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RPG Codex Top 70 PC RPGs (Now with User Reviews!)
Editorial - posted by Crooked Bee on Sat 10 May 2014, 23:05:55
List and images compiled by felipepepe; reviews submitted by RPG Codex community members and slightly edited by Crooked Bee.
Back in January, esteemed community member felipepepe staged a vote so we could find out what our community's all-time best computer RPGs actually are these days. As a result, we got a hefty list, with graphs and stuff, of 70 titles - or actually a bit more: some games were tied, so you may notice that this Top 70 list features more games than just seventy. Then we asked our users to submit mini-reviews for the games that made it on the list. Around 50 Codexers and one Watch spy took the call, and here's what came out of it.
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The biggest reason is that this game has shown us that story-based games can work. Often likened to a playable novel, PS:T tells the engrossing tale of a man in search of his past - or pasts. Starting from the tired cliché of amnesia, PS:T quickly draws those who will accept it for what it is, warts and all, into an engrossing tale of redemption, love and treachery, covering succinctly many of man's desires and shortcomings. While nobody is going to suggest this is the same level as classic literature, this is the game that showed us that video game writing can be above average, can indeed conjure up fantastic worlds and allow us to visit them. Not one NPC in PS:T does not have an interesting story, not one description of text or snippet of party banter an enticing tidbit that teaches us about the odd, foreign world that the tale occurs in.
PS:T invites us to a strange journey, and those who accept the invitation will, if they have the patience to read the game's copious walls of text, find themselves drawn to into an experience that they are not likely to ever forget.
MicoSelva: Probably the best story in any video game ever, Planescape: Torment is much more than just that. Allowing the player to explore one of the most unique worlds in the history of computer RPGs and interact with some of the most interesting characters ever created, PS:T is also a very solid game underneath it all. Everything you do in this game matters: how you create your character and develop it, how you approach people and what you say to them, what you do and what you decide not to do.
Torment will destroy your assumptions about what to expect from a fantasy RPG, as it comes with zero elves, zero dwarves and only two swords in the whole game, and it will also leave you wanting more from every RPG you play afterwards. Obviously it's not perfect (nothing is), with combat especially in need of some improvement, but so far it is as close to perfection as it gets.
Grunker: This game is unlike anything I've ever played before or have played since. Everything was strange, and you never knew what to expect. One of the things I miss the most about games from the years past is the feeling of being thrust into a completely alien world, where nothing can be expected and everything is new and surprising. Oh yeah, and "DON'T TRUST THE *spoiler*". That moment was singed into my brain; it's probably the most memorable gaming moment for me.
Planescape: Torment is a game unlike any other, and thoroughly deserves its top spot on this list.
In Fallout, your choices have consequences and your character is what you make of him or her, not just a race/class combination. Couple that with a believable antagonist (in the context of the game), B-movie shlock monsters like super mutants, radscorpions and deathclaws, over the top death animations, the dark humorous contrast between the blind pre-war optimism and the current post-war state of affairs, a 50's retro-futuristic aesthetic as well as a moody soundtrack by Mark Morgan, and you get one hell of a game. Combat is devoid of challenge but entertaining, in no small part thanks to the death animations.
Compared to its direct sequel, Fallout is shorter but has a more tightly focused plot and atmosphere. It also features fewer pop-culture references and easter eggs. Finally, I love the ending slides narrating the impact of your journey on the people you've met and places you've visited. Fallout is good stuff.
tuluse: It's difficult to write about Fallout to fellow codexers. The things it did well have become catchphrases at this point, and it should be self-evident why one would want to play it. Yet, in the 17 years since its release, it has almost become old hat. Well, sure it had C&C, but they weren't that deep. Who cares about ending slides, I want consequences while I'm playing! What's the point of multiple quest solutions if just about every character can accomplish them? These are the cries of bored gamers who want something to finally surpass the original masterpiece. Unfortunately, nothing has accomplished that.
Fallout remains the best not because of individual details or implementations, but because of the overall effect and the entire experience. It offers multiple solutions to every single quest, with choices based both on character skill and player decisions. It presents a world at once familiar and alien, opening it up to the player to explore as they like. It also makes exploring the world enjoyable. Everything from the dilapidated huts, to giant scorpions, to futuristic military bases, to exploding groins looks and sounds good. All the elements also fit together, maintaining a thematic consistency that sequels and pretenders couldn't match.
Jim the Dinosaur: Fallout's mechanics took only 7 times as long to construct as Icewind Dale 2's story, which means it has a lot of kinks in it that put its component parts a bit on the simplistic and not-completely-working side. Good thing, then, that Fallout 1 isn't about the constituent parts, but how it all fits together in one wonderful Gestalt that can't be reduced to its parts, no matter how much certain Codex staff members who wouldn't know a quality RPG if it shot them in the back like to imagine it can be. Fallout is about having lots of different approaches that are all flawed in their own special (wink) way, but which are all still very much enjoyably flawed.
Sure, combat's simple and sometimes frustratingly random, but when that beautiful main character sprite gets riddled by another beautiful sprite's SMG while a wonderfully pleasant squishy sound plays, it's hard to claim this isn't enjoyable on some level. Sure, most of the stat checks are insanely randomized, but this is the only game where you can convince a mutant cult leader that his plan is inconceivable after evading his psionic attacks by either drinking copious amounts of alcohol to dim your senses or convincing a wacko to give you his protective hat after having killed a lot of innocent people and failing your speech checks.
There's other stuff I should probably mention, such as the great ambient soundtrack, but the bottom line is that Fallout 1 is a fantastic game.
This goes for the entire game. People who liked Fallout for being similar to an efficiently organized sandbox with sufficient buckets and shovels for all the kids will probably not be very fond of this giant kitty litter where sometimes one big kid gets up and goes around kicking everyone else's castles down. But that doesn't change the fact that it is a really big box with lots of toys. Yes, some of those toys are things like real-world weapons that seem a bit out of place in this game, but hey.
If you are reading this and haven't played either of the original games yet (I'm sure you were quite busy), I'd recommend starting with FO2 first. It introduced some much needed improvements to the first game, such as the "Push NPC out of the way" button for those times someone decides to squat on the doorway (WHY HAS NO ONE ELSE COPIED THIS) and being able to give specific orders to your followers, and even a proper system of trading with them. Plus the unending torrent of jokes from this hyperactive kid won't bother you as much as it would if you were already accustomed to its older, serious brother.
In case you're wondering, the third brother fell on his head as a child. Ignore him and he should lose interest after a while.
tuluse: "Bigger, better, badder" might as well have been the tagline for Fallout 2. Bigger: the game world is huge compared to Fallout 1. There is a lot more stuff to do, and it has probably 3 or 4 times the content as the first game. Better: they cleaned up the character system a bit. The useless skills are now a little less useless. The faction mechanics were significantly upgraded and made more important. The game was made by people who clearly understood what was fun about Fallout 1. Badder: the large world lost the coherency of the first game's smaller one, and often feels like a theme park. They also jam packed the game with pop culture references frequently breaking Tim Cain's "it has to make sense even if you don't get the reference" rule. Overall a very good RPG, just not the revelation that the first game was.
undecaf: I had the misfortune (or maybe fortune) of playing the Fallout series in the wrong order - starting with the second game, which as a result stuck with me more than the first one did. As a sequel to one of the most revered RPGs of all time, Fallout 2 doesn't go off its way to reinvent the wheel, but offers what is pretty much an expanded version of its predecessor with a new storyline and a cast of mostly excellent characters.
Thanks to how well its different parts interact, Fallout 2 offers a still nigh unrivaled kind of gameplay with just the right amount of abstraction. Simple as it may be on the surface, it does its job well while also allowing imagination to fill in certain gaps without being completely reliant on it. While the game suffers from an excessive quantity of over the top and fourth wall breaking humor (which some would say stands in contrast to the otherwise extremely bleak world) and doesn't quite reach the literary level, tone or consistency of its predecessor, the sheer scope and wealth of excellent role-playing possibilities easily make up for that. After all these years since its release and all the pompously advertised technical advancements in the gaming industry, Fallout 2 still stands well on its own feet as one of the best RPG experiences I've ever had the pleasure of playing.
Grunker: SO. MUCH. CONTENT. Baldur's Gate 2 is easily one of my favorite games. Measured against its production values, this game provides the player with an amount of quality content unmatched, I believe, in any other RPG. The diversity of encounters, spells, quests and, well, just about everything, makes Baldur's Gate 2 a one-of-a-kind complete experience. The combat is often criticized on the Codex for not being turn-based. That is, in my mind, quite like criticizing a cat for not being a dog. Baldur's Gate 2 has everything I look for in an RPG: a multitude of quests, vast amounts of unique and interesting loot, a myriad of monsters to fight, and a story which, while not exactly Shakespeare material, is quite solid and has one of video gaming's most memorable villains. Oh, and Jarl: it doesn't have one of the best interfaces ever, it has the best interface ever.
octavius: In my opinion, this is pretty much the perfect RPG. First, it has an interesting storyline. Sure, the protagonist is a Chosen One, but (s)he's only one of several chosen ones - and in the end there can be only one. The writing is a bit on the juvenile side, but then so is much of fantasy literature. The antagonist is a guy you'll really learn to hate, and he is masterfully voice acted. Overall the voice acting is very good and, most importantly, limited -- only the parts that need to be voice acted are, such as greetings, intros, battle shouts, etc. No need to suffer through endless slow speeches.
Then there's a good mix of companions. They aren't as numerous as in BG1, but more fleshed out, with interjections and banter. Playing through the game with different party compositions, resulting in different party banters, makes it more replayable than most other RPGs. The fact that people tend to hate Anomen, Aerie and Minsc shows that BioWare was able to make engaging NPCs. And unlike BG1, where you were virtually forced to be good, you can do some pretty evil things in BG2, such as goading the wanna-be-paladin Anomen into joining the Dark Side. Personally I didn't like Imoen, but that was mainly because the voice actress who did the chirpy, merry Imoen of BG1 so well, failed to "nail" the more serious, moodier Imoen of BG2.
The game is huge, with lots of different areas to explore brimming with content. Especially Athkatla, the capital of Amn that functions as your base of operations in the early game, is a joy to explore, and is definitely the best designed city in any computer RPG, with every inch of real estate used to good effect. The combat is real-time with pause, which is the main reason some people dislike BG2. I was skeptical about the combat too at first, but once I got used to it, I discovered that it works pretty well. Compared to the turn-based Gold Box games, there are far more options here when it comes to skills, abilities, spells, items and monster variety, as well as the better (and moddable) AI. Combined with the best encounter design in any RPG I've played, the overall result is outstanding, despite the RTwP.
The game is infamous for introducing romances, but thankfully they are not the focus of the game like they apparently became in later BioWare games, and can safely be ignored. Overall BG2 is a very well-rounded and large game that does not have any definite weaknesses. That is, unless you hate RTwP.
For one, the character creation is delightfully complicated. Arcanum can be played in a stunning variety of builds. You might find yourself drifting towards Speech-tagged gunslinger in Fallout on repeated playthroughs, but the staggering amount of skills, abilities, backgrounds, races, recipes, and so on and so on, which more often than not have an effect on dialogue, truly allow for diverse and varied approaches. You want to be an assassin? By all means. A thief? Sure. Have others fight your battles? Unlike Fallout, this is a lot more possible in this game. Add to all that the possibility to branch into magic or technology -- or neither, or both -- and you are met with a veritable playground of choices from the moment you create your character. It helps that the world you then explore is lovingly detailed, steeped in deep melancholy, and realized wonderfully through newspapers, rumors, and vibrant, varied towns, each with their unique flavor.
I really hope you like string quartets.
Koschey: Arcanum has its fair share of flaws. Yet it is high up amongst my favorites, because despite its flaws it manages to hit all the right notes. A high fantasy world in the throes of an industrial revolution with a lot of steampunk thrown in for good measure, accompanied by a great and perfectly fitting soundtrack. Likeable companions, a great villain with a well-reasoned motivation to his actions, interesting lore, and a nice twist on the usual Chosen One routine. What Arcanum does best, however, is reactivity. Not only do mages, thieves, inventors, etc., differ in how they play, but also in how the world treats them. Furthermore, almost every choice you make is acknowledged in some way, be it your in-character decisions, stats, abilities, race, gender, companions, or even the things you wear.
If you can stomach the boring combat and the occasional tedious dungeon crawl, give Arcanum a chance. You will not regret it.
Grunker: I have a huge amount of respect for what this game tries to achieve with its character system, its exploration and its deep story and reactivity. The sad fact of the matter, however, is that all of the various elements that make up this game are fundamentally broken. Arcanum is a vast desert of wasted potential. It is a game that showed us just how great RPGs could be, but failed to deliver that greatness in any of its departments. As it is, Arcanum, for me, is a gigantic vision of what could be if a dedicated and skilled RPG developer had the time and resources to make an all-around perfect RPG. As a result, I understand why Arcanum has its place in the Top 10 - no other game has presented us with this kind of true vision of just how much a perfect RPG could provide. The fact remains, however, that Arcanum fails to fully provide any of that itself.
Grunker: Bloodlines is the definition of a flawed gem, and I must admit it: I love this game more than it deserves. Yes, parts of the game are boring dungeon crawls with poor combat. Yes, it's is a terrible amalgamation of different gameplay elements chugged into a poor shooter. But the story, the characters, and the Deus Ex-esque game mechanics put this game right up there with the best for me.
I said it was the definition of a flawed gem, and I mean it: Bloodlines is genuinely good, but it could have been so much better. Though it's hardly an important feature in a game, Bloodlines deserves a mention for its voice acting alone. It showed that genuinely fantastic voice acting can be a strength of its own if implemented the right way.
DeepOcean: Atmosphere is the name of this game; it is the greatest achievement of Bloodlines. The realistic art style with abundant use of color; the incredible facial animation that, even if technically limited compared to the likes of L.A. Noire, manages to do a much better job of conveying NPC personalities; the electronic and low key music; the incredible voice acting and the competently written dialogue - all of that makes the immersion meter (dirty word, I know) go through the roof.
Bloodlines is the closest you're going to get to a game making you feel like you're a creature of the night. It never got to be a horror game, but the feeling of creepiness was constant and oppressive - the designers took obvious inspiration from horror movies while adapting their rhythm to that of the World of Darkness lore. All of this would have been useless had Bloodlines fallen prey to the hysterical need of many a modern game to handhold the player and scream the plot in your face; fortunately it didn't do any of that. Another big point in the game's favor is the way different races impact gameplay, and while this aspect isn't perfect, playing as a Malkavian differs a lot from playing as a Ventrue.
The atmosphere is excellent, the exploration is rewarding, the replayability is high, and the characters and quests are really good. What, then, is Bloodlines' biggest problem? It's being a story-focused game and not a full-fledged RPG, but also neither a good first person shooter nor a good third person hack'n'slash. Bloodlines carries the curse of all action hybrids such as Deus Ex - the curse that only gets worse as you advance in the game and have to do a lot more shooting than questing. The shooting is, however, mediocre at best, especially near the endgame, and the final levels are a boring slog.
Considering that, instead of fixing old gameplay problems, RPGs have devolved into dating sims/choose your own adventure games for retarded people, Bloodlines fully deserves its place on this list - even despite the numerous problems it has on the gameplay front.
On a superficial level, Oblivion and Skyrim seem very similar to Morrowind, but in all actuality they could not be more different. Where Morrowind is subtle and intelligent, its successors are blunt and dumbed down. Play this game, especially if you prioritize story, lore, atmosphere and open world exploration above all else in your RPGs (and if you can't find Caius Cosades, Oblivion or Fallout 3 may be more to your liking). It's the best Elder Scrolls title, and it's not even a contest.
laclongquan: A classic tittle with all the trademarks of Bethesda's game makers -- some very involving gameplay that will keep you busy for hours, gorgeous art and graphics for all you to stare at, an open world for you to sandbox in, diversified item crafting for your inner packrat, and extreme moddability to boot. After you get tired of the base game, you can easily spend the same amount of time on various mods ranging from graphic changes to new quests.
Regrettably, Morrowind also features Bethesda's trademark writing, which is like a donkey hoof to the face. But that's okay - nobody plays Bethesda games for their writing - so feel free to totally (and easily) ignore it; you won't lose much. It is no wonder that the modding community and hardcore players alike adore this title. Morrowing is a good game for beginners to learn to play RPGs, for advanced players to learn how to powergame, and for hardcore long-timers to just mess around. This is the apex of Bethesda's game-making.
undecaf: Fallout: New Vegas bravely continues the narrative legacy of Fallout and Fallout 2, and it could be, and has been, argued that in some respects it even outdoes them. In particular, the choices and consequences the game presents are - at times - some of the best offered in recent years in the RPG genre, and it also allows for a delightful amount of satisfying role-playing options.
On the less positive side, the game also continues the technical and mechanical legacy of Fallout 3 (which I won't mention twice here). While there are clear improvement everywhere, all across the board, the game's potential and scope are unfortunately marred by the oxidated technology and uninspired gameplay inherited from its chronologically closest predecessor.
Koschey: Gothic 2 is to Gothic somewhat like what Fallout 2 is to Fallout, just with less Monty Python. That is, it provides more of everything, effectively doubling or even tripling in size as well as improving on the UI and some mechanics, yet also loses some of the mood and atmosphere of its predecessor. There is no handholding, no level-scaling and almost no randomization; everything is hand-placed. Combat is mostly challenging, especially with the expansion; exploring every nook and cranny and sneaking past tough enemies is fun and rewarding. Early in the game, hearing a shadowbeast's snore without being able to spot the beast itself is a positively tense experience.
If you like exploring large, consistent worlds without stuff like quest compass, Gothic 2 is a game you should try out.
Jedi Master Radek: Piranha Byte's masterpiece features possibly the best gameplay for low and middle level characters in an RPG ever. Really challenging at the beginning, it gives you true chills when it rewards you with a decent sword or a new level up. Non-respawning adversaries tie combat in with the world exploration while also giving the player an excellent opportunity to be torn apart by the shadowbeast in a couple of hits. You will remember this failure - and where the beast lives. Someday it will cease to live, providing yet another strong feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment.
When the player gains his few first levels and joins a faction, he feels like a true citizen of the game world. Skillful design and authentic NPC behavior only add to that. Finally, the game's action combat system is fun and the C&C and quest design are solid. Gothic 2 shows how great a sandbox game can be when it chooses to go for less, but more dense, detailed, hand-placed content and throws a challenging gameplay on top of that.
This is the very best of what the "blobber" (first-person party-based RPG) subgenre has to offer; an 8 character party, abstracted battlefield positioning, a greater variety of combat options for both magic and melee-oriented characters, and some solid dungeon crawling to boot. It gets criticized for having too many respawning "trash" encounters, but in the early stages of the game I actually appreciated the constant sense of danger. Wiz 8 also has some of the best voice acting and party banter out of any RPG out there, a great soundtrack, and fantastic art direction.
Gregz: One of the finest RPGs ever made, Wizardry 8 offers excellent writing, incredible depth in party building, and lots of potential growth for your party as they gain experience and items. The game world is vast, and so are the dungeons. The individual parts of this game are superlative, and the sum of these parts is greater than the whole. Immersive and extensive, there are many, many hours of quality game time here.
This near-perfect gem is not without a few flaws however. Random encounters are frequent, which some players find tedious. Battles can also take a long time to resolve as each member of the enemy monster pack(s) has its own animation, as well as the actions of your party members. Recent tools like Wiz8Fast have largely resolved this issue, however.
An exceptional RPG is every way; put Wizardry 8 near the top of your "games to play" list.
Jasede: Instead of writing a review I'll just recount my favorite Wizardry 8 story. I was replaying the game, this time vowing to finish it with a party that I imported from Wizardry VII, which, into VII, was imported from VI. During VI I got an item that had a lot of meaning in that game, given the limitations of the time. There was a chance to surrender this item for a huge reward in VII, but you could keep it and it'd import into 8. In 8, you meet a character related to the person who gave you this item. If you (and there are no hints in the entire game to suggest you do this) give this character the item from 6, you get a massive XP reward, some unique dialogue and a completed quest.
That moment is the reason this is one of my top 5 RPGs. You do not see this attention to detail anymore.
Levels are open with multiple paths towards objectives, your actions influence future missions, and limited inventory space forces players to make conscious decisions about what kinds of weapons they use.
The action elements of Deus Ex are well executed, too. Gunplay is fast and lethal, there's a variety of weapon choices with different ammo types including melee weapons, and enemies can be killed, knocked unconscious, or avoided altogether. Combined with the best visuals 2000 could give us and a great soundtrack, Deus Ex stands the test of time as the gold standard of action RPGs.
Grunker: Modern stealth games and Deus Ex-likes make one core mistake in their design. This mistake is the most apparent in Arkane Studio's Dishonored, but it can, in one way or another, be found in almost every stealth game since 2004. They ask you to focus on either stealth or combat.
What made Deus Ex so mind-blowingly awesome, such a hallmark of gaming, is that it asks you to decide, for each single obstacle you face, which approach you want to use. You're not asked to stealth through the whole game even when combat seems a better approach, or to shoot and kill everyone even when creeping through the shadows would be smarter. It doesn't reward you for sticking to a single course of action during the entire game. It lets you decide.
The fun of being a thief, a secret agent or a similar type of character, is using different methods and skills for different obstacles. Having you play through the game three times while using exclusively a single tactic on each playthrough entirely defeats the purpose of having multiple approaches available. Deus Ex understood what each of its spiritual successors has failed to grasp, and for that, I salute it.
Ravel myluv: Deus Ex might feel bad in its gameplay, but it is a classic case where, if the player is willing to ignore the game's individual shortcomings, the whole forms a greater thing than the sum of its parts. Deus Ex offers many different paths and options to the player, setting a standard for all FPS/RPG hybrids. The game's pace is handled wonderfully, alternating between action, infiltration, and social interactions... Every level feels unique, and the game doesn't shy away from playing with your expectations.
The scenario is clever while not taking itself too seriously (which is further helped by the tongue-in-cheek voice acting). There's a sense of believability to the people you meet and the places you explore, and credit goes to the developers for not going the "epic" route of making everything grandiose and disproportionate. Overall, not only is Deus Ex a historically important RPG, but it is still tremendously enjoyable today since there are very few other games that can match its level design and writing.
Pretty much the only things holding this game back are the engine, which still has problems, and the length - it's an expansion, so don't expect a 40 hour epic. Still, it's a great follow-up to the mediocre NWN2 OC, and easily worth a playthrough.
Wise Emperor: Being an add-on to the rather disappointing OC made by Obsidian in 2007, Mask of the Betrayer picks up where the original campaign ended, and is set in an obscure part of Forgotten Realms - Rashemen & Thay. The main strengths of the game are the plot, C&C, dialogue, characters, the curse mechanic, the interesting art style, and the music. Furthermore, its similarities to Planescape Torment are quite visible.
The plot revolves around a curse which expects the player to "eat" souls, its nature and that of the other characters involved, and fighting or embracing it further. The game offers at least two different options to resolve all quests, using alignment or skills, plus interesting, unconventional characters with tons of dialogue and the ability to kill and absorb any character you meet (including your companions).
The main weakness of the game is combat, as well as the camera controls, but as I mentioned the game is first and foremost plot and C&C-driven.
What makes this game a classic, other than the nearly flawless combat system, is the respect with which it treats the player. You're free to do whatever you want, in any order you want. There is only one objective, the assassination of the despotic Queen Deidranna, and this can be pursued in any manner that you see fit. You could finish the game in ten minutes if you're skilled enough, or spend an entire month on one campaign. As your soldiers accomplish tasks, level up (and demand more money!), and get better equipped, you feel like you're really in charge of the operation.
The mercs you recruit feel alive and vibrant, each with their own specialties, voice, personalities, and preferences. The look of the game has aged well, and the animations are notable for their quality. The game offers both tactical and strategic flexibility to the player to such a degree that subsequent playthroughs are as fresh and enjoyable as they are inevitable.
And should you need more guns? More stats? A deeper combat system? Two words: Patch 1.13.
HiddenX: In a quest to free Arulco from the dictator Deidranna Reitmann, you have to build up your character and up to 3 mercenary squads. Most mercenaries cost money (with the exception of freedom fighters), and you have to pay them by selling loot or freeing and holding cities to get an income. All mercenaries have a unique background, some love while some hate each other; others have drug addiction. Each playthrough is different if you go with a different squad mix. You can capture anti-aircraft bases, too. That way you can take advantage of a helicopter when moving your squads around.
All fights are turn-based and offer some of the best tactical combat I've seen in a video game. You can crouch, sneak, cover, snipe, burst, bomb, etc., your way through. You can use stuff ranging from night vision goggles to anti-tank rocket launchers, which you must loot or buy. So we have a strategic aspect - freeing cities and anti-aircraft bases; a tactical aspect - the turn- and squad-based tactical fighting; and a role-playing and questing aspect - there are different quests and find-and-rescue missions hidden all over Arulco. You can find new mercenaries, or get money and extra equipment.
All these aspects plus the great variety of mercs with hilarious personalities to choose from, make this game extremely fun, interesting and challenging. The replay value is ultra-high - I've played this game more than 10 times, not counting the excellent mods you can get for free. Highly recommended!
In Dark Souls all categories that make a game find themselves refined to a sharp point. I understand you might have reservations about trying an RPG (the genre status which is subject to much debate) that was first released on a console. However, if you've ever thought I've shown any semi-reliable taste at all you will simply have to take my word for it: Dark Souls ranks among the finest games ever created and is a much-needed reminder that not all modern games compromise integrity for the sake of broadening market appeal. If you ever needed a reminder that video games are not yet dead, this is it.
Bubbles: More of an action game than an RPG, Dark Souls is heavily combat focused and features only minimal story and dialogue. Luckily, the third person combat is excellent, greatly rewarding player skill while still working off a character stat system. The game maintains a strong sense of gameplay variety by offering a ton of different weapons with different move sets and over 40 different spells and miracles. It is also notoriously difficult and can frustrate new player to the point of rage quitting, though sufficient practice will greatly reduce the challenge.
If the combat is great, the atmosphere is better; the game makes fantastic use of its dated graphics and minimal soundtrack to create a bleak, lifeless, post-apocalyptic twist on a medieval fantasy setting populated almost exclusively by undead, monsters and demons. This tone sets it radically apart from the vast majority of RPGs out there; the game is relentlessly depressing and almost every character's fate ends in misery. Other noteworthy features include a tiny bit of C&C, a (rapidly shrinking) PvP and co-op community, and a new game+ mode if you need more of a challenge.
Dark Souls’ only downside is a truly horrible control scheme, which can either be fixed with a gamepad or partially alleviated by using the mouse fix. The only truly mandatory mod is DSfix, which adds support for higher resolutions and introduces a bunch of useful graphics options.
felipepepe: Dark Souls is a marvel of its time, a game that reminds us that we shouldn’t be satisfied with well-produced mediocrity and "good-for-what-it-is" games. It’s challenging, mature, deep, polished, and above all, a game that respects the player. There’s no hand-holding here, you learn the ropes by playing, and the game tests you at every step, frequently killing you. The challenges are finely tuned, appearing almost impossible at first but being in fact perfectly fair and doable, and a source of great satisfaction once overcome.
The fantastic combat takes the center piece here, being easily the best you’ll find in any action RPG. It requires tactics, demands attention and rewards patience like no other; all the while providing you with a vast array of weapons and armor plus a diverse set of enemies to put those to test, as well as expertly designed levels. Another of the game's high points, the melancholic story, is masterfully told through subtle details in the scenery, hints in the item descriptions and concise, well-written lines from a cast of memorable NPCs, never relying on long expositions or lazy "lore books" written by wannabe-writers.
From Software raised the bar with Dark Souls; it may not be the best game ever, but it’s a game that excels in absolutely everything it does.
The biggest change when you fire up VII is that everything is overhauled. VI was a dungeon crawl where you'd sometimes meet NPCs or solve puzzles. But if VI is a dungeon crawl, VII is a world crawl. You're thrust on a dangerous foreign planet with barely any clues on where to go. It's up to you to make allies or enemies as you explore it, up to you where to go, what to fight, what to do. Wizardry VII is one of the most dynamic games of its time: NPCs move around, plunder treasures if you don't move quickly enough, kill each other, and so on. While it's not true artificial intelligence, the mere fact that the world never stands still and every move you make, other NPCs might be closing in on important plot critical items makes the world come alive. And what a huge world it is! You'll be exploring forests, cities, strange abandoned towns, weird alien hives, ruins, even a city in the sky! The world in Wizardry VII is excruciatingly massive and you will spend a great deal of time trying to become familiar with it and unraveling its mysteries.
It is that sense of adventure that is very hard to find in an RPG, and Wizardry VII, despite its often punishing difficulty, has it in spades and is thus a must play in every RPG fan's book.
HiddenX: Wizardry VII: Crusaders of the Dark Savant is a classic turn-based RPG from Sir-Tech. It is the second part of the Dark Savant trilogy (Wizardry VI/VII/8). A party can be imported from Wizardry VI and exported to Wizardry 8. The story is a fantasy/science fiction mix. Like in all Wizardry games, a balanced party is essential to win the game. The key formula of the game is, explore -> survive tactical fights -> gain experience / items -> build up your party and skills -> explore deeper -> survive harder tactical fights -> etc.
All parts of this formula are fun, at least for hardcore RPG players, and very well-designed. You can choose from base classes (Fighters; Thieves; Mages, Priests; Psionics; Alchemists), hybrid classes (Samurai; Lords; Valkyries; Bards; Rangers; Monks; Ninjas) and races (Humans; Elves; Dwarves; Gnomes; Hobbits; Lizardmen; Faeries; Dracons [half-Human/half-Dragons]; Rawulf [humanoid dogs]; Felpurr [humanoid cats]; Mook [tall and hairy Sasquatch-like]). The trick is to find a good party mix to cover all skills and build up enough offensive and defensive power. Wizardry VII offers a lot of dialogue, a big open world to explore, quests, choices and consequences, a lot of enemies to fight, items to find, skills to develop, NPC factions to ally with, and different endings. The game offers some very good replay value, too.
Dorateen: Wizardry VII is a remarkable computer role-playing game. The middle instalment of what would become the Cosmic Forge trilogy, it allowed the importing of characters from Wizardry VI, and then carrying them over to Wizardry 8, as well. There were multiple introductions available according to how a player finished Bane, or a separate start when playing Crusaders with a fresh new party of characters. Likewise, there were multiple endings that would lead into the conclusion of the saga, which introduced the enigmatic arch-antagonist, the Dark Savant.
While Bane was essentially a massive dungeon crawl, Crusaders opened up a new world, namely the planet Lost Guardia. This setting was rich with NPCs who had their own agendas, and fractious alliances that the party would learn about through exploration and talking to colorful characters. NPCs could cross paths with the party at any moment, and it was not uncommon to find out that some NPCs perished battling each other in some part of the land.
The game mechanics featured an intricate class system that allowed for upgrading to more powerful professions while retaining important skills acquired from the previous class, and even switching back and forth between classes. This was depending on attribute requirements, and stats were raised randomly upon attaining a new level. Combat used a phased turn-based system, where party members would be given their commands and then the action played out each round. This led to many tense and memorable confrontations. Combat in Wizardry VII could be brutal, and often was.
The backstory and lore of the setting was laid out appropriately in the game’s corpulent manual, but woven nicely into the world as the adventure unfolded. There was no handholding, and no overarching NPC to tell the player what to do or where to go next. In addition to exotic playable races, sci-fi elements were mixed with traditional fantasy. There were Umpani wielding blunderbuss weapons long before Sawyer talked of firearms in Pillars of Eternity.
While the story is a definite high point of the game, perhaps even more worthy of mention is the game's turn-based combat. Encounters range from simple skirmishes with bandits, to puzzle-like encounters with magical traps. It is further buoyed by an excellent magic system filled with strategic spells to manipulate the battlefield. Combine this with scarce special ammo for ranged weapons, equipment breaking at inopportune times, and unique enemies pulling out unexpected abilities it all comes together to make one of the best combat systems ever in an RPG. Sadly, the sequels (Betrayal in Antara and Return to Krondor) didn't live up to the original, but Betrayal at Krondor is a prime example of how to do a lot of things right, and should be played by a lot more people.
octavius: A game I missed when it was released back in 1993, when the Amiga was in decline and nearly all good games were DOS-only. The game is set in Midkemia, the world created by Raymond E. Feist for his Riftwar Saga series of Fantasy books. I read the first book - Magician - some years after BaK was released and thought it was very good. When I reread it and read the rest of the series as a preparation to playing BaK, however, I thought it was rather juvenile is style. In fact, I thought the writing and characters in the game were better than in the books; the style is more mature, and major characters can actually die. You control a party of three characters, but the game is divided into several chapters in which you control different characters.
This game should definitely appeal to those who like a good story in their RPGs. The setting is not terribly interesting, being a rather generic fantasy world, but it is quite well fleshed out and there's some nice attention to detail. But what makes Betrayal at Krondor so good, is that it is one of those very rare games that don't just have a good story, but also a solid combat engine coupled with a unique magic system. On top of that, which makes the game a true masterpiece, it also has great first-person exploraiton in a fairly open-ended world, as well as entertaining puzzles and NPC interaction. If I had to say something negative about the game, I'd mention that the character portraits look rather silly, being based on digitized actors wearing costumes.
Bottom line: a unique game which does everything that makes up a good RPG well, with the story being arguably its strongest aspect.
Granted, the dungeons in this game are much less interesting, the fights much less epic and the loot much sparser (again, a good thing in my book), but the adventure is just as true, if not more.
Jedi Master Radek: The pioneer of the famous Infinity Engine is a difficult game to assess objectively. You can argue it's good or mediocre, often depending on your mood, or sometimes even - in a true bipolar disorder style - hold both opinions to be true at the same time.
Plot can be best described as solid but nothing special, filled with expository dialogue that is often either painful or merely an excuse to throw another dozen enemies at the player. Combat is easily the strongest point of this game, featuring a plethora of spells and classes based on the 2nd edition AD&D ruleset. Encounters can be adequately challenging and it's always fun to burn someone with a fireball. Choices and consequences are, however, limited, and many of the game's quests and encounters feel like filler thrown in with the sole purpose of giving some substance to BG's numerous large and empty wilderness areas.
Worth playing, however, if only for the excellent Durlag's Tower dungeon.
Darklands offers exploration for fun and profit, a very unique setting as far as role-playing games go, some nice involving quests, and the best character creation, attribute and combat system ever imagined.
Bubbles: An early open-world game that is most notable for its setting, which offers a well-considered and thoroughly researched supernatural twist on 15th century Europe with witches, demons, alchemy, and a few other surprises along the way. Much of the joy of playing Darklands lies in discovering exactly what players can do and what people and places they can discover. There is a reputation system that allows players to be "good guys" or "bad guys", though the game is barely more complex than Skyrim in that regard.
Although the game puts an emphasis on combat, there are also a number of other period-appropriate activities available; players can roam the streets of Cologne at night and try to make a quick Groschen, visit historical landmarks, work at an inn for food and money, go job hunting in the corridors of the Rathaus, negotiate with merchants, do (al)chemical research or hunt bandits in the wilderness. All of these activities are supported by an extensive skill system, which offers multiple routes for advancement, including learning-by-doing.
Unfortunately, the isometric party combat is not as complex or interesting as it could be, the main quest is quite thin, and the variety of jobs is actually somewhat limited; eventually, a feeling of rote repetition starts to creep in. Nonetheless, its excellent setting makes Darklands a must play for everybody interested in European history.
The characters that Obsidian actually spent time on are very memorable. The trio of villains, for instance, is one of the most badass I've seen in a video game. Gameplay hasn't changed much from KOTOR 1, but the game has Bloodlines-like stretches of never-ending combat that really get the point across that the game was left unfinished and released too early.
Overall, KOTOR2 is the definition of a flawed gem. You might not actually enjoy playing it as much as KOTOR 1, but you'll eviscerate anyone who dares to claim that the first one is a better game.
Deuce Traveler: This game was published with a jarringly brief ending, so you will want to download the fan patches which restore the cut content in order to fully enjoy the game. But when you do, you'll find yourself immersed in a very well written game.
The protagonist is an intriguing character: a Jedi and leader of soldiers who went to war but did not fall into subservience to the Dark Side despite his contemporaries becoming Sith. This backdrop drives the narrative, as the player enjoys a greater degree of free will than the supporting characters, all of which are riding events they cannot control. The tale unfolds as a tragedy, where even the most monstrous of the villains are revealed to be fatally flawed mortal men and women whose decisions lead to their undoing, while your own chosen path decides who among them will live or die.
I won't ever choose this game among my favorite computer RPGs because of the mediocre combat and poorly designed loot system, but I will admit that it is my favorite video game in the Star Wars setting, and that is has a story I believe ranks up there with the original trilogy of movies.
The atmosphere is extremely impressive and exploring the levels can be quite anguishing. Being a non-linear experience, you can tackle the game as you see fit, but beware of your actions! The enemies lurking in the lower levels of the Abyss are not to be trifled with, especially with low equipment. The game, while being an exceptional RPG, is also a simulation; you will have to manage hunger, sleep and be ever careful of the state of your food. You can fish, repair your stuff and use all kinds of objects to make your life easier. Exploration is rewarded, and while the game only has 8 levels, they are all huge and take a while to fully clear.
Despite a few issues (such as certain quest items looking like ordinary trash), this is easily one of the best RPGs I have ever played.
LivingOne: Ultima Underworld is a first-person dungeon crawler set in the Ultima universe. It is also a very influential game, as far as first person games go. The player is cast into the Abyss, an underground complex of tunnels where Lord Cabirus tried and failed to build a utopian society based on the virtues of the Avatar, along with several fantasy races. The goal is to rescue a kidnapped girl, and from there it is left to the player to figure out the several mysteries of the place and the story by exploring and talking to the few NPCs who will provide useful information.
Exploration is indeed the game's biggest strength, as very few games have such big, complex, non-linear dungeons with several hidden secrets. Exploration is also well rewarded with loot, hints to solve riddles or gain upgrades at shrines, and plot-related items. Interesting is also the way you have to manage resources, from weapons and amours durability, to light sources (such as torches), to food (which rots after a while), and rest so as not to get too weak, not to mention the usual health/mana management. However, most of that loses some of its importance in the second half of the game thanks to certain relics you acquire.
Another problem is an item, which can be obtained early on, that can constantly resurrect you while keeping the world's state intact, making combat a pushover. Melee combat is rather basic, too, but magic is quite interesting and allows you to combine runes in order to obtain various spells.
octavius: Few games have had such an impact on me as Ultima Underworld. From the moment I saw the first screenshots I knew this would be my dream game, or close to it. A full 3D game with a First-Person perspective, with awesome graphics (for its time) and a basic physics engine, it was at least a couple of years ahead of its time. When it became clear that it was to be a DOS-only game, it was the first nail in my Amiga's coffin, and I had to use my brother's 386 to play it, or watch in envy a friend play it on his 486.
The game turned out to be even better than I had dreamed, with excellent level design and so many exciting places to explore, with lots of puzzles and interesting encounters of both hostile and friendly nature. The basic premise of the game is very simple and effective: survive the Stygian Abyss and find a way out. No need for an elaborate story or cutscenes to disrupt the flow of the game; it's all about exploring and surviving the dungeon. The game is confined to a single dungeon only, but it's huge, and I still don't think any games have rivaled it - at least the cave crawling part.
The game is not quite perfect. The most glaring flaw is that of the three basic RPG archetypes, the Thief or Rogue is short changed, as the associated skills are mostly useless. Ranged combat is also very clunky and ineffective; melee and magic is what works. Also, the sound effects are extremely poor if you don't have a Roland card, real or emulated.
Bottom line: one of the most immersive games ever.
Bubbles: Explore an element-themed temple filled with EVIL (bugbears)! If you look at this game purely from a storytelling perspective, it will seem like a horribly cheap cash-in, featuring only a bare-bones plot of the usual D&D idiocy (presumably taken from the original "acclaimed" pen and paper module). The game also begins horribly, with a short vignette that shoehorns you into a specific over-the-top backstory based on your starting alignment (thereby neatly exposing the D&D alignment system as a systematic sham designed to stifle character complexity) before dumping you into a starter villiage map that's ten times larger than it needs to be in order to bolster up the dangerously short play time.
If you manage to flee into the wilderness, your first encounter will likely be with a group of dangerous spiders. Here, the game's one and only only selling point becomes apparent, as it offers a great turn-based isometric tactical combat experience with attacks of opportunity, various types of in-combat movement, multiple attack ranges on melee weapons, a couple of cool combat feats, and a crapload of bugbears to bash. It's bugbears, bugbears, bugbears, start to finish, with a few unique enemies and a couple of stock creatures (skeletons! gnolls! orgres!) thrown in for that unique D&D feeling. By the time you clear the first level of the Temple, your will to continue will likely have eroded to nothingness, and you'll throw the game into a (virtual) corner thinking "awful game, but the combat system definitely deserves some sort of recognition". And that's why ToEE is in the Codex Top 50.
Infinitron: Low-budget Infinity Engine dungeon crawling spinoff which features old-school full party creation. Icewind Dale's music and graphics are better than BG's, and Black Isle's writing is more mature and subdued compared to BioWare's. As a dungeon crawler, the combat in IWD takes front and center, and the combat encounters are appropriately better designed. However, even more so than Torment, the game doesn't provide the traditional sense of wide scope that most other games on this list do, which limits it appeal. You might not like this game if you don't enjoy playing around with AD&D character builds and testing their mettle in tactical combat, and even if you do, you might find it "too much of a good thing".
felipepepe: System Shock 2 is a game full of tension. You’re lost in a derelict spaceship, away from everything and everyone, trying your best to understand what's going on and survive. Every aspect of the game is masterfully designed to always keep you on edge; weapons break, ammo is hard to find, and the inventory space is limited, which means you never feel well-equipped and have to make tough decisions.
The levels are claustrophobic and help create the heavy atmosphere of loneliness. On the other hand, they also feel real, as if you were on an actual spaceship and not in a pointless maze. Even with danger lurking around every corner, exploration feels great. There are numerous secret caches to discover, and you will slowly unravel the fate of the crew while making your way through mutilated corpses, bloody scenes, and the now-famous voice logs. On top of that, the class system allows for many builds for the player to try out, varied solutions to the game's diverse challenges, and a solid reason to give this gem not one but multiple playthroughs.
skacky: Often lauded as one of the best games ever made, System Shock 2 is a sequel done right, not to mention an awesome game taken on its own. Set 72 years after the Citadel Station incident, it has you play as an unnamed UNN soldier waking up on the deserted starship Von Braun, a faster-than-light prototype accompanied by the UNN starship Rickenbacker, linked together by a tram tunnel. Unlike the first game, System Shock 2 is a RPG, and the amount of possible builds is astonishing. You can choose one of three classes at the beginning of the game, which offer unique playstyles, and then pick various perks. It is crucial to specialize and not spend points at random, because the game is unforgiving and often punishes the player for his or her mistakes. Instead of the usual experience points, you gain Cybernetic Modules that you can utilize to build your character the way you see fit. SS2 features a research system that is similar to XCOM's, though simplified, and a completely different interface compared to its prequel.
The game also uses Looking Glass Studios' Dark Engine with its fluid movement system and great sense of immersion. The atmosphere is dark, brooding, and scary. The music is a mix of techno beats and dark ambient that's very, very effective, but probably too loud at first, so I recommend that you tone it down a bit. The game features non-linear progression but is nevertheless a bit more restrictive than System Shock, mainly because the latter's levels were bigger and more sprawling. This isn't really an issue, though, since SS2 levels are still large enough and full of things to discover. The plot is well written and features a twist that everybody knows by now, but which still remains absolutely brilliant. The two issues I have with the game is the fact that level design gets sloppier and more linear as you progress (alas, a recurring theme in RPGs in general), and that the cyberspace was replaced with a rather boring hacking mini-game. But seeing as the cyberspace is impossible to replicate in the Dark Engine, I can't really blame the developers for that.
The bottom line is, System Shock 2 is an amazing game. Play it now if you still haven't.
The main strength of the game is its focus on choices and consequences. Eschewing the simplistic "good/evil/random" options, The Witcher offers decisions in a morally grey area, often forcing the player to choose between the lesser of several evils. The character system is interesting but not overwhelmingly complex, featuring several different spells and swordfighting styles. A delightful addition is the excellent alchemy system, which allows the player to create a large variety of potions used in lieu of the traditional buff spells. The combat is fun, but while the rhythm-based fighting feels novel at first, it gets rather easy once you get the hang of it (which is why I recommend playing the game on the hardest difficulty). Overall, you should play The Witcher if you are looking for an atmospheric action RPG in a gritty setting with an outstanding story, colorful characters, and a great soundtrack. Oh, and tits. Everybody loves tits.
tuluse: The Witcher is a refreshingly bottom up look at high fantasy. Society is made up of poor, scared people, and they act appropriately, blaming anyone who looks or acts differently. You spend most of your time dealing with low key problems - a small village being terrorized by spirits, a murder mystery, trying to get permission to enter various parts of the city. All of this takes place against the backdrop of a struggle between a rebel group fighting a losing battle against society they cannot assimilate into, and an intolerant military that only sees them as a threat that needs to be eliminated. It's all well-written and very believable.
The game also features some nice choices and consequences, though some have complained it's too branchy. The combat, however, is pretty much a joke.
Oh yeah, and it also has aliens, dragons, robots and laser guns, which is pretty damn cool. Play this game.
Minttunator: The first Might and Magic game to go 3D (though NPCs and monsters are still rendered as sprites) and abandon grid-based movement, MM6 is one of the more popular entries in the series - and for good reason. The game world is almost completely open from the start and the gameplay is fairly non-linear; you can pretty much go anywhere you want straight from level one, even though you are likely to get slaughtered for doing so. The world is also very large and the game in general is quite long (somewhere around 60-100 hours, depending on how thorough you are). The dungeons in MM6 are enormous; I don't mean simply "pretty big", I mean "butt-crushingly huge". You can easily spend hours clearing just one dungeon, and while it can get tedious at some points, one can't help but appreciate the effort put into designing them and the complete lack of hand-holding or quest compasses that are so prevalent in more recent games.
You'll notice that I haven't mentioned the storyline. The storyline doesn't matter. This game is about exploration, building your characters (the character development system is intuitive and addictive), and tons of - often rather simplistic and repetitive - combat against immense enemy hordes. Despite the repetitive filler combat, however, MM6 oozes atmosphere, charm and a je ne sais quoi that makes it almost impossible to put down. As is par for the course for the series, the soundtrack is also absolutely majestic.
In general - if you want a game with simple but addictive combat and a huge, quirky world to explore, drop whatever it is you're doing and go play Might and Magic VI right now.
The game isn't perfect -- the controls can be tedious to use at times, and an occasionally frustrating number of bugs remain, but Gothic is not a game that should be overlooked. It's one of a tiny group of open-world games with meaningful character interaction and exploration, not to mention playing it will give you all the more excuse to play its absolutely amazing sequel.
Koschey: A lot of the things that can be said about Gothic 2 apply equally to Gothic 1, the most noticeable differences between the two being size and polish. The world of Gothic is tough and unforgiving, and rushing along unprepared will surely lead you to death. Set in a prison full of armed criminals, Gothic presents the player with an exceedingly hostile environment, even more so than its sequel. The prisoner camps follow the rule of force, and the nameless hero is pathetically weak at the beginning of the game. Piss off the wrong people and they will mop the floor with you, laugh in your face, and take all your money. You can't trust anyone, not even those who may seem friendly, though you will also find a handful of comrades who will stay true to you for the entire series.
If you have already played Gothic 2, you know what you can expect from this game. If you haven't played either, I would recommend starting with Gothic 1. While knowledge of the first game isn't strictly required for playing Gothic 2, that will not only allow you to enjoy the first game in its own right, but also to spot a lot of additional details as you play the sequel and appreciate just how much the colony has changed by the time of Gothic 2.
In short, if you enjoyed Dark Sun: Shattered Lands or Temple of Elemental Evil, or are just itching for a challenging dungeon crawler, Knights of the Chalice is the game for you. My recommendation for a satisfying first playthrough: 2 Knights, 1 Wizard, 1 Cleric; no scribing scrolls.
Gregz: A fresh take on the Dungeons and Dragons system. This unexpected gem by independent virtuoso programmer Pierre Begue borrows heavily from the 3.5 ruleset to create a rich but manageable 4-player turn-based combat oriented RPG.
You control a party of 4 adventurers questing for glory and conquest (XP and loot). Overworld and dungeon exploration is performed by moving your party avatar with the arrow keys. Combat is far more strategic, providing movement and placement of each of your 4 characters on the combat map allowing for detailed stratagems like 5-foot steps, attacks of opportunity, area spells, line of sight, etc.
The user interface is brilliant, with descriptive tool tips so plentiful that they are essentially an interactive, or hyper-linked, in-game manual, giving the player information they need quickly and in context. The story, setting, game progression, and combat mechanics are of high caliber across the board, especially considering that they were all designed by one person. There is also a complex crafting system allowing the player to create a vast array of magical items at the expense of experience rather than gold. The player can choose to grind XP to craft these items (min-max style), or use only the items they loot, or a combination of both.
Some criticism has been leveled at the game suggesting that the crafting system can "break" the degree of challenge, or diminish the excitement of finding rare loot. Depending on which type of player you are, it may be advisable to know this going in, and avoid crafting if you prefer a more challenging game. It should be noted however, that there are several end-game battles which are so difficult that even the most maxed out party will require a bit of luck to survive. In summary, KoTC is a fun, refreshing, elegant RPG that's easy to pick up if you are looking for a challenging combat-oriented DnD 3.5 experience.
Although I still think Might and Magic 1 is the best of the series due to its more tactical nature, World of Xeen is thought to be the best of the series by many others, and for good reason. It greatly improved upon the interface of previous games, added significantly to the series' lore, had a main quest that could easily take over a hundred of hours to win, was full of puzzles to be solved, and allowed for plenty of fun and unique side quests for those that craved exploration. Oh, and at the end you help permanently take down the villain you’ve been chasing in each of the previous installments of the series. This game is a gem that should never be forgotten.
Koschey: World of Xeen is the finale to the Sheltem saga started in the first Might and Magic title and, unsurprisingly, takes place on Xeen, a flat world with two inhabitable sides. It is actually two games in one, and combining the two gets you a ginormous world with some additional content tying up some loose ends.
World of Xeen's character system is on the simpler side compared to some its peers, and the most important decisions are made during character creation before you even start to explore the game world proper. Choose the race and class of your party members, roll and allocate their attributes, and you're basically done. The skills and spells that your characters can learn are, with few exceptions, only limited by your wealth. Attributes can be boosted by drinking from the single-use storages of colored liquids you will find while exploring dungeons. Most of the time, though, it's a no-brainer which character to give the boost; will you raise the Barbarian's or the Sorcerer's might? It's still pretty fun, though, and the multitude of different party setups provides enough variety. Combat is less about tactics and more about attrition and resource management.
If you are thinking about getting into first person RPGs, World of Xeen is an ideal entry point (it was for me). It boasts a quick and intuitive UI, colorful graphics, diverse enemy designs, fun exploration without handholding, and a ton of content. Despite being the final title in a larger story arc, it also requires no knowledge of previous games. Give it a try!
AP was released after the first two Mass Effect games, and it is best understood as a direct response to (and vastly superior copy of) those braindead corridor shooters of fake choice and minimal consequence. Wisely realizing that choices can have dire repercussions, and that said repercussions feel far more real when they involve American citizens instead of alien space bugs, Obsidian created the kind of action-fueled shape-your-own-story RPG that the ME games pretend to be. And it's a ton of fun.
Alpha Protocol's obnoxiously vocal detractors claim that its boring, glitchy, and often infuriatingly unbalanced stealth and combat gameplay (particularly heavily inspired by ME) is a major flaw. This is not true, because AP's core gameplay revolves around manipulating people through dialogue, tweaking your mission parameters by picking the best (or most hilarious) handler for the job, choosing the order of your high-priority missions to maximize (or minimize?) the body count, and generally deciding exactly what shade of cool you are. Ice cool Mike, who sneakily breaks necks and taunts supervillains into running into an open knife? All-American Mike, who totes a shotgun, sports a long flowing beard, and tells pasty nerds to go screw themselves? Al-Qaeda Mike, who has a horrible secret? The choice... is yours.
Tigranes: Suffering from troubled development, interminable delays and unpolished controls, Alpha Protocol rated mediocre and sold terribly. At the same time, this is a game which features unparalleled reactivity and nonlinearity, Obsidian's trademark writing, and a gameplay experience that is certainly distinctive. This is a game where you don't just choose from two factions, but choose approaches to every character, which has knock-on consequences for the relations between those characters over the course of the story, right up to who you rescue, who helps you, who betrays you, who shoots your nemesis in the face and who rides with you into the sunset.
This is a game where those characters' stories and motivations are layered in such a way that you can play several times and never find out their 'big secret'. This is a game where you can raise a false alarm, have the guards run in, blow themselves up on mines you attached to the wall, just before you lob a flame grenade under a truck and the resulting conflagration swallows the rest. This is a game where you can slam a Russian informant's face into the bar table for not cooperating, where your crazy buddy in Hong Kong backs you up with a drive-by machine gun on a subway, and where you can verbally dismantle a man's principles that have defined him for the last thirty years, while dodging his bullets inside a Roman gallery.
There are better RPGs than Alpha Protocol, as the list demonstrates; but few of them can deliver the things Alpha Protocol does. That's why you need to play it. Right now. After all, they're selling it for about three cents and half a potato these days.
Although Star Trail places few restrictions on exploration and offers a fair amount of side quests, the game's main focus is on its sprawling main quest that features many large, expertly designed dungeons filled with hidden switches and passageways and a variety of cunning traps. The storyline is quite complex and twisty, challenging the player to navigate a network of political intrigue, racial resentments and divine manipulation.
Star Trail also has a wonderful atmosphere, aided by the game's beautiful music and the detailed 2D art used in dialogue screens and town buildings. The intricate resource management system involves food, water, seasonal ailments (like freezing while exploring the mountains in winter), and multiple diseases and poisons of varying lethality; thus, the game manages to convey a far greater sense of realism than modern open world games like New Vegas or Skyrim.
There are no real negatives to this game; any serious RPG fan ought to play Star Trail at least once.
Jasede: Did you ever want to have your party die from the common cold because you didn't bring any blankets and their shoes gave out while hiking across some mountains? Well, here's your chance!
RoA 2 is a game that adds unprecedented depth to its inventory management. While some may debate if there is any merit to that, a lot of people enjoy that kind of decisions: should I spend an inventory slot on a cauldron to get a better rest, or save the space? Should I give everyone blankets and sleeping bags? How will I manage my weight? Did I pack enough rations? Am I taking enough care of my weapons, and do I have spares in case they break? If managing your inventory while traveling through a sprawling region filled with an astonishing amount of unique and potentially dangerous events sounds fun to you, look no further.
You'll enjoy getting a fever from some rusty orc's weapon and then desperately trying to find some herb to cure the disease. If you were smart enough to bring someone who can find herbs and cure diseases, that is. Otherwise, enjoy death! This game has no qualms about killing you off for not being realistically prepared, just like a real adventuring party ought to be, and will ever so gladly murder you if you came ill-equipped. If you, however, struggle on and roll with all those punches you're in for a fascinating experience with the RPG that has the best travel system to date, backed up by gorgeous, massive dungeons that are a joy to explore. A must play.
The game features an easy-to-master turn-based combat, but the difficulty depends significantly on the composition of your party. You can choose from numerious races including Human, Elf, Mul, Thri-Kreen, and Half-Giant. Stats are high, rolled as they are with a 4d4+4 instead of 3d6 on creation. The available classes range from Fighter and Gladiator to Druid and Psionic. Each class has some access to psionic powers - PSI rules in this world!
The game is very non-linear, offering multiple solutions to quests and some choices with consequences. It is not as combat heavy as the earlier SSI Gold Box titles, and relies more on role-playing. The graphics and sound are very good for 1993. The "post-magical apocalypse" setting, the non-Tolkien races and characters, and the heavy use of psionic powers and spells all help in making this game unique.
If Wasteland is Fallout's father, then Dark Sun: Shattered Lands could be its mother. Two thumbs up!
bishop7: In Dark Sun: Shattered Lands, you begin as a gladiator in a city state in the harsh desert world of Athas. With a party of 4 companions you must escape from the arena and work to cement an alliance between the various free villages surrounding the city state before the armies of the sorceror-king arrive to eradicate them.
The game feels like a logical successor to the Gold-Box series of games, featuring turn-based combat and the AD&D rule set. Unlike previous AD&D games, the armor is worn in pieces on various body parts. Magical (and even metal) arms and armor are scarce on Athas. The story does a great job of outlining the dire situation concerning the future of the free cities and the world itself.
Then there are the classes. Want to play a furry samurai? Go out there and do it, son. What, you've got a weird fetish about fairie ninjas? Look no further, you have come to the right place. And if you are into rolling your attributes for countless hours, well, here you go. And finally, the dungeons. Man, those dungeons. Sure, even the forest looks like a castle wall, but who the hell cares if the dungeon design blows you away with all its goodness? Prepare yourself to get teleported, take a walk through complete darkness, and even ride on the river Styx with the grim reaper himself as your ferryman!
So, son, still not convinced to play the game? How about I tell you that its combat system is so satisfying you will be voluntarily grinding the hell out of the game? And son, did you know you can export your party after you beat the game and transfer it to Wizardry VII and even all the way to Wizardry 8? Yup, you heard it right - BioWare did not invent savegame transfers, even though this may be shocking news to you.
So what's the conclusion? Easy: want to play one of the best turn-based dungeon crawlers out there, that is only beaten by its successor, Wizardry VII? Then go out and buy it while it's still as hot as ever. You won't regret it.
octavius: Wizardry VI is a turn-based first-person RPG where you control a party of six characters that you can choose from about a dozen classes and almost as many races of various degrees of furriness. It has an excellent character system, what with the unlimited number of possible class changes, and a complex system of how all the numbers work, which should appeal to your inner accountant.
The combat system is about as good as it gets in a turn-based "blobber", utilizing an abstract phase-based system which is both fast-paced and has a decent amount of options. There is a good variety to enemies you face, scaled to the area you're currently in. Wizardry VI is not as combat heavy and repetitive as its sequel, but keeps throwing new types of enemies at you, of which the most dangerous are those that are also the rarest.
The graphics are rather crude for a 1990 game, but a huge improvement over the wireframe presentation of previous Wizardry games. Even though Wizardry VI takes place in a varied environment, ranging from castles to mountains and swamps, only one set of dungeon graphics is used throughout the game. Level design is quite good; especially the starting castle is a joy to explore and map.
The things that I think set Wizardry VI apart from other games are the dark background story and the pompous flowery prose, quite different from the sillier Wizardry VII. There are even some shades of Moby Dick and Heart of Darkness to the setting. There is also some pixelated nudity if you look very closely. It is uncertain whether this was to cater to your typical young male player, or DW Bradley simply opted for realism when portraying Mermaids and Amazulus. Or maybe a mix of both?
The game also has some adventure game elements, such as puzzles, but most of them are good and not too illogical. Bottom line: an excellent dungeon-crawler.
While that may not sound like a glowing review, it is in fact much more than can be said of most RPGs in DA:O's subgenre - that of isometric, epic scale RPGs. Perhaps the reason Dragon Age: Origins is so universally dismissed on the Codex (though still loved enough to make it onto this list) is that it is not the kind of flawed gem that the Codex so obviously craves. Rather, DA:O never does anything brilliantly, save for a few bits of C&C and some instances of world-building, but it also doesn't do anything all that terribly. Most of what it does, it does merely effectively.
As a result, DA:O is one of the alarmingly small number of polished and well-rounded RPGs, and one that does not share many of its contemporaries' problems, such as the streamlining and simplification of every single game mechanic. Oh, and Vault Dweller said it was the best RPG since Arcanum, so there's that.
felipepepe: Mediocrity done right, that’s how I see Dragon Age: Origins. Here you’ll find 30-40 hours of entertainment, equipping items, killing stuff, talking to NPCs and killing more stuff. Combat is fun, graphics were pretty for the time, and there are some choices to be made here and there. In the end you’ll feel satisfied, uninstall and never re-play it, like a movie that you enjoyed, but not enough to watch it again. And that’s more than can be said about many other RPGs.
Truth be told, there are some very rare glimpses of brilliance, such as having to uncover the prestige classes, the Arl of Redcliff questline, or BioWare’s copy of Final Fantasy XII’s tactics system. But there are also moments of pure boredom, especially due to poor encounter design full of trash mobs that add nothing but playtime. Even the writing and characters (supposedly BioWare’s strength) are forgettable. A week later you won’t remember anything or anyone, except for Morrigan’s "unique" design and good voice acting.
In short, Dragon Age: Origins brings absolutely nothing new to the table and is extremely shallow compared to Baldur’s Gate 2 (its "spiritual predecessor"), but it’s still a fun game to play. Even more importantly, it strikes a decent compromise between streamlining aimed at a broader audience and preserving the basic elements of the more classic RPGs, which makes it a great introduction to the genre for new players. And to me, that's reason enough for it to be on this list.
Conversations became much more complex because of the expansion of the dialogue system in a time before voice acting became the norm. The backdrop is of a world in transition, as the people seem happy but are leaving the old religion you set-up for them behind in order to follow a new faith. The environment interactivity is another great selling point, as you can fire cannons, bake bread, change diapers, and rig a particularly nasty set of events that leads to regicide. The main quest really engaged the player from the starting quest of trying to solve a local double homicide. Right off you know that there must be something very wrong in the land, but you have trouble understanding what it must be as life in Britannia continues uninterrupted while you are antagonized by the Guardian, whose veiled threats keep you unnerved. And so the game itself becomes a detective case as you try to track down the murderers, find out more about the mysterious Guardian, and discover how various smaller problems are interconnected into a larger, much more dangerous scheme.
If there is one thing I did not like in Ultima VII, it was the combat system where you choose a type of attack and let the computer fight for you in real time. But I do have to admit that this very long game brought Britannia to life like no other in the series.
hicksman: The seventh iteration of Origin's Ultima series sends the Avatar back to Britannia to investigate the Guardian, an entity that plans to take over over Brittania and rule as its master. In the intro, the Guardian speaks to you and invites you to come witness the "new age of enlightenment". Upon arriving you find a new religion has spread through the land. Are the two linked and can the Guardian be stopped?
Gameplay is similar to the other Ultima games, giving you a large map to explore, loads of NPCs to talk to, and side quests to take on. The game provides a lot of interactivity with the environment: most objects that are not nailed down can be picked up, moved, stolen and for the virtuous, purchased. The world follows a day/night cycle and NPCs respond to the time of day as well as weather. The focus is not on classes and stats, but rather interactions with NPCs and the actions of the Avatar and his companions. It requires consistent reference to your manual, the included map and your personal notes on quests, areas of interest, spells and clues. There is no automap nor journal. If you've never played it before, get a notebook.
Gamers will be attracted to this game for many reasons, chiefly its huge immersive game world and the ability to see how your actions change it, the branching NPC conversations, and the now well refined and familiar Ultima characters and lore.
However, it has what is by far the most complex character advancement system in an Elder Scrolls game, as well as a very flexible and entertaning-to-fool-with spell creation system where just about any spell effects can be combined in various ways. The world itself is also fairly well realized in spite of its ridiculous size, with different guilds and factions providing quite a number of potential distractions from the mostly uninteresting main quest.
Daggerfall is a game that will be enjoyed by someone looking for something very specific: a massive game world with almost no end, and a very detailed GURPS-esque character system. Its breadth makes it an ultimately shallow experience, and honestly inferior in most ways to its sequel, but no other game offers such a sheer mass of content to explore, albeit with much of it randomly generated.
mondblut: Back in the day, Daggerfall was expected to be a watershed game, one to change the genre forever. Its predecessor, Arena, pushed the sheer size of the gameworld where no man had gone before, but accomplished little else. Daggerfall was to become a digital LARPer's pipedream, an immense unscaled world of dozens of cities, hundreds of villages and many thousands of inhabitants, mostly tending about their own business and paying no mind to the protagonist, other than for the sake of an occasional procedurally generated quest. Sadly, the genre opted not to follow that road. Citing the sameness of content and lack of things to do, even the subsequent Elder Scrolls entries went for a tiny scaled-down world where a town consists of a dozen of houses and each of its twenty inhabitants is at some point involved in some quest or another, just like with every other RPG on the market. The opportunity was lost.
By now, even the most laymen of people are familiar with the Elder Scrolls, and mechanically Daggerfall is little different from its sequels. A first-person action RPG set in a massive world with little rails to follow, Daggerfall sends you on behalf of the emperor to accomplish two seemingly unconnected missions: to lay down to rest the vengeful ghost of the recently deceased king Lysandus of Daggerfall, whose wraiths are now haunting his capital, and to find and destroy a certain letter the emperor once penned to Lysandus' queen. All is not what it seems, though, and your investigations will take you through a web of betrayals and closets full of skeletons among the nobility of the kingdoms of Daggerfall, Sentinel and Wayrest, through the clandestine sects of ancient undead cult leaders, and into Oblivion itself, as you uncover the dark secrets the empire itself was founded upon. Past the now classic "prison start" (this time, for a change, being a remote dungeon you end up in after a shipwreck), you are thrown into an open-ended world with little to cover your loins and only a couple of leads to follow... or not.
An ultimate in sandbox experience, Daggerfall never forces you to do anything. Don't like the quest you are asked to do to advance in the Fighters Guild? Keep rejecting it until they pull out something that's good enough for you. Short of money? Get yourself an unlock spell and go on a "night-shopping" breeze, leaving the shelves of Odd Blades barren day after day. Got bored with the Daggerfall architecture? Buy a house in Sentinel and relocate there. Find a secret coven of witches, discover a proper day and summon a demonic daedra lord to do its bidding for a posh reward; become a vampire or a werewolf; buy a ship; advance your position in six guilds, some of which come in different local flavors. Make your own spells, enchant your own magic items, do what thou wilt. Heck, focus on some language skills, and you'll be able to bypass the creatures speaking them without harm. 18 years later, most of these things are taken for granted by the TES fanbase, but that's where it all began - and no subsequent TES game has offered that many opportunities all at once. No wonder it became one of the first games to generate a cult-like online community and modding scene.
Of course, the game is not without its problems. The twisted balls of spaghetti Daggerfall has for randomly generated dungeons still come to haunt the nightmares of dedicated players. Being sent to recover a most generic item from a seemingly innocent little crypt, you'll keep pulling the wrong torch and have a three-dimensional labyrinth that would put Khazad-Dum to shame open up before you. As befits a procedurally generated world of immense size, most of it is drab and repetitive (think Earth). Countless bugs destroying your saves that took a multitude of patches to iron out (not like it's something exceptional in 2014), nearly infinite exploit opportunities - this game is definitely not for those who want their RPG playground to be small, tidy and manually designed to be awesome whenever you push a button. Daggerfall is Elite that came back from the dead reincarnated into the vestments of fantasy role-playing.
The first edition AD&D rules have been faithfully reproduced in-game, which creates a tactical combat system with high enough variety. You will create a six-character party, journey to Phlan and help the city recover from monstrous invasion, eventually discovering a new evil on the rise. Even the beginning is not completely linear, and by the mid-game the player is let loose on the world map with a stunning amount of freedom, which sadly few modern RPGs can rival.
Deuce Traveler: It took me several tries to beat this game, but not because of difficulty. Instead I rage-quit two times due to the stupid copy protection wheel I was forced to use in order to start and save my game each time I loaded Pool of Radiance up. So my playing through this wasn't until last year, when I downloaded some documents with answers to the copy protection questions that some kind soul had created.
And man, do I wish I had been a little more patient earlier. Pool of Radiance is a fantastic game that was ahead of its time, allowing for a wide range of tactical choices, a well-designed campaign progression, and such a solid transition of tabletop DnD to the computer that it spawned nearly a dozen sequels and offshoots. The main quest is also refreshing, as you aren't trying to save the world or rescue a princess. Your characters are simply trying to retake an overrun city from monsters on behalf of a displaced people, although of course you also engage in plenty of heroics along the way while dealing with daunting odds, insidious plots, haunted ruins, and rotten betrayal.
Game designers wishing to write more games using older DnD rulesets should be made to play this game in order to see how pacing, dungeon design, questing, and background story are all done right. Despite being made in 1988, Pool of Radiance is one of the best computer RPGs I have ever enjoyed.
Low points include a number of particularly annoying areas that are harder or impossible to bypass for lack of decent alternative levelling routes (including a tutorial island), a stronger focus on the main quest to the detriment of side quest variety, and the feeling that the game is a bit too short.
Broseph: In my mind, Might and Magic VII is a prime example of an otherwise fantastic RPG which suffered from a rushed development cycle. In spite of that, I LOVE this game, as I do with most of the Might and Magic series. Instead of being dropped straight into a large open world, For Blood and Honor starts you off on a tutorial island, and in general the game's world feels among the smallest and most linear in the series. In comparison to prior installments, the dungeons feel cramped and uninspired and the game is even more focused on hack-and-slash and less on puzzle solving than ever before.
Despite all that, there are a number of reasons why I think any fan of RPGs should play this game. For one, it has the best character development in the series, introducing new races, classes, skills and an expanded alchemy system. It also has some very nice inventory art, paper dolls, and monster sprites and the wonderful card game Arcomage, which is the best minigame in any RPG ever. It's more accessible than Might and Magic VI too, and it would serve well as an introduction to the "blobber" subgenre for an RPG newbie.
The game might have its ups and downs from a gameplay perspective, but it's still enjoyable thanks to the wide variety of possibilities it offers. As overall experience, the "Quest of the Avatar", almost 30 years after its initial release, still stands head and shoulder over almost anything released since.
Deuce Traveler: Ultima IV taught me that RPGs didn't have to only be about killing orcs and taking their loot, as there was no big bad evil guy threatening the kingdom. This game might be graphically quaint by today's standards, but it still featured a large world to explore with cities, towns, and dungeons that had characteristics unique to them. It had a morality system based upon a religious philosophy that was created from scratch by the game's writer, Richard Garriott. The game was designed completely around this morality system, from character creation to choices you made in combat or conversations you had with in-game personalities, as well as regarding whether or not to steal important items when no one was around.
Other games of this era had me feel as if I was an adventurer saving a land for wealth, admiration or survival. Ultima IV was the first game that made me feel as if I was playing the heroic icon of an entire populace.
I love this set-up, as it continued to show that although your actions have led to a better life for the people of Britannia, there were always negative repercussions to the changes that occurred in your wake. It's hard not to talk more about the game without spoilers, but I can say that the gameplay is very similar to Ultima VII: The Black Gate, in that you will enjoy a great plot, lengthy exploration, and verbose dialogue at the expense of mediocre combat. But it is fun to see the plot unfold as you observe political intrigue, unexpected twists, reunited love, and a certain tragic sacrifice. I suggest playing the series from Ultima IV to Serpent Isle and finishing there. This was the last of the great Ultima games, and was followed up by disappointing Ultima games that are best discussed in low and harsh tones.
Jasede: Do the words "grim" and "dark" mean anything to you? Part Two of Ultima 7 is a much darker game than its predecessor. It, like Dreamweb, touches on themes like sexuality, injustice, adultery and murder. In fact there's a great deal of death and murder in this game which, as you play it, manages to slaughter more NPCs than even the ever-depressing Final Fantasy II for the NES.
It is a clear improvement over Black Gate in terms of writing and dialogue. The purple prose flavor text being gone, the game is now very to the point: every conversation serves a purpose, every plot development leads towards a specific point, and you're never at a loss at what you ought to do. That, of course, makes it a markedly linear experience, but even so, the game is not without its vast dungeons, countless side quests and stories and an ever-looming sense of dread. Serpent Isle does not shy away from grizzly brutality to paint certain moods and pictures and does so with great effect for a game of its age.
It can be recommended for its plot, story-telling and atmosphere alone; an entry into the Ultima franchise that will always remain controversial for its linearity, yet unforgotten for its shocking turns and twists.
But IWD II remains, for many, an incredibly fun game. Its adaptation of 3rd edition D&D rules is well done, and the now mature Infinity Engine is pushed to its limit to create its own distinctive challenges. Goblins beat on war drums to call their comrades, who arrive on wargs and continue to fight on foot when their mounts are shot down; orcs can be shot ablaze through flaming barrels, while giants lob rocks the size of ten men at your party. Large dungeons like Dragon's Eye and the Severed Hand are full of little quests, distinctive boss encounters, set pieces and backstory that fully satisfy that good old dungeoneering itch.
IWD II is a solid dose of killing, looting and pillaging that fully deserves a try.
MrMarbles: In terms of visuals, pacing and style IWD II is mostly a continuation of the series. This game is tailored for the power gamer looking to craft the perfect party, or the dungeon crawler who enjoys endless combat and loot, offering a high-intensity linear dungeon crawl with tightly designed progression and encounters, gorgeous visuals, and surprisingly solid writing. For players that cringe at the zany cuteness of BG, it's refreshing that dialogue in IWD II matches the bleak arctic setting.
On the other hand, for players accustomed to other Black Isle titles, this game may feel too much like an expansion and not enough like a world on its own. Party members have little independent personality, destinations are set in advance, and combat difficulty often stems more from the sheer numbers of HP you have to chew through rather than strategic challenge. This includes an entire chapter devoted to killing orcs that plays like a 4-hour Peter Jackson action sequence. The artwork is good, including some of the best character portraits ever drawn, but it too follows where IWD I left off.
All in all, IWD II is a rock-solid, epic D&D action-fest with high entertainment value. It just lacks the soul to really stand out amongst the other Black Isle classics.
For every step forward from the first game, though, The Witcher 2 also takes a step back. There are now quick time events, the consolized inventory is frustrating, and the character system has been simplified. The revamped combat, while thankfully much more challenging this time around, is focused on just a few techniques (mostly rolling and the Quen sign). Still, I feel that the great storyline more than makes up for the game's deficiencies. In short, if you are looking for complex character building and tactical combat, look elsewhere. If, however, you want to experience an engaging story with interesting characters, choices with weighty consequences, and enjoyable - though somewhat monotonous - action combat, then The Witcher 2 is the game for you.
Akratus: The Witcher 2 takes some steps forward and some steps back, and really isn't an objectively better game than the first. The graphics are a great improvement, but it lacks the dark grit of the first game. The combat is more movement based, but has an overreliance on rolling and remains as twitch-based as The Witcher 1 was. The story, however, is an improvement. The developers no longer feel like they need to introduce the player to the game world, and are therefore free to do their own thing. There are more factions and more characters directly involved in the plot, as well as some good choices and consequences including two separate routes through Act 2.
There's challenge to be found in combat, with various difficulty modes going all the way up to Dark Mode or a Hardcore one featuring permanent death. As always, knowledge of the books helps your enjoyment of the story significantly. As an aside, I would say this is my favorite game when it comes to art design. The armors are beautiful and immensely detailed, as is the world, designed with a historically realistic mindset despite this being a fantasy game.
undecaf: When The Witcher 2 appeared, I was highly disappointed that CD Projekt completely ditched the combat system of the first game instead of improving upon it, and went for an uninspired somersault-ridden hack'n'slash that tasted somewhat stale even before leaving Flotsam. The addition of QTEs didn't help the matter at all either.
Things weren't as bad as they looked, though. The depiction of the world in turmoil, the many well-crafted characters and the storyline featuring a political power struggle really carried the game from start to finish. The choices and consequences, despite being only limited to the narrative and not the gameplay, were decent and did not shy away from leaving out a significant amount of content based on your decisions. The (perfectly warranted) negative things about the combat aside, it did not get in the way and ultimately managed to get challenging enough and even slightly tactical at times.
The Witcher 2, while not without flaws, is overall a well-crafted and written game that - whenever it doesn't bog you down too much with its combat - always leaves you curious to see what outcomes your decisions may lead to.
In the Wasteland, rule of law is long forgotten. Small tribal communities huddle together to survive, each building their own unique culture from the scorched artifacts of their immediate surroundings. Gameplay is heavily combat-oriented. If you don't enjoy frequent random encounters (think The Bard's Tale or Wizardry 8), you may want to pass on this game. The interface is simple but effective, arrow keys for movement, numbers to select party members to perform various actions, all of which can be made more efficient by the programmable macro system (F1-F8).
This game was accompanied by a physical "journal" which you will be referring to often (hopefully in PDF or other searchable format), as there just was not enough space on those 5 1/4" floppies to tell the whole story. Older games like this were played with paper and pencil at the ready for marking passwords and clues to help solve difficult puzzles. The best way to approach this game is as the designers intended, without Google. Try to navigate The Wasteland on your own. The experience is well worth the challenge.
undecaf: The grandfather of post-apocalyptic RPGs and, along with Fallout, one of Brian Fargo's gifts to the RPG genre. A little party-based gem from the 80's and one of the first RPGs with a large persistent world and C&C.
Wasteland's presentation is rather simplistic. You move an icon representing your party through a variety of differently scaled overland maps (depending on whether you are indoors or exploring a location or the overworld) viewed from a top down perspective. All the text the game needed didn't even fit on the disk, so you have to look it up separately (at least in the original version), the interface is clunky, and the storyline is nothing world-shattering. But a large part of Wasteland's undeniable charm lies precisely in its reliance on the player's imagination filling in the gaps and the descriptive, abstracted manner in which the game plays out. It's the opposite of the new school "show, don't tell" policy, and as such - working almost like a table top game and utilizing the Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes rule set - it should get every RPG grognard interested at least on some level.
The setting is fantastically quirky, dark and lighthearted at the same time. What other game has you fight armored bunnies that explode like a blood sausage? Combat itself is a basic phase-based affair, but despite its simplicity it remains fun and even challenging. Furthermore, it is most of the time not only unobtrusive and not dragging things down but also, thanks to its quirky nature, greatly enhances the game's presentation and content. But while there is plenty of combat to be found, the game is delightfully more about interacting with the world and its inhabitants in various ways than just killing stuff. Wasteland is an excellent peek at the early days of computer RPGs that, while not possessing too much depth or complexity, offers some great old school role-playing fun in a fairly accessible package that everyone calling himself an RPG fan should give an honest shot. With the right mindset the game is not just "played", but "experienced".
On a final note, InXile recently re-released the game to work on newer machines while adding a few bonus features, among them the patched-in text (so you don't have to look it up in a separate document anymore). And while one may find the new character portraits quite controversial, Mark Morgan's music in the background really does wonderful things to the atmosphere.
The game's greatest accomplishment is blending a bit of goofy charm with a sense of the macabre. In the main town you'll meet various comedic characters and run into some chuckle-worthy situations. But at the same time you'll also find such disturbing subjects as the spirit of a drowned woman who seeks to kill the men who approach her, a vampire preying upon the young of the city, and an ancient and alien evil trying to affect the land you intend on saving. A lot of time and effort went into this game, as it also possesses an abundance of references to Germanic and Slavic lore that made me more interested in learning about foreign folktales.
The game is also skill-based, and although you may play a Wizard, Thief, Fighter, or Paladin with skills oriented towards your class, you can also take the time to build up those outside your normal expertise. Taking time to do so is rewarding, for it will open numerous solutions to the various puzzles you will face along the way. Looking back all these years, I now realize the game had an enormous impact upon the untapped possibilities that folklore allows in regards to weaving a compelling fantasy tale.
Aeschylus: Quest for Glory is a somewhat unique animal - a seamless integration of two genres, managing to take some of the better aspects from both while remaining a coherent whole. The series was largely one-of-a-kind (though thankfully that has been changing recently, with the release of Heroine's Quest, and the development of Quest for Infamy and Mage's Initiation) in that it blended elements of the Sierra-style classic adventure, such as a point-and-click icon interface and inventory puzzles, with those typical to RPGs - such as character progression, different character classes, and multiple solutions to dilemmas. Quest for Glory IV was the penultimate entry in the series, and by most peoples' reckoning the best. Each game in the series moves to a distinct setting, and QFG4 made the rather brilliant choice to go with a Transylvania-esque gothic horror inspired setting, which provides quite a stable of monsters to fight and creatures to encounter (who could forget the Rusalka).
The game also continues the series' tradition of providing multiple paths for the four different classes, this time recovering from the more restrictive 3rd entry to provide a bevy of alternate solutions and scenarios for each class. If you even slightly enjoy adventure games to go along with your RPGs, the Quest for Glory series is an absolute must-play, with the 4th entry ranking near the top of the pack.
In Ultima IV you promoted a new faith based on such moral virtues as Compassion, Honor, or Sacrifice. In Ultima V you arrive in a world where your virtues have been pushed to an evil extreme, and failure to live up to the virtues could result in loss of property, freedom, or life. It's a frightening despotic world where you can't trust members of the very population that you struggled so mightily before to save. You are a fugitive avoiding the law of a wicked land, trying to weaken your enemy by pulling away his support with aid from a resistance movement, and attempting to restore the rightful ruler of the land to the throne. I do knock the game quite a bit for the poorly designed Underworld that was so painful to navigate. But despite that one big flaw, the rest of the game is a real gem that I can't recommend enough.
:Flash:: The sequel to Ultima IV, the game does not at first glance seem to be a big step forward. It's still the same top-down engine that has been there since Ultima I (even though, in keeping with tradition, the number of tiles has been again multiplied by two). But once you give it more than a passing glance, Ultima V is revolutionary in more ways than one.
Day and night cycles are not just a meaningless addition, as each NPC follows his daily routine, sleeps in his own bed, works and spends the evening in bars. Nights darken the land and influence the visual range (torches may be of help here), as do walls and windows. The world is truly interactive, to the point that chairs, mirrors, clocks and many other things can be moved and used. Conversations rely on the trusted word parser system, but NPCs are much more talkative than in earlier games. Those features alone would make Ultima V a must play game ahead of its time -- I remember how almost 15 years after its release the day and night cycle was still considered the newest and coolest innovation by gaming magazines.
All that taken together with the storyline that puts a new twist on the virtue system from the previous game, and the oppressive atmosphere that now beleaguers the land, making you wonder whom you can trust, Ultima V becomes a true masterpiece that would top this list if Codexers weren't a bunch of late 90's sissies.
Deuce Traveler: Might and Magic III was a huge leap from its more simplistic predecessors in graphics, interface and difficulty. In the two previous games, there were rarely indications that you were about to enter into combat; you would simply walk onto a tile and see a message that combat had been initiated. In Might and Magic III you could see the enemy in a distance, even going so far as to fire projectiles in order to damage them before closing into a melee fight. Although turn-based, this gave the game the aspect of a primitive first person shooter at times.
The interface was also mouse-driven with keyboard support, instead of the previous games which were primarily controlled by the keyboard. This interface allowed you to click on walls in order to solve puzzles and other little ways to manipulate the world around you. Although simpler to use for the uninitiated, I actually felt that the mouse-driven interface had slowed down combat in the long run since I had memorized key patterns from the last two games. I also found Might and Magic III to be a lot easier, and hence I still feel its two older and cruder ancestors to be better games. Still, there is something to be said for the graphical upgrade which I find charming to this day. The dungeon design and exploration is also of high quality, as many can say about all of the first eight games of this series. Although I do not feel it was the best of the Might and Magics, the game still deserves to be on a list of great RPGs.
Bubbles: When BioWare decided to make a Star Wars RPG, they sensibly assumed that their target audience had only two expectations for this game: Jedi and lightsabers.
In achieving utter perfection in these two categories (deservedly earning them a place in top 50 RPG lists everywhere), the developers unfortunately had to neglect every other area of the game. The plot is as coherent as a fifty foot high Jenga tower while Jedi flip between light and dark in a way that makes Anakin's conversion in the prequel trilogy look sensible and realistic. 99% of fights can be beaten through auto attacking, and the levels are tiny enough to fit on an iPhone. Always mindful to save on their voice acting budget, BioWare let their alien NPCs babble the same line of gibberish twenty times in a row, which the game translates variously as "Thank you!", "Kill them all!" and "Oh Bastilla, I'm so sorry about Taris!"
On a more positive note, this is one of the few top 50 RPG that can completed by an absolute gaming novice, featuring virtually no challenge and minimal complexity in its combat, exploration, dialogues, and character building systems. Young Star Wars fans might prefer this game over Lego Star Wars due to its cinematic qualities and reduced difficulty, though parents should be mindful of the T rating.
Ravel myluv: KOTOR is a very simple RPG mechanics-wise, which is also what makes it enjoyable if you feel like leaving your hardcore credentials behind for a moment. The story immerses you immediately, and you won't spend too much time on the stat screen before returning to actual gameplay. The game offers some highly Manichean C&C, but this fits very well with the Star Wars universe, which has always been about badass villains and virgin-type good guys. Progression through the game is very smooth, and it manages to convey the charm of a simple adventure in the same way that Star Was: A New Hope did. It's pretty much a popcorn RPG, but a very good one at that - which should be enough to enjoy the game unless the idea of a well-crafted and solid if not particularly exceptional RPG goes against everything you hold dear.
The graphic design is outstanding; Anachoronox is by far the prettiest game made on any of the Quake engines, and the level designers take you through slums/sewage yards, lush woodland areas, shining bastions of liberal academia, industrial smelter planets, the estates of the upper crust, a comic book space ship, and lots more cool places, each with their own well-crafted atmosphere. Particular highlights include a guy who shows you a series of his "special drawings", the solo adventures of your little robot PAL, and a protracted going-insane-while-drifting-in-space sequence. Basically, the perfect antidote to Final Fantasy VIII. Recommend for everybody, everywhere.
evdk: Anachronox is the second best JRPG produced in the West (right after the timeless classic Planescape: Torment, of course). Developed by the saner part of Ion Storm in a long and arduous process that saw a lot of the content cut and lost (including a satisfying conclusion – or any kind of conclusion for that matter), it nevertheless can be considered a successful attempt at creating a game in the traditionally Japanese genre.
The story is mostly a spoof of a generic save the world from destruction - SEVERAL UNIVERSES FROM UNCREATION - plot. Your hero is one Sly Boots, a down on his luck PI plying his trade from a run-down office above a bar in the scummiest part of a space station full of hustlers and criminals, and drowning his past in alcohol in the best noir tradition. Hired by a client to obtain a seemingly unimportant relic, he soon discovers that not all is what it seems and unwillingly finds himself on a quest that will take him all the way across the known universe to try and stop the villain’s dastardly plan and hopefully get paid for his troubles (unlikely). In the trusted JRPG fashion, Sly is accompanied on his travels by several other characters who are as quirky (or quite possibly crazy) as the world they inhabit – his old robot buddy who acquired a personality due to a glitch in the software, a grumpy art collector who can produce a stream of nonsensical yammering aggravating enough to remove obstacles from your path, or an entire planet shrunk to miniature size. Even the user interface is in fact your holographic secretary who Sly engages in witty banter with. The characters and storytelling are the game’s strongest point and the main reason to suffer through its more lacking parts.
Which brings us to the actual RPG mechanic and combat. As expected from this kind of game, you have virtually no input into your characters' development beyond searching for better weapons or upgrades to teach them further battle skills. Combat relies on an Active Time Battle system pioneered by the Final Fantasy series, with some rudimentary movement options mostly used in boss battles. The combat is not good, and also makes for a large part of the game. It is repetitive and will make you go crazy, especially in those parts where you will be forced to go through the same location repeatedly back and forth fighting the same respawning enemies ad nauseum (I hate you, Red Light District). It's still worth going through, however, because all the other parts of the game are stellar and stood the test of time well.
So is Anachronox a great RPG? No, but it is a great and funny game and the best part of Ion Storm’s legacy. You should experience it at least once.
The main thing it does right is to simply be a classic dungeon crawler -- the many dungeons you delve into throughout the game are almost all unique, well designed, and filled with puzzles that are actually genuinely clever at times, rather than simply sequences of lever pulling. One dungeon in particular, the crypt in the city of Arx, is really an all-time great.
Of course, the main thing that usually gets mentioned along with this game is the magic system, and not without reason. It is quite unique, and works surprisingly well -- essentially, all spells are cast via the manual drawing of runes in real-time, and numerous, sometimes unexpected combinations are possible. The system can take some time to get used to, but is a lot of fun to mess around with and is less troublesome in combat than it might have been thanks to being able to "store" three previously cast spells for instant use.
Sadly, the other types of combat do not measure up to the magic system -- melee combat is a frustrating combination of awkward controls and poor balance towards the end of the game, resulting in some nigh-unwinnable combats if you chose to focus purely on melee.
In spite of some highly questionable design decisions, Arx Fatalis is very much worth your time. Its entirely unique magic system, fun dungeon delving, and excellent atmosphere are hard to find anywhere else.
skacky: Initially pitched by Arkane Studios as Ultima Underworld III and eventually rejected by Electronic Arts, Arx Fatalis is a fine first person RPG set in a world where the sun simply vanished, and where terrestrial creatures were forced to take shelter in dwarven mines and coexist in a very fragile truce in order to avoid an ice age. You take the role of Am'Shaegar, an amnesiac human imprisoned by Goblins in one of the first levels of the mines, near the human fortress of Arx.
Drawing direct inspiration from Ultima Underworld, Arx Fatalis has a lot of simulation elements (fishing, cooking...) and features an unusual way of solving quests: rather than what you say, your actions are what matters the most. You can also kill virtually everyone and even complete the game that way if you know what you are doing. The most famous "innovation" Arx Fatalis brought to the table is the magic casting system where the player must draw runes with the mouse. Impractical in combat, but very original and cool. Thankfully you can "pre-cast" up to three spells, so it is always a good idea to do that before fighting powerful foes.
Exploration is, again, rewarding and the atmosphere is arguably even better than Ultima Underworld's. It's definitely one of the most atmospheric games I've ever played. Some riddles are very vague and will make you scratch your head, and the game is also hilariously imbalanced with some stats being almost useless. The game starts you out as a scrub with a broken bone as a weapon, and you slowly become a demi-god with crazy spells and very powerful weapons, which feels absolutely badass. Despite these two issues (imbalanced stats and really hard riddles), Arx Fatalis is a great RPG and arguably Arkane's best game.
Combat is turn-based with action points, and although it has some annoying limitations (such as having only one attack per turn), it’s solid. There are three classes to choose from, and they give you the freedom to fight in any way you want, from creating hordes of weak monsters to fight for you or focusing on large and powerful creatures instead, to casting spells like Firebolt and Fear, to simply hack-and-slashing your way through enemies. Non-combat skills like Leadership and Mechanics are also important, as they provide unique ways to avoid conflicts and solve quests. And although it may not seem obvious at first, there’s a great deal of reactivity to be found here as well.
When this was released back in 2001, RPG fans had their mouths full, being spoiled with the release of such classics as Arcanum, BG2: Throne of Bhaal, Morrowind, Wizardry 8 and Gothic. So it is understandable that Geneforge, with its unattractive graphics and puke-green UI, went by undetected by most. But it’s a damn shame, and you should go play it now.
Deuce Traveler: The reason why you see science fiction and fantasy literature placed together in many bookstores is because they were initially considered part of the same genre, which gave the author a lot more room in creating unique tales. Geneforge exploits these common roots in order to place a shipwrecked magic-wielding character (called a Shaper) on an island full of crazed genetic experiments and abandoned ruins. Your goal in the game is simple: to escape the island. However, in order to do so your Shaper will have to take sides in a civil war taking place on the island, face off against renegades of your own magical order, and struggle with the continual temptation to genetically modify yourself in order to become more powerful at the expense of your sanity.
The events of Geneforge 1 would reverberate through four more solid games of the series, concluding in the well-developed climax that was Geneforge 5.
I normally have problems with the overused trope of having to save the world of Faerun in a Forgotten Realms tale, but in this case that very backdrop is well-earned, since it took your heroes cutting a swath through three previous games in order to fight in this fourth and final campaign. It's a great farewell to the Pools series and a grand finale to your characters' heroic journey, with some familiar faces from previous games dropping in to share the danger and the glory.
If I had one negative thing to say about the game, it would be that the ending is too hard to beat without a lot of grinding in order to maximize your character's levels. If you try to beat this game with characters of lower level (low to mid 30s), you are going to find a nasty surprise at the end that I doubt you're characters will survive. However, if you do press on and win you will earn all the bragging rights deserving of such an accomplishment.
octavius: The culmination of the first true AD&D series of computer RPGs. Now the whole Forgotten Realms are in peril, thanks to the evil god Bane and his demonic lieutenants.
Story fans, move along, there is not much to see here; it's all about combat. If you like excellent turn-based combat and ditto encounter design, this is the game for you. You'll face just about any high level enemy AD&D can throw at you, from Giants and Drows to the mightiest of Dragons and Demons. The game is huge, and you'll even get to visit other planes.
The game also has what is possibly the most difficult end battle of any RPG. I always play Gold Box games with non-maxed characters, but I had to edit my guys' DEX (which governs the all-important initiative) to win, and even then I was left with only one guy standing in the end, my dual-classed Ranger/Magic User (the most powerful class combo, in my opinion). The Amiga version is easier, since you can use the Ring of Lightning Immunity which does not work in the DOS version. It makes quite a difference in the final battles. Most gamers probably max out all stats anyway, but if not you should prioritize a high DEX over STR and CON.
The game's main weakness (compared to something like Dark Queen of Krynn) is that the challenge is rather uneven. Some areas are too easy, while others are very hard indeed. Some gamers also strongly dislike not being able to bring along their +4 items when going after the other-planar "bosses". Also, Elminster is in the game.
Bottom line: not a game for everybody, but as far as pure turn-based tactical combat fun is concerned, few RPGs can rival it.
Companions each have a considerable backstory and involvement in the plot, the dialogue and story are intelligent and very well-written, while the difficulty curve and combat mechanics are unbalanced as hell. Then again, it has hundreds of interactive objects and items, quests with multiple solutions, optional dungeons, and simply the most gorgeous 2D visuals in any RPG to date. Not to mention the fantastic soundtrack.
It certainly isn't the most complex RPG given its limited character building options, but the adventure aspects and imaginative sci-fi/fantasy setting more than make up for it. And have I mentioned how beautiful this game is?
HiddenX: Albion - a mix between Ultima and Realms of Arkania - was released in 1996 by Blue Byte GmbH. It is a refreshing entry to the genre, mixing fantasy and science fiction elements (a bit like the movie Avatar). This mixture leads to an interesting and powerfully written story.
You play as Tom Driscoll, a pilot from the mothership Toronto that crashes on the planet Albion. Albion is supposed to be a barren world. However, as Tom quickly discovers, nothing could be further from the truth. Albion is full of alien races to interact with, places to explore, rich and varied landscapes, and various useful equipment and items to find. Magic and potions are available for healing as well as enhancing your character's abilities.
You can build a party of up to 5 characters. Each party member has his own backpack as inventory, the amount of things you can carry being limited by the character's strength. As a result, you have to decide what to keep and what to sell - and there are a lot of items in the game! Battles are turn-based, challenging, long and interesting, with numerous ways of attacking enemies (who have a lot of options to attack you back, so be prepared). In most towns and dungeons, the game switches to the first person view, whereas in outdoor areas it relies on the third person view instead. Interacting with the aliens is fun, you can ask everyone and your mother about numerous topics, all listed in the dialogue screen, and learn about new secrets or new quests. Interaction with NPCs is the main way of advancing the story, so you have to read and ask around a lot. The story is full of twists - but I won't talk about them here. The game features some puzzles and riddles, too.
Albion creates a believable alien world, in which you meet a lot of interesting NPCs and enemies alike, while offering an involving character development system, rewarding exploration, and many things to discover and skills and spells to learn. The end result is a beautiful, interesting, and unique RPG. I can recommend it to all Ultima, Realms of Arkania, Wizardry and Ambermoon fans. Two thumbs up!
Gameplay wise, it's the usual NWN-style real-time with pause stuff, only with significantly fewer abilities, a tweaked and evolved The Dark Eye character progression system that can charitably be described as obtuse, and startlingly lacking itemizaton. Astoundingly, the game has virtually no atmosphere whatsoever, a black hole of generic fantasy beats and might-as-well-be-royalty-free music that puts any American developer to shame. However... it uses the same setting as the Realms of Arkania games, and that is why River of Time deserves a spot in the Top 70.
Fenris 2.0: With the Drakensang games, Radon Labs tried to create a 3D Baldur's Gate, while unfortunately also taking influences from Diablo and World of Warcaft. Thankfully they used the strong The Dark Eye license and listened somewhat to their fans when creating the second game in the series, which is River of Time. You still have the same clunky 3D real-time with pause combat, Diablo-like barrels and chests everywhere, as well as questionable collision checks, but you also get a rich and atmospheric, bright fairy-tale world, a solid rule set with lots of different builds, as well as nice graphics and (at least in the German version) some excellent voice overs.
The encounter design improves compared to the first game, so that battles are now bearable, even if still nothing to write home about. NPCs are crafted with love and care and have distinct personalities, and the world just feels alive. The plot is refreshing, down to earth, and works alright. On the other hand, there is not much C&C and you can only influence a couple of minor parts of the story, such as whether you want to assault a castle via the main gate or sneak in through the sewers. The branching paths merge again later, and in the end the only difference consists in your body count. The game is also replete with "but thou must!" situations, which kind of makes sense given that this isn't really your (the player's) story - it is the story of Ardo, Forgrimm, Cuano and their secret mission. You are just there for the lion's share of work and loot.
P.S. Avoid the add-on like the plague.
Risen does not handhold. Venture into dangerous areas and you will die - horribly. Mash the attack button and you will die - horribly. As you learn to time your attacks and blocks, and learn the particular timings and predilections of each type of enemy (from coconut-lobbing, foul-mouthed gnomes to sea vultures that jump headlong at you), you die less and less - and sometimes even win fights you by all rights shouldn't. The hand-crafted world design is incomparable, with enemies placed in sensible locales that allow you to guess where you will find what. You take a short detour into a cave structure only to emerge, half an hour later, onto a small crag overlooking the beach - then you levitate across to another outcrop, where you find an unexpected treasure. Risen does not skimp on C&C and quest design, either.
The classic PB faction system here takes the form of bandits established in the swamp and the vaguely-Spanish inquisition in the harbour town, between which runs a medley of interlocked quests. All this is set in a refreshing tropical environment, an understated pirate theme combining with colonial Hispanic architecture and lush jungles. Risen does have its flaws: it is smaller and easier than Gothic 1 and 2, its character development system is not particularly expansive, and the endgame - like every PB game - dovetails into hack and slash. But its challenging, logically built combat, its distinctive atmosphere, its branching quests and unparalleled exploration all make Risen a must try.
Sunsetspawn: Risen is the spiritual successor to Gothics 1 and 2. It's one of the better open world, "sandbox" RPGs ever made, and easily the best that any console saw this past generation thanks to Piranha Bytes giving the console peasants a port.
Risen takes place on a tropical island and is heavily inspired by ancient Greece, as opposed to the standard medieval euroromp that people expect when they hear the term RPG. Although the story is nothing noteworthy, the interaction with the world and its characters allow for an organic and emergent narrative complete with choice and consequence that allow Risen to feel genuine and reactive. Also, the art direction, sound, music, NPC scripting, and unrestricted exploration combine to create a great feeling of immersion on that small mediterraneanesque island.
The gameplay, as should be expected with Piranha Bytes, in unforgiving and rewarding. There are plenty of beautiful locales with hand-placed loot where you can stick your curious nose, and when you do you should be prepared to have it promptly cut off. The absence of level scaling means that you had better train and equip your ass lest one of the many angry boots on the island gets it kicked. Character development has purpose and, although fairly simple, is very well executed. Because it is an action RPG, you will need actual dexterity combined with the abilities and stats your leveling will grant you.
Risen will not hold your hand, but thanks to your equipment, stats, skills, crafting, and casting, you will have the means to become far more punishing than anything else on the island.
When your dealings (also inevitably) result in open warfare (likely because you're just too smart and successful and such), you get to experience the game's weakest aspect; a small number of text-based options to arrange your troops before battle, followed by a brief result screen telling you that your tribe's greatest hero was pecked to death by a vegan anthropomorphic duck.
You might want to avoid these situations as much as possible by sending out your troops to explore the unknown territory of the Pass and delighting in the many weird-ass life forms and totally overpowered artifacts you can find there. If that gets boring, you can engage in complicated quests in the Realm of the Gods, an otherworldly space filled with pretty 2D art in which the myths of your religion can be played out by members of your tribe to gain powerful boons. Going into one of these quests without knowing as much as you can about how you are supposed to act (which is woefully little) will likely result in the utter destruction of your fellow tribesman. As a consequence, the close study and memorization of your tribe's religious texts becomes a gameplay challenge in itself.
And if all that isn't enough to keep you in good spirits, there's also a ton of random events spanning from cownapping to huckster merchants to flash floods. These events actually encourage you to think logically and behave like a character in the game's world, instead of just carelessly applying modern day ethics and hoping it all works out. Whoa!
Although almost all of the outcomes in KoDP are subject to chance and the whim of the Gods, the game also features a simple yet robust system of character stats. Don't send the 18 year old farmer to perform the test of infinite knowledge! Don't let the 91 year old half-crazy trickster negotiate with the evil duck people! And don't send your best leader on one of those suicidal vision quests! Most of the character choices are reasonably easy, but when all your good farmers have died to sickness or duck bills, you're really going to face some of those hard choices that all the hardcore RPG players crave.
If this doesn't sound like a "proper" RPG to you, then - eh! - don't play it! But you're missing out on a really fun game that offers you plenty of gameplay variety while challenging you every step of the way.
agentorange: King of Dragon Pass is a particularly difficult game to categorize; cycling through the genres of 4x, RPG, and text adventure in each of its gameplay facets. Taking place in a low magic world of indeterminate technological advancement, with religious elements borrowing heavily from the various ancient Pagan religions, the player is tasked with establishing a clan settlement in Dragon Pass, and to lead that clan from a struggling group of nomads into a prosperous ruling power. As yours is not the only settlement in Dragon's Pass, you must contend with around twenty other clans, each with their owns morals, goals, and whims.
Instead of being the sole "commander", the player manipulates the game world through 7 advisers, referred to as the Clan Ring. There are far more than 7 candidates for the Ring, and an important part of the game is balancing the spiritual and statistical aspects of the advisers. The game is broken up into 5 seasons, something like turns, in which certain decisions are able to made; plant crops in the spring (sea), wage war in the summer (fire), reap your harvests in the fall (earth), etc. Of course those are just the suggested actions, you may want to wage war in the spring if you find out an enemy clan is unprepared for attack - but beware, because no planting means no harvest, which means no food for your people or their cattle. Every action you take will have long term consequences, and some of the consequences - especially with the random encounters - are not evident until long after you have made the choice.
Random encounters can occur at any time, and this is where the game really shines; there are about 100 different events that can happen, each taking the form of a short text adventure with beautiful hand drawn art work. From incursions of demonic monsters, to encounters with enigmatic wanderers and mystics, to rebellions and party throwing, each event is comprised of multiple choices for actions. Sometimes the availability of a choice will depend on your actions in a previous event, possessing a certain item, or having a certain type of adviser. These events can leads to tremendous boons, or end up devastating your clan; killing a group of visitors to get their magical artifact might benefit you for a while, but chances are you will get screwed when whatever city the visitors were from sends people to seek retribution. Careful balancing of social, economic, and spiritual factors, and a good amount of foresight, are the only way to ensure your clan does not end up a devastated ruin.
Labyrinth of Worlds is bigger and meaner than its older brother, with an increased view panel and a better interface. Some of the few issues present in The Stygian Abyss were fixed, and the game also has better visuals thanks to the improved engine. This time, you will discover that a Blackrock gem lies in the lowest level of the sewers under Castle British, and that this gem leads to parallel worlds already destroyed or on the verge of destruction by the Guardian. Exploring these worlds is, like The Stygian Abyss, a great experience and takes a lot of time, especially if you want to discover everything.
The main issue I have with it, and why I slightly prefer The Stygian Abyss, is that the atmosphere is not as thick and impressive. You don't feel as isolated as in The Stygian Abyss, mainly because there is a lot more dialogue involved than before. Still, if you enjoyed Ultima Underworld, you will also like Ultima Underworld II.
octavius: Ultima Underworld II takes place within the time frame of the Ultima VII games. So while UU1 was a self-contained game, UU2 is much more embedded in the Ultima lore, which is a good thing if you are well-versed in Ultima lore, but not quite so good if you are not. You'll get more out of the game if you are already familiar with the NPCs and the Guardian. Personally I definitely enjoyed it more after I had played Ultima VI (or rather the Ultima 6 Project remake) and read a Let's Play of the Ultima VII game(s) that preceded UU2. Since you keep returning to Lord British's castle to talk to the NPCs, the game is considerably more rewarding if you already know them from previous games.
UU2 uses an updated engine compared to UU1, with a somewhat larger view area. Apart from that, the gameplay is identical. The main difference between UU1 and UU2 is that while UU1 is limited to the Stygian Abyss, UU2, as its full title suggest, takes place in several different worlds. As a result, UU2 has much more diverse environments and encounters than UU1, but it lacks the sheer immersion and tension of UU1. It is also more uneven in difficulty, and the quality of the different worlds is uneven too, as some of them feel a bit rushed.
But overall UU2 is definitely a worthy successor to UU1. And let's face it, UU1 is a very hard act to top.
Unfortunately, the gameplay and the story aren't as strong. It shows that the game didn't have the most experienced team behind it; it was actually the first game Eidos Montreal worked on and released. As a result, it doesn't entirely live up to expectations set by the Deus Ex name.
The game is, naturally, often compared to its acclaimed predecessor. It couldn't ever hope to be as deep as the first game, of course, for the simple reason that the standards and focus of modern developers do not allow for such depth anymore. But this is also the reason, as I said, that it's still amazing how far along the true Deus Ex path they actually got. Since a Deus Ex game has to accommodate several play styles, the developers couldn't help but attempt to develop satisfying stealth, FPS, cover, dialogue, AI and skill systems. That seems to have been too much for them to handle, but surprisingly enough, they pulled it off in a more or less commendable way. The shooting can be stiff and wonky, the cover too sticky, the stealth too easy or unsatisfying, and the story may get fragmented and inconsistent, losing its focus as it nears the end of the game - the ending itself being the game's lowest point alongside the tacked-on boss fights (which were, again, fixed in the Director's Cut). But overall, Human Revolution is a worthwhile experience, especially as a prequel to the original.
Deuce Traveler: Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a prequel to Deus Ex 1. In this game you play Adam Jensen, head of security for a corporation dealing in cybernetics. Adam (this first name having Biblical implications) is injured in the course of conducting his duties, and finds himself technologically augmented in a procedure that saves his life but may have cost a bit of his humanity. On a more positive note, the cybernetic augmentation also resulted in Adam’s sight being modified through some awesome shades which become a part of his face, because… let’s face it, the designers just thought it looked cooler than having a normal-looking eye with hidden cybernetic abilities. Like other games in the series, Human Revolution is based on cyberpunk literature, where the population finds itself dealing with how far it should go in regards to merging with the increasingly computerized technologies we have built with society as a whole.
It also has first person-shooting. Lots and lots of first-person shooting. Combat was important in the original Deus Ex, too, but that game allowed for more flexibility of choice when resolving obstructions to your quests. On a more positive note, Human Revolution does allow for some stealth play, which you will appreciate as running forward and trying to gun down all opposition will often end badly. There are also a number of side quests and hidden areas, which you will want to explore in order to better Adam’s equipment before progressing onto the main quest. All in all, this is a fun game, though not without some flaws. The history of the series has been retconned quite a bit in order to make for a more action-packed game, especially with regard to the advanced equipment that is available in Human Revolution. It's still a fun experience, but fans of the series will be upset about how it jumbles up the series’ lore.
The tone of the game is also unique; the writing is way above average and the game doesn’t take itself too seriously, providing some really funny scenes and characters - a refreshing change from the sea of "grimdark" RPGs you see nowadays.
As many games on this list, it suffers from a rushed ending, and also from some weird balance issues, but it’s still a great game that deserves to be played.
Gregz: Probably the finest "Diablo clone" ever made, there is plenty of hack-and-slash action here, as well as a very colorful tapestry of story and quests.
You explore an open world, being asked to solve local troubles or slay marauding hordes of troublesome monsters from orcs to dragons (and many others in between). The game features a waypoint system similar to Diablo II, as well as a unique teleportation system that allows you to "save" a favorite location so you may return to it. There are many standard high fantasy tropes (elven forests, a dwarven undermountain kingdom, orc raiders, etc.), but these are well-written, unlike most other fantasy RPGs which have forgotten the lore upon which these races are based.
A very "hand crafted" game, one gets the impression that this was a labor of love for the designers and that many, many hours were put into building its living game world. A definite must-play for anyone who enjoys action RPGs.
The RPG elements include building a large party of nobles to join your cause, each of whom specializes in a variety of skills from diplomacy, to engineering, to combat. Along with them, you acquire stat and skill points which you may allocate as you gain levels. Quests are plentiful as you are tasked to hunt down bandits, hunt traitors for bounty, save towns, all the way to becoming a King yourself. Items can be upgraded from the spoils of battle, or bought from merchants.
The sprawling and ambitious world design is so complex it breathes, reminding you to balance reputation, diplomacy, castle upgrades, alliances, and more. This game does not force you to play it "as the designers intended", however. It is heavily modifiable, and there are some truly great mods out there (be it companions or diplomacy). You may assign vassals to care for your conquered territories for you, or you can bring everyone along with you as a single marching army. Regardless of how you choose to play, you will feel steeped in the environment, and in awe of the storm of battle around you.
Jedi Master Radek: Even if accepting M&B as an RPG is problematic, one cannot dismiss how fun this game is. Melee combat is top notch, and mounted combat especially. If you have never had an experience of charging along with your comrades at big regiments of enemy troops, defending with a shield against a rain of arrows, and bringing death with your mighty sword, then you haven't felt what a true battle is. You can choose the direction of all your strikes, use your footwork to overcome any adversaries, or just simply knock them down with your brave stallion.
You can recruit soldiers and train them as you like. There are many skills, and nearly all of them are useful, which is rare in RPGs. Faction mechanics are robust; join any of them, climb up its ranks, or just support a rebellion and become a Marshall. Enjoy being lone and hardcore? Lead a single man crusade against a chosen kingdom, put it on its knees, and watch as fallen lords beg you to accept them into your service. And did I mention the castles and cities? You can besiege, capture and then manage them. There are always buildings to be built and choices to be made. Tired of the vanilla game? So are we! This game is nearly as rich in mods as the Elder Scrolls series. There are excellent SW or LotR mods out there alongside dozens of others.
Even if fighting may get repetitive for some, especially after a long playthrough, this gem of a game is worth checking out and returning to regularly.
To succeed you must combine strategic intelligence in building and progressing your party, spacial and logical intelligence in solving riddles quickly, and good memory of each and every turn, across multiple levels, as you will need to backtrack for resources to that one unlocked door that you managed to find a key for. A sobering challenge all-around, Dungeon Master has beaten the best of them, so bring your A-game.
octavius: Another game that had a huge impact on me. I'll never forget when I faced my first Zombie. It was behind bars, I had a dagger, and to my joy throwing the dagger at the Zombie through the bars actually worked! Immediately I knew this game was something special.
Released in November 1987 for the Atari ST and sometime later for the Amiga, it was a revolutionary RPG featuring a pseudo 3D world presented in the first person perspective. You control a party of four, a "blob" which moves from square to square in real time. Controlling four characters in real time may sound like a daunting task, but the game is fairly slow and all actions take a certain time, with quick stabs being faster than heavy blows, so there is no frenetic clicking involved. The combat is the weakest aspect of the game, since it's too easy to side step enemies, attack them, and side step again - the infamous Two Step Dance - but that is a general problem with all real-time first person party- and tile-based RPGs (aka "blobbers").
Apart from the combat, however, Dungeon Master brought an incline to RPGs in general in most respects. The audiovisuals were unrivaled for a long time. You could actually use sound to keep track of your enemies, and while only one type of dungeon graphics was used throughout the whole game, it looked very good.
Dungeon Master was not only groundbreaking, but it (as well as its sequel, Chaos Strikes Back) also did most things better than later real-time blobbers. Later games would have prettier and more varied graphics, and have more of a story and better NPC interaction, but none could rival the level design and puzzles of DM and CSB. The combat was also better, since you could use doors and traps against enemies, thus actually using the real-time aspect to do something you would not be able to do in a turn-based game. Later real-time blobbers seem to have been real-time only for the sake of being real-time.
Another thing that set DM and CSB apart from later games is the interaction with the environment, from using doors and traps, to chopping and fireballing doors, to something as basic as throwing things through bars. For example, in Black Crypt the spell graphics is just a pretty effect, while in DM and CSB a Fireball actually has a physical presence in the dungeon and can interact with wooden doors and teleporters. Anvil of Dawn? Was there even anything clever you could do in that game?
In my opinion, Ultima Underworld was the natural evolution of DM and CSB, while the real-time blobbers that followed were evolutionary dead ends; even though some of them were fun to play, they were all anti-climaxes after DM and CSB.
For starters, Mass Effect 1 is a refreshing change from medieval fantasy settings; it’s a game about a spaceship captain and his crew, off to save the universe from evil aliens. BioWare previously gave us the Star Wars take on sci-fi with KOTOR, but that one really just replaced swords with lightsabers. Although clunky, ME’s third-person laser gunfights scratch a different itch.
The RPG elements do their job, with different classes to choose from, a decent equipment loadout (that would be ruined in ME2), party members with different abilities, and some non-combat skills like Persuasion and Decryption to play around with. Of course, these mechanics are very shallow next to other games on this list, the setting is "children’s first sci-fi", the plot is about how you’re the most awesome person in the universe (if only because everyone else is retarded), and the extremely serious tone that BioWare uses only makes it even more ridiculous.
And that sums up the game pretty well: Mass Effect 1 is a very polished and entertaining casual game that looks silly for constantly pretending it’s a complex RPG. It’s still fun though.
MicoSelva: The first Mass Effect is probably the least popular game of the trilogy. Perhaps uncoincidentally, it also has the most RPG systems of all three, including an extensive, if cumbersome to use, item system and character progression that goes beyond mere customization. The game manages to overcome its many flaws, like copy-pasted locations, long loading times, disappointing planetary exploration or the fact that some alien races are exclusively male while others are exclusively female (which was never really fixed in the series), and keeps the player engaged on many levels.
Mass Effect introduces us to an interesting world, or rather galaxy, populated by interesting characters, some of which join the now-iconic Commander Shepard in his or her fight against rogue Spectre Saren, creating one of the best-known ensemble cast in recent memory and starting BioWare's most popular franchise so far.
Straight out of character creation the player is thrown into one of ADOM's unique features that was not present in most roguelikes of its time: the static overworld map. The map contains all of the game's locations, towns and dungeons, and you can enter half a dozen of them right at the start. You're free to explore the locations in any order you choose in order to gain levels and acquire better equipment, until you are confident enough to enter the game's main dungeon, the Caverns of Chaos. ADOM features a fair number of quests for the player to do. Those range from finding a lost puppy to killing the raider lord or the local sheriff. Even though these quests are rather simple and for the most part following the "kill x" formula, they add a nice amount of flavor to the game and even contain some choices affecting the equipment rewards you get as well as alignment changes.
One of ADOM's most interesting and unique features is the corruption. The player is corrupted by the forces of Chaos, which mutates the player character at an increasing rate the longer the play session lasts. The mutations range from beneficial (stat increase), to useless (higher kick damage), to downright game-stopping (e.g. a mutation that curses all food or poisons all potions that the character touches). Negative effects of the corruptions stack and eventually kill off the character, so that the game becomes a race against time until you run out of corruption-removing items. The corruption is slow enough that there is no need for you to panic at the start of the game and rush to the endgame, but it is ever present and cannot be ignored if you wish to complete the game.
Deuce Traveler: Okay, so I admit that I never beat the 1990s versions of ADOM and I still love the game. The thing about rogue-likes is that they are hard and demand your complete attention. Get bored and start hitting the direction keys to fast and you might find yourself hitting a trap you should have avoided, or walking into a seemingly easy fight that the dice gods decided will really not go your way. Also, you need to constantly monitor your supplies, since if you weren't paying attention to food or light sources, you might suddenly find yourself deep in the dungeon with little hope of surviving the journey back to the surface. And if you die, the perma-death means that your character is done without a chance of reloading. Yet each time I die, I curse, walk away from the computer for a few minutes, only to return and make a new character.
But ADOM can be beaten, and if you take notes you'll learn more and more about the world, which might just help your next character survive a few turns more than the last. The game doesn't feature much in the way of graphics or sound, but it makes up for that in the gameplay and sense of discovery. Some RPG players might hate the note-taking and focus this game demands, and that's fine. But for some of us, it isn't the victory that matters so much, but the fun and challenge of the experience.
Unfortunately, things didn't end all that well. The objective was to create a traditional D&D adventure and in a certain way they achieved that, but Neverwinter Nights 2 carries all the marks of troubled development. The game looked unfinished, and it was obvious that whoever was responsible for the game created a mess, or merely a shell of a game, that was simply dumped on the market. Later Josh Sawyer admitted he was responsible for salvaging what could be saved of the game after the previous designer had left the company while leaving the game in a sorry state.
It is the worst game ever? Does it reach the depths of depravity that BioWare has reached recently? No, it has a nice character creation system with a lot of choices and a huge number of spells, and generally the OC has its moments. The problem is that it's full of repetitive, easy and pointless combat against brainless enemies - over and over again until the end. The game is really lacking in quality content, and very few sidequests or levels reach a level of quality higher than "an intern could do this in his spare time". Another failure of NWN2, alongside the OC, was that it failed to keep the modding scene going to the extent that the first game did.
Neverwinter Night 2 getting on this list speaks about the state the RPG genre more than anything, so that even Obsidian's partial failure at a traditional RPG is better than a lot of things that call themselves RPGs these days.
Fenris 2.0: The NWN2 OC is nothing to write home about. It's good enough for a classic D&D game, though, with tons of filler combat, lots of dungeons, a linear rail-roaded plot, and even a few good scenes. Being a game more in the vein of Baldur's Gate 2 than the first Neverwinter Nights, it brings back the party-based gameplay and tactical fighting - or rather, the fighting would be tactical if the standard AI wasn't so incompetent. The ability to rest anywhere any time and the fact that your fallen party members rise again unscathed after the battle is over remove most of the challenge anyway. Combat plays out in real time, the story features the standard "save the Forgotten Realms" plot, and the graphics are... serviceable.
I voted for this game not because of its painfully mediocre OC, but for the potential it has. It has to be heavily modded, but once you do so, NWN2 gets really good. For that, you need Tony K's improved AI, Kaedrin's Classpack, and lots of custom models, both for your characters and for the items. Also, it's good to have at least some knowledge of the toolset so you can add Storm of Zehir's full party creation feature to custom modules when it isn't included by the creators, and to create some decent-looking (but not overpowered) items. If you install these and other mods and download some user created modules, what you get is a nice dungeon crawler with tons of options. In particular, the dungeons of Legacy of Whiteplume Mountain and Tomb of Horrors Revisited are really good, and with Kaedrin's Classpack NWN2 becomes the D&D game with the most elaborate character creation and development. There are modules with great stories (Tales from the Lake of Sorrows), nice areas (Baldur's Gate Reloaded), interesting new ideas (Storm of Zehir), and some particularly good modules that even get combat right (such as the two dungeon-crawling modules I mentioned above).
And even though there may be no single module that would excel at everything at once, NWN2 is the game that I spent the most time on in the past 8 years, thanks to the many modules that for a long time kept being created by the community - even if that stream eventually dried up over the last few years.
The character you play in the game has no speaking role, and in fact most dialogue is found in journals and e-mail records presented in text form. After being arrested on behalf of a corporation that you had hacked into, you are brought up to an orbiting space station by a company executive and asked to do a secret project for him in exchange for your freedom and augmentations which will improve your hacking abilities. You agree to this, succeed in your task, are operated upon, and left in stasis for months while your newly augmented body heals itself from the surgery. You wake up to find the station has been taken over by mutants, the crew has been killed off or are dying, and something has gone wrong with the artificial intelligence running the structure. Oh, and a lot of this might be your fault. Your task is to set things right again, using your wits, cyber enhancements, weapons and ammunition, and the occasional lead pipe to the face.
The game has a very creepy feel to it, as you explore the damaged station, often having to navigate through narrow corridors lit by failing, flickering lights. System Shock is quite the audio experience too, as you can often hear the heavy movements of nearby mutants before you can line them up in your gun sights. Not to give anything else away, but there is also a presence on the station that taunts you as you progress. This villain is quite terrifying, but also is a constant companion. Homicidal in every way, but the only personality in which your character can have interaction with as you traverse the dangerous corridors in search for an escape from an outcome even worse than violent death.
skacky: Not really a RPG, which is why I didn't vote for it myself, System Shock is more of a first person adventure game with shooter elements. Contrary to Ultima Underworld, there is no leveling, but the player - being endowed with a military cybernetic interface - can upgrade his hardware with various programs scattered around Citadel station. The method of movement is very similar to Ultima Underworld's, so if you're familiar with it you won't have any issues. Seeing as this is also a shooter, there is a mouse look mod available that makes the whole thing more suitable for shooting stuff and probably more bearable for people who have issues with the whole movement thing. I personally prefer to use that mod.
Other areas where System Shock excels are the atmosphere, the music and, of course, its mechanics: being built on top of the already super solid Ultima Underworld games, System Shock has a great deal of emergent gameplay and simulation elements. The game is entirely configurable before it starts, so you can setup your difficulty mode, and even set a time limit of 7 hours to thwart the villain's plans if you so desire. System Shock was also years ahead of its time: you could jump, crouch, lean and even lean while crouched! This was in 1994!
The atmosphere is top notch: Citadel station is a very dark place, and the levels are damaged and roamed by mutants and cyborgs. The audio logs, fully voiced in the CD-ROM version of the game, feature great voice acting and some of them are truly spine-chilling. The villain's ominous orders are very effective, and she watches you from everywhere. The music - a techno-industrial mash up with the occasional dark ambient track - is excellent, and pretty much all the themes are highly memorable. The soundtrack is also dynamic, changing depending on your actions and what's going on around you.
But the best thing to me is the cyberspace. It's a game within a game: as soon as you enter a cyberspace terminal, you are jacked into the digital environment with absolute free movement in all 6 directions, and must destroy the defenses to open doors and achieve other objectives in a limited amount of time before the villain notices your intrusion. You can also collect better software to help you in the cyberspace. It's a tad difficult at first, but once you master the movements, the cyberspace begins to be the best thing ever.
System Shock is a milestone in gaming and it's one of the best games I've ever played.
Wizardry I was developed by Andrew Greenberg and Robert Woodhead. The final version was released in 1981 on multiple platforms. Wizardry I is the prototype for a good dungeon crawl. Your quest is to find a way down in a ten level dungeon to defeat the arch enemy Werdna. This sounds a bit cliché, but this is the FIRST game that tells this story. Get experience by killing monsters to level up, find chests to enhance your equipment and explore to find hidden secrets. The game has no auto-map feature and you can't save in the dungeon! Teleport into stone and you are dead.
You can create a party with 6 characters and choose from 6 races (Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes, Hobbits), 3 alignments (Good, Neutral, Evil) and 4 basic classes (Fighter, Priest, Mage, Thief). The basic classes can be upgraded later to such prestige classes as Bishop (Priest and Mage spells), Samurai (Fighter with Mage spells), Lord (Fighter with Priest spells) and Ninja (Fighter with Thief abilities). When your team is exhausted, you can go back to the Castle or make a camp. Dying is very easy in this game, and the priests of the Temple of Cant have high prices for resurrection, so make sure you always have a Priest/Bishop handy.
Even the wireframe CGA graphics were great for 1981 (text-based adventures used to rule back then). Two thumbs up for the grandfather of all dungeon crawlers and the pioneer of many RPG elements!
Crooked Bee: Wizardry I is not only the definitive role model for all other dungeon crawlers, and to a great extent computer RPGs in general. I'd argue that it also remains a great game in its own right, and one well worth a playthrough. No wonder it is the Wizardry I formula that the Japanese keep following to this day with games like Elminage or The Dark Spire - it's simple and efficient.
What makes it so enjoyable is the emphasis it places on that feeling of exploring a "megadungeon" so dangerous that it always keeps you on your toes while you do your best to survive and make progress. Wizardry I-III's numerous pits, dark zones, teleporters, spinning rooms, puzzles, and the maze-like design where you can never tell what awaits you around the corner, all help create the classic tense Wizardry atmosphere that series like Might and Magic or Ultima do not have. Everything else is secondary to that - be it the fast-paced turn-based combat characteristic of the early Wizardry games as a whole, or the accessible character development that is both easy to learn and brings a rewarding feeling of power when mastered - designed so it enhances the exploration instead of getting in the way. The later Wizardry games from VI onwards are different in this regard, placing as much emphasis on elaborate character building as on exploration, and therefore losing some of that "pure" dungeon-crawling atmosphere.
With Wizardry, you need to take your dungeon exploration slow and thorough. I was meticulously mapping out all the levels in my first playthrough, and I believe the game really shines when explored that way. Another important aspect that puts Wizardry above most contemporary RPGs is its emphasis on resource management. The main difficulty lies in surviving an "expedition" to the dungeon, not a single encounter or obstacle, and making use of limited resources. Being able to save before each and every encounter would've heavily skewed the management aspect in your favor. Thankfully, the characters are replaceable, and you can also rescue the bodies of your fallen comrades from the depths of the dungeon and bring them back to the Temple of Cant for an attempt at resurrection.
In short, Wizardry I is the essential dungeon crawler. The only issue I have with it is the relative lack of content on the lower floors of the dungeon (whose layout is nevertheless still fun to map out), but that shouldn't stop any dungeon crawler fan from giving this classic a try.
Wizardry IV turns the standard RPG premise on its head. In this game you play Werdna, the villain you defeated back in Wizardry I, trying to escape his escape proof underground prison. As such, Wizardry IV is a direct sequel to the first Wizardry title. Contrary to the first three Wizardry games, however, which were at least somewhat, if marginally, fair, Wizardry IV fervently hates your very existence and takes the notion of resource management to a whole new level, turning it into starvation and despair. Stripped of his powers, Werdna starts out extremely weak. Doing away with the customary experience-based character development system, the game has you rely on summoned monsters and only increase your power at pentagrams - specific, sparsely placed points in the dungeon. Basically, though not quite so, each dungeon floor you survive brings you a level-up, so that your power is directly tied to your progress. Allied with monsters, you battle parties of adventurers fully intent on banishing you back to your eternal rest. Simply put, Wizardry IV has you fight as a monster party against an adventuring party.
Monsters are, however, an unruly bunch. They do not follow Werdna's orders directly. To make things worse, most enemies you encounter - Werdna sarcastically dubs them "do-gooders" - can kill you in one or at most two hits, and you tend to encounter them every other step. An unlucky roll of a die, a wrong step or a foolish decision, and bam! you're dead and have to reload the game.
Beginning at the bottom of the penal dungeon, you struggle to climb up to the surface. (To be fair, this isn't the first Wizardry to feature a bottom-to-top dungeon crawl: Wizardry III had you ascend a volcano.) Useful loot is minimal, being mostly limited to puzzle-related items, and there's no way of telling a plot-critical item from a fluff one beforehand. And even if by some miracle the enemies don't get you, the dungeon itself will. To that end, Wizardry IV features the most sadistic, and brilliant, dungeon and puzzle design that no other RPG, except maybe Dark Heart of Uukrul or Chaos Strikes Back, can compete with, where not only every step you take may mean certain death or a devilish puzzle or both, but the dungeon itself is basically one large puzzle that you must figure out to make progress or at least survive. The dungeon is also insanely hard to map.
Overall, it's plain incredible just how much evil Sir-Tech's Roe Adams, who was the lead designer on this game, managed to cram into the standard 20x20 grid. If you're in the mood for some fantastic and incredibly punishing dungeons, be sure to check out Wizardry IV.
HiddenX: Wizardry IV is hard as nails. The game doesn't scale to your level. You play the evil protagonist Werdna and start at the bottom of a ten level dungeon. The goal of the game is climbing back and regaining your powers along the way.
It's not so much about character development and grinding like the other Wizardries. The game challenges you with riddles, teleports, dark areas, pits, chutes, rotating floors and random instant kills. Your enemies are adventurer parties from the first 3 Wizardry games that players specifically sent to Sir-Tech to be included in the game.
You have to explore and map carefully to have any chance of survival at all. You need a lot of patience to beat this game. You get no experience points for surviving battles. You only regain power by finding pentagrams, and you can summon monsters to your party and regain health and spell points at the pentagrams, too.
Don't play this if you never played a Wizardry game before.
Despite allowing for a large combination of character builds, the game is focused on the lore of the Solamnic Knights, based upon the more romantic and honor-bound tales of the Knights of the Round Table. Because of that, the game is much more enjoyable for players that have one or two Knights of Solamnia in the party. There is some fan service too, in the form of guest appearances and assistance from characters from the Dragonlance novels, but they usually leave the scene before wearing out their welcome.
Overall, this game is a must play for fans of Dungeons and Dragons or the Gold Box engine due to the unique variants of spells, character classes and character races, as well as Krynn's history and lore.
HiddenX: Champions of Krynn is an SSI Gold Box game released in 1990. The setting and storyline are based on the popular Dragonlance novel series called The Dragonlance Legends. The story and the epic main quest are interesting, but no match for the novels. There is no party interaction, and contrary to previous Gold Box games Champions of Krynn is pretty linear and short. There are only a few side quests and only minor quest choices to be made during the mid-game. NPC interaction is there, but offers no role-playing options to speak of.
Where the game shines is combat. You have to learn the weaknesses of various enemy classes to fight them efficiently, and employ varied tactics. Some classes such as Knight of Solamnia or Red & White Mages, or races like Kender or Qualinesti Elves, are new to this game, but generally the gameplay features are still the same as in previous Gold Box games, and the game still relies on tile-based movement in dungeons and turn-based combat with square movement on the combat map. Similar to every other Gold Box game, the economy is broken, but looting is rewarding right until the end. Frequent healing and resting is often necessary to survive the challenging tactical fights. Character development is AD&D standard, and you start from level one.
Champions of Krynn is a good game - clearing dungeon after dungeon with fireballs and backstabbing in the Gold Box engine never gets old. However, a few more surprises, some more non-linearity, and a handful more choices with consequences would have been nice to have.
Where the character system is fairly simplistic however, the game's main strength lies in exploring the large above ground and dungeon environments. The later game dungeons in particular are some of the largest and most challenging - from both combat and puzzle perspectives - to appear in any game. There is a surprising amount of depth to this seemingly simplistic game, and it's well worth a look for anyone who enjoys a good dungeon crawler.
Broseph: Westwood Studios' 1993 opus Lands of Lore is pretty much the best introduction to the real-time blobber subgenre you could ask for. A sort of spiritual successor to the Eye of the Beholder games, LoL had high production values for the time, and its colorful graphics and excellent music still hold up today. LoL is a very simplistic game and it's almost more of an adventure game than an RPG, but that doesn't stop it from being incredibly fun and even downright challenging at times. It's fully-voiced too and most of the actors here aren't half-bad. Patrick Stewart(!) even does the voice of King Roland. Overall, an excellent little real-time "blobber" and one of my top recommendations for younger people looking to get into computer RPGs.
Gozma: Lands of Lore: Throne of Chaos is a Westwood Studios game following the Dungeon Master style real-time grid-based dungeon crawler design that they developed for SSI's AD&D licensed Eye of the Beholder 1 and 2. The presentation was highly notable in 1993 both for the way Westwood succeeded in making that graphical era look good and for some early nerd celebrity voice acting on the new CD media - Patrick Stewart, fresh out of Star Trek TV, played his first, but not last, corny fantasy videogame king in LoL. The setting is highly cartoony and forgettable fantasy with some slight Dark Crystal type moody undertones and a straightforward uncomplicated story.
With D&D jettisoned, the character system is highly simplified. You begin by picking one of four starting characters that generally major/minor in the methods by which you kill stuff - melee, ranged, or magic. After character creation and into the game proper it's learn-by-doing and new NPC party members coming and going as you progress the story. The gameplay is a generally pleasant mix of simple, slow, low-reflex combat and dungeon exploration based on such classic tricks as buttons hidden in wall textures or pressure plate puzzles similar to those found in Eye of the Beholder. Unlike Eye of the Beholder, however, there is a powerful automapper in LoL that will even show things like secret switches you may have passed over, meaning you will never miss a secret for long and will have to abstain from using the automap heavily if you enjoy the search.
The game was clearly meant as a "broaden the appeal" simplification by Westwood, then working for a new publisher. The overall contemporary effect is a light, quick game suitable for a relaxing playthrough.
Wearing its pedigree proudly, SCII feels like an attempt to approach the 1986 open-world, space-exploration RPG epic, Starflight (with which it shares a handful of developers), from a more modern design perspective; focusing on interaction with an exotic cast of often-incomprehensible alien cultures while eschewing parser-based communication for the now-familiar dialogue tree. As with many early-90's titles that made the leap from parser, the player's involvement with the game plot is much less passive; rather than piecing together the objective from thoughtful investigation, the narrative is the driving force, with the player invested in the fate of their galaxy from the opening cutscene.
This isn't to say that SCII's plot is in any way transparent; many narrative twists and turns await the player as they negotiate the dangerous and confusing world of inter-species diplomatic relations. Choices in SCII can have star-spanning consequences, potentially driving entire species to extinction or mending generation-old factional conflicts. While some of these actions will generate immediate results, others will affect the galaxy in ways that stretch far beyond the scope of the game plot, and the outcome of the player's decisions are presented in the final cutscene, a mechanic that leaves the player with a lasting sense of agency over the fictional universe that strongly influenced the design of the Codex's second-favorite RPG, Fallout.
All that coupled with stunning VGA graphics and a fantastic sample-based soundtrack, Star Control II's place on this list is well-deserved; the strong C&C elements and engaging dialogue set the trend for the RPG renaissance of the late 90's, and cherished games like Fallout and Baldur's Gate, through to modern titles like Mass Effect, owe an incalculable debt to this gem from the Golden Age of RPGs.
Deuce Traveler: Taking some of the photos going around the internet at face value, this may seem to be an action game, or maybe a 2-dimensional space simulation. But in fact it also has stats that increase over the course of the game (via new ship technology), dialogue trees, puzzles to solve, quests to embark upon, and plenty of choices with consequences.
The overall plot is also intriguing, coming from something you would expect from a science fiction opera. Along with many other alien races that inhabit our galaxy, the human race has been conquered and subjugated by the Ur-Quan. Forgotten survivors from a distant human colony find an ancient ship with technology rivaling that of the Ur-Quan and take decades to make it serviceable once more. They choose the player to pilot the vessel and lead the crew to discover the ultimate fate of humanity. Along the way you will find allies and enemies amongst the stars, but what really makes the game shine is the diversity of each race. The aliens you will meet react to your dialogue in unique ways, giving you a chance to turn potentially dangerous opponents to your side. In combat, each of the races also behaves differently, employing weapons and tactics appropriate for their culture.
Space exploration is also an important factor, as you can unearth raw materials used to continue your fight and discover secrets in which you or your potential allies will make proper use. Ultimately you will discover information about your alien ship itself, and the history of those who had created it. And finally, an ultimate showdown is unavoidable as it is up to you to find a way to free the galaxy from the clutches of the Ur-Quan masters. It sounds tough, but many odd allies are depending upon your success. The ladies of the Syreen are alone enough to make this difficult quest worthwhile.
The game shares with Chaos Strikes Back the unrivaled feeling of a living and highly dangerous environment that makes the dungeon as such, and not the game's main villain, your true antagonist. There is a sense of exploration to the game that keeps you on your toes and makes you look forward to discovering whatever new and unexpected tricks the next dungeon section has to offer. Dark Heart of Uukrul's achievement lies not only in the unorthodox ideas inherent in each of its components - it features some of the best dungeon, puzzle and character development design in the history of the genre - but also in balancing them in a way that accentuates their strengths and combines them into a highly memorable whole.
DHoU emphasizes teamwork in a way that few other RPGs do, requiring each of your characters' input into combat and puzzle solving alike. That, however, comes at the cost of making the party composition fixed so that your group inevitably consists of a Fighter, a Paladin, a Magician and a Priest. And while the first two classes are fairly traditional, the magic system is where Dark Heart of Uukrul shines again. Both the priest and the magician gain not only in levels, but also in the number and quality of rings they have equipped, each dedicated to a specific deity or magic arcana. Obtaining new rings is a separate form of character progression, unique in how tightly DHoU ties it to the exploration process as well as to the dungeon lore. Deciphering the priest's prayers is also an exciting and non-trivial task - a puzzle that relies as much on studying the manual as it does on in-game experimentation. All in all, Dark Heart of Uukrul is a rare case where a "homebrew" role-playing system not based on an established rule set makes for a strong and engaging experience.
What made me fall in love with the game completely and irreversibly, however, are its dungeons. The Cube, designed in "true" 3D so that the overall layout is seamless and makes sense; the Hearthall with its sophisticated simplicity; the Pyramid with its remarkable card system; the exhausting Caverns with more to them than meets the eye; the oddness of the Battlefield maze with a spinner trap that haunts me still; the Great Engineer, a dungeon that makes full use of your imagination with its environmental hazards; the Palace, a "meta" role-playing area emphasizing the concept of chance via the roll of a die; and finally the Chaos, the most unorthodox and ingenious level ever created for an RPG, encounter-free and illusion-based yet logical and perfectly climactic, alone worth a full playthrough of the game. I can't think of any other dungeon crawler that can top Uukrul when it comes to dungeon design; Wizardry IV and Chaos Strikes Back are probably the only ones that come close.
Released just a bit too late to become popular, with graphical and sound limitations and lack of proper advertising campaign, Dark Heart of Uukrul is now enjoying a niche cult classic status in an industry where, as one of its developers observes in the interview I did about the game, "the whole genre of thoughtful games seems to have disappeared."
octavius: Of all the games I put on my chronological to-play list, Dark Heart of Uukrul is probably the most unique.
I never even heard about it before I joined the Codex. It was released in late 1989, but for DOS only, so Amiga fanboys - like I was at the time - missed it. It was published by Brøderbund, which was an odd publisher to offer the game to since they never published other RPGs. The game was also delayed and poorly marketed, so if not for being such a good game it would probably have been forgotten by today.
It was made by two guys (students, I think), who to my knowledge never made another game. They also seem to not have had much "baggage" with them in the form of having read too much Tolkien and played too much AD&D; so although the game world is fairly generic fantasy, it still has a unique flavor, with a very nice and distinct art style and an original system for the priest's miracles.
Character generation is quite simple - you start out with a Fighter, a Paladin, a Priest and a Magician, their stats being determined by answering questions about their backgrounds. Game interface is similar to the Gold Box games, with first person view for exploration and top down view for combat. Exploring the dungeon is very fun; the levels are a far cry from the formulaic 22x22 or 16x16 square maps of other RPGs of the time, being highly variable in both size and shape and generally well-designed. There's also a nice auto-map. I only felt the need to map by hand a few of the 3D areas that you explore both vertically and horizontally. Combat is one of the better turn-based top down systems, even though in the league behind the Gold Box games. It's mostly fun and quick, but not terribly tactical; you only ever have one movement point per character (monsters can literally run rings around you) and there are no missile weapons. The bestiary is wide and varied, so encounter design is quite good. The story is not terribly original, but there are a few nice twists along the way.
The game has two distinct parts. The first part is mostly combat, while the second part is much more about overcoming puzzles. The puzzles are quite hard, and I admit I didn't have the patience to solve them all by myself. The crossword puzzle in particular is one of the highlights of the game. Much of the game is trial and error - the spell and miracle descriptions are fuzzy, there are no stats that you could access for items or monsters, the priest's miracles don't always work, you can only save at the sanctuaries, and the penalty for death is steep. Also, try mapping that last level!
Bottom line: this mostly forgotten gem is an excellent dungeon crawler that should appeal to those who like combat and those who like puzzles alike.
Heroine's Quest is the first of those to ship and it probably comes the closest to classic QfG formula, only this time your character is female. Like its predecessor, it has three classes - warrior, rogue and sorceress, each with its own solutions to challenges and a hefty loaf of class-specific optional content. The game world is based around a consistent mythological theme - this time it's actual, thoroughly researched Norse lore, which turns out to be much more interesting than its numerous rip-offs we've seen in some recent blockbusters. Add some light-hearted and unobtrusive humor to the mix - and you get a royal dish to satisfy all your nostalgia hunger.
But what's really amazing about Heroine's Quest is that it actually manages to improve upon its legacy. First, combat, the eternal Achilles' heel of QfG games, gets a much better treatment. Different enemies actually require different strategies and there's a decent variety of combat moves to employ. Second, the game introduces two completely new mechanics to the mix: alchemy and survival. Now, there were some rudiments of the latter in Trial by Fire, but Heroine's Quest takes it a step further. Your character can get tired, hungry, cold or poisoned, and you must try your best to prevent that, which adds a whole new gameplay layer.
All in all, that a new RPG/Adventure got released after more than 15 years of silence, is already a huge present to all genre fans. But that it's such a gem makes it much, much sweeter.
Bubbles: This freely available adventure RPG is best approached as a spiritual successor to Sierra's Quest for Glory series, from which HQ borrows the highly entertaining mechanic of offering different solutions to puzzles based on your character's skills. At the beginning of the game, you can choose to turn your reasonably, though not spectacularly well endowed lady protagonist into either a mage (who uses an array of spells to solve puzzles and can identify alchemical ingredient), a warrior (who relies on brute force, knows a bit about hunting, and gets in tons of fights) or a thief (who saves on shopping costs and can bypass entire quest lines through... creative means).
The class choices don't completely lock you into a certain style; for instance, thieves can also learn a bit about the wilderness and warriors can learn a bit about thieving at character creation. If you assigned at least one point in a skill, you can then abuse the game's Skyrim style learning-by-doing-and-also-by-failing system to give yourself lots of points in a skill you're absolutely terrible at, just by failing at it over and over again. You can't increase skills with 0 skill points in them, nor can you learn all spells as a non-mage, so there is still a fair amount of exclusive content for each class.
The content itself is typical old-school Sierra fare, with a point system that "rewards" solving optional puzzles with higher scores, while also offering several creative ways to die. Thankfully HQ does not have any of Sierra's trademark dead ends and losable main quest objects, although some of the optional puzzles can seem incredibly difficult compared to those found in modern adventure games like Broken Age and The Walking Dead.
The graphics and music are similarly old-school; pretty and charming for those who can stand a bit of pixelation and midi-style tunes, horribly outdated for those who do not. The game is also fully voice acted, with a stand-out performance by a senile old court wizard who speaks solely in highly redundant run-on sentences due to his senility and old age.
HQ's plot is the usual save-the-world fare, although its setting (in the world of Nordic myths) is quite interesting. The game's biggest design flaw is a clash between linear storytelling and non-linear game play; at various points in the story, it is possible to solve puzzles "out of order" and receive mildly confusing results. The game's corny sense humor can also grate, though the voice actors themselves do an admirable job with some really crummy lines. Overall, HQ is recommended for those who enjoyed the Quest for Glory games or adventure games in general, though new fans of the genre might find the game to be off-puttingly ugly and hard.
Like previous Divinity games, Divinity II doesn’t take itself too seriously, and at least some sense of humor is required to fully enjoy it. Even if the game's combat mechanics are pretty basic, character progression allows for quite a few different builds and enjoyable ways to annihilate your enemies while listening to the great soundtrack. There is also an ability called Mind Reading, and you can use it on every NPC for alternative solutions to some of the quests, additional skill points, or simply funny lines from Larian's writers.
The Dragon Knight Saga edition combines the original game with the Flames of Vengeance add-on. Although many parts of the original game feel unfinished due to the troubled development history, the add-on is more focused, with action taking part in a single city and much less dragon combat, and contains what is probably Larian's best quest design and dialogue to-date.
felipepepe: Divinity II is a game where you can (at will) turn into a dragon, attack a flying fortress and an army of dragon riders protecting it, land in the courtyard, kill the guards with a mix of sword fighting and destructive spells, subdue the fortress’s commander and then read his mind to find out his deepest secrets. All this 100% gameplay, no cutscenes involved. It has to be the goddamn best RPG ever made by man, right?
Sadly, not quite. Larian Studios was held back by time constrains, lack of resources and, worst of all, the focus on consoles and their limited hardware. While the game overflows with original ideas and Larian’s usual clever writing, the execution doesn’t deliver. It’s not a bad game by any measure. The gameplay is good, quests are creative (and funny), and it succeeds in giving the player interesting mechanics to play around with (such as the aforementioned mind reading and dragon form). But sadly it lacks that "special something" in its execution to be a true classic, making the game somewhat repetitive and mediocre by the end.
Still, Divinity II is a great game that’s not afraid to break the mold and bring something new to the table, and it’s very fun to play. The writing alone guarantees you’ll have a good time.
W&W has all the standard classes you would expect from a Wizardry-like game, plus some exotic races. On top of the standard Humans, Elves and Dwarves, you can also choose from species like the Ratlings, Whiskahs, Lizzords or the elephantine Oomphaz. Also, you can level up to master classes such as Bards, Ninjas and Paladins.
Voice acting and soundtrack are very well done. A little more polishing (especially when it comes to graphics or the interface) would have been good, but if you like Wizardry games you're bound to like this one, too!
Crooked Bee: I have a confession to make. I like Wizards & Warriors' combat more than Wizardry 8's. That makes me a bad person with poor taste, but I can accept that if it means being able to enjoy D.W. Bradley's underappreciated near-masterpiece. W&W's combat is fast-paced and flexible, being the best turn-based-that-feels-like-it's-real-time combat system to date. Unfortunately, it also marked Bradley's transition to the pure action combat of Dungeon Lords - and we all know how that worked out - but that's an entirely different story. I like Wizards & Warriors' dungeon design better, too, which is unsurprising given than it can compete with or occasionally even surpass that of Wizardry VI and VII. The writing is weird (and weirdly full of ellipses), but thankfully the mechanics and exploration make up for that, and it's not like other classic dungeon crawlers are particularly well-written either.
The game had a really troubled development and publishing history. The reason why W&W is underappreciated is not just the poor marketing it received, but also the amount of bugs it has. You're in huge luck if you can even get it to run on a modern system without crashes, glitches, or the mouse pointer getting all laggy on you. Those who persevere and have Lady Luck on their side, however, are in for a classic RPG adventure that rivals the best out there.
cboyardee: When D.W. Bradley, the architect behind Wizardries V-VII, left Sir-tech and formed his own company, Heuristic Park, the first thing he released was Wizards & Warriors, his preemptive response to the upcoming Wizardry 8. The games are very similar in many ways - strong, traditional class-based character building, an open world full of dungeons to explore, quests to perform, characters to interact with, and phase-based combat. The differences are in the details, but those details are what makes these games.
The game's dungeons are excellent, some of the best ever and far better than any in Wizardry 8. There are so many memorable and cleverly designed areas, some of my favorites being the Serpent Temple, Shurugeon Castle and the Boogre Lair (I've always been a fan of prison breakouts). The combat, a mix of turn-based and real time, is a fantastic answer to Wizardry 8's unbearably cumbersome, fully turn-based phase system. For everyone who's ever gotten frustrated with Wizardry's painfully slow battles, Wizards & Warriors will be a revelation.
The most frustrating quality of Wizards & Warriors, beyond the difficulty in getting it to run on modern computers, is its world structure. The game presents large, non-linear areas that the player is free to explore as they want - until you end up where the game doesn't want you yet. Wizards & Warriors gates off huge areas until you've progressed far enough in the story to enter them, similar to how the Grand Theft Auto games play. In an open world RPG built on the back of Wizardry 7, you should be able to go anywhere you want at any time. Wizardry 8 has W&W beat in this category.
Wizards & Warriors is an enjoyable and interesting alternative to Wizardry 8 for those who have worn it out. With significantly better combat and level design, a satisfying class and character customization system (earn advanced classes by performing quests - why don't more games do this?) and a compelling, sometimes whimsical world with charming characters, it is as least as good as its nearest neighbor. Don't overlook Wizards & Warriors because big brother Wizardry 8 gets all the attention - you may be surprised at how frequently Wizardry gets shown up!