Three things should have RPG players in good spirits. One is a swell of new interest in tabletop roleplaying, which I've observed anecdotally in my friends and family, in the 17 million views for Geek & Sundry's Critical Role, and in effusive mainstream reports from the past two years—and that's good for PC RPGs, acclimatizing players to the standards and idiosyncrasies of roleplaying and generating a hunger for the creativity and complexity offered by dice and a DM. Two, indie games in the PC RPG tradition, such as Divinity: Original Sin 2, Pillars of Eternity, Torment: Tides of Numenera, Wasteland 2, and Tyranny, are finding success in this new age of crowdfunding. And three, there's been a dramatic increase in the volume and quality of Japanese games on PC, with Nier: Automata last year and Final Fantasy XV, Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom, the Secret of Mana remake, and Shenmue 3 promised this year.
In 2018, these three trends combine for a sweet Neapolitan ice cream of RPGs: D&D and Pathfinder-inspired dungeon crawlers, elaborate open worlds, and dramatic JRPG epics. Below are the five RPGs I'm personally most excited for this year, followed by, oh, 20-something more we're all looking forward to playing in the next 12 months. There'll be no shortage.
Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire
Developer: Obsidian | Release date: 2018 | Link: Official site
I wish Pillars of Eternity 2 were out now—a long, singleplayer isometric RPG is an excellent way to pass these recently frigid nights. Sadly, there's no release date beyond '2018,' so for now I'll just have to freeze while enthusing about the ideas Obsidian is putting out there. Pillars of Eternity was one of our favorite games of 2015, and I'm keen to see how Deadfire builds on it. What we know is that the story sets us on a hunt for a god among the islands of an archipelago. Looking down on Obsidian's lavish towns, oceans, deserts, forests, and dungeons (with "vastly improved graphics," says Obsidian), we'll build parties whose "personal relationships and interactions unfold" with a new companion system, as well as sail around in an upgradeable ship. Plus there's a cat. Check out our interview from March for more on what's new in Deadfire.
Final Fantasy 15
Developer: Square Enix | Release date: Early 2018 | Link: Steam page
From what I've seen from the backseat of a PS4 playthrough, FF15 is about mild moping, long drives, unrestrained use of particle effects—in an action combat system, this time—and photojournalism. Like the rest of the numbered Final Fantasy games, it diverges from its predecessors in setting and style but swerves into common themes and archetypes: a throne, a Crystal, chaos, chocobo. It's also beautiful on PS4, so I'm excited to see what PC players can do with custom camera tools and absurd resolutions, and I expect FF15 to feature heavily in next year's screenshot compilation.
The PC version of Square Enix's sword and machinery road trip will include some amount of mod support, an unexpected treat from a series that has a tumultuous history on PC, from the trapezoid-boxed Final Fantasy VII port I never finished because it crashed halfway through to the shambles that was Final Fantasy 14: Online before A Realm Reborn's correction. Here's hoping for a great port, and for someone to mod in Randy Savage. Final Fantasy 15 is due out early this year.
Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord
Developer: Taleworlds Entertainment | Release date: TBA | Link: Official site
The sequel to the sandbox RPG Mount & Blade is coming when it comes—the release date is still TBA—but we've been covering Mount & Blade 2 since 2012, so we expect that it isn't too far off now. If it isn't out this year, it'll likely be out next, but we're crossing our fingers for a fall release. Steven got to play Bannerlord last year, affirming that at least where the large-scale cavalry warfare is concerned, our patience will very likely be rewarded.
Developer: Klei | Release date: Late 2018 or 2019 | Link: Official site
Griftlands is an exciting new RPG from Klei Entertainment, whose yearly output spans survival, colony building, action, and turn-based stealth games, all at the top of their class. We expect no less from its first turn-based RPG, which promises that "everything is negotiable" in a "pirate sandbox." Griftlands should be out near the end of the year, or possibly early 2019.
Developer: Dontnod | Release date: Spring 2018 | Link: Official site
Originally a 2017 game, Vampyr was delayed late last year to spring of this year. It casts us as a vampire in 1918 London—and also a doctor who's trying to cure the flu that's wiping out the city. Quite a pickle. I'm excited to find out just how open Vampyr is. Apparently our thirst for blood can be quenched by stalking and feeding on anyone in the game, and civilians can even be turned. Other standard vampire lore plays into it as well, such as mind tricks and being unable to enter buildings unless invited. Fun stuff, and I like the inherent dilemma of being an oath-sworn doctor and, unless you take the hard route, a bloodthirsty murderer. Read Steven's preview from last summer for more.
More RPGs coming out soon
The Banner Saga 3
It took less than a week for The Banner Saga 3 to hit its Kickstarter funding goal, unsurprising given the quality of the first two caravan adventures and their tactical Viking combat.
The Bard’s Tale IV
The inXile crew responsible for Wasteland 2 and Torment: Tides of Numenera is resurrecting The Bard's Tale properly—as a party-based RPG as opposed to the 2004 action reboot, which was really a Bard's Tale game in name only. This is truly The Bard's Tale IV, a sequel to the '80s games, updated as a 3D party-based dungeon crawler.
Deep Sky Derelicts
Currently being well-received in Early Access with a full release planned for this year, Deep Sky Derelicts is a Darkest Dungeon-inspired RPG in which parties explore alien spaceships fighting alien monsters with randomly-drawn cards.
A super-stylish anime inspired racer—with "RPG elements"—Desert Child may not fit neatly into the category at hand, but it's too cool-looking to leave out.
God Eater 3
Think Monster Hunter, but with a greater focus on story. The God Eater franchise—which includes a few PC releases already—hasn't managed quite the popularity of that other monster hunting game, but its giant sword-shield-projectile combat and anime aesthetic have a devoted fanbase. The series started on the PSP and has been handheld-focused despite its console and PC releases, but God Eater 3 is being "developed for home console" first according to the announcement. No release date has been announced just yet.
I'm fond of Spiders—the developer, not the arachnids—because even though its previous RPGs have been clunky, buggy, and underdeveloped for their size, the undaunted ambition in each of its games is admirable. Spiders keeps striving to outdo the best of the best, your Dragon Ages and Witcher 3s, in its own way, and clearly with a far smaller budget. So despite The Technomancer and Bound by Flames being disappointing, I'm not counting Spiders out—I think it has a great RPG in it. Greedfall, which is teased with an 'imperial soldier v badass dryad-type' trailer, is another opportunity to see what Spiders' growing experience can do.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance
An ambitious open world RPG with branching narratives and nuanced first-person melee combat. Kingdom Come is set in Bohemia in the early 1400s, and focuses on the story of King Wenceslas IV and the invasion of Sigismund. It's been a few years coming, but it's now set to release on February 13.
Legrand Legacy: Tale of the Fatebounds
Described by its publisher as "a love letter to all time favorite JRPGs," Legrand Legacy should be out in late January. If you want to take it for a spin now, though, there's a free 'prologue' demo.
Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time
I love Little Witch Academia, which I never expected to be my cup of tea until the mood for something cute and uplifting struck me last year and it stepped in with aplomb: here, have a witch who sucks at magic, an anti-Potter (that annoying dweeb) who joins union picket lines and fights a missile. The game looks just the same, and I have high hopes for it—whether or not Chamber of Time really succeeds as an RPG isn't too important to me, so long as it succeeds in a Little Witch Academia story.
It comes with a pang of sadness, though, as the show's screenwriter, Michiru Shimada, passed away late last year. I've been enjoying her work my whole life—may she rest in peace.
The second game from Tokyo RPG Factory, creators of I am Setsuna, is another of the studio's attempts to reseed the world with JRPGs in the classic style. Lost Sphear looks the part, down to the text boxes, and the supernatural story about a world formed by memories fits the bill, too. I am Setsuna was pretty good by our reviewer's account, and maybe this time they'll ace it.
Monster Hunter: World
The first Monster Hunter to come to PC will sadly do so well after the console release—not until late this year. Steven and Austin had largely glowing praise after their time with it, and we're told to expect a a 40-50 hour story. Given that Steven says he put 600 hours into Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, and Final Fantasy 15 is just around the corner for PC players, maybe a little wait won't hurt.
Similar to Recettear, Moonlighter is an RPG about a shopkeep who adventures in the night to restock their store with treasures and artifacts. The most interesting bit of design, at least having just heard about it, is how we'll have to judge customer reactions to our prices to determine whether we're over or undercharging. Check out our interview from PAX West 2017 for more.
Following the events of Moby Dick—which is not how I ever expected to introduce an RPG—you go right back on the hunt for the white whale. Nantucket is styled similarly to illustrated text adventure 80 Days, but with turn-based ship combat and character stats. And whales. It's out this month.
Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom
Sometimes I call my dog 'Ni no Kuni' and I'm not sure why, but that's neither here nor there: Ni no Kuni 2 is the first game in the series to appear on PC, so that's cool, and it's looking nice on account of the ex-Studio Ghibli artists working on it. There's a Pikmin-ey aspect to it, as James observed when it was announced last January, with little summonable spirits named 'Higgledies.' (Which also sounds like a good thing to start calling my dog.)
No Truce with the Furies
A "detective RPG" that casts you as a disgraced cop (is there any other kind in fiction?) hunting for answers with 'story combat'—encounters handled through dialogue—and an inventory for your thoughts. No Truce with the Furies is full of unconventional ideas like these (have I mentioned the substance abuse system?) that have my curiosity well-piqued.
Odd Gods is a '90s-style RPG about the '90s, as we called it back in November, where rather than the typical fantasy classes, we'll roll "a skateboarder or a goth or a dramahead or a jock," as examples. It also features an interesting turn-based combat system: like Frozen Synapse, orders aren't carried out one at a time, but all at once. Last we heard it was planned for Early Access soon.
Secret of Mana HD
The classic 1993 SNES RPG is getting a 3D makeover, along with "a newly arranged musical score, voiced characters and new content." I can't remember how many times I've started playing Secret of Mana on various recommendations, but I know I've never finished it. I'll have an excuse to try again this February.
We're told that the crowdfunded sequel to the beloved Dreamcast series is definitely releasing this year—double definitely. It'll be a strange thing to play a game I never expected to be made, possibly made stranger by the Dreamcast-ey faces rendered with modern tech. It's kind of creepy. But exciting. Shenmue's intricate open worlds were unprecedented at the time, and though it was followed by many open world RPGs, nothing has felt quite like Shenmue's story of revenge and forklift driving.
The RPG adventure follow-up to Sunless Sea—because the sun just doesn't seem to be anywhere lately—Sunless Skies offers the same sort of thing: adventure through space, visit far off ports with stories and goods, upgrade your ship, fight pirates, and try to keep everyone from freaking out so much they mutiny on you. Sunless Skies is currently in Early Access, but should be fully released by the end of the year.
The Swords of Ditto
A solo or co-op action RPG with cute characters and a "compact" style that sounds Rogue-ish, as "the deeds, successes, and failures of each hero's adventure have implications for those that follow including the ability to find weapons and recover loot from history’s fallen heroes." I love the juxtaposition of apparently looting my own corpse (as a new adventurer) in a world full of childlike whimsy. The Swords of Ditto is due out sometime this year.
From OtherSide Entertainment and Paul Neurath of Ultima Underworld, Thief, and System Shock fame comes another first-person crawl of The Stygian Abyss. The key promises are simulated systems and player freedom—cornerstones of the original Underworld games that inspired immersive sims like Deus Ex—with skills to mix and match, magic, and manipulation of the environment. Underworld Ascendant should be out before the end of the year.
Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor - Martyr
Hey, it's another Warhammer game! Inquisitor - Martyr is an ARPG with randomized maps that's out in Early Access now, and should see a full release this year. (If you think there are too many Warhammer games, you're clearly mistaken.)
Werewolf: The Apocalypse
Styx: Shards of Darkness studio Cyanide is developing this videogame adaptation of White Wolf's tabletop game. We don't know a lot about it—except what we already know about the World of Darkness universe—but expect to do werewolfy stuff like fighting vampires. We should learn more about Werewolf from Focus Home Interactive's French press event next month.
YIIK: A Postmodern RPG
A JRPG-style game set in the late '90s during the adolescence of the internet, YIIK (like 'Y2K') centered on a mystery inspired by the true story of Elisa Lam's death. A demo of the surreal RPG was released in 2016, and though updates have been scarce, we're anticipating a 2018 release.
Looking further ahead
Cyberpunk 2077: I'm not confident that CD Projekt's next epic will release this year—2019 seems more likely, if not 2020—but at this stage I expect we'll start finally hearing and seeing more about the digital adaptation of the tabletop Cyberpunk game. For now, here's everything we know.
Unnamed CCP MMO: It's been a tough few years for EVE Online-developer CCP. First it cancelled its ambitious vampire MMO, World of Darkness, and sold the White Wolf license, then it laid off a swath of staff, including its whole VR department. Yet somehow, "CCP is currently building a team in London to lead development on a new and highly ambitious MMORPG," reads a job description from last year. EVE's brilliance at hosting player-driven dramas, with all their wars and betrayals, easily makes anything new from CCP exciting, despite its recent troubles. I wouldn't expect to hear much more about this MMO for a year or two, but we'll be eyeing its progress closely.
Wasteland 3: 2019 should bring us Wasteland 3, another party-based RPG from the series that preceded Fallout. For Wasteland 3, inXile promises "story-driven synchronous or asynchronous multiplayer" and a "newly-revamped dialog tree system" all set "in the savage lands of frozen Colorado."
Unnamed Obsidian RPG: We know that Obsidian is working on a new RPG and that it has partnered with Take-Two's Private Division on the project, though little else is known. Will it be revealed this year?
Chucklefish's magic school RPG: It just took one screenshot to raise interest in Chucklefish's next in-house game, which was clearly inspired by its learning from publishing Stardew Valley. CEO Finn Brice and the Chuckefish team gave us a few extra details last year. Given its early state, we don't expect to see Spellbound (working title) release this year, but 2019 seems possible.