Creating a game that combines elements from multiple genres can be a tricky endeavor at times. Over the past few decades, there have been countless examples of mash-ups that tried to offer something different but ultimately failed either due to poor execution or because the combination of genres didn’t really make sense. Every once in a while, however, developers do manage to successfully blend together multiple genres and when that happens the end result is a truly unique game that often sets a new standard for others in the industry to follow. With that in mind, today we are going to look at 15 such games that took the hybrid concept to a whole new level.
Gearbox Software’s Borderlands is a prime example of how a hybrid game can truly shine if executed properly. The original title along with all its subsequent installments combine elements of first-person shooters with an action RPG loot system clearly inspired by Diablo and it all blends together flawlessly. To top it all off, the game also has a very unique art style, interesting characters, and is an absolute blast to play with friends in co-op. Borderlands is such a perfect mash-up, in fact, that Gearbox often refers to it as a role-playing shooter.
Released around the same time as Borderlands, Tim Schafer’s Brutal Legend is an action-adventure game that takes place in a world inspired by Heavy Metal music. Metalheads are likely very familiar with this title as its cast of characters includes a number of legendary artists such as Jack Black, Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy Kilmister, Rob Halford, and Lita Ford, all of whom did amazing voice work for the game. As for the hybrid aspect, Brutal Legend incorporates real-time strategy elements in its core gameplay and even adds a bit of Guitar Hero inspired minigames to the mix.
While the original 1990 title was a pretty good game in its own right, the 2008 reboot of the King’s Bounty series offers so much more in terms of interesting concepts. At its core, King’s Bounty plays very similar to a Heroes of Might & Magic title as its features a nearly identical turn-based combat system, complete with high fantasy creatures and various schools of magic. Outside of combat, however, most of the gameplay takes place in real time and feels very much like a traditional RPG.
Equal parts turn-based tactics and sports game, Blood Bowl 2 is a very entertaining hybrid game based in the Warhammer fantasy universe. True to its name, Blood Bowl 2 kinda starts off like a regular American football match (except for the Orcs and Elves part) but quickly turns into a violent bloodbath, much like everything else in Warhammer. Aside from a variety of different teams and races to choose from, the game also features a player marketplace and hilarious sports commentary by a dynamic duo consisting of a Vampire and an Ogre.
Spellforce is a series of RTS/RPG games that managed to take the best elements of both genres and combine them into a beautiful mix. About half the game plays out like a very tradition RPG and features a character creation system, inventory management, and a plethora of quests to complete. The other half, however, is a very solid real-time strategy game complete with base building, resource gathering and six different races to choose from. Interestingly enough, the two components are very much connected, as unlocking various units and buildings can only be done by completing certain quests and advancing the storyline.
Developed and published by Sega, the Valkyria Chronicles series stands out from the crowd even among hybrid games as it combines elements from a variety of genres. Aside from the role-playing elements, the Japanese title also features a tactical turn-based combat system that plays very much like a third-person shooter. It sounds a bit confusing at first but the mash-up works great in practice and the series has become widely acclaimed over the years thanks to its unique gameplay and distinctive art style.
A nearly forgotten title, Heroes of Annihilated Empires is a classic example of a hidden gem that didn’t receive the love it deserved when it was first released back in 2006. Those who have played it, however, know that this was a very ambitious project that combined RTS and RPG in a unique way. Unlike most other hybrid games that incorporate real-time strategy elements, Heroes of Annihilated Empires features battles between insanely large armies numbering thousands of units. Similarly, there’s a very high level cap for hero units as well, and although they start off weak, heroes can become extremely devastating once they get some levels under their belts.
Yet another highly underrated title, Shiny Entertainment’s Sacrifice is perhaps the most successful hybrid game that managed to combine real-time strategy with third-person action. While the handful of similar titles merely incorporate a few RTS elements here and there, Sacrifice is an actual third-person real-time strategy game where the player assumes the role of a powerful wizard that can summon and command a variety of different creatures in battle against other wizards. The game features some basic traditional RTS elements like resource gathering but the main focus of Sacrifice is definitely on the action-packed combat.
Space simulator, real-time strategy, RPG, god game, and so much more, Spore is a truly unique hybrid that combines more genres than any other title out there. More accurately, though, Spore is a life simulation that takes the player on a wonderful journey of evolution where you star off as a lowly single-celled organism and can eventually become a sort of galactic emperor. Reaching the end game takes time, though, but along the way players get to create their own unique creatures, establish a tribe that will ultimately become a civilization, terraform planets, trade with strange alien species, and more.
The Total War series as a whole is well-known for successfully combining RTS and TBS elements into a very neat package, so you can pretty much pick up any of its many installments because each and every one of them is a great hybrid game. This particular installment is a bit special, however, because it’s also a combination between two important video game franchises and that makes the end result even more interesting.
Portal is a unique game that introduced a number of innovative concepts back in 2007 and expanded them even further in 2011 with its second installment. Even more importantly, Valve showed us that it is, in fact, possible to make a first-person shooter where you don’t actually have to shoot anybody. Instead, the game uses core FPS mechanics and combines them with puzzle-platform elements while also adding tons of humor on top. As everyone knows, the end product is an iconic game that spawned dozens of memes over the years and made its way into pop culture. Portal 2 is ultimately a bit better than the original but you definitely can’t go wrong with either of them.
While the series as a whole is becoming more and more focused on action RPG and FPS elements, the original Deus Ex was a much more balanced game that also put a lot of emphasis on stealth. Granted, the stealthy approach is still an option but it’s becoming less and less interesting with every new installment. But stealth or no stealth, Deus Ex is overall still a very good series of hybrid games that offers a lot of gameplay variety and will likely continue to remain successful for the foreseeable future despite the change in direction.
One of the most recent and original examples of hybrid games, Psyonix’s Rocket League took the world by storm last year with its simple yet ingenious concept. The game follows the basic rules of soccer more or less but replaces human players with racing cars that come in all shapes and sizes. Rocket League is all about fun and it definitely excelled in that department from the get-go, however, the game is even crazier nowadays thanks to a variety of DLC packs that provide players with new and inventive ways of smashing into each other with their pimped out cars.
Arguably the most successful RTS/RPG hybrid out there, Warcraft III will always have a special place in our hearts. In typical Blizzard fashion, the game is a story-driven experience that streamlined many aspects of real-time strategy games and made the genre seem appealing to new players for a change, unlike most of its intimidating counterparts. What makes this title truly stand out, however, are the compelling hero units that are interesting to play both in single player and multiplayer. Indeed, many of the campaign missions in both Reign of Chaos and The Frozen Throne feel like a role-playing game, as the player gets to control hero characters that can pursue quests, use abilities, level up, and equip items.
The series may have started off like a traditional RPG experience but by the second installment, it had become clear that Mass Effect also works great as an action-packed third-person shooter. Luckily, Bioware managed to improve upon the shooting mechanics while still maintaining all the most important aspects of a role-playing game. Sure, Mass Effect 2’s inventory system was greatly dumbed down in the process and vehicle exploration was completely removed but the developers added so much more in return. Not only does Mass Effect 2 feature a smoother combat system and cover mechanics but the game also added a cast of memorable characters and a morality system that gradually changed Commander Shepard’s appearance depending on the player’s Paragon/Renegade choices.
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