The staff over at Den of Geek has put together a quick history of role-playing games, in which they briefly cover the genre's tabletop roots before profiling many of the stand-out titles of the 80's, 90's, and 00's.
One of the most memorable innovations came in 1985's Ultima IV: Quest Of The Avatar, a game I would have happily eloped with at the time. Usually when establishing characters, you would assign points to various attributes and skill sets etc. However, what Ultima IV did was ask you a series of questions and subsequently shape your character according to the moral leanings of your responses. This could make all the difference between starting the game as a shepherd or a druid, for example. It was a revelation. A good refresher if you're trying to recall which fine titles of your youth deserve an appearance on our audience-defined list of the top rated RPGs. More voting, more voting! :)
A further leap came that same year with the release of The Bard's Tale, a hugely popular RPG that also bore a couple of sequels. Visually, it was a step up, with its animated colour graphics, but was also comparatively simpler to get to grips with than earlier titles - its pick up and playability enhanced by a game world with towns that you could explore, serving as more than just places to buy equipment (So the next time you're casually sauntering around places like Ferelden in Dragon Age: Origins, spare a thought for The Bard's Tale).
Throughout the next decade, party-based RPGs such as Phantasie, Questron and Rings Of Zilfin incorporated fresh elements such as cut scenes, mini games and an increased number of combat commands. All released as part of the Gold Box series of RPGs from Strategic Simulations Inc (the BioWare of the 80s), they were notable for their wonderful '˜It's all kicking off' approach to combat, with the sheer variety of attacking options, as well as the length of some of the encounters, all meaning players had to be on their toes or they were going down.