2016's Most Promising RPGs
RPG Scrollbars examines the year ahead
We're almost half-way through the year, and it's not been a bad one. The finale of The Witcher 3. Dark Souls III, for those players who consider it an RPG. A couple of late-arrivals, like Dragon's Dogma. But as the nights again start to draw darker, what's up next? Here's some of the big quests still promised for 2016. As ever, don't be too surprised to see a few more jump from A to B.
You can flip through the pages using the arrows above or below the images, or using your arrow keys. Magic.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
Release date: August 23rd, 2016
Has it really been five years since the last one? Mankind Divided takes us back to a world of incredibly stupid zealots who think it's a good idea to pick on technologically augmented humans without double-checking whether what they've got is an explosive arsenal of heat-seeking mini-bombs in their shirt or simply a finger that doubles as a biro. There's not been too much talk so far about the story, and honestly I've been trying to avoid most of what has been said, but expect more open-world exploration, interesting choices for getting through levels, and better boss fights that allow for stealth and non-lethal playstyles.
World of Warcraft: Legion
Release date: August 30th, 2016
Blizzard's about ready to start the pre-party for its new expansion, unleashing the Burning Legion on raids around Azeroth for players to beat back with the force of many armies. Like the last few updates, this one changes things up somewhat, including adding the ability to explore the new continent in whatever order you like and have it automatically level up around you, and adding a new, more mobile hero class in the form of the Demon Hunter. Other cool new features include a focus on upgrading legendary weapons rather than constantly switching blade, and a new Transmogrification system that makes it easy to give yourself a unique look. In a nice twist, that includes quest rewards that you might have deleted years ago. If you've ever earned it, you can use its look.
Hero-U: Rogue To Redemption
Release date: 2016
After two Kickstarters and not a whole lot of visible progress, I'm not counting on seeing this one this year. But, the hope is that after a beta later this year, Quest for Glory creators Lori and Corey Cole will be ready to open up their School For Heroes. It's an adventure/RPG/dungeoneering hybrid with some really cool features. I particularly like the idea of the school and its characters changing over time and based on your decisions, with main character Shaun trying to find a path between the thief that joins adventuring parties, and the thief that just fills his own boots. Also pockets.
Release date: 2016
Another adventure/RPG hybrid that's gone very quiet of late, but promises alpha access to its backers real soon now (as of four days ago, anyway). After that the rest of us will hopefully not be waiting too long for this very ambitious, multiclass adventure where your choice of element determines your adventure. Any adventure that draws inspiration from Quest for Glory is one that I want to play. Definitely doesn't hurt to see an AGS game looking to offer high-resolution art rather than the usual blocky retro charms of early 90s VGA.
Runescape: Idle Adventures
Release date: 2016
Like many MMOs, the game they call Run! Escape! doesn't get World of Warcraft's press, but it ticks along pretty happily in the background. This spin-off comes from the makers of AdVenture Capitalist, and is based on dipping in to hand out orders, then buggering off to do something else while your hero has adventures without you. The marketing is phrased a little more compellingly, but not enough that I'm expecting to have this one running in the background any time soon.
Release date: Autumn 2016
There's no more Witcher on the horizon, but here's another game based on a bestselling fantasy novel. "The NPC days of the bearded axe-wielders are over," promises the blurb, in a game about taking on hundreds of enemies with just a handful of badasses, as well as exploring the amusingly named land of 'Girdlegard'. Beardiest RPG ever? Beardiest RPG ever.
The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim: Special Edition
Release date: October 28th, 2016
Can Bethesda improve their game more than a world full of PC modders? Nah. On the plus side, it recognises that, so while console users coo at all the new shaders and effects designed to make Skyrim look better than ever, it's at least trying not to mess with all that hard work. It does feature a few niceties like new ice shaders that you can't patch in so easily though, and built-in support for the likes of DOF shaders. Though the overall look does seem a touch warm for a place as cold as Skyrim, the result is very pretty. Bethesda is also making it a free PC upgrade provided you have all three add-ons (Dawnguard, Hearthfire and Dragonborn).
South Park: The Fractured But Whole
Release date: December 6th, 2016
The South Park kids playing as superheroes instead of fantasy characters? Awesome. The name makes no sense (what's a 'fractured butthole' anyway?), but the brilliance of The Stick Of Truth as both its own comedy adventure and scathing genre parody is going to make this one a must play, short of shipping with a bug that formats your hard drive and gives you chlamydia. Luckily, this seems unlikely. It's also going to be possible to play as a girl this time around, and swap between several superhero types to bring justice to South Park until everyone gets bored again. It will almost certainly be better than the shooter on N64. Almost.
Divinity: Original Sin 2
Release date: December 2016
While currently teeter-tottering on a December 2016 release date, I'd not be surprised to see this one officially slip in the next month or so, or anyone to mind too much if it does. Original Sin 2 is trying to both bring the experience of cut-throat tabletop D&D to a full party and the single-player experience, with every character having their own goals, secrets and character relationships that often put them at odds with each other. Want to sabotage another player? Take a vial of poison, colour it with red food dye, and presto. "Health Potion." And that's just the start of the bastardry both promised and encouraged. I can't wait to step back into this world, having found the first Original Sin one of the few U7-inspired games worthy of being a successor.
Shroud Of The Avatar
Release date: 2016
Definitely another 2016 release I'm expecting to see slip like a clumsy skater surrounded by banana peels, but according to the FAQ it's still on its way for the next few months. Richard Garriott's return to the RPG sees him trying to take on both single-player action and a new multiplayer world at the same time, in a world inspired but legally distinct from the Ultima of old. Want to adventure on your own? 40 hours of that await, in a classless, skill-tree driven world full of ethical dilemmas. Prefer company? Enter a world of consensual PvP, house building and more. Want to spend $275 of real money on a house? You'd better believe THAT'S an option. A somewhat worryingly prominent one, but we'll see how it shakes out.
Sorcery! Part 4
Release date: 2016
I think what's most exciting about the fourth Sorcery! game is genuinely having no idea what to expect. Every part so far has been a quantum leap over its predecessor. Going from a basic walk through the countryside to exploring a sprawling city. Creating a totally non-linear adventure complete with time-travel. What can Sorcery 4 do to top it? We know it has half a million words of text, 3D models on the map, and an epilogue designed to reward the best players. Other than that...
Release date: 2016 (final beta on August 1st)
More and more RPGs are moving from the traditional appeal of clonking things on the head to wider goals like player driven economies. Albion Online is next up, hoping to combine exciting PvP action and conquest with the behind the scenes stuff necessary to keep an army on its feet. Farming, manufacture, trading, and player housing awaits, along with the somewhat unusual addition of Android and upcoming iPad support to be able to play and manage things on the move. The game's currently in final beta, launching August 1st.
A House Of Many Doors
Release date: September 24th, 2016
Enjoyed Sunless Sea? (Disclosure-O-Tron: I wrote parts of it.) A House of Many Doors is a very similar proposition, made with both the blessing and partial funding of Failbetter, but one that's looking to have a strong identity of its own. You're an explorer, poet and spy in a 'parasite dimension', with the goal of exploring, gathering stories, and producing procedurally generated poetry to help cling to sanity. I'm particularly looking forward to it due to never really having had the chance to 'play' Sunless properly. A whole new world full of mystery in the same style, but with its own vibe? Really looking forward to sinking into it when the nights get dark.
Release date: "End of" 2016
Crowfall really wants to remind you of Game of Thrones. I'm just saying. But that's okay. Calling itself a 'Throne War Simulator', it breaks away from many online games by having distinct win conditions to fight towards, over campaigns that could last a month, or could last a year. The example given sees your player being dropped naked into a world full of ancient ruins in Spring, Summer seeing a Hunger infecting the creatures and players having to band together for support, Fall being a time of fortification, Winter being about civil wars and deciding who will lead, and then finally, the world facings its end. Definitely, absolutely, utterly no relation to a certain popular book or TV series. But still an interesting concept, if players play along.
Avadon 3: The Warborn
Release date: September 14th, 2016
If you know Jeff Vogel, you know the drill. If not, his Spiderweb Software continues to crank out some of the more interesting indie RPGs out there, for discerning players who don't worry too much about graphics or game interfaces that couldn't be stuck more in the 90s if they were on eBay ordering crates of Crystal Pepsi and Ecto Cooler. But there's a reason people play them - their simplicity allowing a narrative depth and scope that most can't come close to. This is the final chapter of the Avadon series; the saga of a fortress acting as a rather more brutal Fantasy UN, with you as its Hand. I didn't play the last one, but the first was pretty fun.
The Curious Expedition
Release date: Summer 2016
Finally, because I'm on a bit of a roguelike kick at the moment, one that I've been saving for final release. The Curious Expedition sees a charmingly imperialistic stomp through procedurally generated worlds and native civilisations. I had a lot of fun with the very similar concepted Renowned Explorers last year, so I'm looking forward to both more treasure hunting and to check out the differences between the two.
Of course, that's not all the RPGs coming out. Are there any you're looking forward to, particularly indies that you think are likely to get overlooked and could do with some more attention? Cast their names into the celestial void by breathing on a mirror and scrawling their name backwards while reciting a litany of compliments about your greatest enemy in alphabetical order and slowly sucking on the severed rib-cage of a Siberian mouse. Or posting a comment.