history) and an arsenal of every spy gadget imaginable, Thorton travels across the globe to finish his mission.
Gameplay in Alpha Protocol seems to be your standard third-person shooter fair, but spending time with the game reveals much deeper combat than many games. With multiple weapon types and skill branches to add lethal moves to your arsenal, being a spy has never been so fun.
Shooting isn’t all there is to the game however, Alpha Protocol offers well-written dialogue and tons of conversation topics. During heated conversation, the player is presented with decisive, timed responses that can change the direction the plot heads entirely. The characters you converse with each respond differently depending on how you respond, forcing the player to think carefully about every interaction.
Alpha Protocol was criticized for its lack of polish and poor reviews turned many gamers off from the title. However, with one of the more interesting takes on the spy genre and brilliant dialogue, Alpha Protocol is a welcome addition to any gamers’ library.
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