We compiled top 5 lists on many different subjects, in the attempt to bring you all the ins and outs of various gaming-related topics, but now we finally arrive at the subject that’s particularly dear to my heart – CRPG games. It’s true that CRPGs are held in high regard by many hard-core RPG fans, but that persistent fascination is not just a generational thing. Many gamers, no matter their years or gaming experience, are increasingly discovering the joys of CRPG genre.
In our time when mere action games with slight RPG elements are frequently being misrepresented as full-blooded RPGs, perhaps it’s necessary to explain what CRPGs are and what sets them apart from other genres. Of course, it’s well known that term CRPG stands for Classical Role Playing Game. However, while that might clear a part of the confusion, that still doesn’t reveal the essence of that genre. Unfortunately for all who demand a straight answer, even wise men of Oxenfurt, who’ve been endlessly debating what qualifies a game as a CRPG, still haven’t reached a definite conclusion.
Is it a gameplay, a specific visual style, perfectly crafted narratives with epic story arcs, memorable characters or all those things in combination? Perhaps. But, as you browse through our list, you’ll certainly agree that regardless of their style, perspective or release date, they all have one thing in common – an epic sense of high adventure and unadulterated awesomeness that’s rarely rivaled by their modern RPG counterparts.
Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn
In the entire history of CRPG genre, there aren’t many games that are as revered and celebrated as Baldur’s Gate 2. Although the entire series, including expansion packs, is a must for anyone who dares to call himself a CRPG aficionado, the second installment represents a culmination of the entire saga, a flawless masterpiece of the genre.
While in many RPGs you’ll assume the role of a person of importance, a noble birth or high-born lineage, here you’ll surpass it all by playing an orphaned child of a dead god, blissfully oblivious of its legacy. And not just any god, mind you, but Bhaal, Lord of Murder, which is probably why just about everyone wants to do murder you in the first Baldur’s Gate game. This time around, you and your fearless party will find yourself captured in the laboratory of an ingeniously twisted sorcerer named Jon Irenicus who would like nothing better than to dissect you in the attempt to extract your divine powers for his own dark purposes.
As you manage to escape in one piece (although temporarily losing a party member), you’ll discover that you found yourselves in the country of Amn, a place of wealth and corruption, where everything can be bought for a right price. An isometric CRPG, based on the second edition of AD&D rules, with a lavish setting, beautiful pre-rendered graphics, memorable cast of characters and truly fantastic storyline, Baldur’s Gate 2 is a CRPG perfection incarnated. The game developed by BioWare was originally published in 2000 but was recently re-released as an enhanced edition, which means that you don’t have any excuse whatsoever not to check out this masterpiece.
A wise man once said: “War never changes”. But do you know what else never changes? The position of the Fallout 2 on the top lists of the best CRPG games. Although reboots (especially New Vegas) did a pretty good job in recreating this post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland, none of them quite managed to capture the feel and awesomeness of the original two games.
Fallout 2 starts much like its predecessor: you are tasked by your village elder to find a GECK (short for Garden of Eden Construction Kit), which is, apparently, the only thing that will ensure the survival of your struggling little community. Some would call this a massive bummer, since the world has become a dangerous place full of Radscorpions, Deathclaws, Super Mutants and other nasty critters that will kill you even quicker than radiation will. However, as a direct descendant of the legendary Vault Dweller, the hero of the first Fallout, you bravely decide to embrace your destiny and give her a quick kick in the groin with your power-armored foot.
As in the first Fallout, you’ll have limited time to retrieve this artifact, but once you do, you’ll be able to explore this fascinating world at your leisure. On your dusty radioactive road, you’ll encounter many unique and eccentric characters and enjoy that special brand of dark and cynical humor that made Fallout franchise so famous. Of course, nothing beats the feeling when you riddle your enemy with 5mm rounds, and see it splatter before your very eyes in million bloody pieces.
Ultima 7: The Black Gate
There was a time when Ultima series was among the best-loved CRPG creations. Although Ultima games had been somewhat forgotten in the recent years, that doesn’t change the fact that Ultima 7 is still one of the finest CRPGs of all time, and undoubtedly best game made by Richard Garriott aka Lord British to this day. This time your character, famous across Britannia as Avatar, returns to this mystical version of Britain after more than 200 years, only to find out that much has changed.
Unfortunately, your sojourn will be far from peaceful – almost instantly upon the arrival, you’ll become entangled in the investigation of a gruesome ritualistic murder of a local blacksmith. Joined by a few old friends and a couple of new ones you’ll start following the trail of bloody killings, which will lead you right to the doorstep of a shady cult known as Fellowship. What’s worse, there’s a new sinister presence in Britannia. A powerful entity called Guardian speaks to Avatar, taunting him with dark promises of Britannia’s imminent fall.
Ultima 7 is a marvelous game in every respect, with a great non-linear story and a huge immersive world. However, probably the most impressive thing, even by the modern-day standards, is a sheer number of things you can do. For instance, mix flour and water to get a dough, form it with the rolling pin, put it in the oven – and hey presto you’ve got yourself a loaf of freshly baked bread. Almost every object can be picked up, moved or interacted with in some other way, which makes puzzle solving an entirely fresh and flexible experience.
Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos
To show you that great CRPGs don’t come exclusively with an isometric perspective, Westwood’s Land of Lore is a first-person dungeon crawler CRPG with a turn-based combat. Made in 1993, this is a direct forefather of the games such as Grimrock 1&2. You’ll play as one of four characters tasked with the mission to save King Richard of Gladstone Keep who lies on his deathbed and rid the kingdom of Scotia, a vile shape-shifting witch who dared to poison him.
While admittedly plot sounds like there’s a bit too much cheese topping on it, the game is absolutely lavishly produced, with, at the time, gorgeous graphics and rewarding combat system. You’ll start with one character, but you’ll be able to recruit additional companions along the way to aid you in your quest. However, perhaps the best part of the entire game (as well as its two sequels) are inventively designed puzzles which will test your aptitude in logic and abstract thinking. Forget about the simple “find the red key for the red door” puzzles (although Lands of Lore has its share of those too), and instead think more in the direction of puzzles we’ve seen in the games such as Myst.
Set in the immersive world of the Forgotten Realms, Icewind Dale is another quintessential CRPG game based on the second edition of AD&D rules. Of all CRPG games we’ve mentioned here, this is perhaps the one which most convincingly creates the illusion that you’re actually playing a genuine tabletop RPG. Not only that complex Dungeons & Dragons system is successfully translated into the video game medium, but the game skillfully and lovingly plays with a bunch of fantasy tropes.
The story follows a group of adventurers who are summoned to a town of Kuldahar, nestled amid the roots of a giant oak, sacred to the god of nature Silvanus, which emits magical heat through the entire area. Their task is to get to the bottom of series of strange and unsettling events that have been plaguing the township and that threat to endanger the life-giving sacred three itself.
The story is expertly written and will throw you like a rubber ball from one likely culprit to another until you finally find out who’s behind it all. However, don’t think that you’ll have an easy job vanquishing anything in this game, because combats are complex and massive, with scores of inventively designed enemies, from the undead, through trolls to fire and frost giants.
Naturally, there are many CRPGs deserving of their own spot on a list such as this. You’ll most likely notice the absence of a game that by every right had to be featured here. Of course, I’m talking about Planescape: Torment, a game that probably surpasses them all with the quality and pathos of its narrative. However, we’ve written about it on several occasions and we’ve even included it on a couple of our lists, so we’ve opted to omit it on this occasion, just to avoid repeating ourselves. Nonetheless, count that the game is actually here, an invisible presence, with qualities unattainable for most RPGs of its generation, and beyond. The good thing about CRPGs is that their history isn’t finished yet. In fact, at the moment we’re actually in the middle of a full-blown CRPG renaissance, so in a few years’ time, our list might look completely different.