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Best Re-Release

Best Re-Release
The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD

As Legend of Zelda games go, the GameCube classic Wind Waker had a lot of problems. While its unique art style was a point of controversy for a long time, other gameplay issues held it back from greatness. It's been over ten years since it was originally released, but Nintendo decided to bring it back to the Wii U with a myriad of upgrades as The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD. But it wasn't just a visual face-lift. The entire game was overhauled to take advantage of the Wii U's unique features, and the result is an amazing game that puts its former self to shame. From simply making travel quicker and less frustrating to integrating impressive social networking features, Wind Waker HD improves on nearly every area that the GameCube original fell short on. While many remakes add in new content in an effort to create value, Wind Waker HD instead creates a fundamentally better experience, a difficult feat that shows just how much love and care went into it. This is why we've chosen it as 2013's best re-release.

Best DLC

Best DLC
Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep (Borderlands 2)

Borderlands 2 was a game that did a lot of things right. Great gameplay, great visuals, a great villain, and above all, great humor. More importantly, it's proven to be extremely long-lived, and that is in no small part thanks to its terrific DLC add-ons, the best of which was added this year: Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep. Featuring the jive-talking, crumpet-loving 13-year old girl fans loved in the main storyline, Assault on Dragon Keep places Tiny Tina in the role of Dungeon Master in a game-within-the-game pen-and-paper RPG. The result is a brilliant send-up of RPG and fantasy tropes surrounding a surprisingly dark and poignant storyline that takes a long hard look at the grieving process, the healthiness of escapism and how to help a friend cope with loss. DLC is a difficult thing to do well, and more often than not the end result is a shadow of the game for which it was made. However, Tiny Tina's Assault of Dragon Keep is a terrific example of how to do it right. For something that could have been a throw-away map pack with a few fetch quests thrown in, this expansion exceeds the already great Borderlands 2 on numerous levels, though it also wouldn't be nearly as interesting without the main campaign to precede it. Of all the DLC content RPGamer went through this year, Assault on Dragon Keep stands out as the best.

Most Completed

Most Completed
Fire Emblem: Awakening

Intelligent Systems was under a real threat of the Fire Emblem series ending if Awakening couldn't perform better than the two DS entries, and the developer responded by throwing everything it could think of into the mix. The interface received a helpful modernization, the visuals were full of little details to reward observant players, the dialogue was amusing when that fit the situation, and Nintendo made sure to grant a heavy promotional push that paid off in spades. One important improvement to the series was removing the old limit on the number of support conversations a character could have, which allowed the varied personalities making up the team to stand out. Incorporating random battles on the world map that the player could indulge in at leisure helped level everyone on the team by removing the need to nursemaid any character who showed up at a low level in a later fight. Making the permanent death mechanic for which the series is known into something optional may, all by itself, have broadened the audience for this game by keeping a wider crowd from shrieking with rage at the screen upon being forced to reload a save after something went horribly wrong. Having a variety of fights on interesting terrain that never got boring ensured the tactical audience would tune in, and the superb score for this game made paying attention to its audio an easy thing to do. Fire Emblem: Awakening succeeded in doing everything right rather than having a single outstanding aspect, and that came through in the number of RPGamer staff members who wanted to play it and then stuck through to see the credits scroll.

Best Non-RPG

Best Non-RPG
The Last of Us

It's been said that the golden age of horror gaming is long since over. Larger publishers continue to insist that the genre just doesn't sell anymore, believing that AAA horror franchises must now adhere to more mundane design elements of the first-person shooter and action genres in order to have a wider appeal. The Last of Us challenges this notion. It's an action game at heart, in which the gameplay is both finely tuned and satisfying, but the moments between combat sessions echo the staples of horror gaming. As with the Silent Hill franchise, the atmosphere of The Last of Us is extremely thick. There's a constant feeling of hopelessness and despair, which is compounded by the morally ambiguous landscape your characters have to wade through in order to survive. You will see and do things that won't feel okay, and it's more than likely your heart will feel as though it's been abused before the ending credits finally roll. This emotional impact can partially be attributed to the dynamism of the game's characters, Joel and Ellie in particular, but the real snag is the thematic inferences about our own instincts. The brutality of survival is on full display in The Last of Us, and at times it's clear that nature isn't the real monster. That said, not everything about the game has been written in stone. The conclusion, in particular, is open to interpretation and many gamers will likely find it to be polarizing. That in itself has power though. The Last of Us is one of the finest games to come out this generation. I honestly don't think the human story on display would have been as focused, action-packed, or emotionally resonating had Naughty Dog not incorporated elements of horror — and that gives me great satisfaction.

by Adriaan den Ouden, Scott Wachter, Mike Moehnke, Trent Seely

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