The past two years have been kind to RPG fans. Big hit titles like Dragon Age: Inquisition and the upcoming Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt have (and will have) given us plenty of moral quandries and epic battles to face. Yet, not everyone has or even very well can jump on board with these epic adventures just yet. For those still holding on to last-gen or who just want a solid RPG that won't break the bank, here are five solid experiences to pass the time.
Mars: War Logs -- PC, PS3, and Xbox 360
Most studios would balk at the idea of trying to match the mechanics and ideas of Witcher and Mass Effect in their second RPG, but French developer Spiders set out do to just that. The game has a few rough spots, especially a liberal use of swear words North American users might wince at, but it also has an incredibly deep crafting system and unique story.
Mars: War Logs doesn't want to just tell you the same hero's journey story that you've heard a thousand times. Instead, it asks the question of what if someone like Han Solo got special powers and Luke was just a companion along for the ride.
On top of this, the combat is live action and heavily focused on play style choice. Do you choose to focus on roguish tactics, magic abilities, or brute force? Not exactly breaking the mold on their own, but the ability to blend them makes it far more interesting.
The main story runs for about 9 to 15 hours depending on how thorough you are, and the game is regularly dirt cheap (see: $5 or less) during Steam sales. If you like what you see, then be sure to take a trip to the big red planet in Mars: War Logs.
Shadowrun: Dragonfall -- PC, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS
There are few better than Shadowrun when it comes to Cyberpunk RPGs. First an expansion, and now a standalone sequel to the original Shadowrun Returns, Shadowrun: Dragonfall is the highest praised entry in the series of CRPGs by Harebrained Schemes.
While the original Shadowrun Returns is a great game to consider on its own, Dragonfall fixes the majority of the issues Returns had, and includes a much deeper cast of characters to boot. While you can import your original character from the first campaign, there's nothing stopping you from choosing this as your entry point.
The biggest choice though, is which platform to use. The game is perfectly playable on iOS and Android, but lacks mod support. The DRM free version also lacks the majority of mods you'll experience with the Steam version. You'll have to weigh platform preference and user generated content, as the numerous player made storylines add a lot more value to the game.
The main story runs for anywhere between 15 to 25 hours depending on how thorough you are, and the Director's Cut is very reasonably priced at $14.99. For some awesome Cyberpunk-Fantasy role playing, be sure to look up Shadowrun: Dragonfall.
Of Orcs & Men -- PC, PS3, and Xbox 360
This time a collaborative effort between Cyanide Studios and Spiders, Of Orcs & Men is kind of amazing in that it's hard to believe it exists. It is a game heavily inspired by Knights of the Old Republic, Warhammer, and revisionist history. You play as both an orc and a goblin, controlling them through pause and play gameplay, whilst also partaking in a few brief stealth sections.
The big paradigm shift, if it wasn't clear already, is that the game puts humanity as the villains. It's not the elves or the dwarves causing problems, and the Orcs were just minding their business. Humanity is the aggressor, with the entire storyline framing a new sense of moral choice as you look at things from a greener point of view.
What's also great about this one is the dark sense of humor. Sometimes it gets more than a little much, but often the wit of your goblin character Styx outweighs the "too much" moments. The tactical combat also encourages a unique flow that most games don't push for -- you have to not be too aggressive. If Styx is too aggressive, he dies because he's a weak little goblin. If Arkail, your ork, gets too angry, he will go into a blind rage and leave your control temporarily.
Instead of this mechanic being a downside, it instead encourages clever strategy and throws in a new wrinkle to a subgenre of combat that rarely gets new ideas tossed in. Like with everything in its campaign, Of Orcs & Men isn't afraid to try new things and push the boundaries of what can be done in an otherwise traditional pause and play RPG.
While it normally runs for about $30, you can catch it on sale just as frequently as Mars: War Logs. If you want to face hard choices, hilarious quips, and a cynical fantasy universe, there are few places better to look than Of Orcs & Men.
Darkest Dungeon -- PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, and PS Vita
A Kickstarter success, Darkest Dungeon is a hardcore rogue-like RPG with beautiful visuals and unforgiving gameplay. It plays out like a traditional turn-based game, but it has some unique twists. Your characters not only have to worry about health and mana, but their own sanity and hopefulness.
Keep their spirits high, and you'll be on your way to victory. Have them slowly go insane, and suddenly everyone has a thousand more vices than virtues. The game's blend of organic narrative-through-gameplay storytelling gives it a personal touch only a game with random generation could.
Unlike any other title listed, it is also available on PlayStation 4 and PS Vita, if you prefer to play your RPGs on console or on the go. It's best to not spoil the game any further than I have, but if you dare test the depths of madness, be sure to look up Darkest Dungeon. It normally runs for about $19.99, but is another excellent title often on sale.
Shattered Planet -- PC, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS
For those who want a less grim and dark turn-based rogue-like RPG, there is actually an equally good alternative to Darkest Dungeons; it's called Shattered Planet. Instead of traditional turn-based gameplay, Shattered Planet is a bit more like Crypt of the Necrodancer meets Pokemon.
Every turn happens at once for everyone, and you can queue multiple move orders at once, making the game feel almost like a realtime experience. However, once you are in combat, you fight whoever is immediately next to you, and while you can retreat, there's very little reason to.
The game has multiple objectives to aim for, be it getting further into its levels, exploring story-based missions, or just trying to find as many unique items as you can. Everything rewards you, keeping a constant feedback loop like out of Diablo.
The biggest deciding factor you have to go with is whether you want the game for free, or with bonus content. The PC version includes bonus content and a much more fair economy system, but also costs $14.99 despite simply being a rogue-like. However, the tablet version of the game is much more grind intensive. You'll have to make the call on this one.
If there are any other fantastic budget RPGs you can think of that I missed, be sure to let me know in the comments below!