So 2016 is behind us and we’ve got a slew of RPGs (Role Playing Games) to look back on. That doesn’t mean you won’t be playing these games for years to come (which is often the case with RPGs), but it’s still interesting to reflect on the titles that hit shelves in the previous year, and wonder how upcoming titles will stack up to them.
I’ve had a really close relationship with RPGs over the years. I’ve mostly been a devout disciple of the Square Enix temple, but I can appreciate a good game no matter who makes it.
If you’ve read my review of Final Fantasy 15, you may have noticed that I have really, really high standards when it comes to RPGs, and video games in general.
That being said, I’m going to handpick the best RPGs of 2016 and shed some light on what made them special. Of course, we’re also taking a peek at some of the releases that are expected for 2017.
Let’s get into it!
Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen (2016)
As Solid as Ever
Any gamer who says they’ve never heard of Dragon’s Dogma is either a pathological liar and needs help. Or has been gaming under a rock for the past God knows how many years.
The new title Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen is a good choice for longtime players and RPG fans on a whole.
What have we got here? An expansive, mythical world with enough beautifully animated monsters to throw any bit of familiarity you feel while playing out the window.
This isn’t like back in the day when Dragon’s Dogma came to consoles, and the frame rate issues were through the roof. Dark Arisen looks utterly gorgeous.
The game should be released on PC about mid-January.
Huge Potential, Huge Disappointment
Technomancer is brought to you by Spider Games, who have been around for 7 years now. What they’ve done with Technomancer is pretty interesting. They manage to mix medieval, and modern elements in a really cool melting pot of ideas.
The story takes place on Mars, and your character is a Technomancer. This means he can utilize his bio-electric abilities, which allows him to walk around like a more badass version of Static Shock.
The environment is on point as well; the aesthetic and vibe capture the desired atmosphere.
Too bad the game didn’t deliver on other fronts. Here’s to its potential!
Albion Online (2016)
A more Immersive Medieval Experience
This title is definitely for players who want to go the extra mile and immerse themselves into a great RPG experience. Albion is set in a medieval fantasy world that allows players to create Guilds, own land, sell goods—the works.
The map is huge, giving players loads of incentive to travel around and find different monsters and resources. For players who are interested in merchant work, you can always travel to parts of the map where certain resources are cheap and easy to come by. Then travel to another area and pawn them off for a nice profit to other players.
It’s pretty cool.
Persona 5 (2017 For English Speakers)
A mash-up of anime madness crammed into a video game
The Japanese often have a unique approach to game development. I must say, Persona 5 stays true to that more than any Japanese title I’ve seen in a while. In this installment you play as a 16-year-old school boy who creates a small team consisting of fellow students and a weird cat-like creature (a Morgana).
They form a group called The Phantom Thieves of Hearts—the kind of name you will only find in a story that’s heavily influenced by Anime.
They pretty much spend their time lurking around a castle and fighting off baddies. The battle system is a rollercoaster, the look, and feel of the game is funky and energetic.
Too bad, you have to wait for the English version a few months into 2017.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance (2017)
A much more Immersive Medieval Experience
Kingdom Come is a pretty accurate depiction of a medieval world compared to other similar titles. Players are in the kingdom of Bohemia where things look pretty grim. Grim meaning there are some less than friendly folk walking around gutting people and pinning their mangled bodies up against walls.
Like I said, it’s got the whole medieval thing down to a science. Players can put enemy castles under siege, and enjoy what is described as ‘innovative melee combat’. But you’ll have to wait until the game’s release to put all of that to the test.
Looks great, though.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 (2017)
Cool Aesthetics, Dynamic Storytelling
One of the more interesting upcoming RPGs in terms of aesthetics. I’ll be sure to link you to some actual footage so you can see what I’m talking about here.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 caught my eye with more than looks alone. In terms of quests and how the story flows, the path players take will depend heavily on what character they use to engage in certain dialogue.
For instance, your party consists of a Dwarf, a Wood Elf, and two regular ‘degular’ humans. Depending on which one of these characters you use to engage an NPC, your adventure may turn out to be an epic fun time. Or the hardest thing you ever did in your life, because, well, you should have made better choices!
The Banner Saga 2 (2016)
The Undefeated Champion of Staring Contests
Another interesting title with interesting aesthetics, thrown in with other elements that make it stand out in the crowd. The Banner Saga 2 scores low in the ‘sound’ department and shines in its visuals.
That being said, not everyone will go for its unique animations. I like what they’ve done with the visuals of this game. A bit of the cinematic qualities are hampered down by odd staring contests that will drag on forever (almost making them comical) but I mean it’s still a great touch to the game.
The Banner Saga 2 runs well on PC, whether on an SSD or a normal hard drive.
The sound effects, however, were poorly done, and the loading screens are annoying as hell. The game loads for anything and everything. You step inside a tent, sneeze in the snow, try to pick your nose — load, load, load, load!
Torment: Tides of Numenera (2017)
Love child of Star Trek, Star Wars and all things Nerd-related
The successor to Torment: Planescape, Tides of Numenera looks epic and some of these visuals are a real treat. Just take a look at what they did with some of the buildings and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Torment is proof that there are times when one must appreciate the fact that the PC Master Race is indeed blessed. It doesn’t make me want to turn my back on PlayStation, but the game looks amazing.
The world designs look like the child of Star Wars and Star Trek, who is cousins with Final Fantasy, but got shipped off to an orphanage by his parents when he was very young—and is still recognizably related to them all.
Deus EX: Mankind Divided (2016)
Two thumbs up for the cinematic touch
Deus EX: Mankind Divided is the sequel to Deus EX: Human Revolution, and as you can tell by the name of the former, mankind in indeed at odds with itself.
Humans and augmented humans don’t get along. And the relationship isn’t exactly showing any hopes for improvement.
Mankind Divided has done a real good job at painting a dark, metallic, and often times chaotic world. Walking through the slums makes me feel like I’d been thrown into the world of Judge Dredd or Total Recall if either of those movies were remotely as interesting as this video game.
Deus EX isn’t developed by Square Enix (only published) but it has that rich cinematic quality that Square brought to the RPG genre almost twenty years ago.
The Surge (2017)
Dark Souls with a Futuristic Twist?
Not really sure what I think about this game. Obviously, I find it interesting. It has great graphics, even if I’m not quite sold on the premise.
Apparently, the devs are going for a Dark Souls vibe with a mecha twist? You play a character who works at some sort of robot factory and quickly finds himself in a strange situation.
He falls unconscious during his first day at work and wakes up to be hunted by his own coworkers who are also clad in exo-suits and armed to the teeth. By defeating and dismembering these baddies, you can make their tech a part of your arsenal and augment your character.
Here’s what I like about this—the whole Dark Souls with a mech twist thing seems pretty interesting. It definitely grabbed my attention. But at the same time, I’m not sure the gameplay really did it for me.
I remember the first time I ever saw Dark Souls PVP. It was epic, fierce, it had a rush to it – an awe. I just don’t get that from The Surge. The character movements are more Dark Souls 2 than Dark Souls. And some of the battle mechanics are reminiscent of God of War, namely for their cinematic touch.
For instance, once you weaken certain enemies, the square button appears on the screen. When you press it, your character performs a cool finishing move, and the camera adjusts dramatically. And they even throw some slow motion in there.
Cool stuff. Cool stuff we’ve already seen a million times. It doesn’t distract from the lack of fluidity in the characters’ movements.
Another upside to this game is that the environments are stunning. The overall visuals are just spectacular.
Dark Souls 3
Better than Dark Souls 2, a Far Cry from Dark Souls 1
I’m a huge fan of the Souls series, among other titles developed by FromSoftware—like Armored Core V. Demon Souls and Dark Souls were revolutionary games. It’s hard to put into words how brilliant I think these MMORPGs are.
The Souls series is so well-made that even the weaker titles are gems that I think do a great justice to RPGs (or MMORPGs) on a whole.
I always had a bad feeling that the ‘glory days’ of Dark Souls 1 would be the last days of Souls PVP. It hurts my heart to realize that I was right. Dark Souls 3 is a great game. The lore kicks butt, the atmosphere is amazing, and replay value is there.
There’s just one big problem — the PVP isn’t quite what people were looking for. SOME people maybe. But let’s be real, here — all the best PVP’ers in the community have pretty much paused PVP’ing in Dark Souls 3. After what? Months? Some of these guys only played it for a few weeks.
That’s a red flag. A giant red flag. How do I know? Well, there are people who still play Dark Souls 1 PVP to this day — myself included. Dark Souls 3 came out in 2016. Dark Souls 1 is almost 6 years old!
That screams red flag.
Here’s the Deal
In terms of PVE, the game is amazing. Even the dreaded Dark Souls 2 got PVE right. In fact, I’d say Dark Souls 2 got PVE PERFECT. I’m a player VS player kind of guy. So the whole run around with PVE was never something I was particularly fond of. Dark Souls 2 was so easy compared to its predecessors — I could just run through PVE and create builds without breaking a sweat.
It was great. I didn’t even need to mule.
To my point, Dark Souls 3 PVE is on point, but I have to judge a Souls game on more than just PVE alone. Especially, because a large portion of the community cares deeply about PVP — AND it was the reason I ever got into the Souls Series in the first place.
Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017)
Another Rehash, Another Classic?
Okay, I’m still disappointed that Nintendo still isn’t quite as original as it could’ve been over the past…what? Twenty years? But I’d be a liar if I said the upcoming Zelda game (of course Zelda—what were you expecting? Something fresh and original?) — does look spectacular.
Feel free to call me crazy — but why does this game remind me of Shadow of the Colossus?
The open world is sweet. Sort of brings me back to Ocarina of time — except with a very different approach to the aesthetic, texture and feel of the world. Ocarina of Time had a certain heft that was more appealing to me. Breath of Wild takes a lighter approach in how the world is presented to players (at least superficially).
Ocarina of Time had a darkness to it as if it was all fantasy (and essentially a kids game) but there was an underlining eeriness that accompanied you throughout your journey.
I’m not saying Breath of the Wild took a wrong turn here. I’m just comparing it to what I think is the BEST Zelda game of all time. Of course, I’m hardly a Nintendo scholar — so what does my opinion matter on that topic anyway?
Breath of the Wild shows a lot of potential. See Link wake up from his 100-year slumber to leap off the edge of cliffs and high platforms to glide over the epic and expansive world pieced together by the developers.
See him try his hand at cooking and get owned by horses when he tries to tame them. Zelda: Breath of the Wild makes me feel like giving Nintendo Switch a shot and actually buy one.
But you know what? It’s still not an original title!
Final Fantasy 15
Solid RPG, Mediocre Final Fantasy
I’ve already written at length about this in another post, so feel free to check it out here. You can hear all about why I think Final Fantasy 15 still manages to be a colossal disappointment in all the ways that matter while providing an ‘OK’ gaming experience.
If you’re wondering why I included games on this list that I don’t seem to like — that’s not the case. I DO like these games. But they are titles I expected more from, so I have to take the time to express that disappointment thoroughly.
It doesn’t change the fact that they are good enough to be on this list.
When it all comes down to it, Final Fantasy 15 is the culmination of great world building, sub-par Final Fantasy music (for the most part), an excellent battle system, monochromatic and lifeless characters, and all the little remnants of genius that are still floating around Square Enix’s studios.
On to the next game.
Mass Effect Andromeda (2017)
Epic on a galactic scale
Here we are at the final game on this list. And can I just say — this action RPG looks brilliant?
In Mass Effect Andromeda, you are scouring an alien galaxy, in search of a new home for your race. These jerks we call human beings.
Your character has to visit hazardous planets scattered about an alien galaxy torn apart by conflicts fueled by their lack of resources.
You start off with a ship and a Nomad, which is a cool multi-terrain, super Sci-Fi vehicle—but anything else you find yourself in need of must be crafted, or stolen.
Players have the option of making friends with particular worlds or becoming their enemies. So the intention is to make you think your choices hold consequences—which is right in line with Mass Effect tradition.
They merely repackaged it a bit and took a more ambitious route.
If I had to single out one highlight of 2016, it would probably be Dark Souls 3, with Final Fantasy 15 as the runner up. The blend of PVE and PVP in the Souls series, makes it one tough RPG to beat. Unfortunately, it’s missing a great deal of the neat battle mechanics I’m accustomed to from Dark Souls 1. But I can hardly blame FromSoftware for failing at recreating what I think to be the ultimate PVP experience.
As far as 2017 titles go, I can’t decide. But it would have to be between Mass Effect Andromeda, and Horizon Zero Dawn. I know I didn’t include the latter on this list, but you can check out what I had to say about it in another article here.
I look forward to reviewing that later on this year. Unless of course, it turns out to be a colossal cheese fest.