Matt's Top Ten CRPGs

Matt Barton's picture

A lot of peeps have been asking me to compile a list of my top ten favorite CRPGs of all time. Like most fans of the genre, I have many favorites, and these will shift around as I come in and out of different phases. Also, this is just a personal list of what I either enjoy now or look back on with the most fondness; I'm not worried here about what is most influential or innovative. It's just my top ten favorite CRPGs, as of this moment. I'm also going to skip hybrid games that try to cross genres, such as Mass Effect and Deus Ex, as well as MUDs and MMORPGs. Okay, enough disclaiming already! Here goes the list:

Someday he's gonna be a jedi...Someday he's gonna be a jedi...10. Knights of the Old Republic. I have to admit the bulk of my appeal for this game comes from its setting in the Star Wars universe, which I love almost as much as Middle Earth and Krynn. There were times playing this game where I felt I had actually entered that universe and was a part of something bigger than the game itself. It seems to me that after this game, Bioware cut the cord and went Action, Action, ACTION. There's some of that tendency here, but compared to Dragon Age and Mass Effect, at least this still reminds me of a true CRPG.

9. The Bard's Tale. It's a bit of a guilty pleasure to love this game so much, since it was heavily derivative on Wizardry, but what can I say...It didn't take me long to really want to explore the town of Skara Brae and get my pack of wimpy, glass-jawed heroes up to snuff. I also really like the Bard as a class and character; it seems obvious today, but back then it was really fun to think about a guy out strumming a lute as the rest of the party fought for their lives. I also really like the artistic style, which adds a certain character that really is unique. It also has a great box that you can fold out and see a lovely map of the city. Good stuff.

8. Dungeon Master. Another game that I am deeply saddened to have missed out on when it was fresh. I know I would've absolutely loved it. Unfortunately, it required 1 megabyte of RAM to play, and my Amiga 1000 was limited to 512K. That still frustrates me to this day! Still, when I finally got to play it, I was really impressed with the interface, and it's obvious at once how the real-time elements set it apart from its predecessors and contemporaries. It's a bit hard to get into today because of the magic system, which definitely requires some reading, but overall it's still lots of fun. I remember the ads stressed that you need to wear headphones and only play the game at night. I don't know if that was necessary, but it was a neato game for sure.

7. Might and Magic 6: The Mandate of Heaven. Another game that feels comfortable to me, like a favorite pair of old shoes that'll never let you down. I originally picked this game up because of the box art, which looked a lot like the AD&D art of the Gold Box games. After I saw the actual game, I was disappointed, big time, since it felt more like Doom than Pool of Radiance. Still, I let it grow on me, and was soon completely hooked. It's one of the few CRPGs I've actually finished twice. It's got a great pace and the world is really fun to explore, with some truly inspired level designs. It's really fantastic when you finally get the flight spell and go soaring up above the map. That experience alone is worth playing this game. A lot of fans of this series seem to think the Xeen games are the ones to play, but this is the one I started with and don't regret it at all. A little story about this game: a friend of mine saw me playing it, and was intrigued enough to get a copy for himself and play it at his house. There, his stepfather (a man in his fifties who was not then a gamer) saw HIM playing it, and got hooked as well. I went to my friend's house a year later, and discovered a huge three-ring binder that his stepdad had compiled. It was full of maps, tables, charts, and all kinds of information about M&M 6! I couldn't believe it. Now, it's not just any game that could do that.

ASCII first. Graphics later.ASCII first. Graphics later.6. Nethack. I'm not a roguelike nut like many of my fellow enthusiasts, but I do occasionally fire up Nethack or one of its kin to wile away a few blissful hours. I believe my first brush with a roguelike was on the Amiga via a shareware disk pack--LARN was the name. Some people assume these games are simplistic, but they haven't played them. Once you get into it, you quickly realize there's a helluva lot to explore, though granted it's all about the algorithms. The sheer randomness of it is one of the key appeals--you really never know what to expect or what could happen. Later on I found Nethack, which really hit the spot. I don't want to use the over-used term "casual" here, but these are some of the only CRPGs you can boot up and play for a few minutes and quit without worrying about saving the game or whatever.

5. Planescape: Torment. I know a lot of people claim this game is their favorite because it makes them seem cool, sorta like people who claim their favorite novel is Catcher in the Rye or their favorite movie is Citizen Kane. Yeah, yeah, we get it, you're not the typical Joe 6-Pack who thinks Michael Bay is a living legend. But anyway! I didn't play this game when it came out, but only recently, but right away I was hooked on the story and characters. The setting is a wonderful contrast from the usual generic fantasy world, and it's neat learning how it works and your character's role in it. There's also lots of nice twists, such as the way the game uses death as a gameplay element rather than just a punishment. All in all, a great game that every CRPG fan should experience at least once.

So fun you actually want nuclear war.So fun you actually want nuclear war.4. Fallout. I missed Wasteland when it was new, so my first foray into post-apocalyptic CRPGs was the original Fallout. It's a bit rough around the edges, I have to say, but overall there's a lot to love here. It's one of the few games set in this environment that really felt convincing to me. That first scene where you're emerging from the vault really felt like leaving the womb. The humor is great, too. I'm sad that I missed out on Wasteland, but at least I got to experience this masterpiece and its sequel. It's said that there's even a Tardis out there in the wastes somewhere...How cool is that?

3. Wizardry. It really says something about a game when you find yourself preferring it over much more "advanced" games. That's the way it was with me and Wizardry, which I first stumbled upon in a big box of C-64 warez. I consider it the Tetris of CRPGs--simple to learn, but hard to master. I never managed to beat it, but boy did I spend some time on those proving grounds. Surprisingly, the later games never really appealed to me as much as the original.

2. Baldur's Gate 2. The first game is okay, but the second one is my favorite. I like the additional rules that let you tweak your character, and of course the characters and story are top shelf stuff. I really don't see how any true CRPG fan could dislike this game. I've played it through twice and enjoyed it both times. Who could forget Minsc and Boo, or the awesome boss fights? To me, this is Bioware's crowning achievement. I actually was reluctant to try this game because I was so turned off that you only created a single character than a whole party. I finally gave in, though, and am glad I did--I even ended up liking this better than Icewind Dale, which did let you do the party thing. Still, what makes the game stand out to me is the detail; the developers did a great job bringing the world of AD&D to life, and for that I am grateful.

I still want to be this guy!I still want to be this guy!1. Pool of Radiance. This is the game that really hooked me on CRPGs, even though I'd played Telengard, Bard's Tale, and others before it. It was really the package as a whole that captured me--I was already interested in AD&D and its subculture, but unfortunately knew no one who was into it. This game seemed like a great introduction, and it was. Unlike almost every CRPG after it, the world of Phlan is genuinely interesting and you feel like you're not just building up a set of characters, but a struggling town as well. I ended up playing almost all the Gold Box games, including the Dragonlance and Gateway series.

You might be surprised to see some titles missing, such as Ultima, Arcania, Phantasie, Daggerfall, Final Fantasy (not if you know me!), etc. The truth is, I missed a lot of those games when they were fresh, and it's been hard to get into most of them today. This is particularly true of the Ultima games, which really strike me as a "had to have been there" kinda thing. I know a lot of folks drool every time "Final Fantasy" is mentioned, but I (thankfully?) didn't own an NES or SNES, so wasn't corrupted by their influence. I have played FF IV on my DS and the first game, and while I can see their good points, disliked both. Chrono Trigger was fun, but again I think people like to go on about it because it has a certain cachet with a certain set, and will help deflect the endless hordes of Final Fantasy fanboys who think you're an idiot because you aren't obsessed with all things Japanese.

The same goes for Diablo and its clones. I understand that publishers and seemingly designers are now convinced that "action" must take precedence over all else, but ^$%# that. 'nuff said.

I have yet to play anything by Bethesda that really impressed me, though I suspect Daggerfall would have been a real hit with me if I'd played it back then. I've heard stories from folks who did play it, and it certainly sounds intriguing. I like some of their later games, and have completed Morrowind and Oblivion (and will probably get Skyrim), but this isn't a romantic relationship. It's more of a "geez, wish there was a new Baldur's Gate, but I'll settle for this." I do mean to get around to getting more into Arcanum, since I've played it enough to see it has real potential to go up high on my list once I've spent more time with it.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed reading this, and I'd like to see which ones you love or hate or perhaps love and hate!

Comments

Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
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Joined: 12/31/1969
It's hard to argue with that

It's hard to argue with that list, though of course I would add the Phantasie series as per my own first great exposure to a CRPG. There are a few other great ones missing, but of course everyone's top 10 will be different (for instance, I'd also add in AutoDuel--it's unique AND great).

I hope that at some point I can block out time to play a good CRPG again. It has been a number of years since I've been able to.

n/a
clok1966
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Joined: 01/21/2009
Great list, star points for

Great list, star points for mentioning LARN :) to this day I think, in america at least, the AMIGA gets so little love. I cant argue with any, but must admit my lit would be slightly different, but I have alwasy thouhgt games, where like music, we all like our won thing. I have a bit more love for the new stuff. The gold box series was awsome for its day But I alwasy felt it was so SLOW. I remeber the first 20-30 kobold battles, getting to a choke point and so, somthing never seen in a game like that before.. but those battles could drag on for hours. Of course in those days I could spend hours, nowdays my attention span is much shorter.

Dungeon Master- When that game came out, it was perfect in my eyes, real time, true stero sound so you could tell where monsters where, I did the searching with my own eyes, not a "search" key... That might have been my ZEN moment with a RPG.. of course many came after it and improved on it BLACK CRYPT will always be my favorite of that style game (AMIGA ONLY TOO!!!) and it lunched a company still makeing games today RAVEN (hertic/Hexen, lots of Id engine games, and some pretty succesfull console games (X-men).

Bards tale- Nobody cant love this if they are a true RPG player, while i agree with the assesment its a Wizardry knock off.. it ANIMATED the monsters!!!! easliy in the top 5 most loved for me.

Baulders gate- ice wind dale, Neverwinter nights I & II, planescape.. all good, but I never shared hte love most had for them, not sure why everyhting I like is there, but while i enjoyed them all, i have so many others I would pick over them ( and yes I now.. minority on that.. BG is kinda known as the BEST) i guess that is one of those things I dont understand why somebody doesnt like something I do.. its all taste and what cranks your crank :)

YOu mention Daggerfall--- One i played far longer than any singel other RPG. its like its current siblings, you can forget the main quest and do what you want. Daggerfall was huge, as in like two times the size of England or something silly like that. Im and exploration nut, finding a new dungeon in some tucked away place is PURE bliss for me, and this game had it in spades.. Basicly you could NEVER run out of some new place (of curse with random generated stuff it did become some what the same eventally. But while you would "see" the building blocks, no two areas where the same. I also loved I could be a total BAD@ss once you got to apoint you could have anything in the game, while nowdays I think far to hard about my decisions, back then whipeing a town off the map was quite fun. One thing, this one is FREE!!! you can download on Beth's page, or you could! Also check out the wiki page, there is alot of support of this old game. Modern rewrite (engine for better graphics) installers to make adding the MODS people felt where needed on a moodern machine.

I would have to have Ultima Underworld in my list. it was the first true 3D dungeon, where hieght and EXPLORING really took on a new meaning. It had some fairly bad combat and was one of those games "ahead of the current tech" so it played pretty poorly, but it was amazing to me and I spent HOURs digging into it.

And I would have Phantasy Star for the Sega Master system, while I enjoyed the RPG's on consoles, this one was the one that added COMPUTER like (bards tale) dungones to the console world.

And I would have DEMONS SOULS on my list.. its new, its REAL TIME and its action.. but man is it a great game. Exploring a fully populated world of badies (and repopulated every time you die which does suspend belief a bit) its got goals, rpg like skill ups and quite ismply required you to think alot. Easily the best game I have played in the last 5 years.

I do think you have a great list.. YOu are old school for sure (nothing wrong with that). With the big STEAM sale this weekend i picked up the DLC for Fallout:Vegas I really love the last 2 fallouts.. I know its alot more action than most will like, but its almost the perfect blend for me. The exploring part is maybe the best as they do such a great job of hidden little areas that really sucks me in. The combat in Oblivion was alwasy a sore spot with me, i never felt in control enough, but the VATS in Fallout give me that extra bit of control i crave. I am a sucker for the "no right way" to play the game. Vegas has several factions, none a CLEAR CUT best, and you cant make them all happy.. heck you can even make um all hate you. I also like it doesnt stear away from hard descision. And while its not PC.. its a far more real world then most games have.. hookers, hate, greed, dispair, people doing hte wrong thing for the right reason.. etc.. I talked about Daggerfall and the ability to "kill" a town.. In fallout i have an option of making friends with a Clan or killing them.. I tired all the ways I could think of and couldnt do it.. I acully agonized about killing them, i didnt want ot doit, but I exhuasted my ideas on making them my firends. So the killing spree started, and while I know its just a game,it felt wrong.

One thing I hate about modern day games.. the interent has made those tough spots... simple..GO to a forum and ask for HINTS (not answers) and you will be laughed at.. nobody wants to be nundged, they just want the answer with pictures. Fallout (last two actually) i vowed to not use any websites or walkthrouhgs... its been a few spots where I KNOW i made the wrong descion, but oh well. I'm also not saving every step before I decide.. I'm living with my descions. Its made the game alot more fun for me. One part I hated about OLD rpgs' was the FIGHT/SAVE non stop cycle. of course I pulled my hair out when i went an hour and lost and wondered why the heck I didnt save sooner.

Awsome list.. And I still ahvent finished KOTOR.. and I picekd Up Jade empire for the PC the other day too...

bagelobo (not verified)
I can't really argue with a

I can't really argue with a list of YOUR favorite games, but any top 10 CRPG list without an Ultima game on it is a failure in my eyes.

Erez (not verified)
Ultima

I have to agree on this one, in particular ultima 4, 5, 7 and/or underworld (my favorite and still unbeaten for a true dungeon crawling experience - sorry DM, you were the first - but UW really created a world underground). Although I do agree that the first trilogy is kinda hard to get into today.

However, as far as Wizardry goes, I wholeheartedly disagree with #7 (CoDS) in particular not making the list, which in my opinion
really elevated the series from its origins.

Regards,
Erez.

Chris
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Joined: 07/27/2011
Interesting list, but....

As already said, Ultima should have been on there somewhere. Either U4 for completely departing from the "kill the bad guy at the end" paradigm, or 7 for it's complete open world feel (Sheer sheep, bake bread, etc., all wrapped in a fabulous story. Though, for some reason, 3 remains my favorite.

Pool of Radiance was OK, but if you want to give it points for starting things, then you need to give the title to Wizard's Crown. If you want the best in the series, Curse of the Azure Bonds seems like the better game with the ability to leave town and explore other locales... the beholder/drow chamber in the magic shop was a fabulous surprise.

I also would have replaced Dungeon Master, with Eye of the Beholder. I just found it more interesting.

Deathlord, Phantasie, Magic Candle, and Questron needed an honorable mention in there somewhere too.

Milkman Dan (not verified)
Games I missed out on

That list brought back a lot of good memories. But it also reminded me of the games I missed out on when they were new, or that I started but ended up not finishing for various reasons, and that I find very difficult to get into now.

All of SSI's RPGs prior to the Gold Box games; Phantasie, Wizard's Crown, and such. Dark Heart of Uukrul. Dragon Wars. Or all the Wizardry games prior to the 6th. I tried out a few of them through abandonware sites (I know, I know) but never got very far.

Oddly enough, I've been finding some titles with surprisingly "old school" gameplay on the DS, such as Etrian Odyssey.

Jason Tiller (not verified)
Where has the time gone??

One of the things that always strikes me when I think about my CRPG roots is how *much* time I devoted to those early games. I might have designed entire buildings during the time AND GRAPH PAPER I spent finishing BT I & II (I was *so* burned out by III). And those Gold Box games had the most interminable battles imaginable!

But, the funny thing is that at the time, I loved it. It was no biggie for me to game 8 hours straight. (I don't even want to *think* about the NWN MMO - I dropped thousands of dollars all told...)

It's just hard for me to believe how insanely focused I could be while playing those games. There was one game (Wizard's Crown?) that I played before actually owning a computer of my own. I would sneak in to the office of the church next door late at night and fire it up on their genuine IBM PC XT(r) and engage in a clickfest, back when that meant the "one true click" - IBM's selectric keyboard!

Even were I to encounter that kind of mind-opening game again, my life has changed and that time can never come back. In a sense, it will always be nostalgic because even if the games haven't changed, I can never recreate the environment that allowed me to enjoy them like I did.

clok1966
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Joined: 01/21/2009
agreed
Jason Tiller wrote:

Even were I to encounter that kind of mind-opening game again, my life has changed and that time can never come back. In a sense, it will always be nostalgic because even if the games haven't changed, I can never recreate the environment that allowed me to enjoy them like I did.

I think you hit the nail on the head. I was quite simply blown away by Ultima, Wizardry, The Gold box games, Dungeon master, Everquest.. all basicly firsts for thier day. The newness, my willingness to map with graph paper, etc.. I simply will not recreate that feeling again. My love for the old games is pretty much limited to talk, I have jumped into Ultima a couple times on a nostalga thing.. and quickly quit as I cant "grind" out how boring they are.. part as I do remeber so nothing will be "discovered" again.. but simply put the clunky interface and graphics.. while neither are horrible, they do all add up to not a great experinace nowdays.

But i have found some of the old classic can hold up, its normally the really old ones that seem to age the worst. Wastelands is one I can remeber being blown away by, and I have tried it again and its quite hard to understand what I loved so much about it back then. I still have the respect and remeber how much I loved them, but my rose colored glasses just cant mask how much times have changed. I have ZERO interest in mapping nowdays. Some functional map system in game (and bonus points if i can add my own notes) is required. it is sad, that was a wonderfull time no doubt.
Some of my foundest memories is me and 2 freinds sitting in front of a Apple IIe, one running the computer, one mapping and the other waiting his turn in the command chair or mapping seat. Wizardry 1-2 and 3, Ulitma 4 and 5, Bards tale 1 and 2, and several others where all Multi player experinaces for me.. the 3 of us playing them .. great times.

Chris
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Joined: 07/27/2011
Finding time
Jason Tiller wrote:

Even were I to encounter that kind of mind-opening game again, my life has changed and that time can never come back. In a sense, it will always be nostalgic because even if the games haven't changed, I can never recreate the environment that allowed me to enjoy them like I did.

True, but I think what has truly changed is an improvement of interface. I'm playing Wizard's Crown right now (for the first time... I might add), and I'm blown away by may of the things about it. I have a full time job, soon to be wife, and other things to do, so often I get only a little time to play, but I see many of the 'classic game shortcomings' being something that can be improved and sped up through interface changes, while still holding that old school, feel, charm and difficulty.

We've become accustomed to a mouse for movement, and being an analog device it's smoother than keyboard.

We've become accustomed to dual/quad/etc core processors and 8 gigs of ram are becoming standard. Their is no excuse for 'lag' or 'load the game while you're eating dinner' like I used to have. Or the classic step... wait.... step... wait... step... wait... load fight.... load fight... begin fight... step.. wait... attack... wait...

Having to 'read' what happened in the little text box in Bard's Tale/Wizardry/etc can be replaced with an icon that tells you all you need to know at a glance.

Mapping now can be handled in an auto-map feature where there is enough memory, space, and interface that you can even add your own pins and notes to the map.

Hot keys make menus superfluous.

And those are all good changes.

Some bad changes are the fact that games now have decided that risk means the player might lose, and losing is no fun... forgetting a game you can't lose is no fun either.

Some games don't make the player make hard choices. Do you want to leave the dungeon with that sword, or the armor. You can't carry both. Did you bring enough food for the journey? You don't want to starve in the dungeon. And then at high levels, when those things stopped being 'exciting' take them away. Here's a bag of endless bread, etc. It was something you had to work for.

Notice how people don't complain about that... they complain about the grind. That those games didn't fill the story with much, they just made you fight monsters until you got better, with the promise of a great battle when you were strong enough. I have a friend who complains about all those things, and says the same thing... I couldn't do that anymore.

... and then he spends a week working on the same game of Civ5, only to start a new one right after he's done.

I think someone could create a game that takes all the skill, tactics, and depth of physics from these old RPG's, put them in a new one with the speed, interface, and graphics of a new game, and have people excited about it. Dragon Age did a pretty good job of it, but there's room for improvement.

gg (not verified)
I saw you mentioned Arcanum,

I saw you mentioned Arcanum, and how you are hoping to get into it.
Lemme just say this, Arcanum is one of the true gems in the genre, truely. Underrated and underappreciated, it's story and characters pack a devastatingly awesome punch!
Maybe you won't like it's turnbased combat, but you can always switch it to real-time, always played it like that and it never bugged me. Otherwise it's mostly played like Fallout (turnbased) :)
Enjoy.

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