Top 5 Most Anticipated…RPGs
Is there life beyond Skyrim and Mass Effect 3? That’s a question I wouldn’t be surprised to hear role-playing games fans asking with regards to the status of the genre for the remainder of this generation of consoles. For some, it will be hard to look past those giant, masterful behemoths of RPG goodness in favour of newcomers and other sequels, yet there is definitely more to come from role-play developers in the months ahead.
Yes, fans of well-established fantasy franchises like Dragon Age and indeed Elder Scrolls may have to start looking elsewhere as their favourite series begin to develop towards the dawn of next-gen, but this is really no bad thing. Coming up in the not-too-distant future are a strong handful of new, unique, innovative RPG competitors which could well knock the socks off of any gamer prepared to step out of their comfort zone to try them. Surely, isn’t stepping out of our comfort zone- for instance, with entries like Portal, Red Dead or Journey- one of the most satisfying experiences for us gamers? If your answer to that somewhat open-ended question is a wholehearted ‘Yes!’, then you may well possess the capacity to look past the established RPG names and try out some different, worthy greats.
Here, then, are the five games set to suck out the words ‘free time’ from your lives once more in the next twelve months…
5. PAPER MARIO: STICKER STAR
Announced at E3 2011, Paper Mario: Sticker Star made a return to Nintendo’s marketing campaign schemes with its full unveiling for their 3DS handheld console at this year’s E3 showcase. What might prove to be the most exciting ‘addition’ for long-term fans of this cute yet deep RPG series is the reversal to the traditional turn-based combat gameplay that made the original Nintendo 64 and GameCube efforts such surprise hits. Many lamented the lack of this in the great Wii version Super Paper Mario, so already the system’s inclusion here gives Sticker Star the upper edge in terms of initial accessibility and fan appeal.
For newcomers there’s still plenty of reasons to be excited, though. The Paper Mario games have always boasted inventive and complex storylines that easily transcend and better the dull tales of ‘Save The Princess From Bowser’ found in just about every single Mario Bros game since the platformer’s inception. In Super, there was a supremely engaging narrative that saw 2D and 3D worlds collide, and it’s hard to imagine that the 3DS version won’t use similar camera-bending dynamics too. What we do know for sure is that the title of Sticker Star involves using collected stickers of characters and objects to solve platforming and combat challenges along the path of the side-scrolling levels you’ll come across.
Will it be for everyone? Perhaps not, seeing as turn-based combat has become something of a Marmite feature for modern RPG players, but there’s plenty of potential for Paper Mario: Sticker Star to turn into the 3DS’ first truly essential purchase and a fantastic entry into the genre to boot.
4. FABLE: THE JOURNEY
As someone who has been let down by Peter Molyneux’s lofty promises for the ambitious Fable franchise in the past, I find it hard to approach its Kinect spin-off The Journey without any kind of initial cynicism. That Molyneux had to go to some lengths back in E3 2011 to convince games journalists everywhere that this isn’t an on-rails spell-em-up wasn’t exactly reassuring either, especially as that marketing blunder cost the new entry most of its initial potential street cred at the time. Nevertheless, Lionhead Studios do have a consistent track record with this RPG series, so there is hope yet.
The Journey takes place after the events of Fable 3, with the world’s most reliably chaotic kingdom Albion once again finding itself on the brink of total corruption by the forces of darkness. As much as the more stable communities of humanity might be beginning to question the reliability of the royal family in place there, right now the top priority for witch returnee Theresa is to help you, the hapless new hero, get across the kingdom via horse-and-cart in time to save its people once again. It’s typical fantasy guff, yet what may help this spiritual sequel to shock and surprise is its integration of the hit-and-miss Xbox 360 Kinect peripheral into the gameplay experience.
Though we’ve been let down in the past by developers’ use of Kinect in the likes of the rubbish Star Wars tie-in and countless lacklustre movie games, Lionhead know their way around the motion camera far more efficiently than some, having worked on the Milo & Kate testing project for some time now. This could well mean that they’ve got a better knowledge of how to get things done right, especially with hindsight, which gives Fable: The Journey far more hope of success. Now, if only the writing team can give us a narrative which doesn’t reek of fantasy cliches, we might be in for something special…
3. BORDERLANDS 2
As well as putting the finishing touches on Aliens: Colonial Marines, Gearbox Studios have been hard at work developing a fully-fledged sequel to the hit 2009 RPG Borderlands. Sure enough we now are but weeks away from seeing their years of experience and marketing research pay off into what looks to be one of the most refined and high-quality follow-ups of recent times, perhaps of this entire generation!
The main narrative of Borderlands 2 focuses on the player’s gang as they launch an all-out assault on the evil, manipulative Handsome Jack (yep, that’s really his name) and his Hyperion Corporation who have been so intent on terrorising Pandora. As always, though, the campaign’s story is mostly just a jumping-off point for all of the loot collecting, levelling-up and gun-fighting players will no doubt relish in taking part in throughout the huge game world. The more you level up, the better chance you stand of making it through the various missions- because believe me, this RPG is not for the faint of heart, or indeed COD players used to blitzing through simple blockbuster storylines.
Amounting to around 65 hours playtime when completed by those who know how to do it, Borderlands 2 appears to be one of the lengthiest and biggest RPG beasts of 2012, living up to its name as one of the most loved franchises of the genre ever. Whether this will be your kind of gig will honestly depend on personal taste; for some role-play fans, though, it really will not get much better than this for the rest of the generation.
Bethesda are known and esteemed for teaming up with strong developer partners to create some of the best RPG experiences around. Prey, New Vegas and so many other great titles stand testament to this, and it appears we’re about to be able to add Dishonored to their prestigious repertoire of innovative projects. In fact, this could well be the best role-playing game we see released this year!
Dishonored boasts a tonal blend of Assassin’s Creed and the classic steampunk genre with its creation of a gothic world of corruption for players to explore at the will of the storyline. Yes, admittedly it does look as if we’re going to be guided down a somewhat more linear path in this adventure, but considering how well that approach seems to be turning out for games like BioShock: Infinite and Assassin’s Creed III too, it may not be a negative move on Arkane’s part. The aforementioned plot centralises on the framing of a shadowy bodyguard for the murder of a royal, and that bodyguard’s strive to find the truth behind the death and its conspirators, a strong premise for an RPG experience if there ever was one.
It’s doubtful that Arkane will top their overseer’s best efforts with Dishonored, but all the same there’ll be a lot of variety and opportunities for innovative adventures throughout the game. The best RPG of 2012, then? It’s got Mass Effect 3 to match up to, yet for some if its ending can be considered ‘better’ (that’s all up to opinion, I was fine even before the Extended Cut) then perhaps it will have already won the battle.
1. SOUTH PARK: THE STICK OF TRUTH
Cry havoc, let the trolls of the interweb flood onto the comments boards- “How dare you put a licensed RPG at the top of the pack?” “You’re not a real RPG fan, are you?” Go on, jeer all you want if you’re so inclined, but to do so would be to ridicule one of the finest-looking role-playing games of this generation. Believe it or not, South Park: The Stick Of Truth may turn out to be one of 2013′s biggest surprise hits.
The premise? You create a new kid character who has just moved into Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s fictitious town of comedy antics, only to find himself/herself/itself drawn into an adventure of epic proportions by Cartman and the gang. Progressing up through ranks and levels like ‘Loser’ (and indeed one level is titled after a member of a religion Cartman so famously mocks, though I won’t name it here), you’ll learn new fantastical abilities and put them into practise against parents, gingers and of course hippies in a fast-paced turn-based style of combat. Having seen the game in action via E3 and trailer footage, I can safely say that this ‘old hat’ combat system looks to be reinvigorated here for modern-day audiences, and more than accessible enough for fans coming into the land of video gaming for the first time to try it out.
Parker and Stone have provided us with countless hilarious scripts in their comedy animation in the past, so their experience will be well and truly high for the narrative here. Expect to laugh just as much as you did in Portal 2, or perhaps even more if that’s humanly possible, as the boys get into an all manner of unlikely yet gag-worthy situations! South Park: The Stick Of Truth may sound like an average licensed title at first, but the impressions we’re getting now are that it will be anything but, instead a quite possibly masterful blend of comedy and gameplay into one killer package.
(March 5th, 2013)
What are your most anticipated role-playing games of the remainder of this generation? Are there untapped areas of the genre you’d like to see addressed in the next-generation of consoles?