This column is going up toward the end of the sale, so some of the best prices for some may have come and gone, but between the voting, the flash sales, and the fact that Steam usually uses the last day or so to repeat some of the biggest sales, it's possible to get the best prices again even if you missed the first round.
BioWare's Dragon Age: Origins and Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic have both been 75% off in the daily/flash sales, and are 40% off generally. These are two of the defining role-playing games of their generations, and if you haven't played them, they're essentially mandatory. I have some issues with both games that stop me from being a super-fan, but they're definitely enjoyable.
I recommend the "Ultimate Edition" of Dragon Age, which comes with all the expansions. KOTOR is a standalone, but it also comes in a bundle with several other non-RPG Star Wars games, including classics like Jedi Knight, Jedi Academy, and Republic Commando, which is a superb deal for that collection.
The Hidden Bundle Deals
Each time Steam puts a major game up as a daily sale, it also puts other games within that series on sale as well. So when it had Fallout New Vegas Ultimate Edition 75% off, at $9.99, Fallout 3 was right behind it, with all its add-ons, for just $5. Likewise, when Fable III was on sale, so too was Fable: The Lost Chapters. I've never played a Fable game (and recognize that they're arguably not RPGs) but the first one was $2.50. You may have to search directly for predecessors during those sales, but they're there.
Maybe It's Not An RPG. Maybe It Is. It's Definitely Awesome
Sid Meier's Pirates! is quite possibly my favorite game of all time, and a potential future column. Is it an RPG? Is it an adventure? Action? Trading sim? Strategy? A little bit of each, and it's great because of that combination. It's 50% off, $5, right now. (Meanwhile, the previous versions of the game, Pirates! and Pirates! Gold, have been released at GOG.com. All three versions combine to demonstrate how a single amazing piece of game design can work through a variety of different eras.)
I'm also a fan of the new King's Bounty series. Although portrayed as a strategy game, where you recruit units and fight tactical battles with them, the single hero, leveling progression, and limits on number of different units are constrained enough that I'm willing to call it an RPG. Each of the three games in the series is 50% off, including the collection for $17.50. If you'd prefer to pick just one, Crossworlds is probably the best value.
The new Walking Dead episodic releases have been garnering a lot of buzz, and although I haven't played them yet, I'm planning on doing so soon. They're framed as traditional adventures, but that's not why they're relevant to this conversation. They're being held up as models of how to do moral choices that matter, instead of merely being aesthetic decisions. The Walking Dead has been as low as $15 for the "season" which currently has two episodes, and will have three more. I'm glad to see the morality aspect of RPGs moving outside of the genre and into other arenas.
Finally, strategy/puzzle/RPGs Puzzle Quest and Might & Magic Clash of Heroes are on sale, and both are excellent. There's also Bastion, a game that's inspired by Diablo and its ilk, but one which exchanges character development mechanics for beautiful visual and aural aesthetics (and my favorite game of 2011).
I have published my love of Freedom Force before, and both it and its sequel, are 50% off (that's $3.75 for both). Divine Divinity only just got added to Steam, but it's a quality game, combining aspects of Diablo and Fallout. Finally, BioWare's least-discussed RPG, Jade Empire, is 50% off-I was put off by it the first time I tried it, but it has some very eloquent defenders, and I'm willing to give it another go.
Jeff Vogel's Spiderweb Software has been publishing indie RPGs since before "indie" was a conventionally understood term. I've been playing Avernum: Escape From The Pit, and have been surprised by just how much I'm enjoying it. It's a combination of Ultima in exploration, the Gold Box games in combat, and a bit of modern RPGs in character customization. Between Avernum, Geneforge, and Avadon, Spiderweb is well-represented on Steam and in the sale – worth a look for RPG fans.
The Legend Of Grimrock is a throwback to games like Dungeon Master, Eye Of The Beholder, and Lands Of Lore. It's a subgenre that seemed to disappear entirely during the 2000s, yet Grimrock has won the sale votes and been quite high on the list of best-sellers. I struggle with this particular sub-genre, to be honest, but its combination of straightforward, difficult combat with increasingly twisty puzzles seems to be quite popular.
Two roguelikes, The Binding Of Isaac and Dungeons Of Dredmor are both 50% or more off, and both were already cheap. Isaac is an action game with a remarkable sacrilegious aesthetic, where Dredmor is a more traditional roguelike. I also highly recommend Costume Quest, Double Fine's Halloween-themed RPG. It's extremely simple, but effectively charming, and has been included in the overall Double Fine sale for 75% off. It's 50% off now.
Finally, I have to put in a good word for Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale. It's not a "Western" RPG, but since it's PC-only, it fits to some degree. This is half legitimately amusing JRPG parody that, and half trading sim/action RPG. It's something special if the premise at all appeals to you.
Pretty sure you've heard of Skyrim by now!
These are the games that I know about and am happy to recommend. There are plenty more available, including a few I picked up like Two Worlds II, and a few I've passed on. What are your top recommendations? What have you picked up that you're most excited to try?
Rowan Kaiser is a freelance writer currently living the Bay Area, who also writes for The A.V. Club, and has been published at Salon, Gamasutra, Kotaku, and more. He still occasionally finds Ultima VI Moongate maps and mantra notes when he visits his parents' house. Follow him on Twitter @rowankaiser.