Tom Goldman's Top of the Decade
Top RPGs
of the Decade
2Final Fantasy IX
3Dark Age of Camelot
4Demon's Souls
5World of Warcraft

Baldur's Gate II (including all expansion content) isn't just my top RPG of the decade, but my favorite video game of all time. Nothing has come close to reaching the level of depth that BioWare achieved with the game's battle system, epic storyline, and freedom of gameplay, even its more recent spiritual sequel Dragon Age: Origins. Baldur's Gate II allowed the player to become any kind of character he wished, from lawful good to chaotic evil, from Barbarian to Sorcerer, and to bring along a party of five others that would either aid in his goals or vehemently protest them. It laid the groundwork for the pause-and-play system used in nearly every following BioWare title (and other developers' RPGs). David Warner played the game's major antagonist, Jon Irenicus, so perfectly that I still hear his voice in my nightmares today. There are more side-quests to complete and hidden secrets to find in Baldur's Gate II than most modern RPGs combined. Plus, it helped me to understand the rules of Dungeons & Dragons. Baldur's Gate II is simply the most epic RPG of all time, in every single way.

The Final Fantasy games were not always the spiky-haired emo-fests they are today. In earlier eras, they took place in more traditional fantasy settings, albeit with a distinct Japanese creative flair. Final Fantasy IX was a return to that type of Final Fantasy game after Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII brought the emo. It may have taught Square that spiky haircuts sell more copies, but it wasn't because the game's production values were lacking. Released on four CDs, Final Fantasy IX was an enormous game that told the tale of a kidnapped princess, a monkey-tailed thief, and an erratic queen. Each character had specific abilities that they brought into battle, and a slew of items and equipment helped them along the way. As far as "traditional" Final Fantasy titles go, Final Fantasy IX is easily one of the best, even though others may get more attention.

Dark Age of Camelot takes this spot on my list due to it being my first MMORPG. When I was first playing Dark Age of Camelot the whole world was a mystical place where anything could happen, rather than the defined loot zones and instances of today. In my naive mind, the random monster I would search for in the middle of a zone could drop an immensely rare item, when in reality it never did. It didn't matter though, because I was having fun exploring and playing the game that was taking place in my own mind. However, the real fun in Dark Age came from the Realm vs Realm gameplay rooted in reality, as I was lucky enough to choose a stealth-using character. The stealth game in Dark Age was an entirely different game than that played by the game's three other, separate realms. Stealthers could pick off straggling mages as they hurried to catch up with a group, or search and destroy each other for a real battle. Stealthers could hide in Darkness Falls, a dungeon that would switch access between the three realms, and pick off lonely levelers for as long as it took before the opposing realms hunted you down. Sure, parts of the stealth game could be considered cowardly and cheap, but it still provided some of the most entertaining moments I've ever encountered in a game.

The best RPGs will introduce you to experiences you just didn't expect to have. Demon's Souls does this constantly. It handles death in a unique way by simply making the main character less powerful, and by forcing him to kill a demon or another player through Demon's Souls' online mode to get it back. The demons aren't just any demons either, they range from 10-story tall knights to dragons (which seem more lethal than dragons have ever seemed before, by the way). The game is extremely challenging, but therein lies its reward. Taking down a monster that appears impossible to kill at first, while being a hair's breadth from death at any second, imparts the greatest feeling of victory possible. Demon's Souls' online mode is also pure genius, allowing other players to either leave hints or invade your world and kill you for their own gain. Demon's Souls is not for everybody, but for a hardcore RPG fan looking for a challenge, it's the tops.

Rest assured, putting World of Warcraft on my list of top RPGs of the decade doesn't make me feel that great, as I haven't played the game in over a year, but I'd be falsely representing myself if I didn't. World of Warcraft, just as with most of the millions who have played it, sucked up hundreds of hours of my time, and I can't say I didn't enjoy almost all of them. Blizzard is the master at creating varieties of quests that, while technically similar, feel different. World of Warcraft has a way of mostly making you feel like no matter what you are doing, something interesting could happen, whether it's the drop of a unique pet or the appearance of a surprise NPC. Yes, World of Warcraft might not give me any RPGamer street-cred, but there is a good reason why millions upon millions of people play it every single month. I'll go back to it, eventually, when I'm at the right time in my life. It says something about a game that life events have to align in order to properly play it.

- Tom Goldman
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