Nine Isometric Action RPGs Worth Trying

Ten Isometric Action RPGs Worth Trying

They have been called many things over the years. Isometric RPGs, hack'n'slash RPGs, ARPGs, Diablo clones. But one thing is certain: They wouldn't exist if Diablo didn't come out in 1996. Diablo and its sequels spawned a whole catalogue of isometric action RPGs. It's a catalogue of sometimes pretty similar games, where finding the best one for our taste can be difficult. Hopefully our guide will help in the selection.

This story has been amended since it was originally published in April 2016.

Despite all these games being in the same genre, this is not a ranked list. It's also worth mentioning that while series such as Borderlands, Secret of Mana or Kingdom Hearts (and many more) are often called ARPGs, this time we only focus on the ones with an isometric view, deep character customisation and a loot system similar to Diablo's.

Path of Exile (2013)

Path of Exile is one of the most popular alternatives to Diablo III because of its nearly infinite character build possibilities, extensive endgame, constant updates and similarities to Diablo II. So everyone who wanted Diablo III to be another Diablo II might need to go for Path of Exile instead. The unlimited customisation comes from a pretty cool skill gem system, a labyrinthine passive skill tree and a ton of minor features unique to this title. It's free-to-play, supported by microtransactions that don't really hurt the gameplay (think extra stash tabs, additional character slots, cosmetic items).

You can grab the game on Steam for PC.

Grim Dawn (2016)

The newest game (it came out in February) on this list is also one of the most exciting and complex ones. Grim Dawn's a game for those who like to spend hours figuring out the best possible builds and skills for their characters using the available loot. It has a dual class system, a secondary skill tree based on star constellations, skills acquired via items and a huge amount of rare item affixes. The dark setting might look generic at first, but that won't matter when you've got gameplay with layers upon layers of deep customisation.

You can buy the game on Steam for PC.

Nox (2000)

Ten Isometric Action RPGs Worth Trying

While Westwood's Nox doesn't have random dungeons, the storyline is different for each of the three character classes, even if the main plot is the same (a young guy from Earth is pulled into a fantasy world filled with necromancers, and has to return home). Besides that, it's a fun, fast-paced hidden gem that was overshadowed by other RPGs in its time, but even now it's absolutely worth a playthrough.

You can buy the game on GoG for PC and Mac.

The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing: Final Cut (2015)

Van Helsing's theme is a mixture of horror and steampunk elements, set in a gothic-noir version of 19th century Europe. The game has six playable classes that fit into the setting, a labyrinthine skill tree similar to Path of Exile's, and a customisable hideout.

You can buy the Final Cut version (all three games are compiled into one massive adventure) of the game on Steam and the trilogy on GoG for PC. The first game's also available on Xbox One.

Victor Vran (2015)

The Victorian era style might suggest that it's the exact same thing as Grim Dawn or the Van Helsing games. There are a few twists though. Players can't choose between classes, the only playable hero is Victor Vran, the hunter. And we don't have to spam the same skills over and over again to kill enemies, because the weapons and outfits we find along the way decide which skills we can use. It's a bit more casual approach, but not all ARPGs have to be character building extravaganza. Another unique feature is that our character can jump over obstacles and dodge attacks, and on top of that, a sarcastic voice is narrating our actions, referring to our main character in third person.

You can buy the game on Steam and GoG for PC and Mac.

Sacred 2 (2008)

Ten Isometric Action RPGs Worth Trying

It's one of those games where you have to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy it, and some tiny bugs might scare a few players off. Still, Sacred 2 is worth a mention since as an ARPG, it possibly has the largest open world to explore, with hundreds of MMO-like quests.

You can buy the game on Steam and GoG for PC, and it's also on PS3 and Xbox 360.

Torchlight II (2012)

Torchlight II's cartoony, steampunk world offered a great alternative in 2012 to Diablo III and that's still true after almost four years. Mechanics and character building is very similar to Diablo II and it has one particular feature the PC version of Diablo III never had: LAN co-op (and fishing).

You can buy the game on Steam (and on Origin too) for PC and Mac.

Titan Quest (2006), Titan Quest: Immortal Throne (2007)

Ten Isometric Action RPGs Worth Trying

Following Diablo II's release in 2000, an incredible number of clones and similar games came out. Some of them were bad, some were mediocre, but Iron Lore's Titan Quest, and its expansion Immortal Throne, were just as good as Diablo. The only drawback is the lack of randomised maps, but otherwise, its mastery system offers dozens of classes to play, we've got really satisfying boss battles, a setting with an ancient mythology theme (Egypt in Act II for example is quite memorable) and something all ARPGs should have: ragdoll physics.

You can buy the game on Steam for PC.

Dungeon Siege 2 (2005)

Ten Isometric Action RPGs Worth Trying

The Dungeon Siege series started basically as Diablo, in 3D, with a party, and after all these years players usually pick the second game as the best one. Sadly the Steam version has no multiplayer, but the scenery and an engrossing story makes it a great single player experience. Also, raising pets by feeding them armour pieces and weapons sounds funny enough.

You can buy the game on Steam for PC.

Bonus: Diablo I & II & III

That's ten games, all worth a try, if you're into fast paced action RPGs, clicking a lot and making Excel sheets. And since all these ARPGs were inspired by Diablo, it's not a complete list without mentioning Blizzard's series. The first Diablo from 1996 might feel limited and short compared to modern games, but it aged pretty well and it's still easy to get lost in its universe. Diablo II still has a small, dedicated player base, and Blizzard still supports it with patches so people can play the game on newer PCs. Diablo III had a rough start with online issues and a controversial Auction House, but currently, the game's in a good state, and constant updates make its endgame better than ever.


Comments

    Has anyone here tried Grim Dawn or the early release for Wolcen : Lords of Mayhem (Named Umbra from a kickstarter a long while back) Would like to hear your thoughts!

      I have Grim Dawn, and it is Titan Quest set in a post-eldritch horror apocalypse 18th century Europe. It plays similarly, there are a few progression systems on top of the aforementioned double class system. It feels good to play, although the lore and story takes a bit to get going.

      I was playing Grim Dawn, and to be honest, once I got to around the mid 30's in levels (ish), it got a little 'meh' to me. I found I was basically mashing one skill, and AoEing through the content without fun.

      The early game was fun, and there is surprising depth in character development, but in the end you settle into a routine, and that gets lost in the background.

      I've been playing a lot of Grim Dawn lately. I really enjoy it. The expansion is a must

      Last edited 08/05/18 3:54 pm

      I personally found the combat uninspired in Grim Dawn though it seemed like it would expand and open up but it felt (more)repetitive than other ARPGs like the Diablo series of PoE.

      I bought Wolcen in early access and while there are many, many positives (the visuals, customisation, the engine) the one thing that detracted from the positives (my experience only) is that very very quickly I happened to get a combination of spells that was entirely OP. It was right-click death to everything including bosses. Still, do not regret buying and of course it was (is?) still early access so it all could change.

      Bit of a late reply to a question asked two years ago :)

      Grim Dawn is quite fun and they're actively working on it. There's been a major expansion released recently and smaller (free) expansions before that. It's also got a "waves" game play mode called crucible where you need to battle wave after wave of monsters in one area rather than exploring different zones. I particularly like the story and overall feel of the game. It's not as "arcadey" as Diablo 3 but it's lots of fun. Oh and being available from GOG you can get it DRM free and play offline unlike Diablo or Path of Exile.

      Wolcen (aka Umbra) is still in development. I backed them on kickstarter and I give the early access a whirl every now and then. The early updates where a pain because you basically had to download the whole game (4GB) each time. Thankfully the patches tend to be more reasonably sized now (last one was about 180MB I think).

      It looks gorgeous but it's still pretty buggy and experiencing a lot of changes across the board. So it's kinda hard to judge what the final game will be. I do still have high hopes for it though. Each new change offers fixes, more content and improves features. In fact I might go give it another whirl now :)

      Another series that sorta fits with the articles theme is Spellforce. The Spellforce games kinda combine ARPG and RTS so you wind up with a game that feels like a cross between Diablo and Warcraft. You get an avatar with skills and gear and abilities that level up (just like diablo) along with a small party of heroes who have a cut down selection of gear and abilities. Then you get to build bases and produce units to fight the enemy army. Any enemies killed drop stuff for you to loot.

      I really loved the first game in the series (and it's expansions). The second (and it's expansions) weren't as good IMO but it was still ok. They're both available very cheap on GOG. There's also a Spellforce three that was released recently but it's still $50ish so I haven't got round to it.

    Victor Vran is currently in a Humble Bundle [and in the 'average price or more' tier at $6.32].

    https://www.humblebundle.com/glens-staff-picks-games

    I still haven't tried it, but it's a good option for those that are interested after reading this article I suppose.

    Last edited 11/04/16 3:37 pm

    The Dungeon Siege series started basically as Diablo, in 3D, with a party
    Hardly!.. I mean the classless system where your stats were distributed based on your actions (and eventually leading to the skill trees in the sequel) was pretty distinct compared to all the 'pick a rogue, wizard or fighter' openings. The party angle was also notable since at that stage party-based games were generally the more serious narrative ones like Baldur's Gate, where DS let you go solo, employ literal pack mules, or set up tactics with a loose behaviour system borne from Total Annihilation. Structurally it also proceeded more like a beat-em-up than an adventure game (though this did change somewhat in the sequel). I mean if you're going to strip back the differences so much then Diablo is really just a Gauntlet clone!

    Torchlight 2 also had another particular feature that Diablo III was lacking in - more of the original Diablo 1&2 developers working on it :p (also the pet system developed in their earlier FATE games)

    I would also suggest Spellforce (at least the first two) which have freeform character development, the ability to field a party, and large-scale battles which turn it into a light RTS with some innovative combat management ideas.

    Path of Exile - I lost a year or more to that game and was still thinking up new and wonderful combinations to play. The recent update (still free) adds dual classes as well. You are correct, only paid items are extra stash tabs and cosmetics. No paying to win here. All things you list under Grim Dawn are there for Path of Exile, customisable hideout too.

    You forgot one of the best ones - Hunter: the reckoning.
    Easily my favorite in this genre, such an awesome game.

    What about revenant? Cracking game.

    NWN is my action rpg of choice. So glad for the beamdog multiplayer revival. Can't go wrong with a arpg and 3rd edition rules :D

    Last edited 08/05/18 2:37 pm

    Repost after 2 years. Only two on that list I don't own - Nox and Victor Vran. Havent put a huge amount into Van Helsing, but it looked fun for the time I did put into it. Rest I've played are certainly fun.

    Re: my comment above. Never played Grim Dawn from that point on. The meh-ness was too much for me to want to play.

    But one thing is certain: They wouldn't exist if Diablo didn't come out in 1996. Diablo and its sequels spawned a whole catalogue of isometric action RPGs.

    Uhh...no. Totally wrong. I'd say Ultima 8, which came out 2 years before Diablo in 1994, is arguably the game that kickstarted the subgenre. There were definitely other games even before this though...look up Shadow Sorcerer for DOS (1991) as a good example, but I'd personally say it was Ultima 8, and NOT Diablo, that was the inspiration for these games (including Diablo itself).

    Blizzard are not an innovative developer. They haven't been since they changed their name from Silicon and Synapse to Blizzard, really. It's not a bad thing - they take what others have done and improve on it, but they don't actually innovate and come up with new ideas themselves. Their major franchises - Warcraft (including WoW), Starcraft, Hearthstone, Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm and Diablo were not original concepts when they came out, but they were done very very well. They were very good games and perhaps genre-defining, but claiming they started a genre that everyone started copying is a stretch at best.

      In general I'd agree re: Blizzard not innovating, but in this case, I'd say Diablo is an innovator. At the very least it changed the focus with combat into something much more real time and less strategic.

      Interesting read on Diablo's inspirations if you want: https://venturebeat.com/2016/03/19/how-diablo-found-inspiration-in-hockey-star-wars-and-x-com/

      Interesting read, particularly how it was set up to be turn based rather than realtime. What a different game THAT would have been :)

        As I said, Ultima 8 predated Diablo by 2 years, was an isometric rpg, and also had real time combat.

    Baldurs Gate - Dark Alliance 1 & 2 on the PS2 is another. Those games are awesome.

    Yes I know, their not at all like the PC games, but they were never intended to be. Hack and slash Diablo style with some excellent controls. Great fun.

    Such lazy journalism.... At least update us more on things that have come out between the last article and things coming out in the future. Kick-ass POE expansions, D3 extra end game content, Epoch coming out soon... Or branch the article "My best hack-n-slash rpgs for console" recycle a lot of the content but able to add in new/other stuff.

      This isn't journalism, it's an opinion piece.

    I know people like it for whatever reason but the fact that you can't easily reroll your stats in PoE but it turns me off, I grew up play all sorts of RPGs with locked stats and at the time it was the right thing and best thing to do. I feel now that I'm older and more time poor I shouldn't have to nor do I want to level up multiple characters to just try a theory in my head which is why I enjoy D3/WoW(post patch 3.0 I think) a lot more than I used to because I could reroll and make fun/stupid builds on the fly.

      That's why offline mode is a godsend in Grim Dawn. You can easily use a modding tool to reset your abilities to whatever you like. And because the saves are local you can just copy them to another folder and have "my character" version 1, 2, 3, etc.

      http://www.grimdawn.com/forums/showthread.php?t=23414

      Call it a cheat if you like, but when you're playing solo not MP who cares.

        I was referring too Path of Exile more specifically but I'll take a look at your link as I wanted to get deeper into GD.

          PoE is the same (fundamentally) as D3 since it's always online, so no tweaking hacking. It's part of the reason I dropped the game fairly quickly. I didn't feel like I really had much control over my choices. If I mess up a decision I want to be able to reverse it. Like you say D3 lets you re-roll that (but being online only sucks in other ways). Grim Dawn (and Torchlight) really appealed since you could play the game the way the devs designed it, OR go nuts and mod it to your hearts content. I love that.

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