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10. The mule in Dungeon Siege. Year: 2002. Concept: A pack animal to help carry your lootz. I don't remember much about the original Dungeon Siege game, but I will never forget that crusty pack animal. I'm pretty sure the thinking behind the mule was simply utilitarian; "Hey, that'd be handy to have around." But in one stroke the designers made a game ten times more memorable and self-parodying. And how many times did a battle hinge on the kicking of your mule? Mules literally kick ass. Now I get angry that every CRPG doesn't let me have a pack of them--what, I'm supposed to just leave that solid gold Elminster statue behind?
4. The morality of Ultima IV. Year: 1985. Concept: Turn mindless hack'n slashers into paragons of virtue. I've talked to folks who are slightly freaked out by Richard Garriott (Lord British). Maybe he would've founded a cult if he hadn't a games company to keep him busy. His earlier games had been amazingly successful, but by 1985 he was no longer striving so much for technological superiority as spiritual enlightenment. In the words of Jack Black, he didn't just want to blow your mind--he wanted to blow your soul. Thus we get Quest of the Avatar, a game that made us all into Good People. It did so by punishing you for doing the stuff that got you ahead in other CRPGs, such as stealing. This karmic concept shows up in countless later games. Sure, there's no one around to see you steal those coins from the offering plate...But Lord British is watching you...
1. The graphic modes in Ultima. Year: 1981. Concept: Game world. Ultima is an important game for many reasons; but what probably proved most influential was the tile-based graphics of the overland map and the 3D wireframe graphics of the dungeons, which Garriott had created a year earlier for Akalabeth: World of Doom. The tile-based graphics would become a staple of JRPGs, whereas the mode switching in the dungeons made the world seem, well, more like a world and less like a map. This wasn't just a dungeon game; this was four freaking continents. This setup would be endlessly copied and refined in later games, as it should be. When Garriott combined the 3D, first-person view of Akalabeth with the top-down, tile-based graphics of Ultima, the whole was greater than the parts. Ultima players let us crawl out of the dungeon and see the sunshine.
What innovations in CRPGs would you consider the greatest? Let us know.