5. Slay the Spire
Released 2019 | Last position 4
Tyler: Still the best roguelike deckbuilder, despite a couple of challengers. You'll know you're hooked after the first time you spend a full minute deciding whether to click on a campfire or a shop.
Robin: In the years since its Early Access release, I don’t think there’s any game I’ve played as much as Slay the Spire. The decks you build as you play feel like intricate engines—and there’s always some new configuration of parts to try.
Wes: Shout out to Electrodynamics, the card that turns my beloved android Defect into a lightning bolt-casting murder machine. It always makes me feel unstoppable, right up until the wrong boss fight ruins my night. But there's always time for another run…
Evan: I've got 160 hours in Slay, but in the past month I've switched allegiances entirely to Monster Train, a roguelike deckbuilder that cribs a lot of Slay's template but draws way more inspiration from Magic: The Gathering with its emphasis on creature summoning and color combinations. Bonus: you fill a train with a bunch of demons so you can attack and dethrone god. Double bonus: one of the deck types is a race of Victorian Candle People who you melt down (read: kill) in order to reincarnate them as stronger versions of themselves. It's exciting that Slay the Spire has already sparked a burgeoning subgenre.
4. The Witcher 3
Released 2015 | Last position 2
Robin: Such a spectacular, ambitious achievement of an RPG world that it really hasn’t aged much at all. Still an absolute pleasure to explore, and still home to some of the best writing and characters the genre’s ever seen. Finish the 100+ hour main game, and your reward is two expansions that are even better. Hearts of Stone in particular is easily my favourite DLC of all time.
Andy K: For me, the magic of The Witcher 3 lies in its side quests. When you pluck an innocuous-sounding bounty from a village notice board, you never know what kind of wild story you're about to get tangled up in. Almost every quest feels weighty and worthwhile, with memorable, unpredictable stories inspired by some of the strangest deep cuts from Eastern European folklore.
Wes: Is it redundant to praise The Witcher 3, at this point? Three of the best games on PC are RPGs, now, and The Witcher 3 is the oldest of them. But it's also the grandest and the most immersive, the one with voice acting and motion capture that sucks you in and makes you feel like you're playing through a proper fantasy epic. As Andy says, its speciality is making those little side stories interesting. No RPG hero has ever felt as much like a true working citizen of their world than Geralt.
3. Red Dead Redemption 2
Released 2019 | Last position New entry
Chris: Easily my favorite game of 2019, checking off all the boxes on my internal wishlist: beautiful and incredibly detailed open world, lots of stuff to do but typically not much pressure to do any of it until I was ready, and believable characters I felt invested in. Many of the missions in the second half felt a bit same-y, but since missions were spaced out over the leisurely 100 or so hours I played it didn't bother me too much. It's a world I'll keep coming back to for years.
Andy K: Rockstar's evocative slice of the American West is the only open world that feels genuinely wild and natural to me. They really captured something about nature that seems to have eluded other studios, which makes for a setting that feels wonderfully real as you explore its plains, peaks, and valleys on horseback.
2. Divinity: Original Sin 2
Released 2017 | Last position 1
Robin: I love that Original Sin 2 applies the same sense of choice and freedom that you find in its sprawling, branching story to its systems-driven combat. Interweaving elemental effects—expanded hugely from the already ambitious first game—turn every fight into an exercise in controlled chaos.
Teleport that oil barrel onto an enemy’s head to crack it open, then set it alight with a fire spell. Curse the fire to make it unextinguishable. Summon rain to create puddles across the battlefield, then a chill wind to freeze them—or electrify them with lightning. Then heat it back up to turn it into a line-of-sight blocking steam cloud to protect your back line, before your warrior leaps over to cause havoc.
Combat is its own sandbox, with endless opportunities to experiment and prove how clever you are—or for things to go spectacularly wrong in hilarious fashion. It doesn’t feel like just something you do between conversations, or a way to show off your latest stat upgrade. It’s a seamless continuation of the game’s anarchic philosophy, and just a fantastically fun tactical challenge in its own right.
Fraser: I dig it so much that I’ve started a new game even though Baldur’s Gate 3 is coming soon, at least to Early Access. And why not? Playing with different characters and builds means I get to experience all the best bits again from a different perspective. Now I’m a dickhead lizard who keeps demanding people make me lunch. And I’ve got a new friend, a squirrel riding a cat skeleton, along with a bunch of other additions and official mods that have sprouted since launch. It’s still a brilliant, free-wheeling RPG and sports one of the all-time best combat systems, and after a slew of updates it’s currently the best it’s ever been.
Jacob: That every single character in a 120+ hour RPG has been fully voiced by an actor should be proof enough that Divinity: Original Sin 2 is worth your time. The level of detail in this game, and the willingness to let the player enjoy it as they see fit, far surpasses anything else I've experienced.
Tyler: There's a sad quest about dogs that you can only do if you know how to speak to animals. You can rip off people's faces and wear them to disguise that you're a skeleton. You can accidentally finish quests before an NPC explains them to you, just because you stumbled onto them. Divinity: Original Sin 2 feels much more like playing with a creative and clever DM than most modern RPGs, especially the sort that lays much of its choice in rude or nice dialogue options.
And as has been mentioned, the turn-based combat is great, in part just because it's turn-based, as it should be. (Sorry if you like it, but real-time-with-pause can bite me. I'm very thankful that Larian is developing Baldur's Gate 3, because it means I might actually enjoy a D&D game for once.)
1. Disco Elysium
Released 2019 | Last position New entry
Robin: I struggle to think of a game that has more radically changed how I think about a genre. Disco Elysium breaks down the RPG, turns it upside down, slaps it in the face, and then takes it to a bar to get hammered with it. Despite an old school isometric perspective, it couldn’t be more willing to dump dry old tropes and mess with the ones it keeps, to the point that even much larger, more fully-featured RPGs seem oddly unambitious, and even stagnant, by comparison.
Jody: Of all the bold things Disco Elysium does, my favourite is that it says videogames can be political and all the better for it. It starts out cynical about politics ("It's basically all just evil apes dukin' it out on a giant ball" is a good line), and constantly points out the flaws of every ideology including ideology-less centrism, but it builds from there to a point—that politics is messy and confusing but also necessary, that communities should take care of their own most vulnerable members, and that even when it hides behind labels like 'traditionalism' and 'nationalism' fascism can go and do one. It makes other RPGs, especially ones that try to present both sides of every argument even when one side is in favour of indentured servitude, seem wishy-washy and cowardly.
James: I punched a kid in the face to earn his respect and it completely changed the ending. That's an RPG, baby.
Fraser: Disco Elysium lingers long after it's over. It poses a barrage of questions and constantly challenges with its themes of revolution, nationalism, morality—a kaleidoscope of ideologies all being presented before the game tears them down. Every character seems to have a manifesto, and the game itself almost serves as a manifesto for the future of RPGs, or at least ZA/UM's vision for it.
It rips out so many tired RPG cliches and swaps world-shattering stakes for an introspective exploration of a man utterly failing to hold it together. It grabs the genre by the shoulders and shouts "You don't need elves or fights or scenery-chewing villains!" And even when it uses conventional stuff like skill checks, it reinvents the whole system. Skills have personalities. They talk to you. They tell you secrets about the city or offer insights into crime scenes.
Playing other RPGs, I just keep thinking about Disco Elysium. It makes most of them seem cautious and set in their ways, and the constant recycling of systems that have, in some cases, barely changed in decades seems less forgivable now that there's this much more appealing alternative. It's exciting, and hopefully it will spur other designers into letting go of all the RPG clutter.
Andy K: I knew Disco Elysium was special from pretty much the moment I started playing it for our review—but I didn't bank on it permanently altering my expectations for an entire genre. The freedom you have to shape the protagonist, through the things you say and do, is quite extraordinary. He's a gross, wet ball of clay, and by the end of the game it really does feel like you've moulded him into something distinctly yours. I'm also amazed whenever I play how developer ZA/UM seems to constantly be two steps ahead of me, with some kind of reward or pay-off, even if it's a small one, for any harebrained idea I happen to dream up. The only really bad thing I have to say about Disco Elysium is that it's ruined all other RPGs for me. If only they were all this improbably deep.
Jacob: If I asked you to describe the worst hangover you've ever experienced, it wouldn't hold a candle to the one you're about to live out in Disco Elysium.
Wes: The writing! I want to bathe in these words. There's a joyous reverence shimmering off every sentence in Disco Elysium. It feels so alive with its mission to prove that words alone can make a masterpiece. Turns out they can.
Plenty of RPGs have great writing. Disco Elysium goes out of its way, though, to truly elevate its text. Tremendous care went into the presentation—the font, the way text unfurls, the visual effects when you pass or fail a skill check—to keep you glued to these words. Disco turns traditional RPG skills into luscious conversations, with each voice in your head adding color, clarity, and humor to a scene far more effectively than graphics could. It's a thousand times more interesting and creative than a companion in a BioWare-style RPG chiming in with an opinion on your latest binary decision.
I love games that truly feel like they were made by individual human beings, and it's staggering that every word, in a game of this scope, can feel so personal.