In many mediums, fantasy is simply put on the back burner. Movie and TV producers don't want to spend the special effects budget, theaters simply can't replicate it, and non-YA books struggle to make the bestseller lists. In video games, there are none of those limitations. When your imagination is limited only by the number of polygons you can fit on-screen, a lot of interesting worlds begin to appear. More than that, they offer unprecedented interactivity and control.
This list is our attempt to catalog and rate such games. It's not an easy task, and we've tried to be critical and unbiased in our selections. It's important that these games aren't just popular for nostalgia, but that they still stand up today and have a tangible impact; That they feature great gameplay or story and aren't limited to the most popular genres. Taking that into account, these are, in our opinion, the best fantasy games of all time.
This faultless improvement on the original title still has a scope beyond many of today's biggest RPGs. Created at BioWare's heights, this game throws you into a D&D inspired world where the protagonist is the subject of a series of magical experiments.
Escaping from your cage and into a high fantasy environment, you'll be met with hundreds of hours of quests, fighting and story, but it's not the usual low effort approach. In Baldur's Gate 2, every task is meticulously crafted, down to the characters, dialogue, and themes. There are few repetitive quests and little hand holding.
You'll probably die countless times, but each feels like a learning experience rather than a frustration. Those encounters also drive the story, pulling you intro intricate plot threads that will eventually blend into a satisfying and cohesive whole.
It's not often that a triple A game lives up to its pre-launch hype and it's even rarer that it surpasses it. With the Witcher 3, CD Projekt Red managed to reach an acclaim far beyond not just the other titles in the series, but the genre as a whole.
Every aspect of this game is masterfully executed, from the diverse and beautiful environments to the lighting, combat, and soundtrack. It took the development team three and a half years to create the game, but its incredible detail makes that feel way too short. Each side quest has memorable characters and believable plots, every creature a lore-filed background. It's far too easy to get lost in the world, finding yourself with hundreds of hours invested and no end in sight.
It's the main story, however, that holds the whole experience together. The Witcher 3 tells the tale of a grizzled monster hunter searching for his adoptive daughter and fighting a powerful dark force. Along the way, he meets ex-lovers, murderers, elves, and ghosts. He kills giants, griffins, undead and spectral beings. Each character has a believability and nuance that makes it an intensely emotional experience, and the way you interact with them will determine the outcome of the tale and the fate of the world.
The worst thing you can do is let Planescape: Torment's old-fashioned interface fool you. Despite its age, it remains one of the most innovative games ever crafted, with a moral depth that still eludes most new titles.
The game is almost entirely story driven, following The Nameless One, an immortal who has forgotten his past lives. With a companion in a floating skull named Mort, you set out on an adventure to reclaim your memory. Immersive, branching dialogue propels the story, undoubtedly some of the best writing in a video game. The mystery of your character urges you do follow every quest line, impacting and shaping the world as you do. This was one of the first releases where players could choose a path between good and evil, and it still remains one of the best for that.
In Planescape, there's no lazy implementation of choices, where short text options mislead you into the wrong option. Selections are clear, and it's not just a choice between good and bad. There are gray areas, intelligent quips, ways to seek out more information. They lead to tangible character development and raise philosophical questions about what makes a person.
This game gives a sense of unparalleled freedom, with thousands of different choices, incredible detail in the world, and a sense of uniqueness that is yet to be emulated.
With such a huge and hardcore following, there's a significant amount of contention over the best Final Fantasy game. However, it's hard to disagree that few have had the worldwide impact of the series' seventh instalment. It's been lauded as a turning point in video game history, and for once that's not an exaggeration.
It's with this game that Square really catapulted into the west, and that led to numerous other titles on this list. More than that, though, it brought RPGs to the forefront of gaming. Square took a risk with the transition from 2D to 3D, and it's one that paid off exponentially.
With the switch, Final Fantasy's developers were able to bring the full scope of their imagination to the screen. With beautiful environments and intricate and creative characters, it's instantly memorable. Its soundtrack by Nobuo Uematsu appears with equal mastery, combining with great sound design to create a timeless feeling of ambiance.
In retrospect, however, none of those things alone gave VII the worldwide success it deserved. That's owed to its simplicity, which makes the bursting world so accessible. There are hundreds of things to do, such as Chocobo breeding, but a humble combat system that is only complex if you want it to be.
Then when you're done messing around for hours on end, the games epic plot begins to take hold. It follows Cloud Strife and his nemesis Sephiroth in their debut, portrayed so excellently that the names still instantly resonate. Cloud is a deeply human character who grows throughout the story, ultimately resulting in a tear-inducing ride that you can't help but experience a second time.
It was a very tough choice between this game and the recent Breath of the Wild. I spent a long time agonizing over every comparison and examining both. In the end, it came down to two things: critic perception, and impact.
Out of every game published, this one has the highest Metacritic score. You will see by its place on this list that's not everything, but there are some very, very good reasons for it. With Ocarina, Nintendo built one of the first 3D adventure games, and in doing so it also built a framework of mechanics that are still popular today.
The fabled Z-targeting system combined with other innovations to create a game with controls that surpassed everything else. Actions had consequences, and the sprawling world of Hyrule is still one that developers take notes from.
Despite this, there's a feeling of tragedy that underpins this title. Link has to step out of his beginnings as a lazy forest boy and into a realm that is doomed from the outset. He's a hero through time, and that means he gets none of the recognition he deserves. Still, though, you can't help but marvel at the detail with happiness. There's the feeling of a loving touch, each element placed meticulously to have a purpose, the combat seamless and second nature. Even today, with its age showing, the art design, story, and music remain timeless.
It may have roots on the SNES over twenty years ago, but Chrono Trigger is still one of the most original and compelling stories in gaming. This title's originality has led to numerous remakes, and it's still playable today on mobile devices.
This game has stood the test of time, and coincidentally, time is its core concept. Crono is a boy from 1000 A.D. who steps through a portal to the future to rescue a friend. In doing so, he discovers that an apocalypse is coming, and must travel through seven different time periods to prevent it. Unfortunately, that's easier said than done, with each action causing a butterfly effect and irrevocably changing the present.
Through these mechanics, Square creates a world of cause and effect, where the world is constantly evolving and reacting to your decisions. Yet, despite the gap in time, Chrono Trigger weaves in a story of friendship. Amid paradoxes and time travel, it manages to tell a simple story that can end up to fourteen different ways.
It was a very tough choice between Morrowind and Skyrim, but the former is where the series' success really began. Bethesda introduced one of the most expansive and free-form RPGs ever, letting the player choose their own path, and in some ways build their own story. You have complete control over the look, race, and abilities of your character, as well as the factions they join and the people they interact with.
Players of Skyrim will be familiar with this, but in Morrowind, it's really on another level. Bethesda manages to tie in advanced open world RPG mechanics while maintaining a better story. It's less of an action game, and more of a playground of thievery, stats, and magic. It throws you straight into things with only a brief introduction, getting you lost (often literally) in the world of Tamriel.
It's that world that's really the shining glory of all Elder Scrolls Games, and it's arguably at its best here. While Skyrim is described by many as a shallow ocean, this game has the depth of a thriving lake. It's teeming with over four hundred quests, as well as unique flora, characters, and races. It draws from not just medieval Europe, but early cultures in Egypt, Japan, and the Middle East. If you can get past the dated graphics, you'll find incredible value in this classic game. If not, well,Skyrim and Oblivion are just as good in their own way.
It's been named the 'grandfather of MMORPGs', and in many ways, this is true. Though many online RPGs came before it, WoW completely revolutionized the industry. Part of this was due to its huge user base of 12 million subscribers, but it's also present in the amazing world Blizzard has created.
Building on the existing Warcraft franchise, Azeroth is a high-fantasy world with incredible detail and lore to back it up. There are mages, druids, rogues, paladins, and warriors. Elves, humans, dwarves, orcs, trolls, and other, entirely original species. Complete with cutscenes, immersive questlines, and an ever-evolving plot, there's enough content for anybody who loves fantasy.
It's strength though, is not just in world, but in gameplay. It's easy to start, but difficult to master. There's hundreds of skills, quests, and items. It has a thriving economy, an interactive community, and plenty of content to keep you going after you reach the level cap. The recent release of the Legion expansion only adds to that, bringing a fun new demon hunter quest and hundreds more hours of content. Thirteen years after its release, it's hard to find a better MMO.
Horror isn't usually the genre you associate with great stories. By now, movie-goers will be used to the same tired clichés and plot mechanics. Video games, however, are different, and Silent Hill 2 proved that very early on.
This game isn't focused on gore or unnecessary jump scares. Silent Hill presents a town where atmosphere and mental strain is as important as the physical threats. The environment draws on the fears of its visitors, creating the illusions that terrify them most.
For James Sunderland, the fear revolves around his dead wife, who he's searching for desperately in the fog-ridden streets. The way the story unfolds, however, is far more unique. Silent Hill 2 introduces elements slowly, gradually building the tension as you discover more about this terrifying place. Its plot is less of a straight line and more of a journey of discovery, gradually lifting the cover on deeper questions about guilt and morality.
Even with this, Konami manages to make the story evolve with the player. How you play will shape the ending of the tale, and for once each is just as powerful.
At a time where games were becoming increasingly dumbed down, Dark Souls burst onto the gaming scene in a blaze of glory. It took the elements of its predecessor and built on them, creating an intensely difficult game that tests not just reaction time but intelligence and perseverance. This extends to every aspect of the game, with a great, hard-to-master combat system and sparse save points. Surviving takes careful planning and perfect execution.
Just as intricate as the mechanics is the world design, with a lore-heavy dark fantasy world. As a player, you're constantly struggling to keep your humanity, returning to an ugly 'hollow' form each time you die. Humanity grants you little guidance notes from other players, but it also opens your world up to invasion from those people.
In this way, the game introduces heavy adventure and exploration elements despite its dark setting. There's very little guidance, both about the history of the world or how to survive in it. Instead, you have to seek out your own answers. Books, dialogue, and items combine to allow answers to unfold naturally and with incredible skill. It's easily one of the best blends of fantasy, frustration, and satisfaction.
Great characters are the key to a good story, and Grim Fandango is full them. Though its graphics and audio are naturally dated, the ingenuity of its character and story design is still incredible. This wholly unique experience is why it's still so popular today.
In this classic title, you play Manny Calavera, a humble travel agent trying to make a living in a corrupt underworld. Rather than a road straight to heaven, the dead get given various travel packages to the Land of Eternal Rest. How quickly they get there depends on how kind they were, with some journeys taking up to four years.
Manny quickly finds that the system is unfair to his client, Meche, who has been sentenced to walk on foot despite her good deeds. Uncovering a deep conspiracy and trying to get justice, the player must solve puzzles and converse with characters to progress. Each is astoundingly well-crafted, voice-acted, and written, with Manny himself presenting a flawed yet developing protagonist that will stick with you long after the conclusion.
Pokémon is so ingrained that it often misses its deserved accolade as a fantasy. For many, it was an essential part of childhood, above even the TV show. However, like many titles aimed at younger audiences, the game has evolved into far more than that. Adults, teenagers, and children alike can appreciate the incredible depth in the Pokémon world, not just with its hundreds of creatures, but the environment, architecture and characters.
It's next to impossible to just pick one Pokémon generation, so we haven't even tried. There's value to be had in the simplicity of Gen I, the double battles of Gen III, and the refreshing setting of Sun and Moon. Despite their differences, all of the games are easy to start, yet hard to master. If you're looking for it, there are plenty of tactics to be found, hard decisions to make, and other players to battle.
Most of all, though, the franchise is just good fun. It has the rush from collection, the progression system of an RPG, and the theme of rivalry running throughout. You'd be hard-pressed to find a fantasy game with a wider appeal.
Just when people began to think adventure games were dead, Journey burst onto the scene. It quickly became the fastest-selling game on the PlayStation Store and won eight awards for innovation, art direction, and music. It was even picked up by Smithsonian Art Museum as an exhibit.
As you would expect, the imagery in the game is unrivalled. It's perfectly crafted, down to each rock and ray of light. It's the experience that makes the game truly special, however. You play a genderless, robed character in a desert world, floating through the air and trying to discover the history of a people long since dead. If nothing else, that would be a powerful concept, but the true innovation comes from the multiplayer aspect.
As you follow a physical representation of the Hero's Journey, you think you are alone. Then, in the distance, you see a player. You can't talk to them, you can't message them, all you can do is travel the same road together and help where you can.
It's hard to say exactly how That Game Company achieves it; whether it's in the art, the soundtrack, the gameplay, or all of those things. But the result is an emotional connection between two people who haven't spoken a single word.
Diablo II was one of the most anticipated video games of all time, and thankfully it lived up to the hype. Blizzard took the short single player experience from the first release and expanded it into a much wider dark fantasy world.
In fact, that's the general feeling of this game versus the first. It's complexity and detail were ramped up to 100, with outdoor exploration, two new character classes, and many more unique skills and items. Still, though, it keeps the core of what makes the series great. Awesome, blood-fuelled fun, a simple accessibility, and addictive progression that spurs a replay.
In a lesser game, those elements would everything else takes a back burner. But this is Blizzard, and the title is augmented with cinematics that contain amazing voice acting and animation. The core of the story is a simple quest to find the cause of a demon outbreak, but it follows the four-act structure for a captivating tale. Each chapter progression makes you work for it, adding a feeling of satisfaction when you reach each milestone. It's endless fun, and sometimes little else is needed to make the history books.
With Dishonored, Arkane Studios wanted to revitalize the stealth genre. It was a big ask, and a big claim, but it managed to do just that. There's plenty of innovation to be found in this game, from its steampunk fantasy world to its open play style. Arkane's levels are meticulously and beautifully crafted to give the player hundreds of different ways to achieve mission outcomes. Though stealth is a clear option, so are sword fights or epic combinations of magic and traps.
This leads to a feeling of great gameplay freedom and an adapting world, too. The actions you take as masked assassin Corvo Attano shape the outcome of the story and his reputation. As a voiceless character, you can form Corvo yourself, deciding between a ruthless killer or a non-lethal rogue. Narrative is not just an overall arc but inside of each mission. As you walk the nineteenth-century world, smaller parts tie together to create a story of betrayal and vengeance.
However, Corvo's tale isn't the only notable one. Dishonored is littered with various sub-plots, voiced by one of the best casts in any video game. It includes John Slattery, Lena Headey, Chloe Grace Moretz, Susan Sarandon, Carrie Fisher, and more. Though a star cast doesn't necessarily make a good game, Arkane's combination of good acting and thoughtful writing creates a feeling of emotion that only compliments the gloomy atmosphere.
This is where it all started, not just for developer Quantic Dream, but for the modern interactive movie genre. With its break-out success, the studio created a title with a focus on story above gameplay, and it sold. Over 700,000 copies since its release, and counting.
Those are impressive numbers, and well-deserved. It blends cinematics with quick time events to give its story gravitas and player actions real impact. The excellent story follows an average man, Lucas Kane, as he comes to terms with the glowing symbols on his arms and the murder they forced him to commit. From there it's up to the player. Their choices influence Lucas' path through the dark world, and his psychic abilities help them to come to decisions.
As you are introduced to the perspectives of more characters, there's an effort not just to make the right choices, but to balance their mental state. If you do too many crazy things, they won't be able to stand it, and that keeps a feeling of realistic boundaries for each character. All of it combines with a great art style and incredible voice acting to create a great dark fantasy mystery.
In this billion-dollar industry, games tend to take themselves very seriously. There's not much room for thinking outside of the box, or comedy. Indie games often fill that gap, and few more than Undertale. Crafted by a single man, Toby Fox, the game is full of humor, parodies, and great characters.
It doesn't try to be something it's not, choosing a very simple art style that fits its humble roots. Instead, it focuses on detail within those boundaries. There are hundreds of clues to discover, little bits of lore, tiny items that make the underground world feel real. Though the RPG has puzzles and turn-based combat, they're partly just a medium for story and comedy. Just when you think you have a handle on things, Holt pulls the rug out from under you with hard-hitting emotion and a subversion of gameplay tropes.
You never know what to expect with Undertale, and that's what makes it so refreshing. The multiple gameplay branches make multiple playthroughs viable, with references even to actions from your last playthrough. The sheer variation in enemy encounters and its ability to encourage empathy makes it one of the most innovative games of this decade.
The War of the Three Gods is a military history of the Near and Middle East in the seventh centurywith its chief focus on the reign of the Eastern Roman Emperor Heraclius (AD 610641)a pivotal and dramatic time in world history. The Eastern Roman Empire was brought to the very brink of extinction by the Sassanid Persians before Heraclius managed to inflict a crushing defeat on the Sassanids with a desperate, final gambit. His conquests were short-lived, however, for the newly converted adherents of Islam burst upon the region, administering the coup de grace to Sassanid power and laying siege to Constantinople itself, ushering in a new era. Peter Crawford skillfully narrates the three-way struggle between the Christian Roman, Zoroastrian Persian, and Islamic Arab empires, a period of conflict peopled with fascinating characters, including Heraclius, Khusro II, and the Prophet Muhammad himself. Many of the epic battles of the periodNineveh, Yarmuk, Qadisiyyah and Nahavandand sieges such as those of Jerusalem and Constantinople are described in as rich detail. The strategies and tactics of these very different armies are discussed and analyzed, while plentiful maps allow the reader to follow the events and varying fortunes of the contending empires. This is an exciting and important study of a conflict that reshaped the map of the world. Skyhorse Publishing, as well as our Arcade imprint, are proud to publish a broad range of books for readers interested in history--books about World War II, the Third Reich, Hitler and his henchmen, the JFFew games have had such a quantifiable impact as this one. God of War undoubtedly changed the hack and slash genre, and it did so with a refreshing backdrop of Greek mythology. In this title, you play Kratos, a Spartan warrior who is on a quest to kill a god.
It's a slow burn. You aren't thrown into the story with exposition and long cutscenes. In fact, you don't need to be. You'll be having so much fun hacking apart enemies that at first it's just a thread to guide your travels. As the game progresses, however, you begin to learn some things about Kratos. He's not the psychopathic warrior you pegged him to be. He's tortured, vulnerable, and looking for redemption.
Despite this, it's not an easy game. Though many enemies can be beaten with combos, overwhelming numbers force you to think critically about what you jump into. Bosses provide a different level of challenge, often requiring advanced tactics and perfectly executed quick-time events. It's no Dark Souls, but there's more than enough depth here to stop it being a button masher.
God of War's interesting, myth-filled setting, fantastic combat, and puzzle elements create a feeling of intense satisfaction. An intense orchestral soundtrack combines with solid voice acting to bring propel this action-RPG into the gaming hall of fame.
K assassination, conspiracies, the American Civil War, the American Revolution, gladiators, Vikings, ancient Rome, medieval times, the old West, and much more. While not every title we publish becomes a New York Times bestseller or a national bestseller, we are committed to books on subjects that are sometimes overlooked and to authors whose work might not otherwise find a home.
Stoic's debut release caused a huge stir in the gaming world, one of the first crowdfunded video games to truly make it big. It may be masterminded by three former BioWare developers, but that's where the similarity to traditional RPGs stops.
In the Banner Saga, the player is thrown into a beautiful stereoscopic world of Vikings, where the sun is trapped low in the sky and an ancient race has returned to destroy them all. In a blend of strategy and RPG, you must escort a band of travellers across the world as they search for the source of the uprising.
As you manage resources and fight in turn-based battles, you'll have to make tough choices, and those decisions influence the outcome of the story. It has the feeling of a Viking saga, only enhanced by Austin Wintory's haunting soundtrack. It's a stunning game that immerses you in its world and keeps you there long after its finished.
On the surface, Darkest Dungeon doesn't look like anything special. It's a 2D indie game, following the recent resurgence of rogue-like games and tying in traditional dungeon crawling elements. You could look at screenshot of this game, appreciate its beautiful hand-drawn art style, and move on.
That would be a huge mistake. This is one of the best indie fantasy games to hit the shelf in recent years and contains innovations beyond many triple A titles. It's less about the loot (though that is present) and more about the psychological aspects of adventure. As you make your way through the world, your party will become shaped by its experiences. Paranoia, stress, kleptomania and other ailments make an appearance, crafting flawed characters from the outset with unique requirements.
Tied into that are the fifteen different classes, from Paladins to archers and hound masters. The game randomizes brutally, from the level layout to the turn order and hit damage. It's frustrating yet incredibly rewarding, forcing you to think on your feet and prepare for every scenario.
Story is minimal, serving more to set the dark fantasy scene than convey any real impact. That's intentional on the part of the developers, because there's already more than enough going on. The real emotion comes from the attachment to the characters you've built, the fear of death at any moment, and the satisfaction of getting it right.
Point and click adventures are something of a dying breed when compared to other major genres. There just doesn't seem to be the same popularity behind them, or big studios willing to make them. That's a real shame, because the sub-genre can make for some of the most interesting settings around, and The Longest Journey is a good example of that.
The story takes place between two worlds, one of technology, and one of magic. April Ryan spends her nights dreaming of dragons, but then they start to invade her waking life, too. Then, before she can react, she's passes into the world of arcadia, and finds her dreams aren't so crazy after all.
The blend of high fantasy and sci-fi makes for an interesting exploration, filled with both cyberpunk cityscapes and underground shrines. For its time, the graphics and environments are stunning, but a story's real merit is always its protagonist.
With April, Funcom didn't follow the trope of a 'Mary Sue' character. Other than her art, she's not really an expert at anything. She certainly doesn't fit in a world of strange creatures and dragons. She want's nothing more than to go back home, yet the develops into a person of loyalty and determination, backed by characters that are just as interesting and sympathetic.
It all sits on top of intuitive puzzle mechanics and a stunning soundtrack to reach an ending that will leave you pining for the sequel.
BioWare's first Dragon Age title also turned out to be its best. Admittedly, the newest release has some beautiful graphics and is still a great game. However, the scope of interaction in Origins pushes the emotional relationships with characters far further.
At its heart, Origins is a dark heroic fantasy game. The setting was inspired by Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire, while spiritually it's a successor to their Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights franchises. The result is a mix of high and low fantasy, the player in the shoes of a 'Grey Warden' who must save the world from demons.
It's the variety in story though, that makes this game really stand out. Players can choose not only between class, race, and gender but also social class. The result is a number of different origin stories and the ability to play through several times without getting bored. The choices you make, both in character customization and throughout the course of the game affect how characters act towards you and ultimately, the ending.
It's these character interactions that are the basis of any BioWare game, and in Origin's it's at its best. The cast is brilliantly voice acted, well-written, and believable. At many points, it's the growth in relationships that keeps you playing, and that's a very powerful tool.
This fantastic blend of fantasy and high-school drama manages to create a truly emotional story that explores important concepts. Dontnod Entertainment tells the story of a photographer with a mysterious power to turn back time, and through that mechanic, it reveals the unintended consequences actions can have.
Max Claufield sees a vision of a storm coming to destroy the fictional town of Arcadia Bay, Oregon, and realizes she can rewind time for a few seconds. Unsure where this power comes from, she uses it to prevent a tragedy, but gets roped into a search for a missing girl as a result. Storm on the backburner, she uses her newfound power in secret to influence important events, creating a butterfly effect of consequences.
Combining simple puzzle mechanics with excellent writing and voice acting, Life is Strange weaves a strong story where the bond between characters is paramount. It unflinchingly explores taboo topics, building to an incredible and emotional conclusion.
Thief was the grandmaster of the stealth genre, the first to introduce concepts like light-based snaking and emergent gameplay. However, as is often the case with sequels, Thief II takes those early concepts and develops them into true mastery.
It continues in the steampunk world that's home to master thief Garrett, following him as he tries to unravel a religious conspiracy. In his arsenal are various magics and technologies, from a scouting orb to gas-tipped arrows. Don't let the weapons fool you, though, because this game is more of a careful skulk through the shadows than a sword frenzy.
And that's part of what makes it so damn good. When the game dropped, the market was full of first person shooters and action. Even today, most games have fighting built into their core. This title draws its excitement from the fear of discovery, the twists in its expertly written missions, and near-perfect level design.
There's a feeling of authenticity to the City, present in sprinkles of overheard conversations and humor. Contrasting it are stoic cathedrals and religious zealots, mechanical creatures and expertly tense sound design. All exist as a playground for our thief, a challenge that will leave your heart beating without a single person killed.
This is a bit of strange one to make this list, and not because of the convoluted name. The truth is that if you'd asked anyone about this game on its release, they wouldn't say that it was one of greats. It barely sold, had numerous technical issues, and propelled its development team into financial failure. It was an unfinished game.
Yet, incredibly it was all turned around. Not thanks to its dev team, but a dedicated and skilled fanbase. Unofficial patches fixed many of the issues that were criticized upon its release, and it soon grew a cult following. None of that would have been possible if the game beneath those bugs wasn't so compelling. The co-founders of Troika Games created the first Fallout game, and later Arcanum. Their talent is undeniable, and the initial failure was more due to budget issues than anything else.
In Masquerade, you play a highly customizable fledgling on the hunt for the sarcophagus of an old and powerful vampire. Choice is one of the defining features, with class picks anywhere from a blood mage to a hulking warrior. Along the way, you'll have to decide where to put your limited attributes, which will influence how you can react with the story and solve quests.
Behind it all is the tension that should come from a vampire game. The need to live in secret and keep your powers hidden from humans. There's always the need to watch your surroundings or risk losing the game, no matter how caught up you are in the admirable story. In short, it's the death throes of an incredible game studio, and remains one of its most memorable.
Warcraft I and II were some of the driving forces behind the rise of real-time strategy games, but as they say, the third time is the charm. Blizzard's fantasy world returned after a long hiatus to completely dominate sales and win 'Game of Year' awards across the board.
The game contains the four playable races of Orcs, Humans, Night Elves and Undead and weaves them together in a story that's depth is out of character for its genre. Its fast pace, great characters, and world editing tools make for a game that still stands up today. It takes all the conventions from Blizzard's previous strategy games and reinvents them to put a bigger focus on exploration and hero characters.
This leads to a different but balanced game, focusing less on rushing the enemy and more on a strategic blend of strategic aggression and unit management. Whether you're playing its sprawling campaign or just against a friend, Warcraft III's balance and color shines through, ultimately setting it apart from the competition.
There have been many Kingdom Hearts games since its inception, but the second is where it really found its footing, and, arguably, is it at its best. The action role-playing game follows Sora, a boy trying to find his friends and traveling through a number of Disney-themed worlds along the way.
With that premise, you would expect the game to target a younger audience. A mashup of Final Fantasy, Disney, and original characters sounds strange, but somehow Square Enix manages to pull it off. Fans of both will be pleased by great acting and intricate, thematic environments. The multitude of worlds gives a constantly shifting cast of characters, each fleshed out and accurate to the source material. Much of the cast is voiced by the original movie or game actors, meaning complete immersion in the world and no jarring changes. The star-studded cast includes greats like Hayden Panettiere, Tate Donovan, and Zach Braff.
However, the game is still very much an action RPG. There are attributes, weapons, level-ups, gear drops and more. It lends itself well to hardcore players, but you can still get through without. If I had to describe the game in one word, it would be earnest. The beautiful blend of different worlds sits atop a prevailing theme of teamwork and friendship. That may not appeal to everyone, but the depth and emotion in the story is second to none.
This game is a homage to some of the greatest tension builders of all time. Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Rod Serling, Alfred Hitchcock, Bret Easton Ellis. The names are enough to make anyone excited, but more important is the tangible influence they had on Alan Wake. Remedy Entertainment has taken the unique aspects of each and weaved a psychological thriller to rival their heroes.
The game follows its synonymous writer as he arrives in a mountain retreat called Bright Falls that does not live up to its name. The small town is home to a malevolent force, strange inhabitants, and a seemingly endless fog. It's an environment that's as beautiful as it is creepy, but it's when you get away from civilization that the game really shines.
As buildings give way to towering pines, creatures begin to shuffle about in the night. Crows and poltergeists lurk, only held at bay by light. Away from the streetlights that can be a problem, but thankfully Alan has a trusty, magical flashlight to keep him company. It makes for a tense atmosphere, having to sacrifice battery power for safety, and temporarily forgo light to fire off a bullet or two. Along the way, manuscript pages and discoveries tell the story of a town's dark history, meticulously building into a crescendo that will leave you hunched over your desk and shying away from the windows.
When you think Ubisoft, it's usually Assassins Creed, Far Cry, or other such games that come to mind. Action, 3D environments, and button mashing. They're compelling, but the developers' Child of Light offers a much different experience.
Polygons give way to beautiful hand-drawn scenes and button mashing to an intelligently crafted combat system. The land of Lemuria is stunning, presented in a side-scrolling nature with RPG elements. Characters are equally interesting in design, the protagonist Aurora being a red-haired child with a penchant for adventure.
It's another game that's easy to play and difficult to master, the combat and atmosphere a homage to early Square Enix games. However, there's also a lot of new elements in there too. The imaginative world is only second to the script, which imitates a fairy-tale like nature and contains amazing characterization. It's short yet emotion-filled, heightened by the option of co-op and a beautiful accompanying score.
It's the polish that makes this game worth its placing. A simplicity that lends itself well to any gamer, but refuses to cut out any of the vital elements. It's an adventure, from start to finish, and it will leave you lost in its world.
Just as gamers had settled into their biases about the best hack and slash games, Bayonetta came along and changed everything. If it's not the greatest in the sub-genre, it's at least up there with all the rest. The game is Hideki Kamiya's ode to his Devil May Cry series, and though it seems impossible, the quality here is even higher.
The inventiveness of Bayonettais present right there in its titular character. A gun-toting, shapeshifting lady who has no problem kicking ass. Thankfully, and crucially, there are few things more enjoyable than beating people up in this game. Regular punch and kick attacks can be combined with combos and finishers, all changing depending on the weapon you have equipped. There's a feeling of rhythm to it, an intense satisfaction when you pull off a combo or dodge at the last second and freeze time around the character. There's a flow and style to it that you'd be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.
Yet Bayonetta isn't just some faceless hero that only serves as a conduit to action. Her story from amnesiac to badass results in her exuding confidence in a way that doesn't make you hate her. She breaks the fourth wall consistently with humor and sexuality that acts almost as a parody to earlier games. In its entirety, there's a feeling of polish and wonder that lends itself perfectly to the genre.
Video games have evolved a lot since their inception. RPGs have diverged significantly, from isometric Infinity Engine to first and third person narratives. It's an improvement, in many ways, but sometimes you just want a throwback to the old times without the poor resolution and graphics.
Pillars of Eternity provides that, but it's also far, far more. Instead of just cashing in on nostalgia, Obsidian Entertainment has just focused on making a great game. This spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate takes place in the world or Eora, where infants are starting to be born with no soul. As a 'Watcher' your character can see past lives and figure out what caused the phenomenon.
Obsidian introduces the familiar races of elves, dwarves, and humans, but it also brings in some new ones. God-blessed nations, semi-aquatic creates, and more. There's been a real effort to blend this lore into the world, and the same applies for the eleven different classes you can choose. Characters treat you differently depending on your race and class, giving the feeling that it's more than just a customization option.
And that's the theme of Pillars in general. Thousands of minute details and hidden depths all combine to make an amazing title. There's culture, science, religion, all presented in the form of expertly crafted prose rather than voice acting. It captures the soul of D&D and lays it out on the screen before you, with a great combat system and a heart-wrenching epic narrative. You can get lost for hundreds of hours in this game, only to quit, start again, and have just as much fun the second time around.
If the first Soulcalibur game was almost the perfect fighting game, this one lands even closer to that mark. Revamped graphics for the PS2 and Xbox mark a noticeable difference in detail from the previous game, giving more life to the returning cast of diverse fighters. New additions join them, including the twin blade wielding Talim and special guest Heihachi from Tekken and Legend of Zelda's Link. In addition, AI is improved, and single-player is a throwback to Soul Blade (1997), the series' true origin.
Despite these improvements, it's the return of previous mechanics that provide most of the fun. The four buttons provide a vertical, horizontal and kick attacks, as well as a guard. The blocking system only allows you to block your upper half or lower half at the same time, and certain attacks will beat others, leading to a slightly more tactical element. You can combine these attacks together, as well as directional pad presses, to create hundreds of different moves and combos.
It all sounds simple, and it is. And in this case, that's not a bad thing. One of Soulcalibur II's biggest strengths is its accessibility. It's a game best enjoyed with friends, and they can pick it up and play without winning simply by button mashing and dumb luck. It's the same formula fans of the series are familiar with, in its best iteration.
The love-child of Peter Molyneux, Fable offers a different take on the genre. In the colorful world of Albion, your future is shaped not by dialogue, but the actions you take. Murder, and you will be feared; save people, and you will be lauded. Swinging a hammer results in muscle growth, magic in glowing facial runes, and death in scars.
Fable is a coming of age story where you character actually grows. You begin as a young boy who witnesses a traumatic event, and end the type of hero you want to be. Along the way you'll experience a fun combat system, memorable characters, humor, and deep emotion. You'll find a wife, drink, kill, and gamble, all the while exploring the ageless environments. Despite its flaws, the RPG category wouldn't be complete without this loveable title.
There are few reasons not to love this title. It takes the addictive 4X formula popularized by Civilization and puts it in a diverse high-fantasy world. While other titles feel like a copy and paste of other games, Endless Legend manages to bring something new to the genre, and not just because of its stunning Game of Thrones inspired graphics.
The game introduces eight factions, and they aren't just different flavors of the same thing. They play fundamentally differently, roving clans able to move their cities but not declare war, and ardent mages able to fuel magic through self-harm. It creates the feeling of diversity present in epic fantasy while simultaneously creating an interesting variance in tactics and gameplay styles.
That subversion extends to many of the underlying systems. It puts a spin on classic empire-building tropes, revamping systems of politics, religion, and technology to fit perfectly with its world. Attacking a faction, for example, requires diplomatic points, which are also needed to change things internally. As a result, you always need to sacrifice something to get another, and that's a very powerful mechanic. Combat is equally different, with a chess-like turn-based system that provides a more strategic element.
I could go on endlessly about the various innovations in this game, but ultimately they wouldn't convey its mastery. It's the overall feeling of polish that puts it on this list; little details that reveal a true labor of love.
Fantasy RPGs are extremely popular, but Risen manages to capture the feeling of the classics while still presenting beautiful graphics and compelling voice acting. It opens slowly, introducing the player to a Norman and Sicilian architecture on an island with an active volcano. As you get to know the creatures and factions there, you can choose who to side with and influence the skills of your character. Unlike many RPGs, you can't just level to advance, either. You have to gain your knowledge from trainers and do complex quests and challenges.
This gives the story a slightly linear feel, though the faction you initially choose does influence the story somewhat. Thankfully, that linearity leads to an excellently written and honed story. Characters have depth, plots ties together, and there's a feeling of an epic tale rather than a jumbled mess. It's a hero's journey, complete with Titans, curses, and mages. Though intense and difficult at points, Risen has the slow building qualities of a fantasy epic, and that's what makes it such an enjoyable play.
A young man must travel across the world to defeat sixteen huge creatures. That's the tagline for Shadow of the Colossus, and its simplicity matches the game's execution. The development team has managed to fit a lot into its limited setup, focusing on detail and perfection rather than lots of mediocrity.
Throughout the course of the game, for example, you only have access to two weapons: a sword and bow. You never earn more equipment, you never upgrade them, but none of that is needed. In the action-adventure genre, Shadow leans more towards the latter, until you reach one of those fabled colossi. They make for some of the most compelling and inventive fights in a video game, the next target constantly innovating on the last until you're left staring in awe.
To create such an impact, the game has had to cut back on some of the staples of current video games, but that somehow doesn't take away from the experience. There's hardly any dialogue and only a few characters, barely a story other than the thread from one monster to another.
By all accounts, that should make it a very dumbed down, emotionless play, but that's just not the case. The strip back of those elements creates a sense of loneliness; a stalwart warrior with just his horse and the open countryside for company. The world around you shines like a work of art, a masterpiece of its time. It doesn't give you much guidance, and you don't need it, because exploring is a reward in itself.
Then, suddenly, you'll spy a seemingly insurmountable colossus. The music picks up, the sword comes out, and you're left smiling like an idiot as you try to figure out how the hell you're supposed to fight it.
We've called many of the games on this list classics, but none of them go quite so far back as The Bard's Tale. It was one of the very first games to use 3D color graphics and released first for the Apple II. It came at a time when D&D was incredibly popular and offered a distinct experience. Players wouldn't have to roll dice or do calculations. Instead, they could boot up The Bard's Tale and just play.
The plot in this RPG is quite simple and indicative of the time. You must overthrow a wizard and take back control of the city of Skara Brae. To get there, you'll have to take out his minions of increasing difficulty. Of course, you don't have to do it alone – you're joined by a party of five, with a choice of different races and classes.
The gem of the trilogy, however, is the Bard. It's the first time such a character was introduced on the PC, and he can create magic with a simple song. It's not a complex game, but there's a classic charm to it and a difficulty that leads to many deaths but keeps you playing all the same. It may be a long way from the RPGs of today, but I encourage you to try it regardless.
Fire Emblem was the series' debut for a western audience, and sometimes developers get it right the first time around. Admittedly, they had seven Japanese versions under their belt, but still. This title embodies everything the games stand for, lacking in features but providing an entirely cohesive and balanced experience. It's smooth, streamlined, and memorable characters propel its delightful story.
It's worth remembering, though, that it's not your regular RPG. It's hard, tactical, and turn-based. There's a contrast to many other Game Boy Advance games of the time, but it does ease you into things with an extensive tutorial and an easier early game. Once you get past that, the deaths of your party members are permanent, and that's when the real fun begins.
With the ramp up in difficulty comes an equal acceleration in story. Intelligent Systems hasn't wasted words, possibly due to the small screen. Dialogue says everything it can while remaining concise, the mark of good writers and a carefully constructed plot. Characterization is a strong point in the series, and it still shines in this game. You fight with tooth, nail, and magic as you try to reunite Lyn with her grandfather, switching out party members and getting to know each of them.
This all combines with pixel art from some of its greatest creators. Subtleties in animation and spectacularly detailed backgrounds still look great today, and the game plays just as timelessly.
This visually stunning mystery adventure game won a BAFTA award for its innovation in the genre. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter moves away from the obsession with photorealistic graphics and focuses on a stylized and beautiful version of life.
Following detective Paul Prospero, you explore the valley of Red Creek as you search for a missing boy in the wake of several brutal murders. So far, interesting, but not innovative. That comes in the way The Astronauts tell the story.
Rather than focusing on dialogue and combat to drive the story, the developers let the player put the pieces together. Throughout the world, clues are littered in objects that Paul can pull images from, ordering them chronologically before playing out a complete memory. The puzzle element brings a satisfying complexity to the game.
You must work to progress the story, and that makes it all the more interesting. You'll find yourself glued to every story element, every sparse line of dialogue Paul utters, and longing for more when the short experience is over.
While it still has some issues, Age of Wonders III returns to the series after an 11-year hiatus, and it does so with great character. The game has improved in almost every way, from its graphics to its revamped 4X strategy elements that are closer to modern games.
Fans of Civilization and Endless Legend won't find quite as much depth here, but that does come with its advantages. AoW III has an uncluttered UI, close, well-animated battles, and plenty of customization. You can choose between a hero from a variety of races, including Human, Orcs, Dwarves, and Draconians and then customize them to your liking.
That will determine the race of your civilization in general, and also influence the powers your hero has. Rogues, warlords, theocrats, and sorcerers all make an appearance, making for a strictly high-fantasy world.
Looking at its bright graphics and cartoonish character postures, you may think that the game will be easy, but that's not the case. Each unit has a different feel to it, and battles are as fast-paced as you'll find for a turn-based game. It's a great mashup of difficulty and ease of use, all the while augmented by music re-created from the original game.
Many games have tried to emulate the success of Diablo, and many have failed. It's hard to get top-down action-RPGs right, but Grim Dawn manages to emulate the classics while bringing something new to the table.
The dark, brooding atmosphere of this game is full creatures, zombies, and humans that will happily kill you for a penny. The level system is just as impressive, allowing for hybrid combinations of guns, swords, and magic. What makes this game truly great, however, is simple: it's damn good fun.
Crate Entertainment has managed to perfectly craft a feeling of weight and satisfaction behind every click. Heads pop, rifle's boom, and monsters are torn apart when you get things right. When you don't, it's a challenge, pushing you to think critically about the gear and attributes you use. It's a rewarding learning curve, the action far surpassing story and carrying you through countless hours. It's the game ARPG fans have been pining for.
From the dev team that made Vampire: The Masquerade, and three big influences in the original Fallout games, Arcanum should be a good game, and it absolutely is. It's just very different from both of those. The game is set in a Victorian-era world with both steampunk and traditional fantasy elements. There's a clever mix of elves, orcs, guns, and airships.
It's on one of those airships that the story begins. Attacked by half-orcs, it crashes on its maiden voyage, leaving everyone but the player dead, and quest to find a passenger's silver ring. From there it spirals into a rich story as you seek out information and it evolves to your choices. It's punctuated by believable characters and great dialogue.
All of it takes place from an isometric perspective, and the contrast of technology and magic is present in the combat system as well as the story. You can spec your character towards one or the other, creating difficult choices and a sense of freedom in play style. The action itself has a similar openness, letting you choose between turn-based, real-time, or a mixture of both. As a result, Arcanum remains a wholly unique RPG that offers a refreshing feel in both setting and gameplay.
Dawn of War III may have just released, but there's still a lot of good to say about the original. It features an extensive linear campaign, some great expansions, and great balancing. Built on a popular and established universe, the game has the advantage of lore that has been honed for decades, and that makes for a great story.
It begins on the planet of Tartarus under Colonel Brom, who realizes after fighting off hordes of Ork invaders that both Chaos and Eldar forces are there with them. What follows is a bloody and tactical RTS campaign, as winding as it is brutal.
All of it sits on top of a solid strategy game, that, while providing nothing revolutionary, does have unique elements. The expansions double the number of factions available, and each plays noticeably differently. Orks, for example, have weak single units but can rush in great numbers, while the Necrons have strong ranged power and can reanimate the dead. This adds endless variety once you get out of single player, and means you must adjust your tactics significantly.
Another interesting quirk was the addition of strategic points that you have to capture to gain resources. It pushes you to explore in the early game and makes you spread out your army to defend them. When combined with its cover mechanics and hundreds of buildings and upgrades, there's plenty of depth here for those who are fans of Warhammer or just RTS in general.
Some games reward reflexes, others reward thinking. The sequel to Myst sits firmly in that second category, surpassing its preceding puzzle game with noticeable improvements in graphics, immersion, and story.
Riven goes against almost anything on the market right now. It's not a fast game of cheap thrills, but a plodding, difficult one. Your quest is to find a friend's wife and free her, but there are many trials along the way.
There is no handholding in the world of Riven. You are thrown in with little information and it's up to you to work out your purpose, where to go, and how to get past various puzzles. Except those puzzles aren't thrown in your face with flashing outlines or tooltips. They blend seamlessly into the environment, making it a real struggle at times.
You will spend hours looking for a solution to one tiny trial, only for it to be right in front of you the whole time. It takes a certain type of person to stomach that frustration, but Riven's slow nature and shroud of mystery make it a peaceful joy to play.
Torchlight II is a very simple game. The developers have taken all of the good elements from the previous game they worked on – Diablo II, and returned with a light-hearted and casual atmosphere. As with any action RPG, the foundation of the game is loot and satisfaction.
With a team of up to four others, players run through various quests, completing randomly generated dungeons and leveling one of four classes. So far, nothing too special, but it's the elegance with which the game progresses which lends it so well to the mass market.
At first, you'll be spending skill points randomly, equipping the loot that looks best, not worrying too much about DPS. As you get deeper into the game, however, that doesn't cut. Things ramp up significantly, and you have to start thinking about your spec, working as a team, and slamming your way through waves of mobs.
A combination of varied monsters, great environment design, and classic level up elements make this game a perfect fantasy ARPG.
There have been many Lord of the Rings games over the years, and they're all good in their own ways. The recent Shadow of Mordor, however, introduces a story outside of the movies, and for that, it can only be praised.
The game takes place between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, featuring a captain of Gondor as he tries to get revenge on Mordor for the killing of his family. However, twinned with a wraith, he is granted abilities beyond a mortal man, and that wraith has lofty ambitions.
The strength, however, lies not in the story, which plods along slowly in the background, but the gameplay. The title blends the combat system of the Batman games with intelligent stealth mechanics, longswords, and bows. You never get bored of cutting through thousands of orcs, but there is something of a challenge here too. To get to Sauron's Black Hand, you must first defeat his underlings.
Unfortunately, that's easier said than done. The fights with orc leaders are intense and difficult, requiring intelligence gathering and skill. If you lose, your wraith powers will return you to the mortal world, but the Orc will gain notoriety for the kill. That, in turn, affects the whole power structure of the game, shuffling around the hierarchy and growing Sauron's army. As a result, no two playthroughs are the same, and the world evolves dynamically. Orcs will bear the scars of your previous encounters and allies and taunt you. At its heart, it's a revenge fantasy, and it's one of the few that can induce real hatred.
What if evil won?
It's a simple question that's rarely explored, but Tyranny answers it extensively. In this world, all is lost. The world has been conquered by the bad guys, and freedom is little more than a fleeting thought. It's not an ideal scenario, and you can only do the best you can. As the Fatebinder, it's your job to staunch a rebellion and end the siege on a rebel fortress, with failure resulting in the magical destruction of the entire region.
The game follows the same formula as Pillars of Eternity, though it's not a direct sequel. It's another homage to the old Infinity Edge games that we've covered, with an isometric camera, party-based combat, and text-driven dialogue. However, in some ways, Paradox Interactive's second attempt is also more ambitious.
It forgoes the overdone medieval era and opts for a richly realized Iron Age setting. Honed lore and great dialogue make for text that's always interesting to read, occasionally giving way to voiced cutscenes to give the eyes a break. It's incredibly easy to get lost in the world of Tyranny, and the depth of player choice only adds to that.
The game really shines in its portrayal of evil as a necessity. It's up to you to decide if you want to push outside of those boundaries for your own gain, or just follow the rules and be a stabilizing force. Each choice opens new possibilities while closing others, organically shaping your alignment and character. And those choices don't just have a minimal surface impact. They aren't just there for the marketing buzzword. You can affect the fate of entire towns, the way factions react to you, and the extent of your powers. Let there be no misconceptions, though. Tyranny is not a choice between good and evil, but what type of monster you want to be. And that makes it incredibly poignant and refreshing.
This game is a spiritual successor to Shadow of the Colossus, masterminded by the same director, Fumito Ueda. While it could never live up to the sheer innovation of that time, The Last Guardian does offer his unique blend of beauty and emotion.
Don't let that fool you, however. Fans of Colossus will find a lot to love here, but it isn't in any way a sequel. Its link is in theme, not plot, Ueda inspired by the bond between player and horse in his previous game.
Guardian is about the bond between a boy and his half-bird, half mammal friend, Trico. At first, Trico is wounded and hostile, stuck with spears and chained. When the boy frees him, however, their friendship begins to grow, and the creature repays him in turn. Together, they make their way through puzzles and past enemies, each growing significantly.
It's a story of companionship, and it hits notes that a human to human one can't emulate. The mix of joy and melancholy in this game almost make it as worthy as its predecessor.
We've mentioned Indigo Prophecy already on this list, masterminded by David Cage and developed by Quantic Dream. It's an old game, however, and the development team now has had years to build its expertise. With Beyond: Two Souls, they push slightly out of the interactive movie genre and more into a fully-fledged gaming title.
The result is an entirely unique experience. The game follows Jodie, a girl bound to an ethereal presence called Aiden that lets her possess minds and move objects. You can switch between the two at will, listening in on conversations, choking people, or getting a different perspective. It sounds like a cool power, but it's not an easy life. Quantic Dream pushes it past a simple superhero story with emotion and hardship. There's a powerful sense of conflict as Jodie and Aiden are forced to accept each other and life outside of a lab.
This all ties in with the textbook elements of Cage's stories. Intense quick-time events and powerful action scenes have a real and very noticeable impact on the story. With outstanding performances of Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe, Quantic Dream has produced a game that has a lasting and poignant impact.
This title presents a modern-day prequel to the popular CRPG, Divine Divinity. Though it borrows from the setting and genre of the original, it also pushes the series to new heights. Original Sin takes the top-down turn-based RPG and breathes life into it with skillful writing.
The game's overarching plot follow two Source Hunters, tasked with eradicating an evil magic and therefore saving the world. Though you can play the game solo, it's greatly enhanced by a friend in co-op, each of you able to control your own character. There's a good effort to make the world feel immersive by combining the lore of the originals and the greatly improved graphics and sound.
The real writing expertise is not in the plot, however, but in the dialogue. The game is full of little quips, moments of self-awareness, and seriously unpredictable twists. Quests, though repetitive, always have a context that makes them feel worthwhile. You'll be faced with options to react at various points throughout, possibly creating conflict between you and your friend. In some cases, that could lead to a degraded gameplay experience, but Divinity incorporates rock, paper, scissors matches which may leave you resentful, but will at least keep you from bickering.
Thousands of little quirks like that are what makes this game so fresh and interesting. In a genre that has a habit of rehashing the same thing, Original Sin dares to be different, and that defiance of conventions is its greatest strength.