RPGs are a hefty investment, requiring time and dedication to delve into their complex intricacies. With myriad choices and divergent styles, finding the right one can be overwhelming. We’re here to help. This article breaks down our recommendations into a slew of categories, dedicated to what’s important to you in an RPG. Whether it’s combat, story, or a preferred subgenre, it’s covered. We tried to recommend more recent games, but didn’t want to completely eschew beloved classics in case you were itching for something more nostalgic.
The biggest barrier to getting into RPGs can be their intimidating systems and overall complexity. If you’re just starting out, these are our picks for some of the most newcomer-friendly games.
With simplistic mechanics that are just deep enough and helpful tutorials, Pokémon: Sword & Shield is one of the best “starter RPGs” out there, regardless of age, though there’s a hidden complexity for those who seek it. Similarly, Dragon Quest XI hearkens back to the early era of RPGs, with traditional combat that’s both accessible and rewarding.
Diablo III is a dazzling hack-and-slash adventure with an extremely flexible class system, and its controls make it simple to pick up and play regardless of platform. If you’re looking for the open-world RPG experience, Skyrim is a must-play, and offers a ton of customization by offering full control over statistic growth instead of traditional classes. Don’t be turned off by its massive scope, nothing is too difficult to grasp and it’s one of the easier games in which to lose yourself. Chrono Trigger is another fantastic pick due to its simplistic-yet-fun mechanics, thanks to the satisfying team attacks and a slew of characters with varied abilities.
Sometimes you just want to look back at the promising beginnings of the genre and see why certain titles are so beloved. That’s always easier said than done, as some games haven’t held up to the march of time. While these games may show their age, they can also be considered “required reading.”
Chrono Trigger still stands as a hallmark of the genre that’s just as fun to play today as it was two decades ago. It didn’t change the direction of RPGs, but everything is executed well, including a New Game+ feature, time-travel aspects, and multiple endings.
Western RPG fans should explore Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition, which is a great way to look at this foundational isometric RPG with some upgrades. One of BioWare’s first titles, it has a massive story and your party members deeply care about your actions. Strategy/RPG fans should check out Final Fantasy Tactics’ deep job system, which provided massive customization alongside an intense and engaging story.
System Shock 2 set a new standard for open-ended gameplay and combined several genres into one amazing package. Nowadays, RPGs borrow from various genres, using shooting mechanics and parkour elements, but System Shock 2 was one of the earlier RPGs that didn’t fit neatly into one box. Planescape: Torment was also ahead of its time in terms of how storytelling could impact – or even supersede – gameplay, proving combat didn’t need to drive the experience.
You spend oodles of time defeating foes in RPGs, so picking a battle system that suits your style is essential. If you enjoy evaluating and picking your party members’ actions in a more traditional turn-based setup, plenty of quality options have their own unique hooks.
Dragon Quest revels in its simplistic design while keeping things intense, Persona’s combat revolves around exploiting elemental and physical attributes, and Trails of Cold Steel blends enemy weaknesses, character placement, and timing.
For those looking for turn-based systems outside of the traditional JRPG, the Lovecraft-inspired dungeon crawler Darkest Dungeon keeps you on your toes by forcing you to carefully construct your team with complementary abilities, balance your HP and stress levels, and capitalize on enemy characteristics. Slay the Spire has you crafting your own deck of cards to bring into battle, smartly combining the thrill of building up a powerful deck with the eternal replayability of a roguelike.
Love the adrenaline rush of using your twitch skills to overcome foes? We have you covered. The atmospheric, horror-inspired Bloodborne is a faster, more offense-focused take on From Software’s popular Souls formula, where challenge permeates the experience and every death brings a lesson. Square Enix recently revamped Final Fantasy VII with an action-oriented battle system, blending careful strategy with stylish action. Speaking of stylish action, Nier: Automata is the definition of it, with its flashy dodges and cool attacks showcasing Platinum Games’ strengths.
The Kingdom Hearts series introduces new combat mechanics in each entry along with show-stopping boss battles to put your skills to the test. Falcom helped pioneer the action/RPG genre and has continued to put out stellar action titles. This extends to Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, with its smooth controls and fast-paced combat, where dodging and blocking at the right moment is integral to success. Each of these games has memorable boss battles, which only makes victory more satisfying when you take one down.
Do you enjoy deep, labyrinthine storylines and fully developed characters? You may read a lot of text in these RPGs, but they’re worth the eyestrain.
Whether you’re exploring metaphysical quandaries in Torment: Tides of Numenera or taking on societal injustices in Persona 5 Royal, there’s no shortage of intriguing plots to explore. Trails of Cold Steel weaves a complex and bonkers storyline about military politics, friendship, and the impact of war that spans multiple games.
The thought-provoking Disco Elysium eschews traditional RPG trappings for a more dialogue-heavy approach, creating a uniquely introspective and dark journey of a detective battling his inner demons. There’s a reason why Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher series has earned such a sterling reputation, and that extends to the games. The Witcher 3 is CD Projekt Red’s most ambitious narrative and capitalizes on the novels’ rich lore, but stands out as a rare example of a game committed to putting the player in truly ambiguous moral situations; choices are neither celebrated nor condemned, leaving you to ponder your decisions.
Whether it’s advanced weaponry or space exploration, sci-fi settings usually provide us with intriguing ways to explore imaginative or futuristic concepts, and what grander stage for that than an RPG?
The Mass Effect trilogy is one of the most recognized and well-regarded examples of a space opera. It puts you in the shoes of Commander Shepard, whose mission is to save the galaxy from the invading Reapers. Shepard’s journey is punctuated by novel characters, difficult choices, and startling revelations. The Outer Worlds takes a lot of cues from Mass Effect and also incorporates Fallout-style gameplay freedom in terms of how you approach situations, such as talking your way out of combat or picking locks to bypass obstacles, as you explore a crumbling space colony controlled by evil corporate interests.
For a more classic experience. Star Ocean: First Departure R, is a remaster of the PSP remake of the 1996 SNES RPG. The action/RPG starts with you searching for a cure to a mysterious disease, but soon leads to the discovery of other beings and the beginnings of a galactic war, forcing your group to tap into time travel and advanced technologies.
Torment: Tides of Numenera takes a more metaphysical and philosophical approach to its tale, ultimately asking if one life matters. The game takes place in a distant future where the rise and fall of civilizations have left Earth in a medieval state, forcing you to explore artifacts to learn more about what happened in with past civilizations. Lastly, Star Wars has become synonymous with science-fiction, and what better way to live out those fantasies than playing as a Jedi, choosing if you align with the light or dark side of the Force, in Knights of the Old Republic? Great characters, memorable moments, and using cool Force powers make it a journey worth experiencing.
Perhaps magic, the supernatural, or the things that make up myths and legends hold your interest. Games rooted in the fantasy genre aren’t hard to find; after all, magic is a staple of RPG combat. However, some adventures lean way more into fully realizing a fantasy setting than others.
The Dragon Age series created its greatest rivalry with the Templars and Mages by asking a simple question: How would our world react if magic actually existed? Dragon Age: Inquisition ratchets up this dilemma, especially when a new ancient threat comes, forcing you to gather allies and resources in order to unite a disparate world.
The Witcher novels have broken new ground in the fantasy genre, and CD Projekt Red’s video games do justice to monster slayer Geralt and his harrowing journeys. You get the thrill of confronting mythical beasts while also meeting fantastic characters, such as sarcastic sorceress Yennefer and the determined Ciri. The latter is at the center of The Witcher 3’s plot as a dangerous organization pursues her to use her powers for evil.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire puts you back in the role of “The Watcher,” a character who can read people’s memories and see their past lives, but this time around, you can help or hinder various factions vying for control over the Deadfire area. If that’s not enough, you will ultimately decide the future for gods and mortals. South Park: The Stick of Truth pokes fun at the genre, taking you on a humorous journey to obtain the coveted “stick of truth” in order to win an epic fantasy war. Expect to fight everything from Nazi zombies to gnomes, as all bets are off when you can kill enemies with farts.
Lastly, if you merely enjoy a good high fantasy backdrop without a big narrative to follow, the action/RPG Dragon’s Dogma provides more of the experience in its gameplay and combat, where you choose to be anything from an Assassin to a Magick Archer.
Taking your time to formulate a plan and watch your units evolve into unstoppable powerhouses is what makes strategy/RPGs so entertaining. The genre has built some momentum over the last few years, and there’s no shortage of games to deliver the tactical experiences we crave.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses was a huge hit that made you care about your combatants by placing you in the role of a professor, imparting your wisdom on life’s hardships on and off the battlefield. Valkyria Chronicles 4 is another solid choice for its hybrid approach, as you use a tactical map to evaluate the situation and then control units directly to lead them to victory.
Wargroove takes plenty of cues from Advance Wars, but still adds unique elements, such as interesting ways to counter various units and unique map conditions. It also lets you tailor your strategy by providing requirements for guaranteed criticals, like moving a certain number of spaces before striking.
If you’re looking for something where your choices impact the narrative and go beyond the heat of battle, The Banner Saga trilogy puts plenty of meaningful decisions in your hands that factor into everything from morale to character availability. Of course, not everyone wants things so serious and grim, so if lighthearted and over-the-top is more your jam, Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance has you covered with ridiculous attacks that can deal absurd amounts of damage (in the millions!) and silly characters like the curry-loving Usalia.
If you want a game you can keep coming back to for the long haul, now might be the time to consider an MMORPG. World of Warcraft is still at the top of pack, with its continually evolving world that’s engaging to explore. With several expansions under its belt, it can be intimidating, but the current experience bonuses – including boosting your character to the max level – mean you can catch up quickly.
Final Fantasy XIV and The Elder Scrolls Online are also great choices if you’re into those franchises and want to fully immerse yourself in their worlds. If you’re looking for something story-driven, Final Fantasy XIV delivers, capitalizing on its rich lore to complement the gameplay. It’s also a good pick for players who like to solo. It took some time, but The Elder Scrolls Online is finally living up to its promise with its vast, intriguing world where you can explore at your own leisure or with friends, and it’s one of the more accessible MMORPGs out there.
Those of you who love customization and a good hook of constantly getting bigger and better things should check out the free-to-play cooperative shooter action/RPG Warframe; new weapons, items, and Warframes that come with unique abilities are always in grasp. Another sci-fi MMORPG, Phantasy Star Online 2, just recently came to North America, and it features real-time action/RPG features unique classes, cool weapons, and big flashy moves. Better yet, it also feels like a very newcomer-friendly MMORPG.
Sometimes great RPGs just don’t gel with mainstream audiences, but their unique gameplay and stories help develop smaller, devoted fanbases.
Plenty remember BioWare’s landmark Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, but its following game often sits forgotten. Jade Empire is an action/RPG with a morality system that’s steeped in Chinese mythology and aesthetics, offering a refreshing change of pace from typical fantasy settings. If you’re looking for another game that bucks the fantasy trend, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines is an ambitious choice-driven adventure set in modern Los Angeles, and combines smart writing with non-linear gameplay design. As a newly turned vampire, players align with one of seven clans, which influences not only how they’re perceived by other characters, but the abilities they can learn as well.
Although Nier: Automata was a success, its predecessor initially struggled before gaining a following for its distinct weirdness and eclectic gameplay, which ranges from 3D hack-and-slash to shoot ‘em up to survival horror. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is sadly the only game 38 Studios brought to market, but it’s an action/RPG gem with massive amounts of content, an eye-popping color palette, and gratifying combat. Odin Sphere is a delightful beat ‘em up set within a gorgeous, hand-drawn 2D world. Its remake on the PS3/PS4/Vita improved upon the original’s combat mechanics by adding specific character abilities and included new stages and redrawn graphics.
Many think of RPGs as single-player games, but some know there’s more fun to be had when playing with friends. Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a stunning turn-based adventure that allows a ton of freedom and plays out like a virtual D&D session. Borderlands 3 has stellar first-person shooter combat that’s made better when you have a group to take full advantage of its unique character classes, and doles out heaps of randomized loot. And if hunting for randomized loot is especially pleasing to you, no game satisfies the itch better than Diablo III. Playing with friends leads to fast-paced and blood-soaked mayhem, and it’s made better by the game’s endless Adventure mode, which ensures you’ll lose hours to its gameplay loop.
Monster Hunter: World is a much slower experience that also relies on an engaging gameplay loop, but rather than obtaining randomized loot, you hunt specific bosses to craft the gear you want. Battles never play the same way twice thanks to smart A.I. and turf wars that pit monsters against each other, and the staggering amount of weapon variety makes having a full hunting party almost mandatory.
While it’s nice to play a breezy game that can be completed within 10-20 hours, sometimes you want a meatier experience that keeps you coming back for more. Diablo III’s Adventure mode is an endless cycle of randomized bounties scattered throughout all of the game’s acts, and completing them will help you unlock new recipes for the blacksmith that you can use to perfect your character build. There’s also a season mode, which requires you to create a new character and complete set challenges by the end of the season in order to unlock rare cosmetics.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has so much side content that it can be overwhelming. These aren’t your standard fetch quests, but rather mini-storylines that give you a glimpse into the lives of the people around you and immerses you in the game’s wonderful but brutal world. Two separate expansions also provide an additional 25-60+ hours of questing.
Xenoblade Chronicles’ side quests aren’t as in-depth as The Witcher 3’s, but they are plentiful with over 400, which gives you an excuse to explore every corner of the vast environments. The recently released HD remake on Switch also includes an epilogue, adding even more content to sink your teeth into. Assassin’s Creed first ventured into RPG territory with Origins, but Odyssey perfected the formula. There’s a massive amount of quests, a gigantic world to explore, rival mercenaries to hunt down, and two multi-chaptered DLC packs.
No game, though, is more famous for its side content than The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It’s filled to the brim with side stories, many of which either require you to join the game’s numerous factions or stumble upon by exploring the world. You can spend dozens upon dozens of hours exploring what Skyrim has to offer before even touching the main questline, and that’s not including its expansions.