So you want to know about turn-based RPGs? While this list may have a lot in common with our guide to the best RPG games, tactical RPGs tend to focus more on squad-based combat and have roots in the classic tabletop RPGs of old. Games in this niche are often turn-based strategy games, though to make the distinction relevant we’re focusing on games with more pronounced RPG features.
Turn-based RPGs are less about the story itself, and more about how your character(s) evolve over time as they interact with the narrative. The nature of progression and the choices you can make means that your abilities and journey may never quite be the same across multiple playthroughs, and unlike traditional RPGs there are more tools focused on tracking these changes and evolution over time. They’re also about offering really robust combat mechanics and making best use of your squad as a team working towards a common goal.
Whether you’re saving the entire planet or guiding a band of misfits around in a struggle for survival, there are plenty of great options available, so let’s take a look at some of the best turn-based RPGs on PC.
The best turn-based RPGs on PC are:
- Wasteland 3
- Star Renegades
- Expeditions: Rome
- Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus
- Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark
- Divinity Original Sin 2
- Valkyria Chronicles 4
- Banner Saga 3
- Disgaea V Complete
- Star Traders: Frontiers
- Solasta: Crown of the Magister
Sequel to 2014’s Wasteland 2, this series has been quietly competing with the likes of Fallout in terms of offering a post-apocalyptic RPG experience. Where-as Bethesda’s series went down the first-person root, Wasteland has stuck with the original Fallout game’s premise, with tactical battles That have more in common with XCOM. Wasteland 3 is bigger and better than the previous game, although not without some technical wiggles that still need ironing out.
From its clever writing, interesting setting, and dedication to making sure you feel every consequence of all of your choices, it’ll be difficult to find a more roundly satisfying role-playing experience this year. Definitely one for those looking to scratch that XCOM or Fallout itch, and an apocalypse game that manages to offer the best of both those worlds. Check out our Wasteland 3 review for more thoughts.
Fighting against an evil, all-powerful, dimension-hopping empire might sound like a losing battle, but it’s one you’ll enjoy losing over and over again in this roguelike/trpg mash-up that sees you doing just that. As you lose the fight for one reality, you simply hop on to the next one to continue the fight there – keeping the experience & gear you’ve earned so far.
Star Renegades is the complete package – very deep combat mechanics, a beautiful pixel-art world and RPG elements that, while sometimes cumbersome, serve to enrich the wider story. The game’s only weak point at the moment is that it can run out of steam a bit too quickly – after a few re-runs, things start to get the same, but this has always been a delicate balancing act with this genre. Aside from that, you’d do well giving this game your attention. Check out our Star Renegades review.
Logic Artists has spent the past decade perfecting its own unique blend of turn-based strategy RPG that focuses heavily on exploration and mechanics intrinsically tied to each game’s core theme. From Expeditions: Conquistadors, to the Viking power-fantasy of Expeditions: Vikings, the studio has recently transported us to hallowed antiquity and the height of the Roman Republic.
Easily the best entry in the series to date, Expeditions: Rome sees your character fleeing the capital and the machinations of the Senate in order to earn a reputation out in one of Rome’s many theatres of war. You will lead a small band of companions – the speculatores – but you’ll also be in command of an entire army that is almost its own character.
The series’ legacy for exploration is still strong here as you lead your special band around the map going out on quests, all packaged as part of some of the less high-profile activity that surrounds a military campaign. Setting up alliances, scouting, removing key obstacles… you’ll lead the charge on all of it. In the background, you can order your legion around the campaign space to set up bases and secure resources. Every so often a more pitched battle will need to be fought, and there’s a separate mini-game for that. It all works surprisingly well, and you can read more of our Expeditions: Rome impressions here.
Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus
While ‘nu-age’ Games Workshop are being a bit more creative with their license deals, they are naturally hesitant about allowing too much to exist in the realm of turn-based tactics. After all, that’s what their flagship table-top products are about and it wouldn’t do to have something digital become too much of a competition to the physical game. Still, that’s not to say fans don’t get treated every now and then – Warhammer 40,000: Sanctus Reach is a fantastic warhammer game, and now we have another one in the form of Bulwark’s Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus.
Focusing solely on the Adeptus Mechanicus, this game sees you lead a small band of merry Techpriests and nerds against the forces of the Necrons. It’s got all the bells and whistles of your standard small-unit tactical RPG, and is very pretty to boot. The tactical battles are interesting- tech priests don’t exactly have the same martial prowess as the Space Marines – but they can fight. Battles are more about making the best use of your abilities and tricks, since the usual concepts such as cover, overwatch etc… are absent. An excellent licensed game, and a pretty decent TRPG.
Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark
There’s a pretty good chance that you’re into your tactical rpgs because at some point you played Final Fantasy Tactics. That’s all well and good, but I bet that you’ve also been chasing that proverbial dragon ever since. Well, Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark is here to fill that hole in your strategy heart. Don’t let its so-so story and nods to modernity fool you – this is the FFT game you’ve been pining for all these many years. It’s beautiful, it’s nuanced, it has secret classes to unlock; Arbiter’s Mark is the real deal.
There’s the classic battle system, characters who can take on different jobs, and even the terrain height considerations all present and correct in this modern version of the PlayStation classic. Arbiter’s Mark hits all the right notes, and makes nearly zero mistakes in the process – a rare achievement when it comes to gaming homages.
Divinity: Original Sin 2
Simply put, Divinity: Original Sin 2 is an extensive RPG through and through, but it contains a combat system that allows for a vast amount of variance and replayability. Initially you may only be considering how best to get your characters out of harms way while simultaneously taking out your enemy. After a few scenarios, you’ll notice that environmental effects and elemental combos can play a large role in optimizing combat to your advantage. Soon enough you’ll be pre-determining how best to use skills, weapon types, spells, environmental objects, terrain height advantages, and positioning to outwit your foes (and maybe even friends) in fantastic flashy fashion.
Not to mention the ability to fool around with the Game Master Mode, creating test scenarios to see how certain ideas you are considering would play out with no impact on your save data. Better yet, you could design campaigns for your friends to enjoy and tool about in at your leisure. This is the tactical Dungeon Master’s dream come to realization, with Matthew Mercer himself giving an excellent demonstration of this tool’s creative outlets.
Valkyria Chronicles 4
This is a solid return to form for a series that has been sorely missed in the west. Seamlessly blending turn-based tactical gameplay with real-time unit control, this unique mechanical integration makes for a game that strategy fans and RPG enthusiasts can both enjoy. RPG fans will enjoy the character growth and story, alongside levelling up their favourite classes, and equipping soldiers with unique equipment.
There are charming side novellas of units getting to know one another, that then jump straight into a battle scenario with some odd twist thrown in. The introduction of the Grenadier class makes terrain elevation and positioning critical, while traditional classes like the Sniper and Shocktrooper still shore up a simple, but versatile, roster. Add in an Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) and your trusty ol’ tank and you’re set up for a fun time learning to how to be a master commander.
For those familiar with the series, Valkyria Chronicles 4 doesn’t really shake things up so much as polish and refine what has already existed. The upside to the stories each being stand-alone offerings is that newcomers can jump right in to an excellent game that knows where its strategy strengths lie.
Banner Saga 3
The Banner Saga 3 brings the triumphant success of Stoic’s turn-based strategy series to a strong Ragnarök-induced close. While it continues to unfold unique story beats and introductions of characters new and old, it also succeeds as an RPG due to its clever combat design, risk-vs-reward mechanics, and ability to equip and promote heroes. Players are for managing a small caravan containing the vaulted varl hero Ivar, duo mages Juno and Eyvind, and the Raven mercenaries. Meanwhile, they also have to ensure Aberrang, the last human city which contains the primary character Rook (or Alette), doesn’t succumb to a siege.
While convoy management of resources takes a somewhat smaller role in Banner Saga 3 in comparison to its predecessors, it’s still a part of the game. Relics that can be equipped offer unique bonuses or abilities to characters, and promotions will encourage you to think carefully about how best to reinforce your units to withstand the apocalypse. Especially given units will die, so many people will die. The decision tree between attacking opponents Armor or Strength will continue to attack your cognition as you wonder if you are making the correct decision, but it never feels overwhelming. The Banner Saga 3 continues to ride the line of stressing you out right to the brink of exhaustion, but never quite tipping past that line.
Disgaea V Complete
Imagine for a moment an RPG where the entire plot is actually just the pre-game setup to an even larger post-game, an RPG where individual items contain entire randomly generated universes, and cheating is actively encouraged by the game mechanics! Disgaea V is the perfect blend of over-the-top ridiculous anime games and genuinely smart engaging gameplay. Missions start out with a tile-grid containing various enemies placed throughout the battle-map. During your turn, you can choose which units to take out of your “base” panel, where you want them to go, and what abilities you want them to use. The sheer amount of unit and skill options available to players makes for unique strategies on how to handle certain scenarios, along with constant debate online of what setups truly reign supreme.
The story is entirely self-contained, so you don’t need to play previous entries in the series to enjoy what Disgaea V has to offer. However, it also contains a very extensive list of DLC characters from previous Nippon Ichi Software games, class options, and more, all of which are free when you purchase Disgaea V Complete, although it’s worth noting that the PC version currently lacks Online Network play features. While that is a genuine bummer, the lost functionality is but a small chip off an otherwise incredible title.
Star Traders: Frontiers
This one leans more into the RPG side of things, but it has a really good turn-based tactical combat layer covering both squad vs. squad and ship-to-ship combat. In Star Traders: Frontiers, you take your ship and your crew amongst the stars making a living wherever you can and however you see fit. As per the name, trading is a central – and easy to do – mechanic, but you can also branch out in exploring, pirating, mercenary work… there’s plenty of possibilities, and plenty of inter-faction politics and questing to get yourself embroiled.
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There are also several ‘big’ plot lines that are available at different points of your in-game universe. A key theme is that the world around you can and will progress at its own pace, regardless of what you’re doing. If you don’t get to a central quest in time, that’s it, you’ve lost your chance in that game. This is a real living, persistent world, and there’s a lot of flexibility and customization in how you set up your captain, crew and ship.
Developed by two-man team the Trese Brothers, this is an excellent example of not only how to design an open-world game in a living world, but also how one can handle post-release support. Since launching out of its eight-month Early Access stint, it’s had countless content-rich updates, some minor, some major, with a more recent update introducing Carriers and small attack craft. The brothers have a clear and dedicated development road-map, and they’re constantly keeping the game fresh and giving you more reasons to jump back in.
Solasta: Crown of the Magister
A final honourary mention goes to Tactical Adventures’ er, tactical adventure, Solasta: Crown of the Magister. As we highlighted in our Solasta review, this is an TRPG that features some great tactical engagements that are held back by a bit of a drab story.
That doesn’t stop this being one of the better Dungeons and Dragons games on PC right now (at least, until Baldur’s Gate 3 comes along for real), and there’s nothing stopping this game getting even better now that it’s left early access. One to keep an eye on, for sure.
More Tactical RPGs
There’s more to this niche than what we’ve outlined above – here is a quick list of other interesting TRPGs that you might consider:
- Fae Tactics
- Shadowrun: Hong Kong
- Iron Danger
- Six Ages: Ride like the Wind
- Pillars of Eternity 2
- Mutant Year Zero
- Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord (Early Access)
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