Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Something Old, Something New: New RPGs That Revisit Old Territory

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 12, 2014

My family happened to be in the neighborhood of Brigham Young University campus (where we met, actually) a few weeks ago, and we decided to show my daughter the school. I hadn’t visited the ol’ alma mater in over a decade, and wasn’t quite prepared for all the changes. I mean, it had changed a lot between my freshman year and when I graduated, so I knew a lot would be different.

One of the school mottoes was, “The world is our campus.” As students, we used to joke that the motto was really, “The campus is our world.” Especially as a freshman with not much money, I didn’t get out much. It’s the third largest private university in the United States, and has plenty to do. The school had heavily discounted movies, a game room, lots of activities going on all the time, and what remains the largest library I’ve ever visited (and it’s only gotten bigger). For many years, the campus and its environs were home.

If you’ve ever gone back to your old hometown or school after several years’ absence, you know what it’s like. It’s a somewhat unsettling but not unpleasant sensation. I think the brain goes into a mode where it is trying to reconcile the patterns it recognizes with the new data. It’s exciting, but also a little sad, as you realize the world you once knew no longer exists. But for me, it’s really kinda cool to see what they’ve done to the place – to revisit a flood of old memories and to explore new things.  We even took advantage of an awesome opportunity to visit the art museum that was still under construction when we left many years ago.

The nice thing about computer worlds is that unlike the real world, within the limits of media degradation and emulation, they never fade or go away. I replayed Ultima III a couple of years ago, and except for the differences between having played it on a Commodore 64 in the old days, and playing it in DOSBox now, it was the same world and the same game. Popping in these old games for another visit is a nice antidote for nostalgia, as well. It’s often good to revisit the old classics and remember that even in their era, they didn’t quite walk on water. There is always plenty of room for improvement.

grimrock1Some of the indie games (and not-so-indie games) coming out these days do provide something of that juxtaposition. The Legend of Grimrock was perhaps one of the biggest in my mind. I’d gone back and re-played a little bit of the first Eye of the Beholder game a few months before it was released. In some ways – and this is my concern about the sequel – it deviated too little from its predecessors (Eye of the Beholder series, Dungeon Master series). After a while, the lever / timing / pressure plate puzzles got to be a little wearying. I’ve been there, done that, and while I was pleased to see the experience delivered to a new generation of gamers, the new neighborhood started to feel a little like a weak (but much prettier) imitation of the old. I don’t want to come down too hard on the game – I really did love it (to a point) and it was a fantastic job by the developers. But in some ways, it felt like the only thing really “new” added to the mix was the graphics. Hopefully, the upcoming sequel will really broaden the RPG experience of the original.

MMX-LegacyI have not played it nearly as much as I would like, but Might & Magic X Legacy is a non-indie game that really wants to be a return to the old neighborhood to see what its like a few years later. It’s great to get back to that style of gameplay (although, for me, it’s … hardly old), although I think whatever nostalgia it is supposed to hold is a little lost on me. I was a latecomer to the Might & Magic series, as I didn’t play much of them in the old days, and then really began to play them (mainly 6 and 7) only a couple of years ago. It has that old-school feel in the combat and mapping (with the 4-way movement restriction) that definitely triggers the “old” habits I developed playing these games in the 80s and 90s. But again,  my gaming habits these days haven’t allowed too much nostalgic dust to settle on the old skills. I’m the kind of guy who might play World of Xeen after a session of Legacy.  With the limited character selection and other elements, the game doesn’t feel like much of a “throwback” to the old classics.

Driftmoon_SarahAs I still maintain the claim that Ultima 7 was my favorite RPG, it’s exciting to games like Instant Kingdom’s Driftmoon and Larian’s Divinity: Original Sin that are strongly influenced by that classic. I haven’t played Original Sin yet (I’m resisting the siren’s song of my early access…), but I have high hopes. Both games seem to be influenced in very different ways, and while neither really tries to emulate the experience of Ultima 7, they do carry pieces of it with them. Another title with a strong Ultima influence (mixed with Legend of Zelda), if you can handle the weird voxel-y graphics, is Kitty Lambda’s The Real Texas.

Subterranea is a title now knee-deep in a Kickstarter campaign that claims to draw some serious inspiration from old “gold box” D&D titles from SSI, particularly Pool of Radiance. It’s still way too early to tell, but I hope this one succeeds.

Another game in the “genuine sequel” category is inXile’s Wasteland 2, the long-awaited sequel to the late-80s classic.  I’ve also only played a little of this one, now resisting the early access until things are more complete (partly because the last time I played, it kept crashing on me when I left the first area). While I don’t have an excuse now, I never played the original Wasteland, but fans of the Fallout series – also spiritually descended from Wasteland – may find themselves in some familiar territory in the sequel. Some of the original developers of the Fallout series and the original Wasteland are on the team, so it’s got an awesome start.

aod4Fallout fans will also find themselves in a familiar play-style, if a completely unfamiliar world, in Iron Tower’s upcoming (kinda, soon, maybe?) Age of Decadence. A public beta is available now, and this is a really ambitiously-scoped indie RPG. I’ve played an early version, and it is definitely shooting for the moon. I don’t know if they’ll get there or not, but what they’ve accomplished even in early versions will make old-school PC RPG gamers smile. If you value having genuine choice in a game and lots of different approaches to dealing with “quests” (including avoiding combat altogether, much of the time…), then this is something to watch.

In the “spiritual sequel” category, it’s hard to get much closer in spirit than having original developers working on a new “inspired” franchise. Two Kickstarter-funded success stories coming in the not-as-near-as-I’d-like future include Torment: Tides of Numenera – also by inXile – and Pillars of Eternity by RPG veterans Obsidian Entertainment. Torment is the spiritual sequel of the cult classic and critically acclaimed Planescape: Torment, with several of the original developers (including co-authors of the original pen-and-paper Planescape setting) on the team making it happen. They have really gone all-out to define what they feel made Planescape: Torment so special, and to recapture it with this game. Their plans, as for Wasteland I believe, is to turn this into a franchise. It’s heavy on the weird-and-funky vibe, and I have high hopes.

pillars_eternityNow, Planescape: Torment was something of a weirdo in the five D&D-licensed games that used Bioware’s Infinity Engine games. Pillars of Eternity is an attempt to emulate the experience of the all five, primarily the Baldur’s Gate series. Once again, we have some original team members of the era involved in the project, emphasizing spectacular 2D graphics. One of the nice bits about this title is that the game system is inspired by tabletop RPG systems. It’s really nice to see them get back to their roots a little more.  The emphasis here will be more on exploration and quest-solving. For those who do not demand the actual D&D game system or the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, it promises a strong return to familiar territory with an all-new game.

SotA_Kingsport-Docks-2And finally, you’ve got the original creator of the Ultima series himself, Richard “Lord British” Garriott, working on a spiritual sequel to the Ultima series and highly successful Ultima Online. Entitled Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues, it makes a lot of exciting promises to fans of the older games, and they’ve brought on Origin veteran Starr Long to assist in the development. They have definitely been working the Ultima nostalgia factor, and I hope it succeeds. I’ve not participated in the early alphas, and even though I was a backer, I’m a little bit skeptical of this one. The multiplayer aspect is what makes me worried. It’s got the potential for great awesomeness and for great suckage. But even though it’s been a long time since what I consider “the last great Ultima,” I’m willing to give Garriott the benefit of the doubt. I want to see how it turns out, and maybe – just maybe – it’ll be awesome beyond my wildest dreams, and as close to a true return to the world of Ultima as we’re likely to see (as the holder of the license doesn’t seem capable of pulling it off right). Here’s hoping.

Anyway – if you were a PC RPG fan from the old days, there are a lot of RPGs out there now or coming soon that draw significant influence from particular classics, that may give you a solid nostalgic feel of beloved classics, but mix in a lot of fresh new stuff to keep things interesting.  And really – I’m just touching the surface, mentioning those that I can think of that have cited (or shown) a strong influence from particular classic RPGs. There’s plenty more where those came from.


Filed Under: Game Announcements, Retro - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

  • Infinitron said,

    You forgot Underrail and Dead State. 😉

  • jwmeep said,

    The fact that the list is so long he’s forgetting titles is actually a good sign.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Dead State seems like it’s trying to be its own thing, not so much of a spiritual sequel of anything. And while Underrail reminds me of the 2D Fallout games, I wasn’t sure if he was shooting for that.