It's not irrelevant, I'm genuinely interested in what you consider good design.
I wish I knew. I really genuinely wish I knew. I don't even know if I like CT. You know, I'd seriously have an easier time discussing CT in particular if rom hack discussion wasn't so verboten, because there was a hack that addressed some of my complaints about balance in a really innovative way, but I'm going to shut up about that now.
I have a hard time talking about what I'd call good design in an RPG. I think good design principles sort of go across genres, though.
So let's talk about why I think Quake 3 is well designed. At it's core, it has a surprisingly strong physics ruleset in place, for one thing. Additionally, every weapon has its use, and there's no absolutely super-powerful weapon (except the BFG, of course, but that's more of a reward item) and actually usefulness is really just bounded by player skill with a given weapon. Weapons also have interesting behaviors that you can play around with, and combined with the physics system you get some really neat emergent behaviors. Finally, there's a lot of strategy, both in terms of trick shots and acrobatics, as well as just basic things like resource control. In some regards, it's actually better than Ut99, which doesn't really have acrobatics or as interesting physics.
So let's generalize this. What do I like, in a broader sense?
* Balance (If this isn't obvious by now...)
* Emergent behavior, specifically in the form of lots of different rules that all interact with eachother. I tend to look at rules/mechanics in a very object oriented manner, in that they should all be distinct but freely interacting, I guess?
* INTERESTING behaviors. I can mostly forgive wonky balance if I can play around and experiment with things (See: Why FFV is the only SNES FF I kind of like).
* Strategy. Sort of a factor of all of these. For strategy to really work, you need fairly strong balance. For strategy to be interesting, you need emergent and/or interesting behaviors/options/whatever.
* An emphasis on player skill. As in, if this game uses stats, I want it to matter more how good *I* am at playing the game than what the characters'/units' stats are (the latter scenario leads to grindfests or just Stupid Aggravating Shit, like the uh, combat system in most elder scrolls games).
What is my favorite RPG? Ultima 7. And here's a neat problem, because Ultima 7 doesn't really have any balance, because combat is completely irrelevant and 90% of the spells in the game are literally just for either your convenience or Neat Fun Visual Effects. As such, there's no strategy, because battles are absolutely hands off and inconsequential. So why is Ultima 7 my favorite RPG?
You can fucking bake bread. Seriously. It's not JUST the bread baking, of course, but the entire game is built around this concept of being a sort of virtual world, where everything is interactive and every NPC has a purpose/schedule/home/life. I don't think there's been an RPG since that's actually *been* as interactive or detailed.
And in its own weird way, it DOES emphasize player skill. not in combat, but in problem solving and dealing with the puzzles and just how you interact with the world. It's a story driven game, but unlike XG, the story is driven by you.
Except Ultima 7 is sort of devoid of any real gameplay mechanic so it's probably not a good example here. It's probably not a good example of game design. I'm not sure it's even really a game so much as it is a virtual world. I like virtual worlds, though. I like SimCity and Creatures and Aquanaut's Holiday.
But I digress. You wanted an RPG.
I think what I want the most is a game that I can actually *play*. That I can actually *interact with*. Something where I'm not just strung along on a linear path between a series of puzzle bosses with very little other input which is why, despite like it's battle system and feeling that it was generally pretty well balanced, I can't say I consider FFX to be, as a whole, well designed (and, of course, the camera blew, the dungeons were lacking, and I'm not sure how I feel about the Sphere Grid).
I feel lately like I can't really think of any well-designed RPGs. I can't really think of any that I thought had the same depth and clarity of thought as, say, Crusader Kings (which is kind of an RPG in some sense, but...) or SimCity 4. And I have to admit, I've barely played RPGs at all since, uh, August, just out of a lack of i... ...
Quest for Glory 2 VGA. The combat system is hands on, but still does place an emphasis on your stats (but not so much so that player skill is irrelevant). Each class plays different. There's multiple solutions to every puzzle, some relying on your stats, some not. You have to *play through* various scenes. There's a scheduling system in place. You have to eat. The world is interactive. The characters feel fleshed out even though it's not a very dialogue heavy game. There's this feeling of it having its own internal reality. It's an interesting mix of linear and non-linear in the same way P3 is only it's shorter and there's far less down time. There's lots of exploration. There's lots of experimentation.