Coffee in hand, it's about time to start the morning off with a list of something. Since many of you know I'm a big RPG nerd I thought it would be fun to list out some of my favorite modern-era CRPGs. I define modern-era as anything after the original Fallout, which brought the genre back to life along with the Baldur's Gate series. I'll also add a note that I'm partial to combat RPGs and that while stories in games are super-important to me, in the end I can't enjoy a game if it doesn't have great combat. Anyways... to the list!
I absolutely adore surprise attack RPGs from Europe that I know nothing about until it lands on a game-shelf near me. While the Gothic series -- specifically Gothic II -- shares this same sort of love, Divine Divinity is my favorite of the bunch. First off, the game has the most ridiculously awesome name of any on this list. It sounds epic but goofy at the same time and that's a good way to describe the game in general. Divine Divinity basically was a hack and slash Diablo-style game with a pretty deep skill system similar to the Elder Scrolls and Ultima games. It featured a good-looking, varied world with a few hundred NPCs all with deep dialogue trees. Really though what set Divine Divinity apart at the time was the game's humor which had you learning a little too much about the quest-givers you ran into.
I'll be honest, with it being over a decade now since I played the original Fallout, it's hard for me to come up with reasons why I enjoyed it more then Fallout 2 other then being slightly disappointed in the sequel's story-line. What I can tell you is that as a fan of TBS combat Fallout took everything I loved about the X-Com games and put them into a completely original world that I could totally get behind. In the end the deep combat is what always made me come back to the Fallout universe and though it's not as great a game as its predecessors, I still play Fallout: Tactics regularly each year.
If I could hang out with one RPG character in real life it would have to be Minsc and his "Space Hamster" from the Baldur's Gate franchise. For me, the second game in the series had a much better story-line and allowed for a lot more combat options. It also doesn't hurt that's also the one you can still play in a decent resolution. I find it tough going back to 2nd edition rules after NWN2 and IWD2, but when it comes down to pure story and quest options, Baldur's Gate II remains a favorite.
I know I'll catch a lot of flack for this, but I almost didn't include Planescape Torment on my list. Aside from the fact that you can only play above 800x600 through the use of some pretty buggy mods, after a recent attempt at a replay I just couldn't get past the combat in the game and the weaker first half. What is unquestioned though is that PT from a story perspective is completely unique and something you won't likely come across again. While games like Fable have really been pushing morality choices and the consequences of your actions, Torment was the first game I ever felt really torn between my decisions.
Everything that I disliked about the original NWN game was fixed in the sequel. This game had a pretty gripping story, a hugely enhanced party control system and much better dialogue. The only thing I can really neg the game for is its smallish map size and generally poor system performance, even on a top of the line PC. It's also the first game in the post Baldur's Gate world that I can actual say feels a lot like Baldur's Gate.
Of the Infinity Engine RPGs, Icewind Dale II goes down as my all-time favorite for the simple reason that it uses DnD 3.5e ruleset and features some of the most challenging combat of any game on this list. It's a hard, brutal game that loves to throw not two or three, but ten monsters at you at any time. IWD2 likely requires the most knowledge of the DnD spell system as you'll find even the common battles requiring a lot of crowd control management. Although the game had relatively no story, you really felt like you accomplished something once you made it out one of it's many icy dungeons.
Yes, I think it is a better game then Oblivion. I know that's a little controversial these days but to me the Elder Scrolls games were more about exploration and character and Morrowind simply presents a more varied world then Oblivion did. In Morrowind I'd jump from one city to the next and feel like I was in an entirely different game. Each city had it's own architecture, creatures, politics and religion. Oblivion on the other hand had a draw distance that very much let me know where I was and how far away I was from the central city. It just felt smaller then Morrowind, which at the time completely blew me away as far as setting goes. I still think the combat in the Elder Scrolls games are pretty weak, but when you want to actually visit another world, I can't recommend a better series.
Wizardry still remains the weirdest CRPG universe to me but retains the most unique combat system that I wish someone would base a newer game around. The swan song of the series, Wizardry 8 allowed you to create a full party like you would in an Icewind Dale game but had you battle it out in a first person perspective from the point of view of your party, instead of one character. Essentially once you ran into enemies the game would go into turn based mode and you'd make your moves in turn for each one of your party members. It was an incredibly deep style of play and with some pretty epic boss battles makes it the only game under Temple of Elemental Evil that I enjoy from a pure combat perspective.
Oh Arcanum, the game you could have been. Depending upon who you ask, Arcanum is either the best RPG of all-time or the most broken. In truth it's a little of both. What is clear though after all these years is that no game tried as hard to be immersive as Arcanum did. Made from a trifecta of fallen Fallout developers, Troika's steam-punk world had everything going for it but a reliable combat system. If you like non-linear games that branch out in ways you wouldn't expect I highly recommend picking it up if you can find a copy. You'll be rewarded with a huge world story that is hard to play through the same way twice.
Temple of Elemental Evil is the game I go back to more then any other. While this is partly due to a pretty devout mod community it is mostly due to the deepest combat system on any game from this list. Basically take everything I said about IceWind Dale II and put it into a turn-based system that plays the most true-to-form pen and paper game of DnD ever made. Here's a game where you can finally play a rogue like a real rogue with tumble rolls, sneak attacks and visibility checks. Like IceWind Dale II it's a terribly hard game and one I wouldn't recommend to everybody, but for fans of the genre who aren't afraid to play a game with very little story, I can't think of a better CRPG.