Role-playing games (RPGs, for short) are experiencing a resurgence in recent years thanks to several high-profile and high-quality titles which received very positive reviews.

What are RPGs?

In the broadest sense, RPGs are games (in this context: video games) which grant the player some agency regarding what happens to their character. Where most games, like shooters, take their protagonist on a linear path without any real choice to be made, RPGs provide opportunities for the player to make decisions influencing the narrative or the protagonist. The latter may be expressed in the story or through mechanical benefits, such as better equipment or higher attributes. There are many roleplaying games, but in broad strokes, two core types can be distinguished, with numerous variations within.

Below we’ve prepared a short list of RPGs released in recent years so you can see what the genre offers in its modern incarnation.

Top Role-playing Games
NameReleaseScope of choicesDeveloperSale
Arx Fatalis 2002-11-12 Free exploration, progression, and interaction Arkane Studios -36% See more
Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition 2013-11-15 Narrative decisions, progression choices, free exploration Beamdog -75% See more
Darkest Dungeon 2016-01-19 Team building, dealing with mission consequences, equipment Red Hook Studios -89% See more
Dark Souls: Remastered 2018-05-24 Free exploration, progression, and limited narrative choices QLOC -21% See more
Diablo 2 2000-06-29 Free exploration, a lot of build choices within archetypes Blizzard Entertainment -39% See more
Disco Elysium 2019-10-15 Extensive narrative choices, a lot of control over PC personality ZA/UM -8% See more
Divinity: Original Sin 2 2017-09-14 Free exploration within acts, progression, interaction, a lot of narrative choices Larian Studios -28% See more
Dark Souls III 2016-04-11 Free exploration, progression, and limited narrative choices FromSoftware, Inc. -39% See more
Dragon Age: Origins 2009-11-06 Narrative choices, team building, a lot of progression decisions BioWare - See more
Fallout 2 1998-12-01 Free progression and exploration, a lot of narrative and personal choices Black Isle Studios -63% See more
FINAL FANTASY VII 2013-07-04 Free exploration, limited narrative decisions, free magic distribution SQUARE ENIX -48% See more
Knights of the Old Republic 2003-11-19 A lot of narrative choices, progression decisions, semi-free exploration BioWare -84% See more
Mass Effect 2 2010-01-27 A huge number of narrative decisions, limited progression choices BioWare -74% See more
Diablo II: Resurrected (Xbox Series X/S) 2021-09-23 Free exploration, a lot of build choices within archetypes Blizzard Entertainment -41% See more
Neverwinter Nights 2 Complete 2006-10-31 A lot of narrative choices, free exploration, progression decisions withing classes Obsidian Entertainment -3% See more
Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin 2015-04-01 Free exploration, progression, and limited narrative choices FromSoftware, Inc -55% See more
Pillars of Eternity - Definitive Edition 2015-03-26 A tonne of narrative decisions, flexible progression within classes, free exploration Obsidian Entertainment - See more
Planescape: Torment: Enhanced Edition 2017-04-11 Extensive narrative choices, a lot of control over PC personality Beamdog -89% See more
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim 2016-10-27 Free exploration, progression, and interaction Bethesda Game Studios -78% See more
Knights of the Old Republic II - The Sith Lords 2005-02-08 A lot of narrative choices, progression decisions, semi-free exploration Obsidian Entertainment -83% See more
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt GOTY 2015-05-18 Free exploration, progression, and interaction CD PROJEKT RED -68% See more
Torment: Tides of Numenera 2016-01-26 Extrensive narrative choices inXile Entertainment -84% See more
Tyranny Standard Edition 2016-11-10 Free exploration and progression, tonnes of narrative decisions Obsidian Entertainment -95% See more
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire - Obsidian Edition 2018-05-08 A tonne of narrative decisions, flexible progression within classes, free exploration Obsidian Entertainment -86% See more
Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2004-11-16 A lot of narrative decisions, free progression within clan Troika Games - See more

        

Arx Fatalis

Release date:2002-11-12
Developer:Arkane Studios

Arx Fatalis was the first game of French developer Arkane Studios, whom you might now from such hits as Dishonored or Prey (2017). It quickly proved that they have some ideas about immersive sims and they aren’t afraid to test them. If that wasn’t enough, the game was really cool, taking place in an interesting, subterranean setting and giving the player a LOT of freedom in many aspects.

Arx Fatalis

You play as pretty much a blank slate, and you’re free to distribute skill points however you wish, but magic is recommended, because it opens the way to Arx Fatalis really cool spellcasting system, which requires the player to draw the magical sigils in the air before casting. It works in a bit “2000s” way, but it feels great to cast a complicated spell just in time to Incinerate a charging mummy’s face.

Key features
  • Immersive spellcasting and crafting system
  • Interesting setting you can freely explore
  • Freeform progression
  • Good balance between humour and drama
        

Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn

Release date:2013-11-15
Developer:Beamdog

Although the original Baldur’s Gate was by all accounts groundbreaking, BioWare truly spread their wings with Baldur’s Gate 2, a sequel which improved everything there was to improve about the first game. It was larger, prettier, with more player options. The companions were given more personality, and the storyline started with an earthquake and then things started to get more tense.

Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn - gameplay

Baldur’s Gate pretty much codified what nowadays is considered a classic cRPG. Isometric camera, several dialogue options to pick in almost every situation, and the Real Time with pause combat, which to this day has many enthusiastic fans. Perhaps the finest expression for this old school design are the Pillars of Eternity games, especially the first one, which doesn’t shy away from this legacy at all.

Key features
  • The cRPG which defined the genre
  • Numerous memorable companions
  • Captures a lot of the Forgotten Realms atmosphere
  • The conclusion of the Bhaalspawn saga part of the Baldur’s Gate city’s history
        

Darkest Dungeon

Release date:2016-01-19
Developer:Red Hook Studios

The first thing Darkest Dungeon has going for it is its artistic design. The game look gorgeous, with 2D slightly exaggerated, caricatural sprites, moody backgrounds, and neat minimalistic attack animations which look like some of the motion comics at your fingertips. But once you start playing, it turns into an interesting party-management game with tense turn-based battles and exploration.

Darkest Dungeon

Your team of adventurers is possibly the only one in history that reacts believably to the horrors it encounters, which results in stress and “quirks” which usually are going to be detrimental to their performance. You don’t really have a single protagonist, but you’re likely to grow attached to your team and feel bad when someone inevitably gets their face melted by some eldritch monster.

Key features
  • Unmistakable art style
  • Gloomy, gothic atmosphere
  • Great turn-based combat system
  • The Narrator adds a lot of atmosphere
        

Dark Souls series

Release date:2011-09-22, {released_date}
Developer:FromSoftware, Inc.

The Dark Souls series fits neatly into the action RPG genre, with its wealth of equipment, plenty of space for character builds, and a ton of lore for the players to discover and interpret. Combat is significantly harder than in other aRPGs, but it has become something of a rallying point for a certain type of gamers who consider difficulty level a substantial factor in their enjoyment of a game.

dark souls iii fight with the undead

Although the combat remains the key element of the games, it can’t be denied that they have a distinct, sombre atmosphere that draws inspiration from many different places, both Japanese and European in origin. Each entry has several endings depending on a variety of, sometimes obscure, player actions, but you shouldn’t go in expecting a happy ending, it’s not that kind of game.

Key features
  • Tough, demanding combat system
  • Dark atmosphere of kingdoms succumbing to the ravages of time and dwindling hope
  • Subtle storytelling
  • Excellent location design
        

Diablo 2

Release date:2000-06-29
Developer:Blizzard Entertainment

One of the evergreen classics and easily one of the most famous games in history. Although the first Diablo set the stage, Diablo 2 is a game which ultimately spawned a genre of isometric hack’n’slash aRPGs. Several unique champions to choose from, randomly generated dungeons, crunchy mechanics, evocative animations, as well as grim, dark atmosphere, made Diablo 2 stand out.

diablo 2 game

Diablo 3 smoothed some of the visual edges, which according to many people softened the game’s style, but the gameplay remains excellent. Diablo IV is aiming to bring back the grit and blood to the franchise, and everything from the very vicious announcement cinematic to the in-game designs and appearance says that the dark fantasy times are back, ready to plunge the world into darkness.

Key features
  • An all-time classic hack’n’slash aRPG, a genre codifier
  • Several playable characters with unique playstyles
  • Tonnes of loot
  • Fans of making absurdly efficient builds have a lot to tinker with
        

Disco Elysium

Release date:2019-10-15
Developer:ZA/UM

Disco Elysium kind of came out of nowhere, unless you followed it under the previous title: No Truce with the Furies. The game quickly gained a lot of fans at release, because it’s a fairly unique RPG, even if it doesn’t look at that special on first glance. Se, in DE you don’t have a team (except for Kim Kitsuragi, occasionally), but your thoughts keep you company. They are quite talkative as well as persuasive.

Disco Elysium

If there can be a conceptual RPG framed around a piece of detective fiction, then Disco Elysium is it. You’re playing as a detective who seemingly drunk himself into amnesia a builds his personality from scratch, using a set of unusual stats such as Conceptualisation or Psyche, and will internalize some weird thoughts, like an idea that he’s somehow a star detective, or one of many political ideologies.

Key features
  • You have a double case to solve: a mysterious murder and who the heck are you?
  • Your skills and abilities talk to you and they have their own ideas what you should do
  • A detailed, interesting setting
  • Great writing on par with the classic RPGs
        

Divinity: Original Sin 2

Release date:2017-09-14
Developer:Larian Studios

Original Sin 2 (like Original Sin before it) removes the fixed point of view and introduces a fully 3D environment with a camera the player can freely rotate, as well as zoom in or out. The “real-time with pause”, meanwhile, was removed in favour of a turn-based system which makes combat manageable and clear even during cooperative multiplayer, whether in core campaign or the DM mode.

divinity 2 village

Narrative-wise, the player can play a custom character, with “tags” defining how other characters view them, or they can choose a pre-generated origin, with unique tags and a dedicated story arc. There will be great many choices to make, some of them through dialogue, others emerging through gameplay, and there are enough ending screens to tell you what the consequences were.

Key features
  • The most systemically flexible RPG in ages, with physics and interactions working coherently
  • You can play one of the pre-generated, storied characters, or create and roleplay your own
  • Co-operative campaign for up to 4 players, and a GM mode for 4 players and 1 Game Master
  • Free-form
        

Dragon Age: Origins

Release date:2009-11-06
Developer:BioWare

Dragon Age: Origins comes across as a perfect blend of several effective ideas. First is an old-school RPG with tactical battles you can watch from an isometric camera, or close up, if you want. The second is the politicking, betrayals, and drama of Game of Thrones, flourishing at the time. And last came the Lord of the Rings influences. All of that, with a massive dose of original lore, made DAO a legend.

Dragon Age: Origins

Many consider Origins to be the best Dragon Age game, and there are enough reasons to support this opinion, even as other instalments, especially Inquisition are quite good. But they don’t exactly have Origins’ tactical depth, the seriousness, or the grittiness that was popular at the time. Either way, it’s a great RPG, iterating on ideas BioWare first created during their work on Baldur’s Gate.

Key features
  • Several unique origins stories, changing the way you begin the game and what happens later
  • Powerful spellcasters
  • Storyline full of betrayals and high-quality drama
  • Extensive codex covering many questions about lore the storyline could find a place to answer
        

Fallout 2

Release date:1998-12-01
Developer:Black Isle Studios

The first Fallout was a big and detailed, but Fallout 2 is huge and complex. It gives you a task to find GECK, a technological marvel that can save your village, but the game doesn’t end if you don’t find it. It’s very likely that you’ll get the news of the village dying when you’re midway through some completely unconnected quest that seemed fun at the time. No biggie, there are bigger problems to deal with.

Fallout 2 - monsters

F2 doesn’t have classes, so you are free to build a lockpick artist with a minigun, if you so wish. The game doesn’t have morality, only reputation, so you can be a despicable wretch of a person, the game doesn’t care much about morality of your PC. You can lie and cheat just as easily, as be a paragon of virtue. The game even rewards playing a low INT character with some amazingly silly dialogue.

Key features
  • One of the best RPGs in history
  • The player is free to pursue any build, and try dozens of different thematic activities
  • Turn-based battles on a hex-based map
  • Lots of easter eggs drawn from various bits of popculture
        

Final Fantasy VII

Release date:2013-07-04
Developer:SQUARE ENIX

Developer Square probably never expected that Final Fantasy VII would become the game they can’t escape from more than twenty years later due to fan demand. And yet it saw a CGI feature film, several spin-offs, manga, short animated features, and even a full-scale remake bringing the world and characters up to modern standards, expanding on what couldn’t have been done In 1997.

Final Fantasy VII

Final Fantasy 7 follows a group of environmentally minded freedom fighters trying to save the planet from the Shinra Corporation eager to drain its resources to the last drop. On the way their priorities will shift to a former hero named Sephiroth, who has become an even greater danger. But that’s just the big story, there are dozens of smaller ones to discover all over the lively, beautiful world.

Key features
  • The best known, most beloved entry in the Final Fantasy series
  • Vivid, memorable characters
  • Environmental message
  • Plenty of additional media to check after you finish the game
        

Knights of the Old Republic (1&2)

Release date:2003-11-19, 2004-12-06
Developer:Obsidian Entertainment

The first KotOR still stands as the most Star Wars game of all, capturing the atmosphere of the original trilogy very well despite being aesthetically quite different. Set thousands of years before the events known from the movies, it shows a different time troubled by quite familiar events. It has a perfectly set up plot twist, great companions, and a simple, but effective, dramatic storyline

Knights of the Old Republic (1&2)

KotOR2, on the other hand, was much, much darker, and dealt with more complex issues, delving into the philosophy of the Force, providing a more nuanced take on the setting. It was marred with problems at release, but over time has been patched and most problems you’ll encounter will be caused by the fact that the game is from 2004 and hasn’t received a nifty remaster yet.

Key features
  • Two excellent RPGs set in the Star Wars universe, based on the Star Wars D20 system
  • Both set up story arcs which were later developed further in The Old Republic MMORPG
  • Interesting take on quasi turn-based combat
  • Created by two of the most experience RPG developers
        

Mass Effect 2

Release date:2010-01-27
Developer:BioWare

The first Mass Effect was ground-breaking and important in many ways, but it followed the BioWare formula a bit too much. Mass Effect 2, on the other hand, was effectively a TV show, each recruitment or loyalty mission being an episode, building the way towards the grand season finale where nobody’s survival is guaranteed, but your time and effort will be rewarded in a satisfying way.

Mass Effect 2

ME2 is deeply dramatic, and the reduced inventory and progression management allows you to spend more time being in the world ad talking with NPCs and less time scrolling and clicking through menus. Equipment and levelling up provides substantial and immediate choices with clear effects, so just pick one that sound cool and go back to being Shepard. The world needs saving.

Key features
  • The best array of companions in the Mass Effect series
  • Each mission is a story in its own right
  • Equipment and ability progression presents clear, substantial choices
  • The choices carry over to the next game
        

Neverwinter Nights 2

Release date:2006-10-31
Developer:Obsidian Entertainment

Neverwinter Nights 2 was an Obsidian-made sequel to BioWare’s Neverwinter Nights 1. It managed to expand on the original, and also continued the tradition of expansions being better than the base game. The big change is getting rid of hirelings from NWN1 and making NWN2 very much a party-based RPG, with solid, opinionated companions, making battles bigger and more frantic.

Neverwinter Nights 2 - fighting

The game feels bigger than NWN1, in no small part thanks to a castle you’ll end up running after dealing with some mess in the main story. You’ll also dig into the deeper lore of D&D, including the Githyanki and ancient elven magics. And the Mask of the Betrayer expansion is widely considered to be much better from the already great base game.

Key features
  • Several companions, some of them with conflicting motivations
  • A worthy follow-up to BioWare’s first 3D RPG
  • You get to rule a castle
  • You can pursue a prestige class if you’re so inclined
        

Pillars of Eternity, Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire

Release date:2015-03-26, 2018-05-08
Developer:Obsidian Entertainment

Pillars of Eternity is a franchise which was created specifically to cater to the nostalgia of people who have played Infinity Engine games back in the day. PoE has beautiful, handcrafted 2D maps for 3D characters to travel across, while the player watches all of it from an isometric camera’s point of view. Dialogue trees are complex and take into consideration many different factors, like reputation.

Pillars of Eternity, Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire

The first PoE takes place in a gloomy quasi-Renaissance setting that doesn’t stray far from the imagery typically associated with fantasy RPGs. PoE2, on the other hand, takes the player to the Deadfire archipelago and is clearly inspired by the age of piracy and trading companies, as well as various oceanic cultures. You also get your own ship and can go sailing the high seas.

Key features
  • Old-school RPGs made by genre veterans
  • The NPCs react to your character’s personality
  • In PoE1 you get a castle, in PoE2 you get a ship, both upgradeable
  • The most old-school of modern RPGs
        

Planescape Torment

Release date:2017-04-11
Developer:Beamdog

No list of the best RPG video games would be complete without Planescape: Torment. The game is famous for its atmosphere, it’s often philosophical considerations, and the weirdness of the setting, present mostly through text, written in an evocative, engaging way. Even the first location, the Mortuary, feels like a real place of od smells and rough surfaces, something only text could convey.

Planescape Torment

The dialogue options are also plentiful, often allowing you to speak the same words, but decide if you lie or speak truthfully, or set the tone. It works very well as a way to give you’re the reins on The Nameless One’s personality beyond just words. And your companions are some of the most unique in the genre. A floating skull, a chaste succubus, a suit of armour animated by a soul… and more.

Key features
  • One of the absolute genre classics
  • The past is set in stone, but you are in charge of the character you play now
  • Lots and lots of text
  • Probably the most unique RPG companions you’ll ever encounter
        

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Release date:2016-10-27
Developer:Bethesda Game Studios

Bethesda’s seemingly immortal game is probably only going to go away when inevitably The Elder Scrolls VI rolls along. Skyrim takes the player to the eponymous imperial province, a harsh land inspired by Scandinavian landscapes and a popular understanding of the Norse culture of old. There are two overarching plotlines: the return of dragons and a civil war between rebels and loyalists.

Skyrim video game PC

Crucially, however, you are completely free to ignore both and just… be in the world. Explore the wilderness for dungeons and old shrines. Become a blacksmith or an enchanter. Make it your life’s work to use the physics engine to put pots on everybody’s head, if you want to. And then there are hundreds and thousands of mods, adding anything from immersive capes to Macho Man dragons.

Key features
  • Offers freedom rare before its time
  • Freeform progression based on skills used
  • Two epic-scale storylines running parallel
  • Hundreds of book expanding the lore and the narrative
        

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Release date:2015-05-18
Developer:CD PROJEKT RED

The story of a gruff professional monster hunter searching for a way to save his adopted daughter according to many players have become the golden standard against which to measure other action RPGs. With cinematic cutscenes, visually satisfying combat, fantastic graphics, and many interesting side quests, The Witcher 3 is a great game to play if you want to figure out if the genre suits your tastes.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

The world itself is a beautiful achievement of design and technology joining forces. In few games the sunset is going to look as beautiful as in The Witcher 3, and the Kaer Morhen valley, seen right at the beginning of the game is stunning. The two expansions, Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine add even more time you can spend with Geralt and others. HoS is the best of TW3.

Key features
  • Two fantastic expansions
  • A huge world to save from monsters…for a price
  • An end to Geralt’s three games-long journey
  • Beautiful graphics, game with mods support
        

Torment: Tides of Numenera

Release date:2016-01-26
Developer:inXile Entertainment

Tides of Numenera is a spiritual successor to Planescape: Torment, and while it won’t replace that classic, it does a remarkable job following in its footsteps. The isometric camera helps the player get a great view of the bizarre world, while the conversation system is complex and deep, allowing the player to make long-lasting decisions about the character and, to some extent, the past itself.

Torment: Tides of Numenera

There are many outcomes in many situations, and occasionally failures can yield more interesting results than successes. Conflicts happen in turns, but unlike virtually any other game, they don’t block conversations, so you can still try to convince your adversaries to stand down. The game isn’t long, it that makes it perfectly suited for multiple playthroughs with different parameters.

Key features
  • Set in the world of Monte Cook’s Numenera tabletop roleplaying game
  • A massive number of narrative decisions to make
  • Failure is as interesting as success
  • Spritual successor to Planescape: Torment
        

Tyranny

Release date:2016-11-10
Developer:Obsidian Entertainment

Released between PoE 1 and PoE 2, Tyranny gained a fan following thanks to its premise: the protagonist is an agent of law whose task is to bring stability to the only remaining region of a fantasy continent that hasn’t accepted the Overlord’s rule. Whether they do it as a faithful servant of their evil overlord, or they rebel and unite the local factions against the tyrant, that’s up to the player.

Tyranny

Tyranny allows parties of up to four characters (including the player character), its narrative branches into four (five with DLC) possible storylines with different goals and resolutions, and it’s more inspired by the antiquity rather than the Middle Ages. And it is perhaps the only Lawful Evil RPG so far. It’s one of the most narratively reactive RPGs of recent years, well worth giving it a chance.

Key features
  • Several distinct paths the story can take depending on your alliances
  • You can freely mix magic with strength and guile
  • Flexible magic system
  • Detailed reputation systems
        

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines

Release date:2004-11-16
Developer:Troika Games

Bloodlines is a hell of a game. An immersive, mostly FPP RPG set to the backdrop of Los Angeles’ night life is one of the genre legends, and with good reason. Based on the White Wolf RPG Vampire: the Masquerade, it presents a fascinating and deep world of vampiric politics hiding in plain sight unbeknownst to mortal blood bags. The game has plenty of memorable NPCs, quests, and places.

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines

There are several vampiric clans to choose from, like the suave, imperious Ventrue, or the fan-favourite Malkavians, who suffer from the gift of insight making them look and sound crazy. There is a lot of good that can be said about VtMB’s roleplaying opportunities, or about places such as the Ocean Hotel, but it’s better to just experience it for oneself, because it’s a fantastic, dark RPG.

Key features
  • several clans with different sets of abilities, and occasionally unique dialog options
  • Multiple endings
  • Proves even vampires can be scared
  • You are free to solve many problems in several different ways

Classic RPG for PC

Classic RPGs usually take after Infinity Engine-era games such as Baldur’s Gate or Planescape: Torment. Games like these have two main focal points: reactive storytelling, and tactical combat. Reactive storytelling is achieved through dialogue trees with various levels of complexity. During conversations, the protagonist (or the character built for talking to NPCs) has a certain number of dialogue options to choose from, determined by previous choices, character traits, etc. These options may be inquiries, personality-defining decisions, choices affecting how the plot is going to play out, anything else that can be decided this way.

Combat in classic RPGs usually involves a group of player-controlled characters fighting against groups of enemies, or, alternatively and less frequently, a single very powerful foe. Due to the fact that enemies often are of similar or higher power level compared to the heroes, clever use of character abilities, good positioning, and crowd control are necessary to win. This is where the tactical combat aspect comes into play. Many classic RPGs have a difficulty level which makes it absolutely necessary to use every trick the game provides to you, or else every combat ends in bloodshed. This approach to combat looks slightly different in dungeon crawls, and very different in the traditional interpretation of a jRPG (Final Fantasy, Fire Emblem, Pokémon).

Action RPGs for PC

Action RPGs usually focus on a single powerful character who can take on multiple characters in a fight with a reasonable chance of success. aRPGs frequently are less focused on providing the player with a reactive story (although it obviously does happen, like in the Mass Effect trilogy) and are more interested in getting into the thick of the action. Action RPGs also have a strong emphasis on reflexes relative to classic RPGs which typically don’t require as much constant input.

There is no clear rule regarding the camera—aRPGs can have an isometric view, or be played from the third- or even first-person perspective. Because there is no party management, the camera doesn’t need to account for that. Both isometric Diablo 2 and TPP Monster Hunter: World are action RPGs, despite differences in presentation and mechanics, for example.

Conclusion

This list, of course, does not exhaust the topic, as it doesn’t cover traditionally understood jRPGs like the Final Fantasy series or Octopath Traveller, or dungeon crawls like The Bard’s Tale or The Legend of Grimrock, but we wanted to focus on subsets of role-playing games which are the most popular.

Hopefully, it will be helpful and you’ll find a game which will bring you hours of satisfying fun.