Role Playing Games are one of the most extensive genres out there, boasting games like The Witcher, Fire Emblem, Dark Souls, and Fallout. Oddly, the actual definition of an RPG is a bit controversial, for some reason. According to the internet, an RPG is, “a video game genre where the player controls the actions of a character (and/or several party members) immersed in some well-defined world.” Take that how you’d like. One thing is for sure, though: RPGs include some of the most immersive experiences ever, but also have a reputation for pushing back due to the many nuances and systems in place. I’d never recommend for someone to just dive right into Skyrim or Final Fantasy because it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
That being said, it would be a shame for gamers to miss out on some of these fantastic RPGs. If only there was a handy list of recommended games to get you used to some of the mechanics without the complexity. Well, luckily for you, there is. Here is a list of our top 10 gateway games to get you into RPGs. Keep in mind, these games may not be RPGs, themselves, but feature elements commonly found in RPGs.
Batman: Arkham City
Kicking off the list is one of my personal favorites of last generation. While I recommend playing Arkham Asylum first, Arkham City is a lot more open and closer to an RPG than its predecessor. There are dozens of skills and upgrades to unlock, but developer, Rocksteady did a great job of streamlining it to keep it simple. There’s even an XP system in place that totally makes it feel like an RPG but eliminates some of the overly-complicated systems found in the RPG genre.
Also, since Batman is a recognizable character, it’s easy to jump in and follow the story, making it easier to get into. Combine that with a manageable list of side missions and you have yourself a game that feels like an RPG but isn’t.
Arguably a shooter first and an RPG second, Borderlands successfully melds the two genres in a way that feels natural. The idea of playing a shooter is easy to grasp, so when you mix in an upgrade system, it still feels intuitive and easy to understand. With only three different categories to choose from and only 7 upgrades for each, Borderlands is a great starting point for fans looking to get into the RPG genre. What’s even better is that the entire game can be played in local or online co-op, which I think adds to the fun. Borderlands also includes a weapon rarity system, where the rarer a weapon is, the more lucrative it is to the gameplay; This is something found in many RPGs. It’s essentially a basic combination of many RPG tropes, but it never gets too wild or convoluted.
Pokemon X and Y
There’s a good reason why Pokemon is sometimes referred to as “Baby’s first RPG”. It is one of the most simple examples of the genre and it’s one that I personally will remember as a series that helped me get into the genre. There are no skill points or anything to worry about here. Your Pokemon simply gain XP as you use them (or you can use XP Share so you don’t have to actually use them in later versions). It also helps get players used to the party system, allowing you to establish 6 Pokemon with complementary attributes. You can totally see how this series is a starting point for more complicated games like Final Fantasy. X and Y also have a great combination of linearity, simple story, and pacing, eliminating the need to grind too much. Lots of RPGs almost force you to have to grind, but with Pokemon X and Y there is a fair and accessible system in place that makes it easy for new players.
Darksiders 1 and 2 (written by Steven Jones)
On the surface the first Darksiders game doesn’t really even look like an RPG; It looks like another action adventure game. You travel through what remains of Earth, fighting demons, angels, and everything in between. Throughout your adventure you acquire new and unique weapons and tools similar to those found in the Legend of Zelda franchise. These tools allow you access to areas of the map that you were previously unable to get to. As you defeat enemies during your adventure they will drop “souls” which is what the Darksiders series uses as experience points, which can be exchanged for new attacks. Aside from collecting pieces of life-stones and Wrath-stones to boost the respective attributes, War, the main character, doesn’t actually level up; His 3 main weapons, however, can. The more you use a certain weapon the more power it will gain. Darksiders 1 is a good starting point for anyone not familiar with the Roleplaying genre; It gives you the taste of a grand adventure with just enough diversity in the setting to keep it feeling fresh.
Darksiders 2 took the RPG gauge and turned it way way up. It took on a more Diablo feel with a lot of dungeon-crawling. Another new addition was a loot system that included armor sets and vastly different weapons for the main character, Death, to use. Each piece of of armor has stats to go along with it. Some boost your magic abilities, while others raise your defense. Along with the new loot system was an actual leveling system with 2 distinct skill trees. The Harbinger skill tree allows Death to deal and take more damage. The other skill tree, the Necromancer gave Death more magical abilities like the power to summon minions to fight by his side. It also allows him to equip himself with magical armor, reducing his damage intake. Darksiders 2 is a more mainstream RPG with loot systems and skill trees.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Ocarina of Time pops up on a lot of top 10 lists and it’s easy to see why. It’s one of the most revolutionary action adventure games ever and it paved the way for the RPG genre. At the time, the open world of Hyrule seemed massive, but you can easily explore the entire map in around 10 minutes, making it easy to comprehend. While there are no skill points or attributes to assign, Ocarina did have a sense of wonder and allowed the player freedom to explore at their own pace. The great thing is that Ocarina strikes a fantastic balance of linearity and openness, making it feel rewarding to play. There are also a few instances where the game doesn’t tell you everything, leaving some of the discovery up to you. You can see the similarities between Ocarina and the Witcher III, which is kind of nifty to think about.
Far Cry 3
What a game. I love how weird Far Cry 3 is. This is the game that established Far Cry as a competent franchise. There’s a large open world that feels dense, but isn’t overwhelming. It was even referred to as, “Skyrim with guns”, from our friends at IGN. That’s probably a reductive way of putting things but the point is that Far Cry feels like a lot of RPGs. There’s a skill tree with an XP system, just like a lot of games on this list. Far Cry 3 has one of the most insane villains in gaming history, making it a memorable choice. If you want a fun open world to explore that never strays too far from linearity, please try this one. There’s a wide variety gameplay styles from stealth, open world exploration, going guns blazing, and even murdering sharks underwater.
South Park: The Stick of Truth
This game had no business being as good as it was. As a longtime South Park fan, I began my playthrough being as nitpicky as possible, but soon found that this was a faithful adaptation of the series. Creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker had a lot to do with this, so it felt like you were playing an entire season of the show. What also surprised me was how the RPG elements were tightly integrated into the gameplay. It’s one thing to be able to level up your characters, but assigning skills and attributes that feel exactly like the show was proof that the developers took the time to stay faithful to the source material. There’s something about shooting a fart blast at an enemy that feels so South Park that I just love. It also helps that you can complete the main campaign in around 10 hours, so it never overstays its welcome. This is one of the most accessible RPGs I’ve ever played, and it’s available for cheap on most modern platforms, so there’s no excuse to skip it! Unless of course you aren’t a South Park fan; Then you might wanna skip this.
Tomb Raider (2013)
As much as I loved the original Tomb Raider games back in the day, I was glad Crystal Dynamics gave us a more realistic representation of one of the most well known females characters in gaming. The gritty reboot had us playing as a more grounded, less poligonal version of Lara Croft and also introduced us to the closest the series has come to an RPG. It was so satisfying to be able to hunt animals and gather resources to craft items while exploring the small but dense open world. Similar to Far Cry 3, the map had a ton of checkboxes to tick and lots of upgrades to acquire. I love that the game encourages you to explore by rewarding you with XP to use on skills and upgrades. The accessible straightforward style makes it easy to pick up and get invested into, so this is not one to miss.
Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag
While a lot of the gameplay in the Assassin’s Creed series is based on combat and climbing, Black Flag emphasizes exploration, which earns its spot on this list. The huge, sprawling open world has players sailing the seas and scouring small islands for resources, much like a traditional RPG. It’s interesting because Black Flag doesn’t focus on skills or XP, but rather an in depth currency system used to buy items. The depth within the crafting and resource system is also memorable, but again, it’s simple and easy to understand. The sheer number of side missions, alone, make this game feel huge, but with a simple user interface, they never feel obtuse. It’s worth noting that the ship battles can be tough, but on the whole, most of the gameplay is easy to grasp. Black Flag is the closest thing to being an RPG without being an RPG and I love that it has depth and complexity and is accessible for casual players.
Rounding out the list is a game that is near and dear to a lot of gamers’ hearts. A movie game that actually doesn’t suck? Yes, Spider-Man 2 was awesome. It also has some basic elements that are found in a lot of RPGs like XP and a simple, yet intuitive upgrade system. Just stop at a comic shop to purchase a wide variety of skills that help you along your journey. Once you start to get used to that, you may be ready to take on a true RPG. Aside from that, though, Spider-Man 2 has some of the best swinging in any Spider-Man game and there’s a lot to do in New York City. Gathering collectibles, completing side missions, and just exploring are all typical things found in RPGs. This one may not hold up as much these days, especially with Insomniac’s Spider-Man on the horizon, but it was a perfect example of a movie tie-in done right at the time.
Those are only some examples of games that might steer you in the direction of some of the more difficult or complex RPGs. What were some games you first played that introduced you into the genre? Let us know in the comments!