Where would we be if there were no roles to play, no experience points to earn, and no levels to gain? Well we certainly wouldn't be here, looking over the biggest role-playing games of E3 2011.
While not nearly as prolific as the first-person shooter this year, the role-playing games of E3 2011 make up for their lack of quantity with what we sincerely hope is a high level of quality. Underneath these highly polished exteriors there will be numbers crunching, dice tumbling, and arbitrary statistics measured, giving weight to the slice of your sword and the blast of your bullets.
Let's roll for initiative...
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (PC, PS3, Xbox 360): It may look like a shooter, but lurking beneath the first-person firefights beats the heart of a cyberpunk RPG, with enough character choice and skill development to send even the most stalwart shooting fan scurrying back to his foxhole for references materials. Security officer Adam Jensen finds himself riled up in a conspiracy that strikes at the heart of his employer, the biomechanical augmentation giant Sarif Industries. If you need proof that Eidos Montreal's latest and greatest is a role-playing game, check out McWhertor getting into character in his hands-on from earlier this year.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PC, PS3, Xbox 360): Why so fast, Skyrim? Folks are still keeping themselves occupied with Bethesda's 2006 fourth entry in The Elder Scrolls series, Oblivion. Hell, there are still modders working feverishly on fresh content for The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, and that's been around for nearly a decade! Set hundreds of years in the future of the franchise at a time when the Nordic dragon god of destruction has risen and only the player in the role of The Dragonborn can save the day, Skyrim promises many years of open-world adventure, both developer-made and player-crafted. Take a look at Skyrim's first gameplay trailer for a glimpse at what we'll be playing at E3.
Mass Effect 3 (PC, PS3, Xbox 360): BioWare's science fiction triolgy comes to its grand conclusion in Mass Effect 3. When a hyper-advanced machine race from the edge of the universe decides to invade Earth, only Commander Shepard and her allies can possibly hope to save the day. Yes, I said she. With further focused placed on the third-person shooting elements introduced in the second game in the series, this might be the last Mass Effect game I'm comfortable placing in the role-playing category. I'm only kidding; as long as we can still have hot alien sex, it's still an RPG.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (PC, PS3, Xbox 360): A new fantasy universe springs forth from the fertile minds of author R.A. Salvatore, artist Todd McFarlane, and Elder Scrolls designer Ken Rolston. A colourful action role-playing game with a strong focus on the action, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is so tightly crafted that Brian Crecente of Kotaku fame suggested it could be the sleeper hit of 2012.
Heroes of Ruin (3DS): Recently announced for Nintendo's latest dual-screened handheld, Heroes of Ruin is a strategy role-playing game that banks heavily on the 3DS's connectivity to extend role-playing into the social realm. Players will buy and trade items with each other, receive rare prizes through the 3DS SpotPass, download new adventures via the game's website, and battle together with friends using the title's drop-in/drop-out multiplayer. It could end up being the definitive RPG experience on the 3DS.
Dark Souls (PS3, Xbox 360): If the sequel to one of Michael McWhertor's most beloved games of all time didn't make it into this list, there'd be hell to pay. According to his recent report, the follow up to one of the most difficult titles of 2009 is harsher, deadlier, and more beautiful than ever before. If we're not careful he'll nominate this one for Game of the Year as well, and we'll all be forced to battle through it in order to debate.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 (PS3, Xbox 360): Was Final Fantasy XIII too bright and linear for your tastes? Square Enix tries again with the darker, deeper Final Fantasy XIII-2, a direct sequel to the 2010 role-playing game that split fandom straight down the middle. Pink-haired Lightning is the protagonist in the sequel, which will plumb even deeper into the mythology of the Fabula Nova Crystallis. I'm just disappointed this one won't be a wardrobe-changing girl-power adventure like Final Fantasy X-2. Still, it's Final Fantasy, so you know it's going to be...oh, I guess that doesn't hold true anymore. Stupid Final Fantasy XIV.
White Knight Chronicles 2 (PS3): Why should players that weren't particularly fond of Level-5's PlayStation 3 exclusive White Knight Chronicles be excited about the sequel? It comes packed with a remastered version of the original game, tweaking the battle system to make it possible to take on wandering monsters without spending a half-hour between each encounter tweaking the complicated combo system. It's their way of saying OK, that first one was a little screwed up. Here's a do-over.
Tales of Graces F (PS3): The 12th flagship title in Namco Bandai's Tales series is coming to North America next year in the form of Tales of Graces F, the enhanced PlayStation 3 port of Tales of Graces for the Wii. Expect colourful anime-styled characters fighting colorful creatures in a colorful world filled with colour. If I hadn't included this game on the list, the ensuing petition would have been filled with unkind words. It's bad enough I didn't mention the Tales of the Abyss port for the 3DS.
A Cast of Thousands
Star Wars: The Old Republic (PC): How can the combination of BioWare and Star Wars possibly go wrong? After years of relentlessly teasing players with trailers and tidbits, Star Wars: The Old Republic is targeted for release later this year, which means we can expect tons of fresh info to come pouring forth from the developers at this year's E3. What secret Jedi tricks lurk up their sleeves?
TERA Online (PC): What's so special about Korean developer Bluehole Studio and En Masse Entertainment's upcoming massively multiplayer role-playing game TERA Online? It's the action-packed real-time combat that got my attention. That, and the gigantic creatures players will be facing down as early as level one. I'm calling it one to watch. We might be watching it fail, but we'll be watching it.
Role-playing games tend to pounce unexpectedly at passing game journalists during E3, so expect to see more for the dungeon crawling crowd during next week's show.
We'll be previewing more expected E3 games throughout the week...