Update: New to our list is Deux Ex: Mankind Divided at number 11!
Sharpen your broadsword and start thinking about your favourite character stat because it is time to look at the PC RPG games you should all be playing.
We’re not going to be looking back to the early 90s with rose tinted shades and tears in our eyes this time, though. This list is all about the games we think anyone could play right now and happily waste a good chunk of their life on. Most of them don’t even need a super-powered PC to play at base settings either.
As this is all about role-playing games, you can expect a fair number of swords, spells and bearded folk to pop up. But we have a few picks for the elf-haters out there too.
1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
It may be half a decade old, but Skyrim remains one of the most vital RPGs out there because of its incredible mod scene. If you played this game back in 2011 and put it to bed, give it another go with some of the graphics and immersion mods. It’s like playing Skyrim 1.5.
If you’ve not played it all, where have you been? This open-world fantasy epic makes it possible to spend hundreds of satisfying hours without even tackling the main story. Few games craft as rich a world as this, and there’s enough content to play the game as a whole bunch of different characters without feeling like you’re being funnelled into a single “hero” mould.
We won’t spoil the main storyline, but let’s just say it features more dragons than Game of Thrones, and you even get to wield some dragon power yourself. Purists may bang on about how Morrowind is the highlight of the The Elder Scrolls series, but if we were to play one of the games on PC right now, Skyrim is the one we’d download from Steam.
2. Pillars of Eternity
This is what you get if you take the DNA of Balder’s Gate and Planescape: Torment, but start making the game almost 20 years after those titles appeared. Pillars of Eternity is a classic isometric party-based RPG, a style that went out of fashion just after the turn of the millennium, but one that’s good to have back.
We’re not alone either. Back in 2012, ‘Project Pillars’ earned Obsidian almost $4 million on Kickstarter.
Pillars of Eternity is saturated with old-school role-playing flavour. It’s the story of a blighted land, and playing it is no cakewalk. You’ll need strategy, as hack ‘n’ slash tactics don’t work here. Combat is fluid rather than turn-based, but you can pause the action at any point to issue your party orders. If you played and loved Baldur’s Gate or Icewind Dale, you’ll feel right at home.
3. Dark Souls III
Ready for punishment? Dark Souls III is the latest game in the series that wants to make you cry. This is a new kind of grind. It’s not really about levelling-up your character, but a sort of mind-grind where you need to learn environments and enemy attack patterns to survive.
It’s like games from the old days, but those unflinching tangy bits are poured into a modern action role-player. Dark Souls III has the deepest RPG elements of the series to date too, even if we include Demon’s Souls and Bloodborne.
As well as choosing a class, your weapons have class-related skills that are a key part of getting ahead in Dark Souls III. It’s not just about carefully-timed thwacks anymore.
This game requires a certain mood, but for all its grim-ness, it’s frequently totally beautiful too.
4. The Witcher 3
If you’re after a classic western RPG with a great story, look no further than The Witcher 3. This game has more quality storytelling in some of its fetch side quests than some others have in their main storylines.
You are Geralt, gruff and grey-haired monster hunter chap, a sort of heroic land pirate type. This is a deep-dive adventure you’ll want to set a few months aside for, a bit like Skyrim.
These two duke it out as favourite accessible beards and swords RPGs, but The Witcher 3 snags the writing and moody-faced adult themes awards. While comparing the two feels natural, Skyrim is a mostly first-person game where The Witcher 3 is third-person like the other Witcher titles. It’s also not easy either. You’ve been warned.
5. Fallout 4
If you want an RPG but have had quite enough of all the swords and sorcery nonsense, Fallout 4 needs to be on your to-buy list. As any Fallout fan will know, the game is set in a nuclear apocalypse, where every puddle of water pumps radiation into your skin and even the cockroaches are deadly.
Well, if you’re rubbish at the game anyway.
This time around, you wake up from cryostasis in one of the bunker Vaults to find your spouse killed and your son kidnapped. You have to find him, even though he was taken 20 years before you wake up.
Throw in some great quest writing and the ability to design your own little towns, and you have a bit of a role-playing winner.
It took about five minutes post-release for Undertale to be called a cult classic. It’s a story-driven role-player with a JPRG edge, but how it approaches its battles and its work is quite different from the norm.
In Undertale, combat can be non-violent. It’s what you want most of the time, because you’ll feel awful for hurting the game’s ‘enemies’.
Even how you fight isn’t normal. Fights take place as a bullet hell arcade-style game that plays out as your character and the enemy talk. It’s an RPG that prods your emotions. It might even make you cry.
7. Dragon Age: Inquisition
We’ve been spoilt with ultra-high quality RPGs over the last few years. Dragon Age Inquisition is where to head if you find the Witcher 3 that bit too brooding and serious.
You play Inquisition as an almost Jesus-like figure. Marked with a sigil on your hand, you’re a chosen one, who can close up rifts in the sky that keep appearing. Neat, right?
As well as making you a bit of a medieval The Matrix Neo figure, your position means you end up with some political power at your fingertips, choosing who to tick off and not. Of course, this is the narrative story sauce atop a regular action RPG sundae. Dragon Age Inquisition is slightly less open than The Witcher 3 or Skyrim, based around large areas rather than an almost one-piece world, but it’s still massive.
8. Legend of Grimrock II
If Pillars of Eternity dredges up the style of RPGs from around 2000, Legend of Grimrock II does the same for mid-90s dungeon crawlers. Where the first game in the series was an oppressive Eye of the Betholder-a-like, this second game is more like Lands of Lore.
If you’re 25 and under then that might not mean a lot, but it’s more colorful, far more open and — to be honest — much more interesting too.
How this differs from flat-out modern RPGs is that it’s a turn-based game where you move in squares and your attacks are timed. But it’s still a beautiful, smart and engaging game that feels more prepped for today’s gamer than most full-on franchise reboots.
9. Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition
It’s not often a publisher completely overhauls a game, then releases it for free to everyone who bought the original, but that’s what happened with Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition on PC. You get new quests, a re-written story and, partying like it’s 1999, perfected split-screen multiplayer.
A new-school, old-school smoothie, this is a top-down isometric party RPG like Balder’s Gate, but with turn-based battles and a much lighter style. It’s more comic than dark and miserable.
It didn’t attract as much attention as something like The Witcher 3 at launch, but is one absolutely worth checking up on.
10. Mass Effect 2
If you don’t mind heading back a few years for your RPG fix, you shouldn’t miss Mass Effect 2. This is, so far, the sweet spot of the space opera RPG series from EA. It’s much more accessible than the first Mass Effect, and much less of a thin adventure than Mass Effect 3.
It is a grand space opera of a game, a sprawling story of warring factions, alien racial tensions and legitimately interesting characters that are much more than ciphers.
Mass Effect 2 is also a great RPG for those who might be turned off by standard role-playing trappings – like impenetrable stat screens and chat that sounds like it has been cribbed straight from The Lord of the Rings. This is an EA game, and has a lot of that big publisher accessibility to it.
11. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
Following in the footsteps of the previous Deus Ex games, Mankind Divided is an RPG disguised as a first-person shooter. That’s because, like Human Revolution five years prior, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is all about player choice.
You can punch through walls and confront enemies head-on or complete tasks using tactical stealth mechanics. It’s entirely up to you; the end result is equally rewarding no matter what. Depending on the way you play the game, you can unlock different weapons and abilities, also up to your choosing.
Choose carefully, however, as Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is the kind of game where few can be trusted with the exception of the player character Adam Jensen. The political climate surrounding the game’s setting will leave you hesitant to trust anyone you interact with. After all, you yourself are a point of controversy – the augmented residents of Mankind Divided’s fictitious city of Prague are constantly subjected to discrimination and police violence.