There’s a fella named Jeff Vogel who’s been making indie, shoestring budget RPGs since the mid-’90s. He’s gotten kind of a bum rap lately because of his penchant for playing it way too safe — all his games are almost identical mechanically, his series tend to run for five or six games each, and he’s currently in the process of remaking his most famous series for the second time. Jeff’s an undeniably talented creator, though, a fact I became wise to the moment I played Exile III in the late ’90s.
I could have written this about any of Spiderweb Software’s games, to be honest, but I chose Geneforge 2… uh, mostly because nothing else of note really came out in 2003, so I wouldn’t have to bump any other games off this list. Also because it’s the best game in the Geneforge series!
Geneforge 2 is a huge RPG with a branching narrative, four different factions you can side with, deep dialogue trees with compelling characters, dozens of quests, a crafting system… Sound familiar yet? There’s nothing really separating this game or the series as a whole from all the big name, big budget fantasy RPGs out there — your Elder Scrolls or your Witchers — except that it looks like hot and heavy garbage.
For some people that might not matter. Others might need to excuse it as “old-school charm” or say “it makes you use your imagination!” but whatever gets you to stop judging the cover and get into the book, it’s worth it. This is one of those games that is beloved by just about everyone who’s ever played it, anyone who could see past how terrible it looks and dive in with an open mind.
I happen to think Geneforge is a better series than The Elder Scrolls or The Witcher. Whether you’d go that far or not, the takeaway from Geneforge 2 is that it doesn’t really matter what a game looks like, or how much it costs to make. It’s proof that you can make an incredible game out of the equivalent of toothpicks and duct tape, and that reality gives me some hope that maybe I can do the same.
It might not sound like a compliment to Jeff Vogel, but Geneforge showed me that anybody can make videogames.
So thanks, Jeff. (Please stop remaking Exile though.)