Half-Life 2 forever changed our expectations for what a first-person shooter could be. Its richly imagined world and wonderfully paced gameplay is a delight, never letting up and brimming with invention. The Gravity Gun is obviously the poster child of Half-Life 2, turning each environment into a tactile playground in which you can create improvised weapons and solve basic but clever physics puzzles - and its importance can’t be overstated - but there’s an awful lot more here.
Civilization IV is a great turn-based strategy game on its own, but it wasn’t until the Beyond the Sword expansion that it became truly legendary, and the highlight of the 28-year-old Civilization series. The changes it makes are sweeping: it adds corporations, which add another religion-like layer, fleshes out the espionage system and victory conditions, and enhances the AI to put up a great fight.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe may be a re-release of the original Wii U kart racer, but its function as both a fantastic kart racer in its own right and a more complete package of an already great game. Its selection of classic and brand new tracks make for an excellent rotation of races that keeps things fresh no matter how much you play, with a thorough roster of racers and plenty of kart customization options.
Starting the journey of Fallout 2 as a tribesman with nothing more than a loincloth and a spear to my name and gradually fighting my way up to a power-armored, gauss-gunning killing machine is a fantastic and surprisingly natural feeling of progression – one that few games have been able to match. Exploring a vast and open post-apocalyptic world full of deadly raiders, supermutants, and deathclaws is daunting but exciting, and thanks to attention to detail, atmospheric music, powerfully written morally ambiguous quests, and voice-acted interactions with key characters, the world feels personal and vivid even though we view it from a distant third-person camera.
Diablo II is arguably the best role-playing game of all time, the best dungeon-crawler of all time and the best PC game of all time. And that's before you get to everything it influenced. Released in 2000, Diablo II evolved the clickfest, hack-n-slash gameplay of its predecessor in numerous ways (all of which go into its best-of-the-best-of-the-best case file). Most important for future games—especially today’s widely popular free-to-play mobile games—was how Diablo II seemed to perfect the feedback loop of effort and reward to keep the dopamine jolts flowing through its endless, randomly generated levels.
In nearly three decades no game has supplanted Super Mario World as the best game ever made... Which is stupid. I’ll get to that in a bit. Super Mario World is a relatively simple game to describe. It’s a Super Mario game, and we all know what that means: Mushrooms; perfect running and jumping action; and a giant world to explore, crammed with secrets.
By no means the first city-builder, SimCity 2000 undoubtedly influenced all those that succeeded it. The 1994 game established a near-perfect balance between the inputs and outputs of running a (virtual) metropolis. Graphics that rendered the corner-view of each building, bridge, road, hill and valley made the series look more true-to-life. And the constant chatter from policy advisers as well as feedback from the local newspaper—precursors to modern notifications—made players’ roles as mayors feel particularly realistic.
League of Legends exists in a magical place that lies somewhere between intense competition and fun and enjoyable strategy. Though there’s a lot to master with a roster of nearly 130 playable Champions, League of Legends is equipped with great modes that make the MOBA easy to learn, yet is still incredibly challenging as players scale the competitive ladder. While the excellent Summoner’s Rift stands as the primary battleground for competitive play, the other modes like ARAM, or All Random All Middle, also provide a great means for a fun chance to practice with Champions for when things get too tense.
Playdead's bleak, gorgeous puzzle-platformer builds on its predecessor Limbo in all the right places – hello, colour palettes; goodbye, boring gravity puzzles. It leaves us with a game that sleekly, wordlessly pivots from brain-teaser to body horror, until hitting an ending that ranks among gaming’s best, a masterpiece of animation, design and outright strangeness.