If there’s one genre that never seems to run out of steam regardless of what situation the industry at large might be in, it’s RPGs. Though they’ve been a pillar of the medium for nearly as long as the medium has been around, the last decade or so has seen role playing games rise to a level of unprecedented prominence, to the extent that mechanics and ideas associated with the genre frequently find their way into other unrelated categories of games. 2022, like most other years, was brimming with numerous excellent RPGs from beginning to end, and here, we’re going to recognize what we felt were the best of the let, before crowning one of them as the king of the hill.
NOTE: The nominees and winner were decided by an internal vote held among the entire GamingBolt staff.
POKEMON LEGENDS: ARCEUS
2022 was an incredibly important year for Pokemon, because this was the year that the series finally broke free of the shackles of tradition and tried something new and different. Pokemon Legends: Arceus was the first step in that journey, and what an incredible step it was. Its period setting, the unique atmosphere of its world, the open world maps, the quickness of the gameplay, the addictiveness of exploring and catching Pokemon- all of it came together and collectively made for one hell of a game.
POKEMON SCARLET AND VIOLET
Less than a year after Legends’ launch, Pokemon struck again with Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, and though the RPG duo’s launch was certainly marred by widespread technical issues, when it comes to the core gameplay, there’s no denying that these newest adventures got a lot of things right. The seamless open world map offered a level of freedom that we have rarely ever seen in Pokemon games, and that went hand-in-hand with a top-to-bottom modernization of almost all of the series’ core mechanics. Not the finished article by any stretch of the imagination, but an incredible building block for what’s hopefully going to be a brighter future.
DYING LIGHT 2 STAY HUMAN
Zombie apocalypse settings are a dime a dozen in pretty much all entertainment media, but Dying Light 2 owns that premise in a way very few other games have ever done. The open world action RPG populates its massive map not only with a litany of activities, but also with swarms of the undead that genuinely feel like a constant threat, even as you continue to get more powerful and capable. Of course, the parkour mechanics shine bright once again, and continue to uplift every second of the experience in meaningful ways.
Easily the most unique game on this entire list, Citizen Sleeper is the textbook definition of, well, a sleeper hit. It might not be the biggest, shiniest game out there, but when you get down to playing it, it doesn’t take long for it to sink its claws deep into you. That’s down to its unique setting, its incredibly writing and storytelling, and its genuinely engaging gameplay loop, which keeps finding new ways to take players by surprise- and that’s really just scratching the surface.
Since 2009, FromSoftware has been widely recognized as one of the best RPG developers in the industry, and though we’re way, way past the point where that notion needed proving, if you were somehow still a doubter, Elden Ring probably turned you into a believer. The massive action RPG takes the core formula of the Souls games – which in and of itself is incredibly compelling – and applies it to a gargantuan open world that’s as gorgeous and deadly as it is a joy to explore. Spend hundreds of hours galloping through The Lands Between, and you’ll still keep chancing upon new discoveries that will make you fall in love with the game all over again.
HORIZON FORBIDDEN WEST
If there was one area where 2017’s Horizon Zero Dawn left a little something to be desired, it was its RPG mechanics, thanks to how straightforward they often felt. Suffice to say, Forbidden West remedies most of those issues- and quite convincingly at that. Progression feels much more nuanced and layered, crafting and upgrades feel much more integral to the experience, while the game also boasts genuine build diversity, especially compared to its predecessor. Add to that an enormous and stunning open world, a bevy of excellent side content, incredible combat, and some of the best visuals you’ll ever see in a game, and what you get is one of the best experiences of the year.
TINY TINA’S WONDERLANDS
Borderlands fans who’re beginning to get antsy about the arrival of the series’ next mainline outing are going to have to wait who knows how long to get their hands on what they want, but at the very least, 2022 brought a more than sufficient stopgap in the form of Tiny’s Tina’s Wonderlands. With its D&D-inspired premise and the unique new mechanics that brings with it, the game puts a fresh new coat of paint on the series’ formula- but that core formula is, of course, still intact, which means the looting and shooting is as fun as ever. It might not boast the sheer breadth of content of a mainline Borderlands game, but it’s a meaty enough adventure in its own right nonetheless.
XENOBLADE CHRONICLES 3
Xenoblade Chronicles games’ denseness and complexity can be intimidating to many, but for hardcore fans of RPGs, that’s exactly what makes them so alluring. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is the prime example of that. It combines a complex and layered combat system with a web of progression mechanics that, put together, offer a staggering level of options to players. Propping all of that up is a massive and beautiful open world that’ll constantly have you on the edge of your seat.
Every year brings at least a handful of new Soulslike games from developers big and small alike, and though not all of them do justice to that formula, some end up taking people by surprise. Thymesia is one such game. With its gothic aesthetic and its central premise, it heavily evokes Bloodborne, while its fast, challenging, frantic combat has heavy shades of Sekiro. Of course, the game isn’t without its rough edges, but on the whole, this is a game that genre fans definitely shouldn’t be skipping.
What do you get when you combine the design philosophies of an immersive sim with the structure and progression loop of an action RPG? You get a game that never fails to present its players with a bucketload of options in pretty much everything you set out to do. Weird West is a game that prides itself on the strength of its systems and their interactions, and those systems are so much richer thanks to the game’s RPG bent. Combine the abilities of your tailor-made build with the emergent interactions that characterize the gameplay, and you get a level of freedom to tackle situations how you want that very few other games can offer.
THE LEGEND OF HEROES: TRAILS FROM ZERO
At long last, The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero finally came West this year, and it seems fair to say that the game turned out to be worth the wait (unless, of course, you played an imported copy long ago). Given the fact that this isn’t exactly a recent game at this point, some parts of Trails from Zero do feel a bit aged- but the game’s core strengths in the storytelling, character building, and combat departments never lose their luster. It was one of the best entries in the long-running franchise when it first launched, and with all of its improvements with this re-release, Trails from Zero has solidified that conclusively.
It’s never easy to pick a winner in features such as this one, and while it wasn’t exactly easy here either, we knew that it just doesn’t make sense to look past Elden Ring here. FromSoftware’s crown has been adorned by the best and brightest jewels over the past decade or so, but the developer’s newest offering somehow manages to shine so bright, it makes those past accomplishments almost seem tame in comparison. From the world design to its deep combat and progression mechanics, from the gorgeous art design to the typically amazing lore, Elden Ring is a game that knocks the ball out of the park with pretty much every single thing it tries to do.
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