Long before modern day gaming came around, identifying role-playing games was easy. The focus on story, exploration, character progression, dumping points into a particular skill was distinct from other games at that time. These particular set of qualities earned the legendary status that RPG games have today.
Over the years, the borders defining RPGs kind of went away. The genre’s core concepts evolved, while games like Call of Duty 4 borrowed those qualities that made RPG’s successful and that includes XP, leveling up, upgrading abilities, and much more. Today, you can hardly find a release either that be FPS, side-scroller, or even strategy games that hasn’t been influenced by RPGs.
This top 10 list is a celebration of the genre’s impact; these top 10 games made that particular year for me and ultimately became one of my favorite games of all time.
#10: Jade Empire
This is BioWare’s closest thing to a cult classic, Jade Empire was a martial-arts driven RPG that took place in China, following a student’s attempts to save his or her master who has been kidnapped. Jade Empire embraced the elements of KOTOR like the engine and the light vs dark design of that game, Jade Empire marked a departure from BioWare’s usual takes on fantasy and sci-fi. I would like to see a sequel.
#9: Fable II
Peter Molyneux is notorious for over-promising things as seen at E3 2009 when Microsoft announced the Kinect but nevertheless, Fable II met most of the expectations he set prior to the release of Fable II. Taking place over the hero’s lifetime, the game gave you a dog, made the combat simple and a bit more robust and fun, and made you feel like you were changing the world. The franchise’s fate is currently in limbo but a rumor came out and stated that Microsoft plans to bring back the franchise.
#8: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Oblivion marked the entry-point for many into the Elder Scrolls franchise. The game began in a prison and when you arose from the depths into the outside world, where you could go anywhere. The open nature of the adventure that you went on and the character building is a style that few RPG’s have successfully copied.
#7: Fallout: New Vegas
Fallout: New Vegas launched with bugs and glitches, many hardcore fans of the original series before Bethesda took over rank New Vegas above Fallout 3 for many reasons including the return to the West Coast. Although, it shared many similarities with Bethesda Game Studio’s re-imagining of the series, it featured alot more content like branching mission with alternate endings, more perks, and a much deeper crafting system. New Vegas stands out of the pack with memorable companions, varied factions, and a very good story where you could change the outcome of New Vegas and Nevada.
#6: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
This was my first entry into the Elder Scrolls games. While the other two entries in the franchise made the Elder Scrolls more mainstream and became a mainstream hit, Morrowind laid the groundwork for that. Morrowind let you loose in the world of Morrowind, a place inhabited by dark elves. I was absolutely thrilled by the open world where I could join different guilds, I could own a house, complete quests. This game is the embodiment of the Elder Scrolls franchise for me.
#5: Diablo II
Diablo II was the game that introduced me to Diablo and to Blizzard who would go on and make Overwatch, 2016’s Game of the Year for many. Blizzard retooled the template and created a game that I would fall in love with, the five classes offered enough content and variety on it’s own, but the wealth of randomly generated loot created a heap of customization. The world was dark, bloody, and dark-fantasy was a memorable playground for me. On top of that, Diablo II flourished online and Blizzard themselves have a fond memory of the game and released updates long after it’s release.
BioWare’s Knights of the Old Republic became my favorite game of all time when I booted it up after returning from school. KOTOR was an RPG that let me determine if I would be a Jedi or a Sith Lord with different choices and through choice-driven scenarios. KOTOR is set 4,000 years before the beginning of the Galactic Empire. BioWare delivered great characters who were memorable and pushed the boundary of RPGs and pushed the boundaries of voice acting, creating the blueprint for what would be seen in the Mass Effect trilogy.
#3: Fallout 3
Bethesda Game Studios had no shortage of skeptics when they acquired the Fallout franchise from Interplay, although I was one of those who believed in them as I judged them from Morrowind and Oblivion, but the studio silenced everyone of them when Fallout 3 released in October of 2008. This was a re-imagining of Interplay’s Fallout and ditched the franchises’ conventions like the over-the-top viewpoint and turn-based combat in favor of the FP view and real-time combat, Fallout 3 brought the series to the mainstream audiences and selling more than 12 million copies and winning game of the year awards. Fallout 3 is an absolute classic and a masterpiece.
#2: Mass Effect 2
After BioWare set the table with the original Mass Effect that launched in 2007, Mass Effect 2 brought the food and fulfilled the promise that they set. In addition to improving the gunplay and the overall gameplay, the narrative focus on building your team and earning the loyalty of your allies gave me a new experience and to get invested in the legend of Commander Shepard. Mass Effect 2 introduced new characters like the Illusive Man, who is one of gaming’s most memorable villains. Mass Effect 2 was a complete thrill from beginning to end that represents the pinnacle of one of the greatest gaming franchises.
#1: The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt
The Witcher 3 raised the bar when it came to storytelling and character development. It’s open world was host to hundreds of quests and meaningful decisions around every corner, always gave you something to do. Seeing your choices rift throughout the land was a highlight, the masterful writing added shades of grey to every decision. The Witcher 3 delivered in every single category, it raised the bar for what an open world RPG can do and what an open world RPG can deliver but I have one more RPG to pay tribute to.
#0: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
No game has accomplished the ideas set forth by The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, that idea was that the essence of role-playing is to inhabit that character you created and seeing where the adventure takes you. No game since Skyrim has accomplished that, it expanded upon everything that the last three entries brought forward. Skyrim let you loose in a sprawling world full of things to do. Bethesda is a master when it comes to player-driven progression and that in itself reached new heights with this entry, it combined combat which was simplified and engaging quests to give a unique sense of ownership.
Skyrim is a revolutionary game, even now 7 years later. Skyrim may not carry the same nostalgic weight as games like Fallout 3 or Oblivion, but it opened the RPG genre to the mainstream audiences and brought it to the forefront. Skyrim set a standard for open-world RPGs that was finally reached with The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt.