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Last year brought RPG gems like Disco Elysium. Was there an RPG as good released in 2020? We’ve updated our list of the best RPGs of all time to reflect the best of the past year – and there’s still dozens of older classics, too.
As always, we’ve taken a broad view of the genre rather than splitting hairs over how many upgradeable stats a game must contain before it qualifies. Whether you want Japanese RPGs, party-based dungeon crawlers, turn-based combat or frantic brawling, you’ll find something below. The main rule is that the game needs to still be fun to play today, and not simply groundbreaking when first released.
Prefer words in your ears than in your eyes? Our video team have put together a shorter list of great RPGs you might like to play:
You can find the full list of the best RPGs on PC below. Don’t see your favourite game among them? It must be at number 51, but you can write your own entry for it in the comments below. We always consider suggested games for inclusion in future lists.
50. Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom
More often than not, the best JRPGs on PC first enjoyed life on other platforms. Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom, however, feels like it was born for it. On the surface, it looks like your standard anime JRPG, what with its cute Studio Ghibli-inspired characters, cat-eared protagonist, world-ending plot and bright, colourful art style. But underneath all that is a game that taps straight into the veins of all the classic PC staples, from town-building to real-time strategy battles.
Naturally, it doesn’t go so deep into these elements that it’s going to trouble the very best games from those genres, but building up your titular kingdom, recruiting villagers from other towns to come and man special buildings and occasionally setting off to defend your lands from unwelcome intruders are all welcome additions and diversions to this otherwise fairly traditional JRPG. They’re also way more engrossing than the Pokémon-style monster battling / collecting of its predecessor, Wrath Of The White Witch. Revenant Kingdom also improves on the shortcomings of White Witch by giving your AI-controlled companions an actual brain when it comes to taking care of themselves in combat. Its wider plot may tread familiar ground compared to other JRPGs on this list, but with so many PC-friendly nods feeding back into its core systems, Revenant Kingdom remains one of the most refreshing JRPGs we’ve played in years.
49. Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask Of The Betrayer
It’s odd that Neverwinter Nights 2 tends to get forgotten when listing Obsidian’s RPGs. Although it’s likely for the finest of reasons – it’s so close to the glorious work of BioWare and Black Isle that you’d think it was theirs. With Chris Avellone behind the pen, it took BioWare’s much more DM-focused original and developed it into an elaborate, enormous single-player RPG. Seeking silver shards, and an ancient baddie called the King Of Shadows, it closely followed D&D’s 3.5 edition, and indeed came with the tools for people to play their own campaigns. But where it shined the brightest was its companions. The star is Khelgar Ironfist, a furious dwarf who is probably the best RPG companion to have been written. But tiefling Neeshka and sorcerer Qara also stand out. It is a stunningly funny game.
Then along came expansion Mask Of The Betrayer – more of a sequel than anything – and was perhaps better than the main game. Split into two mirrored worlds, it borrows rather heavily from Zelda as it lets you explore two versions of the same areas. Spirits are devoured, gargoyles kidnap, and the soul of the Founder is up to naughty business. The companions aren’t nearly as fun, but the story is epic and compelling, exploring themes of religion in a deep and intelligent way.
48. Hand Of Fate 2
Hand Of Fate’s Dealer is the best attempt games have made at a virtual dungeon master: a goading, hooded figure who lays down cards from a deck of narrative events, building short-form RPGs across a table top. Maybe the next draw will be a brawl, played out in simple third-person hack-and-slashery, or perhaps a mystic glade, full of replenishing balms. Knowing the bastard in the hood, it’ll likely be whatever you don’t want to happen. But at least there’s less chance of repetition in Hand of Fate 2 – the Dealer can screw you in many more colourful ways.
What elevates the sequel, beyond more polished combat and greater event variety (including companion cards granting you sidekicks with their own side stories to explore), is a twist to each miniature campaign. In one you might be sniffing out the culprit of a murder, hoping to find evidence hidden in the cards laid on the table. In another you’re protecting a lovestruck fool, his injuries eating into the resources needed to carry you through the adventure. These wrinkles lay extra layers of strategy on an already diverse deck of encounters, giving the game a much needed hook missing in the first.
47. Dwarf Fortress
Dwarf Fortress is a fantasy simulator which doesn’t just do a lot, it does a lot well. It’s not simply that it generates a vast fantasy world with history, culture and enormous landscapes; it’s that choosing your starting location within that world works like a kind of granular difficulty setting, letting you pick the level and type of challenge you want to face. It’s not simply that its physics simulation allows for the creation of complicated machinery; it’s that the game incentivizes those creations as dynamic goals in a way that suits the in-game fiction, sending nobles with increasingly grand demands to stay in your colony. There’s so much that’s weird and intimidating about Dwarf Fortress, but there’s also a lot of game design behind the stories of mourning pets and the simulation of growing finger nails.
And if fortress mode doesn’t appeal, there’s always adventure mode, which lets you explore those same generated worlds – and your own failed fortresses – as a single explorer in a traditional roguelike experience. Dwarf Fortress may have twenty years left in its development, but it’s very much worth playing today. If you’re looking to get into Dwarf Fortress, download a starter pack from here, which will set you up with a pre-installed tileset and some useful third-party applications for managing your fortress. Then hit the Dwarf Fortress wiki.
46. Diablo 3
Diablo 2 is still an atmospheric treasure worth revisiting, but Diablo 3 has become the definitive way to play a Diablo game. It takes everything you love about the series and polishes it up a bit. Controls are simpler, enemies more menacing, locations more beautiful. Updating the style from a 2D isometric game to a 3D game but viewed from an isometric angle gives so much more depth to the world. The introduction of new classes like the Demon Hunter and Monk made ranged and melee RPG characters fun. Imagine an RPG where you don’t default to a spellcaster as the most enjoyable class to play. Imagine!
Diablo games are meant to be played repeatedly, and in groups, and Diablo 3 is the best version of the game for that too, with better random encounters and loot drops. It’s still a game where you can spend hours theory-crafting the best builds with guides open on a second screen, but you can also lean back and let it wash over you while you chat and blow apart skeletons with friends. In a clever move, Diablo 3 also leverages the tyranny of nostalgia. Potions glug in exactly the same way you remember from the old Diablo. Treasure makes the same bright shiny ting! when it drops. And, of course, everything starts off in Tristram, a town once again overrun with the undead.
45. Chrono Trigger
They really don’t make ’em like they used to. Indeed, when Chrono Trigger’s long-awaited PC port finally teleported onto Steam in 2018, there was absolute anarchy. What should have been a celebration of one of the best JRPGs of all time turned into an uproar over font choices, audio bugs, and other assorted technical hitches. We’re almost surprised Chrono Trigger didn’t just disappear entirely and go back to the rosy SNES-filled heyday where it came from. Something had clearly gone wrong in an earlier timeline.
Thankfully, a couple of repeat trips to the past (or, err… patches) have corrected the course of this time-travelling epic, and have left it in a much better shape than when it first launched. And what an incredible journey it is, too. Born from some of the best JRPG minds in the business, Chrono Trigger was truly ahead of the curve compared to the Final Fantasies and Dragon Quests of its day (which is ironic considering the creators of both those series were spearheading this one), telling a story that spanned thousands of years, from prehistoric times right up to the flying cities of the future, with multiple different endings.
Then there was its exquisite active time battle system. Part turn-based, part real-time, Chrono Trigger let you combine certain party member’s attacks for even greater damage, adding a welcome layer of strategy to the mix as you chopped and changed characters. Other games have tried to ape it since, most notably Tokyo RPG Factory’s I Am Setsuna and Lost Sphear, but there’s no topping Square’s original and best.
44. Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines
A broken mess in many ways, but as, if not more, timeless than anything else here. This adaptation of the modern-day vampires pen ‘n’ paper RPG is steeped in sex, grime, horror and manipulation, and despite some pulp sensibilities it still goes to places other mainstream games dare not. To places other vampire fiction dare not, too. Though it boasts a particularly excellent haunted house sequence and the option to play as someone capital K “Ker-azy”, it’s the game’s dark exploration of sex, control and dependency which prove most memorable. It’s this, rather than the outright horror elements, which makes Bloodlines’ Santa Monica such a sinister and destabilising place – and one in which you get to experiment with your own dark side.
But yeah, bugs: Bloodlines comes from that grand tradition of uncommonly ambitious RPGs which shipped before they were finished. The worst ones are fixed now, but expect a bit of a rough ride unless you install the robust fan patch, which polishes a lot and completes some unfinished and cut content.
43. Horizon’s Gate
Your party of mercs and adventurers can explore and fight on foot in Horizon’s Gate, but the game is at its best when you get back on your boat. This is a seafaring survival RPG about increasing your reputation and growing a fleet of ships. You hire party members in port, become friends over drinks, and set sail to find new lands or battle sea monsters. When everyone is hungry and there’s no port in sight, you eat the sea monsters.
Horizon’s Gate’s approach to worldbuilding seems to throw everything at the wall. There are underwater Nessies, and mysterious cults, and Cleevers who make weapons and ships out of chitinous carcasses, and green people with snake tails instead of legs, and cricketine humanoids that go bzz-bzz when you talk to them. The result is that you are rewarded with something you’ve never seen before each time you set sail and discover a new harbour, and there’s great satisfaction in gaining wealth, growing your armada, and returning to a long-ago visited port to find everyone now knows of your accomplishments.
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.
41. Avernum: Escape From The Pit
If Spiderweb Software didn’t exist, somebody would have to invent it. The studio, led 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.