Tyranny couldn’t have come out at a better time. 2016, in many respects, has been a thoroughly awful year for countless people. While we’re on the home stretch, there’s still a little time left for the fates to wring us out a little more. Obsidian’s latest CRPG isn’t some uplifting, inspiriting tale, though. In fact, it’s often ambiguous and frequently cruel. Yet it’s somewhat cathartic, in this awful year, to play something so willing to “go there,” so to speak. Something willing to show evil in all its intricacy, its ruthlessness, its steadfast wrongheadedness.
So called “cRPGs” (classic RPGs akin to titles like Baldur’s Gate) have seen a resurgence in recent years due to the efforts of studios like Obsidian and Larian Studios. What was once a niche genre is now once again commonplace on both consoles and PCs, and arguably in a stronger state than ever before. Demons Age, from the polarizing Trapped Dead: Lockdown creator Bigmoon Entertainment, is another attempt to add fuel to the fire.
I’m intrigued by the Demons Age lore so far, specifically how each fantasy race relates to one another. Originally they lived in peace, until humans basically blew up their peaceful existence (of course) by way of trade routes and greed. It’s because of this chaos that Vazuhr, lord of darkness, decided to jump back into the fray and muck things up even further. All hell literally broke loose, and although the demon was subsequently banished, some evil remains. That’s where you come in!
Like many cRPGs, Demons Age starts off bleak. The player character begins aboard the “Wave Tamer,” a slave ship that goes off course and crashes, kicking off the adventure. Immediately, you’re allowed to choose between a number of preset characters — your character can be male or female, and one of a number of standard fantasy races, including human, dwarf, halfling, elf, and dark elf, with a further delineation of wizard, ranger, cleric, fighter, and rogue classes. Diving in with a dark elf fighter, as I tend to do with western RPGs, and choosing the middle ground of the three difficulty levels, I washed up on a beach and was soon greeted by an emissary of a king, who granted me a chance to earn back my freedom. It’s a quick start, that’s for sure.
Bigmoon opted to go with a turn-based battle system on this go-around, which takes place on a hexagonal plane. This allows both players and enemies to easily navigate around terrain even if it’s a little cramped, and you always know where your party is headed at all times (made even easier by maximum movement values, so you know how far you can go). It can feel a little slow at first (and to make matters worse there’s no option currently to speed things up), but once you start picking up party members, the pacing gets a bit better.
Yet, that adherence to old school sensibilities makes the game a little less accessible for people who don’t already partake in cRPG play, as Demons Age is pretty unforgiving even at the start. You’ll encounter your first set of enemies in seconds flat, and have basically no equipment or abilities to your name. Controller support in the preview build alone is a good look though, as is the manipulation of the camera with the right analog stick. That’s partially because Bigmoon is developing the PS4 and Xbox One editions side by side with PC, so everyone will (ideally) get the same experience at launch.
As someone who grew up with cRPGs, Demons Age, while a little rough at the moment (the world is a tad generic and it doesn’t do a lot to set itself apart), has a solid foundation. I’m looking forward to seeing where Bigmoon goes with the narrative, as they’ve set up a neat little world from scratch. Also, the battle system has a lot of potential, and should really shine once more classes are in the mix. I’m not exactly sold yet, but there’s potential here.
I’ve stated in the past my preference for deep, customizable RPGs that require lots of tinkering, whether it be stats, items, or rotating party members. Unfortunately, outside of a few notables like the Souls games, many modern mainstream RPGs are more focused on snazzy graphics, streamlined combat, and the dreaded grind than deep customization, entertaining dialogue, and consequence of choice.
Bah, I say. I could care less about cultivating a virtual relationship between Shepard and some random party member. I have zero interest in slapping on a headset and joining a raiding party. I want lots and lots of spells and abilities to maximize my party’s destructive capabilities. I want endless dialogue trees and lore for days. You can have your Mass Effects and your WoWs; give me Baldur’s Gate or Fallout 2 any day of the week.
Thankfully, 2014 proved that there is indeed a market for games like those we played in the 90s, prior to handholding and constant and annoying cinematics. Games like Wasteland 2 and Divinity: Original Sin were awesome throwbacks to that era, despite wearing their influences perhaps a bit too obviously on their sleeves. On that note, let’s take a look at some upcoming titles we can look forward to in the latter stages of 2015.
Sword Coast Legends
Baldur’s Gate, and perhaps more so its sequel, are essentially the high water mark for cRPGs. The legendary series was the most entertaining and approachable digital version of the classic tabletop Dungeons & Dragons. Sword Coast Legends is looking to recapture some of that magic while injecting some new ideas into the virtual D&D settings. While it doesn’t mess with the formula too much—touting an isometric viewpoint, pause time, and classic Forgotten Realms races and settings—the most interesting aspect of this game is the Dungeon Master mode, which allows one player to take on the role of DM and lead four friends through a custom adventure; which should please any hardcore tabletop enthusiast who feels the lack of player-guided interaction in the videogame age. The game releases on September 29
for PC, Mac, and Linux, with console versions to follow later in the year. If you can’t wait another month, have a gander at some videos and screens on their site.
Torment: Tides of Numenera
Yet another sequel-that-isn’t-a-sequel, Tides of Numenera follows in the footsteps of the oft-forgotten, yet highly regarded, Planescape: Torment—one of the first RPG’s to focus more on choice and consequence than on the combat. Tides of Numenera also bucks a trend that many critics of the RPG genre cite on a regular basis: it’s not set in a Western medieval world filled with swords and dragons. That isn’t to say the fantasy element is completely replaced with robots, computers, and laser guns. Rather, the team is attempting to blend both worlds, combining magic with technology to create something wholly different. They’re also doing their best to make sure each item is interesting and unique; rather than getting fifty slightly different versions of a longsword, each piece of equipment serves its own, special function and has a distinctive history. Like its predecessor, choice and consequence are key here, with persistent enemies and NPCs, and world changing ramifications for your actions. This latter element is something the original game is famous for, so the studio choosing to place it first and foremost bodes well for the game. Torment: Tides of Numenera is shooting for a December 2015 release date. If you’d like a better look at the game, there’s plenty of information on their Kickstarter page.
Take a seat Steampunk; it’s time to get greasy and dirty with some Dieselpunk. InSomnia is an upcoming game from MONO Studios that will tickle your Fallout bones. The game begins with you waking up from hyper-sleep on a space station that has been floating through space for 400 years. The aesthetic is grimy, post-apocalyptic darkness mixed with futuristic technology that looks like it was pieced together in a cyberpunk back alley. Like most cRPGs, the game is singleplayer but can also be played in co-op. Featuring the common elements we’re so fond of—branching storylines, a deep crafting system and an endless combination of stats and abilities—what makes InSomnia so attractive is the promise of free expansions (known as chapters) down the line. Whether or not this pans out as planned remains to be seen. As the game is relying on money from Kickstarter backers, it might be hard for them to follow through on this promise once the game is released and donations die down. Either way, the initial campaign looks fun and stylish, so it’s definitely something to keep an eye. InSomnia is due for release at the end of the year. For more info, check out their Kickstarter.
While this game technically isn’t coming out until 2016, I’m still counting it on this list because it looks great. While there isn’t a whole lot of information on the game so far, what we do know is that it will be a turn-based RPG set in a dark fantasy world. NPC’s and party members have their own plans and allegiances, and some may even betray you at crucial moments. Making the combat entertaining is important to the team at Bigmoon, and like any good cRPG, will be based on D&D rules. Despite sticking to the classic isometric viewpoint like Divinity, Demons Age looks fabulous, featuring a tight art style and gorgeous lighting.
In past generations such as the NES, Genesis and PlayStation 2 eras one thing was abundantly clear; when it came to role-playing games, the Japanese ruled the roost.