As a huge RPG fan (it’s now my favourite genre thanks to Call of Duty blandifying the FPS) I was highly disappointed by the turn-out in 2013. As console development costs sky-rocketed and release dates slipped only a handful of notable RPGs turned up. If we’re ignoring MMOs and Point-n-click Action RPGs (which we are in this whole article) there was only really Shadowrun Returns, Dragon’s Crown, Ni No Kuni and Tales of Xillia, apart from a few notable remakes like Persona 4 and Baldur’s Gate II and smaller titles like Van Helsing or Mars: War Logs. Thanks to slippages however 2014 is now absolutely bursting at the seams with quality RPGs. Shall we have a look? Hold on to your wizard stick.
”When shadows descend upon the lands, our divine lords will walk alongside us as equals.”
These are the big multiplatform ones. As development costs shoot up and RPGs like Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning proving how costly risks can be – getting good sales but still not enough to stop the close of a talented studio and the bankruptcy of a millionaire – and even great titles like Ni No Kuni failing to meet sales expectations, expect the number of truly huge RPGs to dwindle over the next few years. Unless they’re a sequel or from a studio known entirely for their RPGs of course, like the first two on the list.
Bioware’s Dragon Age: Inquisition (September) is, despite the problems with Dragon Age II, my most wanted game of the year. With all-out war raging between Mages and Templars along with the Fade ripping open it’s an eventful time in old Thedas. In the real world it’s been three years since DA2 and many players still haven’t got the bad taste out of their mouths, so Bioware hopefully will be pulling out all the Kobolds to make up for previous misfires. They’re up against stiff competition though, as they’re planning on releasing DAI alongside CD Projekt’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (Fall). The first next-gen open-world RPG, the third in a superb series without any blips (unlike DA), it just plain looks amazing. The only potential snag is that CD Projekt have never done an open-world game and they’re very difficult to get right. Hopefully they’ll get it right out of the gate and it won’t need an Enhanced Edition to improve things.
Problematic releases are something Obsidian knows about all too well, but fortunately their long-delayed South Park: The Stick of Truth (March 4th) isn’t open-world but still looks great. Now published by Ubisoft, the latest videos make it seem like Obsidian has the look, humour and feel of the show down pat. I personally can’t wait. I’m sure most people also can’t wait for From Software’s Dark Souls II (March) which releases at the same time. Seriously, RPG publishers – space your games out. As for DS2, a bigger world, a less punishing learning curve for newcomers and a better PC port all sounds good to us. Finally there’s Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns (February 2014, out now in Japan). Yep. It may be a good game, but I’m waiting to see if anyone actually remembers it exists.
“When conflict sweeps across the Dales, the great lizards of the north shall descend with fire and fury.”
The main reason why 2014 is the year of the RPG is Kickstarter of course, bringing a host of fantastic old-school delights primarily with the PC in mind. And they don’t get much more old-school than InXile’s Wasteland 2 (mid-2014), being both a sequel to a game released in 1988 and the spiritual successor to the non-Bethesda-created Fallout games of the ‘90s. Our recent hands-on with the beta was full of post-apocalyptic fun, but it was almost overshadowed by the alpha of Larian’s Divinity: Original Sin (February 28th, current estimate) which we were mightily impressed by. Both are multiple player character RPGs but only Divinity allows you to talk to yourself. Still, both already have great characters, dialogue, cool turn-based combat, choice/consequence gameplay, and are plenty of fun.
Obsidian’s Pillars of Eternity (late 2014) is instead going for the purer Baldur’s Gate feel with its Real-Time With Pause combat and beautiful isometric backgrounds, set in a totally original fantasy world with some of the best writers in the games industry behind it. To say we’re excited about it is like saying Mass Effect 3 had a bit of a divisive ending. Double Bear’s Dead State (March, current estimate) on the other hand is almost a combination of all of those last three games – a classic Fallout-feeling game with turn-based combat and multiple characters, with a bunch of ex-Obsidian/Black Isle guys behind it and a Kickstarter designed to help them finish the game rather than start. Basically The Walking Dead combined with Fallout and XCOM. I’ve been eagerly awaiting this one for a while, unlike Portalarium’s Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues (October), Richard Garriott’s spiritual successor to Ultima, which I’m personally a little worried about how much of an MMO it’ll end up being. Still, time will tell and the engine looks good at the moment.
A lot of mid-to-late 2014s so far, so it’s fortunate there are a couple of RPGs out soon to keep us occupied. Stoic’s The Banner Saga should be out tomorrow (as will our review). “The Skyrim Trail” is probably the best way to describe this lovely looking entry from a team of ex-Bioware developers, and while it’s a bit more of a linear experience than all the other RPGs on this list it’s quite a lot of fun – if very challenging. Also out soon is Shadowrun: Dragonfall from Harebrained Schemes, the half-sequel half-expansion to Shadowrun Returns (which will be free to that game’s backers). The main problems with Returns were the shortness, the linearity and the narrow playing area, and Dragonfall (also called “The Berlin Campaign”) seems set to address these concerns. At the very least you can save anywhere now. If the dialogue’s as good as Returns I’ll be all for it.
”When the Beast's bastard children come of age, they will bring havoc to the lands of the Sword Coast. One of these children must rise above the rest and claim their father's legacy.”
Yes, I know “smallie” sounds slightly derogatory, but here we have potentially the most exciting RPGs of the year: the lesser known titles where any one could be a diamond in the rough. Some interesting experiments, some original titles by new developers, some long-awaited sequels to cult hits, these guys could well catch us pleasantly unawares.
Ubisoft’s Might & Magic X: Legacy (January 23rd) for example might well be the latest in a well-known series, but as the series got more and more shoddy as it went on there’s little to no respect for it left. M&MX harks back to the original and hopefully will be a return to form for one of the oldest RPG franchises in gaming. On the other hand Ubisoft’s other digital RPG out this year, Child of Light (mid-to-late 2014), is both original and striking. Its beautiful storybook art style, strategic combat, 2D perspective and poetic storytelling make it one to watch. It could be this year’s Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (you played that right? RIGHT?).
Then we have a couple of European indie sequels that are promised for this year but probably will slip. Almost Human from Finland is developing Legend of Grimrock 2 (Late 2014), the sequel to their glorious return to the classic days of first-person dungeon crawling, and they say it’ll be out 2014. Without even a screenshot so far I doubt it. Similarly Turkey’s TaleWorlds’ are claiming Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord will be out September, and although it has some screenshots they’re quite early alpha stuff. I’m betting both won’t be out until 2015.
How about some original RPGs from smaller developers then? Deck13’s Lords of the Fallen (Late 2014) barely has a teaser trailer to its name so also probably won’t be around until next year, but with former Witcher producer Tomasz Gop calling the shots we’re hoping for a CD Projekt rival from this project. And a 2014 release. Bound By Flame (early 2014) should actually be out this year, and hopefully developer Spiders (Of Orcs & Men, Mars: War Logs) will finally go from “not quite there” to “quite good actually” with their RPGs. Adventure game studio Daedalic has got Blackguards (early 2014) on Steam Early Access now and are hoping for a full release soon for their third The Dark Eye game, but its their first RPG so lets be gentle with them. Rounding off this list is Cosmic Star Heroine (December 2014) from Penny Arcade Adventures and Cthulhu Saves The World developer Zeboyd (which actually was a Kickstarter project but we’ve already got plenty in that section), a space-based classic SNES JRPG-style game promising “animated cutscenes from the SEGA CD era”. Ironically, I hope.
… AND BEYOND!
As you can tell, that’s a butt-load of RPG goodness. There are possibly a few I’ve missed, like the Western PC/PSN release of PSP title Trails in the Sky: The Second Chapter, but I think this is all the main ones ignoring the straight Diablo-alikes (Path of Exile, Grim Dawn, Diablo III: Reaper of Souls and any MMORPGs that are trying to be also single-player, bless ‘em (Elder Scrolls Online for example). Then we have all the “potentially 2014, more like 2015” RPGs, like Deep Down, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, Final Fantasy XV, Kingdom Come: Deliverance and the unannounced-but-near-definite Fallout 4, alongside the “definitely at least 2015” ones to look forward to with Kingdom Hearts 3, Cyberpunk 2077, Torment: Tides of Numenera and Mass Effect 4. Oh, and Beamdog/Atari might announce or Kickstart Baldur’s Gate III.
We can thank several things for this abundance of role-playing in the next year or so. Firstly the barren wastelands of 2013. Secondly Kickstarter, allowing these games to get made at the hands of pros who’d been wanting to do so for years but didn’t have the resources. Thirdly and finally, the upsurge of PC gaming and the slight bitterness of the next generation of consoles. Basically every title on this list, even a lot out of the traditionally anti-PC Japanese publishers, is coming to PC – and many of them are only coming to PC.
So to sum up: if you’re a fan of the RPG genre in its many styles your gaming schedule over the next year is going to be packed, just make sure you have a PC handy to take advantage of it. And while the next-gen gamers and high-end computer owners can enjoy a few titles like The Witcher 3 and Dragon Age: Inquisition the vast majority don’t require too much juice and can be enjoyed by all. It’s going to be a good year.
Now then, on to the FPS genre for this year – there’s Titanfall, Wolfenstein, Destiny maybe, Dying Light if that counts, um, Call of Duty probably, er… forget it.
”The Lord of Murder shall perish, but in his doom he shall spawn a score of mortal progeny. Chaos will be sown from their passage. So saith the wise Alaundo.”
- Written by Chris Capel