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RPG Codex Top Ten Vintage RPGs Poll Results

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RPG Codex Top Ten Vintage RPGs Poll Results

Community - posted by Infinitron on Mon 31 January 2022, 23:57:21

Tags: Betrayal at Krondor; Dark Sun: Shattered Lands; Darklands; Dungeon Master; Might and Magic IV: Clouds of Xeen; Might and Magic V: Darkside of Xeen; Pool of Radiance; The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall; Ultima Underworld; Ultima VII: The Black Gate; Wizardry VII: Crusaders Of The Dark Savant

Last month, the esteemed Deuce Traveler conducted a poll to determine the Codex community's top vintage RPGs. "Vintage" in this case being defined as any RPG released before the original Diablo, which is as decent a cutoff point as any. Here at last are the results, including his overview of the top ten.

The results are in, and our top ten RPGs released before Diablo are as follows:
  1. Betrayal at Krondor (Dynamix, 1993)
  2. Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss (Looking Glass Studios, 1992)
  3. Dark Sun: Shattered Lands (SSI, 1993)
  4. Wizardry VII: Crusaders of the Dark Savant (Sir-Tech Software, 1992)
  5. Darklands (MicroProse, 1992)
  6. The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall (Bethesda Softworks, 1996)
  7. Ultima VII: The Black Gate (Origin Systems, 1992)
  8. Pool of Radiance (SSI, 1988)
  9. Might and Magic: World of Xeen (New World Computing, 1994)
  10. Dungeon Master (FTL Games, 1987)
Full results: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1yPVPK340xDHVEVKG7N8qlf4HT1SmtjHZKkwQUF_5up0/edit#gid=0

I admit I was surprised when Betrayal at Krondor took the top spot in our poll, but it makes a lot of sense in hindsight. Published in 1993, I dismissed the game when it first came out because of the horrible portraits which would have been laughed at by an amateur cosplayer. However, when I gave it another try I found a much deeper game than I expected. It’s got an open world with tons to explore, puzzles that are difficult but not ridiculously so, and tactical combat that gives the player a lot to experiment with as the party’s abilities increase. It is also respectful of the deep lore the game is based upon as it stays loyal to author Raymond Feist’s writings. And the ending is so damn dark with a character that dies courageously but forgotten. There's something for everyone here. A worthy winner that should satisfy the various factions of the Codex.

Ultima Underworld took the second spot. An amazing technological achievement when it was published in 1992, Ultima Underworld revolutionized first person gaming and directly led to other great games such as System Shock, Descent, Terra Nova, and Thief. This is a single-character, first-person, real-time RPG where the player has to navigate eight levels to save a damsel in distress and escape a dungeon. It sounds pretty cookie cutter, but the brilliance of the game is the multiple ways you can go about solving its various quests. It’s up to you whether to negotiate with the denizens of the dungeon or wipe them out. You can focus on hand-to-hand combat, magic, use ranged attacks, or take a hybrid approach. There are also many hidden areas and it’s doubtful that new players will find all there is to discover on their first playthrough.

Dark Sun: Shattered Lands won the bronze medal. Published in 1993 in a disastrously buggy state, I think of it as SSI's swan song. It's a game that could have saved SSI if they'd polished it for a few more months. Shattered Lands had complex character creation, dialogue choices with consequences, a large library of spells and special abilities, and tactical combat. Technologically, it is the perfect bridge between the Gold Box series and the Infinity Engine developed half a decade later by BioWare. I want to live in a reality where it was commercially successful and we all got to enjoy five or six years of RPGs made using its engine and development team.

So a party-based tactical RPG heavy on story, a first-person RPG with an emphasis on exploration and environmental interaction, and a Dungeons & Dragons game with choice and consequence. Let’s look at some of the other games on the list. Wizardry 7 is our highest ranking blobber and is considered by many fans to be the best of the series and the peak of David W. Bradley’s career. Darklands came in at a surprising 5th place, and is a great open world RPG whose selling point is that it's set in medieval Germany, albeit a version where all of Catholicism's supernatural fears actually exist. Daggerfall is the second game in the Elder Scrolls series, in which you assume the role of an agent who has to track down and decide what to do with a superweapon that can destroy entire armies.

Ultima 7 came in seventh (heh). This is the last game in the Ultima series worth mentioning in polite company, which allowed for all sorts of game-breaking environmental interactions, such as throwing diapers at people. Pool of Radiance was both the first and highest ranking of the Gold Box games, with the best character progression in the series. Might and Magic: World of Xeen is a worthy open world blobber that concluded the Corak saga. And coming at 10th place is Dungeon Master, the game that created the real-time blobber sub-genre.

Each of the games in the Top Ten revolutionized the RPG genre in some way. Most of them were published in 1992 and 1993, with Dungeon Master from 1987 being the oldest. In terms of sub-genres, we have two first-person action RPGs in Ultima Underworld and Daggerfall, three blobbers with Wizardry 7, World of Xeen and Dungeon Master, and tactical RPGs such as Betrayal at Krondor, Dark Sun: Shattered Lands, and Pool of Radiance. Ultima 7 and Darklands stand out for their exploration and expansive lore, but also due to their distinctive real-time combat. I would definitely rate all of them as must play games. These games are more than just historic curiosities. They still hold up today, especially with the prevalence of modern indie titles with similar aesthetics.

Note: Exile 3 was included in the voting and made it to 20th place in the rankings. Afterwards, we found out that it may have been published shortly after Diablo, but kept it on the list to respect those who voted for it.

For the curious, the voting and discussions took place in this thread: https://rpgcodex.net/forums/threads/the-codex’s-best-computer-rpgs-pre-diablo.141231/

Many thanks to Deuce Traveler and his Ring of Prestigious Gentlemen™ for putting this together. And now, you may discuss!

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