What is the best PC RPG? It's not an easy question to answer, hence why we've provided 20 of them for you here. A stalwart PC genre that came into existence in the ‘70s, things have changed a touch since then. The scale and scope is massive like never before, with tech finally starting to catch up to developers' ambitions.
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And there's plenty of diversity to boot. Just in the selection below we've got interplanetary exploration, lightsaber duels, bloodthirsty vampires, irradiated mutants who need to be beaten with golf clubs, and whole lot more.
So let's venture forth. Here's our list of the top PC RPGs…
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Witcher 3 takes all the moral ambiguity, challenging subjects like racism and bigotry and, of course, monster hunting from the previous games and puts them in a massive, mostly open world. The result is an extraordinary RPG that sets the standard for open world adventures.
Every quest is an opportunity to not just learn more about the world, but to be drawn into it. A simple monster contract, directing series protagonist Geralt to slaughter a monster (there are many such quests, and for the first time it actually feels like we’re getting to see Geralt doing his actual job), can transform into an elaborate series of consequence laden stories that span several hours, closing and opening doors as it hurtles towards a usually satisfying conclusion.
Navigating the complex, dark fantasy world is a delight, even when the oppressive misery of it threatens to send players spiralling into depression. Even the most innocuous of decisions can have a huge impact on the world and its denizens, giving every action a great deal of weight. Impressively, CD Projekt Red also managed to avoid padding the game out with fluff, like inane collectibles and quests to kill x amount of monsters. Every quest has a purpose and a pay off, even if they aren’t clear until many hours later.
Even better, CD Projekt Red have produced arguably the best DLC ever made with Hearts of Stone and Blood & Wine, the latter of which is actually a quest even better than that seen in the main game. The Witcher 3 really is something to be devoured until nothing remains.
Want more? Here's our The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt review.
Pillars of Eternity
Pillars of Eternity is an exceptional RPG; a game that evokes the best parts of the classic Infinity Engine games like Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment (both found elsewhere on this list) while striking out on its own path with a compelling fantasy yarn and a richly detailed original world.
It’s Obsidian Entertainment at the top of their game, with the beautiful writing that the studio is known for wrapped up in a polished adventure, something they’ve struggled with in the past. Despite being a massive RPG with a daunting amount of options, everything has been crafted with so much care. Religion, philosophy, class warfare, the world of Eora is one overflowing with conflict and crises -- every region on the map is fat with problems waiting for nosey adventurers, and even the most seemingly mundane quests can offer some insight into the world or the chance to create a reputation, good or bad.
Instead of just cashing in on the popularity of its spiritual predecessors, it builds on those strong foundations to create an experience that doesn’t rely on the past or on nostalgia. It’s progress, and the overall experience is one that’s even more reminiscent of tabletop RPGs than even those rooted in D&D.
Want more? Here's our Pillars of Eternity review.
Fallout: New Vegas
Fallout: New Vegas returns after briefly being ousted by Fallout 4. We still love Bethesda’s latest, with its improved shooting, crafting and the fantastic settlement construction element, but New Vegas is simply a better, more liberating RPG.
Obsidian took Bethesda’s formula for a 3D, first-person Fallout, and chucked back in all the things that made the original isometric games so great. You really feel like you’re making your own way through the game, instead of being nudged along by an invisible director.
Unlike Fallout 4, which makes you a parent searching for your child, New Vegas just makes you a denizen of the world. You carve your own path, interacting with who you want, being good, evil or anything in between without feeling like you’re going against the grain. You can team up the NCR, join the slave-loving Legion, stand up for Vegas itself or just be a self-serving asshole. Or you can just check our list of the essential Fallout: New Vegas mods and build your own game.
The writing, world-building and black comedy are all spot on, and while we’re on the subject, what will it take for Bethesda to let Obsidian take another crack at the universe?
While this list is in no particular order, Planescape: Torment still deserves to be near the top. Black Isle Studios, the titans of Dungeons & Dragons CRPGs, turned convention on its head when they crafted this Planar adventure. There are no more typical fantasy races, morality is not defined, or is at least mutable, and every character attribute is tied to conversations and out of combat actions. It’s a game of philosophy and discovery rather than a monster slaying adventure.
“What can change the nature of a man?” is the question at the heart of Planescape: Torment. The Nameless One is an immortal amnesiac, living many lives, doing deeds terrible and great, changing the lives of those around him, often for the worst. Waking up on a mortuary slab, the mystery of his past propels the Nameless One through the Multiverse, one of the most bizarre settings of any RPG, where he deals with Gods, zealotic factions – like the Dustmen, a faction that believes life is a fleeting precursor to the ultimate existence: death - and mazes both mechanical and magical.
The ambition of Planescape: Torment would have been for naught were it not for the superb writing that accompanied it. Chris Avellone and Co penned a tale saturated with nuance and memorable characters that, even 14 years on, stands the test of time and has yet to be outdone. It’s the only RPG where you'll find yourself searching through the protagonist’s organs to find an important item, or where you may allow an NPC to kill you so that she could experience what it would be like to murder somebody. And all the while you'll wrestled with philosophical conundrums and questions of identity. If that all sounds a bit grisly and esoteric to you, then fret not, as the Nameless One is also accompanied by a floating, talking skull who is an unrepentant flirt, so it’s not all serious.
Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines
Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines was lamentably riddled with bugs at launch, to the point of being nearly unplayable, but with some patience (and the myriad of community patches) you might find yourself becoming besotted with this bloodsucker.
You’ve just become a vampire. Surprise! It’s not all seducing teenage girls and sparkling, though, because the world of Vampire: The Masquerade - based on the excellent White Wolf tabletop game - is decidedly more mature. Set in modern Los Angeles, it’s rife with undead politics and secret wars amid the glamour of Hollywood and corporate America.
The inventive quests, like a visit to the site of a vampire-run snuff movie set, an investigation in a haunted hotel that features no combat and plenty of scares that make even a vampire whimper, or a sneaky infiltration mission in a huge museum are large affairs, and laden with multiple routes and plenty of opportunities to exploit vampiric abilities like mind control or shapeshifting. The setting of modern America is one unfamiliar in RPGs, and Troika takes full advantage of it with little touches like vampires making deals with blood banks or infiltrating the Hollywood glitterati.
A cracking story of faction politics and prophecy; wildly varied vampire clans to choose from at the start of the game, from the loopy Malkavians to the hideous, stealthy Nosferatu; and writing that is wry and sardonic made it possible to grin and bear the bugs at launch, and in it’s now slightly more stable state, Vampire: The Masquerade is a unique title that you really ought to pick up.
Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn
Starting with the original Baldur’s Gate in ‘98 and concluding with the expansion Baldur’s Gate II: Throne of Bhaal in ‘01, the Bhallspawn series charts the trials and tribulations of an adventuring party from the rugged Sword Coast to the wealthy city of Athkatla, where magic is mostly illegal, and beyond to the tumultuous realm of Tethyr.
The Dungeons & Dragons land of the Forgotten Realms is meticulously recreated, filled to the brim with gorgeous environments just waiting to be explored. And within them, quests! So many bloody quests. Hundreds of hours of saving villages, delving into mines, fighting mad wizards, slaughtering Gnolls and even a trip to the Planes – explored in more detail in Planescape: Torment – and a deadly adventure into the Underdark.
Elevating these many quests is exceptional writing and dialogue. Baldur’s Gate juggles wit and satire with solemnity and gravitas, drawing players into even ostensibly simple quests. It’s the party of adventurers that join the hero that get the best lines of course, and none more so than Minsc, the infamous Ranger who talks to his cosmic space hamster, Boo. Baldur’s Gate II also has the distinction of having one of the best antagonists in any game: Jon Irenicus, expertly voiced by top-notch player of villains David Warner. Arrogant, powerful, deformed and with a hint of tragedy around him, Irenicus has all the hallmarks of a classic villain, and even while he’s not present throughout most of the game, his influence seeps into everything.
Mass Effect 2
Marrying the sub-genres of speculative fiction and space opera, Mass Effect 2 is Bioware’s greatest achievement in terms of world or, rather, galaxy building. The exploration and pseudo-science of Star Trek, the cinematic action of Battlestar Galactica and the fantastical elements of Star Wars or pulpy science fiction of the early 20th Century are all on show and artfully combined in this tense suicide mission to save the galaxy.
Humans are the new kids on the block, recently joining the galactic community, and must shake things up to get all the older races to acknowledge a growing threat to their existence. How do they do that? With an ass-kicking soldier, of course. Commander Shepard is a great character because he’s your character. It’s impossible to define him, because for many he’s actually a she, and rather than being the glory-hunting hero who became a grizzled, downtrodden veteran as he was in my game, he or she might have been a cruel, racist bastard or a paragon of virtue who refuses to let anyone die.
Dramatic set pieces and workmanlike, if not particularly interesting, squad-based combat are punctuated by BioWare’s trademark, excellent dialogue and simply wandering around alien locales, sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong because that’s what humans do in space, apparently. Suspend your disbelief for the last ten minutes, and you’ll find yourself on one hell of an sci-fi ride.
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
Where Arena and Daggerfall have aged badly, and Oblivion is a bit of a bore (besides the Shivering Isles expansion), the third Elder Scrolls installment remains the gem in the crown of the franchise, and even Skyrim doesn’t quite manage to surpass it.
One of the first encounters you'll have in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind can kill you right out of the gate. Leaving the prison vessel that transports you to this bleak and alien land, you'll spent little time in the small port town, before venturing out into the wilderness. It's there that you'll encountered a wizard. We say encountered, but he actually almost lands on you, falling from the sky. If you loot his corpse, you'll discover a scroll that the wizard believed gave him the power of flight. Ignoring the results of what was clearly his first experiment with the spell, you may cast it. That's when you'll be launched high up into the sky, able to see the whole land from you amazing vantage point… until you fall to your death
That early encounter – which isn’t a quest, it’s just something that happens – encapsulates what makes Morrowind so magnificent. There’s a gigantic alien landscape begging to be travelled across, filled with strange people and the promise of countless quests and random misadventures. It’s a game where you can murder an important NPC, failing the main quest, and yet can keep playing.
Diversity is the name of the game in Morrowind. Where Oblivion had its European forests and Medieval towns and Skyrim had its Scandinavian themes, Morrowind is utterly unique, rarely looking like a real-world counterpart. Giant mushroom forests, homes made out of bone and carapace, large floating beasts – the lovable silt striders – for transportation, it’s a weird place. This variety extends to all aspects of the title. Skills, magic and equipment are all much more abundant in Morrowind compared to its successors, and offer more in depth customisation and substantially more character builds. At first it’s confusing, bursting with choice but little direction, but when you start to chart your own path, it becomes a game unlike any other.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II
We were hesitant about putting a game so riddled with bugs that was released in a completely unfinished state in this list, but beneath Knights of the Old Republic II’s cracks and flaws is the best Star Wars game ever made, and an amazing RPG.
Where its predecessor, made by BioWare and not Obsidian, was a fantastic addition to the Star Wars universe complete with a twist worthy of The Empire Strikes Back, KOTOR II takes the venerable IP and takes it in a completely new direction. No longer is the focus on the constant battle between the Dark Side and the Light Side, Republic versus Empire. Instead, we’re treated to a narrative that explores the nature of the force and what it means to be cut off and lost. It’s a story of misfits and traitors and, in retrospect, sometimes feels very much like Star Wars by way of Planescape: Torment.
Shades of grey permeate through the entire adventure, as the Exile, KOTOR II’s protagonist, is forced to think about every action and how good deeds can beget evil ones, being pushed ever further towards pragmatism. An oft depressingly bleak game, it’s as much about personal exploration as it is about gallivanting across the galaxy, getting into lightsaber battles and using the force, though there’s certainly plenty of that too.
Perhaps the best thing about KOTOR II is Kreia, the Exile’s secretive mentor. The impetus for so much of the game, she pushes the Exile, berates him and attempts to teach him all the while presenting the force in much more interesting ways than either of the film trilogies managed. It makes the pupil mentor relationship between Luke and Yoda or Ben exceptionally dull in comparison.
Want more? Check out our Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II review.
Shadowrun: Hong Kong
Shadowrun Hong Kong is a welcome throwback to the ‘90s. Based on the classic tabletop roleplaying game, it’s a neo-noir cyberpunk mystery with plenty of magic, fantasy elements and combat that’s reminiscent of XCOM. That makes it a lot of things, and all of them are just great. Set on a future Earth where science and the realm of the arcane struggle to co-exist and beings like elves and trolls walk the streets along with humans, players find themselves in the shoes of a shadowrunner, a shady mercenary proficient in espionage.
A freeform character creator lets players make all sorts of unusual classes, from spirit summoners who can also enter a digital realm and fight computer programs to samurais who run around with a bunch of remote controlled robots. Dumping some points into charisma also unlocks affinities for different types of people, be they corporate security, other shadowrunners or street gangs, opening up new dialogue options and avenues in your investigation.
Hong Kong builds on the previous two games, lavishing improvements upon the series like overhauled decking (hacking) and fleshed out, likable characters. It's a more intimate game, as well, as you investigate the death of your foster father with a rag tag group of Shadowrunners and find yourself embroiled in conspiracies, mystical events and a mystery involving dreams that are plaguing the entire city.
Mount & Blade: Warband
The best of the series, Mount & Blade: Warband is an open world fantasy RPG crossed with a Medieval simulator, which basically means you never have to pay attention to the real world again. Warband dumps players into a giant sandbox, where six factions duke it out for supremacy, there’s no real story and it’s left to the player to decide what they want to do.
Perhaps the showman in you will inspire you to become a master jouster and champion of many tourneys, or maybe your eye for a good deal will lead you down the path of the wealthy trader, using your mountain of gold to fund a mercenary army to protect you and bring you glory or maybe you’re just a good for nothing crook, and if so, then it’s the bandit’s life for you.
Travelling around the map, you’ll no doubt find yourself waylaid by enemies, or maybe you’ll be the one doing the waylaying, but either way, you’ll no doubt get into scraps. Combat is skill-based, requiring fancy footwork, excellent timing and employment of the right weapon and right attack for different situations. It’s tough to get the hang of, but ultimately very rewarding. You’ll likely have an army at your side, too, leading to some particularly massive conflicts. And that army can be trained, gain experience and be equipped with new gear - though you will have to pay their wages.
With the multiplayer mode added in Warband and a wide variety of mods, including some impressive overhauls, it’s a game that will easily swallow up your life if you let it.
Ah, Deus Ex. More of a stealth FPS/RPG hybrid and one of the best cyberpunk games on PC, it’s still more than deserving of a place on this list, as even 15 years on it’s a joy to play and one of the best games ever devised.
We could expend a great deal of energy reminiscing about the dramatic narrative that weaves themes of conspiracy, terrorism and transhumanism together with intriguing characters a believable dystopian future. Equally, we could go on and on about the breadth of character customisation, letting players hone shades and trenchcoat wearing J.C. Denton into a cybernetically enhanced soldier, expert hacker or a ghost, lurking in the shadows. But what we really want to discuss is the incredible level design.
Every map represents a complex sandbox ripe for experimentation. Every combat encounter has the potential to play out in remarkably different ways, should you actually participate in said encounter rather than slinking past it. Secret paths, hidden caches, informants waiting to be bribed and confidential information opening up new routes and options litter levels, ensuring that when players discuss their experiences, it’s like they are talking about different games.
Dark Souls is the masochist’s RPG. A cruel, relentless battle through a bleak, dead land where the “You Died” screen starts to become an old friend, albeit a mocking one – it’s a punishing bastard of a game but infinitely rewarding. Every battle is a puzzle, demanding skill, good timing and an eye for enemy tells. It’s exhausting, because death is only ever a missed attack or a misreading of an opponent away. But that makes every victory a hard-fought prize, bringing with it the potential for increased power, and progression to the next, even more challenging area.
The freeform character development and top notch enemy design, both in terms of their grotesque appearance and tricky mechanics, are worthy of high praise, but it’s the sense of accomplishment - coming from surviving despite the odds - that makes Dark Souls worth hammering away at, despite constant failure.
An unapologetically old-fashioned philosophy to game design permeates throughout the whole stressful adventure, but it’s one blessed with modern complexity and scale. Different weapons and armour completely change the flow of battle and the feel of a character, with the heft of a sword and the weight of plated armour having a massive, tangible impact on strikes and movement. And secreted away through the vast, semi-open world is a cornucopia of trinkets and magical items, rewarding inquisitive players for their risky exploration of long forgotten tombs and subterranean cities.
They may not save your soul, but the best Dark Souls mods are still worth a look.
Divinity: Original Sin
Larian’s latest Divinity game isn’t just a throwback to classic CRPGs, it’s a continuation of them. It’s a modern game, but based on the design philosophies of the classics like Ultima and Baldur’s Gate.
Just check out our glowing Divinity: Original Sin review: “When I play Divinity, I’m back in my parents’ study, gleefully skipping homework as I explore the vast city of Athkatla. I’m overstaying my welcome at a friend’s house, chatting to Lord British. And it’s not because the game is buying me with nostalgia, but because it’s able to evoke the same feelings: that delight from doing something crazy and watching it work, the surprise when an inanimate object starts talking to me and sends me on a portal-hopping quest across the world. There’s whimsy and excitement, and those things have become rare commodities. Yet Divinity: Original Sin is full of them.”
It is an RPG that focuses what the genre can be, and not what it has become. Where conflict isn’t just about fighting, where magic can be used to solve puzzles and manipulate the environment and not just kill enemies, and where simple side-quests can transform into rewarding, huge undertakings involving setting cats up on dates. And it comes with a robust editor so you can create your own adventure, and fleshed out co-op system so that you don’t have to take on the world alone. Halting evil in its tracks is a job for friends, after all.
A sequel, cunning titled Divinity: Original Sin II, has been funded on Kickstarter.
South Park: The Stick of Truth
It shouldn't be this good. South Park has never translated well when it comes to games, and the show itself has been in a bit of a rut for the last couple of seasons. Yet this manages to be not just a great South Park game, but one of the best RPGs you could have the good fortune to play.
This is South Park at its best. From the perfect recreation of the town itself, to the biting, insightful, and often grotesque, satire of gaming and pop culture. Fantasy tropes, the Kardashians, Nazi zombies, the mystical powers of Morgan Freeman - they are all there, all lampooned. And all this is wrapped up in an RPG that draws on many sources, from JRPG-style combat, to western open-world affairs. There’s even a healthy dose of Metroidvania exploration. The progression never halts - there’s always something new around the corner, whether it’s a new battle mechanic or a giant weaponised dildo.
A game where you can dress up a kid as an avenging valkyrie and fight Jack Daniels-gulping hobos and anus-obsessed aliens is something to be treasured. And it’s one of the few games we've ever awarded 10/10 - you can read why in more detail in our South Park: The Stick of Truth PC review.
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls
When first making this list, we didn't even give any thought to Diablo III. Blizzard had lost its way, creating a ridiculous economy and removing the need to actually go looking for the best pieces of loot. Playing Diablo III just wasn't very satisfying.
Then everything changed.
The build up was massive, with systems being overhauled completely. And then the expansion threw in so many novel features that it became hard to remember why Diablo III was best avoided, helped by the fact that the troublesome Auction House was shut down. It gained a new lease on life, and now you’d be loopy to not pick it up if you love your ARPG clickfests.
And the new additions keep on arriving. There's now a whole new way to progress through the game, scoring unique rewards while competing against other players. New areas and adventures have been thrown into the mix, and seasons help keep the game relevant year-round. And all these additions came for free. Diablo III really is a classic from-zero-to-hero story.
Games over! What did you make of our list? Not enough side-quests? Let us know in the comments.