Top 10 Best RPG Video Games Of All Time
The role-playing game is the cornerstone of PC gaming. Long before shooters or real-time strategy, the earliest PC developers replicated their tabletop RPGs on the PC, building sprawling adventures filled with orcs and wizards and foul dungeons. Those early games slowly built on their tabletop origins, and RPGs eventually became so popular, their elements spread to other genres. Here are our favorites: the RPGs we’d tell anyone to play right now.
Today we are counting down Top 10 Best RPG Video Games Of All Time
10. System Shock
Lonely. That’s the defining emotion of Irrational’s debut game. You’ll hear audio logs from fascinating characters, many of whom are struggling to survive in a battle against the bio-terror creatures called the Many. But you won’t meet those people, because they didn’t make it.
That loneliness is key because Shock 2 is all about taking things away from you. Ammo? Check: you’ll probably waste those on an assault droid when you should have saved them for later. Hypos? Yep. Think twice before you walk into that radiated room. But the biggest thing Irrational takes away, right at the halfway mark of the game, is hope. It’s the reveal of insane AI Shodan that turns your expectations on their head, and it’s one of our favorite moments in gaming.
Irrational made games where the environment is the central character, and here, that character is the Von Braun. It creaks and moans as you pad quietly down its corridors. Every door you open yelps. Its security systems attack you as if you hurt their feelings. Staying on the good side of this character is hard, but Shock 2’s leveling system of earning experience points through exploration balances the risks and rewards. Some play through with all guns blazing, but the psionics skills balance well with combat, and Tech skills open new areas later in the game. There’s a lot of balance to be found in what on the surface looks like a streamlined action RPG skill system.
9. Ultima VII: The Black Gate
The Guardian is one of the most terrifying things my young mind had ever encountered. Looking back, his massive stone face emerging from the screen, with his actual, real-life voice taunting me, both made me want to play and horrified me enough to uninstall and reinstall multiple times.
It was a technological marvel at the time, but Ultima 7 stands the test of time because of the interactivity of Britannia. Most anything could be picked up or talked to, and as I painted a portrait of myself in the game, I wondered if I’d ever finish the game’s plot. But Ultima’s story sucks you in, starting first with a double homicide to solve and expanding into a religious battle for Britannia’s soul. Black Gate’s dialogue design still hold up today, and inspired Divinity: Original Sin a great deal—particularly the way it handles new converts to the world’s competing religion. This is without a doubt the best installment of one of the most legendary RPG franchises ever.
8. Deus Ex
Do you want to run in the firefight, guns blazing, or do you want to sneak around and flank? Do you want to snipe? Or maybe you want to hack some terminals and get droid reinforcement? Or, what if you talked to that NPC guard over there and convince his team to take a lunch break? Deus Ex’s world is so freeform that the choices seem endless.
While it looks like a shooter, Deus Ex is all about role-playing elements. Fire a gun you’re not skilled in and your aim won’t matter—you’ll most likely miss. The leveling system rewards experimentation, and some of the later upgrades make your Denton feel like a superhero. Even the weapons you use can be modified and “leveled up,” turning a standard issue pistol into an unstoppable killing tool. The attention to detail here is perfect, and no one element of the game ever truly feels forced.
Deus Ex’s world is built to reward exploring every dark alley and ventilation system, because you never know where you’ll find a new clue. And there are a lot of clues—every note you find or sign you see seems to hint at some new conspiracy, and we love how the alliances in the game feel constantly in flux. The NPCs you meet are just believable enough to make this conspiracy-laden world feel lived-in. Human Revolution looks better, but this is the smarter, more open-ended game.
7. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
The release of Fallout 4 demonstrated that some cracks are starting to appear in Bethesda’s usually reliable open world model, but that model seemed earthshaking back when Morrowind hit literal shelves way back in 2002. There was a magic in knowing you could tromp all over the island of Vvardenfell without even encountering a loading screen save upon entering buildings, and in seeing that the NPC population seemed to have lives beyond their interactions with you.
Plenty of other games have achieved similar effects in the years since, but the wonder of Morrowind is that it still holds up all these years later—even more so than its technically superior successor Oblivion. A lot of that appeal springs from the delicious surrealism of Vvardenfell itself, where racist elves hang out in twisty mushrooms like smurfs in an acid dream, and where the more traditional castles of occupying foreigners clash with the landscape like pueblos in Scandinavia. The AI might often seem primitive by today’s standards, but the stories the tell often rival those in prettier contemporary RPGs.
It thrives still, thanks in part to its own strengths and a dedicated modding community that creates countless new adventures and keeps it looking more modern than it actually is (even going so far as to port the entirety of Morrowind into newer game engines).
6. Mass Effect 2
BioWare’s first Mass Effect felt like a KOTOR clone, and not in a good way. The universe was a place we wanted to live, but there were too many systems and menus to dig through to get there. Still, it terrified us to hear that BioWare had streamed back so much and put more emphasis on the shooting mechanics. Turns out, it was for the better: Mass Effect 2 trims just enough fat to let you focus on what matters: the optional Loyalty missions for your team.
Instead of an exercise in galactic exploration, Mass Effect 2 plays out like a sci-fi Ocean’s Eleven or Dirty Dozen. Recruiting a team to take on the Collectors puts the focus on small, interesting stories. Each Loyalty mission gives you insight into your companions’ motivations, making every member of the Normandy’s crew an unusually deep character. Once you’ve grown to know and love them, the endgame suicide run is one of the tensest final missions ever. It’s rare for a game to spend more time on character arcs than its central driving narrative, but Mass Effect 2 pulls it off. This is some of the best writing in BioWare’s history.
5. Dark Souls: Prepare To Die Edition
Yes, Dark Souls breaks a cardinal rule of RPGs: you can beat it without leveling. But only if you’re really good, and only if you understand its systems perfectly—that its crafting system matters, that certain items can be obtained only by fulfilling obfuscated quests. In a genre where systems are king, Dark Souls reigns because it’s all about systems. Just learning how each stat affects your character’s build is a process deeper than most D&D-themed RPGs, but it’s ultimately just as rewarding.
So is discovering the rich lore of Lordran, which is told through cryptic conversations and subtle environmental clues. The depth of Dark Souls’ world carries over into exploration, too. Everything is connected brilliantly, and secrets and shortcuts—including massive hidden areas and features—await the most dedicated adventurers. Dark Souls’ summoning system is also unlike anything else in RPGs, but you can unplug and beat the whole game solo, or learn to love being invaded and fighting off another player.
4. The Witcher 3
Many RPGs focus on tales of lone, wandering adventurers, but few if any pull it off it with such artistry as The Witcher 3. That artistry is most apparent in the setting itself, which is so packed with breathtaking sunsets and wind-tossed groves of trees that, months later, I still find myself opting to go to destinations on foot rather than taking the fast travel points.
But the true strength of The Witcher 3 is that it populates these memorable landscapes with NPCs doling out humble but memorable quests (by the dozen) that help create one of the most human RPG experiences on the market. In decaying wayside towns, the witcher Geralt might find impoverished elves struggling in the face of local racism; elsewhere, he might help a self-styled baron reunite with his long-estranged daughter. These quests deftly navigate moral issues without being heavy-handed or offering obvious solutions
Through it all, much as in The Witcher 2, Geralt usually plays the role of just another character on this troubled world’s stage. In the process, this tale of monster slaying and inter-dimensional raiders becomes strangely and poignantly relatable.
3. Fallout 2
The original Fallout was a huge success for Interplay, but it’s not as big of a world as you’d expect. The sequel expands that world considerably, and adds more moral ambiguity to a game where right and wrong are already hard to tell apart. Playing as a tribal villager instead of a native Vault dweller gives you a different world perspective—you’re not as naive to the world and its dangers, which makes it all the darker when you start twisting people’s expectations and motivations.
The search for the Garden of Eden Creation Kit (GECK) fits the warped 1950s feel of the wasteland more than the macguffin of a water chip in the first game. And it’s nice to not have such a time limit hanging over your head: you can take your time and get to know the people of the wastes, instead of rushing to an abandoned vault. If you’ve never played the classic series, I recommend you start here, and then the original.
2. Baldur’s Gate 2
One problem with AD&D is that low-level characters are pretty boring. Baldur’s Gate 2 solves that problem by letting you carry over your party from the first game, or start fresh with level 7 characters. It makes a huge difference: instead of wimpy fighters and frail wizards, you get powerful, useful spells and warriors that can take a punch.
It also helps that the scope of Amn is enormous, with more quests and content than most other comparable RPGs. BioWare’s Infinity Engine handles the quests and the combat perfectly, highlighting the game’s focus on strategy and tactics in combat. It’s hard to imagine controlling a six-person party without pausing and giving orders, and any newer game that relies on real-time decisions makes us long for the Infinity Engine.
Yes, this is where RPG romances come from, but the courtships never feel contrived here, and BG2 still has some of the most memorable companions of any game. If for some reason you’ve never played a table-top RPG, Baldur’s Gate 2 captures the sword-and-sorcery experience almost perfectly. If you have the original version, you can easily mod it to run at modern resolutions, or you can try the Extended Edition that also includes new content.
1. Planescape: Torment
Release Date: 1999
Developer: Black Isle Studios
There is no other story in gaming like the Nameless One’s. His is a tale of redemption in the face of countless sins, a tale of not knowing who you are until you become the person you’re trying to be. The tattoos the Nameless One wears are marks to remind him of who he is, who he was, and who he wants to be.
That open-endedness is central to what makes Planescape: Torment so captivating. At a literal level, you spend the game trying to discover who the Nameless One is, but your actions also help to define him. It’s one of many RPG tropes that Black Isle sought to subvert—others include the fact that rats are actually worthy foes, humans are often worse than undead, and you don’t have to fight in most cases. Most importantly, that your goal is not to save the world, as in countless other RPGs. You simply need to figure out who you are.
The Nameless One’s companions are some of the best written, most enjoyable NPCs ever coded. Most have been affected by your past incarnations: pyromaniac mage Ignus was once your apprentice, though it’s more impressive that he’s constantly on fire. Or Dak’kon, who swore an oath of loyalty to you, even though you’re not sure why. Others are just interesting, well-rounded characters: Fall-From-Grace is a succubus cleric who prays to no god and, though a creature of evil, wants to do no harm. The best is Morte, a floating skull whose sarcastic wit is sharper than his bite attacks (skulls can’t equip swords, of course).
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