My Top 5 RPGs for 2011

2010 has been the year of the RPG. Fans have literally been showered in love from some of the genre's most prolifically awesome studios.

Bioware and Square Enix kicked off the 2010 single player marathon (which according to the EA president is dead by the way!) early on with Mass Effect 2 and Final Fantasy XIII respectively. Hot on their heels were Atlus with Demon's Souls before Square Enix again fought for our free time with the summer hit, Dragon Quest IX.

Anyone who thought the RPG torrent would lay off for a while after that was mistaken as Bethesda released Fallout: New Vegas in October, taking gamers back to their favourite post-apocalyptic sandbox. Camelot bookended the year with Golden Sun: Dark Dawn last week and while some may argue the game's title is an ominous portent of the genre's offerings in 2011, I've hardly had to clutch at straws to find the five RPGs I'm most looking forward to next year.

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
Cynics, at this point, would accuse me of a shameless plug. An opportunity for me to tell the 200 odd people who have stumbled across this blog looking for pictures of Ultros to put on their Christmas cards, about one of Namco Bandai's big titles for next year. Well pooh pooh to you. I am so looking forward to this game that I am going to the trouble of assembling a PC powerful enough to play it, my masterpiece will be ready in January. CD Projekt Red's, on May 17th.

I'm not going to say too much about it but players will find themselves reprising the role of Geralt to tackle a new evil. TW2 has been built around a completely new proprietary game engine as CDP move away from the Bioware engine they used in the previous game. This has allowed them to produce the RPG experience they wanted to make and they're keen to point out, that the only thing that limits them is their imagination.

Here's a nice gameplay trailer to get you started. This one doesn't have boobies.

If that's peaked your interest, head on over to www.gamingunion.net and check out Lee Bradley's preview from Gamescom 2010.

Dragon Age 2
Let's be honest, Dragon Age: Origins wasn't as amazing as my experiences of it suggested it to be. I absolutely loved it, but when I think about all the needless chat and the fairly non-evolved combat system, I do ask myself why. Nevertheless, I mainlined that game. I finished it four times. I unlocked every achievement bar 'Traveller' on the launch version and have made a significant dent in the updates and expansions. Did I get bored of it after a while? Maybe. Having played it solidly for about six-months straight though, it's probably no surprise. My girlfriend even bet me, at the height of my addiction, that I couldn't put it in a drawer and leave it for a week. Well, she was right, I buckled after four days because I just couldn't get enough of decapitating Darkspawn with twin swords. Dragon Age: Origins, despite it's flaws, is my favourite WRPG of all time, overtaking previous front-runner, Planescape.

And now they've made a sequel...I had a little play at the Eurogamer Expo and wasn't disappointed. Now our main character, Hawke, speaks, the combat plays out more like an action RPG and less like an old school, top down style, turn-based RPG and the visuals are even more impressive than before. It remains to be seen whether everyone in Dragon Age 2 wears the same underwear though. I've asked a few people but I think they're all under NDA.

So Hawke is a survivor of the Blight, one who escaped Lothering with his family before it was overrun shortly after the Battle of Ostagar. His gender and class can be customised and he interacts with other characters using a dialogue wheel similar to the one seen in Mass Effect 2. DA2 is set in the Free Marches, a new area in the Dragon Age universe and will span over a ten-year period with the decisions you make for Hawke, affecting the world in dramatic ways. Fans will be pleased to hear their save-game data from DA:O will be compatible in DA2 with decisions having an impact on the game play. Check out the Rise to Power trailer:

More violent than your average student riot. Bring on the decapitations! Yeah, you heard me Lorraine Kelly, de-cap-i-tay-shuns.

The 3rd Birthday
I know, I know...who even plays their PSP anymore? Well, apparently, the Japanese do and Square Enix are well aware of it. Their early 2011 line-up is a treasure trove of handheld adventuring with The 3rd Birthday spearheading a PSP lineup which includes a remake of Tactics Ogre: Let us Cling Together and Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy. As a huge fan of Parasite Eve 2, I'm looking forward to being reunited with Aya Brea, even if she has lost her memory. Cue groans from the JRPG haters.

Slated for a Spring launch, The 3rd Birthday's most interesting new feature is the 'Overdive' system. This allows the player to jump into the bodies of friendly party members in order to exploit enemy weakpoints and sustain tactical advantages throughout the game's third-person combat system. This feature also allows Aya to jump into the minds of the Twisted (the creatures wreaking havoc in Manhattan) and cause them fatal damage. RPG elements remain in what is essentially an action game, with Aya able to level up through gaining experience points which she can use to upgrade existing abilities or learn new ones.

With Yoshinori Kitase involved, as Executive Producer and with Square Enix's track record for producing exciting and engaging handheld games, The 3rd Birthday looks likely to be a welcome distraction for commuting RPG fans such as myself. The combat system looks engaging and fresh, the visuals hold up very well for a PSP game and Square Enix's expertise in characterisation and story telling should ensure a captivating gaming experience. Now, Squenix, if you wouldn't mind localising Parasite Eve and whacking it up on the PSN store, I'd be most grateful!

Potential for tentacle rape? You never know.

Gameon.co.uk had hands-on with The 3rd Birthday at Gamescom, you can check out their preview here.

The Last Story
One word should be enough for most RPG fans to get excited about The Last Story: Sakaguchi. Most will know him as the genius who created the Final Fantasy series and looking through his credits is to peruse a list of RPGs which are essential gaming for fans of the genre. He's had a hit on nearly every major format and The Last Story will be his and Mistwalker's first outing on Nintendo Wii. Will this be the title that sees hardcore Wii owners dusting off their consoles for an all new RPG adventure? I wonder how I can get the Wii I sold to my mother back...

Sakaguchi has claimed in the past that he had concentrated mainly on the battle system at first, before implementing the kind of story that only he could. IGN recently deduced he has done this twice before: Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy VII. Excited yet? There isn't a massive amount of info available to English speakers about The Last Story, however from IGNs preview it looks like it will be Final Fantasy XII-esque with a mix of turn-based and real-time combat. Main character, Elza, acts effectively as a tank with his 'Gathering' ability, drawing enemy attention while his comrades charge spells and heal allies. Spells themselves will have a lasting effect on the battlefield, leaving area affected circles which players can use to their advantage. Cast an ice-spell and any player characters within the circle will have their attacks infused with ice. Sounds like tactics and experimenting will be the order of the day with this system and it's one which - as a lover of turn based combat - intrigues me greatly.

I'd have to confess to knowing very little about the story other than that Elza and his band of companions are mercenaries who have arrived on Ruli Island looking for work. I've only seen trailers, but just the talent involved in this game is enough to shoot The Last Story into my top 5 RPGs for 2011. I just hope it gets a PAL release which at the time of the writing, has not been announced.

Epically incomprehensible. Still, I can't wait.

The best way to keep up to date with The Last Story is to follow @mistwalker on twitter where Sakaguchi frequently updates and interacts with fans. For a summary of the development blog and some of his more relevant tweets (sunsets and lego characters not included!) check out andriasang.com's article, posted on 9th December.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution
It's for titles like this, I'm sure, that Square Enix acquired Eidos. Though the company has found a fanbase for traditionally Japanese RPGs in the west, that support does appear to be waning. Many fans voiced angry opinions over Final Fantasy XIII and Front Mission Evolved, franchises some consider to have been ruined in an attempt at 'Westernising' them. For the record, in the case of Final Fantasy XIII this is an opinion I do not share. The jury is still out for me on FME. In Deus Ex: Human Revolution though, Square Enix finally have the WRPG they need to challenge the BioBethehemoth.

Developed by Eidos Montreal, DE:HR is a prequel taking place 25 years before the original Deus Ex at a point in the timeline where nanotech enhancements haven't been developed and cybernetic augmentation is all the rage. Deus Ex is typically Cyberpunk and it looks incredible. I was a pen and paper RPG nut in my teens and the Deus Ex series has historically captured the conspiracy and power-hungry corporations vibe that was so well told in R. Talisorian Games' Cyberpunk universe.

It looks to be a return to form for the series as it's brand of first-person action, decision making and RPG elements will delight fans and draw new players into its web of intrigue. Playing the role of Adam Jansen, the cybernetically enhanced corporate militia-man will be an intriguing blend of combat, stealth and social and technological skills where players will have a range of options available to them to progress through the story. It's been said you can play through the entire game without having to kill anything other than a boss! Good for me, because I'm shit at FPSs.

RPGs, it's ok to be scared. Deus Ex could dominate Q1.

This is coming early 2011. For a bit more insight and a developer Q&A check out Adam Cook's post on Godisageek.com from last month.

Well that's it and in case you were wondering, they're in no particular order. While there isn't the range of RPGs releasing in 2011 that we saw in 2010 there is still plenty to get excited about. I haven't even mentioned Diablo III which according to an allegedly leaked report, could be out at the end of 2011. I also haven't mentioned Knights of the Old Republic, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Dungeon Siege III or the numerous other potentially good RPGs slated for next year.

I'm sure as we go into the new year more titles will emerge. We'll just have to wait and see!