Browse our list of the best fantasy RPGs of all time. From old isometric titles to the latest releases, we ranked our absolute favorites.
Welcome to our round-up of the best fantasy RPGs. Ever since PC games first gained popularity, developers have brought tabletop RPGs to virtual life. The genre has evolved tremendously since then – from the orcs, elves and sorcery that were the staples of the genre, RPGs have since gone into space and even to our own, boring world.
But things are changing.
Our Criteria for choosing the best fantasy RPG
What Makes an RPG?
Twenty, even ten years ago, identifying a role-playing game was easy. The fact that they were focused on story, character progression and exploration made them easily distinguishable from the platformers and action titles that were dominating the industry.
Flashforward to 2018, and role-playing games are getting increasingly harder to pinpoint, as virtually all modern video games have at least a couple of RPG mechanics, whether we’re talking about skill trees, dialog options or freedom of choice. If we were to follow its canonical definition, every game is a role-playing game.
As a result, we have decided to choose the games that stick the most to the traditional formula, taking great care not to ignore those titles – Deus Ex, for example – that played around with the genre conventions.
When it comes to defining whether or not a game is an RPG, we have included titles that contain:
- Character building and progression
- The ability to make choices that affect the game world.
- Exploration is a big part of the game.
- Combat – tough some games on this list have little to no combat.
What defines fantasy?
The same thing goes when it comes to defining fantasy. The definition has broadened so much that it would be silly to stick to the basics. As a result, our list contains some titles that you would not normally classify as ‘’fantasy’’ – Shadowrun: Hong Kong, for instance. When it comes to defining whether a game can be considered ‘’fantasy’’, we took the following criteria into consideration:
- It’s a fictional universe. We’ve prioritized games with no references to real world locations, events and people, but it’s not mandatory.
- Has mythical beings such as gods, dwarves, elves, etc.
- Contains spells and/or magical items and contraptions.
- Mythical beings or supernatural forms are either at the center of the plot, or an important part of the universe.
What qualifies as best?
When it comes to deciding what ‘’best’’ means, we have identified the games that are fun to play now. This doesn’t mean that we’ll ignore factors such as innovation and cultural impact – they just won’t weigh in as much. So don’t come yelling at us if your favorite RPG from 1991 hasn’t made the list.
Here are the main elements we examined before including a game in our top:
- Character development.
- Story. Is it well-written?
- Combat. Is it fun? Does it make sense in the context of the game? Is it user-friendly?
- Writing. Does it have good dialogue and interesting lore?
So, without further ado, here’s our list of the best fantasy RPGs that you should definitely play.
27 Monster Hunter Generations
|Initial Release Date||July 15, 2016|
|Platform||Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch|
Monster Hunter Generations is a monolith of a game, as it contains every monster and town from the franchise’s previous games in a single package. Generations took all the improvements that its predecessors brought to the table and added a several new powerful moves and deeper character optimization options.
If you want to pick up the series but don’t know where to start, this is the essential version to own, as you can just as easily buy Generations and forget about the rest. It’s deep, satisfying, highly entertaining, which is why it deserves a spot on our list of the best fantasy RPGs.
26 Legend of Grimrock 2
|Initial Release Date||October 15, 2014|
|Platform||Microsoft Windows, Macintosh operating systems, macOS|
|Developer||Almost Human Games|
|Publisher||Almost Human Games|
After the first title, which was very well received by both press and fans of this genre, Almost Human decided to go bigger with the sequel. And big they went, as Legend of Grimrock 2 takes things upstairs and outdoors, with huge, sprawling maps containing multiple regions and biomes to explore. It’s much more difficult than the first game, with tougher puzzles and enemies, and multi-level dungeons filled with treasures and secrets.
25 Torment: Tides of Numenera
|Initial Release Date||February 28, 2017|
|Platform||PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Linux, Macintosh operating systems, macOS|
Note: Since this RPG is the spiritual successor of Planescape Torment, there’s very little combat to speak of.
Planescape Torment was the cool college philosophy teacher, Tides of Numenera, is its brooding, edgy prodigy that shows a lot of yet-unfulfilled potential. The spiritual successor to Tides of Numenera features equal parts strange characters, captivating dialogue and descriptions, and a surreal world filled with grotesque images that has a dream-like quality to it.
Though it didn’t manage to surpass the quality of its bigger brothers, Tides of Numenera is a worthy spiritual successor that tackles many difficult subjects such as the nature of humanity and consciousness, metaphysics, semiotics and many issues that you would expect from an Umberto Eco essay, not a video game released in 2017. Word for the wise: Tides of Numenera has even less combat than Planescape, and a lot more text, so if you don’t like reading through long expository paragraphs and surreal dialogue, you should skip over this game.
24 Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
|Initial Release Date||February 28, 2017|
|Platform||PlayStation, PlayStation Portable, PlayStation 3, Sega Saturn, Xbox 360, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4|
|Developer||Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo|
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is the quintessential Castlevania game, containing nearly everything that brought this series to cult-classic status. Not only that, but Symphony of the Night brought all the series best features to near perfection.
Underneath what may look like your typical Metroidvania game (the extensive exploration, backtracking, difficult combat, and hidden secrets) lies a generously deep RPG. Players have to manage attributes such as strength, luck, intelligence and defense, gain experience, summon and upgrade familiars, and so on and so forth. The haunting and deliciously campy soundtrack adds a nice touch to the game, and the graphics, even though it’s pretty old, have aged well. It’s a classic that everybody should try at least once.
23 South Park: The Stick of Truth
|Initial Release Date||March 4, 2014|
|Platform||PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows|
|Developer||Obsidian Entertainment, South Park Digital Studios LLC|
In an era where licensed games still suck, South Park: The Stick of Truth was a surprise hit. Not only was it a good South Park game, but it was also a good RPG on its own. Even people who are not die-hard South Park fans (such as myself) can get some enjoyment out of this game thanks to its intricate RPG mechanics and sandbox nature.
The thing that deserves the most praise is how the developers managed to build a great RPG around the elements that make South Park great, and not vice-versa, while maintaining the edge and humor typical of South Park (the fact that you can choose ‘’Jew-Jitsu’’ as a perk is quite telling). It’s fun, addictive, innovative and absolutely hilarious, which is why we’ve felt it’s worthy of a spot on our list of the best fantasy RPGs.
22 Arx Fatalis
|Initial Release Date||June 28, 2002|
|Platform||Xbox, Microsoft Windows, Linux, Macintosh operating systems, FreeBSD|
|Developer||Arkane Studios, Wizarbox, Floodgate Entertainment|
|Publisher||Arkane Studios, JoWooD Entertainment, DreamCatcher Interactive, Capcom, 1C Company, Nival|
There are many things you can blame Arx Fatalis for, but being boring is surely not one of them. Developed by Arkane Studios, a video game developer later known for developing a small game called Dishonored, went under the industry’s radars when it was released in 2002. Fortunately, it has gradually gained a cult following, with gamers praising it for the story, universe and compelling magic system.
Arx Fatalis is set in a dark-fantasy universe where the sun has failed, forcing its inhabitants (Goblins, Dwarves, Humans, Trolls, etc) to take refuge in subterranean caverns, where the entirety of the game’s action takes place. The player character awakens inside a prison cell, and after making his escape, discovers that his mission is to imprison the God of Destruction, Akbaa.
Similar to other RPGs, Arx Fatalis includes a comprehensive character progression system wherein players can allocate skill points in spellcasting, weapons, armor, stealth and other stats. It features a somewhat open-ended game world, allowing players to progress through the game at their own pace, solving side quests and exploring the sleazy networks of tunnels.
Unlike other RPGs, Arx Fatalis doesn’t feature a dialog system. The player is able to make choices through actions, which will have different effects on the game world. There are multiple ways to accomplish objectives – for example, instead of killing enemies, players can opt for a stealthier approach, avoiding all enemies in the process.
But the thing that makes Arx Fatalis truly stand out is the intuitive spellcasting system. Instead of triggering spells by pushing a button, players have to physically draw the layout of the spells (runes) in mid-air. The runes, obviously, must be drawn correctly, otherwise the spell isn’t cast. The system is prone to quirks from time to time, but once masters, it will make you feel like the most powerful spell caster this side of the cave.
Despite its decent story and satisfying combat, Arx Fatalis was at risk of becoming a mere footnote in RPG history. Even though it has since gained the recognition it deserves, it is still criminally underrated, so do yourself a favor and check it out.
21 Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura
|Initial Release Date||August 21, 2001|
|Publisher||Sierra Entertainment, Activision|
The late Troika games had a reputation of releasing their games in a buggy state (not by their fault, though), and Arcanum was no exception to this rule. The battles were as imbalanced and chaotic as its name, and remain so after countless patches and fan mods released over the years.
But even in its buggiest state, was one of the best and most impressive RPGs ever to bless the gaming industry. Featuring a mix of steampunk and fantasy aesthetics, as well as a fictional industrial revolution type of setting, Arcanum is anything but typical. Its character creator allowed players to create everything from gnome gamblers to dwarf con-artists. Arcanum is also one of the only RPGs where a full charisma build is a viable choice, with players being able to talk themselves out of virtually every conflict. It’s dark, gritty and absolutely hilarious, and though it might be dated by modern standards, it’s one of the few choices if you are up for some steampunk tom-foolery.
20 Shadowrun: Hong Kong
|Initial Release Date||August 20, 2015|
|Platform||Microsoft Windows, Linux, Macintosh operating systems|
Shadowrun: Hong Kong is the culmination of a series of games which officially marked the return of isometric cRPGs in the mainstream. Based on its namesake tabletop universe, Shadowrun: Hong Kong is a cyberpunk turn-based RPG set in a dystopian universe that is equal parts real life, fantasy and sci-fi.
The Shadowrun universe is populated by humans, elves, dwarves, goblins and all manners of mythological creatures who apart from using cyberpunk gadgets and tools, are capable of casting spells. It’s a weird blend made even more interesting by the location – Hong Kong, with its bright neons and shady alleys, is the perfect backdrop for a cyberpunk noire story.
There’s nothing much we can say about this game that hasn’t already been said. Hong Kong is an objective improvement over its predecessors, as it has restricted and more open-ended questing system. The combat system is nicely varied, with players having access to a wide range of gadgets, weapons, and classes with cool sounding names (Street Samurai?? I mean, come on!). The writing is excellent, the universe is dreary but with a dark, twisted sense of humor and the characters are memorable. It’s not Baldur’s Gate 2 or Pillars of Eternity level of quality, but it still deserves a spot in our list of the best fantasy RPGs of all time.
19 Pillars of Eternity
|Initial Release Date||March 26, 2015|
|Platform||PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Linux, Macintosh operating systems, macOS|
For players who wanted to try Baldur’s Gate 2, but were turned off by its dated graphics and occasionally clunky gameplay, Pillars of Eternity came as a blessing. Not only is Pillars of Eternity a worthy spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate 2, but it’s a great game on its own, improving on classic tropes of the genre in some parts, and innovating in others.
Pillars of Eternity is far from a perfect game and has a lot of quirks, probably owing to the fact that this genre of RPG was essentially dead until its release. Fortunately, despite (or maybe because of) its flaws, Pillars marked a glorious return of the CRPG genre in the public mainstream. The voice acting is great, the combat is satisfying, the RPG elements are smartly implemented and executed and the writing is one of the best that gaming has seen. It’s deep and complex enough to satisfy veterans of this genre, and lenient and welcoming enough to ease new players into CRPG’s.
18 Planescape Torment
|Initial Release Date||December 12, 1999|
|Platform||Android, Microsoft Windows, iOS, Linux, Macintosh operating systems, Dreamcast, Commodore 64, macOS|
|Developer||Beamdog, Black Isle Studios|
In Baldur’s Gate 2, Pillars of Eternity, and other RPGs, your ultimate goal is to become a badass killing machine that can steamroll the game. Planescape Torment, on the other hand, took a different path – the RPG elements are limited to the story arc and social interactions you have with other characters.
The combat is there, but in a weird twist, Planescape is one of the few RPGs that is dragged down by it. The enemies feel like a mere obstacle in the way of unraveling the next plotpoint, or finding another piece of lore. And believe it or not, this is what makes Planescape Torment so great.
The one thing that makes Planescape Torment stand out even today is its cerebral plot and universe. It’s neither Sci-Fi nor Fantasy, it’s something in between, a weird blend that gives the whole game a dream-like quality reminiscent of a David Lynch film.
On par with the setting and universe of the game are the characters which are, dare I say, very human and relatable. Your companions will fight. They’ll squabble. At times, they’ll get so hard on your nerves that you’ll wish they were never created, as good as the writing and character development may be. They’re flawed, but they’ll always stick with you, even when you inevitably end up pissing them off and feeling remorseful.
In Planescape Torment, your choices actually do matter. A lie can lead to a Rube Goldbergesque chain of effects and consequences and you can talk your way out of most combat encounters (and even boss fights). Planescape Torment is the definition of the old saying ‘’the pen is mightier and the sword’’, so if you want to experience one of the best stories and characters this industry has to offer, make sure to check this gem out.
17 Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire
|Initial Release Date||May 8, 2018|
|Platform||PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Macintosh operating systems, Linux|
|Publisher||Obsidian Entertainment, Versus Evil|
The sequel to the brilliant Pillars of Eternity ditches the forests and fields of Drywood in favour of the archipelago of Deadfire. You and your companions roam the seas in search of adventure and maybe, eventually, you will finally get to stopping that pesky rampaging god that swore to destroy the world.
Pillars of Eternity 2 is not so much a pirate RPG, but an RPG where you can role-play your way into feeling like a pirate. Ships can be attacked and plundered for loot which can be used to upgrade your own ship. The Defiant and the islands are filled with booty and enemies to slaughter, all with the most earwormy of sea shanties playing in the background.
The setting of Deadfire feels fresh and exciting, especially since the developers took great care to address criticism raised over the abundance of filler combat and other quality of life issues that severely diminished the enjoyment of subsequent playthroughs. Pillars of Eternity 2 is bigger, better, more aptly written and supports multiple replays thanks to the open-ended quest design and branching paths.
16 Icewind Dale II
|Initial Release Date||August 27, 2002|
|Platform||Microsoft Windows, Macintosh operating systems|
|Developer||Black Isle Studios|
If Planescape Torment ditched combat in favour of a more narrative and cerebral approach and Baldur’s Gate II was a little bit of both, Icewind Dale II is full on action-focused. It focuses so much on action that it steers away from side quests, puzzles and other hallmarks on the genre and offers deep character creation tools and tons of combat variety.
You start out by creating a party of six adventurers by choosing their class, race and gender. Once you’re through with the character creation phase (which can take up to two weeks, according to RPG fandom canon), you can customize your party with a huge variety of weapons, skills and gear. But all the gear wouldn’t account for nothing without something to kill. Thankfully, in terms of enemy variety, Icewind Dale delivers in spades . From mummies, orcs, skeletons to goblins, giants and bugbears, the game throws all manners of monsters at you to kill. It’s a fun game with deep combat mechanics which holds up surprisingly well even in 2018.
15 Gothic 2
|Initial Release Date||November 29, 2002|
|Publisher||JoWooD Productions (Europe); Atari, Inc. (North America)|
Before quest markers and mini-maps entered the canon of RPG game design canon, most games had some variation of the Gothic formula. If you wanted to get somewhere, tough luck – you had to follow the directions provided by NPC’s. At times, they had the accuracy of a friend drunkenly describing how to reach the bar, so you had to rely mostly on yourself.
Unlike the city where the most dangerous things the player has to handle are a few drunks and loan sharks, the forests are swarming with packs of wolves, skeletons, giant bugs, bandits and orcs. Moreover, the enemies are not evenly distributed throughout the map – one uninspired step on a side-road and you can come face to face with a high level enemy as soon as you step out of the city. Everything is out to kill you, and all you have in terms of protection at the beginning is a rusty sword and a sharp tongue. This is Gothic 2 in a nutshell – brutal, unforgiving and absolutely hilarious.
Even though it sounds like some forgotten ancestor of Dark Souls, Gothic 2 is chock-full of charm and humor. The humor is subtle, deadpan and laidback, just like the character, who never misses a chance to express how utterly ridiculous his situation is.
While the graphics haven’t aged well at all, the setting and the game world in general still hold up to this day. The game’s not an amalgam of random quest givers, but a living and breathing society built by people who have their own lives and routines. The City of Khorrinis is still as believable as it was 16 years ago thanks to inspired design. I would go as far as stating that it’s as lifelike as Novigrad in Witcher 3, minus the graphical fidelity.
Once you get over the clunky, but functional combat system and the terrible graphics, you will find a lush and satisfying RPG that rewards exploration and experimentation. They don’t make games like Gothic 2 anymore, and even Piranha Bytes has failed to capture the essence of the series with the newest titles.
14 Demon’s Souls
|Initial Release Date||October 6, 2009|
|Publisher||Sony Computer Entertainment; Atlus USA; Namco Bandai Games|
As big as the Dark Souls series has gotten today, it’s easy to find people who haven’t ever heard about Demon’s Souls, their PS3-exclusive ancestor. Demon’s Souls, the granddaddy of what would later be known as the Souls Series, established a new formula of punishing, yet rewarding RPGs that praised patience, careful exploration and tactical combat above all else.
Demon’s Souls contains all the hallmarks of the series – minimal story, moody atmosphere, punishing combat, expansive setpieces of medieval post-apocalyptic beauty and a sprawling world filled with interconnected levels. It’s the quiet hit that laid the foundation of what followed, so if you want to see how it all started, we can’t recommend Demon’s Souls enough.
13 Dragon Age: Origins
|Initial Release Date||November 3, 2009|
|Platform||PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows, Macintosh operating systems|
|Developer||BioWare, Edge of Reality|
Dragon Age: Origins is one of the few games that captures that old Baldur’s Gate feel, both from a gameplay and story perspective. Ferelden is very similar to the Forgotten realms without feeling like a mere rehash, and the way in which the player can interact with their companions feels very Baldur’s Gateish in approach.
While the lore and universe is great, the deep and satisfying combat is what makes Origins a top-tier RPG. Sadly, this was the last Bioware RPG that used the old combat system, and with Dragon Age 2 being so streamlined and Inquisition steering even farther from the formula, we’ll probably never see this old model applied ever again.
12 Stardew Valley
|Initial Release Date||February 26, 2016|
|Platform||Most Modern Platforms|
Stardew Valley captured the hearts and attention of the community by transporting players to a time when gaming was simpler, more wholesome, combining all the bits that we loved about older games (including classics such as Animal Crossings and Harvest Moon) into a fresh, modern package.
Though the gameplay is based on raising crops and improving your farm’s economy, it’s more than a mere farming sim – players can fish, raise animals, and even delve into dungeons in search of treasures, fighting all manners of monsters in the process. It is one of those games where the journey matters more than the destination, and seeing your farm gradually progress from a decrepit ruin filled with weeds and trash into a thriving business is very satisfying.
The game does a great job of recreating that idyllic, small-town community setting, with a cast of lovable characters, each with their own personalities. All town inhabitants can be befriended, and some of them romanced.
But however picturesque the setting may be, things aren’t going so swell for Pelican Town, and it’s up to you whether you want to take an active role in improving the local economy, or take a more profit-centered approach. One of the earliest decisions players have to make is either helping the mayor improve the community center, or sell off to the Joja corporation. While the game’s anti big-business message is anything but subtle (you start out as a corporate drone who decides to quits their job and return to their grandfather’s old farm), it provides enough conflict and motivation to contextualize the player’s actions.
A lot of ink has been spilled praising this game, and rightfully so. It’s a charming game that offers a great deal of freedom and player agency.
11 Dark Souls 3
|Initial Release Date||March 24, 2016|
|Platform||PlayStation 4; Xbox One; Microsoft Windows|
|Publisher||Bandai Namco Entertainment|
Dark Souls III, the grand finale of the Souls series, is everything the second entry of the series should have been, but was not. The development of Dark Souls 2 was handled by another team, while the main team and Miyazaki himself, the brains behind the series, focused on Bloodborne. It’s quite evident from the execution and level design that the team didn’t quite understand what made Dark Souls, well, Dark Souls, as they focused too much on making it as difficult and unfair as possible, to the detriment of everything else.
So, you can’t imagine the relief I felt upon finding out that Miyazaki, the man himself, will lead the development of the sequel. And boy, did FromSoft deliver. Dark Souls 3 has everything that made the first one so good (minus the level design which, admittedly, can’t and will never be topped), plus a few quality of life features that the first one lacks.
Dark Souls 3 is a fantastic farewell to the franchise. The challenge is all there, but the systems have been tweaked to accommodate those who don’t like to rely on wikis and comprehensive guides. Gone are the days when a bad build could screw you for the rest of the playthrough, as the gear selection is varied enough to accommodate uninspired builds. If you are not satisfied with your build, you can reinvest all of your skill points – for a price, of course.
From a narrative and lore perspective, Dark Souls 3 brings back some of the characters from the first entry of the series and revisits several old locations, made now barely recognizable due to the passage of time (or is it something else? You will have to find out by yourself). Dark Souls 3 is chock-full of references to previous titles. While the callbacks have varying degrees of subtlety, you will certainly be struck with an annoying deja vu feeling at least a couple of times while exploring the decrepit ruins of Lothric. And I have to say, connecting the dots and spotting the similarities is just as fun and satisfying as the combat.
|Initial Release Date||March 24, 2015|
|Publisher||Sony Computer Entertainment|
Bloodborne is probably one of the best and most ambitious spin-offs in history. When I first saw the announcement trailer, my first thought was Dark Souls style game with a Victorian setting and some Cthulhu Mythos tom-foolery sprinkled on top for good measure? I’m sold!’’. If Dark Souls 2 was the neglected child of the series, Bloodborne is the one that was sent to violin lessons from a young age and enrolled in the best private schools.
On the surface, Bloodborne might seem like just Dark Souls in gothic clothes, but it’s so much more than that. The Lovecraftian setting of Yharnam is just as unsettling as it is sad – most of its inhabitants are fuelled by a mindless rage, attacking everything in sight, while those who haven’t lost their sanity are mere shells of their former selves.
But while the setting is surely melancholic and depressive, the combat is the absolute opposite of that. For Bloodborne, the designers took a more direct, fast-paced approach to the already classic Dark Souls formula. In Bloodborne, there are no shields and taking your sweet time to land the decisive blow, only dodging, parrying, and rabidly counterattacking. If you take too much time to attack, the enemies will have no hesitation in shredding you to pieces. Bloodborne is a fresh, exciting entry in the Souls saga, one that we hope will be replicated in FromSoft’s next game. Until we find out more about it, we might as well get to cleaning the streets of cosmic horror filth.
“Bloodborne is my favorite fantasy RPG of all time. The mechanics are smooth as water, the combat is addictive and the all aesthetics are no doubt fitting the whole image with a splash of lovecraftian lore as well. Even for an unfinished product you can’t deny the love and detail the game as a whole received.” says Twitch streamer Liisn
9 Darkest Dungeon
|Initial Release Date||January 19, 2016|
|Platform||Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, iOS, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One|
|Developer||Red Hook Studios|
While many monster-slaying RPGs feature brave heroes who remain stoic even when facing the most horrific of monsters, Darkest Dungeon ditches this old trope in favour of a more realistic approach. The characters from Darkest Dungeon are, in a way, reflections of the player – just like us, they’re flawed.
They develop phobias. They drink too much after facing stressful situations. They’re arrogant, greedy, naive, slothful or all of the above, if the RNG god has a bone to pick with you. In other words, they act like every single one of us couch-sitting, 9-5 office working people would act if we had to face monstrous Lovecraftian beings, with the only difference being that they start their journeys with a semblance of combat experience.
In Darkest Dungeon, you control a party of adventurers who go into the depths of a dungeon in search of riches and knowledge. The turn-based combat is highly dependant on RNG, though it’s entirely possible to reduce the randomness through a combination of upgrades and traits derived from trinkets.
The class system is nicely varied, so there are tons of opportunities for experimenting with different party combinations. Each class has a unique set of moves that can be upgraded, and what moves they can use depend on where they are positioned. For example, upon moving a support hero in the front line, you can turn them from a healer into a monstrous damage dealer.
The dungeons are located near a dilapidated village, where the players can have their heroes rest, unwind stress and upgrade their gear and skills. Nobody knows exactly what happened, so it’s up to you to discover how the events unraveled as you’re beating dungeon after dungeon. Darkest Dungeon is a stressful, but highly rewarding experience. The Lovecraftian setting as well as the deep, melancholic voice of the narrator make an already dreary and depressing universe even more unsettling.
8 Fable II
|Initial Release Date||21 October 2008|
|Publisher||Microsoft Game Studios|
What is there left to say about Fable II, other than the fact that Microsoft has stubbornly kept it an XBOX 360 exclusive, while the infuriatingly mediocre sequel got a PC port? Well, tons of good things, actually.
The story of Fable II takes place in the realm of Albion, 500 years after the events of the original game in a setting resembling the early modern period. Things have changed a bit since the last game: after the defeat of Jack of Blades, the Hero’s Guild disbanded and the realm entered an era of relative prosperity and stability.
From a story and gameplay perspective, Fable II is a tremendous improvement over the original, as it took the things that made the first one and took them to the next level. Since the game takes place over a hero’s lifetime, many things can change, most of which can be directly influenced directly by the player. Shops will close, some neighborhoods of Bowerstone will fall in disrepair while others may rise, and so on. Players don’t earn XP and money by doing quests, they have to take odd jobs around the city to support their adventuring.
The player character can form relationships, marry and have kids. The family is not spared from the player’s actions, as children/spouses can die of neglect or leave. Just like in real life, with the mention that you’re very unlikely to go through a divorce because you insisted on fighting that giant spider from the outskirts of the city on your 15th wedding anniversary.
7 The Witcher 2
|Initial Release Date||17 May 2011|
|Platform||Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360, OS X, Linux|
|Developer||CD Projekt Red|
Whether to choose the first entry in this series or the second was a tough decision. On the one hand, the first entry’s legacy and influence over the games industry is indisputable, as it was the first truly mature RPG to tackle serious subjects such as war, disease, racism and bigotry since maybe Fallout 2 ten years earlier.
On the other hand, it was the product of a young, but talented studio who didn’t have much experience when it comes to game development. Most people tend to forget how clunky and flawed that game was. This is mainly why its sequel made this list.
The Witcher 2 marks the series debut to mainstream audiences. While it didn’t go full open-world yet, opting for a more restricted, yet detailed environment due to technical and time constraints, The Witcher 2 is an improvement over the original in every single way, with better combat, stellar graphical fidelity, fantastic writing and a narrative fork that sets Geralt on two different paths. The two paths are so different, that one could easily argue that The Witcher 2 is essentially two games in a single one. Granted, the grand finale of the series topped The Witcher 2 in all departments, but this fact doesn’t diminish this game’s merits.
6 Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn
|Initial Release Date||September 21, 2000|
|Platform||Microsoft Windows, Mac OS, Linux|
|Publisher||Black Isle Studios, Interplay Entertainment|
Lovers of deep lore and intricate RPG systems will get lots of enjoyment out of Baldur’s Gate 2. In terms of size and depth, few RPGs have managed to top Baldur’s Gate 2, which features a huge world filled with quests that can be approached and solved in multiple ways, as well as a wide cast of memorable characters.
Baldur’s Gate 2 is, in some ways, the patient 0 of modern RPGs, as many of its gameplay and narrative devices would go on to influence later titles. And yes, this is where RPG romances come from, so you have to thank Baldur’s Gate 2 for Commander Shepherd’s awkward attempts at getting a threesome with two of his female companions.
5 Dark Souls 1
|Initial Release Date||September 22, 2011|
|Platform||PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch|
|Publisher||Namco Bandai Games, FromSoftware|
What can we say about Dark Souls that hasn’t already been said? Should we focus on its cerebral, minimalistic, highly interpretable plot delivered through item descriptions, environmental elements and cryptic dialogues? Its deep, addictive character progression? Its egregious difficulty? Compelling characters? Depressing, yet beautiful in-an-end-of-the-world kind of sense?
It’s hard to pinpoint a single, universal reason why Dark Souls is so great because, in actuality, it’s a gracious blend of multiple elements that complement each other and result in a seamless and cohesive game world. With a focus on exploration, Dark Souls pushes players to experiment with different builds and routes and take risks. It ditches the hand-holding nature of other RPGs and takes a trial and error approach.
In other words, the learning process is highly dependable on the players’ willingness to make mistakes. This means learning how to cautiously navigate the deadly world, avoiding traps and being wary of your surroundings, taking down one of its bosses, level your stats properly (pro tip if you’ve never played the game: don’t touch Resistance, it’s useless), which weapons/armors scale with which stats, and so on and so forth.
The level and world design is a technological and artistic marvel of its own that deserves a separate article, featuring branching paths that all connect to a central hub. Discovering how the paths connect to each other is arguably as rewarding as beating the toughest boss. If you’ve never played this game until now, do yourself a favor and give it a try – you’re missing out on one of the best fantasy RPGs ever created.
4 Divinity: Original Sin 2
|Initial Release Date||September 14, 2017|
|Platform||Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, macOS|
|Publisher||Bandai Namco Entertainment|
If you’re thinking of doing something, in Divinity: Original Sin 2, you can probably do it. Few RPG games boast such a high degree of freedom and player agency, and every skill, no matter how unusual it looks at a first glance, has some utility, even if tangential, and this applies both to combat and non-combat situations.
You can enjoy this game either alone, or together with up to three friends. This is where things start getting interesting, as you’re not forced to work together with your friends or even stay in the same part of the world. Unlike other titles with co-op modes, Divinity: Original Sin 2 gives players a lot of reasons to work against each other. It’s clear from the get-go that the co-op mode was not slapped together to increase the appeal of the game artificially – due to its depth, it could have very well been a game of its own.
|Initial Release Date||September 15, 2015|
|Platform||Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Nintendo Switch|
Undertale came out of nowhere and turned the gaming world upside down. It’s amazing what a single person can accomplish. Toby Fox, the sole developer, wrote, designed, developed and composed the music and released the game. Undertale charmed gamers with its deceptively simple story and deconstruction of nearly every RPG trope, while paradoxically sticking to the roots of the genre. There’s nothing much that can be said about Undertale without spoiling the fun, so if for some reason you haven’t tried it out yet, make sure and buy it.
2 The Witcher 3
|Initial Release Date||May 19, 2015|
|Platform||Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One|
|Developer||CD PROJEKT RED|
|Publisher||CD PROJEKT RED|
When Witcher 1 was released in 2007, few would have guessed that they were witnessing the birth of one of the best and most beloved franchises in gaming history. Looking back at it, it’s incredible what a small studio filled with talented and dedicated people, far removed from the whims of the gaming industry, can accomplish when given the time and resources.
The Witcher 3 is the culmination of nearly ten years of continuous progress and improvements. It’s better than previous installments in every single way possible – it’s bigger and deeper, both from a mechanical and a narrative perspective. It takes the moral ambiguity, the bigotry, the political intrigue and, of course, the monster hunting and puts them in a massive world.
The Witcher 3 stands as living proof that creating massive, open-world games is possible without resorting to fillers. Every single quest, whether dead on serious or outright silly, makes sense in the context of the game and represents a new opportunity to learn more about the war-ravaged lands, its inhabitants and the world at large.
Even simple quests, such as the one where Geralt is tasked with finding an old lady’s frying pan, tells you something about the universe. Other quests, such as the one where Geralt has to go through countless bureaucratic hoops to get an inheritance left by a former client of his who’s passed away, are biting, humorous social commentaries that reference CD Project’s Polish origins – and as someone living in Eastern Europe, I have to say that quest was painfully relatable.
As if setting the bar for future action RPGs wasn’t enough for them, CD Projekt Red had the audacity to do the same for DLC’s. Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine are maybe the best DLC ever released, containing quests that are even better than the base game.
1 Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines
|Initial Release Date||November 16, 2004|
Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines is a hard proposition because you have to dig under a huge pile of game breaking bugs and glitches. But if you persist, you will find one of the most entertaining and rewarding RPGs ever made.
The game, which takes place in four areas of 21st Century Los Angeles – namely Santa Monica, Hollywood, Downtown Los Angeles and Chinatown – depicts a world in which vampires, werewolves, wraiths and other creatures have shaped human history and affairs for centuries.
Bloodlines puts the player in the role of The Fledgling, a person who’s been killed and transformed into a vampire. Right from the get-go, you are given the option to choose your gender and a vampire ‘’class’’ – if you are unsure, the game will ask you several questions and depending on the answers, it’ll suggest a class.
There are seven different classes – the powerful Brujah, the aristocratic Ventrue, the animalistic Gangrel, the monstrous Nosferatu, the decadent Toreador, the insane Malkavian and the blood-magic wielding Tremere. Each of these classes will shape the story and course of the game in one way or another.
For example, the Toreador, being the most ‘’humane’’ of the vampire classes, excels in seduction and charisma, but are weak fighters. The Brujah are strong-willed brawlers with a deep disdain for authority. The Nosferatu, due to their monstrous appearance, are relegated to spend their lives in the sewers because even showing themselves to humans is considered a violation of the Masquerade. And the Malkavian are, well, insane.
The vampires follow a tight code of conduct (called the Masquerade) to maintain the secrecy of their existence, which forbids vampires to use their vampiric powers in front of humans and kill unnecessarily in order to maintain their last shred of humanity. These two elements are translated into the gameplay – gain five Masquerade points, and you will be dutifully targeted by vampire hunters. Kill too many innocent people, and the character will gradually lose its humanity and turn into a mindless beast.
In Bloodlines, ‘’societal vampires’’ (meaning those who abide by the code of the Masquerade) are all subjects to the Camarilla, an organization that oversees all vampire affairs. However, their authority is questioned by several organizations who want to overthrow the Camarilla’s near authoritarian grasp on vampire affairs. Whether you decide to abide by the Camarilla’s rule or join dissenting factions is up to you, as this will shape the entire narrative for the rest of the game.
Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines is not only about sucking blood out of unwitting humans and roaming the shady streets of Los Angeles in goth streetwear. It’s about shaping your tale according to your beliefs and choices. Nearly every choice the player makes has some influence over the game world. and thanks to its detailed class system and generous skill tree, the game supports multiple playthroughs. Few works of media have managed to capture a vampire setting so well, and the great writing (the best the industry has ever seen, in this author’s humble opinion) makes the universe even more compelling. It is a flawed masterpiece in every sense of the word.
I can reproduce every scene from The Sopranos word by word. I also like to talk endlessly about weirdly specific game mechanics and tropes. But I guess that's par for the course, right?
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