Matt's List of the Top Ten Worst CRPGs

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Matt Barton's picture

Nooo! Don't play the third one!Nooo! Don't play the third one!What are the ten worst CRPGs? This is a question that takes a lot of thought, because terrible games typically do not sell well and are quickly forgotten. What I think most of us have in mind with questions like this are high profile disasters--games that received a huge amount of hype, had no excuses to be bad, and turned out to be so spectacularly awful that it was more fun reading and writing the scathing reviews than the game would have been in the first place. We're not talking about low budget, small-team productions that you wouldn't expect much from anyway. These are the big budget games that stank so badly you not only flushed them three times but actually went to the store for a giant can of industrial-strength Lysol. With that as my build up, let's crank up our Roto-Rooters and dredge these crusty wads back up to the surface.

#10. Lands of Lore III. The Lands of Lore series was created by Westwood Studios, the legendary developer responsible for Eye of the Beholder and plenty of other epic CRPGs. The original Lands of Lore debuted in 1993 to critical acclaim, offering an interface similar to Dungeon Master or EOB that holds up well even today. The franchise was brought to an intestine-blocking halt in 1999 with the arrival of this boring game with terrible graphics and enough bugs to keep an entomology department busy for decades. Perhaps the biggest problem, though, is that the game tries to be an FPS, ratcheting up the "action" because that's what all gamers want, righhhht? Uh, nope. Don't worry, though, it's a pattern we'll see repeated. And we all know that the definition of genius is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, right?

Will they notice it's shipping with 1987 graphics?Will they notice it's shipping with 1987 graphics?#9. Dungeon Master II: Skullkeep. The first Dungeon Master is a legend among CRPG fans, celebrated for its tight, real-time gameplay and fun level design. The first "official" sequel (don't get this confused with Chaos Strikes Back!) showed up in 1995. Like those puzzles in the first game? They're gone. But you get more combat!!! Only it's boring, repetitive combat...Click, click, click. Anyone with a measurable IQ need not apply here. Like a lot of the games on this list, Skullkeep probably wouldn't look so bad if it didn't try to claim the legacy of a truly awesome game. Maybe if knew nothing of the original's legacy, you might appreciate this for the mediocre game that it is. Ah, what bliss.

#8. DeathKeep. Another peanut-studded turd from the mid-90s, Deathkeep was another pathetic attempt to make CRPGs more appealing to boneheads by grafting them onto FPS engines. What results is a shooter game based on the AD&D license. It was released for 3DO (another embarrassing memory of the mid-90s) and Windows, with crappy graphics and choppy movement. It's a good thing the story makes up for it...Actually, it doesn't. Kill the evil wizard, er, necromancer. Yeah, that's original.

#7. Dungeon Siege 3. Whenever the original designer or design team outsources a sequel, have a plumber on speed dial. Chris Taylor was proud to put his name on the first and second games. While I doubt anyone would call even the first one "great," Dungeon Siege was entertaining and compelling enough to finish. Perhaps in a foolish and misguided effort to "adapt for console gamers," we end up with the clunky interface of the turd, er, third game. A bigger problem, though, is the forgettable cast of characters and gameplay shallower than a water-saving toilet basin. I guess they're taking the "siege" part seriously, particularly the part about sitting around and being really bored. I think all of us really wanted to see this game do well, since another great rpg (even an action RPG) would be really welcome right now. Something totally awesome!!! Damn, I selected the wrong curtain and got Dungeon Siege 3 instead.

#6. Alpha Protocol. Chris Avellone, what have you done? How could the same guy who gave us Planescape: Torment produce a flop like this, particularly when the premise (an "espionage RPG") sounds so fascinating? Just hearing that phrase alone makes me want to buy it. But, yeah, we just got another mess with more bugs than a public lavatory without any soap left. Like Dungeon Siege 3, I'm kinda reminded of a bunch of frat guys trying to bake a cake. But they didn't plan well, and now they're out of time, so they turn up the oven to broil thinking it'll turn out just as great in half the time. What really makes this game so galling is that you can't help but see that it could have--should have--been so much better. Perhaps the "alpha" in the title is a not so subtle clue?

Descent from Anus Descent from Anus #5. Descent to Undermountain. Ever heard of a game called Fallout? Yeah, I bet you have. Well, guess what--it was considered this developer's "B game." Their big project was Descent to Undermountain, an AD&D licensed game based on the Descent engine. Yeah, that's right, the @#$@ Descent engine. How the hell was that supposed to turn out? The devs blamed it on a rushed production schedule, but I don't know anyone who seriously thinks this stupid idea deserved another year of anybody's time. What's to like here? I don't know what criterion you could come up with that wouldn't make this game look bad. Awful AI, terrible graphics, repetitive gameplay...at least you to get fight some giant rats. And they even float in mid-air...!

#4. Dragonlance: Heroes of the Lance. I hope somebody came to serious harm while making this game. How dare they take one of my favorite licenses and treat it like this...I know people who give their toilet paper more respect. Not incidentally, this was another effort to interest console gamers in AD&D stuff, and I guess the assumption was that console gamers are a bunch of strategically shaven gorillas who enjoy mashing buttons. I mean, what the hell @$@ is this? Some kind of side-scrolling action game with some kind of AD&D rules under the hood? Did somebody ask for that? Please, if they did, rip their heart out with a dragonlance. Wait, scratch that. Use a spoon.

#3. Might and Magic IX. New World Computing is the greenest developer I know. Man, they LOVE recycling. Just look at M&M 7 and 8. I'd forgive anyone for not being able to tell them apart from 6. So, by 2002 they figured they'd really better do something different, because, I don't know, maybe the mandate had ended or something. They were so lazy, they couldn't even think of a title for this one, so it's just IX. That's a bad sign. The bullet points sound good, at least--3D engine, real & turn-based combat, a "conversation engine," etc. So what do we end up with? Another bloody mess. It's like they made a list of everything they did right in Mandate of Heaven and did the opposite. Simplistic character creation. Slow start. Lack of choice. Not even a clue why you're #$@ there. Won't make that mistake again. Neither will a publisher.

Avatar DLC includes 50% more sparkles! Avatar DLC includes 50% more sparkles! #2. Ultima IX: Ascension. Like Roberta Williams, Richard Garriott's fame was earned by taking big chances and pushing every conceivable boundary. He was usually pretty good at predicting what fans wanted, even if they didn't realize it, and surpassing their expectations. The Ultima series was something that not just CRPG nuts got excited about; the entire computer games industry kept their eye on Origin because they were always a full step ahead of everybody else. But sometimes when you're blindly leaping forward, you land in a puddle of manure. Garriott began doubting his fans, convincing himself (again like Williams) that he had to stop doing what he did best and try to appeal to the masses by bringing in more ACTION and less of everything else (except bugs, of course). I guess he felt was that he didn't go far enough towards stupid with Pagan, so they had take it down a notch or six. But Ascension, oh wow...This was the game that should have proved that Garriott had lost it completely, but it took Tabula Rasa to do that. I guess Garriott's brilliant plan for IX was to turn Ultima into the next Tomb Raider. That's probably not that bad of an idea considering the success of Tomb Raider and Zelda, but it's not Ultima. It didn't help that it was another rush job with tons of show-stopping bugs.

#1. Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor. Sigh. I once said that I would never mention this game because I was afraid that somehow, even by dissing it, I would be drawing attention to it and some idiot out there would be curious enough to seek it out. I'd like to think this game didn't really exist, and that I could somehow alter history so that it never existed. As you know, Pool of Radiance was my first long-term relationship with a role-playing game, and man I always wanted to go back. But when you do go back ten years later, your sweetheart has put on 300 pounds, lost her teeth, and is rolling around Wal-Mart in a motorized wheelchair with a confederate flag jutting out the back.

To say that this game was a disappointment would be like saying Julius Caesar faced a small obstacle during the Ides of March. Or that Pompeii entered a mild recession due to an annoying volcano.

Even the dragons are decrepit.Even the dragons are decrepit.I hate to even have to talk about why this game was so awful, but it's the same sort of thing wrong with all the games listed here: awful productions. Can you imagine the drama that must have been going on behind the scenes? Overbearing egos, vital tasks assigned to "coders" who had maybe made a mod or two, estranged publishers threatening to cut funding at any moment...Eventually people get fed up and say SCREW IT, just release this thing even though we all know it's a P.O.S. This publisher/developer/supervisor doesn't deserve better. At that point, a terrible fan reception is revenge; they can point at them and say "See, I told ya. Now I feel completely justified."

I remember one time a guy told me that he was really excited to play Pool of Radiance after he read my reviews and descriptions of it. But he said it was a bit dated, so he'd just play the updated sequel instead. Can you imagine my horror?

What really makes me maddest of all, though, is that it pretty much guarantees that no one will ever invest in such a project again. For all intents and purposes, turn-based is dead. We'll probably never see another great, AAA-budgeted CRPG again, because now it's "proven" that gamers only want action, action, ACTION! Intelligence? That's boring! What, do you think gamers actually have brains? Of course they don't.

So you see, these games aren't just failures we can laugh at and move on. They are failures that doomed my beloved CRPG genre to the nether regions of the indie scene. Now all we can ever hope for is yet another shooter game with some "rpg elements" thrown in to keep us from going completely brain dead.

Comments

Anonymous (not verified)
So Dungeon Lords didn't made

So Dungeon Lords didn't made the list? I guess it must have sucked too much to being remembered by anyone.

clok1966
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yes
Anonymous wrote:

So Dungeon Lords didn't made the list? I guess it must have sucked too much to being remembered by anyone.

I'm not sure I would put this on the list, it was a horrilby flawed game, no doubt, I guess if alpha Protocal is her (for the same reasons really) a game that is unfinished. Dungeon Lords was made by the dame guy who made (in some part) the Wizardry series. it was his attempt to follow the current 3D vison games where taking. 2D dungeon romps where dead and no publichers would finance anything of the sort at the time. He was late (very late) to the 3D party, and the game shows it. Most 2d (old school) designers have not made the jump tp modern games. I'm not sure it its different mind set or? I like both but as we have all seen, most of us dont or cant get into them nowdays. Basicly the 2D game master couldnt translate his games to 3D. Gamewise (story/quests/puzzles) are not to bad. But comabt and horrilbe gaphics glitchs ruined it. The patchs have made it a OK game.. but it basicly killed the guy who made the Wizardry series. Maybe it does belong, i just heat to see a gret guy on the list :)

Tolknaz (not verified)
A quote Big Lebowski: "Yeah, well that's just your opinion man.

Seriously though, i agree with some of your choices, but some games in there are honestly just mediocre and some could even be called uncut gems in my opinion. Ultima IX and fully patched Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor are sort of decent to mediocre games in my opinion. Dungeon Master II: Skullkeep was actually quite good at the time (although not as good as the original or CSB of course). Dungeon Siege III i personally liked more than the first and especially the atrocious second part. Then again i was never a fan of the original, which i always felt was little more than an interactive screensaver at the time when it came out. I really loathed all the Diablo clones then and still do to a degree. And this whole franchise is bland even for Diablo clones. The only really good thing that came out of this franchise were the two Ultima remakes using Dungeon Siege engine.
Alpha Protocol i'd actually consider an uncut gem, because the things it does well are really impressive. No other recent game has nearly as much choice and consequence for example. Also, the game is quite well written and voice acted and the characters are not your typical black and white cardboard cutouts. It is easily a better game than both Mass Effects for me. And i find the talk about its many bugs puzzling to say the least. During my several runthroughs i had no CTD-s for example. Sure, the game has a few extremely annoying boss fights, but that alone is hardly a reason to condemn it. Did you beat The Beast in The Witcher on your first try?

Matt Barton
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I think some folks are

I think some folks are misunderstanding the point of this list. It's not the worst games of all time, which would have to take into consideration all the thousands of indie products, some purposefully designed to be bad (or at least offensive). Jay (Rampant Coyote) points a bunch of these out, such as Super Colombine Massacre RPG and so on.

What I'm dealing with here are games that disappointed me the most. There may be a lost of worse games out there, but these are the ones that I had hoped (and felt I had a right to expect) to be great. That is, something that could have redefined the franchise or even the genre.

Alpha Protocol is especially valid here, because it had everything in place to be a modern masterpiece. I haven't talked to anyone who says it feels finished or the best the developers could do. I hear instead that it was rushed out, probably by the publisher's insistence, before it was ready for prime time. Keep in mind I haven't put the hours into it that some of you guys have. Since so many folks seem amazed by my reaction, though, I'll give the demo another chance and see if anything changes.

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Lorfarius
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It's not perfect but you

It's not perfect but you should really consider giving Ultima 9 another go with the fan patch. They fixed the story, ditched the terrible voices and really made it into a proper RPG, what it should have been all along.

Mithander (not verified)
Where is Oblivion...?

I notice a complete lack of oblivion on this list... If Dungeon Siege 3 can make this list then I fail to see why Oblivion shouldn't be... Dungeon Siege was simply forgettable with lack luster implementation where as Oblivion seems to actively rip out the heart of the elder scrolls series then **** in the empty cavity that used to hold it's vitals. Any form of environmental variety? gone. Any compelling characters? gone. Towns filled with unique characters instead of copy and pasted randomly generated horrors? gone. Plot of an epic scale that is actually interesting/deep? Nawp. Being the freakin' main character of the plot even? Nah, you're Martin's bitch. Seriously, they took out everything that made the previous game great.... Oh but combat is so much better and it's pretty! Yeah but it's a suck ass game.

Now bring on the Fanboy/Nerd Rage:

Matt Barton
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Elder Scrolls
Mithander wrote:

I notice a complete lack of oblivion on this list... If Dungeon Siege 3 can make this list then I fail to see why Oblivion shouldn't be... Dungeon Siege was simply forgettable with lack luster implementation where as Oblivion seems to actively rip out the heart of the elder scrolls series then **** in the empty cavity that used to hold it's vitals. Any form of environmental variety? gone. Any compelling characters? gone. Towns filled with unique characters instead of copy and pasted randomly generated horrors? gone. Plot of an epic scale that is actually interesting/deep? Nawp. Being the freakin' main character of the plot even? Nah, you're Martin's bitch. Seriously, they took out everything that made the previous game great.... Oh but combat is so much better and it's pretty! Yeah but it's a suck ass game.

Now bring on the Fanboy/Nerd Rage:

I wish I had gotten into the series with Daggerfall, but unfortunately didn't pick it up until Morrowind. I played it and Oblivion all the way through. I didn't love either one, but I liked them enough to complete despite that. I'm of course open to Skyrim, too, hoping they will at last do something about the skill system that drives me nuts, and perhaps a more memorable story or NPCs to work with.

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Bill Loguidice
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Skyrim
Matt Barton wrote:

I wish I had gotten into the series with Daggerfall, but unfortunately didn't pick it up until Morrowind. I played it and Oblivion all the way through. I didn't love either one, but I liked them enough to complete despite that. I'm of course open to Skyrim, too, hoping they will at last do something about the skill system that drives me nuts, and perhaps a more memorable story or NPCs to work with.

While I too was not blown away by neither Morrowind nor Oblivion (or Morrowind on the N-Gage for that matter; it's a shame the PSP version never came out), I did pre-order Skyrim just to get the special map feelie. I"m a sucker like that. I'm hoping this is the game where the series potential is fulfilled, i.e., stellar gameplay through and through goes along with the stellar graphics. I decided, as usual to go with the 360 version of the game, though I was certainly tempted by the PS3 version as well. Generally speaking with all other things being equal, I tend to buy my games on the 360 for the Achievements.

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clok1966
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RAGE! :)
Mithander wrote:

I notice a complete lack of oblivion on this list... If Dungeon Siege 3 can make this list then I fail to see why Oblivion shouldn't be... Dungeon Siege was simply forgettable with lack luster implementation where as Oblivion seems to actively rip out the heart of the elder scrolls series then **** in the empty cavity that used to hold it's vitals. Any form of environmental variety? gone. Any compelling characters? gone. Towns filled with unique characters instead of copy and pasted randomly generated horrors? gone. Plot of an epic scale that is actually interesting/deep? Nawp. Being the freakin' main character of the plot even? Nah, you're Martin's bitch. Seriously, they took out everything that made the previous game great.... Oh but combat is so much better and it's pretty! Yeah but it's a suck ass game.

Now bring on the Fanboy/Nerd Rage:

Nerd rage incomming :)

Daggerfall was a highlight of my RPG (oldschool) years, it had many detractors for its main draw, it was HUGE, but randomly generated. it had 1000's of people, but after one or two towns they all said and did the same thing. Daggerfall was SANDBOX, a RPG sandbox with a very loose goal. You could skip it and play forever and still discover new towns and dungeons. But compairing it to the newer Ellderscroll games and thinking its better (or worse) seems like comparing GTA to GTA4. they both have the same name but are almost complety differnt games.

"Any form of environmental variety? gone" snow, forests, rivers, swamps, hills, mountians, caves, dungeons, temples, towns, cities.. all in the newer ones.. so what did Daggerfall have that i missed? More of all the above, but I dont theink anything new, but 100% random, I can see where less is more probebly isnt exactly the truth here, but almost every person in the new games has a purpose.

"Any compelling characters? gone" now I may be wrong but the main quest in the new games is far longer then the old games, there are more characters involved in it, in fact thre are more factions even. if they are more compleing or not, well I guess thats to each thier own. While I hate to say it, none of them have perticularly great storylines, the one in the latere games is far more "complete" then the eariler games. I myslef dont rmebere a character from any of them , none stuck out at all to me.

"filled with unique characters instead of copy and pasted randomly generated horrors? gone." This one confuses me, the old games had 100% random genarted NPC's (except the few that pertained to the main quest) it was all random. The new ones, each character has an actual daily schedual (they dont wander around at night too, but actually sleep). Quite simply the new games have more care takein ( if its better or not, well that I cant decide for you) as each was MADE, not randomly generated . Of course the if you mean the faces/builds.. yes that is 100% random but the names/locations/text/voices are all manually done. I willladmit the face geneartion in the new games leaves most males looking like droppy dog and the females looking even worse.

"Plot of an epic scale that is actually interesting/deep? " well the people who created the games (are stil the same people in most cases) have stated the new games have longer main stories the n the old ones.. so this is pretty much a opinion thing.. I wont say your wrong.. as i say, none of the gmae has anything I havent heard 100X before in a rpg so ... eh.. same is same is...

"Oh but combat is so much better and it's pretty!" the one thing you give the new game i guess i hate.. i prefer the old games combat. The new games with melee I just feel too out of control. The ranged combat and spells are awsome but never liked the melee. I knwo in daggerfall there was one sad flaw.. you could "battlezone" it, back up and keep doing a slight turn so ranged didnt hit you as long as the room allowed it, and win almost any fight (you can do the same in battlezone the tank Arcade game with some practice) I guss that is why we all listen to differnt music, like diffenrt books and games. we all dont think alike.

in the end I sure one say one is better then the other. Daggerfall was awsome to me for the random thing (the thing that was lamented the most), i loved the fact i would alwasy find a new dungeon, I could kill off a whole town and it wouldnt effect the quest later. The new games are pretty, in fact Im not sure I have seen a better looking RPG game since. The worlds are still big enouhg I feel like I can explore a long time, but I know its a much smaller world and I actualy try to find the edges (wierd but I do). Iwill never say your wrong, but I just dont see it the same way you do.

and once again a reminder.. ARENA and DAGGEFALL are both on Beth's home page for free download.. I suggest if you will only try one to do Daggerfall..I think tha tis the one point me and OP here agree.. i think its the best of the series, but still love the new ones too.

Matt Barton
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Daggerfall
clok1966][quote=Mithander wrote:

and once again a reminder.. ARENA and DAGGEFALL are both on Beth's home page for free download.. I suggest if you will only try one to do Daggerfall..I think tha tis the one point me and OP here agree.. i think its the best of the series, but still love the new ones too.

I remember my friends who played Daggerfall loved to talk about it. And they talked about what happened to them in the game. I remember one friend, Billy, went on for hours about how he contracted a werewolf disease and the implications that had on his character; it really set his imagination on fire. Whenever I hear people talk about the later games, it's always about the graphics, or the size of the gameworld, etc., there's no real stories that come through. Something about Daggerfall fired people's imaginations. The other games just don't achieve that.

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