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Lora's Roleplaying Game Reviews: Fun CRPGs For Busy People



Welcome to CRPG Reviews, the new spinoff of my Computer Game Reviews site specifically covering computer role-playing games (affectionately known as CRPG's). "All right," I can hear some of you asking, "so what makes a computer game a computer roleplaying game, as opposed to an adventure game or action game or whatever other shelves they've got up at my local software store?" To which I answer, "What, you think I have time to write a dissertation on this?" (-: Computer games aren't what you'd call a well-defined art form, and there's a lot of overlap between genres, but PC RPG games in general strive to recreate the feeling of a tabletop RPG, with the main game elements being the solving of plot-based quests and the gradual development of the characters' abilities to face increasingly tough challenges. Unlike action adventure or strategy wargames, combat is not the primary emphasis of computer RPG's; unlike computer adventure games or simulation/construction games, combat is usually a game element, though some CRPG's tend more towards tactical combat and others more towards strategic combat. Obviously there's some overlap here, and I've simply listed games that could legitimately be considered to belong to two different gaming genres twice. I'm quite omniverous as a gamer myself, and am not going to be drawn into arguments about which style of game is inherently better than another--though I'll openly admit that CRPG's were my first love. ;-D

If you're new to this site, I'm a longtime computer gamer (and by 'longtime' I do mean that I started out playing "Adventure" and "Rogue" on my dad's UNIX machine when I was eight or nine) whose gaming time has been cut drastically short over the past few years by the arrival of two small children and is now questing part-time for just about any fun game that doesn't waste too much play time in boring mundanities. Fact is, I just don't have hours on end to spend trying every item in my inventory on a mysterious column anymore, nor is the tedium of that really what I buy games for. I like character development, I like plot, I like imaginative play and I like interactivity, insofar as a PC role-playing game can really deliver such things; I like puzzles with satisfying rather than random solutions, and I like exploring a rich environment and finding interesting things. I don't like unrewarding repetitive tasks like inventory management or trudging parties back and forth across large empty screens, I don't like long combats with wandering monsters, I don't like making a daybook about which NPCs are in which building at 6 PM on a Sunday, and I don't like mapping out 3D mazes by hand. I'm indifferent to fancy graphics, and realtime play is a major pain in the ass anymore.

Though there aren't really any computer RPGs out there targeting that particular mix of desires, there are several that come delightfully close. So here, for my gameplaying friends and any other interested gamers, is my personal list of the best computer role playing games I've seen over the years--complete with game reviews, quest lists, hints, advice about how to get around bugs and inconveniences, and, in many cases, low-spoiler walkthrough guides. I've found that a well-done compendium of subtle tips and hints can turn a game that's partially what I'm looking for into a top-notch experience, but most traditional walkthroughs ruin the experience by revealing plot and puzzle spoilers, which are precisely the parts I don't want spoiled. My own CRPG walkthroughs are written so as to let you know whether you've missed any cool quests or side plots or other things to do in any of the game areas without giving away what happens when you do them. If you're stuck on one particular puzzle and looking for an answer, I recommend the Ultimate Hint System pages, which are uniquely set up to reveal just one hint at a time. My review pages are entirely spoiler-free, so if you haven't played a game at all yet, start with those. You can find my general gaming philosophy and review criteria at the Backseat Game Designer, if you're curious. (-:

Good Computer RPG's and Adventure Games for Busy People

Anything with a rating of 5 or more is worth playing, anything with a 7 or more is worth a special trip to the software store. (-: Please note that the overall game ratings on this page are not adjusted for game age. Ultima III was the coolest thing I'd ever seen back in 1983, but it takes a lot of determination and nostalgia to play through it now. I've included reviews and even the occasional walkthrough for certain classic RPG games--mostly precursors to contemporary games, easily accessible abandonware, and classics that come bundled with other games anyway--but the rankings I've given them are in direct comparison to games created twenty years later. Click on the "review" link to see my detailed opinions of each game including the historical and nostalgic factors; if you're anything like me, you may enjoy playing a beloved classic from your youth that you wouldn't go near with a ten-foot pole if it was released today. You could also try my classic CRPG page, though it's heavily under construction (I'm having the worst luck trying to take screenshots of DOS games with my XP; suggestions are welcomed!)

Happy gaming!

Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn (Release Date: 2000)
This is the closest a CRPG has ever come to matching my criteria: fantastic quests that encourage lateral thinking, a rich gaming environment, memorable NPCs, and strong character development, including deeply interactive subplots with NPCs who remember reactions you had to them five conversations ago. Shadows of Amn is an AD&D-based, six-character role-playing adventure of expansive scope, extremely customizable and replayable. Another highlight is the surprisingly good voice acting.

Baldur's Gate II Review Hints and Walkthrough Buy This Game (version for Macs)

Planescape: Torment (Release Date: 1999)
This dark, highly original CRPG was created by the same team who brought us the Baldur's Gate series. Complex characters, an engrossing mood, and an excellent musical score carry a plot that is more philosophical than heroic.

Planescape Torment Review Hints and Walkthrough Buy This Game

The Witcher (Release Date: 2007)
Based on a Polish series of fantasy-adventure novels, this is the most visually breathtakingly CRPG I've ever played. Normally that isn't my main criterion for gaming excellence, but luckily The Witcher is also a complex, morally ambiguous epic full of intricate quests that can be solved in multiple ways each of which will still be having ramifications three chapters later. The only fly in the ointment is that you have no choice but to play the main character from the novel as your PC, which limits the replayability value.

The Witcher Review Hints and Walkthrough Buy This Game

Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal (Release Date: 2001)
This relatively short game is really just an add-on to Shadows of Amn and isn't worth playing unless you've already played that excellent game; but if you have, Throne of Bhaal puts a strong finish to the roleplaying saga, offering everything from high-level combat feats through resolutions to long-running dramatic subplots. Anyone who enjoyed its excellent predecessor will appreciate the satisfying conclusion provided by Throne of Bhaal.

Throne of Bhaal Review Hints and Walkthrough Buy This Game (version for Macs)

Oblivion (Release Date: 2006)
This action-adventure tour-de-force offers incredible detail, gorgeous graphics, interesting story arcs including some highly interactive ones, and by far the most customizable main character available in a PC game to date. The only downside is a rather low ratio of meaningful and challenging plot developments to dull occurences which can give the game a somewhat sterile feel in places.

Oblivion Review Hints and Walkthrough Buy This Game

Wizardry 8 (Release Date: 2001)
If you're hoping to recreate that classic six-character CRPG feel without the annoying archaic graphics and interfaces, this is definitely the game for you. The plot is basic and the quests par for the course, but the 3D interface is wonderfully intuitive, character development is satisfying, and the voicesets are entertaining.

Wizardry 8 Review Hints and Walkthrough Buy This Game

Morrowind (Release Date: 2002)
Morrowind starts slow, with a long, dull, aimless-feeling early game in which delivering a letter seems to be the highlight of your character's life. If you can wait that stuff out, though, there's a really good game waiting for you on the other side. Excellent character development, quests with more than one solution, and open-ended gameplay compensate for the terrible pacing and mediocre interface of this first-person CRPG.

Morrowind Review Hints and Walkthrough Buy This Game

Ultima VII (Release Date: 1992)
One of the best CRPG's of all time, Ultima 7 features a richly interactive setting, memorable characters, and a plot that arrests your attention from the first beat. Unfortunately, it doesn't work with Windows 2000, XP, or almost any modern sound card, and requires special software and a system boot disk to run on even an older system. The most difficult puzzle in the game can be getting the thing to start. A clunky interface and lack of customizability also interfere with the entertainment value somewhat.

Ultima VII Review Buy This Game

Return to Krondor (Release Date: 1997)
Like its predecessor, the fine old DOS game Betrayal at Krondor, Return to Krondor foists pre-assigned characters on you and frequently rearranges your party to suit its rather linear plot; if you can forgive it that much, though, the excellent story, interactive quests with multiple solutions, surprisingly good dialogue, and fun skill-based character advancement make this a memorably entertaining game.

Return to Krondor Review Hints and Walkthrough Buy This Game

Gothic II (Release Date: 2003)
Gothic 2 is an original CRPG with an interactive gameworld and outstanding open-ended problem-solving. Its shine is somewhat diminished by a clumsy interface and a main character over whom you have little control, but it's still easy to lose yourself in its deeply immesive play.

Gothic II Review Buy This Game

Siege of Avalon (Release Date: 2000)
Usually I regret picking computer games out of the bargain bin, but this low-budget CRPG was a pleasant surprise. Siege of Avalon is well-written and capably executed, and though the game is marred by excessive travel time and some problems with combat balance, it's overall a fun and satisfying epic.

Siege of Avalon Review Hints and Walkthrough Buy This Game

Realms of Arkania Trilogy (Release Date: 1997)
These German CRPGs never really caught on in the US for some reason, even after Wizardry developer SirTech picked up the titles. Our loss; they're good games. The first two are rather dated ("Blade of Destiny" was released in 1993), but there's plenty to enjoy in them anyway, especially the dungeons; the third and final game, Shadows Over Riva, is excellent all around.

Arkania Review Hints and Walkthrough Buy These Games

Icewind Dale (Release Date: 2000)
Another title from Black Isle Studios, but this one is an old-school AD&D hack-and-slash adventure, so don't buy it expecting the innovative play of the Baldur's Gate series or Planescape Torment--the plot is linear and the character interaction simple. If you're at all fond of dungeon romps, though, this one features interesting combat sequences, fun character advancement, and a soundtrack worth the price of the game on its own.

Icewind Dale Review Buy This Game (version for Macs)

Arcanum: of Steamworks & Magick Obscura (Release Date: 2001)
This techno-magical CRPG is something of a mixed bag. The steampunk milieu is wonderfully original, character development is fun, and the game offers a wealth of flexible quests with multiple solutions. Unfortunately the game is not very interactive and has little customizability; the NPCs are two-dimensional and annoying, and the gameplay is buggy and wretchedly slow. It's still worth playing through once just for its clever quests and overall steampunky goodness, but only if you're a dedicated CRPG enthusiast with plenty of patience to spare.

Arcanum Review Hints and Walkthrough Buy This Game

Wizards and Warriors (Release Date: 2000)
From its formulaic plot to its just-barely-tweaked roster of classic Wizardry races, this game does its best to recreate the feel of early-90's classic CRPG's like Wizardry 6 and 7 and Might and Magic IV and V--and it succeeds, but unfortunately, it also recreates all the interface and gameplay aggravations that other computer games have improved on since 1992. If you're a fan of the classics, you're likely to enjoy Wizards and Warriors despite these irritations, but if you're used to the flexibility and interactivity of modern CRPG's, you may find yourself disappointed.

Wizards and Warriors Review Hints and Walkthrough Buy This Game

Might and Magic 9 (Release Date: 2002)
This addition to the venerable Might and Magic series of RPGs is stolidly so-so: the plot is all right but has no flexibility, the quests are copious but primarily involve ferrying objects around, the graphics are nice enough but the interface is unpleasant. This isn't a bad game, but it's not exactly compelling, either.

Might and Magic IX Review Hints and Walkthrough Buy This Game

Worlds of Xeen Trilogy (Release Date: 1994)
This classic CRPG trilogy shows its age in its turn-based combat and chunky isometric graphics, but somehow it's still fun a decade later-- and unlike many older games, it plays straight out of the box (no SloMo or painstaking computer reconfigurations necessary). The plot is dull and most of the quests are delivery-boy errands, but there are a number of memorable exceptions (including a quest to build your own castle), and it's overall a pretty good playthrough.

Worlds of Xeen Review Hints and Walkthrough Buy These Games

Wizardry Gold/Crusaders of the Dark Savant (Release Date: 1996)
Wizardry Gold is just about the campiest computer role-playing game ever written, but if that doesn't bother you--and if you have the patience for the long, tedious combat sequences that plagued the early Wizardry games--then the interesting plot, smooth interface, great character development system, and extensive customizability make this classic CRPG one worth revisiting.

Crusaders of the Dark Savant Review Buy This Game

Ultima IV, V, and VI (Release Date: 1985-1990)
These three games not only defined classic role-playing games in their era, each also expanded the scope of CRPG's in some innovative way. Ultima IV had a unique objective--not slaying a villain or finding an artifact, but completing a complex spiritual journey. Ultima V had a revolutionary plot and interactive characters. Ultima VI turned the mythology of the series on its head and forced the main character to examine his or her spirituality from a new angle--a step too bold for most computer game series. This classic trilogy has not aged so well (the interface is unpleasant, combat and dungeons are aggravating, and the graphics are in-your-face dated), but the freshness and wonder of the games still shines through if you have the patience to let it.

Ultima 4, 5, and 6 Review Buy These Games

Black and White (Release Date: 2000)
I wanted to like this game, I really did. The concept is great: you play a god, but instead of building sewer systems and fancy buildings for your worshippers as in a standard simulation game, you instead get to shape their society through a series of increasingly thorny CRPG-style quests and take on rival deities and their followers in divine combats. That's the theoretical concept, anyway. In practice, 95% of this game is about training a @#$!@!! virtual pet not to poop on the floor. I only wish I were exaggerating. The training interface is so lousy it hurt my wrist, too. It's unfortunate, because the god parts were intriguing; but unless you really like virtual pets, you won't enjoy this one.

Black and White Review Buy This Game (version for Macs)

Daggerfall (Release Date: 1996)
This disappointing one-character CRPG boasts "hundreds" of quests--but accomplishes this by repeatedly generating random dungeons and placing random items somewhere inside them to be retrieved. I don't know about you, but I sure didn't want to do that hundreds of times. There are few puzzles, no character interaction, and the 3D environments are very buggy. The only bright spot is the extensive customizability you get with your character, who does not need to conform to any particular character class.

Daggerfall Review Buy This Game



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Laura Redish
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