The holidays are now over, and it's time to get back to what matters - saving a million accident-prone fantasy realms from their own past mistakes, evil gods on the rampage, and all that pesky loot that they clearly don't have anything better to do with than stick it in barrels at the bottom of dungeons. This is why so many of them have no choice but to have bandit-driven economies. Shameful. Someone should Do Something There.
Here's some of the most exciting RPGs due in 2016. I suspect a couple may not actually make it to final release this year, but never mind - 'tis the season to be generous. In no particular order, then, some of the ones I'm looking forward to...
The Witcher III: Blood And Wine
On the one hand, yes, this one's just an expansion pack. That said, it's both an expansion to one of 2015's most beloved games, and a far more involved one than the already superb Hearts of Stone. It'll be good to get out of Temeria to take a trip to the land of Toussaint, where 20 new hours of adventure awaits. Officially, that's all that's been promised, with The Witcher III being called the end of Geralt's story, but of late there's been mutterings about more Witcher goodness to come - especially since it's going to be, uh, a long wait for Cyberpunk 2077. (My bet? At some point this year we'll see the announcement of a Ciri focused expansion, both to take advantage of how much of her story hasn't been told in the games, and to test the waters for a full-on game set after the events of Witcher III, much like Geralt began the first game all those years ago.)
Final Fantasy IX
Yes, that's the right numeral. Right at the end of 2015, Square let slip that probably the least played but most underappreciated Playstation Final Fantasy game would be making its way to us, presumably without the garbage graphical overhaul that makes Final Fantasy VI such an abomination unto all things good and holy. I say 'probably' because I confess, it's one that I've not played either in its original form or any downloadable form, but I certainly plan to when it makes its appearance.
Shroud of the Avatar
Part MMO, part single-player game, and present Early Access construction site. I've not looked at it for about a year myself, preferring to let Lord British and friends call me when it's ready and trust that unlike Pagan and Ascension, that's actually true, but... well... if you've been reading this column, you know how much I love Ultima. I desperately want this one to repair its tainted name, even if it can't officially use it.
YIIK: A Post Modern RPG
I played a demo of this one ages ago; an RPG in which... if I got the measure of it... Bill Bryson visits Earthbound to write his new travel book, only to end up saving the world so that he can be rude about minor inconveniences for comic effect. Yes. That sounds about right. Anyway, Undertale may currently be synonymous with 'modern Earthbound', but YIIK wants a slice of that butterscotch pie too. With its very different graphical style and approach to the genre, hopefully it'll get it. The demo was promising, though I suspect it's going to get hit with a few glares from humourless onlookers who can't handle other people liking a game that they don't.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole
Honestly, was never a fan of South Park, so I was really surprised to enjoy its first RPG outing as much as I did. I'm assuming this one will be similar, only with superheroes and more jokes. If so, hurrah for that. Even if I have absolutely no idea what the title refers to. How does one fracture a butthole? Sounds like a goatse level stretch to me. But anyway. Even if I'm sorry Obsidian isn't working on this one, looking forward to seeing another RPG that knows exactly how silly it wants to be and has decided that the answer is very, very silly indeed.
Mass Effect Andromeda
Both EA and BioWare have been very hush-hush on this sequel, but honestly they have me at "Mass Effect". Despite That Ending and an increasing push towards not great shooty-shooty action, the characters and world design and writing made the original trilogy one of my favourite RPG series, and I can't wait to get back to that universe even if it won't be in the company of Shepard, Garrus, Tali and the rest of the gang.
I've got a real soft spot for Dark Age of Camelot, despite the generally abysmal handling of the UK version by GOA. It wasn't my first MMO, but it was one of the first that landed at a time when I had both time and a good enough internet connection to really dig in and enjoy splashing around Albion and Midgard and somehow never getting around to even visiting The Other One. Much of what it did was later refined by World of Warcraft, with The Elder Scrolls Online having more of it in its blood than the actual Elder Scrolls games. More's the pity, but that's not DAOC's fault. Camelot Unchained plans to push the Realm vs. Realm action to the forefront and make it the core of the game instead of just an important slice, with player driven economies and backgrounds again borrowing from Arthurian, Celtic and Viking myths.
Dark Souls 3
Part III of my ongoing mission to get more than a few rooms into these games. I'm not holding out much hope, but I am quite looking forward to trying. I think that's the definition of insanity in some quarters, but I desperately want to see these games as so many people I follow on Twitter do, instead of a big brick wall that just wants to break my sword in half. Maybe I should stop attacking the walls. But I don't trust them! Like everything in these games, they plot my demise. Depressingly efficiently.
I don't have huuuuge expectations for this new game from Spiders, mostly due to having played previous RPGs from Spiders. However, while they're not exactly the best RPGs you'll find even in the average bargain bin, they have been improving over the years and generally interesting enough in their quirkiness that I don't regret my time with them. I don't predict greatness for this one, but I'm open to being surprised.
Torment: Tides of Numenera
Honestly, I know next to nothing about this one, and that's no accident. I went into Planescape Torment completely cold back in the day, and I think that has a lot to do with how much I ended up being sucked into its crazy world. I'd like the same thing to happen here. The few snippets I have somehow picked up through osmosis however have all tingled very pleasantly, particularly the scripted combat system where every encounter is a bit of an adventure, a puzzle, a collection of cool ways to use skills and find paths that don't rely entirely on shooty-shooty-bang-bang solutions. Aside from that, I intend to try and keep up my ignorance until it's finished.
Steve Jackson's Sorcery!
Or, to be more accurate, Inkle Studios' Steve Jackson's Sorcery! Just as 80 Days finally made the jump from iOS to real computers, so to is Sorcery getting ready to make it to our shores. It's been an amazing ride so far, going from a relatively simple Choose Your Own Adventure that apes the books to some seriously clever design involving time loops and stepping into the past, and going from a linear path to a basically open world where you can take your time to defeat the evil villain's lieutanants and repair what went wrong, or simply storm forwards and let everything go to Hell. They're really cool games, and deserve the wider audience that the PC should give them.
Both an Underworld and a System Shock successor? Sirs and madames, with these sequels, you are spoiling us. This one's looking good, with my favourite bit being how much focus the pitch puts on the dungeon as a living ecosystem instead of just a lot of corridors. Underground societies, long-lost tombs, weaponising the environment... all music to my ears. Early videos do however show far too much focus on spiders. Spiders are bad. Please replace them with kittens. Cute kittens. That just want to play.
World of Warcraft: Legion
The next World of Warcraft expansion. It's going to sell more than most games can even dream of, even if Blizzard has firmly moved away from trying to reignite its once-success in favour of just focusing on fans and long-term players. New features this year include the Demon Hunter with added focus on mobility, fancy upgradeable weapons, and a new location to sally forth into and beat things up. It's playable in Alpha already, with few real surprises but lots of nice touches, especially to previously underbaked systems like Transmogrification, and a controversial change to PvP that wants to even the playing field and put the combat focus on skill rather than stats.
Divinity: Original Sin 2
Divinity: Original Sin was easily one of my favourite Kickstarted RPGs, and between that, seeing how much Larian has gone to town on improving it, and getting a chance to play a sliver of the upcoming Divinity: Less Original Sin, I'm really looking forward to seeing this one. It's largely pinning its hopes on evolving from two-players to a full party of competing interests, which I don't have much doubt will be cool with the right people. For me though, lacking a suitable group to play with, its success hinges on how well it can convey the same feeling in a single-player game. Can not knowing which party members to trust lead to interesting encounters instead of just random knives in the back? I hope so, because it's definitely a cool idea, from a Larian Studios that finally has the rock-solid RPGs foundations its always needed to let its cool ideas flourish.
Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar
Hahahaha, sure. Just in time to celebrate the year of Linux on desktop.
Now, of course that's not everything that's coming over the next twelve months, and few genres know how to slip with style like an RPG. Don't be too surprised if some of the games marked for the end of the year, like Mass Effect Andromeda, end up being saved for the space-year 2017. Luckily, there'll be plenty of RPGs big and small to fill the gaps, and hopefully some big surprises for good measure. I'm also very much looking forward to seeing the progress of many of the games that are going to take a little longer, from the next wave of Kickstarted RPGs like The Bard's Tale IV to the two different projects aiming to pick up where City of Heroes left off. Hopefully we'll even hear something about Everquest Next. Stranger things have happened.
Could do without so many sandbox crafting games though.
Crafting in general really. Heroes. Don't. CRAFT.