Classic RPGs (Role Playing Games) were once considered a dying breed. Nowadays, games like Mass Effect are instantly labeled as an RPG with action adventure game stylings. Classic role playing games in the past were typically a lot more text and story based. Games like Pools of Radiance, Wizardry, Bard’s Tale, and Eye Of The Beholder were little more than digital representations of tabletop role playing games that had the option to use miniatures. Back in the 80’s, tons of Dungeons and Dragons SSI games and their look-alikes flooded the PC gaming scene. Thankfully, CRPGs today have many forms and the Mass Effect franchise is just a small taste of what’s available. 


Now that Mass Effect has gotten its Legendary Edition treatment for its first three games, we should take a look at some other classic RPGs that deserve your attention. 


Star Traders: Frontiers

Probably one of the RPG gems ever found on Steam (and on mobile too), Star Traders: Frontiers is an amazingly deep turn based sandbox RPG. You play as the commander of a spacefaring vessel with only the definition of your commander’s job to lead the way. As you launch into space with your somewhat loyal crew in tact, you are dumped into a supremely deep and lore infused political star struggle. 


You can explore, trade, attack, and spy your way about the cosmos in a simple attempt to stay alive, pay your crew, upgrade your ship, and get rich! In the meantime, you’ll make political, economic, and military contacts, carry out fetch quests, attack pirates, evade spys, and so much more!

This game is a throwback RPG that has a ton of information at your fingertips yet does NOT explain any of it. Without a tutorial, your senses are flooded with a ton of icons and text on virtually every screen. Even dozens of hours in, you can discover new options, missions, filters, or storylines for you to benefit from. Star Traders: Frontiers is a throwback to the days of SSI’s roster of AD&D or Buck Rogers RPGs


Icewind Dale

In the days when Bioware’s Baldur’s Gate was the new king of RPGs, Black Isle Studios came in as a distant cousin with their Icewind Dale series. Still based in the Forgotten Realms Dungeons & Dragons setting as Baldur’s Gate was, Icewind Dale took the same game engine and freed players just a bit more. Created in the early days of isometric view adventures, Icewind Dale is one of the original classic RPGs using this perspective. Nowadays games like Pillars of Eternity and Divinity: Original Sin all borrow from the nostalgia and the appeal that was birthed from the success that early games like Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale had. 


While Icewind Dale wasn’t created by Bioware, it still possessed everything that made Baldur’s Gate a classic. Allowing you to create your entire party, Icewind Dale provided just enough freedom for you to feel as if you are crafting your own team of legends. Using the rules of the AD&D 2nd Edition, Icewind Dale provided even more of that digital table top feel that made the Baldur’s Gate series so great. Couple that with an action packed story in a setting with tons of lore that even ties to the Baldur’s Gate series and you have a classic RPG that should not be missed.


Jade Empire

Bioware was on a roll after finishing the Baldur’s Gate series and starting the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic series. After seeing the new character focused 3D perspective shown in Star Wars KOTOR, it was clear that Bioware was looking to put a bit more ‘action’ into the RPG landscape. The stepping stone that led to the classic that is Mass Effect was Jade Empire. 

Jade Empire was one of the very first RPGs to incorporate a strategic action combat system alongside the story morphing conversation trees. Your character will learn and switch between martial arts styles in the middle of combat in an attempt to counter and devastate various foes. Some foes will be immune to certain styles so being able to equip the right martial arts styles as well as switch them at the right time is key. Few other martial arts games have ever given such attention to learning and equipping different martial arts styles in a meaningful way. For this alone, Jade Empire deserves not only your time but the time of a developer to go and remaster.


Darkest Dungeon

Darkest Dungeon is an innovative dungeon crawler RPG that takes a new spin on classic RPGs like Wizardry, Bard’s Tale, and Eye Of The Beholder. In those days, the tile based mapping of dungeons coupled with simply trying to keep your heroes alive was a strategic balancing act. Darkest Dungeon turns all of those past strategies on their heads by adding both physical and mental afflictions that affect the gameplay in extraordinary ways. 

Every trek into the dungeons of Darkest Dungeon risks not only the permanent death of an experienced champion in your party but also their mental health! Stay in the dungeon too long or get critically injured and your hero risks going insane or becoming abusive to their own party. The result is a CRPG that builds upon the best of dungeon crawler games and adds an all new difficulty level that is hard to master but fun to experience time and time again.


Halcyon 6 Starbase Commander: Lightspeed Edition

Built as a classic melding of old school Final Fantasy games and the musings of recent strategy standout Faster Than Light, Halcyon 6 Starbase Commander: Lightspeed Edition is a diamond in the rough. Developer Massive Damage has hijacked the love and lore of Star Trek to craft a lovable and easy to follow strategy RPG that has to be played.


As the admiral of a starfleet, you must craft a fleet of starships to defend your starbase from the likes of pirates, aliens, and other foes. In the midst of all of that, you upgrade your base XCOM style while exploring nearby sectors for survivors and resources. 

The game shines in its dedication to the old school Final Fantasy combat where special attacks, status effects, counters, and healing all add up to the calculus that is uncertain victory or defeat. You customize your ships and the captains that helm them along the way in classic 16 bit RPG fashion. 


Classic RPGs are going to continue to evolve as gaming technology improves. Eventually, there will be virtual reality and augmented reality games on this list, but until then, enjoy these classics.


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