TOP 5 ISOMETRIC GAMES
On the cusp of the 21st century, the game world market was swarmed with some of the most memorable RPGs and strategies. The immortal series of games, such as Baldur’s Gate and Diablo were favoured by many players around the world, and easily found their rightful place on the highest shelves of the industry.
However, due to various technology limits, the majority of RPG and strategy games back then did not feature full 3D graphics. To compensate this visual experience loss, many gamedev companies rely on an isometric view featuring 2D models with hand-crafted environments and beautifully sculpted scenery.
The reason why the old RPGs and strategies relied so much on the isometric view was not only because of the technology limits, but also because a top-to-down perspective allows players to have a better outlook on the field and help them manage multiple characters or even entire armies.
Even though the times of 2D games seem to be passing away, many modern game developers, including Obsidian Entertainment and its gem Pillars of Eternity, decided to bring back the spirit of the “good oldies” and create games that use isometric view technology on daily basis. The fact that the said game was eagerly crowdfunded by millions of people proves that the idea of games basing on the isometric view is still doing well in the gamedev industry.
We want students in our game design course and our blog readers to better understand the success of the modern games. However, do this, we have to go back to the golden era of RPGs and strategy games during the first years of the 21st century. Here’s a list of 5 best isometric games ever made.
5. PLANESCAPE: TORMENT
Most of the cult-classic RPGs created during the first years of the 21st century feature neither beautiful graphics, nor good combat mechanics. They are all about the story and Planescape: Torment by Black Isle Studios is one of their top examples.
Released on December 1999, Torment provides the players with a highly mature and thoughtful storyline known only to the most remarkable TV series of the last two decades. The game asks you not “how strong is your character”, or “how many enemies you can handle”, but rather “to what extent a nature of a human being can be changed”.
Though Planescape: Torment features rather clunky character animations and combat mechanics based on the classic D&D rules, the game makes up for it with a gripping storyline that redefines the nature of good and evil and asks you existential questions. Even brief interactions with throway characters may make you wonder whether the decision you just made was for good or for bad, and what impact will it have on your later story.
If you are a fan of the cult-classic isometric RPGs, and if you value a good narrative over outstanding graphics, it is likely that you will spend entire evenings on exploring every corner of this well-designed oldie.
4. FALLOUT 2
A sequel of a successful cult-classic isometric RPG named Fallout, developed by Black Isle Studios, brings you once more into the ruthless, post-atomic American Wasteland, where only the strongest and the smartest can survive. Fallout 2, released on October 1998, not only managed to maintain a specific atmosphere and the scope of its predecessor, but also improved several aspects of Fallout 1, including skills that player can have, equipment, NPCs’ AI and plenty of decisive, often highly moral choices.
Apart from its gripping plot, numerous dialogue lines and the freedom of doing whatever you like, the game is filled with humour that lightens the oppressive atmosphere being an inseparable aspect of the series. Multiple pop-culture references, known in the gaming community as “easter eggs”, naturally blend into the game world and make its features and characters truly memorable.
Just like the majority of the old RPGs, Fallout 2 trusts the player that he or she in the end will know what to do. The game doesn’t offer you a well-developed tutorial where you will learn all of its aspects. Instead, you are thrown in at the deep end of this wild world and with little knowledge of its merciless rules. All you have to do is to embrace its atmosphere and use all the possible means to your advantage.
Fallout 2, unlike other games of this period, provides you with a certain level of replayability. You can design your own character the way you like. It can be an unintelligent brute born and bred on the Wasteland that can barely pronounce words, or a skilled technician, capable of endearing NPCs through the advanced persuasion skills. The choice of weaving your own fate depends on you, whether you want to be a good or bad person, and Fallout 2 provides you with all the tools to write your own story.
3. DIABLO 2
Hack & Slash. If you had a chance to play RPGs during their golden era you know what kind of a gem we’re talking about. As often as it is described, Diablo 2 (released on June 2000) by Blizzard, remains on top of the pantheon of Action Role-Playing Games (ARPGs) and is considered one of the best isometric games of all time in terms of scope, replayability, exploration and multiplayer gameplay.
In Diablo 2 you step into the shoes of a hero that you can fully customise and assign to one of the 5 base classes. With the ultimate goal of chasing a foul, titular demon Diablo, you have to cut your way through vast hordes of his minions, including monsters, demons and other creatures not from this world. To battle one of the Prime Evils, you must venture through a number of hideous locations, explore its bowels, gather experience needed to develop your skills and loot that will help you during your final encounter.
The mechanics in Diablo 2 as well as in other games of the series are pretty simple. You click your mouse button to move, attack, talk with NPCs, activate skills, use equipment and gather items on your path. And if there’s way too much of clicking for your taste, you can help yourself to better manage your hero’s skills and potions during the heat of battle by setting up a number of useful keyboard shortcuts.
Diablo 2 is an ARPG that you can play over and over again, on your own or with a couple of friends online. With a high replayability and customisation of your hero’s skills, you can easily define your own playstyle. If you don’t like getting through long and convoluted dialogue lines that feature in the majority of old and new RPGs, but instead you want a fast-paced game that will allow you jump straight into action, Diablo 2 should be your choice.
2. BALDUR’S GATE 2: SHADOWS OF AMN
If you ever played pen & paper Role-Playing Games in real life and if you’re a fan of immersive stories, then you must have heard of this gem before. Baldur’s Gate series by BioWare is a cornerstone of the cult-classic CRPGs (Computer Role-Playing Games). In the game you step into the shoes of a protagonist leading a 6-member big group of characters that help you during your adventures through places, such as labyrinthine dungeons, dark forests and frozen wastes.
The game is massive in terms of scope of the world as well as a number and depth of quests. It features a lot of places to explore and from which you can learn about the lore of the game. The characters that can accompany your hero have a fully personalised voice acting, goals, strengths and weaknesses. What is more, the relations between you, your characters, as well as between characters themselves have a huge impact on the story.
Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn, released on September 2000, features a vast repeatability, mostly due to the fact that you can design your team in any way possible. Before starting your adventure, you have a chance to name your heroes, choose their specialisations, skills, physical appearance and voice acting. The fact that you have such a wide freedom of making your characters, allows you to choose your playstyle as you see fit.
Despite its cult-classic status, Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn is not a game for everyone. It’s not a quick-paced action game with plenty of advanced mechanics and smooth animations, but the gameplay can be often clunky and very rudimentary. If you never had a chance to try your hands at playing one of the CRPGs before, you have to be ready for reading through tons of text, lore and learning of the core D&D rules. But if you’re a through and through RPG veteran or you don’t mind immersing yourself into a story-based game, this one is a must-play for you.
1. AGE OF EMPIRES 1
Age of Empires 1 (released on October 1997) by Microsoft is an isometric game which almost every player tried their hand at or at least heard of. It is a cult-classic real-time strategy game that focuses on gathering resources, building and developing your settlement and conquering your enemies. You become a leader of one of 12 available ancient civilisations you lead since the Stone Age until the Post Iron Age.
Regardless of the simplicity of its mechanics, AoE 1 is not only about hoarding the biggest amount of gold, building a vast empire or conquering your enemies. Sometimes in your scenarios, you will be given with nothing more than a handful of soldiers or a single priest with which you will have to defeat your enemies or convert their units to make a progress. Everyone who played this game knows that it’s quite of a challenge to outsmart the AI (due to the immensely overpowered micromanagement skills it has), but the game teaches you one more thing: to play with wit and carefully manage your odds.
As for a game this old as Age of Empires is, there are plenty of issues, glitches and annoyances that may hinder your gameplay experience as a whole. Units’ pathfinding is terrible and your soldiers tend to get lost on the way, what makes commanding entire armies that consist of dozens of troops quite difficult. What is more, you have to keep an eye on your villagers, since they often stop working once they run out of resources in their proximity.
Despite these flaws, Age of Empires 1 is a true gem amongst the other isometric real-time strategy games that managed to stand the test of time. With beautifully sculpted landscapes, aesthetic, pre-rendered 3D objects and captivating soundtrack both in MIDI and CD format, Age of Empires 1 is one of these games that make you come back and play it over and over again.