The role-playing game (RPG) is one of the most well-known genres in the industry right now.
Since its tabletop origins, it has given rise to countless beloved franchises. These range from long-running classics like Final Fantasy and Elder Scrolls to more unique ones like West of Loathing and Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones.
The 2000s era was a monumental one for the genre. New experiences as well as sequels that blew away their originals emerged during this era.
Note: This article is subjective and reflects the opinions of the writer. Only one game from each year of the 2000s has been listed.
Final Fantasy XII, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and 8 more great RPGs from the 2000s
1) Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn (2000)
Successor to the 1998 classic, Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn was made by BioWare for PC. It is based on the second-edition rules of Dungeon & Dragons and is set in the Forgotten Realms campaign.
The game tells the tale of the clash between protagonist Gorion's Ward and an Elven mage, Jon Irenicus. Like most RPGs of the time, its gameplay is isometric as players explore the various locales around Amn, and it features real-time-with-pause combat.
The title's strong writing, deep RPG elements and freedom of choice made it an instant classic back then. It has also gone on to influence other franchises, such as Divinity and Dragon Age.
Check it out on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch via the Enhanced Edition remaster.
2) Advance Wars (2001)
Released exclusively for the Game Boy Advance in 2001, Advance Wars has achieved cult-classic status over the years.
The first Nintendo Wars game to make it overseas, Advance Wars portrays the clash between two warring nations: Orange Star and Blue Moon. As a member of the former, players will command various units on the turn-based battlefield against the enemy.
The vibrant Saturday cartoon aesthetic makes the game memorable. Additionally, the challenging rock-paper-scissors style system is amplified, thanks to various factors like resource management and terrain.
Advance Wars is a true classic that strategy RPG fans should not miss, especially with the upcoming Nintendo Switch remake.
3) The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (2002)
The Elder Scrolls RPG series made the jump to full 3D with Morrowind, released for PC and Xbox.
As players explore the island of Vvardenfell, they will be roped into a plot revolving around the demigod Dagoth Ur of the volcanic Red Mountain.
Putting the "role-play" in RPG, Morrowind allows you to play the way you want. Players can go where they want and deal with the consequences the way they prefer. The game even features skill and ability options not seen in future installments.
Morrowind continues to be arguably the deepest of the three recent Elder Scrolls titles. Grab it on PC and Xbox Game Pass.
4) Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003)
Another BioWare classic, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (or KOTOR) is one of the most well-recognized game entries in LucasArts' sci-fi franchise.
The RPG story takes place almost 4,000 years before the formation of the Galactic Empire, where Darth Malak, a Dark Lord of the Sith, has unleashed an armada against the Galactic Republic.
The player Jedi character must venture to different planets in the galaxy to defeat Malak. The journey sees players create a party of various members, each with memorable personalities and playstyles.
Real-time-with-pause combat returns, featuring iconic weapons like lightsabers and blasters. Add in a compelling narrative, excellent writing and a moral system, and it's hard to not see why so many people love this game.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is available on Nintendo Switch and PC. A remake is scheduled to come to PlayStation 5 as well.
5) Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines (2004)
Released exclusively on PC by the now-defunct Troika Games, Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines is perhaps the most renowned World of Darkness game. It is a first/third-person action RPG that allows players to control a vampire as they explore Los Angeles in search of an ancient relic.
The game's atmosphere is as rich as ever, despite having an 18-year-old Source Engine. Its mechanics are also unrivaled for its time, allowing many playstyles from melee and ranged to hacking and spells.
Unfortunately, Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines was too ambitious for its scope, and the end product was released after some development issues. Still, fans of games like Deus Ex, Falout and Elder Scrolls will find a lot to love here.
Fans have been awaiting the upcoming successor for a while now. It is being developed by a new studio under the watch of Paradox Interactive.
6) Kingdom Hearts 2 (2005)
This sequel to the original Disney and Final Fantasy crossover is often regarded as the best in the series.
As an action RPG, players control Sora as he traverses various Disney worlds while dealing with the antagonistic Organization XIII. The hack & slash gameplay is improved upon with the Drive Gauge, allowing Sora and recognizable Disney friends like Mickey and Donald to become more powerful.
The game was originally launched for PlayStation 2. However, it is also available on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and Nintendo Switch (via Cloud) as part of the Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix.
7) Final Fantasy XII (2006)
Another PlayStation 2 original, Final Fantasy XII takes place on Ivalice. As part of a resistance group, players are thrust into a war between the nations of Archadia and Rozarria.
This is the first mainline entry to not feature randomized battle encounters. Combat also sees new additions in the form of the Active Dimension Battle and Gambit system. Even the original visuals hold up superbly for such an old game, and the complex battle system makes it stand out from the rest of the series.
Final Fantasy XII is available on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch as the Zodiac Age, a remaster of the originally-Japan-exclusive enhanced port of the game.
8) Mass Effect (2007)
Mass Effect is yet another example of BioWare's RPG specialization. As Commander Shepherd, players explore the galaxy as they devise a plan to stop the return of ancient mechanical forms called Reapers.
The game combines third-person shooting and standard party-based management for a unique gameplay scenario. Emphasis is given to writing and dialog, with players even able to romance some characters and interact with NPCs using the Paragon morality system.
Originally released for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC, Mass Effect received a remaster called Mass Effect Legendary Edition for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.
9) Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 (2008)
Persona 4 built upon everything that made Persona 3 a memorable Japanese RPG.
Yu Narukami arrives in the quiet town of Inaba only to discover the existence of a supernatural TV dimension, with mysterious murders happening around him. With the aid of a friendly cast of characters and powerful beings called Personas, they must battle their inner demons and catch the culprit behind the killings.
Players can enjoy school during the day, form meaningful relationships with NPCs and hunt Shadows in the labyrinthine dungeons.
The game balances mature themes with a cheerful exterior, and its addictive gameplay loop is what keeps fans coming back.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 is available on PC and PlayStation Vita via the Persona 4 Golden remaster. It is also set to arrive on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One Xbox Series X|S and Nintendo Switch in the future.
10) Dragon Age: Origins (2009)
Influenced by KOTOR and other classic RPGs, BioWare's Dragon Age: Origins was a fantasy rendition of BioWare's epic with its own twist.
The story sees the player recruited into the Grey Wardens, an ancient order that stands against monstrous forces known as Darkspawn. They must defeat the Archdemon that commands them to stop their invasion.
This adventure sees many well-written characters get on board, like Alistair and Morrigan. Gameplay is once again real-time-with-pause, and players face off against monstrosities of many kinds. The combat is fun yet challenging, and the engaging narrative keeps things going at a brisk pace with plenty of turns.
Dragon Age: Origins is available on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.