One of the great things about RPGs—Role Playing Games—is exploring and experiencing unique worlds with your playable avatar who takes on the role of the hero or main character. You fight with your friends to save the world, or just travel across the land for fame, adventure, and grand battles. While some RPGs have linear stories, RPGs let you customize your avatar whatever way you see fit. You can be a powerful dark mage with devastating spells or a traditional knight with heavy armor and huge weapons, or maybe a mix between the two with a specialty in long-range attacks for good measure.
Though most importantly, your RPG experience will vastly differ depending on how you control the game. Turn-based party RPG is the most recognized game type of RPGs where you take turns in attack and defending against enemies you encounter in the world map or encounter them randomly as you explore. Strategy RPGs are a more complex form of turn-based gameplay and you’re often involved with handling large parties, and carefully position them on the map to take advantage of high terrain, move behind buildings for a pincer attack. Action RPGs are more of a real-time approach to combat where reflex and skill are very important because enemies won’t happily stand there and wait for their turn to eat your face.
Honey’s Anime is going to focus on Action RPGs (ARPGs) and list 10 games we think are the best in the genre. ARPGs can sometimes be confused with Action Adventure games with RPG elements, so the list must have a strong emphasis leveling up to increase stats and acquisition of gear and weapons. Let’s get right to it!
10. Tom Clancy’s The Division
- System: PC, PS4, Xbox One
- Publisher: Ubisoft
- Developer: Massive Entertainment
- Release Dates: March 8, 2016
On Black Friday, a deadly virus has broken out in the city of New York. The city fell into chaos as basic services have stopped, food, water, and power are running out. Violent gangs have emerged, and the remaining civilians are either starving to death or have succumbed to the virus. The President of the United States issues Directive 51 and declared Martial Law in hopes to suppress the violence and the virus. You play as one of the many undercover soldiers of The Division and your objective is to restore order in New York.
When you think of RPGs, the settings are medieval fantasy or science fiction, or a mix of both. But obviously RPGs have stories set in the modern era, and of such game is Tom Clancy’s The Division. At first glance, you might think The Division is just a third-person cover shooter with some RPG elements, but if you take a closer look, The Division core mechanics and character progression have depth in customizing and stat building that determines your character’s role in your squad. Your custom avatar gain XP for doing missions, discovering locations and killing lots of bad guys, so the higher level you are, the more options are open to you.
Top tier weapons are tied to levels, enable perks like resistance to damage, increase accuracy, stability, increase higher chances of critical hits, etc. Everything is mix and match so you can switch out abilities to take on specific roles, bet it offense, support, or focus on healing. You really need to take these stats into consideration, and bring some friends with you because at higher levels, or in the dreaded Dark Zones, you will either die like a New York rat or it will take forever to kill the many bullet sponge enemies found in The Division.
9. Deus Ex: Human Revolution - Director’s Cut
- System: PC, Mac, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U
- Publisher: Square Enix
- Developer: Eidos Montréal
- Release Dates: August 23, 2011, October 22, 2013 (Director’s Cut)
You play as Adam Jensen, an ex-SWAT specialist who survived a terrorist attack that damaged his entire body. But with the highly advanced augmentation technology by Sarif Industries, you are resurrected no longer human, but a machine with superhuman abilities. With your new augmentations, you take on dangerous missions to safeguard company secrets, eliminate threats while slowly unraveling a huge conspiracy in a world divided between mankind and the augmented humans.
Western RPGs tend to be different from JRPGs or RPGs that uses traditional mechanics. WRPGs, are less about the experience and more about long-term stat planning, decisions, conversations and multiple plots/endings. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is one such WRPG and it can be an Action RPG if you decide to go guns blazing instead of stealth and hacking. And that’s the beauty of Human Revolution—the freedom to choose what approach you want. Human Revolution has a leveling up system, but instead of putting points on strength and agility like most RPGs, you augment Jensen with abilities using Praxis points. And spending these points will determine what kind of gameplay approach you prefer.
If you wanna go full Mogul Kahn, spend your Praxis points on augmentations that lets you punch harder, absorb more damage, augment your vision so you can see through walls, add EMP shielding to prevent any crippling attacks, and then level up your cloaking ability so you can approach a group of enemies undetected to unleash your Typhoon Explosive System—an area-of-effect maneuver that allows Jensen to fire mini explosives in an area.
8. Diablo II: Lord of Destruction
- System: PC, Mac
- Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
- Developer: Blizzard North
- Release Dates: June 29, 2000, June 27, 2001 (Lord of Destruction)
Diablo II is a top-down perspective dungeon-crawler action RPG and you select 5 unique classes from the agile Amazon to the hulking Barbarian, and as one of the heroes, you explore the lands beyond the fabled Tristram, loot gold, armor, weapons, runes, charms, and level up to slay Diablo, the Lord of Terror himself, for the second time. The world of Diablo is further expanded with the Lord of Destruction expansion pack that introduces a fifth act, two new classes, and new items added to the already staggering amount of weapons and gear numbered by the thousands.
While Diablo 3 is a recent game with modern graphics and is available on multiple gaming platforms, Diablo II and its expansion Lord of Destruction were arguably the peaks of the franchise. Diablo II plays like a traditional RPG with more complex skill trees, more options to customize your character and it doesn’t play like an MMORPG like Diablo 3’s spamming spells and skills like normal attacks. Plus Diablo II is still being played by a dedicated fanbase, it’s playable on any computer that doesn’t require high-end video cards and CPUs, and your character can also be played both online and offline mode.
Fun fact: the core Diablo team had no involvement with Diablo 3’s development, and they created their own company and created the Torchlight series. In some respects, the Torchlight series is a direct spiritual successor to Diablo II. You should check those games out!
7. Darksiders II: Deathinitive Edition
- System: PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U, PS4, Xbox One
- Publisher: PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U, PS4, Xbox One
- Developer: Vigil Games, Gunfire Games
- Release Dates: August 14, 2012, October 30, 2015 (Deathinitive Edition)
War, Fury, Strife, and Death are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse who are called in times of great need and restore the balance of the universe. War, the eldest of the Four Horsemen, has broken the sacred oath and destroyed Mankind. In his sin, War is been judged and imprisoned by the Charred Council for eternity. Believing his brother’s innocence, Death sets out on a personal quest to find proof and resurrect Mankind. But Death’s quest is more than what it seems and a mysterious force is set out to destroy all of Creation. Ride, Horseman!
The first Darksiders game was heavily inspired by the Legend of Zelda games with lots of borrowed elements like climbing structures via vines, a hook shot weapon, bomb plants, a hearts system, etc.. Heck, there’s a Navi-like guide in the game and he sounds like the Joker. And just like every Zelda game, Darksiders is an action adventure game with some RPG elements like power-ups and new weapons. Darksiders II is more or less the same experience but with a more open world to explore with the addition of RPG elements like leveling up, looting randomized weapons and gear at varying levels or stat requirements. Death is more nimble than his brother War from the first game, so the combat is faster, chaotic and flashy you usually see in hack and slash games like Bayonetta and Devil May Cry.
6. NieR: Automata
- System: PC, PS4
- Publisher: Square Enix
- Developer: PlatinumGames
- Release Dates: March 7, 2017
NieR: Automata tells the story of androids 2B, 9S and A2 and their battle to reclaim the machine-driven dystopia overrun by powerful machines. In the very far future, Humanity has been driven away from Earth after it’s been overrun by sentient machines from another world. In an effort to reclaim Earth, the last humans created an android force to finally destroy the machines. As 2B, 9S, and A2 explore the ravaged planet, meeting fellow humans and machines alike, they slowly uncover the truth behind the machine invasion and the human survivors residing on the Moon that spanned thousands upon thousands of years.
NieR: Automata is a sequel to a game that was a spin-off of the Drakengard series. The story of NieR: Automata can be experienced without prior knowledge of past games, but you will meet characters, story bits, and references that will get you confused. But frankly, that’s to be expected because the stories of NieR and Drakengard are so convoluted and lengthy. If that doesn’t bother you and only interested in the combat and 2Bs… well-shaped gluteus maximus… then, you’ll be happy to know that the hack and slash DNA of Platinum Games, the makers of Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising Revengeance, are present in NieR: Automata.
The game is a mix of hack 'n' slash with some Bullet Hell gameplay. You deal damage using light and strong attacks while dodging projectiles like crazy. To aid you against the ever-increasing number of powerful robots are Plug-in Chips. As you level up, you gain a bit of stats like armor and damage, but the Plug-in Chips are your core upgrades ranging from off-battle healing to adding shockwaves to each attack. Leveling up also increases the number of chips you can use. This allows for different playstyles like focusing on offensive power to be more defensive.
Do keep in mind there are default chips installed and they enable HUD, damage counter, etc. If you don’t mind a mini-map so you can put in a chip that increases damage, then you can do that. Though be sure not to unplug the OS chip.
5. Fallout: New Vegas
- System: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
- Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
- Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
- Release Dates: October 19, 2010
Fallout games were originally turned based tactical RPGs and it became a third-person/first-person action RPG starting with Fallout 3. And out of the 3 modern Fallout games, Fallout: New Vegas is the top dog with its compelling storyline, tons of quests, interesting NPCs, freedom of choice, the consequences of picking a choice, and a more refined RPG mechanics. You are a courier shot in the head and left for dead. But you survived thanks to the folks in the nearby town and you set out to seek out who shot you and why. In a post-apocalyptic barren desert filled with the diseased, mutated creatures, you, now known as the Courier, must scrounge up supplies, gather gear, create alliances, betray factions and find your way inside the glamorous city of New Vegas for the man who shot you.
Like all Fallout games, you can fully customize your character through the SPECIAL system. SPECIAL stands for Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, Luck these stats will determine the personality of your character, gain advantages with Perk upgrades and limitations of your character. If you pump in all your initial stats to, say, Charisma, you can avoid fights by talking your way or win an NPC’s favor through dialogue. But in doing so will make your character less durable in gunfights, or find less good items from boxes and lockers, or be unable to operate a computer terminal, or even prevent you from accessing certain quest outcomes.
Stats aside, what about the combat? Fallout: New Vegas plays similarly to its predecessor Fallout 3—you navigate your character in either first person or third person view. While you can do stealth attacks or go for a melee build (you need to carefully set SPECIAL for that), New Vegas’s combat is primarily shooting with a wide array of guns like the traditional guns with bullets to a more exotic ones like energy weapons and a grenade launcher that fires mini nuclear warheads (don’t aim too close though). And like any first-person shooter, hitting certain body parts is key. Aim for the head for a critical hit, or maybe aim for the legs to slow your enemy’s movement, or shoot off their arms to reduce the damage of their melee weapons or their accuracy.
These can be done in real time, but if you want more precision, you can use VATS. VATS allow you to stop time and, for a limited number of attacks, you can strategically place a few shots to the head for a quick kill. And you’ll end up using VATS quite often because apart from your enemies are hard to hit while they’re on the move, VATS alleviates the game’s clunky controls. Regardless though, once you’ve gotten used to the controls, Fallout: New Vegas is a huge game with so many things to do in a world filled with mutated creatures, struggling new societies finding and fighting each other, and tons of nuclear waste you get yourself irradiated.
And if guns and nuclear apocalypses aren’t your things, you can try out the Elder Scrolls series, especially Skyrim, for that traditional medieval fantasy atmosphere.
4. Dragon’s Crown
- System: PS Vita, PS3, PS4
- Publisher: Atlus
- Developer: Vanillaware
- Release Dates: August 6, 2013
Dragon’s Crown is one of the best action RPGs that you’ve never played… Until it comes out in the PS4 in 2018. As of now, Dragon’s Crown is available on the PSVita and PS3, and both versions have advantages and disadvantages. For one, you can’t play online in the Vita version, and secondly, the Vita is dead. The PS3 version is more a complete package, but it’ll be hard to find someone to play with online unless you coordinate with your friends. Or, you know, do it the traditional way—play with your pals offline aka play with them in your living room.
Inspired by the arcade side-scrolling beat ‘em ups in the 90s, Dragon’s Crown is a modern take on the genre with randomized loot found in dungeon crawler games like Diablo with RPG elements like leveling up and invest in skill points. You play one of the 6 unique classes to choose from like Fighter, Amazon, Elf, Dwarf, Wizard, and the well-endowed, and the face of Dragon’s Crown, the Sorceress. The game plays is what you’d expect from a beat ‘em up game: You enter an area, move left to right, defeat every enemy, and reach the boss at the end. Rinse and repeat.
The RPG aspect is you gain experience as you advance through the dungeon, slaying enemies and get a high score. Once you level up, you’ll be given a ton of options to invest in what skill to enable. Also, as you level up, the enemies also level up and in turn gives you more gold per kill and more chances of getting higher level weapons and gear. Once you get a full party of high-level players in hard difficulties, the action will get chaotic as the screen is filled with damage numbers popping up, spells, explosions, and special attacks that sometimes, you had to stop your character from moving so you can get your bearings. It’s a great kind of chaos.
What sets Dragon’s Crown from other games of its type is the gorgeous visuals, like it’s art coming alive. Each water-colored level, each character or monster sprite movements, and effects are meticulously created, Dragon’s Crown’s art style will make your jaw drop. And that’s to be expected from Vanillaware with its reputation for exotic and beautiful art.
3. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
- System: PS1, SEGA Saturn, PSN, Xbox Live Arcade, PSP
- Publisher: Konami
- Developer: Konami
- Release Dates: October 2, 1997
Castlevania Series is one of the most beloved franchises in gaming where you play (for the most part) as one of the Belmonts, a clan whose sole role is to slay the creatures of the night and Count Dracula, the lord of darkness, in his ever-changing fortress Castlevania. You jump across platforms, collect holy artifacts, and slay the horrors residing within the dreaded castle. Century after century, Dracula returns to the mortal world and standing in his way are the descendants of the Belmont Clan with their Holy Whip, the only weapon that can put the evil count to rest… for the time being.
Castlevania is more on the action platformer kind, but things changed with Castlevania Symphony of the Night with the introduction of RPG elements like a leveling up system and be able to equip armor, weapons, and use potions, while retaining the core gameplay of traversing Castlevania, collecting power-ups, and defeating the horrors ranging from giant wolves, a giant rotting corpse, Death himself, a giant spherical monstrosity composed of dead bodies, and many more. In this game, you play as Alucard, the son of Dracula. He’s more versatile than the Belmonts with his ability to shapeshift, be able to use a variety of weapons, and a wide array of magical abilities.
True to its name, the main highlight of Castlevania is, well, Castlevania itself. In Symphony of the Night, Castlevania is a massive structure with tons of hidden secrets, areas only accessible after getting a power-up, and tons, and tons, and tons of enemies to defeat. How you progress through the castle is akin to the Metroid Series with its grid-based maps and the idea of accessing certain areas after getting a specific power up. This unholy marriage between Castlevania and Metroid has created a subgenre called Metroidvania—A vast interconnected world to explore with areas only accessible as you gain new items or power-ups. This formula is so successful, it’s been used by many games including other Castlevania games, Axiom Verge, Hollow Knight, and even Dark Souls.
2. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
- System: PC, Mac, PS4, Xbox One
- Publisher: CD Projekt Red Studio, Bandai Namco Games, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
- Developer: CD Projekt Red Studio
- Release Dates: May 19, 2015
Story progression is very important in the Witcher 3 so the decisions you make may have a positive effect on Geralt’s reputation, but you may feel their negative effects further down the line. Things will get more complex as you take on side quests that will also influence the main story. With so many quests and NPCs to clear and interact with, the effects of your decisions will spiral out of control resulting in a very unpredictable experience that the Witcher 3’s story is worth replaying. In fact, the quality writing of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is the big reason why fans love it. You, Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher, tasked with finding a child from an ancient prophecy. Along the way, you meet people from all walks of life, and you influence their lives through your actions. You fight monsters, discover cities, villages, find someone’s goat, meeting corrupt royalty and elites, and seek romance.
The combat is very fluid, but the mechanics beneath it is an acquired taste. Geralt is equipped with two swords: one is made of silver and one made of steel, and you have to keep this in mind because the silver sword is effective against monsters. To aid in your monster hunting quests, or generally kill the local bandits, you concoct potions with varying degrees of effects and use combat magic. Witcher 3 certainly don’t play like your typical ARPG. Unlike other RPGs, the monsters don't scale to your level, so you may encounter high-level monsters while you’re out exploring. But on the flipside, you’ll encounter more side quests for braving the wilderness. The number of things to do is mind-numbing, but it’s not a deal breaker considering how well-written the stories and how fleshed out the NPCs are.
So overall, the Witcher 3 and the rest of the prequels are very massive that it may take you weeks or even months to beat. We’re not even sure an average player can 100% the game. The Witcher 3 can be played without prior knowledge from past games, but if you want to immerse yourself in the lore, cultures, and the denizens of… (come to think of it, the name of the continent was never mentioned in the games), then playing The Witcher 1-2 should be your priorities.
1. Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition
- System: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
- Publisher: From Software, Bandai Namco Games
- Developer: From Software
- Release Dates: October 4, 2011, August 24, 2012
If you haven’t played or seen this game, you’ve probably heard the meme “git gud” and the term “just like Dark Souls” gaming journalists haphazardly use in comparing a mechanic or difficulty from other games. But if you’ve heard of Dark Souls and heard of its reputation for being very unforgiving, then you’d better believe that because Dark Souls is an Action RPG is exactly that—unforgiving. Dark Souls brought back the old school feel of playing the game into the mainstream with no tutorials, no floating arrows guiding you to your next destination, no minimap with quest markers, and no on-screen messages telling you to duck for cover or heal up.
You are an undead imprisoned in an asylum only to be freed by an unknown knight. Both of you are on a pilgrimage to seek the Flame and bring back the golden age of Gods. The goal is very unclear and it’s up to you to unravel the mysteries and horrors found in the dying kingdom of Lordran. You’ll face powerful foes, deadly traps, poisonous swaps, maze-like dungeons, and face against invaders whose sole purpose is to stop you from completing this pilgrimage and pillage your body of humanity—the very thing that makes us human. Be a nimble thief with a dagger to quickly get behind enemies for a critical attack, or a heavy knight with powerful swords that can stun giants, or be a mage and decimate your foes from afar, or be a holy cleric and use the power of the gods to bring swift punishment to anyone who gets in your way.
You control your avatar in a third-person view and the combat is composed of light and strong attacks, a dodge, the ability to block and cast spells. They’re all tied to your limited stamina, so combat is more slow and tactical. Make sure you can kill the enemy by using your entire stamina for a barrage of attacks or be left open to a counter-attack because you can no longer block or dodge. And if you die, you are tossed back at the last bonfire—game’s checkpoint—and redo the entire level with enemies respawned. You will also lose your souls—game’s currency and experience points—upon death, so after several failed tries, frustration (and probably a few controller tosses) slowly sets in, and this is why Dark Souls is notorious for being unforgiving and caters to the so-called hardcore gamers.
Dark Souls may be intimidating, but it’s not an unsurpassable challenge. It’s all about learning the enemy location, attack patterns, and patience. There’s nothing more satisfying than beating a gigantic boss after many tries of analyzing its attack patterns. Though the main appeal of Dark Souls is the lore behind the undying world and how everything is very cryptic for the player. Every location has a story to tell and it’s up to you to piece everything, and that feeling of solitude like you’re just a small being exploring a once mighty world is so immersive and atmospheric.
How did the undead plague happen? Where have all of the heroes gone? What happened to the ancient dragons? Why is there a sword sticking out of my bleeding chest? Playing Dark Souls for the first time is akin to banging your head on the wall. You may eventually break the wall and get a sense of accomplishment, but you have to repeat the process several times. You may come out as a professional wall breaker for your persistence, or be paralyzed due to head trauma because you’re not good enough… to break walls… with your head.
For the ultimate question: Why is Dark Souls number one instead of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt? In many aspects, The Witcher 3 trumps Dark Souls in everything. The world in The Witcher 3 is bigger, the story is may more complex, the quests are amazing compared to Dark Souls, but Dark Souls has something The Witcher 3 does not: You as the main character and you create your own stories. A signature element for a role-playing game.
In Dark Souls, you create your own character, pick a class, name him/her and once you’re in the kingdom of Lordran, you’re pretty much on your own with no real trailing breadcrumbs to follow. The game has consequences are branching storylines, but they’re not in-your-face like a choices select menu, and chances are you didn’t notice there was a choice to be made. And your choices are permanent so you can’t reload a save. Kill that annoying merchant and you get his katana, but you can no longer buy his wares. Fail to open a secret passage, then one of the NPCs you meet will die. Invade other player’s world as the Darkwraith and sap their humanity out of them. Commit enough sins and players under the Darkmoon Covenant will come and hunt you down. Do a specific quest and a certain boss battle will give a unique cutscene and realize that the boss is not what he initially seemed. If you want the immersive and true to its roots RPG, then Dark Souls is one of the best examples.
And there you have it, Honey’s Anime Top 10 ARPGs! Now there are a TON of ARPGs out there, and sadly we couldn’t put all of them on this list. If you have a few great ARPGs in mind, please share them with us by leaving a comment below!