3 | Deux Ex: Human Revolution | PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Mac
In the not-too-distant future, cybernetic enhancements are a reality. Human augmentations are a controversial topic, and groups will stop at nothing -- including murder -- to reach their goals.
You play as Adam Jenson, the head of security at Sarif Industries, one of the leading developers of human augmentations. When Sarif's best scientist (and your lover) are killed by mercenaries and you're left for dead, you are involuntarily augmented to be kept alive.
What follows is a cyberpunk thriller that allows you to play the game how you want--you can take out targets from a distance, or avoid them altogether with superior stealth or hacking abilities. Maybe you're a pacifist who can avoid bloodshed altogether or maybe you want to be a heavily armored terminator. Regardless of your choice, Deus Ex gives you a great playground to jump into, loads of choices (both tactical and narrative), and an overall aesthetic that is distinctive. Like many good modern RPGs, the game appeals to both casual and "core" audiences. You can obsess over the augmentations you choose, investigate every nook and cranny in the game so you pick up every clue and scrap... or just treat the game as a more nuanced FPS. The choice is yours.
2 | Fallout: New Vegas | PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Say what you will about the Fallout franchise, but its "post-apocalyptia-by-way-of-Leave-it-to-Beaver" charm and tongue-in-cheek tone make it one of the most enjoyable, explorable dystopias out there. With the RPG vets at Obsidian Entertainment on development duties, New Vegas not only builds on everything established by 2008's Fallout 3, it also manages to recapture and then expand on the sense of knowing fun that was so tangible in the series' first two installments.
There's an insane amount of content packed into New Vegas' expansive world, and in true Fallout fashion, the faces you'll come across are some of the most unique to crop up in this console generation. True, it may not be the huge advancement that Fallout 4 hopefuls are clamoring for, but it's still one of the franchise's best entries to date, and a must-own for HD-gen RPG fans.
1 | Mass Effect 2 | PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Mass Effect 2 is one of those rare video games that almost defies genre classification. Although the RPG elements of upgradeable weapons, skill trees, and role-playing as a customizable Command Shepard are all there, it's undeniably as much of a shooter as Gears of War or Call of Duty. But what makes Mass Effect 2 so memorable are the roles of your crew, and how they fit into the team.
Although Mass Effect 2 is more action-focused than its predecessor, it smartly carries over all the choices you made in the first Mass Effect. Every dialogue choice and plot-specific decision deliberately changes events in the game, so that playing as a Paragon or Renegade has actual implications for your team, your character, and upcoming narrative conclusions in Mass Effect 3. It's been one of BioWare's most effective video game stories to date, and the influences from other stellar RPGs like Jade Empire and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic are evident.
For so many elements to combine in such a uniquely polished game is a real testament to Mass Effect 2's status as 2010's best action RPG. For players to identify so fiercely with the cast (thanks in no small part to stellar voice acting from the likes of Jennifer Hale, Mark Meer, and Seth Green), it's a crowning feat for the studio. With the interconnected trilogy presenting a character arc and story-driven drama that rivals any other role-playing game, Mass Effect 2 has more than shown that it's an incredibly solid second act.