The top 10 dungeon crawlers you can play right now

Image via Supergiant Games

As role-playing games grew in popularity, the creative minds behind them forayed into different genres and explored novel scenarios to tell their stories. Perhaps it has to do with the danger of venturing into the bottomless pit of the unknown, maybe it’s the trickling fear of what you may find in the next corridor, but for one reason or another, one of these scenarios has stood the test of time and remains relevant many decades after its advent. 

Dungeon crawlers comprise not so much a genre as they do a storytelling scenario — a setting if you will — which game developers use to invoke a sense of exploration or diversity in their games. From the days when fans got swept into the maze-like undergrounds of Ultima and Wizardry to modern Metroidvania and rogue-like experiences like Hades, there are a lot of titles that give you the joy of struggling through treacherous caverns and challenging undergrounds, or what we now refer to as “dungeon crawling.”

If you’ve never had the opportunity to explore this scenario, or have just done so and are looking for your next fix, then here are the top 10 dungeon crawlers you should be playing this very instant.

10. Ultima VII

You could easily lose hundreds of hours playing through the Ultima series and its expansive medieval fantasy world. But if you were to ask long-time fans of the franchise, many would no doubt single out Ultima VII: The Black Gate as the best installment, not only for the variety of revolutionary features it introduced to the series — including dialogue trees and real-time level design — but because it went on to influence many other RPGs that would follow it for years to come.

Granted, getting into the game might be a bit of a challenge for modern players, as it’s been some 30 years since it first came out on MS-DOS and NES. But then, going through the hassle of getting an emulator to work might be worth it when you realize just how extraordinarily designed and well-polished The Black Gate was for its time.

9. Baldur’s Gate II

Speaking of influential role-playing games, Baldur’s Gate is yet another franchise that completely transcended our wildest dreams as to what fantasy worlds in interactive form could aspire to be. Developed by BioWare, who were then at the pinnacle of their storytelling prowess, Baldur’s Gate II is everything you want to see in a Dungeons & Dragons campaign turned into a video game. The story also takes place in the Forgotten Realms (the same as D&D) so fans of the tabletop game won’t find it difficult to get into the lore of the fictional world.

Baldur’s Gate II might also have a few hurdles in terms of technical quality since it came out in 2000, but you could always try the Enhanced Edition, a more than adequate remaster, released by Overhaul Games in 2013. Larian Studios, the developer behind the acclaimed Divinity: Original Sin franchise, is currently developing Baldur’s Gate III, and it’s safe to say that the majority of the online community is bracing itself not just for a sequel, but for the biggest RPG release in recent memory.

Related: Baldur’s Gate III Release Window, Characters, and More on The Mary Sue

8. Dead Cells

Everyone loves Metroidvania. Everyone loves rogue-like. So why not combine the two and make an awesome fast-paced action game that occasionally includes dungeons as well? That’s probably the line of thought Motion Twin and Evil Empire followed when coming up with Dead Cells, and as surprising as it might sound, it actually worked.

In fact, it would be no overstatement to suggest that Dead Cells remains one of the most critically-acclaimed games in the eponymous genre since its release in 2019. Most viewers criticized the game’s narrative — to be expected of the industry but not to be encouraged when dealing with games of this caliber — though the gameplay received unanimous praise. If you’re into difficult games like Dark Souls and Cuphead, then this one will definitely be your cup of tea.

7. Path of Exile

Yet another game that takes its influence mainly from Dungeons & Dragons with a bit of other computer RPG games added in for good measure, Path of Exile is a free-to-play title that beckons you to the dark fantasy world of Wraeclast. You go through your journey with an overhead camera, picking a single class and wisely distributing your attributes to confront foes and demons of all kinds. The combat is also eerily similar to Diablo, if not as addictive.

As expected from a dark fantasy story, there are also many dungeons to explore, so if you want to dive into a role-playing game with a key focus on dungeon crawling, rather than it being a side element, Path of Exile could scratch that itch and then some.

6. The Binding of Isaac

Developed by Edmund McMillen and Florian Himsl, The Binding of Isaac is a rogue-like adventure game revolving around the Biblical story of Isaac, whose father Abraham came close to sacrificing his son for God but was interrupted in the final moment.

Unlike some of the other games listed above, The Binding of Isaac takes place entirely in procedurally generated dungeons, each different from the last. Taking huge influence from The Legend of Zelda, McMillen and Himsl’s creation has gone down as one of the best dungeon crawlers of all time, essentially reinvigorating interest in rogue-like, and as an extension, dungeon-crawling, experiences through the industry.

5. Shovel Knight

Some knights brandish legendary swords. Some herald their arrival with a choir of admirers. Some even use the title merely as a means to live a life of luxury. But our titular protagonist in Shovel Knight is like none of them, wielding neither sword or shield, but a shovel, which he also uses as a weapon against every foe imaginable.

Released in 2014 for most gaming platforms out there, Shovel Knight became an absolute sensation and spawned several spinoffs. The game is not only one of the best platformers out there, but one of the most acclaimed dungeon crawlers. And if you ever found yourself clamoring for more after finishing an epic journey with Shovel Knight, you can always find more in Pocket Dungeon, and even the upcoming rogue-lite title Shovel Knight Dig, which will release for PC and Nintendo Switch this Sept. 23.

4. Diablo II

Diablo is well-known wherever keywords such as role-playing, hack-and-slash, and dungeon-crawling come up. But it is the second installment, succinctly titled Diablo II, that not only revolutionized the genre but remains a sensation to this day. Blizzard remastered the nostalgic title last year, a reworked version that made its way to the market under the title of Diablo II: Resurrected.

So, even if you are wary of older mechanics and barely distinguishable graphics fidelities, you can play the remastered version and see what it is that usually allows Diablo II to make the cut in the “greatest of all time” lists, with Game Informer noting that the entry “remains the standard against which all other ARPGs are judged.” 

3. Torchlight II

There are a number of games on this list that are objectively better than Torchlight, but since we began the work with exclusively dungeon crawlers in mind, Torchlight II should definitely make the cut. 

The game puts you in random and procedurally generated dungeons containing a ton of enemies and even more loot. Unlike its predecessor, Torchlight II also features a P2P multiplayer mode, which makes the fun tenfold if you have friends to go along with this adventure. And if ever you find yourself not satisfied with the sequel’s offerings, you could always check out Torchlight III, even if it’s a middling title in comparison to the first two installments.

2. Divinity: Original Sin

While not every location you visit in Divinity: Original Sin is going to be a dungeon, the game is certainly among the best that the role-playing genre has to offer. The magic system is detailed and a joy to use, the combat is balanced and aesthetically pleasing, and the narrative is among the best Larian Studios has come up with in their acclaimed portfolio.

Everything in Divinity screams a classic D&D adventure that is well-polished and doesn’t throw you off in any regard. And who knows? If you end up enjoying this ride, you should definitely check out the game’s sequel, Divinity II, which has managed to rouse even more praise than its predecessor, going down as not only the best top-down role-playing game of all time, but also one of the best video games across all genres and periods.

1. Hades

The success that Hades mustered after its release was certainly a surprise, though a most welcome one. The game is a hack-and-slash roguelike adventure that puts you in the shoes of Zagreus, the God of Underworld’s son, who wishes to escape Hell and find his mother. Unlike many other RPG titles in this list, Hades is easy to learn and addictive to the bone. You have to fight your way through different realms of Hell and face numerous bosses to reach the surface, whereupon you face Hades himself.

Continuing to do so will unlock extra chunks of narrative until you finally solve the enigma of Hell and reunite your family. Hades is also among the few rogue-like dungeon crawlers that justify their existence through the narrative. As Zagreus, you are literally unable to do, and so are all your adversaries, so your resurrection and theirs is a perfectly calculated plot device that doesn’t threaten the fictional world’s immersiveness even for a second.