Early 3D First Person RPGs

Now, by 3D, I usually mean wire frame or sprite based emulation of 3D.  Things like Ultima Underworld and the like are much later than the games under review.  Early 3D First Person RPGs are mostly classic Western series, or games emulating the classic Western series.  Ultima 1, Might and Magic, Bard’s Tale, and Wizardry are all good examples of this.

Exploring in Might and Magic.

What are the characteristics of these early games?  Since many of them are emulating a D&D like system, you tend to find creatable characters with randomized stat rolls.  You tend to have classes that basically dissolve down to the classic warrior, cleric, mage, and thief like options.  If other races appear, there tends to be an elf analog, a drawf analog, and a hobbit like analog.

Creating a character in Swords and Serpents is a pretty basic affair.

So what makes these games annoying?  Quite often, they were designed to make you use world maps included in the games, and to make you map your own dungeons.  When you get late in the game, the size of the dungeons and the use of traps frequently means you need to make a map.  Typically, these early games also are quite grindy.  Some of the games encourage breaking the difficulty via clever planning, and other games funnel you through areas that require that you spend time improving your character.

In Sword and Sepent, the actual dungeon window is fairly small, but you do get a mini-map.

What are the good points of these games?  Often you find quirky or surprising details and depths of gameplay since it’s not that hard to fit a great deal of things to explore when there’s not a lot of text.  You can create your own characters and set them out on an adventure.  For some people, this allows a really great sense of immersion in the plot, since the brief text really lets the player choose what you think about the world.

The clouds are animated and zip by as you explore. The game game with a town map, so if you enter random doors you will frequently get in a hard fight.

Another immersive factor is the difficulty.  When each fight is a hard won victory, and each new area shows a mastery of the old one, small things like a new dagger, or winning a tough battle feels like a major victory.  Of course, not all people enjoy this kind of gameplay.  Still – I always find a certain amazing sense of wonder looking around at the sprites and the amount of content in these games.

Unfortunately, as this fight in Bard's Tale shows, it's easy to die.


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