The 10 Most Overrated and Underrated RPGs
The RPG genre is my favorite genre, and is a genre that often receives a great deal of critical acclaim; RPGs often feature deep, involving plots and have a great deal of character development, as well as deep mechanics to sink your teeth into. Hype around RPGs can sometimes give these games a greater reputation than they deserve. Conversely, due to their complexity and required time-investment, a lot of great titles get overlooked.
These are some of the most overrated and overlooked RPGs:
When I first saw Pathfinder: Kingmaker appear on Kickstarter, I was skeptical – an unheard of developer based in Moscow was making some pretty big promises – I’d seen it all before. Despite some average to okay reviews, I gave it a shot. I can honestly say that, while it is no masterpiece, this is one of the best RPGs for the PC in recent years.
The plot has some surprising twists and turns (even if it is occasionally generic) and the RPG mechanics are rock-solid and faithful to the Pathfinder tabletop RPG. Writing is consistent-to-strong, and most of the issues you are likely to find with the game are easily corrected by a multitude of mods (including one that adds a turn-based mode). Owlcat Games have recently announced their second Pathfinder CRPG, Wrath of the Righteous.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Before everyone starts doxing me, let me just clarify – Skyrim is a good game, and I’ve personally tallied up hundreds of hours playing it. But hailing it as one of the greatest RPGs is a little rich.
Skyrim has a lot to offer, but its RPG mechanics are barely a shadow of previous Elder Scrolls games (particularly Morrowind and Daggerfall). Not only that, but the plot is about as vanilla as they come, and most characters are little more than disinterested, sub-par voice actors reading scripts rather than living their role. A fantastic world, a lot of fun, and a good game, but overrated nonetheless.
Ion Storm’s existence was short and tumultuous, and is largely defined by a game widely considered as one of the worst ever made, and another considered one of the best ever made. Between John Romero’s Daikatana and Warren Spector’s Deus Ex is a largely overlooked RPG from the creative mind of Tom Hall: Anachronox. A sci-fi RPG with JRPG-style combat, incredible writing, loveable characters, and a wonderful sense of humor, the critical success of Anachronox unfortunately never translated into commercial success. Grab it cheap on GOG or Steam, it’s definitely worth a go.
Every time I see people criticizing Fallout 76 and saying “bring back Fallout 3” it makes me cringe.
Fallout 3 was the beginning of the end for the Fallout franchise. Bethesda took one of the deepest, most respected CRPGs of all time and just applied their typical unimaginative Elder Scrolls formula. The player is railroaded through the vast majority of the plot, and any choices made are trivial with little to no impact on the game world. Not only that, but the plot itself completely falls apart under even the smallest amount of scrutiny. Sure, it might have been a fun game, but it was no masterpiece and it was certainly no Fallout. If you must experience Fallout in first-person, then go with the far better Fallout: New Vegas.
The Temple of Elemental Evil
In their short history, Troika Games released only three games. All of them were RPGs and all of them incredible. Sadly, the recognition they deserved didn’t come until after their closure, and it was mainly for Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines.
The Temple of Elemental Evil was Troika’s attempt at a Dungeons & Dragons turn-based RPG. To this day, TOEE is one of the most faithful interpretations of 3rd Edition rules ever incorporated into a game. TOEE’s difficulty was unforgiving, and the quests and plot did not hold your hand at all, but this is an incredibly deep CRPG interpretation of a famous tabletop D&D module. If you are a fan of 3rd Edition D&D rules, definitely give this one a go.
Mass Effect 2
Now I know this is going to rub a few people the wrong way. It was a tough call, as I enjoyed playing Mass Effect 2 immensely. But in hindsight, Mass Effect 2 is really where it all went wrong from the series, and a great deal of Mass Effect 3’s problems were baggage carried over from the previous title.
The pacing of Mass Effect 2 was disjointed, the antagonist was completely illogical, and the final boss was embarrassingly silly. Mass Effect 2 had some great design, missions and characters, however much like Fallout 3, there is simply too much of the plot that falls apart under simple analysis.
It is possible that the commercial failure of Tyranny is simply a result of bad timing more than anything else.
Tyranny was released at a time when the CRPG genre was undergoing a big revival, with titles like Divinity: Original Sin, Pillars of Eternity, Torment, and remasters of Infinity Engine classics like Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale. Tyranny featured a unique setting that possibly scared off many players – the bad guys won and conquered the world, and you are one of the evil overlord’s enforcers subjugating the last bastion of resistance. However, behind that simple synopsis is quite simply one of the most interesting and engaging plots I have ever come across.
This is a game that still has me speculating on what it could all mean, many years after finishing it. Sadly, due to poor commercial performance, it is unlikely we will ever see a follow up to this exceptional game.
Dragon Age: Inquisition
Dragon Age: Origins is, in my opinion, one of the best RPGs of the modern era, which is what made Dragon Age 2 so incredibly disappointing.
In the lead up to the release of Dragon Age: Inquisition, Bioware gave strong indications that they had learned their lesson, and would fix everything that was wrong with DA2. However, in focusing so hard on creating a bigger world, it seems like they forgot to fill it with any interesting quests or characters.
Quests were lazy and rushed, and the majority of NPCs were soulless robots. The player’s companions felt like they had been created using an automated character generator, and most references to previous games and characters felt like token fan service. On top of all that, the combat was barely an improvement on Dragon Age 2’s nonsense button mashing. For some reason, Inquisition was loved by critics and many gamers, and to this day I can’t understand why.
Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura
The first release from the ill-fated Troika Games was Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura.
Arcanum’s graphics were dated, its UI was hideous, controls were clunky, and it was full of bugs. However, underneath it all is one of the richest, most detailed and responsive CRPGs ever made. There are literally hundreds of ways to build your character, and even small changes to certain stats will completely change your experience of the plot and game.
The plot is fascinating, the side quests are rich and varied, and the small amount of voice acting is superbly delivered. This is a game where every choice matters, and the game is not afraid of unleashing the consequences of those choices. For a great deal of the game, Arcanum seems to be following the typical “Chosen One” trope, but there is a satisfying twist on the formula. With Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky now working at Obsidian Entertainment, I live in hope for a sequel or a remaster – however, with Arcanum’s poor commercial performance, this is an idea unlikely to win many hearts at parent company Microsoft.
This one hurts, it really does. I love the Baldur’s Gate series immensely. But if I’m being honest, it’s Baldur’s Gate II that carries most of the credit for the series’ brilliance.
Baldur’s Gate was a great RPG, but it often gets lumped into the same category as its far better sequel as an example of the isometric RPG golden days. The success of Baldur’s Gate probably has a great deal to do with the state of the industry at the time – when it was released, there hadn’t been a decent D&D RPG in quite a while, and the market was flooded with FPS and RTS games. Baldur’s Gate was an impressive return to form for a genre that had fallen out of favor. Nostalgia has elevated Baldur’s Gate to a very lofty perch, and for that reason, I’d say that it is overrated – but that doesn’t mean that Baldur’s Gate isn’t very good, and it is certainly better than anything Bioware has released in the last decade.
In about 1989, Gavin Annand played his first games on a Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Thus, began a lifetime obsession with games. A gaming addict or connoisseur, depending on your perspective.