The classic computer role-playing game Baldur’s Gate is coming to the iPad with an enhanced edition this summer, adding to an already-great library of role-playing games for Apple’s tablet. RPG fans might be salivating for that upcoming release, so we’ve put together a list of other RPGs to satisfy their appetites.
Baldur’s Gate is a grandaddy among computer role-playing games; it established the formula that served as the foundation for future titles like Planescape Torment, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Mass Effect 3, and Dragon Age: Origins. Its branching conversations, epic storyline, and engaging interpersonal relationships defined the genre for years to come.
Not all of the other iPad RPGs on the Apple App Store are classics above reproach, but many are worthy diversions — and a few are epics in their own right. Since this list is to celebrate the coming of Baldur’s Gate, we’re focusing on Western RPGs and not their distinct Japanese counterparts. Here’s the list.
5. The Quest
The Quest is in last place on this list not because it’s not a great game — it’s one of the best — but because it’s not for everybody.
First off, it’s actually an iPhone game. Like any iPhone app, you can run it on the iPad — it just won’t look as pretty and high-resolution as a native iPad application, particularly on the new iPad. But not to worry; since the game emulates graphics from a time when computer screens were even lower resolution than that on the iPhone, it actually works quite nicely.
The other caveat is that The Quest imitates gameplay from truly ancient computer RPGs. If you didn’t grow up with titles like Might and Magic, Wizardry, and The Elder Scrolls: Arena, the clunky direction-based controls, sprite-based graphics, and abstract combat might turn you off.
However, if you did grow up with those games then The Quest is without any doubt the best imitation of what they had to offer: free-roaming gameplay, hardcore challenge, and a detailed fantasy world. This open-world game is unmatched in nostalgia value.
4. Dungeon Hunter 2 HD
iPhone and iPad game-makers Gameloft aren’t really known for quality, but they did a fine job imitating the basic Diablo formula with Dungeon Hunter 2. The simplistic action RPG has you hacking and slashing your way through hordes of monsters in varied environments, then bolstering your power with new gear and level-up abilities.
If you played Diablo or any of its many imitators (or even its predecessors, the more primitive Rogue-likes) then you’ll feel right at home here. It’s not as dark (its aesthetic is more akin to World of Warcraft than to Diablo) but since dark atmosphere doesn’t always play well on the go, that might not be a bad thing.
Just be sure you grab Dungeon Hunter 2. The first game in the series wasn’t quite as polished, while the third adopted a poorly executed free-to-play model. We don’t have anything against free-to-play games — some are simply wonderful — but Dungeon Hunter 3 isn’t one of the good ones.
3. Sword of Fargoal Legends
If Dungeon Hunter 2 is a riff on Diablo, then Sword of Fargoal Legends is a riff on its ancestor Rogue. Rogue and the Rogue-like genre of RPGs originated the formula that Blizzard’s Diablo games followed, and it shows.
What’s different, though? Well, Sword of Fargoal Legends and other Rogue-likes have a simplistic charm all their own thanks to retro graphics and an emphasis on exploration over twitch controls. Dungeon Hunter 2 and Diablo require great tapping or clicking dexterity and precise timing, but this simpler game is more accessible to all.
The developers made the unusual choice of emulating classic console RPG graphics rather than the computer ASCII graphics associated with the Rogue-like genre, making this an interesting mash-up of RPG histories.
2. Aralon: Sword and Shadow HD
For some gamers, 2002′s The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and Gothic II were the greatest computer RPGs ever made. Both broke new ground in realizing fully open, explorable fantasy worlds where you could do more than just hack monsters with a sword.
You could pick flowers, craft potions and spells, carry on conversations with a huge variety of characters, pick locks to access hidden places in sprawling 3D cities, and more. These were the games that ultimately birthed the formula for the 2011 sensation The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
Aralon: Sword and Shadow is the closest approximation to Morrowind or Gothic II on the iPad. It’s a little rough on the edges and no where near as loaded with content, but if you played those 2002 classics you’ll immediately find something to love in this game.
1. Avadon: The Black Fortress HD
The #2 and #1 spots on our list have confusingly similar names, but the fact that Avadon sounds a bit like Aralon is where the similarities end. While Aralon emulates Morrowind and Gothic II, Avadon: The Black Fortress does as good a job as anyone has ever done at recapturing the glory of our titular RPG: Baldur’s Gate.
Play Avadon for even a few minutes and you’ll see the similarities. You control a party of adventurers from a bird’s eye view perspective, delivering orders in tactical combat scenarios. There are branching conversation trees, fully developed characters, and an engrossing story.
When Avadon was first released on Windows, Mac, and iPad in 2011, game critics who loved old-school RPGs gave it rave reviews. It’s the perfect title to prepare you for Baldur’s Gate this summer.
Do you have a favorite iPad RPG? We know we didn’t get to all of them, so if you’ve got a case to make for one that didn’t appear on this list, be sure and share it in the comments!