Science fiction and role-playing go together like peanut butter and jelly. After all, it’s difficult for fans not to want to fantasize about becoming a character like Han Solo or Sarah Connor. But when gamers get lucky, a video game comes along that lets them do that and much, much more.
The following list takes nearly 30 years of sci-fi RPG games into consideration to celebrate the games that allowed you to step into the shoes of epic heroes. If you’re new to the genre, you’re about to find games you want to add to your wishlist. For the veterans, prepare for a pleasant trip down memory lane and a few surprises along the way!
Updated April 13, 2023 by Jacob Whaling: While fantasy RPGs seem to be all the rage right now, science fiction is portayed best through video games. We’ve updated this list with a few new entries, celebrating the originality and depth of the very best sci-fi RPGs.
17 The Outer Worlds
Coming from the minds behind Fallout New Vegas, The Outer Worlds is a very entertaining action RPG. It is set in a future where humans have colonized a new star system. However, not everybody made it to their new home. And it just so happens that you were a part of that unlucky group.
But at the beginning of the game, a strange scientist wakes you up and gives you the task of acquiring the resources necessary to awaken the rest. That’s just the basic setup for what turns out to be a compelling tale filled with witty dialogue. The quality of the story is matched by the quality of the gameplay, as it’s a whole lot of fun whether you’re playing stealthy or trying to kill everyone in sight.
16 Nier: Automata
While Nier: Automata is technically an RPG, it could just as easily be considered a hack-and-slash. The mixing of the two genres works extremely well and makes the combat very satisfying. It never gets dull, either, as the title throws plenty of unique set pieces your way to vary up the format.
Nier: Automata isn’t all about combat, though, as it also provides a deep narrative. The tale mostly revolves around a war between androids and machines. Yet, it gets a lot more complex as you get deeper into it. In fact, it can perhaps get too complicated at times, but it remains engrossing nonetheless.
15 Horizon Zero Dawn
In Horizon Zero Dawn, you play a woman named Aloy, who lives in a beautiful world overrun by machines. The story revolves around the protagonist as she attempts to learn more about herself and the world she inhabits. It serves as a compelling mystery throughout.
Equally interesting is the combat. You continually have to face and bring down machines of all different types. There is plenty of strategy involved as the creatures all have their own distinct weaknesses you have to exploit and use against them. The same tactics won’t work for every foe, so you must be adaptable.
14 Shadowrun Returns
A promo image for Shadowrun Returns with a character in a gas mask holding an assault rifle
Shadowrun can represent an excellent go-to for fans when they’re not in the mood for D&D or pen-and-paper RPGs. Fortunately for the entire gaming community, this tactical role-playing game delivers the goods in Shadowrun Returns.
Admittedly, this title is one of the shorter games to make this list. Depending on how much you’re into reading the dialogue, you can finish it in around 12 hours. But finding out what happens next in the cyberpunk Seattle of the future is well worth the price of admission.
13 Fallout: New Vegas
The cover for Fallout: New Vegas with a character holding a pistol in front of the famous sign from the game.
Have you grown tired of games that promise to have a meaningfully different story based on your choices? Do you laugh when a developer claims that you could play the entire game with dialogue choices? Fallout: New Vegas will make you believe that both are possible.
This game accomplishes having on-point gameplay while delivering well-written stories with deep and meaningful lore (which is one of the reasons why its storyline is considered among the best in RPG history). Bethesda proved with Fallout 3 that the series could work as a first-person shooter. But Fallout: New Vegas allowed you to revel in that success. For this reason, and many others, you will struggle to find fans that don’t consider it the best of the FPS games.
12 Eve Online
A promo for Eve Online with many characters and spaceships flying toward the screen.
Imagine the biggest science-fiction sandbox you can, triple that number, and you might get close to the scale of EVE Online. In the truest sense of the term, you get to role-play as absolutely anything you want. You can become a captain of industry, a smuggler, and a pirate rolled into one if you like!
The game does focus on several different professional paths: business, industry, military, or exploration. While you get caught up in quests and building your wealth, your interactions with players are typically paramount to success. And if you stick around long enough, you may find yourself involved in some of the most epic scale battles (or online tournaments) for supremacy anywhere in the gaming world.
11 Fallout 2
The cover to Fallout 2 featuring a masked person in a sci-fi punk mask
It might be a bit of a cheat to have two Fallout games on this list. However, it’s worth taking the time to consider both the best of its isometric RPG and FPS history. While its graphics haven’t aged as well as others, one could argue that it represents the best of the series.
Fallout 2 dedicates itself to a hardcore isometric RPG experience, and it’s a master class in the genre. As if that’s not enough, many fans find that nothing Bethesda has brought to the table can match the story or branching paths in this game. The Interplay era of the Fallout universe is something no gamer should go without experiencing, but you may want to embark on this endeavor with mods that make the game even better.
10 Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Deux Ex: Human Revolution is a brilliant blend of genres. The voice acting and script can have their rough edges, but its deep commitment to building a near-future science fiction world holds it together. Blade Runner fans, cyberpunk fiction junkies, and even art history majors can find something to love.
If Deus Ex: Human Revolution does one thing well, it’s offering the player an abundance of choices. If you dive into this experience, you will rejoice at the amount of freedom you have throughout. The game may look like a straightforward shooter on its surface, but it’s a deep sci-fi RPG experience to its core.
Warframe is a third-person action RPG where you play as the Tenno, a mysterious warrior race that harnesses the power of Warframes to fight. Set far in the future, you will journey through the Solar System, battling against alien races and robots.
Warframe is free-to-play, with thousands of hours of content that involves running, jumping, gunning, and slashing your way through levels at break-neck speeds. Through its fluid combat system, the game remains engaging as you grind out parts to upgrade and create new Warframes, weapons, and abilities.
8 Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is an action RPG set in the early years of the Galactic Empire, before the events of the original trilogy. The game follows Cal Kestis, a Jedi Padawan who survived the Purge, and is being hunted by the Imperial Inquisitors who seek to destroy all remnants of the Jedi Order.
Along the way, you’ll meet new and unique characters and droids, battle classic Star Wars enemies like Stormtroopers and AT-STs, and upgrade your Jedi abilities. Star Wars has always been a staple of the sci-fi genre, and Fallen Order exemplifies the franchise’s greatest aspects, fitting in perfectly with the series as a whole.
7 System Shock 2
Part of the cover to System Shock 2 featuring a cybernetic woman connected to cords.
System Shock 2 is the RPG horror survival game that proved Ken Levine was one of the most innovative designers in the world. Without the success of this game, we may not have had the pleasure of experiencing the original Bioshock. You can say what you want about its sequel or Bioshock Infinite, but you can’t claim that System Shock 2 isn’t a linchpin in the history of video games.
For starters, the story and atmosphere feel like an epic three-way marriage between The Thing, Alien, and Blade Runner. It’s an absolute shame that it was almost impossible to play for so many years. You should do yourself a favor and dive into this deep sci-fi horror RPG that continues to stand alone over 20 years after its original release.
6 Chrono Trigger
A drawn and painted picture of the characters in Chrono Trigger
Chrono Trigger is a masterpiece RPG that does much more than hold up to the test of time. This game can rival the best of any decade since its 1995 release. Without a doubt, this game belongs on the list of best RPGs in history, and it’s not likely to fall out of favor anytime soon.
Chrono Trigger is unique because it has one of the best soundtracks, characters, and battle systems ever created. With multiple endings and an engaging aesthetic, you won’t want to put it aside once you get neck-deep into its world. Close to 30 years after its release, you could do much worse buying any other sci-fi RPG (or even the best time travel games) out there.
A collage of characters and creatures from EarthBound
EarthBound, or Mother 2 in Japan, continues to be one of the most unique and beloved RPGs in history. Even its advertising had its quirks, even if it is painfully 90’s in presentation (as well as filled with secrets that were unearthed 26 years after release). Before its North American debut on June 1, 1995, its ad in Nintendo Power included a scratch and sniff section that proclaimed, “It stinks!”
Far from being terrible, EarthBound regularly finds itself on lists for the best games of all time. If you enjoy the old-school turned-based RPG style of the SNES, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. If you do, you’ll find yourself experiencing the existential ennui of waiting for a North American release of Mother 3.
4 Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
The cover to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic with characters holding lightsabers.
Regardless of the bickering over the latest Star Wars movies, one game still has the power to unify fans. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic found its way to store shelves on July 15, 2003, and it still deserves respect as one of the best sci-fi RPGs ever made.
To this day, its gameplay remains solid, and it’s an excellent mechanic to draw you even farther into its stellar storytelling. And without a doubt, the story rivals the very best of what Star Wars has ever offered its fanbase.
3 Xenoblade Chronicles
Xenoblade Chronicles is a turn-based/action-fusion RPG that takes its characters on an adventure through the bodies of two massive beings, the Bionis and Mechonis. These two titans were locked in battle until they defeated each other, leaving only their massive corpses behind. Eventually, organic life flourished on the Bionis titan, while robotic creatures called Mechons appeared on the opposing Titan.
Caught in the crossfire of these beings’ eternal war, Shulk and his friends must discover the secrets of their planet. With an interconnected world that spans three major games, the Xenoblade Chronicles series has tons of lore to dive into, with a deep and complicated combat system that is rewarding once you get the hang of it.
2 Mass Effect 2
The Mass Effect 2 cover art cropped to show characters.
Any Mass Effect title could fill a spot on any “best of” list for sci-fi or RPGs. However, the second one is arguably the zenith of the series because it refined every element in unprecedented and unmatched ways.
Where it most excels is in its pacing, as the game has virtually no filler. The whole adventure is about recruiting and getting to know the best warriors and specialists in the galaxy. Each of these characters has a well-defined personality and interesting backstory. Getting to know them over the course of the game is one of the most enjoyable experiences in gaming.
1 Final Fantasy 7
Final Fantasy 7 is a classic JRPG that has remained one of the pillars of the genre since its release in 1997. Final Fantasy 7 is set in a world where the planet’s life force is being siphoned into energy, called Mako, by a massive industrial corporation, Shinra.
Banding together with his allies, Cloud goes on a journey to return the flow of life force to the planet, and stop its eventual destruction. With themes that are still relevant and a great sci-fi setting, Final Fantasy 7 remains one of the best sci-fi RPGs, and one of the best games of all time.
NEXT: Underrated RPGs That Need Remakes