Dungeons & Dragons is enjoying a modern renaissance. Fifth Edition is more popular than ever, thanks to intuitive rules, digital integration, and live streaming D&D games such as Critical Role (shameless plug: I also run a D&D live play stream on YouTube!).
The entire RPG genre can trace many of its concepts and ideas from the classic tabletop RPG, which was originally designed in the 1970s. Video games based on Dungeons & Dragons used to be fairly common, especially during the Gold Box era of the late 80s and early 90s, and the Infinity Engine era a decade later, which gave us some of the most revered RPGs like Baldur’s Gate 2 (2000), Planescape: Torment (1999), and Neverwinter Nights (2002).
Yet ironically the most popular era of D&D has seen the least amount of video game adaptations and licenses, leaving RPG developers like Obsidian Entertainment (Pillars of Eternity) and Larian Studios (Divinity: Original Sin) to make up their own rules and worlds for their indie RPGs.
But there’s good news for fans of Fifth Edition, the Forgotten Realms, and party-based tactical RPGs. We’ve compiled several major RPG releases that are due out in 2021. They won’t replace gathering around the table with pen and paper (or stylus and tablets these days), but should satisfy our need to digitally throw a fireball at some goblinoids.
Baldur’s Gate 3
Following the incredible success of Divinity: Original Sin 2, Larian Studios set their sights on one of the most beloved series in D&D video games: Baldur’s Gate. Baldur’s Gate 3 was officially announced in 2019, and released via Steam Early Access in 2020.
Baldur’s Gate 3 features an all new story set in the Forgotten Realms — the most common fantasy setting for Dungeons & Dragons. You play as a custom character abducted by Mind Flayers, evil tentacled humanoids with psionic powers, and implanted with an embryo to eventually transform you into a Mind Flayer. After a crash landing you awaken to strange new powers. But priority number one is getting this thing out of your head.
Along the way you’ll meet new companions from across the realm of D&D races and classes, solve quests, meet NPCs, and battle classic monsters. Gameplay incorporates D&D fifth edition rules for combat, skill checks, and social encounters, but is also heavily influenced by Larian’s Divinity series.
The Early Access version includes a limited number of races and classes, a level cap of 4, and only the initial region — which is still like 20 hours of content. According to Larian, that’s only about a fifth of the total amount of content in this gigantic RPG. Even though this fall would mark one year of Early Access, it may be too optimistic to think we’ll see Baldur’s Gate 3 reach 1.0 this year. But we’re praying to Torm that it will be!
Release: TBA (Steam Early Access available now)
Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance
Dark Alliance is actually the first game to be published by Wizards of the Coast, the owners of the D&D license. The third-person action game is a spiritual sequel to the first two Dark Alliance games, which were designed as console-friendly, hack and slash action-RPGs.
Dark Alliance takes place in the frozen Icewind Dale region of the Forgotten Realms, and stars the heroes from the Icewind Dale trilogy of books from the 80s and 90s, including Drizzt, the infamous Drow ranger.
The action-RPG is more about fast-paced hacking and slashing rather than rolling dice, but will include online co-op multiplayer. In single player, players can swap between the four heroes from the Drizzt novels, each with their own signature weapons, skills, and abilities.
Release: June 22, 2021 (PC, PlayStation, Xbox)
Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous
Pathfinder isn’t technically D&D, but it’s very D&D-adjacent. Pathfinder is a tabletop RPG that is basically a clone of D&D 3.5 edition. It was created as a response to the mostly ill-received D&D Fourth Edition by Paizo, and has continued to find success as a major alternative to D&D, releasing its second edition in 2019.
The first Pathfinder-based video game, Pathfinder: Kingmaker, was developed by Owlcat Games and released in 2018. Like many D&D games, it’s an isometric, party-based, tactical RPG set in Pathfinder’s fantasy world of Golarion, and based on the published Adventure Path of the same name, released in 2010. It’s not the most newcomer-friendly RPG (like Pathfinder itself), and adds a unique kingdom-running system alongside dungeon crawling, but the game has been well-received by RPG fans, and benefited from months and years of updates and patches.
This year will see the release of the next Pathfinder video game, Wrath of the Righteous. Like Kingmaker, Wrath of the Righteous is also based on a Paizo-published Adventure Path of the same name. Wrath of the Righteous ratchets up the stakes as you embark on a holy quest to beat back an invading demonic force. Your characters will be able to advance to Mythic Paths, becoming literal angels, demons, dragons, and liches, as well as lead their own armies against the demon-infested lands of the Worldwound.
Release: September 2, 2021 (PC, Mac)
Solasta: Crown of the Magister
Solasta: Crown of the Magister is the most indie RPG on this list, developed and published by Tactical Adventures using the Fifth Edition Open Gaming License. That means that Solasta uses the official D&D 5e rules, without the world or characters of the Forgotten Realms.
Instead of meeting party members along the way, you’ll create all four of your party members during character creation, from a limited list of D&D classes and races native to Solasta’s world. In an attempt to recreate the RP in RPG, your characters’ voices and personalities are derived from their background and alignment.
As you leave town to embark on quests and explore dungeons, you’ll discover all the faithful D&D combat rules, like enemies that can climb on walls, attacks of opportunity in melee, and needing light to avoid disadvantage on attack rolls. Actual dice will roll during combat, social checks, and skill checks. Despite not taking place in the Forgotten Realms (or using trademarked creatures like beholders) Solasta is easily the most faithful 5e video game released so far.
The main campaign only goes up to level 10, but Solasta also includes a Dungeon Maker to create your own dungeons and share them with others via the Steam Workshop. After a nine month stint in Early Access, Solasta recently released as 1.0, with the Sorcerer class coming soon as post-launch DLC.
Release: May 28, 2021 (Steam PC)