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RPG Codex 2014 Role-Playing Game of the Year Awards

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RPG Codex 2014 Role-Playing Game of the Year Awards

Community - posted by Zed on Tue 13 January 2015, 02:10:18

Tags: RPG Codex; RPG Codex Awards

Hallo aus RPG Codex zentral. It's finally time to reveal our Game of the Year winners! I took the liberty of calling them Role-Playing Games of the Year, because we've finally had a year that didn't suck balls. In fact, this year has been so good that one of the most common issues has been people not having time to play all the titles.

We've split the awards into two categories - reader's and editor's. The reader's award has been chosen by our community and lurkers through a public poll created by RPG Codex collaborator felipepepe. Read all about it below. The editor's awards were chosen by RPG Codex staff and contributors (reviewers, moderators, and other people with access to our content forum), and can be found even further down.

RPG CODEX RPGOTY 2014 - Reader's Choice
Presented by felipepepe

This year I decided to try a different voting format, so we could gather more data, rate each individual game, and compensate for popularity. Thus, we had a survey where people could rate the games they played among the 54 new releases of 2014, assigning them a 1-5 score. The voting was open to anyone who managed to find their way to the survey without a quest compass, and the results would be analyzed by a Bayesian average.

This new format brought in an unprecedented amount of lurkers, resulting in almost 1300 votes. Of these, a few were removed due to obvious trolling (like voting everything 1/5 or 5/5 - at least put in some effort, guys!), resulting in 1245 votes. For reference, the Top 50 RPG voting last year only had about 360 votes, and NeoGAF's Essential RPGs voting barely pass 200 votes. Damn, we are popular.

If anyone wants to check the data and bitch about methodology, here's the link.

Now, without further ado, our winners:

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#1 - Divinity: Original Sin
The winner of our survey was chosen by the highest Bayesian average, but Divinity: Original Sin wasn't satisfied with just a partial victory. Larian's RPG holds not only the highest Bayesian average, but also the highest regular average, the highest number of votes AND the highest amount of 5/5 ratings, with an impressive 49% of voters giving it the maximum score. There is no doubt, Divinity: Original Sin is the RPG Codex's 2014 Game of the Year.

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#2 - Shadowrun: Dragonfall - Director's Cut
If 2013's Shadowrun Returns didn't deliver all that people hoped for, Harebrained Schemes' decision to take its expansion, polish it, and release it as a stand-alone game was a slam dunk. Its rating and popularity are just a bit lower than D:OS', and way ahead of the other entries.

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#3 - NEO Scavenger
The third place comes as a surprise. NEO Scavenger was released less than a month ago and was only played by 15% of the Codex, yet people were clearly impressed. About 42% of those who played it gave the game a 5/5 score, and 36% rated it 4/5. The game's average score was 4.12, the Bayesian average lowered it to 4.09 to compensate for the low number of votes, but it still managed to stay ahead of Wasteland 2 and grab the third place.

Top 10
Those three titles are clearly a cut ahead of the rest, being the Top 3 when it comes to the average score, the Bayesian average score, % of 5/5 ratings, and % of overall positive (4 & 5) ratings. Still, while in years past we struggled to find a single decent game to give a GOTY award to, 2014 lived up to "The Year of Incline" moniker and presented a long list of great RPGs. So here are our Top 10 Best RPGs of 2014:

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(Click image for higher resolution.)

At 4th place, we have a tie. Brian Fargo's Wasteland 2, the poster child for the crowdfunded rebirth of CRPGs, shares its position with Heroine's Quest, a free, fan-made tribute to Quest for Glory (released in the last week of 2013 and thus included here). Quite different beasts, these two - one is a turn- and party-based post-apocalyptic RPG, the other a Nordic adventure/RPG hybrid. One was played by more than 65% of the Codex, while the other by less than 14%. Still, both titles are (spiritual) sequels to decade-old games that would've normally had no place in the modern gaming industry but, thanks to the dedication of their fans, were released and conquered the admiration of old and new gamers alike.

Legend of Grimrock 2 takes the 6th position with its carefully crafted love letter to dungeon crawlers. We constantly hear developers justify their streamlined games along the lines of "this is how game X would be if it were made today", but Grimrock showed everyone how to actually do it right. Taking advantage of modern hardware and design, it updates the Dungeon Master-style of game with fantastic graphics, slick UI, and a expansive world, while staying true to the old-school gameplay and challenge.

The 7th and 8th places are another tie, as the Codex's weaboos couldn't decide between Valkyria Chronicles and Trails in the Sky for the best JRPG of 2014. Interestingly enough, neither of them is a fresh release. The former is a PS3 exclusive from 2008, and the later a Japanese-exclusive title from 2004 that finally got its English PC release, so everyone wins as the PC gets more ports and localizations of great games.

Ashes of Urh'Rok, the demon-infested expansion to Tales of Maj'Eyal, took the 9th position. As someone pointed out in the voting thread, it feels more as a testament to the Codex's love for ToME than a vote solely for the expansion, but still it adds some interesting content to an already massive roguelike that can keep you busy for months.

Finally, Lords of Xulima takes the 10th place. The first project from our Spanish friends at Numantian Games raised only $35,000 on Kickstarter and $12,000 on Indiegogo, but managed to conquer the Codex's respect and ended up ahead of big titles such as Might and Magic X, South Park: The Stick of Truth, and Dark Souls 2.

Most played titles
As one could expect, the big Kickstarter titles were the most played games of the year. About 72% of the Codex played D:OS, 65% played Wasteland 2 and 48% played Shadowrun: Dragonfall. Still, I was honestly surprised to see Banner Saga as the 4th most played game of 2014, or to find out that more people played South Park: Stick of Truth than Legend of Grimrock II or Might & Magic X. At the bottom of the list, Rime Berta and Helen's Mysterious Castle share the position of the least played games - only 7 among 1245 Codexers gave them a try.

The Golden Turd Award

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A very special mention should go to Sacred 3. This banal shit boring fest of cringe-worthy edgy remarks was the worst according to the Kodex's Konsensus; precisely 75% of the voters rated it 1/5. It is, by far, the worst RPG of 2014, with an 1.71 average score.

Other noteworthy things
Unrest was considered the quintessential "good for what it is" game, with 48% of voters rating it 3/5. Final Fantasy XIII-2 was the most controversial title, torn between weaboos rating it highly, a lot of people going "meh", and the anti-JRPG brigade giving it 1/5.

If you ever wondered how many games the Codex plays in a year, this bit of info is for you. We had 54 CRPGs up for voting, yet 50% of the voters played at most 8 of them. And less than 10% played more than 17 - i.e. had no life, were unemployed, and/or trolled the survey.

Another interesting data is the lack of any strong correlation between votes. I expected people to be strongly split between W2 and D:OS, but that was not the case. The only real pattern was that those who voted for Final Fantasy XIII also voted for its sequel, Final Fantasy XIII-2.

Now, I bet you are all curious about Dragon Age: Inquisition. As expected, the Codex spared no mercy to BioWare's single-player MMO, burying it underneath hundreds of 1/5 votes, resulting in a meager 2.51 average score (also artificially boosted its popularity - well done guys). Even if we remove all 1/5 ratings, it still ends up with a weak 3.23 average. Despite what the Doritos Pope said, it seems like riding The Bull wasn't that fun.

RPG CODEX RPGOTY 2014 - Editor's Choice

Because we couldn't trust felipepepe and random Codexers to choose the right role-playing game of the year, we chose to also run an internal behind-the-scenes vote, available only to staff members and RPG Codex collaborators. The voting system was not as intricate as the public vote, and was designed thus: each person got to assign 4 points, 2 points, and 1 point to three role-playing games from this year. These points were all added up, and the highest scoring games won. Advanced stuff, I know.

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#1 - Divinity: Original Sin
Our Editor's Choice winner is the same as the Reader's Choice, so I think it's safe to declare Divinity: Original Sin as RPG Codex' Role-Playing Game of the Year. Having the most nonsensical name in years did not stop the game from sweeping a clear victory in both polls. We look forward to whatever Larian has in store for us in the years to come.

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#2 - Shadowrun: Dragonfall
Well, so far it looks like our community and readers got it right. Our runner-up also shares the same spot on both polls. Shadowrun: Dragonfall solidified Harebrained's tactical turn-based design from the previous game and made it a very strong contestant in a very tough year. Hopefully Harebrained Schemes will continue to impress.

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#3 - Might & Magic X: Legacy
An actual sequel in one the genre's oldest series finds its way onto our Editor's Choice list, and it's our only publisher-backed winner. With Legend of Grimrock 2 also scoring high, one could say it's been a good year for both top-down/isometric and first person RPGs. We hope Limbic returns to the series in the future.

Editor's Choice - Individual picks
I asked everybody eligible to vote in this top secret poll to also write something about their personal top pick. Not everybody complied, or had the time, but we got a nice collection in the end. So what follows are short reviews from RPG Codex staff and collaborators on their personal role-playing games of the year.

Crooked Bee (Divinity: Original Sin):
2014 made me realize that what I’m looking for the most in an RPG these days is some kind of unique or innovative mechanics. Something new, or a new take on something habitual. So I’m going with Divinity: Original Sin.

I’m usually a Wizardry person, but Original Sin was the first game in more than fifteen years to make me interested in full fledged isometric RPGs again. What makes it, for me, mechanics-wise the best non-dungeon crawler since the 1990s and an important step forward for computer RPGs as a whole, is the way it makes combat itself a fluid part of emergent world interaction – something that had been long overdue in the genre, and something I hope Larian expands on in the future. The game’s structure was unconventional, too, and while dialogue could have used improvement, the charmingly non-serious tone (rat diplomacy, anyone?) reminded me of my favorite period in RPG history, the 1980s and early 1990s. In general, Original Sin tends to do its own thing when it comes to most of its aspects and does not play it safe, which is as laudable as it is rare.

Original Sin was the obvious, if surprising choice for me – after all, I hadn't been that much of a Larian fan before – but I can't help also mentioning other 2014 PC RPGs that were, I believe, mechanically interesting: Blackguards, which breathed fresh, hand-crafted air into SRPG encounter design by utilizing Daedalic's adventure game and PnP experience; Labyrinth of Touhou 2, a great sequel to one of the best turn-based dungeon crawlers, with a 12 character party and the most varied and demanding tactical combat in a broadly "Wizardry-like" RPG to date; NEO Scavenger with its tense survival roguelike gameplay, a simple yet effective balance of positive and negative abilities, and the feeling of a living world to explore; Final Fantasy XIII-2, combining XIII's new spin on the job system with monster recruitment and time travel; and finally, perhaps the odd one out, Heroine’s Quest, which, while not breaking any new ground, somehow managed to compellingly recreate that one-of-a-kind Quest for Glory experience – something that also requires a fine eye for mechanics.

It was a great year, and 2015 has a high bar set for it.​

Darth Roxor (Divinity: Original Sin):
Back in the day, I spent a lot of time playing Guild Wars with a buddy of mine. GW was a MMORPG unlike any other - it focused not on grinding and FedEx quests like your typical WoW-clone, but instead offered a tremendously robust and complex party-based combat system that gave you a total of 1235 skills which you could mix and match to invent the best 8-skill build for a given situation. The combinations were endless, experimentation would often lead you to completely crazy builds and, above all, you had to adapt them to the rest of your team to create an 8-man synergy of doom.

Unfortunately, its sequel, Guild Wars 2, decided to completely change its design principles and very quickly went to shit, leaving my thirst for crazy experimentation and hilarious teamwork mishaps unquenched. Until Divinity: Original Sin finally came out this year.

I played D:OS from start to finish in coop, and it was exactly what I was craving, just scaled down a bit and turn-based. Juggle stats around to calculate the optimal ability values, work as a team, experiment, use abilities in idiotic ways that actually end up effective and finally get yourself immolated by an undead suicide bomber summoned by your own teammate. Now combine that with aspects that Larian Studios have been good at since day 1, such as hunting for secrets and using the environment in ways that introduce a nearly unparalleled level of emergent gameplay, and you simply get an incredibly fun game.

That is obviously not to say that D:OS was perfect, not in the least, but I simply don't care. I was waiting for a game like it for ages, far longer, in fact, than for "just another non-popamole RPG". This is precisely why its release is much more special to me than all the other RPGs we've seen this year, even though some of them I could consider comparably great.​

Deuce Traveler (Heroine's Quest: The Herald of Ragnarok):
Heroine's Quest: The Herald of Ragnarok was the best game I played from 2014. I'll admit that part of the charm is nostalgia, since I am also a fan of the Quest for Glory series. Still, it's been quite some time since I played that series, and I find that the style of game interface still holds up to this day. I prefer CRPGs with turn-based, tactical combat, but second to this is a game with strong exploration. The combat in Heroine's Quest does not stand out as anything special, but it has plenty of exploration in which to delve. The game delivers a decent feel of progression as your character builds up her skills in surviving the cold outdoors, gradually fighting increasingly powerful monsters, and building popularity and fame among the suffering locals.

The background and story of the game is based on Norse mythology, with an eternal cold winter making life unbearable for the local humans struggling for food. Your heroine has to find out who is behind the land's suffering, and return spring to the lands of the North. Along the way you'll meet the humans and non-humans, each with their own personal problems that you can help relieve as side quests. The lore in the game has depth, and the North seems like it could be a realistic place if you can ignore a bit of magic, valkyries, and frost giants. The puzzles and quests have multiple solutions depending upon which skill sets you decide to focus upon. As an added treat, the little details in the game seem to indicate that it could perfectly exist in the same world as the Quest for Glory games.

The most amazing aspect of this game is that it was released publicly for free, with the creative staff being volunteers who had a love for CRPGs. Yet the graphics, voice acting and interface are of a professional quality one would expect from a more successful indie company. This is a game that the developers should be very proud to have been involved, and which a Codexer which likes both CRPGs and adventure games has no reason not to at least give a try.​

felipepepe (NEO Scavenger):
A few games managed to impress me during 2014: Grimrock II with it's gorgeous "open-world" dungeon-crawler; the craziness of Divinity's co-op & spells; Xulima's old-but-new gameplay... but NEO Scavenger stood out this year. It did one thing that really amazed me: I've never played a game that leaves so much to the player's instinct.

NEO Scavenger is a "realistic" survival roguelike, set in post-apocalyptic Michigan. It's close enough to reality that common sense applies, yet so far removed from our daily lives that we lack that same "common" sense. We never had to survive and fight for our lives in the wilds (at least I think none of us did), so we don't know how that works. Is it safer to drink from a pond or a river? How bad it is to eat raw meat? Should you use a crowbar or a knife to defend yourself from that other survivor that is approaching? Will you hail him for a friendly talk or you hide in ambush? Going completely against standard RPG philosophy, NEO Scavenger hides almost all of its stats, numbers and workings from the player. There is no HP display, you don't know how much damage a weapon does or what your THC is, conversations don't come in color-coded dialog wheels, and there are no handy tooltips to give you an easy, mechanical answer about an object or action. The entire game plays on instinct. On what you feel is better.

Of course, after a while you'll begin to understand what's more effective... but NEO Scavenger is built around meta-gaming. It's an RPG, but your character will never level up. Instead, you - the player - will find out that running around in shorts during a rainy winter night leads to dying of hypothermia, which is kind of bad. You will slowly learn how to craft, scavenge, hunt, protect yourself from cold, from diseases and overall survive this harsh world.

And survive you must, for the game features mandatory permadeath, that complements the game design perfectly. Lack of food or water is lethal and may lead to desperate solutions. Each sign of danger is a very real threat, inducing a heavy sense of paranoia on the player. Each battle is a serious life and death situation that will often turn bad quickly, with you and your enemy down the mud, tired, full of concussions, broken bones and bleedings, beating each other with whatever you could find and wondering who will drop dead first.

Yet winning a battle still doesn't put you out of risk. You won't magically recover all your health, but instead will have to treat the wounds you suffered, to deal with the consequences of each and every action. Should you use a dirty rag to bandage that nasty cut on your leg, or that will only make it worst and cause an infection? You'll just have to trust your instincts, and live (or die) with the consequences.​

Jaesun (Shadowrun: Dragonfall):
2014 brought me back one of my favorite PnP settings: Shadowrun. I fell in love with the setting instantly back in the day, and loved the entire dystopian future mixed with a sprinkling of “classic” fantasy elements. As someone who is completely and utterly burned out on “classic fantasy” settings currently, this setting still is something that holds my interest and is still fresh and interesting.

Harebrained Schemes finally released their Kickstarter backed first campaign (of which I backed) Dead Mans Switch. It was a fun romp though the Shadowrun universe and an interesting story, but that was about it. It was missing some of the good basic PnP mechanics that say Obsidian always does well.

And then BAM! Out of nowhere Harebrained Schemes releases the second campaign in the backer voted Berlin setting: Dragonfall. You have party of 3 (and one optional) NPC's on your team to get to know. Hear their stories and their thoughts on things. Missions that have multiple ways of affecting your objectives. Stat, skill and etiquette checks, and you can choose what missions to do, in what order you wish. And with glorious Turn-Based combat. MASSIVE INCLINE! It's like suddenly HBS started reading the Codex...

This game had me hooked from the start. I was back in my favorite setting, with a decent story and some well designed PnP mechanics and encounters. So this was my game of the year for The Year of Incline™ 2014.​

JarlFrank (Shadowrun: Dragonfall):
2014 has seen the release of many good RPGs, and it's hard to decide which one to pick. My top three are Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall Director's Cut, Wasteland 2 and Divinity: Original Sin. All three have good arguments for why they should deserve a GOTY award. All three are excellent games. Of course, they all have their flaws - then again, which game doesn't? - but they're all solid offerings in a genre that has been long thought dead. So, which one do I choose? Is it Wasteland 2 with its many choices and consequences, its party of 7 (finally a decent party size after more than a decade where 4 character parties were the norm!), and its many different character builds? Is it Dragonfall, with its tight design, good combat and excellent writing? Or is it Original Sin with its excellent magic and combat systems?

Overall, I would say that Dragonfall is the most well-designed game of 2014. Apart from the made-for-tablets engine that is obviously holding the game back, it has no real drawbacks. The story, the writing, the combat, the level design, they are all quite excellent. And yet, there hasn't been a game I enjoyed as much as Divinity: Original Sin in recent times. The combat is just loads of fun, as is the exploration, as is experimenting with the different spells. Yes, it's flawed. It's imbalanced, the story is kinda boring, it loses its steam about halfway through, but I still enjoyed it from beginning to end. The combat was just that good. And it deserves the title of GOTY just for being so damn innovative. Trying out different character builds and different combat tactics hasn't been that fun in any other RPG to date, mostly thanks to how interactive the game world is. Most objects are destructible, most spells have status effects or affect the environment rather than merely doing damage, and almost everything can be picked up (robbing paintings is going to be your best source of income at the start of the game).​

sser (NEO Scavenger):
A lot of words come up to describe the post-apocalyptic genre. Words like desolate, grimdark, and Mayan gore fantasy. Reusing these adjectives leaves the genre in a bit of a lull. Fallout 3, for example, employed cannibals and a dark ashen color to make you feel the loss of civilization and any sense of art direction you may have taken for granted. New Vegas attempted a survival mode of eat, sleep, slay giant monsters with your .38 on account of your pistol skill level being high. For some reason, these barely scratched the itch for the post-apocalyptic environment.

So what does NEO Scavenger do differently? The game is archaic in its presentation – simplistic 2D environment, turn-based, on hexes? May the gods or whatever cannibals worship have mercy on its soul. But NEO Scavenger really drives into the reality of the post-apocalyptic world: the loss of trust. The world is fundamentally full of lies, but civilization – the understanding between men not to impose upon one another – is what defines us. You drink water from a pipe under the belief that someone, somewhere, checked to make sure it wasn’t contaminated. You eat meat that was carefully grown in the absence of outside microbes. When you pay your babysitter there is an explicit understanding that, for $20 an hour, you will not return to find she has eaten your kin.

NEO Scavenger destroys this trust. That water you just picked up came in a plastic bottle! Just like from the stores that no longer exist! Your modern sensibilities are betraying you. It’s full of microorganisms that will turn your stool into liquid fire. Are you a tough, strong man who don’t need no ranged weaponry? Great, that shrimp you picked on somehow managed to knock you unconscious in his blind nerd rage. You are currently being bludgeoned to death with a plastic flashlight. There’s nothing you can do – except hit end turn.

I don’t want to say too much about the game – because so much of its charm is based on discovery – but it’s easily one of my favorites of the past few years. This is the kind of game I’d imagine Sid Meier to make if he had more of a thing for cannibalism. It’s that good. (Instead, the game was made by Daniel Fedor, ex-BioWare employee and brofist harvester in spirit.)​

tuluse (Divinity: Original Sin):
Divinity: Original Sin has the highest highs, so it's my choice for RPG of the year.

Everyone else was impressed with the elemental interactions and so was I. A nicely setup, poison cloud or puddle, followed up with a fireball just blowing up and everything and setting it on fire is enjoyable enough, but you haven't seen anything until you are facing something that oozes poison and you decided a fireball was a good idea. Watching burning ooze spread everywhere you can see and contemplating just why you thought this was a good idea is unmatched. The system encourages the players to experiment and find new ways to burn/poison/electrocute/freeze their enemies and see what new combinations do. This idea of experimentation is further carried out with the crafting system. There is a seemingly limitless number of combinations you can make with items, ranging the gamut from intuitive, to obscure, to obtuse, to puzzling.​

Vault Dweller (Legend of Grimrick 2):
2014 was a great year for RPGs. After more than a decade of waiting, the dam finally broke and RPGs came rushing out in all shapes and sizes (which makes it hard to pick a worthy game of the year).

Well, since I can only pick one, I’ll go with Legend of Grimrock 2. It’s a truly old-school game that does a great job combining puzzle-solving, exploration, and combat, the focus being on exploration which sets the game apart from most RPGs. It’s inspired by the venerable and long-forgotten Dungeon Master games, so if you were still busy shitting in your diapers in 1987, do give it a try.

What’s truly praise-worthy and extremely rare in the gaming industry is that this game is a huge and staggering improvement over the first game. Instead of doing more of the same, the developers improved pretty much everything: the character system, combat and AI, pacing, exploration, and let us crawl out of a dungeon into a fantastic and fairly large open world, which shows willingness to take risks, try new things, and ability to do then well.

Can’t wait to see what they come up with next.​

Zed (Might & Magic X: Legacy):
Among all the oldies and classics, I was never grabbed by the Might & Magic games, or the Wizardry games, or any of the first-person/party-based RPGs. Instead, it was the isometric and 3rd-person (and often single-character) games that took up most of my time. Going by my preferences, there are other titles from this year that I should have enjoyed more than this game.

Yet, M&M X provided me with many hours of great (non-scaling) challenges and fun exploration. Unlike other games from this year, I never experienced a long moment of dullness. I also feel like I could start replaying the game at any moment. It's a shame Limbic gave up on the game to start working on Heroes VII. I sincerely hope they return to Might & Magic soon.​

2015 - Most Anticipated
Twenty-fourteen was a good year for CRPGs. Probably one of the best we've had in these last twenty years if not longer. But with last year out of the way, we look to twenty-fifteen and all the exciting things to come. In a topic on our forums called "List of Incline - 2015 Edition", we can gauge the Codex' interest in upcoming games.

The current top games, way ahead of the other titles on the list, are Age of Decadence, Pillars of Eternity, Torment: Tides of Numenera and Underrail. Barring delays and force majeure, this year should be at least as interesting as twenty-fourteen. As of the twelfth of January, Torment: Tides of Numenera leads the poll with a dozen votes over Underrail. Therefor I think it's safe to declare that...

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InXile's Torment: Tides of Numenera wins our somewhat impromptu anticipation award! Let's just hope it wins more than a participation award next time we run this. (Hehe. Heh..).

That's all for this year's Role-Playing Game of the Year awards. We would like to close out the ceremony by reminding everybody that RPG Codex has won the prestigious award for PC RPG Website Of The Year. Thanks for a great twenty-fourteen, and here's to an even better twenty-fifteen.

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