Baldur’s Gate 3’s success and influence have managed to shape the expectations of role-playing game fans as we move into 2024. After our collective love affair with Larian Studios’ immersive, deep, and rewarding fantasy role-playing game (RPG), you might find yourself wondering what, if anything, could possibly hold a candle to such a genre-defining work.
Larian Studios’ CEO and founder Swen Vincke offered an answer to this question back in July of last year: “Somebody else will come up with something new and cool. Standards change so rapidly that there are no standards.” (via NME)
Vincke’s remarks hint at the breadth offered by the RPG genre. Award ceremonies and best-of lists can, at times, encourage us to see the games industry as a race, where a podium finish is the be-all and end-all. In reality, games are better seen as a library. No new hotness can ever take away from what Baldur’s Gate 3 has achieved, but, in the same way, Baldur’s Gate 3’s success doesn’t detract from the achievements of other RPGs. It’s not a zero-sum game.
Fortunately, it looks as though 2024 will have plenty of titles that will enrich those libraries of ours. Obsidian Entertainment’s intriguing fantasy project Avowed, the cinematic joy of Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth, and the bizarre yet compelling Metaphor: ReFantazio are all set to infuse 2024 with some of that “new and cool” energy that Vincke was talking about last year. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at these upcoming games.
Coming to Xbox Series X|S and PC sometime this year, Avowed is a first-person RPG from Obsidian Entertainment. An ambitious fantasy epic set in the Pillars of Eternity universe, Avowed promises a sprawling open world reminiscent of The Elder Scrolls series. However, there’s more to Avowed than meets the eye.
Obsidian has an impressive track record when it comes to the genre, responsible as it is for cult classic sci-fi RPGs Fallout: New Vegas and The Outer Worlds, as well as the aforementioned Pillars of Eternity series of fantasy RPGs.
While Fallout: New Vegas directly followed in the tradition of open-world Bethesda Softworks RPGs as a successor of sorts to Fallout 3, the Pillars of Eternity games were developed in the tradition of the Baldur’s Gate series, with an isometric perspective, branching storyline, and strong supporting characters.
The studio also brought us historical puzzle adventure game Pentiment in 2022, which stood as an example of how much creative freedom Obsidian has been afforded since being acquired by Microsoft. It says a lot when, in an age of AAA blockbusters, your studio is trusted by a massive publisher to craft a point-and-click adventure about the church’s role in late-modern Bavaria.
Obsidian is in a unique position with Avowed. Not only does the studio have a rich tradition of narrative design upon which to build, but it also has access to substantial resources courtesy of Microsoft. With Avowed, Obsidian can potentially create something new and refreshing that combines the player agency found in Pillars with the immersion offered by the likes of New Vegas.
In development by newly-formed Atlus subsidiary Studio Zero, Metaphor: ReFantazio is far more than just word salad. The high-drama fantasy RPG is being directed by Katsura Hashino, who also directed Persona 3, 4 and 5. The Persona series is renowned for its skillful blend of real-world drama and dark fantasy elements, usually having you play as a mild-mannered teenager by day who fights supernatural forces by night.
This duality is key to the success of the Persona games, but Metaphor intends to push the boat out even further by taking place in a new and unexplored fantasy world. However, the strong thematic basis behind the Persona series has not been forgotten.
From the announcement trailer alone, it’s clear that Studio Zero wants to draw parallels between the fantastical world of Metaphor and our own reality in a way that seems bolder than what we’re used to in Persona. By doubling down on the symbolic and philosophical elements for which Atlus games are known (particularly the Shin Megami Tensei series), the studio is playing to its strengths while simultaneously stepping out of its comfort zone by using a pseudo-medieval setting as a vehicle to tell its story. It’s a brave move and may take Metaphor to some interesting new places.
Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth
Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth is the high-budget, high-drama follow-up to Final Fantasy 7 Remake and will stand as the second part of the remake series’ planned trilogy. Published in 1997, the original Final Fantasy 7 received similar acclaim to Baldur’s Gate 3, with critics and fans discussing both games in comparable terms.
Here at TechRadar Gaming, we praised Baldur’s Gate 3’s cinematic graphics and deep, motion-capture-enhanced performances. Back in 1997, critics praised the “cinematic wonder” of Final Fantasy 7, too, in awe of “graphics [that] are light years beyond anything ever seen on the PlayStation.” (via IGN)
It’s in this context that Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth strives not just to be a remake, but a reinvention. As with 2020’s Remake, the game looks to depart from the original in so many ways, opting for an action-oriented combat system and even making fundamental changes to the plot. In my hands-on with a preview build of the game, I was struck by the confidence with which Rebirth wears its innovations on its sleeve. It luxuriates in its photorealistic modern graphics and real-time combat, never apologizing for its departures from the 1997 original.
In this way, Rebirth shows that even stone-cold classics like Final Fantasy 7 aren’t beyond being iterated and improved upon. This is exactly what Vincke was talking about in saying “there are no standards.” RPGs are always in motion, growing, evolving, and transforming as new ideas are brought forward to iterate on what’s come before. The RPGs of 2024 aren’t held back by previous triumphs, instead, they’re free to stand on the shoulders of giants.
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Cat Bussell is a Staff Writer at TechRadar Gaming. Hailing from the crooked spires of London, Cat is an experienced writer and journalist. As seen on Wargamer.com, TheGamer.com, and Superjumpmagazine.com, Cat is here to bring you coverage from all corners of the video game world. An inveterate RPG maven and strategy game enjoyer, Cat is known for her love of rich narratives; both story-driven and emergent.
Before migrating to the green pastures of games journalism, Cat worked as a political advisor and academic. She has three degrees and has studied and worked at Cambridge University, University College London, and Queen Mary University of London. She's also been an art gallery curator, an ice cream maker, and a cocktail mixologist. This crash course in NPC lifestyles uniquely qualifies her to pick apart only the juiciest video games for your reading pleasure.
Cat cut her teeth on MMOs in the heyday of World of Warcraft before giving in to her love of JRPGs and becoming embedded in Final Fantasy XIV. When she's not doing that, you might find her running a tabletop RPG or two, perhaps even voluntarily.