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The Year Of The RPG?
The last few months have made 2011 a particularly stand-out year for games. From Batman to Uncharted to Modern Warfare, there has been something big and awesome for virtually every type of gamer. Looking ahead to 2012, we’re still waiting to hear a lot of major announcements, but one thing is clear to me already: This is going to be the best year for RPG fans in a long time.
To help prove my point I’ve put together a list of all of the RPGs that we’re currently expecting to arrive next year along with a few that we’re hoping for.
Atelier Meruru (Spring)
I’m not remotely the target audience for developer Gust’s long-running Atelier series, but rest assured that a certain hardcore niche of RPG fans loves it. If you can’t get enough of performing alchemy and partaking in simplified combat as a cutesy anime girl, I can’t imagine a better way to start off your year.
Darksiders II (June)
Though the original Darksiders focused more on combat and Zelda-inspired puzzles, this sequel is blowing out the RPG elements. New protagonist Death will become more powerful as you progress while gathering tons of loot and stat upgrades. It’s a meaty addition to an already compelling formula that I expect to keep me busy all summer.
Diablo III (early 2012)
No, seriously. Diablo III will be out in 2012. Seriously. I know it’s hard to believe after all this time, but having spent hours with the beta, I fully believe that Blizzard is on the cusp of putting out this long-awaited game. Expect it to hit early in the year and leave you hunting down demons for better gear into 2013.
(image from Dragon Age: Origins)
Dragon Age III (maybe 2012?)
Along with the big confirmed RPGs on this list, I put in a couple of long shots. This is probably the longest. I fully expect Dragon Age III to be announced in 2012, but it’s hard to say if it will be released. There was only 16 months between the release of Dragon Age: Origins and its sequel. If BioWare keeps to a similarly tight schedule for this entry, we could see Dragon Age III as one of EA’s big fall releases. Then again, considering some of the issues the second game suffered from, maybe we’d be better off hoping that they take their time.
Dragon Quest X (2012…in Japan at least)
My experience with Final Fantasy XIV has made me instantly and unavoidably skeptical of any MMO project from Square Enix. That said, Dragon Quest X is building on a foundation of adding multiplayer to the long-running series that was popularized in DQ IX on the Nintendo DS. It’s also going to be one of the earliest examples of whether or not Nintendo has improved its online strategy for the Wii U. It’s possible that Dragon Quest X won’t make it to North America before the end of 2012, but we should at least get a chance to see how it’s doing in Japan.
Dragon’s Crown (Spring)
Dragon’s Crown is notable both for its continuation of the gorgeous art style found in previous Vanillaware releases (such as Odin Sphere and Muramasa) as well as being one of the first simultaneous PS3 and Vita releases. The core gameplay seems to be more of a beat-em-up, but given the developer’s track record, I expect there to be some unexpected and delightful depth.
Dragon’s Dogma (March 27)
Capcom’s upcoming new IP tends a bit more toward the action than a lot of games on this list, but it still has many recognizably RPG elements. A huge open world, tons of loot, and hundreds of massive beasts to slay should please fans of traditional fantasy games.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim DLC (throughout 2012)
Let’s assume for a moment that by the end of 2011, you’ve actually sunk enough time into Bethesda’s massive latest entry in the Elder Scrolls series to wrap up the main storyline and whatever side content you’re interested in. Even if you find yourself in that unlikely situation, you’re certain to have plenty of reason to return to the frosty realm of Skyrim throughout next year. Bethesda has promised some sizable DLC, and given the developer’s excellent add-on support for Oblivion and Fallout 3, I have no doubt that they will deliver.
Fable: The Journey (2012)
It’s getting harder to feign excitement for Kinect games, but as the latest in Microsoft’s effort to prove that they can create satisfying hardcore experiences on the motion-control device, Fable: The Journey is going to be an interesting study at least. Early demos haven’t impressed, but if Peter Molyneux and company are able to pull off a deep, interesting RPG that runs off of Kinect, I will be very impressed.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 (January 31)
Though I had problems with the pacing and overall plot of Final Fantasy XIII, Square seems to be offering some great improvements with this sequel. A new time travel element and a refinement of the first game’s awesome, fast-paced combat system are enough for me to give the world of Gran Pulse a second shot.
Final Fantasy Versus XIII (???)
Here’s another long shot. We thought Square would finally open up about the long-in-development FF Versus XIII after Final Fantasy XIII’s release, but then they announced a direct sequel to that game. With FF XIII-2 hitting in January, I’m hoping that 2012 will be the year we finally get to see more of Versus XIII – maybe even play it?
A Game of Thrones (early 2012)
Developer Cyanide’s first take on the Game of Thrones franchise – a real-time strategy game titled Game of Thrones: Genesis – was less than impressive. That said, it’s hard to keep my ears from perking at the prospect of exploring a virtual version of the massive land of Westeros. I’ve read hundreds of pages set in this world in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books; I can only hope that the game is a fitting representation.
Grand Knights History (Winter 2012)
It feels like Vanillaware is spoiling us by providing two colorful releases next year, but this is one embarrassment of riches that I’m willing to accept. Where Dragon’s Crown is a bit more action, Grand Knights History appears to have more traditional RPG combat and questing. It also looks gorgeous as well, although it will only be available on Sony’s last-gen handheld hardware, the PSP, instead of the new Vita hotness.
Guild Wars 2 (2012)
Every time I’ve seen Guild Wars 2 in action, I’ve come away more impressed. From the fast-paced combat to the genuinely interesting story, ArenaNet busts down MMO conventions to great effect. And there’s not even a subscription fee to worry about! We still don’t know when Guild Wars 2 will be released, but this is the MMO to beat next year.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (February 7)
With an incredible fantasy pedigree behind it, including Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion lead designer Ken Rolston, comic artist Todd McFarlane, and writer R.A. Salvatore, Kingdoms of Amalur is a new I.P. worth paying attention to. By blending the open-world questing of Elder Scrolls with the fast-paced combat of God of War, Reckoning is shaping up to be a truly special hybrid.
Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance (2012)
Since Square Enix is seemingly never going to satisfy the legion of fans begging for a proper, console Kingdom Hearts 3, KH lovers will have to settle for yet another handheld spin-off of the series. This first 3DS entry will feature gameplay similar to the PSP Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep as well as a number of completely new Disney-based worlds to explore.
We don’t know a ton about this upcoming downloadable title from Swedish studio Fatshark, but it’s set in a Fallout or Borderlands-esque post-apocalyptic world and includes multiple classes to choose from with an emphasis on co-op, crafting, and meaningful choices. All of this sounds like a solid start to me.
The Last Story (???)
Nintendo may have finally announced Xenoblade Chronicles for a North American release, but we're still waiting to see if they'll also bring over The Last Story. This latest from developer Mistwalker (headed up by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi) features a mature plot, incredible animation, and a unique battle system that could be the future of the genre. It's arriving in February in Europe; let's hope Nintendo of America has a U.S. announcement not far behind.
Mass Effect 3 (March 6)
If you’re one of those people who whines about Bioware stripping away RPG elements from the Mass Effect series, I’m going to kindly ask you to step aside for this entry. All gone? Excellent. For the rest of us, Mass Effect 3 looks like the perfect end to one of gaming’s best trilogies ever. The gunplay is polished, the leveling system is improved, and most importantly, the stage is set for some incredibly intense dramatic moments as players finally wrap up the story of Commander Shepard.
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (2012)
Though developer Level-5 has fallen from grace as far as RPGs are concerned (see: the intensely mediocre White Knight Chronicles and its lazy sequel), it’s hard not to get excited to see them teaming up with beloved Japanese animation team Studio Ghibli. Ni no Kuni will use beautiful visuals to tell the story of a 13-year-old boy who discovers an unbelievable world of fairies and magic.
Of Orcs and Men (2012)
You’d think they already have their hands full with A Game of Thrones, but European developer Cyanide (with some help from Spiders) is also working on this generically titled action-RPG. The big difference from other fantasy games is that this one places you into the shoes of an orc and his goblin companion. You’ll travel a dark world attempting to prevent humans from wiping out your beleaguered race. Cool concept, but we’ll see about the execution.
Paper Mario 3DS (2012)
We still haven’t seen much of anything about Nintendo’s announced handheld continuation of the Paper Mario series, but that should change next year. Assuming previous games are anything to go on, you can expect simplified RPG mechanics that reward well-timed button presses, a self-aware sense of humor, and maybe even a bit of platforming. Plus that Paper Mario art style seems like it will work beautifully in 3D.
Risen 2: Dark Waters (April 24)
The first Risen was a solid but forgettable European RPG. Its sequel already stands out as more memorable to me based off one simple fact: It’s a pirate RPG, something we seriously have not seen enough of. Looting, pillaging, and generally being a nuisance to water-logged nations while simultaneously leveling up? Yep, I’m down for that.
The Secret World (April)
While there are more MMOs than ever vying for our attention next year, Funcom’s The Secret World has a chance to make a strong argument. The unique modern day setting embraces the supernatural, myths, and conspiracy theories rather than the science fiction and fantasy clichés that most RPGs stick to. Three distinct factions should lead to plenty of intense PvP rivalries as well.
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 (2012)
Though the original Devil Survivor received a nice 3DS rerelease, Devil Survivor 2 is going back to the old-school DS. The shift back aside, this sequel should provide plenty of the demon recruiting, high school drama, and tactical difficulty that the Shin Megami Tensei series is known for.
South Park: The Game (2012)
Surely you’ve heard of this one? The one that was on our cover last month? There’s nothing that I could tell you about South Park: The Game that you wouldn’t have an easier time discovering in our month of online coverage, but here’s the synopsis: You take on a newcomer to the foul-mouthed gang of cartoon Colorado kids in a stylish RPG that blends the open-world style Obsidian is known for with a more traditional, JRPG-influenced battle system.
Star Wars: The Old Republic (technically December 2011)
Wait, not so fast on opening up your e-mail to type up an angry response to me. Yes, I realize that BioWare’s first foray into the MMO space has technically already released. That said – and this is coming from someone who’s spent the last few weeks utterly obsessed with it – The Old Republic is a seriously gigantic game. By the time 2012 starts, I won’t even be at the level cap for my first character, much less started on any alt classes whose deep, developed stories I want to check out. Anyone who’s already started playing Old Republic is likely to be spending a serious chunk of 2012 playing it as well.
Tales of the Abyss 3DS (February 14)
Though I’ve never been the biggest fan of Namco’s long-running Tales series, Tales of the Abyss was one of the most-loved entries on the PlayStation 2. If you’re like me and never checked it out, here’s your second chance. Along with the fast-paced battle system and character-driven story that the title is already known for, the 3DS version will contain new artwork and dual-screen functionality.
TERA is a Korean MMORPG from some of the same people who created the original Lineage, but don’t let that frighten you off. Unlike that ultra-hardcore grindfest, TERA has more of an action focus to the degree that you can even use a 360 controller to play it. We’ve been impressed every time we’ve seen it, so don’t discount it as just another Korean MMO quite yet.
Torchlight II (2012)
It would have been nice for this Diablo-alike sequel to beat Blizzard to the punch in 2011, but no matter when it releases, Runic Games’ more whimsical take on the lootfest style of RPG will surely be worth sinking some time into. Torchlight II will improve on the original with four all-new classes, more randomized dungeons and monsters, and – finally! – multiplayer.
Transformers Universe (2012)
Browser-based MMOs may not spark much interest among most hardcore gamers, but Transformers Universe is worth paying attention to for two reasons: 1. that beloved robot license and 2. developer Jagex. These are the people behind Runescape, one of the longest-lasting and most widely successful browser-based games ever. Not too much is known about Transformers Universe right now, but the game should have some excellent PvP opportunities in the battle between Autobots and Decepticons.
No lie: Wakfu is one of the strangest MMOs I’ve ever played. This oddball from Square Enix and French studio Ankama games embraces the free-to-play model but focuses on giving players extreme amounts of control over the game world. How much control? Well, players can be elected to office in each region, after which they will be able to create laws governing what acts can be legally performed there, how many monsters are allowed to roam around, and more. It’s a bit rambling for my tastes, but if you’re looking for something truly different, this might be the one.
The Witcher 2 360 (2012)
While many PC gamers already have The Witcher 2 topping their game of the year lists for 2011, console players will be introduced to gritty anti-hero Geralt next year. I won’t spoil any story stuff – not least of all because I’m waiting on the 360 version myself! – but this European-developed RPG features intensely challenging combat, a dark story, and huge plot choices that affect the game’s progress in ways that will leave you shocked.
World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria (probably 2012)
Blizzard hasn’t officially announced a 2012 release date for its fourth World of Warcraft expansion, but from talking to the company at Blizzcon, they want to get it out to players as soon as possible. Some hardcore WoW fans won’t stop whining about the more light-hearted tone of the new content – it introduces a new playable race of panda people whose primary class is a kung-fu-performing monk – I expect plenty of them will shut their mouths and keep playing when the game actually comes out. Even in a year with a lot of solid MMO challengers, this is Blizzard and this is World of Warcraft. They know how to put together some polished, compelling content.
Xenoblade Chronicles (April 2)
It took way too long for Nintendo of America to finally get around to announcing that they were bringing Xenoblade Chronicles to the U.S., but I've played enough of the European import to tell you that it will be well worth the wait. Monolith Soft's huge game has a giant, open, MMO-style world and some very unique gameplay mechanics -- such as seeing the future during combat -- that set it apart from the average, unchanged Japanese RPG. I can only hope enough people support this title to show Nintendo that it was worth bringing to North America in the first place.
Did I miss any RPGs that you’re excited about? Do you disagree with me about 2012 being the year of the RPG? Let me know in the comments!