Some things are better together like french fries and ketchup and of course peanut butter and jam. But this isn’t Masterchef. We talk about games here and recently, we’ve been thinking specifically about games that like to mix things up, specifically, multi-genre games.
We chose these games because they masterfully (for the most part) blend together varying types of gameplay while offering engaging stories, and unique experiences that a single game genre typically can’t match.
Let’s dive into some of the best multi-genre games we should all be playing right now.
Mount and Blade: Warband
This could really have been any of the Mount and Blade games, but at the time of writing, Warband is the most complete experience for the money. That will most probably change when Bannerlord arrives via early access though. For many PC gamers, this series needs no introduction. For the rest of you, Mount and Blade is a mix of action RPG and grand strategy.
The game is split into two basic parts. A third-person combat mode, and an overworld map from which you can trade, recruit soldiers, and manage your party or kingdom. The former is similar to games like Chivalry or Mordhau, but with a much greater emphasis on battlefield strategy. there’s a robust, angle of attack-based combat system, but you can also issue commands to your troops and make tactical decisions.
It’s an incredibly ambitious game. Even more amazingly, it somehow manages to keep all the balls it’s juggling in the air. Both parts of the game compliment each other perfectly while remaining engaging in their own right.
Taking the time to recruit, train, and equip your soldiers, and then leading them into battle in real-time, is a joy. It also doesn’t hurt that this game has a fantastic modding community.
Another game that blends action RPG and something totally unexpected into a winning formula. Multi-genre games are at their best when the developers think outside the box, and Dungeon Defenders’ combination of ARPG and tower defense is an example of just that. If you’ve ever felt that tower defense games could be more involved, this is the game for you. If you like co-op gameplay, then even more so.
You play as one of up to six “heroes” tasked with defending the “Eternia Crystals” from increasingly powerful enemy waves. So far so generic. The rub is that you are able to place a variety of traps and defenses around the map, as well as face the monsters head-on. This adds an interesting strategic wrinkle to proceedings. You can see where the monsters will spawn and so intricately laid plans are encouraged.
Dungeon Defenders is getting on a bit now, but the cartoony visuals have aged remarkably well. If you are after something a little more recent though, maybe give the sequel a go. Failing that, I have to give an honorable mention to Orcs Must Die, another series with the same basic premise. In any case, grab your friends and get started!
The original Portal is a definitive multi-genre game. It was one of the first games that I felt synthesized disparate elements and produced something special. The puzzle-platformer is now a genre in its own right, and it owes a significant debt to the original Portal. The fact that so few games have come close to matching the ingenuity of the portal gun is a testament to this game’s quality.
Portal is perhaps the leanest game I have ever played. Not a second is wasted. It takes one brilliantly inventive mechanic and wrings all it can out of it with a sequence of levels that combine lateral thinking skills with platforming ability. The strength of the writing and humor elevate the experience even further.
Multi-genre games, and games in general for that matter, don’t get much better than this. It’s not the longest game ever made, but it doesn’t need to be. It carefully combines aspects of other puzzle and platform games and presents them with an irresistible flair and panache.
Puzzle games often lack a certain sense of context, but that is definitely not the case here. Valve’s masterpiece is a must-play.
As a thinly-veiled retelling of World War II, with anime stylings, Valkyria Chronicles is something of an odd duck right off the bat. Things get even more interesting when what looks like your typical Xcom-esque strategy game suddenly turns into a third-person shooter. Throw in a few RPG elements and you’ve got yourself something utterly unique.
A lot of multi-genre games fall down in execution, but the BliTZ Battle of Live Tactical Zones, and an obvious nod to the game’s inspiration system is an admirable attempt to fuse real-time and turn-based mechanics.
The action does play out turn by turn on the broadest level, but with a twist. When you are given the go-ahead to act, you can take direct control of your soldiers, moving and aiming in real-time.
This shakes up the genre in a number of interesting ways. Grid-based movement and chance to hit are gone, replaced by greater emphasis on action and freedom of movement.
The story is also a strong point. It’s presented with undeniable charm, and the characters are surprisingly well-rounded. We may be up to our necks in WWII games these days, but Valkyria Chronicles definitely stands out.
Hand of Fate
Arkham combat with deck-building and roguelike elements? If that sounds like your thing then you’re in luck. Hand of Fate does a superb job of mixing real-time, fast-paced action sequences, and more thoughtful, contemplative moments.
It’s almost like a game of dungeons and dragons, that lets you jump in and take control when things get heated. You play as a nameless hero, in a “cabin at the end of the world”. There, you meet the “Dealer” who like a DM, narrates your adventure and builds events and encounters using a deck of cards. You also have your own deck, which you can use to affect events too.
Once your equipment, enemy type, number, and various other elements have been decided on, the game switches to a third-person brawler.
If you’ve ever played an early Assassin’s Creed or a Batman Arkham game, it’ll feel immediately familiar. It makes for a great change of pace, which is what multi-genre games often do best.
Spore probably takes the prize for most genres combined. The game takes place over five distinct stages, each of which uses completely different mechanics, and could probably be a game in its own right. It does buckle under the weight of its own ambition on occasion, but there are few games of such scope and scale.
If you aren’t familiar with Spore, it’s a life-sim in the most literal sense. You begin by designing a simple, single-celled organism, and guide its species development from cell to creature, to tribe, to civilization, to space-faring empire. The game takes place over five distinct stages, each dealing with one of the aforementioned moments in your species’ history.
As you evolve your way through the millennia, the gameplay shifts gradually from a basic life-sim RPG, through RTS, to a full-blown 4X strategy game. Watching your custom creatures go from barely sentient blobs to conquerers of the stars is quite a journey, even if it does feel a little uneven at times.
This is my personal choice for the best game on this list. Even outside the “multi-genre games” gimmick, I rank Nier Automata as one of the best games ever made. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The reason it earns its place here specifically is the way it fuses hack and slash, shoot ’em up, bullet hell, and even text adventure elements. I know I could say this about most of the games on this list, but there really is nothing else quite like it.
The moment-to-moment experience is a slick, typically Platinum games hack and slash affair. There’s so much more to it than that though. The game keeps finding ways to change things up. It might be switching to a 2D perspective, the bullet hell hacking minigame, or the occasional text-based segment. It could so easily have been a complete mess, but Nier Automata somehow manages to hold it all together.
The true brilliance, however, is how the disparate gameplay styles mesh with the game’s narrative and themes. I don’t want to spoil so I’ll try and speak broadly. Nier Automata is fundamentally an exploration of what the Japanese call “Agaku”, the struggle out of a bad situation. This often involves powerful emotions such as love and hate, which given the entire cast are robots, gets really weird, really fast.
The different gameplay styles are used in all kinds of imaginative ways that emulate these themes and it all comes together beautifully. I can’t recommend this game enough
Blood Bowl 2
I don’t know if there’s a lot of overlap between fans of team sports, and fans of Warhammer strategy games, but Blood Bowl 2 absolutely fills that niche. Honestly though, even if you don’t like Warhammer or team sports, you’ll probably find a lot to like here. There’s a surprising amount of depth, and the presentation oozes personality.
In case I haven’t made this clear enough already, Blood Bowl 2 is basically a combination of ultra-violent American football and high fantasy strategy. So while you can focus on your passing game, you’re also free to field a team of Orcs and hack, maim and bludgeon your way to victory. Choosing when and whether or not to fight dirty is a big tactical decision.
The ruleset can be a little intimidating, and the sheer number of RNG dice rolls can get a little frustrating, but Blood Bowl 2 presents itself so well that I always found myself coming back to it.
The animations are lively and expressive, and the commentary team offers up a steady stream of chuckle-worthy gags. There’s also a fully fleshed-out campaign mode that will ease new players in nicely.
SUPERHOT might look like a first-person shooter, but that’s only the case superficially. Play it for any length of time and you’ll swiftly conclude that while it might control like an FPS, you are actually playing a puzzle game.
You see in SUPERHOT, time only moves when you move (or moves at its usual rate anyway). As long as you arent either moving in a given direction or firing a weapon, time slows to a crawl, giving you the chance to carefully plan you’re next move. What this means is that the game requires both lateral thinking, and precise execution, two gameplay styles often treated as mutually exclusive. You have to think your way to a solution, and then have the skills to pull it off.
The visual style is striking and does a brilliant job of conveying the necessary information. The bright red enemies are a stark contrast with the all-white environments, and bullets leave obvious trails.
All in all, this is probably the most elegant multi-genre game around. Its core ideas are rock solid and the presentation is pitch-perfect.
Slay the Spire
Another of my personal favorites. This indie gem is an addictive mash-up of rogue-like and collectable card game. You must fight your way to the top of the titular spire, utilizing skills and abilities that take the form of cards. Cards are added to your deck as you progress, which means you have to build a deck on the fly.
You will also unlock cards which will then appear in later runs, but it’s the way the game forces difficult deckbuilding decisions on you that really makes it stand out. There are all kinds of combos and synergies to discover, which call for careful consideration. Knowing how all the cards interact with one another is key to success.
When I called this game addictive, I really meant it. It’s got the “just one more run” pull of a roguelike, coupled with the need to fill out a library of unique cards. Start playing this one at your own peril, you can easily lose dozens, if not hundreds of hours to it if you’re not careful.
Those are our picks! We know it’s not an all-inclusive list so be sure to sound off in the comments with your favorite multi-genre games of all time.