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The right kind of role-playing for your
By Nathan Lawrence
Role-playing games have come a long way since their humble pen-and-paper beginnings. Two-dimensional graphics and text-based dialogue have been left by the wayside for high-fidelity visuals and Hollywood-calibre voice acting. Find the right RPG and it’s easy to lose countless hours as you’re digitally transported to an immersive game world.
And when it comes to RPGs on the PlayStation 4, Sony continues to show its eye for detail when securing exclusive offerings. This is actually a tricky category not just because of the quality on offer, but also because other genres have evolved to include RPG mechanics. While a game might have RPG systems, it doesn’t necessarily mean it should be classified first and foremost as an RPG.
That’s why you won’t find those kinds of games in this list, particularly titles from the shooter space. For instance, despite its RPG trappings, Destiny is still a first-person shooter. That’s why you won’t see the original Destiny or Destiny 2 in this list, but also because RPG systems are a part of the formula rather than the focus.
It might seem like splitting hairs, but this is why The Division could be a contender for this list. Despite being patched into a quality game, it’s shy of the kind of execution that would elevate it to a list of this standing. It flirts with greatness but there are too many disclaimers, even if it’s changed a lot (for the better) since launch.
In terms of other open-world games, Monolith’s Middle-earth duo (or at least one of them) are worthy of this category, but there are some strong exclusive titles that bump it off my list for the PlayStation 4. In the same breath, while I adore Assassin’s Creed Origins and Rise of the Tomb Raider, they’re both more action-adventure than action-RPG, so that's the comparison I'd make to keep this list as fair as possible. Read on to spot more hair-splitting.
It makes me feel old, but I was late to the party when it came to RPGs. Granted, that “lateness” started with the original Deus Ex back in 2000. This led to a kind of obsession with action-RPGS, albeit one that was curbed by the realities of other games on my list.
As fans of the genre would know, RPGs can chew through a lot of gaming hours. So, yeah, I’m a big fan of the genre, but also a little scared of its power to distract me from sleep, work, human contact, and all those other essential life activities.
In terms of authoritative credentials, I’m a freelance games critic and have been for close to a decade. During my career, I’ve written about a lot of RPGs, good and bad, and sank more hours than I’d care to admit into the better ones. As an ex-deputy editor of Official PlayStation magazine, here’s my take on ten of the best RPGs you can play on PS4 right now, with more stellar examples up for release.
10. Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition
- PLATFORMS: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
- RELEASE DATE: 19 August 2014
- DEVELOPER: Blizzard Entertainment
- PUBLISHER: Blizzard Entertainment
If you played Diablo III at launch on PC, you’d know the game had a lot of room for improvement. While PC exclusivity can sometimes prove frustrating for console owners, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise when it came to Diablo III. All the improvements that were made on the PC version since its launch in 2012 were folded into the new-gen console version in 2014. Hell, even as a gamer who sinks a lot of hours into PC games, I had a lot more fun playing Diablo III on console than I did on PC.
This isn’t just because I played it at PC launch, either; it’s because Diablo III feels like it’s been built to play on a controller. The action feels better when controlled with joysticks and buttons rather than clicking frantically with a mouse, and this loot-loving game has the potential to turn a quick session into the evaporation of an entire day. If you missed it at launch, there’s still sporadic new content and improvements that make it well worth picking up, or returning to if you haven’t visited this devilish delight recently.
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- PLATFORMS: PlayStation 4
- RELEASE DATE: 25 March 2015
- DEVELOPER: FromSoftware
- PUBLISHER: Sony Computer Entertainment
While the gaming world debates which Dark Souls game is the best, along rolls solitary new IP Bloodborne to simplify the debate. It actually complicates it, as the Souls elite tend to rate Bloodborne as a Dark Souls game. Mind you, these gamers have a point given the similarities in developer, punishing gameplay, and "dig or you’ll miss it" world creation and storytelling. However, the core difference is how Bloodborne incentivises offensive strategies (swearing optional) over the usual defensive play rewarded in the core Souls games.
The thing is, it’s really only PS4 owners who can debate the "five" Souls games (don’t forget about Demon’s Souls), because Bloodborne is and continues to be a Sony exclusive. It’s a massive win for fans of the formula, but it’s also important to note that the subtle changes to the formula result in different gameplay depth. Pick your backstory (read: class), ranging from cowardly weakling to killing machine, and prepare yourself for one of the most abusive love-hate relationships you can have with a game.
Controversially, this is the only Souls game you’ll find in my list (so stop scrolling if that’s what you’re seeking).
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8. Nier: Automata
- PLATFORMS: PlayStation 4, PC
- RELEASE DATE: 10 March 2017
- DEVELOPER: PlatinumGames
- PUBLISHER: Square Enix
Sometimes you need your action-RPGs spliced with a whole bunch of bonkers. When that happens, you can rely on studios like PlatinumGames – whose pedigree includes the likes of Mad World and Bayonetta – to deliver the goods. Just when you feel like you have Nier: Automata pegged, or figured out why PlatinumGames has stylised the game tile with a capital "R" that I refuse to use, there’s some new joyous discovery.
The characters are fantastic and while the storytelling is quirky, you’ll get hooked wanting to know more. Thankfully, PlatinumGames hasn’t forgotten the all-important gameplay. The studio’s patented knack for fisticuffs is firing on all cylinders in Nier, and it’s complemented by the kind of soundtrack you’ll want to listen to outside the game. There are minor detractors – some technical issues, an empty-ish open-world, and some iffy side quests – but really, you’ll be so addicted to the gameplay, so in love with the characters and so hooked on the storyline that these quibbles will barely scratch the surface.
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7. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
- PLATFORMS: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux
- RELEASE DATE: 23 August 2016
- DEVELOPER: Eidos Montréal
- PUBLISHER: Square Enix
If you read my intro, you’d know that Deus Ex was my first-ever action-RPG experience. Fast forward to 2011, and the series was reborn with Human Revolution. As great as Human Revolution was (and still is), it was hamstringed by a couple of big things: technological limitations of last-gen systems that made it feel restrained in terms of its scope, and terrible tacked-on boss battles.
Without the shackles of ageing last-gen hardware constraints, Eidos Montréal was free to expand the concept for Mankind Divided. This meant creating a bigger world with deeper mechanics in a prettier offering that felt like it properly delivered the studio’s dystopian-future vision. Alas, this didn’t translate to a longer main story, but if you are as immersed in the fantastically realised game world as you should be, there’s plenty of fascinating content to be found on the periphery.
When it’s firing on all augmented cylinders, Mankind Divided empowers players with the kind of tough upgrade decisions that made a second play-through viable (New Game Plus mode is advised to keep your previously-unlocked goodies), if only to tackle missions in a completely different way.
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6. Dragon Age Inquisition
- PLATFORMS: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
- RELEASE DATE: 20 November 2014
- DEVELOPER: BioWare Edmonton
- PUBLISHER: EA
In the years leading up to the dark days of Mass Effect Andromeda, BioWare was still renowned as a studio that held a whole lot of RPG clout. Case in point, Dragon Age Inquisition, which really could have gone either way. Fans were understandably concerned after the divisive ending of Mass Effect 3 (had BioWare lost its magical mojo?), and Dragon Age II didn’t hit the lofty heights of the universally praised Dragon Age: Origins.
History would go on to prove that Dragon Age Inquisition is so good it stands as a stark reminder of how BioWare can forge fantastically immersive RPG experiences that we really all should believe things will come right for new IP Anthem (just no loot crates, please). By using its expert alchemy, BioWare fused the best parts of the first two Dragon Age games together and weaved a spell over anyone who played Inquisition.
The story starts with a bang, the voice acting is top notch, while the beautifully-rendered worlds and deep combat can keep you immersed for hours. Put simply, Dragon Age Inquisition is the high-resolution realisation of a D&D dungeon master’s dream.
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5. Persona 5
- PLATFORMS: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3
- RELEASE DATE: 4 April 2017
- DEVELOPER: P-Studio
- PUBLISHER: Deep Silver
Persona 5 is one of those rare titles where critics and consumers unite to agree on the quality of a game that’s pretty unique. Rarer still is the idea of a game that can feasibly offer up hundreds of hours of gameplay and still leave you wanting more. It’s very much a Japanese RPG, which may inspire adoration or intimidation depending on your familiarity with the very specific RPG subgenre, but if you are a fan or curious enough to try it, Persona 5 doesn’t disappoint.
It all starts with the presentation. The iconic art style is oozing personality and the kind of confidence that P-Studio can have because, well, it should feel confident in what it’s made. Then there’s the soundtrack, which reportedly took three years to compose.
The results are well worth it, and the same is true of the rest of the game. Follow this up with a deep story and a tight battle system that’s as layered as it is rewarding. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never played a JRPG let alone a Persona game, Persona 5 is all you need to play.
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4. Horizon: Zero Dawn
- PLATFORMS: PlayStation 4
- RELEASE DATE: 1 March 2017
- DEVELOPER: Guerrilla Games
- PUBLISHER: Sony Interactive Entertainment
This may prove to be a semi-controversial inclusion because if Horizon can make the cut, then the newer Tomb Raider games and Assassin’s Creed Origins should also be in the running, too? Well, not necessarily. For me, the big difference is how front and centre the RPG mechanics are in these games, and for Origins and Tomb Raider they both prioritise action and open-world adventure over their RPG mechanics.
This is where Horizon: Zero Dawn differs, and it helps to differentiate it from those aforementioned open-world games, too. While you can compare all three series on their open-world, action-adventuring merits, Horizon: Zero Dawn comes out on top in the RPG comparison.
It starts with little elements like the dialogue options that impact how you build Aloy’s character (that’s role-playing!), and how other characters in the beautifully realised post-post-apocalyptic game world react to you. Then there’s the character progression, customisation options and weapon modifications. It’s a more streamlined and modern take on the RPG but as far as action-RPGs go, Horizon: Zero Dawn is one of the best and definitely one of the prettiest you can play on PlayStation 4 today.
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Take the role of Aloy and become a hunter and archer, experience adventures through a post-apocalyptic land ruled by robotic creatures known simply as "machines".View details
- PLATFORMS: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, Mac, Linux, iOS
- RELEASE DATE: 7 April 2015
- DEVELOPER: Supergiant Games
- PUBLISHER: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
It’s kind of nice to include a technically older game that isn’t some sort of remaster. Such is the unique beauty and lasting appeal of Bastion.
Even though it wasn’t released on the PlayStation 3 alongside the original Xbox 360 release, it still stands as one of the best and most memorable action-RPGs today. At the very least, it’s still the most charming.
Ignore the fact it was first released in 2011, and focus instead on the timeless stylised art – but concentrate more on the dulcet tones of Rucks, who narrates your adventure in such a way you’ll wish voice actor Logan Cunningham would read to you every night before bed. It’s not just the presentation that makes Bastion a classic, though. The soundtrack is a-rocking, and the combat is genuinely challenging, as you have to make tough choices between vastly different monster-taming weapons before continuing out on your next mission.
Bastion is equal parts memorable and the kind of game that you’ll have the urge to revisit more than once, as you get caught up in its charms.
- PLATFORMS: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
- RELEASE DATE: 05 May 2017
- DEVELOPER: Arkane Studios
- PUBLISHER: Bethesda Softworks
It’s a damn shame that Prey was sold as a shooter and not as an action-RPG. Of course you can shoot in Prey, and you absolutely should shoot at the many hostile aliens you encounter while traversing through the Talos I space station.
But it’s not a shooter. Not really. And that’s okay.
Even though the shooting feels great (the souped-up shotty is particularly awesome), it’s not what makes Prey so memorable. Prey is one of those games whose killer opening is the perfect setup for what you should expect from the game.
There are twists and turns. There are people in positions of power whom maybe you shouldn’t trust. You can main-path it and get lost in a story that satisfies right up until the unfortunately binary epilogue.
But the real charm of Prey is letting yourself get lost in the twisting (and twisted) corridors of Talos I. The characters you meet, the backstory you find, the side quests you discover and the unexpected battles you get caught up in all make up a game world that will haunt you long after you’re done with it. The original Prey never got its sequel, and that’s sad given how well Human Head’s cancelled Prey 2 previewed; but if Arkane’s Prey doesn’t get a follow-up, it’ll be an inalienable tragedy.
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Prey follows scientist Morgan Wu on a terrifying adventure through the Talos space station where nothing is quite as it seems. Purchase it today from Ozgameshop.View details
1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
- PLATFORMS: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
- RELEASE DATE: 19 May 2015
- DEVELOPER: CD Projekt Red
- PUBLISHER: CD Projekt
When gamers think of the best creators of open-world games, you’ll hear studio names like Bethesda Game Studios, Rockstar North, and Ubisoft Montréal thrown around. Prior to the release of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, you likely wouldn’t have heard many gamers mention CD Projekt Red. However, after the release of The Witcher 3, it’s impossible not to be excited about whatever open-world game the Polish developer tackles next (spoilers: we know it’s going to be Cyberpunk 2077).
Bear in mind, The Witcher 3 was CD Projekt Red’s first real foray into creating a true open-world game, and they didn’t just nail it, they set a new standard for what people should expect from open-world games. In terms of the action-RPG systems, there’s plenty of room to play it your own way, with potions, oils, and ability unlocks that incentivise experimentation in play styles.
The writing of some of the side quests is arguably better than the already strong main quest, and the ever-looming threat that certain decisions made earlier in the game have consequences much later on builds a fantastic sense of tension and attachment to your decisions. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is accessible (but deep) RPGing at its absolute best.
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