Veteran RPG enthusiasts will no doubt remember playing through a majority of the video games listed in GamePro's "RPG Pillars: 20 Games That Defined Role-Playing Games" feature, which includes such influential classics as Pool of Radiance, Dungeon Master, Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord, Ultima: The First Age of Darkness, Rogue: The Adventure Game, and The Elder Scrolls: Arena, as well as more recent additions like Fallout and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Some of what they had to say about each:
Ultima: The First Age of Darkness (1980) As will always be the case with these sort of lists, where did they go wrong and what did they get right?
Why It's a Pillar: Ultima isn't the first RPG -- not only had programmers been making RPGs on mainframes for some time, Ultima creator Richard Garriott had already come out with his first game: Akalabeth: World of Doom (1978). This shouldn't take away from the importance of Ultima; the game (and Akalabeth, whose code help power the first Ultima) set the foundation for RPGs for years to come: top-down overworld views and first-person dungeon crawling. Ultima is remarkable for another thing: It's the first RPG to create a truly immersive world.
Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord (1981)
Why It's a Pillar: When it appeared for PCs, Wizardry was the most faithful adaptation of Dungeons & Dragons for any system (even more so than the four D&D Intellivision games that appeared between 1980 and 1982). But Wizardry's responsible for so much more than just a good version of D&D. It's the first RPG to introduce (elite classes); you must reach specific stat requirements to unleash these classes. And along with Rogue, Wizardry helped set the formula for the dungeon-crawl.
Wizardry is just as significant for what it inspired as for what it created: Japanese gamers fell in love with the series, and it became the foundation for early Japanese RPGs such as Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. Yes, without Wizardry, we wouldn't have cute slimes and brooding heroes of JRPGs.
Dungeon Master (1987)
Why It's a Pillar: Dungeon Master is one of the revolutionary titles of 1980s RPG development. A first-person dungeon crawl, Dungeon Master stands apart because it's a real-time RPG -- a new idea for the genre. It gives players control over the world by letting you click on items and bring them into your inventories -- or throw them at monsters (it's also one of, if not the first, games to use a staple of today's RPGs -- the inventory screen). Dungeon Master uses sound to help you gauge where monsters are in its labyrinth. Dungeon Master also has a fun magic system -- it casts off spell points and spells-per-level and replaces these with a sequence of magical runs you must string together to make spells work.
Why It's a Pillar: Fallout is special for many ways. But it's important to RPG development because, more than any RPG before it, your choices matter. You decisions not only affect how the game plays out but also determine how the game ends. While this is more common nowadays, it was revolutionary when Fallout first game out (even more so than Chrono Trigger). It also stands out for its use of voice actors (Ron Pearlman and Richard Dean Anderson lend their voices to the cast); RPGs up to this point didn't make sure of even B-list stars. And the game's often violent tale is one of the best examples of RPG writing in the mid-'90s.