50. Hand Of Fate (2015)
Developer: Defiant Development
Publisher: Defiant Development
The computer roleplaying game’s roots are pen and paper roleplaying, but what we gained in graphics and flash we lost in humanity. A tabletop RPG involves a dungeon master, a single god/tormentor who dictates our fate, who we can rail at and beg to, and when that person is reduced to invisible dice rolls and inflexible scripts, much is lost. Hand Of Fate’s narrator dungeon master is the best attempt I’ve seen at restoring that. The face, the conversation, the mortal god. It has its loops and it has its grind, but oh, I felt I knew the hooded figure who faced me throughout, and I felt justified in both hating and revering him. It’s a pretty cracking mash-up of CCG and hack’n’slash too.
Notes: The antagonistic narrator sounds like an Australian doing a British accent, but is actually British. Go figure. Also, if you find deck-building too woolly, there’s DLC out which sort of coaxes you into playing as a class rather than a random grab-bag.
Read more: Our Hand Of Fate review said: “It’s lovely, it’s appropriately dorky…”
Where can I buy it: Steam.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Hand Of Fate 2, obviously. Or Dungeons and Dragons or other pen and paper roleplaying games with your mates.
49. Monster Hunter: World (2018)
Monster Hunter: World is about being the most fashionably efficient beast killer in the jungle (or desert, or swamp). It has a story campaign about catching a gargantuan beast, along with some questionable ecological practices. But really this is a solid turn-your-brain-off tramp through a detailed landscape, full of slow, careful brawls with giant beasts after which you collect their skulls to wear as bone helmets. There is so much gear to craft. Scaley kneepads, massive hammers, pooey slingshots – you will make use of all these and more to track and tranquilise a big fire-breathing T-Rex. There are 14 different main weapons and they all handle in different ways, often changing how you’ll conduct your whole hunt. All this gear-chasing does mean there is the endless levelling-up feel of an MMO at times, but when you stumble across a new species, part Jesus lizard, part Jaguar, all that dissipates like a puff of tranquiliser gas, and another long fight begins.
Notes: The real goal, of course, is to become lifelong friends with a piglet called Poogie.
Read more: Nic wrote about how the cat jokes are translated from Japanese to English, and our Monster Hunter: World review said it was a little repetitive but also “gorgeous and exciting” and “packed with depth”.
Where can I buy it: Steam.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Dauntless is a very similar free-to-play hunt ‘em up. TheHunter is a sim that lets you stalk and kill non-fantasy animals, if you’re into that.
48. Risen (2009)
Developer: Piranha Bytes
Publisher: Deep Silver
Look, Risen is at least 50% lousy. Maybe more like 70%, even. But when it goes for it, it really goes for it, unafraid to give you an entirely hard time, unafraid to let you roam and risk and sit on things as you will, unafraid to be bewildering. Although at least some of the latter is accidental, I suspect. It’s the only other game here to even begin to feel like the unsurpassed Morrowind, in terms of strangeness, fearfulness and flexibility. It starts appallingly and goes catastrophically wrong around the halfway point, but in between that you’ll find a rich vein of roleplaying gold.
Notes: Avoid pirate-y sequel Risen 2 at all costs, but Risen 3 is not without merits. It’s structurally a better game than Risen 1, but doesn’t quite manage to recapture its downbeat charms.
Where can I buy it: Steam.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Developers Piranha Bytes made their name with the Gothic series of RPGs, to which Risen is a spiritual sequel (they couldn’t keep hold of the Gothic name). Their presentation will chill your blood, but their ambition is higher and they are lionised by their fans.
47. Diablo II (2000)
Some would argue that it’s still the highest watermark of hack ‘n’ slash action roleplaying, thanks in part to the more recent Diablo III being something of a fumble. Where Diablo III was the kill ‘n’ loot treadmill as over-rehearsed science, Diablo II feels like more of an art. It’s strange, even discomfiting, and not too mechanical to play, but still heavy on the whirlwinds of death and fountains of loot. Of course its players have turned it into an exact science after years of sustained play, but that doesn’t dim the eerie, high-speed pleasure it can offer newbies. Despite being unapologetically hung around the inherent mindlessness of the sub-genre, Diablo II feels like a true journey where other ARPGs can feel like blood-splattered hamster wheels.
Notes: It does look a bit shonky these days, (no) thanks primarily to a lack of forward-thinking regarding high resolutions. Mods to add 1080p support do exist, but do not use them online – Battle.net treats most Diablo II modifications as a bannable offence. There’s a relatively recent guide here.
Where can I buy it: Download via Battle.net.
Read more: Have you played… Diablo II?
What else should I be playing if I like this: Titan Quest remains a firm RPS favourite for straight-to-the-point hacky-slashy roleplaying, or there’s Torchlight II if you want something more modern. Speaking of…
46. Torchlight 2 (2012)
Developer: Runic Games
Publisher: Runic Games
Diablo’s cheerful estranged sibling is a breath of fresh air in a grimdark world. No wheels are reinvented in the pursuit of ARPG excellence (look to Soldak for funky new-wheel shenanigans) and Runic know precisely what their audience want, and then they deliver it. And then give more of the same until there’s nothing left to give. There are moments of inventive flair among the clicking and the loot, but Torchlight 2 succeeds so handsomely because it builds an elegant and extravagant boat and then makes it completely watertight rather than rocking it. Charming, vibrant and more colourful than Diablo III’s Whimsyshire, Torchlight 2 is a perfectly formed triumph.
Notes: The cinematic sequences were created by the astonishingly talented folks at Klei Entertainment, creators of Don’t Starve, Mark of the Ninja and Invisible, Inc. (among others).
Read more: “It’s not a competition,” said our Torchlight 2 review. “Saying that, Torchlight 2 is WAY better than Diablo III.”
Where can I buy it: Steam.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Grim Dawn, Titan Quest, Diablo, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing and Victor Vran all offer similar clicky-looty joy.
45. Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale (2007)
Publisher: Carpe Fulgur
The whole roleplaying genre is like a machine which generates ridiculous tropes which somehow survive across decades. But Recettear affectionately expands just one of those tropes into a full game: the store which exists entirely to sell gear to adventurers. It does it without snark too, running with the idea and genuinely turning it into a cheerful economic simulator swaddled in a gag-strewn, character-led plot. The diversions into sparse-feeling, repetitive dungeon runs are less successful unless you’re an established JRPG fan, but the sheer enthusiasm of the whole affair keeps both profits and spirits high.
Notes: While developed by Japanese outfit EasyGameStation, at least some of Recettear’s charm comes from the years-later and joyful English translation by Carpe Fulgur. They’ve since made translations of otherwise obscure-to-the-West Japanese games their stock and trade.
Where can I buy it: Steam.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Carpe Fulgur’s other translation projects: Chatelise, Fortune Summoners, This Starry Midnight We Make and Trails In The Sky SC.
44. Kenshi (2019)
Developer: Lo-Fi Games
Publisher: Lo-Fi Games
A “free-roaming squad-based RPG” says the Steam page, somewhat underselling this laughably complex supergame. Kenshi begins as many other open world fantasy roamer might. You create an average schmuck in a tough post-something desert world. Maybe a slave, maybe a farmer. But it soon turns out to be deeper than that. It’s about stealing food to survive, or getting fatally mugged on the road to the next town. It snowballs into a management game about a small group of misfits (mercenaries, settlers, explorers – your call). Stick with the weirdo interface and puzzling world of rice paddies and dive bars and you may eventually be building a whole town for your clan by plopping down huts. Or, more likely, you will be lying in the dunes, playing dead among the corpses of your family. Death in Kenshi comes quick, whether by starvation or by the club of a bandit. This is a harsh RPG that often doesn’t stop to explain itself, but to those who fight through the repeatedly fatal learning curve, it will give you stories far unlike the usual quest to become a common world-saver.
Notes: The developers are going to do a sequel, they say.
Read more: Our Kenshi review said: “Kenshi is everything. Kenshi is nothing. Kenshi just is.” Alex Wiltshire wrote about how its world is designed not to care about you. Brendan wrote about one family’s trials in this deadly land.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Fallout 4 has companions and settlement building in its familiar nuclear post-apocalypse. Rimworld is a colony management game with a similar story-making quality.
43. Wizardry VIII (2001)
Developer: Sir-Tech Canada
The Wizardry series reached its zenith and its nadir in its eighth and final chapter. By this entry, the first-person party-based RPGs had incorporated high-tech alien races and galactic politics alongside its more traditional fantasy races and classes. Even with the added space-synths, the song remained the same. You pick a party, you explore, you loot, you pick sides, you fight. Mostly, you fight. The game’s somewhat abstract approach to turn-based first-person combat is initially disconcerting but becomes one of the feathers in the hat of an extremely accomplished and expansive game. Sadly, the nadir came in the fortunes of developers Sir-Tech. Following a troubled production, Wizardry VIII was their final game.
Notes: Brenda Romero was the lead designer of Wizardry VIII, having previously worked on Sir-Tech’s Jagged Alliance series.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Previous Wizardry games, in particular 6 & 7, which form a trilogy with 8. The Might and Magic games are similar, and the Eye of the Beholder, Dungeon Master and Legend of Grimrock series offer excellent first-person party-based adventures.
42. Avernum: Escape From The Pit (2011)
Developer: Spiderweb Software
Publisher: Spiderweb Software
If Spiderweb Software didn’t exist, somebody would have to invent it. The studio, lead and operated by founder Jeff Vogel, has been responsible for some of the finest RPGs of the last twenty years. When Kickstarter kickstarted their “old-school” RPG revival, anyone clued in to Vogel’s work would have been entitled to raise an eyebrow in wry amusement. Through several series and one standalone game, Spiderweb have never shifted from their recipe of wide-ranging plots, turn-based combat, isometric graphics and detailed worlds. Avernum: Escape From The Pit, the latest revisit to Spiderweb’s original Exile trilogy, is a great starting point into these wonderfully well-crafted non-linear behemoths.
Notes: Avernum: Escape from the Pit is a remake of a remake, the first game being Exile and the original remake being simply Avernum. There is now a sequel to the remake of the remake.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Vogel has been making RPGs under the Spiderweb moniker for two decades and there’s plenty in the back catalogue to sink your +4 teeth into. The Geneforge and Avadon series are both fantastic, and the former contains unusual gene-splicing.
41. Wasteland 2 (2014)
Developer: inXile Entertainment
Publisher: Deep Silver
You can’t always get what you want, and on the rare occasions that you do, you might realise that your desires are as mysterious and undirected as dreams. Wasteland 2 is occasionally fiddly, repetitive and too busy for its own good. It has heaps of character in some areas and feels scrubbed bare in others. There are skills that feel like deadweight on a character sheet, barely used throughout and apparently a bad choice that you didn’t know you were making.
It’s also charming, strange, funny, inventive, unpredictable and packed with things to do. In short, it’s almost everything that the original Wasteland and Fallout games were, for better and for worse. Sometimes the lack of concessions to modern design sensibilities can seem stubborn but inXile almost certainly realised how far they could tip the balance, and carefully balanced their enormous and intricate project to ensure that it broke through the charred crust of the Wasteland to keep in touch with its roots at all times.
Notes: Wasteland 2 was one of the first games to ride the Kickstarter wave and its $2,933,252 takings are among the highest of any crowdfunded game.
What else should I be playing if I like this: Wasteland 1 perhaps? If you don’t want to go that far back, Fallout 1 & 2 are wonderful games, very much in the spirit of Wasteland 2.