Core Best Fantasy Lists
- Top 25 Fantasy Books
- Top 100 Fantasy Books
- Best Fantasy Series
- Best Stand Alone Fantasy
- Best Young Adult Fantasy
- Top 50 Coming-of-Age Fantasy
- Top 25 Best Indie Fantasy
- Best Fantasy Audiobooks
- Best Fantasy You've Never Read
- Most Influential Fantasy
- Best Non-English Fantasy
- Great Fantasy Books
- Good Fantasy Books
- Worst Fantasy Books Ever
Best Yearly Lists
- Best Fantasy of 2017 (SO FAR)
- Best Fantasy of 2016
- Best Fantasy Books of 2015
- Best Fantasy Books of 2014
Best Decade Lists
- Best Fantasy Since 2010
- Best Fantasy Books of the 90's
- Best Fantasy Best of the 80's
- Best Fantasy Books of the 70's
- Best Fantasy Books of the 60's
- Best Early Modern Fantasy (30's to 50's)
- Best Pre-Tolkien Fantasy
Best Thematic Lists
- Best Anti-Hero Fantasy
- Best Asian Fantasy
- Best Feel Good Fantasy
- Best of the Tolkien Clones
- Best of the Dresden Clones
- Fantasy That Will Blow Your Mind
- Best Fantasy Books for Women
- Best Fantasy Books by Female Authors
- Best Fantasy Books for Children
- Best Vampire Books for YA
- Best Vampire Books for Adults
Best Subgenre Lists
- Top 50 EPIC Fantasy
- Best Heroic Fantasy
- Best Grimdark Fantasy
- Best Gritty Fantasy
- Best LitRPG Books
- Best Military Fantasy
- Best Vampire Fantasy
- Best Urban Fantasy
- Best Dark Fantasy
- Best Assassin Fantasy
- Best Steampunk Fantasy
- Best Literary Fantasy
- Best Sword and Sorcery
- Best Fantasy Mystery Books
- Best Romance Fantasy
- Best Paranormal Romance Fantasy
- Best Vampire Romance
- Best Dragon Fantasy
- Guide to Fantasy Genres
- How to Find Your Next Read Here
- Guide to Vampire Books
- Beginner's Fantasy Guide
- Best Science Fiction Books
Best Fantasy Games
Best Fantasy Movies
- Epic Fantasy
- High Fantasy
- Low Fantasy
- Mundane Fantasy
- Hard Fantasy
- Young Adult Fantasy
- Juvenile Fantasy
- Quest Fantasy
- Coming-of-Age Fantasy
- Heroic Fantasy
- Sword and Sorcery Fantasy
- Swashbuckling Fantasy
- Wuxia Fantasy
- Gods & Demons / Shenmo Fantasy
- Grimdark Fantasy Books
- Colonial Fantasy Books
- Silk Road Fantasy Books
- Flintlock Fantasy Books
- Gunpowder Fantasy Books
- Military Fantasy
- Gritty Fantasy
- Dark Fantasy
- Vampire Fantasy
- Urban Fantasy
- Contemporary Fantasy
- Paranormal Fantasy
- Fantastic Romance
- Romantic Fantasy
- Erotic Fantasy
- Classical Fantasy Books
- Medieval Fantasy
- Court Intrigue Fantasy
- Fantasy of Manners
- Science Fantasy
- Sword and Planet Fantasy
- Dying Earth Fantasy
- Futuristic Fantasy
- Steampunk Fantasy
- Arcanepunk Fantasy
- Gaslamp Fantasy
- Weird West Fantasy
- Political Fantasy
- Literary Fantasy
- Magic Realism
- New Weird Fantasy
- Weird Fiction
- Fantastic Poetry
- Comic/Humorous Fantasy
- Magical Girl Fantasy
- Series Fantasy
- Super Hero Fantasy
- Media-tie-in Fantasy
- Prehistoric Fantasy Books
- Historical Fantasy
- High Historical Fantasy
- Alternate History Fantasy
- Alternate World Fantasy
- Crossworlds Fantasy
- Portal Fantasy
- Christian Fantasy
- Celtic Fantasy
- Arthurian Fantasy
- Mythic Fantasy
- Legend-Retelling Fantasy
- Allegorical Fantasy
- Fables/Fairy Tale Books
- Anthropomorphic Fantasy
- Dragon Fantasy Books
- Bangsian Fantasy Books
- Assassin Fantasy Books
- Arabian Fantasy Books
At this point, this series barely needs an introduction. Baldur's Gate has had a huge and lasting impact on the RPG genre, and its second iteration is as close to perfect as any game will be. Seventeen years later, it's scope is still incomparable, and that's what earned it the #1 spot on this list.
In Baldur's Gate II, you pick up not long after the first game, trapped in a cage and the subject of magical experiments. Then, in a moment of distraction, you are set free and escape to an incredibly dense, D&D inspired world.
And that's where the faultlessness of this game really starts to show. There are hundreds of hours of quests, fighting and story, yet every single element is well executed. Gone is predictable dialogue and clear paths to right and wrong. Gone are repetitive quests and hand holding. Baldur's Gate II is hard, harder than its predecessor, even. You can die in a hundred different ones, yet you'll never complain about it being unfair.
The game is full of perfect balances like this. It's full of detail, from the awe-inspiring soundtrack to little quirks in voice acting and well-handled progression. As the godchild, you can rain down lightning on your foes, tear the world apart with demons. Or you can be a thief, a druid, a ranger, a bard. Either way, it's all too easy to get caught up in Baldur's Gate II. You forget the aged graphics and find yourself participating in intricate battles and plot threads, unable to deny its fabled existence.
The earlier Witcher games were okay. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is even what I'd call a 'good' game. But Wild Hunt is on a completely new level. Simply put, it's a masterpiece. It's not just one of the best fantasy RPGs of all time, but one of best games ever made.
This game comes from an award-winning series of Polish novels by Andrzej Sapkowski, but in many ways it surpasses them. It's a true testament to games as immersive storytelling devices, rather than just action or gameplay. The characters, though borrowed from the books, bring a depth and connection that is rarely seen. So often in open world games, there's a feeling of filler content. Kill ten wolves, or carry this package from one place to another. Every single sidequest has its own story, with sympathetic and memorable characters. The main story only builds on that, with an arching narrative that's influenced by your decisions.
It all takes place in a large, beautiful environment, with intense lighting and unique flora. It takes a step back from the usual hero story and presents a character that is far grayer. As a freelance monster hunter, Geralt is hard and stoic. He has the potential to do terrible things, yet there's also room for loyalty and love. How far you take either is up to you, but either way, you'll have one of the most nuanced gaming experiences created.
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 a Martin-esque plot and Jim Butcher pace, The Axe and the Throne is a definite "must read" for even the pickiest fantasy fans.
In his stunning debut, Ireman has built the type of world so vivid and engrossing that leaving it at the end is agony. In spite of leaning toward grimdark, where authors often enshroud every scene in depressing darkness, there is no lack of cheerful moments or brilliant scenery. Yet the pangs of near-instant nostalgia that come after you put down a book like this have less to do with the inspired setting, and far more to do with those who inhabit it.
From savage, unremorseful heroes, to deep, introspective villains, the cast of this story is comprised of believable characters capable of unthinkable actions. And it is these characters -- the ones you wish you could share a drink with or end up wanting to kill -- that forge the connection between fantasy and reality. Keethro, Titon, Ethel, Annora. These are names you will never forget, and each belongs to a man or woman as unique as they are memorable.
No book would be complete without a its fair share of intrigue, however, and there is no lack of it here. Each chapter leaves you wanting more, and Ireman's masterful use of misdirection leads to an abundance of "oh shit" moments. Do not be fooled (or do -- perhaps that's part of the fun) by storylines that may appear trope-ish at first. This is no fairytale.
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.
Its name may sound like a time-based shoot 'em up, but make no mistake. Chrono Trigger is one of best RPGs ever made. Usually, that would be a big claim for a SNES game that launched over twenty years ago, but this title will always have a timeless feel that echoes it core mechanic.
Crono is a regular boy from 1000 A.D., thrust through time in an effort to save the planet from an apocalypse. As the player, you'll travel through future battles, far into the past, and to the end of the world to achieve your goals. But time travel isn't easy. Adjusting one little thing can significantly change the outcome, and the game accurately reflects this. Fourteen different endings reflect your progress, each uniquely nuanced.
Juggling seven different time periods is a hard task for any dev team, but luckily Chrono Trigger was crafted by some of the greatest artists and writers of the time. It's told with an almost childlike simplicity, contrasting with an intricate combat system that lets multiple party members combine their powers. It was the first game to coin the term 'New Game+', and the result is an incredible examination of cause and effect and almost endless replayability.
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.
Many of the games on this list fit into the high-fantasy genre, littered with magic, elves, and dragons. However, that ignores many of the more subtle and psychological implementations. The terrifying, story-driven world of Silent Hill 2 may still be set on earth, but that doesn't make it any less brilliant. Konami crafted a horror game that isn't just about jump scares. The town of Silent Hill draws on the psyche of its visitors and shapes playing up to visitor's fears and guilt. James Sunderland is one of those visitors, searching through the town for his dead wife, Mary.
In the environment of heavy fog and deserted streets, writer Takayoshi Sato tells a story far deeper than the first title. The player is slowly introduced to strange elements, shown rather than told what the narrative and town holds. It makes for some utterly petrifying moments, long-legged creatures jumping out at you and an ever-following immortal presence.
The true innovation in the game, however, is its plot. It's a work of mystery and discovery, but it's also more than that. Sato explores morality and guilt, the concept of 'greater good', and the deepest parts of James' character. There are so many symbolisms and metaphors in this game that you discover more interpretations with every playthrough, more depth to the story. Combining with multiple, but natural endings, it's a tale that shows the true merit of the interactive medium.
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.
This is another timeless classic with strengths that far surpass its age. The graphics are dated, the audio quality not that great by today's standards, but the empathy and emotion in Grim Fandango will never go out of fashion.
The story is told with warm humor that contrasts its noir setting in the land of the dead. Manny Calavera is one of the best-crafted characters of all time, a skeleton just trying to make his way in a world of corruption. It makes for an explosion of culture, with heavy Mexican/Aztec influence yet a city teeming with strange wildlife.
However, this is a puzzle-adventure game at its heart, and it couldn't rightly make that list if it didn't live up to that genre. You'll have to creatively combine items for solutions, but they never border on unfairness. Double Fine integrates story and adventure into the games' core, and that's where players will find their hints.
In the subtleties of the script, environment design, and voice acting lie minute details that create emotion and spur ideas. When combined with its orchestral jazz playlist, the mixture of atmosphere and adventure is like nothing else.
Pokmon 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 Pokmon world, not just with its hundreds of creatures, but the environment, architecture and characters.
It's next to impossible to just pick one Pokmon 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.
Tower of the Arkein is epic fantasy at its best; Chase Blackwood weaves a beautiful tale in an intricate world on the verge of collapse. Read what many have called the next Patrick Rothfuss... one of the greatest coming-of-age tales in modern fantasy.
Delve into what has been described as a vast and diverse world, filled with thoughtful, vivid, and unique characters. A place with multiple story threads, and an underlying mystery that builds with each part, growing into a masterful tale that sticks with you long after you've put the book down.
Tower of the Arkein was voted best Fantasy of 2017 by Philly Adventure and Fantasy Book Club...and for good reason: the depth of experience, in which Chase paints a vivid picture of the human experience through beautiful prose, is extremely rare in modern fiction. It's a story that hints at something greater than itself. Chase Blackwood's Kan Savasci Cycle is a rarity, and stands out among the ever-growing crowd.
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.
Few 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 strategy RPG launched to huge acclaim across the board, and it's completely deserved. It began with a Kickstarter campaign for $100,000, reaching that funding in a day and eventually accumulating $723,886. In itself, that's a huge achievement for an indie studio, and much of its initial popularity came from the developers, who migrated from BioWare after working on Star Wars: The Old Republic.
However, Stoic have proved they can branch out into an entirely different style with mastery. The Banner Saga takes place in a Viking-inspired fantasy, purposefully stepping away from the tropes of elves and dwarves. It's as rich in law as it is artwork, which comes in a 2D, hand-drawn style that was inspired by Sleeping Beauty and Ralph Bakshi. It's enhanced by an incredible soundtrack by award-winning composer Austin Wintory, who perfectly captures the tone of the setting.
Despite the huge amount of effort that went into the game, its premise is very simple. You must get a caravan of Vikings across a frozen land. Along the way, you'll build relationships with characters, manage resources, and shape the very fabric of the story. Opposing you is the warlike Dredge, a race that wants to wipe out humans. In a mash-up of RPG elements and chess-like turn-based strategy, your caravan battles them and tries to find their weakness.
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.
Life is Strange places story above all else. Other than minimal puzzle elements, it's a game about action and consequence, and the core fabric of the game ties in perfectly with that. As the player, you control Max, a college freshman who realizes she can turn back time after a traumatic event. Though she can only go back a few minutes, that's enough to seriously shape the world around her.
However, it's not always easy to decide when to intervene. In a classic butterfly effect dilemma, short term good can have unintended consequences down the line. Because of this, it's incredibly difficult to make the right choice. Dontnod Entertainment put nearly all of their budget into writing and voice acting, and it really shows. It's easy to get caught up in the imperfect characters, caring more for their wellbeing than the bigger picture.
Combined beautiful imagery and soundtracks, it's an intense and emotional experience, unfolding slowly but with elegance and mastery. It's a work of art that will make you both laugh, and cry.
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.
Peter Molyneux's Fable promised to revolutionize the gaming industry before its release, and in some ways it did. The game takes the stance that actions, not words determine who you are as a person, and it implements that thought in an expansive way. In the world of Albion, what you do shapes every aspect of your character, and even the world he lives in.
It has the feeling of a chronicle, a coming of age story to its very core. But Fable doesn't follow the typical hero's journey. You get the choice of how the world shapes you. You can be that hero, or you can be evil. You can shoot a bow, or you can swing a hammer. Each action changes how your character looks, from a hulking warrior to a slim rogue. Get hurt in combat and you'll get scarred. Kill a man and people will learn to fear you.
The strength of Fable is not just in these adaptations but the wealth of things to do. You can find a wife, gamble, fight, and steal. Cities are filled with people and objects, as are more rural areas. Humor is littered in the form of dialog and expressions. Characters are memorable and enemies require different tactics. With a recent remaster and PC release, the game has aged well and is still arguably the best in the series.
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.
Though another of Troika Games' greatest works, Arcanum sports a completely different atmosphere to Vampire: The Masquerade. The influence from the team member's time on the Fallout shows much more clearly in this traditional fantasy role-playing game.
It's most evident the titles open design, allowing for tons of freedom and choices varying from saint-like to pure evil. However, where Fallout is a post-apocalyptic wasteland, Arcanum is a vibrant steampunk world complete with Elves and Dwarves. That conflict between traditional fantasy and modern elements makes for an interesting setting, and it also spurs much of the conflict in the game.
Arcanum has a rich story, starting on a zeppelin as it makes its first journey and evolving into much more. When the craft is attacked by half-ogres, it crashes, leaving the player as the only survivor. Told to by one of the dying passengers to find a silver ring, you set off on a quest to find out more information. As you do so, the story will adjust to your choices, most of them between magic and technology.
Those decisions tie into Arcanum's combat system too, though it's pretty unique. You can fight in real-time, turn-based, or a blend of both, making for a sliding scale of intensity. Your character spec will either lean towards magic or technology, with the latter having to craft most of their gear. Despite an overall lack of polish, it's an admirable effort from Troika, and a must play for any fan of the Victorian era.
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.
Our Version of the List
At a Glance
- 1 Baldur's Gate II (BioWare & Black Isle Studio...
- 2 The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (CD Projekt RED)
- 3 Planescape: Torment (Black Isle Studios)
- 4 Final Fantasy VII (SquareSoft)
- 5 The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintend...
- 6 Chrono Trigger (Square)
- 7 The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind (Bethesda Game S...
- 8 World of Warcraft (Blizzard Entertainment)
- 9 Silent Hill 2 (Konami Computer & Entertainmen...
- 10 Dark Souls (FromSoftware)
- 11 Grim Fandango (LucasArts & Double Fine Produc...
- 12 Pokémon (Nintendo)
- 13 Journey (ThatGameCompany)
- 14 Diablo II (Blizzard North)
- 15 Dishonored (Arkane Studios)
- 16 Indigo Prophecy (Quantic Dream & Aspyr)
- 17 Undertale (Toby Fox)
- 18 God of War (SCE Santa Monica Studio)
- 19 The Banner Saga (Stoic)
- 20 Darkest Dungeon (Red Hook Studios)
- 21 The Longest Journey (Funcom)
- 22 Dragon Age: Origins (BioWare)
- 23 Life is Strange (Dontnod Entertainment)
- 24 Thief II: The Metal Age (Looking Glass Studio...
- 25 Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines (Troika G...
- 26 Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos (Blizzard Entert...
- 27 Kingdom Hearts II (Square Enix)
- 28 Alan Wake (Remedy Entertainment)
- 29 Child of Light (Ubisoft Montreal)
- 30 Bayonetta (PlatinumGames)
- 31 Pillars of Eternity (Obsidian Entertainment)
- 32 Soul calibur II (Project Soul)
- 33 Fables (Big Blue Box Studios, Lionhead Studio...
- 34 Endless Legend (Amplitude Studios)
- 35 Risen (Piranha Bytes)
- 36 Shadow of the Colossus (SCE Japan Studio)
- 37 The Bard’s Tale (InXile Entertainment)
- 38 Fire Emblem (Intelligent Systems & Nintendo S...
- 39 The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (The Astronauts...
- 40 Age of Wonders III (Triumph Studios)
- 41 Grim Dawn (Crate Entertainment)
- 42 Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura (Tro...
- 43 Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War (Relic Entertainme...
- 44 Riven (Cyan)
- 45 Torchlight II (Runic Games)
- 46 Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (Fusion Media)
- 47 Tyranny (Obsidian Entertainment)
- 48 The Last Guardian (Future Press)
- 49 Beyond: Two Souls (Quantic Dream)
- 50 Divinity: Original Sin (Larian Studios)