These are the 20 Best RPG Games Ever: Be Who You Want to Be

Best RPGs Ever

The RPG genre is a tough one to categorize, given that every game is a role-playing game in the truest sense of the term. However, the genre’s most defining and enduring hits usually push storylines to the fore and allow us to inhabit the lives of a protagonist and help them, or ourselves, develop through dialogue decisions, collecting inventory, or building up skillsets. The best RPGs can suck us in for hundreds of hours and have delivered some of the most iconic titles in video game history. Let’s look at 20 of the best RPG games ever.

20. Best RPGs Ever: The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings

The Witcher 2
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The depth and scale of the wonderful mythical universe created by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski may only be getting its due credit now with the recent release of Netflix’s The Witcher, but video game enthusiasts are already well acquainted with Geralt and Co by way of CD Projekt’s excellent series of games. 2011’s second installment was a huge step up from its predecessor and really changed the way RPGs could utilize the concept of choice in a game.

Essentially developing two separate games alongside each other, our titular Witcher Geralt is faced with a key decision early in the game that will set him on his way down two very different paths. Blending together a ruthlessly cruel gameworld with the moral ambiguity and sense of what if? makes for one hell of a gaming experience, and one which is sure to be revisited by countless new fans now that Geralt has been brought to life by Henry Cavill. 

19. Best RPGs Ever: Fallout 3

Fallout 3
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Bethesda’s third installment in its post-apocalyptic franchise moved the setting from the west coast of America to the former political heartlands surrounding Washington DC. While the jump between the first two games was minimal, Fallout 3 blew the doors off the whole experience. Opening up the desolate, but surprisingly dense, nuclear wasteland and placing us in a first-person perspective, Bethesda set the tone for the three dimensional future of RPGs. 

The meticulous level of detail put into bringing The Capitol to life in a post-life world, coupled with the introduction of new game systems such as VATS alongside tried and tested dialogue and skill options, are pivotal to Fallout 3’s standing the test of time almost 12 years after release. The truly innovative nature of Fallout 3 is perhaps the biggest failing of Fallout 4, which failed to move the series on like its predecessor. 

18. Best RPGs Ever: Oblivion

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The folks over at Bethesda aren’t bad at putting together a good ol’ RPG, are they? 2006’s fourth entry into the already classic Elder Scrolls series is one of the undisputed game-changers in the RPG space. The concept of being unleashed into an open-world with the remit to do what you like when you like was totally alien in video games and really changed what we’ve come to expect from games. 

To today’s youth, the graphics may look a bit too clunky or cartoonish, but in 2006 they were revolutionary and kicked the bar up a notch for other studios to follow suit. Added to that the excellent voice cast, including Patrick Stewart and Sean Bean, backed by a BAFTA-winning soundtrack, and you’ve got a recipe for an instant classic. Oblivion walked so Geralt and so many others before and after him could run. 

17. Best RPGs Ever: Deus Ex

Deus Ex
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This turn of the millennium classic may look outrageously outdated today, but lest we forget that 20 years is a hell of a long time in gaming, and a modern recreation of the original Deus Ex in a sandbox-style like Minecraft would be immensely welcome. This game was one of the first to really showcase the impact of choice on not only your surrounding environment but on the NPCs that inhabit that game world and how they react to you. Deus Ex essentially lit the torch that would be carried by the likes of Skyrim, Fable, and countless more. 

Deus Ex was originally conceived in 1994, well before this author was even born, by Warren Spector as somewhat of a counter ballast to the already saturated genre of straight fantasy or science fiction video games. Set in a dystopian, cyberpunkish 2052, we are thrown headfirst into the world of souped-up counter-terrorism agent JC Denton as he sets about unraveling a great conspiracy, which brings him across the paths of everyone from the Triads to the Illuminati. Almost 20 years later, and studios are still trying to formulate a 1984-esque story as complex and hard-hitting. 

16. Best RPGs Ever: Diablo 2

Diablo 2
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Again, another entry from the year 2000, and undoubtedly another title that more than left its mark of the RPG genre. Following on from 1997’s point and click classic, which was simple yet hugely popular at the time, Diablo 2 is the perfect sequel to what was already an incredibly dark and arcane story. A world that pits angels against demons was largely unheard of in the nascent world of video gaming, which at the time was dominated by our Italian plumber friend, but the Diablo series did a lot to break down the walls of what studios could do with a story. 

Diablo 2 stands above its predecessor purely because it is greater than the sum of its parts. From that iconic dark and ambient-laden soundtrack to the lengthy story pitting ultimate good against ultimate evil, Diablo 2 is a masterclass in how to create true atmospheric resonance despite the technological constraints of what developers could do at the time. Nowadays, it’s pretty easy to create an immersive and memorable game world with modern game engines, but 20 years ago, it was a stylistic feat well worthy of inclusion on this list.

15. Best RPGs Ever: Baldurs Gate 2: Shadows of Amn

Baldurs Gate
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Baldurs Gate 2 is a prime example of the benefits of putting power to the people. The followup to 1998’s first installment was developed by BioWare with the sole intention of improving upon its predecessor in every way possible. The studio asked its players for their suggestions in what could be done better, and these included 800 x 600 resolution, 3D support, and character kits—all of which were included and really contributed to making Baldur’s Gate 2 one of the best follow-ups in gaming history. 

As enjoyable as all these additions were, and as much fun as we got from the massive environments and thrilling turn-based tactical combat, Shadow of Amn’s greatest strength is its characters. We awake in a torchlit dungeon to assume the role of the offspring of Bhaal, the God of Murder, and set out into the world to discover a diverse spectrum of sometimes loveable, sometimes terrifying rogues. 20 years on, who could forget the hilarious warrior Minsc and his pet hamster Boo?

14. Best RPGs Ever: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild

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Okay, so time to jump past the turn of the millennium and back to a time when this author wasn’t in diapers. And yeah, technically, the classic Nintendo series is actually an action-adventure franchise, but given the level of choice and depth that Breath of The Wild brought to the early days of the Switch era, it would be criminal to leave it off this list. That moment shortly after Link awakens when we walk out onto the clifftop to be greeted by the sun in our faces, and this awe-inspiring, unrelentingly beautiful world opens before us is worthy of inclusion alone. 

Breath of The Wild was a bold step forward in limitless choice and an even bolder advancement for Nintendo and its new console, which had never before seen a title like this in any of its incarnations. Generally, games of this scale are reserved for the processing power of Xbox, Playstation, or even PC, but Breath of The Wild really showed Nintendo’s naysayers and fans alike that the horizon is your limit—literally.

13. Best RPGs Ever: Bloodborne

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Partially inspired by the neo-Gothic works of Bram Stoker and HP Lovecraft, and drawing heavily on the Dark Souls series by the same developer and director, 2015’s Bloodborne could’ve gone in two very different directions. It could have been labeled as a jaunty, rehashed knock off. But it isn’t; it’s a true triumph of incredibly difficult gameplay, masterful sound design, and overall atmosphere, all culminating in one of the most iconic titles of the last decade. 

Awaking in the decrepit Gothic world of Yharnam to be greeted by a gravelly toned nightmare of a man, head stopped low below the brim of his hat, he looks up to reveal empty sockets, and he tells us of the blood transfusion he’s about to perform on us. A startling beginning, to say the least, and it only gets darker from there. Traversing through a city beset with monsters straight out of the deepest realms of our nightmares and other violently deranged inhabitants, Bloodborne may also lay claim to the titles of the scariest and hardest game ever made. 

12. Best RPGs Ever: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2

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Much like recent sequels, Star Wars games have proven very hit or miss down the years. For every brilliant return to George Lucas’s Universe, such as The Mandalorian, there’s a terrible box-office plundering trilogy to go alongside it (we’re looking at you, Abrams). For every Battlefront, there’s a Force Unleashed, something for fans to naively get their hopes up for only to have them inevitably dashed. Fortunately, KotOR 2 falls in line with The Mandalorian in that it surprises everyone in being actually… good?

Tasked with bringing PC developers onto consoles, Microsoft laid down the mantle to BioWare to develop an RPG that would not only explode sales of its new console, the Xbox, but also one that would stand the test of time and adequately fit into the canon of one of the greatest series of all time. BioWare went all in, assembling a full voice cast for the crew of the Ebon Hawk as we galavanted the universe 4,000 years before the films, dishing out Jedi Justice left, right, and center. That fans are begging for a follow-up 16 years on is perhaps the greatest compliment. 

11. Best RPGs Ever: Fable 3

Fable 3
Source: YouTube/00JaRReD00

You never really know how much you need a satirical, Victorian-themed, zero-to-hero, bathroom humor RPG until someone hands you a satirical, Victorian-themed, zero-to-hero, bathroom humor RPG. Add to that an all-star voice cast offering up their best fart jokes, including the likes of Ben Kingsley, Stephen Fry, Michael Fassbender, Zoe Wanamaker, and Monthy Python’s very own John Cleese, and before you know it, you’ve got a winning formula for one of the best RPGs ever. 

Okay, so it might sound a little unconventional, but that lack of convention and incredible originality was a breath of fresh air to an RPG genre that was stagnating towards the end of the Xbox 360 era. Taking on the role of the Hero of Albion, we’re faced with a tough choice right from the beginning—to kill our tyrannical ruler, who also happens to be our brother and love interest (yeah, you thought fart jokes were bad) or a group of protestors. Soon after, we’re set free into the world of Albion, tasked with raising 6.5 million in gold to save the world. Aloof, at times dark, always fun. 

10. Best RPGs Ever: Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

Ni No Kuni
Source: YouTube/stampylonghead

On the face of it, the Ni No Kuni games look tried, tested, and if we’re honest, a little boring. But as the old saying goes, never judge a Studio Ghibli-produced RPG anime by its graphics. Underneath the hood, it’s fair to say that Wrath of the White Witch is anything but boring, roping us in with a gripping and emotionally resonant story complemented by characters we form a genuine attachment to. 

Ni No Kuni sinks its hooks in right from the get-go with the death of our protagonist Oliver’s mother as she tries to save us from drowning. Oliver is one of those lead characters who feels instantly iconic from the moment we first take charge, an unassuming everyman as far departed from the swashbuckling heroes we’re well acquainted with; it’s his innate goodness that really strikes a chord. Whereas most lead characters nowadays are deeply flawed, troubled antiheroes, Oliver leaves his mark on the RPG genre by representing all that is pure in the world. 

9. Best RPGs Ever: God of War

God of War
Source: YouTube/GhostRobo

At its core, God of War is more of an action-adventure title that deploys elements of the RPG genre, but those elements are so deep and bring so much to the overall gaming experience that it’s hard to leave the 2018 reinvention of the iconic series off this list. While it may be the eighth game overall, and the eighth title chronologically, God of War is actually a follow-up to 2010’s God of War 3. The Nordic reinterpretation of the Greek mythological masterpiece felt like an instant classic from the very first moment we stepped back into the world of the now-retired God of War, Kratos.

There is literally nothing negative that can be said about this game. The narrative is gripping and emotional, wonderfully showcasing the difficulties a former Greek god has in teaching his young son Atreus of the cruelties of the world, the art direction is so jawdroppingly gorgeous it belongs in a museum, the score is so spinetingling it would comfortably win an Oscar were it placed in a Peter Jackson epic, and the combat system jumps off the screen so well that this writer found himself flinching more than once. Bravo, Sony. 

8. Best RPGs Ever: Final Fantasy VI

Final Fantasy
Source: YouTube/Adric Braithwaite

The Final Fantasy series is arguably the greatest RPG canon of all time, and certainly the best to come out of Japan. Of all the nineties entries to the iconic series, FF6 stands head and shoulders above its contemporaries. Breaking from the previously cheerful nature of its predecessors, the sixth installment took a notably darker turn and broke with convention by actually letting the bad guy win halfway through the game, transforming the World of Balance into the aptly named World of Ruin. 

Another major departure in this game is the setting, with FF6 shedding the medieval theme in favor of a sort of hybrid cyberpunk/Victoria era style. Tackling uncomfortable and challenging subjects like war, genocide, and suicide, FF6 was lightyears ahead of the industry and broke down so many walls for games that we now consider classics in the RPG genre. This venture into the unknown, set against a stunning backdrop and hair-raising score, ensure Final Fantasy VI earns its place in the annals of RPG history. 

7. Best RPGs Ever: Chrono Trigger

Chrono Trigger
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Looking to launch a new series off the back of the success of Final Fantasy, Square brought together what they called ‘The Dream Team,’ and they certainly lived up to the title. Just three people made up this team; Hironobu Sakaguchi was the creator of Final Fantasy, Yuji Horii created the Dragon Quest series, and Akira Toriyama is a celebrated manga artist behind Dragon Ball. As far as an anime series goes, that’s literally the holy trinity of developers and designers. 

And boy did they deliver. 1995’s Chrono Trigger is groundbreaking in so many different aspects. The multiple endings were adored by fans who could go back and play the game over and over without fear of boredom, the plot-related side quests excellently developed characters’ backstories, while the unique battle system and detailed graphics were unprecedented for a mid-nineties Super Nintendo Release. 

6. Best RPGs Ever: Fallout: New Vegas

Fallout NV
Source: YouTube/Hazed

Wow, a whole ten entries on the list without Bethesda, but obviously, we haven’t seen the last of the masters of the RPG. The Fallout series lay down the blueprint for what archetypal RPG should be, and 2010’s spinout New Vegas is the perfect realization of that blueprint and a high point in the series. Departing from the east coast setting of Fallout 3 and returning to the series’ roots in the west, there’s a jawdropping beauty to traversing a ghoul-infested, radioactive Mojave Desert that altered the open-world genre for the remainder of the decade. 

Why New Vegas comes in a whole 13 places above its predecessor, Fallout 3, is simple. The characters are better, the gameworld is richer and brought further to life by a wistful Western ambiance, and the DLC expands upon the universe better than any other installment in the series. 2011’s Honest Hearts installment, which brought us into the bizarrely brilliant world of post-apocalyptic Mormonism, could comfortably compete on this list as a standalone game. With New Vegas, Bethesda firmly hit the nail on the head and appear to be struggling to replicate the feat since.

5. Best RPGs Ever: Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2
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In the first installment in the Mass Effect series, Bioware firmly established the game universe as one of the most interesting sci-fi settings in or out of games. The follow-up takes that initial backdrop and crafts an action-packed RPG sci-fi canon that really is yet to be beaten. Taking on the role of Captain Shepard, either inventing a new one or carrying on your iteration from the previous game, we’re handed a deadly task by the Illusive Man, leader of Cereberus. 

And that’s what makes Mass Effect 2 so gripping because it is pretty much one big suicide mission. We know from the outset that we’re to assemble a team to venture through the mysterious Mass Relay (Big Space Hole) with every indication that we’re probably not coming back. The massive improvements to the combat system and graphics combined with a fascinating story and arguably the most powerful ending to any video game ever ensure that Mass Effect 2 is a worthy entry to our top five RPGs ever. 

4. Best RPGs Ever: Dark Souls

Dark Souls
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Dark Souls is undoubtedly one of the hardest games ever made. If you’ve never played it, be warned, you will die. You will die a lot. But, that’s probably what makes it such an iconic title. It boils the gaming experience down to its most basic—survival isn’t just a basic platform to kick on and achieve a greater goal, it is the greatest goal. This provides the whole gaming experience with an edge that makes every tiny victory feel monumental. 

The addition of an online mode, where you’ll frequently come across the ghosts of your fallen comrades huddled around fires, offers a sense of community and camaraderie that many games have tried, and most have failed, to replicate in their online modes. Despite the almost total bleakness of Dark Souls, there are sprinklings of beauty that add to the hugely rewarding experience that playing this game is. Defeating one of the earlier bosses to turn a corner and see the sun break through the clouds is a minor yet memorable moment in an otherwise misery-filled masterpiece. 

3. Best RPGs Ever: Skyrim

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While many Elder Scrolls fans, whether newly arrived to the series or regulars by the time Skyrim landed in 2011, easily put upwards of 100 hours into the game, most were certain within 10 minutes that they had just loaded up one of the greatest games ever. Why is it one of the best RPGs ever? Because it is incredibly immersive for a game that’s approaching its tenth birthday. Hours upon hours were spent, not wasted, carrying out the most minute of tasks, whether that be stacking shelves or sinking stout, to the immense satisfaction of the player. 

The greatest compliment that could be paid to Skyrim is that it’s difficult to feel fulfilled when turning it off. There’s always one more quest, one more unexplored cavern, one more skill to increase, one more chicken to catch. The Elder Scrolls is known for the depth of its lore and beauty of its environs, but Skyrim is a rare kind of personal gaming experience that lingers in the collective psyche of gamers nearly a decade later. Bethesda has done us proud many times, but it’s yet to reascend to the lofty heights of Skyrim.

2. Best RPGs Ever: World of Warcraft 

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World of Warcraft may not have been the first massively-multiplayer role-playing game (MMORPG), but it was undoubtedly the most influential. At its peak in 2010, WoW had over 12 million subscribers and had spawned countless cultural references from Leeroy Jenkins to Cartman and Co to JD and Turk; everyone was getting in on the buzz. The game was re-released last August to massive fanfare, and with total sales for the title exceeding $10 billion, it remains one of the highest-grossing video games ever. 

It may seem strange to say, but the greatest enduring strength of WoW across any of its iterations is that it’s okay to frustrate your players. It’s a key component of what made the game such a cultural phenomenon 15 years ago, and it’s a huge reason why gamers flocked to the re-release in their droves. It taught us a valuable lesson in gaming that not all adventures are sunshine and smiles, and if you set off ill-prepared, well, that’s on you. If you’re struggling to get on board with WoW, just go back and watch Leeroy Jenkins and remember how simple the internet used to be. 

1. Best RPGs Ever: The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt

The Witcher 3

Objectively speaking and totally unbiased, The Witcher 3 is the best RPG ever. No other game in the genre has ever emphasized quest narrative and character development like CD Projekt RED’s 2015 magnum opus, bringing weight and emotional resonance to every tiny detail that is yet to be replicated. The Polish studio excellently commits to the novels of Andrzej Sapkowski in a manner that would put shame upon Peter Jackson’s efforts to bring Tolkein’s Middle Earth to life. High praise indeed. 

For those of us who have followed the series from the start, or even read further into Sapowski’s works, we’re well aware that Geralt’s story is a journey of a million steps, which simply doesn’t feel like enough despite 200+ hours of gameplay. The Witcher 3 is a stunning testament to what can be achieved in the medium of video games, elevating it above TV or movies with the innumerable minute details and a phenomenal cast of characters, each on a journey of their own. Secure in its own legacy, The Witcher 3 is simply the greatest game ever. 

Featured image: DepositPhotos © VisualGeneration

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