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 & Dragons Video Games 

Game Release year: Number of companions: Developer D&D Edition Check price below

Baldur’s Gate
Baldurs Gate Enhanced cover 1998/2012 (Enhanced) 25 BioWare/ Overhaul Games, Beamdog (Enhanced) Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition Buy now!

Planescape: Torment
Planescape Torment Enhanced 1999/2017 (Enhanced) 7 Black Isle Studios Buy now!

Icewind Dale
Icewind-Dale-Enhanced-Edition-cover 2011 n/a Black Isle Studios/Overhaul Games (Enhanced) Buy now!

Baldur’s Gate 2
Baldurs-Gate-II 2000/2013 (Enhanced) 17 BioWare/Overhaul Games (Enhanced) Buy now!

Neverwinter Nights
neverwinter nights 2002/2018 (Enhanced) 6 (vanilla), 3 (SoU), 8 (HotU) BioWare Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition Buy now!

Icewind Dale II
Icewind Dale 2 Complete 2002 n/a Black Isle Studios Buy now!

Temple of Elemental Evil
The-Temple-of-Elemental-Evil-cover 2003 31 Troika Games Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 edition Buy now!

Neverwinter Nights 2
Neverwinter-Nights-2-cover 2006 12 (vanilla), 6 (MotB), 11 (SoZ) Obsidian Entertainment Buy now!

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

PC
PS4 (Enhanced)
XOne (Enhanced)
Switch (Enhanced)
iOS (Enhanced)
Android (Enhanced)
Release year: 1998/2012 (Enhanced)
Number of companions: 25
Developer BioWare/ Overhaul Games, Beamdog (Enhanced)
D&D Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition

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 game screenshot

  • Baldurs Gate 2012
  • battle in baldurs gate
  • Baldurs gate - story

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

PC
PS4 (Enhanced)
XOne (Enhanced)
Switch (Enhanced)
Release year: 1999/2017 (Enhanced)
Number of companions: 7
Developer Black Isle Studios
D&D Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition

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 game

  • Dialogs in Planescape torment
  • enhanced version of planescape torment
  • items in 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

PC
PS4 (Enhanced)
XOne (Enhanced)
Switch (Enhanced)
iOS (Enhanced)
Android (Enhanced)
Release year: 2011
Number of companions: n/a
Developer Black Isle Studios/Overhaul Games (Enhanced)
D&D Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition

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 game screenshot

  • Icewind dale
  • Inventory in Icewind Dale 1
  • Icewind Dale graphics

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

PC
PS4 (Enhanced)
XOne (Enhanced)
Switch (Enhanced)
iOS (Enhanced)
Android (Enhanced)
Release year: 2000/2013 (Enhanced)
Number of companions: 17
Developer BioWare/Overhaul Games (Enhanced)
D&D Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition

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 game

  • Baldurs Gate Demogorgon text
  • Character statistic BG 2
  • Fighting in Baldurs Gate II

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

PC
PS4 (Enhanced)
XOne (Enhanced)
Switch (Enhanced)
iOS (Enhanced)
Android (Enhanced)
Release year: 2002/2018 (Enhanced)
Number of companions: 6 (vanilla), 3 (SoU), 8 (HotU)
Developer BioWare
D&D Edition Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition

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 game

  • Characters and items in Neverwinter
  • Fighting in D&D Neverwinter game
  • Neverwinter Nights 1

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

PC
Release year: 2002
Number of companions: n/a
Developer Black Isle Studios
D&D Edition Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition

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 game screenshot

  • Icewind Dale 2
  • Battle in ID2 game
  • Character stats in Icewind Dale 2

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

PC
Release year: 2003
Number of companions: 31
Developer Troika Games
D&D Edition Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 edition

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 PC

  • Character in ToE Evil
  • World Map in D&D Temple of Evil
  • Graphics in Elemental Evil Temple game

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

PC
Release year: 2006
Number of companions: 12 (vanilla), 6 (MotB), 11 (SoZ)
Developer Obsidian Entertainment
D&D Edition Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 edition

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 PC

  • Dungeon Neverwinter Nights 2
  • Character in Neverwinter Nights 2
  • City in NW2

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


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.