Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines
Although slow at first, Vampire: Bloodlines has to be one of the more enjoyable RPGs I've played in a long time. More like an FPS version of Fallout than a traditional RPG, the Vampire: Bloodlines developers have learned the most important lesson of all, freedom of gameplay. Mired in some less than impressive graphics, and an occasionally too campy tone, Vampire still presents some enjoyable gameplay in a setting that really deserves it.
Vampire: Bloodlines is based on White Wolf's popular pen and paper RPG,. The beginning of the game puts you in the role of a newly created vampire, adrift in a time of chaos for the undead population of Los Angeles. Very faithful to the original system upon which it was based, you'll have a character sheet that looks very similar to the original book version, and you'll use various special powers, called disciplines, to dispense your particular brand of punishment. With seven different basic character choices, the first true strength of Vampire is the differentiation of gameplay each character will face.
Nosferatu, as disgusting to look at as the vampire from the silent film of the same name, are bound by the rule of stealth. Since their appearance can give away the existence of vampires, you must stealth your way through the game, rather than being able to walk through the streets normally. Brujah, young punk anarchists of the vampire world, can generally beat their way through any challenge, and the Ventrue, power brokers par excellence, can not only talk their way through nearly any situation enforcing their will with the powerful mental discipline, Dominate. Four more clans are available for your choosing, with even more gameplay options available therein. Say what you will about the storyline, but there are usually many different ways to solve most of the game's quests, allowing you to play whatever character you'd like.
Vampire's largest flaws are in its graphics. While developed with the Half-Life 2 engine, many of the character models can look very poor in some of the more strangely lit locales in the game. Additionally, there's very little in the way of actual freedom to move through the city, as at all times you're essentially stuck in four different zones that are mere postage stamps compared to other titles. Still, with the chance to play a myriad of characters in many different ways, this is my favorite RPG of the year.