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Best Overall: The Witcher 3 at Amazon
"Considered one of the best RPGs of all time, it offers everything you could want from the genre."
Best Fantasy: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim at Amazon
"This is a wondrous world to simply wander around in forever."
Best for Kids: Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle at Amazon
"A fun and vibrant take on the strategy RPG genre."
Best Action/Adventure: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild at Amazon
"Unlike any other Legend of Zelda game ever made."
Best Style: Persona 5 at Amazon
"The game looks gorgeous with distinctive character designs that will stick with you for a long time."
Best Sci-Fi: XCom 2 Collection at Amazon
"Ideal for players who like to think through every step they take."
Best JRPG: Monster Hunter World at Amazon
"Your mission: defeat huge monsters, then move onto the next one."
Best for Co-Op RPG: Diablo III at Amazon
"All about finding new gear at every turn."
Funniest RPG: South Park: The Fractured but Whole at Amazon
"Like a breath of fresh air in a genre that often takes itself very seriously."
The best RPGs (like some of the best story games in general) provide some of the deepest, most immersive, most memorable experiences in gaming. More than any other genre, roleplaying games are capable of sweeping players into distant, fantastic worlds, often populated by magical creatures, memorable characters, and lands teeming with rich lore. RPGs are often the longest games, as well, providing absolutely massive amounts of content for a single price.
While many don't provide a ton of replayability, a single comprehensive run will often encompass a hundred or more hours. In many of these games, by the time you've seen the final credits roll, you'll feel as though you've actually completed several games. That's in large part because the best RPGs also serve up a broad diversity of content, in terms of setting, antagonists, and gameplay, often evolving its various systems and locations as the story progresses. The list below represents the most engaging, deepest, and most fun RPGs currently available for any system, whether PS4, Switch, XBox One, or PC.
courtesy of Amazon
Massive, gorgeous open world
Some of the best storytelling in games
Somewhat clunky traversal
For a long time, The Witcher was a fairly niche RPG (role-playing game) series that only the most dedicated fans tended to seek out. Considered one of the best RPGs ever made, The Witcher 3 offers everything you could want from the genre. You play as Geralt the Witcher, a highly trained monster slayer who travels the world helping both peasants and kings alike. Want to help people in trouble or uncover corruption? Sure, that's an option, but so is choosing a darker, more sinister route. The world of The Witcher 3 is vast, complicated, and as politically convoluted as real life. But it doesn't have to be that serious - you can also relax and play some cards at the local tavern.
Upgrade your weaponry how you like or choose to have Geralt become proficient in his Witcher magic. Or maybe, you'd simply rather spend time competing in horse races, it's all up to you. It's likely you'll end up doing a little bit of everything though, as the game is sprawling and every action leads to a satisfying reward, even if every choice you make leads to an unexpected consequence. Combat is action-based rather than turn-based so expect to get really into learning how best to fight ghosts and ghouls, and how to survive when facing up against mythical creatures and armies of the undead.
The Witcher 3 looks gorgeous and it feels almost never-ending in its scope. It offers a compelling narrative and almost infinite replay value with its choices. It's available for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.
Spectacularly immersive living world
Stunning diversity of quests and storylines
Open, wildly customizable character progression
Sheer amount of content can be intimidating
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is unparalleled in offering an immersive world that you can lose yourself to for countless hours. First released in 2011 for PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim continues to beguile fans around the world. Now available in a special remastered version for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and the Nintendo Switch, there's a good reason why many have returned to it more than once: It's an all-time classic with an exciting setting and a never-ending amount of things to see and do.
You play the Dragonborn, someone whose destiny is to defeat ancient dragons and liberate the realm. It's standard RPG concepts but The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim offers so much more than simple fantasy cliches. Vampires, trolls, and dragons stand in your way, and defeating them grants souls you can use for special powers and magic spells.
Developing your character also ties into how you play, so you grow in strength based on how you tackle obstacles. Liable to talk your way out of trouble? You'll see your speech skill develop fast. Handy with a one-handed sword rather than a staff? That improves the more you hack and slash away at enemies. The game dynamically responds to your playstyle, while being sure to throw lots of wrenches into your plans to keep you on your toes. Our reviewer Kelsey said it was the perfect game for "any player who enjoys fantasy, dragons, and magic in an expansive open world."
"Skyrim does an amazing job of setting up an open-world fighting system that really allows you to control how your character fights and levels." — Kelsey Simon, Product Tester
Colorful, vibrant world
Easy-to-grasp strategic combat
Broad cast of fun playable characters
Very simplified tactics
Exclusively for the Nintendo Switch, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is a fun and vibrant take on the strategy RPG genre. It still requires you to plan each move carefully, as well as consider the importance of things like cover and sneaking up on enemies, but it does so in a fun and intuitive way for all ages.
Follow along with famed plumber Super Mario as he joins forces with the raving Rabbids—those cuddly looking rabbit creatures that are too zany and mischievous for their own good. You take turns attacking, jumping, sliding, shooting, and whacking different enemies with different weapons and abilities. The action captures the cartoon style of a Saturday morning TV show while adding upgrade trees to the equation. Expect to use water guns, bombs, RC cars, bananas, cannons, and over the top hammers to lead Yoshi, Luigi, and Princess Peach to victory.
There are also some clever puzzles that require some mild head-scratching as you navigate the world moving from battle to battle. Local cooperative play is here, too, which makes it even more worthwhile for young and old members of the family to work together to succeed. In fact, Kelsey, who reviewed Mario and Rabbids for us, said it was perfect for all ages and praised the brightness and humor, as well as the engaging turn-based tactics.
"The gameplay is smooth and the battles are balanced, offering casual fun without being aggravatingly difficult." — Kelsey Simon, Product Tester
The best, most open Zelda yet
Wildly interactive world and items
Incredibly unique dungeons
Divisive weapon durability system
Widely regarded as the best The Legend of Zelda game made in its long storied history, Breath of the Wild is responsible for many Nintendo Switch purchases when the console launched. It's unlike any other Legend of Zelda game, given it's far more open world than previous entries and takes lots of cues from modern RPGs like Dark Souls and Fallout.
In the game, you'll scan vast fields, oceans, volcanoes, castles, ruins, dungeons, caves, forests, and snow-capped mountain ranges with seemingly no limitations on where you can explore. It's possible to glide over areas as well as simply travel on foot or by horse to see what you can uncover. There's a deep and gripping storyline here but the most fun comes from stepping away from the beaten track and simply seeing what's out there. Playing it for review, our tester Kelsey found some of the best content existed outside of the "main narrative."
It's possible to scavenge for new weapons, take out huge beasts, solve environmental puzzles, and craft food to keep you going through blazing heat or freezing cold. It's delightfully open-ended in how you tackle objectives, although you do need to keep an eye on your resources and stamina. Unlike other Zelda games, it's possible to "overuse" your weaponry, which causes it to lose its potency or fall apart altogether, so manage your tools well.
"A beautifully designed action-adventure role-playing game that both newcomers and fans of the series will love." — Kelsey Simon, Product Tester
Fantastic cast of characters
Some of the best turn-based combat ever
Amazing clockwork world
Runs out of steam near the end
Japanese role-playing games (or JRPGs) are generally pretty quirky and different from Western RPGs. That's certainly the case with the Persona series, and Persona 5 is easily one of the best in the series. The story follows a team of teenagers as they spend their days at school before spending the nights tackling dungeons as Phantom Thieves—a group aimed at uncovering the inner vulnerabilities of others through the use of protective masks.
Days are spent completing simple high school tasks like attending class, participating in after-school activities, or heading to a part-time job. The change of pace to dungeon crawling at night is significant and jarring but each component of gameplay complements the other as you learn more about the characters and level them up. It might seem disjointed yet its turn-based combat is fast-paced and thrilling, and you really do come to care about everyone involved no matter if they're wearing a school uniform or a trench coat.
Persona has a one-of-a-kind art style with distinctive character designs that will stick with you for a long time. An acid jazz soundtrack makes things even more stylish and cool as you jam through the hundred-hour campaign. Don't be afraid if you haven't played past Persona games; this one will still make sense as the plot isn't intrinsically linked to past titles. The only downside? It's only available for PlayStation 4 owners.
One of the best tactics games ever
Cool resistance narrative
Amazing unit and enemy variety
Launched with significant bugs
XCom 2 is different from other RPGs in that it's a strategy game. That means your perspective is from high above the action, controlling a team of soldiers on a grid-based layout taking turns alternately with the enemy to move forward and vanquish all threats. Playing out like chess, it's wise to think carefully about each move before you make it (and a few moves ahead if you're smart). Cover is vital here, as the need to stay hidden and play defensively can mean life or death in an instance.
Here's the premise of the game: Aliens have taken over Earth and you're the heart of a global resistance against them. There's no fantastical escapism here, and things are distinctly bleak until you begin to turn the tide of battle. XCom 2 isn't the easiest of RPGs to pick up and play but it's a rich experience worth diving into. You soon find yourself attached to your squad members, which makes it all the more important that you keep them alive.
In order to actually take out the alien threat in the world of XCom, we recommend not rushing into battle because that will most certainly lead to the death of your team. And that's further reinforced by the game's harsh difficulty modes that can mean death is permanent for your squadmates. Don't get too attached, this deadly sci-fi world is not for the faint of heart.
Huge, amazingly detailed monsters
Awesome weapon and armor progression
Most approachable Monster Hunter game yet
Still fairly complex for newbies
Some RPGs take a much more action-focused approach. Monster Hunter World is a fantastic example of such a game. Sure, there's a storyline to follow, but the focus is on defeating huge monsters then moving onto the next one. While it might have a simple conceit, it does so with a dense and deep combat, as well as an intricate crafting system. You'll have to learn to use the surrounding environment and wildlife appropriately so that they become stronger, form new weapons from what they find, and learn how to avoid being eaten by the wyverns and dragons they come across.
Monster Hunter World certainly isn't an easy game to complete. With a living and breathing ecosystem of flora and fauna, it's all about surviving until the next mission, which can make early progress feel tough. Even things like what time of the day you hunt in has a substantial difference on your chances of success. The monsters have as much free will as you do, so be careful where you go.
As you grow in strength, pick up and exchange in your equipment, and learn new ways of taking on enemies, you'll soon find your abilities growing, and that's where Monster Hunter World is at its most satisfying. Gather a party of friends or strangers and take on quests for massive rewards (it helps if your eyes are bigger than your stomach, some of these creatures are really daunting).
Fantastic action combat
Staggering amount of loot
Cool, distinct character classes
Maybe too much loot
Typically referred to as a loot-based RPG, Diablo III is all about finding new gear at every turn. Pretty much every enemy you kill will drop some kind of equipment or weapon or piles of gold that can then be sold to earn more stuff. Combat is fast-paced and almost akin to a shoot-'em-up; you'll easily take out hundreds of enemies each session. You choose and equip your loadout and mash buttons until everything on the screen is gone.
It's also fantastic fun when played alongside a friend, either online or side by side (take a peek at some of the other best PS4 co-op games you can buy). Despite sounding like it's fairly shallow, Diablo III actually has a complex story that's wrapped up in a ton of lore. While the previous games aren't available on consoles yet, you will soon find yourself embroiled in the tales of Deckard Cain and company, as they navigate treacherous and dangerous worlds on an epic adventure to defeat Diablo.
A choice of different character types means there's always a reason to replay Diablo III, with each class offering different abilities and powers, ensuring there's a different kind of strategy required to take on enemies and bosses along the way. What might seem initially like mindless action soon demonstrates its depth as you find yourself juggling different combinations depending on what enemies you're facing up against, paired together with who is in your party and how you can complement your skills together.
Clever South Park story
Fully realized RPG mechanics
Like playing an interactive episode
Dependent on the player enjoying South Park
Not all RPGs have to be serious in nature to be good. South Park: The Fractured But Whole demonstrates that with aplomb and levity. A sequel to the excellent South Park: The Stick of Truth, there's the usual battle of good versus evil but with a classic South Park twist on things. You start out by creating a superhero before developing special powers in order to save the town of South Park alongside a ragtag bunch of kids from the neighborhood. Kenny, Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and more join your team to take on Butters and a few other surprise villains.
The humor is occasionally very crass and certainly typical of the South Park brand, but that's what makes it feel like a breath of fresh air in a genre that often takes itself very seriously. Underneath the bawdy humor is some great RPG elements such as the ability to invent your origin story before kitting yourself out with the best superpowers imaginable. A crafting system is also available, along with the ability to manipulate time and space through flatulence. It's a surreal experience and one that South Park fans are particularly going to love.
Unsurprisingly, some of the best RPGs are sprawling open-world fantasy epics. If you want something gritty, intense, with some of the best storytelling in video games, you can't go wrong with the endlessly rich universe of The Witcher 3. If, on the other hand, a fully realized, living world with amazing clockwork systems and one of the best character progression systems of all times appeals more, dive into Skyrim (or, ideally, just play both).
Jennifer Allen has been writing about games and technology for almost ten years, and her work has appeared in a number of top publications covering both industries. She's even appeared as a guest speaker on BBC Radio to discuss Facebook's gaming portal.
Kelsey Simon is a tech and fiction writer and librarian, and an expert in consoles and gaming. Aside from the reviews featured in this roundup, she's also written about Knack, Overwatch, and PUBG for Lifewire.
Setting - One of the most compelling parts of any RPG is the world in which it's set. Are you looking for a sprawling open-world like the Witcher's, or something slightly more compact but still extremely varied, like that Monster Hunter World's? Do you want something colorful and vibrant, like Mario and Rabbid's cartoonish landscapes, or something a little more sweeping and varied, like Skyrim's?
Story - Another huge component is narrative. RPGs excel at telling stories, and The Witcher 3's is one of the best and deepest ever presented in games. By contrast, the story in South Park is predictably hilarious, whimisical, even borderline stupid at times, but always entertaining.
Mechanics - Of course, we play games to interact with these stories and worlds, so gameplay and systems are key. Skyrim has one of the best-developed character growth systems in games, while the action combat in Diablo III is some of the best ever coded, and the tense tactical battles of XCom 2 present a completely different take on explosive action.