I love me some RPGs, so I thought making a top 10 list of the best RPGs to play right now would be easy. Well, I was wrong. Don’t worry, it happens a lot.
Coming up with a big list of worthy games was the easy part. Cutting it down to size was where it got tricky. It even got to the point where I had to load a few games up and play for a bit just to ensure I wasn’t biased by nostalgia (I was, they got crossed off the list). It also means that some of my favorite games of all time didn’t make the list because they just didn’t stand the test of time as well as others did. So grab a d10, give it a roll, and see if our To 10 RPGs to play in 2019 scores a crit. Then go ahead and roll a perception check and let me know in the comments if you come up with any games I missed.
10 – Tyranny
In Tyranny you don’t play as the White Knight trying to save the world from the forces of evil. Nay, the land is already under the control of an evil ruler, and as an enforcer of the law of the land your decisions truly affect the landscape. From the get go your choices will mold and warp your adventure. You may work for an evil dictator, but it’s up to you just how harshly you treat the citizens. Not only do your decisions mold the world and overall story of the game, they also affect you directly in the form of skills and perks. Your decisions determine your favor with the different factions in the game. As your loyalty and fear grow for a faction it opens up new options for your character. All of this means Tyranny isn’t a one and done kind of game. Since your decisions mold the game, each play through will yield a new world and, to some extent, story to experience.
9 – Neverwinter Nights 2
The first D&D games I ever played were the Gold Box series by SSI. If that doesn’t sound familiar to you it’s probably because they were made before you were born. For me, those were the best CRPGs ever made, at least until Neverwinter Nights came out, followed by Neverwinter Nights 2. I played plenty of pen and paper D&D back in the day and NWN2 is the digital manifestation of those campaigns from long ago. You are given so many races and classes (not to mention Prestige classes) to pick from and customize to your liking you could (and I did) spend hours in the character creator. That may not sound like a big deal but remember NWN2 came out long before you were able to tweak your character’s physical model with 20 sliders.
There’s also a decent story chock full of the main quest and side missions. Plus you even get to take charge of your own stronghold on your way to saving the Forgotten Realms. And if all that isn’t enough to satiate your RPG hunger there are umpteen million player created campaigns to download and play.
8 – Final Fantasy XV
You’re going to hear this a lot in this list, but the best part of FFXV isn’t the combat, it’s the story and character interaction. Many games try to make the relationships between your party members memorable, but more often than not it just ends up being idle chit chat with a few one liners thrown in. FFXV has that, but it does it better than other games. It feels like heading out with the gang on a college era road trip, with more fighting (hopefully), magic, and monsters of course. There is one word of caution to long time fans of the Final Fantasy games – the staple turn-based combat has been replaced with a more modern real-time action based system, so if that is a deal breaker you may want to look elsewhere on this list for your RPG fix.
7 – Divinity: Original Sin 2
Speaking of turn-based combat, welcome to Divinity: Original Sin 2. For anyone who shuns real-time combat and wants to revel in a true tactical battle this is the game for them. For starters, Original Sin 2 has all the party customization you could ask for. Multiple races and a variety of classes and skills give you flexibility in creating your party of four adventurers. The real joy, though, is in finding ways to combine the skills and abilities of your party members to create unexpected combos during combat.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 even takes it one step further. The game offers a multiplayer option allowing up to four players to take control of part of the group. But wait, there’s more. Not only can you play cooperatively, there is also an arena mode where you can go up against your friends to prove once and for all who can create, and more importantly utilize, the most powerful hero.
6 – Octopath Traveler
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – Octopath Traveler is proof positive that a great story trumps just about everything else in an RPG. In an era where many RPGs are moving to first person and real-time action combat, Octopath Traveler goes old-school with turn-based JRPG combat in a hybrid visual experience combining retro 2D and modern 3D graphics. It originally launched on Nintendo Switch on July 13, 2018, and more recently released on PC on June 7, 2019.
You will choose one of eight characters to start your journey, and each of the eight available characters comes with it’s own personal story. Don’t fret, you will experience each character’s story as you travel around the land of Orsterra collecting each one. Each of the eight characters comes with their own role to play complete with unique abilities, skills, and talents.
5 – Mass Effect 2
If you have ever heard anyone rant about how BioWare has lost their ability to create a good story (or just blame it all on EA), odds are they will mention Mass Effect 2 as the pinnacle of their character-focused craft. That person is absolutely right, and that is why ME2 is on this list instead of one of the later installments in the franchise. The graphics are dated, the gameplay is good but not perfect, and we hadn’t even left the Milky Way galaxy yet. Where Mass Effect 2 shines is great character interactions. You could even argue that the best part of the game was spent not fighting the Collectors, but chatting it up with your crew aboard the Normandy. The dialogue has a morality factor based off of your responses, and future interactions will be affected by how you have talked to someone previously.
4 – Persona 5
Set in a modern world Tokyo, Persona 5 is a true anime adventure. From manga style dialogue boxes to full-on teenage angst, everything that comes to my middle-aged mind when I hear the word anime is packed into this JRPG. Somehow, even though I am positive I am not the target audience for Persona 5 (give me orcs and dwarves 7 days a week thank you), it just works.
Actually, it more than just works. The villains of Persona 5 are more than just representations of evil, their motives and desires are taken right out of the headlines of today. As protagonist Joker and the Phantom Thieves of Hearts, it’s your mission to enter the minds of these corrupted people and explore Palaces – physical manifestations of the person’s tainted desires. Completing these dungeons releases the individual from the trappings of their evil desires, making the world a better place. At least that is what you do when you aren’t mired in mundane, daily tasks such as going to school or drinking coffee. This is anime after all.
3 – Fallout New Vegas
There are some RPG series where the newest installment isn’t the best, and Fallout has succumbed to that trap. Don’t get me wrong, Fallout 4 isn’t a bad game. It just doesn’t push the RPG elements far enough ahead of what you get in Fallout New Vegas, instead of putting a little too much focus on the base building side of things.
Fallout New Vegas sends you down an old, familiar road, and then suddenly you realize the road is gone. It’s you versus the world and you don’t have anyone to hold your hand. Where do you go? What should you do? It’s all up to you, the world is your canvas. A bleak radiated mutant filled canvas. The main story of New Vegas is one of revenge, but you are free to exact that revenge however you deem necessary. Whether you decide to help anyone you come across or end their pain and suffering is up to you. Just remember your actions have consequences, and karma is a bitch.
2 – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Geralt – 99 problems but a witch ain’t one. Usually, the protagonist in an RPG is some low-level adventurer that is somehow tasked by someone far more powerful and capable to save the world from a dreaded evil. In The Witcher 3, poor Geralt just wants to find his family but everyone else’s problems keep getting in the way. Really, with a large number of main quests, side quests, and contracts (kill big monsters a la Monster Hunter World) spread throughout this 50+ hour open-world game, and it often feels the only person who isn’t helpless in this war-torn land is Geralt. The man is so busy he has to carry two main weapons, a steel sword to fight humans and normal beasts, and a silver sword to take on bigger monsters. And that isn’t even counting all the other secondary weapons, potions, and Witcher magic. It’s enough to make Batman feel ill-prepared and an RPGer giddy from all the choices at their fingertips.
While the action combat and character advancement of The Witcher 3 are enough to get The Witcher 3 onto any top ten RPG list, it is in the storytelling that lands Geralt’s adventures in this list’s number two spot. The voice acting is quite superb and there is a lot of it. The interactions don’t just sound good, they also have an effect on the story as well. So much so that there is a combination of almost 40 variables in play that determines which ending of the game you experience. You may have to play through the game more than once to get the good ending, and this is one game where that isn’t a bad thing.
1 – Elder Scrolls Skyrim
I could tell you about Elder Scrolls Skyrim, but let’s be honest – there isn’t anything I could say that you wouldn’t already know. The only real question is why did Skyrim fall into the number one spot instead of Fallout or The Witcher? All three games have huge open worlds, good main stories with a great list of side quests and expansive maps containing hour upon hour of exploration. For me, it all boils down to the character diversity.
Geralt is a Witcher, and although you can pick areas to focus on he will always be a Witcher. In Fallout New Vegas you have a few options, but ultimately you will be wearing power armor and carrying either a big gun or some insane melee weapon. Skyrim really doesn’t have those limitations. Do you want to be a plate mail wearing wizard? Sure thing. How about an archer wielding dual blades at close range? Not a problem. If you can think of it, you can grind out the skill levels to pull it off. That scope of character development is only rivaled by the sheer size of Skyrim. There is so much to explore in Skyrim that it can almost become a daunting task to stay on track and complete the main storyline.
One last fascinating thing about Skyrim is the modding community. There are so many mods available you can change and tweak just about any part of the game. Improved graphics, multiple new and improved user interfaces, complete skill revamps, even complete campaigns are all available. Some modders have even taken care of fixing bugs Bethesda never took care of. Basically, take the 100+ hours you could spend in the base game and multiply it by infinity. That’s what keeps a 9-year-old game at the top of my best RPG to playlist.