We’re looking at Western RPGs today, specifically those released in the 2000s or around that era. Many of these games used Diablo’s isometric gameplay, some others its hack-and-slash mechanics, so if you’ve played Diablo or Torchlight, you’ll be in familiar territory. There were almost too many of these games that came out at the time in the same way there’s a lot of first-person military shooters in the market today. If you need a break from the shooting and want to get into some RPGing, this is the list for you.
Of course, we all wait on Bioware to announce the next Mass Effect or Dragon Age and maybe now possibly KOTOR, but how many of you remember this game? Set in the AD&D multiverse of Planescape, you play a Nameless One, an immortal who tries to has forgotten his past and goes on a quest to try and remember it. Planescape may not have aged well, but it is worth rediscovering for its bizarre, unforgettable aesthetic, its story, how deeply that story is integrated to gameplay, and how it borders, but never crosses, the line between science fiction and fantasy. Let me put it this way: its spiritual successor, Tides of Numera, killed it on Kickstarter. You know people wanted to see a sequel happen for a reason. You can purchase Planescape Torment here.
Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura
No, not everyone loves this game, but it’s still worth going back to. Troika Games’ first salvo already looked and played dated when it came out in 2001, with clunky menus and that old isometric feel from Fallout. So why was this one a hit? Because Troika Games was comprised of the original Fallout developer team! These developers decided to leave Interplay to make a new company that was more like the old Interplay and brought their definition of what the fantasy RPG should be.
Meeting fantasy fans halfway, Arcanum’s world is actually half steampunk, half magic — and the magic is ebbing away as they are posed towards an industrial revolution. As The Living One, the survivor of a terrible zeppelin crash, you are given a silver ring and go on a quest to seek out its origins. In the course of the game, you have to face a conspiracy to kill you, learn more about the world, and finally face the world’s biggest threat.
It is a nonlinear game, with plenty of traveling, three kinds of combat, and deep character creation. You have no classes in Arcanum, so you just use magic and technology to increase your proficiency in them. Troika Games is no more, but that should not stop you from rediscovering this classic. You can purchase Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura here.
Larian Studios came out of nowhere (okay — they’re technically from Belgium) to surprise everyone with the start of a great new action RPG franchise in 2002. This one does not bring dramatic innovation to the genre, but what it does do is take elements from other games like Ultima, Diablo, etc., and execute with a lot of polish. Divine Divinity’s story is a little silly but filled with enough lore and detail to occupy a few hours. It’s not really worth covering every detail here, but the player investigates the past of the magical land, Rivellon, to seek out the true divine. Along the way, he discovers a conspiracy to bring Chaos to the land by the Black Ring.
Divine Divinity overall is more than the sum of its parts, none of which are particularly original, but all of which, including the music, hack-and-slash combat, and roleplaying, were all done very well. You can purchase Divine Divinity here.
We’re winding down now with another game still worth taking another go but might not be for everyone. Arx Fatalis is the game that came from Arkane Studios when they failed to acquire the license to make it an Ultima 3. Its scenario is actually a cross between Ultima and Fallout; it’s high fantasy but in a world where everyone was driven underground after the sun has failed them. The player discovers that Akbaa, the God of Destruction, is trying to manifest himself in Arx and the game revolves around his efforts to prevent that.
Unlike other games in this list so far, Arx provides little to no interactions with background characters and few side quests in lieu of creating a solid story. On the upside, this game is open-ended in terms of the objective. You need to build a sword to face Akbaa; however, the way you go about collecting the items needed is entirely up to you. You can also choose to face enemies head on or use stealth throughout. There is also some freedom in terms of skills. There is no character class; if you want a skill developed, you assign points throughout the game while you level up.
The most noteworthy thing is that its source code was released in 2011, opening the game up to continued development by the community. In plain English, new content is being made for the game today. You can purchase Arx Fatalis here.
Nox is a Diablo clone with a difference: the game was well known for its amazing multiplayer. Well, even if it does share many elements from Blizzard’s seminal dungeon crawler, it is probably unfair to call it a clone. The game was actually stuck in development limbo before it was picked up by Westwood Studios from Virgin Interactive USA. Westwood has always been known for quality products and characteristically, they took time to ensure the game would get that extra polish.
You play as Jack, an ordinary guy from Earth who is pulled into a parallel universe of high fantasy and forced to battle Hecubah’s army of necromancers. You may choose three different classes, play different linear storylines, and of course, engage others in online multiplayer. Why was the multiplayer so good? As this fan pointed out, gameplay between the different classes is completely balanced, opening the door for some amazing PVP. Some fans seem to still be playing the game today, although those numbers have been steadily dropping off, thanks to EA’s lack of support.
If you are one of the gamers who missed out on this the first time, you still have a chance to try it now. You can purchase Nox here. Make sure to also get the Westwood Online installer to use with it here.