• Which RPGs Have the Most Role-Playing?

    Only one game occupies this tier, simply because the amount of role-playing it offers is distinctly more free form than the tier 3 RPGs, but also distinctly less than tier 1. It is fair to call the role-playing quantity between tier 1-3 RPGs close, but we strive to be most precise here on GND-Tech. Note that tier 2 is closer to tier 1, than it is to tier 3.

    Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura (2001)


    Arcanum is usually (but not often enough) mentioned in the same breath as Fallout 2 and Planescape: Torment. Indeed, these are the three greatest isometric 2.5D RPGs ever made, by far. These three also have the most role-playing of any isometric 2.5D RPG.

    This is perhaps the worst RPG for a newcomer to start off with. Not only does it have no quest markers, realistically vague objectives (such as, "Locate the village of the Dark Elves" on a massive continent that is at least hundreds of square kilometers in size), but it is a unique world not belonging to an established franchise, thus bringing its own ruleset. This warrants reading its 190 page superbly written manual, as the in game UI is good but not terribly user friendly (it is straightforward in a basic sense, but has no description for its more advanced features).

    The world of Arcanum is one of a kind; a parallel 1800s United Kingdom set during an industrial revolution that wasn't unlike that of reality; a world fascinated with gears and steam engines. But the key difference being the presence of more traditional fantasy elements as well; magick primarily, as well as other races such as dwarves, elves, gnomes, halflings, orcs, and ogres. Essentially, if you were to take Dungeons and Dragons and fast forward hundreds of years, you'd have something like Arcanum.


    Like Fallout and Fallout 2, it is open world and has no hand holding. No quest markers or overly detailed instructions on how to complete quests. The world is well written, far surpassing that of most RPGs outside of this tier. And as you can surmise, the conflict between technology and magick presents wonderful story opportunities. The game does make good use of some opportunity in this regard, although there is potential for even more.

    The world is so detailed that it makes modern RPGs look rushed, as if they didn't have a time to add all of the additional layers of detail that Arcanum has, and boy does it have many. Every settlement is 100% distinct visually, as expected from a 2D game, but they are also filled with unique stories and characters. So many real characters you can converse with, with so many unique dialogue options according to your character build and progression. Road signs are actually legible and practical as are the addresses for every single building (all can be entered, most are not a separate cell), trash bins are usable, NPCs actually walk around and go to sleep at night (it has a dynamic day/night cycle). Found a locked, maybe quest related door with no apparent means to open it? Try dynamite, just like Fallout and Fallout 2. High quality RPGs like Arcanum are logical, and such RPGs no longer exist.


    Arcanum submerges you in role-playing. Players can play as a human, dwarf, elf, half-elf, half-orc, or half-ogre. Race has massive impact upon stats and abilities, like the Neverwinter Nights games. It has considerable impact on dialogue, but not the most, as the entire game isn't rewritten for any one race. Lots of unique attribute related dialogue exists however; in general the game's dialogue changes in a major way depending on your Intelligence level (including 'dumb character' dialogue like Fallout 2) and Charisma/Persuasion level. Lots of progression based unique dialogue too, and so many based on reputation and reaction (reaction also being affected by your Beauty attribute). Again, the amount of dialogue options according to your character build and your playthrough, possessed by the tier 1-3 RPGs, greatly surpasses those of all games belonging to lower tiers.

    Arcanum lets you do act however you please. You can even kill every character in the game at a whim, and the consequences are massive unlike The Elder Scrolls.

    There is no defined class system, instead you can spend points (earned when leveling up) on anything—attributes, skills (combat related, dialogue related, and others such as thief skills, increasing chance of success at all of these), one of the 8 technological disciplines in the form of unlocking new schematics (so it's similar to choosing perks in a game like Fallout 4 or The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim), or one of the 16 spell colleges in the form of directly choosing new spells.

    The only games that provide more possible character builds than Arcanum are Neverwinter Nights 2 and maybe Neverwinter Nights, but the contrast in Arcanum's possible character builds is unmatched. For example, you can play as a low intelligence club wielding half-ogre and witness every conversation (and even your log book) be rewritten much like Fallout 2 (and yes, you can lower your intelligence to such levels as other races as well). Or you can play as a technological master, wielding a repeater rifle and fine revolver and other impressive gadgetry, or you can play as a a devout believer of magick and technological opponent, skilled in the arcane arts.

    One of the game's stats is a meter that gauges technological vs magick prowess, used almost like the light side vs dark side system of the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic games. If you possess strong technological aptitude, magick shopkeepers and such will not do business with you, and the opposite is also true. Some companions may not follow you depending on this facet, and also depending on your level.


    Furthermore, Arcanum gives you the option of playing with real-time combat or turn-based. I have never seen another game go to such lengths. Of course, real-time with no pausing and at a fast pace like this isn't really feasible in an isometric 2.5D game, as the camera can't keep up due to its inability to rotate, plus the camera is too distant.

    While Arcanum's graphics are outdated and considerably inferior to those of Infinity Engine, its UI is very good, somewhat resembling games like Pillars of Eternity and Tyranny. With enough tweaking (see the first post and page 17 of this thread) it works with perhaps any 16:9 and 16:10 resolution and also Windows 10.


    Comments 24 Comments
    1. Grompz's Avatar
      Grompz -
      I've watched a Fallout 2 dumb playthrough, and your article sums up my feelings about this games, especially that part
      Some traders won't deal with you depending on your reputation, many quests won't be available to you depending on many factors
      This is amazing how dialogues and quests accessibility change when you are a low inte char'. 1rst citizen Linette won't listen to you, can't work for certain factions in new Reno, I remember some dialogue option where NPCs even try to scam you by selling more expensive items than the barter option.
      Even more fun, is that there is even more branching by cumulating multiple skills.
      If you are a high charisma dumb female character, Mirion will try to rape you by giving you a druged soda

      This is something I regret in Skyrim, I know it's a sandbox but you feel too much "mighty" in this game, when you do some quests, NPCs will comment on your actions, but it's like "I don't like you, you killed all my family, but since I'm a trader, you can still buy stuff from my shop" consequences don't have as much impact as it should in my opinion

      EDIT: by the way, I've heard about a game called Age of Decadence, it's basically if someone took Fallout S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system and made a whole game about it where dialogues and quests reolutions are heavely bound to your build, better to do a specialized build rather than a balance one, but I don't know if there are decisions or branching paths in the game itself, it seems that the game is split to multiple aeras and they don't connect much altogether.
      I'll check that out on a discount.
    1. Charcharo's Avatar
      Charcharo -
      Great article. Needs a bit more on thematic (I guess) roleplaying but I enjoyed it. Fallout 2 really is the high point in VG roleplaying.

      The Tier 0 is simple. Real Tabletop RP games. :P But that is impossible to reach.
    1. Grompz's Avatar
      Grompz -
      Quote Originally Posted by Charcharo View Post
      Great article. Needs a bit more on thematic (I guess) roleplaying but I enjoyed it. Fallout 2 really is the high point in VG roleplaying.

      The Tier 0 is simple. Real Tabletop RP games. :P But that is impossible to reach.
      Actually, I think a short game with a length of, let's say, Goodsprings + Primm + Mojave Outpost + Novac quests in Fallout: New Vegas with random procedural creation, heavy stat sheet and dynamic AI might be a possible prototype.
    1. Jester's Avatar
      Jester -
      Quote Originally Posted by Grompz View Post

      EDIT: by the way, I've heard about a game called Age of Decadence, it's basically if someone took Fallout S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system and made a whole game about it where dialogues and quests reolutions are heavely bound to your build, better to do a specialized build rather than a balance one, but I don't know if there are decisions or branching paths in the game itself, it seems that the game is split to multiple aeras and they don't connect much altogether.
      I'll check that out on a discount.
      Thanks, next time it's on sale I'll be sure to pick it up. Shame I didn't know of it during the summer sale.
    1. Enad's Avatar
      Enad -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jester View Post
      Quote Originally Posted by Grompz View Post

      EDIT: by the way, I've heard about a game called Age of Decadence, it's basically if someone took Fallout S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system and made a whole game about it where dialogues and quests reolutions are heavely bound to your build, better to do a specialized build rather than a balance one, but I don't know if there are decisions or branching paths in the game itself, it seems that the game is split to multiple aeras and they don't connect much altogether.
      I'll check that out on a discount.
      Thanks, next time it's on sale I'll be sure to pick it up. Shame I didn't know of it during the summer sale.
      You probably won't like it. Mostly due to the setting but it's also pretty rough around the edges. It is a very freeform RPG though.
    1. Grompz's Avatar
      Grompz -
      The purpose of this article is to enlighten gamers as many of today's gamers have only experienced dumbed down RPGs with a minimal amount of role-playing, such as The Witcher franchise
      I read multiple times that the Witcher franchise is based on a book. That might explain a lot of things (especially the pre-defined background of both the main character and the universe). I think if they sold this as an adventure game with some RPG elements, that would have caused no harm if you ask me.

      Besides, CDP Red are currently developping Cyberpunk 2077, which this time is based on a board game I believe, it will features multiples classes according to the devs' so I think we can have some hopes of a much better product regarding the RPG aspects. I don't expect a deep gameplay though.
    1. Jester's Avatar
      Jester -
      Quote Originally Posted by Grompz View Post
      The purpose of this article is to enlighten gamers as many of today's gamers have only experienced dumbed down RPGs with a minimal amount of role-playing, such as The Witcher franchise
      I read multiple times that the Witcher franchise is based on a book. That might explain a lot of things (especially the pre-defined background of both the main character and the universe). I think if they sold this as an adventure game with some RPG elements, that would have caused no harm if you ask me.

      Besides, CDP Red are currently developping Cyberpunk 2077, which this time is based on a board game I believe, it will features multiples classes according to the devs' so I think we can have some hopes of a much better product regarding the RPG aspects. I don't expect a deep gameplay though.
      You are entirely correct. It will be very interesting to see CDPR's capabilities as an RPG developer with Cyberpunk 2077. I don't expect much to be honest, I think they are set on one style and can't deviate from it.
    1. Charcharo's Avatar
      Charcharo -
      Do not underestimate them. They made a decent Card game and that is totally different to making... whatever the Witcher 3 is exactly in this mess we call genres.

      Wargaming started with Strategy games and now they make online tactical TPS things... with war machines. Obsidian as well, but not strategy games, rather RPGs. GSC Game World was well known due to their strategy games long before STALKER was released

      So who knows. I really hope they understand the UI and gameplay loop of STALKER though.

      Quote Originally Posted by Grompz View Post
      The purpose of this article is to enlighten gamers as many of today's gamers have only experienced dumbed down RPGs with a minimal amount of role-playing, such as The Witcher franchise
      I read multiple times that the Witcher franchise is based on a book. That might explain a lot of things (especially the pre-defined background of both the main character and the universe). I think if they sold this as an adventure game with some RPG elements, that would have caused no harm if you ask me.

      Besides, CDP Red are currently developping Cyberpunk 2077, which this time is based on a board game I believe, it will features multiples classes according to the devs' so I think we can have some hopes of a much better product regarding the RPG aspects. I don't expect a deep gameplay though.
      Witcher 3 is a very strange thing. It has some ... examples of thematic RPing that are generally rare in gaming. But apart from that it is also more of an adventure title. That will be dissected soon though.

      But yes, it is also an example of Remediation in gaming. Different to Metro series though.
    1. Charcharo's Avatar
      Charcharo -
      Meh seen worse.

      Truth is that at one point, things are subjective. I can see why someone would love for example... Skyrim or Oblivion over Morrowind and Fallout 2 or NV. I dont think like that, but such is life :P
    1. Grompz's Avatar
      Grompz -
      Quote Originally Posted by Charcharo View Post
      Truth is that at one point, things are subjective.
      Indeed, but I think there is a difference between saying « I prefer Fallout 4 over Fallout 2 » and « Fallout 4 has more roleplaying elements than Fallout 2. »
    1. Charcharo's Avatar
      Charcharo -
      Quote Originally Posted by Grompz View Post
      Quote Originally Posted by Charcharo View Post
      Truth is that at one point, things are subjective.
      Indeed, but I think there is a difference between saying « I prefer Fallout 4 over Fallout 2 » and « Fallout 4 has more roleplaying elements than Fallout 2. »
      Well... if they say that (did not read a lot of the list, mostly the names)... well... special lists are special.
    1. Jester's Avatar
      Jester -
      Yeah those lists are just a popularity contest, although they don't quite emphasize quantity of role-playing as much as this list here. Our list avoids some degree of subjectivity by just going after which ones have the most role-playing.

      But eck, I've seen the RPS list but not the other one.
    1. Grompz's Avatar
      Grompz -
      Quote Originally Posted by Charcharo View Post
      Quote Originally Posted by Grompz View Post
      Quote Originally Posted by Charcharo View Post
      Truth is that at one point, things are subjective.
      Indeed, but I think there is a difference between saying « I prefer Fallout 4 over Fallout 2 » and « Fallout 4 has more roleplaying elements than Fallout 2. »
      Well... if they say that (did not read a lot of the list, mostly the names)... well... special lists are special.
      The vg247 mixes nostalgia factor criteria, gameplay elements and story elements. It's more a tribute of past/nostalgia/hall of fame list. It mixes JRPG, MMORPG, Action-RGP, wRPG (despite the fact that those 4 categories aim different targets) and some games with RPG elements that are far from being the main focus (they include System Shock 2 which is a shooter first and foremost), from 16 bits console games to recent PC games.
      There isn't really any clear comparaison elements and most of the list is based on subjective factors.

      I think they should have called this list : 50 games with RPG elements we like.

      Back to the topic: I really need to try Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, it's a game that receive a lot of praise when it comes to RPG elements. Someone played it?
    1. Jester's Avatar
      Jester -
      Quote Originally Posted by Grompz View Post

      Back to the topic: I really need to try Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, it's a game that receive a lot of praise when it comes to RPG elements. Someone played it?
      I'll try it one day, but what keeps me away is how unpolished and buggy and perhaps broken it is. It's known as one of the most unpolished good PC games ever.
    1. Charcharo's Avatar
      Charcharo -
      It is one of the best games. Problem is you *NEED* the community patch to play it and even then it is kind of rough.

      But its quality is there. It deserves to be on such lists.
    1. Jester's Avatar
      Jester -
      Updated with the aforementioned Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, which is also 75% off on Steam at the time of this post. Tier 2, utterly amazing RPG! I went into it "only" expecting tier 3. Also, Obsidian games are quite reminiscent of it in several ways since some of their employees worked at Troika before Troika went out of business.
    1. Grompz's Avatar
      Grompz -
      Tier 2? That's impressive, too bad this game was overshadowed by HL2 (same release date). I saw that you put Kotor 2 for the 2004 GOTY, is it still the case after playing VTMB?

      So I guess we need to try other Troicka Games
      https://www.gog.com/games?devpub=tro...selling&page=1

      Arcanum is also supposed to be a good one.
    1. Jester's Avatar
      Jester -
      I've tried The Temple of Elemental Evil, but didn't get far because it was even glitchier than Bloodlines. Also it doesn't seem to support anything beyond 1600 x 900. Hopefully Arcanum actually works lol.

      Hard to say which is GOTY. Both deserve it. Bloodlines has more role-playing, but KOTOR 2's role-playing is outstanding for what it goes for (goes for less role-playing but the quality is there) and the writing is a bit more impressive. Both have elements and levels that seem rushed, and a rushed ending. KOTOR 2's combat is definitely better.

      - EDIT: Easy choice actually. VTMB for 2004, KOTOR 2 for 2005 since it released on PC in 2005.
    1. Jester's Avatar
      Jester -
      Another update. I have added Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura to the list, as I have now completed it and played a little of it as a second character (with an Intelligence score of 3). I also played its Vormantown official module. Magnificent game and RPG, one of the best on both fronts. Very clearly made by some of the greatest minds who also made Fallout 2 and Planescape: Torment (and who would go on to create Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, KOTOR 2, and Neverwinter Nights 2 and its expansions).

      I had to create a new tier just for it. It is distinctly in between Fallout 2 and the formerly tier 2 (now tier 3, but still A- tier) RPGs.

      I have also given a secondary, more clear descriptor for each tier; tier 1 can also be referred to as A+ tier for example. I guess that means the theoretical tier 0 that Charcharo mentioned (for PnP RPGs exclusively) would be A++ tier? Or S tier if you go by how the Japanese rank these things.

      I have also finished The Temple of Elemental Evil... but not Troika's (which crashes in every loading screen for me, in addition to having game breaking graphics bugs above 1600 x 900). No, I play an adaptation made for Neverwinter Nights 2.

      https://neverwintervault.org/project...-evil-unlocked

      While it has a bit more role-playing than I expected, it doesn't quite seem fit for this tier list. It is focused primarily on combat, like Icewind Dale but with more role-playing. This coincides with the feedback for Troika's game as well, as this is a well received video game adaptation. On that note, it does deliver some of the best NWN 2 battles I've ever had, so good on them.

      Also, oddly enough it does not use Storm of Zehir's create your own party interface; instead you create your PC, and a series of dialogue options with a Dungeon Master type character (who actually appears to be a part of the story) determines the classes for your five companions. The options are limited, and the companions are automatically made to be the same race as you, so here I am playing with six dwarves! Also it is responsive to your race, with dialogue according to it. Non-supported races like Yuan-Ti get no companions unfortunately, and most of your dialogue responses throughout the story use the term, "we" and some characters mention your companions as if they're there. So play a supported race.