Orignally published on 2021-11-28 16:38:58 by www.digitaltrends.com
If there’s one genre the Xbox series of consoles has struggled to really break into in the past, it’s RPGs. Yes, each system had a standout title or two, like the original Xbox having Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and the 360 having Lost Odyssey, but this particular family of consoles was always seen as secondary to RPG fans compared to Sony, or even Nintendo, machines. With the release of the Xbox Series X, Microsoft has made a strong effort to fill that gap in their library and has already done a great job of publishing, or at least supporting, some of the best RPGs in recent memory.
What counts as an RPG today covers a wide range of games. They can be turn-based, real time, action-focused, narrative-focused, first-person, and more. So many games incorporate RPG elements now that it can be a little tough to find one that doesn’t anymore. However, for this list, we’re picking only games that are RPGs at their core, or are at least have it as a main component rather than a game that just throws in progression bars and nothing else. Still, that leaves a lot of ground to cover. If you’re feeling the itch for a new RPG to play on your Xbox Series X, we’ve picked out the best from a range of titles that should fill the exact experience you’re looking for.
Starting off with one of the most criminally overlooked console and PC RPGs from Xbox first-party studio inXile, although this game was in development prior to their acquisition, Wasteland 3 is an ambitious game that attempts to merge the best parts of the original Fallout games with the newer XCOM titles. It has all the best RPG elements of an older title, such as varied dialogue trees that change and adapt based on your specific skills, previous choices, relationship with different factions, quests completed, and actions. This level of adaptability mostly disappeared as games got more expensive to make, and it added voice acting, but Wasteland 3 manages to feel just as dynamic without sacrificing a fully voiced cast.
Despite the 3 in the title, you don’t need to have played the prior Wasteland games to jump into Wasteland 3. Aside from the main faction, the Desert Rangers, and a scant few characters, everything in this game is new, or explained as though you are new to the series. You will control a party of characters you meet in the world, recruit, and build from the ground up. You will spec each one out with skill points, attribute points, and perks that are numerous and varied enough to make you want to specialize characters in different areas but also replay the game for all the opportunities you’re bound to miss for not having that skill. Combat is pure XCOM style, though not quite as unforgiving. If you like deep, reactive games that feel like they came from the glory days of old CRPGs, Wasteland 3 fits the bill perfectly.
Read our full Wasteland 3 review
Detective-style games are very hard to get right. They tend to either be too obvious or overly obtuse and require multilateral thinking and an almost psychic level of intuition. However, Disco Elysium: The Final Cut bucks that trend by being possibly the greatest detective RPG ever created. It achieves this by integrating multiple RPG systems, ditching combat outright, and making everything come down to a roll of the dice. Failing to do or notice something is almost never a game over, except in the few instances where you can just die. Instead, the game somehow adapts to everything and allows you to continue on in whatever state you find yourself in. More impressive is the sheer amount of choices the game presents on who you are and how you conduct yourself, and then the ways it acknowledges your choices beyond just a throwaway line.
Disco Elysium: The Final Cut is exactly what we can point to as a story that could only be told in the medium of video games. It is the best detective story ever written, writing itself as you play it a hundred different ways. From moment to moment, you will be mainly interacting with objects and people, but the game changes based on not only how you interact with everything, but also in what ways you can interact based on how your stats are built. There are entire storylines you can, and will, miss based on not having a high enough skill at the right time. Now that this final cut version also added in full voice acting, it’s an easy recommendation for at least two playthroughs.
Originally pitched as a joke, Yakuza: Like a Dragon is anything but. Technically the seventh mainline game in the series, the developers wisely opted to drop the number for the reboot that not only starts off with a fresh story and protagonist, but also an entire gameplay genre shift. Previous games were light RPGs, but mostly brawlers, while Yakuza: Like a Dragon is full-on, classic turn-based combat with a few twists here and there. What really makes it stand out from any other JRPG is the story, as well as the characters and setting. Nearly all JRPGs are either set in fantasy worlds, have a cast of teenage to young adult heroes, or both. Yakuza: Like a Dragon is set in modern-day Japan and has a cast of 40-something-year-old bums, ex-cons, and laid-off DMV workers, to name a few.
If you know the Yakuza series, then you know the level of storytelling to expect with this game. If not, this is essentially a multi-season crime drama full of twists, betrayals, mysteries, and all the ingredients that genre entails. Thanks to strong writing and even stronger characters, Yakuza: Like a Dragon never buckles under its own weight. On the RPG side, this game is not at all ashamed to wear its Dragon Quest inspirations on its sleeve. You have skills, jobs, party members, gear, weapons, equipment, items, and summons, but all framed in a surprisingly fresh, modern take. Summons, for example, are people you meet that you “summon” by calling them on your cell phone. It’s the perfect game for anyone who loves the old-school style of JRPG but just wants a completely fresh take on the genre from your standard “find the four crystals” or “average kid saves the world” plots and settings.
The original run of Assassin’s Creed games was very very light on RPG mechanics. At best, you had some linear upgrades and maybe a few new moves your assassin could learn. Otherwise, they were primarily open-world action games. Starting with Assassin’s Creed Origins, the series refreshed itself into a much more heavily RPG-focused series. The third game evolving on this new formula is the Norse-inspired Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, which casts you as either a male or female Viking in yet another massive open-world adventure. The series has nearly given up having a narrative through-line between titles, so all you need to concern yourself with is the plot of the historical period, and even that isn’t the main draw.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is kind of the perfect example of quantity over diversity. There’s just so much to do in this game it’s almost unreal, especially for those of us who have a compulsion to check every box and investigate every new map marker that pops up. Even if that isn’t you, the main plot will still take dozens of hours once you account for doing at least some extra stuff to reach a high enough level. The actual role-playing narrative speaking is very light and mainly consists of making some dialogue choices. Gameplay-wise, you have a giant skill tree, tons of weapons, and all sorts of customization options. If you just want a game you can fall into a groove with and sink dozens, or even hundreds, of hours into, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is exactly what you’re looking for.
Read our full Assassin’s Creed Valhalla review
We already established that RPGs don’t have to just stick to fantasy settings. In fact, some of the best have been set in the sci-fi realm, including our next pick. Outriders is a blend of third-person shooting with RPG classes, skills, and loot. Rather than collecting new swords and battle-axes, you’ll find shotguns and rifles with varying stats, buffs, and effects. The story is … there? In all honesty, most people have written off the story of this game for being bland and at best not very memorable. If you want your RPGs to grip you with a tight and engrossing narrative, this one isn’t going to satisfy you.
On the other hand, if you want a game that plays very well and has a great loop for you and some friends to team up in, Outriders shines. The different classes all play their own roles in combat, with fun and flashy skills that might as well just be magic spells. You can build your character to nearly break the game in some ways thanks to the fact that it doesn’t have to concern itself with being balanced for PvP. Getting overpowered feels great in Outriders, and upping the difficulty as you replay missions for even stronger loot is a great grind if you’re into that sort of thing. Plus, since it isn’t a games as a service title, it won’t string you along for months or years, either. You can call it quits when you finish the campaign once, or 50 times after buffing your character up to take on the hardest difficulty levels.
Read our full Outriders review
Don’t worry, anime fans, we’ve got plenty of RPGs on the Series X aimed squarely at your demographic. Newest on that list is the incredibly stylish Scarlet Nexus. Visually, this game looks like your generic anime in a lot of ways, but one of the higher quality ones, at least. Sure, your main cast, especially the male protagonist, have pretty forgettable faces, but their outfit design and moves are where they start to stand out. This is a heavy-action RPG, full of fast combat with big effects and over-the-top moves. This is a world in which creatures have invaded and only your team of psychic soldiers can fight them off. Yeah, not the most inspired plot of all time, but certainly enough to draw you along through the decent-sized story mode.
As an RPG, this game isn’t all too different from Assassin’s Creed Valhalla in some ways. You will primarily be dealing with spending points in your skill tree, collecting materials (although this isn’t an open-world game), crafting, and getting new weapons. Where Scarlet Nexus takes things further is in two areas. First, you have two main protagonists to pick from, each with their own campaign. They do overlap in points, so they’re not wholly distinct, but they do have very different skills to make it worth a second run if you enjoyed the first. Second is the light relationship and bonding mechanic with your other party members you take part in between missions. It’s no Fire Emblem game, but getting to know your team is satisfying if only for the bonuses they give you in combat.
Read out full Scarlet Nexus review
NieR barely qualifies as a series. The first game was a continuation from an alternate ending to Drakenguard 3, and the sequel, NieR: Automata Become as Gods, takes place thousands of years after that game. Needless to say, don’t worry about any backstory going into this game if you don’t have any, although the first game did get a great remake as NieR: Replicant not long ago if you’re curious. On the surface, this may seem like yet another anime bait game, but boy is that the wrong assumption to make. Not only is this game one of the most interesting, thought-provoking, and emotional titles on the system, but the gameplay is a surprising treat that always seems to have one more trick up its sleeve.
Without giving away the story, NieR: Automata Become as Gods is one of the most human stories where robots and androids are the main characters. It dives deep into themes of consciousness, humanity, souls, and philosophical concepts that you could spend hours dissecting. As a game, it has the unmistakable smooth and satisfying action combat that only Platinum Games can seem to nail, along with the genre-bending tendencies director Yoko Taro loves to throw in. You have a small open world, side quests, weapons, chips that represent skills, and buffs to organize and allocate space for, plus a full alphabet of endings to get. Most are basically jokes, but endings A through E are essential, and each one re-frames events to give new revelations about the plot and characters you would never expect. Plus, that ending … if you don’t at least get choked up, you may be less human than the characters in the game.
Read out full NieR: Automata review
Don’t let the bad taste Marvel’s Avengers left in your mouth keep you from playing the very different Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. This game, despite being a perfect fit for the exact same games as a service, multiplayer looter, and grind fest that crippled Avengers, did what we all wished that game did and is a pure single-player action RPG. The only major nitpick most have is that you only take direct control of one of the Guardians, Peter Quill aka Starlord, rather than swap between all the heroes. That aside, there’s not much you can really complain about in this tight, focused title. It’s not quite on the level of the films, and it does have a few rough edges, but in some aspects, it comes pretty close.
Without spoiling the plot, you have a respectable-sized campaign here, if a little short by RPG standards, at around 10 hours. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is more action RPG than pure RPG, so the shorter length actually works to its benefit. The combat doesn’t get to overstay its welcome, and they can bring in some unique mechanics here and there to spice things up without sticking around long enough to show their cracks. Being a game based on one of Marvel’s biggest properties, the writing and characters are what you come to this game for. Based on how you respond and make choices for the team, you can change how their relationship with Starlord develops. With such a tight cast, they are able to really drive home these developments through all the great dialogue.
Read our full Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy review
This game seems to have gone under just about everyone’s radar, but is absolutely one RPG fans should look into. The basic setup is that you play as captain Ashley S. Nowak, the titular Riftbreaker, equipped with a mech suit and sent through a portal to a new planet called Galatea 37. You goal here is to scavenge and survive long enough while establishing bases, researching, and fighting off the dangerous fauna until you can construct a second portal that will allow back-and-forth travel between Galatea 37 and Earth. Your suit, nicknamed Mr. Riggs, is the only thing protecting you from the harsh environment of this alien world, and it’s what allows you to travel through portals.
Taking place from an isometric perspective, The Riftbreaker is part RPG, part roguelite. The world, its biomes, the enemies, resources, and everything you find are all randomly generated in this sandbox survival game. The more you build up bases and start gathering resources, the more hostile the alien creatures will become, besieging you and your facilities more often. You will need to build up defenses for your structures, as well as upgrade yourself to defend them with things like energy blades, flamethrowers, and miniguns. If you enjoy a Diablo-style combat system, annihilating waves upon waves of enemies, mixed with light base building and resource management, The Riftbreaker is a game that shouldn’t be overlooked.
The Tales series has had a strange relationship with Xbox consoles, and after a longer than usual gap between releases, the series is back and better than ever with Tales of Arise. The first thing you’ll notice when firing up this JRPG is just how amazing it looks. The art style is clearly in that anime aesthetic, but the way the bold colors pop with tons of depth and shading, plus the strong outlines, makes even the non-action moments in this game a visual treat. When you start unleashing the flashy abilities and spells, though, get ready for some real eye candy. Great visuals are one thing, but Tales of Arise just keeps iterating on and improving the action combat that made the series stand out way back when it first launched.
Tales of Arise is a full-on open-world JRPG. If you like that, you’ll love this game. If not, the combat may be enough to draw you in. This is a far more action-heavy and tactical game than a lot of JRPGs that ask for little to no skill in execution. Timing your skills, managing your team, and smartly rationing your various resources are almost required for a smooth progression. Of course, the option to grind out levels is always there for you. The story is quite gripping and hits on both a personal level with various inter-party relationships and dynamics as well as on a wider scale concerning race and political issues of the world. Tales of Arise doesn’t do anything especially new or groundbreaking, but sometimes a rock-solid JRPG is exactly what you’re craving.
Read our full Tales of Arise review
A completely different type of tail, we have another game that scurried by with little fanfare outside of word of mouth from those who took a look at it. Tails of Iron is basically a gritty, dark, and bloody version of the Redwall novels. The setup is that you play as Redgi, a rat and rightful heir to the throne, whose kingdom just overthrew an evil overlord and needs a new king. Tradition dictates that the next king will be chosen through combat, leading Redgi to face off against the land’s most deadly opponents to claim his rightful place on the throne. Tails of Iron utilizes a 2D, hand-drawn art style that changes what could’ve been a cute and family-friendly light adventure into a brutally grim, and slightly uncomfortable, world.
Speaking of brutal, Tails of Iron will push your combat skills. You’ll take on various creatures, like frogs and grubs, that can all cut your life short if you’re caught unaware. The combat is a little Souls-like, with dodges, parries, and even execution moves. You will find and purchase new weapons, armors, and meals from friendly NPCs, who also offer side quests in the larger world you explore. There are some who can even team up with you if you find yourself unable to progress on your own. Your build is mostly determined by gear, with tradeoffs being logical, like heavy armor resulting in slower rolls, which allows you to completely change up your build easily based on the situation or boss at hand. Oh, and did we mention the narration is done by none other than Doug Cockle aka Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher series?
We’ve had one shooter make this list already, but this will be the only FPS to make the cut for now. Borderlands 3 likely doesn’t need any introduction. The series is almost single-handedly responsible for kicking off the, at the time, unheard-of marriage of first-person shooters, RPGs, and looter games. That original game gave us four unique character classes, each with simple yet distinct skill trees, and thousands of guns. The following games have all upped the ante, especially in the number of guns, until we get to Borderlands 3. While being a sharp shooter is important, this game really is all about your stats and equipment, but that FPS style is a great way to get people who might not think of themselves as RPG fans to give it a shot.
The humor, or lack thereof, depending on your taste, of Borderlands 3, and really the entire plot, shouldn’t be the deciding factor in playing this game or not. If you like it, great, but if not, you won’t be missing out on anything by completely ignoring it and just enjoying the game for what it is. In fact, Borderlands 3 is way better when playing in co-op anyway. Each class is far more unique in this game than prior ones, with multiple skill trees to invest points in, different abilities, and, of course, what weapons and gear you equip. It’s also no slouch in terms of content, with plenty of extra missions alongside the main quest and a fairly robust end game for people who really want to test their builds at max level. Then there are all the DLC packs you can dive into as well to make this FPS really hit those traditional RPG hour counts.
Speaking of traditional RPGs, there’s almost no series out there that remains as faithful to the original formula as Dragon Quest. This classic JRPG series dates all the way back to the NES and has remained one of the most popular games in the genre, right up there with the likes of Final Fantasy. However, while nearly every Final Fantasy game reinvents, or at the very least retools, itself between installments, Dragon Quest has instead simply polished what worked into a near-perfect version of what it could be. Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age, despite being a nonsense and unwieldy title, is almost comically simple to understand. You could guess the plot, and a good number of the twists, within the first couple of hours, and the turn-based combat is like putting on your favorite sweater — cozy, warm, and familiar, but not going to turn any heads.
OK, so there’s one wrinkle to everything we said about Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age. Yes, the plot is your typical silent protagonist getting wrapped up in a quest to save the world, and you can basically set your watch to all the standard beats and twists that follow, but it does have one line that, after it crosses it, the game becomes far more interesting and different. Plus, it is always a joy to get to know a new cast of party members, most of which in this game are fan favorites for the series. You will spec every character out with a skill tree to unlock buffs, skills, and the usual, plus do the whole armor and weapons thing to prepare for your vanilla turn-based combat. Don’t get me wrong, this is the purest, high-quality vanilla you can get, but if you’re sick of that flavor, well, there’s not much here for you then. If you like it, then this might be your new favorite.
Read our full Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age review