Top Ten Western RPGs

by GlobaX Gaming Staff

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Role playing games from Japan can occupy an oversize space in video games discourse, due to the utter dominance Square had in the 1990s. But the west are no slouches in this department, either! Here are ten of the best RPGs, not made in Japan! (We’re keeping it to one game per series because it’s a top ten, and also as probable deniability when Skyrim and Fallout 3 aren’t on here — oops! I gave it away!)

10. Vampire: The Masquerade — Bloodlines (Troika Games, 2004, PC)

I’m really happy this game has been getting more sunlight (ironically) lately, as it’s a corker. This game, and vampires in general, formed a huge part of my mopey, goth-lite adolescence. But unlike my purple dye job, this game looks pretty good in retrospect. It’s a little spotty at times, with bugs that range from “mildly irritating” to “game breaking” (playing this game today is easier due to some absolutely essential patches and mods), but what VTM — Bloodlines achieves is a massively playable, innovative western RPGs whose influence in felt in modern game design despite its lukewarm reception in the aughts. (Terri Rose)

9. Neverwinter Nights (BioWare, 2002, PC)

BioWare showed just what they could do with the insanely good Baldur’s Gate games (and we’ll get to them — oh, we’ll get to them), but to follow those up with something as sharp, focused, and downright addictive as Neverwinter Nights. Neverwinter Nights allows BioWare to richly explore the Forgotten Realms lore in the best adaptation the series has seen, bar only Baldur’s Gate. This game also came was a quite robust D&D 3e character creator, which was my entrance into the tabletop RPG that now owns my life. (Nicholas Tristan)

8. Mass Effect 2 (BioWare, 2010, Multi-Platform)

I tried to make a semi-serious case for having Mass Effect 3 on this list instead (it’s not that bad with the DLC, it’s not like it’s Andromeda or something), but at the end of the day Mass Effect 2 is the best game in the series. The original Mass Effect is a classic as well, but it had a tendency to become unmoored by a pitifully bad shooter interface for the action settings. Mass Effect 2 cleared this up, and became the only BioWare game I can think of to have a multiplayer mode I actually played. The RPG elements are strong as ever, with this being arguably the peak of romancin’ while the universe is crumbling around you. (JCM)

7. Undertale (Toby Fox, 2015, PC)

Does it count to have a game directly inspired by JRPGs so long as it was made by a western developer? Does that violate the spirit of the genre? Listen — shut up. Doesn’t matter, because Undertale is so great that it deserves a spot of this list regardless of whether it’s more like Earthbound than any other RPG. Toby Fox’s masterpiece is a work of mechanical, storytelling, and visual genius. Undertale is uplifting, moving, wry, hilarious, heartbreaking, devastating, but it’s always a lot of fun. If you don’t know anything about this game, don’t read another word and go play and discover this gem for yourself. It’s a great experience to go into this one cold. (Ben Beck)

6. Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura (Troika Games, 2001, PC)

While I broadly have a policy of telling steampunk to go away and never come back, I must admit that Troika Games’ darn good debut Arcanum shows the genre has some merit. Still, stop putting gears on everything, those do nothings. Anyway, Troika Games are characterized by a dense, relatively open game world and drawing on a lot from the Fallout series as inspiration. But their games also have tight, innovative mechanics that push their engines to their very limits. Arcanum is the best of the Troika, well, troika, and you should load it up if you haven’t. Take it from me, a steampunk hater. (David McDougal)

5. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (BioWare, 2003, XBox)

Ah, BioWare, is there anything you can’t do? (We’ve been over this, and yes there are many things they can’t do.) I’m a huge Star Wars fan, and that the arcade game from the 1980s, TIE Fighter, Dark Forces II, and KOTOR all exist is a profound and moving miracle. When I last replayed this game in 2017, what I was struck by was the immediacy, the feeling you’re constantly trying to catch up with the plot. That feeling would be lost somewhat in the (also excellent) KOTOR 2, and I can’t think of another western RPG that prioritizes pacing in such a deliberate way. (JCM)

4. Divinity: Original Sin II (Larian Studios, 2017, PC)

I’ve never been exceptionally into isometric RPGs, so when I found myself completely absorbed by Divinity: Original Sin II last year it came as a huge surprise for me. This is the only RPG I’ve ever played that captures the true “anything can happen” feel of D&D — the story’s good, of course, but it pails in comparison to the moments you create and how story is crafted organically by your actions. Top drawer. (Ben Beck)

3. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (Bethesda, 2002, Multi-Platform)

As alluded to in the premise, Skyrim ain’t here. While I’m quite a bit warmer on the game than others on staff (ed. note: Skyrim sucks), it’s easy to see why Morrowind was such a revolution in 2002. This is an open world game that feels actually open, in a time when that seemed impossible to pull off. Your journey feels so personal; every time I play through this game I have a radically difference experience. And there is something radical about Morrowind, how it handles character interaction so delicately, or how sometimes it will eschew an action set-piece it’s been building up to. It’s a really special game, and one I always treasure diving back into. (David McDougal)

2. Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn (BioWare, 2000, PC)

I confess a certain antipathy for traditional sword-and-sorcery fantasy (for instance, where are all the vampire?), and unlike every other person at GlobaX I do not play Dungeons & Dragons. But Baldur’s Gate II is so singular, so potent and liberating a game that I’d still play it even if JRR Tolkein had run over my family. BioWare’s Infinity Engine sparkles here, a smooth and rewarding mechanical and visual style that holds up as well in 2019 as it did in 2000. I’ve put hours away into this game, which still has the sharpest writing of any BioWare game. (Terri Rose)

1. Fallout (Interplay, 1997, PC)

No, it’s not Fallout 3, it’s Fallout. In fact, Fallout New Vegas was easily our second choice for the Fallout franchise, sorry Todd Howard. The isometric PC original is a triumph of transcendent game design, a roadmap to excellent worldbuilding, a game with exemplary and memorable visual design elements, and sports maybe my favourite ending in video game history. Fallout has not been bested, not by its competition and not by its own sequels (though once again, shout out to the underrated Fallout New Vegas and the superbly realized Fallout 2). (Nicholas Tristan)