If you’re a big fan of Dungeons & Dragons like I am, then you always watch closely when there’s a new videogame bearing the moniker of the series. With Sword Coast Legends on the horizon and being shown at E3 this week, it seemed like a great time to look back at the long history of D&D games and pick out some of our all-time favorites. These eight fit that bill perfectly.
Don’t see your favorite? Tell us what it is in the comments!
Eye of the Beholder
This 1991 classic offered up a lot of innovation for its time. Not only did Eye of the Beholder let you increase the size of your party as you played through the game, it also let you export your characters into other SSI titles. Sporting a first-person perspective that is still used today in games like Legend of Grimrock, it featured challenging enemies pulled right the pages of D&D. If you’re into these games, Eye of the Beholder still holds up today.
Temple of Elemental Evil
Despite being a buggy mess at launch, Temple of Elemental Evil was the last game to try to capture the complexity of tabletop D&D. It featured tons of options for characters, and was the first game written on the 3.5 ruleset, which is still one of the most popular versions of D&D. Once you install all the patches (and grab the user-made Circle of Eight add-ons), Temple of Elemental Evil is definitely worthy of going back to, especially if you loved the tabletop module.
Another first-person dungeon crawler, Dungeon Hack is often forgotten about when these games get discussed. It discarded story, world building, and everything else in favor of a razor-sharp focus on great dungeon crawling. What’s more, it used random dungeon generation, which may seem commonplace these days but was a really big deal in 1993. That meant that no matter how many times you played through the game, it always felt fresh. If you loved the feel of the early versions of D&D, you’ll love Dungeon Hack.
Pool of Radiance
In 1988, there were plenty of RPGs you could play on the computer, from Ultima to Wizardry. But none of them had the branding of the undisputed king of the tabletop until TSR and SSI teamed up to release Pool of Radiance. The first game in the legendary “Gold Box” series, Pool had official classes, races, and alignments, as well as many other features from the tabletop game, including the necessity of memorizing spells. After this, the market exploded with a novelization and links between the tabletop and video games, much like we see today.
While the single-player campaign of Neverwinter Nights was good, it was not what sustained that game for years. Instead, much like the aforementioned Sword Coast Legends, it gave a framework and tools to players to create their own campaigns that their friends could then play through while the creator looked on and even acted as the DM. While the game’s Hordes of the Underdark expansion really nailed the single-player gameplay, the multiplayer sandbox is what sustains it to this day.
Black Isle’s Icewind Dale was an interesting aside after two Baldur’s Gate games. Eschewing a deeper effort at story, Icewind Dale is more about making a really great AD&D 2nd Edition game, an effort at which it greatly succeeds. It’s story-light and hack-and-slash heavy, letting you slay monsters as you work work your way through a fairly straightforward tale. It was that min-maxed D&D game that you play in when you need to blow off some steam and slay hundreds of orcs, and it was great at it.
It seems like any time you discuss great RPGs, Planescape: Torment ends up on the list. A masterpiece of storytelling and character development, it basically blew away everything that had come before it in terms of story. The tells the tale of an amnesiac who wakes up a morgue and embarks on a quest to find out who he is. Add in Planescape, unquestionably one of the most insane settings ever created for D&D and the choice-based morality system that set the standard for those used today, and you’ve got one of the best D&D games ever made.
Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn
The line between Baldur’s Gate II and Planescape: Torment is so fine, you can barely see it. Baldur’s Gate IItook everything that Bioware had learned about RPGs and embellished on it, resulting in not only the best D&D game ever, but arguably the best RPG of all time. It nails the setting, and its pacing is perfect. Side quests feel meaningful, and the main story is always there, tempting you to do just one more quest before you quit. You can raid a dungeon for loot and gear, then use that to advance toward your ultimate goal, and it never gets old. More than any other game, Baldur’s Gate II represents the pinnacle of Bioware – that moment when the studio became irrevocably associated with great RPGs. You owe it to yourself to have played it.