The RPG genre is home to some of the best games of the industry. It is one of the oldest, debuting with classics like Dragons and Dungeons, way before First-Person Shooters like CoD or Battlefield came into existence. Like the games, the fans too are special. For instance check out the Nexus Forums, with hundreds of thousands of mods they’re nothing short of being a testament to the creativity and imagination of the RPG community.
Here are some of the best Role Playing Games you can get your hands on. We have listed these, sequentially as per the timeline, focusing on the best title of a particular franchise, with recommended one(s) mentioned.
Baldur’s Gate 2 (& 1)
Baldur’s Gate… I would love to say that this is one of the first RPGs I ever played, but sadly I wasn’t around when these two gems came out. Baldur’s Gate 2 along with its prequel, are Dragon and Dungeons at their absolute finest. It has amazingly well-written characters, a magical world, in-game romances – a new concept at the time, a captivating story and challenging combat mechanics make these games a must play for any RPG lover. As the game starts, the you are being tortured and experimented on by a mad mage. You manage to escape but the mage gets away. Gather your old allies, as you hunt down the lunatic who wronged you and bring him to justice. Very few cRPGs can keep up with Baldur’s Gate 2. This was BioWare’s very first game as an indie studio (before EA swallowed it). It just shows that studios make much better games when they can work freely and independently, without any interference from publishers.
A cRPG by Black Isle studios, Torment got multiple GOTY awards, something isometric games rarely get these days. It was praised for its rich lore and art-style. This game possibly offers more in the way of player choice than most games on this list. You can be a pious do-gooder like most RPG protagonists or a deranged brute with no mercy. The soundtrack is also quite powerful. The game world’s setting feels utterly demented. Add a complex story and mysterious characters to the mix and you’ve got yourself a first-class RPG. You are the Nameless One, a hulking figure covered in scars and tattoos collected over the course of countless lives—none of which you can remember, but are now coming back to haunt you. Embark on an adventure taking The Nameless One from the dirty streets of Sigil into the mysterious Outer Planes and even into the depths of Hell itself to find out your true identity and what happened to you. Beamdog recently released an enhanced version of this cult classic on Steam and GOG, which is worth checking out.
The very first MMO (also by BioWare), NWN gained universal acclaim upon release. This game was hailed as flawless by many critics. The ambient effects, visuals, multi-player and all other aspects of this game were well praised and ahead of its time. It is also recommended for people who are new to the genre, and want to know what makes it so special. Set in the forgotten realms, this game puts you at the center of an epic tale of faith, war and betrayal. The city of Neverwinter is suffering from a magical plague called the Wailing Death, which is killing its citizens. You must find a cure, and discover the source of the disease. The Aurora engine used in this game also became exceeding popular, powering its sequel, Witcher 1, KotoR 1 & 2, and was even used in the development of Dragon Age Origins.
Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic I
(+Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords)
These are the games that started the Old Republic saga- Revan, the HK Droid, The Sith’s Rule of Two, a look at the workings of the Republic before the establishment of the Empire and much more. The first game was developed by BioWare and the second by Obsidian. It cemented BioWare’s status as a prime RPG developer, served as a model for the much loved Mass Effect trilogy and possibly lead to the acquisition by EA. While the first got the Game Of The Year award for its masterful writing and because of the cult status of Star Wars, the second one was an utter mess at the time of release, riddled with bugs, cut content and other technical issues. However, thanks to modders’ and fans’ dedication and hard work, all the bugs have been fixed and the cut content was restored as well via an official update. The first game has one of the best in-game romances along with all the other signature BioWare features, but the second game by Obsidian takes it to another level by building on the already rich lore. It has a much darker tone and ultimately makes for a better story than its predecessor.
Another BioWare game that got a near perfect score. Due to it’s Eastern setting, it didn’t become as popular as the other games by the developer, but make no mistake – it is one of the best games BioWare has ever made. A mythical Chinese tale where your choices and actions will determine the fate of the entire Jade Empire, intriguing characters, multiple endings and a tactical combat system with some swanky, martial arts moves, it’s just what the doctor ordered. Unfortunately, despite its massive potential, it never quite got a sequel and the chances of it getting one are very very slim. Still, give it a try, the special edition is available on both steam and GOG, for a pretty good price.
(+Deus Ex: Human Revolution & Mankind Divided)
One of my personal favorites, the Deus Ex universe has all sorts of futuristic-cyber-punk elements, ranging from human enhancement, the Illumunati, chemical warfare, super-mutant-like humans, mechanical apartheid and more. The first game in this franchise came out in 2000, and instantly became a hit. The stealth, augmentations and the player choices offered in the story by these titles make this franchise pretty unique. These games mostly revolve around themes like mechanized enhancement of humans, its consequences and powerful capitalists and organizations that control the world from the shadows. While the original Deus Ex hasn’t exactly aged well, there is a fan made mod (DX:Revision) that pretty much overhauls everything, right from the textures, API, meshes and models. Unfortunately, due to the bizarre marketing strategy by Square Enix (essentially cutting the SP campaign in half), Mankind Divided sold less than satisfactory units, despite being a solid entry with addictive gameplay mechanics and stellar reviews. Mankind Divided is a sequel to 2011’s Human Revolution, that got an overwhelming response from critics and won multiple awards.
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
(+The Elder Scrolls V:Skyrim)
Any such list would be incomplete without Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls franchise. Everyone has heard of Skyrim, and more than 30 million people played it. Thanks to its extensive mod support, it still looks as good as any other recent game. While these games may not appear that impressive at first, they are most certainly one of the most addictive. Right from the crafting system, to the enchanting, magic, exploration and something I call cult conquering (a series of missions which culminate into the crowning of the PC as the leader of a particular cult or tribe), you get a fulfilling sense of satisfaction after playing Bethesda’s flagship game. Skyrim may be the more popular one of the two, but it sure as hell ain’t the better one. Morrowind is older than TESV, but the setting, environments and the level of immersion it offers eclipses Skyrim’s. Everything is so mystical and it seems right out of a fairy tale. Despite that Skyrim is still an excellent game, but just not as good as Morrowind.
Trails in the Sky Trilogy (Sora no Kiseki)
Trails in the Sky is one of the best JRPGs (if not the best) ever made, period. The plot, characters, combat system, soundtrack, literally everything about the Kiseki games is just perfect. Hell, I abandoned everything else in my life when I first played it. It just shows why JRPGs and Japanese anime in general have such an appeal in the West. The games revolve around an independent kingdom’s efforts to thwart the activities of a powerful, shady organization aiming to destabilize it, along with a strong focus on family, love and friends. The lovable cast, hearty humor and complicated story, along with a sophisticated combat system really make this saga special. It has a tactical turn based combat, with truly wonderful battle music.
Tales of Symphonia
(+Tales of Berseria)
Bandai Namco’s long-running “Tales of” franchise also makes it to this list. Over the years, fans had been worried that the franchise was losing its touch, with Zesteria and Zillia getting luke-warm scores. However, these fears were laid to rest when Berseria released to garner an overwhelmingly positive reception. Like most other JRPGs (and some Western RPGs as well), Tales of Symphonia and Berseria sport a party based gameplay, wherein the player can control anyone of the party members at a time. The story too is quite long, (based on thought-provoking, contemporary themes), with interesting characters and like most Japanese media is filled with absurd twists. But there rarely are any dull moments. One downside to this franchise is that it has really mundane central plots. For example, Berseria focuses on Velvet’s (PC) quest for revenge while Symphonia is based on world regeneration and healing. But the party skits and the dreamy characters more than just makes up for that. As for the combat system, they have an RTS battle-system, 2.5D for Symphonia and 3D for Berseria.
Final Fantasy VII, VIII, IX, X/X-2
Final Fantasy is one of those JRPGs that pretty much every gamer is aware of, thanks to the thorough marketing by Square Enix. However, not all of the titles in the series are as good as they they make you believe. In fact, it would be safe to say that the golden period of the franchise has passed. Most of the recent entries have received a fair deal of criticism and are nowhere as good as their predecessors. While, the oldest games have aged horribly, some of the intermediate titles have been remade on steam, and are very playable and are examples of some of the best JRPGs. This is especially true for X/X-2. While it may not be as good as VII or IX, the port is excellent and should run perfectly on any mid-range PC.
Fallout New Vegas
Bethesda’s Fallout is another IP that almost always shows up on these kinds of lists. The surprising thing about this franchise is that the best game, New Vegas was supposed to be a spin-off, and unlike the Todd Howard-led Beth studio, it was developed by an indie team (but an incredibly talented one- Obsidian, known for KoToR 2), plus it utilized the same engine and resources as Fallout 3. But, thanks to an amazing quest-design and a decent story with numerous endings where player choice had a major impact, and lastly again because of talented modders, New Vegas once again showed that an indie studio if given the chance can outdo any influential (publisher owned) studio. Another thing worth mentioning about New Vegas is the wit and humor present in the game. You have got skills like “Lord Death” and “Nerd-rage” while the “S.P.E.C.I.A.L” ranks too are all sorts of funny, with names like “Wet Noodle”, “Basically Dead”, “Do not Bend”, “Creepy Undertaker”, “Walking Disaster” and much more. Now coming to Fallout 4, it’s not a bad game by any means. Comparison of Fallout 4 and New Vegas is analogous to the Morrowind-Skyrim comparison. It just ain’t as good. Exploration is this game’s strong suit and it has a larger map, but then again it is a lot more expensive than New Vegas, not to mention the DLCs and the Season Pass. Overall though, I’d say the base game is at least worth it. Fallout 4 isn’t infamous for chewing up several days worth of time for no reason; it’s decent quest design and gigantic map should keep you busy for at least 200 sweet hours.
Divinity Original Sin
Original Sin by larian studios is yet another excellent example of an indie game that beat the pants off pretty much any other lucrative AAA game. Set in an enthralling medieval-fantasy world, loaded with ingenious perks like pet-pal, and a engaging narrative, along with lots of fancy animations, this title builds up to be an eccentric game, with elements from both Eastern and Western RPGs. The turn based combat system is insanely entertaining, even for players who aren’t fans of the genre. It is one of those very few games where the player gets to create two playable characters, and fully customize them. The conversations between the PCs determines their traits, and ultimately decide their fate after the adventure comes to an end. It also stresses on player freedom, where the player is free to do whatever he/she wants. You can follow the pre-designed questline to take over an Orc controlled town by completing a bunch of scripted tasks, or if you have confidence in your combat ability, you could just rush in and use brute force. You take on the role of a young Source Hunter: your job is to rid the world of those who use the foulest of magics. Embarking on what should have been a routine murder investigation, you find yourself in the middle of a plot that threatens to destroy the very fabric of time. The success of the game prompted the developer to make an enhanced edition, with improved visuals and a full 3D, third person view.
Mass Effect Trilogy
Back to BioWare again. This was the Canadian developer’s first franchise after acquisition by EA, and was developed by the same team that made KotoR. While the first game was slow-paced during the initial hours and a bit rough around the edges, the second game went on to become not only one of the best RPGs, but one of the best games ever made. Then came the third game, it had a few flaws (mainly the ending), but was a really intense and emotionally charged adventure, as you bid farewell to all your allies and companions, amid the inter-galactic war. Whether, its the paragon/renegade system, or the SSV Normandy and its crew, or the BioWare-styled romances, the Casey Hudson directed Mass Effect Trilogy is the most memorable space adventure. It doesn’t suffer from the repetitive substance-less side-quest-syndrome like most open-world games do (Andromeda I’m looking at you), and has some of the best missions of the video game industry. You play as Commander Shepherd, the captain of the Starship SSV Normandy, and investigate the existence of a an ancient and deadly race of synthetic beings, called the Reapers, while most of the milky way denies their existence.
Dragon Age Origins
Yet another BioWare game. Just like Mass Effect takes directly after KotoR, Dragon Age Origins is a modern form of Baldur’s Gate. Fascinating characters, a mystical story and rich lore, in addition to immersive romances; these are some of the key strengths of the Dragon Age franchise. Origins is the best of the three, while the second game has a more refined gameplay and combat but was slammed for having a much smaller map in comparison to its predecessor and lacked in terms of diversity. However, the story and characters were solid. The latest entry, Inquisition, tried to find a balance between the two games, with a sizeable world, pretty graphics, and a further polished combat system. While it still wasn’t as good as Origins, it did bring back (a more mature form of) the old characters, making the player choices in the previous games relevant, and keeping all the positive points about the franchise and doing away with all the negatives. However, by this time, the most cancerous element of Open World games had crept into BioWare’s game design (courtesy of EA). Yes, Inquisition has a ton of hollow fetch quests. It is one of the few negatives of 2014’s GOTY. Apart from that DA:I shines in pretty much every department. It introduced politics, among other things a leader or ruler has to deal with during turmoil as well as peaceful times, including corruption. This 100+ hour adventure proves exactly what’s wrong with the Open World game design, while also bringing out the good things about it. You have got this diverse world to explore, but a good chunk of it is deserted, empty, filled with nothing but fluff (.a.k.a. fetch quests), and sometimes it’s because of these meaningless side-quests that an otherwise excellent main storyline is belittled.
Dark Souls III (& I)
This game needs no introduction. It’s widely known for its unforgiving combat, giving it the nick-name, “Death-simulator” or “Pain-simulator”. Courtesy of a loyal fan-base, atmospheric world, highly rewarding and tactical combat system, this game has one of the best gameplay mechanics that the genre has to offer. But beware, this game isn’t for the faint of hearts. At certain points, you’ll die a couple of dozen times, scream, cry and rage-quit, but still find yourself playing this brutal game a short while later. You’ll be killed by giant-intimidating bosses, skeleton minions, skeleton dogs, black-fluidy abominations, flying… things, creatures with swords bigger than your character, etc. But the satisfaction you get on beating an area-boss is quite priceless. At launch, the first Dark Souls (PC) game was as hard to run as it’s to play, but the community once again rose to the occasion and now there is a fix available that takes care of almost all the problems. Apart from that, it’s as good as we’ve all heard. The second one was lambasted for being mediocre and not as difficult as the original, but otherwise, it’s alright. Lastly, the third game is possibly the hardest game ever made, and tests even the best of players (in short +100% extra pain). And it’s a perfect port on the PC, with excellent SLI scaling and a fair bit of graphics options.
Pillars of Eternity
Pillars is another special game by Obsidian. Now, I know that I’ve already praised the writing of almost all the games on this list, but this game is on another level. The sheer amount of work put in by the writing team is unparalleled. Every NPC and character in the game has a distinct backstory. Every location has its own history, and this game has some fascinating new ideas about the souls of living beings that resemble Indian Mythology. Furthermore, the PC and his/her companions have a great deal of depth to them. Each of them have their own set of burdens and the player can control their destinies, as they travel together. The story is also as rich as it can get. As for the combat system, it’s one of the most challenging RTS, isometric games I have ever played. Even on the lowest difficulty, the game will thoroughly punish you if you don’t plan ahead, whether it be the distribution of skills, equipment, selection of team-mates and obviously your play-style and tactics. Just like a lot of games on this list, this game also offers a fair bit of player choice and the sound track is equally good. Thankfully, this is an indie game and a sequel is in development. Yay Obsidian!
The Witcher 3
The final game(s) on this list is the much celebrated saga of Geralt of Rivia, the White Wolf. While the Witcher 3 was the game of the year of 2015 and came ahead of every other title that year, its predecessor didn’t quite do that well. That however doesn’t mean that it’s not a good game. It has an okay-ish combat, and a decent story, with a good deal of emphasis on player-choice. Plus, it does help if you know the backstory of the characters and the lore. Now, coming to the masterpiece, Witcher 3 did everything right, from the narrative, to the combat and the visuals. Thanks to some intelligent writing, the game culminates into one of the thirty two different endings, depending upon the player choices, if you take into account all the variables. The level of difficulty at normal is just right, being enjoyable while at the same time posing a fair amount of challenge. The Yennefer romance is superb, with some really touching scenes, and a fair bit of playful banter. The father-daughter relationship between Ciri and Geralt is also well portrayed, where seemingly minor actions having significant consequences. The crafting and alchemy system too, are pretty well devised. The thing that is really impressive about the game is the attention to detail, and how dynamic the world is and changes according to the player’s decisions. Even the side-quests and minor tasks are enjoyable, which is a rare thing in today’s era of Open World games. Last, but not the least the developer support by CD Projeckt Red was also top notch. All the collectibles, DLCs and sountracks are free. The paid expansion packs offer as much content as a whole game. Now, if only we had more developers like them, life would become a bit easier (looking at you again, EA).