You know what's relevant and exciting in the year of our lord 2024? The third Ultima game from 1983. OK, not really, and I leave drawing a line from Ultima 3: Exodus to the CRPGs of today as an exercise for the reader, but it really is fascinating to look back at nonetheless.
This is the game Richard Garriott led the design of after leaving Sierra On-Line (who had published Ultima 2, a deeply weird RPG about time travel and stealing airplanes). Though it's still chipping away at the rock surrounding the same basic idea of overland travel and dungeon-crawling, Ultima 3 was the first in the series to include a full party of adventurers and combat that's actually kind of interesting.
YouTuber Majuular has done fine work in this series combining historical documentary with actual-play experience. You learn the story behind a game's creation, see how the ports to various systems compare, and then get to see highlights of him playing the damn thing entire.
Ultima 4 was the first western RPG I ever played so I'm looking forward to the next episode in this series, but each one so far has been an evocative time capsule illustrating changes in game development. From PC games being sold in Ziploc bags to coming in deluxe boxes with cloth maps, and from simple dungeon crawls to world-spanning adventures, it's quite a ride. I've embedded the latest episode at the top, but you can start at the beginning with Akalabeth and Ultima 1 here.