Whether you’re slaying a horde of demons or exploring the high seas, there’s something indelible about the act of clicking your way through an open map full of monsters and treasures. The isometric point-and-click action RPG has been a mainstay for PC gamers since the original Diablo launched on December 31, 1996, but to this day it’s most closely associated with its immediate sequel, Diablo 2, which is still widely agreed to be the very best of its genre.
Fast forward to 2023, and we’re now expecting the latest sequel in the series, Diablo IV, to release on June 6. However, you don’t need to wait until June to play an up-to-date action RPG that utilizes modern hardware and also feels great in action – whether you’re gaming on a PC or on a console. Without further adieu, here are our picks for the best ARPGs to play before Diablo IV launches this upcoming June:
Diablo 2 Resurrected
As previously mentioned, Diablo 2 and its expansion pack, Lord of Destruction, is still the best of its class. You’ll choose one of seven distinct classes and adventure across over five unique settings, each featuring their own quests, monsters, and rare treasures. Each zone is procedurally generated each time you log in, meaning you’ll never play the same game twice. Furthermore, as you level up, you’re given a plethora of options to customize your character’s abilities through Diablo 2’s skill tree progression system, allowing you to personalize each of the seven available classes such as the Barbarian and the Necromancer. Gear is also widely diverse here, meaning you can find some truly weird items and equipment sets to help you further customize your playstyle.
The original Diablo 2 is made so much smoother with a fresh coat of 4K paint and 60hz+ refresh rates, but the Resurrected edition offers much more than a graphical overhaul. Diablo 2 Resurrected is the de facto way to play Diablo 2 in 2023, especially since you can bounce the same save file across every platform for which you own it. This means you can split your playtime between the PC, Switch, PlayStation, and Xbox versions of Diablo 2 Resurrected, maintaining your progress right down to the number of gold pieces your character possesses between platforms. If you own the PC version of Diablo 2 Resurrected, you can even import your legacy Diablo 2 PC save files into the new version, however, you cannot play those saves online or engage in cross-platform progression.
If you’re considering whether to follow up a Diablo 2 Resurrected playthrough with Diablo 3 or Diablo Immortal, instead consider Grim Dawn. This post-apocalyptic ARPG been renowned by critics for carrying the same spirit as Diablo 2, at least in terms of its challenging combat difficulty and deep character customization – both of which took a dramatic turn in Diablo 3, leaving many fans feeling like they were left with a much shallower experience than they’d hoped for.
Despite not existing within the same setting, Grim Dawn really does feel like a spiritual successor to Diablo 2 in this regard, though it’s probably a bit fairer to call it a spiritual successor to Titan Quest, another excellent ARPG from a handful of the same developers.
There are over nine classes to play as, assuming you own both expansions: Ashes of Malmouth and Forgotten Gods. But each class can be combined with any other class, allowing you to invent your own character out of 36 unique permutations. As you progress through the handcrafted campaign, you get to make choices that affect the outcomes of certain characters’ storylines, which is a positive departure from the linear storytelling of the Diablo series.
It’s also a little bit darker in certain respects. The world of Grim Dawn is already effectively destroyed at the beginning of the campaign, and it’s up to you to pull the last remnants of humanity through the ashes. As such, you’re tasked with rebuilding bridges to new locations and establishing town infrastructure as you complete quests and rally the survivors together. It’s a unique on the action RPG genre, though it may be a bit too dark if you’re looking for a lighter story.
Lost Ark is both an ARPG and a fully-fledged free-to-play MMORPG, complete with social hubs and persistent world locations shared with potentially thousands of players. It’s also much larger in scope than any Diablo game, allowing you to charter your own ship and take to the oceans in search of new adventures. The world of Arkesia is massive, and content is near-constantly flowing in via updates, meaning there’s always something new to see.
There are currently over 17 classes (branching from five basic classes, such as the Warrior and the Mage), and each one has a unique playstyle – though most of the customization comes from the Tripod system, a highly-modifiable skill tree that allows you to reallocate your skill points at basically any time. Gear is a bit less interesting in Lost Ark than in other ARPGs, since it mostly just serves to make attribute numbers go up vertically, however, there are plenty of surefire ways to earn high-level gear once you make it to the endgame.
The locations of Lost Ark are also handcrafted rather than procedurally generated, meaning each of the MMOARPG’s quests will be familiar on subsequent playthroughs. However, Lost Ark is full of interesting zones and cutscenes which liven up the whole experience, making it way more cinematic if you’re looking for an action RPG which leans a bit more on the action. You can even build your own stronghold, where you can then invite your friends over for parties and other gatherings. It’s no surprise, then, that it was chosen by our readers and our staff as the Best ARPG of 2022.
Path of Exile
Path of Exile is widely considered the best free-to-play MMOARPG hybrid for those who like the darker aesthetic and the challenging playstyle akin to that of Diablo 2, rather than the relatively casual combat and colorful world design featured in Lost Ark. Like Grim Dawn, it’s also considered to be a more fitting spiritual successor to Diablo 2 in terms of character customization, combat difficulty, and general depth than Diablo 3. The general interface is also very similar to Diablo 2, with two twin health and mana pools on the bottom of the interface, slottable potions, and switchable combat skills.
It features a highly in-depth class system beginning with seven playable classes and a catalog of over 19 subclasses that are unlockable after you reach a certain level. Each class offers its own unique skill sets and playstyles that you’re able to customize over the course of Path of Exile’s ten-act campaign. Much like its peers, Path of Exile’s customization system spans both active and passive skills, equipment, and slottable skill gems, but instead of using gold pieces as currency, it has a much more complex marketplace of items that act both as currency and as potential modifiers for your character’s build, depending on how you choose to allocate them. This part can certainly turn certain players off, especially those wanting a simpler experience, though an argument can be made for hardcore players who want the maximum amount of control over their character customization system.
PoE offers a sprawling endgame that includes all sorts of potentially rewarding activities – such as Delves, which are procedurally-generated dungeons wherein you need to push a minecart through a series of increasing challenges that offer better loot but become more dangerous as you venture further in. If that sounds interesting, you’ll be pleased to discover this is just one of several ways to approach the endgame. There’s quite a lot of unique content across Path of Exile’s ten acts, especially compared to Diablo 2, which only features five acts in total. You generally won’t find yourself beating up the same bosses over and over again by the time you reach the end, and that’s a great reason to jump over to Path of Exile once you’re bored with Diablo 2 and Grim Dawn.
Also, with Path of Exile 2 in the works, and promises it’ll build off of your progress in Path of Exile 1, there isn’t a better time to get going in the world of Wraeclast.
Torchlight 2 is based on the Diablo 2 format, but it’s a lot more whimsical. Its low-stakes setting is very clearly meant to serve gameplay rather than story, but it’s a bit easier to stomach than the darker tones of Diablo 2, Grim Dawn, or some of the others on this list. It offers a unique pet system that allows you to sell your loot and manage your inventory without needing to traipse back to town to talk to a merchant NPC each time your inventory fills up. This keeps the flow of gameplay rolling, which is great because Torchlight 2 has plenty of quests to do and dungeons to explore. Its simplistic story spans four main acts, but there is enough side content to keep you busy for quite some time.
Torchlight 2 also offers a much simpler selection of classes than other ARPGs – there are only four to choose from in this case – which may make it more approachable. Customization is both skill-based and gear-based, allowing you to allocate points into a skill tree as you level up and unlock certain abilities via the equipment you find throughout your adventures.
Torchlight 3 may be worth playing afterward if you find yourself captivated by the story, but critics haven’t found it nearly as favorable as Torchlight 2, which is still widely considered the best of the trilogy.
Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem
Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem is an experimental, gothic-themed ARPG with no distinct classes – instead allowing you to freely allocate skill points in whichever way you desire. Its apocalyptic setting may be familiar, but some of its mechanics are a departure from what you may be expecting in an action RPG.
For instance, you can shapeshift into a powerful celestial being called a Celestial Incarnation, giving you unique combat abilities regardless of your character build. There’s also a subclass system of sorts, but it’s determined by a set of rotating wheels that allow for 21 permutations, tying directly into the free-flowing skill system mentioned earlier. Most interesting is Wolcen’s resource management system, which requires you to counterbalance your alternating Rage and Willpower resources during combat rather than draw your spells and other combat abilities from a single mana pool.
Tribes of Midgard
Tribes of Midgard is far more of a social survival game than a proper action RPG, but it does draw some of its core gameplay from the same roots, including its isometric combat and procedural generation. Together with up to 10 players, you can venture out into the Nordic-inspired world to complete quests during the day, but by night, you’ll need to return to your village to defend it against waves of enemies.
As you play, you and the other players on your team are compelled to gather your loot together and invest in tactical upgrades for each of the village’s various NPCs and defenses. Playthroughs are also much shorter, allowing for bite-sized sessions in Survival mode, or several-hour-long playthroughs in Saga mode.
Diablo Immortal is a free-to-play mobile ARPG that bridges the storylines of Diablo 2 and Diablo 3. It packs the punch of a fully-fledged Diablo game, which is great since it works on iOS and Android devices – and if you don’t feel like playing Diablo Immortal on your phone or tablet, there’s now a PC beta available via Battle.net as well. It’s a more compact experience than some of the others on this list, and it has earned a negative reputation for its approach to microtransactions, but even its harshest critics have also applauded it for its fidelity to the Diablo series despite it being a mobile game first and foremost.
Titan Quest Anniversary Edition
Titan Quest is a classic ARPG that arguably doesn’t get enough love, despite reviewing decently at launch. Taking place in an Age of Mythology-esque setting which includes ancient Greece, Egypt, and parts of Asia, this is more “gods and monsters” than “gothic apocalypse”. Regardless, Titan Quest was renowned when it launched in 2006 for featuring a slower, more tactical approach to gameplay. Over a decade and a half later, it’s finally been given a fresh coat of paint in the Titan Quest Anniversary Edition. It’s lauded for its mod support as well.