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Starting in 1962 and running the gamut all the way to present day, the editors at PC Gamer have cranked out a list of what they feel are "the 50 most important PC games" to ever grace the platform. The list certainly wouldn't be complete without a significant number of iconic RPGs, and digging through the 11-page feature will reveal retrospectives for Rogue, Wizardry, Ultima IV, Ultima Underworld, X-COM: UFO Defense, Diablo, Ultima Online, Baldur's Gate, EverQuest, System Shock 2, Deus Ex, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, World of Warcraft, Dwarf Fortress, and a handful of other hybrids.
There's a lot to sift through, and it's well worth your time given that a lot of veteran developers actually wrote the articles, but I think I'll quote some of what they've penned for two games that stand out as having made a particularly broad impact on the industry:
Why it's important: Morality systems largely started here, an RPG focused not on killing baddies (at least, not as a major goal), but proving yourself worthy of being seen as a hero the Avatar of the Eight Virtues, there to show both our world and Britannia what they could become.
I first played Dungeons & Dragons in 1978.
The experience was literally life-changing. The experience of telling stories with my friends, instead of being told a story by a storyteller was mind-blowing, unlike anything I'd ever experienced. After that, my life was all about two things: movies and gaming. I'd play just about anything RPGs, boardgames, you name it. And then came console and computer games. It started with TRS-80s and Atari 800s, Atari 2600s and Colecovisions and then, along came IBM PCs and clones.
On all of those, my favorite games were what passed back then for roleplaying games. And (passed for) is the only way to describe them. It seemed like every game featured some variation of D&D's characteristics Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma, increased by earning experience points. They all seemed to feature the traditional character classes Fighter, Mage, Paladin and so on with the possibilities and limitations established in tabletop RPGs. There were various character alignments and gameplay driven by dierolls, just like D&D. And the stories? Well, most of them were sort of like Monty Haul dungeon crawls (my least favorite thing to do in RPGs). You move down a corridor (avoid the traps!), open a door, enter a room, kill the monster inside, steal the treasure it was guarding. Wash, rinse, repeat. End of (story.)
In other words, those early computer roleplaying games weren't so much about 'roleplaying' as much as they were about 'rollplaying.' I played them but, in retrospect, I'm not sure why. There wasn't much originality or creativity in them. And the stories were pretty lame. (Here I'm being generous.)
Then, around 1985, Ultima IV appeared, not exactly out of nowhere, but certainly like a bolt from the blue that changed everything for me. This was no dungeon crawl this was a philosophical journey, a quest not for glory and riches or a quest to defeat the Evil Bad Guy threatening the world with. well. something bad, but a parable on the strengths made possible and the limitations imposed by ethical behavior.
You knew something was different from the moment the game started. There were no dierolls to determine your character's nature and capabilities. There was a gypsy who posed questions for which there were no right or wrong answers, only each player's views on right and wrong behavior. Character creation wasn't about fantasy fulfillment, but about creating an idealized version of yourself. It wasn't Frodo or Conan in the world of Britannia it was you.
And the quest itself? No villainous badguy or meaningless dungeon crawl here (well, at least until the end), but a journey through the land of Britannia whose purpose was to master the foundations of Truth, Love and Courage, as expressed through the eight virtues Honesty, Compassion, Valor, Justice, Sacrifice, Honor, Spirituality and Humility.
Notice that none of these would do you any good in a dungeon or on a battlefield. You were on a quest to perfect yourself, to become a paragon of virtue in other words, the Avatar. And in so doing, two things would happen. First, you would be an inspiration to the people of Britannia. Second, you the player would learn something about yourself and about the world. The real world.
Consider mind blown.
I could recount the details of the story well, actually, I couldn't since I don't remember it all that well but Ultima IV's story, while better than any other non-Infocom game I'd played to that point. the story was so not the point.
The feeling the game gave me. That's the point. It came as close as any game had to the point to making me feel like I was in a real roleplaying experience. The kind I'd had with my friends back in 1978. That was enough in and of itself, but it was also the first thing that lit a fire under my butt to move from tabletop games to computer game development. And that fire had a purpose to give people the experience of telling stories with their friends (well, with me, anyway). Together. Sharing authorship as well as adventure and derring do.
That's all I've wanted to do for the last 32 years. Recreate D&D. And it all started with Ultima IV. Thanks Lord British, for everything. Warren Spector
Why it's important: Not the first MMO, but the one that set the '˜DikuMUD' pattern that modern games still tend to follow the levelling, the dungeons, and population counts in the millions. Others, particularly World of Warcraft, would evolve it, but few had the confidence to outright break a template that worked so well.
While by no means the first massively-multiplayer online RPG, EverQuest was the game that inspired just about every modern MMO, from World of Warcraft to many dozens more. More than that, it created a gameworld so compelling that players could lose themselves to EverQuest for hundreds or even thousands of hours, so well did the game live up to its name.
This was the first online game with a truly massive, fully 3D world. The allure of this world was incredibly strong and immediate, starting with the choice of many wildly different fantasy archetypes, from tiny halflings and wood-elves to hulking trolls and ogres. You could spend weeks just in the game's various starting areas. EverQuest's world was a hodgepodge of every classic fantasy trope, and when playing, you felt like you could never see it all. You could spend hours exploring just one of its huge zones, or if you felt adventurous and pushed farther out, chances are you felt a thrill unlike any other games could provide.
The sense of discovery in EverQuest was so powerful because there was so much at stake if you died, not only did you lose a chunk of experience but you'd have to recover your equipment where you lost it, or else it'd be gone for good. Later games lightened up on this kind of penalty, but in EverQuest's day it made for one of the most gripping and memorable game experiences ever made. Greg Kasavin