The Ultimate RPG Archives is an important package not only because it contains an even dozen of the best computer role-playing games in history, but also because it's the first such collection where every single game within is still worth playing. Usually when a company throws together some of its older products and puts them back on the shelves, you get a decent game or two along with a bunch of fluff, which makes you realize just how much better games are now than they used to be. Not so in the Ultimate RPG Archives; all 12 games in the package remain enjoyable to this day, each in turn a testament to the timelessness of the genre.
Its contents represent over a decade's worth of top-tier computer role-playing games, more than half of which Interplay originally developed. The Bard's Tale series appears in its entirety: The trilogy composed of Tales of the Unknown, The Destiny Knight, and The Thief of Fate is present along with the full-featured Bard's Tale Construction Set. The Bard's Tale pioneered the first-person step-by-step computer RPG format, which would later appear again in Interplay's Dragon Wars, another solid entry in the Archives, which adopts the Bard's Tale formula to a grittier, more hostile game world. The only top-down RPG in the package is Interplay's Wasteland, which inspired the highly acclaimed 1997 post-nuclear RPG, Fallout (Fallout sold separately!). The last of Interplay's own additions to the Archives is Stonekeep, a pretty-looking dungeon hack, which was hammered on by critics and consumers alike when its lengthy development period culminated in its lukewarm 1995 release.
Even if Interplay were to go ahead and publish a package composed solely of its own role-playing games, the end result would be pretty solid. But it also secured the rights to five third-party RPGs, which make the Archives a truly superior value. New World Computing's Might & Magic: World of Xeen - which is M&M four and five seamlessly connected together - remains a creative, humorous, and exciting game. Sirtech's Wizardry Gold, a high-resolution remake of Wizardry VII: Crusaders of the Dark Savant, is deep and very challenging, with advanced NPC interaction and character development. But perhaps the greatest surprise in the package is Origin's Ultima Underworld I and II, both true-3D role-playing masterpieces and unparalleled to date in terms of scale and scope.
At first glance, Interplay does a commendable job of making the games accessible even on today's advanced hardware by supplying a helpful boot disk maker and a utility to temporarily slow your machine so the older games won't run too fast. On top of that, you get a massive volume of over 500 pages containing the original documentation of all 12 RPGs. However, all maps and reference materials originally included with these games are nowhere to be found, despite repeated reference to them throughout the documentation. This frustrating oversight won't affect your enjoyment of the majority of games in this package, but a few - namely the Bard's Tale trilogy - demand the use of these materials to answer copy protection questions in order to advance. The magic of the World Wide Web lets lucky gamers like you download the appropriate maps and code wheels from Interplay's web site, but those looking for a complete product out of the box will be out of luck.
None of these games is aesthetically competitive against the current standards. The Bard's Tale series and Wasteland look downright archaic. Even the once revolutionary Underworld games look well worn. But each and every game in the Archives has a distinctive personality about it, an attractive appearance, and a stylistic element that make you understand instantly why the game is still held in high esteem. Even Stonekeep fits right into this collection, as its old-style gameplay feels more appropriate among the similar genre pioneers than it did when the game was first released not too long ago.
Eleven of the 12 games in this set are played in the first-person perspective. Nonetheless they are all different and unique, and between their ranks they offer high adventure, great challenge, difficult puzzles, sly wit, all manner of monster and villain, and ultimately hundreds upon hundreds of hours of top-quality computer role-playing. Even with the missing reference materials, this is a compilation of the utmost quality and value, and it's certain to be one of the best purchases for your role-playing dollar this year.