From Gold Boxes to Elder Scrolls : A Lifetime of RPGs
As a lifelong pen and paper RPG player, there is no genre closer to my heart in computer games as that of the Roleplaying Game. There was recently a post on Reddit where someone was asking about games like Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale. I was going to post and then I thought, why not make it one big blog post instead? So here is the big rundown of RPGs I can recommend and why. Please note for the sake of my sanity, there are no MMORPGs listed.
Eye of the Beholder – One of the first RPGs I ever played on a computer as well as the first game I ever played in the first person perspective. Roll a party of 4 characters and venture into the labyrinthine Undermountain. It was super tough for young me so I never beat it until the GameBoy re-release.
Like it: Legend of Grimrock
Dark Sun: Shattered Lands – The first D&D game on PC I played with a very open world. Starting as a gladiator slave, you make a party of four and escape from the clutches of the horrible wizard-king and get drawn up into a grand adventure in an arid death world.
Like it: Baldur’s Gate, although it’s more for people who like unusual settings.
Baldur’s Gate 1 and Baldur’s Gate 2 – Excellent games that will forever be remembered as the best computer RPGs of the era featuring the best voices, art and gameplay that anyone could ask for. I practically learned how to play D&D from these games.
Like it: Any other CRPG from an isometric view, since the BG series is considered the gold standard for CRPGs.
Icewind Dale and Icewind Dale 2 – More combat oriented than the BG series, IWD and it’s sequel were great tactics games. While you role played less the combat felt great and the setting was familiar to any who read the Drizzt series of novels.
Like it: Fallout Tactics or to a lesser extent, Final Fantasy Tactics.
Planescape: Torment – If Baldur’s Gate refined what it means to be an RPG, Planescape: Torment tread those trails first. With a behemoth of a story (reportedly around 800,000 words) and characters you’ll never forget, this is the game that ‘modern’ rpgs are starting to take from.
Like it: Tides of Numenera, Pillars of Eternity, Divinity: Original Sin
Fallout and Fallout 2 – The premier games that ‘beat’ Baldur’s Gate for most, this pair fed us a Mad Max meets Boy and His Dog meets Canticle For Leibowitz world where there were no right answers. Many imitators have tried to create similar worlds but few succeed.
Like it: Fallout 3 and New Vegas, obviously.
Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas – Bethesda tried to extend their RPG series from fantasy to post apocalyptic by buying up the Fallout rights and by Jove they were successful. While the first one featured the delicious turn based combat we enjoyed, New Vegas had more of the gray morality making both games new classics.
Like it: Fallout 1 and 2. Rage.
Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor – The first D&D game I ever decided not to finish simply because it is just TOO big. Probably the worst game in this list, given the mysterious lack of control in how your characters develop and how to tackle the enormous dungeon.
Like it: Icewind Dale 1 and 2.
Temple of Elemental Evil – Troika is famous for three games, and all three are buggy crashy rushed RPG games and I wouldn’t want them to change the games for anything. ToEE took a classic D&D module and let you experience it almost exactly the same as though you were sitting at a table.
Like it: Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2
Arcanum of Steamworks and Magick Obscura – A steampunk meets magic fantasy sci-fi world that tries very successfully to do it all and manages to be fun without balancing the game a bit. Horribly exploitable and buggy but too full of good story and interesting characters to even detract from the game one bit.
Like it: Dark Sun
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines – One of the few FPS RPG games on this list (although third person is an option), the gothic sexy World of Darkness is brought to our computer screens with deft skill. A poor choice in using the then-unreleased Source engine meant the game got pushed back often enough to end up outside of the radar of most gamers although you often see it being at the top of recommended lists.
Like it: Not RPGs but the Legacy of Kain series would be a solid recommendation.
Neverwinter Nights and Neverwinter Nights 2 – Focusing instead on tools to allow gamers to make their own adventures, both of these games still have a very competent single player component and there are a slew of official expansions to keep the adventure going.
Like it: The upcoming Sword Coast Legends
Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance and Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2 – One of the few memorable console D&D games, the Dark Alliance series plays more like Diablo than it does any real RPG but the actual game is so damn fun and the graphics so pretty, that’s an easy drawback to ignore.
Like it: Everquest (PS2), Diablo 1, 2 and 3, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Return of the King for consoles.
Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone – Another Action RPG like Dark Alliance, this time very focused on story and tight gameplay mechanics. While being written by RA Salvatore means the characters and plot are engaging, the graphics and gameplay support the 10+ hour play-through.
Like it: The Dark Alliance series
Dungeons and Dragons: Daggerdale – Tied for the ‘worst game’ category, mostly because of it the bugs and lackluster story, but the translation of 4th edition mechanics is pretty spot on. If I had to recommend avoiding a game between Daggerdale and Myth Drannor, I’m not sure which I could pick.
Like it: Be glad there really isn’t a recommendation
Dungeons and Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara – A pair of old arcade games updated with modern sensibilities, the games themselves are reminiscent of Double Dragon or Streets of Rage and that should probably disqualify them from this list but the exploration and item management of the game puts this into near-RPG territory enough and it’s really fun.
Like it: Golden Axe (but not really)
The Elder Scrolls: Arena, Daggerfall, Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim – Bethesda may have refined Fallout, but they cut their teeth on the Elder Scrolls. With each game having a grand benefit to stand out from the rest, each is worth playing. Arena has a massive world. Daggerfall almost lives and breathes. Morrowind has an alien universe to explore. Oblivion gave us REAL impactful combat and Skyrim gave us a super-polished experience. If I had to pick one, though, it would be Daggerfall. It’s just a lovely game.
Like it: Gothic 3
Knights of the Old Republic and Knights of the Old Republic 2 – Sci-Fi RPGs aren’t exactly common (although there are many not on this list like the excellent Anachronox) Star Wars games are almost always great games. Playing as a Jedi in the very ancient setting of the Old Republic just feels great. Bioware at their finest.
Like it: Sadly, there aren’t really any other games like it. Mass Effect is the best bet.
Betrayal At Krondor and Return to Krondor – An awkward, full motion video captured onto sprites turn based game set in Raymond E Feist’s unique imagination, it was… a unique attempt at the genre. That being said, it was well worth experiencing when it came out.
Like it: The Tex Murphy series
– A neat ‘Rule the Kingdom and be an Adventurer’ game on the PS2 and Gamecube, was one of the first REAL RPG games I played on consoles that was truly original (sorry Quest 64). The races, setting and story don’t have an analog in other games, even to today.
Like it: Summoner 1
And some games I either never got around to beating or don’t really have anything to write about them but are still great RPGs in their own right:
Gothic 3, Divine Divinity, Drakensang – River of Time, The Bards Tale (the remake, it has great music), Two Worlds and Two Worlds 2, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (another Salvatore games), Dragon Age, Dragon Age: Awakening, Dragon Age II and Dragon Age: Inquisition, Mass Effect 1, 2 and 3. Jade Empire, Deus Ex and Deus Ex: Human Revolution and dozens of other games that escape my mind at one am.