Kamis, 05 Mei 2011

25 best RPG games ever

Playing computer RPGs is a life-long hobby of mine that I consider a guilty pleasure. Considering that even the smallest ones take about 30 hours (and some well over 100) to complete, I've probably wasted more than a few 40-hour work weeks on this geeky hobby. Here are some of my personal favorites through the years. To narrow down the list, all of them are single-player games and only for the PC (MS-DOS/Windows) platform. These great games are hard to rank internally, so I've sorted them by year:
Original Ad for The Bard's Tale

1. Bard's Tale (1985)

The first Bard's Tale is probably only remembered by geeks 30+, but those that do remember it do so fondly. It was originally released for the Apple II, but was ported to all other platforms too eventually. With its revolutionary grid-based 3D dungeoneering the game looked amazing at the time. By the way: the 2004 Bard's Tale is neither a sequel or remake of the original series, although it's a pretty amusing parody of classic RPGs.

2. Pool of Radiance (1988)

Pool of Radiance was the first PC RPG to use real Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules. It also introduced computer gamers to the Forgotten Realms setting - the fantasy world created by Ed Greenwood in the 60s that has been polished to perfection ever since in fantasy novels by R.A Salvatore and several other great writers. The game was obviously a rather archaic experience by today's standards, but compared to what was available at the time it took PC gaming to a new level. Pool of Radiance was followed by the equally great Curse of the Azure Bonds and others. There's also a rather uninspiring sequel from this decade (2001) - Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor.
Pool of Radiance in-game screens

3. Eye of the Beholder (1990)

A Beholder is a classic D&D monster composed of a disgusting heap of flesh and floating eyes, and it's also the antagonist in Eye of the Beholder--a classic that made its debut on the PC, which was still a low-profile gaming platform in 1990. It's a classic dungeon crawl based on 2nd Edition D&D rules. The lords of Waterdeep (a city in the Forgotten Realms) hire you to investigate some strange ongoings beneath the city. Once you enter the sewers to take a look, the walls collapse behind you and the only way forward is down through a vast series of caves. Trivia: Westwood, the developer of Eye of the Beholder I & II, later left SSI, D&D and the Forgotten Realms to create the miserable Lands of Lore series.

4. Ultima VII. The Black Gate (1992)

The Ultima series creator Richard Gariott - aka "Lord British" - has always been a committed and virtuous gentleman, which is why I won't mention the utter failure of the concluding part of the saga (IX: Ascension) but focus on the masterpiece, Ultima VII. It was divided into two parts: The Black Gate and The Serpent Isle, each of them with their own expansion packs. It's an amazingly well-balanced RPG with equal emphasis storytelling, exploration and open-ended gameplay.

5. Betrayal at Krondor (1993)

Unlike most RPGs from the same period, Betrayal at Krondor doesn't rely just on leveling up or reaching the next dungeon to spur players on. It's divided into chapters much like a book--as a matter of fact it is based on Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar novels.The 1998 sequel Return to Krondor was also well received and worth a look.

6. Fallout (1997)

Fallout isn't just one of the best RPGs, it's one of the best games ever made in any category. Sure, the graphics in the original are a far cry from Bethesda's multimillion dollar third installment, but the heaps of gore and melting bodies are easy enough to distinguish, and as any true masterpiece it stands the test of time. The game is presented in an isometric perspective, and the combat is fully turn-based (those were the days). Just like the latest version, the first Fallout also centers around a Vault Dweller who has to leave the safety of the Vault (aka fallout shelter) and go into the untamed post-nuclear wasteland of the early 22nd century.

War, war never changes...

7. Might & Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven (1998)

The Might & Magic series has been around for a long time--the first game appeared in the late 80s for 8-bit platforms (including the NES). Except for some of the later outcroppings, such as Dark Messiah and Crusaders of Might & Magic (what a piece of trash!) all of the games have been turn based and all of them presented in lush 3D. Might and Magic 6: The Mandate of Heaven breaks away from the grid-based confinement of the previous games to offer a completely free-roaming world. It doesn't have much of a plot, but it is also (perhaps for the same reason) about as non-linear as a game gets--you can take your four characters and wander off to the last dungeon right away. Obviously you'll be killed before you get there, but still.

8. Baldur's Gate (1998)

Baldur's Gate is a benchmark for story-driven role-playing games. In my opinion, BG 1 & 2 really only compete with the Fallout games for the top spot of the best RPG series ever made. Baldur's Gate has living, breathing characters with a history and personality of their own, and It draws on the intricate lore of the Forgotten Realms setting to give it even more depth. You get to keep the same characters throughout the whole series, via the Tales of the Sword Coast expansion to Baldur's Gate II and the concluding Throne of Bhaal. It's even possible to export your BG character to Neverwinter Nights and continue on from there. Trivia: Don't confuse the original Baldur's Gate 1 & 2 with the console Dark Alliance spinoffs, which are just unoriginal hack-n-slash action RPGs.

9. Final Fantasy VII (1998)

Although it was originally a PlayStation game and the PC conversion is a half-assed effort at best, Final Fantasy VII is still one of the best RPGs ever created and clearly worth including. It is also one of few Japanese RPGs to reach the PC platform--usually they're all console affairs. Unfortunately Square didn't make an effort to tweak the game to use the much more capable PC hardware. FFVII should have been even better on the PC, but at least it is equally great.

10. Planescape: Torment (1999)

For Planescape: Torment, Black Isle tweaked the Infinity Engine from Baldur's gate and adapted it to the popular Planescape D&D setting. The game tells a story about the Nameless One--an immortal who wakes up in a morgue somewhere in the Planescape city of Sigil. The protagonist is immortal and can't be killed permanently, but whenever he is brought back from the dead he remembers nothing of his former lives, and this is what the story revolves around. Just like Baldur's Gate, it's a highly story-driven RPG, but there's still an liberal amount of fighting using AD&D 2nd edition rules.

11. System Shock 2 (1999)

Lots of games try desperately to be original, but System Shock 2 is undeniably unique. The game borrows its 3D engine from the successful "sneak 'em up" Thief, meaning that it has very effective and spooky light management considering its age. The game is a sci-fi RPG/FPS hybrid that takes place on the abandoned starship Von Braun, which has been struck by some alien infestation (sound familiar?). Recently System Shock 2 got a sequel - at least in spirit - in Bioshock. Both games have a lot in common, especially the atmosphere but also in certain power-ups that can be gained throughout the game, such as hacking and psionic abilities.

12. Icewind Dale (2000)

Following in the footsteps of Baldur's Gate and using the same Infinity Engine, Icewind Dale puts you in the northernmost regions of the Forgotten Realms. Unlike Baldur's Gate and Planescape: Torment, Icewind Dale lets you create an entire party before setting out to kill goblins and orcs. The game is more combat-focused than said games, but it still has an interesting storyline with some obvious references to the Salvatore trilogy with the same name and setting.

13. Deus Ex (2000)

Deus Ex has a lot in common with System Shock 2; it's a futuristic RPG/FPS hybrid that lets you take the game in different directions by augmenting your character's abilities. Although it can be played more or less like a regular first-person shooter, skills like hacking and stealth allows for completely different ways of approaching the game, like any good RPG should. In Deus Ex you play the more "conventional" hero JC Denton who works for a UN anti-terrorist unit in a relatively near and dystopian future. As the game progresses Denton gets mixed up in a more sinister conspiracy involving the Illuminati and some other shadowy organizations.

14. Diablo II (2000)

The first Diablo became an instant trademark of addictive gameplay, and Diablo II merely improved on the winning concept. Although the game mechanics are extremely simple, you just can't put your mouse away until you've leveled up again or reached the next dungeon. There are too many shameless clones to list here, but let's just say that Diablo I and II has "inspired" a great deal of other action RPGs. The single-player mode is highly addictive, but the most rewarding part of Diablo II is playing it online.

The well-balanced Diablo II character classes: Amazon, Necromancer, Barbarian, Sorceress, and Paladin.

15. Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn (2000)

I guess my weak spot for these old BioWare it's fairly obvious by now, but this was sadly the last BG Infinity Engine game [edit: no it wasn't, Icewind Dale 2 was the last one/thanks commenter Relayer71]. Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn picks up after the Tales of the Sword Coast Expansion--your character is imprisoned by a mad (elf) scientist in Athkatla, south of Baldur's Gate, and coincidentally so are some of your old friends. The plot continues to explore your character's divine heritage and takes you across a huge and beautifully hand-drawn world until it's time to face off with your nemesis. The Baldur's Gate saga eventually concludes in the mandatory Throne of Bhaal expansion, where you have to make the final decisions about what to do with your godly heritage.

16. Wizardry 8 (2001)

Apparently I've come this far without mentioning the Wizardry series, and omitting it would be an embarrassment. The first Wizardry game - Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord - came out as early as 1981, and the early parts of the series has inspired many of the classic RPG series like Might & Magic and Eye of the Beholder. Wizardry 8 was the last part of a trilogy including 6 and 7, but it was released much later after a long and tumultuous development process. Combat in Wizardry 8 is turn-based and there are lots of stats and character classes to play around with--the game is a must if you enjoy classic RPGs. Barring a small miracle, this will most likely be the last part of this long-running series.

17. Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura (2001)

Arcanum is a wonderfully unique game set in a not-so traditional fantasy world that happens to be in the middle of the industrial revolution--it's frequently referred to as the "Steampunk RPG". In spite of being extraordinarily buggy at launch (I was unable to finish it on the first try,) the game was praised by nearly all critics for its immersive atmosphere and fallout-style turn-based gameplay. After a few hundred MBs of patches - some unofficial fan patches since the developer went bankrupt - the game is fully playable nowadays and should be tried by anyone who enjoys a great RPG.

18. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (2002)

Arena, the first game in Bethesda's The Elder Scrolls series was innovative but not overly successful. Daggerfall offered a taste of what was to come with a huge game world and free-roaming gameplay, but it also had a fair share of game-breaking bugs. With The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Bethesda all but perfected the concept. They also put the futuristic and powerful grapics cards of 2002 to a stress test with some amazing visuals, including pixel-shaded water. Basically, Morrowind realizes the grand ideas behind the previous games, but with less bugs. Including the expansion packs Tribunal and Bloodmoon, Morrowind is a massive game--only the in-game text is said to comprise six average novels.

19. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003)

In my humble opinion, KotOR is still the best Star Wars game ever (not that the competition is that stiff, but still). On the other hand, one expects nothing less from a BioWare logo on the box. The game's role-playing elements are similar to the 3rd edition D&D rules, meaning that the combat is divided into rounds and may be auto-paused at the end of each round (optional) to assign new actions. As the title implies, the game takes place before the Empire--some 4,000 years before to be precise. Depending on your choices in the game, you will gradually lean either toward the light or the dark side of the Force.

20: Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines (2004)

The Vampire: The Masquerade PC games are often overlooked for some reason, but there's still no better way to role-play as a vampire on your computer than Bloodlines, which is set in the mature Vampire: The Masquerade world from the original pen and paper RPG. Bloodlines is a sequel to Vampire The Masquerade: Redemption from 2000, but uses the much more modern Source engine from Half Life 2. When starting the game you pick your Vampire clan, and this is only the first of many choices. The game's storyline is highly dynamic, and there are several different endings depending on the paths you choose.

21. Gothic 3 (2006)

Gothic 3 was loaded with bugs upon release, but was still relatively well received--maybe because of its high ambitions and good intentions. Now that it's been patched up a number of times it is a much better game. It's a few years old now, but it still looks great. Or rather, now it looks great that there's hardware capable of playing it. The third part of Gothic takes up where Gothic II left off, but now our Nameless Hero has arrived on a new continent only to be greeted by a bunch of ugly orcs closing in for the kill. The rest of the story is open ended--you can side with different factions or none at all, instead roaming the countryside killing and looting whatever comes your way until you get bored. In terms of free exploration, Gothic 3 is similar to Oblivion, albeit on a smaller scale.

22. Neverwinter Nights 2 (2006)

Neverwinter Nights 2 is a great RPG all by itself, but a huge bonus is the included toolset that provide the building blocks to create your own adventures. There are lots of excellent community modules that can potentially add hundreds of hours to the game. The Neverwinter Nights games are spiritual successors to the Baldur's Gate series, but take place on the northern end of the Sword Coast. Like its predecessors, it has a major focus on the story, which is very well written and divided into separate acts. NWN 2 uses D&D 3.5 Edition rules, and all the classes, spells and abilities that comes with it.

23. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006)

Oblivion is an amazing game in many ways, but the most impressive parts is its sheer size (16 square miles) and the fact that you can just ignore the main quest and go out and explore a seemingly infinite number of dungeons. Similar to Morrowind, you don't level up in the conventional way by gaining experience points through completed quests or kills, but by using the skills that you want to improve. To say that Oblivion is a game with depth and a complex game world would be an understatement. If you - for some reason - haven't played the game already now is the time, but make sure you play it on a PC and not the choppy, sub-par 360 version.

24. Mass Effect (2008)

Yet another BioWare game that will go to the books as a classic; Mass Effect takes place in a future where humanity has finally - through the discovery of technology left by an extinct alien race - been able to move out into the galaxy, make contact with alien races, and establish space colonies. You take on the role of Commander Shepherd--an either male or female character that you can customize to your heart's content. The game is somewhat similar to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, but is built around a proprietary combat system, and of course, takes place in an entirely different setting. The Mass Effect universe has no problem standing on its own legs though--the game world is appealingly complex and the storyline would do well in any comparison with Star Wars.

25. Fallout 3 (2008)

And so Fallout 3 finally saw the light of day. It was pretty farfetched that Bethesda would be making it, and many feared that it would just be an "Oblivion with guns". Thankfully those fears were allayed when the game was released. Fallout 3 stays true to its sexy post-apocalyptic roots but makes the move to a great-looking 3D engine. This time it's set on the east coast, also known as the Capital Wasteland. There are a whole lot of new places to go and people to mutilate.

Coming Soon

That's it for now, but before this year's end there will probably be a couple more games to add to the list--Dragon Age: Origins from BioWare feels like a safe bet, and Mass Effect 2 is also nearing the finish line.If you managed to get through the full list, you may even be interested in my blog "RPG PC Games" .

Update: Bonus Games

Long overdue update: People are still reading and commenting on this page, which is awesome! It's just that it was published more than a year ago, and these things get dated fast. At the very least, a couple more game should be added to the "Best Ever" list:
(if you have any other suggestions, please add them to the comments below. Thanks for reading!)

26. Dragon Age: Origins

With Dragon Age: Origins, the Awakening expansion and lots of considerably-better-than-average downloadable content, Bioware has yet again created a world class PC role-playing experience. While it's a bit sad that they have moved on from the Forgotten Realms setting, Dragon Age offers an immersive atmosphere and rich mythology that can easily stand on its own two feet. The game takes you through a complex world where not everything is black or white; as in any true RPG there are many choices to make, paths to choose, and there are different outcomes to all of them.

27. The Witcher

With The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings on the horizon this is a late update but this game should definitely be on the list. The Witcher is based on a series of fantasy novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski about the genetically enhanced monster slayer Geralt of Rivia. It's an action RPG that uses a heavily modified version of BioWare's Aurora engine from Neverwinter Nights 2, although this is hardly noticeable (The Witcher looks a lot better). What separates this game from the rest of the genre is that it doesn't shy away from excessively rude language and gratuitous nudity. This aspect alone makes it worth checking out. There's also an "Enhanced Edition" available with improved textures and some new adventures.

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