1. Fallout 2
What every RPG (computer, console or P&P) aspires to, or at least should, this game took the excellent fallout game mechanics and moody atmosphere and increased the gameplay time by 300%.
Those of you who read my article on console RPGs will notice I mention playtime as a big factor (along with replay potential) that seperates a good RPG (like Dark Alliance) from a great one. This isn't me being a stingy gamer. RPGs are an immersive experience. The game should give the characters and the world time to simmer in your imagination.
Fallout 2 delivers on that and just about every other criteria for a great game. There are optional quests that only be completed if you have certain skills (such as medicine or science) and almost every situation in the game can be addressed one of three ways: diplomatically, stealth or assault.
Not as well mind you, but you can in fact play the game all the way through as a character who talks his way out of trouble, sneaks past trouble or just kills it and takes its stuff. Even within specialties there are variations of characters, allowing literally dozens of completely distinct stealth, diplomacy or combat characters.
Want to be a melee monster wielding a massive sledgehammer or a sniper? Want to be a martial artist? Want to be a Doctor or a merchant? Not only can each of these characters be played but combinations of most are possible (for instance one of the most fun experiences I ever had was with my sniper who had stealth, lockpick and small guns, allowing him to bypass combats he didnt want and get in a good spot to pick off the ones he did want from a distance).
2. Bard's Tale
Let's begin at the beginning shall we? This is the game that proved a real, immersive RPG was possible on the computer. Almost no animation, most of the town scenes and monster images were jpegs. Still, the town of Skara Brae had so many dungeons to explore as you worked your way to Mangar and the game mechanics were excellent.
This game took almost everything that was good about the P&P experience, being able to make your own characters, picking characters from a wide range of classes and attempting to create a balanced party. Despite the limitations of the old Commodore 64 (like having to store the game on a series of floppies, one for each section of the city and each dungeon) the gameplay was enthralling and holds up even today.
Yes, several people, including me were still playing this game until changes in Windows after Win 95 began to make running DOS games impossible (or at least more of a technical challenge than Im willing to go through). And I know a couple of die-hard BTers who keep an old puter around just to play through these from time to time.
Probably the best way to experience this game today (as well as the most accessible technically) is on the old original Nintendo game system, where the entire game was ported over in near-perfect accuracy. Of course Nintendos are getting harder to come by these days as well but still a great way to play one of the classics.
In its own way, Diablo was as revolutionary and important as Bard's Tale. This game showed that not all RPGs on the console or the puter needed to be turn-based games centered around a party of characters. Instead, it could be a single character, played in real time, with a heavy emphasis on action.
Diablo was the influence not only for numerous console games that have attempted to emulate its gameplay (Dark Alliance 1&2, Fallout:Brotherhood of Steel, Champions of Norrath 1&2) but it even influenced D&D, showing the folks at WOTC just what it was about D&D that was so appealing.
And despite what certain game reviewers would like you to think, a lot of this game's appeal was the fact that it was a big dungeon where you killed things (in some nicely gory ways) and took their stuff. Its the closest thing to the Temple of Elemental Evil in a computer gameyet.
With a lot of gameplay time needed to beat the game (especially with the Hellfire expansion disc), just enough plot to give the hacking and slashing a framework but with an eye toward replayability (dungeons are random and not all quests appear in every game), Diablo is the perfect blend of action and role-playing.
And when you add in the Battle.net experience, a direct precursor to the MMORPG (which we will discuss below), Diablo is a game whose shadow seems to get longer, influencing games made over a decade after it was released.
EQ was, like games 2 and 3 a huge step forward in CRPGs. Taking gameplay and mechanics from D&D (or shall we say inspired by? liberally adopted from?), multiplayer and plot cues from text-based MUDs and putting the whole package into the gorgeous, 3-D world of Norrath, EQ was an immersive experience like nothing else.
While some of the elements seen in EQ had been done before, such as the shared virtual economy in Diablo's Battle.net, EQ did a lot that was new (or least done better). First, Norrath is huge, with over 400 zones to visit (and the zones each carry a lot of adventuring material). The graphics are well done as well, making Norrath a world that begs to be explored.
The appeal of Norrath is not to be overlooked in what makes this game great. The Champions of Norrath console RPGs draw heavily on the world, politics and races of Norrath and show again what an interesting, richly realized fantasy world it is.
Secondly EQ was the first real, successful MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online RPG). This meant thousands of players were in the virtual world of each server (and since there were more than one server, there were essentially alternate realities), and could interact, adventuring together or alone, trading, buying and selling items and even challenging one another to the occasional duel.
Diablo really gave you the sense that you were in a dungeon. Sights, sounds, smells, monsters that were alerted to your presence and would chase you, using the dungeon geography to your advantage (like doorways to prevent being surrounded) and this was a huge step up from previous RPGs.
EQ took that an even bigger step further, giving you the sense that Norrath was a living, breathing place.
5. Freedom Force
The first true superhero RPG for the computer (to my knowledge), Freedom Force is moddable, playing in real time or turn based modes and follows the adventures of a team of Silver Age heroes that are lovingly tongue in cheek and heavily (heavily) infulenced by the artistic style of Jack Kirby, one of the twin pillars of the marvel universe along with Stan Lee.
You could make your own characters, design your own powers and variations on powers and recruit characters from the established universe as you went along. Since the game is moddable and addictive, fan communities have worked to keep it alive in much the way that the mod community kept Civ II the best computer strategy game for about a decade (a long reign for any computer game).