Hero’s Quest I (1992)
Hero’s Quest I was the original title in the Quest for Glory series. Hero’s Quest I is included in this list because it changed the genre: it was the first game to mix both graphical adventure and RPG elements. While one of the main focuses of the game was the beautiful hand-rendered scenes, it contained character generation and statistic building that was on-par with RPG based games, that literally impacted your ability to progress through the game. There were also a lot of comical moments in this game, similar to the Kyrandia or Monkey Island graphical adventure titles. Yet another game I spent way too many hours on, and one that was a game changer as well.
Betrayal at Krondor (1993)
Another Sierra game, Betrayal at Krondor was ranked Best Game of the Year for 1993 by Computer Gaming World. It offered a 3D role-playing environment like no predecessor, which combined the hand crafted graphics in the style of previous Sierra titles with the ability to view the world in first-person view and rotate and move in 360 degrees. For me, Betrayal at Krondor lead me to discover Feist’s Riftwar series, which became one of my favorite fantasy series of my youth. Feist actually wrote the three novels in The Riftwar Legacy after the release of Betrayal at Krondor, likely being the first time an author was inspired by a video game, rather than it being the other way around. The game featured a turn-based combat system, but one that allowed combatants to move around a local screen and combat different enemies in as close to a real-time scenario as you can get in turn-based combat.
Baldur’s Gate (1998)
Baldur’s Gate is the only actual Dungeons & Dragons game that made my list, being set in the Forgotten Realms AD&D campaign. While Diablo was out around the same time, Baldur’s Gate is credited as reviving the struggling RPG video game genre, and it accomplished this using an AD&D based rule set. While based on AD&D rules, certain parts of the rules were modified to allow for fluid gameplay and battle sequences. Baldur’s Gate spawned 3 more titles in the series, as well as set the standard for other video games based on the AD&D rule set. While I spent more time playing the Dragonlance: Heroes of the Lance game that was released in the late 80’s for the Atari ST, Baldur’s Gate is the real game-changer when it comes to AD&D based video games, arguably sharing the title with the Neverwinter Nights series. Either way, Baldur’s Gate has earned its spot in the top 10 fantasy video games of all time.
World of Warcraft (2004)
When you talk about game changers, World of Warcraft rules supreme. I haven’t played World of Warcraft personally because I’m afraid: afraid of the addiction, afraid that I’ll like it so much I’ll neglect other aspects of my life. I do own World of Warcraft: Reign of Chaos, which is a real-time strategy game, but not a true RPG, and lacks the one feature I’m scared of with the newer World of Warcraft title: a never-ending online world. World of Warcraft, the online game released in 2004, currently has more than 12 million subscribers and holds the Guiness World Record for the most popular (in sheer number of subscribers) MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game). In addition to being the most successful MMORPG, World of Warcraft is the first truly successful RPG video game to feature a subscription model, making Blizzard Entertainment owners crazy loot when compared with traditional single-sale games. Let’s face it: the combination of custom character generation, leveling, magic items and inventory management, combined with a massive and ever-expanding online environment in which to frolic is what all traditional RPG fans have been questing after ever since the red box, and World of Warcraft is the first to accomplish it, in style no less.
Dragon Age (2009)
After you recover from the WoW hangover, you may notice that there really aren’t that many quality RPGs out there for PCs or console gaming systems that have been developed in recent years. One series that aims to solve this problem is EA’s Dragon Age. For those of us who still want that true RPG-style gameplay on modern gaming systems, Dragon Age is it. The game takes custom character generation to an entirely new level, with players being able to customize every minute detail of their character’s face, body and clothing. The game features all the classic features of table top RPGs: character management and leveling, magic items, party management (while you create one character, you manage others), and a classic questing system with numerous optional quests. The graphics are simply stunning on PS3 and my 42″ HD tv. EA is investing heavily in the series as well: there has been one full expansion pack (Awakening), seven additional downloadable content pieces (reminiscent of D&D expansion packs), and Dragon Age II is slated for March 2011. For those of us with an interest in RPG video game developments without the “unending” feeling of a MMORPG like WoW, Dragon Age is the way to go.
Sometimes the number of options in modern games like WoW, Warhammer Online, D&D Online and Dragon Age can be overwhelming. I have to wonder when game developers (and software developers for that matter, cough, Microsoft, ahem, Adobe) will take a hint from classics like Zork and Dragon Warrior, and simplify the options within games to allow for an entertaining experience, with the simplicity that a larger audience can be receptive to. The first game developer to wake up and smell the simplicity coffee will find it to be lucrative indeed.