A good RPG is hard to find. It’s become significantly easier since 2014 (we’ll get to that), but otherwise fans of reactive storytelling and/or immersion don’t exactly have dozens of titles to pick from.
…Or so it was in 2018 when we’ve originally made this list. Since then, things have improved noticeably, so much so that we can tentatively speak of a genre revival. The list below includes both the original entries and ten new games, which launched in the meantime.
Without further ado, let’s jump into the newly expanded list of…
|Divinity II: Developer's Cut||2012-10-29||Action & Shooter||Larian Studios||81%|
|Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire - Obsidian Edition||2018-05-08||RPG||Obsidian Entertainment||88%|
|Monster Hunter World||2018-08-09||Action||CAPCOM CO., LTD.||79%|
|Tyranny Gold Edition||2016-11-10||Adventure||Obsidian Entertainment||48%|
|The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition||2011-11-11||Adventure||Bethesda Game Studios||75%|
|Solasta: Crown of the Magister||2020-10-20||RPG||Tactical Adventures|
|The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Legendary Edition||2016-10-27||Adventure||Bethesda Game Studios||73%|
|The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt GOTY Edition||2015-05-18||RPG||CD PROJEKT RED||65%|
|The Outer Worlds||2020-10-23||Action RPG||Obsidian Entertainment||83%|
|Yakuza: Like a Dragon | Legendary Hero Edition||2020-11-10||RPG||Sega||75%|
|Mass Effect Legendary Edition||2021-05-14||Action & Adventure||Bioware||75%|
|The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition||2016-10-27||Adventure||Bethesda Game Studios||75%|
|Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord||2020-03-31||RPG||TaleWorlds Entertainment||53%|
|Baldur's Gate 3||2020-10-06||RPG||Larian Studios|
|Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla||2020-11-10||Action RPG||Ubisoft||81%|
|Wildermyth||2021-06-15||Tactical RPG||Worldwalker Games||55%|
|South Park: The Stick of Truth||2014-03-06||Adventure||Obsidian Entertainment||80%|
|FINAL FANTASY XV WINDOWS EDITION||2018-03-06||RPG||SQUARE ENIX||65%|
|Divinity: Original Sin - Enhanced Edition||2015-10-27||Adventure||Larian Studios||63%|
|NieR: Automata||2017-03-17||RPG||SQUARE ENIX||25%|
|Pillars of Eternity - Definitive Edition||2015-03-26||RPG||Obsidian Entertainment||35%|
|Persona 5 Strikers||2021-02-23||Action RPG||Omega Force||69%|
|Persona 4 Golden||2020-06-13||JRPG||Atlus|
Solasta: Crown of the Magister
Solasta: Crown of the Magister is a treat for fans of the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons. It strictly adheres to the rules of D&D 5e, in its limited open license version. While you don’t get all the class and species option you might be familiar with, the one that did make it in work exactly the way they do in the source material. And that’s just one part of Solasta’s good bits!
Solasta also features an interesting take on conversations. While it’s a singleplayer game it simulates group participation by letting party members be the voice behind certain dialog options. Benevolent lines could be spoken by a good-natured fighter, while a sketchy wizard would voice the more nefarious choices. It’s fun, and side-steps other RPGs common problem of a single speaker for the party.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon
|Developer:||Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio|
The Yakuza series already had shades of a role-playing game before: you could accept side-quests, and improve skills by spending money-exp. Yakuza: Like a Dragon went a step further, swapping action to turn-based combat. The best part is that it still works very well and makes for more of the engaging, over-the-top fights you might know from previous entries.
There’s also a new protagonist, Ichiban Kasuga, who, in a true RPG fashion, gathers a few companions to join him on his quest. Indeed, a quest. Ichiban is a fan of old-school jRPGs, which colours a lot of how he approaches certain challenges. Despite that filter, the story is still a story about the Japanese underworld and engaging with weird people and their problems.
The Outer Worlds
|Developer:||Obsidian Entertainment, Virtuos|
Obsidian Entertainment’s The Outer Worlds is vibrant, funny, and very engaging science fiction action RPG. Not unlike Fallout, TOW takes place in the future of an alternate timeline. Hypercorporations have been able to grow unrestricted from the early 1900s and now hold planetary colonies. You are a colonist yourself, found in cryosleep aboard a spaceship lost decades ago.
The Outer Worlds, in a true Obsidian fashion features a ton of dialogues influencing the branching story, and several memorable companions. And, as a nod to the Fallout games, you can gain flaws which also confer a useful perk. These tend to reflect things that happened during your playthrough, a unique chronicle of your deeds and failures. There’s also a strong satirical undercurrent to the story.
One of the most highly acclaimed RPGs of the recent years, Disco Elysium takes us to a politically, geographically, and supernaturally splintered world of Elysium, specifically: in the city of Revachol, the Martinaise district. You play the role of an amnesiac disaster of a detective who has to solve a murder case and force the insubordinate thought in his own mind to help him do his job.
The skills you develop are more or less NPCs and have their own points of view and motivations in addition to helpful input they offer on any given situation. You can also “equip” certain thoughts and start expressing one of the ideologies common in the setting. Disco Elysium is very thematically different from other RPGs, and despite mostly classic presentation feels fresh and interesting.
Crusader Kings III
|Developer:||Paradox Development Studio|
Crusader Kings III, like its predecessors, is both a grand strategy playing on the map of Medieval Europe and a unique RPG giving you control of a leader of a dynasty. And then the leader’s heir, and then the next heir, etc. You even get a very comprehensive character creator, which handles both your ruler’s robust statistics and their deeply customizable appearance.
After you’re done with the creator, you’ll be unleashed into the ultimate medieval European dynasty simulator. You’ll forge alliances with a dagger behind your back, arrange marriages, antagonise the pope, and do whatever else seems appropriate to do in Europe between 867 and 1453. It might be the most large-scale RPG with the least direct combat. And it is amazing once you get the hang of it.
Mass Effect Trilogy
|Genre:||Action role-playing, third-person shooter|
The Mass Effect trilogy is one of the most beloved RPG series to ever grace our consoles and PCs. The galactic-scale story of Commander Shepard trying to fight against a primordial threat from the dark space between galaxies is an absolute genre classic. The Legendary Edition gathers all three games and all the DLC in one handy package, so you don’t have to worry about missing out on content.
It also features graphical updates, especially visible in the original Mass Effect. There are new textures, updated models, better shaders, and, of course, higher resolutions and better framerates. Especially ME1 shows clear changes, which verge on a remake category. The Legendary Edition is currently the best way to enjoy the trilogy, especially on modern systems and modern screens.
Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord
Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord falls more on the sandbox side of the genre, with a little simulation built in for good measure. While you start by designing a single character, your avatar in the world of Calradia, you’ll quickly start recruiting your own warband, earn reputation with the game’s various factions and characters, participate in open battles, and lay sieges to castles and cities.
You can also play around with the trade system, or even get married and have children. Where Crusader Kings III takes a grand scale look at Medieval politics, M&B2: Bannerlord is committed to a down-to-earth approach in all of its roleplaying aspects. Even battles put you on the field as one of the units, so you can participate, give orders, and even be captured by your enemies.
Baldur's Gate 3
Although it is still in Early Access at the time of writing, it already has the markings of a great RPG and a great adaptation of the D&D 5e ruleset, although not as faithful as Solasta, if that’s important to you. It also happens to be an indirect sequel to BioWare’s Baldur’s Gate games. It does not follow BG2 story, instead it benefits from two decades of D&D expanding the story of that city.
Due to substantial changes to the rules BG3 also features turn-based combat and benefits from a fully 3D environment, instead of isometric 2D of the original games. Conversations often include unique options based on characters’ species and class, and excellent graphics (and physics) make the world feel more real. Even just the first chapter available in EA offers dozens of hours of solid RPG experience.
Assassin's Creed: Valhalla
While most of the Assassin’s Creed games are firmly in the action-adventure category, starting with AC: origins the series took a committed turn towards RPG mechanics. Valhalla is the third entry going that direction. In addition to plenty of loot (including legendary Isu artifacts like Excalibur and Mjlonir) and skills you earn by levelling up, there are also plenty of quests and thematic side-activities.
You could get drunk with other Norse warriors who travelled with you, and you could participate in flyting, a poetic contest of barbed wit. As true Viking settlers, you also set up and develop a settlement. If you don’t mind the “ancient aliens” side of things, Valhalla can be an immersive, beautiful, entertaining action RPG set during the age of the Viking conquest of England.
|Genre:||Indie, RPG, Strategy|
Wildermyth is a very charming game. It has a very well-realized pop-up book aesthetic, with 2D characters fighting 2D monsters in paper dungeons. It’s also mixes predefined and dynamic narratives to create unique playthroughs every time. Along the way you recruit more characters, who can add their own turns and twists into the story, including inter-party relationships.
Wildermyth will often ask for your input regarding the course of action, and the tactical, turn-based battles on the grid introduce a pleasant amount of crunchy combat to an otherwise story-driven game. It’s even worth replaying the game over and over because characters from previous playthroughs can appear in a new one, stronger and more capable. The stories can be fascinating, don’t miss out!
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition
|Developer:||Bethesda Game Studios|
Meme though it is, Skyrim is still incredibly immersive. Few RPGs, or video games in general, let you spend a stupid amount of time at a furnace smithing daggers or running around getting resources to build a home from the ground up. Add a couple mods or get a VR headset and you’re in a world, not just a game. A decade later it’s still easy to go off the beaten path because something undiscovered appeared on your radar.
If the game doesn’t accommodate the role you’ve set for yourself, there probably is a mod that does. It’s the epitome of a freeform roleplaying, as opposed to carefully crafted sequences of scripted storytelling relying on you having a predetermined character. Here, you’re a Dragonborn….so what. You can play the game just fine without ever taking on the main quest.
South Park: The Stick of Truth & The Fractured But Whole
South Park had never had luck for video game before Obsidian Entertainment rolled along. The Stick of Truth turned out to be a really well-made, cleverly written game that never fails to be a sincere homage to the cartoon, but also manages to poke fun at fantasy and RPG tropes. The Fractured But Whole on the other hand aimed at the superhero craze, mercilessly mocking both DC and Marvel cinematic universes.
Both games provide a very robust tour of the titular town, interactions with familiar characters taking part in the games the kids are running, turn-based battle systems, and some silly, crass, but also clever humour. It’s rather light on role-playing as such, but the games have the writing, worldbuilding, and mechanics to more than make up for it.
See, Undertale knows what you did in previous playthroughs, and it judges you for it. A simple story about a child who fell into an underworld filled with magical creatures turns into a game where choices carry weight, and the story might unfold in different ways depending on which, if any, monsters you killed. It also cleverly breaks the fourth wall to play mind games with the players themselves.
Undertale is nothing like what we now consider to be traditional RPGs in terms of presentation, and many people may well bounce right off, but for those who stick around will probably find themselves somewhat less eager to just up and murder a bunch of goblins in other games. For a little while, anyway. Murder hobos gonna murder some gobbos after all.
Tyranny quickly gained a small but loyal following because it is refreshing for the character to be an utter bastard without devolving into a chaotic evil maniac who kicks puppies for no reason. The Fatebinder, Tyranny protagonist, can make law their weapon, and through clever loopholes pursue their mission and ambitions. The base game has four paths/allegiances, while The Bastard’s Wound DLC provides the fifth one: loyalty.
Within each path there are gambits you can play if you find the opportunity, and you may find yourself having to defend your actions against your boss, which is where being clever is rewarded. The game is in favour of calculated choices, and it’s the stupidity and chaos that are punished. Morality is fine as long as you follow the law, as far as your superiors’ opinions are concerned.
FINAL FANTASY XV
Final Fantasy XV probably won’t come down in the annals of the genre as its greatest achievement, but it remains a pleasant experience with likeable characters. There isn’t much reactivity to the plot, however what easily places FF15 in the RPG category are the moments of brotherhood shared between the protagonist prince Noctis Lusic Caelum’s three-man entourage.
The four lads are on the way to reclaim the throne fallen in Kingsglaive (a neat CGI prequel movie), and they interact like long-time friends would. It’s nothing ground-breaking, mind, but you likely will recall it fondly when you’re done hunting giant monsters and reclaiming your birthright. Especially with the dynamic, spectacular combat system making each battle look amazing.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
|Developer:||CD PROJEKT RED|
Perhaps the most beloved action RPG in recent memory, with stunning visuals, frequently well-told story, and a solid overall plot. TW3 takes Geralt of Rivia, a professional monster slayer, on a quest to find his adopted daughter Ciri, once against pursued by the nefarious Wild Hunt and her own birthright. It puts a neat bow on many lingering threads, and the ones left dangling are tied in the expansions.
Expansions, it must be said, which are amazing, arguably much better than the base game. Hearts of Stone is inspired by a Polish legend about a man who tried to outsmart the devil, while Blood and Wine takes place in a faux-Tuscany region of the setting, full of vineyards, snotty aristocracy, vampires, and perhaps some decent retirement plan for Geralt. It’s it a fitting end of the trilogy.
The Divinity series
Larian Studios has been in the genre for a long time, but they truly hit their stride with Divinity: Original Sin 1, and excellent proposition for two-person co-op sessions. Then improved on THAT in Divinity: Original Sin 2, which instantly became one of the most respected RPGs of its time because of the scope of its maps, story, and flexibility of its turn-based combat and classless progression.
Before Original Sin games Larian Studios also made an interesting genre-mixer Dragon Commander, leaning towards the strategy genre. There’s also an action RPG Ego Draconis, which, in addition to typical third-person slashing, featured the main character transforming into a dragon. If you go way back, there are also isometric action RPGs Divine Divinity and Beyond Divinity.
NieR: Automata is a child of Platinum Games, founded by the creator of Devil May Cry, and Yoko Taro, a man who has turned exploration of possibilities into game-building philosophy. It’s certainly one of the most impressive games in recent years. There’s a good chance NieR: Automata’s story isn’t going to make much sense to you after a single playthrough because of its several sequential endings.
It’s certainly a non-standard New Game , because between some ending you might even play a different character. The game itself is an open-world action-RPG production about combat androids on a post-apocalyptic Earth. While the story had people confused and enthralled for months, the gameplay is a tight and diverse blend of slasher and bullet hell, occasionally diverting into something else.
Monster Hunter World
Monster Hunter is a franchise that until MH World wasn’t wildly popular in the West. Of course, it had its loyal following, but Monster Hunter World was like the second coming as far Western audiences were concerned. At its most basic it’s a game about killing massive monsters for ingredients and cash, but there’s also mechanical depth to preparing your equipment for the coming boss fights.
It’s certainly better suited for the fans of stat-managing side of RPGs rather than conversation and weighty choices enthusiasts. When you’re not dodging claw swipes on a mission, you can take photos of wildlife, gather resources, or splash around in a hot spring and arm wrestle while you’re in the social hub. The robust character creator also helps to imbue your hunter with personality.
Pillars of Eternity 1 & 2
|Release date:||2015-03-26 / 2018-05-08|
It’s only reasonable that we’d put the game which revived the full glory of isometric story-heavy cRPGs somewhere on the list. PoE’s story sometimes gets drowned by exposition-intensive writing, but thankfully the world itself is really interesting, taking the classic D&D-variety fantasyland and adding some esoteric and metaphysical worldbuilding blocks to make it Obsidian’s own.
A great feature of PoE games is that the dialogues even pay attention to how people see you. If you’re known for Honesty or Cruelty some doors may close, while others may open, giving your character mechanically important personality. And since there are TONS of conversations to be had, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to define what kind of character you’re roleplaying.
Gather your party and level up
That concludes the list of modern RPGs you might well want to (re)play this year. We’ve deliberately omitted grey-haired classics to bring spotlight to newer releases. With the exception of ]Mass Effect, but it earned its place by getting a Legendary Re-edition.
Hopefully you’ve found a game you didn’t know existed, or you only heard a title of, but had no idea what it was like. Either way, there’s a very, very good chance you’ll now be able to get it on G2A without worrying about straining your budget. Now go forth and play some roles!