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The RPGs of 2017

What to look forward to next year

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So… 2016. (FX: ‘Urrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh….’) It’s not been the greatest of years, from just about every celebrity you might have loved deciding to peg it, to America electing the Curious Orange. As far as RPGs go, it’s also been fairly quiet, thanks to lots of stuff deciding to stay in the oven for a few more months. That’s not to say we’ve had nothing, not least Early Access versions of many of these games. Awards are coming later this month! But in terms of big, BIG, BIG releases, it’s been kinda quiet. Next year though? Whoooo-boy, do we have a lot of awesome stuff on the way. Here are some of my picks for the games I’m most excited to get my hands on in 2017.

Torment: Tides of Numenera

It takes balls with their own gravity wells to compare your new game to one of the smartest and most beloved of all time… but having admittedly only played a bit of the Early Access version (not wanting to spoil too much), I have really high hopes. The world of Numenera is a fascinating place that feels like an ideal replacement to Sigil and its Planes, and I loved my initial experiments with its combat system – the focus not being on bashing hundreds of enemies, but tight, intricately written encounters that can be solved in a zillion ways, from pointing out that your enemy is staggeringly out-classed, to fiddling with the scenery and turning things like light bridges and defence systems to your advantage. Hopefully the devs got the notes from early on, notably that the intro was terrible and should be burned in fire.

Mass Effect: Andromeda

I’m a touch more… cautiously optimistic about this one than I was a few months ago, thanks to some not very good trailers and some very weird announcements. (“We wanted our aliens to be weird and crazy and like nothing you’ve never seen before, but then we gave them trousers because people got squicked out talking to naked people and basically they’re now crocodiles in battle armour. Also, here’s a trailer about our new galaxy of opportunity that just features Humans and Turians shooting each other.”) But I still have faith. BioWare’s skill at creating characters alone is enough to draw me in to see what the Andromeda galaxy has to offer, and I can’t wait to see what else is out there. Even if it does look like it’s going to be depressingly shooty-based rather than going back to more fittingly exploratory type RPG action.

Divinity: Original Sin 2

My favourite thing about Divinity: Original Sin wasn’t that it was a great game – though it was – but that it gave me another great example of something finally clicking. After years of not liking the Divinity games at all (though respecting their ideas and goals!), it was great to play one that cut right to the core of the series’ problems and strengths – great concepts, now with a rock solid foundation. I’m also a big fan of what Divinity: Less Original Sin is trying. While it is prettier and has better production values than the original, the focus of the thing is on massively expanding the core RPG features, with the big selling point being a party that often has conflicting goals. In multiplayer, you and your friends can work together or compete as you see fit, with bastardry including planting contraband on each other and calling the guards, or dying a green poison potion red and passing it off as a health potion. In single-player, the plan is for the computer to do the same, creating dynamic encounters where every character has their own story, and none of them can be trusted. It’s one hell of an ambitious bit of design, but for the first time, a crazy idea I have full faith that the team can actually pull off.

I just hope that even though the plan is for it to be a bit more serious than the kinda anarchic ‘throw everything in’ first game, it retains the sense of humour and whimsy where literally anything could be around the next corner. I’d miss that if it was gone.

South Park: The Fractured But Whole

Look, I know what rude thing the title is meant to sound like, but what the hell is a ‘fractured butthole’ anyway? I’m not going to Google it, just in case, but… c’mon. Is that really the best you could do? Anyway, Cartman vs. Fartman: Dawn Of Just Ass or whatever may have bounced developers from Obsidian, but the jump from RPG tropes to superhero tropes is a clever idea to keep things fresh. My only real concern is that much of The Stick Of Truth got by on novelty – of the setting, of the random twists and turns of the plot, etc – rather than most of its core stuff like that poorly designed combat system. By the end, I’d had a great time, but it was definitely kinda on the edge of the jokes wearing out and I was glad to see the credits finally roll. Will this one have enough to breathe new life into it? Will the gap between games make it feel fresh again? Will I stop asking rhetorical questions nobody knows the answer to?

Vampyr

Okay, Dontnod. Life is Strange was fantastic. Now, let’s talk vampires. They’re such a cool monster for games, not least because of their straddling the line between power and weaknesses – everything from the sun to a Subway sandwich on garlic bread. Their nature also leads to some great possibilities for choice, like who to bite, and the fact that an overly public vampire is usually a vampire with a long bit of wood slammed through its chest. Or a rockstar, if you’re Anne Rice. Or a sex god in True Blood. Or-

Look, never mind. Plenty of games, like Bloodnet, have tried to capitalise on this and failed, and in my mind, only Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines has really succeeded. Vampyr will hopefully be on that side of things, promising amongst other things that it’s possible to win without taking a life, that anyone can be a target, and that tracking down and executing folks in its 1918 London setting will involve manipulating their habits and relationships rather than just running up and having a quick snack. All of this sounds extremely cool to me, as does that setting.

Outcast: Second Contact

Poor Outcast. It wasn’t played by enough people back in the day to even become a true Beyond Good And Evil style cult classic, demanding far too much of computers in the era before 3D cards, and being clunky as hell now that anyone can actually play it. It’s a game with much to offer though. The story of Cutter Slade may not be the most original ever – basically, think Bruce Willis in his prime going through a Stargate and finding more than just a desert or a woody part of Vancouver on the other side. Outcast makes that world such a gorgeous place that it really doesn’t matter though, with a genuine sense of taking out a corrupt theocracy one world at a time.

Purely on the visual side though, it’s a testament to the original game’s quality that just ramping things up to big-boy resolutions and sharpening them up should still leave it looking stunning. Having thoroughly enjoyed it at a resolution of nothing by sod-all back in the day, I can’t wait to see it in all its glory.

A House Of Many Doors

My only sadness about writing for Sunless Sea is that doing so meant never really being able to play it. You can’t really enjoy piecing together mysteries and learning about a world when you have everything laid out in front of you. That’s why I’m really looking forward to A House Of Many Doors – a game heavily inspired by Sunless Sea, and indeed part funded by Failbetter, but in a twisted parasite dimension of many-legged crawling trains, weird cities, and procedurally generated poetry. Beyond that, I know literally nothing about its world and the mysteries to uncover, but I’m really looking forward to sitting down and discovering them early next year.

Hero-U: Rogue To Redemption

Okay. As this one groans on, I have to be honest, my expectations… aren’t that high any more. What began as a relatively simple adventure/RPG hybrid has largely blossomed into a warning story for other Kickstarters. As a huge Quest For Glory fan though, I’d love to be wrong, and still look forward to playing around in this slightly hard to describe spin-off about a rookie Rogue trying to find his place in a world of heroes and villains. That’s all I’ll say for the moment, I think. Fingers crossed, but waiting to see.

Mage’s Initiation

Speaking of Quest for Glory inspired games. Mage’s Initiation is another one that I originally listed last year, which is still distinctly MIA. It’s due out soonish though, pinky-swear, so that RPG players who like to adventure it up a bit can take control over a rookie mage on both a sprawling adventure to prove himself, and one that splits into multiple paths depending on the exact kind of sparkles you prefer. I’ve only played the super, super, super early demo of this one, but more Quest for Glory is good Quest For Glory, even after Quest For Infamy and Heroine’s Quest the other year.

Shroud of the Avatar

Ah, Richard Garriott’s return to both an Ultima style universe, and to judge from the engine and UI, 2003. As with Hero-U, I want to be more excited about this one than I actually am, but admittedly quick check-ins of the project haven’t exactly inspired me just yet. I want to believe, Lord British. Really. Anyone who reads this column should know about the Ultima drinking game (related, take a shot). Right now though, this one still feels like a lot of pieces that’s doing better at selling virtual stuff, Star Citizen style, than truly coming together into a modern game. Again though, don’t scream if you’re a fan. That’s only from surface level glimpses, and the reason they’re surface level is that I prefer to wait for games to be finished and fully baked before settling into them. I’m hoping that as we get closer to the first episode of the story’s release, we’ll see things looking more polished… and more like anyone involved has played a recent RPG.

Star Control: Origins

Disclosure alert, I’m currently working on The Long Journey Home, a space RPG that’s very heavily inspired by Star Control. I’m still really looking forward to seeing this one though, for the reasons I mentioned above with A House Of Many Doors, as a big fan of the Star Control series from waaaaaaaaaaay back who wants another good installment, and because I really want to see what Stardock creates. I’ve always liked Stardock, it’s always had the sense of humour that a Star Control game needs, and has proven its space-chops with the GalCiv series. So, fingers definitely crossed!

Honestly, I don’t know a huge amount about the plans for this game specifically, except for the trailer and a few screens released a couple of months ago, but I’m really looking forward to seeing more. Besides, can’t be any worse than Star Control 3…

The Long Journey Home

Eh. Fingers crossed it’ll be cool. Roguelike with a heavy focus on character, RPG with a heavy focus on freedom, funny aliens, lots of cool stuff to discover, yadda yadda. Might be good. I hear the writer’s an opportunistic prick though. Can’t even spell his own aliens half the time. I mean, what’s so hard about ‘Cueddhaest’ anyway?

Also, wow, April Ryan’s put on weight…

The Bard’s Tale IV

The Bard’s Tale isn’t a series I have much direct nostalgia for. As you’ve probably noticed, I tend to prefer story-based RPGs over dungeon blobbers and the like. (Blobber: noun. 1. First person RPG where your party moves around as blob to kill things; 2. Mr. Blobby’s nickname at school). The Bard’s Tale though is looking like a truly gorgeous example of its kind, with its Celtic setting, high-quality enemy models and animations, and absolutely stunning special effects. Think Myst, only you can beat up most of the obstacles, and better yet, nothing to do with Myst. Even though it’s not my sub-genre particularly, it’s a world I’m really looking forward to exploring.

Pyre

Loved Bastion. Didn’t click with Transistor. Which direction will Pyre go? It’s as weird a premise as you’d expect from Supergiantgames – a party RPG where you… how can I put this? Pretty much, you save the world by playing basketball. It’s not quite that simple. For basketball, read ‘an arcane rite that just happens to be more sport than sorcery’. Your conversations and decisions affect your team’s mood and thus how well they perform on the pitch/incantation site/whatever, on a road-trip style RPG.

Weird. But interesting! A good combination.

Call of Cthulhu

Ah, the most misunderstood horror of all time. The source, explorations into secrets of the universe that render humanity merely a speck in God’s eye. The games – GRAAAH! TENTACLES! ALL THE TENTACLES! SO MANY TENTACLES! Hopefully Cyanide’s Call of Cthulhu will be different. Generally at least they can be relied upon to have an interesting, if not super-polished, take on the games they put out, and this one does look very pretty in a grim, dark kind of way. If not, maybe The Sinking City will fit the bill – a trip to a particularly damp part of New England. Bring your wellies.

Destiny 2

I recently picked up a PS4 to catch up on some games that I’ve been wanting to play for a while, ignoring the fact that my Steam backlog is already on the ‘shameful’ side. I’m still umming and aahing over picking up a copy of Destiny for cheap, mostly because of my shameful lack of knowledge about what it is. My mental file-cards basically consist of ‘a wizard on the moon’ and ‘every week some guy appears to sell special guns and people thought this was worth weekly news stories for some reason’. But I probably won’t get around to it, because Destiny 2 is reportedly due to hit the PC, as the first game obviously should have as well. So… yeah. That’ll probably be worth waiting for. I know lots of people who got obsessed with it over the last couple of years, even if the flame has died down in recent months. Either way, it’d be good to play another Bungie game. You’ve been away too long, guys…

And that’s around 2000 words of my picks. What’s jumped up for you? In particular, I want to find time to check out a lot more indie stuff next year – if you’re working on cool stuff, do let me know. Can’t play everything, but I don’t want 2017 to be just a year of big AAA releases. Ping any cool stuff to the usual address…

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