Review: Top Upcoming RPGs For 2021 And Beyond

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Role-playing games have come a long way since we were slaughtering slimes in Dragon Warrior, hunting for the rat tail in Final Fantasy, and being endlessly wiped for wandering into the wrong tile in The Bard’s Tale. While the genre umbrella is now wider than ever as more and more games over the last decade have embraced progression systems, character classes/jobs, and choice and consequence, RPG experiences have never been available in so many forms.

From modern takes on the classic JRPG to action-infused scaling open worlds, the role-playing genre continues to capture the hearts and minds of gamers looking to explore the gamut of strong narratives, cool characters, and mighty mechanics. Let’s take a look at some of the top upcoming RPGs of 2021 and beyond. What RPGs did we miss? Which are you looking forward to? Let us know in the comments!

 

Baldur’s Gate 3

Bringing back a series like Baldur’s Gate is no easy task, but if anyone is up to the challenge it’s Larian Studios. After ushering in a CRPG renaissance with Divinity: Original Sin and Divinity: Original Sin II, Larian is ready to tackle one of the biggest RPG franchises of all time. Larian’s pivot to crowdfunded ventures and utilizing Early Access to fine tune their games has unleashed a titanic force of games full of fantastical choices.

Why battle an opponent when you can fling them off a cliff? Talk to animals! Blow up everything! Load up a barrel full of bricks and fling it at enemies with your mind! Steal cheese! The modern day CRPG is all about forging your own path from a smorgasbord of skills. The groundwork Larian laid in the two Divinity titles is absolutely visible in Baldur’s Gate 3, but it also has its own genuine Dungeons & Dragons feel. Early Access has given players a taste of what’s coming, but there’s a long road ahead for the dark journey through the Forgotten Realms.

By expanding on and altering systems that Larian has already perfected with other titles (The Divinity games have a LOT of D&D DNA in them), Baldur’s Gate 3 is poised to deliver a delicious dungeon crawl whenever it heads out of Early Access. While it’s almost certainly going to be on PC before console, Larian’s other recent titles have made their way over to the couch-centric market as well, so we’re expecting that this latest assemblage of Mind Flayers and mayhem will as well.

Bravely Default II

The team that brought you gems like the Bravely Default games and Octopath Traveler is back with yet another “modern” old-school JRPG. With tons of monsters to fight, deadly bosses to battle, and classes to unlock and master, the Bravely Default games channel the spirit of the past with plenty of today’s trappings.

We’ve come quite far since the days of selecting from FIGHT, RUN, ATTACK, and the systems in Bravely Default II allow you to strategically capitalize with defense and offense across a wide variety of archetypes. Of course, much of the fun comes from mixing and matching class skills to create potent combinations and synergies as you unlock new options and stack up passive bonuses. Previous Bravely Default titles did demand that the player be willing to grind it up a bit in order to become strong enough to take on serious challenges, but that too is simply a faithful reconstruction of the games of the past gone by.

If you can’t wait for this old meets the new amalgamation of styles and sensibility, you won’t have to wait long, as Bravely Default II lands on Switch February 26.

Disgaea 6: Defiance Of Destiny

The Disgaea games have become a successful offbeat formula from their tactical strategy RPG beginnings. The franchise has brought all kinds of fun things to the genre amidst a bizarre backdrop with weird characters and colorful levels. Want to level up your characters to basically infinity? Sure why not. Crank your damage numbers into sheer absurdity? Yep. How about diving into your item collection, selecting an item, and then going for a dungeon dive inside it? Item world! And of course, there are always Prinnies everywhere to keep a smile on your face even as you grind your mind off in map after map. Hey, they can blow up too, dood!

Disgaea 6 is unlikely to break any of the franchise staples, but as new offerings in the series often do, gently iterate and add on to an already well-established blueprint. For fans, that will probably be enough to explore another weird world fully of sassy and strange characters. The Switch seems like a premium platform for the strategy RPG, so it will be easy to grind on the go as you level your cast of characters into the stratosphere.

In fact, Disgaea 6 is almost a caricature of its own absurdity in this regard, as you can reach Level 99,999,999, and deal over 10,000,000,000,000,000 damage. Yep. Those are real RPG numbers, folks. You can auto-battle now too, so that’s perfect for when you’re dozing off in bed, the backseat of a car, or on a plane.

Disgaea 6 is expected to arrive summer this year.

Final Fantasy XVI

Are you even allowed to do a RPG list without a Final Fantasy game on it? I’m pretty sure they send a Tonberry after you if you do that, who will approach you slowly and adorably. Anyway, while we don’t know everything about the next chapter in the legendary RPG franchise just yet, we do know it has some amazing names attached to it. With Naoki Yoshida of Final Fantasy XIV fame and Hiroshi Takai best known for work on the SaGa series both in play, whatever they’re cooking up could be pretty tasty. 

From what we can see, it looks like we’re in for an action/RPG this time around instead of turn-based fare, which is how the mainline series has been heading for a while now. There’s a clear focus on summons, fan favorites that we just can’t get enough of ever since we watched the Knights of the Round play out every time in Final Fantasy VII. There seems to be some notions of warring nations, friendships, and betrayals all mixed in there, so basically, yeah it’s a Final Fantasy game alright.

There’s no release date yet for Final Fantasy XVI yet, but we do expect to hear plenty more about it at the very least this year. You can also check out a cool round table discussion of some Game Informer folks chatting about what we’d want from Final Fantasy XVI.

Monster Hunter Rise

Monster Hunter Rise brings the franchise back to Nintendo with a burst of iteration on the new age Monster Hunter design. No more load times, multiple monsters in each area, and a Wirebug “grappling hook” for unparalleled traversal and combat options are all part of the equation as we head toward a March 26 release.

As always, you are tasked with crafting powerful sets of gear from monster parts, taking on tougher and tougher bestial foes as you progress through the game, hopefully keeping the creatures away from civilization. A recent demo let players take on two different monsters. One is an introductory encounter that anyone can button mash through, but the second one – a bruiser with a bevvy of bubbles – is much more challenging fare. The demo is a solid taste of what’s to come, though we can’t wait to dive in to more customization options. If you’ve played Monster Hunter: World already, you have a good idea of what to expect, but there are plenty of differences for those looking to alter the template a bit.

Combat comes with a wide variety of nuance with the Wirebug, even allowing counterattacks and other fun abilities. And we can’t forget the Palamute addition to the companion roster. Not only can you now bring cat companions into battle, but also dogs. True innovation in monster-stopping technology, fueled by cats and dogs working together. The Palamutes are tenacious and powerful fighters, and you can also ride them around the environments for a serious speed boost. You can even pick up various resources and materials while you ride, which is super convenient!

Shin Megami Tensei V

Are your ready to sweet-talk demons and convince them to join your party? The Shin Megami Tensei franchise lives somewhat in the shadow of its spin-off brand Persona at this point in history, but the difficult and meaty JRPG series is a godsend for old-school dungeon crawler aficionados.

If you’ve missed out on the series so far, it’s kind of what like a really dark and disturbing take on Pokémon would look like, where you have to manage an ensemble of demonic forces that you coerce into your service. After you collect your creatures, you combine them to create bigger and better abominations and angelic assailants.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse, and I am looking forward to see what the franchise brings to the Switch.

Boyfriend Dungeon

We’ve all played dating sims. And we’ve all played RPGs. But what if you dated your weapons as you dungeon crawled? That’s the basic concept of Boyfriend Dungeon, where you’ll work improving your relationships with your dagger, sword, and other traditional weaponry as you work your way through various areas with-real time action combat. Will you be able to take on “the dunj” and find true love?

It’s not just as simple as popping points into stat trees or anything, players get to experience dialogue choices and decisions as they work on their love life. It’s somewhat of an odd genre mashup, but we’re into it. There are nine weapons to date, including brass knuckles, a lightsaber, and a scythe. Yes, you can take them to the beach. How romantic! 

Darkest Dungeon II

We’ve been eager to see more on Darkest Dungeon II for some time now. While Red Hook’s follow up to the original doomed crawl through cosmic horror has been on the radar for what seems like forever, surprisingly little is known about the sequel.

Some brief glimpses in teaser trailers give us a few info bits to speculate on, like the original cast of characters seemingly making a full return and a journey to the mountains of madness on deck. As always for Darkest Dungeon, a striking art style and deliciously dark narrative are fated to combine to create a decadent descent into madness.

While many questions remain, it’s always a good time to go back to Darkest Dungeon and assemble a new crew of ill-fated adventurers to journey through the depths of despair.

“Darkest Dungeon is an incredible take on the classic dungeon crawl,” I said in my review of the original game back in 2016. “The game brings Lovecraftian lore to new heights with cool classes, powerful narration, stylish art, and addictive gameplay that will keep you crawling back to battle slithering monstrosities even as your favorite heroes become corpses.”

We’re expecting to see Darkest Dungeon II head to Early Access on the Epic Games Store this year.

The Elder Scrolls VI

Love it or hate it, Skyrim is one of the most defining open world RPG experiences that ushered in a new era of games. With that in mind, expectations probably couldn’t be any higher for Elder Scrolls VI. When will we see it? Where will it take place? What developments can we expect? Skyrim gets all the modern day love, but plenty of older games in The Elder Scrolls saga are role-playing titans.

While going back and playing them today can date yourself a little, Morrowind and Oblivion are fantastic experiences. With the absolutely astonishing array of titles before it, living up to the hype may prove to be impossible for Elder Scrolls VI – but we can’t wait to see it try. 

Elder Scrolls VI is likely still years away, but we don’t expect it to be content with recreating the Skyrim model with new tech and enhancements. Nah, it’s time for some innovation.

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox

Are you ready to blast off into the action/RPG world of Ys? This time around, you get to play as any of the six so-called Monstrum. Each of these characters has special abilities that set them apart from the rest of their cohorts, including abilities like detecting hidden items or climbing up walls. You’ll be flash dodging, flash guarding, and blitzing about the battlefield as you take on deadly foes with style.

The Ys series has been going strong all the way since 1987, and although it’s maybe not as well known as the Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest franchises, players have gravitated toward it over the years, with its focus on action-oriented combat. A far cry from the innovative Ys beginnings where players would simply bump into enemies to battle them (which was still innovative for the time period, where turn-based was essentially the standard ruleset for RPGs). I’m… going to play this game. I’m gonna be a Monstrum.

Biomutant

Martial arts, mutations, and shooting? All in one game? Welcome to Biomutant, the third-person action/RPG where you recode your genetic profile, unlocking different gameplay styles and powers. Take on the powers of a turtle or go full on Spider-Beast by getting zapped with radiation, unlocking psychokinetic abilities that let you move the world around you or even let you fly. All this in a world of monsters and mayhem as you wander the lands crafting and collecting to your heart’s content, creating everything from swords to shotguns. As your mission tasks you with saving the Tree-of-Life from impending doom, your arsenal and skills give you a wide selection of options to embrace.

As you traverse Biomutant’s open world you have choices as how to explore as well, whether you want to roam around on your feet, inside a mechanized construct, take to the skies on a balloon, blast around water on jet skis, and hop on a wide variety of mounts. You can also equip a multitude of accessories like gas-masks, thermal suits, and oxygen tanks to investigate areas that would otherwise be too dangerous to travel in.

Biomutant is certainly an eclectic mix of elements, one that we’re hoping to see when it launches on May 25.

Cris Tales

Classic JRPG feel with stylish art? And you play as a Time Mage? Yep. Before you ask, yes, there is a frog companion. The weird (and hopefully awesome) aspect of Cris Tales is that you experience the past, the present, and the future – simultaneously. With your Time Mage powers, you can alter the past to change the future and watch as it plays out. This not only allows you to alter the world around you for interesting effects as you interact with characters and move through the story, but the system flows into the turn-based combat as well. Blast your enemies back into the past or fling them into the future to set up synchronized attacks and defenses.

You’ll travel around the world with standard but fanciful transportation, including an airship and boat. While modern-age JRPGS tapping into the classic template are hardly unusual, Cris Tales’ wibbly wobbly timey wimey mechanics and its striking visuals have a good shot at tapping into a revitalized genre.

Mass Effect Legendary Edition

For years and years, rumors of a Mass Effect remaster bubbled behind the scenes. Well, it’s coming. All three Mass Effect games in one place, ready for you to romance and raid your way across the galaxy. While the Mass Effect games hardly need any introduction, fans of the franchise are likely to gravitate towards the renovated trilogy. What does the revamp target? Improved framerates, higher resolution, and a smattering of other various visual enhancements – leaving the core game experience completely intact. The package comes with all the DLC and promos from the original versions, and is expected to land sometime this year.

While Mass Effect Legendary Edition is probably enough to keep people happy for a bit, EA also revealed the the franchise is getting another chapter in the years to come. After Mass Effect: Andromeda, players were left wondering if the series would continue. Wonder no more, and while the new game is probably quite a ways away – it is coming!

Scarlet Nexus

Many action-oriented JRPGs take place in the traditional fantasy space, so it’s nice to see Scarlet Nexus take things in a sci-fi direction with an anime/horror/occult twist. Forget summoning big birds to come to your aid (though we won’t write that possibility out here…), it’s all about picking up cars with your mind and hurling them into your adversaries with psychokinetic powers. Whoa. That’s a far cry from beating down orcs and casting fire on ice enemies, the true peak of all strategy. Don’t worry, you still get to whack at things with your weapons to charge up your mindblowing abilities. 

Labeled a “brainpunk” game, Scarlet Nexus has many interlocking systems involving psychic powers and augmentations. Your skill tree or “brain map” gives you a multitude of strengths to focus on as you plan your route through the futuristic weirdscape. Your party members can boost your protagonist’s skills, add special effects, and provide critical support. Your other party members fight by your side as well! We expect to see Scarlet Nexus’ whimsical mashup of mind and melee appear later this year.

Fable

The world of wizards, warriors, and whimsy is coming back. How, we don’t exactly know at this point. But Fable is returning, and that alone is worthy of some attention. Several more recent Fable projects in the franchise may have you raising an eyebrow in concern with this one, but we’re hoping that the sprawling new Fable offering avoids the pitfalls that plagued other projects. For instance, I remember playing Fable Legends years and years ago at Gamescom, an asymmetric experience that pitted players against each other as hero and Dungeon Master-style baddie. There was also the Fable Fortune CCG experiment that didn’t quite pan out, though I did have a good bit of fun with it.

All that said, with Playground Games at the helm of this project, there’s every reason for some optimism going into the future. Of course, we’ll have to see how gameplay turns out, but sometimes just hearing a beloved IP is coming back is enough to get the hype train rolling, so we can’t wait to see what’s in store for this fantasy as the year marches on.

Hogwarts Legacy

Harry Potter’s fantasy world has already been the subject of oodles of games, and now they’re going full open world with it for Hogwart’s Legacy. The title has recently shifted into a 2022 release, so we likely won’t be battling Dementors with our Patronus for a while, but the opportunities for wonder and exploration inherent with this particular franchise are extreme. With groundwork already established for myriad creatures, characters, and rules of magic across an archive of books and film, it’s just about putting the pieces together. And of course, hopefully creating a wholly new adventure inside that universe that players can immerse themselves in. All I can say is, this game better have the talking sorting hat around for character creation. That thing rules.

Mixing potions, taming beasts, and defending yourself against the dark arts are all featured parts of the curriculum as you tackle Hogwarts, eventually expanding out into the greater world beyond the spellcasting school to take on greater challenges and mysteries. There are definitely dragons, and there’s probably a giant spider too because I saw one of those on the Universal Studios ride when I went on it. That’s how this works right?  Anyway, hopefully we get to see more of how the game plays this year!

Dragon Age 4

What do we know about Dragon Age 4? Not a ton, but our resident expert Liana Ruppert has been putting together the pieces since the first reveals. Apparently, the next chapter of Dragon Age will take place in Tevinter. What’s a Tevinter? I asked myself the same question. If you’re looking to delve into Dragon Age lore and cobble together bits and factoids to create a vision of what Dragon Age 4 might look like when all is said and done, explore with us here.

We know Solas is involved somehow, and I’m not exactly the most keyed in Dragon Age expert, but I’m aware that Solas gets some big reactions when the name comes up during conversation here. As with other BioWare RPGs, the Game Informer office is filled with early conversation that’s a healthy mix of prospective romance and deadly rivalries. You can check out some more theories involving Dragon Age characters here. When will Dragon Age 4 appear? Probably not soon. But that’s not going to stop us from speculating!

Even with this extensive list, the RPG genre has a multitude of other entries on the way as well. Forget being a niche genre, RPGs have taken over the gaming scene in a big way, with myriad subgenres riffing off our our love for awesome characters, potent progression, and the power of player choice. Whether you want to dive into a massive social experience with other players, engage in tactical combat on a grand battlefield, level up a smorgasbord of job classes, or just hack and slash your way through some demons in a <a href=”Diablo-likehttps://www.gameinformer.com/2021/01/20/top-upcoming-diablo-like-games”…;, the RPG genre has solidified itself as one of gaming’s core pillars. So sit back, relax, and level up! 

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