Top Text-Based Video Games

Immerse yourself in some interactive fiction

While the visuals in today's video games can be so lifelike it's hard to distinguish fiction from reality, there was a time when games relied mostly on descriptive storytelling and player imagination. Just as reading a well-written book can immerse you in another world, text-based computer games offer hours of enjoyment and can be played within a web browser. Here are five of our favorites.

Best Text-Based Online RPG: Torn City

Torn City Screenshot from Windows
What We Like
  • Free, addictive game.

  • Provides years of enjoyment.

  • Freedom to develop a character.

  • Large, active community.

What We Don't Like
  • Challenging for new players.

  • Contains violence and illegal acts.

  • Lots of elements make it difficult to play.

Torn City is a large-scale, text-based MMORPG with thousands of active users online during peak times and a highly addictive model that keeps things interesting on an ongoing basis. Set in a sprawling metropolis, the game gives you free rein to choose your path in the big city.

While many players opt for a criminal life, others stay on the straight and narrow by getting a job and advancing their education to get ahead in this constantly updated virtual world.

Be aware that much of Torn City's subject matter and gameplay is violent in nature.

You can play Torn City in any web browser across most major platforms, including mobile and tablet-based operating systems.

Most Intriguing Story: Spider and Web

Spider and Web Screenshot
What We Like
  • Intriguing storytelling.

  • Atmospheric settings.

  • Entertaining, mysterious gadgets.

What We Don't Like
  • Confusing and unforgiving for beginners.

  • Most of the game consists of flashbacks.

Released in 1998 to critical acclaim, Spider and Web is an old-school interactive game where your brain is put into overdrive from the very first scene. Purely text-based in every sense, its linear style of play and overall difficulty is not for the faint of heart or those that give up easily.

Make no mistake, you will be frustrated to the point of pulling your hair out at times when playing Spider and Web, but the journey and the finale that it leads to make these struggles completely worthwhile.

Best Beginner-Friendly Text Game: The Dreamhold

The Dreamhold Screenshot
What We Like
  • Designed with extensive tutorials for beginners.

  • Includes challenging mode for experienced players.

  • Available as an iOS app.

What We Don't Like
  • Lacks a climactic ending.

  • Focus on both new players and experienced gamers doesn't work well.

Brought to you by Spider and Web creator Andrew Plotkin, The Dreamhold was intended to introduce gamers to the text-only interactive fiction model—walking players through the most common commands and style of play from the start. Beneath the tutorials and beginner mindset, however, is a very good game.

People already well-versed in the genre can choose to play the game in a more challenging mode.

The Hall of Famer: Zork I

Zork Screenshot
What We Like
  • Hilarious and frustrating gameplay.

  • High-quality storytelling.

  • Online guides to help novice players.

What We Don't Like
  • No sound.

  • Difficult for beginners.

Although it was written in the late 1970s, Zork stands the test of time when it comes to its adventurous storyline. As you traverse through the dungeons in the Great Underground Empire in search of the fabled treasures of Zork, you encounter strange creatures, solve tough puzzles, and avoid deadly grues with nothing but textual descriptions and a command prompt.

One of the text-based genre's shining stars, Zork I drops you in an open field next to a white house with a boarded front door and a mailbox. Your escapade begins here, with the next move at your fingertips.

Best Text-Based Game for PvP Fans: Avalon

What We Like
  • Core of experienced players, dubbed immortals, who help newcomers.

  • In-depth, complex gameplay.

  • Lots of online tutorials for novice players at the Avalon website.

What We Don't Like
  • The beginning of the game presents an overwhelming number of choices.

  • Advancement is slow.

  • Newcomers need to study the FAQ and tutorials before beginning gameplay.

Avalon is a text-based game that follows the Multi-User Dungeon (MUD) model while incorporating a vast array of other features found in online role-playing games, including a highly complex player-versus-player (PvP) combat engine. A fully functioning player-controlled government and economic system serve as the backbone of a staggeringly large virtual world.

Unfortunately, both development and support seem to have come to a halt sometime in 2015, but the player base is active and the game is still worth playing.