The impact of Dungeons and Dragons on videogames is almost impossible to overstate. Have you ever played a game where a number was attributed to a statistic? How about experience and levels? Classes? Hit points? Although videogames are a bit older, D&D had all of these features from the beginning. Games like Dark Souls, Final Fantasy, Skyrim, The Witcher, Diablo, and even Doom are more directly inspired by the settings, tones, monsters and level designs in the game.
Almost as impressive is the fact that videogames with the official D&D license are usually really good. How good? Like some of the best videogames ever good. Let’s take a look
Like Neverwinter Nights 2 ahead, this game loses a lot of goodwill right around the time you expect it to open up and blow your mind, and DDO loses even more goodwill as it’s shameless, antagonistic moneygrubbing tactics moves in the direction of all free to play mmos. That being said, the first five levels (which are like the first twenty levels in most mmos) are fantastic. The character creation is delightfully comprehensive with classes and races that are evocative but just a bit too nuanced to be placed in a box like “tank, dps, controller” etc. The quests and story are fairly well written and take some pains to avoid “kill X of Y” quests. Instead, each quest has you explore an actual dungeon and come to your goal in a somewhat more organic way. It also works hard to make solo play enjoyable but I would strongly recommend a group of friends. If you can’t get a D&D group together or are just curious, this is as close as you can get to the structure of D&D in a videogame… well, except for this next game.
Although technically developed by Obsidian, Neverwinter Nights 2 is the most Bioware game that ever did Bioware for good and for ill. It has a comprehensive, overwhelming character creation that fully uses the overstuffed nature of D&D 3rd edition to let you tailor a character however you want… if you know what you’re doing. The scope of it absolutely steamrolls DDO’s interpenetration of 3rd edition and makes every Bioware game after it look downright infantile. It’s also way too easy to make a character build that sucks only to realize it ten hours into the game. The characters themselves are great. Funny and well written with snappy dialog and personalities that go with their mechanics, it’s also fascinating to see the literary DNA that would go into characters like Garrus, Sten, Wrex, Morrigan and Tali in later Bioware games. The story doesn’t hold up at all however and too quickly devolves into stupid fetch quests and plotlines (and their corresponding dungeons) that should have ended at the halfway mark. The only thing that keeps this game on the list are the mod and expansion pack campaigns. Particularly Storm of Zehir, which is just a great open sandbox campaign done better than the average Dungeon master could. With such a great system and campaigns that hold up well, Neverwinter nights is so good that it kind of consumes Baldur’s Gate’s greatness, literally if you include the Baldur’s Gate reloaded campaign, which is why it’s not on the list. That being said, Baldur’s Gate is awesome and you should totally play it please don’t hate me for not putting it on my list.
Planescape: Torment might be the most well written game ever made in one of the most interesting settings I’ve ever heard of. The D&D setting of Planescape is a general term for the afterlives. All of them. Planescape is a universe where every religion is true and totally owns the contradictions inherent to it. Especially in the cosmopolitan center of it all, the city of Sigil, where you spend most of your time. In Sigil, seeing Thor or Beelzebub walking down the street is as common as seeing a celebrity in Manhattan, and that’s not even close to the weirdest thing. The weirdest thing is probably when you talk to an alleyway about whether or not she should keep her baby. I could certainly go on about the setting or the story (the script is as big as a novel) but I could tell you all about the combat in three words: weaksauce Baldur’s Gate. If that doesn’t scare you off, play this game. It’s on sale at GOG more often than not and it isn’t terribly expensive to begin with.
“The most well written game ever made” is great and all but playing a couch coop bet ’em up with your friends is about as much fun as you can have with videogames and you could easily put either of these two in the running for best beat ’em up ever. The games are surprisingly faithful recreations of the D&D Basic rules, which is the purest ruleset for just having fun and killing kobolds, and dammit does it ever deliver. You play as number of authentic D&D classes with spells, weapons and abilities straight from the game, but you can also do charge attacks, blocks, somersaults and other cool stuff that feels more at home in a fighting game.
Maybe even better are the monsters who are near perfect realizations of their Monster Manual counterparts battling you in all of their cheesy yet terrifying glory. Trolls can only be killed with fire or acid, displacer beasts create illusions of themselves and kobolds are pathetic jokes. It also dosen’t hurt that the game is beautifully drawn and animated. Tower of Doom was made in 1993 and is still the best looking game on this list.
This is certainly the easiest game to get into, with the least amount of D&D knowledge required and it just being a fun and simple game that anyone who enjoys a little fantasy violence can enjoy. Best of all, they sell both games in a bundle on every modern platform. All that considered, this is the one game on this list I would recommend to anybody with the least reservations. It’s not the best one however…
WES is very much a hidden gem. The oldest and easily most obscure game on the list, WES was the only D&D game released on the Sega Genesis to little fanfare and middling reviews. It’s also the most difficult to acquire legally with no re release and a pretty hefty price tag at Amazon.
WES is a party based (duh) top down turn based rpg. You roll up (the game rolls random stats) a party of four from the Basic classes. You then watch the premise unfold through a surprisingly well done cutscene; A goblin army has overwhelmed your country and will soon eradicate your civilization. There is no hope. Only the opportunity to die fighting. Just when the goblins breach the walls of the final castle however, the sky rips open tearing man, goblin and castle alike into a strange new realm with floating continents, dinosaurs and a red sun. Your party’s new job is to explore this land, seek out allies, pacify enemies and maybe, just maybe figure out what the f&%k just happened.
That’s a terribly promising setup for an actual game of D&D and WES delivers and then some. This is a game juggling, with aplomb, tactical swashbuckling, archaeology, hardcore survival and a subtly disturbing subplot about the survivors in the castle slowly going mad and nobody knowing why. There are no tutorials, nothing is beaten over your head. Everything that happens happens through organic play. It’s like if the makers of Dark Souls did a Zelda game. This is the kind of adventure I aspire to make as a dungeon master and I can’t quite say that about any other game on this list.
So there you have it. My personal list for favorite games about my favorite game. Agree? Disagree? Wanna tell me how much of a tool am I for not putting Baldur’s Gate on the List? Put it in the comments!