Recently we’ve seen something of a resurgence of Dungeons & Dragons into popular culture. Although it’s never really been unpopular, recently it experienced a huge boost of popularity.

With the announcement of Baldur’s gate 3 coming from Larian Studios it’s worth taking a look at how we arrived at this point and why BG3 was such a big deal.

What is D&D, anyway?

Dungeons & Dragon is largely considered to be the original role-playing game.
In other terms: it’s a game based on co-operative storytelling and tactical combat encounters, all resolved using a set of predefined rules and played out with miniatures and in the collective imagination. Lofty though we make it sound, it’s generally speaking great fun. It can bolster imagination, foster good communication skills, and is a great way of spending time with friends doing something creative.

What brought D&D into the limelight?

With the geek culture becoming more mainstream, D&D came back into the limelight. Netflix’s show Stranger Things, catering to nostalgia for the 1980s, uses Dungeons & Dragons as a frame of reference, and the group of protagonists plays an early edition of D&D regularly.

On Twitch and YouTube, it’s easy to find an Actual Play stream or video. Leading the charge is Critical Role, a D&D game featuring several ‘nerdy-ass voice actors’. CR grew from a small niche stream to a phenomenon and enterprise, which managed to fund a D&D animated show, gathering over 11 million dollars on Kickstarter.

Best Dungeons and Dragons Video Games
GameReleaseNumber of companionsDeveloperD&D EditionSale
Baldurs Gate Enhanced Edition 2013-01-16 25 Beamdog Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition 82% Read more
Planescape Torment Enhanced Edition 2017-04-11 7 Beamdog Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition 88% Read more
Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition 2014-10-30 6 Beamdog Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition 90% Read more
Baldurs Gate Ii Enhanced Edition 2013-11-15 17 Beamdog Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition 86% Read more
Neverwinter Nights Enhanced Edition 2018-03-27 6 (vanilla), 3 (SoU), 8 (HotU) Beamdog D&D 3rd edition 87% Read more
Icewind Dale 2 Complete Gogcom Key Global 2002 6 Black Isle Studios D&D 3rd edition 1% Read more
The Temple Of Elemental Evil Gogcom Key Global 2003-09-16 31 Troika Games D&D 3.5 edition Read more
Neverwinter Nights 2 Complete Gogcom Key Global 2006-10-31 12 (vanilla), 6 (MotB), 11 (SoZ) Obsidian Entertainment D&D 3.5 edition 3% Read more
Tales From Candlekeep Tomb Of Annihilation 2017 5 BKOM Studios D&D 5 edition 93% Read more
Solasta Crown Of The Magister 2020-10-20 TBA Tactical Adventures D&D 5 edition Read more

The games that were

Although this article is mostly concerned with the Infinity Engine games, they were neither only a part of the D&D-adapting video games. Let’s have a short look at some of them.

Even though most of the Gold Box series was set in Forgotten Realms, fans of other places nevertheless had something to latch on to. There were several Dragonlance games, while fans of traveling between worlds could enjoy a Spelljammer game. Those starved for dark fantasy could bite down on several Dark Sun titles. There was even something for enthusiasts of Gothic horror in the form or games adapting the Ravenloft line. There are, of course, many more to speak of, far be it from us to delay the discussion of the most important D&D games any longer.

Legends of the Infinity Engine

Larian Studios’ Baldur’s Gate 3 has big shoes to fill. Games based on the Infinity Engine are subjects of a massive nostalgia to many classic RPG fans, and BioWare’s Baldur’s Gate dilogy is one of the most beloved cRPGs in general. Let’s take a look at each of the games which paved the way to BG3, shall we?

        

Baldur's Gate

Release date:2013-01-16
Genre:RPG
Developer:Beamdog

Baldur’s Gate was the one to “blame” for codifying the way cRPGs are expected to be made. The isometric camera showing 3D figures moving across 2D, detailed maps, branching conversation trees, and real-time with pause combat are now staples of the genre, for better or worse.

Baldur's Gate

The story of Bhaalspawn lives on in the memories and collective awareness of RPG fans, and characters such as Misc are among the most fondly remembered across all BioWare games. In 2012 Beamdog released an Enhanced edition, designed to work well on modern systems and including quality of life improvements. There’s even a phone and console version!

Key features
  • The first Infinity Engine and genre codifier
  • Numerous potential allies with differing amount of story
  • Evocative leading antagonist
  • The legend of cRPGs
        

Planescape: Torment

Release date:2017-04-11
Genre:Strategy
Developer:Beamdog

Planescape: Torment was an experiment. It’s setting was very far from Baldur’s Gate’s familiar fantasy land with dwarves and elves. If the weirdness of the Planescape setting wasn’t enough, the storyline (designed by Chris Avellone) amplified it.

Planescape: Torment

PS: Torment is a very text-heavy game, with a script of about 800 thousand words. There are conflicting philosophies, matters of raw belief, the examination of immortality, and plenty of chances to define the protagonist’s personality and goals through dialogue. P:T is rightfully considered one of the greatest cRPGs in history.

Key features
  • Complex storyline with deep themes
  • Plenty of reading to do
  • Most conflicts can be resolved through conversation
  • Odd, unfamiliar setting different from the Forgotten Realms
        

Icewind Dale

Release date:2014-10-30
Genre:RPG
Developer:Beamdog

While both Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment were story-focused, Icewind Dale was an experiment, taking a slightly different direction. While by no means bereft of story, it put more focus on combat encounters than its predecessors did.

Icewind Dale

It allowed you to create your own full adventuring party of up to six people, and take them on a guided tour of the snow-covered locales of the Icewind Dale. What story there is appropriately dramatic, but serves mostly as a pretext to go on another dungeon crawl and participate in another battle.

Key features
  • Bigger focus on adventuring than on the story
  • You design the entire party
  • Enhanced Edition brings it to modern PCs
  • Enhanced Edition includes both expansions
        

Baldur's Gate 2

Release date:2013-11-15
Genre:RPG
Developer:Beamdog

The conclusion of the Bhaalspawn saga, Baldur’s Gate 2 was a general improvement of BG1’s features across the board. More character building options, a bigger focus on story, and somehow even more epic-scale storyline make BG2 an archetypal Dungeons & Dragons video game.

Baldur's Gate 2

It has fewer possible companions than BG1, but they are on average more developed and exhibit more personality, resulting in more content overall. Baldur’s Gate 2 is an obvious title to check out before the third game comes out.

Key features
  • Some of the most iconic companions in RPG history
  • The stunning finish to the Bhaalspawn saga
  • You can import your character from Baldur’s Gate 1
  • New classes, like Monk or Sorcerer
        

Neverwinter Nights

Release date:2018-03-27
Genre:RPG
Developer:Beamdog

Neverwinter Nights was BioWare’s first attempt at making an RPG in a 3D world. It wasn’t pretty, even back in the day, and the single-player campaign environments were quite obviously cobbled together from reused assets…but that was a show of what Aurora Engine could do. A show of possibilities waiting for aspiring content creators.

Neverwinter Nights

See, NWN came with potent modding tools and a great multiplayer, both created so that players could run their D&D campaigns through the game, or create custom single-player modules. That’s where Neverwinter Nights’ strength has always been, and there were many persistent role-playing servers.

Key features
  • Excellent tools for creative players
  • Brought D&D RPGs to 3D environments
  • Two great campaigns-expansions
  • Abandons parties in favor of protagonist and a hireling
        

Icewind Dale II

Release date:2002
Genre:Adventure
Developer:Black Isle Studios

Icewind Dale II was the last Infinity Engine game ever developed, and the IE era definitely ended on a high note. IWD brought the 3rd edition of the D&D ruleset to video games and took the players on a grand tour of the region, even visiting a familiar village.

Icewind Dale II

Focused on combat just as much as the first one, the third edition ruleset makes for excellent combat and exploration scenarios. Meanwhile, the plot escalated at an appropriate pace and while there aren’t many crucial choices to make, it’s engaging and interesting. Unfortunately, we can’t expect an Enhanced Edition because the source code has been lost.

Key features
  • The strong finale to the Infinity Engine era
  • A fully customizable adventuring party
  • Interesting antagonists
  • Phenomenal music of Inon Zur
        

Temple of Elemental Evil

Release date:2003-09-16
Genre:Adventure
Developer:Troika Games

Among all (roughly) modern D&D games Troika’s Temple of Elemental Evil definitely stands out. Not only does it use a famously complex 3.5 D&D ruleset, but it uses a LOT of it. Plenty of character-building options and a well-developed turn-based combat system make ToEE the most complete and faithful adaptation of Dungeons & Dragons’ rules to date.

Temple of Elemental Evil

It also doesn’t hurt that it aims to recreate the classic D&D megadungeon from the adventure module under the same title. It’s like a tribute to D&D and a very pretty one at that. ToEE looked great at launch and still does. With a community patch from Circle of Eight ToEE is the gem it was intended to be.

Key features
  • Turn-based combat
  • Faithful to the source ruleset
  • Beautiful backgrounds and creature designs
  • Harkens back to a classic adventure module
        

Neverwinter Nights 2

Release date:2006-10-31
Genre:Adventure
Developer:Obsidian Entertainment

There was a time when Obsidian Entertainment kept inheriting licenses from other studios and was making sequel after sequel. Neverwinter Nights 2 was no different.

Neverwinter Nights 2

Where the first game’s campaign was so-so with no party dynamics, NWN2 brought adventuring parties back, and with them, characters with personalities or at least motivations. It also gave players some say over the operations of their own fortress, a system which Obsidian tried to recreate in Pillars of Eternity, but it didn’t work nearly as well.

Key features
  • Excellent Mask of the Betrayer campaign
  • Plenty of character options
  • Companions from all walks of life
  • Choices and consequences
        

Tales from Candlekeep: Tomb of Annihilation

Release date:2017
Genre:cRPG
Developer:BKOM Studios

Tales from Candlekeep: Tomb of Annihilation is a curious amalgamation. It’s mechanics come from the Dungeons & Dragons Adventure System, designed for board games, and rooted in the mechanics of the 4th edition of D&D, but the eponymous Tomb of Annhilation is an adventure for D&D 5e. The resulting game is an interesting tactical journey through procedurally generated dungeons.

Tales from Candlekeep: Tomb of Annihilation

You get to control up to four (five with a DLC) characters: ranger Artus, wizard Asharra, bard Birdsong, paladin Dragonbiat, and, with DLC, druid Qawasha. Each character has unique abilities and powers, and they traverse the environments leading to and through the eponymous Tomb of Annihilation in order to find the source of the Death Curse and heal the land.

Key features
  • Five unique characters
  • Based on a great official D&D adventure
  • Levels assembled from tiles
  • Save Chult from an ominous curse
        

Solasta: Crown of the Magister

Release date:2020-10-20
Genre:Isometric RPG
Developer:Tactical Adventures

Solasta: Crown of the Magister is an ambition project making full use of the SRD (System Reference Document) for Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition. It doesn’t have all the hard data like spells, or all the ancestries, but it is free to download and use. Solasta is a rather faithful adaption of the SRD rules, using what it can, and making custom options for things not included. And it has a certain great feature.

Solasta: Crown of the Magister

Usually in RPGs there is the „face” character doing all the talking. In Solasta the entire party participates in conversations, depending on the dialogue option you choose. If you offer to heal somebody’s wounds for free, it’s probably the Life Cleric who will offer this, not a borderline evil Fighter. Just like in a tabletop RPG! The game also has solid turn-based battles with some nice verticality.

Key features
  • Great conversation system
  • Faithful to the SRD rules
  • Good character customisation
  • A party of four

Neverwinter

Release date:2013
Genre:RPG
Developer:Cryptic Studios

Unrelated to the Neverwinter Night series (other than by the eponymous city), Neverwinter is an MMORPG set in the Forgotten Realms. Rooted originally in the 4th edition, it has since moved closer to 5e as of the Undermountain update. Neverwinter has been trucking along since 2013 and it’s still doing quite well, in some parts thanks to the wealth of playable adventures.

Neverwinter

Neverwinter features many campaigns taken directly from the tabletop, so if you have nobody to play D&D with you can still get a taste of the ongoing story of Forgotten Realms. An even cooler feature is the Foundry, which allows players to create their own adventures and share them with others. As a result there’s a ton of story and dungeon content to play through alone or with allies.

Key features
  • Plenty of D&D 5e adventures to play through
  • 80 levels to customise you character
  • 8 classes, 14 ancestries, both free and premium
  • Free to play
        

Eye of the Beholder series

Release date:1991 (EotB1) - 1993 (EotB3)
Genre:cRPG
Developer:Westwood Associates

Eye of the Beholder is an old-school role-playing game, more in line with classics like Bard’s Tale and its spritiual successor: Legends of Grimrock. It’s a series of three first-person, party-based RPGs, with a strong emphasis on dungeon crawling, but there’s a story involving the eponymous Beholder known as Xanatar, the ruler of the criminal underground of Waterdeep.

Eye of the Beholder

The next two instalments took the action from Waterdeep to investigate a temple called Darkmoon in Eye of the Beholder 2, and in EofB3 we get to visit Myth Drannor, an ancient ruined city now ruled by a powerful lich. The games are also quite hard, requiring a good team composition and being smart about the risk taken. Eye of the Beholder takes some getting used to, but it’s one of the best D&D video games.

Key features
  • Quite a few name-drops and appearances of characters from D&D lore
  • Old-school RPGs
  • You can recruit NPCs to your party
  • Many interesting locations
        

Dungeons & Dragons: Dragonshard

Release date:2005
Genre:Isometric RPG
Developer:Liquid Entertainment

Eberron was a setting devised for D&D 3.5 and has since been successfully ported over to the 4th and the 5th edition. Unlike the Forgotten Realms, Eberron hasn’t appeared in many games so far, with Dragonshard being the only one aside from D&D Online. It’s a mixture of a real-time strategy, with production buildings and recruitable armies, and a role-playing games, with dungeons and individually powerful heroes.

Dungeons & Dragons: Dragonshard

The RTS part of the game takes place mostly on the surface of the world, called Eberron, while the adventuring is tied to the underworld called Kyber. The player has a choice of three sides of the conflict to choose: the Umbragen – the Eberron dark elves; the order of the Flame – militant arm of the local major religion; and the Lizardfolk – protectors of the Heart of Syberys, a powerful artifact.

Key features
  • Dual game: strategy and RPG
  • Set in a great butunderutilised D&D setting: Eberron
  • Doesn’t use D&D systems, just the setting
  • Storyline written by the setting’s creator
        

Dungeons & Dragons Online

Release date:2006
Genre:cRPG
Developer:Turbine, Standing Stone Games

Unlike D&D: Dragonshard, Dungeons & Dragons Online is quite close to the rules of 3.5, with proper stats, a good bunch of skills, and many classes and playable species you know from the tabletop. Although there were quite a few changes made because DDO isn’t turn-based like the tabletop, it’s still unmistakably a D&D game, and one set in Eberron, on the continent of Xen’drik.

Dungeons & Dragons Online

The game also visited the Forgotten Realms, specifically the region known as Cormyr. DDO launched in 2006 and it’s still going quite strong, with new expansions coming every once in a while, for example in the may 2019 expansion featured the city of Sharn, and added new species and class options, while a 2020 expansion features Feywild, a new species: Shifters, and a raised level cap.

Key features
  • A solid D&D MMO experience
  • Great degree of customisation, both visual and mechanical
  • It lets you explore a lot of Eberron
  • Ongoing updates and expansions
  • Free to play
        

Baldur’s Gate 3

Release date:2020-10-06
Genre:cRPG
Developer:Larian Studio

Thanks to the success of their Original Sin games Larian Studios have been given a chance to work on the third instalment of the Baldur’s Gate series, and they are bringing the venerable license to modern technology and to the latest edition of D&D, jumping from 2e straight to 5e. It also follows up after the events of the Descent into Avernus tabletop D&D campaign, with a new dire threat.

Baldur’s Gate 3

This time the Sword Coast is threatened by Mind Flayers, who have seemingly rediscovered the secret of their nautiloid ships. Just like in Original Sin 2 you get to either create your own character or one of the pre-made ones, who come with their own storylines. They also act as potential companions should you roll you own PC. There’s also a spectacular turn-based combat system using the full 5th edition.

Key features
  • Several interesting Origin characters
  • You have a Mind Flayer tadpole in your head, getting it out is strongly advised
  • Highly tactical turn-based combat
  • You can enter a turn-based mode out of combat to deal with some challenges

Roll initiative!

Baldur’s Gate 3 is going to be set some hundred years after the events of its predecessor, but the Forgotten Realms are full of people to whom a hundred years isn’t such an insurmountably long time. And you may be worthwhile to learn about the tradition that Larian’s game is going to refer to. Especially since some characters may yet come back.