16 Best Sci Fi RPGs that Will Blow Your Mind

Browse our list of the best Sci Fi RPGs that will blow your mind and time away. From mainstream titles to niche isometric RPGs, we’ve taken into consideration all titles that feature Sci Fi elements and fun RPG mechanics.

November 29, 2019

While the RPG genre is filled with ghouls, zombies, elves, dwarves and other kinds of mythological creatures, not many RPGs have ventured into space. As a result, finding high-quality Sci-Fi RPGs was surprisingly hard. The Science Fiction genre is even broader than fantasy, so we’ve bent the rules when necessary to avoid excluding good games.

We used similar criteria when ranking these games as we did when ranking the best fantasy RPGs of all time

What an RPG Is (in our opinion)

Before getting down to listing our favorite sci-fi RPGs , we’ll explain the criteria that we considered when deciding whether or not a game fits into the Sci-Fi RPG category.

What an RPG Is (in our opinion)

For the purposes of the article, we consider an RPG a game that has:

  • Story
  • Character building and progression
  • Choices that affect the game world
  • An emphasis on exploration
  • Combat that is directly influenced by player stat choice

What We Consider to Be Sci-Fi

As for deciding if a game can be included in the Sci-Fi genre, we took into consideration the following factors:

  • Set in a near or distant future
  • Setting and universe based on imagined future scientific or technological advances
  • Science and technology are at the center or the basis of the plot, having either benefited or harmed the societies portrayed
  • Portrays aliens or life on other planets.

Without further ado, here’s our list of the best Sci-Fi RPGs that you can play right now.

16 STALKER: SHADOW OF CHERNOBYL

Initial Release Date March 20, 2007
Platform Microsoft Windows
Developer GSC Game World
Publisher GSC World Publishing, THQ
4/5
Story
4/5
Writing
4/5
Impact
3/5
Character Development
5/5
Exploration
3/5
Combat
STALKER SHADOW OF CHERNOBYL screenshotg

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. – Shadow of Chernobyl, Image Source: GSC Game World

There’s nothing out there quite like STALKER. The developers essentially took a real-life event (The Chernobyl nuclear disaster) and, with a little inspiration from Arkady and Boris Strugatsky excellent novella Roadside Picnic, and Tarkovsky’s surreal soviet film Stalker, put a dreary, post-apocalyptic spin on it.

Back when it was announced in the early 2000s, many critics and gamers alike rushed to declare STALKER as the saviour of gaming. With a troubled development that spanned over seven years, STALKER was far from being the one true chosen of gaming. Instead, despite (or maybe because of) game development challenges, we got an excellent blend of RPG and FPS elements.

STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl is not a game for everyone. The atmosphere is moody, depressing and at times outright terrifying. The gameplay is clunky and rigid. Sometimes it feels like an amalgam of ideas and designs that the developers didn’t have time or experience to implement fully.

But underneath the rough and unpolished surface sits one of the best, and most novel RPGs out there. The huge area surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear disaster is lush with flora and dangerous mutants. Occasionally, you’ll encounter either aggressive bandits or adventuring stalkers who you can trade items with. There are also a few settlements where the player, and other stalkers rest, buy supplies, eat, drink and share stories about their adventures.

The place where Shadow of Chernobyl excels the most is in the atmosphere department. Thanks to clever usage of dynamic weather effects, eerie sound effects, and the day-night-cycle, roaming the nuclear wasteland is a truly immersive experience. There’s nothing like STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl out there, so make sure to try it out – you’re missing one of the best Sci-Fi RPGs out there.

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15 NIER AUTOMATA

Initial Release Date February 23, 2017
Platform PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Xbox One
Developer PlatinumGames
Publisher Square Enix
5/5
Story
4/5
Writing
4/5
Impact
5/5
Character Development
4/5
Exploration
5/5
Combat
nier automata official photo

Nier: Automata, Image Source: PlatinumGames

If you thought you would never feel attached to robots, think again – Nier: Automata will trigger a whirlwind of emotions inside you akin to a 90’s housewife listening to Andrea Bocelli’s Con Te Partiro for the first time.

All jokes aside, Nier: Automata is arguably one of the most melancholic RPGs that were ever made. You play as YoRHa No. 2 B (or 2B, for short), a battle android whose primary traits are calm and composed. The year is 11945 AD, and the world is ravaged by a proxy war between human-made androids and the machine armies created by invaders from another world.

What makes Nier: Automata so special, besides the compelling setting, is the story, the direction it takes, and the way the developers used the medium to present it. It is also a pretty eccentric game, as far as mainstream titles go. It asks a lot of the player, and in an era where mainstream games are made to pander to the masses, Nier steered away from standard conventions and tried something new.

Similar to New Vegas, Nier: Automata is not afraid to lock away content and entire branching storylines due to player decision. It’s a compelling oddity, a splash of color in an industry dominated by repetitive rehashes. It’s far from perfect, but it’s still one of the best.

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  • deus ex best cyberpunk games The 10 Best Cyberpunk Games of All Time - Neons, gadgets, megacorporations, cool bikes and street samurai - that the essence of cyberpunk. Here is a list of the games that perfectly capture the cyberpunk spirit.

14 HORIZON ZERO DAWN

Initial Release Date 28 February 2017
Platform PlayStation 4
Developer Guerrilla Games
Publisher Sony Interactive Entertainment
4/5
Story
4/5
Writing
5/5
Impact
4/5
Character Development
5/5
Exploration
4/5
Combat
horizon zero dawn screenshot

Horizon: Zero Dawn, Image Source: Guerilla Games

Nobody knows exactly what transpired before the events of Horizon: Zero Dawn, but one thing is clear: the world is far from being ideal.

The story takes places in the 31st century, in a world where humans have regressed to a sort of tribal societies after an unknown catastrophe struck the world. It doesn’t matter anymore because it was so long ago that finding out what happened wouldn’t change squat.

You play as Aloy, a hunter who ventures through a post-apocalyptic world ruled by robotic creatures. Thanks to her profession, players have multiple ways to kill enemies – they can riddle the creatures with arrows, set traps, use explosives and so on and so forth.

The loot obtained from said creatures is vital to your survival, as the components can be used to craft various useful items. Similar to flesh and bone animals, the machine’s behavior depends on the particularities of their ‘’species’’ – some travel in herds, while others prefer being solitary.

What turned Horizon: Zero Down from a run-of-the-mill RPG into an instant classic is the compelling setting or, rather, the gracious manner in which the developers managed to blend the mechanics with the world.

The sense of discovery that you feel when finding a long-forgotten audio log, the way the world is designed to encourage exploration, as well as the behavioral intricacies of the machines make you feel like a true post-apocalyptic hunter who is always looking for ways to increase their chances of survival.

Other things that deserve praise are Ashly Burch’s and Lance Reddick’s (Cedric Daniels from The Wire and Philip Broyles from Fringe, in case the name sounded familiar) performances, which add real depth to their characters, the dialogue system and the focus feature. Horizon: Zero Dawn is one of the best Sci Fi RPGs of the 2010s, so make sure to check it out.

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13 Wasteland 2

Initial Release Date September 19, 2014
Platform Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux,[7] PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Developer inXile Entertainment
Publisher Deep Silver
4/5
Story
4/5
Writing
5/5
Impact
4/5
Character Development
5/5
Exploration
4/5
Combat
wasteland 2 screenshot

Wasteland 2, Image Source: inXile Entertainment

Wasteland 2 is everything a modern cRPG modeled after the classics should be. It’s long (frustratingly long by modern standards, as a matter of fact), deep and very difficult.

On the one hand, the egregious difficulty and its intricate nature only adds to its post-apocalyptic setting. On the other hand, the same things that makes Wasteland 2 such a great RPG might steer many rookies of this genre away from the game.

Wasteland 2 is set in an alternate history timeline, in which a nuclear war (I mean, what else?) between the United States and the Soviet Union turned the entire world in a desolated, irradiated wasteland. Before (understandably) making comparisons with the Fallout series, it is worth mentioning that the Wasteland universe is anything but quirky.

While the Fallout universe is characterized by a quirky, retro-futuristic take on 1950’s technology, Wasteland 2 goes for a more grounded setting with real-world technology. In other words, in Wasteland 2, there are less cowboy robots that speak with the same cadence as the narrator from The Big Lebowski and more, well, real-world stuff.

Wasteland 2 has all the hallmarks of classic CRPGs – branching quest-lines, deep character creation tools, multiple choices for progression and skills, and great dialogue and descriptions. There’s one problem, though – the game takes up to 30 hours to truly blossom and open up. Wasteland 2 asks for a lot of patience, but it pays off in a big way later on.

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12 Alpha Protocol

Initial Release Date May 27, 2010
Platform Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Developer Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher Sega
5/5
Story
4/5
Writing
4/5
Impact
4/5
Character Development
3/5
Exploration
3/5
Combat
alpha protocol screenshot

Alpha Protocol, Image Source: Obsidian Entertainment

Here’s the thing: we’re judging Alpha Protocol on what it could’ve been, and not what it became due to Sega being Sega. Alpha Protocol is, simply put, Obsidian at its peak, before releasing Pillars of Eternity and steering on a more stable direction.

Like Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, it’s a wonderful mess full of great ideas and concepts. Sadly, the development was plagued by behind the scenes problems, delayed several times, spent the early part of its production cycle without a project director or lead designer and faced tons of production issues, caused mainly by disagreements between Sega and Obsidian.

This lead to several issues and costly and time-consuming scenes cut out entirely from the game. The released product was a bug-ridden mess with imbalanced and at parts broken game-play. But when it’s good, man, it’s good.

The first inspired choice that Obsidian made was setting their game not in a fantasy or a far-future universe, but in a vaguely sci-fi modern setting. You play as Michael Thornton, a highly-skilled secret agent that works for Alpha Protocol, a clandestine United States agency that undergoes covert black-ops missions.

The game is one big omage to spy thrillers in RPG form, taking inspiration from James Bond and Jason Bourne, with the protagonist being loosely based on 24’s Jack Bauer.

Though the gameplay itself and the shooting mechanics are clunky and in parts broken, the timed dialogue system (which forces players to make quick decisions), the plot and the multi-branching quests are what propelled Alpha Protocol to cult-classic status.

Taking cues from Deus Ex, Alpha Protocol doesn’t shy away from putting the craziest conspiracy theories at the center of the plot and stretching the limits of plausibility as much as possible without losing believability.

This could’ve been the modern Deus Ex, but a troubling development prevented it from achieving its true potential. Maybe, maybe if Sega gets their collective heads out of their *expletive* and sells the rights back to Obsidian (who expressed interest in developing a sequel), we’ll see another Alpha Protocol.

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11 FALLOUT 2

Initial Release Date September 1998
Platform Windows, Mac OS X
Developer Black Isle Studios
Publisher Interplay Productions
5/5
Story
5/5
Writing
5/5
Impact
4/5
Character Development
5/5
Exploration
4/5
Combat
fallout 2 rpg screenshot

Fallout 2, Image Source: Black Isle Studios, now defunct

While the original Fallout was a huge success for industry legends Interplay, it’s not as big in scope as people would imagine. Fallout 2 was the quintessential high-quality sequel, as it expands the world considerably and adds even more moral ambiguity in a universe where it was already the norm.

In Fallout 2, set 80 years after the events of the first game, you play as the descendant of the original hero, who has since become a sort of wasteland legend. You are tasked with finding the Garden of Creation Kit, a device which is rumored to be able to create thriving communities out of nothing. With nothing but the Vault Dweller’s (the original protagonist) jumpsuit, a PIPBoy, a water flask, a spear and some cash, you go in search of said device.

Of course, nobody is forcing you to rush towards your main objective. Playing as a tribal villager instead of a Vault Dweller means that the player protagonist is not as naive to the goings of the wasteland. This fact alone makes some of the more ‘’controversial’’ decisions that the player character takes even darker, as they don’t come out of naivete, rather a cunningness gained only after years of surviving the brutal wastelands.

But despite the darker subtexts, the world of Fallout 2 is lively and charming. The game is filled with a wide cast of interesting characters and offers a degree of player agency unmatched in the series until Fallout New Vegas. If you want to try out this classic series, start with Fallout 2 and then pick up the original.

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10 MASS EFFECT

Initial Release Date November 20, 2007
Platform Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3
Developer BioWare
Publisher Microsoft Game Studios, Electronic Arts
5/5
Story
5/5
Writing
5/5
Impact
5/5
Character Development
3/5
Exploration
4/5
Combat
mass effect 1 rpg promo image

Mass Effect, Image Source: Bioware

The misadventures of Commander Shepard have already been meticulously documented since the first game’s release in 2007, but we couldn’t do an honest top of the best RPGs without mentioning this gem. Mass Effect dropped in a time when RPGs with elves and dwarves were still the norm, so seeing an RPG adopting a more grounded setting (again, as grounded as a game with aliens and space soldiers can be), was truly refreshing.

Mass Effect is probably the RPGest of the series, as the gameplay leans more on the KOTOR style of doing things in terms of character progression, with the combat being more action-packed. It even employs a similar binary moral system, only instead of being built around good and evil notions, players can either be Paragons (altruistic, empathetic, caring) or Renegades (basically assholes with good intentions). Ultimately, Commander Shepard is a good guy who has the galaxy’s best interests at heart, whose fate can be influenced by the player’s actions.

The cast contains a wide variety of compelling, well-written characters that may or may not agree with Shepherd’s actions, which can also be romanced if certain requirements are met. Notable amongst them is Garrus Vakarian, a smug, wise-cracking Turian who joins Shepard in his quest to save the galaxy, Wrex, a Krogan war master who’s two inconveniences away from smashing everything in sight and Liara T’Sonni, an expert in history and technology.

Mass Effect, with it’s Sci-Fi, yet grounded universe, compelling characters, fascinating lore and fantastic writing, marked the birth of an incredible franchise. It’s not the greatest of the series, but it’s a good starting point.

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9 System Shock 2

Initial Release Date August 11, 1999
Platform Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3
Developer Irrational Games, Looking Glass Studios
Publisher Electronic Arts
5/5
Story
5/5
Writing
5/5
Impact
4/5
Character Development
4/5
Exploration
4/5
Combat
system shock 2 gameplay

System Shock 2, Image Source: Looking Glass Studios, now defunct

System Shock 2 is not only a textbook example of how to aptly combine action, RPG and survival horror elements into a cohesive and enjoyable package, but also the game that pioneered methods of storytelling through gameplay that we take for granted. One of these elements is piecing the story together through doomed audio logs.

“You move like an insect. You think like an insect. You are an insect.”

The most accurate (and slightly unfair, since it precedes Deus Ex by a year) way to describe System Shock gameplay is ‘’Deus Ex in space’’. Nearly 20 years after release, System Shock 2 feels just as unsettling. The moody atmosphere of the derelict ship, the bio-engineered monsters roaming the ship (highly reminiscent of Tetsuo, The Iron Man) and the ruthless, malevolent AI SHODAN watching your every step makes for one of the best horror moments in video game history.

No matter what skills you choose for your character and how powerful you become, you will still feel like a worthless insect ready to be crushed by SHODAN on a whim, which is exactly what makes System Shock 2 mandatory to play at least once.

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8 Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Initial Release Date August 23, 2011
Platform Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Mac OS X, Wii U
Developer Eidos Montréal[
Publisher Square Enix
5/5
Story
5/5
Writing
5/5
Impact
4/5
Character Development
5/5
Exploration
4/5
Combat
deus ex human revolution official promo

Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Image Source: Eidos Montreal

Deus Ex: Invisible War got a lot of flack for steering away from the mechanics and systems that made the first one so good, so when Human Revolution was announced in 2007, people were rightfully skeptic. In the eyes of the fans, nothing could top the first game. And neither did Human Revolution, but it came so, so close to achieving that.

Similar to the original Deus Ex, Human Revolution is set in a cyberpunk near-future rife with secret organizations and conspiracies, only being a prequel, the world hasn’t gone in the dumpster just yet. The story takes places in 2027, 25 years prior to Deus Ex.

The years leading to Human Revolution have been marked with tremendous improvements in human society, including effectively combating global warming and curing a wide variety of diseases. Furthermore, the standard of living has been improved by biomechanical augmentations, artificial organs that boost human performance, kicking a so-called ‘’Modern Renaissance’’. This triggered a new social division, with augmented people representing the rich upper class, while those lacking such things being relegated to the lower classes. Sounds Deus Ex enough, right?

Human Revolution took the first game’s consecrated formula and put a fresh, modern twist to it. The open-ended nature of the first game, multiple approaches to accomplish an objective, as well as game-breaking opportunities are still there, only this time wrapped in a more attractive package. While Human Revolution has only two fully-explorable hubs (Detroit and Hengsha), as opposed to the original’s three (not counting Liberty Island and smaller, mission-locked areas), they compensate through sheer size. Exploring every nook and cranny of Hengsha alone can eat up to 30 hours of your life.

The plot is more grounded and fleshed-out this time around, while still retaining some of the cheese and silliness of the original Deus Ex. The writing, as well as the characters, are a marked improvement over the original, with the protagonist, Adam Jensen, being one of the most compelling video-game protagonists in recent video game history. It’s still not as good as the original but hey, at least in this one you can punch holes through walls with his robot arms.

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7 ANACHRONOX

Initial Release Date June 27, 2001
Platform Microsoft Windows
Developer Ion Storm
Publisher Eidos Interactive
4/5
Story
5/5
Writing
4/5
Impact
5/5
Character Development
4/5
Exploration
5/5
Combat
ANACHRONOX rpg gameplay

Anachronox, Image Source: Ion Storm, now defunct

So, here’s the thing: this game looks ugly. Very, very ugly. It wasn’t a technological marvel at release, and it certainly hasn’t aged well. However, underneath the poor graphical fidelity is a deep and absolutely hilarious RPG that took great risks in playing with the conventional tropes of the genre. As you would expect from a game developed by Ion Storm, the brains behind Deus Ex.

The story follows Sylvester ‘’Sly Boots’’ Bucelli, a human former private investigator. Aptly described as ‘’a bold, brash and overconfident 29-year old man’’, Sly Boots now runs his agency in a rented storage room above a seedy bar after getting himself into trouble with the criminal underworld. His only friends are PAL-18, a sarcastic robot and Fatima, his secretary.

The game’s setting and story can be summed up as a cyberpunk-noir version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Few games are as funnily written as Anachronox, with some of the humor coming from Sly’s resigned face as he’s drawn into one disastrous situation after another.

The combat is turn-based, similar to what you would see in Final Fantasy, so you can expect a lot of depth and choices. Sadly, Ion Storm’s Dallas offices were closed mere days after the game’s release, shelving any plans for a sequel.

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6 DISHONORED

Initial Release Date 9 October 2012
Platform Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Developer Arkane Studios
Publisher Bethesda Softworks
4/5
Story
5/5
Writing
5/5
Impact
4/5
Character Development
5/5
Exploration
4/5
Combat
dishonored promo image

Dishonored, Image Source: Arkane Studios

Okay, let’s get one thing out of the day: Dishonored isn’t an RPG in the traditional sense of the word. But this game is so good and innovative in some places that it’s worth including in our list, even with the risk of diluting the definition of RPGs.

Dishonored is a highly immersive title that features an interesting and very creative steampunk universe. You play as Corvo, an imperial officer who is framed for the Empress’s murder after a successful political coup organized by a rival faction. While awaiting his public execution in jail, Corvo is visited by The Outsider, a supernatural being who seeks people in unusual situations and entrusts them with powers.

After The Outsider gives Corvo supernatural powers, he (you) has two options: either wreak havoc and seek revenge by abusing his powers and killing everybody in sight, or using his powers to seek justice without hurting a single soul.

The gameplay is built around this moral binarity, as players can choose to kill everybody either stealthily or in the open or use stealthy, non-lethal methods to progress through the level and build their characters accordingly. The levels are relatively open-ended and the objectives can be tackled in various ways. There’s also some side-quests sprinkled throughout the levels whose endings will affect the overall story in one way or the other.

But the real reason why we decided to include this game on our list is the lore. While playing, I couldn’t help but notice some similarities between the game’s universe and China Mieville’s novel Perdido Street Station.

The dilapidated, rat and plague invested ghettos which are put in high contrast with the opulent lifestyles that the upper-class lead; the political corruption; the social turmoil. These, and many other background details (which are revealed through letters, posters and notes throughout the game) make for a very interesting universe that was greatly expanded in its sequel, Dishonored 2. It’s a great game with fun gameplay and compelling universe, so if you haven’t played it until now, make sure to check it out.

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5 FALLOUT: NEW VEGAS

Initial Release Date October 19, 2010
Platform Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Developer Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher Bethesda Softworks
5/5
Story
5/5
Writing
5/5
Impact
5/5
Character Development
5/5
Exploration
5/5
Combat
fallout new vegas promo imagee

Fallout: New Vegas, Image Source: Obsidian Entertainment

What’s better than roaming the nuclear wastelands of Eastern United States and killing mutants? Roaming the wastelands of Western United States with its lush, colorful vegetation and killing mutants, of course.

Developed by RPG behemoths Obsidian, with the direction and creative genius of industry darling Chris Avellone, Fallout: New Vegas has since become one of the best titles the genre has to offer.

While Fallout 3 is still a decent game on its own, New Vegas is the closest the modern series has come to emulating the freedom of choice, immersion and atmosphere of the original series developed by Interplay.

The story and narrative can be molded however the player wishes. Want to play it as a straight-up revenge story by hunting down the people who left you for dead at the beginning of the game? You can do that. Want to roam the Nevada desert in search of loot and money-making opportunities? You can do that. Want to play the game as a straight-up wasteland gangster? This game delivers in spades.

Along with the freedom of choice, Fallout: New Vegas has one of the best questing systems in RPG history. Not only because of the quality of the quests themselves and the great writing, but how they branch into multiple paths depending on the player’s choices.

Unlike other RPGs which are designed in such a way that players can access all content in one playthrough, leading to some pretty egregious narrative and game-play dichotomies (like in Skyrim, where the Thieves Guild will send you to steal an item from the leader of the Mage’s Guild personal quarters even if you’ve become said leader), New Vegas is not afraid to lock out content and entire quest lines due to player choice.

There’s a lot more to say about this great game, but suffice to say, this is the closest thing we’ll ever to get to the feeling and atmosphere of the original series. That is, of course, until Obsidian’s The Outer Worlds hits the shelves and destroys Bethesda’s last shred of relevance in the RPG scene.

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4 MASS EFFECT 2

Initial Release Date January 26, 2010
Platform Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Developer BioWare
Publisher Electronic Arts
5/5
Story
5/5
Writing
5/5
Impact
5/5
Character Development
4/5
Exploration
5/5
Combat
mass effect 2 promo

Mass Effect 2, Image Source: Bioware

If you really think about it, Mass Effect 1 and 2 are mirror images of KOTOR 1 & 2 in terms of style in progression. While the first Mass Effect was a grand, bombastic tribute to the Sci-Fi genre, featuring equal amounts of camp and drama, Mass Effect 2 is smaller, more personal in scope. Sound familiar?

Mass Effect 2 almost plays as a heist film. Commander Shepard roams the galaxy in his new ship, looking to recruit the perfect candidates for a high-risk, high-reward suicide mission and make the necessary preparations, which includes garnering resources, finding gear and upgrading the ship. This time around, the plot is more intimate, too, as players get the opportunity to know old characters on a more personal level and find out their fears, anxieties and reasons for joining Shepherd in his efforts to save the galaxy.

Mass Effect 2 is one of the few instances wherein stripping down the RPG elements rather than enhancing them made for a better RPG. Once you get around to playing the game, it makes total sense. The original Mass Effect, while ambitious in scope with its blend of action and RPG elements, felt like a game that was unsure of its place. For Mass Effect 2’s creative take on RPG systems is a better fit, making for bombastic and satisfying squad-based combat encounters. It is surely the best of the series.

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3 STAR WARS: KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC

Initial Release Date July 15, 2003
Platform Xbox, Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, Android
Developer BioWare
Publisher LucasArts
5/5
Story
5/5
Writing
5/5
Impact
5/5
Character Development
4/5
Exploration
4/5
Combat
kotor 1

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Image Source: Bioware

Imagine this: it’s 2003, and you’re hungry for high-quality Star Wars media. Unfortunately, the dreadful Star Wars: The Clone Wars dropped just last year, so it’s safe to say that the franchise is doomed for eternity. Say goodbye to well-written characters, plots that make sense and compelling practical effects. Now, it’s just Anakin Skywalker whining about sand.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was unique because it took a different approach. Instead of setting the story in the official canon, Bioware took the action thousands of years before Luke Skywalker destroyed the Death Star.

Instead of being light and family-friendly, Knights of the Old Republic is dirty and gritty – there’s gangsters, motorcycle gangs, plagues, political intrigue, social commentary and Jedis who are disillusioned with the Order and the Force. It’s a mature and realistic (well, as realistic as a game about space priests and weird looking aliens can be) take on the Star Wars universe.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was not only the first game that let players explore the vast Star Wars Universe, but the first one to allow players to become either a good-two-shoes Jedi, or a ruthless Sith lord. Although the binary moral system lacks the nuance and subtlety of other RPGs (an issue which the sequel will address), it’s very well designed and makes sense in the context of the story. There are plenty of good stuff in this game, from the excellent character progression to the large cast of interesting side characters, which features an old disillusioned Jedi hermit, a teenage Twi’Lek, a witty Wookie, and a genocidal, misanthropic robot who would exterminate all organic life if given the chance. It’s a wholly unique approach of the Star Wars universe, and one that hasn’t been matched as of today.

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2 STAR WARS KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC 2: THE SITH LORDS

Initial Release Date December 6, 2004
Platform Xbox, Microsoft Windows, Linux, OS X
Developer Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher LucasArts
5/5
Story
5/5
Writing
5/5
Impact
5/5
Character Development
5/5
Exploration
5/5
Combat
kotor 2 gameplay

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2, Image Source: Obsidian Entertainment

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, the much-expected sequel, is in many ways objectively better than its predecessor. While the first entry in the series retained some of the cheesiness and bombast of the films, probably as to not alienate old fans of the universe, Knights of the Old Republic 2 has a wholly different vibe. It’s quiet; it’s understated; it’s philosophical. At times, it’s downright bleak and depressing.

The story picks of five years after the events of the previous game and follows the story of the Jedi Exile, a Jedi who’s been expelled from the Order following some questionable decisions during the Mandalorian Wars. In the meantime, the Jedi Order has been almost completely exterminated by the Sith, with the remaining Jedi either renouncing their allegiance to the Order or plotting in hiding.

So, what makes Kotor 2 even better than the first one? While the first KOTOR was a tribute to the Star Wars universe, the sequel was a merciless deconstruction, with a slower-paced story that went into the nitty gritty of the universe.

In KOTOR 2, the Jedi and the Sith are not tight-knitted representations of good and evil any more – they’re two sides of the same coin, two forces that can be equally destructive to the galaxy. Central to this philosophical debate about the nature of the Force is Kreia, an ex-Jedi instructor known for her controversial teachings. The cast is further enriched by several characters who are neither good nor bad – but can be swayed in either direction depending on the player’s actions and decisions.

KOTOR 2 is an objective improvement over its predecessor, both from a narrative and mechanical standpoint. However, as many Obsidian games, its development was troubled and rushed, and was released with a lot of content cut out. Fortunately, much of that cut content was restored by a fan-made mod, an obligatory install if you want to try this game out.

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1 DEUS EX

Initial Release Date June 17, 2000
Platform Microsoft Windows, Mac OS, PlayStation 2
Developer Ion Storm
Publisher Eidos Interactive
5/5
Story
5/5
Writing
5/5
Impact
5/5
Character Development
5/5
Exploration
5/5
Combat
deus ex gameplay

Deus Ex, Image Source: Ion Storm, now defunct

Deus Ex is a very strange choice, and even the most ardent admirers of this game can agree with this statement. The graphics weren’t great even for the times, the sound effects are hilarious, to say the least, and the story can be described as the wet-dream of the nuttiest conspiracy theorist.

And yet, despite all of its flaws (or maybe because?), it’s one of the greatest games ever made. It’s no wonder why Deus Ex is one of the subjects of the ‘’Whenever you mention it, someone reinstalls it’’ meme. So, what makes this game so compelling, nearly 20 years after its release?

Deus Ex’s strongest legacy is arguably its systemic, emergent game-play. The core gameplay is based around making the wackiest plans, experimenting with different builds and seeing how they affect the game world. The gameplay is designed in such a way that it offers players endless ways to manipulate, and even break the game which gives Deus Ex nearly infinite replayability.

The levels (expect maybe Liberty Island, the introductory mission) are open-ended and offer multiple ways for players to approach them. Say you want to infiltrate an objective. You can do so by:

  • Placing explosives on the front door and go in guns blazing.
  • Picklock a side-door and bypass all guards.
  • Go through the nearest vent.
  • Learn enemy patrol routes and accomplish the objective (and even the game) without harming a single soul.

The plot of Deus Ex, though it’s filled with the craziest possible conspiracy theories (quite expected since the game was released in 2000, right after the y2k and end of the millennium craze), works because it fits the dystopian, economically and socially depressed setting. If Blade Runner and Neuromancer ever conceived a love child, it would eventually blossom into something similar to Deus Ex.

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Conclusion

This wraps up our list of the best sci-fi RPGs. What’s your favorite? Did we miss something? Tell us in the comment section below!
Marco Giuliani

Marco Giuliani

Lead Editor

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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