A Look at RPG Games Online: What Makes a Game an RPG?

Last updated: 12/31/2023
5 minutes read

RPGs are one of the longest standing and most popular genres available. Today, millions of players enjoy RPG games online, and offline RPG games also draw significant attention.

So what exactly are RPG games, and what makes RPGs so popular?

What are RPG Games?

RPG stands for role-playing game. These are games which tend to be heavily story-based and have a player taking a specific part, or role.

What Makes a Game an RPG?

In general terms, a game is an RPG if your team or character follows an overarching quest. Playing this quest typically involves leveling up, fighting enemies, and navigating important menu systems.

RPG games are a wide genre covering a huge range of themes, which can make them hard to define. A big part of this comes from the fact that many types of games are now incorporating RPG elements.
This is done because RPG games give a strong emphasis on progression. A longer game aids the feeling of accomplishment, which can make you feel more attached to a character or team.

What is a traditional RPG game?

The more traditional games in this genre are fantasy RPG games. These are illustrated by early Nintendo Entertainment System series such as Final Fantasy or Dragon Warrior. With these games, you fight an overwhelming evil force together with your party. Sometimes you control one main character within this party, other times you are given the entire party to follow.

In these early games, combat is usually turn-based, randomly encountered, and placed on a separate field. Players select which moves to take from menus, including a range of physical, ranged, healing, and magical abilities. Once you win a battle, you are given experience and loot drops, and then brought back to the world map or dungeon screen.

Real-life RPGs are most commonly illustrated by tabletop games such as Dungeons and Dragons. This is a longstanding multiplayer RPG series dating back to 1974. Within this game, you use dice rolls and character statistic sheets to decide player guided outcomes.

Just as with video games, players within real-life RPGs earn gear, level up, and become more powerful over time. Every few years these systems are overhauled, such as the D&D 5th Edition, which was released in 2014.
There is currently a wide range of different popular tabletop RPG games available. These include:

  • Dungeons and Dragons (all editions)
  • Shadowrun
  • Call of Cthulhu
  • Vampire: The Masquerade
  • Star Wars
  • Pathfinder
  • Warhammer

These aren’t just tied to the idea of mages and magic. Some, like Shadowrun, involve cyberpunk. Others, like Call of Cthulhu and Vampire: The Masquerade take a more horrific aesthetic. There are even those which abandon the tabletop altogether, instead taking part in costume and in a more active manner. These are called LARPs.

What is a LARP?

LARP stands for Live Action Role-Play. Players of these games meet in person in private or public places to add more live-action to their role-play experiences. This typically involves costumes, mock combat, and long periods of staying in character.
As with tabletop games, these can cover many different subgenres. Classic LARP games revolve around fantasy, romance, and even real history.

How Varied are New RPG Games?

As many forms of gaming adopt RPG mechanics or inspiration, the genre has grown and evolved. If you want to play an RPG in 2019 you could find many different subgenre hybrids, including the following:

Action RPGs

These are games with combat which is more focused on real-time action. In an action RPG, you might control your character's movement and attacks whenever in combat. Outside of combat, you could still level up, change and equip skills, and otherwise, rely on in-depth menu systems.

These are usually played in a third-person perspective.

Collectible RPGs

Collectible RPGs are a form rapidly gaining steam as RPG mobile games, though they have existed long before smartphones. Pokemon was a strong early example of this, as collecting a powering up a team was a huge part of the game. In more recent terms, many games have found massive success on the mobile front. These focus on building yourself a powerful small team, improving their gear, and fighting PVP and PVE battles.

What makes a game an RPG?

Tactical RPGs

Tactical RPGs tend to present a top-down or isometric perspective within battles. Here, you will need to move your characters around certain tiles or areas to gain a positional advantage. These usually give players a set amount of moves in a round, in a turn-based fashion.

These are just a few of the current popular RPG subgenres available. Often these borrow heavily from each other, which can make it difficult to ascribe them to just one subtype. Sometimes it can be best to consider RPG games as many genres together. This can be confusing, but it can also be the only way categorize them accurately.

The most popular RPG video games at this time include The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Skyrim, and World of Warcraft. These can be difficult to ascribe to one particular genre. Generally, we take the most central mechanics when labeling them.

Old-school RPGs

Despite their modern trappings, games like Persona 5 and Skyrim are still heavily steeped in classical RPG standards. Both of these involve going on large quests, slaying demons and monsters, and facing seemingly impossible odds.


Standing for Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games, MMORPGs have been very popular since the early internet. World of Warcraft has been the most popular of these for over a decade, but it is not the only successful game. Final Fantasy 14, despite a rocky start, also now boasts over a million active subscriptions.

MMORTS' are another sub-genre that take the best features from MMORPGs and apply them to a strategic setting in order to appeal to a different audience with Vikings: War of Clans being a well-known example of this.

Action RPGs

Action RPGs have been finding a lot of success recently, and are still on the rise. Looking at RPG 2019 releases, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice has been immensely popular, despite its notable difficulty. Longtime RPG fans are also looking forward to the Final Fantasy 7 remake, which is slated for release in 2020. This marks one of the more obvious instances of action RPG evolution, as the original Final Fantasy 7 was a traditional Japanese RPG.

What Does the Future of RPG Games Look Like?

With more games borrowing more from RPG’s every year, we have to wonder what the future will look like. If the current trajectory holds, anticipate many mainstream games leaning on RPG mechanics for longevity. If not in single-player, then expect multiplayer components to become more RPG-centric in their offerings.