I think it’s pretty obvious that there is no better time to be a gamer than right now. We’re flooded with quality titles and killer apps that elevate the art form to new levels.
Specifically, RPGs have seen a great resurgence amongst all the FPS titles and Battle Royale games. Wait…what does RPG stand for in a game?
It stands for a role-playing game; the player takes on the ‘role’ of a certain character, (possibly customized), and engages in a narrative with that character.
Think Geralt from the Witcher, or Commander Shepard from Mass Effect. For those RPG newbies out there, you may be asking ‘what is the best RPG of all time?’ Luckily for you, I’m an RPG fanatic, and I’m going to show you the best RPG games.
When going over iconic RPG titles, I considered a number of things that make them the cream of the crop. I focused mainly on: critical and consumer reaction, innovative features, and gameplay.
For example, a game that is fun and innovative that has a lot of bugs, etc. will be found higher on the list. Without further ado, let’s get started.
The Best RPGs Ever Made
Kingdom Come: Deliverance (2018)
- Xbox One
Warhorse Studios, hailing from the great Czech Republic, transport the player to 1403 Bohemia in the heart of medieval Europe. You play as Henry, a humble blacksmith’s son.
In true questing RPG fashion, things go awry quickly, and Henry is forced to grow up fast while on a quest for revenge and purpose. This game brings a whole new meaning to realism.
You need to eat, sleep, and more to even function at your full level. You can really imagine taking on the role of Henry in this stunning debut, (and my personal game of the year 2018), by Warhorse.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines (2004)
Not only are vampires real in this title, but they’ve survived into modern times by maintaining the ‘masquerade’; a set of laws and rules to keep up appearances.
You’re thrown right into the action with your choice of playstyle in the form of different vampire races and skill trees. Want to be a seducer and charm all your enemies instead of running and gunning? Choose the Ventrue clan.
Want to have an absolutely crazy, bizarre adventure? Choose Nosferatu or Gangrel clans. Each playstyle is so wildly different, it’s like playing a different game each time. Just remember to make sure the blood you suck doesn’t make you sick!
Monster Hunter: World (2018)
- Xbox One
I had never actually played a Monster Hunter game until this one, but I had always heard they were a lot of wild fun. It was a precise assessment; this game rules.
You’re a monster hunter in a fantasy world being threatened by a big beast. You and other monster hunters need to build up your arsenal of weapons, armor, and traps to catch and slay bigger and more ferocious beasts.
The customization is great, and you get your own little companion in the form of a Palico, (basically a cat). Mine is a little grey Palico named Soba; she retrieves potions for me, and I’d be dead meat without her. The fun and insanity rarely ever stop!
Shadowrun: Hong Kong (2015)
- OS X
Shadowrun was a cool cyberpunk game from the 1990s that gave the player the chance to enter a vivid, grimy techno-thriller world filled with hackers and ‘street samurai’.
This new entry into the Shadowrun series stands out. After many years, the player receives a mysterious message from their foster father, Raymond, who lives in 2056 Hong Kong.
They reunite with Duncan, their adopted brother, and begin on an insane twisting and turning thrilling plot that doesn’t let up. The customization and turn-based combat are so solid, I couldn’t recommend it enough.
I like to roam the gritty streets of Hong Kong as a strong, silent cyborg with proficiency for handguns and katanas. How about you?
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011)
- Xbox 360
- Mac OS X
- Wii U
This was my game of the year for 2011. In this prequel for the great, original Deus Ex, you play as a security expert and former Detroit police officer Adam Jensen, in search of his lost love interest.
While on this quest, things go way off course, and he experiences conspiracies and plots that aim to control the world. Controlling Adam is badass and fluid.
You get great cybernetic upgrades that make you feel like you belong in the Marvel universe. This mix of an interesting story with addicting gameplay is just what you need to immerse yourself in this futuristic world.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire (2018)
- Nintendo Switch
- Xbox One
The sequel to the impressive Pillars of Eternity, Deadfire has you becoming the captain of your own ship, sailing the high seas of the Deadfire Archipelago in the detailed world of Eora.
You’re joined by characters from the first game, along with new ones. Customization, including classes, keeps this game fresh. There’s nothing like building a killer crew, loading up with supplies, and taking the fight to sea pirates.
Or you could become the sea pirates and attack the multiple factions you can join. It’s a team-based RPG in the vein of Baldur’s Gate, and the combat is fluid and nuanced.
Jade Empire (2005)
The beautiful world of Jade Empire, inspired by Chinese mythology, is a joy to get immersed in. It’s an RPG much like Knights of the Old Republic.
The world is populated by evil creatures, loyal companions, and more. The combat is solid, and it’s one of my favorite games for the original Xbox. The mix of fantasy and realism is unforgettable.
What would an RPG be without an ancient evil awakening, threatening the world, and your way of life? You can choose between a few different characters and can make moral decisions that have become a standard in many RPGs.
I feel this is an extremely underrated title compared to BioWare’s other great titles. The mix of martial arts, mythological creatures, and great characters makes this an unforgettable classic. Definitely check it out on GOG.com.
Planescape: Torment (1999)
The late 1990s were the glory days for PC RPGs. Planescape: Torment is a great RPG that puts you in the role of the Nameless One, an undead man who forgets his entire identity, plagued by visions of the past and a grotesque tattoos on his body.
I loved playing through this solid RPG, trying to find out the fate of the Nameless One, as well as experiencing the great writing of the game.
A spiritual sequel, Torment: Tides of Numeria, was released in 2017. If you like great stories, rich characters, and solid team-based gameplay, Torment is definitely for you.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (2002)
Our first Zelda title on the list, Wind Waker was a great exclusive for the GameCube. You play, of course, as Link. You leave your quaint island home to sail the high seas of Hyrule hundreds of years after Ocarina of Time.
One thing I loved especially about the game is sailing. I know that many could have found it repetitive, but it really made me feel a part of the game world. The music, environment, and sense of accomplishment were so satisfying to me that they remain fond memories to me.
Although this game is over 15 years old, it still holds up. The cel-shading graphics added longevity and a unique art style to the game that makes it look like it could have been released yesterday.
Pillars of Eternity (2015)
- OS X
- Xbox One
- Nintendo Switch
Pillars of the Earth is a great homage to RPGs from the 1990s. You’re surrounded by fleshed-out characters, a rich game world, and solid gameplay mechanics.
I especially like to play as a mage or spell sword, as the magic system is super satisfying and powerful. You’re thrown into a strange yet captivating plot concerning souls, the afterlife, and of course, saving the world.
This game embodies a true RPG, as the customization of character, choices, and more are prevalent. This is definitely one you cannot miss if you are a fan of RPGs.
Final Fantasy IX (2000)
The first Final Fantasy of the new millennium, Final Fantasy IX took the series from Final Fantasy VIII’s more serious soap opera vibe to a more whimsical, colorful medieval feel.
You’re the affable rogue Zidane, and you’re joined by loveable characters like the black mage Vivi and the silly yet endearing Steiner. The music and gameplay are unmatched, and although I liked Final Fantasy VIII, I think the ninth entry really brought Final Fantasy back to an older, classic time.
If you were somewhat disappointed with FFVIII and its story or magic system, I promise FFIX will not disappoint. You can get it on Steam and the PlayStation Store.
Arx Fatalis (2002)
I love this little gem of an RPG. In it, you’re trapped in an underground sprawling city called Arx. You’ve got a lot of freedom here, with in-depth magic skills, countless weapons, and a lot of baddies to kill.
Exploring underground fortresses and caverns is truly a treat. All the RPG staples are here: crafting, spells, secrets, and side quests.
You can truly get, (both figuratively and literally), lost in the deep caverns in Arx Fatalis. It’s usually pretty cheap on Steam, so you got to pick it up!
Fallout: New Vegas (2010)
- Xbox 360
New Vegas came two years after the release of Bethesda’s shot at the Fallout franchise. Obsidian took the reins and boy, did they do well. I like this game more than Fallout 3 by far.
There are so many options here. Not only is the environment of the Mojave Wasteland much more alive than others, but you can join a number of factions, each with satisfying quest lines with NPCs you love to hate.
You’re left for dead by the charismatic Benny after you’re discovered to be transporting a mysterious poker chip. What follows is a great, multibranched story that truly has you mulling over important decisions. If you want to play a Fallout game, this is definitely the one.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006)
- Xbox 360
The fourth entry in the landmark series, Oblivion has the player character shutting Oblivion gates; the literal gates to the hellscape realm of the Elder Scrolls universe.
The jump by Bethesda from the original Xbox to the Xbox 360 proved to be a godsend. The Environments of Cyrodil were lush, filled with life. You felt as if you were truly part of this game world.
Filled with multiple towns with each containing unique quest lines and NPCs, there are hundreds of hours of gameplay. The story is a classic, and the subsequent DLC released for it was some of the best ever for a game, let alone an RPG.
DLCs like The Shivering Isles and Knights of the Nine extend the lore, storyline, and gameplay greatly, adding more weapons and armor. Oblivion was the perfect stepping stone from Morrowind to 2011’s Skyrim.
System Shock 2 (1999)
This is an extremely influential game. Bioshock in 2007 was the spiritual successor to this horror/sci-fi/RPG title.
In it, you’re trapped on the space station Von Braun with a rogue AI, Shodan, and multiple freaks and insane creatures, much like splicers from Bioshock.
You need to utilize your personal skills, weapons, and more to survive Shodan’s evil embrace. Whenever Shodan makes ‘herself’ known, it’s always a chilling experience, not knowing what crazy things she’ll throw at you.
It emphasizes multiple play styles. Aggressive gunplay, or sneaky lockpick master? It’s all up to you. Can you escape the Von Braun and Shodan?
Darkest Dungeon (2016)
- Nintendo Switch
- PlayStation 4
- PlayStation Vita
- OS X
This one is a doozy. If you love dungeon crawlers, this may be the peak experience. Your journey to a town where evil has it firmly in its grasp.
You must quest through multiple dungeons, ultimately culminating in the ‘darkest dungeon’, to free the town and its people from the eldritch horrors.
You take along 4 adventurers, with unique classes like the Leper, Bounty Hunter, and Grave Robber. There are countless ways to arrange your party layout to do the most damage.
However, the crux of the game is the insanity meter in which if your party members are exposed to too many horrifying sights, they will go insane and start to experience debuffs, like attacking fellow party members.
This can result in rewarding as well as frustrating gameplay. This forces you to be extremely careful and strategic. It’s one of the most original RPGs I have played ever.
Dark Souls (2011)
- Xbox 360
This one is unlike anything I’ve ever played. Absolutely one of the most difficult games I have played, Dark Souls is the second entry in the Souls series of games by From Software and director Hidetaka Miyazaki.
Dark Souls doesn’t pull any punches. You will die. A lot. Even the first mini-boss in the game had me pulling my hair out with frustration. But something funny happened.
As I progressed through the game, (and died quite often doing so), I felt extremely rewarded. I was forced to adapt to the difficulty of the game. I needed to play smart and strategically. Before I knew it, I was far into the game, feeling powerful.
Then I came upon the twin bosses, Ornstein and Smough. Just when you think you can take on any enemy, Dark Souls punches you right in the face and gives you a wakeup call.
The great graphics, haunting environments of Lordran, and memorable boss fights will have you coming back for more, even after dying hundreds of times.
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (2002)
Before Skyrim came to the classic Morrowind. In it, the player character is transported to the dark and mysterious isle of Vvardenfell in the province of Morrowind.
You’re almost immediately embroiled in political intrigue, joining different guilds, and forging your own path in the world. This is before fast travel, folks.
When you get a quest, you need to pay attention to your journal and word of mouth. ‘Go east of Balmora, then use the left path in the fork in the road to find XYZ. This could be a turn off to many modern gamers, however, I believe it embodies the very concept of role-playing games.
You need to immerse yourself in the world and get your bearings. The atmosphere and music are haunting, beautiful, and unique.
Fallout 2 (1998)
Before the modern Fallout games that we’re perhaps more familiar with, Fallout 2 was an undisputed champion of post-apocalyptic RPG action.
After the country is ruined from nuclear war, hundreds of years later, you play as a descendant of the main character of the first game tasked with helping your community recover from a deadly drought. Sounds innocent enough, but it quickly evolves into a crazy, bloody adventure.
The gameplay is turn-based; you get an allotted amount of action points (AP), and you can wield countless weapons or even your fists. Nothing like punching a raider’s head off with a well-placed power kick!
Even though it’s an isometric viewpoint, the feeling of a world engulfed by disaster is actually quite real. You’re free to do nearly anything: visit a brothel, attack anyone you want to steal, joining factions, and more.
Although these things seem like the standard for RPGs these days, back then it was insane to even conceptualize these aspects.
Baldur’s Gate (1998)
What console has the best RPG games? Well, it’s hard to say since everything is cross-platform these days for the most part. However, in the 1990s, it was without question the PC.
One of those RPGs that actually made the sub-genre cRPG, (computer role-playing game), is Baldur’s Gate. Based on the rich world of the Forgotten Realms from Dungeons & Dragons, Baldur’s Gate is a party-based RPG.
This is where BioWare made their bones and set the scene for their later hits like Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect. You play as an orphaned character, named the Ward, who must go on a quest and find out why the region has an iron shortage, as well as find out about your past and the murder of your foster father, Gorion.
This game can be tough in the beginning, but it’s extremely rewarding. You meet a colorful cast of characters, weapons, and spells. This game was extremely influential not only for RPGs but for computer games going forward into the next century.
Mass Effect (2007)
- Xbox 360
Fans of science fiction and military shooters were graced with this powerhouse back in 2007. Mass Effect is a sweeping space opera in which you command a customized Commander Shepard and his/her team as they try to save the galaxy from an ancient threat.
BioWare delivered again in terms of both story and gameplay. As Shepard, you’re given a large amount of freedom when it comes to branching dialogue options and decisions.
Pay attention, because you’ll end up making some really tough ones, too. Of course, in BioWare fashion, you can play like a good, bad, or morally grey character.
You’ll also explore some great words that are chock full of interesting alien races, enemies, and more. The sequels to Mass Effect upped the ante in a beautiful fashion.
With a charismatic villain, beautiful music, and a captivating story, Mass Effect is one of the best RPGs of the 2000s.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003)
How was this game not made sooner? Who doesn’t like the sound of a Star Wars RPG? You get all the Star Wars goodies in this game. You escape a crashing ship after being attacked by a Sith squad, and you need to rescue a Jedi named Bastila.
What follows is some of my favorite story-driven gameplay ever. These characters that can join your party feel like they’re real. You care about what happens to them, making the game really pack a punch, as well as having a great combat system.
Plus, you get to make your own lightsaber. Do I need to say more?
Deus Ex (2000)
- Mac OS
A classic in any good RPG fan’s Steam library, Deus Ex is iconic. Taking equal parts conspiracies, techno-thriller, and solid gameplay, Deus Ex gives the player a glimpse into a bleak future.
It’s 2052 and an epidemic is ravaging the world. You’re JC Denton, a special agent with UNATCO. You’re tasked with rooting out terrorists in a grim, gloomy New York City.
What follows is quickly some of the best story writing I’ve experienced in gaming. It’s a landmark in plot development as well as an addictive, play-your-way gameplay style. How do you stop Grey Death? Who really pulls the strings? Is the Illuminati real? Who am I? Who are YOU?!
What is the most popular RPG game? It’s none other than Pokémon. By now, Pokémon is a way of life.
With the release of Detective Pikachu and the wild success of the mobile game, Pokémon GO, the franchise is a mainstay of our pop culture. However, it started as a great little RPG game for Gameboy.
You took on the role of a young Pokémon trainer as you journey across the land, collecting Pokémon and battling powerful enemies, eventually culminating in the iconic battle with the Elite 4.
There have been multiple releases and hundreds more Pokémon since the original 151 counts, (including Mew!), but the first still stands the test of time.
Riding your bicycle through the forest, getting creeped out by the eerie Lavender Town, and beating all the gym masters were such unique and beautiful experiences. That’s what RPG gaming is all about.
- Classic Mac OS
This dungeon-crawler is a simple, yet awesome RPG. You take the role of a warrior, rogue, or wizard as you journey to a village beset by demons.
You need to venture deep into the bowels of the cathedral to find out who or what is causing havoc. I originally got Diablo as a gift when I was 10. I was so scared to play this game that I refused to go past the first two levels of the first dungeon.
However, I soon got over my fear and battled the devil himself. I just bought it off of GOG.com in one of their sales. There’s no excuse not to dive right into this iconic and easily playable RPG!
Dragon Age: Origins (2009)
- Xbox 360
I had only heard of this game via a recommendation of a close friend. I was floored when I actually started playing. The customization is breathtaking and addictive.
I get ahead of myself though. Dragon Age puts you in the role of either a human, dwarf, or elf in a rich fantasy world beset on all sides by gruesome enemies.
The player is tasked with joining the Grey Wardens, a secretive and important sect of warriors who are the only ones who can get rid of the terrible monsters plaguing the land.
It’s realism as well as its fantastical elements make the game shine, as well as in-depth character interactions and story arcs.
Beating this game and experiencing one of the many endings had me smiling and remembering what it was like to take part in an unforgettable RPG experience.
Final Fantasy VII (1997)
The name really speaks for itself. What hasn’t been said about Square’s arguably magnum opus? The deep plot rife with themes like existence, PTSD, environmentalism, and identity, Final Fantasy VII brought Final Fantasy into the 3D realm with a bang.
You play as Cloud Strife, a mercenary, and his adventures with a gang of lovable characters that have become iconic in the world of gaming. It includes one of the best villains ever created in gaming: the cold, calculating Sephiroth.
Let’s just say that Sephiroth serves as some of the best battles in any RPG I’ve played. I was both insanely nervous and exhilarated at the same time. If you haven’t played this by now, what are you waiting for?
- Xbox 360
- Xbox One
- Nintendo Switch
A true RPG legend of our time, Skyrim is the 5th entry in the legendary Elder Scrolls series. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind brought the series to next-gen consoles.
The subsequent release of Oblivion changed what it meant to be a modern RPG, and Skyrim absolutely perfected it. You’re the Dragonborn, one of a long line of warriors who are the only ones able to kill dragons in Tamriel.
The customization is on point, and the setting is beautiful. The gameplay is easy to pick up and get lost in for hours. Before you know it, you’ll have gone from a measly level 1 to a high-level warrior god.
The side quests are well put together, my favorite being the Dark Brotherhood. As good as Skyrim is, I know that the next entry in the series will no doubt be a legendary title.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)
In my opinion, this is the best Zelda title. It was the first RPG that made me feel like an actual gamer, and that the games could be beautiful pieces of art.
The first third of the game is usually light in spirit, and magical. However, the latter part of the game turns extremely dark. The whole world is in turmoil; the people you knew are either dead or irrevocably changed in mind and spirit.
How do you respond to the threat of Ganon? This world of Hyrule felt so real to me that I felt so invested in every character. The classic addictive Zelda gameplay is there too.
If I were to separate RPG games into distinct time periods, with games defining each time period, this would easily define the 1990s and 2000s. However, I believe the game that defines the 2010s, and perhaps beyond, is even more breathtaking.
The Witcher 3 (2015)
- Microsoft Windows
- PlayStation 4
- Xbox One
- Nintendo Switch
I believe that the third entry into the Witcher series is responsible for so many people being introduced or reintroduced to a damn good role-playing game.
Playing as the enigmatic Geralt of Rivia has never felt better. You travel across a war-torn land, defeating monsters, taking part in courtly intrigue, and taking part in extremely detailed quests.
Every part of this game is dripping with quality. The music is haunting and reminiscent of Eastern European folk music and some of my favorite ever in a game.
I can easily answer your burning question of ‘what is the best RPG of all time?’ confidently with ‘The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
Image Sources: (Steam, mobygames, Steam, Gamesplanet, GOG, Kotaku, Pushsquare, Rockpapershotgun, Lutris, Gamesplanet, PCGamer, Steampowered, g2a, Microsoft, Steampowered, Deviantart, Reddit, Instant-Gaming, Engadget, Nintendolife, Steampowered)