So, as so often happens when you get a bunch of old-skool gamers talking together about their favorite games, our initial opinion poll on the Best RPGs of the 1980s was inspired by a ‘disagreement’ here at XP4T HQ. But before too much blood was spilled, we decided to settle it like adults (BOOOOOOOORING!) and put together an opinion poll, so that YOU, our knowledgeable, handsome, witty readers could settle the question of which RPGs made in the 1980s were the best. Of course, now that the results are in, some people here are a bit sore (literally), and can’t believe that, for example, Battletech: The Crescent Hawk’s Inception didn’t make it into to the Top 5, but only managed the Top 10. Which is, you know honorable enough *ducks a wild punch*.
Opinion polls are by their very nature fickle beasts. We here at XP4T lay no claim to having created the ultimate list of ’80s RPGs, including every possible game ever made in that period. But nor will we boast of having created a poll that panders to every single fanboy and fangirl out there. We simply wanted to hear what you think, and hear you we did! Around 1,000 of you voted for up to 5 games from the whole list (including the fabulous forumites at rpgwatch.com), from December 2014 until just now, so a very big thank you for making this possible.
Finally, it must be said that we did in fact add 3 games retroactively to the list, albeit against our better judgement. As such, 35 of you might argue that Hack would have fared better, nay, even WON if we had had listed it from Day One instead of Day Z. Err, 2.
Despite all this, we learned a lot from running it, our first such poll or survey, and we intend to put that experience to good use in our next one — for the Best RPGs of the 1990’s! Stay tuned for that in the coming weeks, but before then, let’s look at the 1980s’ results!
First, here is the final list of contenders for The Best RPGs of the 1980s (in no particular order):
Ancient Land of Ys
BattleTech – The Crescent Hawks Inception
Bard’s Tale (Tales of the Unknown: Volume I)
Curse of the Azure Bonds
Pool of Radiance
Might and Magic II: Gates to Another World
Might and Magic I: The Secret of the Inner Sanctum
Ultima III: Exodus
Wizardry I: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord
Phantasie III: The Wrath of Nikademus
The Bard’s Tale III: Thief of Fate
Rogue: The Adventure Game
The Bard’s Tale II: The Destiny Knight
Wizardry V: Heart of the Maelstrom
Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness
Ultima II: The Revenge of the Enchantress
Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar
Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny
Wizardry IV: The Return of Werdna
Wizardry III: Legacy of Llylgamyn
Wizardry II: The Knight of Diamonds
5. CURSE OF THE AZURE BONDS
Curse of the Azure Bonds was developed and published by Strategic Simulations, Inc and released in 1989. It’s the second installment of Forgotten Realms Dungeons & Dragons Gold Box adventure series, which include Pool of Radiance, which was released in 1988, followed by the Secret of the Silver Blades in 1990, and Pools of Darkness 1991. Once major feature of the game was that characters from Pool of Radiance or Hillsfar could be transferred to Curse of the Azure Bonds, but players could also simply create new ones, and didn’t necessarily have to have played the first game in the series. The import feature was very revolutionary at the time. Two new character classes that became available in this game were the paladin and the ranger. New characters begin at level 5, or level 4 for multi-class characters.
Curse of the Azure Bonds follows along the same style as Pool of Radiance, with the main adventuring action using a first person perspective. The characters use the top left window for movement, with the status panel on the right and the commands along the bottom, similarly to Pool of Radiance. Through these commands, the player can select a wide range of actions and tasks including spell-casting, swapping weapons, or resting and memorizing spells.The player makes up an icon for each character.A character’s icon can be physically changed to suit personal taste.
There is also a novel titled Azure Bonds by Kate Novak and Jeff Grubb, and is the first book of the Finder’s Stone trilogy. The game is partially a sequel to the novel.
Tony Dillon reviewed the game for CU Amiga-64, giving it an overall score of 89%. He commented, “The graphics are more or less the same as Pool of Radiance, which is no bad thing, and thankfully the game is still as entertaining and involving as the original.” He noted that the game’s first-person perspective is similar to that of The Bard’s Tale, and also features an overhead view similar to that of Gauntlet. He concluded the review by stating, “I’ve said it before… but this is brilliant.
4. BARD’S TALE (TALES OF THE UNKNOWN: VOLUME 1)
Tales of the Unknown: Volume I, better known by its subtitle The Bard’s Tale, was programmed by Michael Cranford and created by Interplay Productions and distributed by Electronic Arts in 1985. The game was originally released for the Apple II, and was ported to the Commodore 64, Apple IIgs, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore Amiga, Atari ST, DOS, Apple Macintosh, and NES platforms. The game is based loosely on traditional Dungeons and Dragons gameplay and inspired by the Wizardry series, The Bard’s Tale was noteworthy for its unprecedented 3D graphics and partly animated character portraits.
The Bard’s Tale is a straightforward “dungeon crawler”. The objective is to gain experience and advance characters’ skills through (mostly) random combat with enemies and monsters. This is done while exploring maze-like dungeons, solving occasional puzzles and riddles, and finding or buying better weapons, armour and other equipment.
When beginning the game, the player can create up to six player characters, chosen from among the following classes: bard, hunter, monk, paladin, rogue, warrior, magician, and conjurer. A typical well-balanced party might consist of a couple of fighters, a rogue, a bard, and a couple of magic users.
The Bard’s Tale was very successful, and became the first non-Wizardry computer role-playing game to challenge the Ultima series’ sales. The game was reviewed in 1986 in Dragon issue #116 by Hartley and Pattie Lesser in “The Role of Computers” column, they concluded that “Bard’s Tale, a game of high adventure … is one we recommend for your software library.”
A compilation of all three The Bard’s Tale games, entitled The Bard’s Tale Trilogy, was released for DOS by Electronic Arts in 1990.
Wasteland was developed by Interplay Productions and first published by Electronic Arts for the Commodore 64, Apple II, and PC DOS in 1988. The game is set in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic America that was destroyed by nuclear holocaust generations before. It was re-released for Microsoft Windows, OS X, and Linux in 2013 by inXile Entertainment.
In the year 2087, following the devastation of a global nuclear war in 1998, a remnant force of the United States Army calling themselves the Desert Rangers is based in the Southwestern United States. A team of Desert Rangers is assigned to investigate a series of disturbances in the nearby areas and, throughout the game, explores the remaining enclaves of human civilization, including a post-apocalyptic Las Vegas.
Over the course of the game, the player’s party discovers evidence of a larger menace that threatens to exterminate what is left of the human kind in the game’s region and eventually the world. It is a pre-war AI computer that is operating from a surviving military facility Base Cochise, where it is constructing armies of killer machines and cybernetically modified humans with which it is attacking settlements; its goal is to replace the current ‘flawed’ population with genetically pure specimens. With the help from a pre-war android named Max, the player recovers the necessary technology and weapons in order to confront the computer at its base and stop it by making the base’s nuclear reactor melt down.
Critically acclaimed and commercially successful, Wasteland was intended to be followed by two separate sequels, but Electronic Arts’ Fountain of Dreams was turned into an unrelated game and Interplay’s own Meantime was cancelled. The game’s general setting and concept, however, became the basis for Interplay’s 1997 role-playing video game Fallout, which itself would extend into a successful series. A sequel, Wasteland 2, was developed by inXile Entertainment and published on September 19, 2014.
2. ULTIMA IV: QUEST OF THE AVATAR
Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, was first released in 1985 for the Apple II, and is the fourth instalment in the Ultima series. It is the first in the “Age of Enlightenment” trilogy, shifting the series from the hack and slash, dungeon crawl gameplay of its “Age of Darkness” predecessors towards an ethically-nuanced, story-driven approach.
Unlike most other RPGs the game is not set in an “age of darkness”; prosperous Britannia resembles Renaissance Italy, or King Arthur’s Camelot. The object of the game is to focus on the main character’s development in virtuous life—possible because the land is at peace—and become a spiritual leader and an example to the people of the world of Britannia. The game follows the protagonist’s struggle to understand and exercise the Eight Virtues. After proving his or her understanding in each of the virtues, locating several artefacts and finally descending into the dungeon called the Stygian Abyss to gain access to the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom, the protagonist becomes an Avatar.
Technically, the game was very similar to Ultima III: Exodus, although much larger. This was the first Ultima game to feature a real conversation system—whereas NPCs in the earlier parts would only give one canned answer when talked to, now players could interact with them by specifying a subject of conversation, the subject determined either by a standard set of questions (name, job, health) or by information gleaned from the previous answers, or from other characters. Many sub-quests were arranged around this.
In 1996 Computer Gaming World named Ultima IV as #2 on its Best Games of All Time list on the PC. Designer Richard Garriott considers this game to be among his favourites from the Ultima series.
1. POOL OF RADIANCE
Pool of Radiance is a role-playing video game developed and published by Strategic Simulations, Inc (SSI) in 1988. It was the first adaptation of TSR’s Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D or D&D) fantasy role-playing game for home computers, becoming the first episode in a four-part series of D&D computer adventure games. The other games in the “Gold Box” series used the game engine pioneered in Pool of Radiance, as did later D&D titles such as the Neverwinter Nights online game. Pool of Radiance takes place in the Forgotten Realms fantasy setting, with the action centred in and around the port city of Phlan.
Just as in traditional D&D games, the player starts by building a party of up to six characters, deciding the race, sex, class and ability scores for each. The player’s party is enlisted to help the settled part of the city by clearing out the marauding inhabitants that have taken over the surroundings. The characters move on from one area to another, battling bands of enemies as they go and ultimately confronting the powerful leader of the evil forces. During play the player characters gain experience points, which allow them to increase their capabilities. The game primarily uses a first-person perspective, with the screen divided into sections to display pertinent textual information. During combat sequences, the display switches to a top-down “video game isometric” view.
Pool of Radiance received positive reviews. G.M. The Independent Fantasy Roleplaying Magazine, called the game’s graphics “good” and praised its role-playing and combat aspects. They felt that “roleplayers will find Pools is an essential purchase, but people who are solely computer games oriented may hesitate before buying it […] it will be their loss”
Pool of Radiance is a novel based on the video game. It was written by James Ward and Jane Cooper Hong, and published by TSR in November 1989.
If you’d like to give us your input as to which 90’s PC RPG game should be on the next poll, check it out here.