2023 games: Upcoming releases
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Best MMOs: Massive worlds
Best RPGs: Grand adventures
Whether it's an action-packed combat and intricate buildcrafting, or a massive, branching story that responds to your actions, the best RPGs can be found on PC. But in a genre known for games that can take hundreds of hours to complete, how do you know which are worth your time?
In this list, we're running through the best RPGs you can play today—our recommendations for those enduring classics and newer favourites that reward the time you invest in them. And, because RPG systems are continually evolving, there's a wealth of variety to enjoy. From fantasy to sci-fi, from JRPG to ARPG, from dialogue trees to dice rolls, there's something here no matter your preference.
The best open-world RPGs
Release date: 2022 | Developer: FromSoft | Steam (opens in new tab)
With the Souls series, FromSoft has perfected the art of creating irresistibly hostile worlds. Elden Ring is the studios' largest yet, a massive map packed full of danger and mystery. An epic journey full of potential, where exploration is rewarded by stunning boss encounters. But in addition to being larger and more sprawling than its predecessors, it's also arguably the most accessible FromSoft game to date—its open-world structure giving you more control over the challenge and pace.
Worry not, though. Like Dark Souls before it, Elden Ring is a game about overcoming bosses through trial, error and eventual mastery. And, despite leaning into more traditional fantasy, it's as weird and distinct as the studio has ever been—shining a light on the horrors of its world, rather than hiding them away in a poisonous swamp. As an RPG, too, it's some of FromSoft's best work, with extensive buildcrafting options that let you tailor your character and combat style in many different ways.
Read more: The best builds in Elden Ring
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Release date: 2015 | Developer: CD Projekt Red | GOG (opens in new tab), Steam (opens in new tab)
Many of the best RPGs focus on tales of lone, wandering adventurers, but few if any pull it off with such artistry as The Witcher 3. That artistry is most apparent in the setting itself, which is so packed with breathtaking sunsets and wind-tossed groves of trees that, years later, I still find myself opting to go to destinations on foot rather than taking the fast travel points.
But the true strength of The Witcher 3 is that it populates these memorable landscapes with NPCs doling out humble but memorable quests (by the dozen) that help create one of the most human RPG experiences on the market. In decaying wayside towns, the witcher Geralt might find impoverished elves struggling in the face of local racism; elsewhere, he might help a self-styled baron reunite with his long-estranged daughter. These quests deftly navigate moral issues without being heavy-handed or offering obvious solutions.
Read more: How The Witcher 3's best quest was made
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Release date: 2012 | Developer: Bethesda Softworks | Steam, (opens in new tab) GOG (opens in new tab)
Pick a direction and run. You’re almost guaranteed to discover some small adventure, some small chunk of world that will engage you. It’s that density of things to do that makes Skyrim so constantly rewarding. A visit to the Mage’s Guild will turn into an area-spanning search for knowledge. A random chat with an NPC will lead you to a far-off dungeon, hunting for a legendary relic. You could be picking berries on the side of a mountain and discover a dragon.
And if you somehow run out of things to do, rest assured that modders have more waiting for you (check out our guide to the best Skyrim mods). That lively community has kept Skyrim in the Steam top 100 since its release, and given us endless ways to adventure through a great world. Some on the PC Gamer team keep a modded-up Skyrim install handy, just in case they feel like adventure. That’s some high praise.
Read more: Auto-installing over 600 mods makes Skyrim beautiful and confusing
Fallout: New Vegas
Release date: 2010 | Developer: Obsidian Entertainment | Steam, (opens in new tab) GOG (opens in new tab)
While Fallout 3 was successful, it was a different beast entirely from Interplay’s classics. Obsidian’s take on the franchise moves the action back to the West Coast, and reintroduces elements such as reputation and faction power struggles. Obsidian expands on nearly every aspect of Bethesda’s take, making the game less about good or evil, and more about who you should trust. It also adds much of the humour that we loved from the classic games: How can you not appreciate a game that gives you a nuclear grenade launcher?
New Vegas' "Hardcore" mode makes survival in the wasteland more interesting, limiting the power of RadAway and Health Stims. It makes the game harder, but also more rewarding. If that’s not your thing, there are plenty of additional mods and tweaks available, including game director Josh Sawyer’s own balance-tweak mod. What we love the most about New Vegas is how it adds the Fallout feeling back into Bethesda's first-person RPG framework.
Read more: How to have the best Fallout New Vegas experience in 2022
Assassin's Creed: Valhalla
Release date: 2020 | Developer: Ubisoft Montreal | Epic Games (opens in new tab)
Need your RPGs to look their best? Here are the best gaming PCs right now.
The last few Assassin's Creed games—starting with Origins back in 2017—have augmented the open-world adventuring with more and more RPG systems. But Valhalla, specifically, goes further, dialling back on the checklist of activities in favour of a world that offers more depth and feeling. Sidequests aren't an exclamation mark that adds to some growing to-do list of busywork, but weird and memorable encounters that give context and texture to the larger world.
If those frequent moments are the highlight, Valhalla is also a more solid RPG in its fundamentals too. Level-gating is gone, meaning progress and exploration feels more natural. And the combat is more refined, offering an additional level of strategy that rewards your preparation and skill. It's also one of the series' better stories, exploring familial relationships and Norse culture with more nuance than you'd expect.
Read more: Assassin's Creed Valhalla review
Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord
Release date: 2020 | Developer: TaleWorlds Entertainment | Steam (Early Access) (opens in new tab)
A true RPG sandbox, giving you full freedom to make your mark upon the world. There's no big story campaign to follow; instead you're left to set your own goals, and work towards achieving them in whatever way you wish. Fight wars, smuggle goods, compete in gladiatorial combat, recruit followers, invest in trade caravans, or pick up a quest or two from a local lord. And then betray that lord, kill him, and take ownership of his land.
Bannerlord is still in Early Access, and still regularly receiving new updates with new features and fixes. But even without a full v1.0 release, there's enough here to make it worth the recommendation. In addition to its singleplayer sandbox, there's also multiplayer and modding tools—meaning you can lose yourself in Bannerlord for months, even years to come.
Read more: The best Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord mods
Release date: 2022 | Developer: Nine Dots Studio | Steam (opens in new tab)
Outward immediately disposes of the self-centered savior complex that we've become cozy with in so many action RPGs. While other heroes dispense of bandit camps before lunch and save the world in time for dinner, Outward sits you down and reminds you that no, you can't just go out and slay wolves with no training. The types of fights that RPGs typically treat as tutorial fodder are genuine accomplishments in Outward.
To make matters worse, or better, in our opinion, Outward constantly auto-saves your game. Your mistakes are permanent and death can't be sidestepped by loading a recent save. In a cruel marriage between Dark Souls and Minecraft, you're likely to be knocked down a peg every time you die, retracing your steps to find lost gear and left missing progress you'd so jealously hoarded.
Read more: Outward review
The best CRPGs
Release date: 2019 | Developer: ZA/UM | Steam (opens in new tab), GOG (opens in new tab)
Disco Elysium returns to the absolute fundamentals of tabletop RPGs. It's all about playing a role and becoming your character and embracing whatever success or failure that entails. Your predetermined protagonist is a detective who wakes up after an amnesia-inducing bender without a badge, gun, or a name. As the detective, you'll attempt to solve a murder in the retro city of Revachol while also solving the mystery of your past and identity.
There is no combat, at least not in the way you'd expect of a classically-inspired RPG. Instead, the majority of Disco Elysium takes place in conversation either with characters you need to interview about the murder or with your own mind. Each of your skills in Disco Elysium are parts of your personality with opinions on what to say and do during your investigation. Empathy will helpfully clue you in to the feelings of people you talk to so you can better understand them while Logic will help you poke holes in a bad alibi or understand a clue you find. Investing in skills helps you pass dice roll skill checks all throughout the game for everything from kicking down a door to hitting on a woman at the hotel. It's a massive RPG with clever writing where each playthrough is significantly different based on the kind of detective you choose to play.
Read more: No other game comes close to Disco Elysium
Divinity: Original Sin 2
Release date: 2017 | Developer: Larian Studios | Steam (opens in new tab), GOG (opens in new tab)
Outside of tabletop games, there are few RPGs that boast the liberating openness of Larian's humongous quest for godhood. If you think you should be able to do something, you probably can, even it's kidnapping a merchant by using a teleportation spell and then setting fire to him with his own blood. Almost every skill has some alternative and surprising use—sometimes more than one—whether you're in or out of combat.
You can enjoy this game of madcap experimentation and tactical combat with up to three friends, to boot, and that's where things start to get really interesting because you're not forced to work together or even stay in the same part of the world. Indeed, there are plenty of reasons to work against each other. The player is always in the driving seat, and with four players, collisions are inevitable. Just remember: if you freeze your friends and then start poisoning them, at least apologize after.
Read more: The making of Divinity: Original Sin 2
Release date: 1999 | Developer: Black Isle Studios | Steam (opens in new tab), GOG (opens in new tab)
There is no other story in gaming like the Nameless One’s. His is a tale of redemption in the face of countless sins, a tale of not knowing who you are until you become the person you’re trying to be. That open-endedness is central to what makes Planescape: Torment so captivating. At a literal level, you spend the game trying to discover who the Nameless One is, but your actions also help to define him. It’s one of many RPG tropes that Black Isle sought to subvert—others include the fact that rats are actually worthy foes, humans are often worse than undead, and you don’t have to fight in most cases.
The Nameless One’s companions are some of the best written, most enjoyable NPCs ever coded. Most have been affected by your past incarnations: pyromaniac mage Ignus was once your apprentice, though it’s more impressive that he’s constantly on fire. Or Dak'kon, who swore an oath of loyalty to you, even though you’re not sure why. Others are just interesting, well-rounded characters: Fall-From-Grace is a succubus cleric who prays to no god and, though a creature of evil, wants to do no harm. The best is Morte, a floating skull whose sarcastic wit is sharper than his bite attacks.These characters would be odd in any normal high fantasy world, but Torment uses the Planescape AD&D campaign setting, the strangest world TSR ever designed.
Read more: If you haven't played Planescape: Torment, the Enhanced Edition leaves you no excuse
Release date: 2014 | Developer: Harebrained Schemes | Steam (opens in new tab), GOG (opens in new tab)
Shadowrun's setting features the usual array of RPG creatures. There's orks, there's trolls, and there's even a dragon or two. But it's also set in a version of our world, 30 years in the future. The ork runs a shelter for impoverished metahumans. The troll is a former special forces veteran who doesn't want you around. The dragons run the world's most powerful megacorporations—taking the concept of hoarding wealth to its most logical conclusion.
As a shadowrunner, you navigate this clash of cyberpunk and fantasy by taking questionable jobs for shady clients. As the head of a team operating on the wrong side of whatever passes for law in anarchist Berlin, you'll have a range of choices as to how you complete each job. And thanks to an enjoyably deep turn-based combat system, you'll also have plenty of chances to experience the destructive potential of both technology and magic.
Read more: Robbing homeless old men and other shady dealings in Shadowrun: Dragonfall
Baldur's Gate 2
Release date: 2000 | Developer: BioWare | Steam (opens in new tab), GOG (opens in new tab)
One problem with AD&D is that low-level characters are pretty boring. Baldur’s Gate 2 solves that problem by letting you carry over your party from the first game, or start fresh with level 7 characters. It makes a huge difference: instead of wimpy fighters and frail wizards, you get powerful, useful spells and warriors that can take a punch.
It also helps that the scope of Amn is enormous, with more quests and content than most other comparable RPGs. BioWare’s Infinity Engine handles the quests and the combat perfectly, highlighting the game’s focus on strategy and tactics in combat. It’s hard to imagine controlling a six-person party without pausing and giving orders, and any newer game that relies on real-time decisions makes us long for the Infinity Engine.
Read more: The history of Baldur's Gate
Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura
Release date: 2001 | Developer: Troika Games | Steam (opens in new tab), GOG (opens in new tab)
Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura was astoundingly buggy when it came out, and many of its battles were as laughably imbalanced as its title. Patches and mods have alleviated some of that pain over the years, helping reveal what a great mix of fantasy and steampunkery thrived under its surface. As we said in our enthusiastic review in 2001, "If you can’t find something to love about this game, dump your computer in the garbage right now."
That assessment holds up. Arcanum was dark 'n' gritty before some such tendencies became all the rage, and its character creator allowed players to create everything from gnome gamblers who brandish self-explanatory Tesla-guns to outcast orcs lugging along rusty maces. Toss in non-linear progression and multiple solutions for quests, and you've got a winner that holds up 14 years later.
Read more: Overlooked RPGs that are worth playing today
The best linear RPGs
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition
Release date: 2021 | Developer: BioWare | EA (opens in new tab), Steam (opens in new tab)
Need an upgrade to get the best RPGs running at top clip? Here are the best graphics cards available today.
Mass Effect 2 is the standout here, streamlining the clunky systems of its predecessor to focus on the action, and the consequences of the choices that you—as no-nonsense space captain Shepherd—make along the way. As a result it's a good third-person cover shooter, and an even better inter-office relationship simulator, tasking you with building a crew that will survive what seems destined to be a suicide mission.
Really, though, you'll want to play through the whole series, making the Legendary Edition a joy to work through. The thrill of Mass Effect is seeing the choices you made pay off tens, even hundreds of hours later. And across the three games, you'll form lasting bonds with your ragtag crew. Don't let Mass Effect 3's ending controversy put you off: the finale is a game full of endings, most of which do justice to your crew, and all of which pay off beautifully in its Citadel DLC.
Read more: Why I love Mass Effect 3's endings
Release date: 2001 | Developer: Ion Storm Dallas | Steam (opens in new tab)
Former id Software designer Tom Hall had a vision for his first, and only, Ion Storm game. He wanted to make a turn-based RPG, like Final Fantasy, but with a distinctly Western voice. It’s that tone that makes Anachronox so brilliant: few other games of any genre have dialogue as funny as Sly Boots’ negotiation with a sock-chewing mutant warlord, and no other game we’ve played lets you add an entire planet to your party.
Ion Storm built the game on a heavily modified version of the Quake 2 engine, and it’s never looked like a normal game. But even today, the blocky character models still have personality, and the facial animations are surprisingly effective. Sly’s look of resignation as he’s thrown out of his own office window is brilliant, and he carries it with him throughout the adventure. The development cycle was plagued with issues and the final product rushed, but playing Anachronox now still feels like a revelation. It’s hard not to wonder what Hall’s planned sequels could have achieved.
Read more: The history of Ion Storm
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines
Release date: 2004 | Developer: Troika Games | Steam (opens in new tab), GOG (opens in new tab)
It’s all about atmosphere—from the goth clubs where you meet contacts, to the back alleys where you scavenge for rat blood, to the haunted Ocean House Hotel (one of the best quests in the game). Bloodlines’ ambitious use of White Wolf’s Vampire universe means it looks and feels different from the other sword and sorcery games on this list.
Unfortunately, that signature Troika ambition also means lots of bugs and some mechanics that just don’t mesh well. The endgame includes some particularly sloggy dungeons, but no other game truly drops you into a Vampire world. This is truly a cult classic of an RPG, and the fanbase has been patching and improving the game ever since release.
Read more: Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines has aged like fine wine
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2
Release date: 2005 | Developer: Obsidian Entertainment | Steam (opens in new tab), GOG (opens in new tab)
While BioWare’s first KOTOR is a Star Wars classic, KOTOR 2 takes the franchise in a bolder direction. Instead of focusing on the Light or Dark sides of the Force, the Jedi Exile of Obsidian’s sequel deals in shades of gray. Alliances are made, then broken, then remade in the aftermath. Choices you think are good just turn out to betray other characters. The end result is possibly the most nuanced take on The Force in the entire Star Wars Expanded Universe, and definitely its most complex villains.
Like many Obsidian early games, KOTOR 2’s truncated development meant that whole areas had to be cut out. A fan-made mod restores much of that content, including a droid planet, and fixes lots of outstanding bugs, showing yet again that PC gamers will work hard to maintain their favorite games.
Read more: Now more than ever, Knights of the Old Republic is a refreshing take on Star Wars
System Shock 2
Release date: 1999 | Developer: Irrational Games | Steam (opens in new tab), GOG (opens in new tab)
Lonely. That’s the defining emotion of Irrational’s debut game. You’ll hear audio logs from fascinating characters, many of whom are struggling to survive in a battle against the bio-terror creatures called the Many. But you won’t meet those people, because they didn’t make it. That loneliness is key because Shock 2 is all about taking things away from you. Ammo? Check: you’ll probably waste those on an assault droid when you should have saved them for later. Hypos? Yep. Think twice before you walk into that radiated room.
Irrational made games where the environment is the central character, and here, that character is the Von Braun. It creaks and moans as you pad quietly down its corridors. Every door you open yelps. Its security systems attack you as if you hurt their feelings. Staying on the good side of this character is hard, but Shock 2’s leveling system of earning experience points through exploration balances the risks and rewards. Some play through with all guns blazing, but the psionics skills balance well with combat, and Tech skills open new areas later in the game. There’s a lot of balance to be found in what on the surface looks like a streamlined action RPG skill system.
Read more: System Shock 2: How an underfunded and inexperienced team birthed a PC classic
Dragon Age: Origins
Release date: 2009 | Developer: BioWare | Steam (opens in new tab), Origin (opens in new tab)
Capturing that old Baldur’s Gate feel was goal number one for Dragon Age, and it comes pretty close. Ferelden evokes much of the Forgotten Realms without feeling like a rehash, and your relationship with your team has that old BioWare magic. The darkspawn feel like the kind of world-consuming threat that demands our attention, even if most of them are faceless hunks of evil for us to cut down.
But it’s the combat that feels most familiar, and most fun: the satisfying tactical depth of pausing your combat, issuing orders, and reacting to the results works like a modern Infinity Engine game should. It’s sad that BioWare will never make an RPG like this again—Dragon Age 2 is too streamlined (although still has a charm of its own), and Inquisition’s more open world—so in many ways, this is the last hurrah for the old BioWare, and a fitting end for its classic design.
Read more: Major events in the Dragon Age timeline
The best JRPGs
Yakuza: Like a Dragon
Release date: 2020 | Developer: Rya Ga Gotoku Studio | Steam (opens in new tab)
It may be the seventh mainline game in the series, but don't let that put you off. Rather than a continuation of the story that came before, Like a Dragon is all about change: a new protagonist, a new main city, and a new genre underpinning its combat. Brawling is out; turn-based combat is in. This is a pure JRPG, but one that carries forward all the drama, absurdity and satire that make the series what it is.
New lead Ichiban is obsessed with Dragon Quest, and sets about turning his new friends into the perfect party to defeat the great conspiracy at the heart of Yokohama's criminal empire. The usual class list is filtered through the satirical lens of the Japanese job market, with bouncers, buskers and hostesses instead of warriors, priests and mages. There are even summons—weirdos that you phone up to help you in battle. But don't let the parody fool you: this is a proper, in-depth JRPG that does justice to its inspiration.
Read more: Yakuza: Like a Dragon's secret weapon isn't a magic baseball bat, it's optimism
Persona 4 Golden
Release date: 2020 | Developer: ATLUS | Steam (opens in new tab)
There's real tactical depth to Persona 4's dungeons—lengthy, combat-heavy mazes that constantly test your knowledge of its systems. In these turn-based fights you'll utilise your Personas—creatures that can be equipped, upgraded and fused into more powerful monsters that do your bidding in battle. Exploit an enemy's elemental weakness, and you'll get another turn, too, so bringing the right Personas for the job is the key to making it through relatively unscathed.
So the JRPG elements are all present and correct. But the real meat of Persona 4 Golden is the social side, between the dungeons when you hang out with friends, explore the sleepy rural town of Inaba, and work to uncover the mystery behind a string of bizarre murders linked to a local legend about a midnight TV broadcast. Sure, you can battle through hordes of weird demons. But can you survive a school year and create lasting friendships along the way?
Read more: Holy crap, it's a good time to be a weeb on PC right now
Final Fantasy XII
Release date: 2018 | Developer: Square Enix | Steam (opens in new tab)
The smartest Final Fantasy game finally got a PC port in 2018. The game can't render the sort of streaming open worlds we're used to these days, but the art still looks great, and the gambit system is still one of the most fun party development systems in RPG history.
Gambits let you program party members with a hierarchy of commands that they automatically follow in fights. You're free to build any character in any direction you wish. You can turn the street urchin Vaan into a broadsword-wielding combat specialist or an elemental wizard. The port even includes a fast-forward mode that makes the grinding painless.
Read more: 15 years on, Final Fantasy 12's combat system is still the best
The best ARPGs
Path of Exile
Release date: 2013 | Developer: Grinding Gear Games | Steam (opens in new tab)
This excellent free-to-play action RPG is heaven for players that enjoy stewing over builds to construct the most effective killing machine possible. It’s not the most glamorous ARPG, but it has extraordinary depth of progression and an excellent free-to-play model that relies on cosmetics rather than game-altering upgrades. It may look muddy and indistinct, and the combat doesn’t feel as good as Diablo 3, but if you enjoy number crunching this is one of the brainiest RPGs around.
Path of Exile’s scary complexity becomes apparent the moment you arrive on your character’s level-up screen, which looks like this(opens in new tab). As you plough through enemies and level up, you travel across this huge board, tailoring your character a little with each upgrade. Gear customization is equally detailed. Path of Exile borrows Final Fantasy VII’s concept of connected gem slots. Every piece of armor has an arrangement of slots that take magic gems. These gems confer stat bonuses and bonus adjacency effects when set in the right formations. Ideally you’ll want to build synergies between your gemmed-up gear and leveling choices to create the most powerful warrior you can. Doing so requires plenty of planning, but it’s an engrossing slow-burn challenge.
Read more: The making of Path of Exile
Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls
Release date: 2014 | Developer: Blizzard | Battle.net (opens in new tab)
Let’s face it: the real-money auction house was a bad idea, one of a few in the original Diablo 3 release. Blizzard nixed the cash auctions right before Reaper of Souls’ release, but it’s the addition of Adventure Mode that turned the game around from disappointing sequel to crowning achievement for the series. Instead of rehashing the game’s acts, Adventure Mode’s task-based milestones and randomized areas make the game feel fresh for much longer. It’s a standout mode, and it’d be hard to imagine playing Diablo 3 any other way.
But RoS added another feature that changes the way we love our action RPGs: guild support. Having friends to talk to as you grind through a dungeon, even if they’re not with you, makes the game far less lonesome, and it’s that kind of small touch that justifies Blizzard’s always-online philosophy. Adding all this to the already-tremendous feeling of wiping out hordes of baddies with a well-timed ability change, RoS is the defining action RPG for us. It’s a game we’ll be playing for a long, long time.
Read more: Diablo 2: Resurrected just makes me want to run back to Diablo 3 (opens in new tab)
Release date: 2016 | Developer: Crate Entertainment | Steam (opens in new tab)
If you’ve rinsed Diablo 2 for every magical trinket and are looking for a modern fix, here is your game. Grim Dawn is a gritty, well-made action RPG with strong classes and a pretty world full of monsters to slay in their droves. It’s the distant brooding son of Titan Quest, sharing some designers and mechanics with that fine 2006 Greek myth ARPG. Like its cousin, Grim Dawn lets you pick two classes and share your upgrade points between two skill trees. This hybrid progression system creates plenty of scope for theorycrafting, and the skills are exciting to use—an essential prerequisite for games that rely so heavily on combat encounters.
The story isn’t bad either, for an ARPG. Don’t expect twisting plots and decisions with consequences—this is very much a game about single-handedly destroying armies—but there is a neat faction reputation system that spawns harder mobs and villainous nemesis heroes as you become more hated by the criminals, cults and monsters that rule the wilderness. The local demons and warlords that terrorize each portion of the world are well sketched out in the scrolling text NPC dialogue and found journals. Ultimately, it’s about the monster-smashing and sweet loot, though, and Grim Dawn delivers on both effectively.