The return of the old-school RPG

Oh hey look — Brendan’s talking about RPG’s again. I can’t help it, there’s just too much to be excited about these day. Thanks to things like free 2 play, indie development, and Kickstarter, the gaming industry has seen an influx of fresh, creative minds as well as the return of legendary game creators, able to finally create the worlds they’ve been wanting to for years, but that have been pushed aside in favor of the cash-cow, AAA first person shooters and action games we’ve been buried under for the past couple console generations.

Look I know: RPG’s have been around for ages and have evolved with the times to remain relevant while still providing the types of experiences people have come to expect from the genre…

…err, sort of. I’m a huge fan of the Mass Effect series — arguably the biggest RPG franchise of the current console generation — but it’s not really an RPG. It’s a great, great series — truly — but compared to even some of its contemporaries it’s not much of an RPG. It’s also not the only series shifting away from role playing game’s origins.

While I’m not a big fan of JRPG’s, I can’t deny that the Final Fantasy XIII series (that sounds weird) has been a major departure not only from the roots of past FF games, but from JRPGs in general. And I recently vented my frustration with Blizzard, but it’s worth noting that Diablo III, despite remaining true to much of what’s great about the Diablo series, is missing that “RPG” quality. When I say “RPG’s are coming back,” I mean the old-school, hardcore RPG’s of yore.

Ishar 3

To be fair, there’s still a fair amount of Old-School RPG DNA in some of the biggest games today. Besides the few games still adhering to the old school formulas (Dungeons of Dredmor, The Dark Spire, Etrian Odyssey series), there are several titles that appeal to those who were gaming in the 80’s/90’s, or appreciate their legacy. The Witcher 2 is a great example of a game that balances the cinematic, character-based story of games like Mass Effect, with deep combat, skill systems, and character building of true old-school RPGs; Bethesda’s games offer massive worlds filled with quests, dungeons, and NPCs to create your own story — not to mention games like Fallout 3 and Skyrim prove you can evolve character building without sacrificing depth. And, of course, it wouldn’t be an article about RPGs if I didn’t mention Dark Souls, and it’s predecessor Demon’s Souls: truly hardcore RPGs of the modern era.

But when it comes to real old-school RPGs utilizing the same design of classic titles like Wizardry and Ultima, the industry has been in a bit of a drought. There’s always been a small, cult following around a few underground niche titles, but now there are a few projects brewing that will hopefully usher in a new surge of old-school RPGs.

Legend of Grimrock
Developer: Almost Human
Released: April 11, 2012
Website

We reviewed this game back when it was released earlier this year. It remains one of my favorite indie games of the year. Despite middling reviews from some critics, for many gamers like myself Legend of Grimrock was a great throwback to the dungeon crawlers of the 19980’s/90’s, tweaked and modernized for more accessibility. More importantly, it set the ground work for future sequels, and opened the door for new games in the genre to flourish.

Shaker
Developer: Loot Drop
Estimated Release: January 2014
Kickstarter Page

Being developed by Tom Hall (co-founder of id Software), and Brendan Brathwaite (Wizardry, Train, Dungeons & Dragons), Shaker is currently being funded on Kickstarter. The duo started the studio Loot Drop Games, and together with a highly qualified team, are looking to create a game in the same vein as the classic CRPGs of yore a la Wizardry, Lands of Lore, Ishar, etc.. Personally speaking, this is probably one of the few currently funding Kickstarter projects I’m really, really excited about. Check out their Kickstarter page and please back it! We need more games like this.

Project Eternity
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Estimated Release Date: April 2014
Website

Obsidian games are a studio well known to any RPG fan. Recently, the company was able to fully fund a brand new party-based RPG in the vein of Icewind Dale and Baldur’s Gate. This is another project I’m super excited for, and I’m really happy to see that they exceeded their goal and will be making this game. There is quite an impressive pedigree here, and some of the ideas being talked about remind me a lot of Planescape: Torment, one of my personal favorite games of all time. The success of this project gives me high hopes for the future of the genre.

Wasteland 2
Developer: InXile Entertainment

Estimated Release Date: Oct. 2013
Website

Before there was Fallout, there was Wasteland. In the wake of the massive success of Tim Schafer’s Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter, Brian Fargo decided to reboot his post-apocalyptic RPG Wasteland, and launched the Wasteland 2 Kickstarter. The project has been fully funded, and work is underway. Check out the video above for a small glimpse of what we can expect from this project. I never got a chance to play the original Wasteland, but as a huge fan of Fallout and Fallout 2 (games directly inspired by Wasteland) the footage has me jonesin for some top-down, post-apocalyptic roleplaying insanity.

Ultima Forever
Developer: Bioware,
Estimated Release Date: Winter 2012
Website

Speaking of well known developers, Bioware is resurrecting one of the oldest and most influencial Role Playing series with Ultima Forever. Essentially a remake of Ultima IV, this new title is going to be entirely free to play (or, as Bioware calls it “Play4Free”) and will be playable on PC, as well as iPad. According to Bioware, the game will feature many of the old mechanics of the Ultima series, while combat will be positional and action-oriented, comparing it to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Definitely on my list of need-to-play games —  I mean c’mon, free Ultima!

That list almost sounds too good to be true. So many great names and developers are behind these projects, and my hopes are high. And these are just classic RPG’s; we’re also seeing the return of point and click adventure games (thanks to Tim Schaefer and Double Fine’s highly successful Kickstarter campaign), mech games (MechWarrior Online, Hawken), turn-based strategy (The Banner Saga, XCOM: Enemy Unknown), and of course Chris Robert’s return to gaming and the long-forgotten space-combat sim with Squardron 42. It’s almost too much to handle! With such bright prospects like these, it’s hard to argue we’re not in a new golden-age of videogames. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a basement to return to.

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Shootin’ the Shit — October 12, 2012

Yuuuuuup! I’m doin’ this! I got some good feedback on the first entry, and had a lot of fun putting it together, so I think I’ll make this a regular thing for the foreseeable future.

You may have noticed that the content was skewed heavily towards the latter half of the week and there was sadly no new episode of The Low Down, but hey, it was better than nothing. We’ve pretty much worked out the major kinks we’ve be hit with in the past couple weeks, so at the very least you’ll be getting plenty more content from myself here on out.

ANYWAY! Here’s what matter to me on the internet this week:

Stuff I said

Sadly, I’ve found myself parted from my beloved Dark Souls for a few days. To fill the massive void, I did a double review of a couple hardcore dungeon crawler RPGs, The Dark Spire, and Etrian Odyssey II.  

After years of devotion, I think I’m done with Blizzard’s games now…

You know what sucks? Videogame graphics.

Stuff I read

Proving once again to be one of my favorite voices at my personal favorite gaming site, Giant Bomb’s Patrick Klepick interviews the modders who took Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition from busted PC port to fully-featured masterpiece.

Speaking of the hey-day of Blizzard, apparently there was almost a Diablo prequel on the Gameboy.

In the biggest bummer of the week, scientists confirm they cannot currently clone dinosaurs

…but in order to make up for it, are now performing experiments to find out if we are, in fact, in The Matrix!

Stuff I watched

The Mega64 guys do it again, this time providing October scares with their Alan Wake video:

While he may no longer be developing games at Epic, Cliffy B’s still got his finger on the pulse of game development, Tweeting out this awesome video of a first person shooter using all physics-based movement — no animations at all. Very impressive, and shows off where games may be headed:

Awesome games that came out this week:

Three really awesome games came out this week. I hope to get some hands-on time with each in the future:

Dishonored — an open-ended stealth FPS; Theif, Half Life 2, and Bioshock blended into one sick Bethesda game.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown – a reboot of sorts of the classic turn-based strategy game. Enemy Unknown keeps with tradition in that it’s hard as hell.

Retro City Rampage – an indie game modeled after the early Grand Theft Autos and bursting at the seams with retro-gaming references.

Misc.

I reviewed Enslaved’s new record, RIITIIR for Beard Rock. At this point, it’s the best album I’ve heard all year.

Finally, a few quick notes: first and foremost, there WILL be a new episode of The Low Down next week, so keep an eye out for that. In addition, as I mentioned on monday, we will be recording a new episode of The Power Cast as well! Next week is shaping up to be pretty crazy.

That’s it for this week. We’ll be back on Monday to give you plenty of stuff to waste your time on. I’m out!