After a couple years of AAA RPGs seemingly disappearing from the face of the planet, 2015 invoked the power of the role-playing gods to deliver one of the best years that the genre has ever seen. Among the cast of games were three RPGs that took the world by storm: Bloodborne, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and Fallout 4. While different in what they offer, they strive for a similar goal of entertaining players for hundreds of hours.
We’re nearing the end of the year, and now is the perfect time to look back and ask the question: which 2015 RPG is best?
Controls: How It Feels To Play
The Souls games depend upon their reliable controls to deliver a fair experience despite their difficulty, and Bloodborne was no different. Everything from movement to swinging weapons and attacking was on-point making for a reliably enjoyable experience. The only area where it faltered was with camera control, and that could be reasonably rectified by learning to play without lock-on.
Most of the launch reception for The Witcher 3 was overwhelming praise, but many agreed that the controls could be fairly clunky both in and out of combat. Geralt controlled wildly, and took getting used to. It can be argued that controls were the greatest shortcoming of the game.
Fallout would typically rate low in this area, but Fallout 4’s engine had been reworked to a point where gunplay felt great in the hands. There’s a good sense of feedback with both melee and ranged attacks. Only grenade and other projectile weapon usage was finicky.
Ultimately, Bloodborne had the most cohesive control experience, so it takes the win in this area.
World Design: The Virtual Landscape
Bloodborne was the only game of these three with focused pseudo-linear level design. Once you progressed a bit, you could move around the world freely, but it boxed you in with narrow pathways and only the occasional open area to deliver something that is controlled and optimized. The benefit to this was everyone has a similar experience from beginning to end. The bad part was that it lacked the immense freedom that the two other games offer.
The Witcher 3 had an absolutely massive world that makes no compromises. Hundreds of quests were scattered across various land masses, each of which had unique topography and atmosphere. The player was unshackled, allowed to venture out into a beautiful world and do what they want when they want.
Fallout 4’s world might not have been as beautiful as The Witcher 3's, but its side content was more inviting and well-composed. It encouraged you to go into any direction you desire, and rewarded you with unique experiences that were consistently memorable. It was the ultimate triumph in world design.
Congratulations, Fallout 4, you take the World Design trophy.
Winner: Fallout 4
Presentation: What the Eyes See
Bloodborne played at a disadvantage since it had no PC version. Nonetheless, its art design and atmosphere were one of a kind. Players found themselves engrossed in its dark, twisted world that left a strong impression. There was a great sense of personality about it, although the visual fidelity was held back by aging console hardware.
The Witcher 3 was simply a more varied game with higher fidelity. Its PC version stands as the benchmark by which other games are measured. Its technology is a world apart from anything last-gen delivered, from god rays to texture quality, and the bar by which current-gen games are judged.
Fallout 4 had funky animations and some underwhelming texture quality that only impressed on occasion. It lacked the art design of Bloodborne, and the image quality of The Witcher 3.
The Witcher 3 takes this one.
Winner: The Witcher 3
Mechanics: The Design
Bloodborne’s more fast-paced take on Souls was a fresh change of From Software's legendary third-person action gameplay. Between Regain and Transform weapons most found themselves very entertained by combat throughout the lengthy journey. The Firearms and Blood Vial design were the only shortcomings of the mechanics.
The Witcher 3 followed in its franchise’s footsteps of delivering par mechanics. Its third-person combat comes across as fun at first, with executions and a few magical options that can be used regularly, but felt rough around the edges. In the long haul, it lacked the variety that its competitors offer.
Fallout 4 didn’t take many risks, and delivered the simple first-person shooter experience combined with a V.A.T.S. system that the series is known for. Its combat was engaging, but not the highlight of the show like Bloodborne.
Out of these three games, Bloodborne’s mechanics are the most satisfying.
Story: The Reason to Live
Bloodborne was very subtle with its story delivery. Although a few interactions would include cutscenes, dialog was exchanged infrequently. Those who wanted to understand the world and the protagonist's motives had to dig deep. If they did, they found something interesting and unique, although told in an unorthodox manner.
In contrast, The Witcher 3 had a grand tale to tell. It was an epic adventure that was riveting, equipped with mountains of side quests. Perhaps due to its immense lengths it had moments of tedium and provided you with a lot of menial tasks. Even in these cases the character development would make you care about what was going on.
Fallout 4 had the luxury of being equipped with what could be argued as the most tasteful side content of any game in the current era. On one hand, its main story delivered some good moments, but was arguably less successful than The Witcher 3. However, by the end of it all, the plethora of sub-stories ready to be experienced were more compelling than The Witcher 3's offerings.
Fallout 4 beats out the other two by a small margin in this regard.
Winner: Fallout 4
Audio: Acoustic Immersion
Bloodborne’s enemy design benefited greatly from its outstanding audio. Creatures came to life with growls that left players petrified. When not facing enemies, players had to deal with listening to the creepy atmosphere of its world.
The Witcher 3 had great atmosphere as well, but also incorporated extremely well-delivered dialog that Bloodborne simply couldn't compete with. Your ears were constantly hearing a variety of well-produced audio ranging from an epic soundtrack, to emotional voice delivery, and powerful sound effects.
Fallout 4 had great moments punctuated by its outstanding soundtrack and audio design. Unfortunately, it lacks the polish of the other two. There are moments where the voice delivery and sound effects don't match the rest of the audio, and it can break immersion.
The Witcher 3 takes yet another one.
Winner: The Witcher 3
Progression: What Doesn't Kill Me Makes Me Stronger
Bloodborne was not only the least successful of these three games in terms of progression, it was a step back from its own predecessors. Very few builds were effective, and there wasn't much to look forward to. As a result players weren't as excited to earn rewards as they usually are when playing an RPG.
The Witcher 3 did a slightly better job by allowing you to place your points in one of several trees, each which focused on an important element of combat. While most of the skill points didn’t influence gameplay to any major degree, there were other systems that provided choice and customization. The culmination of these systems made for a strong RPG experience.
Fallout 4 succeeded in a big way with a stat and perk system that felt rewarding and engaging across the spectrum. Every level you earned was a reason to be excited, as you had an opportunity to increase your character’s effectiveness in a meaningful way. There are also stats, weapon mods, a full currency system, and other ways to increase the potency of your character over the length of the journey.
Fallout 4 takes this one by a wide margin.
Winner: Fallout 4
Loot: The Fruit Of Your Labor
Often overlooked, loot is an important part of an RPG. Bloodborne fell short in this regard due to its low quantity of items. With only a small handful of weapons to acquire, you rarely get to feel the thrill of earning a new piece of equipment. As a result, the game relied too heavily on its action gameplay, which didn't leave a lot of room for variation.
The Witcher 3 had a wide array of items. There were various armors, weapons, consumables, and more. You were constantly finding something new no matter where you ventured. It felt satisfying and made content completion all the more addictive.
Fallout 4 took this a step further with by far the most variety of these three games. When you weren't scavenging for parts to use at your settlement, you were finding treasure in the darkest regions of the map. With so much variety and options, the gameplay experience could be truly tailored to an individual's tastes.
Fallout 4 takes its fourth victory.
Winner: Fallout 4
Conclusion: Fallout 4 Wins Best RPG Of 2015
You can’t go wrong with any of these three games. All of them have their own flavor, and areas where they excel over the competition.
When it comes down to it, Fallout 4 is the best RPG of the bunch. You are constantly encouraged to explore its world to engage in interesting side stories. As you progress, you feel excited to earn perk points and find new items. It gets all the most important qualities of RPG design right, and as a result players are sure to be hooked for the months to come.
If you have only room for one RPG this holiday season, Fallout 4 is your best bet.