It's really easy to lose yourself in the graphics of Dragon Age and the awesome cinematics of Mass Effect 2. But looking back, RPGs were not always the Triple A titles with Hollywood budgets they are today. Back in the day, developers had to work with tighter constraints and had to therefore place a stronger emphasis on telling a story through the medium of text. Be that as it may, the games they made remain among some of the finest RPGs I've ever played.
In this list, we take a look at a number of RPGs that have endured the test of time.
"War. War never changes." Spoken by Ron Perlman, these unforgettable words define Fallout's cynical outlook on the nature of war and its disastrous effects on humankind. Fallout takes place in a retro-futuristic North America inspired by the pulp science fiction of the 1950s and the Red Scare, and puts you in the shoes of the Vault Dweller (referred to in later games as the Lone Wanderer), an individual cast out of Vault 13 to seek a water chip to replace the failing unit.
Released during a time when RPGs were declared all but dead, Fallout singlehandedly revitalized the genre with its clever dialogue, intricate storyline and explicitly violent turn-based combat. The game had a dark sense of humor that the series became well known for.
In this cyberpunk-themed RPG, you take on the role of cybernetically enhanced UNATCO agent J.C. Denton. Tasked with foiling a terrorist plot to start a new American civil war in the midst of a deadly plague, Denton discovers that the truth is hidden beneath layer upon layer of conspiracy and endeavors to uncover the hidden agenda of the organization he works for.
Deus Ex is a hybrid of the first person shooter, the RPG, and the stealth gameplay of Thief. It's a truly immersive title that remains unsurpassed even by its successor, Invisible War.
Few games manage to capture the feeling of Lord of the Rings or The Wheel of Time as much as Baldur's Gate does. Fleeing from your sanctuary of Candlekeep, you play the role of a hunted youth, in search of the men who killed your stepfather Gorion. Along the way, you encounter allies who share similar goals and enemies sent by the killer, in attempts to thwart you from your goal. As you journey to the city of Baldur's Gate, you encounter a vast conspiracy to take over the iron trade along the Sword Coast and destabilize the entire region, leading the major nations to war with each other.
Baldur's Gate was the first game to really succeed in implementing the Dungeons & Dragons setting of Forgotten Realms in the form of a video game. By implementing D&D's D20 ruleset into a unique "pause-and-play" combat system, Bioware managed to marry the tactics of pen and paper games with the rush of real time combat.
Baldur's Gate 2
Continuing where the first game left off, you find yourself trapped in a dungeon by a resident evil genius who goes by the name of Irenicus, or The Shattered One in his native Elven. He attempts to harness the powers you've accrued as the son of Bhaal for his own nefarious purposes and kidnaps your childhood companion Imoen to use as a lure. Like the previous game, you must gather a party of allies before venturing forth and scour various dungeons for arms and armor to aid you in your quest.
The Baldur's Gate series comes to a close with the Throne of Bhaal expansion pack that wraps up the adventure rather nicely, and you even get to include your stepfather's murderer into your party. How's that for a twist?
Knights of the Old Republic
It's the age old story of good versus evil, but this time around you get to choose which side you want to be on. Unlike most RPGs, being evil doesn't mean asking for payment after you do someone a favor though being good still means behaving like a white knight who saves every person in need. I guess that's not too far off from George Lucas's monochromatic vision of morality.
With Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR), Bioware managed to prove itself a gifted game developer that could create more than just fantasy games with its delivery of a superb Star Wars experience that takes place not during the time of Luke Skywalker but three thousand years before any of the movies take place. Although it is set in Star Wars' history, not much is different, but it does give Bioware plenty of leeway to get creative with the setting without hurting the existing canon.
KOTOR plays a bit like Baldur's Gate with its pause-and-play combat mechanics and exists as Bioware's first ever foray into the cinematic style that was eventually perfected in Mass Effect 2.
Released barely a year after its predecessor and riding upon its success, Fallout 2 was in many ways a superior title, though it was different in the ways where it mattered. The setting was a little more offbeat, with themed towns in the form of gambling den New Reno, cowboy town Redding and a San Francisco populated by Chinese martial artists and sci-fi cultists calling themselves the Hubologists.
It was an excellent game in its own right and arguments are abound as to whether it failed or succeeded to be as good as the original game.
Based on the same Infinity Engine that powers Bioware's epic Baldur's Gate series, Planescape: Torment whisks you away from the relatively mundane and LOTR-inspired lands of the Forgotten Realms and hurls you into the weirdness of Sigil, the City of Doors. Torment might look weird and even jarring at first, but it's got more character in any single one of its buildings than most games have in entire expanses of terrain.
Torment puts you in the role of The Nameless One, an enigmatic being who is neither dead, nor alive — but immortal. The only problem is that he keeps losing his memory every time he gets slain — at least until now. Taking the role of this scarred, grey badass, you see that your days of amnesia are at an end and you set out to discover your true past and the legacies that haunt you. You ask yourself, "What can change the nature of a man?" and decide how and what to be this time around.
Torment is easily the best written game of all time, and it is as close to literature as video games have ever been. With over 800,000 lines of dialogue, it would be thicker than most books if it was ever made into print form.