Baldur’s Gate 3 is the biggest D&D video game the world has ever seen. It has brought countless new players to the genre, many of whom likely got absolutely hooked and have already done everything there is to do in the game — despite that likely requiring up to 200 hours of playtime. If you’re one of these heroes, maybe you could find some use in a list of masterpieces of old and new that capture the same magic as 2023’s biggest game.
Planescape Torment (1999)
Though it features a great mix of combat, enemies, and magic spells, what set Planescape Torment apart was its focus on story and character development. The developers took quite the gamble when they decided to make a game that was more focused on telling an engrossingly dark tale than it was on rolling dice to “use sword good” — but it sure did pay off. To this day, Planescape Torment remains one of the richest character studies in the history of video games.
What’s really cool about this one is that regardless of how old it is, a game that puts emphasis on writing is likely to stand the test of time forever. Either way, on the slim chance that you’re put off by the beautiful-but-definitely-old-timey graphics, then worry not. You can just get PT’s excellent Enhanced Edition for a very generous price.
Divinity Original Sin 2 (2014)
This is the game that granted Larian the right to make Baldur’s Gate 3, so it should come as no surprise that it’s an absolute blast. If you immediately fell in love with BG3 and want more of that, then Divinity Original Sin 2 will probably scratch that itch better than any game on this list. I can’t talk about everything that this game does well, but I believe that what makes it most unforgettable is the nigh-endless replayability it provides via its incredibly intricate response to player choices.
Better yet, even if you somehow don’t feel compelled by its wide array of options, you can even use the game’s assets to create your own story. How many game developers ask you “Oh, you think you can do it better? Then why don’t you try it?
Star Wars Knights Of The Old Republic (2003)
Star Wars is one of the few film properties lucky enough to have many great games set in its universe — and Star Wars KOTOR might just be the best of the bunch.
The most interesting part is how it’s not a space shooter, an FPS, or even a lightsaber duel simulator — the three genres that the series had naturally most excelled at before the release of this gem. KOTOR actually uses an altered D&D formula, and even though it foregoes straight-up action for turn-based combat, it still contains all the exhilaration of the best Jedi Knight or Rogue Leader games. Also, did I mention how it features a plot much better than not just the prequels but, dare I say, even the original trilogy?
If you like this one, seriously consider trying out the sequel as well. Knights Of The Old Republic 2 proved a divisive sequel due to some glitches and lack of open-endedness caused by a troubled development, but fan-made patches have solved many of the game’s issues. KOTOR 2 also introduces a few very fresh concepts to the extended universe canon, so it’s definitely worth checking out.
Pillars Of Eternity (2015)
Tired of big studio meddling? Pillars Of Eternity might be the game for you as it was the first big title of its type to get its funding entirely out of crowdfunding. It raised over $4 million dollars through Kickstarter, making it the most successful video game crowdfunding campaign at the time.
The goal of the project was to mix elements to create a spiritual successor to many of the games you see on this list, and the result was a rich and uncompromised D&D-based CRPG that felt both old and new in all the right ways.
If you like this one you should definitely also try the sequel, Pillars Of Eternity 2: Deadfire, as it’s nearly as good as the first one and it also features pirates — more than enough to make up for any small to mid-level shortcomings.
Disco Elysium (2019)
Released in 2019, Disco Elysium joined Doom Eternal and Animal Crossing: New Horizons to form the perfect pandemic gaming trifecta.
Even though it takes place in a completely new setting that shines on its own and features wildly new mechanics, Disco Elysium’s focus on story and characters can’t help but make it feel like a spiritual successor to Planescape Torment.
It’s so good that it’ll give you hope in games and life in general even when everything seems doomed on the outside. Many know exactly what I’m talking about — I hope anyone reading this will one day see it as well. This is the one to pick right now if you want to experience the most enthrallingly out-there narrative moments that this genre has to offer.
Neverwinter Nights marks the midpoint between CRPGs of old and Baldur’s Gate 3, as it was the first of its kind to implement a fully 3D camera. The game’s setting is just as beautiful or beautifully dire as the setting of any other game in the genre, but BioWare kicked up the immersion to 11 as the new camera mode makes players experience the action in a never-before-seen way.
I’m fully aware that what I just said doesn’t feel like anything special, but that’s only a testament to how much this game changed things.
The road that Neverwinter Nights first traveled paved the way for more immersive RPGs such as Kotor, Mass Effect, and the Dragon Age series — pretty much an entire golden age of CRPGs.
Baldur’s Gate 2
Who could’ve guessed that another game came out in the Baldur’s Gate series before Baldur’s Gate 3 and that it was also incredibly good? Even though 23 years of graphical and mechanical evolution separate the two, Baldur’s Gate 2 is still absolutely worth checking out.
Another cool thing about Baldur’s Gate 2 is that people who want something that looks a bit better can acquire the Enhanced Version that came out in 2013, a mere 10 years before the release of BG3.
Torment, Tides of Numenera (2017)
Numenera is the more direct of many spiritual successors to Planescape Torment. That means you can expect good writing, though it doesn’t quite reach the same narrative heights as the original.
One thing you can surely expect, however, is a visual feast. This game’s weird Sci-Fantasy pre-rendered world is gorgeous and unlike anything we’d ever seen and are still to see in this genre.
Icewind Dale 2
Icewind Dale 2 is one of many titles that cemented BioWare as a top-tier CRPG maker from an early stage. You can see many of the things you love about Baldur’s Gate 3 here, though with arguably weaker graphics.
Here’s an anecdote to show you how passionate people are about Icewind Dale 2. At some point after its original release, the developers lost the game’s source code. That sucks because newer players, such as the ones reading this, I assume, could use a prettier version that’s compatible with modern hardware. The inexistence of a source code renders the release of an enhanced version impossible unless the fans love it to the point of remaking it from the ground up, which guess what, they’re totally doing. Still, even if you don’t feel like waiting for the enhanced version, we guarantee you’ll still find a lot to enjoy in the original one.
Eye Of The Beholder (1991)
Tired of RPGs where everyone is either very sexy or still obviously sexy but under a thin coat of ruggedness? Well, then this old-timey classic named after one of the many eyes of D&D’s ugliest monster is the one for you.
Ok, wait — I’m sad to inform you that you don’t get to play as that aforementioned hideous creature, but well, the game is pretty ugly. I don’t mean ugly in the sense that it invites you to an aesthetically unpleasant experience, but rather in the sense that it’s intentionally ruthless, probably due to the less lenient game design choices of the ‘1800s or whenever it was that this came out.
Eye of the Beholder is very different from every other game on this list as it goes for a first-person-perspective instead of the isometric or 3d one we see in most games of this kind, but it’s still a very playable game that’ll give new players an idea of how far they’ve come.
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