It’s not that we don’t have enough RPGs, we’ve just been spoiled by the classics

With the imminent releases of Starfield and Baldur’s Gate 3, the key differentiator between RPGs of good and great caliber is undoubtedly quality over quantity.

RPG enthusiasts anticipate nothing less than perfection from both Baldur’s Gate 3 and Starfield. Despite their distinct universes—one featuring an intergalactic sci-fi adventure and the other a mystical dark fantasy—both games aim to deliver captivating, unforgettable, and dynamic role-playing experiences upon their simultaneous release on their respective platforms. This convergence occurs just weeks after the early arrival of Baldur’s Gate 3 on PC, resulting in a notable overlap between the two titles. Lead writer Adam Smith assures that the proximity of their release dates doesn’t concern developer Larian: “I don’t think there have been enough significant RPGs lately to fully engage with, and then suddenly we have a bunch this year. It’s great to be among other RPGs.”

However, the question arises: Do we truly require an abundance of “big RPGs” on the horizon, or do we simply need better ones? The enduring reverence for The Witcher 3, even eight years after its launch, is not solely attributable to its expansive map size and scale. With immense expectations surrounding both games, I sincerely hope that Bethesda, the developer of Starfield, and Larian respectively, can avoid the pitfalls that befell other recent RPG releases, leading to their fleeting popularity.

One significant factor that, in my opinion, has contributed to newer RPGs occasionally falling short of our lofty expectations is their lack of replayability. Simply completing the initial playthrough in an RPG is already quite an accomplishment, considering that most of these games require well over 40 hours to finish. Sustaining players’ engagement throughout the entire experience and leaving us yearning for more is a clear sign of an exceptional game, as exemplified by The Witcher 3 and Red Dead Redemption 2. The inclusion of a New Game+ mode also proves to be incredibly valuable, of course.

Cyberpunk 2077 serves as a prime example of what can happen when a developer mishandles the crucial aspect discussed above. Despite its promises of groundbreaking world-building and branching narratives, Cyberpunk encountered a myriad of game-breaking bugs upon its release, rendering the experience virtually unplayable for years. Although it has significantly improved now, with the upcoming Phantom Liberty DLC set for release this September on current-gen and PC platforms, the fact remains that CD Projekt Red initially released a flawed game without adequately addressing its numerous issues. This led many of us to postpone playing Cyberpunk until the most severe bugs were resolved, and as a result, the game has struggled to regain our trust and enthusiasm after the initial disappointment.

Both Larian and Bethesda have demonstrated incredible prowess in creating replayable games, as evidenced by Divinity: Original Sin 2 and Skyrim, which have become iconic RPGs from each studio. However, when looking ahead to Baldur’s Gate 3 and Starfield, it is not unreasonable to approach them cautiously. The recent state of Bethesda-published Redfall earlier this year has left a sour taste in my mouth, making me more than a little concerned about Starfield—especially considering the overwhelming concept of exploring 1,000 planets.

Occasional bugs can possess a certain charm, reminding us of the immense effort required to construct sprawling, immersive worlds with a vast range of possibilities. However, the fate of Assassin’s Creed Unity serves as a stark reminder that there is a fine line between endearing quirks and a game feeling sloppy, unfinished, and ultimately disappointing due to excessive technical issues. After all, what purpose does a massive map serve if the game cannot be played properly? Respecting both the developer and the player is a two-way street, and it is only reasonable for us to maintain high standards for these upcoming RPGs, within reason.

If there’s one commonality between Geralt’s expansive world in The Continent and the finest open-world games, it’s the crucial role played by excellent writing and mission design in guiding us through these vast landscapes. The true value of a massive world lies in its meaningfulness and utility. Personally, I prefer a select number of “big RPGs” that excel in these aspects rather than an abundance of games that prioritize style over substance.

When I first read about Starfield’s promise of a thousand planets and solar systems, my eyebrows shot up in astonishment. The concept of an open-world space game is daunting, as seen on a smaller scale in the Mass Effect series. However, with the boundless expanse of space awaiting exploration in Starfield, I find myself concerned that Bethesda may be biting off more than it can chew. Roaming the vast lands of Hyrule in Zelda Tears of the Kingdom is already awe-inspiring, with the additions of Sky Islands and The Depths to traverse. The prospect of countless places to discover and interact with in Bethesda’s upcoming epic is undeniably exciting, but it also evokes a sense of apprehension.

While we know that not all 1,000 planets will offer missions or host NPC inhabitants, which alleviates the pressure to visit each one, it does raise an important question: If these planets won’t serve a purpose for players, why include them at all? By promising an open world set in the depths of space, Bethesda risks undermining its own efforts. While it’s understandable to include these far-flung galaxies, unless there’s an in-game reason for their existence, we could be faced with a multitude of visually stunning yet inherently hollow shells.

Do we need more large-scale RPGs? Perhaps. But scale alone should not be the sole determining factor. Given the track record of both studios in crafting exceptional games, all eyes are on Larian and Bethesda to see if they deliver the expected quality. Both Divinity: Original Sin 2 and Skyrim showcase the developers’ expertise in achieving a delicate balance found in the best RPGs—a blend of captivating storytelling and player-driven exploration, resulting in worlds that feel immersive, vibrant, and truly worthwhile.

While anticipating Starfield, you can explore the best Xbox Series X games to enjoy in the meantime.

Jasmine, a staff writer at GamesRadar+, has an intriguing background. Raised in Hong Kong and graduating with an English Literature degree from Queen Mary, University of London in 2017, her passion for entertainment writing has led her on diverse paths. From reviewing underground concerts to exploring the connection between horror movies and browser games through her blog, Jasmine’s journey has been eventful. Amidst the pandemic, she made a career transition from TV broadcast operations to video game journalism. She honed her skills as a freelance writer for esteemed publications like TheGamer and TechRadar Gaming before embracing a full-time position at GamesRadar+. Whether delving into the latest gaming litigation for a news article, crafting helpful guides for The Sims 4, or advocating for the importance of a Resident Evil: CODE Veronica remake, Jasmine’s unmistakable dedication is evident. And if you happen to encounter her, she’ll likely be enjoying some metalcore tunes alongside her work.

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