I am currently playing and loving Legend of Grimrock 2. I’m embarrassed to say, I bought it after succumbing to a PC Gamer clickbait article of “Great Role Playing Games,” but I haven’t regretted it! I even don’t regret getting 8 hours in and realizing my party build was terrible and restarting. Grimrock is representative of a type of RPG which I have fond memories of – “Old School” since it was a long time ago and I was in grade school.
In the mid ‘80s I had the fortune to visit with an older boy across the street. In his room was an Apple computer and all around his computer and taped to his walls were several maps meticulously drawn on graph paper with amazing detail and annotations. I asked him about the maps and he booted up a game which I will forever hold dear – you never forget your first! Wizardry!
Wizardry was the best! It was an amazing interpretation of a Dungeons & Dragons party in an epic dungeon crawl and I was hooked from the start. He showed me his party and allowed me to go into the dungeon and explore with his super powerful characters including ninjas, a samurai, and bishops. I eventually could purchase the series for my Tandy 1000 and then my walls were plastered with maps of my adventures – though, as an adult now (some would say), I am very grateful for the auto-map feature of Grimrock 2!
My appetite for games in high school was insatiable and I played a lot (still do!), but some remain my absolute favorites.
Wizardry (1981). One game to rule them all, or at least get the trend started. Don’t get me wrong, I played Adventure on Atari and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Treasure of Tarmin on my Intellivision as a kid and they were great, but they were also very simple and not very representative of the D&D experience I was looking for. Wizardry brought the wonder of exploration and adventure, as well as characters I could name and mourn when they died – Wizardry was pretty brutal and unforgiving of mistakes. It was always good to have a backup character disk! Wizardry brought the dungeon crawl to life and the best part was that you could import your characters from one game to the next!
Bard’s Tale (1985). Bard’s Tale took Wizardy’s concept and added some great art, music, and humor to their dungeon crawl. It borrowed all the best concepts of Wizardry and added its own flair. All three came out in a six-year period and each one consumed dozens of hours of my time, and probably contributed to me being a B student. Totally worth it!
Starflight (1986). Starflight was a game changer for videogame RPGs in my opinion because developers threw off the shackles of fantasy and jumped into science fiction. I loved it! Starflight allowed me to be a starship captain with a crew in an unexplored galaxy full of interesting new alien races, planets to explore, and enemy starships to blow up! Starflight II was an even better game. Years later, in Mass Effect, as Shepperd explored the galaxy in his starship and planets in his ATV, I felt like I was reliving the “glory days” of Starflight.
Wasteland (1988). Holy crap! Post-apocalyptic, party-based RPG with zombies and machine guns! Yes, please! Wasteland made quite an impression on me and to this day its spiritual successor series (Fallout) is still my favorite.
Ultima. While Wizardry was often self-contained adventures, the Ultima series gave the feeling of an open world with an amazing amount of lore and adventure. I didn’t play it as much as the Wizardry series, but thought it deserved mention.
Dungeons & Dragons Series. OK, yes, I loved Pool of Radiance (1988) and Curse of the Azure Bonds (1989), but honestly, other than being canon D&D, they were just jumping on the money train and ultimately forgettable experiences. Fun at the time, but not lasting memories.
So, those are my favorite “old school” RPGs. The cutoff for me is 1990, when I graduated from high school and entered the Army. Of course, I had the fortune of growing up at this pivotal time in computer game development. I love my modern RPG experiences like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Fallout, and Elder Scrolls Skyrim, but sometimes I want to feel the wonder of the games of the past. And right now, that game is Legend of Grimrock 2.
Those are my favorites – I look forward to hearing about yours!