The Future of RPG Games: Star Wars: The Old Republic, Mass Effect 3, Diablo 3 And More


Posted October 21, 2011 - By Matt Swider

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The Future of RPG Games: Star Wars: The Old Republic, Mass Effect 3, Diablo III And More

Your next year and a half with RPG games may add up to more gameplay hours than actual Earth hours. So, just when you augmented your Adam Jensen persona to the Praxis point max in Deus Ex: Human Revolution and died your millionth death in the insanely difficult Dark Souls, your leveling up isn’t done and your ridiculously long quests aren’t over. In fact, you have until the top of the month to prepare for the goriest-ever battle for Middle-Earth in Lord of the Rings: War in the North, the first - but hopefully not the last - Mature-rated game in the Tolkien series.

Take LotR’s 11.1.11 release date and add another one for 11.11.11 and you’ve got an even more expansive fantasy game: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. As Todd Howard and his team at Bethesda Softworks attempt to outdo Oblivion, their new open-world epic just might close off your real-world responsibilities and relationships until the end of the year. Our preview of Skyrim’s first three hours proved that the word “epic” may be obsolete for this RPG.

Star Wars: The Old Republic "Signs of War" Trailer »

Star Wars: The Old Republic
Release Date: December 20, 2011

You could take until the end of the year to finish Skyrim, but you don’t have that long if you intend to play Star Wars: The Old Republic at launch. It was announced last month that BioWare’s long-awaited MMORPG hits the PC universe on December 20, a release date that we’ve been awaiting for almost as long as the game itself. The announcement wasn’t made at E3, it didn’t show up at PAX and it skipped out on being divulged at GamesCom. No, the Eurogamer Expo was where this crucial bit of news was finally broken. That doesn’t matter now; the release date is set in carbonite and so are our plans for the holidays. Sorry, family.

Star Wars: TOR is BioWare’s first MMO, but you should feel right at home if you’re a fan of the developer because it’s a story-driven RPG set in the Star Wars universe, something the company excels at. To go with that, there are a lot of other firsts for BioWare and the MMO genre in general. This is the first-ever fully-voiced MMO, meaning that every NPC you talk to will have something to say and not just in text form. The game’s high-quality voice-over work has the potential to bring in new players who have been turned off by the dialogue-heavy nature of MMO games. More importantly, the cinematic digital acting should be able to level-up the immersion of this experience for everyone.

This is also the first MMO game to feature a multiplayer dialogue system. BioWare has shown that in addition to combat, multiple players can influence conversations with NPCs by taking turns with the dialogue wheel. This natural, shared involvement in the story works really well when making choices that impact the gameplay, like in the highly customized flashpoints - the Star Wars TOR dungeon equivalent with a “choose your own adventure” twist.

The particular cover system that Star Wars TOR employs is the final first for BioWare and MMOs as a whole and, so far, we’ve seen the developer demo the slick cover mechanics of the Han Solo-inspired Smuggler class. As you’re behind cover firing away at Imperial forces or Bounty Hunters who impede your contraband-running operations, you’ll see a green silhouette indicator somewhere close by. It not only tells you where you can move to, but displays a full-body outline so that you know how your smuggler will sidle up against the new cover and which direction he or she will be facing. No more guessing how the new cover will pan out, then - surprise - realizing you’re right in the line of sight of the very enemies you were just trying to dodge.

With eight classes, including the bound-to-be-overpopulated Jedi Knight and Sith Warrior factions, dozens of planets made famous by the movies and books, and gameplay options like flashpoints, PvP warzones and raid-like operations, this has become EA’s most expensive bet and BioWare’s most ambitious endeavour. Reportedly, it's in excess of $100 million. That’s why it’s comforting that they went with the standard $14.99 pricing (cheaper if you buy into the 3-month or 6-month plans). And with digital distribution via Origin, there’s no “but the stores were too crazy” excuse for not participating in this Star Wars saga over the long break.


Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning "Combat" Gameplay Video »

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
February 7, 2012

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is perhaps the most ambitious game on our list of future RPGs. Based on brand new ideas from some of the heaviest names in gaming -- Ken Rolston, the lead designer of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, is the game's executive designer, fantasy author R.A. Salvatore created the game universe and lore, and  Todd McFarlane, creator of Spawn, created the artwork -- Amalur is the only game on the list that isn't a sequel or  based on existing property, making it a bigger gamble than any other title here. Reckoning has star power both from its creators and the head of its development house 38 Studios. 38 was founded by former Red Sox star pitcher Curt Shilling.

Kingdoms of Amalur may be a new property, but the plan is to start big, not small. It will feature "5 distinct regions, 4 playable races, and 3 class trees with 22 abilities per tree," and a more action-oriented combat system than may RPGs. The game will utilize a "destiny" system: Player invest in a skill-tree system to unlock various "destinies," which acts as the class system for the game. Combat is action-RPG style, and works based on the timing of button presses and the occasional quick-time event. Overall, the vision of the game is a marriage between God of War and Oblivion. Which sounds like the perfect combination for a game, no?

Plotwise, the player starts off as a "blank slate," waking up in a pile of corpses after returning from the dead.

Check out the combat preview video below to see how Amalur is shaping up, and determine whether it will live up to its lofty promise:

Torchlight 2 Gameplay Preview »

Torchlight 2
Release Date: TBA 2011

The original Torchlight was a Diablo-inspired, inexpensive dungeon crawler that was perfect for RPG gamers who couldn’t wait for Diablo 3. If Torchlight 2 releases before the end of the year as expected, it’ll be... the Diablo-inspired, inexpensive dungeon crawler that is perfect for RPG gamers who can’t wait for Diablo 3. And although Blizzard’s holy grail of hack-and-slash RPGs is set to release early next year, Torchlight 2 is still worth looking into. In fact, the sequel's enhancements may help bring it out of the shadow of its Diablo-clone status.

Even with the randomly generated levels of the first game, the world of Torchlight felt confined and lonely. That’s because you were limited to the mining town and the dungeons below it, and this was a single-player-only affair. These two issues shouldn’t be a problem in the sequel, thankfully. First, the world has been expanded to include other cities to suit your anti-isolationist video game ideology. Going along with that larger scope are new outdoor areas - the original’s downward-spiral dungeon progression won’t make your gameplay feel like its going into a... downward spiral of quality.

Second, the lack of multiplayer has been addressed by allowing co-op gameplay between you and some loot-plundering friends. The developer has said that this is the most-requested feature it has gotten from players of the first game. Apparently including a pet that acts as a mule for selling loot in town wasn’t enough of a companion for some people. The greatest part is that not only is online multiplayer supported, but the increasingly lost option for LAN parties is a part of this game too. That has us earnest to break urns. The question of “when” is still unanswered, but keep in mind that the first game came out via digital distribution at the end of 2009, while the boxed PC and Mac versions hit store shelves in early 2010. That very same timeline could happen in 2011-2012.

Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer Trailer »

Mass Effect 3
Release Date: March 6, 2012

Just 11 weeks after we level-up our eight classes in Star Wars: TOR, BioWare’s other RPG, Mass Effect 3, crash lands in stores and there’s only one man or woman who matters then: Commander Shepard. That’s because Shepard is the only hope for Earth, where a devastating assault is taking place at the hands, or tentacles, of the Reapers. BioWare confirms that this marks the end of Shepard’s story-arc in the Mass Effect universe and like the two games before this one, it’ll incorporate the save files of the previous two games on the Xbox 360 and PC. The PS3 version will, of course, only be able to do the same for Mass Effect 2. Microsoft still owns the rights to ME1, having published the game and it won’t be giving up the rights to the likes of Sony any time soon. The good news for PS3 RPG lovers is that there’ll be no wait for this version of Mass Effect. Unlike the year-long wait for the previous version, this game will launch on all three platforms, the Xbox 360, PC and PS3, at the same time.

Xbox 360 will still have the upper hand thanks to Kinect voice controls, enabling you to select from the dialogue wheel by just saying the answer aloud. But it’s the co-op multiplayer that we feel gives all three versions the upper hand over Mass Effect 1 and 2. For the first time in the series, the game will feature a four-player co-op mode in a survival game type that pits you and your friends against wave-after-wave of enemies.

“The better you do, the more you control, the better your single-player ending will be,” said BioWare. However, at the same time, the company stressed that the multiplayer segment is completely optional and just an alternate method of influencing the campaign. Like the Kinect voice controls, it’s all about “adding more player choice” - the hallmark of the Mass Effect series.

Diablo 3 Multiplayer Beta with Adam Sessler »


Diablo 3
Q1 2012

Set twenty years after the second game, Diablo 3 feels as if it’s been twenty years in the making. But in reality, it’s only been 11 years since Diablo 2 set the tone for hack-and-slash RPGs in the new millennium. And although the new game doesn’t have a solid release date beyond Q1 2012, it’s already in closed beta, so it’s just around the corner. On top of that, Blizzard made good on its promise to deliver another long-awaited IP revival last year with StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty. That series stayed true to the original RTS' roots, and the gameplay and perspective of Diablo 3 looks as if it'll do the same despite the hardware advancements that have been made over the past decade.

Diablo 3 uses a new 3D engine, one that incorporates a different color scheme that does away with what the developer calls some of “the more garish-looking” dark palettes that were used in the 2D graphics of the previous titles. This change didn’t sit well with some fans, who went as far as to start a petition - 64,292 and counting - and accuse the developer of being influenced by the cartoon visuals of Blizzard's other juggernaut, World of Warcraft.

The signatures don’t seem to have worked, as the infusion of color into the previously Gothic world of Diablo remains. You can make your own judgement on the controversy by looking at the screenshots. Even with the change, fans will no doubt still be impressed with the other new additions to this dungeon crawler. Less of a controversy has been the Auction House, where real money can be exchanged for virtual items in addition to hard-earned in-game gold. The lack of lasting outrage may be due to the fact that the Auction House won’t be accessible in the Hardcore Mode, which returns from Diablo 2. The use of Artisans like blacksmiths, mystics, and jewelers and the addition of arena-specific PvP combat should also get fans to log back onto Battle.net next year, whether or not their name is on that list of 64,292.


The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Xbox 360 E3 2011 Interview »

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
Release Date: Q1 2012

We know what you’re thinking: the Witcher 2 already released five months ago. It’s true, but if your PC didn’t meet the system requirement’s for this medieval-set RPG from CD Projekt RED back in May, there’s good news. The developer is bringing the game to Xbox 360 next year, even though the first title remains a PC-exclusive. No matter, the sequel is superior in every way, fixing the first game’s broken combat, incorporating a well-written story and giving players branching paths for non-linear gameplay. As long as the translation from the PC to the Xbox 360 holds true, this fantasy RPG may be the adult-level role-playing title you’re looking for in 2012.

Fable: The Journey E3 Gameplay Demo »

Fable: The Journey
TBA 2012

Project Milo may be dead, but Peter Molyneux and his team at Lionhead Studios are combining what they learned from that Kinect demo with their Fable series. The result? A core-focused Kinect game that Microsoft hopes will appeal to gamers who don’t fit into the casual audience. Forming magic spells with your hands and casting them out to the world sounds like the right mix on paper. Unfortunately, the initial pitch to gamers didn’t go over as well as the companies had hoped at E3 2011. Molyneux looked as if he was playing yet another on-rails Kinect game and turning the beloved franchise into a casual experience.

“Listen,” Molyneux said in a G4TV video interview as he started to explain his stage demo. “The demo that we gave at the press briefing looked like it was on-rails because you can’t afford any screw ups at a press demo. So we took out all of the navigation. This is the opposite of on-rails. This is the most free you’ve been in any Fable game.” If that didn’t sound promising enough, Molyneux summed up the game as “magic with Kinect.” Sounds like someone is getting his talking points from Apple. 

Some of that magic is bound to be felt as you bond with your essential journey partner, your horse. That’s exactly how the developer made you feel previously - attached to your creature in Black & White and your dog in Fable. You’ll know you've become too attached when you start referring to the game as “Fable: The Journeigh” in a horse-like voice to friends. 

Even though Fable: The Journey takes place after the events of the third game and your trek is once again through Albion, it won’t be connected to the other Fable games. So if Molyneux doesn’t end up convincing you with his promised “magic with Kinect,” then you can rest easy that the bloodlines haven’t been Kinect-infected. 


Guild Wars 2
Release Date: When It’s Done

As an episodic, competitive online RPG with no subscription fee, the first Guild Wars stood apart from MMOs that nickel-and-dimed players every month. NCSoft and developer ArenaNet didn’t jump on the pay-to-play bandwagon by launching with a subscription-based model back in 2005 and they still haven’t introduced one six years later. Expansions do cost money, but have never been essential to play the game in the first place. That’s going to be another major selling point when Guild Wars 2 releases... whenever it releases. According to the official FAQ on the game’s website, the first question on our minds is the first one asked on that page: When does the game come out? “When it’s finished.” That answer sadly reminds us of the 14-year wait for Duke Nukem Forever - which turned out to be subpar at best. 

The good news in the case of Guild Wars 2 is that while we don’t have a firm release date, the game is shaping up to be an even better subscription-less trek through the fantasy world of Tyria. Only this time, the events take place 250 years after the first game. How is it better? For starters, there are five playable races this time: Human, Charr, Norn, Asura and Sylvari. That’s four more than the one playable human race in GW1. There are also eight professions, six of which have so far been unveiled: elementalist, warrior, ranger, necromancer, guardian and thief.  

When it comes to combat, players can swap roles on-the-fly for more dynamic combat. This hot swapping mechanic opens up the ability to respond to what happens in battles rather than having to prepare and balance your team’s skills well in advance. You know this is going to prove to be very useful, especially if you’ve already seen the giant, meticulously crafted dragon enemies in the trailers. Likewise, you’ll probably be thankful to know that skills no longer take up energy potions. In fact, energy potion has been completely done away with. Instead, energy regenerates after being depleted by the new dodge technique. The last notable change to the combat system is in the unique weapon sets that become available when you transition to underwater gameplay. Submerging beneath Tyria’s many bodies of water and taking on new beasts that lie beneath is going to be a new experience for all. 

Guild Wars was known for its high production value at a low cost to players. Its sequel can certainly take advantage of the bad economy with that same model - that is, as long as it gets here soon enough to take advantage of the situation. 

Too many choices

There’s certainly no shortage of RPGs to chose from and with most releasing on the PC where prices are always lower than console games, price isn’t as much of a concern. The problem is time. Both Action RPGs like Diablo 3 and MMORPGs like Guild Wars 2 take a lot of hours and dedication. Plus, for MMORPGs that require subscriptions like Star Wars: TOR, you want to commit to only the best out there. The above game options represent something to mull over during the dozens of hours you find yourself wandering through the worlds of Middle-Earth and Skyrim this fall.

Matt Swider has been writing about video games for 12 years. Now based in Los Angeles, he is actively expanding GamingTarget.com and his freelance opportunities.

The Future of RPG Games: Star Wars: The Old Republic, Mass Effect 3, Diablo 3 And More


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