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If one were to be a pessimist, they could argue the term “action RPG” is a bit redundant. Surely any game is role-playing, and action is a broad term. However, and for the sake of argument (and this list), we’ll narrow it down to “games that are action/adventure with role-playing/character building elements”.

In that regard, there are many. From epic, far-flung futuristic adventures to times of old, from first-person shooter to top-down dungeon crawling. The spectrum is broad, as are the progression routes that characters can take. With that in mind, here are just twenty five of some of the best action RPG’s that offer differing play styles across the board:

#25 Grim Dawn

  • Developer: Crate Entertainment
  • Publisher: Crate Entertainment
  • Released: 2016

Kicking off the list is not Diablo, but a game that pays considerable homage to its style of play. Set in the future, but twinned with a tale of warring deities (or thereabouts), Grim Dawn at least tries to be creative with its story.

Much like any dungeon crawler, Grim Dawn relies on the grind of better loot to progress, rinse repeat formula. Yet the combat allows for tactical dismemberment, adding a splash of extra violence to lighten things up.

#24 Remnant: From the Ashes

  • Developer: Gunfire Games
  • Publisher: Perfect World
  • Released: 2019

Remnant: From the Ashes is a curious one. It has all the hallmark of a Division/Left 4 Dead shooter to it, but instead plays akin to a Dark Souls-like with guns. However, that’s not a shorthand way of saying “it’s hard”.

Whilst it isn’t without challenge, it does have the lasting power of being fun to play, especially if you can rally up some friends to join you. Mixing up weapon classes and builds adds some versatility to the teamwork, meaning the right firepower can turn the tide of any battle between friends.

#23 Genshin Impact

  • Developer: miHoYo
  • Publisher: Cognosphere
  • Released: 2020

Genshin Impact is… well, it’s a strange one. Initially dismissed as a weird, anime-style Breath of the Wild riddled with microtransactions, it turns out… it is exactly that. But whilst that may not sound like a strong selling point, bear with us here.

For one, it is free to play. So there’s no compulsion to invest in in-game purchases (much as you think you have to), as you enter the world. If players do stick with it, they’ll be treated to a surprisingly in-depth magic and battle system. Well, once their eyes have adjusted to the insane brightness and anime-centric world.

#22 Demon’s Souls

  • Developer: FromSoftware (original), Bluepoint Games (remake)
  • Publisher: Bandai Namco, Sony Interactive Entertainment
  • Released: 2009, 2020 (remake)

If one were to praise the many Soulsborne games out there (and rest assured, we will), it’s only fair to mention “the one that came before”. Largely ignored on release, Demon’s Souls set the benchmark for the insanely hard standard that FromSoftware made popular.

Offering several styles from close combat to magic, Demon’s Souls is very much a proto-Dark Souls, for both good and bad reasons. Some builds could make the game an “easy mode”, whilst others are the de facto build for the masochists. The remake for the PS5 in 2021 is worth picking up, if only to see how beautiful it looks.

#21 Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines

  • Developer: Troika Games
  • Publisher: Activision Blizzard
  • Released: 2004

Before Twilight came along and brought vampires into the light of mainstream tarnish, there was a contingent of darker, edgier bloodsucking games about. One of which, in the early noughties, was the Vampire: The Masquerade series.

Bloodlines, the not-quite sequel to Redemption, didn’t fare well in its early days. But over time, and with some TLC, the creatures of the night were granted a new afterlife. Which is good, as Bloodlines offers up a variety of ways to be a vampire. If one wants to, the option to play as a proper, wing-ed vampire is there. But fair warning; it makes the game harder.

#20 Torchlight 2

  • Developer: Runic Games
  • Publisher: Runic Games
  • Released: 2012

Another top-down action RPG, Torchlight II changes the formula up… by being randomly generated! Whilst roguelikes/lites are more common nowadays, they were a lot few and far between in 2012. Initially planned as an MMORPG, Torchlight II became both single and multiplayer instead, to the delight of many.

Offering up four classes to play as, that’s not all. Within each class are skill trees, allowing for more variants on character builds as players hack and loot their way through the procedurally generated dungeons. Just steer clear of the third game, there’s a reason this one was chosen instead.

#19 Path of Exile

  • Developer: Grinding Gears Games
  • Publisher: Grinding Gears Games
  • Released: 2013

From the bright and colourful of Torchlight to dark fantasy now, Path of Exile offers the grimmest of tales. Demons, beasts, High Templars and whatnot paint a dour tale, but that’s not a negative. Sometimes dark stories are just as engaging.

What does lift the mood, though, are seven different classes to choose from. Not several, seven. That’s more than enough choice to get to grips with, as well as each build having a core attribute to utilise. This free-to-play game is still being maintained, with a proposed sequel on the way. So what better time to get to grips with the moody marauder mayhem.

#18 The Division 2

  • Developer: Massive Entertainment
  • Publisher: Ubisoft
  • Released: 2019

It may seem a strange admission here, with a game that on paper is a “third person shooter”. Doubly so that the first one was pretty uneventful, but hear us out: The Division 2 is so much more of an improvement. It’s bigger, brighter, and a lot more fun to play.

What helps with this is tighter and more refined gameplay, as well as more customisable options for your agent. Rally up a team and the possibilities are, whilst not endless, varied enough to make a versatile fireteam that can take on most things. It is a looter shooter still, but it’s worth diving in if you fancy real world scenarios over elves and dragons.

#17 Dark Souls 3

  • Developer: FromSoftware
  • Publisher: Bandai Namco
  • Released: 2016

It was hard to pick a specific Dark Souls for this entry. The first Dark Souls is too damn unforgiving, whilst Dark Souls 2 is too deviant from the template to entice anyone curious to play. Dark Souls 3, by that logic, may sound like “the easy one”. It’s not, but it offers more character versatility.

The theme in this one is fire, offering up chances to live out your wildest dreams of pyromania. Or, if you don’t fancy it, going full warrior and wielding massive, crowd-clearing weapons. The challenge is still here, especially for the full completionists. But when a game looks this good and offers multiple endings, it’s hard not to want to see it all.

#16 Warframe

  • Developer: Digital Extremes
  • Publisher: Digital Extremes
  • Released: 2013

Far into the future now, yet still rooted in Earth as well as space, Warframe is a well-versed universe to get invested in. Playing as a Tenno, awoken ancient warriors, players take on threats from all comers in this free-to-play action RPG.

What makes it enjoyable is the gameplay itself. Mixing gunplay and melee action, Warframe’s biggest strength comes from the variety in character building. The titular Warframes are a sight to behold in action, focusing on the action part of ARPG more so than most games on this list. Not bad from the same game universe as Dark Sector, eh?

#15 Nioh 2

  • Developer: Team Ninja
  • Publisher: Koei Tecmo, Sony
  • Released: 2020

Whilst it looks like “Dark Souls but Japan”, the Nioh series does offer some differing elements from the popular series. Yes, it is tough and yes, death is inevitable and linked to experience and leveling up, but the rest is pretty unique to the series.

Building off the criticism of the first one, Nioh 2 offers a more refined ARPG experience. Its biggest strength is in the weapon variety, which coupled with switching stances, offers flexibility when trying to figure out what works best for you. Big and strong, or nimble and light-but-quick on the attack, trial and error doesn’t feel as bad when you’re refining your combat skills here.

#14 Borderlands 3

  • Developer: Gearbox
  • Publisher: 2K Games
  • Released: 2019

Borderlands, the series, has been doing the rounds since 2009. Going from strength to strength, the looter shooter continues to offer fun gameplay around utterly insane plots and over-the-top ways of telling it. Borderlands 3, in that regard, doesn’t disappoint on either front.

Choosing one of four characters tied to a class, that’s only the beginning. As is the norm for the series, the builds come to life when players start branching out into the skill trees (pun intended). Whilst trees are build-specific; don’t expect the Siren to spawn military-grade turrets, for example, there’s still enough flexibility that no two playthroughs are the same. Well, unless you lack the creativity to invest differently each time.

#13 Dragon’s Dogma

  • Developer: Capcom
  • Publisher: Capcom
  • Released: 2012

On its initial release, Capcom’s foray into the open world, action RPG genre was unfairly overlooked. Passed off as bland-looking and riffing off of other, more popular games, it came and went. However, those that gave it the chance came away rewarded.

It is pretty generic high fantasy, granted. Put aside that it’s not the new Tolkien, however, and you’ll be rewarded with a well-crafted ARPG. But that’s not all: Dragon’s Dogma has its Pawn system. NPC’s that can effectively be traded, it adds differing play styles vicariously through the medium of Pokemon-esque helpers.

#12 Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

  • Developer: FromSoftware
  • Publisher: Activision
  • Released: 2019

“Another Soulsborne game?!”, you may cry, but wait! Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice only shares a few traits with that notoriety, but its main gameplay tenet is different. For one, it plays more like a spiritual successor to Tenchu than a Dark Souls game. Side note: FromSoftware made the last Tenchu, way back in 2009.

The combat here isn’t stamina-based, like its developer stablemates. Instead, it’s more rhythm-based, parrying sword strikes to a violent cadence of posture-breaking and deathblows. But that’s not all: combat prosthetic arm attachments allow for defense with shield-like fans, or poison swords and flamethrowers for offense. There’s no better/worse builds here, it’s all down to player preference. Couple that with a grappling hook and some verticality, and you’ve got some nimble ninja action gold right here.

#11 Kingdom Hearts III

  • Developer: Square Enix
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Released: 2019

There is not enough hours in the day to deconstruct the plot to the Kingdom Hearts series. That, unfortunately, is one of its biggest downfalls. It can also put people off of jumping into any of them, let alone the third main entry (I think).

But, snooker-loopy Disney/Final Fantasy-lite plot aside, Kingdom Hearts III offers a satisfying take on ARPG traits. Detractors call it simplified, but invest the time in Sora and varying companions combat tactics, and the ensuing spectacle is enough reward to keep going. For your heart, or something.

#10 Diablo III

  • Developer: Activison Blizzard
  • Publisher: Activision Blizzard
  • Released: 2012

It wouldn’t be fair to make homages to the Diablo series without mentioning one of its best? Admittedly, it had a shaky start with its launch, plagued with always-online DRM issues. Yet time has been kind to the long-running dungeon crawler.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes Diablo great, but there’s something so addictive about it. Messing about with one of its many character types, the replayability of the popular hack, slash and looter still holds up on its 500th hour as it did on its fifth.

#9 Monster Hunter: World

  • Developer: Capcom
  • Publisher: Capcom
  • Released: 2018

The Monster Hunter series always had a core audience, but it never made it big. Well, not until World came out. The multi-format title was an absolute smash, and once a few hours have been sunk into it, it’s not hard to see why.

It’s big, it’s colourful, and it’s got a whole host of combat styles to choose from. Players can act out their wildest Buster Sword fantasies, or take to the skies with Glaive acrobatics. If that’s not your bag, support fire can come from bows, to guns, to bowguns and various assists in between. Team up with friends, try different builds and get hunting, hunter!

#8 Tales of Arise

  • Developer: Bandai Namco
  • Publisher: Bandai Namco
  • Released: 2021

The Tales of… series is usually regarded as one of many JRPG’s. Except, scratch below the surface and they have more in common with action RPG’s than one might think. For one, the combat is usually a sort-of pseudo-real time affair, rather than turn-based.

Arise, the latest Tales, offers that and then some. A massive story bookends this tale, complete with some gorgeous visuals and a rather in-depth team customisation mechanic. Characters will have their presets, you aren’t able to completely reprogram them. But the joy of any RPG, action or Eastern, is the fun in messing about with the styles. Do so whilst getting lost in the visuals.

#7 Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning

  • Developer: Big Huge Games
  • Publisher: EA, THQ Nordic (remaster)
  • Released: 2012, 2021

World of Warcraft paved the way for a lot of imitators, as does any popular piece of media. Kingdoms of Amalur looks, at first glance, like a console imitation of the popular MMO. But don’t rely on cursory glances, as KoA is more akin to a Zelda or Fable game than an online experience.

A big, open world to explore against a fantasy backdrop, Amalur doesn’t look to offer much with its three classes. The beauty of it, once it gets going, is that players can cross-match the styles, creating hybrid skill trees as the adventure progresses. Recently remastered, now you can live out your Blademaster fantasies in high definition.

#6 Bloodborne

  • Developer: FromSoftware
  • Publisher: Sony
  • Released: 2015

By 2015, the Dark Souls formula was getting a bit familiar. Dodge roll and back stab, or lean back and rely on magic. Something needed changing, some kind of offensive. Thankfully, that’s where Bloodborne comes in.

Ditching traditional blocking, Bloodborne’s combat favoured aggression. Being offensive was key, and not just swearing at the gross things attacking you. Sure, there was some defensive magic to fall back on, but the character builds were all above getting stuck into the swathes of blood that leak from every enemy. It was gross, it was visceral, and it was exactly what the Soulsborne formula needed.

#5 Nier: Automata

  • Developer: Platinum Games
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Released: 2017

The Nier series, and by strenuous connection the Drakengard series, is a strange one. The first Nier was a niche title, not helped by having different worldwide versions. Nier: Automata then, shouldn’t have been as good as it is, nor as engaging as an ARPG.

Headed by Platinum Games, famous for their combat-based games already, took a stab at the “build-a-character” formula for this romp. In that regard, they nailed it, but that’s not all this game offers. Multiple endings, introspective looks about the meaning of life (sort of, it’s hard to explain) and an impressive robo-customisation character suite offer a staggeringly deep title to get stuck into.

#4 Fallout 4

  • Developer: Bethesda
  • Publisher: Bethesda
  • Released: 2015

Again, like Dark Souls, it was hard to pick a Fallout game. On paper, New Vegas is the best one, but for the sake of “jumping in point”, then it has to be Fallout 4. The last generation’s single player offering (excluding 76’s solo-yet-online functionality), Fallout 4 is a lovely slice of retro-futurism.

Much like its predecessors, Fallout 4 lets players tackle the nuclear wasteland in a variety of ways. Power armour builds offer the strength to lug massive weapons around, whilst stealth melee builds allow cutthroat pickpockets to run riot. Well, sneak around and riot, at any rate.

#3 Elden Ring

  • Developer: FromSoftware
  • Publisher: Bandai Namco
  • Released: 2022

The last “Soulsborne” on this list, you’ll be glad to know, but certainly not the least. In fact, depending on who you ask, it’s the best one as it changes the formula so very, very dramatically. See, Souls games have always been mostly corridor/checkpoint affairs with some sidetracking.

Elden Ring, however, expands on that. In quite a literal sense: by making it open world. Not only that, the combat has changed too. As well as having multiple build choices, players can now utilise horseback combat too, as well as a much needed jump button for “death from above” tactics.

#2 Mass Effect: Legendary Edition

  • Developer: Bioware
  • Publisher: EA
  • Released: 2021

If, for some strange reason, you didn’t catch Bioware’s space-opera trilogy, now’s the best time to jump in. Rather than be split over different formats, the Legendary Edition lets you play them all on the format of your choice.

Which is great, as Mass Effect offers some very versatile ARPG goodness. In layman’s terms, switch magic for sci-fi technology, and you’ll get the idea. Yet delve in and there’s some depth to any of Mass Effect’s combat mechanics. Want to play space soldier and focus on guns? Go for it. Or fancy playing with biotics and lifting fools with the mind instead? That’s there too. Whilst in rudimentary terms it is cover-based shooting, the offensive options offer the fun part.

#1 The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt

  • Developer: CD Projekt Red
  • Publisher: Bandai Namco
  • Released: 2015

Given the quieter beginnings of the Witcher series, with the first one being PC-only, it’s strange to talk about just how big the third installment was in terms of world-building. The sheer scope of Velen and its surrounding are staggering, offering hundreds of hours to get lost in.

Which also helps when grumpy protagonist Geralt can be catered to different builds too. Players can be fancy sword-dancers, slicing and decapitating with aplomb. Or, they can gulp down many a poisonous potion and be the ultimate offensive magic wielder. Better yet, mix the two and just explore the possibilities. With a massive campaign and two impressive DLC stories, The Wild Hunt is the very definition of the ARPG moniker.