Discover what a Role Playing Game is, and what makes them unique. Then, check out some recommendations for some of the best RPGs out there so you can dive in and see for yourself.
Video games try to pull you out of your world and into theirs to entertain you in ways not possible in the real world. Role Playing Games (RPGs) take this one step further and put you into the shoes of the main character, making you the driving force behind their actions. You are transported to a new place and become a new person. Let’s take a look at what makes RPGs so unique, and some of the best RPGs available so that you can dive into this enthralling genre of video games.
Playing the Role
Defining what makes a video game an RPG is difficult; there are so many different types which have various features that have evolved over decades of development. However, if there is one thing that RPGs must have to allow it to belong to the genre, it’s choice. You must have the ability to choose, or you are not playing a role, just controlling an avatar.
Now, the choices that you make can take on many forms. There are two broad categories that most RPG choices fall into. Progression and story. An RPG may give you the power in one or both of these categories. As long as you have a say in either one, you can safely label the game an RPG.
This is perhaps the most common type of choice in RPGs. Having a say in how your character grows and develops is widely considered to be the surest sign of an RPG. Many games have growth, level up and progression systems in them (known as “RPG elements”), but RPGs make them the focus and usually allow greater degrees of choice.
Does your character fight with swords or bows? Do they talk their way out of conflict or use magic? RPGs allow you to choose how you get from nobody to hero.
One of the more fascinating ways RPGs draw you in, is by giving you a say in how the story develops. The game’s story may change depending on what you say to other characters or the actions you take.
Some games give you so much choice, that your decisions alter the core story, meaning you could play the game twice and experience completely different outcomes! Not all RPG’s offer the ability to influence the story, but it’s one of the reasons the genre has so many fans.
Online Vs. Offline
Now that we have examined what makes an RPG an RPG, let’s take a look at the two major categories of RPGs. These divisions are extremely broad; there are simply too many different genres and subgenres to count and explain with any amount of brevity. However, based on market share and player count, you can divide RPGs into two major camps: online and offline.
Online: The MMORPG
If you have never played an RPG in your life, it’s likely that you have still heard of a Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (RPG). The largest MMORPG out there, World of Warcraft, has more players playing it at any one time than the populations of entire cities.
Online RPGs usually consist of a persistent world populated by other characters controlled by people from all over the globe. This persistence means that you make a character and play around in the world, but when you log off the world stays there; the other players continue to play, and the world may even change while you are gone.
As you play your character, you might adventure, collect treasure, build a home, or join forces with a group of other players on a permanent basis and explore the world together. The level of immersion in MMORPGs is great enough that people spend hours online, living entirely different lives from the offline world.
Offline: A Cornucopia of Choice
Offline RPGs is where you really see the diversity the genre has to offer. These experiences are tailored to a single participant; you are the star of these games.
Over the years the RPG has grown and evolved, and more than once the genre has reinvented itself. There have been 2D, 3D, turn-based, action, open world sandbox, linear story-driven, fantasy, sci-fi and modern realistic RPGs. Even all of these categories are not sufficient to describe all of the different RPGs available, but hopefully, they whet your appetite.
The gameplay may be different, turn-based strategy or action heavy shooting, but the core concepts are the same. You take on the role of a character or create your own and play through a story. Virtually every console and computer system has had RPGs made for it, from the humble floppy disk the modern AAA 3D RPG.
Some of the Best RPG Games Out There
Take a look at some of the best RPG franchises available today. For ease of perusal, they are divided into categories based on various criteria.
The Best MMORPGs
MMORPGs used to dominate the PC RPG genre, but over time their appeal has waned. The golden age of MMORPGs may be over, but there are several games still going strong with large, devoted fanbases.
- World of Warcraft: By far the biggest, this MMORPG has had millions of players since its launch over 13 years ago. The game’s story picks up where the third Warcraft RTS left off and has continued through over six expansions. WOW requires a monthly subscription.
- Star Wars: The Old Republic: This MMORPG takes place in the wildly popular Star Wars universe, but several thousand years before the movies. You take on one of eight class of character with individually unique storylines. The SWTOR experience is cinematic like no other MMORPG out there.
- EVE Online: Another stalwart franchise, EVE offers a different experience than most MMORPGs out there. Instead of a person on the ground, the play as the captain of a starship that you can upgrade and trade in for a bigger and better one. Player progression is virtually limitless, allowing you to eventually be part of enormous player run fleets and corporations. Just beware the steep learning curve.
The Best RPGs for PC
The PC’s control scheme allows for gameplay not possible on consoles. These RPGs past and present are more tactical and take into account the PC’s advantages.
- Arcanum: This classic top-down isometric RPG was lauded for its originality. It combined magic and technology along with an open world, complex dialogue and companion systems. One of the best in history.
- Planescape: Torment: The RPG that has become the gold standard of story. A deeply intellectual plot, complex main character and extensive player choice made this story of a seemingly immortal man stand out among all others.
- Fallout: This hugely popular series had its roots in the top-down isometric age. These days, the most recent installments have transitioned to 3D open world, but it’s still the same great franchise about a post-apocalyptic America. Create your own character and forge a unique path through the retro-futuristic wasteland.
The Best RPGs for Console
These games are exclusive or were built with consoles in mind. Action RPGs that blend fast-paced gameplay with choice and story find homes here due to consoles’ fluid control schemes. However, many of the best turn-based story driven games also got their start here.
- Final Fantasy: Arguably the greatest RPG franchise of all time, there have been dozens of Final Fantasy games over the last 30+ years. It would be a fool’s errand even to try and summarize all the memorable characters and stories that have come from this franchise. These games tend to be slower paced with an epic yet linear story that spans dozens if not hundreds of hours.
- Mass Effect: This sci-fi RPG/shooter hybrid changed the genre forever. Over the first three installments, your choices carry over from game to game. Throughout this three-game epic, your decisions not only the state of the galaxy at large but your personal relationships with your crew members.
- The Elder Scrolls: Another long-standing RPG franchise, this series includes some of the best open world RPGs ever including their most recent single-player installment, Skyrim. These games let you immerse yourself in the world and completely ignore the storyline if you so wish. Exploration in an Elder Scrolls game is second to none.
- Deus Ex: This cyberpunk RPG/shooter/stealth hybrid flawlessly blends elements from three different genres of video games into one smooth experience. The variation in approaches to completing objectives can be at times overwhelming. You often have the opportunity to fight, talk, sneak or perhaps use all three to finish a mission. Not to mention the complex stories that explore what it means to be human and if we can ever be anything more.
Don’t Read It, Live It
This meager list is by no means exhaustive. There are just so many other great RPGs out there like Chrono Trigger or Diablo or the Baldur’s Gate series, but they can hardly be described in mere summarizations. Role playing games bring you the best of video games, books, movies and graphical art all rolled into one. If you have even a passing interest in video games, you owe it to yourself to experience these unique and immersive story experiences.