It used to be every easy to identify what were RPGs before the dawn of Call of Duty 4’s multiplayer suite and what came after the golden age of RPGs in the 1990s. It used to be about a character starting weak and ending to be very powerful, it used to be about very intricate and challenging combat, and they often took place in fantasy settings. Those standards are now mostly gone and forgotten about as over the years, the borders of what defined an RPG has changed and evolved.
Those borders have now been eroded. The genre’s core concepts incubated and evolved, while other games took its concepts and applied the very same concepts that made RPGs very successful. In the modern day, every game out there has some sort of RPG concept attached to it.
In the 2010s, the RPG genre exploded into the mainstream with hits like The Witcher 3, Bloodborne, Dark Souls, the Fallout games, and most notably and the most famous out of the bunch is The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, a game so brilliant that games today still take influence from Bethesda’s magnum opus. This list is a celebration of some of the decade’s best RPGs; 12 interesting games that exist within the center of it all. All of the games here have left a major impact on the RPG genre and has played a role in shaping the identity of this entertaining genre.
12: Dark Souls / Bloodborne (2011–2015)
The Dark Souls games follow an unforgiving formula, a formula that has landed the games into the annals of gaming history as some of the most hardest games. Gamers found it so difficult that the original Dark Souls gave birth to a whole genre of Souls-like games.
The series began in the late 2000s with Demon’s Souls but it wasn’t until the original Dark Souls that the series really took off and set it in mold. While they’re all very good, it’s Dark Souls III that is cited as one of the best games in the entire trilogy. On the other hand, we have Bloodborne which plays off the gameplay and difficulty spike of the Dark Souls saga while diving deeper into gothic horror.
11: Diablo III (2012)
Blizzard created a classic when it launched Diablo III in 2012, however, it didn’t end up that way as it launched with issues and players had to go through literal hell at launch but once Blizzard had tidied it up, everything was good and set to go. A steady stream of updates and content drops made Diablo III a game not to be missed.
10: South Park: The Stick of Truth (2014)
In the world of licensed videogames, not many make the cut and not many become cult classics like The Stick of Truth. With the The Stick of Truth, Obsidian created a cult classic and delivered a game that not only was a worthy RPG but a game worthy of the South Park name.
9: XCOM: Enemy Unknown (2012)
The XCOM series is mainly remembered for being a strategy first series but the Fireaxis reboot of the classic series is one of a kind. Taking inspiration from the classic RPG’s of the past with its turn based combat, XCOM: Enemy Unknown was a true turn based isometric RPG from top to bottom, a kind of RPG that’s rarely ever seen in today’s gaming space. With permanent death hanging over my head, the whole entire game was a sweat-feast from top to bottom.
8: The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (2011)
Before The Witcher 3 and the explosion of CDPR onto the mainstream in 2015 as the king of RPGs, CDPR was an unknown studio, only known to those that played on PC or on the Xbox 360 and obviously, The Witcher games were of an anonymous nature; unknown and sealed off to the world as something niche.
With The Witcher 2, CDPR showed that RPGs still could be strategic in the face of overwhelming odds with the likes of Mass Effect 2 and Fallout: New Vegas amongst other RPGs that signaled that RPGs were becoming more action oriented. Brutal combat and a very good story led the way to its very famous sequel.
7: Mass Effect 3 (2012)
For most of us, we remember the final hours of Mass Effect 3 like a war flashback and for good reason, it is one of the most controversial things to happen in gaming at the time that Mass Effect 3 released in. The controversy which most of us are still divided over looms large over what is considered a very tearful goodbye that sends our unforgettable protagonist into the sunset, if you can call it that. Mass Effect 3 is the conclusion to one of gaming’s beloved sagas, it is one of the best RPGs of the decade and of all time.
6: Pillars of Eternity (2015)
Old school RPGs are making a comeback.
Pillars of Eternity is the return of classic RPGs. Pillars of Eternity is inspired by the successes of such hits like Baldur’s Gate, Pillars of Eternity is a sounding horn that isometric turn-based RPGs are once again on the rise after years of being dormant in the face of games like Fallout 3 and New Vegas. Obsidian’s original game established a universe of its own, while presenting a very beautiful story.
5: Horizon: Zero Dawn (2017)
While Horizon: Zero Dawn doesn’t have the deepest RPG mechanics, it nailed what makes an RPG an RPG: a distinctive universe hand in hand with a wonderful narrative and brilliant characters which are all trademarks of a great role-playing game. Despite the wonderful narrative, a distinctive universe, its combat, and characters; it is the game’s deeper secrets that make it a standout.
4: Fallout: New Vegas (2010)
Despite a launch filled with bugs and glitches, many hardcore original Fallout fans rank Fallout: New Vegas above Fallout 3. Reason for that is because New Vegas took it back to the roots of the franchise by placing it back in the West Coast and while it shared many of the same traits as it’s predecessor, New Vegas was more of an RPG than Fallout 3 ever was: numerous branching paths, a deeper crafting system, more dialogue options, more perks to influence your playstyle, a little bit of romance interjected into the mix, and so much more made New Vegas a better game than it’s predecessor. New Vegas stands out as one of the best RPGs this decade and for good reason.
3: The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt (2015)
CDPR raised the bar with The Witcher 3: The Wild in 2015. It’s open world was host to hundreds of quests and meaningful decisions around every corner. Seeing your choices ripple across the game world gave Fallout 4 and Bethesda a run for their money alongside its masterful writing added shades of grey to every decision. Seeing a game with such ambition succeed is rare in itself and that is why The Witcher 3 is at the top of this list.
2: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)
Bethesda’s magnus opus.
Whereas, The Witcher 3 defined what it meant to be an RPG game later on in the decade, Skyrim set the precedent at the beginning of the decade. It defined what it meant to be an RPG before The Witcher 3 came onto the scene, Skyrim made RPGs mainstream and made RPGs cool again. No game accomplished what Skyrim did back in 2011, the very essence of RPGs is inhabiting a player character and going on an adventure and seeing where it takes you.
Skyrim expanded upon the foundation of the Elder Scrolls and let you loose into an epic world filled with things to do and stories to discover. Skyrim was revolutionary when it first released and it has grown to immeasurable heights thanks to the mod community. Skyrim may not carry the same weight as some of the older RPGs, but it opened RPGs to the mainstream and made them more accessible and it set a standard that many games are still trying to achieve.
1: Mass Effect 2 (2010)
After BioWare set the table in 2007 with the original Mass Effect, the second entry brought out the food. In addition to improving much of the things that was criticized within the original, the narrative was bumped up and the final mission was one that landed itself into the history books. Mass Effect 2 introduced one of gaming’s best villains to date, the Illusive Man alongside a cast of brand new characters like Miranda and The Collectors. Mass Effect 2 was a thrilling ride from top to bottom that represents as the pinnacle of one of the greatest gaming sagas and the pinnacle of classic BioWare.