“Akalabeth:” A crude classic revived

Come celebrate 30 years!

“Ultima.” “Baldur’s Gate.” “Might and Magic.” “Dragon Age.”

All of these are role-playing classics, and they all owe their existence to one game: “Akalabeth: World of Doom.”

Okay, perhaps that’s not fair. Even “Akalabeth” owes its existence to the tabletop RPGs of old. It started as a school project developed on an old Apple II and was playtested by creator Richard Garriott’s fellow “Dungeon and Dragons” players. But it still shaped the future of many role-playing video games to come.

The setup reflects its humble origins. The story feels like a very basic “Dungeons and Dragons” campaign. You can be either a fighter or a mage, and the differences between them aren’t nearly as deep as the many RPGs that followed it. Your goal is to travel to dungeons and defeat monsters, and… that’s about it, really.

The gameplay is also very simple. You travel an overworld map, you enter a dungeon, you run into a monster, and you fight it. There are a variety of different weapons, and the system has roots in its “Dungeons and Dragons” origins. But by RPG standards today, it feels very basic. It almost feels like a combination of “Ultima’s” role-playing with “The Oregon Trail’s” look and feel.

In fact, the visuals are as simple as simple gets. The overworld looks more like something out of “Tron” than any fantasy world, with basic lines and shapes representing things like dungeons and towns. A monster is lucky if it’s represented by a square and a few lines.

However, it’s important to remember the context in which it was released. This was the first time anyone had seen a role-playing game on a computer. At the time, games like “Asteroids” and “Space Invaders” were considered cutting-edge. It was a time of arcade-level simplicity, and “Akalabeth” was about as complex as complex video games could be back then.

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Plus, it was this game and its characters that helped kick off the monstrously successful “Ultima” franchise, largely developed by the same guy. Most of what followed in the role-playing video game space has either “Akalabeth” or “Ultima” to thank.

So, for that reason, it’s worth checking out. It was recently made available for free on GOG.com, so players who have a couple hours of free time and want to see how an entire video game genre began should definitely give it a look.