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!


Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Joined: 12/31/1969
I have the Ultima IV beta on

I have the Ultima IV beta on my iPad 2 and it's not quite as easy to get into as I hoped, and it's essentially a faithful, but mildly updated PC version. I need to really sit down with the manual from my boxed Apple II version (which I plan to give a go at some point for comparison purposes). Supposedly Ultima IV on the Sega Master System is quite good, with the computer experience, just with a more streamlined interface...

Joined: 07/27/2011
If you want to stay true to

If you want to stay true to the game, but just update the graphics a bit:

Otherwise: keeps track of what's going on in remakes and other things Ultima related.

But one of the most celebrated fixes has got to be Ultima: Lazarus - a remake of Ultima V using the Dungeon Siege engine. Well done, enhanced dialog, and interface... not 100% true, but very good none the less.

Personally, I think the C64 had some of the best versions of 3 - 5, but 6 and up are pretty much PC only. I think 6 was the last multi-platform game, but you'd have to check on that.

Joined: 01/21/2009
Quite honeslty Alkbeth and

Quite honeslty Alkbeth and Ultima where my first CRPG's. I have mentioned before Treasure of tarmin for the Intelvision, but without digging on wiki's and such I couldnt tell you which I played first. But I know the pure wonder and excitment back then playing those simple games just simply hasnt happened again to me sicne my fist steps in teh Everquest beta. I do really get into some new games, but that sence of wonder, discovering something new, seeing a game style for the first time is gone. While I think of Ultimas fondly i agree. I dont think I could ever play one of the first ones again.

I was (sorta) there for the killing of Lord British in UO.. it was hard to stay online as so many people where there. I was in and out of the game, and it was quite exciting.. and sucky as we all died in the end.

One thing I remeber about the old ultima's was how they bucked the "norm". I think of the whirlpool.. you avoided that thing like the plauge as the game did a great job of stressing it would kill you. yet it was a door. When I discovered that.. it was like a Zen moment, like i had figured out some cosmic riddle. When the walls where crushing me in 3(?) I was stumped for hours. after finally figureing it out and winning, it was a boss battle with no graphics.. but no less satisfying as beating one in a modern game. Imagination wa just somthing we used alot more, but in todays world, we need to see/feel and taste.

Look at Star Wars, if it came out today it wouldnt even be a foot note. The special effects where pretty fair at the time, not cutting edge, but for the budget and such, very well done. the story was nothing special (we could go into how its just a rip off of a great asian movie, but we wont). it really was just a well done B movie.. it wouldnt hold up today (sorry I know the hardcore Star Wars poeple will disagree, and maybe they are right and Im wrong, there is no way to test so its moot).

its simple, some thing just cant be experiansed like they wher when they first came out. And those of us who did, we are left with those great memories and we try to relive them. it sure doesnt make Ultima any less a game if its hard to play nowdays.. things change.. But ther was a time when it was Great in every sence of the word to those who played it. Of the millions of games that have come out, think about how many you have forgot, never heard of, never played. I know I cruize forums and somebody will mention a game I had totally forgot.. and I will remeber how fun it was..

Terminator By Bethesda
SEIGE by Mindcraft (and is sequels)
Fantasy Empires

all long forgotten.. and great.. amybe not to all, but some.

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