Recently, I posted about Bloodlines being on sale and I talked about how it was “the best computer RPG that I have ever played”. Well, in the comments, JHG mentioned two *HUGE* lists of RPGs… *EACH* of which he considered better RPGs than Bloodlines. (Seriously, check his comments out.)

Well, I plan on going through each and every game on his list and discussing them (because I’d say that 90% of them are, in fact, awesome) but there are only a few games on his lists that deserved to be mentioned in the same single breath.

Now, to be sure, Bloodlines was buggy as heck when it was released (and we were still on dial-up!). I don’t know exactly how much I should weigh bugs against a game when the game has been patched to the point where the bugginess has been fixed for the most part. (The developers are *STILL* releasing patches! The last one came out a couple weeks ago!) I can understand that Bloodlines made one hell of a poor first impression… but I can’t help but feel that that is syntax rather than semantics.

A great many of the games he mentioned, the Wizardries, the Final Fantasies, the Baldur’s Gates, the Ultimas, the Gold Boxes… these are games where the player controls a party (usually of six) with different skills (two fighters, two clerics, one thief, one wizard… and there’s probably multi-classing going on but those are the high notes) go through an adventure together. This is all well and good but the emphasis is on tactics in these games for the most part. It’s about getting your team to optimally play well together (with the fighters as meat shields, clerics casting healing spells, thieves unlocking, and wizards casting fireballs… usually). The stories are good and sometimes great but it is a distinct experience from an RPG where you are given a single character to consider your own. Minsc was great, don’t get me wrong… but he was an NPC who followed your direction. He wasn’t *YOUR* character.

This also means that the games that have an emphasis on tactics rather than on story (in the most extreme cases, you’re stuck with cutscenes between maps) aren’t quite as engaging for the parts of my brain that require itches to be scratched. Sure, you’re making choices… but the choices are whether to use fire arrows or ice arrows, or whether to attack with cavalry or air support, or whether to put a point in strength or a point in defense. (While I adore games that give me these options, I prefer them to be the secondary level of choices that I have to make… the choices between listening to the demands of the hostage-taker, waiting for an open shot, or shooting the hostage are the choices that make my heart go pitter-pat.)

The games that have best done this are the Interplay/Troika/Bethesda/Obsidian/Bioware kinda games.

Vampire The Masquerade Bloodlines handled this stuff perfectly. However… there are games that certainly deserve to be mentioned in the same (deep) breath:

(deep breath)

Knights of the Old Republic, Kingdom Hearts, Neverwinter Nights, Planescape: Torment, Fallout: New Vegas, and Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain.


And if someone wanted to argue that Knights of the Old Republic was better than Bloodlines, I’d not argue with them. Anyway, I will eventually opine upon each of the games JHG mentioned… but those from that breath deserve their own posts.


Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to


    • Arcanum had so many good ideas in it! I found the play itself clunky and sluggish. But it was the first time I’d encountered classless character development and I fell in love with the idea. It was the first time I’d seen steampunk melded with fantasy in any way other than werewolves-versus-vampires-on-Pall-Mall-what-ever-shalll-we-do-Mr.-Holmes? It would be fun to see it updated with modern programming.

      • Agreed. I was madly in love with Arcanum. The world felt -huge- and I really enjoyed the magic/tech dichotomy. Also Arcanum was the first time I encountered world harvestable resources and as an herbalist I spent hours scouring those damned maps for plants. I also found the stories deeply interesting.

        • Arcanum was nice, but the differences in the races and how to build your character and what was powerfull was huge. It was incredibly difficult to do things with magic, but just beating down people with an axe was easy in the game.

          Still, a wonderfull idea.

    • My problem with arcanum was that there wasn’t a whole lot of slop when it came to character development.

      You needed a vision for what you wanted your character to look like at level 20 from level 1 if you wanted a workable level 20 character.

      There was none of this “put 5 points in guns, maybe 5 points in stealth, 2 points in lockpick…” going on. You had to know exactly what you wanted and why.

      That said, it was an awesome game.

      • Well yeah, I’d say for sure. You really wanted to have a character concept from the get go. I’d say it was designed for a lot of replaying.

        • Oh and of course no discussion of Arcanum is complete without mentioning its very unique string soundtrack.

      • It was a good game, but the combat system was flawed – way too easy (which became boring) or frustratingly repetitive. I think they tried to be too ambitious, and the game suffered because of it. The necessary balance was really missing. It was definitely not Steampunk Fallout, which is what I had hoped it would be. It was very original, but fell far short of its potential, I think.

      • >>>>You needed a vision for what you wanted your character to look like at level 20 from level 1 if you wanted a workable level 20 character.

        Final Fantasy 5 had that issue too. I actually came to a point in the game where I couldn’t go on because I had been trying “a little of everything” with my characters and that game was an unforgiving one. Far more than any FF beside possibly 2.

  1. Whew! Finally something we can argue about.

    I mentioned this in the other thread, but thought I would bring it over here. In your review, you said:

    Easily the best computer adaptation of a tabletop role playing game that I’ve ever experienced.

    And, then in the post urging people to buy the game you wrote:

    This is the best computer RPG that I have ever played…

    Maybe both of those are true for you, but they are very different statements.

    Regarding the first statement, MegaTraveller and Shadowrun also need to be mentioned. There is also a freeware (Shadowrun-like) called Decker that isn’t too bad as an adaptation of a paper game (but certainly isn’t the best RPG ever). Should Autoduel be in there?

    Regarding the second (which I hereby rename GREAT RPGS, rather than THE BEST RPG), Bard’s Tale needs to be mentioned (ht Will Truman). Shenmue should be mentioned for the ground-breaking work that Suzuki did (and for the graphics). Whether you liked it or not, it was far ahead of its time. For that matter, the GTA series should also be mentioned, since they inherited the free and open world gameplay that Shenmue began. Skies of Arcadia was another great Dreamcast RPG, that I think I missed on my list. I mentioned Dungeon Hack in my first list, but need to also mention Dungeon Master, which was a similar real-time game that came out before Dungeon Hack. I also want to mention Shadow of the Collosus, for being as different as it was, and one of the few games that tries (and succeeds?) to fill the player with emotions not usually seen in a computer RPG. I mentioned WC Privateer, but should also mention Elite. I also really like Gladius by Lucasarts (it was supposed to be based on Gladiator, but they made a lot of changes before they released it).

    And, I’m surprised not to see System Shock in your one big breath list (it was already on my list).

    Regarding your statement of tastes, I can see the allure. You want (primarily) a traditional tabletop experience. What might make Bloodlines even better for you (if I’m understanding correctly) would be if you could play the existing Bloodlines online with other people in various roles, and the addition of newer quests, items, stories, etc. being added over time. Which, I suppose, is partially done by the continuing release of patches.

    For me, I have varied tastes and want to have different RPG experiences depending on what I’m interested in playing at the time. Sometimes tactical, sometimes personal, sometimes tabletop, sometimes not. Sometime fantasy, sometimes modern, sometimes space, sometimes not.

    Because of this, I have a very hard (impossible!) time saying what my favorite (or BEST) computer RPG game is. It would like saying what my favorite book, or my favorite song, is. There are too many types that I enjoy for me to settle on a single one. Now, maybe if we started carving them into sub-genres (and sub-sub-genres, and sub-sub-sub…), I might be able to make a list of my favorite.

    I’ll end here. For now.

    • Shadowrun had two games that had perfect halves. If they could have found a way to blend both of them…

      The SNES had an absolutely amazing story and the Sega had absolutely perfect hacking combat. The problem is that Sega’s story was awful and the SNES’s hacking was laughably poor.

      It’s such a great universe… it’s a pity that the only ideas any major companies have to make games for it involve multiplayer first person shooting games.

    • It’s amazing, though it helps if you’ve got a soft spot for the Star Wars lore.

      Still, I finally bought an X36o this past summer and went on a spending spree to collect all the titles I’d never gotten around to. KOTOR was first on the list and I was completely shocked by how much fun I had.

      I figured it would be too buggy, dated, graphically inferior to really enjoy but I was wrong. Yes, it IS extremely buggy at times, but leveling/ability system as well as the multiple ways to go through missions make gameplay solid, and the soundtrack is amazing. I forget his name, and am to lazy right now to Google it, but he’s the same guy that does BioWare’s other stuff, notably Mass Effect, and also did a lot of my old favorites including Total Annihilation and Secret of Evermore.

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