The best PC RPGs aren't just a timesink. They're also an investment in a world that's totally different from our own.
Sometimes, you need to lose yourself for hours and hours at a time. Perhaps you'll pick up a sword and shield and save a kingdom from a marauding dragon. Perhaps you'll join a group of eco-freedom fighters in a quest against an evil corporation. Perhaps you'll simply lose your mind while trying to solve an impossible murder.
Whatever the case, we've compiled a list of the best PC RPGs, from Japanese classics to modern Western hits. Whether you need to relax for a few hours after work or completely immerse yourself in a story for weeks on end, here are some of our favorite RPGs from fantasy to sci-fi and beyond.
Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition (2000/2013)
The first Baldur's Gate was a groundbreaking game, but it was also a very difficult, somewhat clunky game. Baldur's Gate II takes the same basic formula, then makes it accessible for everyone, thanks to better graphics, an improved quest log, a higher level cap and a generous amount of voice acting.
In this Dungeons & Dragons adaptation, you create your own adventurer by selecting your race, class, sex, moral alignment, name and so forth. Then you gather a party and set off into the lively city of Athkalta, where a dark wizard named Jon Irenicus has set his sights on you — and your soul. Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition makes the game playable on modern systems and adds some extra characters and quests. — Marshall Honorof
Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin (2014)
Neither as groundbreaking as the first Dark Souls nor as polished as the third game, Dark Souls II sometimes feels like the red-headed stepchild of this beloved series of brutally difficult action/RPGs. However, this game takes a lot of risks that the other two don't, particularly in its Scholar of the First Sin redesign.
In this dark fantasy game, you create an adventurer and conquer every monster, trap and structure the game can throw at you in order to discover what happened to the missing king of Drangleic. The levels are huge and varied, while the bosses are some of the most fearsome and clever that the series has ever offered. — Marshall Honorof
Deus Ex (2000)
Deus Ex wasn't the first game to combine first-person shooter mechanics with RPG elements, but even 20 years on, it's still one of the hybrid genre's gold standards. You take control of JC Denton, a United Nations anti-terrorist operative in a near-future dystopia.
In Deus Ex, nanotechnology can give everyday humans fantastical abilities, but at a cost, both physical and societal. The story is a classic "can technology go too far?" fable, with a healthy dose of conspiracy thriller elements to keep the plot moving at a steady clip.
What's just as interesting, though, is just how much control you have over developing Denton's abilities. You can go for combat, conversation, stealth or some combination of the three, and almost every major character will react to your decisions accordingly. — Marshall Honorof
Diablo III (2012)
Diablo III launched in a rough state. This hack-and-slash dungeon crawler was at first extremely stingy with loot, relying instead on a real-cash auction house, which left some players vastly overpowered and most just squeaking by.
Thankfully, Blizzard realized its mistake, closed the auction house, rebalanced the game and released an excellent expansion called Reaper of Souls. Now, Diablo III is one of the best action/RPGs you can buy, complete with tons of customizable loot to find, a variety of grotesque monsters to defeat and a satisfying story to complete about the ongoing war between Heaven and Hell. There are also ongoing challenges organized into "seasons," so the game doesn't have to end with the final boss. — Marshall Honorof
Disco Elysium (2019)
Many RPGs cast you as a medieval fantasy warrior. Some let you take up arms in a post-apocalyptic wasteland or sci-fi citadel. But how many RPGs let you play as an amnesiac, alcoholic detective in a magical realist dystopia, where corporations control everything and reality itself seems to be falling apart?
Disco Elysium does, and it's one of the strangest, most delightful RPGs on this list. You can customize your detective with 24 bizarre skills, including Visual Calculus, Esprit de Corps, Electrochemistry and Savoir Faire. (Dungeons & Dragons, this is not.) You can also organize your thoughts just as other games let you organize inventory items, and draw strange, but logical, connections between them. — Marshall Honorof
Divinity: Original Sin II (2017)
Larian Studios seems to have the market cornered on PC RPGs that combine modern design with old-school sensibilities. Divinity: Original Sin II is the culmination of that philosophy, as it offers gorgeous graphics and intuitive gameplay alongside consequential narratives and highly customizable characters.
In this isometric, party-based RPG, you'll create an adventurer — complete with a name, race, class and origin story — and explore Rivellon, a fantasy world on the brink of war. The game's turn-based combat gives you access to hundreds of spells, abilities and strategies, while the setting and characters give you plenty of ways to shape the course of the story as you see fit. — Marshall Honorof
Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014)
Dragon Age: Origins felt closer to a traditional BioWare game, and Dragon Age II was more experimental, but Dragon Age: Inquisition is where the franchise really shines. You customize a character (name, race, sex, class and so forth), then take command of Skyhold, a remote keep that could safeguard the world of Thedas against a demonic invasion. Dragon Age: Inquisition has a huge world to explore and lots of interesting party members to befriend, but the big draw here is that the game can respond to almost every action you took in the past two games, thanks to the novel Dragon Age Keep app. — Marshall Honorof
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age (2018)
Not every RPG has to be a weighty epic about the blurred line between good and evil. Sometimes you just want old-school comfort food in a shiny new package. That's what Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is all about.
In this bright, colorful, good-natured Japanese RPG, you'll take control of a young adventurer who's fated to save the world. Along the way, he'll pick up a band of quirky party members, explore a variety of towns and dungeons and go head-to-head with adorable, smiling blue slimes. You've probably played games like Dragon Quest XI before, but with this level of polish and love, it's hard not to be charmed anyway. — Marshall Honorof
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)
Though it was released in 2011, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim feels just as fresh, rich, and sweeping as ever today. Hundreds of built-in quests, three voluminous official expansion packs and thousands of mods from an energized community mean you’ll never run out of things to do, even if you don’t care to follow the main storyline about a prisoner with a fiery reptilian secret who’s locked in the middle of a brutal civil war.
You can guide your character to be anything from a dragon-dispatching national hero to a gifted blacksmith, wizard, assassin or crafter, or forgo glory and instead just explore the territory and marvel at its gorgeous Scandinavian-inspired mountain vistas. With no end of delectable secrets, Skyrim can be anything — and everything — you make of it. — Matthew Murray
Final Fantasy VII (1997)
You know a game is great when they re-release it on any device that has a screen or can connect to one. So, while we wait for Final Fantasy VII Remake (and wait even longer for any potential PC release of the remake), put yourself in the spiky hair of Cloud Strife, a hired gun (well, hired sword) who fights to save the world.
Yes, it all just starts when he joins the AVALANCHE crew trying to take down the Shinra company that's destroying the planet, but this one decision manages to send Cloud on the wildest adventure. The main story finds Cloud soon caught up in a love triangle and tussling with supernatural forces, but along the way, you can find yourself spending hours in the competitive sport of Chocobo racing. — Henry T. Casey
Fallout 3 (2008)
Fallout 3 (as well as the arguably-even-better Fallout: New Vegas) is an RPG built for survival fans. You're in the standard post-apocalyptic mess, as the systems of shelter set up in previous Fallout games only staved off the inevitable: gathering the weapons, armor and supplies needed to get through.
While Fallout 3 is often a heavy action game, it's got solid RPG aspects, with a branching set of decisions and the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. skill-tree, which stands for Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck. It's all presented with doom and gloom outside in the trenches, and joyful nostalgia when you manage to break into a facility that hasn't been broken by radioactive decay. Oh, and then there are the giant mutants to deal with.
You'll find the gear to survive, that never changes. It's all about how you choose to carry on into the future. — Henry T. Casey
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire (2018)
Fantasy RPGs are a dime a dozen, but how many fantasy RPGs also let you be a pirate? Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire picks up where the first game left off and puts your customized adventurer, along with his or her party, on a ship bound for the Deadfire Archipelago. (The first game is also worth playing, especially since you can import your character and story choices between games.)
The main story concerns chasing a giant statue of a dead god (this makes more sense in context), but all the side activities are about prowling the high seas, customizing your ship, exploring remote islands and hunting for treasure as you go. — Marshall Honorof
Tales of Berseria (2017)
The Tales series has been around since 1995, and has never really sworn allegiance to any particular console maker. It's been on the PlayStation; it's been on the GameCube; it's been on the Xbox 360.
Lately, the Tales series has been making its way to PC, and Tales of Berseria is arguably the best of the bunch. This quirky Japanese RPG tells a relatively dark story about a cursed young woman named Velvet who's out for revenge against her murderous brother-in-law. But the real draw is the lightning-quick, real-time battle system that lets you customize your party and techniques on the fly. — Marshall Honorof
Undertale isn't a long game, as RPGs go. You could plow through it in a single weekend and see pretty much all there is to see. But it's still worth checking out, if only because it turns so many standard RPG tropes on their heads.
Rather than traveling through the world, wantonly killing monsters as you go, you may wind up wanting to spare them instead. That's because every monster in Undertale has a name, a backstory and an option to end things peacefully. But every monster is a little different, and figuring out how to save each one — if you want to — is a rewarding challenge that shapes the game's story. — Marshall Honorof
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015)
If you play only one PC RPG from the last decade, it should be The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. This sprawling action/RPG from CD Projekt Red casts you as Geralt of Rivia, a roving monster hunter called a witcher. In the midst of a brutal war, Geralt must track down his beloved sorceress, Yennefer of Vengerberg, and confront the spectral King of the Wild Hunt.
The story in The Witcher 3 is excellent, and will take your choices from previous games into account if you import a save file. But the bigger draw is the game's enormous world, packed to the gills with interesting, meaningful side content that can radically change the game's narrative. — Marshall Honorof
The Outer Worlds
The Outer Worlds isn't the only sci-fi RPG on the market, but it's one of the best, thanks to its incredible level of customization. You get to create your character, choosing his or her appearance, skills and perks. But that's only the beginning. As the game progresses, you can build up your party members, decide the fates of various towns and eventually make weighty narrative choices that can change the fate of the Halcyon solar system.
One particularly interesting feature of The Outer Worlds is that you can play it entirely solo, or you can lean on your party extensively. Various perks and skills strengthen you when you're out on your own, or let you use your party members' abilities as though they were your own. Your character doesn't have to be particularly good at anything, since party members can pick up a lot of the slack. This ties together party composition and character advancement in a way that few other RPGs have managed. The fact that your party members all have interesting backstories and side quests only sweetens the deal. - Marshall Honorof