World of WarCraft: Legion (PC)Release date: Q2/Q3 2016
After eleven years, the juggernaut that is the World of Warcraft finally showed signs of slowing down this year. In the space of twelve months, its subscriber base diminished from a high of 10 million following the release of the latest expansion, Warlords of Draenor, to a fairly stable low of 5.5 million. Although, it must be said, that "low" is still an extraordinary number considering how long World of Warcraft has been around.
So is this the beginning of the end for Blizzard's seemingly evergreen MMORPG? There might well be a twist in the tale as of yet. Work is underway on the latest expansion, Legion, and it sounds like it's potentially packing a defibrillator-like punch to help bring new life - and hopefully subscribers - back to the game.
Firstly, all classes are being reworked from the ground up, with plenty of new and exciting specs being added to the game. Judging by the early impressions coming out of the Legions test server, characters sound more sophisticated and interesting than they have been in years. Class Orders - new social spaces - are also on the horizon, giving players new areas to hang out where they can meet and get to know other people. PvP and PvE are also being split into two distinct and separate aspects of the game, meaning that they can now be balanced and tweaked independently of one another - something that players have wanted since... well… the game first appeared in 2004.
Add to that a new Demon Hunter class, a new landmass, class-unique artifacts and, of course, plenty of new dungeons and raids, and you have an expansion that's the most exciting-sounding in years. — Jaz
Dragon Quest VII (Nintendo 3DS)Release date: Q3 2016
At the tail end of 2012, or maybe early in 2013, I sat down with an import copy of Dragon Quest VII for DS and recorded some off-screen video, musing as I played about my interest in being able to play the classic RPG remake in English. And now, three years later, my wish will finally come true. It's about time.
Dragon Quest VII, previously localized under the name Dragon Warrior VII, deserves a second shot at the U.S. market. The PlayStation version actually arrived in the States within a month of Final Fantasy X, and you'd better believe that a game that looked pretty ugly compared to Final Fantasy VII didn't stand a chance against its gorgeous sequel. It didn't help that its pokey pacing demanded excruciating patience, with its 30-hour build-up to arrival of the game's full mechanics and systems making Final Fantasy XIII's overlong tutorial phase feel brief by comparison.
The 3DS remake of Dragon Quest VII ameliorates most of those frustrations. The introductory portion of the game moves at a much speedier clip, with your first taste of combat arriving within 20 minutes rather than three hours. Players will spend less time wandering through old dungeons in search of unmarked key items essential to progression, as the artifacts that allow you to open new maps to explore can now be tracked with a special radar to minimize frustrated backtracking. Oh, and the game looks quite nice, too, trading out its wobbly-looking sprites in favor of high-quality 3DS polygons. Hardline Dragon Quest fans may resent the streamlining, but everyone else will find what remains to be a massive, sprawling, complex, content-packed RPG on par with any other Dragon Quest adventure. I for one can't wait. — Jeremy
Persona 5 (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4)Release date: Most likely Holiday 2016
Persona fans have been waiting for this game for almost as long as Star Wars fans have anticipated a new film. The last numbered sequel in the series was released back in 2008, and it was on the PlayStation 2. There have been remakes and spinoffs since, some of them very good, but Persona 5 is the game we've wanted all along. And now, finally, we're probably going to get it.
The new game will feature a handful of teens who are students by day and thieves by night, making them very different from the do-gooders of Persona 3 and 4. The story will be set in Tokyo, taking advantage of the power of the PlayStation 3 and 4 to depict a city larger and more varied than anything in the series that has come before it. At the same time, though, it looks set to be everything that fans have come to expect from the series - deep and heavily stylized with a great story and an even better soundtrack.
It will have big shoes to fill in trying to follow Persona 4, which is one of the best and most popular Japanese RPGs of the past 15 years. The initial trailers have been extremely promising, though, and no one will accuse Atlus of trying to rush it out the door. It's been a very long wait, but it looks like fans of the series are about to get everything they want and more in Persona 5. - Kat
The Legend of Zelda (Wii U)Release date: Most likely Holiday 2016
Just the thought of The Legend of Zelda for Wii U (and/or NX, maybe) makes me smack my hands together and rub them while declaring “Oh boy!”
Yeah, it’s kind of crazy. We don’t know anything about this mystery Zelda title, except Epona returns and Link is wearing blue for some reason (is a complicated backstory involved? I hope a complicated backstory is involved. Something about a destined hero).
Still, I’m comfortable about saying "Yes! Zelda!" because I know Nintendo is probably good for it.
I get the impression Eiji Aonuma realizes The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword has problems that he aims to fix. We already know Zelda Wii U is a sprawling open world versus Skyward Sword’s more controlled environments. That’s a great start.
Also, Skyward Sword’s problems don’t negate everything it did right, e.g. provide us with a world of beautiful colors, bestow a personality on Link, and introduce us to Groose. I hope Aonuma remembers to hang on to all that good stuff.
From where I’m standing right now, The Legend of Zelda for Wii U is looking like Nintendo’s colorful, highly appealing take on Skyrim. I am so, so down with that. - Nadia
Divinity: Original Sin 2 (PC)Release date: December 2016
Yeah, that's right. I'm anticipating another RPG, despite Kat being our local RPG guru. Divinity: Original Sin was a great RPG in the style of Baldur's Gate. You could create your own pair of adventurers, meet up with another two characters to create your party of four, and then you head out into the world to solve solve a murder.
Divinity: Original Sin delivered on combat and story. The combat system is complex, with a number of different combinations of spells and abilities you can put together. Create a raincloud to put out a fire and then follow that up with an ice attack to freeze enemies. Hell, there's role-playing between your two created characters, who have their own wants, needs, and personalities. Talking isn't just between you and the NPCs, it's between your characters and the NPCs.
Divinity: Original Sin II looks to expand on that idea with competitive co-op, where you party can split up because you simply don't agree on where to go. The lives and desires of your four party members intersect and diverge at different times; perhaps your noble-born human doesn't want to let another noble die, while your dwarf wants the noble dead, and your thief wants to see if they can't free the noble to make money. It's all about what you want to do within the constraints of the characters you've created. Some NPCs won't even talk to specific characters or have new dialog for others.
And that's before we get to the expanded spell and combat system and improved enemy AI. Even better, developer Larian Studios kickstarted Divinity: Original Sin II and based on the strength of the first game, fans destroyed the funding goal and every stretch goal. More skills trees, the writing prowess of Torment, Fallout: New Vegas, and KOTOR 2 designer Chris Avellone, and an all-new game master mode have all joined the party! If Larian pulls it off, Divinity: Original Sin II might be one of the best RPGs ever. Yeah, big words. — Mike
Torment: Tides of Numenara (PC)Release date: 2016
The original Planescape: Torment was an absolutely amazing CRPG. As the Nameless One, players were tasked with wandering through the city of Sigil, a place where portals can take you to anywhere in existence. The Nameless One is immortal, but he has forgotten who he is and the entire game is about discovering his past. Planescape: Torment had some of the best writing and story of an RPG ever, but it was sadly done in one.
Torment: Tides of Numenara is a spiritual successor to that tile. Kickstarted by InXile Entertainment, Torment takes places in the all-new Numenera universe, a setting created by former D & D designer Monte Cook. The players will step into the malleable shoes of the Last Castoff, the former, amnesiac human host of a powerful old being.
Many RPGs these days focus on combat first, but Torment: Tides of Numenara is all about the storytelling and choices. Planescape: Torment's dialog trees were huge and varied and InXile is aiming to bring that same scope into the modern era. The developer already succeeded in bringing back the spirit of the original Fallout with Wasteland 2, so there's little reason to think they're going to flubb a return to magic of Planescape: Torment. — Mike
Dragon Quest VIII (Nintendo 3DS)Release date: 2016
There's an ever-raging cage match in my head to determine if my favorite Dragon Quest game is Dragon Quest III or Dragon Quest V, but I know this much: Dragon Quest VIII is a strong contender. It was the first game that made me say, “I want to visit that mountain on the horizon,” and then let me walk that distance.
After a few hundred million random encounters, of course.
But the blessed thing about Dragon Quest games is how Akira Toriyama’s wonderfully gruesome monster designs and animations really take the sting out of these fights. Also, the squat, rough hero Yangus can execute a magic attack called the "Underpants Dance." It delivers exactly what it promises.
There’s already a portable version of Dragon Quest VIII for mobile. It's... hard to recommend. It’s not terrible by any means, but it’s an absolute no-go if your phone or tablet is an older model, or simply doesn’t have space to spare because you have sixty minutes of cat video footage you can’t bear to get rid of.
Dragon Quest VIII for Nintendo 3DS feels right, and I’m saying that as someone who hasn't played it yet. I'll just feel better parking the game on a dedicated handheld system as opposed to a phone that stutters, crashes, and interrupts important story moments with texts from my mom saying she loves me (thanks, mom).
Also: Dragon Quest VIII on the Nintendo 3DS means not having to play the game while locked in portrait mode. Yes! Wonderful! - Nadia
Danganronpa 3 (PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4)Release date: 2016... maybe
First, a confession: It's pretty unlikely Danganronpa 3 will make it to the States in 2016, what with how text-heavy this series can be. But, since its Japanese release date is the nebulous period of "next year," I'm letting it slip by on a technicality. So I should start by saying that one of the biggest disappointments of 2015 was the fact that no game like Danganronpa appeared to take me completely by surprise. Mostly everything on my top ten this year is something I knew I would like, though the great Undertale deserves a little credit for coming out of absolutely nowhere. Still, as a fan of the Japanese adventure game, I can't help but feel let down that we really didn't get any good ones this year. Even Capcom's Ace Attorney/Sherlock Holmes mashup failed to make the cut, which feels like a missed opportunity if there ever was one. But thanks to the cult appeal of Danganronpa, I don't really see a scenario where it wouldn't receive an English localization. Until then, I'm keeping myself completely in the dark when it comes to info about this upcoming sequel. If you think Star Wars spoilers are bad—HOO BOY—you ain't seen nothin' like Danganronpa's. — Bob
Final Fantasy XV (Xbox One, PlayStation 4)Release date: Who knows?
Where were you when Square Enix announced Final Fantasy XV? I was there at their E3 press conference in 2006, when the game was called Final Fantasy Versus XIII. And I was at the press conference in 2013 when it was renamed. And I was at Square Enix's headquarters interviewing Hajime Tabata last year at Tokyo Game Show when I learned he had been named the game's director, taking the place of Tetsuya Nomura. In other words, I've had a front row seat throughout Final Fantasy XV's rocky existence, and now—a decade later—I figure I might as well see it through, you know?
Even beyond its impressive history, FFXV holds a lot of interest. It represents an attempt by Square Enix to really and truly modernize Final Fantasy, with an open-world design and a heavy emphasis on action-based mechanics. Will it remain faithful to what we think of as "Final Fantasy"? Will it be a good game in its own right? It's hard to know yet, but the demo that arrived early this year with Final Fantasy Type 0 HD seemed promising, albeit rough. I have a lot of confidence in Tabata and in pinch-hitter studio Avalanche to put together an intriguing game with a solid story and addictive mechanics—as long as they can deliver on that front, I think I'll be OK with whatever this long-suffering game turns out to be. — Jeremy