2.) Rise of the Argonauts (Codemasters, PS3/ 360/PC)
I've already lavished praise and acclaim on this Ancient Greek-themed action RPG, so I'll refrain from repeating myself here. I will repeat myself when I say that Argonauts showed incredible promise on the show floor. The game has a robust and fairly original advancement system behind a solid combat engine that retains the entertainment and pure ass-kicking joy of God of War, though at a (relatively) slower, more tactical and realistic pace.
I loved the "action" part, but was impressed by what I was shown of the "RPG" half as well - the player will have to make choices on the fly, each with different outcomes. For example, in one boss fight the foe will be holding a statue of her former self, and at some point will become enraged and drop it. Players can either judge her as undeserving of redemption and kill her directly, or attempt to destroy the statue and redeem her. While there's no way to really tell before we see the finished product, Rise of the Argonauts stood out among the show floor as one of its unexpected best.
1.) The Lord of the Rings Online: Mines of Moria (Turbine, PC)
All right, yes, this is an expansion, so some might say it doesn't count. LotRO is a solid title with a devoted fanbase and a development team whose passion and love for the original source material is blindingly evident in the work they do. I already knew this, and in that respect the game shouldn't count as a surprise.
Moria, though? That was a surprise. I'm not talking about the two new classes, as intriguing as they appear - the star of the show is the kingdom beneath the mountain. LotRO is by no means the only MMORPG based off a pre-existing IP, but while games based on Warhammer, Star Trek, and the rest have their own trials and tribulations ... this is Tolkien. This is the grandfather of modern-day high fantasy. Growing up, I had a friend whose cousin was named Arwen: if Turbine messed up the Mines of Moria, they'd never hear the end of it.
So it's a good thing that they didn't.
In all seriousness, Turbine has built Moria. They've built it, and it is immense (as it should be). They've replicated what we see in the books down to details like the correct number of steps in a grand staircase. An area of the kingdom of Moria built during an era of friendship with the Elves shows traces of Elven architecture. They've filled in some of the blanks, too, such as an area called the Waterworks where massive paddlewheels and underground rivers provide the groundwork for the civilization of Moria to exist.
At this point, I'm beginning to suspect that Turbine may be actually employing members of the line of Balin, because what they've done is no small feat. Moria is a high bar to clear, and they've done so with flying colors.
Tolkien should be proud.