Warning: Some of the video games listed below are not suitable for younger viewers. Please use caution and check each game’s ESRB rating before allowing children to play it, especially those rated M for Mature. M-rated video games may contain content that is inappropriate for children and/or unlabeled content that exposes younger viewers to explicit messages and themes.
Literally ever since computers could be programmed, they've been used to play role-playing games (RPGs). The first was in 1975, on a mainframe the size of a living room. Through the years, they've evolved from tabletop RPGs to offline RPG games and online RPG games.
Alone or with networked friends and enemies, RPG games have been a staple of computing for decades. Here are ten of the best from the last one.
1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim by Bethesda Game Studios
Bethesda's Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
is the culmination of decades of world and game-building that began in 1994 with the introduction of the sleeper hit Elder Scrolls: Arena
. This introduced gamers in the pre-Internet era to the fantasy realm of Tamriel. Toggling between either first- or third-person view, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
player begins the adventure in a prison cart, en route to their own execution, which is interrupted by a dragon attack on the town.
Where it goes from there is up to you, as there are no character classes. How you play Skyrim and what skills you choose to build creates a near-infinite variety of approaches. A robust weapons, magic, potion, and item-crafting system insures that you will play and replay through Tamriel, making different choices. Will you become a wizard who commands fire with one hand and lightning with the other? A mercenary who is only out for herself? Or maybe you'll end up a stone-cold killer who murders whole villages in his sleep and steals all their things (just don't save your game after doing so if you want to finish the main storylines).
Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is loaded with main quests that tell a large story with weeks and weeks of real-time gameplay and expansion packs that let your character buy land in the game world, adopt children, choose sides in a bloody civil war, and more.
Be warned: When you get into Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
, you will gain a deep and rich awareness of Tamriel, and, in the process, lose a few weeks (or months, depending on how hardcore you are) down a big time-sink hole.
2. Diablo III by Blizzard Entertainment
The third installment in the franchise, Diablo III
is a dungeon-crawler, fantasy-horror action game that epitomizes the classic battle between good and evil. Diablo III
takes place two decades after the events of Diablo II,
in which Diablo, Mephisto, and Baal have conquered the dark world of Sanctuary. Here are a few others of our favorite horror PC games
, outside of RPGs.
Players in Diablo III must defeat Diablo, the Lord of Terror, as one of seven character classes, including both male and female versions of either Barbarian, Crusader, Demon Hunter, Monk, Necromancer, Witch Doctor, or Wizard. While you’re deciding, you’ll see a short video showing what that particular class looks like while fighting with weaponry, game style, and power.
When the game opens, Deckard Cain and his niece Leah once again find themselves in Tristram Cathedral, examining texts about an ominous prophecy. Suddenly a star falls from the sky, hitting the Cathedral and swallowing up Deckard Cain. You must investigate this event, along with Leah, while rescuing Cain and learning how to defeat King Leoric, known as the “Skeleton King."
Along the way, you’ll fight battles with enemies that include armies of demons, lethal succubi, and other creatures while casting spells and nabbing lots and lots of loot.
3. Dark Souls III by FromSoftware
Played in the third-person perspective, Dark Souls III
puts you in a world that is barreling headlong into the apocalypse, yet is beautifully rendered even with all of the ashes strewn about.
The game is set in the Kingdom of Lothric, where the flame that’s responsible for maintaining the Age of Fire is dying out, and the imminent Age of Dark brings on the undead. While the Age of Fire can be extended through rituals carried out by the Lords of Cinder, keepers or “linkers” of the flame, this age’s linker Prince Lothric has reneged on his sacred task, choosing instead to let the flame die out.
As a player, you’re equipped with a massive variety and arsenal of weapons and armor to fight against and deflect enemies and protect yourself from damage. Throughout Dark Souls III
, you’ll encounter some enemies who can change their combat patterns during battles. But at the same time, your weapons and new skills will equip you with unique attack abilities that differ from the earlier games in the series. You’ll also be able to explore, and may find yourself easily lost in a vast amount of territory in this game.
4. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt by CD Projekt Red
The 2015 sequel to the second game in the series, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
is set in the Continent, a world in which humans coexist with elves, dwarves, and other creatures. The game’s protagonist is Geralt of Rivia, a monster hunter and Witcher trained as a child in tracking, magic, and combat. Geralt is searching for his missing daughter Ciri who is being pursued by the powerful riders of the Wild Hunt, who are seeking her powers.
Playing as Geralt, you can jump, climb, and swim for the first time in this series, in addition to the usual actions like running and rolling . In certain parts of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt,
you’re able to control Ciri, although you won't be able to switch between Ciri and Geralt at will.
Narrative-driven, the game lets you decide how you’re going to respond to non-player characters (NPCs), which in turn will determine which of the game’s 36 possible endings occur.
5. NieR: Automata by PlatinumGames
Ever wanted to fight on top of a moving roller coaster, perform parkour-type moves among abandoned office buildings, and jockey a wild animal all in the same game? Then NieR: Automata
is your ticket to ride.
This third-person perspective game is set in the year 11945 AD and the post-apocalyptic world of a war between humans and (alien) machines, in which humanity has fled to the Moon, sending down combat androids called "YoRHa" to resist and fight off the invaders.
In NieR: Automata
, the protagonist is female battle android YoRHa No. 2 Model B (nicknamed "2B"), who is joined by fellow androids and assisted by a flying robot Pod, who can not only launch attacks but also help protect 2B. Along with companion android 9S, resistance leader Anemone, and peace-loving machine Pascal, 2B works for the Resistance to fight and defeat evil robots and other nefarious technological threats.
6. Divinity: Original Sin by Larian Studios
Divinity: Original Sin
is the prequel to 2002’s extremely popular, and very alliterative, Divine Divinity
. When this old-school-looking RPG was released a few years ago, it shipped with an editor allowing players to create either single- or multiplayer adventures and publish them online.
Another unique feature at the time of release was that Divinity: Original Sin
enabled players to create two protagonists at the game’s start, choosing separate gender, class, and dialogue options. Your two protagonists are known as Source Hunters, who are pursuing dangerous magicians from a sect of Sourcerers (yes, that’s really the correct spelling).
The game begins when your Source Hunter is called on to investigate a murder supposedly committed by a Sourcerer in the city of Cyseal, which orcs have taken over. NPCs you encounter will react realistically to your actions: so, for instance, if you’re trying to take an item that’s not yours, the proprietor of that shop will try to stop you. Some are even animals who will talk to you (if you have the “Pet Pal” talent, that is).
7. South Park: The Stick of Truth by Obsidian Entertainment
Fans of the long-running animated television series South Park
will be happy to know that Trey Parker and Matt Stone were heavily involved in the creation of RPG South Park: The Stick of Truth
. They not only wrote the script and voiced many of the characters, but they also were instrumental in ensuring that the design looked exactly like the show.
Players indeed feel like they’ve stepped right into an actual episode. In fact, for the first time in the history of the show, South Park: The Stick of Truth maps out the entire town, allowing you to fully explore every locale, and nearly every piece of inventory that you come across has a reference to the show.
The story involves the New Kid, a silent protagonist who’s just moved to South Park, and who befriends recognizable characters from the show, including Butters, Timmy, Kenny, Stan, Kyle, and Cartman. The New Kid is introduced to the Stick of Truth
: a twig with supposedly unlimited power and quickly accompanies friends on quests to control it.
At the beginning of the game, you select one of four character archetypes: Fighter, Thief, Mage, and Jew, whose class specializes in "Jew-jitsu" and can use a weapon called a “circum-scythe.” Your character will encounter other hilarious and irreverent nods to the series, including enemies such as Nazi zombies, aliens, Gingers, and of course Cartman’s arch-nemeses: hippies.
8. Dragon Age: Origins by BioWare
Released almost nine years ago, Dragon Age: Origins
is set in Ferelden, one of several countries in the world of Thedas. Its dark fantasy setting was inspired by both The Lord of the Rings
and A Song of Ice and Fire.
This third-person perspective game pits the elite order of Grey Wardens, who must save the world from the “Blight,” against evil invading forces called the “Darkspawn." Your player can choose to play as a warrior, rogue, or mage who is either a human, elf, or dwarf, opening the adventure with one of six possible stories.
Although your dialogue choices determine gameplay elements as well as how certain characters react to you, each player leaves with Duncan, a significant NPC and the commander of Ferelden's Grey Wardens. Duncan selects you as his new recruit, and together you set off to battle enemies like dragons, ogres, ghosts, gigantic spiders, and more throughout the journey in Dragon Age: Origins
9. Mass Effect 2 by BioWare
™ game released not too long after Dragon Age: Origins, Mass Effect 2
is the sequel to the Mass Effect
. This single-player, third-person game takes place within our own galaxy during the year 2183, shortly after the events of the first game, when the starship SSV Normandy
is attacked, forcing the crew to abandon ship. This sequel also introduces an interesting and complex character called The Illusive Man, expertly voiced by Martin Sheen.
You assume the role of, and have direct control over, soldier Commander Shepard (apparently named after Alan Shepard, the first American astronaut in space), for whom you can choose gender, first name, appearance, military background, and combat training. You can also select among six character classes, each of which is proficient in specific weapon types and skills. If you’ve saved your previous game from Mass Effect
, you can use it to impact the story of Mass Effect 2
Playing as Shepard, you engage in squad-based combat to fight enemies. Dialogue choices impact how your squad members (and others) react to you, your mission-completion rewards…and your very morality.
10. Deus Ex: Human Revolution by Eidos Montréal
A prequel to the original Deux Ex
, and the third game in the series, Deus Ex: Human Revolution
features first-person shooter and stealth gameplay.
While the visuals re-create the series' cyberpunk themes, it weaves in other aesthetics such as stunning Renaissance-era color schemes. It looks darkly beautiful, which is apropos for the game’s dystopian feel. Deus Ex: Human Revolution
is set in the year 2027, a quarter of a century before the original.
The story opens with Adam Jensen, ex-SWAT and current security officer of Sarif Industries, a company involved in researching artificial organs called "augmentations.” Indeed, this is the company who ends up making his robotic arms after an attack on the facility that kills researchers and others while leaving Jensen critically injured. After six months of recovery, Jensen, now equipped with his advanced augmentations (aka cybernetic implants), goes on a quest to find his attackers and the sinister company responsible for them.
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