Mass Effect is arguably one of the best sci-fi RPGs ever made, and it has left quite the impact. However, once many players have finished the franchise, they are left wanting more — the mark of a truly great video game experience. While BioWare is years away from another entry in the franchise, Mass Effect is not the only one of its kind.
The video game industry is full of titles that seem almost custom-made for Mass Effect fans, even though some of these games predate BioWare’s legendary series. More than a few of these titles are sci-fi RPGs that focus on worldbuilding and memorable characters, while others are non-linear stories that thrive on player choices and beg for multiple playthroughs. Few hit the same highs as Mass Effect, but odds are anyone who loves the franchise will also adore these games. And even if you don’t like Mass Effect, you’ll probably enjoy the following titles anyway because they’re just that good.
2001 | Ion Storm
When you think about Western sci-fi RPGs, your mind jumps to FPS gun-centric adventures, but Anachronox dares to be different. Anachronox is a turn-based RPG that takes players on a planet-hopping adventure across the galaxy as they right wrongs, get into trouble, and recruit an unlikely band of heroes. And did we mention that one of those planets later becomes a party member?
Anachronox is one of the best-written underrated games out there, thanks to its characters and irreverent sense of humor. The game’s story is the cyberpunk-noir equivalent of the JRPG meme “First mission: Find lost kitty; Final mission: KILL GOD.” But while Anachronox is full of comedic moments, it knows when and how to get serious.
If Anachronox has one flaw, it is the game’s cliffhanger ending. Had game developer Ion Storm not closed mere days after release, Anachronox 2 would probably be on this list.
2019 | Spiders
GreedFall is a rare breed of fantasy that blends magic with more grounded settings and characters. Instead of asking players to control a knight on a quest to kill a dragon, GreedFall places them in the shoes of an 17th century-esque explorer trying to settle a foreign island filled with deadly monsters and disease. Many factions populate the isle, but nobody wants to cooperate.
While GreedFall doesn’t try anything new, especially when it comes to combat, the game polishes its narrative offerings. GreedFall includes plenty of skills that let players explore the world and impact the narrative, and each new mission keeps players on their toes.
Nothing is as it seems in GreedFall, and the game nails a sense of mystery that is sure to keep most players hooked.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
2015 | CD Projekt Red
The Witcher series exploded in popularity primarily due to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The game is a masterclass of world design and storytelling, and even though The Witcher 3 is an open-world title, it avoids many of the genre’s pitfalls thanks to its dense lands brimming with activities that never overstay their welcome.
While the heart of The Witcher 3 is its narrative, the meat of the experience rests in its side quests. Each mini adventure is beautifully written and takes players through unforgettable storylines. What other game lets you get high and talk to your loyal steed?
Even when players are done with The Witcher 3’s main quest, the game isn’t done with them. The Witcher 3 boasts DLC expansions that eclipse many other AAA RPGs in both story and scope.
Fallout: New Vegas
2010 | Obsidian Entertainment
The Fallout franchise is widely praised for its worldbuilding, storytelling, and emphasis on player choice, but if you asked gamers which entry is best, most would answer Fallout: New Vegas, and for good reason. Unlike other Fallout games, the main character is a blank slate — a mailman (or woman) in the irradiated Nevadan wasteland who lost a strange package.
New Vegas‘ provides a compelling mystery that surrounds the parcel and gives players an excuse (and the systems) to figure things out however they want. The game offers more narrative freedom than the average Fallout game, and it also houses some of the most memorable characters in the RPG franchise. Who needs an NPC with a degree in theoretical physics when Fallout: New Vegas has one with a theoretical degree in physics?
The Shadowrun franchise is a series of tactical RPGs based on a tabletop game of the same name. In Shadowrun, the world is a unique blend of cyberpunk and magic. Megacorporations rule entire countries, and everyone wields katanas, uzis, and leather jackets. However, a large portion of humanity has turned into trolls, dwarves, and elves, too. Oh, and sometimes vampires serve as megacorp receptionists/security.
The Shadowrun series of games is best described as an RPG version of XCOM. Players control a squad of guns for hire as they navigate neon streets, take various jobs, and uncover conspiracies. Each entry’s story is a sprawling web of treachery and deception, and choices heavily impact the endings. However, quality varies between games, so while one Shadowrun title might keep players invested, another might not. But Shadowrun is a must-buy for any fan of cyberpunk dystopia, magic, and everything in between.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
2003 | BioWare
Long before BioWare revolutionized action RPGs with Mass Effect, the studio paved the way with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. The game admittedly looks dated in the graphics department, and its combat system is relatively primitive to modern standards, but it outshines even the latest RPGs thanks to its writing.
Knights of the Old Republic offers a ton of choices that lets players build their own stories — a selling point of many BioWare games, honestly. But more than that, the game is brought to life by well-written, memorable characters. Ask any long-time Star Wars fan about their favorite character, and many will sing about HK-47, the game’s standout assassin droid. Without Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect might not be the series it is today.
2020 | inXile
Before Fallout, Wasteland was the de facto king of post-apocalyptic RPGs, and Wasteland 3 is the latest entry in that proud lineage. The game takes players to a frozen future Colorado in an attempt to make new allies, but as is tradition in these kinds of games, nothing goes according to plan.
Wasteland 3 is the full post-apocalyptic package. The game gives players tons of skills that alter combat and missions, plenty of narrative choices to warrant multiple playthroughs, and enough loot to turn each party member into a walking scrapyard of armor and attitude. Plus, combat is tense and hinges on every choice; flanking the enemy can spell the difference between victory and defeat.
While Fallout was invented to replace Wasteland, Wasteland 3’s quality overshadows modern Fallout.
The Outer Worlds
2019 | Obsidian Entertainment
In The Outer Worlds, players undertake a huge adventure across several worlds to save the lives of their fellow space colonists. What horrible, otherworldly force could possibly threaten them? A megacorporation focused more on profit than human lives.
The game is a spiritual successor to Fallout: New Vegas in the best way possible. Characters are as witty as they are memorable, and players can finish quests a variety of ways. The shotgun approach is just as viable as blackmail, bribery, or a silver tongue. Plus, The Outer Worlds has plenty of loot, item upgrades, and skills to keep combat-oriented gamers more than satisfied.
The Outer Worlds doesn’t hit the same space opera notes of Mass Effect, but makes up for it by giving players far more freedom.
2005 | BioWare
Fantasy action RPGs usually take place in a medieval setting filled with wizards, elves, and dragons, but Jade Empire is one of the few examples of a Western RPG inspired by Chinese mythology and history. The game carries many of BioWare’s fingerprints, such as morality choices that impact the story, but it also sports a novel combat system that superficially resembles fighting games.
Jade Empire was a labor of love. BioWare poured millions of dollars and countless work hours into tiny details, from replicating real-world martial arts to creating a unique fictional language. But BioWare didn’t skimp on macro factors, as the game features some of the studio’s better and more experimental quests. While Jade Empire eschews some personal touches such as player customization, it focuses on writing and worldbuilding to create an unforgettable experience.
Divinity: Original Sin 2
2017 | Larian Studios
While many Western RPGs tout the ability to adapt to player choices and imaginations, Divinity: Original Sin 2 is one of the few titles that truly keeps that promise. The game is a callback to old school computer RPGs, from its party system to its isometric camera. And, while Original Sin 2 delivers a fantastic narrative, the game’s claim to fame is its freeform character creation and combat systems.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 gives players a library’s worth of character options and class skills, all of which drastically alter the game. The right skill can open new avenues of exploration and quest progression, and combat is a tapestry of class abilities and strategy that rewards clever, Rube Goldberg-level thinking. Plus, it’s just fun to toss an oil barrel onto the ground and watch the battlefield explode into a devastating inferno.