Among the many things that video games can do well, is to tell a good story. Sometimes, the story is so good, it leaves a lasting impact on you, an impact akin to what you might feel after reading a great book, or watching a great movie. Games can offer you the same experience, but it’s honestly waay better, because you get to play the game and BE the story. Here are 18 amazing story-driven RPGs you have to play.
As far as we’re concerned, the Mass Effect series ended with Mass Effect 3 and Andromeda never happened. Of the trilogy, Mass Effect 2 is easily the best according to us. Right from the start of the game, you’re hooked to the story. Then there’s the cast of characters you come across that accompany you, each with their own back stories and personalities. You actually get attached to them as you progress through the game and get to know them better. The game’s final suicide mission actually leaves you anxious about your companions, and you feel genuine remorse if someone dies. Did you fail them? Was it your fault they didn’t make it? Was their sacrifice worth it to stop the Reapers from wiping the galaxy? This is BioWare in its prime, and they had a lot more to offer then than they do now, as you’ll soon see.
Another gem from BioWare, Dragon Age: Origins was created with the intention of capturing that good old Baldur’s Gate charm, and boy did they succeed. Of the three Dragon Age games in existence so far, Dragon Age: Origins takes the cake for having the best writing and amazing storytelling. The characters and the lore of the game are incredibly well-written. You will find yourself thinking about the game and your companions even when you aren’t playing. The Darkspawn do a good job of inciting a sense of impending doom, the world is going to end if you don’t step up to the mantle. You’ve got to get things together, and get the Grey Wardens back in order, because they’re the only ones who can defeat the Darkspawn blight. In our opinion, BioWare has failed to top or reach that level of writing since Origins came out in 2009.
You remember back when BioWare made good games? We remember. Here’s another one from them, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, which we’re shortening to KotOR. As far as the stories go, this is not only one of the best non-canon Star Wars stories in existence, it’s one of the best RPG stories in existence, period. With arguably the best plot-twist in video game history. What made the stand out was that it let you decide whether you wished to follow the light side or the dark, and you can actually see how your choices affect not only yourself, but also the world and the characters around you. In typical BioWare fashion, the characters are amazingly written and you can’t help but become attached.
The Baldur’s Gate series are probably BioWare’s first claim to fame, the games that made them known for making amazing RPGs. 2000’s Baldur’s Gate II is still to this date, considered one of the greatest RPGs of all time. The game’s story leaves off where the first one ends, and BioWare made sure the sequel was better than the first in every way. The game may be dated by today’s standards, but you’d be missing out on an amazing story based in the Dungeons and Dragons lore.
Honourable Mention: Jade Empire - While we’re still on BioWare, we thought we’d mention the little known Jade Empire here which definitely deserves to be on this list, but then it would be 19 games so it’s an honourable mention instead. With an amazing story and great gameplay for its time, it’s a wonder how more people haven’t heard of or played Jade Empire. Memorable characters, great combat, in a setting you don’t see often, it was quite the package. The main image for this story is Jade Empire.
The Deus Ex games have come a long way since the first Deus Ex that was released in 2000. In addition to having a great storyline, Deus Ex stood out for the freedom of choice it gave players. Also the dystopian future setting is written very well and if you're into that sort of thing, you can't help but get pulled into the complex intricacies of Deus Ex. The game is very dated by today's standards, but if you're willing to look past that, it's a game worth playing.
Fallout: New Vegas is Obsidian Entertainments’ baby, and it shows. Following Fallout 3, New Vegas had much more depth to its story and your decisions felt like they carried more weight. You also had a lot more options and approaches. The protagonist (The Courier), and the characters have far more personality than in any Fallout game, and it has some of the best writing we’ve seen in any Fallout game, period.
You’re probably wondering why we haven’t put Skyrim here, or even Oblivion. If we could add more than 18 games in this lister, we definitely would, but if we had to pick just one out of the three, based purely on story, we’d have to with Morrowind. Skyrim’s main story is drowned out by all the other things you can do, and while Oblivion’s main story has weight, it’s simply not as well executed, thought out and deep as Morrowind. If you’re a fan of TES games, and haven’t played Morrowind, we recommend you do. It’s a bit dated, but that’s nothing mods can’t fix.
There are a lot of Final Fantasy games we could’ve picked from, and we’ve gone with Final Fantasy Tactics, for having a surprising deep, and rather grim story. It’s not something you expect to see in a kids game, but it’s quite heavy and you actually feel a sense of loss and sadness as you put yourself in the protagonist’s shoes. If you’re looking for a happier spin-off though, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance on the Gameboy Advance has a comparatively cheery story which is also quite touching.
With Divinity: Original Sin, Larian Studios attempted to rekindle the fire gamers had for isometric story-driven RGPs. We can definitely say they succeeded. The sequel only further refined and improved on what the first title had to offer. We’ve easily spent hundreds of hours immersed in their wonderful world, engrossed in the storytelling. The game somehow manages to bring the old to the new, and you don’t feel like you’re playing a dated game. As it turns out, Larian Studios are working on Baldur’s Gate 3, an announcement that comes 18 years after Baldur’s Gate 2 came out. We have faith in Larian though, we’re hoping they can pull it off.
There really isn’t much to say about The Witcher 3. The whole franchise is pretty amazing, but The Witcher 3 and it’s expansion, especially Blood and Wine, take the cake for amazing storytelling. CD Projekt Red can do no wrong, especially when they give you game like this with so much attention to detail. Characters have microexpressions. Microexpressions! In the boots of Geralt of Rivia, you have a vast world to explore, with personality and a story to witness in every corner of the map.
The Persona series of games are among the most recognisable JRPGs in existence, and they're really good for many reasons. Gameplay, the unique aesthetic, wacky dialogue, and more. One of the major factors of course is the story and the characters. Persona 4 in our opinion has the best story out of the Persona games, even though Persona 5 is a close second. The whole idea of the Persona games is quite interesting, where it revolves around a character's Persona, an avatar that represents one's inner self. You as the player, control both the normal, real-world self of your character, and your character's persona, in an alternate world, the "TV World".
NieR: Automata took everyone by surprise when it landed. It was the surprise hit of the year. It not only had great combat gameplay (PlatinumGames duh), but had an amazing story to boot. A story so good in fact, that you'd want to play it all over again, just to see what could happen differently. The amount of emotion NieR: Automata can invoke is pleasantly surprising. The game has plenty of endings, and you'll find yourself actually wanting to see them all.
Borderlands 2 is a game most of us have played extensively because it's just that good. While we're grinding for big numbers now, what kept us going initially was the game's story. BL2 has an amazing story, and one of the best, if not the best, video game antagonists of all time in Handsome Jack. Add to that the amazing cast of characters, the absurd humour, and insanity, you’ve got a formula for a great game.
Chrono Trigger is considered one of the greatest JRPGs of all time and an example for any that follow. Chrono Trigger uses time traveling to weave an amazing tale that takes you through different eras. You find yourself with companions from different times, all working towards the same goal and it all somehow clicks together perfectly. It’s a shame the series is no longer in the works, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try and enjoy this one, even though it is a bit dated.
Being the most recent game on this list, Horizon Zero Dawn deserves credit for managing to deliver an excellent and involved story in a time where most A-RPGs failed. You follow Aloy, the game’s protagonist as she learns more about herself, why she was exiled, and the world you’re in. Plus, it’s got robot dinosaurs. Robot dinosaurs! The world reacts to how you play, and how you approach situations, it adapts to you making for a unique experience.
Obsidian's Pillars of Eternity was created as a spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate. Lofty ambitions. However, it's a lot of the same folks who worked on the original Baldur’s Gate who worked on Pillars. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that the game turned out fantastic. It's only a testament to how good a studio Obsidian Entertainment is. We look forward to what they will do with Microsoft's funding now that they've been acquired.
Vampire: The Masquerade is in our opinion, one of the best depictions of vampires in any form of media. But that’s not the reason it’s on this list. It’s also an amazing RPG, with a great story to experience. The various characters you encounter, the different clans, the politics of the vampire world, it’s all done excellently. You can’t help but sink your teeth into the story.
If you were to google which RPG had the best story, the majority of the answers would be Planescape: Torment. Built in the same Infinity Engine that Baldur’s Gate ran on, Planescape: Torment brought a whole new level to character backstories. This amount of depth to the story and characters hadn’t been seen before, mind you this is 1999. This was a game that focused more on the story, and evidently, in 90s RPGs, decisions actually mattered more. You could avoid a lot of the combat in the game by talking your way out of it. The story of “The Nameless One” is one that will go down through history as one of the best RPG stories of all time.
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