If you want to forget about the real world, role-playing games (RPGs) are the genre in which to invest. The clue is in the title. Anything that promises ‘role-playing’ is, more often than not, going to take you on an adventure that’s far more epic than anything you could do in your real life. Which is sad when you think about it…
With all that said and done, here are the best RPGs of all-time. Or at least a selection that you should definitely make time to hunt down and play. And, once you’re done here, perhaps take a look at our best games list or our picks of best PS4 games or best Xbox One games.
Dragon Age: Origins
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Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Mac
The Dragon Age series has become a highlight for the genre since it launched in 2009, and arguably its greatest entry is the first. Feeling very much like BioWare took the model for KOTOR but applied it to a fantasy setting, the gimmick here was that your origin story would play out differently depending which character you chose.
Not only did this give it tremendous replay ability, but it affected how you were perceived throughout the fantasy world. That kind of approach meant Origins carried tremendous weight. The fact that the developer crafted a story filled with shocks and surprises made it better still.
Furthermore, the cast of characters the original Dragon Age presented were second to none. Judging you constantly as they observed your every move, it was more than possible to downright resent some of them because of their constant nagging. That’s not easy to pull off, but BioWare did it near perfectly.
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Platform: PC, Mac and Linux
The much-anticipated sequel to the 1988 original that would go on to inspire the Fallout series, Wasteland 2 was one of Kickstarter’s early crowd-funding successes, raising $2,933,252 in cash. The game that shipped last year was not a disappointment to long-time fans of the original. Set in a post-apocalyptic North America, Wasteland 2 offers turn-based tactical role-playing with a branching storyline that is impacted by the player’s actions.
Like all the best RPGs, the characters in the game drive things forward, with each member of your party having a distinct personality and reason for wanting to remain alive. The combat engine is refined and engaging, while the overhead perspective allows the game to remain faithful to the original – as well as the early Fallout titles.
The fact that subsequent playthroughs can be radically different adds to the already considerable longevity of the title – it’s possible to play it many times over and experience a whole new story each time.
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Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
As mentioned, few developers construct environments as meticulously as Bethesda, and Fallout 3 is another great example why. Presenting a world that’s been destroyed by nuclear fallout and destruction, the Capital Wasteland is a horrible and depressing place to wander but that’s the whole point.
Instead of trying to make Fallout 3 bright and appealing, the developer went in the other direction, embracing the horror such carnage would bring to society and presenting it without compromise. As such, it can be hard work on occasion, but that’s where the genius of it all comes into play. This is a role-playing game, after all, and Bethesda is so focused on what it wants to get across it holds nothing back.
If you’ve ever wanted to experience what a post-apocalyptic planet Earth would be like, you simply will not find better than this. It’s a masterpiece.
Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
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Platforms: Nintendo GameCube
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Many RPGs pride themselves on presenting a dark and serious world to engage players. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door does not follow such thinking. Far more colourful and fun, Intelligent Systems’ approach to turning Mario into a role-playing star is entertaining from start to finish, topped off wonderfully thanks to the paper style that served as the game’s foundation.
Tying in to both the story and gameplay, it allowed Paper Mario to stand out and be utterly unique. Not only was the world presented to you flat as a pancake, but that also meant you could take advantage of it, sliding through paper-thin cracks and abusing the fact you were light as a feather.
The battle system is also a joy. Although turn-based, the use of timing is worked in excellently, meaning there’s always a way to inflict extra damage or defend yourself. Throw in a great and genuinely funny story, and it’s another success for the biggest star in all of games.
Mass Effect 2
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Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Mass Effect 2 starts with The Normandy – a ship that was an essential part of the original game – blowing up. It ends with a suicide mission where you’re more or less told the characters you’ve built up relationships with over 40-plus hours are probably going to die. If that’s not enough to entice you in, then nothing will do the job.
Focusing on action from the off and barely letting up throughout, Mass Effect 2 is a superb offering from BioWare. Following the path of Commander Shepard who must assemble a team for a mission sure to end in death, this feels more like a space drama you’d watch on TV than a bunch of digital sprites powered by the Xbox 360 or PS3. Aside from gunplay that’s as good as any third-person shooter, the conversation system is excellent, asking you to be a silver-tongued devil as much as a weapons specialist.
In short, it’s just very good, so go and play it.
Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic
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Platforms: Xbox, PC, Mac, iOS, Android
The most standout aspect of BioWare’s Knights Of The Old Republic is that you can enjoy it without even being a fan of Star Wars. While using the universe created by George Lucas as a backdrop makes it even more appealing, the real highlights here are the tremendous story, oddly addictive gameplay mechanics and a momentous twist that’s as mind-blowing now as it was back in 2003.
It’s certainly different to what most are used to today, the battle system especially. Combat tasks you to assign different skills to your party and then more or less watch them fight as you look on. It sounds odd, but when you’re playing the game it just works and gets better with each ability you receive.
On top of all this, there’s also the delightful treat that you can choose to embrace the path of a Jedi, or the path of a Sith. Meaning if you want to walk around and just chop everyone’s head off you mostly certainly can.
When you can do that, you just know it’s going to be good…
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Platforms: SNES, PlayStation, iOS, Android, DS
It’s rare to call a game ahead of its time, but when Chrono Trigger was released for the Super Nintendo in 1995 such calls were well and truly earned. It took a formula that was very bland and straightforward and turned it into a ‘just one more hour’ stroke of genius.
It’s still considered one of the best games in history thanks to its multiple endings, engaging side-quests, original battle system and cast of characters who develop throughout.
This translated into sales as well. Chrono Trigger went on to be the third best-selling game of the year, and demand for an updated version was so extreme a DS iteration was released in March 2003. The game was then ported to mobile phones in 2011.
There’s a reason it’s still being treated this way over 20 years since it first came out, and the answer is simple: it really is that great.
Final Fantasy VII
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Platforms: PlayStation, PS4, iOS, Android PC
Often described as as one of the best games of all time, full stop, Final Fantasy VII is constantly featured in lists such as these and for good reason. While it’s hard to grasp without proper context, Square’s 1997 hit boasted visuals that were a country mile ahead of anything else on the PlayStation, a story that was told more like a film than a video game, and characters that resonated with its audience. People still talk about Cloud and Aerith today.
It was Final Fantasy VII’s battle mechanic that won many over, however. An evolved system to one Square had been using for years, it was tweaked and polished to an almost perfect degree and inspired countless wannabes to embrace the idea of turn-based fighting. Easy to understand and yet tough to master, it would define the series for over a decade.
There’s a reason Final Fantasy VII is always part of the conversation, and why the long-awaited remake was greenlit in 2015. It touched people’s lives, which is nothing short of impressive.
Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn
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Platforms: PC, Mac, Android, iOS
If you’re looking for an RPG that continually throws quest after quest at you until you can’t handle anymore content, Baldur’s Gate 2 is for you. Offering an almost obscene number of adventures to head out on, Shadows Of Amn also has a combat system that’s up to the challenge.
Focusing on strategy and tactics, you have to meticulously plan out how you’re going to get through each and every fight, the whole test becoming even more satisfying as you continually evolve and expand your arsenal. If you want to see what all the fuss is about when it comes to table-top RPGs, Baldur’s Gate 2 is straight-up essential.
It also plays to BioWare’s strengths in that it comes equipped with companions that you won’t soon forget. Reacting to your actions – which can both help and hinder at later stages – it adds a real layer of depth to proceedings that makes Shadows Of Amn far more than just another hack ‘n’ slash adventure.