Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: asteroid belt
On the Amiga, my memories are mainly of Dungeon Master (which scared the shit out of me as a pre-pubescent!) and Eye of the Beholder and Goldbox (which implemented watered-down AD&D rules, sigh).
On the PC, the late-90s, early-00s quality is astounding. Fallout, Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights etc etc etc.
These put "Jap-crap" RPGs like Chrono Trigger to shame. I have always utterly hated jRPGs: they railroad and handhold the player. You feel like a little princess playing them. Kurosawa, a great Japanese director, was influenced by Westerns in his samurai films. Those films then positively influenced the modern Western (and Western movies in general). The same cannot be said of jRPGs. They are odious hacks of Ultima and of Wizardry and their blowback on Western RPGs has been almost entirely negative (e.g, anime/manga final fantasy influence, the x-mas tree effect, etc., yawn).
Fallout was a post-apocalyptic RPG that puts the others to shame. It incorporated a truly open-ended world, non-linear storyline, moral ambiguity (something missing in Japanese games), nuanced character builds, complex dialogue trees, multiple quest solutions and endings etc. etc. You could play a hardcore tank wielding a massive sledgehammer who inflicts megadamage on his enemies, a silvertongued rogue who stealths and talks his way past muscular supermutants and powerful militants/politicians, a sharpshooting (hunting rifle, please!) scientist and engineer who can activate "aware" super computers and shutdown nuclear warheads, etc. You could build almost any kind of character and it would effect the world and the storyline in a meaningful manner. You could have sex (even get pornstar status!), become a drug addict, kill children (you can actually plant explosives on them and then detonate!), double-cross, just play an objectionable buffoon, anything. Likewise, you could play the angel, the saint. You could heal people, free people from slavery, inspire and lift the spirit of whole communities, even choose a perk called empathy which would highlight the dialogue choice most likely to please the character with whom you are speaking. And the guns were just awesome. Anything from pipeshooters up to Area 51 alien blasters, vindicator mini-guns and energy weapons etc... very violent game, blood and guts splatter, dismemberments, decapitations, when you get crits on your enemies (unless they disintegrate). But like I said, you can make any build and you can actually complete the first Fallout without killing anyone or anything. In fact, you can do that in Fallout 2, but you have to set up the death of the boss indirectly by activating sentries and concealing yourself... this game, as I said in another thread, is just full to the brim and even overflowing with nuance. It is sooo sophisticated in almost every way.
Baldur's Gate was... disappointing. It wrecks on any jRPG, though, being a simulation of complex AD&D rules. The problem was character creation, where you randomly rolled d20s and then allocated the points to your six stats by min-maxing. Point pools are a better idea for balance (like in NWN). Apart from thief skills, there were no non-weapon proficiencies. This made it more hack-n-slash like Diablo rather than a true tabletop roleplaying simulation like Fallout. An example of this is the bard, sadly an utterly useless class in this game. He is supposed to get a modifier to his lore based on his wisdom and intelligence, allowing him to begin with up to 30 lore. That is like encyclopedic knowledge of languages, artifacts etc. by level 4-5 (+10/level), yet there is absolutely no part of the game that takes advantage of it from a roleplaying perspective. The only thing it allows you to do is identify items, which means right-clicking and reading their descriptions. You cannot serenade women, tell tall tales at an inn, nothing! All you can do is play your bloody harp, fire a magic missile or a crossbow occassionally, pilfer from unsuspecting peasants, and generally just stay at rear ranks, preferably concealed under some kind of long-duration illusion.
Of course, being a hack-n-slash, the tank builds are the most effective. Since intelligence and wisdom mean nothing to a tank in this game, you can simply min-max, getting 18s in the three stats that count, and just leaving your wits at 3s. This puts your THAC0, AC and HPs at insane levels, imbalancing the game. A dwarf regenerates at Con 20 meaning he doesn't need a temple, much less a cleric to heal him (the game even gives you another dwarf with the same ability). An elf with a bow is menacing, and can pierce through dumb hordes before they even reach the party. Wizards find artifacts which effectively double their power, and there are wands of fire and robes that turn them into world-destroyers when they should remain comparitively weak in the early stages (they reach level 9, IIRC). Once a mage finds the haste spell and accelerates the tanks (doubling their attack rate), the game becomes nothing but a repetitive, mindless meatgrind. And if anything survives the first assault, the mage nukes the area with multiple bursts of fire, causing enemy morale failure. If you think that's overkill, dualclassing a fighter to mage results in a character who, unassisted, can square up any situation, almost never taking a chink in his "armour". Everything drops so quickly for him, including the final boss, an epic-level tank. (and this is supposed to be a six player party game)...
Your intelligence and wisdom might be 3, but nevermind, you can still speak on the level of archmage, engaging like Elrond at some king's council. The charisma of your paladin, druid or of your bard means almost nothing, except from a bartering perspective. So 18 Cha just means percentage discount. Same goes for overrealm reputation. As a party of heroes, you remain unacknowledged except at the counting house, where prices are essentially halved. (I can cite many more e.gs of class/rules gimpage.) I have been critical of this game because I am contrasting it with Fallout... Baldur's Gate actually does have a decent storyline, but it is linear. The world is open-ended to a degree, since you can visit many areas unrelated to the main plot without progressing the storyline. It also hosts a great dungeon crawl where even tanks will die if there is no detrapping thief. The writing is also of high calibre, almost as high as Fallout. It is even sometimes witty, like Fallout...
Neverwinter Nights was even more disappointing, unfortunately. The storylines were terrible, poorly written. And the gameplay was sooo slow, especially coming off the Baldur's Gate games. The only thing it really offered that BG didn't was the nuanced 3rd edition character builds, which were the main attraction, but became hideously overpowered through the expansion sets (my monk ended up taking zerodamage towards the end). Some of the mods were decent, though, and the online community was (and still is) very active. But this game falls to its knees and begs for mercy against the likes of Fallout. Just a few criticisms... in roleplaying games, you cannot place unkillable characters in the game, unless they are demi-god/gods. If something does not drop, I want to know why. Not some generic message like "my attack is driven back". There were too many mooks in NWN which would not drop against sustained sundering, which is just totally pathetic. In Fallout, everyone is killable, even kids. You cannot put immortal mortals in these games, it makes no sense. Also, the plot was linear, even more linear than BG. You could not go to any given place at any given time. That totally sucks. You couldn't even revisit areas later on, to see the effects of your actions. Also, reprehensible actions were not penalised meaningfully at all. In Fallout, you get stalked by all sorts with grievances against you; in BG there are powerful mercenaries and state-employed wizards who come looking for you (Flaming Fist, IIRC). Also, the developers take D&D to 3D, yet disallow ALL vertical moves like climbing? Why go 3D, then? In short, apart from the builds, the interface, the modding and online communities, NWN represents degeneration of traditional roleplaying values.