Rule of the Dice - The Games That Made Role-Playing Cool

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Release Date: 15/03/2012

If you wanted to paint a portrait of the stereotypical geek, you'd have to include a nod to role-playing games in there somewhere. Along with Star Trek, the stat-based fantasies of the RPG form the basis of society's clichéd view of 'sad geek stuff'. And yet to look at the games charts today, you'd swear that role-playing was the hottest ticket in town.

Skyrim - RPG go big time!

The Skyrim's The Limit

The massive success of Skyrim last year was perhaps the most obvious indicator that RPGs were cool again. Bethesda's vast time-sucking epic is about as nerdy as role-playing gets, filled with magical weapons, skill tree management and all the trolls and dragons you could shake an enchanted mace at, yet it still thundered to the top of the charts and stayed there. Millions bought it, and the acclaim was unanimous from the critical community as well. As 2011 came to a close, Skyrim was over-encumbered and could not run, so full was its backpack with Game of the Year trophies.

Dark Souls - RPGs go dark!

But Skyrim wasn't alone. Vying for hardcore affection at the same time was Dark Souls, the punishingly brilliant third-person RPG by Japanese developer From Software. As foreboding and claustrophobic as Skyrim was empowering and liberating, Dark Souls showed that the genre could take console players to terrifying new places, simply by slowing down the pace, ratcheting up the difficulty and making every swing of your sword count. Few will manage to excavate all of Dark Souls' depths, but for those who make it out the other side alive, the experience will be transforming.

Kingdoms of Amalur: RPGs go regal!

Royal Flush

Had the RPG bandwagon ground to a halt there, it could be written off as a freak occurrence, brought about by anticipation stoked by the five-year wait between Elder Scrolls sequels. But then along came Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, another massive open world fantasy game, stocked with elves and magic and dwarves, and that too raced up the charts.

With a story by acclaimed fantasy author R.A. Salvatore, and design work from legendary comic artist Todd McFarlane, Kingdoms of Amalur wore its geek credentials on its extravagantly embroidered wizard's sleeve. It may not have achieved the same ubiquity as Skyrim, but the fact it was so successful, so soon after Bethesda's monster smash should have exhausted the available pool of role-playing enthusiasts suggested that the genre could be on the upswing.

So where will this renaissance take us next? Onwards and upwards seems to be the answer.

Witcher 2: Assassins of kings - RPGs go a-hunting monsters

Dungeons and Dragons and Monsters and Pirates and Demons and...

April sees the Xbox 360 release of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, a console remake of the critically acclaimed PC adult role player. Cast as a monster hunter in a complex world governed by prejudice and fear, it's a far cry from the whimsical fare people commonly associate with fantasy gaming.

Had Polish developer CD Projekt simply shunted the Witcher 2 code into an Xbox shape and hurried it to shelves, it wouldn't be a surprise. That it's instead opted to completely rebuild the game for console players, with additional content and a lavish collector's edition, proves that there's a mature market beyond the usual dice-rolling hobbyists for this kind of long-term in-depth gaming experience.

Risen 2 - RPGs go to the sea!

Then in May we'll get Risen 2: Dark Waters, another sequel but one that trades the generic swords and sorcery realms of its predecessor for a saltier tale of pirate folk. Developed by Piranha Bytes, the studio behind hit RPG series Gothic, it promises to be more than a cult hit.

Diablo 3: RPGs go to hell!

We've just learned that May will also be the month that we'll finally get our hands on Diablo 3 from World of Warcraft developer Blizzard. A mere twelve years in the making, this top-down loot-dropping hack and slash RPG dungeon crawl is arguably the most eagerly anticipated PC game of the year.

So what has caused this surge in role-playing fever? Are gamers simply burned out on militaristic first-person shooters and hungry for change? Or is it just that with their lengthy playing times and flexible character progression, RPGs offer more value for money and greater opportunities to define your own gaming experience?

Whatever the reason, role-playing is firmly entrenched as the games industry's next big thing. These may be the games that have made it cool to roll the dice, but they certainly won't be the last.

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