Nearly every game qualifies as an RPG now - shooters have inventory screens, racing games have loot drops and even sports games get in on the action with their character upgrade menus and, ahem, epic narratives.
True, thoroughbred RPGs are still out there, of course - it’s just that bit trickier to define them in 2023. Although if you’re presented with an iron cuirass, a D&D logo and characters with multiple apostrophes in their name you can have a pretty good stab at it.
We digress. These are TG’s picks for the most immersive, richly detailed and mechanically satisfying role-players you can sink into like a warm digital bath in 2023.
Baldur’s Gate 3
A one-of-a-kind blend of deep, systemic RPG and improv comedy, Larian’s take on the Dungeons and Dragons ruleset and the Forgotten Realms setting is remarkably malleable in the player’s hands. Maybe you want to have a totally traditional adventure, smacking goblins with a massive sword and being fawned over for the hero you are - fine, it can do that.
But maybe you don’t want that. Maybe what you want instead is to actively sabotage your co-op party, riling up the local townsfolk and killing merchants for sport. Baldur’s Gate 3 rolls with it. It lets you live with your decisions - play a role, if you will - and gives you a grand adventure that feels completely yours.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Eight years old now and counting, Geralt of Rivia’s ageing better than a a barrel-aged Rob Lowe. It helps that The Witcher 3 was such a remarkably well-written collection of quests in the first place, taking you from quelling magical bigotry to dining in particularly bloody Skellige banquet halls with incredible consistency of tone.
The Witcher 3’s also had a facelift for modern machinery with its recent Next Gen edition, which means an already beautiful set of vistas now looks even more spellbinding on your OLED, the meadows that bit more swaying, the sunsets more seductive, Geralt’s beard more detailed than ever.
No, it isn’t Skyrim in space, nor does it feature the kind of open world that we’ve become accustomed to in Bethesda RPGs. Starfield’s something else. Smaller clusters of well-crafted experiences that give you the space cowboy fantasy you were hoping for, linked together via a galactic map.
You can build colonies and have teams of scientists working on new weapons tech for you there. You can stop by at your parents’ condo on New Atlantis for a chat. You can build, customise and fly space ships that Han Solo himself would probably try to nick. And this should go without saying really, but there’s lots of shooting at things and talking to people too.
Even Mark Webber had better starts than CD Projekt’s highly anticipated futuristic RPG, but over the course of three years and about 9,000 bug fixes, Cyberpunk’s completely flipped the script. It’s not the grand, immersive walk-in dystopia that we’d all hoped it’d be at launch, and somehow the console-melting graphics have become even more gorgeous since 2020.
Against a backdrop of all-powerful corporations and frankly gratuitous levels of neon lighting, it tells the story of a Night City petty criminal who’s got a dead rockstar living inside his head after some brain-splicing cybernetic shenanigans.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
2017’s Breath of the Wild might have laid the foundation, but Tears of the Kingdom achieves the modern day high tide mark for Zelda with sheer freewheeling ingenuity. The open world returns and cooking recipes by the campfire feels life-affirmingly cosy just like it did last time, except now you arrived to the camp on a home-made Segway fashioned from logs and iron.
Building vehicles and tools rewrites the traditional experience of being wholesome little Link completely. It means the world map has to be bigger - or multi-layered in this case - since you’re able to move around it so much more quickly.