From Skyrim to World of Warcraft, the offerings of the RPG are expansive and diverse. But what sets apart the greats from the - well - not-so-greats? There isn't a set rule book per say, but each and every great RPG seems to stick to a workable formula. Let's lay out some of the main things you need to know!
Apart from character creation a good RPG in general has a wealth of customisation option at hand. You can customise your armour or outfit and if the RPG involves your player character travelling with a party, such as Mass Effect, you can even customise your party's armour choices to an extent. Different armour options also generally come with different stats and benefits , all of which go toward boosting (or dwindling in some cases) the combat stats of your player character. The depth of customisation allows you to build a strong sense of identity within an RPG.You can either build your character to look like yourself or you can create an alternate "fantasy" self and building a strong identity for your player character is an integral part of the RPG experience.
Linking with character creation, something else that really drives a strong sense of identity in RPGs is the dialogue. Dialogue is utilised to expand upon the in-game universe, as well as engaging with NPCs and a good RPG allows for the player to choose from a broad range of responses. Some RPGs will even utilise their dialogue one step further and include a morality system, one of the most famous examples being the paragon and renegade system used in the Mass Effect series.
Having a good and consistent levelling system in place is also the key to ensuring that combat in an RPG remains balanced and the game remains playable as you progress. This is due to the fact that usually, as you get further into the game, enemies will be appropriate to the level at which your player character currently is and having a range of different abilities to choose from will allow for more even playing field.
So, overall, each of these different aspects are what go towards making a good RPG. However, they aren't anything whilst taken as separate elements. What a good RPG will do is incorporate all these elements together with stunning execution. To me, a true RPG is all about building one's self within a fantasy setting and building a unique sense of identity around that, experiencing whatever world the RPG presents in-game through the eyes of your new character. A good RPG will use everything at its disposal to make sure that the gaming experience had is as immersive and, to some degree, as addictive as it possibly can be.