Click to buy Middle-earth: Shadow of War Xbox One
If you’re a Sony fanboy, you’re probably better off reading this list of the best RPGs on PlayStation 4. However, if you’re more of a platform-agnostic gamer who owns Sony and Microsoft’s new-gen console (or just the latter), you should absolutely read on. Whenever publishers like to erroneously talk about how gamers apparently don’t like solo experiences anymore, I like to look at lists like this (and this is just the shortlist, mind) to be reminded just how wrong they are, and just how amazing solo experiences can be.
Given the quality of RPGs since their birth during the early days of gaming, the genre has carried with it a high standard for what makes the cut in these kinds of lists and what does not. Today’s RPG fan expects high-fidelity graphics spliced with engrossing storytelling, three-dimensional characters, skill trees that actually make you pause before investing, and a whole lotta loot.
This is the part where I usually talk about omissions, but there aren’t a whole lot of notable titles that have been omitted. There’s at least one controversial choice in my shortlist below, but what’s a best-of list without a whole lot of personal preference? While some of the bigger and better RPGs of this gaming generation are only available on PlayStation 4, there is a stack of quality multi-platform options that can keep owners of either console very, very happy. In fact, it’s refreshing to see that despite the expected improvements in graphical fidelity, the creators of these RPG experiences haven’t forgotten that the real attraction of the genre, whether it’s a straight RPG or one of the spin-off sub-genres, is the moment-to-moment gameplay, the core mechanics and tight storytelling.
Whether you prefer your RPGs traditional, action-packed, filled with fantasy tropes or something a little more sci-fi, there’s something to suit every RPG taste in my list below. Looking at the promising RPGs that are coming out in 2018, I have a feeling this list will grow, too.
If you look at the telemetry data, a lot of gamers don’t finish campaigns. I’m one of those gamers. In fact, I’m one of those gamers who will deliberately spend more time with side quests in a sprawling open-world RPG than I will with the main campaign. It’s a rare thing in an RPG that I find the main story as interesting as the side quests, and there’s nothing quite like an engrossing RPG world.
This is why I’ve sunk hundreds of hours into games like The Witcher 3, Skyrim and Fallout 4, but have never finished their respective main campaigns. It’s hard to justify hitting a defined endpoint (despite the endgame) when the worlds are so alluring. For more pointed credentials, I’ve been a games journalist for close to a decade, writing across every major gaming platform since the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 days. While writing the Skyrim review for Game Informer, I was tasked with a tight "play as much as possible, then write like the wind" deadline (magazines are painful like that), and even though I felt I should finish the campaign, I couldn’t help but lose scores of hours in the open-world. That’s how lost I get in a great RPG world.
Allow me to start with a little bit of controversy. Shadow of War has been slammed by certain fans for its use of (admittedly poor-form) monetised loot crates. That bit of the game absolutely deserves to be slammed, but it reeks of a publisher decision more so than a developer choice. Take that out of the game – and you can, if you reject the online terms and conditions at the start – and you’re left with a game that’s all kinds of addictive.
You know the world is amazing, because it’s based closely on the works of legendary fantasy author J.R.R. Tolkien. But this is far from token Tolkien fan fiction. It takes the foundation of Shadow of Mordor and injects it with an overdose of Uruk-hai energy juice.
The result: a more ambitious game that makes you evolve into a warlord, side by side with Talion and his elvish spirit animal Celebrimbor. Forget the haters and disable the monetised loot crate stuff, because Shadow of War is an engrossing and addictive romp through Middle-earth.
I don’t care if you played it last-gen or somehow never got around to playing it, you’ll be compelled to do it all again if you play the first hour of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Special Edition. This is an RPG experience that truly grasps the all-important “role-playing” part of the genre’s initialism. No matter how you want to play, you’re rewarded with progression in Skyrim.
This really hits home when a stray arrow hits you in the chest and you get a notification that your armour has levelled-up.
There are no fixed skill trees, and you’re free to play however you like, then change that completely when you want to muscle-up in another area. It’s as liberating as it is nuanced because it incentivises you to try new things once you’ve maxed out a particular tree.
This also means you can play and explore in completely different ways on repeat play-throughs, which is why you should absolutely avoid as much of the main quest as possible and get lost in parts of the world you’ve yet to see. It helps sweeten the deal that this Special Edition of the game is the prettiest version to play on console and comes with a stack of DLC that amounts to hundreds of hours of content.
While a big fan of massive, sprawling open-world RPGs, there’s something to be said for an RPG experience that can be feasibly experienced in its entirety because it doesn’t outstay its Hobbit-sized welcome (the book, not the movies). Case in point, South Park: The Fractured But Whole.
If you’ve never played an RPG before, this is the best place to begin. For starters, it’s an improvement on The Stick of Truth, and doesn’t actually require you to play that preceding game to appreciate it. If you did play Stick of Truth, you’ll know that The Fractured But Whole is much improved as an RPG in terms of, well, everything.
What hasn’t changed is the quality of the humour, and that’s why first-time role-players can be laughing their arses off while they learn what makes a great turn-based RPG so appealing. That’s coming from someone who used to shun turn-based RPGs and, because of the South Park games (and Mario + Rabbids), has realised that was a big mistake. I’m now backtracking over some of the better turn-based RPGs I’ve missed out on over the years.
If South Park: The Fractured But Whole was your first RPG experience, this should be your second. Granted, you probably should go back and play the preceding Deus Ex: Human Revolution (the story is great), but understand that Mankind Divided is the better game. It’s worth noting for newbies that Mankind Divided may look like an action-packed RPG (if you go by the trailers), but the real beauty is you’re rewarded for playing your own way.
Spend your precious Praxis Kits (read: upgrade points) on a specific upgrade path to make the most of a very specific play style, or mix and match across the board to create a hybrid approach.
Almost every problem you come up against – whether it’s a locked door, mouthy guard, or hostile checkpoint – has multiple solutions for how it can be circumnavigated. The trick is realising that there aren’t really any wrong answers. All of this is on a backdrop of a dystopian world that’s begging to be explored but, like South Park, this isn’t the kind of RPG that you have to worry about committing (or losing) hundreds of hours to.
Let’s dip back into some controversial territory. For Souls fans, there is great division over which game in the series is best. For instance, while certain segments of the fanbase rag on Dark Souls II, it has some of the best PvP of the series. Thankfully, for me, there are only two multiplatform options available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 (at the time of writing the initial list). Given the strides FromSoftware made in Dark Souls III to encourage first-timers to try the punishing gameplay, this is the best place to start if you’re curious abut the series but never made the jump into the abyss.
That said, don’t expect this to be easy; it’s just a little kinder with the training wheels. This is very much still a Souls game where death is the greatest teacher. You will die. A lot. But that’s okay because you’re supposed to. If you persevere enough, though, Dark Souls III is the kind of punishing action-RPG that’ll make you determined to come back for more. Beat it once and tackle it again with completely different proficiencies (magic is particularly fun). Plus, there’s always PvP if you’re up for the next-level challenge.
Though rumoured for the longest time, Bethesda deserves a hell of a lot of kudos for the gumption to announce a game fewer than six months before its release. Ultimately, Fallout 4 is one of those games that was going to be popular regardless of how much it iterated on what came before.
Thankfully, it iterated in some fascinating directions. It’s not the prettiest game, but that lack of eye candy is more than offset by the treasure trove of goodies you’ll find in the gameplay.
This particular post-apocalyptic world is vast, rivalled only by the depth of the gameplay mechanics. All the usual Fallout-themed role-playing stuff is there, albeit with an added layer of polish that’s a welcome change (like the much-improved shooting). The best bit, though, is the game within a game: the option to build your own settlements splices, a post-apocalyptic take on SimCity with a layered RPG world. If you’re done with the core game, there’s some quality DLC to choose from and, beyond this, mod support for even more content.
Fallout 4 is one of those games that will, if you become as addicted to it as you should, quickly prove it’s well worth the bottle-cap investment long before you tire of it.
Diablo III is a dangerous game that should come with an appropriate disclaimer: do not start playing this unless you have a full day set aside! Seriously. That’s coming from someone who played it at launch on PC and wasn’t particularly blown away by it.
Fast-forward to the console release, though – which benefitted from content updates and patches that the PC version eventually received – and consolers got to play a superior version out of the hellish gate. Not only was the Ultimate Evil Edition a better version in terms of the content, Diablo III feels like it was designed to be played on a controller. The first time I played it, I started when the sun was up and only looked at the time when I noticed the sun had gone down.The gameplay loop is that addictive.
Playing alone is fun, but throw some co-op into the mix and Diablo III is even more of a day-destroyer (two lost days for me when I first played it on console). Given the variety of classes, too, this is absolutely a game you can keep coming back to later for a different taste of a sporadically improved delicious dish.
This is both culmination and perfect starting point for newbies to this dragon-loving series. The original Dragon Age: Origins was an impressive new IP for the renowned storytellers/worldbuilders/RPG lords at BioWare. Dragon Age II had some missteps, but also introduced some quality ingredients to the magical brew. None of that really matters because Dragon Age Inquisition combines the best parts of the first two games in one fantastic offering.
There’s an epic story, intriguing characters (some of whom you’ll love; others you’ll love to hate), and tight gameplay. It’s all beautifully rendered in the Frostbite 3 engine, which continues to show its amazing versatility across genres. Ultimately, though, Dragon Age Inquisition is one of those games that’ll test your discipline in playing it for short bursts. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of one more mission, one more side quest, just five more minutes… all to no avail.
The gameplay, storytelling and world-building unite in such a glorious way it’s no wonder that fans of BioWare games were so excited for Mass Effect Andromeda. It’s just a shame how that sci-fi series turned out.
Prey feels like one of those left-field indie games that nobody really knows about and you have to convince people to play. That’s not because there’s anything wrong with Prey – quite the contrary, in fact. It’s just that there seems to be misinformation at a top level about what should be expected from Prey. They say that in space, no-one can hear you scream, but when you’re floating outside Talos I, dozens of hours into Prey, others nearby will hear your delighted screams. Prey is a modern-day masterpiece. It really is that good.
Incorrectly labelled as a shooter, Prey has so much more to offer than just a killer arsenal. Talos I is like an addictive haunted house in space. But it’s not all about the horror, though you will have more than your fair share of scares, care of those terrifying morphing mimics.
You can choose to focus on upgrading your abilities to become less human and more alien, too. Sure, turrets won’t like you as much, but who really cares about that when you can T-1000 yourself into a mug, for science (but mostly for finding additional loot).
I’m playing The Witcher 3 again. Any time there’s a reminder that I need to return to the Continent to finish off the myriad of side quests that still haunt me to this day, it’s a good day. The Continent has fast become my favourite holiday destination. This time, the reminder was some sweet new visual fidelity (or higher frame rate) for the Xbox One X version of the game. Fear not, Sony brethren, CD Projekt Red has not forgotten about the PS4 Pro.
The Witcher 3 is so addictive it’s one of those games where I wish I could get hit by a bus in just the right way that I’m somehow incapable of working, but can still play games.
That would require some Witcher-level magic, considering writing and gaming both require hands, eyes and mind to be working. Sigh.
Every time I get back into The Witcher 3, though, I lose dozens of hours chasing down side quests, occasionally returning to the main campaign when I feel guilty, slaying monsters way above my level, and forgetting what I’d intended on doing when I first started playing. This is one of those rare RPG experiences that truly deserves all the praise heaped upon it, and can be enjoyed on easy mode for the story, characters and world, or can provide a satisfying (and tactical) challenge if you up the difficulty.
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