What are the best RPGs on PC? It is not an easy question to answer, especially given the number of them out there and the hours required to beat them - we’re talking 50+ hours most of the time..
Plus, as a stalwart PC genre that came into existence in the ‘70s, videogame RPGs have changed a lot over the years, with their upgrade trees and rulesets branching out into practically every other genre. Their scale and scope is massive like never before, with tech finally starting to catch up to developers' ambitions, allowing for huge worlds and entirely new RPG experiences.
Prefer your epic adventures to be online? Try the best MMOs on PC.
The diversity of the RPG nowadays is hard to express. Just in our selection below we've got interplanetary exploration, lightsaber duels, bloodthirsty vampires, irradiated mutants who need to be beaten with golf clubs, lizards who can talk to cats, and a whole lot more.
So, dear adventurer, please gather your party before we venture forth. We’re about to bear witness to the best RPGs available on PC.
The best RPGs are:
- The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
- Pillars of Eternity
- Torment: Tides of Numenera
- Fallout: New Vegas
- Planescape: Torment
- Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines
- Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn
- Mass Effect 2
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
- Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II
- and more...
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 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 war-ravaged lands and the whole gamut of its inhabitants, but to also be drawn into the knotty drama. A simple contract, such as 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 satisfying conclusion.
Navigating the complex, dark fantasy world is a delight, even when the oppressive misery of it threatens to send you 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 manage to avoid padding the game out with the usual RPG fillers, like inane collectibles and quests to kill 'x' amount of monsters. Every quest has a purpose and a payoff, a whole story to unravel, with even the smallest of them possibly taking several hours till it is cleared.
Even better, CD Projekt Red produced arguably the best DLC ever made with Hearts of Stone and Blood & Wine, which has an even better quest than the base game. The Witcher 3 really is something to be devoured until nothing remains.
Pillars of Eternity is an exceptional RPG. It 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 is Obsidian Entertainment at the top of their game, with the beautiful writing that the studio is known for wrapped up in a polished adventure - a combination they have struggled with in the past. Despite being a massive RPG with a daunting number of options to take, everything in Pillars of Eternity has been crafted with so much care, even the smallest detail. Religion, philosophy, class warfare, and the world of Eora overflow 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 insight into the world or the chance to create a reputation, good or bad.
Instead of cashing in on the popularity of its spiritual predecessors, Obsidian build on those strong foundations to create an experience that doesn’t rely on the past or on nostalgia to deliver its hits. It is a solid step forward for this type of RPG, and the overall experience is one that is even more reminiscent of tabletop RPGs than many of those rooted in D&D.
If you like a spot of literary goodness and poetry with your role-playing, Torment: Tides of Numenera is for you. You will be reading as much as fighting here, but the excellent writing and world building will keep you hungry for more words. Combat isn’t even mandatory in Torment - instead, you pick your battles for when you think they are required. In Torment, words are your real weapons.
Torment certainly had its cards stacked against it despite the backing of 75,000 enthusiastic souls on Kickstarter. It didn’t have the zany setting of its spiritual predecessor, Planescape: Torment, nor the words of Chris Avellone, but Torment’s stellar setting and nuanced narrative elevate it to the lofty heights of one of the best RPGs on PC. No question.
Like Divinity: Original Sin 2, Torment: Tides of Numenera has it sights set on the future of the RPG, not just the genre’s past. Adopting that classic isometric style of the genre’s progenitors, Torment makes playing a role and all the choices that come with that more powerful than any of its peers.
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 the format of Bethesda’s 3D, first-person Fallout, and then reinstated everything that made the original isometric games so great. You really feel like you’re making your own way through the wastelands instead of being nudged along by an invisible director.
Unlike Fallout 4, which casts you as a parent searching for your child, New Vegas simply makes you one of the unfortunate survivors of this world. After the first hours, your mission runs out of leads, leaving you to venture where you like: interacting with who you want, being good, evil, or anything in between without feeling like you’re going against the nag of an overarching narrative. You can team up with the NCR, join the slave-loving Legion, stand up for New Vegas itself, or just be a self-serving asshole. Then there are those essential Fallout: New Vegas mods that let you build your own game.
The writing, world-building, and black comedy are all spot on in New Vegas. And while we are on the subject, what will it take for Bethesda to let Obsidian take another crack at the universe?
This list is in no particular order, but if it was, Planescape: Torment would 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 is a game more interested in philosophy and discovery than it is in being 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 both 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, mazes both mechanical and magical, and zealotic factions. To give you a taste, one of those is the Dustmen, a faction that believes life is a fleeting precursor to the ultimate existence: death.
The ambition of Planescape: Torment would have been for naught were it not for the superb writing that accompanied it. Chris Avellone and his team 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 is the only RPG where you will 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 wrestle 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. It is far from being without humour.
Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines was 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 have just become a vampire. Surprise! It’s not all seducing teenage girls and turning into bats, 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 is rife with undead politics and secret wars amid the glamour of Hollywood and corporate America.
It has large, inventive quests aplenty: a visit to the site of a vampire-run snuff movie set; an investigation into a haunted hotel that features no combat but plenty of scares to make even a vampire whimper; a sneaky infiltration mission in a huge museum. These are also laden with multiple routes and many opportunities to exploit vampiric abilities like mind control and shapeshifting. The setting of modern America is one unfamiliar to RPGs, and Troika takes full advantage of it, with little touches like vampires making deals with blood banks and infiltrating the Hollywood glitterati.
There is also a cracking story of faction politics and prophecy to get into, 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. All of that made it possible to grin and bear the bugs at launch, and now that it is in a slightly more stable state, Vampire: The Masquerade is a unique title that you really ought to pick up.
Starting with the original Baldur’s Gate in 1998, and concluding with the expansion Baldur’s Gate II: Throne of Bhaal in 2001, 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.
But it is in Baldur's Gate II where the series really hits its stride.
The Dungeons & Dragons land of the Forgotten Realms is meticulously recreated here, filled to the brim with gorgeous environments, all of which are 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 is the party of adventurers that join the hero who 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 to him, Irenicus has all the hallmarks of a classic villain. Even though he is not present throughout most of the game, his influence seeps into everything, which is as great a testament to his manufacture as any.
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 any 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 they are your character. It is impossible to define them, not least because you can choose their gender, but also because, rather than being the glory-hunting hero who became a downtrodden veteran as in our game, you might have them be a cruel, racist bastard or a paragon of virtue who refuses to let anyone die.
The dramatic set-pieces and workmanlike 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 is what humans do in space, apparently - adds to the overall package. Suspend your disbelief for the last ten minutes and you will find yourself on one hell of a sci-fi ride.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim isn’t just one of the best RPGs on PC, it is an institution. Long after its 2011 debut, it has managed to stay relevant and eminently playable, tirelessly tugging players back in by their mage robes.
The atmosphere is infectious, aided by perhaps the finest musical theme of any videogame. Whether you’re battling gargantuan dragons atop the Throat of the World as its frosted mountain peaks pierce the sky, or simply answering the enigmatic chime of the Nirnroot plant by a river’s edge, Skyrim is a game that implores you to unravel every narrative and leave no stone unturned.
It is even designed to help you discover locations you have missed in Bethesda Softworks’ unrelenting urge to share this corner of Tamriel. It will happen countless times: nearing the end of another mammoth session - as if there is any other kind - you will notice a previously unexplored point of interest. Pulled inexorably in, small distractions will drag you into epic dungeon crawls or quests that decide the fates of cities, as the ambient orchestra swells intoxicatingly.
The Elder Scrolls V doesn’t just offer you an engrossing fantasy tale or satisfying freedom of choice - it endures because few other games nail how an adventure should feel quite like Skyrim.
We were hesitant about putting a game released in an 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 pulls 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’are treated to a narrative that explores the nature of the force and what it means to be cut off from it and lost. It is 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 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 often depressing and bleak game, it is as much about personal exploration as it is about gallivanting across the galaxy, getting into lightsaber battles and using the force, though there is certainly plenty of that, too.
Perhaps the best thing about KOTOR II is Kreia, the Exile’s secretive mentor. As the impetus for much of the game, she pushes the Exile, berates him, and attempts to teach him all while presenting the force in much more interesting ways than any of the film trilogies manage. It makes the pupil-mentor relationship between Luke and Yoda, or Ben Kenobi, exceptionally dull in comparison.
Shadowrun: Hong Kong is a welcome throwback to the ‘90s. Based on the classic tabletop roleplaying game, it is a neo-noir cyberpunk mystery with plenty of magic, fantasy elements, and combat reminiscent of XCOM. That makes it a lot of things and, somehow, all of them are great. Set on a future Earth where science and the realm of the arcane struggle to coexist, and beings like elves and trolls walk the streets alongside humans, you find yourself in the shoes of a shadowrunner, a shady mercenary proficient in espionage.
A freeform character creator lets you 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, which opens 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 fully realised, likable characters. It is 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 plague the entire city.
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 you into a giant sandbox, where six factions duke it out for supremacy - there is no firm story to follow as it leaves to you to decide what 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 are a good for nothing crook, and if so, then it is the bandit’s life for you.
Travelling around the map, you will no doubt find yourself waylaid by enemies, or maybe you will be the one doing the waylaying, but either way, you will 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 is tough to get the hang of but is ultimately very rewarding. You will likely have an army at your side, too, leading to some massive conflicts. And that army can be trained, gain experience, and 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 is 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 is still more than deserving of a place on this list - even 17 years on it is 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 in a believable dystopian future. Equally, we could go on and on about the breadth of character customisation, letting you hone the trenchcoat-wearing J.C. Denton into a cybernetically enhanced soldier, expert hacker, or a ghost who lurks 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 litter the levels, ensuring that when you discuss your experiences with another player, it is like you are talking about two 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 is a punishing game but infinitely rewarding. Every battle is a puzzle, demanding skill, good timing, and an eye for enemy tells. It is also 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 is the sense of accomplishment - found in surviving against the odds - that makes Dark Souls worth hammering away at, diving face first into constant failure.
An unapologetically old-fashioned philosophy to game design permeates the whole stressful adventure, but it is 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.
Like the original - which we also love, as it happens - Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a love letter to classic and pen-and-paper RPGs. It is a game that, unlike many modern RPGs, refuses to give you simple binary choices, sucking you utterly into an enticingly detailed world.
The extensive freedom you have starts with the character creator. You can, of course, design your own hero, but there are also six unique origin characters to choose from with their own backgrounds - from the arrogant lizard, The Red Prince, to the new undead race. Every decision matters, and you will have to live with the consequences, imbuing tricky dilemmas with serious gravitas. Gameplay is no less punishing: you will need to learn and exploit the contours of the terrain to gain an advantage in combat. Prepare for a spanking if you do fail to use high ground to deal greater damage.
We haven’t even got started on the multiplayer aspect, including the Game Master mode, which really brings Divinity: Original Sin 2’s tabletop inspiration to life. In our review, we said: “Divinity: Original Sin 2 stands as a remarkable example of three genres: the classic roleplaying game, the online arena battler, and the tabletop-style adventure enabler.” So, do yourself a favour and get yourself down to Rivellon.
We didn't even give any thought to Diablo III when first making this list. Blizzard had lost their way, creating a ridiculous economy, and removing the need to actually go looking for the best pieces of loot. Playing Diablo III back then just wasn't satisfying.
Then everything changed.
The build up was massive, with systems being overhauled completely in the years since its release. 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. The game gained a new lease of life, and now you would be loopy to not pick it up if you love your ARPG clickfests.
And the new additions keep arriving. There is 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 all year round. All these additions came for free, too. Diablo III really is a classic zero-to-hero story.