The spirit of the first Elder Scrolls game is alive and well in this '80s-inspired RPG with a bangin' Steam demo

Islands of the Caliph
(Image credit: Schmidt Workshops)

If you only play one thing today, you should make it the excellent free demo for Islands of the Caliph, an '80s style first-person CRPG with heavy Elder Scrolls: Arena and Ultima vibes.

Islands of the Caliph commits to the retro bit in every facet of its presentation and gameplay, from the CRT shader to the keyboard-only controls, but after playing through the demo, I'm delighted that it's a thoughtfully designed dungeon-crawler all its own. The diverse Middle Eastern fantasy landscapes and bustling cities are wonderful to explore and interact with, the music is so damn evocative of that glorious bygone era of gaming, and the survival elements and combat are satisfying and just challenging enough to keep you consistently engaged.

Don't be discouraged if you didn't grow up playing Might & Magic, Questron, and Alternate Reality, which Islands of the Caliph is directly inspired by. I'll admit those games are a little before my time as well, and I'm having a blast. The grid-based movement is indeed a relic of those very early RPGs, but it's surprisingly intuitive and mechanically very comfy. Even in combat, I never found the grid situation cumbersome in the slightest, partly because there aren't a ton of different inputs to memorize.

My biggest takeaway from Islands of the Caliph's demo is that it seems purposefully designed to appeal to newcomers. I worried the keyboard-only controls would be awkward and I'd struggle with the '80s-inspired systems, but instead it feels comfortable and strangely fresh, thanks in large part to its roots in Middle Eastern folklore. Simply put, if you like exploring a unique setting, collecting resources, upgrading skills, and getting lost in a true-blue RPG with multiple pathways and endings, you've very little to lose and a lot to gain by checking out Islands of the Caliph's free demo.

For something a little more modern, here are the best RPGs available now.

Jordan Gerblick

After scoring a degree in English from ASU, I worked as a copy editor while freelancing for places like SFX Magazine, Screen Rant, Game Revolution, and MMORPG on the side. Now, as GamesRadar's west coast Staff Writer, I'm responsible for managing the site's western regional executive branch, AKA my apartment, and writing about whatever horror game I'm too afraid to finish.