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    Role-playing video games are very nearly as old as their unplugged cousins. One of the earliest, Dungeon, was released in the mid 70s, just a year or two after the hobby’s birth in the form of Dungeons & Dragons.

    In the following half a century, the genre has evolved in many different directions, and its modern state is incredibly diverse, with many subgenres, gameplay models, and seemingly infinite fictional settings. However rich in experiences and history the role-playing video game kingdom might be, it can also seem a little bit intimidating to get into.

    This article exists to make this incredible branch of gaming more accessible and easier to parse, helping you nail down the exact type of RPG your gaming schedule is craving.

    Let’s dive into the traits and classifications of the genre, so that you can make informed choices when selecting your next adventure.

    Role-playing games: what are they?

    In the broadest sense, RPGs allow you to take control of a dedicated or customizable character and take them on an adventure. What differentiates RPGs from every other kind of game is that they give you more control over your character and the direction of the story than most other games do.

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    "what is an RPG" is a question without an answer which would encompass all games classified as RPG, but there are several key features many of them share:

    • Mechanical progression: while many games offer the sense of getting more powerful, in RPGs you tend to have agency regarding progression. You will typically be able to decide which abilities to pick or ignore, have a chance to improve a character’s statistics (such as Strength or Resilience), or pick a specialized role which will define your playstyle for the hours to come.
    • Choices and consequences: most of the more traditional RPGs will present you with choices which will change the course of the way their story unfolds. The scale and scope of these choices and consequences will differ from game to game. In some cases, it might be entirely absent, in others making different decisions might result in a completely different story from start to finish.
    • Ownership of the character: while they don’t come close to tabletop RPGs in this aspect, the video games still allow you a measure of control over the personality and goals of the player character. It can come across in several different ways, including:
    • Blank slate filled by dialogue choices – typically a loosely defined character expressed through robust dialogue options from which you can pick ones that feel like something the character you imagined would say. Your vision for the character is still limited by the options available, but they typically allow for a wide range of possible roles to inhabit.
    • Course correction – typically used for a pre-defined character (such as Commander Shepard or Geralt of Rivia) who already has a set personality and goals, but you can nudge them in a certain direction based on what you believe is more fitting, e.g. deciding which NPC the character should side with, or whether they should be diplomatic or direct in a specific conversation.
    • A character expressed by gameplay – usually a blank slate, but unlike the first option, the dialogue choices are absent or limited, and the main form of expressing the character is by the way you interact with the world and game mechanics, e.g. choosing to become a knife-wielding assassin, or a wandering trader. There probably won’t be many personality-expressing dialogue options reinforcing your chosen way to play in the game’s story.
    • Character customizability: an aspect of the previous trait – many RPGs allow you to change the character’s appearance to make them truly your own. When appropriate, in addition to choosing/editing face, hairstyle, accessories, etc. you might also tweak the body shape, or even choose from a selection of different species, an option usually reserved to fantasy- and science fiction-adjacent worlds.
    • Non-linear story: most RPGs will allow you to choose the order in which you complete the available stories and challenges ahead. Often, in addition to more directed Main Quests you’ll also have the option to accept (or reject) sa number of sidequests, which can provide extra insight into the world, reward you with useful resources or equipment, or explore relationships with non-playable characters.

    What types of RPGs are out there?

    There are many RPG subgenres, defined usually by their immediate playstyle. This method isn’t very precise, as certain subgenres have a fair amount of overlap, but it just shows that the genre evolves faster than the language we use to describe it. Below you’ll find a few of the common types of role-playing video games to get you started:

    • Party-based: a broad category, but one that applies to several RPG subgenres. Party-based RPGs often feature characters with distinct playstyles and involve finding synergies in team composition. Many, especially modern, party-based RPGs also put heavy emphasis on the personalities and motivations of party members, fleshing them out as characters and companions for the Player Character-led adventure.
    • Tactical: tactical RPGs put a lot of emphasis on combat, often more so than on their story and characters. They are keen on presenting the player with challenging battles which require skillful use of party members’ abilities, good positioning, and keeping track of the evolving battlefield. They come in two common flavors:
    • Real-Time – both your and your enemies’ actions take place on the same timeline. This style of combat tends to be more dynamic and reliant on timing and quick actions. It frequently comes with an active pause, letting you stop time for a moment and issue orders at peace.
    • Turn-based – all characters on the battlefield take their actions one at a time. Usually, the order is determined by a mix of random factors and character traits such as the Speed attribute. Turn-based games often have complex encounter scenarios and provide more precise control over acting characters, more manageable thanks to their slower pace.
    • Dungeon crawler: an older form of RPG, but it does still live away from the mainstream. Dungeon Crawlers are inspired by classic D&D, and tend to revolve around exploring intricate dungeons, fighting monsters, avoiding traps, and collecting treasure. A prominent subset of dungeon crawlers are first-person perspective party-based games, colloquially known as “blobbers”.
    • Roguelike and roguelite – roguelikes and roguelites are related to dungeon crawlers. Instead of bespoke maps and persistent progression, they usually use procedural generation and permadeath to create a fresh and unique experience every time your character dies before reaching the ending. In roguelikes, all the progression is lost on death, while in roguelites you typically have a degree of continuity via persistent upgrades or unlocks.
    • Action RPG: the typical gameplay in this kind of RPG tends to rely more on your skills as a player than on inherent abilities of the characters and random chance. They are likely to test your reflexes, ability to think on your feet, and other traits typically associated with action games.
    • MMORPG: this genre takes the typical RPG adventures online, where you can share them with hundreds or thousands of other players in a shared world. MMORPGs tend to emphasize teamwork and establishing support organizations in order to beat the highest-tier challenges. They are usually adjacent to action RPGs, often with strongly defined roles such as healer or damage dealer.
    • Sandboxes: some RPGs take a less direct approach, letting players make their own stories in a reactive and interactive environment. Such games are classified as sandboxes, and while they might have all the progression systems of an RPG, their narrative aspect might be less important, or mostly limited to presenting an immersive, convincing world to explore and earn your heroic name in.

    Excellent RPGs to start your adventure with

    Below you'll find a quick list of a few titles worth checking out, including some of the most popular and popular RPGs in recent years.

    • Pillars of Eternity & PoE2: Deadfire: a duology of modern, party-based, story-heavy isometric RPGs with challenging tactical combat, complex dialogue choices, intricate web of consequences, and an interesting, nuanced setting. PoE2 also provides a choice between real-time and turn-based combat.
    • Baldur’s Gate 3: one of the massive hits of 2023, BG3 takes players on a dramatic adventure in the Forgotten Realms known from other D&D—based games, filled with tense turn-based combat, cinematic flair, and hundreds of consequences of your action, big and small alike.
    • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt: a genre-defining hit, following a professional monster hunter tangling with magical and political problems of war-torn kingdoms. An excellent action RPG with mature tone and sweeping, diverse vistas based on the world described in the books of Andrzej Sapkowski.
    • Hades: a fantastic roguelite about trying to escape from the Greek mythic underworld. With a persistent progression, exciting combat, and tons of interesting conversations, Hades is as good as the genre gets.
    • Legend of Grimrock: a modern take on the classic “blobber” genre. It puts you in control of an abstract group of prisoners put in a dungeon to earn their pardon. Of course, there are deadly enemies, traps, and all kinds of challenges one can expect from a fantasy dungeon.
    • Outward: an open-world RPG which gives you a lot of freedom in exploring the world, developing your character, and interacting with the story, including the possibility to fail with interesting consequences. There’s also a unique, complex magic system you might pursue.
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