During the early 1990s, there were some attempts to innovate the genre further. Quest for Glory incorporated role-playing mechanics into a point-and-click adventure game. Betrayal at Krondor, based on author Raymond Feist’s Midkemia setting, featured a turn-based, semi-tactical system coupled with pre-determined characters and a skill-based experience system. Legends of Valour was the first sandbox style role-playing game without a non-linear plot line and would later be named as one of the primary influences of the Elder Scroll’s series.
All of the above games were criticized as role-playing games in the West upon release. Notable problems included a poor user interface, unusual gameplay mechanics, bad graphics or lack of depth found in most other CRPGs at the time. Essentially, they deviated too much from the winning formula. Even Quest for Glory was considered more of an adventure-game than a true RPG and much like Times of Lore, was relegated to “novice-level” status rather quickly.
This stagnation led to the major decline of the CRPG market. As reviewer Mark Walker put it, “During the now-infamous mid-nineties CRPG lull, the toughest dungeons were the bottomless pits of failed designs, and the fiercest beasts the deadly-dull CRPG releases.” Many issues stemmed from ballooning budgets for software development, longer development times, and heavy competition not only from other PC games, such as more fast-paced first-person-shooters and strategy titles. Tastes were also shifting to Japanese role-playing games, leaving many western RPGs with a shrinking audience. By 1997, Western RPGs were at their all time low.
This would change with a trio of games that would change the landscape once again, this time borrowing from less traditional sources. The first would be Blizzard’s Diablo, an action RPG that was heavily influenced by the roguelike Telengard from 1982. Eschewing the slower pace of a dungeon crawl, Diablo was quick and accessible, heavy on combat and action, and had a vibrant online community when it was released in 1996.
A year later, Interplay, with a new developer called Black Isle Studios, would release a game called Fallout. Based on a previous Interplay title called Wasteland, Fallout was set in a post-apocalyptic future ravaged by nuclear war. The game would feature an open, non-linear world, heavy emphasis on character interaction, turn-based tactical combat system, and distinct aesthetic presentation. All of this allowed Fallout to stand out and further revitalize the CRPG market with a fresh approach to the genre, both in terms of mechanics and presentation.