Many of the greatest role-playing games in video game history can trace their roots back to a developer’s love of Dungeons & Dragons. Early classics like Ultima, Wizardry, and Final Fantasy have monsters, spells, classes, and other elements drawn directly out of the original edition of D&D. In addition to those games inspired by Dungeons & Dragons, the property has been the host of many officially licensed D&D games over the years – many of which stand as classics in their own right.
Peruse our ranked list of the top ten D&D video games below, and share your picks in the comments at the end of the article.
10. Eye of the Beholder
Developer: Westwood Associates
A number of popular computer role-playing games in the 1980s, including Wizardry, The Bard’s Tale, and Might and Magic, allowed for players to take an adventuring party into the depths of a dungeon while utilizing a first-person perspective to explore, fight, and engage with the world. Eye of the Beholder embraced the trend, and emerged as one of the best examples of the practice. The game boasts extremely challenging battles that are rooted in the monsters, weapons, classes, and races of the D&D fiction. Eye of the Beholder garnered an enthusiastic following that resulted in two subsequent sequels. It also had a pun for a name, which we appreciate.
9. Dungeons & Dragons: Dragonshard
Developer: Liquid Entertainment
Somewhat less known than many of the titles on this list, Dragonshard is nonetheless a very enjoyable romp through the Eberron D&D campaign setting – unique on this list because it falls firmly into the real time strategy genre. Players control an army of heroes and soldiers as they compete over the power of a mystical magical artifact. One of its coolest features is the mix of above-ground army battles and more dungeon crawl-focused sections in the world’s expansive underground. Three unique factions are each available to play, two of which get dedicated story campaigns, making this a relatively brief but enjoyable gaming experience that mixes RTS with role-playing elements.
8. Icewind Dale
Developer: Black Isle Studios
Like several games on this list, Icewind Dale employs the Infinity Engine to great effect, allowing for a flexible, highly adaptable gameplay experience ideal for strategic battles, control of multiple characters, and impressive visuals. While comparable to the gameplay of the Baldur’s Gate series, Icewind Dale established its own story continuity and characters, and shouldn’t be overlooked in the shadow of the more well-known series. Real-time combat keeps up the action vibe, but most players make ample use of the ability to pause the action to figure out strategic options throughout an encounter. Among other strong features, the game is notable for its stellar musical score by Jeremy Soule, who would go on in later years to compose for Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and Guild Wars 2.
[Next up: The chance to craft your own D&D adventures, and Patrick Stewart in a D&D game]
7. Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone
Developer: Stormfront Studios
After finding great success crafting the action-oriented combat game The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers in 2002, Stormfront returned to the roots of the role-playing genre by creating a Dungeons & Dragons game. Though only loosely based on the D&D ruleset, Demon Stone nails the atmosphere and feel of the popular Forgotten Realms campaign setting. Players pick between three unique characters, each of whom has their own approach to hacking and slashing through the many enemies that charge onto the screen. Demon Stone won high praise for its production values, which includes a great musical score, voice acting from the likes of Patrick Stewart and Michael Clarke Duncan, and an evocative, atmospheric visual presentation. The game’s script was also written by bestselling novelist, R.A. Salvatore, who includes a brief cameo in the game from his most famous character, the dark elf Drizzt Do’Urden.
6. Neverwinter Nights
The first Neverwinter Nights game that released in 1991 was the very first graphical online multiplayer RPG, and deserves praise in its own right. However, it is BioWare’s 2001 game of the same name that still has an active and enthusiastic player base today. The game’s core experience makes for an excellent role-playing adventure, but the game’s real legacy emerges through its extensive suite of creation and customization tools. Over the years, modders and designers have crafted a huge array of additional campaigns and adventures that can be downloaded and played, many of which rival the content on display in the main campaign. For pure breadth of content, Neverwinter Nights is hard to beat.
5. Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance
Developer: Snowblind Studios
Though it shares a similar name, Dark Alliance stands apart from its PC Baldur’s Gate cousins. This console-based action RPG was a favorite on the PS2 when it first released, offering some of the same loot-fest joy that Diablo displayed, and it later found its way onto Xbox and GameCube. The isometric view allows you and a buddy to play cooperatively, and as a consequence is an early adopter of the cooperative trend that would gain popularity throughout the decade. Dark Alliance is also notable for an excellent graphics engine that drew plenty of attention in its day, especially its mesmerizing water puddle effects.
[Next up: An arcade beat ’em up, and the best D&D video game ever made]
4. Dungeons & Dragons: Shadows Over Mystara
The second of two D&D-themed arcade machine beat ’em ups built by Capcom, Shadows Over Mystara has many vocal defenders even to this day. Bright inviting graphics, a varied collection of enemies, and six different character choices to pick between all made this one of the best cooperative side-scrolling games of the 90s. In addition to featuring strong fundamentals in the beat ’em up genre, Shadows Over Mystara boasts forking level paths, multiple endings, and a huge array of gear to equip for each class. If anyone out there is listening, a port to one of the many downloadable options in today’s market would be welcomed by rejoicing fans.
3. Pool of Radiance
Developer: Strategic Simulations Inc.
Pool of Radiance gains its place on this list as the first in the well-loved “gold box” series of D&D games from SSI. Players build a full party of characters, and then proceed through the world in two distinct gameplay styles. An exploration mode is played in first person, and offers narrative descriptions and party details as the player wanders the world. Engage in combat, and the view shifts to a isometric, top-down strategic presentation, in which players carefully move characters and blast out spells and other attacks to bring down foes. The game was an early model for transferred save files; your characters in Pool of Radiance could continue in into the subsequent games in the series.
2. Planescape Torment
Developer: Black Isle Studios
Set in one of the most unusual campaign settings of the D&D universe, Planescape: Torment presents the dark tale of the Nameless One, an amnesiac who awakens in a morgue, and sets out to discover who he is. The game skews towards conversation and discovery over a focus on combat, and wins its players over with its fascinating setting, which sends players wandering through the mysterious city of Sigil, and out into the many planes of existence that are reachable through the city’s many portals and gates. Planescape: Torment prefaced many popular features in modern RPGs, including a variable morality system that shifts over time in reaction to your choices, and a heavy focus on story and characters.
1. Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn
Before Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, or Dragon Age came on the scene, BioWare gained fame for the unprecedented ambition of its Dungeons & Dragons franchise, Baldur’s Gate. The second installment of that series is still regularly touted by the RPG faithful as one of the greatest RPGs ever made. Embracing the intricacies of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition ruleset, Baldur’s Gate II gained acclaim for its complex and strategic battle system, a fantastic array of characters, and a profound degree of choice in character creation and customization. To this day, Baldur’s Gate II remains one of the top-scoring PC games of all time.
What game would you rank as number one? Or did I miss any games entirely that should have been on the list? Let us know in the comments below. –by Matt Miller on February 08, 2013, GameInformer
Would I lie to you? BioWare’s 2000 magnum opus is still the best RPG of all time. I’ll prove it. With science.
BG2 vs. Oblivion
It says something terrible that no matter how poorly Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was balanced (and the ruleset used in BG2 is hilariously imbalanced, with the inclusion of silly rules like monks and class kits), it pales in comparison to the mess that is Oblivion’s system. In BG2 you have the freedom to create massively awesome parties by including whatever mix of the brilliantly written NPCs you wanted. Some combinations are better than others, and certain main character builds are borderline ridiculous (oh hi there, dual-class fighter-mage katana grandmaster!), but it’s nigh impossible to gimp your group into unplayability if you pay any attention at all.
Meanwhile, in Oblivion, several advancement paths effectively send you backwards. Not leveling any Endurance-related skills? Have fun with the durability of a newborn kitten wrapped in wet paper towels! Picked Mercantile or Speechcraft as a major? Try not to talk to anyone, because while you get marginally better at a sub-game that nobody cares about, the monsters are out there pumping iron and finding better equipment to eviscerate you with. On the flip side, Oblivion is stupidly easy to break to the point where you’re de facto invincible. Try stupid crap like that against a BG2 lich and see how far it gets you.
Furthermore, there are more than five faces on characters in BG2. And the women don’t look like ugly men. And the dungeons are actually fun and full of neat side paths and alternate solutions, not filled with boring random monsters. But you get the point.
BG2 vs. Mass Effect
Well, for one thing, BG2 is an RPG with progression and equipment that actually matter and aren’t vague nods to those games we used to play in ages past. For another, BG2 has fun, lighthearted bits in it and doesn’t rely solely on testosterone-fueled WE HAVE TO SAVE THE GALAXY RIGHT NOW EVERYTHING IS DOOMED BUT SHEPARD IS THE UBERMENSCH HOORAY FASCISM. I dare you to find anything in Mass Effect or the sequel that’s as flat-out amusing as Edwin’s poorly researched work on the Nether Scroll (spoilers: He turns himself into a girl and is simultaneously upset and intrigued at his new…attributes). And while I lament the fact that you never get a chance to strap Jan and his unbearable turnip blather to a nuclear bomb, you do at least get to rat him out to the cops and go taunt him in his jail cell.
Do I even need to bring up combat? Because there’s more to BG2 than “point gun, pull trigger.” So that’s a plus. You can summon up meat shields to tie up the enemy melee while harassing their spellcasters with ranged attacks. You can stealth up, backstab a dude, and lure his friends into a trap-filled ambush. You can drop entangling webs to block off an enemy group’s attack vector while engaging another party. Your creativity is the primary limiting factor in how battles play out.
As for Mass Effect, I’m not saying that there’s more tactical thinking in Call of Duty single-player…no wait, that’s exactly what I’m saying.
BG2 vs. Final Fantasy X
Let’s start with the fact that BG2’s ensemble of characters doesn’t consist of King *** and the cast of Dawson’s Creek. Nobody wants to listen to your problems, Tidus, because they are boring and you are stupid. And we definitely don’t want to listen to that godawful fake laugh for fifteen minutes or however long that cutscene goes. Also, Rikku is like sixteen so stop trying to sell her as a sex symbol, ya pervs. BG2 challenges you to help a friend through the emotional fallout of having her husband murdered, explain racism and tolerance to a renegade dark elf, and choose between upholding the duly written law of the land or assisting a good-hearted man caught in the gears of the system. One of these things is obviously better than the other.
But seriously, now. One game has you play the half-divine child of the God of Murder who is trying to prevent a power-hungry mage from ripping the divine essence out of mortals and corrupting it for his own ends. The other dresses up teenage daddy issues in asymmetrical clothing. One doesn’t screw around with deadly enemies – powerful mages are quite happy to drop a meteor swarm on your whole group, disintegrate your best friend, and gate in a balor during the time stop they cast on the first round of combat. The other has a final boss that you literally cannot die to.
Any other RPGs you want to front about being better than Baldur’s Gate II? Because I’ll demolish those weak arguments just as thoroughly.