Do you want to go back to the old days of PC gaming? When new genres were being invented, and the Intel 80846 was considered to be the gold standard of processing power. This is an era before the popularity of always-online gaming and loot boxes. When pixelated graphics were the norm, and storytelling through games was evolving as an art form.
Many of you reading this article grew up in the 80s and 90s, and you might have experienced these games first-hand as a kid. Or maybe your father introduced you to the world of PC gaming. Either way, chances are high MS-DOS was your first-ever operating system.
These days, it is quite hard to find a computer from that era with functional parts. But, you can use the DOSBox emulator to play your favorite DOS games. Or, you can even purchase something like an old HP thin client from eBay and install DOS on it.
Retro gaming is gaining popularity, and lots of people are revisiting the good old days of PC gaming. The very first Doom, Wolfenstein 3D, Prince of Persia, there are several timeless classics from this era that are still enjoyable to this day. Check out our list to see which 20 MS-DOS games you must play if you’re interested in retro gaming.
If you still don’t have your machine set up to play DOS games and interested to do so, check out my in-depth guide with screenshots How To Play Old DOS Games On Windows 10, Mac Or Linux?
This is the game that kicked off the first-person shooter craze. Inspired by the 1981 2D game for Apple II from Muse Software, which was called Castle Wolfenstein. In Wolfenstein 3D, you play as the protagonist of the series William B.J. Blasckowicz.
Set in the World War II time period, this game traps you inside a Nazi mega-prison called Castle Wolfenstein from which you must escape by traversing through various levels filled with guards, dogs, mutants, robots, and much more. And, the final boss happens to be mecha Hitler who is equipped with 4 chain guns. The gameplay is fast and unforgiving, and there is plenty of blood and gore.
There is some faint story hinting at how you are part of a group of space marines who landed on Mars to find the place overrun by demons straight from hell, but the game doesn’t put much effort into giving you a deeper plot.
Who is the Doom Slayer? What is his real name? Why is he always so angry? We don’t need to know. But what we do know is that at some point in 1995 it was estimated that there were more computers with Doom installed on them, than there were Windows 95 PCs.
In fact, Microsoft partnered with id Software to create a Windows 95 port of Doom and used this to promote their OS as being a “gaming OS”. Bill Gates himself appeared in one of the commercials within the Doom universe.
This is a game with a setting similar to Wolfenstein, as you’re enclosed within a giant area filled with demons of all kinds. Except, they are trapped with you. Force your way forward as you rip their guts out with a chainsaw or smash their heads to bits with a shotgun, while metal music plays in the background.
This is the game that had politicians screaming about kids being turned into Satanists, and parent organizations were complaining about the excessive gore. It is also the first-ever video game to receive an “M” rating from the ESRB.
Duke Nukem 3D
Another really fun FPS, with a protagonist who resembles action heroes from 80s movies like Terminator or “Die Hard”. There is a slight comedic vibe built into the game, with crude humor and a hero who spouts cheesy one-liners as he blows away enemies with his giant guns.
The plot is fairly simple and exists only for the sake of tying everything together. You play as Jon St. Jon, fighting off an alien invasion on planet Earth. One of the things that made Duke Nukem stand out from the crop of FPS games at the time, was its destructible environment.
It also had a non-linear level design, which meant you could use air ducts and back doors to go around enemies or find hidden caches. The game is also loaded with erotic elements in the form of strippers who you can tip to get a provocative response.
If you are more into mobile games you can check my out list 20 Best Free Android Games You Must Play
The very first Sid Meier’s Civilization, which spawned off an entire series of games that are still going strong to this day. If you’ve played the newer Civ games, it is definitely worth checking out this one to get an idea of how it all started back in the 90s.
This is a turn-based strategy game in which you match your wits against some of history’s greatest leaders. Expand your empire by gathering resources, building armies, and conquering new territories.
The Secret Of Monkey Island
A point and click graphic adventure game developed by LucasFilm, set in the Caribbean during the age of piracy. You play as a character named “Guybrush Threepwood” and explore islands while solving puzzles.
Engage in sword duels, follow secret treasures, and interact with a bunch of interesting NPCs in your quest to become a pirate.
A sci-fi open-world role-playing game set in a post-apocalyptic future. This is basically Fallout, before Fallout. Set in a nightmarish version of America, where everything has been destroyed by a nuclear holocaust. Originally, this game was made for the Apple II.
It was later ported onto the Commodore 64 and MS-DOS operating system. Upon its initial release in January of 1988, the game was critically acclaimed and sold quite well. After its success, there were many failed attempts to reboot the game.
Until 2014, when a Kickstarter-funded Wasteland 2 was released. Developed by Interplay and published by EA, the original Wasteland is considered a precursor to Fallout. The very same developers at Interplay took inspiration from Wasteland to create Fallout in 1997, an open-world turn-based RPG set in a post-apocalyptic landscape.
In Wasteland, you play as the leader of a ranger group exploring the wasteland. The top-down view and point + click interface give a very old school RPG vibe. The game mechanics are based on tabletop role-playing games like Tunnels and Trolls and Mercenaries.
Each playable character in Wasteland has certain attributes like strength, speed, agility, charisma, etc. which allow you to wield certain weapons and use unique skills. You gain experience throughout your adventures by using abilities and engaging in combat.
There are always multiple ways to complete objectives. For instance, if you come across a locked gate there are many ways to get past it- lockpick the gate, climb it, blow it up with an RPG, or use a crowbar to pry it open. One unique feature of Wasteland that made it pretty advanced for its time was the environment continuity.
Basically, whatever changes you bring about in an area through your actions will stay that way when you come back, instead of resetting.
X-COM: UFO Defense
It is Also known as UFO: Enemy Unknown in Europe. This is a science-fiction strategy game developed by Microprose and Mythos Games. Originally released in March 1994 for the MS-DOS operating system, this game combines real-time management simulation with turn-based tactics.
As the player, you are an X-COM commander. X-COM is an advanced organization created by world governments to combat alien invasions. You do really cool stuff like shooting down UFOs, commanding an army of infantry with access to futuristic weapons, and you can even retrieve alien tech.
Successful assault missions will reward you with alien DNA and their technology, which your scientists can use to manufacture weapons that are just as good, or even better.
The alien tech also allows you to understand their culture and race, bringing you one step closer to developing a counter-strategy for their invasion. One of the really cool mechanics in X-COM: UFO Defense is the political situation.
Certain governments around the world will enter into secret pacts with alien civilizations, exchanging insider info for alien goodies. This will impact X-COM funding and reduce your ability to research or create new technology.
If you like indie games and would like to experience something new and interesting, check out my list 45 Best Indie Games You Must Play Especially If You’re A Developer
Pool Of Radiance
Developed by Strategic Simulations in 1988, this is a role-playing game that is considered to be an adaptation of TSR’s Advanced Dungeons and Dragons for PCs. The story of the game brings us to a fantasy world, one that is inhabited by dragons, mages, warriors, kings, etc.
You play around the Moonsea region, in the city of Phlan which has been taken over by dark forces. This brave city has fended off multiple attacks from several invading armies before, but the attackers now are led by a powerful dark lord.
A bronze dragon that has been possessed by an ancient evil spirit named Tyranthraxus. Your objective is to cleanse the city of its demonic parasites, leading the rebellion so the people of Phlan can recoup and rebuild their damaged civilization.
Star Wars: X-Wing
Based around the Star Wars cinematic universe created by Lucas Film, this is a space simulation video game in which you pilot starfighters for the Rebel Alliance. The story precedes and parallels that of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.
This is one of the very first games to use 3D polygon graphics and the iMuse music system. Updated and re-released multiple times since its debut in Feb 1993, the game was a massive success.
Pretty much every Star Wars fan who grew up in the 90s and had an interest in computer games has played it. Remember the final battle of the original 1977 Star Wars: A New Hope? You reenact that scene, taking the role of a Rebel pilot fighting against the Galactic Empire.
There are a total of around 12 to 14 operations per hour, and 3 tours in total throughout the story. You can play tours out of order, but operations are played linearly. There are mission briefings, cutscenes, and in-game dialogue to advance the plot. You pilot various A-Wing, X-Wing, and Y-Wing aircraft from a first-person perspective.
Warcraft: Orcs & Humans
Released in North America all the way back in November of 1994, this is the game that started it all. It made Blizzard a household name and has spawned an entire series of Warcraft games that are still being released and updated to this day.
We’ve had countless awesome moments originate from the Warcraft series of games. Like that South Park episode titled “Make Love, not Warcraft”. Or that little Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne mod called DoTA, which spawned an entirely new genre of games we now know as MOBAs.
And FPS games inspired by MOBAs called hero shooters, like Paladins and Overwatch. And let’s not forget that Warcraft movie, which despite being a critical failure managed to make new audiences interested in the Warcraft universe.
In Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, you take control of one of two factions- Orcs or Humans. Do you prefer the brute strength of Orcs? Or the resourcefulness and wit of humans? Build strongholds, and defend them from invading hordes of enemies. Take over new territories, gather resources, and build a massive army consisting of many creatures such as Demons, Elementals, Necromancers, Archers, etc.
If you are looking for a specific game that isn’t on the list and having a hard time to remember its name, then you should check my post 10 Easy Ways To Help You Find A Game Whose Name You Forgot
Prince Of Persia
One of the things that made Prince of Persia stand out from the rest of the action-adventure games of that time was its fluid, life-like character animation. It inspired an entirely new genre of games that came to be known as cinematic platformers.
The plot for this game is fairly simple, you are a prince trying to rescue the girl you love from the hands of an evil wizard. The girl you’re rescuing is the Sultan’s daughter, and she has been kidnapped by Jaffar who is a vizier.
You must reach the princess’s dungeon while making your way through rooms filled with dangerous booby traps, and fighting hordes of evil swordsmen. You even have to fight an evil version of yourself, an apparition that has been created from a magic mirror.
Back in 1989, while Jordan Mechner was creating this game, he used a technique called “rotoscoping” to get the life-like ultra-fluid animations for the prince. He filmed his younger brother David running, climbing, and jumping across obstacles.
All the while David was wearing white clothes. He then digitally transferred that motion captured on a real camera into the game world. You can learn more about the process from this Forbes article.
Ever wanted to build your very own city? Well, bring those dreams to life with SimCity. This is a city-building simulator that allows you to create residential complexes, office buildings, police stations, hospitals, schools, etc.
in a barren land where no buildings exist, to begin with. You will have to deal with natural disasters like floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, etc. There is a “free” mode where no time limits are imposed on you, and there are no goals. So you can set your creativity free, and build whatever you like while taking as long as you need.
There is also a game mode in which you have a limited period of time to create a city while having to deal with problems like criminals, traffic jams, unemployment, and even nuclear disasters.
Under a Killing Moon
This is more of an interactive movie than an actual video game. But it is an extremely fun experience and takes you through the tale of detective Tex Murphy. The game is based in San Francisco, during a post-World War III era.
The year is 2042, crime and corruption have taken over the city just like in all other parts of the world. The radiation has resulted in the development of two classes- normal people, and mutants.
Normal people are the ones who’ve developed some type of resistance against radioactivity and hence retain their regular human form. Mutants are disfigured, with bodily changes that make normal people look down on them as if they are dangerous or evil.
Mutants are cornered into the run-down parts of cities, like Old San Francisco. Tex Murphy is a normal human, but a lot of his friends are mutants. The degree of mutation can vary from slight to extreme.
Tex is a private investigator, who just recently got divorced from his wife Sylvia. He has no job, is low on money, and has hit rock bottom. Tex solves a burglary case at the local pawnshop and is hired by a mysterious woman called Countess Reiner who has heard tales of his detective prowess.
She wants Tex to find her missing statuette and is willing to pay Tex more money than he could ever imagine. But Tex quickly finds out that the job isn’t like anything he has ever tackled before.
There is a doomsday cult called the Brotherhood of Purity, and they are out to destroy what remains of mankind. Under a Killing Moon has a sci-fi, noir style adventure with great dialogue and fine acting. The humor is dark, and the plot is a thriller.
Developed by id Software, the same guys who created Doom and Wolfenstein. They essentially gave birth to the FPS genre as we know it, and Quake was the introduction of a new type of multiplayer FPS.
The Arena Shooter, characterized by super-fast gameplay and power-ups like armor, quad damage, etc. Weapons and ammo are scattered around the map, and there are several classic game modes like deathmatch.
The quake was intended to be a more advanced version of DOOM, offering the same style of fast-paced action but with superior visuals and all-new mechanics.
It takes advantage of full-time 3D rendering, and 3D acceleration is supported through OpenGL. Quake is one of the very first esports ever, and it was unique from most other shooters in the sense that you had to use both your aim and movement to outplay enemies.
You can bunny hop (strafing and jumping at the same time). It also allows you to rocket jump, using the recoil from a rocket launcher blast to propel yourself upwards. The atmosphere within each map is dark and gritty, almost as if you’re in a hellish dungeon.
Road & Track Presents The Need for Speed
Most of us who grew up playing video games in the early 2000s will remember classic titles like Need For Speed Underground or Need For Speed Most Wanted.
These arcade racing games instilled our childhood love for fast cars and introduced us to the world of fun racing games. Driving across beautiful landscapes in Hot Pursuit, with exotic police cars on your tail.
Or modding your humble little Toyota and turning it into a monster race car in NFS: Underground. All this was kicked off by the original Need For Speed, which released all the way back in 1994. The graphics were truly outstanding for that time period.
It was originally titled “Road & Track Presents: The Need for Speed”. As you can guess, it was featured on the Road & Track automobile magazine. EA partnered with Road & Track to mimic vehicle gear shift sounds, tire squeals, and engine noises.
The game had several short video clips highlighting the specs of each car and magazine-style interior/exterior showcases. There are 6 racecourses in the game, set across different environments- City, Coastal, Alpine, Rusty Springs, Autumn Valley, and Vertigo.
Game modes include Head to Head, Single Race, and Time Trial. You can drive a variety of cars, divided into 3 classes. All cars share certain characteristics like handling, speed, etc. There is the Acura NSX, Corvette ZR-1, Viper SRT-10, Ferrari 512TR, and many more.
Command & Conquer: Red Alert
Originally intended to be a prequel to the first Command & Conquer game which was released in 1995. Red Alert’s timeline takes place in an alternate universe where Allied forces wage war against the rebellious Soviet Union for command over the European mainland.
This game was released barely 5 years after the actual Soviet Union was dissolved in December 1991. Initially available on PCs running MS-DOS, the game was eventually ported to PlayStation. EA officially declared Command & Conquer: Red Alert to be freeware on August 31st, 2008.
The expansion packs “Counterstrike” and “The Aftermath” can also be downloaded and distributed freely, even though they haven’t been given a freeware release. For its time, C & C: Red Alert had one of the most advanced strategy game engines and a really intuitive UI.
You could shift- queue commands, control several units simultaneously, and create unit groups that can be selected by a single key. All these concepts are used in modern RTS games such as Starcraft, and MOBAs like Dota 2 to this day. Red Alert allows you to choose between two factions and has a relatively simple learning curve.
It is also one of the very first RTS games to have an online multiplayer component.
Commander Keen 4: Secret of the Oracle
The 4th installment in a series of side-scrolling platformers developed by id Software. What, you thought these guys only made first-person shooters? In the Commander Keen series, you play as 8-year old genius Billy Blaze who defends Earth from alien threats with his homemade gadgets.
He has his very own hyper-advanced spaceship, pogo stick, and a ray gun. Basically, Jimmy Neutron or Dexter from Dexter’s Laboratory, if they were a video game character.
In “Secret of the Oracle”, Billy receives a transmission from a faraway galaxy while working on a Photachyon transceiver. The transmission shows that this galaxy is under threat from a dangerous alien race known as the “Shikadi”.
Billy sets out to seek consultation from the Oracle but discovers that the 8 council members required to activate the Oracle have been kidnapped. They are imprisoned in the Shadowlands, and Billy Blaze now has to save them.
There are multiple levels in the game, each filled with enemy creatures such as poison slugs, giant mosquitoes, and even jumping mushrooms. There are several traps laid along the path, like spears, pits, and cannons. You can shoot enemies with your raygun, and jump over obstacles with your pogo stick.
Have you played any of the Max Payne games? Remedy Entertainment, the developer behind the Max Payne series created their very first game back in 1995, from the basement of a team member.
This game was Death Rally, and it was released in September 1996 for the MS-DOS operating system. It is a vehicular combat racing game, in which you drive heavily armored cars and trucks outfitted with miniguns and chain guns.
Your goal is to defeat “Adversary”, the kind of Death Rally in a 1 v 1 race. You start with a small amount of money and a weak vehicle, then gradually claw your way up by earning money from winning races. This money can be used to buy new equipment for your car, like armor, tires, engine upgrades, etc.
A first-person shooter game, with a comedic theme and tons of violence. Developed on Ken Silverman’s Build Engine, it improves upon 3D Realm’s previous Build Engine based game, Duke Nukem 3D.
Shadow Warrior puts you in the shoes of Lo Wang, a highly skilled ninja assassin with over 20 years of experience in brutally murdering people. He works for Orochi Zilla, a powerful Japanese industrial magnate.
Corrupted by power and greed, Orochi Zilla plans to take over the world with creatures summoned from an evil dimension. When Lo Wang discovers this plan, he quits his job as a bodyguard.
The boss, Master Zilla is fully aware of Lo Wang’s capabilities and doesn’t want him as an enemy. So he decides to test out the evil monsters by setting them after Lo Wang.
Even though this is a first-person shooter game, it isn’t entirely based around guns. You can use a wide variety of weapons like katanas, shurikens, etc.
You can even drive tanks and control gun turrets, features that were completely new for its time, and not seen until much later in future FPS games.
The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall
Developed and published by Bethesda Softworks, The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall is the second installment in the Elder Scrolls series and a sequel to The Elder Scrolls: Arena.
It was released in September 1996 for the MS-DOS operating system and is an open-world action role-playing game. Bethesda made this game available on their official website as a free download on July 9, 2009, to celebrate the 15th anniversary of their Elder Scrolls franchise.
The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall storyline is set in Iliac bay, between the provinces of High Rock and Hammerfell. The protagonist of the game has received orders from the Emperor to liberate King Lysandus’ ghost from his earthly shackles.
You must also find out a missing letter from the Emperor to the former Queen of Daggerfall. The gameplay is deep, and the UI is highly advanced for the time. This game has a spell crafting feature, where you can craft several new spells using the Mages Guild.
Each spell will have its own unique effect. You can enchant equipment, buy houses and ships, explore a wide range of clothing, forge dynamic political relationships with kingdoms, and transform into one of several creatures- a vampire, werewolf, or werebear.
Did you like our list? Are there any MS-DOS games that you played as a kid that you’d want to be featured on our list? Let us know in the comments below.
A lot of these old DOS games are now available as shareware, freeware, or abandonware. But some of them have been ported to modern operating systems and are available for purchase on GOG or Steam.
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