The 10 Greatest MS-DOS Games of All Time

October 14th, 2011 by Benj Edwards

Benj's The 10 Greatest MS-DOS Games of All Time on PC

Way back in early August, I put together a list of the 10 Greatest MS-DOS Games of All Time for PC World to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the IBM PC. Everything was set to go, then my editor got into a doozy of a bicycle accident.

Thankfully, he’s OK. He managed to edit the slideshow, which is up now, despite having a few broken ribs. Take a peek.

My original captions have been expertly truncated to more appropriately fit the slideshow format, so it may not contain as much of my reasoning for each game’s inclusion as I had hoped. Still, it turned out very well, and I feel strongly about my picks. (I also love my intro slide, the crafting of which sometimes becomes my favorite part of making slideshows.)

Here is my inclusion and ranking criteria, from my original introduction from before it was shortened:

For this author, a combination of factors roll together to constitute Greatness: among them, innovation, influence, fun factor, and replay value with considerations for each game’s contribution to the MS-DOS gaming culture thrown in. In the ranking, games that originated or most prominently thrived on non-DOS platforms were generally disqualified from consideration.

Whenever I do a slideshow like this, I like to remind people that my top 10 list is nothing more than a work of educated opinion. I’m typically not a fan of the format because the results are always subjective, but I still think it works because it stimulates public thought and gives me a good excuse to both entertain and educate on a subject I love.

So now I turn the spotlight to you, dear readers. If you were assembling a top 10 MS-DOS games list, what would be on it?

21 Responses to “The 10 Greatest MS-DOS Games of All Time”

  1. ADVENT Says:

    No Star Trek: The Next Generation – A Final Unity ?

  2. anon Says:

    your list matches mine.. except for Blood.. I would have put Duke Nukem 3D in instead.

  3. jan Says:

    star control 2! one of the greatest games ever

  4. lilimist Says:

    Not *one* single Apogee title in there? Wow…

  5. Geoff V. Says:

    I respect your list. I would have added Master of Orion, Star Con 2, Tie-Fighter, Wing Commander, and Hero’s Quest.

  6. idisjunction Says:

    Cyril Cyberpunk (I’m probably the only person in the world who likes it)
    Jedi Knight: Dark Forces
    Alien Carnage
    Anything with Skunny in it

  7. Unremarkableguy Says:

    I would have included King’s Quest 5 or 6.

  8. Xyzzy Says:

    Technically, the title should be the best MS-DOS titles from the 90s specifically, since otherwise we end up overlooking a whole whackload of games, both from the text-adventure & tile-graphics eras. (I’ve gotten to know quite a few through watching the CRPGAddict’s blog, as he’s doing all DOS titles.)

    Anyway, offhand, if I were remaking the list, I would’ve at least ignored the simulation & FPS games and replaced them with ones I enjoyed:
    Ultima VII: The Black Gate
    Ultima VII: Serpent Isle
    Kings Quest VI [1993 CD version]
    The 7th Guest
    Flight of the Amazon Queen (now freeware)
    Beneath a Steel Sky (now freeware)

    Actually, I’d probably start by researching other lists, find out what other people point to as the most important games in whatever era I picked (I noticed some good suggestions in the comments to your slideshow), and possibly try playing them. Then I’d probably add my own personal ranking in the notes for each game — as a really unrealistic example, including Ultima 8 but note “this was primarily fun for getting my Avatar high on mushrooms, otherwise there’s a reason it’s known as Super Avatar Brothers.”

    It’s hard for me to come up with a really extensive list, though, as I quit gaming soon after my family got our first PC in ’93 because at the time, the games coming out just for any platform weren’t appealing. (Short explanation: real-time, first-person, simulation, and strategy are all incompatible with my particular autistic brain, and at least one of those elements was present in everything I encountered from then on.)

  9. Benj Edwards Says:

    I didn’t purposely overlook any games, Xyzzy. I considered the entire MS-DOS lifespan, 1981-1997ish, to the best of my ability. I didn’t list prominent early text adventures like Zork because of the last sentence below, which I wrote in my original introduction before it was edited:

    “For this author, a combination of factors roll together to constitute Greatness: among them, innovation, influence, fun factor, and replay value with considerations for each game’s contribution to the MS-DOS gaming culture thrown in. In the ranking, games that originated or most prominently thrived on non-DOS platforms were generally disqualified from consideration.”

    In other words, I weighted games for their DOSness. The more they defined the platform, the “greater” they were. That means games with lots of ports didn’t rank as high as those that were great that only appeared on MS-DOS (unless the highly ported games originated on or were most prominently featured on MS-DOS, like Doom, which meant a LOT to MS-DOS gaming).

    I combed through hundreds of games (including those others have mentioned), played most of them and read reviews, gave them ratings in a spreadsheet (that’s where the subjective part comes in), including weightings for DOSness, as I mentioned, then ranked the results. Real work does go into this, I didn’t just sit down and spit out a list of ten off the top of my head.

    Anyway, all you guys have great picks. It’s hard to choose just 10 when there were at least a hundred really great games.

  10. Donn Says:

    Even though I have now forsaken DOS, for the most part (except to play Ultima V on my iPad), those were my formative computer years, with a lot of great games. In no particular order:

    * Doom, for sure, good call
    * Likewise, the original SimCity
    * An Ultima has to be on there, and I guess it makes sense for it to be 6, though I’m partial to 5
    * X-Wing
    * My graphical adventure pick is The Secret of Monkey Island
    * Tomb Raider, the first experience in true textured 3-D action for many
    * Master of Orion

    These are the ones that are truly great, because they were ground breaking, defined their genres, and I find myself returning to them or their modern derivatives time and again.

  11. Alexander Says:

    No Commander Keen?

    That makes me sad.

  12. Benj Edwards Says:

    It was tempting to list lots of shareware games in the list, but the truth is that most of them don’t hold up to the traditionally published games in terms of their design and influence. Doom and Scorched Earth made it, though.

  13. Luis Says:

    Ben, for the first time I’m gonna disagree with you. No System Shock?

  14. Benj Edwards Says:

    That’s ok, Luis. You don’t have to agree with me all the time. System Shock is a good choice.

  15. SomeNewKid Says:

    Your choice of games does not correspond with your own introduction.

    Your introduction promises games that *defined* DOS gaming. How did “Day of the Tentacle” define DOS gaming? That game would not have existed if earlier adventure games had not already defined the genre.

    Your introduction promises games that *influenced* DOS gaming. How did “Day of the Tentacle” influence DOS gaming? That game was influenced by earlier games, yet it did little to influence later games.

    Your introduction notes that MS-DOS was released in 1981, yet the earliest game you list was released in 1990. Hence your slideshow, which purports to list ten games that defined and influenced DOS gaming, actually skips over nine years of games that did in fact define and influence DOS gaming. All the games you list would not have been created without those early DOS games.

    I feel you have discredited the programmers of those early games. Those programmers are the ones who grappled with the new operating system, and who figured out how to overcome significant limitations of early DOS machines. Those programmers are the ones whose work defined and influenced DOS gaming.

  16. Benj Edwards Says:

    You raise some good points, SomeNewKid. But not all of the games on the list defined, and not all of them influenced. Some were just really great games. Every game is on the list for its own mixture of the elements I mentioned in the post above. (Keep in mind that my editor re-wrote my criteria on the published slideshow to shorten it — read the list above for a more accurate description.)

    By the way — “defined” means, in my list, games that are now seen as standard-bearers or exemplars of MS-DOS gaming when viewed from the present time — those that, in some ways, represented the distinctive flavor of MS-DOS gaming culture, in a sense — not necessarily games that founded new genres.

    Words are slippery; they can mean a lot of different things in different contexts, so people get in trouble when trying to pick them apart with scientific precision. That’s why my list, or any such list, can’t be treated as a 100% objective, quantified measurement of greatness. It’s just an educated guide that entertains and sparks discussion, which I’m enjoying quite a bit so far.

    Thanks again for your comment, and all comments on the piece. I’m glad all of you took the time to read it.

  17. Cody Says:

    4D Boxing, hands down.

  18. Krystallos Says:


  19. Andrew Says:

    I always enjoy reading about others’ views regarding their favorite DOS games. Thanks for taking the time to pick out which ones you felt strongly about. I agree with most of your list, except the ones I haven’t played so they are obviously unknown to me. I will check them out. Can’t imagine I’d be able to pick ten of my greatest DOS games. The list would never get finished!

    Never played Day of the Tentacle, Blood, and Civilization. Having played Ultima Underworld prior to Doom, I didn’t understand why everyone loved it at first. Eventually I was won over by its ability to quickly start up and let me begin killing those aliens and marines. The soundtrack and the remix albums are great. Ultima 6 was my personal favorite of the series and I remember being lost in the game for many days. It felt like such a living world that even modern games can’t pull off properly.

  20. foolschaos Says:

    Wolfenstein, Doom engine games (heretic!), Dune 2, Terminal Velocity, Crusader: No remorse, Syndicate, The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall, Rise of the Triad, Stonekeep, Build engine games (Duke3D, Witchhaven, Blood)

  21. Jack Keenan Says:

    Although I’m not sure which game I’d remove, I’m a little surprised not to see a Sierra title on this list — maybe something from the Quest for Glory or Gabriel Knight series.

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