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Teach me about CRPGs

Kazin

did i do all of that?
(he/him)
I've been playing a lot of Wasteland 2 recently, and I've been having a good time. CRPGs are the RPGs I know the least about - I've dabbled in Fallout 1 a little bit, but other than Wasteland 2 and Fallout 1, I don't have any experience with the genre. Fallout 1 wasn't a great introduction, not because the game is bad or anything, but because it is absolutely brutal if you don't know what you're doing (and I didn't). I read a little bit of a character building guide for Wasteland 2, mostly to explain what most stats did and roughly some good ideas how to build a party, and I've come away with a melee blunt weapons user, handgun user, sniper rifle/SMG user, and a shotgun/automatic weapons user who also dabbles with healing, and I've gotten pretty far (the party ranges from levels 18-19, and I've played about 20 hours or so).

I guess this is a sort of general thread, but other than Wasteland 3 which I bought on Steam when it was on sale recently, I'm not sure where to go next. I know Planescape Torment is supposed to be good, and I do own that, but I have no idea if I'll be missing some context in it if I haven't played other games by the people who made it (isn't it related to the Baldur's Gate games, or something? Should I play those first?). So, tell me about CRPGs! What are good ones? What are bad ones? Pro tips?
 
Planescape Torment has some of the best writing in videogames (I think, I'm not sure if it's aged poorly) and simultaneously one of the most hilariously lopsided combat systems. You don't need to play the Baldur's Gate games or anything like that to prep for it, Planescape takes place in its own setting that while loosely related follows completely different rules and has almost zero overlap unless you're mucking about in the Tabletop stuff. The big thing about playing Torment is that there is one definitively best way to play, and trying to play in any other way not only makes the gameplay harder to deal with, but loses out on some big story moments. It's also a VERY LONG game (or so I remember it). I generally recommend looking up exactly how you want to build a character ahead of time for this because your starting stat allocations matter A LOT and work on very old DnD rules, though be careful about story spoilers as THE ONE BEST BUILD is often talked about in direct relation to the story stuff.

Tides of Numenera was released so long after Planescape that it has no expectations of your prior knowledge of the setting and is a much more modernized game if you wanna dabble in the setting without dealing with Torment's eccentricities. The writing is notably weaker but it's a little unfair to expect it to have been as good about that as Torment was.

Baldur's Gate is still perfectly serviceable but it and Baldur's Gate 2 really show their age these days. They're also quite difficult if you don't know what you're doing when building your characters. The best argument for playing them first is just that they're some of the oldest and getting them out of the way early if you really intend to means you don't have to go back to their UI jank after playing games with newer, improved user experience design. For these two I would definitely say play them in order because you can carry save file information over into 2 and you get a lot out of that.

Pillars of Eternity is quite good and has a somewhat simplified set of stats so it's easier to process how things generally work. Pillars of Eternity 2 does a sort of unique world map exploration thing, and is a big graphical step up. Also battles on pirate ships. Multiclassing was added into the second game and the number of options for building characters was blown wide open so it can be easy to get wrapped up in just exploring your options. Also iirc Pillars 2 doesn't use strictly limited spell level charges, it went way more in the direction of per encounter/rest type abilities. It's not as important to carry a save into 2 as it is with Baldur's Gate because the second game has an extensive Pillars 1 history that lets you set nearly every important choice in the game when you're making your character, and you can fully recustomize a save-transferred character anyway.

Pathfinder Kingmaker is much like Baldur's Gate but with much better UI, and it takes the promise Pillars of Eternity failed to deliver on with having your own castle, and expands it into a light Kingdom Management simulation that you play with between exploration and story progress (and you do have to balance your interaction with those aspects, as each one is important to complete the game). The game's default difficulty is set below normal and I recommend leaving it there unless you want a challenge, and setting the Kingdom Management difficulty to its lowest difficulty setting. The final area of the game is a giant pain in the ass war of attrition which is counter to how the entire game leading up to it operates though, and I think that's worth being mentioned. I don't know much about what Wrath of the Righteous is like beyond a lot of people telling me the gameplay aspects are all improved. They are both imo much more dense in terms of character building than most of the other things I'm listing except for Pillars of Eternity 2 and Baldur's Gate 3.

Divinity Original Sin is considered amazing by most. It really shines playing co-op with other people which is a thing you can do. I don't remember how important it is for story context to play the first game but the second game is generally miles better with its main drawback being that you lose a bit of minor-ish story context if you make a custom character instead of playing one of the named premade heroes.

I've heard good things about Tyranny, most people tend to like it more as a game than Tides of Numenera since they came out close together, but I can't really say anything else about it.

Baldur's Gate 3 I'm putting all the way down here because it's so much newer and will be in early access for the foreseeable future. It's a generally very well-designed game with SUPER interesting writing and party relationship development. It's not very important to play the first two games before this and that will probably remain true unless they throw in way more references than I expect to see.

I'm so careful about not buying games that I think I won't enjoy that I can't really warn you about any that are distinctly bad though. Everything I've mentioned from this I've either enjoyed a lot or anticipate enjoying a lot once I can fit another CRPG in.
 
Planescape is technically connected to the Baldur's Gate games because of D&D multiverse shenanigans, but the connections are more like an easter egg than something that would suggest one should come before or after the other. It's more dialogue focused, while Baldur's Gate will require that you really learn the battle system, which can be pretty obtuse and brutal in a way that it sounds like you didn't enjoy with other older CRPGs. As you learn the ropes, you'll definitely be saving and loading a lot, no way around it.

I played the BG games for the first time using the Enhanced Edition ports a couple years ago, and I loved them. They did not feel old to me (except through their fourth wall breaking references to 90s things), and in many ways I think that many recent games are catching up (or failing to catch up) with BG. That being said, they're a huge time commitment because you can take the same character across the equivalent of ~3 full CRPGs (depending on how you count the various expansions). If you played the BG games but don't care for the obtuseness, would you want to really learn how the system works? If not, the Enhanced Editions come with a lot of options and difficulty modes that make it easier, up to a Story Mode where you just can't die. If you ever play these and do want to learn the rules instead of plowing through on Story Mode, feel free to ask questions.

I will say that I was inspired to play these after trying the Divinity: Original Sin games, which are a much more modern, accessible, and turn-based take on this formula. You don't need to play D:OS1 to understand D:OS2, but I think that arguably the first game is better, or at least equally good. So those might be a good entry point, although now that I've played both I prefer the original BG games.
 

Falselogic

Techno-Threadcromancer
(they/them)
I think Fallout 1 and 2 are well worth the effort of playing. They did so many things that we just take for granted today in all sorts of games. If you just want a fun dungeon crawl CRPG Icewind Dale is a good one. If you're looking to go a little further back there's the Ultima Underworlds and the Eye of the Beholder games.
 

Kazin

did i do all of that?
(he/him)
Holy shit, tons of detail here, wow. Thank you all so much!

Unless I fall off 2 massively (or hate 3 for some reason), I think I'm going to try to finish Wasteland 2, play 3, and then move on to Planescape: Torment given what's already been said about it in this thread (and it's general reputation that I heard... somewhere. Probably here on TT?). I do own the Enhanced Editions of Baldur's Gate I and II, and I picked up Icewind Dale and Planescape: Torment at some point on sale, but I've since added a bunch of stuff to my wishlist and will probably buy the Divinity: Original Sin games the next time they're on sale (which is pretty often, iirc).

I own Fallout 1 and 2 (and Tactics, apparently, but that's apparently crap?), and really do want to play them given how much I adore the writing in Fallout: New Vegas, which is by a lot of the same people. Plus, I'm really enjoying Wasteland 2, which is Fallout-adjacent.

Are some of these not turn based? Are they action games in some way, or are they like pseudo-RTSs or something? Wasteland 2 is turn based, as was Fallout 1 iirc... I will say that I bought a bluetooth mouse to use on my Steam Deck, since while the games are playable without a mouse, they're pretty tedious that way imo. Or at least Wasteland 2 is, at any rate.
 

Torzelbaum

????? LV 13 HP 292/ 292
(he, him, his)
If you're looking to go a little further back there's the Ultima Underworlds and the Eye of the Beholder games.
Yeah. So are you only interested in isometric CRPGs or do you also want to delve into the first-person ones, Kazin?
 

Kazin

did i do all of that?
(he/him)
Yeah. So are you only interested in isometric CRPGs or do you also want to delve into the first-person ones, Kazin?

I know so little about the genre I didn't even know first person CRPGs were even a thing. I did play Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls which I quite enjoyed, but that's more of a dungeon crawler, right? I'm interested in any good CRPGs, really. Though aiming like a FPS is hopefully not required, because I'm godawful at that and don't really enjoy non-original-Doom FPSs.
 

Mogri

Round and round I go
(he)
Staff member
Moderator
Pathfinder Kingmaker is really good! I haven't made it to the endgame, but even the parts of the game prior to the kingdom management struck me as "Baldur's Gate, but better."
 
Are some of these not turn based? Are they action games in some way, or are they like pseudo-RTSs or something? Wasteland 2 is turn based, as was Fallout 1 iirc... I will say that I bought a bluetooth mouse to use on my Steam Deck, since while the games are playable without a mouse, they're pretty tedious that way imo. Or at least Wasteland 2 is, at any rate.
yeah Pseudo-RTS combat with Pause is what a lot of them are, with most party members having AI deciding what to do (which you can often adjust to be more specific) if you don't want to micromanage. Some of the newer ones added Turn-based modes, I know for sure Kingmaker and Pillars of Eternity 2 have it, and I'd assume Wrath of the Righteous does as well. Baldur's Gate 3 and both Divinity Original Sin games are fully turn-based.
 

JBear

Internet's foremost Bertolli cosplayer
(He/Him)
Also, just to note it, real-time with pause is very polarizing. A lot of people hate it (I think it's great, though!). So... maybe try one before you go all-in on these?
 
Also, just to note it, real-time with pause is very polarizing. A lot of people hate it (I think it's great, though!). So... maybe try one before you go all-in on these?

I think this is good advice. If you already own the BG:EE games, try those out first before committing to anything else with serious Real Time With Pause. (Planescape Torment is less combat focused so it matters less, but most of these games want you to master RTWP combat.)

If you almost like RTWP in BG:EE but wish the UI was more clear, maybe a more modern version of it like the first Pillars of Eternity might work, but it would definitely be a risk.
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
I'm not the biggest fan of the genre, and only play one of these every two years, or so. Just so you know, where I'm coming from.

I'm surprised that noone mentioned Arcanum: Of Steamwork and Magick Obscura. It has a fun steam-punk setting, where all the fantasy races are transported forward in time. Like, you have Orcs who fight for their rights as workers, or have to argue for the building of a train (something like that, it is a few years since I played it). You can go either magic or technician, but have to choose, as raising your affinity with one decreases your affinity with the other. It's not complicated, and you have within magic and technology more than enough room for growth. Dialogue is very well done, and you can skip whole dungeons, if you are just well skilled with Charisma or Speech, something like that, and choose the right dialogue options. Or you can just clear the dungeon, which isn't really my thing, I mainly try to avoid combat in these games. That said, Arcanum has a decent battle system. Real-time never worked for me, but you can always switch to turn-based (even within battle, which lets you cheese it, sometimes).
That said, it is buggy. You certainly need a mod, and even then might have a few hickups. I don't remember anything too bad (reloading an old save generally works well enough), and I think this is part of the genre anyway, but consider yourself warned.

The other one not mentioned here is Gothic. Only played the first one, with the second being supposed to be better, but the first is fun too. It has a very unique control setup, that I don't remember in detail, I only know that it is different from most others. You do control your characters movement with buttons, in a third-person view, I think, with a kind-of weird button layout. But you get used to it fast enough, I promise, and then it works really well. What I found most interesting was, how your character was really bad at combat at the start - in the sense, that he would be bad at executing the button inputs you gave him. Like, I think when you try to attack with a sword at the start, he swings it pretty awkwardly, and stuff like stepping forward is similar. But as you level up, and train with masters, your character gets visibly better. It might sound weird and off-putting, but it was really a lot of fun, seeing your character get better and better, not just by seeing higher numbers, but just be seeing a person who gets better at swordfighting.
The first game has a comparatively small world, and with doing everything I could, I only got 33 hours of playtime. I mean, it's not nothing, but considering the genre, it is on the shorter side.
 
Oh, I totally forgot about the Shadowrun series too. All three of them (Returns, Dragonfall, Hong Kong) are at least pretty dang good, but Dragonfall is particularly incredible. Also turn-based games. Their setting is also Steampunk meets High Fantasy and I love it.
 

Kazin

did i do all of that?
(he/him)
Oh, I completely forgot that I put like 8 hours into Shadowrun Returns and had a good time with it. I own Hong Kong and Dragonfall, too, just haven't played them yet.

Pretty excited for this genre, actually. I'm not good at Wasteland 2 - I mostly have failed to accomplish tasks the way I want to, though that's mostly because I have a combat focused build rather than speech/charisma - but it's okay, the game accounts for that. Apparently, I'm heading to LA soon, which probably means I won't have access to the area I've played in so far (dialogue seems to indicate this, anyway), so I'm wrapping up what sidequests I can.

Gonna add FelixSHs recommendations to the wishlist, too. Thanks!
 

Torzelbaum

????? LV 13 HP 292/ 292
(he, him, his)
I know so little about the genre I didn't even know first person CRPGs were even a thing. I did play Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls which I quite enjoyed, but that's more of a dungeon crawler, right? I'm interested in any good CRPGs, really. Though aiming like a FPS is hopefully not required, because I'm godawful at that and don't really enjoy non-original-Doom FPSs.
CRPG is a pretty broad category with lots of sub-genres within it. First person dungeon crawler is one of those sub-genres. TT has a thread for computer and console games of that type if you're interested.
 
Shadowrun Dragonfall is probably my favorite game I've played on Steam.

I think Dragonfall has the perfect length and as you progress, it really feels like you are uncovering important and dark secrets. A very atmospheric game. The soundtrack is understated but very good as well. Its a fantastic RPG.

Also I played Costume Quest on PC (Mac) and its great as well. Short and sweet which is a rarity for a CRPG.
 

Kazin

did i do all of that?
(he/him)
For some reason, I thought Costume Quest was like an action game, or a point and click adventure game, or something. This is why I put "teach me" in the thread title! lol
 

fanboymaster

(He/Him)
Disco Elysium is this kind of game except all dialog checks and investigation, no combat. I'm pretty transfixed by it at the moment. Sort of a Planescape Torment construction with a more modern though no less surreal aesthetic and mood. All sorts of content warnings should probably be assumed for it though.
 

Lokii

Administrator
(He/Him)
Staff member
Moderator
Every Spiderweb game is genius. They tend to be more mechanically straightforward than the big established games in the genre without losing depth, if that interests you as someone starting out. Extremely solid game design and writing; evocative and addictive. Plus there's a ton of them and they're all cheap. I can't recommend strongly enough if the bare-bones presentation isn't a deal breaker.
 

Kazin

did i do all of that?
(he/him)
Check out The CRPG Book maybe. The PDF version is freely available.

I didn't know about this and will absolutely pick up a copy. Thanks!

I bought all those Avernum games and the Avadon games years ago, but haven't tried any of them yet (I've been curious about this genre for years, it took the Steam Deck combined with a PC connected to a tv to get me to actually try them out).
 

Bongo

excused from moderation duty
(he/him)
Staff member
Western RPGs and Japanese RPGs diverged early on. The common thread, and their common ancestor, is the Wizardry series. Dragon Quest began as an attempt to combine Ultima-style world exploration with Wizardry-style combat and present it in a form accessible to first-timers.

The dream in the west was "What if a computer could run a D&D campaign for you?" and early on they did that by actually using the Dungeons & Dragons license, which is used not only for the ones you mentioned (Planescape, Baldur's Gate) but earlier ones like the Gold Box series as well. That's why they have a tendency toward detailed character creation and varying degrees of narrative nonlinearity. Those with a story focus commit to the idea of "role playing" in the most literal sense, and those with a gameplay focus like to let you have a different experience based on how you set up your guy at the start.

That emphasis on player choice also led to a pattern of detailed simulations most visible in the Elder Scrolls series, where all the clutter in the game world can be interacted with. When hybridized with another genre like a first-person shooter, they distinguish themselves with that level of detail, seen in the likes of System Shock and Deus Ex.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the influence of classical, ultra-orthodox "Berlin Interpretation" roguelikes as an alternate tradition of dungeon crawlers.
 

Falselogic

Techno-Threadcromancer
(they/them)
The dream in the west was "What if a computer could run a D&D campaign for you?" and early on they did that by actually using the Dungeons & Dragons license, which is used not only for the ones you mentioned (Planescape, Baldur's Gate) but earlier ones like the Gold Box series as well. That's why they have a tendency toward detailed character creation and varying degrees of narrative nonlinearity. Those with a story focus commit to the idea of "role playing" in the most literal sense, and those with a gameplay focus like to let you have a different experience based on how you set up your guy at the start.
And if you are interested in exploring the Gold Box Series most of them are now available on Steam, and they come built in with most of the tools from the Gold Box Companion! Which is like a trainer for the games. If you want all of them you can find them here.
 

MetManMas

Me and My Bestie
(He, him)
I've always had a fascination with cRPGs, but aside from Shadowrun (SNES) I've never really finished one. It's really easy to get overwhelmed by all the choices available to you.
 
I agree. I started with Gold Box era CRPGs and later on played FF games.

I think JRPGs wisely streamlined the game play and cut some of the chaff (weight management of your inventory, mixing spell regents, etc). I'm not saying CRPGs are bad, but I when I switched from CRPGs to console JRPGs, I found the later to be a lot more appealing due to the distillation of gameplay elements.

Granted, a lot has changed since the gold box era SSI games and maybe its time for me to revisit modern western CRPGs. I've heard good things about Fallout and Elder Scrolls, but haven't taken the jump yet.
 

Exposition Owl

Owl of the not-so-wild
(he/him/his)
I'm surprised that noone mentioned Arcanum: Of Steamwork and Magick Obscura.

The Arcanum boards were the first online community I was part of. I loved that game, hiccups, poor balance, and all—I had a better time with it than any of the Fallout games I’ve played. The game’s official website was arcanum1.com, and I’m still a bit sad that Troika didn’t get another bite at that apple.
 

Falselogic

Techno-Threadcromancer
(they/them)
I purchased Arcanum when it first came out and tried to play it. It was not possible at release. I think my negative experience with it then has tainted my view ever since. I should try it again. I mean 20 years have gone by since then.
 

Exposition Owl

Owl of the not-so-wild
(he/him/his)
I mean, in all fairness, the game has never run flawlessly, and some character builds are *vastly* easier and more effective than others. I never did manage to put together a scientist/tinkerer-type character that really worked. What’s more, Arcanum wasn’t exactly a graphics showcase even at the time it was released, and I have no idea what it would be like to revisit it (gulp) 21 years later without nostalgia working in your favor.
 
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