Matt's List of the Top Ten Worst CRPGs

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Matt Barton's picture

Nooo! Don't play the third one!Nooo! Don't play the third one!What are the ten worst CRPGs? This is a question that takes a lot of thought, because terrible games typically do not sell well and are quickly forgotten. What I think most of us have in mind with questions like this are high profile disasters--games that received a huge amount of hype, had no excuses to be bad, and turned out to be so spectacularly awful that it was more fun reading and writing the scathing reviews than the game would have been in the first place. We're not talking about low budget, small-team productions that you wouldn't expect much from anyway. These are the big budget games that stank so badly you not only flushed them three times but actually went to the store for a giant can of industrial-strength Lysol. With that as my build up, let's crank up our Roto-Rooters and dredge these crusty wads back up to the surface.

#10. Lands of Lore III. The Lands of Lore series was created by Westwood Studios, the legendary developer responsible for Eye of the Beholder and plenty of other epic CRPGs. The original Lands of Lore debuted in 1993 to critical acclaim, offering an interface similar to Dungeon Master or EOB that holds up well even today. The franchise was brought to an intestine-blocking halt in 1999 with the arrival of this boring game with terrible graphics and enough bugs to keep an entomology department busy for decades. Perhaps the biggest problem, though, is that the game tries to be an FPS, ratcheting up the "action" because that's what all gamers want, righhhht? Uh, nope. Don't worry, though, it's a pattern we'll see repeated. And we all know that the definition of genius is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, right?

Will they notice it's shipping with 1987 graphics?Will they notice it's shipping with 1987 graphics?#9. Dungeon Master II: Skullkeep. The first Dungeon Master is a legend among CRPG fans, celebrated for its tight, real-time gameplay and fun level design. The first "official" sequel (don't get this confused with Chaos Strikes Back!) showed up in 1995. Like those puzzles in the first game? They're gone. But you get more combat!!! Only it's boring, repetitive combat...Click, click, click. Anyone with a measurable IQ need not apply here. Like a lot of the games on this list, Skullkeep probably wouldn't look so bad if it didn't try to claim the legacy of a truly awesome game. Maybe if knew nothing of the original's legacy, you might appreciate this for the mediocre game that it is. Ah, what bliss.

#8. DeathKeep. Another peanut-studded turd from the mid-90s, Deathkeep was another pathetic attempt to make CRPGs more appealing to boneheads by grafting them onto FPS engines. What results is a shooter game based on the AD&D license. It was released for 3DO (another embarrassing memory of the mid-90s) and Windows, with crappy graphics and choppy movement. It's a good thing the story makes up for it...Actually, it doesn't. Kill the evil wizard, er, necromancer. Yeah, that's original.

#7. Dungeon Siege 3. Whenever the original designer or design team outsources a sequel, have a plumber on speed dial. Chris Taylor was proud to put his name on the first and second games. While I doubt anyone would call even the first one "great," Dungeon Siege was entertaining and compelling enough to finish. Perhaps in a foolish and misguided effort to "adapt for console gamers," we end up with the clunky interface of the turd, er, third game. A bigger problem, though, is the forgettable cast of characters and gameplay shallower than a water-saving toilet basin. I guess they're taking the "siege" part seriously, particularly the part about sitting around and being really bored. I think all of us really wanted to see this game do well, since another great rpg (even an action RPG) would be really welcome right now. Something totally awesome!!! Damn, I selected the wrong curtain and got Dungeon Siege 3 instead.

#6. Alpha Protocol. Chris Avellone, what have you done? How could the same guy who gave us Planescape: Torment produce a flop like this, particularly when the premise (an "espionage RPG") sounds so fascinating? Just hearing that phrase alone makes me want to buy it. But, yeah, we just got another mess with more bugs than a public lavatory without any soap left. Like Dungeon Siege 3, I'm kinda reminded of a bunch of frat guys trying to bake a cake. But they didn't plan well, and now they're out of time, so they turn up the oven to broil thinking it'll turn out just as great in half the time. What really makes this game so galling is that you can't help but see that it could have--should have--been so much better. Perhaps the "alpha" in the title is a not so subtle clue?

Descent from Anus Descent from Anus #5. Descent to Undermountain. Ever heard of a game called Fallout? Yeah, I bet you have. Well, guess what--it was considered this developer's "B game." Their big project was Descent to Undermountain, an AD&D licensed game based on the Descent engine. Yeah, that's right, the @#$@ Descent engine. How the hell was that supposed to turn out? The devs blamed it on a rushed production schedule, but I don't know anyone who seriously thinks this stupid idea deserved another year of anybody's time. What's to like here? I don't know what criterion you could come up with that wouldn't make this game look bad. Awful AI, terrible graphics, repetitive least you to get fight some giant rats. And they even float in mid-air...!

#4. Dragonlance: Heroes of the Lance. I hope somebody came to serious harm while making this game. How dare they take one of my favorite licenses and treat it like this...I know people who give their toilet paper more respect. Not incidentally, this was another effort to interest console gamers in AD&D stuff, and I guess the assumption was that console gamers are a bunch of strategically shaven gorillas who enjoy mashing buttons. I mean, what the hell @$@ is this? Some kind of side-scrolling action game with some kind of AD&D rules under the hood? Did somebody ask for that? Please, if they did, rip their heart out with a dragonlance. Wait, scratch that. Use a spoon.

#3. Might and Magic IX. New World Computing is the greenest developer I know. Man, they LOVE recycling. Just look at M&M 7 and 8. I'd forgive anyone for not being able to tell them apart from 6. So, by 2002 they figured they'd really better do something different, because, I don't know, maybe the mandate had ended or something. They were so lazy, they couldn't even think of a title for this one, so it's just IX. That's a bad sign. The bullet points sound good, at least--3D engine, real & turn-based combat, a "conversation engine," etc. So what do we end up with? Another bloody mess. It's like they made a list of everything they did right in Mandate of Heaven and did the opposite. Simplistic character creation. Slow start. Lack of choice. Not even a clue why you're #$@ there. Won't make that mistake again. Neither will a publisher.

Avatar DLC includes 50% more sparkles! Avatar DLC includes 50% more sparkles! #2. Ultima IX: Ascension. Like Roberta Williams, Richard Garriott's fame was earned by taking big chances and pushing every conceivable boundary. He was usually pretty good at predicting what fans wanted, even if they didn't realize it, and surpassing their expectations. The Ultima series was something that not just CRPG nuts got excited about; the entire computer games industry kept their eye on Origin because they were always a full step ahead of everybody else. But sometimes when you're blindly leaping forward, you land in a puddle of manure. Garriott began doubting his fans, convincing himself (again like Williams) that he had to stop doing what he did best and try to appeal to the masses by bringing in more ACTION and less of everything else (except bugs, of course). I guess he felt was that he didn't go far enough towards stupid with Pagan, so they had take it down a notch or six. But Ascension, oh wow...This was the game that should have proved that Garriott had lost it completely, but it took Tabula Rasa to do that. I guess Garriott's brilliant plan for IX was to turn Ultima into the next Tomb Raider. That's probably not that bad of an idea considering the success of Tomb Raider and Zelda, but it's not Ultima. It didn't help that it was another rush job with tons of show-stopping bugs.

#1. Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor. Sigh. I once said that I would never mention this game because I was afraid that somehow, even by dissing it, I would be drawing attention to it and some idiot out there would be curious enough to seek it out. I'd like to think this game didn't really exist, and that I could somehow alter history so that it never existed. As you know, Pool of Radiance was my first long-term relationship with a role-playing game, and man I always wanted to go back. But when you do go back ten years later, your sweetheart has put on 300 pounds, lost her teeth, and is rolling around Wal-Mart in a motorized wheelchair with a confederate flag jutting out the back.

To say that this game was a disappointment would be like saying Julius Caesar faced a small obstacle during the Ides of March. Or that Pompeii entered a mild recession due to an annoying volcano.

Even the dragons are decrepit.Even the dragons are decrepit.I hate to even have to talk about why this game was so awful, but it's the same sort of thing wrong with all the games listed here: awful productions. Can you imagine the drama that must have been going on behind the scenes? Overbearing egos, vital tasks assigned to "coders" who had maybe made a mod or two, estranged publishers threatening to cut funding at any moment...Eventually people get fed up and say SCREW IT, just release this thing even though we all know it's a P.O.S. This publisher/developer/supervisor doesn't deserve better. At that point, a terrible fan reception is revenge; they can point at them and say "See, I told ya. Now I feel completely justified."

I remember one time a guy told me that he was really excited to play Pool of Radiance after he read my reviews and descriptions of it. But he said it was a bit dated, so he'd just play the updated sequel instead. Can you imagine my horror?

What really makes me maddest of all, though, is that it pretty much guarantees that no one will ever invest in such a project again. For all intents and purposes, turn-based is dead. We'll probably never see another great, AAA-budgeted CRPG again, because now it's "proven" that gamers only want action, action, ACTION! Intelligence? That's boring! What, do you think gamers actually have brains? Of course they don't.

So you see, these games aren't just failures we can laugh at and move on. They are failures that doomed my beloved CRPG genre to the nether regions of the indie scene. Now all we can ever hope for is yet another shooter game with some "rpg elements" thrown in to keep us from going completely brain dead.


Joined: 01/21/2009
Once again... great list,

Once again... great list, even if I dont agree with them all... guess Im to much a cup is half full guy (when it comes to gameing).

#1- I never bought it, dont even know waht type of RPG it is.. now Im all interested... OH nooo's thats not what you wanted.
#2- while I dont think its as bad as most (maybe becuase i got that giant book version of it! gotta justify that) at release it was bad. Luckly i have been a Power PC user for years and my machine tore through it.. HAHAHAHAH just kidding, I dont think any machine ran that well for at least a year plus after its release. YES it had bugs.. bad game crashing bugs. Whne released the engine was unbearibly slow and it didnt look better then anything else. ok.. yep this one was bad.
#3- DANG IT!!! after my recently revived M&M playtime (from your GOG post) i just (actually like 10 minutes ago bought this game on Ebay) i picked it up. I dont remeber ever seeing this game either.
#4 No argument, looked good on the box for the time (graphics) but i can rember buyin this and playing like 2 hours.. and giving up. And back then a $40 game was a huge deal.. SO i played even the stinkers.. but this one.. nope.
#5 I liked this one, once again I cant argu with the bugs this game had, a space game used to make a "feet on the ground" dungeon. My real gripe was with how easy it was to hang monsters and kill them from a distance.. and unforntantly vis versa.. getting stuck and having the monsters tear you to bits. And it was kinda ugly even for the time.. stuff blended into the backgorund to much.
#6 $5 Best Buy bargin bin, never looked at it yet.
#7- after the amazingingly annoying Quest Hub in 2 (in the trees) i havent bought this one.. maybe at $10
#8- Totally disagree with this one.. I loved DeathKeep (and its earlier sibling Slayer) on the 3DO.. and dont forget its last member Dungeon Hack. Though I would admit this is little RPG and more action. The randomly generated dungeons ment you could play this forever. Sorry I loved this one.. and still fire up the 3DO and put an hour (or 5) in when i load it.. Of course Tresure of tarmin for the Intellvision still facinates me :)
#9 Know i played it as I devoured any DM/EOB games back then, but dont recall it at all.
#10- another I know I played but dont recall it at all. In fact the most I remeber about LoL was Weswood did it (DUNE II rules) and Patrick Stewert did the kings voice and it was on CD (2nd one) and my $300 cd drive could be used!) I know i enjoyed the first one.. but he 2nd and 3rd just dont rember much of, they whre late in the game for that style of Dungeon crawler, maybe was burned out a bit.

I would add THUNDERSCAPE, Metalheart (steampunk/shadowrun mix..), Shadow Vualt (fallout wanna be.. with a bunch of crap tacked on).. and a few newer ones I have bought on STEAM (indy) but I wont name names on those.

Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Joined: 12/31/1969
I'd add Penguin's Expedition

I'd add Penguin's Expedition Amazon to the list: . It has the foundations of a good CRPG and an original premise of being explorers in the Amazon where lifelike things happen, but there are way too many random deaths and an irritating feature where you ALWAYS lose your in-game map (wind, etc.), turning the uncovered parts of the screen black again. It's like they didn't want you to play the thing.

Erez (not verified)
Matt you baaad boooy

1) Matt, I am disheartened here!!! What is a picture of Land of Lore 2 (not 3, 2!!!) doing up there when you are talking about the third in the series.
I totally agree that LoL3 was the worst piece of crap I laid my hands on, but Lol2 was quite decent, interesting story and characters, imaginative locations, and is a really memorable RPG (or should I say 'action-rpg' since westwood did take the action part a bit further than the first game in the series).

Pleaaaaase...corrreeeeect....or someone might think the LoL2 is not worth getting.

2) One thing I believe you forgot to mention is the now (in)famous bug that existing in the original production of Pool Of Radiance: RoMD whereas
if you installed it in any place other than the default installation location, it would corrupt your windows/registry.

slenkar (not verified)
I only own Might and Magic 9

I only own Might and Magic 9 (a gift) and Dungeon Master 2 and yes they are terrible :)

I would add most JRPG's to that list , especially FF7 which I was fooled into buying by all the hype.

sascha (not verified)
Pool of Radiance: Ruins of

Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor? Never heard of this one. Sounds interesting! I must try this!!

Codexer (not verified)
Wasn't there a bug with Pool

Wasn't there a bug with Pool of Radiance where it could actually wipe your entire hard drive when you tried to uninstall it?

Anonymous (not verified)
It basically fubared your OS

It basically fubared your OS because it uninstalled a number of necessary system files. I was one such victim.

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
Anonymous wrote:

It basically fubared your OS because it uninstalled a number of necessary system files. I was one such victim.

Wow, an actual victim. I remember reading about this bug when the came out, and also some reports. I'm not sure how many people lost their data, but it's still appalling. Of course, if you carefully read the EULAs you click through whenever you install ANYTHING these days, it clears them of any responsibility for any damage it might do to your data or even your system. Bunch of scallywags.

Joined: 01/21/2009
NOW DO remeber this game, or

NOW DO remeber this game, or at least teh file uninstall issues. it could only go on the C drive also correct? I seem to remeber that be the exact reason I did not pick it up now.. and non bought means not rembered for me. I did a youtube tour of it, and it really doesnt look to bad there.. of course short vaction to AZ (for us northern folks) in the winter is nice, the heat in summer kinda sucks. hard to judge from a few videos.

Anonymous (not verified)
Your "Pool of Radiance: Ruins

Your "Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor" is my "Dragon Age 2". I feel your pain. ;)

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