Whether it’s an action-packed combat and intricate buildcrafting, or a massive, branching story that responds to your actions, the best RPGs can be found on PC. But in a genre known for games that can take hundreds of hours to complete, how do you know which are worth your time?
2023 in particular brought us a handful of massive RPG releases, but not all of them rank among the best of the best. Here, then, we’re running through the absolute top RPGs you can play today—our recommendations for those enduring classics and newer favourites that reward the time you invest in them.
Because RPG systems are continually evolving, there’s a wealth of variety to enjoy. From fantasy to sci-fi, from JRPG to ARPG, from dialogue trees to dice rolls, there’s something here no matter your preference.
What we’re playing right now
2023 has been a massive year for RPGs of all different types, but one exceptional release stands ahead of everything else. Here are the RPGs that the PC Gamer team currently can’t put down.
The best first and third-person RPGs
Three years after a disastrous release, Cyberpunk 2077 is finally an RPG worth recommending. Originally panned for both its egregious bugs and shallow systems, it seemed to be a costly miss from the studio responsible for The Witcher 3. But CD Projekt RED kept at it, and this year released the major 2.0 update that has completely overhauled the game. More than just a plethora of bug fixes, 2.0 goes in and completely overhauls major parts of the game. There’s vehicle combat, a major police overhaul, and a full redesign of the skill tree to make customisation options more interesting.
There’s also an expansion now. “CD Projekt can hang with the big dogs when it comes to cinematic storytelling,” wrote Ted in his Phantom Liberty review, “with a quality of writing and world building that I prefer to the likes of Sony’s vaunted first party lineup.” In all it’s a stark turnaround for what was once seen as one of the major disappointments of the decade. We can finally say it: Cyberpunk 2077 is a great RPG that’s well worth your time.
Read more: I know someone told you it was time to play Cyberpunk 2077 every time it got a patch, but for real, it’s time now
Release date: 2022 | Developer: FromSoft | Steam
With the Souls series, FromSoft has perfected the art of creating irresistibly hostile worlds. Elden Ring is the studios’ largest yet, a massive map packed full of danger and mystery. An epic journey full of potential, where exploration is rewarded by stunning boss encounters. But in addition to being larger and more sprawling than its predecessors, it’s also arguably the most accessible FromSoft game to date—its open-world structure giving you more control over the challenge and pace.
Worry not, though. Like Dark Souls before it, Elden Ring is a game about overcoming bosses through trial, error and eventual mastery. And, despite leaning into more traditional fantasy, it’s as weird and distinct as the studio has ever been—shining a light on the horrors of its world, rather than hiding them away in a poisonous swamp. As an RPG, too, it’s some of FromSoft’s best work, with extensive buildcrafting options that let you tailor your character and combat style in many different ways.
Read more: The best builds in Elden Ring
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Many of the best RPGs focus on tales of lone, wandering adventurers, but few if any pull it off with such artistry as The Witcher 3. That artistry is most apparent in the setting itself, which is so packed with breathtaking sunsets and wind-tossed groves of trees that, years later, I still find myself opting to go to destinations on foot rather than taking the fast travel points.
But the true strength of The Witcher 3 is that it populates these memorable landscapes with NPCs doling out humble but memorable quests (by the dozen) that help create one of the most human RPG experiences on the market. In decaying wayside towns, the witcher Geralt might find impoverished elves struggling in the face of local racism; elsewhere, he might help a self-styled baron reunite with his long-estranged daughter. These quests deftly navigate moral issues without being heavy-handed or offering obvious solutions.
Read more: How The Witcher 3’s best quest was made
Pick a direction and run. You’re almost guaranteed to discover some small adventure, some small chunk of world that will engage you. It’s that density of things to do that makes Skyrim so constantly rewarding. A visit to the Mage’s Guild will turn into an area-spanning search for knowledge. A random chat with an NPC will lead you to a far-off dungeon, hunting for a legendary relic. You could be picking berries on the side of a mountain and discover a dragon.
And if you somehow run out of things to do, rest assured that modders have more waiting for you (check out our guide to the best Skyrim mods). That lively community has kept Skyrim in the Steam top 100 since its release, and given us endless ways to adventure through a great world. Some on the PC Gamer team keep a modded-up Skyrim install handy, just in case they feel like adventure. That’s some high praise.
Read more: Auto-installing over 600 mods makes Skyrim beautiful and confusing
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition
More graphics, please
Need an upgrade to get the best RPGs running at top clip? Here are the best graphics cards available today.
Mass Effect 2 is the standout here, streamlining the clunky systems of its predecessor to focus on the action, and the consequences of the choices that you—as no-nonsense space captain Shepherd—make along the way. As a result it’s a good third-person cover shooter, and an even better inter-office relationship simulator, tasking you with building a crew that will survive what seems destined to be a suicide mission.
Really, though, you’ll want to play through the whole series, making the Legendary Edition a joy to work through. The thrill of Mass Effect is seeing the choices you made pay off tens, even hundreds of hours later. And across the three games, you’ll form lasting bonds with your ragtag crew. Don’t let Mass Effect 3’s ending controversy put you off: the finale is a game full of endings, most of which do justice to your crew, and all of which pay off beautifully in its Citadel DLC.
Read more: Why I love Mass Effect 3’s endings
Fallout: New Vegas
While Fallout 3 was successful, it was a different beast entirely from Interplay’s classics. Obsidian’s take on the franchise moves the action back to the West Coast, and reintroduces elements such as reputation and faction power struggles. Obsidian expands on nearly every aspect of Bethesda’s take, making the game less about good or evil, and more about who you should trust. It also adds much of the humour that we loved from the classic games: How can you not appreciate a game that gives you a nuclear grenade launcher?
New Vegas’ “Hardcore” mode makes survival in the wasteland more interesting, limiting the power of RadAway and Health Stims. It makes the game harder, but also more rewarding. If that’s not your thing, there are plenty of additional mods and tweaks available, including game director Josh Sawyer’s own balance-tweak mod. What we love the most about New Vegas is how it adds the Fallout feeling back into Bethesda’s first-person RPG framework.
Read more: How to have the best Fallout New Vegas experience in 2022
Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord
Release date: 2020 | Developer: TaleWorlds Entertainment | Steam (Early Access)
Need your RPGs to look their best? Here are the best gaming PCs right now.
A true RPG sandbox, giving you full freedom to make your mark upon the world. There’s no big story campaign to follow; instead you’re left to set your own goals, and work towards achieving them in whatever way you wish. Fight wars, smuggle goods, compete in gladiatorial combat, recruit followers, invest in trade caravans, or pick up a quest or two from a local lord. And then betray that lord, kill him, and take ownership of his land.
Bannerlord is still in Early Access, and still regularly receiving new updates with new features and fixes. But even without a full v1.0 release, there’s enough here to make it worth the recommendation. In addition to its singleplayer sandbox, there’s also multiplayer and modding tools—meaning you can lose yourself in Bannerlord for months, even years to come.
Read more: The best Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord mods
Release date: 2000 | Developer: Ion Storm | Steam
Deus Ex is a game where every action has an interesting consequence. Its story is a complex tangle of conspiracies—many characters are outright lying to you, or at least trying to use you to achieve their own secret goals. As a result, how you deal with an objective can have lasting consequences. And it’s not just the plot that wants you to consider your approach. Even the skills you pick and the augmentations you install will close off other viable options. It’s impossible to unlock every single upgrade, and so you’re asked to decide what will work best for you and the character that you’re building.
The result is an uncompromisingly deep, freeform experience that rewards you for being observant and properly thinking through any given situation. Is the information you have reliable? Is there a better way through this current problem? Should I have put more points into swimming? If you can think it, you can probably do it, and the game will react in kind. More than two decades after its release, games are still struggling to match its level of immersive worldbuilding.
Read more: Revisiting Deus Ex, Ion Storm’s classic cyberpunk RPG
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines
It’s all about atmosphere—from the goth clubs where you meet contacts, to the back alleys where you scavenge for rat blood, to the haunted Ocean House Hotel (one of the best quests in the game). Bloodlines’ ambitious use of White Wolf’s Vampire universe means it looks and feels different from the other sword and sorcery games on this list.
Unfortunately, that signature Troika ambition also means lots of bugs and some mechanics that just don’t mesh well. The endgame includes some particularly sloggy dungeons, but no other game truly drops you into a Vampire world. This is truly a cult classic of an RPG, and the fanbase has been patching and improving the game ever since release.
Read more: Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines has aged like fine wine
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2
While BioWare’s first KOTOR is a Star Wars classic, KOTOR 2 takes the franchise in a bolder direction. Instead of focusing on the Light or Dark sides of the Force, the Jedi Exile of Obsidian’s sequel deals in shades of gray. Alliances are made, then broken, then remade in the aftermath. Choices you think are good just turn out to betray other characters. The end result is possibly the most nuanced take on The Force in the entire Star Wars Expanded Universe, and definitely its most complex villains.
Like many Obsidian early games, KOTOR 2’s truncated development meant that whole areas had to be cut out. A fan-made mod restores much of that content, including a droid planet, and fixes lots of outstanding bugs, showing yet again that PC gamers will work hard to maintain their favorite games.
Read more: Now more than ever, Knights of the Old Republic is a refreshing take on Star Wars
System Shock 2
Lonely. That’s the defining emotion of Irrational’s debut game. You’ll hear audio logs from fascinating characters, many of whom are struggling to survive in a battle against the bio-terror creatures called the Many. But you won’t meet those people, because they didn’t make it. That loneliness is key because Shock 2 is all about taking things away from you. Ammo? Check: you’ll probably waste those on an assault droid when you should have saved them for later. Hypos? Yep. Think twice before you walk into that radiated room.
Irrational made games where the environment is the central character, and here, that character is the Von Braun. It creaks and moans as you pad quietly down its corridors. Every door you open yelps. Its security systems attack you as if you hurt their feelings. Staying on the good side of this character is hard, but Shock 2’s leveling system of earning experience points through exploration balances the risks and rewards. Some play through with all guns blazing, but the psionics skills balance well with combat, and Tech skills open new areas later in the game. There’s a lot of balance to be found in what on the surface looks like a streamlined action RPG skill system.
Read more: System Shock 2: How an underfunded and inexperienced team birthed a PC classic
Dragon Age: Inquisition
Release date: 2014 | Developer: BioWare | Steam
Dragon Age is an unusual series, in that each game offers up an entirely different style of RPG. Dragon Age: Origins is something of a bridge between classic CRPGs like Baldur’s Gate and a more modern style. Dragon Age 2 hyperfocuses on a single city across a 10-year period (and is worth playing, despite the many compromises made during its production). Dragon Age: Inquisition goes the opposite route: large, open world maps with an almost MMO sensibility to their design. Really you should play them all, but Inquisition is arguably the best showcase of what makes the series so compelling: its rich, intricate worldbuilding.
The downside to Inquisition’s approach is that its maps offer a lot of filler. Each is packed full of basic sidequests and collections that massively pad the run time. If you’re the sort of player who likes to complete everything there is to do in an area before moving on, you’re likely to quit before you even leave the Hinterlands. But if you follow the story—only dipping into the side material if and when it takes your fancy—you’re in for a hell of a ride as you work to establish the titular Inquisition. In doing so, you become not just a hero, but a key political figurehead navigating through the tangled intrigues of BioWare’s fascinating world.
Read more: Why you need to get out of the Hinterlands
The best CRPGs
Baldur’s Gate 3
Release date: 2023 | Developer: Larian Studios | Steam
No one game has united the PC Gamer team like Baldur’s Gate 3—we spent the month of August (and most of September) doing nothing but playing it, talking about it, and writing about it. If you want to know why it captured our attention so deeply, Fraser’s 97% review sums it up nicely:
“It’s my dream game: the best parts of Ultima, Baldur’s Gate, Planescape: Torment, Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura and Divinity: Original Sin. But it also does so much more than tap into the RPG Greatest Hits, finding a way to unite disparate philosophies like cinematic storytelling, unhinged sandbox mayhem and tabletop-style roleplaying. Yes, it says, you can have your cake and eat it too.”
You don’t need to have played the original Baldur’s Gate games to get involved, classics though they are. This is more of a return to the setting than a direct continuation, and Baldur’s Gate 3 is thoroughly modern in its presentation and systems. That isn’t to say its simple though: part of the joy of the game is just how thoroughly it rewards experimentation in both combat and your approach to its quests. The other joy is the cast of characters that accompany you, and the depth and quality of their stories. It’s everything we could want from an RPG.
Read more: Baldur’s Gate 3 is PC Gamer’s highest scoring game in 16 years. Here’s why
Disco Elysium returns to the absolute fundamentals of tabletop RPGs. It’s all about playing a role and becoming your character and embracing whatever success or failure that entails. Your predetermined protagonist is a detective who wakes up after an amnesia-inducing bender without a badge, gun, or a name. As the detective, you’ll attempt to solve a murder in the retro city of Revachol while also solving the mystery of your past and identity.
There is no combat, at least not in the way you’d expect of a classically-inspired RPG. Instead, the majority of Disco Elysium takes place in conversation either with characters you need to interview about the murder or with your own mind. Each of your skills in Disco Elysium are parts of your personality with opinions on what to say and do during your investigation. Empathy will helpfully clue you in to the feelings of people you talk to so you can better understand them while Logic will help you poke holes in a bad alibi or understand a clue you find. Investing in skills helps you pass dice roll skill checks all throughout the game for everything from kicking down a door to hitting on a woman at the hotel. It’s a massive RPG with clever writing where each playthrough is significantly different based on the kind of detective you choose to play.
Read more: No other game comes close to Disco Elysium
Divinity: Original Sin 2
Outside of tabletop games, there are few RPGs that boast the liberating openness of Larian’s humongous quest for godhood. If you think you should be able to do something, you probably can, even it’s kidnapping a merchant by using a teleportation spell and then setting fire to him with his own blood. Almost every skill has some alternative and surprising use—sometimes more than one—whether you’re in or out of combat.
You can enjoy this game of madcap experimentation and tactical combat with up to three friends, to boot, and that’s where things start to get really interesting because you’re not forced to work together or even stay in the same part of the world. Indeed, there are plenty of reasons to work against each other. The player is always in the driving seat, and with four players, collisions are inevitable. Just remember: if you freeze your friends and then start poisoning them, at least apologize after.
Read more: The making of Divinity: Original Sin 2
There is no other story in gaming like the Nameless One’s. His is a tale of redemption in the face of countless sins, a tale of not knowing who you are until you become the person you’re trying to be. That open-endedness is central to what makes Planescape: Torment so captivating. At a literal level, you spend the game trying to discover who the Nameless One is, but your actions also help to define him. It’s one of many RPG tropes that Black Isle sought to subvert—others include the fact that rats are actually worthy foes, humans are often worse than undead, and you don’t have to fight in most cases.
The Nameless One’s companions are some of the best written, most enjoyable NPCs ever coded. Most have been affected by your past incarnations: pyromaniac mage Ignus was once your apprentice, though it’s more impressive that he’s constantly on fire. Or Dak’kon, who swore an oath of loyalty to you, even though you’re not sure why. Others are just interesting, well-rounded characters: Fall-From-Grace is a succubus cleric who prays to no god and, though a creature of evil, wants to do no harm. The best is Morte, a floating skull whose sarcastic wit is sharper than his bite attacks.These characters would be odd in any normal high fantasy world, but Torment uses the Planescape AD&D campaign setting, the strangest world TSR ever designed.
Read more: If you haven’t played Planescape: Torment, the Enhanced Edition leaves you no excuse
Shadowrun’s setting features the usual array of RPG creatures. There’s orks, there’s trolls, and there’s even a dragon or two. But it’s also set in a version of our world, 30 years in the future. The ork runs a shelter for impoverished metahumans. The troll is a former special forces veteran who doesn’t want you around. The dragons run the world’s most powerful megacorporations—taking the concept of hoarding wealth to its most logical conclusion.
As a shadowrunner, you navigate this clash of cyberpunk and fantasy by taking questionable jobs for shady clients. As the head of a team operating on the wrong side of whatever passes for law in anarchist Berlin, you’ll have a range of choices as to how you complete each job. And thanks to an enjoyably deep turn-based combat system, you’ll also have plenty of chances to experience the destructive potential of both technology and magic.
Read more: Robbing homeless old men and other shady dealings in Shadowrun: Dragonfall
Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura
Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura was astoundingly buggy when it came out, and many of its battles were as laughably imbalanced as its title. Patches and mods have alleviated some of that pain over the years, helping reveal what a great mix of fantasy and steampunkery thrived under its surface. As we said in our enthusiastic review in 2001, “If you can’t find something to love about this game, dump your computer in the garbage right now.”
That assessment holds up. Arcanum was dark ‘n’ gritty before some such tendencies became all the rage, and its character creator allowed players to create everything from gnome gamblers who brandish self-explanatory Tesla-guns to outcast orcs lugging along rusty maces. Toss in non-linear progression and multiple solutions for quests, and you’ve got a winner that holds up 14 years later.
Read more: Overlooked RPGs that are worth playing today
The best JRPGs
Yakuza: Like a Dragon
Release date: 2020 | Developer: Rya Ga Gotoku Studio | Steam
It may be the seventh mainline game in the series, but don’t let that put you off. Rather than a continuation of the story that came before, Like a Dragon is all about change: a new protagonist, a new main city, and a new genre underpinning its combat. Brawling is out; turn-based combat is in. This is a pure JRPG, but one that carries forward all the drama, absurdity and satire that make the series what it is.
New lead Ichiban is obsessed with Dragon Quest, and sets about turning his new friends into the perfect party to defeat the great conspiracy at the heart of Yokohama’s criminal empire. The usual class list is filtered through the satirical lens of the Japanese job market, with bouncers, buskers and hostesses instead of warriors, priests and mages. There are even summons—weirdos that you phone up to help you in battle. But don’t let the parody fool you: this is a proper, in-depth JRPG that does justice to its inspiration.
Read more: Yakuza: Like a Dragon’s secret weapon isn’t a magic baseball bat, it’s optimism
Persona 5 Royal
Release date: 2022 | Developer: ATLUS | Steam
There’s real tactical depth to Persona 4’s dungeons—lengthy, combat-heavy mazes that constantly test your knowledge of its systems. In these turn-based fights you’ll utilise your Personas—creatures that can be equipped, upgraded and fused into more powerful monsters that do your bidding in battle. Exploit an enemy’s elemental weakness, and you’ll get another turn, too, so bringing the right Personas for the job is the key to making it through relatively unscathed.
So the JRPG elements are all present and correct. But the real meat of Persona 4 Golden is the social side, between the dungeons when you hang out with friends, explore the sleepy rural town of Inaba, and work to uncover the mystery behind a string of bizarre murders linked to a local legend about a midnight TV broadcast. Sure, you can battle through hordes of weird demons. But can you survive a school year and create lasting friendships along the way?
Read more: Holy crap, it’s a good time to be a weeb on PC right now
Final Fantasy XII
Release date: 2018 | Developer: Square Enix | Steam
The smartest Final Fantasy game finally got a PC port in 2018. The game can’t render the sort of streaming open worlds we’re used to these days, but the art still looks great, and the gambit system is still one of the most fun party development systems in RPG history.
Gambits let you program party members with a hierarchy of commands that they automatically follow in fights. You’re free to build any character in any direction you wish. You can turn the street urchin Vaan into a broadsword-wielding combat specialist or an elemental wizard. The port even includes a fast-forward mode that makes the grinding painless.
Read more: 15 years on, Final Fantasy 12’s combat system is still the best
The best ARPGs
Path of Exile
Release date: 2013 | Developer: Grinding Gear Games | Steam
This excellent free-to-play action RPG is heaven for players that enjoy stewing over builds to construct the most effective killing machine possible. It’s not the most glamorous ARPG, but it has extraordinary depth of progression and an excellent free-to-play model that relies on cosmetics rather than game-altering upgrades. It may look muddy and indistinct, and the combat doesn’t feel as good as Diablo 3, but if you enjoy number crunching this is one of the brainiest RPGs around.
Path of Exile’s scary complexity becomes apparent the moment you arrive on your character’s level-up screen, which looks like this(opens in new tab). As you plough through enemies and level up, you travel across this huge board, tailoring your character a little with each upgrade. Gear customization is equally detailed. Path of Exile borrows Final Fantasy VII’s concept of connected gem slots. Every piece of armor has an arrangement of slots that take magic gems. These gems confer stat bonuses and bonus adjacency effects when set in the right formations. Ideally you’ll want to build synergies between your gemmed-up gear and leveling choices to create the most powerful warrior you can. Doing so requires plenty of planning, but it’s an engrossing slow-burn challenge.
Read more: The making of Path of Exile
It’s not even a year old and Diablo 4 already has a complicated and controversial history. The aim of Blizzard’s sequel is to take the Diablo formula and tie it directly into the live service hooks so popular today. And… let’s just say it’s not been a flawless process. The season one launch was a disaster: turning a game already criticised for how grindy it felt into a slog that fans rebelled against.
But a live service game lives and dies on its most recent release, and the second season has been much better—even going so far as to fix many of the complaints we had with the game’s launch. Levelling is faster, inventory management is less of a hassle, and good, useful loot is easier to come by. For now then, Diablo 4 gets a home in its list—its worth checking out, even if just for a campaign that’s much darker and more gruesome than that of Diablo 3. Hopefully future seasons will continue the positive momentum of this latest release.
Read more: Diablo 4’s season 2 patch fixes almost every problem I’ve had with it since launch
Release date: 2016 | Developer: Crate Entertainment | Steam
If you’ve rinsed Diablo 2 for every magical trinket and are looking for a modern fix, here is your game. Grim Dawn is a gritty, well-made action RPG with strong classes and a pretty world full of monsters to slay in their droves. It’s the distant brooding son of Titan Quest, sharing some designers and mechanics with that fine 2006 Greek myth ARPG. Like its cousin, Grim Dawn lets you pick two classes and share your upgrade points between two skill trees. This hybrid progression system creates plenty of scope for theorycrafting, and the skills are exciting to use—an essential prerequisite for games that rely so heavily on combat encounters.
The story isn’t bad either, for an ARPG. Don’t expect twisting plots and decisions with consequences—this is very much a game about single-handedly destroying armies—but there is a neat faction reputation system that spawns harder mobs and villainous nemesis heroes as you become more hated by the criminals, cults and monsters that rule the wilderness. The local demons and warlords that terrorize each portion of the world are well sketched out in the scrolling text NPC dialogue and found journals. Ultimately, it’s about the monster-smashing and sweet loot, though, and Grim Dawn delivers on both effectively.
Read more: Daring to care about the denizens of Grim Dawn