As per tradition, we present our RPGFan E3 2011 Awards! Our six attending editors each compiled their own lists of the best (and sometimes worst) that the show had to offer in 2011. Based on everyone's feedback, we then chose the top RPGs of the show overall in different categories. We changed these categories around a bit this year: With so many games going multiplatform, we didn't want to have console-specific awards. Secondly, in stark contrast to last year where we had trouble deciding a winner, there was a dearth of handheld RPGs at the show this year, so we omitted these for the categories you see below.
In any case, we hope you enjoy our awards and individual picks!
5) Prime World - OK, so as I admitted in my writeup, Prime World isn't strictly an RPG. It's an RPG/Strategy/MOBA mash-up, and it's all run from Facebook by a company from Russia. I probably wouldn't have given the game a second look had I not seen it at the show, and several members of the US team are folks that I know did good work when they were with Nexon. I'm just intrigued to see a social MMO that's not about just collecting the largest number of friends possible so that you can tear through everything - Prime World is going to make you use your own skill to win, not just how many Facebook friends you have. Keep an eye out for it in July.
4) Deus Ex: Human Revolution - Deus Ex: Human Revolution isn't made by Ion Storm and it's not a clone of the original title. It doesn't need to be. The team at Eidos Montreal has done a good job at creating a fluid FPS/RPG hybrid that's streamlined enough for today's console gamers, but gives choice to everyone no matter what they want to do. Play it stealth, play it power, or just plain play it smart, the choices are not only there, but the way to build and enhance your character around your choices is great. I might not personally dig on the character design (or voice) of Adam Jensen, but it looks like Eidos Montreal is providing an RPG experience that will be fun and rewarding - and worth a couple of playthroughs.
3) Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning - Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was built from the ground-up to be over the top, action-packed, and above all, deep. 38 Studios and Big Huge Games have put quite a bit of work into their newest title, and it shows. The graphics are vibrant, the gameplay looks engaging, the RPG systems are deep, and there's tons of customization. We're still almost a year out from this game's release, but every single tidbit we've seen shows nothing less than a spectacular RPG. This is definitely one to keep your eyes on.
2) Star Wars: The Old Republic - Star Wars: The Old Republic might not look much different than World of Warcraft or RIFT if you just catch a battle sequence. While it's very clearly a Star Wars title, what we've seen of the core gameplay doesn't tear itself far away from modern popular MMORPGs. What this title has that others don't - aside from one of the best licenses available - are the BioWare legacy and the ability to present a unique story to the player. Each class has its own story and there are legitimate choices for the player to make, both in their own story, and in dungeons with others. It's an incredibly unique concept and one that I'm excited to see implemented. This is a game that can potentially garner millions of subscribers, and if it's as good as what I've seen, I hope that it does.
1) The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - I made sure that my first appointment on the first day of the show was at Bethesda's booth. The rest of the show was fun, but I wanted to get my biggest bang for my buck as soon as I could. I'm glad that I wasn't wrong. Skyrim is gorgeous, with its breathtaking vistas, characters that actually look human, and amazing looking menus - something I'd never thought would be a selling point for me. The gameplay looks significantly improved with its new system where you equip one item - or spell - in each hand and go to town. Skyrim can't come fast enough; is it November yet?
Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine (It was the only one I wanted to see.)
Tales of the Abyss (3DS) and Tales of Graces f (PS3)
Valkyria Chronicles 3 (PSP)
Last Story (Wii)
Japan (the Country)
5) Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny - This is the type of game we need - one that dares us to explore and find new lands and discoveries. One that has a world larger than we ever could've imagined. Rune Factory Frontier was an excellent title, but I'm banking that Tides of Destiny will go even further than Frontier did. The other bonus? Actually being able to play as a female character for the first time in Rune Factory. The bad? Playing as Sonja only gets you three suitors, while playing as Aden grants you nine potential marriage candidates. Hopefully Sonja's slim pickings are quality characters. A golem also rules this world, a feature never before seen in a Rune Factory title. This lends itself to large wondrous golem battles on the sea, like you're operating your own Transformer. In addition, your farm will be inside the giant, and the animals you recruit will depend on the type of farming goods you'll have access to. All-in-all, it's looking to be an adventure that will remind fans why they fell in love with the Rune Factory series in the first place.
4) Final Fantasy XIII-2 - I'll be honest, Final Fantasy XIII wasn't a game that I really enjoyed. I didn't find much to compel me to play on, and when Final Fantasy XIII-2 was announced, I couldn't have cared less. Then I stepped into my appointment for Final Fantasy XIII-2 and I started to care. Not only did the game look visually stimulating, but the paradigm shift battle system has been refined and now includes cinematic actions, interactive sequences where you must follow on-screen cues to pull off ultimate attacks. The party dynamic has changed, too, as recruiting monsters to bring into battle will make the game that much more interesting. Sorely lacking from XIII, XIII-2 will feature a wide variety of NPCs, and exploration of towns will be a part of the experience. Here's to hoping Lightning's sister, Serah, has a good story to tell and doesn't end up on the side of dullsville. And as for Lightning? We're hoping she has quite a moving story to tell this time around. Sure, she's badass, but there has to be more to her than that.
3) Dark Souls - This game doesn't fall in the realm of games that I'd seek out on my own, but I can truly appreciate its ingenuity. Dark Souls is taking the Demon's Souls formula and not just running with it, but adding some extra innovation to keep players invested. While Dark Souls will be more challenging, it will also be filled with more options to solve obstacles. It can be as simple as using the environment to your advantage by finding a hidden spot for cover, or lighting part of it on fire to damage an enemy. Each death should teach you a lesson, and the unique multiplayer is back. Whether you're leaving messages to help or hurt other players, invading people's worlds, or healing people in another world to save them from their demise - community will be important in this game. The developers want you to create your own story through this larger, seamless world, and just how grand and challenging it will be is up to you and your playstyle.
2) Mass Effect 3 - This was the demo that struck me the most. Sure, it's basically everything we encountered in Mass Effect 2 as far as combat goes, with some refining and tweaks. What I think is really going to make Mass Effect 3 a memorable experience, however, is the story. The demo foreshadowed that Shepard's journey wouldn't be an easy one; decisions are going to be tough - there will be sacrifices and people will die along the way. The stakes are higher - you are now saving Earth - and so everything else will carry a heavier weight. All I know is that Shepard's journey is going to have us talking, and March can't come soon enough to see how it all plays out.
1) Star Wars: The Old Republic - Before this year's E3, if you asked me whether something that was an MMO and revolved around Star Wars would make my list, much less at number one, I'd say no way. I'm not the biggest MMO fan, nor do I indulge in the geek obsession of Star Wars; yet I happened to see this gem at E3 and it completely blew me away. I walked out of the room without any questions; I was finally going to devote my time to an MMORPG, and I was certain that it would be this one. Everything we love about BioWare games, the story and the choice, is implemented in this MMO. It's amazing that they were able to make choice, such a personal venture, a part of a game you'll play with hundreds of others. And, of course, you can live out being your good or bad self depending on what moral code you decide to ascribe to. Not to mention, this game looks more gorgeous than any MMO I've ever seen. This will be my addiction when it finally releases.
Most Surprising Multiplayer:
Assassin's Creed Revelations - Multiplayer was a lot more fun and polished than I was ever expecting from a series that I thought didn't need it in the first place. We'll see if it's as addictive as it appeared at E3 or if it just gets played out after a while.
Biggest Disappointing No Show:
Tales of Graces f (PS3) and Tales of the Abyss (3DS) - Now that Namco Bandai has confirmed Tales of the Abyss for 3DS and Tales of Graces f for North America, I expected them to make an appearance at this year's E3. To have neither title show up was heartbreaking, especially considering that Abyss is so close to its release date. I've been clamoring for a JRPG to really get invested in and I have faith in Tales Studio, so this was a huge letdown.
Most Interesting Premise:
Catherine - Part puzzle game, part interactive adventure, Catherine is actually an inside look at the way we view relationships. In the end, your choices should say something about the type of person you are... can you stay faithful in the midst of temptation?
Worth A Second Look:
Bastion - For its unique visual style and smooth narration-on-the-fly system.
Crimson Alliance - For providing a fun, fast combat system mixed with detailed dungeons in a multiplayer shell.
5) Dark Souls - The online components may pit you with or against other players, but also offer up a unique, realistic touch that lets you and the other players feel like a part of the world. Of course there's always the part that appeals to the masochist in me (and you) - the tougher-than-Demon's-Souls challenge. This is one game where I didn't feel bad about dying often.
4) Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning - This title's blend of RPG and God of War-type gameplay tickled - or was that stabbed at? - the part of me that adores the hack-n-slash action genre. Not only that, but Reckoning does so with anything but generic graphics - the graphics are more vibrant and colourful than one might expect for such a dark setting.
3) Deus Ex: Human Revolution - I'd been looking forward to this for a while, and the variation in gameplay didn't disappoint. How you play mostly depends on whether you're in the mood for violence or espionage. I don't know about you, but for me that mood changes every so often. Not to mention, the demo and the title's various trailers never fail to pique my interest in the storyline that's wrapped in global conspiracies and the ethics of transhumanism.
2) The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings - I feel nearly alone in this one because most people who wanted to play CD Projekt RED's RPG are already doing so on the PC. Without that option, I've no choice but to wait - but if the 360 demo was any indication, patience gets rewarded and I won't be disappointed in the least. The console version looks promising, and this is another title that relies somewhat on player choice. At least I've got that art book.
1) Mass Effect 3 - This should surprise exactly no one. BioWare's E3 demo showed much of what I'd hoped for, and more: return of old friends, customization of individual weapons, more control as to how your powers evolve, the eventual consequences of your choices in the first two games, and a story-driven closure to the trilogy. The sad ending only served to drive the point home that you need to save Earth. Me? I'm saving my city, too.
3) An Alpaca plushie
2) Moleskine notepads
1) The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings hardcover art book
Top 3 Non-RPGs With '3' In Their Title:
3) Gears of War 3
2) Battlefield 3
1) Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
E3 2011 Trends:
2) Games behind closed doors
1) A serious lack of JRPGs/Japanese titles
Best Use Of An Entire E3 Booth For A Trailer For Which You Had To Watch Screens That Were 360° Around You:
1) Activision. The Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 trailer literally surrounded the hundreds inside the booth watching. No wonder that booth had so little stuff in it.
5) Dragon Nest - Truth: I shy away whenever I hear the term "free to play." It just brings to mind images of low-caliber production values and cheap cash grabs. Want to heal your character? Pay up! To see and experience the quality of Dragon Nest, my perception of FTP games is now skewed - DN packs clean, stylized graphics, clever game systems and solid gameplay mechanics into a package I'd expect to pay for.
4) Dead Island - I did not expect this to be on here. While I liked the game's debut trailer, I had no idea it would include a deep customization system, skill trees, EXP and other RPG fare. It makes Dead Island go from what would likely be a fun but shallow experience to something I could see sinking some serious time into. We got a thoroughly enjoyable hands-on demo, and I loved every bit of it.
3) Final Fantasy XIII-2 - I still have not finished Final Fantasy XIII - and therefore have certainly spoiled part of the story by watching the trailer for its sequel. That said, I've played enough to be familiar with the game's mechanics and linear progression. The inclusion of more free-roaming areas, NPCs and the odd-but-handy Mog Clock are all steps in the right direction for XIII-2. I also wonder if we'll get to see Lightning's home, since we learned it (and much more) was cut from the original game before release.
2) TERA - Last year, TERA was something that was fun to play, and the screen shots showed promise, but it felt a little unfinished and I mostly put it out of my mind. This time around, I can't get the game out of my head. The combat is engaging, fast and fluid. The environments are as detailed as you could want, but are also designed beautifully (this is why I like World of Warcraft: Design takes precedence over polygon count). Trees lightly blow in the breeze, you can charge special attacks which for some reason, in this setting, feels like the 3D Secret of Mana I've always wanted... the list goes on. There's something magic about TERA, and it needs to be out yesterday.
1) The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword - I will forever have a soft spot for Zelda in my heart, and after playing Skyward Sword a year ago, it's still one of my most-anticipated games. SS was even more polished this time around, and we got to see more gameplay, innovative and strategic use of the game's MotionPlus functions and some of Zelda's trademark quirky supporting cast. Even though I adore Twilight Princess, I think Skyward Sword is going to be the game that really shows what Zelda + Wii is all about. I can't wait.
Honorable Mentions That Definitely Would Have Been on My List But Were Less Accessible/Behind Closed Doors:
Star Wars: The Old Republic
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Disappointing RPG No-Shows:
The Last Story (Wii)
Tales of Graces f (PS3)
Final Fantasy Versus XIII (PS3) (5 years running!)
JRPGs and handheld RPGs in general were in extremely short supply.
- Dungeon Siege III: Not even on my radar pre-E3, DSIII is surprisingly fun.
- The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD interactive demo (Wii U) was simply stunning to see in person. It needs to be a real game.
- Moleskine notebooks and fancy metal pens, from Nexon. (Also, plenty of food, coffee and... an open bar?)
- Neverwinter bags with posters, shirts and notepad cases inside, from Atari.
5) Harvest Moon: The Tale of Two Towns - I've had my eyes on this title for a while, and I had assumed that it was quietly passed over for release in North America. Luckily, such was not the case. After I saw the 3DS version in action, I happily budgeted my $40 and set aside my farming overalls. Swaying trees, rippling water, and floating tree petals were all sharply rendered in 3D, adding to the trademark immersive quality that Harvest Moon titles are known for.
4) TERA - The only MMORPG I've ever put time into is Final Fantasy XI, and after seven years of playing it, I wasn't sure I would ever want to play another game in this genre. (I'm still waiting for Final Fantasy XIV to reach the heights of greatness we were promised, incidentally.) My mind may have been changed by TERA. With absolutely gorgeous environments, a deep political system, and tactical action-based combat, the game is shaping up to be more than I ever could have imagined. The face of the MMORPG is changing, with TERA at the forefront of the revolution.
3) Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny - "Where has all the color gone?" In a game market saturated by browns, blacks, and greys, it is so refreshing to see an RPG set in a bright, attractive atmosphere. The addictive quality found in all Rune Factory titles is present, with an upgradable farm set inside of a moving giant, and the open world just begs to be explored.
2) The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword - Zelda games rarely fail to impress, and Skyward Sword looks to raise the bar for the series once again. The motion controls are well-executed, giving the player a degree of precision not found in any other Wii title I've ever played. Zelda games are typically paced very well, and I look forward to upgrading my equipment and solving puzzle after puzzle until I'm ready to save Hyrule (and Skyloft) once again.
1) Final Fantasy XIII-2 - As a diehard JRPG fan, it should be no surprise that my favorite game at this year's E3 was a Final Fantasy title. I am in the minority that enjoyed FFXIII, although I completely understand the criticisms held against it, and I am grateful that fans were vocal enough that the developers took notice of their concerns. This sequel seems to address all of the issues that FFXIII had, introducing populated towns, more interactive combat with cinematic actions, and an expanded story that makes sense for newcomers and veterans alike. I'm eager to see what direction the worlds of Cocoon and Pulse have moved in after the end of FFXIII. Lightning is going to strike again, and if the developers play their cards right, we could be in for a game that not only upholds the series' legacy, but surpasses the original in every way.
Xenoblade - This beautiful game is at the very top of my wishlist, so I was desperately hoping to see something at E3, but alas. It looks like everything I want in a next-gen JRPG, and the fact that Nintendo of America hasn't mentioned it in ages is really worrisome.
The Last Story - The other heavy-hitter JRPG that hasn't been announced for North America. Impressions of the Japanese version have been positive, making its absence at the show a big letdown.
Tales of Graces f - It was announced, the fans went crazy, and then Namco Bandai became utterly silent. I can only play the Japanese demo so many times, guys. I crave story! I crave character interaction! I crave impossibly colored hair!
Saddest E3 Moment:
Standing in line to play the Wii U, only to have a five-minute experience with just the Wii Remote. Appointments kept me from going back to try again. Woe!
Fluffiest Piece of Swag:
An alpaca plushie. Thanks, Natsume! I mean, I was going to buy your games anyway, but still...
5) White Knight Chronicles II - I played the first game a while back, and did enjoy it for a time. However, it has its share of flaws, and even the fun aspects quickly became tiring. Based on what I saw at E3, the sequel seems to be quite an improvement, fixing the bigger problems, and enhancing what's already established. It got me interested in the game once more when I initially didn't care much for it. Plus, it's a sweet deal: WKCII comes bundled with the first game as well, which features all the improvements of the new title. Hopefully, these positive impressions will hold up when it comes out.
4) Doctor Lautrec and the Forgotten Knights - This is a game that completely flew under my radar until I happened to randomly find on the show floor. What drew me to give it a try is the strong Professor Layton vibe it initially gave off, since I'm a fan of the series. When I did play it, it is similar to Professor Layton's gameplay setup, but also has its own, unique concepts going for it. The time I spent playing it left me with a very positive vibe, and I really hope it succeeds.
3) TERA - I'm retired from the MMO scene nowadays so I initially didn't give TERA much thought. My fellow editors who played it last year raved about how great it is, but I felt jaded. There are way too many MMOs are there with little variation, and TERA looked like any other one at first glance. That all changed when I went to an appointment to see the game, and got won over. It's a fast-paced, purely skill-based action MMO with some great visuals. Maybe it was only the great presentation, and fun group demo is what swayed me, so I played it alone at the open booth days later. Turns out that TERA is really that much fun to play, even alone.
2) The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword - To this day, I'm a Nintendo fan at heart, and I'm excited about the latest Zelda title. I'm very impressed with what I saw in the demo, and gameplay aspects that seem to refine the Zelda formula further. The art style is great, the motion controls work well, the new tool is fun to play with, and I am quite amazed with how involving the boss fight was in the demo. Yeah, it is ultimately more of the same as other Zelda games, but that's what I expected, and it's something I'm perfectly okay with. Skyward Swords looks to be another winner.
1) Final Fantasy XIII-2 - Like some of my fellow editors, I'm one of the few people who seem to genuinely enjoy Final Fantasy XIII, so naturally I was looking forward to the sequel. I greatly enjoyed playing the demo, and it was one of the few games at E3 that I kept replaying. The core gameplay elements are intact, which is fine with me, but XIII-2 also seems to remedy some of the problems from its predecessor. The changes such as larger environments with more exploration alongside NPC interactions, and more involving combat seem promising. Will it ultimately deliver? Only time will tell, but I'm quite sure I'm going to like it. Also, being able to have a behemoth as a party member is pretty awesome.
Catherine - To me, Atlus games are consistently good, especially the ones from the Persona team. I got excited when they announced a new game for the current gen consoles. Even though it's not an RPG like their other games, puzzle games are another favorite genre of mine, and I really like what I saw of Catherine. I like the story concept, using an actual adult cast instead of teens. The presentation style is very slick, and the gameplay is quite intense. Though I died a lot, I had a good time playing it at E3, and am now looking even more forward to some sadistic puzzle platforming this summer.
Most Played Platform at E3:
Nintendo 3DS - Quite a few RPGs are already coming out soon on Nintendo's 3DS, and there were several fun first- and third-party titles around the show floor. The 3DS definitely has a solid future for all types of games, RPGs included.
Lack of JRPGs - There were many JRPGS I hoped to see at E3, but heard no word of them, particularly the Wii JRPGs (Xenoblade and The Last Story). I'm also dumbfounded on why the Tales games, which are officially getting a US release, were not playable on the show floor (or even mentioned). Yes, I am aware that JRPGs are in decline, and the market is shrinking, but I still genuinely enjoy them, and there is an audience that still wants to play them.
Two Worlds II Limited Edition Boxset - So, the game is critically panned, but I can't deny just how nice the boxset actually is, and it will make a great addition to my behemoth gaming collection. And since I have bizarre gaming tastes, and tend to be in the minority in liking some games, I might even enjoy it.
Runner Up: Klingon Dictionary.
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