10 Best RPG’s of all time – What to play during the holidays

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By Teo Borconi – 9th December 2013
10 Best RPG’s of all time – What to play during the holidays

With the Christmas holidays approaching, one thing’s for certain – this is the time of the year when everyone stays a lot in-doors, has time to kill, and this is the perfect opportunity to re-play some old favorites or fill in the blanks on some previously missed titles. And, to help you along, we’re starting a series of articles to guide you through the game selection process, with a list of some of the best games ever made.

In today’s article, we’ll be covering 10 of the best RPG’s to have hit gamer screens. There will be something for everyone, from old classics to new hits, from more casual games, to hard-core RPG’s for the challenge seeking gamers out there. The list of titles will not be sorted in any particular order, as we’re focusing on quality games for different tastes and from different time periods. And, if you couldn’t find your favorite title in the list (there are so many great RPG’s out there, you can’t fit them in a 10 entry list – and that’s not a bad thing at all), make sure you leave us your suggestions in the comment section below.

Without further ado, let’s dive deep into RPG territory!

Fallout 3 & Fallout 3: New Vegas

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Pretty much every gamer out there has at least heard of the Fallout series, especially since the new rumors (which turned out to be fake) surrounding a Fallout 4 development. And, for good reason too. Fallout sets players into a post-apocalyptic Earth, an Earth that had been rendered close to inhabitable due to radiation poisoning following wars and nuclear warheads going off everywhere. You won’t find lush forests and gorgeous scenery in Fallout’s world, but you’ll discover ruined cities, desert wastelands, high-tech underground bunkers and a beautifully crafted, gritty world, filled with gore, brutality, crime, drugs, mutant creatures, bandits and guns. Lots and lots of guns!

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Fallout 3 is set around the destroyed city of Washington DC, while the expansion pack for Fallout 3, New Vegas, is set in…well, you can pretty much guess where. Both games are extremely fun to play and provide immersive worlds, but I have always found Fallout 3 to be the better of the two. There’s simply something grand about running around in the ruins of what was once Washington DC, whistling Louis Armstrong tunes and blasting off the faces of Super Mutants.

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Fallout 3 plays from a 3rd of 1st person perspective, provides an interestingly and funnily crafted level up system, and allows players to explore a huge open world filled with hours upon hours of content. The combat is extremely fun (even more so in New Vegas, where the unarmed combat got a significant rework), brutal, and even challenging. If you’ve never played Fallout 3, there’s no time like the present to pick it up and go at it, and if you’ve already played it before, the abundance of available mods, DLCs, as well as the various ways that you can play the game are why you should give it another go.

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Lastly, should you feel nostalgic, I can also recommend the much older but equally great Fallout 1 & 2, which obviously play differently, but provide an equally good (if not better) RPG experience. All you need to do is look past the dusty graphics and you’re going to have a great time!

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Baldur’s Gate

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The Baldur’s Gate series is by far one of the best RPG’s I have ever played, and is definitely among my top games of all time list. It’s nothing short of brilliant, and reminds me of a time when Role Playing Games were just about that – role playing. The story, the characters, the fantasy world of the Forgotten Realms – they all blend in together perfectly to provide one of the most immersive experiences in gaming.

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Baldur’s Gate started off back in 1998, with Bioware developing and Interplay publishing. It was based on the 2nd Dungeons and Dragons rule-set, and follows the evolution of a young Bhaal spawn (children fathered by the god Bhaal) and the adventures he or she faces along some very complex and colorful allies. The game received an official expansion-pack, named Tales of the Sword Coast (back then, the entire BG1 + Expansion bundle was sold on a 6 CD package, giving a glimpse at the amount of content the game was providing). In 2001, Bioware released the second installment of the franchise, Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn, which was followed by the Throne of Bhaal expansion. Together, the series offers hundreds of hours of story-driven gameplay, and is an incredibly memorable experience indeed.

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While the graphics are out-dated by now, the artwork and beautiful landscapes quickly make up for this minor nuisance. Added to this, the game offers a very satisfying party-based combat system which can be paused at any time in order to issue commands to the controlled party members. The best thing is – all parts of the series follow one main story thread, which means that you can play through all of the games and expansions with the same character, continuing to gather items and level up, and becoming ever-more powerful, just like the foes around you. From minor goblins and skeletons, to Adamantium Golems and Dragons, there’s plenty of diversity when it comes to enemies. ¬†And, along the way, you will encounter legendary characters of the Forgotten Reals, such as Drizzt Do’Urden and Elminster. Turn down the lights, turn up the volume, lose yourself in the beautiful soundtrack of the game and enjoy the ride.

Gothic and Gothic 2

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With all their flaws (and yes, they have quite a few), Gothic and Gothic 2 were highly original and very well built Action-RPG’s that simply have to be mentioned. Providing lush open worlds, complex characters and memorable dialogue, as well as a fluid 3rd person action-based combat system, Gothic games were an innovation when they were released, and a very pleasant one at that. Unfortunately, the series faded into the background after the failures of Gothic 3, Gothic 3: Forsaken Gods (this was downright horrible, and I’m still trying to keep it repressed in the darkest corners of my memory), and Gothic 4: Arcania.

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Still, the first two games were brilliant, and have earned a spot in the collection of any hard-core RPG player out there. One of the greatest aspects of the game is that it does not make you feel important and powerful right from the start – you have to earn respect, and NPC’s will beat you, humiliate you and mock you throughout the early stages of your heroic career. You’re not the chosen one – in fact, nobody gives half a damn about you. You’re just a nameless inmate in a magical prison, after all. Because of this, the feeling surrounding your evolution is amplified and you will feel changes in the world around you as you level up. The wolves that made you run for the hills at first later on become the hunted, and you’ll turn enemies into allies soon enough, by either completing quests, or delivering a well deserved thrashing of your own.

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All-in-all, you should really give Gothic a try. It has a mature and captivating world, some amazing landscapes, an entertaining combat system, and a very good story to tell. Just make sure you stick to Gothic and Gothic 2, and avoid the sequels. If you’ve managed to build an appetite, I can suggest Risen as an unofficial continuation. After all, Risen is what Gothic 3 was supposed to be.

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Dark Souls

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A more recent jewel of RPG gaming, Dark Souls was released in fall 2011 and it has been on the lips of gamers and critics ever since. For good reason too. It’s one of the darkest and grittiest RPG’s to date! If you’re expecting colorful elves and pixies, Dark Souls isn’t for you. The game is centered around the theme of death, for more reasons than one. First, the setting is a huge open-world filled with underground caverns, swamps and abandoned castles. While grim and hostile, the game still manages to look great – I was never mind-blown by the graphics, but they are still of good quality, and you don’t have time to admire the scenery too often anyway.

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Secondly, and this is what I really loved about the game, it’s centered around death because you’re going to die. A lot! Repeatedly! The game is brutal in its difficulty, often walking on the thin line between challenging and downright sadistic. If you have some Hulk genes inside, and are the happy owner of a more expensive gaming-keyboard, you might want to reconsider playing Dark Souls. I know I had to pick up buttons from the floor a couple of times.

Still, if you give it time and master the game, you will quickly discover that it provides an epic experience, and the frustratingly difficult fights are crafted around a very good combat system, that can feel very rewarding. And besides, difficulty is part of the game’s charm.

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So, if you feel like your Christmas is too merry, Dark Souls is a great answer to the problem. And, considering the sequel will be coming out in 2014, you have one extra reason to either pick it up for the first time, or play it again. Be warned though – all jokes aside, if you’re a casual gamer who doesn’t care too much for extreme difficulty in games, Dark Souls is NOT for you, and I mean it. Also, for PC users getting the “Prepare to Die” edition, I highly recommend using a controller, as the mouse/keyboard control combination can be a nuisance and will make the game even more difficult.

Mass Effect Series

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If swords, metal armor, and fantasy beast-slaying is not your thing, don’t threat. Bioware’s epic saga, Mass Effect, takes RPG’s into the far reaches of the galaxy. In the massive sci-fi RPG, players take command of Commander Shepard (either male of female versions), and are tasked with investigating odd events and eventually changing the fate of the entire galaxy. And what a beautiful ride this is! The universe of Mass Effect is vast, colorful, diverse and captivating. You will encounter familiar problems, including racism, power-races, corruption and crime. And you can respond to everything in your own way. You can play the game as a noble self-sacrificing hero or the ultimate bad-ass that has little regard for anything but the mission at hand.

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The combat system is a very complex combination of shooting, tactics and coordination of your team members, and it’s a different take on regular RPG game combat. Added to this, you get a beautiful storyline (many people were put off by the ending of the series, but since the release of ME3, Bioware has updated the game to provide for a more complex and satisfying ending), interesting characters and dialogue, and a unique character progression system that adds a huge replayability value to the game. Replaying the game as a different gender can be interesting too, as the voice-acting is top notch for both sexes, and there are some differences in dialogue and romance options. I loved the male Shepard too, but I have to admit I liked the female Shepard more – Jennifer Hale’s voice will always be a soft spot for me.

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The graphics of Mass Effect 1 are a bit dusty by now, but Mass Effect 2 and 3 still look great, and you should really go through the entire series, since your saved games can be imported to the sequels and the story in all three games is a continuous. Overall, expect to be entertained for days, and picking up the game again during the holidays is even more appealing now that we’ve gotten the official confirmation that Mass Effect 4 is in the works.

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Planescape Torment 

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This is one weird oldie – but the fact that it’s a goldie cannot be contested. Planescape Torment came out in 1999, somewhat in parallel to Baldur’s Gate. Following a different path in the AD&D fantasy universe, the game takes place in various planes, which come together in the City of Sigil, a sort of intersection between these outer-world planes. The beauty of it all is that the setting allows various characters with differing motivations and beliefs to be integrated into one big melting-pot. From demons to beings of pure order or chaos, you’ll see it all. And you have so many dialogue and story-based decisions to make, that you’ll quickly lose yourself in a world that seems to redefine what principles mean.

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The game uses the same engine as Baldur’s Gate, so obviously, the graphics are out of date. However, the artwork and level design save the game from fading into history. The setting is eerie, gloomy and absolutely captivating. I mean, one of the first companions you’ll have while playing the game as The Nameless One is a talking skull. And then you’re going to meet up with a succubus that has no lust for sex. And it’s great, because this dream-like setting allows you to break away from reality and really sink into the captivating world of Planescape Torment.

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Also, when talking about the long-term appeal of the game, Planescape has that too. The game provides 3 different endings, based on the choices you make, and these endings can be reached through very different means. And, for those that we’ve scared away with Dark Souls, fear not – Planescape Torment isn’t extremely difficult. After all, you’re immortal and can’t really die. Still, the beauty is not in the combat, it’s in dialogue, story and the clever use of your imagination as a player. So if you really want to lose yourself in a game and go along for the ride, pick this up. You won’t regret it!

The Elder Skrolls: Skyrim

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This game is present on most top RPG lists out there, and for good reason. The latest installment in the Elder Scrolls saga is simply immense, beautiful and addictive. Not playing Skyrim at least once is like taking an arrow to the knee (I just had to).

Providing an immense open-world setting, with literally thousands of quests (I’ve always felt I could pick up more quests than I could complete), the game will captivate you for weeks, if not months. There’s a little bit of everything for everyone – dragon hunting (obviously), hunting, unarmed duels, large battles, first person, 3rd person, dungeon crawling, crafting, lore-reading and quite a broad collection of some really brutal and satisfying finishing moves. And of course, you get to play a mage in heavy armor…with a huge axe…and a bow…on a horse.

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The game still manages to look good, even after being released for about 4 years. And, if you’re really into jaw-breaking graphics, there are a multitude of mods that can be downloaded freely and that will greatly enhance the game’s already good visual appeal. I’ve previously written a guide to modding Skyrim that you can view here. And, if graphics are not your top priority, I will recommend one of the previous installments in the saga, The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind as well. Even though it’s out-dated visually, Morrowind still offers a great gameplay experience and an amazing storyline.

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Overall, with Skyrim you’re going to get one heck of a story, an abundance of things to do and places to explore, a great leveling system that is based on the weapons that you use and doesn’t restrict you to any certain armor or weapon types, a dynamic combat system, the liberty to go where and when you want to, a lush vivid world with interesting inhabitants, and of course, lots of dragons. And we all love dragons, don’t we? The Enhanced Edition is available now, containing the Dawnguard and Dragonborn expansions, both of which are great in their own regard, and add another significant number of hours of gameplay to the already colossal Skyrim.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

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We dive deep into science fiction territory once again, leaving fantasy realms in a galaxy far far away. Knights of the Old Republic (referred to as KOTOR) is one epic adventure set in the Star Wars universe. Still, when developing the game, Bioware moved away from the timeline of the popular movies and instead developed a different timeline and setting for KOTOR, and I’m glad they did. Sure, you won’t see Luke or Obi-Wan, but that’s a good thing. KOTOR provides a high-quality story which definitely holds some surprises and is not even close to being predictable. I still remember being shocked the first time I’ve played KOTOR, and that rarely happens to me.

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The characters you’ll meet during your adventures are well-built, have voiced-over dialogue (with a very high quality of voice acting), and are guided by varied principles. From dark-side allies to an imposing wookie, from the popular and sadistic HK 47 assasin droid to a neutral and wise former jedi, you’ll be meeting very colorful and unique characters to help you along your path. And you’re the master of your own path – whether it’s light, dark, or in between. The skill-system is diverse and well-build, even though some dark-side abilities are on the overpowered side of things. Combat is dynamic, well animated, can be paused for tactical decisions, and successfully combines all the elements that you’d expect to see in a Star Wars universe.

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Still, the main reason I’ve added KOTOR to the list is because of it’s story. Often, I’ve liked the story-line a lot more than the movies themselves, and that’s no small feat to achieve. While the first installment in the franchise is undoubtedly the better in this regard (well, in most regards actually), KOTOR 2: The Sith Lords also has a beautiful tale to tell, and does it incredibly well. The worlds you’re going to explore are also beautifully crafted, and even though they are not designed as an open-world environment, you’ll still have lots to do and see. And all this while listening to the memorable and epic soundtrack that the game provides. It was a great challenge to rise up to the standards of music making John Williams set with the classic movies, but KOTOR pulls it off brilliantly.

And, if you’re still having doubts, don’t forget that JJ Abrams will be bringing a new Star Wars to the big screens in 2015, so this is a great time to reawaken that lust for everything Star Wars related.

Dragon Age: Origins

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Because of the general unpopularity of Dragon Age 2, Dragon Age: Origins has faded away and was somehow forgotten by RPG fans everywhere. Even so, DA:O was one great RPG, proving that moving old legends such as Baldur’s Gate or Icewind Dale into the realm of 3D graphics is not only possible, but also a great idea. With DA:O, Bioware managed to keep a strong storyline and interesting characters, while at the same time providing intense action and combat, set in a gorgeous world.

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Just like any major Bioware game, DA:O focuses on a party-based gameplay, with pausing options and command issues. You get to control not only your main character, but your allies as well. This means that you’re basically playing every class at once, in one single playthrough. And you’ll want to play all of the classes, as each have unique skills and abilities, providing diversity and countless combinations. Animations look great, and the game still manages to be beautiful even after all these years. Even the more picky players will find the visual appeal of Dragon Age pleasing, and the game has plenty of gore and finishing moves to keep combat interesting.

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Looking back to what I’ve written so far, I think Dragon Age: Origins is the least worthy of being on this list. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad game – it’s actually a very good game, but perhaps not quite perfect. Still, the music, the atmosphere, the combat and the progression systems are all top-notch. And, writing about it makes me want to pick it up again myself. I know I loved every minute of my playthrough, and I feel strongly about exploring the world of Ferelden once again. With an abundance of DLC’s and the Awakening expansion, there’s definitely plenty to do.

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The Witcher and The Witcher 2

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Lastly, we have CD Projekt’s major hit series, The Witcher. It’s hard to find flaws in the game, especially in the second installment. It’s probably my favorite out of all the above-mentioned titles. But, again, this is not a top list, and I’m not going to state that it’s better than all the previous recommendations. It’s just that it came out of nowhere a couple of years ago, and I’ve been in love with it ever since.

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The Witcher games follow the life and adventures of Geralt of Rivia, a witcher – a professional monster slayer. Geralt is not entirely human though, as witchers go through a mutation phase to get that much needed edge that allows them to tackle the most difficult creatures inhabiting the world. Added to that, witchers go through years of intense training, mastering the art of sword-fighting to art-like levels. And this shows – the combat system in The Witcher is elegant, fluid, engaging and often difficult.

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You don’t have many options when it comes to weapon choices, as Geralt always uses a silver and a regular sword (one for monster hunting, and one for humans). There aren’t many spells either, witchers relying on signs, which for the uninitiated might seem to be spells. Still, even if this doesn’t seem much at start, the complexity and diversity in building your character is astonishing. You can focus on a various number of sword-fighting techniques, alchemy skills, bomb crafting or sign mastery. It all comes down to your playstyle, but you most surely can’t have everything. And this makes The Witcher and its sequel highly replayable.

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On the other hand, the games are set in one of the best virtual fantasy worlds I’ve ever seen. It’s realistic, brutal, unforgiving, filled with racism, bias, corruption, crime, but also nobility and honor. Even the antagonists are so well built that it’s impossible for you to hate them. Letho, the antagonist in The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, is easily one of the greatest you’ll see in gaming. And then there’s Geralt – a complex character that tries to fit in in a world that seems to reject him at every turn. The games do so well in infusing various feelings, that they literally force you to re-play them and walk down a different path or make another choice.

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Considering The Witcher 3, the final part of the Witcher saga will be released next year, I highly recommend you pick up your silver sword and jump into the universe of The Witcher. It’s one experience you don’t want to miss.