You've almost made it through the gauntlet, and there are five Draugr ahead of you—their eyes a cold, iridescent blue and their axes gleaming in torchlight. Ahead of the undead, a wall of stone with ancient markings beckons to you. You're playing an RPG—Skyrim—arguably the year's finest RPG.
At over a hundred hours in length, RPGs like Skyrim offer a good bang for their buck. Aside from Skyrim, the year of 2011 offered scant little in the way of good RPGs—The Witcher 2 and Human Revolution and the aforementioned Skyrim. The only other major RPG, Dragon Age 2, was a grave disappointment to many for its lackluster story and repetitive areas.
It's good to note, then, that the next year looks much more promising in terms of RPGs—and until any of these games are released, we can rest easy in the comforts of Skyrim.
#10 Xenoblade Chronicles
Xenoblade Chronicles has been available to both Japanese and European gamers for almost a year now, but it'll only be arriving to American shores early next year due to release delays and strange decisions by Nintendo of America's upper management, which has thus far declined to release Mother 3, The Last Story, and a host of other games for reasons unknown to mere humans.
Xenoblade Chronicles, like many other JRPGs, may elicit artwork that is degrading to women, but according to observers and players, the game more than makes up for its "fanservicy" outfits with a good storyline and good gameplay.
If you own a Nintendo Wii, and you're willing to put up with a bit of adolescent Japanese nonsense, Xenoblade Chronicles will be alright.
#9 Final Fantasy XIII-2
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is the sequel to the overhyped, and disappointing Final Fantasy XIII. It takes place after the events of the first game, and players are put in the role of Sera, Lightning's sister—the one whom players were previously tasked to liberate from her crystalline coccoon.
Unlike its predecessor, XIII-2 is said to offer much more freedom, with open areas and a variety of other innovations that would've made the first title a lot more palatteable to players, who instead received a game paved with linear corridors interspersed by cutscenes.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 will be out for both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
#8 Guild Wars 2
Guild Wars 2 has been a long time coming. As the sequel to the "cooperative online RPG" Guild Wars, the first free-to-play major MMO, Guild Wars 2 has a lot to live up to. Unlike the previous game, which offered the story in bits and pieces—or chapters—the sequel takes place in a persistent, wide open setting defined by the actions of players. Quests and events in Guild Wars 2 are dynamic. Equally dynamic is the combat, which promotes interaction between the player and his or her environment.
Like the original title, Guild Wars 2 will be completely free to play and will not require any ongoing subscription.
Guild Wars 2 is set for an exclusive PC release.
#7 Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is the first title from 38 Studios with support from Big Huge Games. The game's world and lore is written by D&D writer R.A. Salvatore, its characters by Spawn creator Todd McFarlane, and its design and story by Morrowind lead designer Ken Rolston—all big names to head up what looks like a big effort from a first time company.
Thanks to its fluid combat system, this single-player RPG comes off as a cross between God of War and Skyrim, with its open worlds, open class trees, and RPG design.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is set for release on the PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
#6 Dragon's Dogma
Dragon's Dogma may look a lot like Skyrim with its huge dragons, huge environments, and medieval setting, but the game's combat and narrative are nothing alike, and is described as being more akin to Shadow of the Colossus in its combat and boss fights.
The main city in which Dragon's Dogma takes place is designed to be truer to life than any we've ever seen, with over 200 non-player characters with whom the player can interact, and large surrounding areas that hold the promise of adventure.
Dragon's Dogma is set for an Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 release.
#5 Risen 2
Risen 2 is the sequel to Risen, by veteran RPG studio Piranha Bytes, who were also responsible for the excellent Gothic series of RPGs.
Players once again take on the role of the main character in Risen, now a drunkard—disillusioned by his experiences. Bearing an eyepatch to hide his Inquisitor monocle, the hero must regain his strength as he is called into duty by an old friend, whom he teams up with.
As a dedicated PC developer, Piranha Bytes is developing the game directly for the PC, which will then be ported to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
#4 Torchlight 2
Torchlight 2 is the sequel to the indie action RPG hit, Torchlight. Developed by Runic Games, the second game takes the experience to a new level by offering peer-to-peer multiplayer support, and extended modding capabilities to allow players to create and share their own campaigns.
Much like the previous game, Torchlight 2 offers randomly generated dungeons for the player to explore, but instead of simply delving deeper beneath the surface, players can—for the very first time—explore overland areas and visit multiple hub towns, like in Diablo 2. The sequel also includes a day/night cycle, weather, four classes (including the Steampunk-themed fighter called The Engineer), and full character customizability.
Torchlight 2 is set for a PC and Mac release.
#3 Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Ni No Kuni is the product of Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli—the creators of Princess Mononoke and My Neighbour Totoro. It is the first videogame undertaking of the Hayao Miyazaki-run studio, in concert with Level-5, creators of the Professor Layton series.
Studio Ghibli will be providing the game, which is set for release on the PS3, with its writing and peerless animation talents.
#2 Mass Effect 3
Mass Effect 3 will conclude Commander Shepard's trilogy, a hero (or heroine) tasked to save the galaxy from an ancient menace known only as the Reapers, who have once again returned to the known galaxy from the outer reaches of space to harvest all sentient lifeforms for some as-yet-unknown purpose.
In the third game, Shepard returns to earth to face trial for his (or her) actions at the end of the second game, as the Reapers launch a surprise attack.
This third person shooter/RPG is thick with story, tough decision making, and is known for the personalities that define quality Bioware games.
Mass Effect 3 will be released for the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3.
#1 Diablo 3
Diablo 3 is without a doubt the most awaited game of all time. First announced in 2008, the action RPG sequel had been in development at Blizzard North once, in 2005, before it was canceled and revive as an entirely new game under the direction of Dawn of War creator Jay Wilson.
It promises to take the crown of the Action RPG genre with its five distinct classes, fluid combat system, and intricately designed world. Like Diablo 2 before it, much emphasis is given to the multiplayer mode, where four players can cooperate against the forces of evil, or fight amongst themselves in a newly implemented dueling arena.
Diablo 3 will be available on both the PC and Mac.