The RPG Codex's Top 101 PC RPGs (With User Reviews!)
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The RPG Codex's Top 101 PC RPGs (With User Reviews!)
Community - posted by felipepepe on Sun 4 August 2019, 23:54:41
Greetings traveler, I hope your mouse wheel / PgDown key are in good shape, because is this one MASSIVE piece of content!
About 5 years ago we made a voting to determine the Top RPGs of all time. We had 234 codexers voting on 223 RPGs. After we got the ranking, we asked people to write why short reviews for each title. That was the RPG Codex Top 70 PC RPGs, one of my favorite things of the Codex and what later led to the CRPG Book.
But new games are released every day now, and we decided to make an updated version, with the same rules. This time 361 codexers voted on 278 RPGs. And instead of a Top 70, we made a Top 101! With reviews!
As with the previous one, the rankings after the Top 20-30 games are not as important, it should really seen as a list of interesting games to try out. Few people will enjoy niche titles like Elminage Gothic or Tales of Maj'Eyal, but those that do will absolutely love them.
You can check the full results of the voting HERE (plus a comparison with the previous poll), or just scroll down to start reading! OBS: Some entries share the same number, that's because they were tied in the voting.
Thanks to everyone who voted and wrote reviews, have a good reading!
Jasede: Ah, wretched Planescape: Torment, always Planescape: Torment. This game is so hard to sell. I've many times attempted to get people to play it, only for them to get bored before leaving the mortuary or the bar outside it. If they do keep playing despite that, they are met with terribly shallow encounter design and an RPG system that seems more like a strange cross between Choose Your Own Adventure books and an adventure game, based around puzzles and conversations. Even calling it an RPG is almost a matter of some debate. So why then does this game hold such a high place to so many of us?
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: Most games that try to tell a story feature a 15-year-old's idea of coolness factor wrapped up in guns n' titties, or a decent-but-not-great writer's pretentious, preachy dribble. Planescape: Torment is irregular because its themes are deeply compelling and they are examined proficiently by the writing. Torment's twists and turns are legitimately surprising and broaden the wider mystery of the game's core concepts. It has the weakest gameplay of the IE-games, but more than makes up for it with an attention to detail in its worldbuilding that is second to none. Replaying it I find that boiling this masterpiece down to a "good story" is a misnomer - more than anything, what makes Torment so compelling is that it is wonderful in the original sense of the world; with some new marvel, impossible phenomena or mindbending idea awaiting you on every area load, like the Escher-painting of video games. It thrusts you into the truly unknown and uses its alien setting to explore weirdness in all shapes and sizes, usually with some poignant punches thrown at the end of each piece of dialogue. In the world of video games, that doesn't only make it stand out, it makes it unique.
Koschey: Born and raised in Vault 13, you are unceremoniously dumped in the post-post-apocalyptic outside world to look for a replacement to a vital part of the facility's water processing system. World War III lies decades in the past. The world was blasted to ruins by nuclear warheads and the survivors' descendants have begun to slowly rebuild, but your isolation in the vault makes you a stranger in a strange land.
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.
JarlFrank: When I first played Baldur's Gate 2, it immediately managed to grab me. Everything about it was just good - the graphics, the interface (to this day I believe that the Infinity Engine games had one of the best interfaces ever), the story (even though the writing was, at times, quite amateurish), and even the combat. It's a game chock full of content, with solid writing and combat that is actually good despite being real-time with pause. Baldur's Gate 2 is epic fantasy done right, and it's definitely the best game BioWare has ever made. Thanks to its huge amount of side-quests, many different possibilities for character development, and difficult combat encounters, the Codex even manages to forgive BG2 the fact that it's the game that introduced romances into the genre, and gives it a well-deserved place in the top ten.
Grunker: Shadows over Amn is a loveletter to a paradigm: "Content is King." 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, is staggering, and most of it has a satisfying conclusion with a great piece of loot and a cool fight at the end. The combat is often criticized on the Codex for not being turn-based which, to my mind, is quite like criticizing a cat for not being a dog. Baldur's Gate 2 checks nearly every content-box of an RPG flawlessly: 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, voiced by an actor giving the performance of his career. Its sole, lackluster aspect is its mediocre character customization, but even in this it gets more milage out of AD&D than most games. BG2 might have been the start of Bioware's decline with its angsty, teenage companions, but it is also the mid era RPG at its pinnacle, filled with so much stuff in so many flavours you'll never get bored. Add to this the masterpiece of modding called Sword Coast Stratagems which presents the best, most tactical AI scripts ever written for an RPG, and this content-brimming titan turns into an exquisite combat experience as well.
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.
Jasede: Arcanum is a vast, sprawling, buggy mess, with wonky combat, questionable mechanics and a sense of game balance that would make the Dark Souls developers commit seppuku. It's also incredibly sad. This game attempts much and fails in more categories than I care to explain. And yet it has flashes of brilliance that make it more memorable to me than even Fallout.
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: The quintessential Codex RPG in many ways, in the sense that the Codex has always had a weakness for diamonds in the rough. Arcanum is a monstrously huge but ultimately incredibly ugly jewel. The game is terrifyingly ambitious in every aspect of its design: an open and incredibly diverse character system, an insanely large world to explore, a complicated story and reactivity the likes of which few games since have been able to match. The trouble is, however, that Arcanum remains more of a design concept than an actual game, since so little of what was implemented actually works. Viewed favourably, Arcanum is the idea of the perfect RPG - viewed critically, it is a vast desert of wasted potential. The game showed us just how great RPGs could be, but failed to deliver on that promise of greatness itself. As such, perhaps Arcanum deserves the high placement, despite being more of a vision than a game.
Xor: Bloodlines has the best ambiance of any RPG I've ever played. From the dark alleys of downtown L.A., to the glittering streets of Hollywood by night, to the horrors found in vampire dens, Bloodlines manages to capture the soul of Vampire: the Masquerade. While it does have some flaws - the action-based combat, the rushed final act, and Troika's hallmark lengthy unskippable dungeons full of enemies - what elements it does well, it does very well. The clever writing, memorable characters, and the atmosphere that is second to none easily make this game worth a playthrough.
Grunker: Bloodlines is great in spite of itself. It plays awkwardly, it's outdated, and it shows its tumultuous development cycle in each crack and crevice. What binds it all together and makes it hold up is the atmosphere. And what an atmosphere that is: from the minute you get to the title screen you are treated to a perfectly composited menu theme along with a visual aesthetic that combines so well with the music the two become uneeringly entwined. It's cohesive, in other words, and informs you immediately about the game's mood. Then you enter the world and get the distinct impression that every visual designer had to write the project's vision on a blackboard 500 times before they could start working. There's just no other explanation of how everything fits so well together and seems to be designed by a single mind around a single, great idea. To this mix, Bloodlines adds great writing that fits with the style - a snarky cynicism that rarely goes to Deadpool levels which means it ends up being more grounded ("The Golden Temple in Chinatown - it's a pisspoor copy of a real place"). Additionally, the complicated politics of the world are fleshed out in some way or another in almost every single conversation, which fools you into believing you're playing a game with high stakes even if the C&C is minimal. Quests or plot developments often focus on one of the greatest themes of WoD: how agency is a mirage, information is always incomplete and the larger structure of society and power is the true decider. As is often quoted, Bloodlines also features some of the best voice acting in video game history. All in all, Bloodlines kind of shames a lot of the modern sandbox games by showing how foolish their attempts at achieving immersion through emulating the real world is - you don't get sold on a fiction by it copying the real world, that just draws attention to the areas where the world clearly doesn't act as it should. You get sold on a world by it adhering to its own, internal logic, its inner consistency, if its themes are otherwise appealing.
In other words, Bloodlines is like an ode to the importance of aesthetics. A critical memo to those (including me at some points in my life) who would claim that "substance" (i.e. game mechanics, themes of the story or whatever) is the only worthy pursuit.
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.
Clockwork Knight: Depending on how refined your tastes supposedly are, this is either a comedic take on Fallout 1 with a bigger world and more things to do, or the beginning of the end. Boasting way more pop culture references and in-jokes than the prequel, Fallout 2 can take you out of the fabled state of "immersion" in a blink, and put you back there just as fast. One moment you'll be weighting the pros and cons of working with Faction A instead of their bitter rivals, Faction B. Then you're suddenly taking part in a Kung-Fu tournament. Later you meet a suspicious surgeon and wonder if installing the subcutaneous armor is worth the drastic effect it will have on your appearance. Shortly after that, Tom Cruise drags you to a chair to watch a scientology video. But hey, that video gave me two extra points of Luck for some reason; I wonder how to make use of that with my character build...
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.
Broseph: The Codex seems split on this game; either you love it to death and praise it as a true successor to the original Fallout games, or you declare it a mediocre but well-intentioned attempt at resurrecting the franchise in a shoddy game engine. I am firmly in the former camp. For all its flaws, the amount of replay value New Vegas offers compared to other RPGs is nearly unparalleled. In most RPGs with factions, you're given the option of doing quest X for faction A or quest Y for faction B. Not so in this game. Almost every quest has multiple resolutions and methods of dealing with it based on your character build, and I especially liked donning a disguise and doing quests within an organization to weaken them from the inside. This is the kind of stuff I always dreamed about experiencing in a computer RPG, but most have never delivered in the way of reactivity as much as this. New Vegas slightly suffers from the loot hoarding, hiking simulator FPS gameplay it inherited from Fallout 3, but it's the best we could have hoped for as a true Fallout sequel in 2010.
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.
Grunker: Modern stealth games and Deus Ex-likes - oft-times called "0451 games" - 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 0451-game released since 2004. They ask you to focus on either stealth, combat or some other aspect of their "toolbox" design, and the character development and reward structures push you down "corridors" of character customization, offering you the "choice" of how to play the game from beginning to end, rather than asking you to utilize the full extend of the varied skills at your disposal.
What made Deus Ex so mind-blowingly awesome, such a hallmark of game design, 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 what fits any given situation. Deus Ex, in other words, makes you feel like a superhuman spy with a massive toolkit fitted for any obstacle - your success depends on your ability to identify which part of your kit is best suited for the challenge you face. Contrast this to other games in the genre, which all to often restricts you to one set of tools for each and every encounter - since the character customization or reactivity penalizes you if you try to mix it up.
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
Aeschylus: A number of years ago, I played a game called Morrowind. It was a fairly fun game, and I sunk quite a few hours into it, but was consistently left feeling less than satisfied by the cookie-cutter NPCs, largely empty open-world, and generic writing and quest lines. Then, not long after, I picked up a game called Gothic II, and I thought Ah, this is what Morrowind should have been. Gothic II (along with its expansion) is both the greatest open-world RPG, and the greatest action RPG ever made bar none. The game is unforgivingly difficult, but rarely unfair. You will die a lot, particularly early on, but that only serves to make your eventual progress more satisfying. Unlike most games in its genre, every single bit of the world that you can explore in Gothic II is filled with interesting things to discover and quests to undertake. This is quite an accomplishment given that the game is around 3x-4x larger than the original, and no other game achieves neither this scope nor density of content. Sadly, no game of the genre since has been able to measure up to Gothic II's greatness -- some have made competent attempts (Risen), but none have reached its heights. Play it, and embrace being torn to bits by wildlife when you wander too far.
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.
Broseph: Morrowind is, hands down, one of my top five RPGs. Vvardenfell is barely a 10 mile island, but it's designed in such a way, with natural barriers and excellent use of fog, that it feels massive. The game oozes atmosphere from every pore, its story and lore are almost unrivaled, and despite playing it for hundreds of hours I still feel like there is more to be discovered.
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.
Lady Error: If you are looking for choices and consequences, this game is for you. You play a single character in a post-apocalyptic society. It is possible to align with different factions and backstab any or all of them, if you so choose. Combat is hard and unforgiving, which is why some love it and others hate it. The game is built for replayability, since it is impossible to see all the content in one playthrough. The graphics range from awesome (character portraits) to serviceable (3D graphics). One frequent criticism is in fact the 3D engine and the necessity to rotate the view. Overall, Age of Decadence can be considered a modern hardcore RPG classic - made by fellow Codexers.
AwesomeButton: Age of Decadence is an RPG done right. The game combines great writing and storytelling with branching storylines more complex than anything you've seen in a computer game.
There is a lot of depth to AoD's perfectly balanced turn-based combat, and deep classless skills-based character creation and development system. Weapons are split into synergy-related groups. The same weapons can execute different types of strikes, or target different body parts, with varying action point cost and to-hit chance.
Good old-fashioned common sense will be what gets you through the story in one piece, along with saving your game often. Whether it's about an ingame decision - like fighting a group of six armed-to-the-teeth thugs - or about your long term strategy in character-building - like spreading his character's skillpoints too thin over too many unrelated skills, being realistic about your character's capabilities is what will keep you alive. Putting yourself in your character's shoes, circumventing his limitations instead of playing superman - isn't this what role-playing is fundamentally about?
Jasede: Dark Souls is a rare gem in that it manages to be good at everything. Most RPGs merely excel in some distinct areas, such as character building, writing or other discrete aspects. Rarely does a game come along that executes everything it attempts, and does so with remarkable grace. Dark Souls is a study in melancholy and depression, plunging us into a world that is bleak and hopeless without the usual overly emotional or even pathos-laden trappings that often accompany these themes. This game is dark and straight to the point. It knows exactly what it wants to express, and every detail of the game - every line of text, every voice actor, every combat animation, every placed enemy, every area, every weapon - works towards realizing the idea it wanted to convey.
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.
MpuMngwana: Plagued on release by ridiculously long loading screens and a plethora of game breaking bugs, Pathfinder: Kingmaker hasn't been warmly received by the mainstream. Once you get past the technical issues, though, you will find an extremely ambitious spiritual successor to the Baldur's Gate series.
Kingmaker is more than just a clone, however; it adds a few twists of its own. Most notably, there is the kingdom management system, where you build and upgrade your towns, and assign NPCs to solve various problems or participate in numerous projects. Also, the game finally solves the rest spamming problem the Infinity Engine games always had, by combining heavy and costly camping supplies with (fairly generous) time limits, thus giving you the incentive to make as much progress as possible before replenishing your health and spells. Finally, the Pathfinder ruleset allows for a wide variety of builds, making character development more involved than the game's major source of inspiration.
While most technical problems have been fixed since release, the quality of the game still sharply drops in the last two chapters; the good parts, however, still offer more unique and interesting content than most other RPGs, and I can wholeheartedly recommend Kingmaker to any fan of Infinity Engine games.
Humanophage: PF:KM expands on the formula of Baldur’s Gate 1 by introducing much richer character-building from the P&P original.
It preserves freedom of exploration, a hallmark of BG1 that its spiritual sequels lacked. Loyalty to the original P&P system makes PF:KM less simplistic and “streamlined” than has come to be expected from the genre in the recent years. It does not pander to the low-skilled: the combat is famously uncompromising, character-building invites planning, spells and buffing are not to be ignored, whilst equipment needs constant updating. The game does not artificially isolate you from opponents above your level. This lack of hand-holding makes PF:KM uncommonly exciting and rewarding.
PF:KM has an expansive campaign with plenty of choice reactivity, including branching decisions which may affect companions. Unusually, the campaign dedicates a hefty portion to low-to-mid level adventures - a welcome change from the regular heaping of gods and dragons onto the player. The setting is well-explained - say, there are flavourful descriptions for monsters. Initially bug-ridden, the game has been fixed by now. PF:KM is detailed, dynamic, diverse, enormous, tough, bold, and brimming with late 90s ethos while looking perfectly modern.
Cholo: The king of turn-based squad level tactics games, which no competitor has been able to dethrone in fifteen years. Command a group of elite (or comically incompetent) mercenaries and orchestrate a guerrilla warfare campaign across the Arulcian countryside.
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!
Mark Richard: A masterpiece or a scourge on the RPG genre? Depends on who you ask. Our hero Geralt is barely allowed to walk across a room without a literal step by step guide, revealing the game's serious doubts about the average player's intelligence. Fortunately what The Witcher 3 does well, it does REALLY well, and if you can accept some patronizing design choices you'll be rewarded with storytelling and presentation that's second to none. The world of The Witcher is adapted from the novels in uncanny detail with well over a hundred compelling side quests that could pass for official short stories. It's like a game made by superfans who by some miracle turned out to be excellent storytellers in their own right, and it's all bolstered by stellar voice acting & music to produce a consistent high level of polish from start to finish.
MpuMngwana: This game is far from perfect. Equipment progression is terrible, combat is serviceable at best (though some of the death and dismemberment animations are pretty fun to watch), alchemy has tragically been dumbed down since the first game, it has that annoying "enemies who are higher level than the player have artificially inflated stats" thing going on, and even the story kinda drops the ball near the end.
What the game does well, however, it does really well. Most of the time, it feels like a quality fantasy TV show - there is the overarching search for Ciri going on in the background, but the focus is on whatever is going on right now. The writing, voice acting and presentation are good enough to give context to the mostly repetitive gameplay and make it an enjoyable experience. There is a lot of care put in every single quest - even the seemingly generic monster hunts will have some memorable moments or a twist. And if you ever get bored and are in the mood for some actually good gameplay, The Witcher 3 has you covered with the addictive Gwent minigame.
The game has received two major expansion packs since release. Hearts of Stone has some of the greatest storytelling and quests in the franchise, while Blood and Wine gives Geralt of Rivia a much more satisfying conclusion than the base game's somewhat mediocre ending.
Vlajdermen: Underrail is a "retro-revival" indie game. Those often get a bad rep for being nothing but ripoffs of classic games, which is both true and false here. Underrail has a lot of its own spice, but the the influence from classic RPGs can be seen everywhere.
It took the dreary, labyrinthine world design from System Shock 2, XP system from Diablo, and everything else from Fallout. And it's all good thanks to Underrail's commitment to the "golden mean" philosophy: it has the perfect ratio of combat to exploration, luck to tactics, gameplay to story, levity to gravity. On top of that, it has the best combat out of any single-hero RPG, ever. It's so good I've heard people call it a full-on tactical RPG.
The aforementioned "own spice" shows the most in its quest design. You'll stumble across an island where people get attacked by their doppelgangers. You'll have to escape from an enemy base while it's slowly flooding with mutagen, and if you're not careful, get mutated yourself. Even the more standard quests are still cleverly written and full of edgy Balkan humour. Also, if combat isn't your thing, you can always choose the Oddity system which will instead award you XP for finding collectibles.
Underrail isn't just "retro-revival done right", it's the ideal retro-revival game. One that has the soul and imagination that makes it worth playing even in a sea of classic RPGs that inspired it. As long as you're not a storyfag.
Marten Broadcloack: Fallout's influence on Underrail is everywhere: in its turn-based battles, its caustic conversations, and of course in its isometric, pixelated, grim post-apocalyptic world. In some areas, Underrail doesn't quite have the mastery Fallout had – but what it lacks in mesmerizing death animations and quantity of dialogs, it makes for in finely tuned combat mechanics, large build variety and innovative exploration with no worldmap.
Whether you play a heavily armored hammer-wielding warrior, a classic sniper, or a stealthy assassin relying on crossbows and homemade mines, the tremendous tactical depth and encounter variety of the game can keep you hooked for dozens of hours. Of course, it would also be a shame to ignore the psi abilities, a range of skills turning your character into a powerful spellcaster – and even there, three distinct schools of magi… sorry, three distinct schools of *psi* will give you delicous dilemmas every time you level up.
But wait, there's more! Surprisingly inventive quests will throw you inside a serial killer's den or into a hostage situation, an exploration-based XP system will reward your curiosity and sense of adventure, the wonders of the sprawling underground world will alternately amaze you and disgust you. Yes, it's still not Fallout. Because in some ways, it's so much better than Fallout.
Aeschylus: The first game in the Gothic series is smaller, clunkier, and more difficult to get into than its classic sequel, but once you do break the initial barrier of a somewhat bizarre control scheme and dying every five minutes (some might consider this a plus) you'll discover a uniquely atmospheric and surprisingly well-designed open-world action RPG. Though the world itself is not as large as what can be seen in games by a certain company-that-shall-not-be-named, Gothic was the first open-world game where the world actually felt like it was designed, rather than simply being a giant sandbox where generic NPCs milled about generic buildings doing nothing of importance. In Gothic, every NPC is unique, and every corner of the world you can explore contains something worth seeing.
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.
Ravel myluv: KOTOR 2 is to KOTOR 1 what Obsidian games are to BioWare games. More ambitious and much better written, but also more infuriating in many ways. KOTOR 2's main strength lies its ability to deconstruct the Star Wars mythology and its usual Manichean characters, even though it does seem a bit forced sometimes and there's no avoiding Chris Avellone's usual bloated ten minute monologues. The atmosphere is very dark and you can't escape the feeling that there's a Sith Lord lurking in the shadows... There is, further, a sense of decadence and despair to the game that should appeal to the Codex's most embittered members.
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.
MicoSelva: Generally considered inferior to its much-acclaimed sequel, Baldur's Gate has you embark on a journey through the Forgotten Realms' Sword Coast to experience a story that is both personal and world-changing. And by Sword Coast I mean every square foot of it because, while not being truly open world, the game has a huge number of wilderness locations. For most people, the sheer vastness of the world and the relatively low density of content are BG1's major flaws, but some, myself included, consider these traits to be an advantage over Baldur's Gate 2's rather artificial quest overload, as it makes the world feel more believable and alive.
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.
Broseph: Wizardry 8 is the game that made me realize that, for me, fun and challenging combat, character development and party management are far more important in a computer RPG than a masterful story or a solid grip on choice and consequence.
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.
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.
Xor: Neverwinter Nights 2's original campaign isn't exactly remembered fondly by the RPG community. How would Obsidian follow that up? How about making a game with some of the best writing since Planescape: Torment. Mask of the Betrayer weaves several story threads together beautifully to form a grand tragedy that focuses around your character. The companions are leaps and bounds better than the previous campaign, there's great variety in the visuals, and quest design and dialogue are greatly improved.
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.
Lady Error: Almost 20 years in development, the spiritual sequel to Wizardry 6 & 7 delivers exactly what the starved fans of this genre were looking for. The tone of the game is somewhat lighter and sometimes closer to the Might & Magic games, yet the scope is even bigger than the monumental Wizardry 7. Grimoire contains user interface improvements, such as autowalking on a map and remembering the combat choices from previous rounds. Some people complain about the complexity of the game or its outdated graphics. Yet the philosophy of games like this is to evoke a dream-like state where you use your imagination to fill in the blanks - instead of having boring photorealistic graphics that leave nothing to imagination.
Dorateen: Released in 2017, this is a computer role-playing game belonging to the early 1990's, and places value on many design principles of that period. The game is viewed through an adventuring window, turn-based and grid-based, unapologetically opaque in delivery of mechanics as much as narrative; a behemoth in scope allowing multiple hundreds of hours of playing time for a player who is given just enough rope to hang their party as they explore Hyperborea. All this, as well as the chance to rise in exultation with each triumph, whether in combat or deciphering the mysteries of the richly developed game world.
Bubbles: Spooky-scary spaceship exploration/survival game with more zombies than you can shake a crowbar at. The super-blocky graphics from the dark age of 3D nonetheless manage to create a wonderful sense of atmosphere. Playing without spoilers is recommended, though you're likely to experience massive frustration at the punishing weapon degradation system and the constant enemy respawns. Features great level design, a number of alternate routes within the levels, secret stashes, stealth gameplay, hacking, a choice of melee/ranged/[magic equivalent] combat and a bunch of freaky-ass enemies that will give you nightmares. Excellently written crew logs abound. Inspired Bioshock in the same way that Planescape: Torment inspired Dragon Age 2.
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.
Bubbles: If you ever played Baldur's Gate 1 and found yourself thinking "This is great, but I wish it had full party creation, a less confusing area and quest structure, and had a lot more combat and dungeons in it", then Icewind Dale is for you. Buoyed by one of the best soundtracks in gaming, and working off the exquisite AD&D second edition ruleset, IWD was made for those players who primarily enjoy Infinity Engine games for the combat. Graphics range from equal to BG1 quality to significantly better - especially the inventory icons and spellcasting animations are a true joy to behold.
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".
Aeschylus: Betrayal at Krondor is a classic for a number of reasons. It is one of the first games to feature a satisfying open world to explore, while also having one of the better stories to be found in video games at the time (or since, for that matter). The game was set in the world of Raymond E. Feist's novels, and was written by the accomplished duo of Neil Hallford and John Cutter. Even though I'm a particular fan of Feist's work, the characters and lore of the game are both extremely solid, and hold up quite well today irrespective of any feelings of nostalgia. There is a real sense of background and history to the world, which makes exploring the extensive landscape and wandering into seemingly non-descript towns an interesting experience each time.
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.
GarfunkeL: The first AD&D computer role-playing game. While it is extremely antiquated by modern standards when it comes to graphics and user-interface, it is perfectly playable thanks to DosBox. The simple but logical plot won't win any literary awards, but does its job well - propelling the player forward to discover new dungeons to romp through.
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.
Broseph: Might and Magic VI was the first installment in the storied Might and Magic series to feature 3D environments, free roaming movement, and optional real-time combat. It's also one of the largest and most content rich first person RPGs and generally one of the best RPGs I've ever played. Many an old grognard likes to dismiss the series from this point forward, and it's hard to deny that many aspects of gameplay took a downward turn from World of Xeen. However, The Mandate of Heaven also features the best and most memorable dungeon design in the series and a general feeling of adventure that is nearly unparalleled. Might and Magic VI doesn't handle you with kid gloves; instead it drops you right into to its huge, dangerous world and asks you to learn to fend for yourself.
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.
EldarEldrad: The second part of Harebrained Schemes trilogy, Shadowrun: Dragonfall, is without a doubt the pinnacle of this RPG series. While Shadowrun Returns was too short and unpolished, Hong Kong is often criticized for an extensive narrative bias and reworked Matrix, Dragonfall has almost a perfect balance of lore, story and combat.
Story is closely intertwined with the events that are well-known to every Shadowrun fan, but at the same time the game tells the player everything he should know about common Shadowrun lore. This makes Dragonfall a perfect entry point into the vast Shadowrun community, covering both CRPG and board game.
Combat, while been criticized for its simplicity, is fairly competent. Having the same basis as XCOM: Enemy Unknown (turn-based tactical combat with extensive usage of cover), it is paying close attention to Shadowrun-specific features such as Matrix or different types of magic. Some combat situations are surprisingly well-thought and require harmonious team work – while your samurais throw some lead into enemies across the hall, shaman summons demons, and decker hacks enemy security system fighting ICs in virtual reality.
Overall, Shadowrun: Dragonfall is a pretty good game. If you like cyberpunk style (despite multiple fantasy tropes that is another Shadowrun feature), you shouldn't miss it.
Jedi Master Radek: Dragonfall may lack a complex combat system or robust character development (even if there are one or two nice encounters like the one with apex). However this Harebrained Schemes made game makes up for those shortcomings in writing, storytelling and atmosphere department. Contrary to other RPGs boasting about their storytelling, Dragonfall isn't overwritten, there is a nice balance between action and exposition. Each NPC serves a purpose and your party consist of pretty likable shadowrunners.
Thanks to hub structure you can choose between few missions available at a time. Each run is different, one day you participate in the corporate spying, the other you fight the neonazis, just to infiltrate corporate facility to kill a compromised shadowrunner in the next. Each mission has a few optional task that spice things up.
The game is good looking and has an excellent soundtrack by Jon Everist. It's a great entry point to the Shadowrun franchise.
Jasede: So you want to play Wizardry VII? First of all, take a month's vacation. It might be enough - but it's cutting it close. Wizardry VII improves on VI in almost every way. Everything is bigger. There are more items, more puzzles, more enemies, more NPCs, more text, more story, more challenges, more squares, more areas, more twisted mapping tricks, more skills. And that's only touching on some things.
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.
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.
Ventidius: Dragon's Dogma is probably one of the best - if not the best - implementations of the Action RPG concept in the industry. Its greatest asset is its commitment to approaching the kind of build variety and customization options that we see in turn-based RPGs in a third-person, real-time engine. Dragon's Dogma manages to implement nine different classes, each of which employs elements from at least three different styles of gameplay: melee, archery, and magic. The most remarkable thing is that the gameplay for each of these options is smooth and competent by the standards of modern action games while providing a genuine sense of build variety through its robust and refined physics engine.
Apart from having great build variety and combat, the game also boasts a large handcrafted overworld filled to the brim with encounters and monsters to fight, as well as loot and secrets to discover. The game takes a non-scaled open world structure that allows players to explore areas with varying threat levels at his own pace, and charting the map as its fog of war unravels constitutes a paradigmatic RPG exploration experience.
Once we throw in truly epic monster fights that allow the player to climb gigantic beasts, an impressive bestiary that brings to life legendary creatures that have long been a staple of myth and fantasy, and the option of bringing along a party of companions; the result is the most successful attempt to translate the feeling of epic fantasy adventuring of the great tabletop and computer RPGs into real time action.
felipepepe: Dragon's Dogma is a kind of game that should be common, but it's actually extremely rare: an open-world RPG with good combat.
Created by Hideaki Itsunom, director of Devil May Cry, the combat here is not only fast and satisfying, but also has a unique a sense of weight and interactivity, as you can grapple enemies and climb on top of large monsters. It's a a whole new experience to be climbing on a hippogryph's back to attack its head when the beast flies into the air, taking you away from your party and making you desperately cling to the beast, lest you fall into your death. Monsters can also get injured and even lose body parts as combat progresses, similarly to Monster Hunter. Add in tons of equipment and consumables, many status effects and a class system similar to Final Fantasy Tactic's Job System and you have a damn good combat.
Sadly, Dragon's Dogma often fails to play to its strengths. Battles against unique large beasts are sparse in the main game, with many monsters only being available in the post-game content or in the excellent Dark Arisen expansion (bundled with the PC release). Similarly, the game has other amazing ideas that it fails to fully employ: the game tracks your relationship with every NPC in the game, and many quests have multiple outcomes based on your actions, but all that reactivity is so hidden under the hood that you might think the game is entirely linear until you replay it or read a wiki. The party system is also a bit gimmicky, with you creating a companion and going online to hire other player's companions to your party, meaning I really recommend you to play this while you can - who knows when Capcom will shut those serves down?
Deuce Traveler: Many people believe that Ultima VII is the best of the series, and I can see why.
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.
Lady Error: Hands down, one of the best RPG's of the last 10 years. The turn-based combat in particular is outstanding, offering a unique experience not seen before. For example, if you throw oil on an opponent, you can then set him on fire - which can in turn be put out with water or ice spells - which in turn creates a fog of steam, shielding the opponent from view. In this way, combat becomes partly a chemical laboratory and is quite unique in this respect. The tone of the game is relatively light and for some this may require getting used to. Almost everything about this game is top-notch and much better than I expected: very large world, good itemization, interesting enemies, puzzles, storylines. If you like RPG's, there is no way you will dislike Divinity: Original Sin
SniperHF: A prequel to the earlier Divinity games, Divinity: Original Sin brings an entirely new gameplay model to the series and it's a treat. Turn-based combat, the return of a party, and multiplayer rule the day. The level of freedom while exploring is in some ways unparalleled. Players can combine items into that one great tool you need via an Ultima-inspired crafting system, tactically use those environmental effects in conjunction with your skills, or sneak around to find the unbeaten path. D:OS is an RPG where you can kill everyone on the map or strictly follow the story and everywhere in between in order to complete the game. The game's narrative suffers as a result though, the story is convoluted and ultimately devolves into a save the universe pitch. But what D:OS lacks in storytelling it makes up for in familiar Larian charm and humor. With a substantially more interesting combat system and new emergent gameplay features, D:OS takes Larian's RPG series to new heights.
Ventidius: To say that the second entry of the D:OS series has not been as well received in the Codex as the first is an understatement. The game annoyed many fans of the franchise through a series of drastic design changes that ruined the experience for them. Chief among these were the infamous armor and initiative systems.
Aside from those admittedly poorly implemented mechanics, however, the game's combat engine has anything a fan of the genre could ask. It's turn-based and squad-based, while also boasting environmental interactivity, a proper positioning system, now with elevation mechanics, and an impressive array of spells, status effects, buffs, debuffs, and moves.
Even the reviled armor system brought something to the table by limiting the effectiveness of the CC spam and alpha strikes that dominated the first game, allowing for more challenging and varied encounters. That is why despite its flaws, D:OS 2's combat remains a rewarding experience for those who can look past some of its more inelegant design choices.
Even though combat is arguably the game's central aspect, it's worth highlighting some of the improvements made in other areas: a more varied and nuanced skill system, greater race variety, increased reactivity, and better art direction, writing and exploration. This last element is especially noteworthy, as the game boasts detailed maps for each Act packed with diverse loot, encounters, quests, and secrets, which, combined with the game's environmental interactivity and open-endedness, allow for engaging expeditions full of surprises.
Martyr: My initial reaction when playing Kingdom Come was disappointment, because the developers had chosen to follow in Witcher 3s footsteps of cinematic story presentation. The story itself is a boredom simulator apart from one or two scenes, the characters don't talk and act in an appropriate way and the tone/ atmosphere were too light hearted and cheerful for my taste.
Nonetheless I've spent massive amounts of time on this game, which mostly had to do with exploring the gorgeous landscape and killing every bandit, Cuman and traveler on sight and searching for hidden treasure chests. the simple card playing game at the taverns was also more fun than it had any right to be.
combat is a mixture of Dark Souls' typical stamina management, blocking and evading attacks and Mount & Blade's directional attacks; fighting is generally fun, if you're not overwhelmed by big amounts of robbers at once.
All in all Kingdom Come is a flawed but still immensely enjoyable open world RPG, which should have taken more inspiration from Daggerfall than Witcher 3. As of now it is one of only a handful of purely non fantasy RPGs, which I am always going to prefer to the nth standard fantasy game.
Alpan: All fruit of creative labor share a sense of joie de vivre, a trace of the creative impulse imparted upon them by their authors. Some exhibit this far more strongly, like an aura -- such is the case with Kingdom Come: Deliverance, the RPG of medieval Czech life made by a Czech team of medieval enthusiasts. This fact alone makes Deliverance worth playing.
If good games instill the feeling of being transported, Deliverance achieves this by being a compelling portrait of medieval life in Bohemia. This is reflected in the entirely mundane world, the range of characters whose pettiness reflects that world, and the wide variety of skills on offer. It doesn't achieve much else. To Warhorse's credit, most bugs plaguing the game at launch have been fixed. But the progression from a bumbling fool to a polymath and a master of martial combat happens far too quickly; the combat system is itself not particularly enjoyable; and, in what is perhaps a strike against mundane RPGs, the plot and most quests are appropriately boring.
HiddenX: Dark Sun: Shattered Lands is an AD&D game from SSI released in 1993. The initial release was a bit buggy, but SSI patched it up later. The game takes place in the atmospheric wasteland of Athas, where you are hunted by Templars, slavers, and hostile desert creatures with PSI attacks.
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.
Minttunator: Released during the deepest decline, The Witcher really stands out amongst the "classics" of that period (such as Oblivion and Fallout 3). The game depicts the adventures of Geralt, a genetically altered monster hunter, who - in accordance with genre traditions - has lost his memory. The setting of the game, based on the works of Andrzej Sapkowski, is fairly grim and mature, with a lot of violence, profanity and nudity. Most of the storyline is relatively low-key, being centered on finding out what exactly is going on around you, killing monsters, and solving mysteries – though there is also the factional conflict, political intrigue, and backstabbing.
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.
skacky: One of the first, if not the first, first person 3D RPGs and arguably the best dungeon crawler there is. Banished by a Britannian baron to the Great Stygian Abyss in order to rescue his daughter captured by a rogue wizard, you, as the Avatar, will have to carefully explore the darkest depths of the underworld and make friends and foes among the local inhabitants.
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.
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.
unfairlightヽ(✿ﾟ▽ﾟ)ノ: One of the most welcome surprises of 2017.
For background, Piranha Bytes didn't have the best reputation after they wrapped up the Risen series. The Risen games were widely considered to lose out the best qualities of the first two Gothic games and they didn't excel in much else, so they ended up as average-at-bests which the world has seen too many of already. Alas, they managed to reclaim their name once more with this strange yet oddly satisfying stew of ideas.
The best thing about Elex is by and large the world, they somehow made a Gothic 3 sized world that's almost as well detailed as the world of the first two Gothic games, and it's a joy to explore all the way. It's difficult to put to words, but while it may look disjointed at first glance due to the three different biomes for the three distinct factions, it ends up feeling a lot more natural and better flowing than expected.
You have to play it for yourself to really see how it's unique, even compared to other PB games. You can expect all the Piranha Bytes trademarks in Elex, -- great quests, fun exploration, buggy animations, 3 factions to join, third-person attack-parry-dodge action RPG combat and a pinch of 'lost in translation'.
Yet despite all its quirks, it ended up more fun and notable than a lot of other RPGs past few years.
Good job, Germany. I hope you can keep this performance up in the next one. *Injects Elex into eyeball*
Vlajdermen: After having soiled their lederhosen with Risen 3, it had seemed that the Piranha Bytes that gave us Gothic 2 was gone for good. ELEX was their shot at redeeming themselves, and I say they hit the bullseye.
Sure, ELEX suffers from feature bloat and some shit quest pacing, but what makes up for all that is the exploration. Jetpack-hopping around Magalan is a joy, snooping around every corner like a dog looking for truffles. Almost every area is interesting in some way. It might have a tough group of enemies, a Piranha Bytes-typical miniboss, important items or just a nice view.
Loot and enemies aren't slapped around randomly. They're put where it makes sense for them to be. You won't find a sword in a ruined gas station. Instead, you'll find fuel and metal. Go into an irradiated industrial zone and you'll find radscorpions rippers. Because of details like that, you can buy its world and atmosphere.
You can argue it's not as good as Gothic, or even Risen 1, but at the end of the day, ELEX is great. It, like the classic PB games, gives you the experience that a million other open world action RPGs try and fail to give. Play it and you'll see why they try in the first place.
Gregz: A rousing combination of sandbox exploration, empire building, and visceral combat. Open field battle and siege warfare are where this game truly shines. The excellent game engine provides sound and motion fidelity placing you at the heart of the battle. Listen to swords strike shields, cavalry collide with pikemen, and arrows fall like rain upon foot soldiers. Survey the battlefield as you command units to take formation, charge, or open fire upon the enemy.
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.
Deuce Traveler: For the uninitiated, World of Xeen is two Might and Magic games combined into one, MM4: Clouds of Xeen and MM5: Darkside of Xeen. Xeen is actually a flat world with unique civilizations on either side, and the heroes are able to travel back and forth between the two. This has the effect of making the combined game easier than its individual parts, as the heroes can take advantage of the doubling of easier dungeons in order to out-level the middle and later parts of the game. Yet, I still have to recommend playing this game as a combined entity instead of the separate parts, as there is an important quest the expansion adds that decides the fate on the entire world.
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!
Jagged Appliance: Temple of Elemental Evil shows what RPG combat can be. Its faithful implementation of D&D 3.5e is undoubtedly its greatest strength, but it also has a lot more to offer. There are skill checks everywhere, the visuals are wonderful, and the choices & consequences inside the Temple are criminally underrated. No worries if you can't stomach the terminally boring Hommlet, just make a beeline for the moathouse. You can come back later and put the denizens out of their misery like the evil bastard you are. Gather your supplies, don your cape and put on your jaunty hat; Troika's dungeon crawler awaits.
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.
Bubbles: The best entry in the great German RPG trilogy is perfectly playable in isolation, as it has virtually no tie-ins to its predecessor Blade of Destiny. The game features an overworld map of a medieval fantasy world with dozen of towns, small hamlets, dungeons, and other points of interest, many of which can be explored in the first person perspective. The game's turn-based combat, however, takes place on isometric battle fields, where players control a party of 6 custom created characters against a wide variety of enemies. The gameplay is based on the Dark Eye ruleset, which offers many non-combat skills like Plant Lore, Persuasion, Climbing, Acrobatics, Danger Sense, and three different types of healing skill. Not all of the available skills are actually used in this part of the trilogy, but the sheer breadth of useful non-combat skills still represents a towering achievement compared to most other games on this list.
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.
Grunker: If Arcanum defines the particular "Codex taste" by being deeply flawed but also hugely ambitious, Dragon Age: Origin is the Codex "anti-game". Perhaps this more than anything else is why the game is so reviled by many classical codexers. Dragon Age excels at nothing, but its mediocrity is polished to a mirror sheen. It is a mechanically tight game with adequate character progression, fluid and tactical combat, fun spell combinations and diverse companions. Its writing is satisfactory if not great, and most of its fights and challenging in interesting ways if not exactly the pinnacle of encounter design.
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. Most games on this list have huge, glaring issues and endure as titans of RPG history through sheer force of ambition or the incredible strength of their original idea. This makes DA:O stand out as a competent and fun game that lacks the memorable, core conceit required for true greatness.
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: Dragon Age: Origins came out in 2009, in a dark age of RPGs when we had barely one good release per year. It stood out thanks to the BioWare name, the high production values and the massive marketing campaign, but behind all that what we have is mediocrity done right.
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. 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.
In short, Dragon Age: Origins brings absolutely nothing new to the table and feels like a step back 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.
Sigourn: The answer to the "we need a Fallout game set in Russia" cry from Bethesda Fallout fans. It isn't surprising that the vast majority has never played it, however. That's because ATOM RPG shows how disconnected a Fallout game set in post-apocalyptic Soviet Union feels: sure, the setting isn't Fallout, but swap out a few details and it very well could be. Outside of fan-made Fallout games, ATOM RPG is the closest thing to Fallout since, well, ever. From its intro movie, to its interface, to its moment to moment gameplay, but also to its massive pop culture references as well, including female (male) NPC portraits based on popular degenerates.
Forget about Wasteland 2. Forget about Underrail. Forget about Age of Decadence. Even Arcanum. If you ever, truly wanted Fallout 3, you must play this game. На здоровье!
Mark Richard: Unabashedly wearing its influences on its sleeve, ATOM may not have the philosophical pedigree of its idol, but it does have the dual advantage of evoking nostalgia while still managing to present itself as something fresh. Bopping around post-apocalyptic Russia makes all the difference in rekindling the sense of discovery that accompanied the earliest Fallout games, and the distinct Eastern European outlook also manifests in an unsanitized writing style to open up roleplaying opportunities many of today's leading Western RPG studios would balk at. This confidence is what allows the game to touch that late 90s glow without being wholly consumed by it, ensuring ATOM won't go down in our memories as merely a decent homage to a better game.
Lady Error: This controversial game could not quite live up to the hype and the high expectations of recreating the experience of Infinity Engine games such as Baldur's Gate. As such, it received a lot of criticism for its combat system, the relatively bland companions and a lack of choices and consequences. These criticisms were taken to heart and somewhat corrected in later patches, as well as in the two expansions to the game (The White March I & II). The game did receive praise for its beautiful graphics, as well as the create-your-own-adventure text events in the style of Darklands.
DalekFlay: Striving to be a love letter to the Infinity Engine games, Pillars sticks perhaps too close to formula but negotiates an entertaining nostalgia trip out of the deal. Focusing on a pretty traditional fantasy world where reincarnation is a know quantity but children are being born soulless, you inherit special powers that could solve the mystery. Unfortunately a lot of these interesting soul concepts are under-served, but you will do the traditional righting of wrongs and faction negotiations with well written (if somewhat bland) dialog to push you along.
Combat is real-time with pause very similar to the Infinity Engine games, though with many tweaks and interesting ideas from lead designer Joshua Sawyer of Fallout: New Vegas fame. You'll also build a stronghold, negotiate with a wild native tribe, speak with gods and peer into the past through other men's souls. It's all relatively well executed and entertaining, it just lacks a bit of a spark due to playing it safe.
In a genre that sometimes goes years between interesting releases though, and an age of incline with few clear home-runs, there's a lot to be said for the warm and comfortably familiar blanket that Pillars of Eternity offers weary souls coming in from the cold.
Lady Error: After the somewhat disappointing first game in this series, Pillars of Eternity II comes close to delivering an experience on par with the Infinity Engine games such as Baldur's Gate. The criticisms of the first game were taken to heart and to a large degree corrected. The game is set on an island archipelago with natives, pirates and a colonial-like theme. It features exploration on a ship, as well as ship-to-ship combat. What didn't change is the philosophy of balancing the whole experience where each of the numerous professions is more or less equally strong. The latest patch to the game also introduced turn-based combat. One area where Pillars of Eternity still lags behind Infinity Engine games are the mage battles, which were more fun in those games due to hard counters.
Alpan: Deadfire represents Obsidian laying down the burden of the Infinity Engine, and as a (perhaps ironic) result the sequel is the superior game in the series. Freed from nostalgic expectations, Obsidian manages to make various improvements to the game systems: The multiclassing system is a fine fit for Josh Sawyer's signature balance philosophy, allowing for an unmatched variety of party compositions; unique items, each with their own mods and upgrade paths, address the blandness found in the first game; the greatly reduced number of filler combat encounters and the swashbuckling open-world put the emphasis on exploration. Finally, an underappreciated strength is the sheer customizability of the experience: Five difficulty levels, any combination of eleven challenge modes and new game bonuses, extensive AI scripting capabilites and even a turn-based mode ensure any RPG player will find something here to enjoy. And if you still need more, the DLC is uniformly excellent. Just ignore the plot.
HiddenX: The Wizardry series and the Ultima series are for the RPG genre something like The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. The Ultimas are a little more fine-tuned in GFX, interface and story. The Wizardries deliver raw power, challenging combat and excellent character and party development. Both series are pioneers and invented many of the computer RPG elements we still love today.
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.
ever: Darklands is a sandbox role-playing adventure game from Microprose. Lead a party of up to five adventurers through medieval Germany at a time of universal Catholicism, and engage in quests like finding Siegfried’s helmet for bankers, retrieving holy relics for the church, hunting heretics, freeing oppressed folk from raubritters, exploring haunted mines and probing into rumors of dragons - all that with many a twist, including the possibility to uncover a deep dark conspiracy involving the banned order of the Knights Templar! Because, as the tagline suggests, in medieval Germany reality is more horrifying than fiction.
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.
hivemind: Repetitive, banal garbage. Mind numbingly boring game. I keep saying, as my played time climbs into the hundreds of hours.
Banal Brothers is an extremely addicting turn based tactics game(or an economic attrition simulator if you play ironman) where you command a mercenary group in a low magic fantasy world inspired by Germanic history, orks and zombies fully included. The game is played in real time over a procedurally generated campaign map in which you travel from town to town plying your violent trade and over a hex based procedurally generated combat map where you have your rough collections of fishermen, butchers, and melon fuckers gets maimed and killed in exchange for shiny gold with which you will eventually hire better men and this time buy them a helmet as well. It's pretty much a historical x-com without greater base building elements. The game offers multiple viable ways in which to build your dudes and the procedural generation of both the maps and the characters helps to keep every playthrough somewhat different form one another. Can get quite grindy at times and so a tinge of the ol' 'tism is recommended for full enjoyment. Comes with mod support and several content expansions that are all but necessary.
Marten Broadcloack: Battle Brothers is known both for deep tactical combat and an extreme overall difficulty. Indeed, managing a mercenary company in a low magic, German-like medieval setting turns out to be a tricky task. Low morale, hunger, permanent injuries and high gear prices make defeat easy – and victory all the more satisfying.
What's most remarkable is that a strong bond quickly starts to link the player and his mercenaries. This is when Battle Brothers really shines: when the soldiers become more than just heaps of pixels with stats. In the end, you'll endanger the whole company just to save Henrik, the one-eyed bowman, or Svein, because you feel guilty that he lost a hand due to one of your tactical errors.
Also worth mentioning is how the game builds a believable world out of tiny villages, a few narrated events and a hand-drawn map. The procedurally-generated world of Battle Brothers feels more alive and unique than many carefully crafted open-worlds: little by little, the player decides to attempt lenghty expeditions in the far north (a region bolstered by one of the three excellent Battle Brothers DLC), he falls in love with a safe and prosper area, he learns to avoid that dark forest where bandits roam. Just as a mercenary company leader would have.
Bubbles: Obsidian's best game and an underappreciated classic, Alpha Protocol lets you play as super special secret agent dude Mike Thorton (women need not apply) who saves the world and beds a bunch of ladies -- or maybe he's impotent, the choice is all yours.
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.
:Flash:: The defining moment of the Ultima series and one of the most seminal games in computer RPG history, Ultima IV manages to create an experience far removed from genre clichés. It doesn't have you play as a fantasy realm dweller with amnesia or a character created by clicking plus and minus signs besides a number; instead you play as yourself and the game starts as you walk through a forest. Arriving in a fantasy world filled with bards, noble knights, and monsters -- about the only clichés left intact by the game -- you learn that your quest is not to defeat the evil wizard, but to become a better person and thus, ultimately, an example for the other people of the realm. As you travel through the vast world of Britannia, walking or riding from town to town, sailing the oceans trying to steer through the ever-changing wind (or trying to change the wind by magic) or even flying through the skies, you get enough chances to converse with people and realize that your behavior is more important than your fighting skills.
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.
Dayyālu: Let's be honest, the vast majority of you will know Automata thanks to the generous...assets of 2B, the protagonist. Surprisingly enough, there's more to this than gratuitous fanservice.
Back in 2010 a lesser-known Japanese developer named Cavia managed to throw out Nier, a somewhat clunky yet weirdly fascinating action RPG that suceeded in gaining a cult following (despite being financially unsuccessful) thanks to varied gameplay, charming plot and likeable characters. More than half a decade later some Cavia employees (amongst them the infamous Yoko Taro) managed to get money from Square and expertise from Platinum Games to develop an unlikely sequel.
Set into a post-apocalyptic far future Robot War where not everything is exactly as it seems, Automata is solid a third-person action RPG, its combat mechanics good enough to keep you interested. However, Automata is more of a storyfag game, as the focus is clearly on the narrative and character interaction. It's also essentially anime, so expect melodrama and cheap cultural references thrown into the mix just for the "cool" factor.
Nonetheless, Automata manages to give me an impression few games do: to be a work of love. It's in the little details, in the writing and the impressive soundtrack, the cute animations or the variety of joke endings. It's a game that wants to give something to its audience. Torment it ain't, but it has a soul that few games have.
Daidre: Nier: Automata is rare example of game that ended up quite more popular than it was made to be.
But beside a widely-known fanservice you'd find there a surprisingly good plot full of twists, revelations and with writing subtle enough not to shove morale into your face. In short, it is a story about robots in post-apocalyptic world. And some of this robots show character growth well beyond their flesh and blood counterparts in endless JRPG. And not all of them grow to be better.
From gameplay perspective it is not much of an RPG, but combat is fun and fluid, locations are interesting to explore, art design is top notch and music is a just godly. All in all Nier: Automata is unique enough to play it and look past its usual for console-port technical issues with blatant trolling in some quests and mini-games that could turn even most reserved android into raging berserker.
Bubbles: Unite the warring tribes that inhabit Dragon Pass and become the leader of a new people. King of Dragon Pass is a highly unique game, a hybrid of a half dozen different gameplay styles that work much better together than they should. There's the in-depth village management simulator, which revolves around choosing the best means of securing food and other materials for your tribe by praying to the gods, expanding your territory, managing your crops, and putting the right set of advisors on your council to help you out (or fail you utterly) in times of need. When self-sufficiency inevitably fails, you need to engage in diplomacy, making contact with new trading partners and with weakling neighbors just begging to be bullied and extorted.
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.
Aeschylus: The main word that comes to mind when thinking of Daggerfall is big. Really goddamned big. The game world itself is massive, containing hundreds of towns, cities, and dungeons to explore, with only your character's strength restricting you. Although the 'open-world' itself is essentially empty between notable locations, there are enough of those locations (around 15,000 in total) to keep you occupied for ages. It's not a game for everyone though -- the story is threadbare at best, and there is not much in the way of unique NPCs to interact with.
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.
tuluse: Do you love Star Wars? Have you wanted to control the main character in their own movie? Well, now you can. Admittedly, games like Jedi Knight, Tie Fighter and X-Wing already offered this experience, and with stronger game mechanics. However, each of them focuses on one aspect of the movies, while Knights of the Old Republic gives you the whole thing. There are lightsaber duels, shooting down enemy fighters, down time chatting with the crew on the ship, decisions to make about light side and dark side, and learning about the nature of the force. On the story side of things, KOTOR is cinematic done right. It nails down the feel of Star Wars and takes you on an adventure. It's a shame the mechanics of the game can't back it up.
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.
Martyr: You awaken in Drangleic, a fallen kingdom, as a bearer of the curse, on the brink of being a hollow. after receiving the gift of your own humanity by the hands of the firekeepers you venture forth to the cliffs of Majula. there the Emerald Herald gives you the quest of aquiring the souls of the four Old Ones, to gain access to the castle of King Vendrick, who might be the only hope to save Drangleic.
People often criticize the more linear structure of Dark Souls II in comparison to Dark Souls I and the „samey“ boss fights, but in my opinion Dark Souls II features some of the most memorable locations and bosses of the trilogy. In the original Dark Souls the main locations are medieval-style castles and their direct surrounding; in Dark Souls II on the other hand, you're exploring the memories of dead giants, swamps, castle ruins, crypts, cursed forests, the iconic Dragon Aerie and the frozen kingdom of Eleum Loyce, just to mention a few.
and furthermore, the boss fights against the Burnt Ivory King, Sir Alonne and the Fume Knight are simply unforgetteable.
The overall tone is gloomy and melancholic, the atmosphere perfectly captures the feeling of a world, which has been dying for a long time. These are just some of the reasons why I think Dark Souls II is the best game of the trilogy and why I've played it more than twice the hours I've put into Dark Souls I and Dark Souls III combined.
Ventidius: Dark Souls 2 got off to a rocky start with an initial release that was marred by under-cooked campaign balance, lack of content, and the stigma of having been developed by a “B-Team.” However, by the time the definitive Scholar of the First Sin edition came out, many of these issues had been fixed, and it ended up being a worthy entry to the franchise with its own set of strengths.
For one thing, Dark Souls 2 gave the player more options in terms of character building: more stats, spells, weapons and armor, and more ways to mix and match all of the above. This meant the pool of interesting builds, and thus replayability, was greater, not to mention that magic was incontestably at its most fun in this entry. Along with this also came a greater scope: the game has a greater amount of areas than any other in the franchise, and these were also more varied.
Finally, the game deserves praise for the way its encounter design is elegantly enmeshed into the dungeon exploration itself: enemy encounters are harmoniously combined with navigational hazards and uncertainties in order to create tactical puzzles that challenge the player. The result is that, like in old-school dungeon crawlers, the dungeon is the enemy, but the interesting spin on the formula comes in the way that enemies themselves are the dungeon. Of course, all games in the franchise have exhibited this quality to an extent, but DS2 emerges as arguably the most nuanced in this area.
Aeschylus: While it never quite enters the same realm of quality as its classic spiritual forebear Ultima Underworld, Arx Fatalis is an excellent game in its own right, and manages to do enough things right to overcome a few pretty big problems.
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.
Koschey: Knights of the Chalice is an incredibly focused game based on the 3.5 OGL. Featuring just 3 classes, 3 races, and no skills, Knights of the Chalice does one thing and it does it well: the combat-heavy dungeon crawling. Everything unimportant to this experience was cut without mercy and what remained was polished to the highest degree. Competent enemy AI, hyperlinked in-game rules compendium, enemy variety, interesting character build choices, meaningful combat options - Knights of the Chalice has it all. Aside from that, there is also dialogue and a multitude of choices to make throughout the game, but most of the time all that is influenced by those choices is the order and nature of the combat encounters you face. Difficulty can be fine-tuned via options like HP gain on level up, guaranteed 18s when rolling stats, random encounter (re)spawns in dungeons and on the world map, the Ironman mode, and so on. Unfortunately, the game can be made almost trivially easy by abusing Scribe Scroll for limitless spells per day or packing more than one wizard; but thankfully, these game-breaking "features" are all easily avoidable.
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.
Ventidius: To understand what the oddly named and outwardly inconspicuous Elminage Gothic represents, one must first know the story of the developer that created it: Starfish SD. A Japanese studio that worked on sequels of the Wizardry franchise that were produced in Japan after Sir-Tech sold the rights to it, Starfish had been making games in the style of old Wizardry (games 1-5) for more than 10 years by the time of EG's release. In the meantime, they refined and iterated on the formula, bringing it to heights that its creators would never have dreamed of.
That is why dismissing it as “yet another Japanese Wizardry clone” would be a grave mistake. Even though it kicks off with a convoluted starter dungeon that suspiciously resembles something made to weed out short attention spanners, the game quickly picks up in the dungeon design department, which culminates in the consistently varied and increasingly challenging dungeon design of the mid, late, and post-game sections. Expect dark tiles, teleporters, spinners, the works. Also, the game's Ibag Tower offers arguably the greatest dungeon crawling challenge that has been seen since the days of Wizardry IV.
Although the game's greatest strength lies in its dungeon design, it also boasts excellent party customization. There are many class options from Lords with their impregnable defenses and Cleric spells, to the spell-casting and dual-wielding Samurai, to Summoners with their own unique Monster capture mechanic, to the legendary Ninja of ol' Wizardry, here to kill things, take names, and then kill the names as well. Apart from that, the game offers great racial variety, and when all these elements coalesce with the class-changing mechanics of Wizardry, the amounts of party building options that result are truly staggering.
Add to all of this serviceable blobber combat that manages to offer a challenge despite the myriad customization options available to the player – an achievement in itself - and the outcome is a true successor to classic Wizardry in every way, and a feast for fans of RPGs that prioritize, or at least appreciate, the genre's core gameplay.
Ysaye: Elminage Gothic is a game that even Codexers complain is too complex, obtuse, too hard, generally unfair and just insufferable. Beware, for those are the words of those that never stuck it out to see it's platonic beauty (or are just not suffering from some kind of autistic tendency).
A it's heart, Elminage Gothic is a turn based dungeon crawler / blobber that has plenty of great things to give whilst proudly wearing it's Wizardry and rpg gaming lineage on it's sleeve. If you are looking for a great story, C&C etc. look elsewhere - this game is all about the plain fun of dangerous exploration and tinkering at the edges of probabilities of rolling particular numbers. Gothic's dungeons will troll you at every step to go that little bit further, knowing that you might just be risking everything to only earn just that little bit more power. Unlike most modern games, no internet guide or printed map will save you from certain situations; status conditions, beheadings (prior to you even getting a turn) and even old age can kill your best characters forever. The onus is on you to play intelligently, understand the odds, the classes, the options, the items, the enemies and the risks.
Ultimately Elminage Gothic is crafted in a neoclassical style to remind us of everything great about dungeon design, a love letter to all manner of exploration, punctuated with all the tools of the cruelest of dungeon master minds. You dive in and see how long you can hold your breath and hope to come back up. It is like the ice skater that the philosopher Kierkegaard describes, each time skating closer to death, the crowd may clap and cheer this spectacle but it is only those that truly risk everything to get to across the thin ice that achieve greatness. Elminage might also be described at times as unfair and brutal, but if it is, it is merely reflecting the show that is real life in all it's greatness and horror. As one codexer suggested, in Elminage Gothic you need to learn to abuse the system, because the game won't hold back in using it's own system to abuse you back. In a weird way, this ends up being fun.
felipepepe: Mass Effect is the pinnacle of BioWare's famous brand of cinematic romance simulator RPGs. It is fun to hate it, since all the elements of decline are here: the pandering romances, color-coded dialogue wheel, cover-based shooting, binary morality, shallow C&C… but if you judge Mass Effect 1 only for what it is, without the nostalgia for the BioWare that made BG2, or the hindsight that this paved the way to ME 2, 3 and Andromeda, what remains is a solid game.
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, charismatic party members with different abilities, and some non-combat skills like Persuasion and Decryption to play around with. It's still a very linear and simple RPG, but it manages to feel like something epic in scope.
And that sums up the game pretty well: Mass Effect 1 is a very polished and entertaining game that trades mechanical depth for a cinematic ambition. And that's precisely what A LOT of people wanted.
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.
Ventidius: There are those who think of the Dark Souls series as “the hard games” or as combat-centric games. I have always been rather of the impression that games in the franchise often had many things going for them, and often the level design was as important as the combat itself. However, the third and supposedly last entry to the series does its best to live up to this reputation. Dark Souls III focuses on the combat and streamlines most of the other aspects of the old formula. The complex and devious dungeons of the first and especially the second game are gone, replaced with more linear affairs where the next bonfire is often a stone's throw away, the second game's experiment in expanding the character system and the skills it offered was reversed as the game settled for more minimalistic customization, and the amount of weapons, armors, and spells received a similar cut back.
Nonetheless, what the game does do well, it does very well. The newfound focus on combat benefits from the fact that the engine is built upon that of Bloodborne, which translates to faster, smoother combat with leaner and meaner animations. The boss design also got an upgrade, there is arguably no Souls game that has as many great boss fights as DS3, and the cream of crop are among the very best in the franchise. This is somewhat mitigated by the tendency of later boss fights to evince inelegant design elements such as HP bloat, multiple bosses, and multiple phases - usually in combination - a tendency that becomes more marked in the DLC content.
Nevertheless, even these issues cannot hold back the game from being a strong contender for the hardest Souls game with the best combat, and for those who think of this aspect as the central element of the franchise this game will not fail to deliver.
Martyr: The first thing you'll notice in Dark Souls III is that the pace has changed. in the first two games of the trilogoy the boss fights, and fights in general, were rather slow and you had to learn the enemies' patterns in order to survive. Dark Souls III however has taken over Bloodbornes' faster movement and attack speeds.
You will need ligthning fast reflexes in all the boss fights and the first few times you face them you most likely won't notice any patterns; most of the bosses also have two stages and/or you'll have to face multiple opponents at once.
Dark Souls III has hands down the best soundtrack and the best lore of the trilogy. Bosses like the Abyss Watchers, Pontiff Sulyvahn, the optional Nameless King, High Lord Wolnir and the twin princes Lorian and Lothric cannot be forgotten, even if you suffer from amnesia.
The locations aren't interconnected like in the other two Souls games, but they're visually varied and the level design itself is godly. there are also lots of references to the first Dark Souls, like returning NPCs, the Firelink Shrine or a short visit to Anor Londo.
The atmosphere is less oppressive and the world seems more alive and seems to almost have recovered in contrast to Dark Souls II, which had an almost post apocalyptic fantasy vibe. If Dark Souls III was a bit more depressing, if the pace was a tiny bit slower and if you wouldn't have to face multiple enemies at the same time all the time, it would be my favorite Dark Souls by far.
Gregz: Along with its sequel, Dungeon Master is perhaps the most difficult real-time dungeon blobber ever designed. When you enter the dungeon, you have no party. You select them from portraits along the dungeon walls. You may resurrect or reincarnate for a total of 4 members, each of which have some degree of skill in melee, ranged, and magic. The "learn by doing" character development has your characters become more effective purely with practice, whether casting spells, throwing shurikens, or hacking with sword and shield. The game's difficulty presents itself in the form of false walls, scarce and difficult to find keys, hidden buttons, teleport puzzles, and a wide variety of creatures trying to kill your party every step of the way. Not only that, but food and drink are of crucial importance, as your party can starve or die of thirst. Some monsters can be slain for food, and water is available at fountains which are sparsely placed throughout the dungeon.
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.
Bubbles: The shorter, more linear brother of Might and Magic 6, MM7 trades away quantity of content and full freedom of exploration for higher quality in a few select areas. Highlights include a choice between two distinct advanced classes for every character, a "home base" castle, a stronger focus on story telling compared to its predecessor (but without reaching the heights of any story-focused RPG), and some faction-based C&C and alternative quests.
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.
Bubbles: Lots Of Weird Stuff Happening, the game. Anachronox excels at making space a fascinating place to visit, with misshapen aliens, daft religions, and characters with names like Sly Boots, Grumpos and Stiletto Anyway. Most of the weirdness is employed in the service of humor, and if you can't find appeal in rummaging through garbage in search of stinky old socks, this game might not be for you. Combat gameplay and character advancement largely follow in the Final Fantasy VII-IX vein, with plenty of mini-games and off-beat collectibles available to upgrade your characters' skills. For all of its humor, the game also offers up a relatively serious save-the-world main plot that is more compelling than it has any right to be; however, the best part of the story telling are the main characters, whose characterization strikes a great balance between comedy and personal trauma.
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.
Dreed: Divinity II: Dragon Knight Saga is a game in which you can finally be a dragon.
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.
Zanzoken: You finally make it to a hole-in-the-wall town, wounded and half-starved after a four-day journey across the desert. Those bandits may have broken your arm and stolen the last of your food, but you’re just happy they weren’t slavers or, even worse, cannibals.
The little bit of money you have left goes to the bartender in exchange for a loaf of bread. It’s dry as dust but tastes like heaven to you. You’ve just started chowing down when you hear a commotion in the back. A drifter shot his mouth off at a gang of mercs and they’re about to beat the fuck out of him. The fight is completely predictable and ends with the drifter bleeding out on the floor.
A town guard shows up and resolves the situation by throwing the drifter’s unconscious body into the street. Everyone else returns to their drinks. You put the rest of the bread in your pocket and step outside to check on the drifter. The guy will be dead in a few minutes, which means he won’t mind you taking possession of his medkit and the rusty katana he was so feebly trying to defend himself with a moment before.
This is the world of Kenshi. There are no prophecies to fulfill, no calamities to prevent, and no rats in the basement that must be killed. You will begin as a nobody just struggling to survive, but with enough strength, ingenuity, and perseverance you can uncover the mysteries of the past and change the course of the future.
Martyr: In the character creation you've already got some important choices to make that will influence your playstyle for the rest of the game. You want to join the Holy Nation? well, too bad they don't like you because you've created a female Shek with the Holy Sword background and they will attack you on sight.
This also shows one of the core elements of the game: constant learning and improving through making mistakes and failing. Kenshi literally is "what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger" - the game. your whole party got wiped out in a fight, is heavily wounded or some of you even lost a limb? congratulations, your toughness just went up! overburdoned your inventory, which massively slows down your movement speed and reduces your chances of escaping raiders. bandits or slavers? congratulations, you're leveling up strength right now!
Kenshi is a sandbox survival game in a massively sized open world. you can play it however you want, you can actively seek out fights you'll lose to level up your toughness, you can play it safe and mine copper and ore near a city, buy a house inside a city and do some research, build your own settlement in the midst of nowhere and risk attracting some unwanted attention or you can join one of the factions like the aforementioned Holy Nation and fight for their cause.
If Kenshi isn't edgy enough for you as it is there are also mods that allow you to play as a slaver or cannibal. this game is literally one of the most sandboxy games to be released since the outstanding Daggerfall and you'll not only see your character's stats rising constantly, but also the number of hours you've played it. sandbox roleplaying hasn't been that much fun in quite some time.
CryptRat: Quintessence of the Might & Magic series and of open-world role playing games in general, M&M 2 does not hold the player's hand. A party of up to 8 characters will travel through several towns, buy spells, get stronger, and most of all look for the next dungeon among numerous unique ones that it will be able to clear, looking for hints and uncovering all the ins and outs of the plot in the process. With its quests that only characters of one class, potentially escorted by thieves, are allowed to solve, a complex combat system whose characters' rows in the party are computed for each battle based on tracking checks, rewarding exploration with a world holding, among other things, a fountain which will temporarily maximize the stats of the characters in the party, and an overall difficulty which its successors arguably don't replicate, Might & Magic 2 is a brilliant entry in an equally fantastic series.
octavius: This may be the peak of the turn based blobber genre. The only thing it lacks is map challenges.
Like the other M&M games it has a big world that is a joy to explore. You can encounter any mix of enemies of highly variable quantity, that really don't make sense (eco)logically, but which is fun and unpredictable. There's also many areas that are restricted by class, race and sex, and then there's the Class Quests. There are dozens of hirelings available throughout the game, and with so much fat loot to be found you can outfit whole parties of hirelings to accompany your lone party members on their Class Quests.
MM2 has the most diverse loot before the Diablo games, with lots of base items, various prefixes and suffixes, and with pluses up to +64. And from +8 the items are even alignment restricted. Different enemies drop different chests with different loot potential. Nothing is more exciting in MM2 than seeing a Doomsday Box.
To me MM2 is the perfect loot whoring game. There's always new and better loot to be found, and new enemies to kill. And with the best tactical combat of any blobber the game never gets stale, despite its size.
Just about the only flaw of the game is that it has level scaling (mixed with area scaling).
Tigranes: The Infinity Engine produced five games; all five feature on this list. Icewind Dale II was the swan song to this extraordinary period in RPG history, and perhaps the most controversial title. Greenlit to relieve Interplay's sagging accounts, the game famously had its outline written by Josh Sawyer in 24 hours and less than a year of full development. Critics lamented the lack of cohesion in level design and atmosphere compared to the high standards set by its predecessor, while the plot is not much more than background for combat.
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.
Scrooge: Alright, now we're talking. Wizardry had always been among the best turn-based dungeon crawlers out there, but Wizardry VI took it to a whole new level. It had everything your nerdy P&P desires needed. It had the skills. And we're not talking about a goddamn skill tree or something, no Sir, we're talking SKILLS here. New players got smashed by the vast amount of skills a character could invest in - and wow, they sounded so cool. Instead of lockpicking or thievery we got Skullduggery, instead of hiding in the shadows we got Ninjutsu, and instead of critical hits we got Kirijutsu!
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.
Gregz: They don't make games like this anymore, and it's a damned shame. Diablo II is a masterclass on how a professional AAA game should be made. It expands upon the successful features of its predecessor while cementing seminal new mechanics like sockets, runewords, skill trees, and skill synergies. The gameplay is seamless, fluid, and intuitive. Easy to learn, difficult to master. With all of the hallmarks of a golden age Blizzard title represented in full force. Exceptional production values, the best voice acting I have ever heard, spare but pitch perfect writing, music that lavishes every scene with atmosphere, and the best itemization I have ever seen. All held together with addicting gameplay that keeps people coming back to this title after nearly twenty years.
If you love RNG loot, theorycrafting, roguelikes, and fantasy roleplaying games, you are almost certainly going to love this game. If you enjoy co-op, trading, or PVP, the online lobby system and online gameplay is excellent. In fact, at the time of this writing, there are more people playing Diablo II online than are playing Diablo III. Diablo II has dozens of imitators, and after twenty years no one has managed to surpass it. For those who have already enjoyed vanilla Diablo II, check out what is probably the most popular cRPG mod of all time, Median XL.
Marten Broadback: With its innovative gameplay and incredibly solid atmosphere, the first Diablo is an unparalleled masterpiece – and yet, it is dwarfed by the scale and mastery of Diablo II. It expands on all of Diablo's mechanics, doubling the number of character classes and succeeding in making all of them equally interesting and very different from each other: while the assassin is using martial arts training to kick demons in the face, the necromancer hides behind its own skeleton army, raised from the corpses of his enemies. Combined with a clever procedural level generation, random and satisfying loot, multiplayer co-op and an enormous world divided into five acts, those classes give Diablo II an incredible replay value where each game feels like a distinct adventure on its own.
Another truly remarkable feat, and perhaps the best part of Diablo II – best enjoyed with its near-perfect expansion Lord of Destruction – is how it is able to build a vast, cohesive, convincing universe using only few words. Town dwellers aren't the talkative type, the hero almost never speaks, and yet through items and enemies names (as well as superb level design) Diablo II's dark and tortured world feels more alive than many others. A feeling its sequel would fail to replicate.
Ludo Lense: When Neverwinter Nights was announced most people assumed it would be the successor to the venerable Baldur’s Gate, but when the game launched it quickly became apparent things weren’t so simple. The mainstream saw it as Bioware’s greatest achievement to date, streamlining gameplay for accessibility while retaining what makes D&D great. On the other hand, a large part of the RPG community found it to be a dumbed down sham which didn’t only fail as a successor to BioWare’s previous works but was a terrible game all around. To understand these two perspectives a step back is required.
Parties are a core aspect of most tabletop RPGs. Usually each player controls a single character, with the exception of the Dungeon Master who controls as many as needed for each scenario. Since the majority of CRPGs are single-player experiences, they solved this by placing the player in charge of multiple characters at once. He/she is all heroes at once, controlling them as they go through the content made by the developers – which could be considered an inflexible Dungeon Master.
Not every CRPG is like this but most are, especially in the West. Baldur’s Gate falls squarely in this category. Neverwinter Nights does not. In NWN the player only controls a single character. Combat is still Real-Time with Pause, just like in Baldur’s Gate, but companions are restricted to one at a time (two with the expansions) and can only be given general orders, which is more akin to shouting directions than taking direct control.
The reason for this controversial change was the ambition to emulate the true Pen & Paper experience by creating of a multi-player focused RPG engine.
The project was built around the idea that the player would made a character and go online, joining a module where other players would meet and form a party, while a human Dungeon Master controlled their adventures. It was meant to be a 1:1 conversion of physical role-playing games into digital form. The make this possible, the tools had not only to be powerful, but also simple to use. Anyone should be capable of running a campaign, editing the content on-the-fly and even creating entirety new campaigns.
This lead to an incredible engine with amazing modding capability. Players could play with a handful of friends online, but also create “permanent worlds” – customizable micro-MMOs with up to 96 players. Meanwhile, the Aurora Toolset allowed anyone to create their own adventures, something which can be attested by absolutely stunning amount (and quality) of mods that were made over the years.
But all of this came at a cost – most of the five years of development were spent on the engine itself rather than the content. The result was that the game’s campaign was phoned in, to say the least. The story revolves around a devastating plague gripping the city of Neverwinter – you must find the culprits and defeat the mandatory ancient evil at the end. The whole thing feels like a starting D&D module that drags on for far too long, aggressively ordering you collect countless McGuffins. Combine this with some absolutely abysmal encounter design where the vast majority of combat can only be described as filler and you have something closer to a tech demo.
Fortunately, BioWare released two expansions in 2003 which showed them getting better at creating quality content. Shadows of Undrentide begins a new level one adventure, as you hunt a series of artifacts stolen from your tutor, competent but nothing special. Hordes of the Underdark pits you against a dark elf army invading from below, lead by their queen, The valsharess. It can easily be described as one of Bioware’s best works, each chapter has laser focus it, whether it is a purely dungeon crawling experience through the legendary D&D location Undermountain or an exploration of the mysterious Underdark and its terrible denizens. It more than makes up for the failure of the OC and the mediocrity of SoU.
Minttunator: Voted the best RPG of 2011 here on the prestigious RPG Codex, The Witcher 2 is a somewhat flawed - but ultimately still very good - action RPG. Largely abandoning the relatively low-key monster hunting of its predecessor, The Witcher 2 features an epic storyline where fates of entire kingdoms hang in balance. Like in the first game, the player's choices have meaningful consequences, which also enhances replayability - the middle part of the game is actually completely different depending on the route you choose. The cast of characters is, again, colorful and multifaceted - and also includes Vernon Roche, one of the bro-est video game NPCs since Dak'kon. The swearing and nudity we remember from the first game is still there, although Geralt’s sexual conquests are presented in a less juvenile manner this time.
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.
Deuce Traveler: I really do love Ultima IV because of the concepts it introduced, and because there was no main villain that required defeating. But I have to be honest and say that Ultima V was a substantial improvement over its predecessor, adding a day-night cycle, allowing for more interaction between objects in the game world, and making it so that you could actually attack enemies who were standing at an angle to your character instead of forcing you to only attack in a horizontal or vertical direction.
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.
MpuMngwana: Trails in the Sky is the first in the Falcom's Trails series (which currently consists of nine games). It follows Estelle and Joshua Bright on their quest to become bracers (basically trouble solvers for hire), seeking approval of various guilds throughout the country of Liberl. This works great to slowly introduce the player to the world, which has recently underwent a magic-based industrial revolution, while also setting up various plot threads to be explored later. The game is a slow burn, focusing mostly on low-key stories and character interactions while building up towards the main conflict. Fortunately, the characters are extremely likeable, and the game simply oozes charm. Unlike most typical jRPGs, the combat is grid-based and resembles a simplified version of Final Fantasy Tactics.
Second chapter continues immediately where the first left off, while Trails in the Sky 3rd stars one of the supporting characters and focuses more heavily on dungeon crawling. All three games are well worth playing, and easy to recommend to anyone who isn't turned off by anime graphics or linear storytelling.
Also, the music is really really good.
Ysaye: TitS has three parts; the first two parts follow the character Estelle Bright whilst the third part follows a priest Father Kevin in a series of events which might be losely likened as The Hobbit plotline unfolds to the greater One Ring plotline of Lord of the Rings.
Estelle is often described as not being a normal "heroine" per se; she is a tomboy, loud, somewhat stupid, naive, prone to being manipulated by other characters and not particularly charismatic, although she is enthusiastic, determined and (unlike many of the characters in the game) honest. The plot-line and characters are central to the success of the series, and to talk too much more about them would be to draw anger around spoilers. However, from a mechanical sense, TitS and the broader Legend of Heroes series is often lauded for its ability to build a world which feels "alive"; this is achieved by having large numbers of NPC characters who have somewhat detailed daily activity schedules that are normally completely unrelated to any of the shenanigans that the game has you going off doing.
Combat is turn based and has a spatial grid based component with movement points (ie. You can hit a person with your staff if you aren't next to them, but you can keep your distance and shoot them if you have a ranged weapon). All in all, TitS has many good features, fun characters and great world building. There is not too much in the way of "save the world" going on, but lots of political scheming and avoidance of conflict, skeletons in closets and often more questions than answers.
Jason Liang: Sengoku Rance is an ideal introduction to the Rance series, one of the most innovative yet underplayed jewels of computer gaming, and to TADA, the brilliant Japanese creative director of the series. Having concluded in 2018 with the release of the series finale Rance X, the Rance games follow its eponymous shark-teethed warrior anti-hero and his clingy but useful slave girl companion, Sill Plain, along both short and epic adventures as they journey across an intricately detailed and realized weird-fantasy continent defined by perverse kingdoms, cunning monsters, monstrous humans and nightmarish demon lords. Rance loves killing monsters, loves rescuing beautiful women from the monsters, and loves fucking the beautiful women after he rescues them from the monsters. It is a world so violent and vile that our magnificent bully/ tasteful rapist is its greatest hero by comparison.
While Sengoku Rance is the 7th installment of the series, its excellent story is basically stand-alone as Rance travels to JAPAN, an isolated part of the continent, on a quest to fuck JAPAN's four legendary beautiful princesses. Knowledge of the previous games is not necessary to enjoy this one. Considered the pinnacle of the series for gameplay, Sengoku Rance can be described as a squad management/ harem collection war game with turn-based combat supporting a perfectly designed strategic layer with over a dozen different regions to discover and conquer. The gameplay is frankly absurdly addictive, raunchy and wild, with many innovative and just-plain-cool mechanics that add to the game's spiciness.
Sengoku Rance is a game that both stands on its own as an unique gaming experience that you will not regret and never forget, and leaves you with an insatiable lust - or should we say hard-on? - to dive dick first into Rance's further adventures and conquests that combine to make an incredible story and magnificent journey.
Jedi Master Radek: Sengoku Rance is a porn game with a better story than most story focused games and a better combat than most combat oriented games. Protagonist is an antihero with no redeeming qualities, a murderer and a rapist who haven't become a villain only because he thinks too high of himself to become villain. Somehow he manages to be one of the most likable protagonist of any game.
As a ruler of Oda clan, you are tasked in uniting Sengoku era Japan. You make strategic decisions on the overworld map, you decide which provinces to attack, which dungeons to enter, which companions to talk to. During battles each of your characters hit points and damage is proportional to how many troops are under their commands. There is a turn limit to every battle and you don't need to kill everyone to win, just maintaining an advantage is enough. The combat system isn't that deep, however it uses every mechanic at its disposal splendidly resulting in a very fun combat.
There is a few optional optional paths in the game, which provide quite a lot of new content and even sometimes change the game rules.
Gregz: Atmosphere. The game I picture when I hear the word atmosphere is Diablo. Which is interesting because Diablo was the first so-called action cRPG ever made. A genre which is usually criticized for its lack of depth and pop-a-mole gameplay. But this game just works on all fronts. It’s alluring, addictive, and fun. Blizzard brought me back to gaming with this title back in 1999 after a long hiatus during college. The brilliant music, addictive gameplay, and excellent itemization reminded me of why I loved cRPG games as a kid, and thanks to Diablo I resumed playing them, and continue to do so to this day.
Parsifarka: A lone hero arrives to a dismal village and receives the quest to explore a dreadful dungeon reaching from the accursed damp catacombs of a desecrated church down to the flaming depths of hell. This isn’t about raising numbers, it’s about going down all alone.
The strong sense of place and momentum, a remarkably simple yet effective combat system and a prodigious soundtrack which cannot be complimented enough push the player into descending through walls of wailing demonic flesh until reaching Diablo himself -this is a horror tale with nightmarish sounds, grim visuals and a bare-bones RPG system fuelling an aggressive gameplay more akin to id’s shooters than to anything else.
Everything works like a clock, even that which taken by itself seems unfitting -such as the limited inventory and speed of the playable character- forces the player into constantly making relevant choices with both delayed and instant consequences (i.e. life or death), which account for the rather slim character building.
As a proper masterpiece, Diablo is both the father and the end of a genre characterized by a brutal immediacy, set apart from the hordes of uninspired clones it spawned -a classic.
Strange Fellow: Not quite a rogue-like, not quite an RPG, NEO Scavenger tackles the post-apocalypse genre with an impressive clarity of focus. Your goal: survive a wasteland of murderous mutants, at the mercy of the whims of nature untamed by civilisation.
Survival is accomplished not through skill checks and character advancement but through logic and common sense. Every aspect of the game reinforces this, from scavenging to the simple yet ingenious combat system, where feedback is limited, and avoiding a graze from your opponent’s rusty crowbar – sure to inflict lasting injuries – is just as important as taking him down. More often than not, however, it is not combat which will do you in, but hypothermia, starvation, disease, poisoning, or some other naturally occurring malady. It is as enjoyable as it is infuriating.
In addition to its core systems, NEO Scavenger also features a number of fixed narrative encounters that play out in a gamebook fashion, where you have to pick the right approach or suffer the (often fatal) consequences. This is also how the main storyline of the game plays out; that is, if you can survive for long enough to find it.
Lady Error: This indie game got a surprising third place in one of the recent Game of the Year awards on the RPG Codex - and it completely deserved it. It is a roguelike where you have to survive in a post-apocalyptic environment starting with basically nothing. So you have to rely on anything and everything you can find: sticks, plastic bags, broken bottles, and later maybe even some of the good stuff (if you survive long enough). The items can also be combined and used on each other in a sort of crafting system. Combat is turn-based and a bit clunky, yet it works pretty well for what the game is trying to do. Graphics are better than most roguelike games, though also quite rudimentary. Overall, the game is simply fun and well-made.
Akratus: Deus Ex: Human Revolution is really a marvel when you consider that it's a triple A production. There's actual discussion of subjects that wouldn't even get a mention in most other AAA games, and the story and characters are more mature than big budget titles usually have. And this is one of the game's strongest points. What also sets the game apart are the visuals. It tries to evoke a cyberpunk renaissance atmosphere and does that well, with the caveat of heavily abusing the brown-yellow color scheme. (The Director's Cut seems to have toned that down, though.)
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.
Deuce Traveler: This was my first Quest for Glory game, and the effect it had on me was strong enough for another replay, followed by my purchasing of all the other games of the series and playing through once again as a Paladin.
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.
Ventidius: Set in the Talos I space station, Prey stands as Arkane Studios's attempt to create a spiritual successor of sorts to the legendary System Shock 2. However, players are well advised not to walk into it expecting System Shock 3, on pain of courting disappointment. Whereas SS2 was a hybrid between the immersive sim formula associated with Looking Glass Studios and survival horror elements centered on resource and tension management; Prey, on the other hand, eschewed any survival horror elements and focused on creating an ambitious immersive sim that gave the player ample gameplay and character-building options.
At this the game undeniably succeeds, primarily through the diverse suite of powers - many of which are highly environmentally interactive and combat symmetrical - that are implemented. The powers are unlocked through the use of consumables dubbed Neuromods, and they include skills for combat, sneaking, manipulating the various interactive elements in the station, and an impressive suite of psychic abilities that allows the player to become an unstoppable Esper. This diversity of options in character capacities is definitely one of the perks of immersive sims, and it is something which Prey delivers in spades. Apart from this, the game also boasts excellent level design.
The flip side of the game's plethora of options is that it suffers from some balance issues, as the player can become so powerful that even the strongest enemies eventually cease to pose a threat, not to mention that the abundance of Neuromods means that the player will often be able to pick so many abilities he will not even have to specialize in a given role.
Nevertheless, the game's environmetal storytelling and interaction, emphasis on observation, and an open-endedness that minimizes scripting in advancing the narrative all ensure that there is a symbiosis between Prey's excellent lore-cum-worldbuilding and its gameplay that is rare in gaming. That, and the qualities of said gameplay, make it a worthy successor to the classics that inspired it.
Alpan: Ten years after the gaming press incomprehensibly began to herald System Shock and BioShock's Ken Levine as some sort of game god, Arkane released an actual spiritual successor to System Shock in the form of Prey, minus the charismatic villain. With expansive yet meticulous level design, the game reveled in the exploratory freedom associated with games like Deus Ex and Dishonored, even featuring a gun that formed makeshift platforms for just about any climbing need, and a vast suite of powers that allowed the player to further navigate the environment and subdue (or bypass) hostiles.
Therein lies the rub: Seemingly a survival horror game, Prey nevertheless empowers the player character to such a degree that any concern with survival is very quickly rendered moot even on the highest difficulty setting, and the game quickly devolves into a fun action romp. Perhaps the developers realized the same -- the excellent Mooncrash DLC treats the game more like a roguelike and is highly recommended.
felipepepe: Geneforge presents an original setting, masterfully blending sci-fi with fantasy. "Shapers" are humans able to create and shape life through magic, raise armies of creatures to work and fight for them, and even genetically alter plants to serve as tools and weapons. Everything about the world seems exotic and well-designed, and it’s very interesting to learn about its lore and workings. The story starts with your character washed up on the shore of a mysterious island where rogue creations run wild over abandoned Shaper ruins. As you explore the massive island in search for a way back home, you’ll find the truth behind the abandoned ruins as well as decide the fate of the factions that inhabit the game world. The writing is solid, and the game asks you to make some seriously complex decisions without any banal morality meter to judge your actions. I’ll add that Geneforge is the only game I ever played where the NPCs managed to change my mind with solid arguments (instead of bribes) after I had already decided on a set course of action.
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.
groke: RPG Codex mega-idoru Tim Cain's favorite RPG, Star Control II: The Ur-Quan Masters departs significantly from the hybrid arcade-strategy nature of its predecessor in favor of a choice-and-consequence-driven role-playing adventure on a galactic scale. The year is 2155, and the Alliance of Free Stars has fallen at the hands of the oppressive Ur-Quan Hierarchy. Earth, along with most of its alien allies, has been trapped beneath global "slave shields", preventing inter-planet travel and forcing the human population's reliance on infrequent supply shipments from their titular Ur-Quan masters. One extra-terrestrial human settlement, however, has escaped the notice of their alien overlords...
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.
unfairlightヽ(✿ﾟ▽ﾟ)ノ: This is quite a traditional RPG that went under the radar and got a lot less attention than it deserved. Logic Artists clearly took a lot of influence from Fallout 1 and 2 -- time limits, map-view travel and everything.
The Danes really did an ace job with the historical setting, quests, music, visuals and pacing, which always felt even and high quality. They also added a non-lethal toggle to combat, which was probably one of the best ideas in the game, due to how they often acknowledged that you didn't kill certain characters in dialogue and quest outcomes even if you had the option to do so. Overall I think the game is really well rounded, not lacking in very many aspects other than a undercooked travel/camping system and a somewhat scuffed levelling and skill point system.
Gregz: Wasteland was the original turn-based post-apocalyptic RPG. Very much inspired by the Mad Max films of the early 80s, this predecessor of Fallout crawls from the ruins and establishes a mix of post-apocalyptic despair, old-west mythology, and lost top-secret military technology. A rich blend of challenging combat, humorous storytelling and difficult puzzles gives Wasteland depth and room for your imagination.
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.
Bubbles: As the sequel to the German hit NWN2-ripoff that was Drakensang, The River of Time had only miniscule shoes to fill. Add a tiny bit of freedom of exploration here, a few more character classes, a "free roaming experience" that offers the option of infinitely backtracking through empty settlements and exploring forests filled with trash mobs, and a rickety illusion of C&C, couple that with the most deviously snore-inducing portrayal of Dwarves, Elves and Fairies ever crafted in fantasy to appease the hardcore fans, and boom! - instant classic. Except that it actually failed quite horribly, hurtled the developer into well-deserved bankruptcy, and inspired Phileasson's Secret, which is possibly the most cheaply made and incompetently designed RPG add-on of all time (worse than the Gothic 3 expansion).
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.
Optimist: Roam the galaxy, trade illegal drugs and weaponry, and use the funds to stop incoming biomechanical menace - or just load up on guns and go shoot them yourself. Build up a ski resort on the side, while you're at it.
Space Rangers 2: Dominators from 2004 was a most unusual RPG/trading game/RTS/TPS/text adventure, reminescent of times when game genres were not yet so strictly defined. The entire universe, with its hundreds of ships, five sentient species and invading machines is a giant simulation, with you in the middle to throw wrenches into gears wherever you decide.
This game earned enough of a following to receive a few reeditions. Russians had some additional stuff added in SR2: Revolution, which was then pulled into SR2: Reboot add-on (distributed worldwide). In 2013, a HD version, called Space Rangers HD: A War Apart was released, making the series' chronology not at all confusing. Other than updated HD graphics AWA added a few other things into the mix, including forming previously-unorganized pirates into a third, fully-fledged faction, which will easily trump both the federation and Dominators, given the chance. It's still the definitive version to play - just do not set pirates' power to more than 100% during your first playthrough.
Maxie: Everyone and their dog knows what a bizarre mix of RPG, space sim, RTS, text adventure, and whatever else SR2 is. It's hard to describe the game without sounding like a futuristic blurb, or like a yet another list of failed developer promises. This Russian intellectual product manages to deliver on all the aforementioned fields, along with a healthy dose of jank, badly translated corny jokes, and with the best ever real time simulation of a giant galaxy full of ships, planets, hundreds of space stations, everyday trade and commerce, research and development, crime and punishment.
Frankly, you being there is of no one's keen interest, the galaxy is at war with the similarly real time simulated threat of intergalactic robot invaders and couldn't give less shit about yet another rookie Pioneer in an old ship, who just had some basic combat training and had to leave the home system because of no jobs for young people there. No place for you, in other words. Only by grit, entrepreneurship, and great feats of autism, will you climb the ranks of the Pioneer roster and start making a difference in this world of a hundred worlds, possibly dooming everyone and having to reload. Don't play the HD version if you can, it adds the Pirate faction, which is some OP rusjank shit.
V_K: If traditional RPGs suffered a decline in the past years, with RPG/Adventure hybrids it was a complete and much longer drought. The last decent game of this genre was Quest for Glory 5, released in 1998, more than 15 years ago. Then suddenly by late 2013 a whole quartet of its spiritual successors lined up for a near future release. The end of the world must really be nearby.
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.
felipepepe: ToME is my most-played game ever. It is the game that got me into roguelikes, not only because it's more friendly and accessible than most of its peers, with decent graphics, a great UI and full mouse controls, but also because it feels as a "normal" RPG, with a fixed world map and main quest, including different factions and side-quests with multiple outcomes. You can even turn off permadeath if you wish.
However, my favorite part of the game is how it handles power. ToME's combat is not about DPS or min-maxing stats, is about carefully managing your resources, position and utility spells. It's a challenging and extremely tactical system, fueled by all sorts of interesting abilities. A Chronomancer can split time, test multiple tactics for a few turns and then choose the timeline that worked better; a Doombringer can take an enemy with him into a demonic plane to duel; a Necromancer can perform a dark ritual to turn into a Lich and avoid (perma)death once, and so on. Every class is unique, and there's a lot of room for experimentation.
Finally, it has a crazy amount of secrets, unlockables and achievements to pursue, with the developer constantly adding new content and expansions, meaning I still plan to play this for years and years to come.
Darth Canoli: Featuring 3 campaigns, an arena mode (which can be started from a regular campaign at any moment) and an infinite dungeon mode, there's also 2 new campaigns in development featuring new playable characters, Nagas and Trolls.
The world is huge, there's a lot of secrets and unlockables, like skill trees that will be available for other characters or new playable races and classes and your personal fortress. Character creation is deep and the combat is step based, like in most rogue-likes with one innovation, depending on the choosen difficulty, you start the games with a number of lives you're free to use or not and you will earn more as your character grows or you can play it on iron man mode.
Warriors, archers, rogues and mages types have their own skills, tons of them, with a cool-down system. The game rewards exploration but be wary as there is some dead end taking for of a high level dungeon closing its doors on you and eventually some death traps. It's probably too much of a challenge for most Codexers, isn't it ?
Doktor Best: When Wasteland 2 got released in 2014 after an extraordinarily successful Kickstarter campaign and a long winded development process with several delays, it unfortunately failed to live up to its expectations. However, Inxile released a revamped Directors Cut version which fixed many of the base game's flaws and is now a really fun mix between Fallout1 and regular combat oriented turn based S-Rpgs like X-Com or Jagged Alliance. The game is more linear and structured as its spiritual successors, but also a much larger one and you could even say that the different setpieces contain as much branching game progression as other rpgs in total. The different paths to solve a quest each pose various skill checks, though you can pass most of them easily if you skill your squad appropriately. The writing is decent and like Fallout filled with references and over the top trash movie charme like in Mad Max, Badlands or Solarbabies. The combat is fun, the itemization works, the perk system leads to some pretty interesting and unique playstyles, the quests are well crafted and filled with interesting C&C. So while you can argue wether or not Wasteland 2's still not stellar reputation among the codex is justified, you should also recognize that the few who did take a second look at the DC almost univocally came to the conclusion that it has much improved.
Jedi Master Radek: Wasteland 2 isn't a masterpiece we were naively hoping to get, which caused much anguish, however it is pretty good. The fact that it is front loaded with the worst areas in the whole game didn't help either during it reception.
You create a squad of postapocalyptic militia with a mission to bring the rule of the law into the Wasteland. The game is more balanced towards combat than Fallout, which is serviceable. Character creation is good, however you will have pretty much every skill covered in the first playthrough which reduces replayability.
The game world is divides into to two separate maps, which sadly have some areas that aren't reachable from the start. There are both weak locations like Rail Nomads and excellent ones like Rodia. I didn't like that there is not much interconnection between cities in quest design.
The writing is hit and miss. It get weighted down by the choice to go with a keyword based system which makes conversations lose a more natural rhythm.
The oldschool sensibility oozes from Wasteland 2, which makes up for all game shortcomings.
felipepepe: An overlooked game usually dismissed as a Diablo clone, Divine Divinity is actually way more ambitious, having its aim set as high as Ultima VII. You have a huge world map to explore (without any loading screens), a massive amount of content, various quests with multiple outcomes, and the ability to freely interact with thousands of items in the game world, from weapons and armors to spoons and beds. The combat is solid, and the classless system gives you great freedom to create and advance your character.
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.
Optimist: Gothic 3 had big shoes to grow into. And while it initially tripped quite a few times, grow it did.
Initially rightfully panned for being a buggy, imbalanced mess - wolf stunlocks! - which could bring down even the most powerful machines of the time, it received a lukewarm critical reception. Some of series' fans declared it 'not a real Gothic', ignorant of the horrors that were yet to come. Still, bugs and jank was something usual for the series, so some time after release a group of wonderful madmen, able to see through the mess, started their work on fan patches. With time they managed to turn it into something truly beautiful.
If you pick up Gothic 3 after these years, what you'll get will be a pretty damn good open world game. Find Xardas - the way you do this is up to you. The graphics hold up surprisingly well, Kai Rosenkranz outdid himself (Vista Point!) when it comes to music, and the patched mechanics are rock solid. I don't think any other aRPG save for, perhaps, Dragon Dogma made bow/ magic gameplay this fun. Due to sheer size of the world G3 may fail to make its characters as memorable as its predecessors, but it makes up for it with trademark PB world design, some nice reactivity and feeling of adventure.
Joni Odin von Hassenstein: Do you remember the days when "Open World" still sounded like a promise? When exploring a vast, beautiful continent without artificial boundaries seemed to be the future of RPG's? When the hope for freedom wasn't yet tainted by games with countless repetitive quests, boring trash mobs and soulless landscapes without any memorability? Enter Gothic 3, the latest part of Piranha Bytes' iconic action-RPG - series, released in 2006.
In a beautifully handcrafted world you, the nameless hero, can decide to either help the human rebels to fight the Orcs who have occupied the kingdom of Myrtana, - or to help the occupants in their strive for power. Depending on your choice, in the course of the game the world will change, and so will the ending sequence, of which there are three. Rarely has an open world game managed to build such a poetic, yet believeable world. Here, exploring still is a real adventure.
But the memorable scenery is not the only aspect making the game a unique experience: Gothic 3 has probably the most wonderful soundtrack ever created for a videogame. Kai Rosenkranz, who was responsible for the first two Gothic's soundtracks as well, managed to create his ultimate masterpiece, and it would be worth playing the game for the soundtrack alone.
Once again, Piranha Bytes have proven to be masters of creating an exceptional world with dense atmosphere, and playing this gem is highly recommended! If you do so, make sure to install the latest Community Patch though, since playing it without these inofficial patches can make it a hassle.
With the latest patches installed however, Gothic 3 is an example of what open world RPG's could be.
Lady Error: This game is based on the German table-top RPG system called "Das Schwarze Auge" (Black or Dark Eye), which is also the name of the original German version of the game. Compared to its predecessor, "Spirit of Adventure", the user interface in Realms of Arkania is quite serviceable and less clunky - despite being over 25 years old. Exploration of towns and dungeons happens in first-person view with step-based movement, while the combat switches to an isometric tactical view. One of the most fun parts of the Realms of Arkania series is the world map travel with random events, as well as the necessity to have travel supplies (so as not to get sick), hunt, search for herbs, etc. Overall, the second installment of this series is a bit better game overall - yet the original "Blade of Destiny" is still much better than the recent uninspired and bug-ridden remake.
CryptRat: Faithfully based on The Dark Eye pen & paper series, never before and never afterwards a series managed to simulate the mechanisms and the feeling of a tabletop RPG campaign as much as Attic's series did. The first game invites the players to take the time to create a unique party which will be carried through the entire trilogy, buy various tools including tents, picks, grappling hooks and winter coats. The characters will catch diseases, have to drink beers to ignore their phobia to cross a bridge and get beaten by passerbies in the streets for not wearing pants. Often considered as the appetizer to the second episode in the series, Blade of Destiny is a very fun game which, carried on by brillantly written texts which also know when not to take themselves too seriously, will have the player's party travel through a fully open and simulated world from one inn to another looking for information about the parts of the map which will be the key to repel the orcish threat, while camping, hunting for foods, fighting pirates and visiting dungeons as atmospheric as dreadful.
skacky: Labyrinth of Worlds is not a direct sequel to The Stygian Abyss, but is set between the two parts of Ultima VII. The Guardian ensnares Lord British's castle inside a dome made of Blackrock, and you, as the Avatar, must AGAIN kick his ass.
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.
Alpan: Undertale caused the Codex apoplexy, and for good reason. Here is a game full of grave implications for the discerning RPG player. Choice and consequence? Undertale reacts to nearly every choice you make, including choices you did not realize were choices and those you make outside the game but inside the game files: Yet, the consequences never amount to anything more than an extra interaction and line or two, and the game essentially consists of three set routes. Immersion? Undertale represents a total unity between game mechanics and narrative, with even savegame mechanics playing a role in world-building: Yet, the game is at its core extremely simple. Looks? Undertale has a very plain appearance, and features no voice acting: Yet its soundtrack is a work of genius, and when you're done with it you'll remember many voices. It's geniunely funny, too: Yet, if you so choose, it can become one of the most brooding RPGs ever conceived. You should play it: Nothing like it exists.
felipepepe: I get that not everyone likes Undertale's characters and story. They are cutesy, humorous, sentimental and talk about subjects such as sexuality in a way that will make some shout "SJW CRAP!!!1" and never give it a chance. However, interwoven with that lies a game that fully explores the meta aspects of video games. Created by a single person, everything in Undertale, from the music to the UI to the characters, the combat and even the files on the installation folder are used to build and tell a story. This can be something cosmetic, such as each character having a unique dialog font and theme song, to using the combat system to interact with characters. It's a game that plays on your expectations by shattering the unspoken rules we learned after playing video games for decades.
Undertale is a short and sweet experience that any video game fan should give a try, even if only to realize how 'inside the box" most video games are.
Butter: Tyranny frustrates me. At times it can be brilliant, but often it settles for mediocre. You play as a Fatebinder, a judge in the service of the Overlord Kyros. On occasion you'll be asked to resolve legal disputes, and - hand to God - this is where the game truly shines. This, as well as the intriguing Conquest mode, is where Tyranny feels unique. Had adjudicating difficult cases been the central focus of Tyranny, it would perhaps be considered among the greatest cRPGs ever.
Unfortunately, like its brother Pillars of Eternity, Tyranny is smothered in combat. More unfortunate still is that Tyranny's combat is frankly, just weak. There's a shocking lack of enemy variety, aoe damage spells are totally overpowered, and the hardest fight is in Act 1. Tyranny isn't a long game, but you will tire of its combat before the end.
Like many games on this list, Tyranny didn't reach its full potential, but that doesn't mean it's bad. It deserves more recognition than it's received in the 3 years since its release.
Darth Canoli: Close to being the true Planescape Torment's sequel, Tyranny setup is a breath of fresh air.
The main character is empowered by a powerful entity and yet has to cope with the mighty Archons, the introduction is original, NPC and companions a real piece of art and the story enthralling.
What's not to like? The combat system, RTwP, like Planescape with a "new" mechanism, team skills isn't that bad, compared to recent similar games, but the enemies lack in variety, particularly in the old wall area where you're going to be sick of fighting. The outsourced companion's quest are also underwhelming and Obsidian treated loading screens like a piece of art, letting us enjoy it as long as we can endure it and beyond.
Overall, if you're in for the story with a 1 month old gaming computer, you'll probably enjoy it, if you love the RTwP system, probably as well, otherwise it's going to be a mitigated experience. Still, it's probably one of the most legitimate entry, amongst the recent AAA cRPG.
Lady Error: A worthy conclusion to the venerable series of Might & Magic RPG's. This game came out many years after the generally disliked Might & Magic IX. Instead of full 3D exploration, Might & Magic X went back to step-based movement of the earlier Might & Magic games, while improving the graphics and the user interface considerably. Combat is still turn-based and varied enough to be fun throughout the game. The main criticism is probably the relative shortness of the game, as well as the relatively slow beginning with gated areas.
Darth Canoli: Incline of Decline? A bit of both actually. I like what they did to the combat system and the artifacts gaining experience, and the bestiary is interesting too: dragons, cyclops, manticores, etc. This part doesn't disappoint.
On a down side, the world feels small and artificially gated, which adds a lot of backtracking. Also, say good by to utility spells like fly, walk on water and teleport. In Might Legacy, magic isn't allowed anymore.
Still, while a disappointing M&M game, Legacy is still a good blobber, where a lot of interesting fights, quests and riddles await if you can turn a blind eye to their mistakes.
Martyr: Ultima 6 is the pinnacle of the venerable Ultima series, which has always been known for simulating a living fantasy world full of NPCs with their own personalities and activity schedules. it is also the last Ultima to feature the character creation through answering moral dilemmas and party based, turn based combat. Ultima 7 took a different route, focusing almost exclusively on the simulation of its' world and storytelling, which led to a more watered down roleplaying experience.
In Ultima 6 you're pretty much free to do everything the game allows you to do. of course you can strictly follow the plotline, which starts out by asking you to cleanse the eight Shrines of Virtue, which have been corrupted by the demon-like Gargoyles and then takes some really nice twists and turns. but you can also freely explore the open world by foot, horse, ship or teleportation, which is instantly available by traversing Moongates through the use of Orbs of the Moon, which can be found in Lord British's Castle.
You can also pick up NPCs, get side-quests or carry around cannons to shoot at everyone you see or open locked doors with them. There's still lots of fun to be had with Ultima 6, which is one of my favorite RPGs of all time. it's also nice to play one of the ancestors of modern open world simulationist action RPGs like Skyrim, as a history lesson for newcomers of the genre.
Covenant: Though not the most widely-acclaimed game in the Ultima series, The False Prophet is a worthy follow-up to its predecessors. It continues the interesting tradition of placing the complicated ideal of virtue above more typical concerns such as slaying a demon or retrieving a forgotten treasure. Just as Warriors of Destiny showed how a strong system of virtues can be warped and misused when pushed to excess by corrupt leaders, Prophet continues to challenge the player's preconceptions about right and wrong.
As to be expected with an Ultima game, the world is vast, and populated with scores of NPCs with their own histories, concerns, and schedules. The keyword system works well in interactions, rewarding players who pay attention and make intuitive leaps of logic with vital clues. Each town has its own sense of character, with humour being used sparingly but to good effect, and the world as a whole feels like it exists independently of the player.
Unfortunately, the world is a little bland compared to Warriors; the sense of dread that abounded there is not to be found here, replaced instead with a feeling of malaise. The first half of the game quickly becomes an aimless scouring of the world for map pieces, and lacks any urgency. The second half is more interesting as the player begins to investigate the Gargoyles' world, but by this point they are likely experienced and have enough magic that most sense of danger and challenge is lacking - indeed, combat is rather mediocre throughout.
Still, it is a joy to walk through the world of Britannia, particularly with the rousing soundtrack. Many hours of fun could be had simply wandering and eschewing the main quest entirely. Hidden valleys and caves are filled with little touches that show the care with which the developers filled the world, and the sense of exploration that springs from this is truly fantastic.
Lady Error: This RPG is quite unique in that it combines top-down-view exploration (similar to Baldur's Gate) with blobber-like combat (similar to Wizardry or JRPG's). This combination works surprisingly well. The world of Xulima is huge, ranging from icy regions, to forests, jungles, deserts, as well as towns and castles - all with beautiful, fairy-tale-like graphics. Exploration of extreme weather regions is actually dangerous since you run out of supplies much faster, adding a lot to the fun. What can be criticized about this game is that it has relatively few dungeon areas, as well as a somewhat formulaic design where the same elements are repeated on several maps (one castle, one town, one witch house). Also, the end game is not very well done and could have been trimmed down somewhat.
Darth Canoli: Brace yourself for the ultimate adventure, inspired by the Might & Magic series. What I like the most in Xulima is the bestiary, monsters have very different characteristics from one another like in the pre-3D M&M. There's also the ambient which is its strong suit and all the little things, the earth giants, the riddles, you being hunted, the witches, the optional dungeons and their puzzles, the Titans.
On a down side, the main story isn't really engaging anymore after the second town, castle, temple cycle and the weapons combat skills could have been handled better; wounds, poison and bleed feels redundant; some aoe attacks would have been great. So, Xulima isn't perfect, it's an indie game but it barely shows (outside of the copy/pasted towns), prepare for an epic adventure and fight in the arena if you dare!
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 8'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!
Deuce Traveler: In Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, the term we used for playing adventures intended for characters over 20th level was "epic". Epic level play is often difficult to design, since the game system breaks down a bit on higher levels where Save or Die effects become more commonplace in order to present a challenge to otherwise unstoppable heroes. Yet Pools of Darkness somehow managed to walk the player all the way to level 40 while still presenting a game that was fun to play and a setting that was a joy to explore.
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.
HarveyBirdman: Oblivion's greatest asset is its atmosphere.
Jeremy Soule's soundtrack is a masterwork. Harp and flute gracefully meander as you peruse quaint shops for arcane merchandise to buy (or steal); string ensemble somberly washes over you as you trudge through the swamp towards a sunken ruin; soaring brass quickens your blade as you clash with the ghost of a butchered pirate captain. All the while, vibrant watercolor-esque visuals pleasantly greet your eyes. The art direction is familiar, but so devoid of cheeseball convention that it feels genuine.
Quests vary drastically in quality. Despite obvious flaws, the main quest is interesting in premise, unique in its ending, and boasts a legitimately fascinating villain. However, side quests, faction quests, and hundreds of moderately non-linear dungeons are the true stars of the show. And underlying the whole game is the robust Elder Scrolls lore, which is pervasive and worth investigating.
The skills and attributes system is pretty much just like Morrowind's, though with fewer skills to choose from.
Oblivion is far from best RPG you'll ever play, but it's also far from the worst. I love this game, warts and all. If you can't walk through the Imperial City listening to harps during a rainstorm and think, "Hey, this is kinda nice," then you ought to see a doctor, because I doubt your heart is beating.
Ze0wing: Oblivion is the last Elder Scrolls title that still has that semblance of the good old TES fun with flexible rpg system and exploration buried underneath medieval europe fantasy outlook, cookie-cutter characters and often childish writing. That's why it remains the first go-to TES title to start with, even for kids despite the age rating. Oblivion as a game is built as a theme park with smaller map with cranked together points of interest and quest arrow. It gets the job done when it's needed to introduce the player to the Elder Scrolls universe. It's core gameplay and the idea behind the roleplaying system, its good and bad parts are more akin to earlier titles than Skyrim so you won't be that lost if you try to pick up earlier titles such as Morrowind next, which is most recommended second TES title to try out.