Myst is a perfect example of a monumentally influential game that would be almost excruciatingly painful to play today. The 1993 graphical adventure famously let players loose—sort of, since it consisted of a slow-loading series of beautifully rendered photos—on a mysterious island. Despite its now-clunky mechanics, it established an entirely new kind of fiction whose influence can be felt in everything from mythic sci-fi novels to the ABC television show Lost. Its vast popularity also helped establish the then-nascent CD-ROM format.
I came to the Diablo II party incredibly late. The first time I actually played it properly was in 2011, more than ten years after its initial release. Could this iconic game possibly live up to my lofty expectations that late in the day? Absolutely. In fact, I was surprised by just how good it was. After all, Diablo II doesn’t exactly go out of its way to be user-friendly. Even choosing a class and build is daunting, let alone learning the quirks of its many systems.
Mario games are synonymous with fun and innovation, and perhaps Mario 64 is the best example of the latter. It gathered the core elements of Mario’s best 2D, side-scrolling adventures and worked out how to translate them into a groundbreaking 3D world. It was still recognisably Mario – he collected mushrooms and ran and jumped his way to success, but he was forever changed. He could now long jump, triple jump, and backflip. While the underlying challenge remained the same and the locations were reassuringly familiar, the shift in perspective changed everything.
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.
An RPG with enough complexity to satisfy the urge to tinker, but enough character never to feel impersonal, Wild Hunt is a staggering achievement no matter how you look at it. Its story deftly balances cosmic threat and family drama, its choices feel truly meaningful and world-changingly effective, and it looks gorgeous in its own grubby way. Even its two DLC expansions are among the best ever released. Geralt’s final journey might be built on the mundane, but that makes it nothing short of magical.
Final Fantasy VII is a landmark JRPG for a variety of reasons, but many of its achievements have now been lost to the winds of time and technological progress. Yet, its age has done nothing to change its status as the series' most popular and beloved entry, which has come about thanks to its wide cast of detailed, emotionally-driven characters that journey through one of the most memorable worlds to emerge from Japan's development scene. Fundamentally a story about dealing with loss and grief, Final Fantasy VII features troubled heroes fighting against the corporate might of the Shinra company, which is rapidly causing planetary devastation in the name of profit. The pacing of this continually timely tale is its masterstroke; Square allows you to slowly fall for its rag-tag bunch of eco-terrorists before introducing its main villain - the forever chilling Sephiroth - and then focussing the story on much more personal stakes, despite the looming apocalypse. While overall the story is heavy and sombre, the world thrives on its idiosyncrasies - a variety of bizarre incidental enemies, comedic minigames, and increasingly absurdly sized swords. It's this combination of light and dark that makes Final Fantasy VII such an enduring JRPG classic.
Resident Evil 2 Remake redefined what a ‘remake’ could be. For players new to the game, this was a meticulously crafted survival horror experience that felt completely in step with the genre in 2019, while veterans got to enjoy a lovingly crafted piece of nostalgia that vitally, felt like the game they remembered from 1998. It trod a brilliant tightrope, capturing the inherent weirdness of the original - the baroque architecture and labyrinthian environments that flipped the bird to logic - while updating the control scheme to a fluid over-the-shoulder camera far more suited to the way we play games today. The result was uneasy but never frustrating, subversive but familiar. All remakes should learn from this one.
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.
Super Metroid’s minimalistic environmental storytelling set a bar, way back in 1994, that I believe has still yet to be eclipsed. The planet Zebes is atmospheric, oppressive, and extremely lethal. At first glance, there doesn’t even appear to be any story. But then you start to look more closely. The parasite-riddled dead soldier outside of an early boss room. The crashed, half-submerged alien spaceship that may or may not be haunted. The techno lair of the space pirates hiding under your nose the entire game. It’s brilliant and confident. It doesn’t explain to you what each new area is all about. It’s all there, for you to figure out (or ignore) on your own.
Mega Man 3 took every lesson that Capcom learned from Mega Man 2 and expanded, refined, and remixed it. The third game in the seminal series brought Mega Man into the 90s in true Blue Bomber style, retaining the challenging platforming (though, not the tough as nails version seen in the original) and incredible boss battles the series had become known for. While taking on new enemies like Snake Man and Magnet Man, our plucky robot hero managed to learn a few tricks that would become mainstays for future games in this, and the Mega Man X, series. The slide ability gave Mega Man a much mobility upgrade, and his friendly robot pooch, Rush, allowed him to explore greater heights and find more hidden secrets than in any of his previous outings. Mega Man 3 also marked the appearance of Proto Man who’s short arc established him not only as Mega Man’s older brother but also a series mainstay and occasional foil. There’s a long running debate as to whether Mega Man 2 or Mega Man 3 is the definitive NES Mega Man game, but for our money it’s the third installment, hands down.
BioShock will likely always be remembered for its game-changing “Would You Kindly?” twist, but the first adventure in Rapture is so much more than a dressed-up dupe. From first encountering a splicer caring for a gun the way a mother cares for her baby to the still-enrapturing Andrew Ryan twist toward the game’s end, BioShock delivers one enrapturing setpiece after another. That’s largely in part thanks to one of the most memorable locations in gaming history. So much story is embedded in the dilapidated hallways and shuttered rooms of Rapture, a decaying underwater labyrinth that demands to be investigated. The mark of a good experience is one that you keep thinking about long after you’ve finished it. And I still haven’t stopped thinking about BioShock, its incredible location, and those awesome Plasmids, over a decade later.
When I was famished for Dungeons and Dragons, Divinity: Original Sin 2 filled that void for me. It gave me the freedom to cheat, steal, kill, or persuade my way with kindness through the campaign with a friend (or three!) just like in D&D. Creative play is not only allowed, but encouraged and intentionally made possible by the developers. It felt liberating playing a huge RPG that rewards “cheating” the system, and encountering NPCs and opponents that acknowledge and react to it. I’ve since recommended it to all of my real-life D&D parties, and they’ve all come back with the same opinion: This is the best D&D experience you can get from a video game. DOS2 even has a Game Master mode, which lets you build your own campaigns. But, the built-in story is decidedly plenty and nearly infinitely replayable. The premade characters all have their own special storylines, and the numerous way things pan out depend on player actions, backstory choices, race, and more. Whether playing on an easy or hard difficulty setting, as an Elf Ranger or an Undead Conjurer, as a helpful adventurer or a murderous thief, DOS2 is a fun fantasy world to get lost in no matter what.
For all its inter-dimensional threats, monster hunts and magic powers, I’ve always thought The Witcher 3’s key achievement is in how it nails the mundane. Geralt’s fantasy world is one of mud, thatch and metal, his main quests are freelance work, and he loves a game of cards down the pub. That sense of reality is what helps you empathise with Geralt, understand the world, and really understand how bad things have gotten when the crazy shit starts popping off.
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