Some retro-loving developers and publishers have kindly released their titles for free, should anyone wish to relive their past experiences. Here we hope to catalogue the various options you have for fulfilling your retro desires! Please let us know of titles not in the list.
The Elder Scrolls: Arena & Daggerfall (DOS)
Bethesda Softworks have released some of their original classics from the Elder Scrolls franchise. These are the original releases designed for DOS, so you will need to be comfortable setting up games using DOSBox, or an old Windows 9x machine.
Bethesda has very kindly provided a thorough step-by-step for DOSBox, and there are community builds to side-step using DOSBox altogether if you just want to get to the game.
The Elder Scrolls: Arena was the first entry in the series! The latest multiplayer title Elder Scrolls Online takes place across the whole of Tamriel, but did you know Arena did it first? Arena is set in the entire continent of Tamriel, which includes Morrowind, Cryodil (Oblivion), and even Skyrim. This is Tamriel under the rule of Septim, before the bloodline died out after the Oblivion crisis. As a result, you get a chance to see Tamriel not ravaged by Daedric and Faction wars.
If you’ve not played the originals before, you will need to adjust to the controls as they can take some getting used to. If you have played Doom before, you should get to grips with them quite easily. This also comes before strict game rating guidlines, so expect full nudity, brutality and all sorts of unsual taboos.
For The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall, the map has been shrunk down to only allow travels around the Daggerfall province. This is an area between High Rock and Hammerfell for those versed in the geography of Tamriel.
In turn this brings with it a more immersive storyline, more detailed areas and transport, improved dungeon systems and better combat. This also allows you to freely move the camera around, and see where you could not before.
This game is also set in the era of the Septims, and you will encounter Mannimarco, who is featured in Elder Scrolls Online.
Editor’s note: At the time of first publish, they actually provided the original disc package with Dosbox packaged in. This hasn’t changed, but now they are encouraging you to use their Bethnet platform. This will arguably make it easier to run on PC, but if you’re keen to try it on actual DOS hardware, visit the UESP page to find out how to get the original version.
Open Source Titles
Ur-Quan Masters – Star Control II (1992 – PC, 3DO)
Explore the cosmos once again as captain of the Vindicator! The original developers (Toys for Bob) have released the source code for the space exploration hit Star Control II to the public in 2002. This has since been picked up by a team of programmers and has been relaunched as Ur-Quan Masters, completely free on the PC.
Due to the open source license, there are some spin-offs you can enjoy too. Ur Quan Masters HD is working on making a high-def graphic version of the game with great success so far. Project 6014 – which has now been discontinued – made great strides to make a spiritual successor to Star Control II, and progressed far before they closed down. It is still well-worth a look if you are interested in a sequel.
Interesting to note that this is actually a port of the 3DO edition, as supposedly the DOS source code has since been lost. There are also great strides to port UQM to many different platforms (Wayback link, website was down at the time of writing).
OpenRA – Command & Conquer (1995 – 1997)
Hitler never existed, and instead the Stalin-lead Soviet Union begins to conquer the Eastern realm in the name of Communism. You mobilse your allied forces to repel the invasion, and defend Europe from the clutches of the red. The year of the glorious battle is 2020 with your trusty RTX 3080*– Wait, what? Red Alert is from 1997 right?
Nope, the team over at OpenRA have made a fully open-sourced version of Command & Conquer. Not only that, but they have versions of the original, Red Alert and Dune 2000 – Completely free.
All three legendary real-time strategy games are combined into one, fully open source package OpenRA.
* RTX 3080 not required. Holy crap, could you imagine?
OpenTTD – Transport Tycoon Deluxe (1995)
Pissed off that your local town planner has closed a road for maintenance? Think you can do a lot better? With OpenTTD, you now have your chance to prove your worth as a Mayor, Minister, President or God, by building your ideal city. With full city construction simulation, you can go from lazy meadows and countrysides, to sprawling Urban environments and cities. With the power of fans and open source, this faithful re-creation of Transport Tycoon Deluxe has gone even further and added features desired by the community.
OpenRCT2 – RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 (2002)
Another faithful re-creation of a Chris Sawyer masterpiece, OpenRCT2 brings the glorious theme park builder RollerCoaster Tycoon 2, back to your modern PC. No theme park owner stood in the middle of an empty field and said “Yes, build scary stuff please!”. OpenRCT2 takes you from the grounds of building your basic entertainment suite, to eventually guiding you to designing the Pukemaster 3000.