Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

The Worst RPGs of All Time?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 10, 2011

Matt Barton followed up his list of favorite CRPGs with a list of what he felt were worst CRPGs ever. He notes that this is not simply a qualitative pronouncement – undoubtedly there were some low-budget duds out there that were far worse (the CRPG Addict has played several of them). For the purpose of the his list, these had to be (relatively, for their time period) big-budget titles that received a reasonable amount of hype & marketing support to have been A-level games.

Matt’s List of the Top Ten Worst CRPGs

I really can’t comment on these too much, as I avoided most of them like the plague. I guess I’ve always been that guy who usually waits for the reviews to come out before buying a game. There are only a few games I’ve pre-ordered or bought on day 1. And in the case of all of these RPGs but one, after reading the reviews I avoided them.

The exception is Alpha Protocol. I picked it up cheap on Steam, and while I didn’t have the time to go too far in it, what I played was pretty cool. I understand that to truly appreciate it, you need to play the game twice with different play styles. From what I can tell, it’s a decent game, suffering mainly from perhaps over-hype so that “okay” was a crushing disappointment, or that some people ran into some truly horrifying bugs. I dunno. Disappointing and lackluster I’ll buy, but does it really belong on the list of worst RPGs?

I actually prefer a game that shoots for the moon and misses over a game that plays it safe with formula and succeeds flawlessly.  The latter would be… hmmm…. Final Fantasy XII, I think, which bored me to tears after about six hours.

My own least favorite CRPG of all time would have to be Super Columbine Massacre RPG! While I hope the game was never intended to be enjoyed, I still thought the author’s “point” was disingenuous, and was undermined by multiple design decisions even if they had been authentic.  I think he had a change of heart after it was released, and retroactively re-themed it to be a vehicle to encourage dialog. Regardless, I hate to rip on an indie effort that dares to tackle difficult subject matter.

Aside from that, there were a bunch of crappy old RPGs in the early 1980s, like – well, I’ve seen some pretty crappy old games, like Ultima: Escape from Mount Drash (which I never even heard of until a couple of years ago) and Dungeons of Magdarr. It hardly seems fair to dredge those up, either.

Filed Under: General - Comments: 23 Comments to Read

  • Picador said,

    I played through Alpha Protocol and found it to be pretty enjoyable. It certainly had much better writing than 90% of RPGs I’ve played. I don’t remember any significant bugs, either. I think you’re right that this must have been a case of over-hype — I was lucky to be insulated from most of that, and bought it for $17 a few months ago. Neat little game, if not spectacular.

  • BellosTheMighty said,

    Hmm, Matt seems to have an ax to grind against action-game elements.

    Come to think of it, there’s a lot of that going around lately. People crowing that noone does turn-based anymore, etc.. It kinda reminds me of that big free-for-all we got into back in the mid-90s about whether console or computer RPGs sucked ass. You know, the one we eventually resolved when someone came along, put a J in front of one and a C in front of the other, dope-slapped everyone, and walked off? Are we going to have to do that again? I’d like to know so that I have time to set up my couch fort…

    BTW, Garriott still knew what he was doing at the time of Ultima IX. The problem was that EA didn’t, and they were calling the shots. The game was re-written, re-conceptualized, and re-designed something like thirteen times during development while EA kept trying to leap on bandwagons. They didn’t seem to realize that you can’t do that with an RPG, the design cycle is too long.

    Tabula Rasa, on the other hand… yeah, I think it’s about time for the old man to hang it up.

  • Robert said,

    Alpha Protocol was a quite enjoyable game. Not one for RPG purists of course, but I enjoyed some of the RPG elements, the writing was good, and the action parts were mostly OK.

    To note: I played it on the XBox, which had no glaring bugs that I know of.

    My personal worst RPG would be Final Fantasy XIII: which bored me to tears after about six hours.

  • juv3nal said,

    Considered in the context of other final fantasies, the changes to the systems in xii (real-time, in-field combat & gambit system) weren’t really “playing it safe.” In fact a lot of hardcore FF fans hated those changes.

  • McTeddy said,

    You know… this may lose me some respect… but I’ve played most of those games and I enjoyed them. I’m sorry Matt.

    I loved Alpha Protocol… enjoyed LoL 3 and Myths of Drannor… and even didn’t hate Ultima 9. Hell… I am twisted enough that I actually enjoy the sequel to heroes of the lance quite a bit.

    I think part of Matt’s distaste for these games stems from disappointment… which since I go BACK and plays I don’t get. I won’t argue that any of these games lived up to their predecessors… but I think that the ones I played could stand fairly well on their own.

    I suppose though, if these games lead to Mass Effect 2 being called an RPG… damn all these games straight to hell, DAMN THEM!

  • Fumarole said,

    I’d say that the bug in The Ruins of Myth Drannor that would wipe your HDD when you ran the uninstaller pretty much makes it the worst ever.

  • Andy_Panthro said,

    I pre-ordered Alpha Protocol. It was my first pre-order (my last was The Witcher 2. I will always wait in future), and I really enjoyed it.

    It helped, I think, that I was playing it with a 360 pad (almost a necessity in these days of poor console ports), and I didn’t have any particular high hopes for it.

    The biggest complaint I heard about it was bugginess, but I had far more bugs in Fallout 3 and Mass Effect 2 (game breaking bugs or crashing to desktop). The only significant bug I had in AP was on a quicksave reload (enemies that were dead/unconscious fell from the sky and were alive again), and all that was required to sort it out was to load the save again.

    It got a lot of hate, and I think that has something more to do with Obsidian than anything else. They now have a reputation for not living up to their hype, for delivering buggy or unfinished games.

    I’m on more of a pro-Obsidian side (not that we should take sides or anything!), and am looking forward to playing New Vegas once I’ve finished VTM: Bloodlines.

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    Matt is making me sad.

    Alpha Protocol is great. Chris Avellone’s writing is just as good in AP as it was in Planescape Torment, and if you say AP’s gameplay is awful you have to say that Deus Ex is one of the worst RPGs too, because the gameplay and stat system is near identical.

    I never ran into any bugs at release, but I’m not denying they must have been bad for some people. Obsidian IS unfortunately developing a reputation for developing high-concept, fun, and innovative games . . . that are extremely buggy at release. I’m reminded of a certain company named Troika . . . .

    Why must expansive and innovative be inversely proportional to the amount of bugs in a game?

  • Silent said,

    I’m uncomfortable with “worst RPG” lists because too often a bad RPG is an excellent game that was branded as an RPG and wasn’t an RPG enough (or not under the right angle for the player). Also, when I dislike a game, I generally decide that it’s my fault, and that I fail to enjoy it through the right perspective. Is “Dungeon Siege” the worst RPG ever ? It’s a derivative hack’n’slash, but, hey, maybe a good derivative hack’n’slash. Is “Titan Quest” a bad RPG ? Who would even consider it an RPG ? Is “Final Fantasy” a bad RPG ? It’s got anime graphics, so YES.

    The two RPGs I didn’t manage to enjoy were “Rise of Magic” and “Dungeon Lord”. And now, someone on this website claims he managed to enjoy the latter. Maybe I should just have tried harder.

    Also, as someone pointed out in his comments, Matt Barton illustrates “Lands of Lore III” with a picture of “Lands of Lore II”, which was a very very charming game (though I believe it must have aged very badly, by now). Was it even an RPG ? I doubt so, but still, could a good RPG retroactively become a bad one ?

    I love “Hammer and Sickle”, and I don’t know if it’s a good (aka proper) RPG, or just a turn-based tactical game. But I think it had some lethal flaws, in particular how your decisions would invisibly shape the story, leading to many dead-ends without you realising it or understanding why. I think it was very very ambitious, in that respect, but it aimed at an open gameplay that it couldn’t afford. Can a game be both one of my favorite and least favorite RPGs ?

    And some people had called “Hellgate London” an RPG. Probably before it was released. Oh dear, what can I say…

  • EHamilton said,

    These lists are only really interesting when you dissent from the conventional wisdom. The one interesting observation I’d make is that I played Ruins of Myth Drannor all the way to the end, and thought it wasn’t completely terrible.

    Buggy, yes. And a fairly pedestrian dungeon crawl in terms of plot. But the implementation of D&D tactical combat was comparably good to the Gold Box games, and the other major turn-based dungeon crawl released in the last fifteen years was ToEE, which had its own share of bugs. I’d submit that if an indie studio released a game on par with Ruins and was willing to patch it into playability, it would be praised.

    That being said, it’s a little embarrassing to Stormfront that their game isn’t as good as KotC, which was made by a lone programmer as a hobbyist’s project.

    On the other list, I find myself never quite able to muster enthusiasm for KOTOR. I keep wanting to like it, and trying to play it, and losing enthusiasm halfway through. It represents the point in big studio development where “freedom of choice” became sufficiently subordinated to “narrative focus (and endless voiceover cutscenes)” that I started to lose interest in the genre. Since then, the only RPGs I’ve played have been indies.

  • Xian said,

    I agree with Dungeon Master II. I loved the first and Chaos Strikes Back, but the sequel just paled in comparison. I guess it was one of the first games I remember where the sequel did not improve on it’s predecessor. I was used to Ultima IV > Ultima III > Ultima II, Crusaders of the Dark Savant being better than Bane of the Cosmic Forge, and so on. These days it seems to be a common occurrence – the sequel not being as good as the original, but that is the first one I can remember being so disappointed.

    I probably would have picked Ultima VIII over IX, though I didn’t dislike either. I had played both Crusader games before Ultima VIII so I was pretty used to that control scheme by then.

    My worst would probably be jRPGs. I have tried multiple times to get into various ones, FF7, Chronoquest, and others that are highly rated and they just never grabbed me.

  • BellosTheMighty said,

    Why must expansive and innovative be inversely proportional to the amount of bugs in a game?

    Simple, actually: they both require lots of work. Expansive requires a lot of content, which means a lot of playtesting. Past a certain point, the amount of testing required exceeds the available resources, at which point you start getting bugs.

    Same thing with innovation, although innovation has the added effect of playing without a net. Since noone’s done what you’re doing before, you really have no clue to do it right, or even if it’s worth doing. This isn’t restricted to games by a longshot. Mark Twain once said: “Your novel is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original and the part that is original is not good.” You find that in all kinds of art.

  • Barry Brenesal said,

    “Hmm, Matt seems to have an ax to grind against action-game elements.”

    I agree–and I happen to really like turn-based RPGs, too. He hits Lands of Lore III for that, for instance, while ignoring what’s arguably its worst feature–the completely exposed linearity of each part: get to the maze, go the exact opposite corner, and that’s where what you want will be. And he never mentions the truly innovative stuff: the four very different companions, complete with separate powers, AI, and personalities, depending on your professions choice, and the unique guild zone each profession gets, with distinct buffs and charges.

    And Ultima IX wasn’t about action, at all. Though Matt gets it right that Garriott was haring off after an Idea, the Idea was being within your environment. He knew that this was what makes an RPG, and his mid Ultima releases had plenty of that, but then he began to feel that your character shouldn’t have time to think, since that took away from the experience–they should only have time to react.

    So action is a symptom in Ultima IX’s case, not a cause of the problem. Well, that and the bad graphics engine, the awful AI, and the mind-numbing bugs.

  • Moonmonster said,

    Yeah Alpha Protocol was pretty awesome, actually. An interwoven, semi-nonlinear story that reacted to the order you played in, and some seriously divergent ending choices.

    I think the issue was that people expecting a shooter found a character-skill-influenced semi-shooter and decided it sucked, and people expecting Metal Gear solid stealth found a character-skills stealth game with ‘magic powers’ and decided it sucked. A pity, because that means we won’t get another one 🙁

  • AgreetoDisagree said,

    I love me Matt Barton and especially his Matt Chat videos interviews.

    However that Alpha Protocol entry on the list is rubbish. He offers absolutely no substantial criticism about it…so much so that even I doubt he even played it and just bought into the “it’s a typical Obsidian bugfest” agenda the popular gaming journalism was pushing.

    Maybe he just wanted to type a quick rant out, fine. But if he laid out some examples of “OMG extreme bugginess it’s called Alpha because that was its state of release, lol” it will sit better with me, but I highly doubt he played it and seems like he’s just adding to the others who are misrepresenting an underrated gem.

  • SER said,

    Never played Super Columbine Massacre RPG!. But does it even count? This was not a commercial RPG as far as I can remember. If we are gonna bring in non commercial free games, there are some really bad ones.

    As far as worst games, I remember Legends of Valour beging really bad back in the day. It came on the heels of Ultima Underworld, and was inferior in just about every way. It was a purchase I regretted. It came out in 1992, and I think it was published by SSI.

    Also, The Red Crystal, a game published by QQP around 1993, was pretty bad. QQP up to that point I think mainly published war and strategy games. I don’t remember a lot, except that is was rife with a lot of technical issues, and pretty uninspired. If I remember correctly, one of it’s main features was it featured multiplayer, which if I remember didn’t really work.

    As far as Matt’s list, I haven’t played Alpha, but I’ve had interest in playing. Also I’ve wanted to try Ultima IX, but I don’t have a copy, and I wonder how hard it is to run on a modern PC.

  • Bad Sector said,

    I didn’t like the “action = stupid” association. There are many action games that at points require thinking (like the first jedi knight) and many rpg games that require twitch reflexes (like, for example, Dungeon Master from his “best” list).

    Other than that i cannot comment on the games themselves since i haven’t played them. But i’ve heard good comments about Alpha Protocol in general from players who usually go all “they dont make good rpgs anymore” (of course i’ve also heard about the game’s bug infestation problem).

  • bagelobo said,

    Can anyone name any games with better 3D dungeon designs that have come out since Ultima IX? I can’t, and I played a lot of RPG’s. Certainly the U9 dungeons are more fun than anything seen in Morrowind, Oblivion, Fallouts, etc. That alone should keep it off the Top 10 worst list.

  • Barry Brenesal said,

    “Certainly the U9 dungeons are more fun than anything seen in Morrowind, Oblivion, Fallouts, etc.”

    I would have to disagree with this. U9 dungeons were pretty simple and very plain, while Morrowind and Oblivion dungeons often have multiple areas to explore, sometimes with no single payoff (ie, get to the Great Goofball and bring me her Sword of Smiting +91). Oblivion, for all that it has a ton of problems, offers numerous different dungeon traps, multiple levels (so you can jump/fall down and continue exploring), and enemies that can heal/buff one another. Now, had you said Ultima Underworld, I’d be more inclined to say it drew about even with Morrowind: every dungeon, in every area, had a purpose. But U9 didn’t honestly impress me.

    “As far as worst games, I remember Legends of Valour beging really bad back in the day. It came on the heels of Ultima Underworld, and was inferior in just about every way. It was a purchase I regretted. It came out in 1992, and I think it was published by SSI.”

    Absolutely. And worse yet, one writer/editor who highly thought of himself (I worked for the guy, briefly, before he was fired) actually praised it as his favorite RPG of the year when it came out–because you could look in windows and see something resembling the interior. This, despite being one of the buggiest RPGs I’ve ever played, and one that was never fixed.

    I reviewed LoV when it first came out, after submitting a list of bugs to the developers, and asking for some assistance. I never heard back. It was a disaster of a title.

    But I’m sorry to see SSI went away. During their heyday, they did some interesting and distinctive games, and put some money behind things that were at least a bit imaginative. Unlike the big games companies nowadays, ruled by their accounting departments.

  • user@example.com said,

    Alpha Protocol is damn near bug-free compared to most RPGs, and the holy grail of pure code compared to anything from Bethesda. There were a lot of shitty reviews from reviewers who padded the review out by saying “welp, these guys make games with a reputation for bugginess, so I guess I’ll knock off a few points for that and add a paragraph to my word count”, but… GJAIF, basically.

    It’s also the second best PC RPG of all time, after Vampire: the Masquerade: Bloodlines: God of Blood: Chapter 2: Dwarf Fortress, and I will fight anyone who disagrees. PS:T gets third place. Fight, I say!

    But yeah, the whole lazy “lol bugs” bullshit annoys the hell out of me.

  • user@example.com said,

    Also, you should really play it again – the wonderful thing about it is that the replay value isn’t in “playing it again with a different play style” as such, it’s more “playing it again and making different decisions and doing things differently, even minor background things, and seeing just how much the game is willing to change in events, cutscenes and conversations to accommodate your changes”. Speaking of conversations… the combination of good dialogue, a Mass Effect style dialogue wheel (that’s implemented /well/) and a timer so that you have to choose the next option on the fly works brilliantly. The conversations feel much more natural than anything else I’ve played, and some of the tensest and most dramatic moments in the game are in conversations.

    There’s also an achievement for hanging up on lots of people mid-chat, which helps, and when I mention “good writing” above I feel I should warn you that choosing “suave” options often ends up with terrible Bond one-liners that cause nearby NPCs to facepalm, but hey.

    It’s relatively short for an RPG, too. Well worth giving it another go! As long as it doesn’t stop you working on your own game, of course. I’ve been following its development for a while and am looking forward to it!

  • Delve said,

    You people are going to make me track down Alpha Protocol and lose another several days of work to gaming… ;(

  • Silent said,

    Having played half of it so far, I understand why people would rank it amongst the worst RPGs. It’s indeed badly bugged (often freezes and requires ctrl-alt-del on reload), it’s a series of very linear missions with kotor physics (your superspy can hack through security doors but is hopelessly blocked by a stool on his path – invisible walls make everything a corridor), the dialogues are based on very vague and ambiguous answer choices (I’d prefer more awareness of the answers you’re about to select, I also prefer answering AFTER the question was asked instead of having to select your line while your interlocutor is still talking), and other type of choices are artificially explicit (you’re often presented with the clear choice to go avert one of two catastrophies occuring simultaneously, a bit in the fashion of old school batman drama). And the interface constantly reminds you that you are not supposed to be playing this on a PC.

    So, the RPG aspect feels like a very rigid branching system, often dependant on opaque dialogue choices (labelled with just one word). And the gameplay itself is a bit clumsy : the sneaking aspect isn’t fantastic, fields of visions are a bit arbitrary, new baddies get spawned by absurd scripts, and this poor mechanic is compensated by your ability to turn invisible for a few seconds (out-of-place mass effect technology). It suffers terribly from the comparison with other sneaking games – NOLF was doing it brilliantly, Death to Spies aswell with the added sense of infiltration (and variety of approaches) given by the possibility to use disguises, making it feel much more like a spy game than Alpha Protocol. This is just a sub-Hitman, with the added gadget of a branching story (it’d take a replay to evaluate to what extend) and its impact on mission parameters (such as NPCs being allies of enemies depending on your relation to such or such faction).

    I am actually enjoying it, just like I have been enjoying Mass Effect, because it’s quite decent if you don’t expect too much. If you hope to really incarnate a character, you have to be warned that this is a bit impossible – 3 or 4 dialogue options, indirectly selected, seldom letting you feel your actions are yours. If you hope to sneak around and infiltrate various guards-filled locations, be aware this is no NOLF, Death to Spies or Arkham Asylum, and avoid playing it right after one of these. If you felt lost in Hammer & Sickle (the closest attempt at RPG spying with obscure repercussions decisions), be warned that Alpha Protocol may be awfully overcompensating some of its flaws. But as an earthly Mass Effect with fewer dialogues, fewer decisions, less clarity, but potentially more significant choices, it’s amusing enough.

    Also, in my opinion, any game that generates very contrasted opinions is worth playing. I imagine quite a few readers would be curious about a Coyote opinion. I hope Alpha Protocol will get its blog entry here some day. It’s an interesting game, for what it attempts to be (or not), and for the flaws and qualities that different players see in it. It’s cheap enough, nowadays, to be worth being tried out. And maybe it illustrates well what different people expect of what they call RPGs.