About a year and a half ago I was going through 2nd year uni exams. At the same time, more importantly, E3 was on. So naturally I watched every single press conference.
What really got me excited about E3 in 2014 though was the promise of 2 huge RPG games: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Dragon Age Inquisition. Having limited funds and, god forbid, limited time, I decided to choose one to buy on release.
So I bought The Witcher 3, and loved it of course, but upon recently buying the second title, I got thinking about all the RPG games I’ve played over the years and decided I’d attempt to rank my top 5.
(P.S. Forgive me for any lack of final fantasy, I was never that hardcore.)
(PPS – RPG = Role-playing Game)
Before I start I’d like to point out that, in the name of variety, I’ve only accepted one entry per franchise onto my list. Also my rating system, whilst using SOME outside influence (IGN & Metacritic), is largely based on my enjoyment of the games and what I think they have to offer in terms of gameplay, combat, loot systems and general level of immersion.
5. Fable 2
Released in 2008 Fable 2 was apparently ‘overly-hyped up’ or so I heard. At the time I didn’t follow any gaming media, so my choice was based purely on the box art. This is one I played extensively with my sister, each of us choosing our own path, and me consequently being slightly more evil… I loved the beautiful scenery; I loved the sometimes calm, sometimes tension filled music; I loved the characters who were all completely nuts.
The gameplay was incredibly simple: I had a go the other day, and managed to eat chocolate cake at the same time as beating up a group of thugs… However, the choice the game gives you with the combat styles, the weapons and loot;the fact you have a dog; and the way you can almost make another life for yourself within the game, makes it one of the most impressive games I’ve ever played.
My sister had a lovely big villa in Oakville surrounded by meadows, she saved many people but had to give her poor dog a grave in order to gain her halo. I had a town house in the heart of Bowerstone, had a kid, then accidentally decapitated my wife; saved my dog and let everyone die in my selfishness. Good times! My veins were super pumped and blue though from all the magic.
4. Lord of the Rings: The Third Age
Released in 2004, this is the oldest entry on my list. I’d just turned 11 when this game came out. It was the year after the final film was released and I had everything Lord of the Rings. So when I had this game bought for me I was extremely excited to get stuck in, I mean, its got a Balrog on the front cover, who wouldn’t be excited by that?
To my initial disdain it wasn’t a 3rd person action game like I thought, but rather a turn based RPG with random enemy encounters and a wonderful loot system. Once I got used to the idea that I actually had to use my brain, I learnt to appreciate the challenges and ended up finding the turn based layout far more engaging than any action game I’d played before. Building up a number of character’s skills and kitting them out was very gratifying, especially after taking down a difficult enemy and receiving a crazy new sword for the trouble. I found myself walking into danger, needing to explore every corner of every area.
The implementation of status effects forced me to think in a less linear way, and having my arse kicked by the Orcs in Osgiliath countless times was probably good for me long term… I don’t actually think I finished the game in the end because of those damned Orcs.
3. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
This is another game I haven’t finished yet, and that’s not for lack of trying. I’ve sunk many an hour into this monumentally huge RPG. The sprawling world may be gigantic, but there is intricate detail throughout every single part. To date I think this is the most beautiful world I’ve ever seen; contrasting between natural oranges and dark greens of the autumn leaves with the bright, vibrant, primary colours of the cities.
Each country, each race, and each faction have their own lore and pre-existing stories, however you rarely feel out of touch, as things are explained in subtle, organic ways. Every NPC is carefully designed to convey emotions in the most effective manner I’ve ever seen in a video game. The game makes you extremely powerful but gives you big choices which make you feel small, and make you think. However other choices you have to make end in the most unexpectedly hilarious ways.
The themes are very game of thrones-esque, giving it a gritty, unforgiving feel, although swear words are often replaced by the word ‘ploughing’ which makes me laugh every time. What really makes it for me are the accents, especially the accents of residents of Skellige, who are all varying levels of Scottish. Gameplay wise, the loot system is great, the money is scarce enough to be valuable, and the combat is strong and compelling, especially when pursuing a Witcher contract. Oh and the side missions, they’re just as good as the main mission, and that includes finding the old woman’s frying pan, play to find out what the hell I’m talking about!
2. Dark Souls
Almost clinching the top spot, Dark Souls is 1 part stunning and 3 parts incredible. The stunning part is in reference to the amount of times I died completing the game (A lot).
OK so the story and characters are vague, but if you play for long enough to get hooked, you learn about the world just by existing within it. Dark Souls is one of those games that, if you go in expecting a toddle, then you will probably put it down and never play it again. But if you can accept the challenges ahead, it is one of the most rewarding (gaming) experiences (I didn’t want to compare it to something actually rewarding IRL). Actually feeling like you are improving and learning the mechanics is something I rarely find. Most games don’t require you to improve, but this one requires a patience that you never realise you had until you’re utterly addicted.
The level design is genius. It is essentially one huge area linked by countless shortcuts and hidden passageways. Each area is different, providing new enemies, traps and bosses to make you pull your hair out. But each area also has wonderfully alluring loot, which forces you to explore, even if you only have the 1 estus flask (health potion) left. The class and leveling system is effective and works in perfect harmony with loot stats giving the player a powerful basis on which to build a properly badass character. I actually love this game, I might go play it after this.
1. The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion
Wow. I’m sorry were you expecting Skyrim? Or maybe Fallout? Sit with me by the hearth. Let me tell you about the best RPG I’ve ever played.
I can tell you with an almost arrogant confidence that not a lot of people played Oblivion, the previous installment of Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls franchise, Morrowind, was a PC and Xbox original game ONLY, and most people had Playstation 2’s at that time. I heard about Oblivion through a friend who was absolutely nuts about it, so I bought it to see what all the fuss was about.
The world, Tambriel, was serene and perfectly crafted with numerous different regions and cities, each with their own climate and culture respectively. The sky was incredible, giving beautiful sunsets which you actually stopped playing to watch. At night it was littered with stars, and during the day the weather changed in a heartbeat, giving the whole atmosphere an instant makeover. When nearing an Oblivion gate (a portal into the Elder Scrolls version of hell), the sky turned blood red with black spidery tendrils across it.
The wildness was full of roaming beasts, undead monsters and raging bandits, often guarding caves or elven ruins full of treasure. Loot and item management was done perfectly, and enchantments and spell making made sure there was an almost infinite amount of weapon variations. Where Oblivion really pulls ahead of Skyrim, in my opinion, is with the guilds. You didn’t even need to touch the main quest for tens of hours after joining a guild. The mages guild especially had an intriguing plot line, and made you do a mini gap year to visit every city, gaining approval from the guild mages there before you’re even allowed to be a proper member! The real magic of this was that it cleverly encourages the player to explore every city, where one is very welcome to stay and even buy a house to store all that precious loot.
I’m going off on crazy tangents here. To conclude, although Oblivion doesn’t have the polished gameplay of Dark Souls, or the engaging NPCs of the Witcher 3, it lives in my memory as the best RPG, maybe even the best game I’ve played.
– The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim and…
– Dark Souls 2 (same franchise)
– Pokemon Fire Red (almost made the list)