20 – The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Initial Release Date: May 1, 2002
Why it’s one of the best RPGs: While open-ended RPGs are now commonplace enough, The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind was the first game to really latch onto the idea that you could do “anything.” Not really anything, of course, but the idea that you weren’t railroaded onto a single questline, with maybe a few branching paths here and there, was novel in 2002 to popular gaming. You could wander the world of Morrowind, finish sidequests, clear dungeons, and explore to your heart’s content. It’s a structure that’s become a staple of Elder Scrolls games ever since.
In fact, The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind provided most of the groundwork upon which the remainder of the series would be built. In its time, it overstretched itself somewhat trying to build a fully functional, explorable world. Weather effects, day and night cycles, character schedules, the sheer amount of items and enemies, and questlines all pushed the game and systems that ran it to their limits. Future installments would do the same thing with more power and polish. But Morrowind truly broke ground and is still a blast to play even in 2016 despite being rough around the edges.
Next: 19 - Secret of Mana