Role playing games have been with us forever. They've gone through a lot of changes, but there's a group of classic-style games that are still relevant, modern, fun, and simply must have.
Adventure and role playing games have always been a part of computer games. They started as text-based adventures like the original Colossal Cave. Rogue introduced a graphical twist, and Wizardry pushed the boundaries even further during the salad days of the Apple II. Modern Mac and PC gamers can run online role playing games like World of Warcraft and Dungeons & Dragons Online. Not to mention what dungeon crawl action RPGs like Diablo have done for the genre.
But there was an era of computer role playing games that for me always stood apart - graphical RPGs that rendered imagery using isometric (three-quarters views) perspectives. One of the high points of this particular style was BioWare's enormously popular Baldur's Gate series, which has returned in renewed form over the past couple of years, but it's not the only one of its ilk. So I've rounded up my favorite from this particular genre that you can still download and play on new Macs, and present them to you now.
For 20 years Spiderweb Software has been making RPGs. Their inspiration from Wizardry and other RPGs of the classic era are obviously, and they meticulously craft their games to give you hours, weeks, even months of play value as you go on grand, epic quests, innumerable side quests and then replay again as a different class of character.
Avadon 2 puts you in the role of the Keep of Avadon, working as a spy and a warrior. Your goal is to save your homeland from destruction. You can master five different character classes, each with different special abilities and spells, and the choices you make throughout the game will dramatically affect its outcome.
As the name implies, Avadon 2 is a sequel, but you don't need any experience with the first Avadon game to get the most out of this one, so don't let that put you off. There's a nice big demo version you can download if you want to kick the tires, too. Visit the web site for details.
We might as well get this one out of the way right up front: Baldur's Gate II is back and better than ever. The game has been rebuilt to run on new Macs and PCs (you can also download an iPad version if you prefer). This game follows Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules and is even set in the Forgotten Realms, a world created for Dungeons & Dragons adventures. It simply reeks of D&D authenticity. It's also terrifically fun to play.
Baldur's Gate II. and the original game, are both available as "Enhanced Editions" with new party members, new dungeons to explore and other new content. Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition rolls together the original game, Shadows of Amn, with a later released expansion pack called Throne of Bhaal. What's more, there's a new high-level combat pack called The Black Pits 2. Four all-new characters can be included with your party.
(Baldur's Gate II recently arrived on the iPad, as well.)
Basilisk Games crafts classic RPGs for Mac, Windows and Linux. They're turn-based, filled with all the accoutrements you'd expect: hundreds of items to loot, 24 unique skills to master and eight base attributes that affect your character, turn-based combat and action, and a storyline that unfolds over hours, days, and weeks.
Eschalon Book II is the most recently-released installment of the game series that started in 2007. It came out in 2011. But there's no putting a time limit on classic RPG fun. Like Avadon 2, there's a demo available from the web site if you'd like to kick the tires before you drop your money.
Speaking of which, Basilisk is right on the cusp of releasing the long-awaited conclusion to Eschalon. Book III is expected out in the middle of February. Here's a sneak peek:
Harebrained Schemes has brought back one of the most beloved computer and tabletop RPGs ever with Shadowrun Returns. This cyberpunk-meets-magic world combines high technology and high fantasy in a really unique mix.
You take the role of a shadowrunner - a mercenary living in the near future, where corporations rule a world increasingly out of control and out of order through the rampant use of uncontrolled technology and the resurgence of ancient magic. This is a straight up single-player turne-based tactical RPG, and it's hugely fun to play.
If you're going to go old-school with your computer RPGs, eventually you have to go back to where it started. Ultima changed the way we play RPGs on computers forever, and you can still play the classic Ultima games on modern computers today. GOG.com sells 'em - fit to run on Windows and Mac alike.
Ultima VII: The Complete Edition is one of my favorites of the entire series. For that matter, it's also Richard Garriott's, and he created Ultima to begin with (he said this and Ultima IV are his favorite overall).
You, the Avatar, return to the land of Britannia to unravel a plot laid between an evil creature called The Guardian and a religious order that calls itself The Fellowship. What is at stake is no less than the future of Britannia itself.
Obviously, "old school" means different things to different people, but to me, these harken back to a golden age of role playing adventure games that rank as some of my favorite times playing on the computer. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
I'm really interested to hear what you like, too - do you have some favorite CRPG's that I've left off the list? Let me know in the comments!