It might have recently turned 40 years old, but Dungeons & Dragons hasn't thrown its last die yet.
Having almost single-handedly created the role-playing genre upon its release in 1974, D&D is to thank for the modern state of RPG games. Without it, there wouldn't be Fallout 4, The Witcher 3 or Final Fantasy XV – or, at least, not as we know them.
But while its distant cousins have thrived, D&D's direct video game lineage has suffered increasing sterility. In the 1990s, franchises such as Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights were critical hits, virtualising D&D's iconic dice-rolling mechanics to a rapturous reception. Such series waned over the following two decades, as developers watered down the tougher RPG elements for a wider audience and branched away from D&D's core facets.
Now, the tabletop titan's legacy is returning with a vengeance, as crowdfunding, digital distribution and rising interest in RPG titles look set to relight the dragon's fire.
"Changes in the ecosystem have made it easier than ever for developers to connect with players."
Dan Tudge, n-Space
One modern triple-A franchise inspired by D&D is Dragon Age.
Created by Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights studio BioWare, Dragon Age similarly went on to be a critical and commercial success. The first entry in the series, 2009's Origins, sold more than 3.2 million copies in less than six months.
The director and producer for the game, Dan Tudge – now an indie developer – returns with a new fantasy RPG this year – Sword Coast Legends. While Dragon Age only found inspiration in D&D, Legends takes place directly in the tabletop title's Forgotten Realms universe – the PC, PS4 and Xbox One title is licensed by D&Downer Wizards of the Coast, with combat based upon the game's fifth edition ruleset.
Legends builds on a legacy of great D&D titles,” says Tudge, who is also president of the title's developer, n-Space. When I directed Dragon Age: Origins the goal was to create a next-gen Baldur's Gate, one that would appeal to both old and new players, and we accomplished that. The same goal exists here; fans of classic D&D RPGs will be pleased to see we've remained faithful to its roots, but both old and new players will also be very excited with how we've evolved.
We've ensured that the richness of the D&D IP and Forgotten Realms setting has been faithfully recreated.”
It's now a rare sight to see a new release without some form of multiplayer included. However, hardcore RPGs have had a long history of providing solely single-player experiences. Tudge says that this was down to a lack of technology – a problem that no longer exists.
For decades computer RPGs were primarily single-player experiences because they often had to be,” he explains. The internet has made playing games with friends all around the world commonplace. The good thing about Legends is that you can play through a fully-realised campaign by yourself if you'd like, or hop on with some friends for a multiplayer adventure.”
As well as a four-player co-operative mode, Legends' ‘DM mode' allows a fifth player to jump in as dungeon master. In traditional D&D, the ‘DM' serves a key role, taking control of the whole game – from monsters to the story itself.
When we first started thinking about recreating the experience between players and a dungeon master, we felt there was no better fit than D&D,” Tudge recalls.
Unlike a lot of other multiplayer games, DM mode is primarily non-adversarial. Most of the time the DM is just trying to provide the best shared-storytelling experience possible.”
"With direct-to-consumer opportunities like digital distribution and crowdfunding, we'll see developers create the games they've always wanted to make – ones that may have been considered ‘niche' in the past – and in the end that will mean more awesome RPGs for all of us."
Dan Tudge, n-Space
Legends is part of a renaissance for these more complex RPGs; Divinity: Original Sin and Pillars of Eternity are just two other recent titles to have struck a chord with players.
Both Divinity and Pillars were crowdfunded, an increasingly fruitful route to market for titles that might have previously been considered too niche for publishers to pick up.
The resurgence of tactical-isometric RPGs has a lot to do with accessibility,” explains Trudge. Changes in the ecosystem like Steam and digital distribution have made it easier than ever for developers to connect with players.
With direct-to-consumer opportunities like digital distribution and crowdfunding, we'll continue to see developers create the games they've always wanted to make – ones that may have been considered ‘niche' in the past – and in the end that will mean more awesome RPGs for all of us.”