Before the turn of the millennium, the PC was really the only way to go for in-depth role playing games. Sure, console gamers at the time had a lot Japanese-style, linear, hand-holding RPGs to play, but what few western-style, free-form RPGs were available on consoles weren’t all that comprehensive, to be honest.
Realms of Arkania 3: Shadow Over Riva on the PC is a good example. It’s relatively unknown title based on a similarly-obscure German pen and paper role playing system. Not only does it give players a huge amount of freedom, it’s packed full of unique options and offers a huge world full of interesting quests and unusual characters to meet. It’s not quite as accessible as other PC role playing titles of the same era, like Ultima, The Elder Scrolls or Lands of Lore, and its unique systems require quite a run-up to get acquainted with, but the adventure behind this red tape and fiddly interface is highly engrossing.
The story isn’t all that original: Something is going down in the city of Riva, and only a party of brave heroes with the balls to do anything about it stand a chance to save the day. When the player begins their quest, they are handed a pre-generated party of six members. You can play that way if you want, but it’s far more fun and rewarding to kick them all out and generate six entirely unique characters from scratch. What makes Realms of Arkania 3 unique in this regard is that each character will have not only skills and good points, like swordsmanship, conversation skills and dance abilities (I’m not joking), but also bad points, like a foul temper or cowardice. All of these things have a tangible impact on the game. In addition to improving their laudable aspects as they level up, these characters will also have the responsibility of diminishing their bad points while they’re at it.
Exploration of the city is handled via a very pixelated 3D perspective that looked a little dated for its time, but it serves it purpose. Everything else, from interacting with other characters and merchants to combat instantly boots the player into a different 2D view. Combat is handled in a top down, isometric view where players move their characters on a segmented map. The combat is turn-based, giving players plenty of time to think about their actions, which is good, because it’s really quite complicated, and even the simplest of choices can have far-reaching implications. It’s not unusual to see two or three party members drop dead as the result of a single enemy action, leaving you wondering just what the heck happened before you get the hang of it.
In this case, a recommendation is easy. RoA3:SOR was obviously made only for avid RPG fans who have the patience to adventure for hours and weigh up each choice for ages. If you can see beyond its dated graphics and fiddly controls, there’s plenty of fun to be had.