Okay, I guess this list should actually be called, "Jim's Favorite Computer RPGs of All-Time", but who is going to look up that on Google?!? Now that you are here, though, I want to let you know that I am a huge fan of any sort of Role Playing and yes, that even includes the sexy kind! My favorite of that has to be the ever popular "Neanderthal meets the Cro-Magnon while hunting and gathering", but hey, I'm a sucker for the classics! That is for another list, though, because we are here to talk about Computer RPG's. I'm sure some people will be upset that their favorites aren't included, but I had a couple of rules in mind when I came up with this top 5. First, I had to actually have played the game on a computer. I know that sounds silly, but while I loved such games as Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect 2 and Skyrim, I played them on a console and this list will not include them. Second, I had to have actually played the game. I am not going to fake the funk and include games that pop up on all these lists just because they pop up on all these lists. I promise you, I have played a ton of RPGs, but I certainly haven't played all of them. Now that the rules have been set, here is my list of Top 5 Computer RPGs of All-Time
5. Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar (1985)
This game is going to start an early theme of games that I played with my buddy, Pete. It's a really odd game to think about now...You weren't thrown into a dark, fantasy world in need of a hero. There was no princess to save and it was pretty devoid of the tropes that defined these type of games. Nope, the game really just wanted to make you a better person. Crazy, huh? It kind of blew my mind, but also drove me crazy. You see, I love stats and thus, love to assign them. However, when the game starts, there are no stats, no carefully assigning scores for attributes like strength, intelligence or dexterity. Instead, a gypsy asked you to solve moral dilemmas using tarot cards. WTF?!? Then you were assigned a profession based on your choices. Of course, it lead to some restarting and redoing (no gypsy is going to make me a Tinker!), but really, that is just par for the coarse in my life.
Ultima IV really was such a unique take on the genre, especially since the genre was still so new. Players were tasked with becoming the Avatar through enlightenment in all eight virtues. Pretty heavy stuff and something that intrigued me from the get go. You did it through conversations, actions and eventually meditation at each virtues' shrine. There are so many things in the game that could trip you up...brag to someone in a bar? Steal some crops? Kick a puppy? Instead of enlightenment, you'll get yelled at! "Hath strayed far from the path of the avatar." Oh, I certainly have.
Yes, looking at the graphics today make them seem laughable and the systems (no saving in dungeons) and controls are archaic, but because of unique gameplay, conversation system and story, I think it easily belongs on this list.
4. The Return of Heracles (1983)
Remember that rule I stated at the beginning that I actually had to play the game to include it? Yea, I kind of lied. I never really played The Return of Heracles. I did, however, watch Pete (there he is again) and his brother, Jay, play what had to be over a hundred hours of this game. It was created by the legendary Stuart Smith and was non-linear, challenging and just fun to play (and to watch!) It threw the Tolkien cliches aside and instead, used Greek Mythology to create a world full of awesome characters and quests.
I have always been a huge fan of Greek Myth and so I fell in love with The Return of Heracles the minute I saw it. You get to pick a party of up to 19 characters (19!) and it really is a mythological hall of fame...Perseus, Ulysses, Ajax, even Pegasus can join together and venture forth into a very dangerous world. There are traps, wandering monsters, Trojan spies and if that's not enough, sometimes the gods would just smite you because they felt like it! It's okay though, you just pick another character and get on with it!
To finish the game, you had to complete the 12 Labors of Zeus. Finish a Labor, get rewarded for it and move on to the next one. Sounds simple, but it really wasn't. For me, it was the thrill of seeing Myth come alive...where else could I go to see a mashup that combined the likes of slaying a minotaur, rebuilding Thebes and rescuing Helen of Troy all in an afternoon? I guess watching Clash of the Titans comes close, but I never could figure out how Mickey trained both Perseus and Rocky.
Again, going back to play such an old game is tough, but it still makes me smile.
3. The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall (1996)
We now jump forward in time to my wheelhouse of computer rpgs. Before there was Skyrim, there was Oblivion. Before there was Oblivion, there was Morrowind. Before there was Morrowind, there was my third favorite game on this list...Daggerfall. If I had to describe Daggerfall in one word, it would be "EPIC"!!!
I actually picked this game up without really knowing anything about it. I was our local mall's Electronics Boutique with Pete (of course) and I saw this box:
How could you just walk on by something like that? When I looked at the back and saw that it was a 3-D first person RPG that looked awesome, I was intrigued. When I loaded it up on my computer and started playing, I was amazed. It says on the box, "Prepare to experience your new obsession" and they weren't kidding.
The game is massive. The setting is as big as Great Britain with 15,000 towns and a population of 750,000 (to put this in perspective for you modern gamers, Skyrim has 1000). You could spend entire gaming sessions just walking around and taking in the view and I did. Luckily, completely finishing a game wasn't a criteria for this list because with so much to do, I always got sidetracked by sidequests and I loved every minute of it.
With all that said, I still haven't given you my favorite part about this game. It was the character creation system that won me over and still blows my mind to this day. It used a variation of the GURPS rpg system (a bit of a story there) and while it came with 18 classes to pick from (my favorite Nightblade), you could make your own custom classes. That's right, you could finally show the world the awesomeness of the Beat Boxing Blade! If you are wondering, that class uses the skills of Street Smart, Illusion and Short Blade. Perfection. The possibilities are pretty endless and I might even say that screwing around making up classes is more fun than actually finishing the main quest.
For it's time, the game also looked incredible. The appeal was actually feeling like you were in the game and the first person 3-D provided by the XnGine engine did just that. Everything was built around that concept...the controls, sound, everything.
Like I said, it was all so epic...six different endings, a huge game world, endless character creation possibilities. However, it all came with a huge price. The game was buggy as hell when it was released. It would freeze, crash and do all sorts of crazy things. I remember one time just falling through the game world! My character just kept falling too and I'm convinced he still is out there, one lonely Beat Boxing Blade, falling through nothingness for all eternity. If not for that, I probably would have put this as my #1, but #3 ain't too shabby.
2. Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn (2000)
This next game was all about the story. And the characters. And the setting. Okay, it had it all and just expanded on the greatness that was Baldur's Gate which would have made the list if it was a top 6.
I love D&D and spent a lot of time reading the rulebooks and making the characters, but little time playing. That changed when Bioware released the Baldur's Gate games. The original Baldur's Gate blew my mind and I had so much fun playing it (especially online with my friends), but Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn is better to the point of being almost perfect within it's genre.
The game picks up soon after the events of Baldur's Gate, with the same protagonist, Gorion's Ward, waking up in a cage and realizing he's being experimented on by the wizard, Jon Irenicus. The next 60-300 hours involve a quest to save your soul and the world and every part is great.
The controls are point and click and the graphics are the classic Bioware isometric view and while they have been described as workman like in some reviews I've read, I always liked that style and it only disguises the real workhorse here...the Infinity Engine. This really was D&D come to like (specifically the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition rule set) with number crunching and dice rolling being done behind the scenes and it felt like it.
I was gripped by the story of Baldur's Gate II, but that is easy to imagine because it had the best characters I have ever seen in a game. You get the thrill of seeing your favorites from Baldur's Gate and meet some new ones as well. Every hero, villain, npc, ect is a fully fleshed out character and I could ask five people who there favorite was and get five different answers. Well, maybe not. Minsc and Boo are the best and always will be. If you don't know who they are, play the games or grab the new Dungeons & Dragons comic book that IDW just put out a couple of week's ago.
I love this game and after writing this, I plan to play it again real soon. It is recognized as a classic and rightly so.
1. Planescape: Torment (1999)
The number one game on my list is something I picked up to pass the time between Baldur's Gate and Baldur's Gate 2. Planescape: Torment wasn't exactly the dream game in my mind. It takes place in the Planescape setting which I hate and the story about "The Nameless One" trying to regain his memories didn't strike me as exciting in the least. ,However, my friend Jay (not Pete this time), told me to play it. Plain and simple. He said it was great and I should play it. So I did. If I haven't thanked him, I really should call him now because it is by far, the best computer rpg I have ever played.
It's all about story and location. Funny that the two things I thought I would hate are the reason this game is a cult classic, but they are. As you travel through the Planescape mulitiverse, you meet characters (many of which you had known, but forgotten), gain and complete quests all of which leads to your main goal...figuring out what who the hell you are. When you do eventually find out, I promise you that it goes beyond just being a simple video game ending.
That actually goes for the entire game. Since Bioware used the already up and running Infinity Engine, they must have had time to really think more about setting, character and plot...that and take a whole lot of drugs. Just the philosophy in this game makes the Baldur's Gate games look like a playground fight between first graders in comparison. There is little combat in the entire game and most quests and conflicts are resolved through dialogue and moral decisions. The fact that one of my least favorite things about D&D, the alignment system, has such a big role in this game and totally kills it is testament to how well it is designed.
Plus, I'd be remiss in mentioning that this game also includes one of my favorite characters of all-time, Mortimer "Morte" Rictusgrin. He is a floating human skull that hits on all the ladies (living and dead), gives you clues and is good in a fight. Best. Sidekick. Ever.
Everyone who talks about this game gets upset that it was pretty much a failure and while I think it's a shame, it's not hard to figure out. It's a strange game with a strange main character, taking place in a setting that I've never heard anyone say they love and came out after a D&D game that was a nerds wet dream. It also wasn't something you could quickly explain to a customer in a story or even someone at school or work. Jay had it right when he just told me to play it because that's the only way you can really find out how great it is. "It's great and you should play it".