19 Minecraft Release: 2011
Tim: Yeah, some- one’s trying to recre- ate Game of Thrones’ continent of Weste-ros in Minecraft. Yes, someone
else made a to-scale replica of
the starship Enterprise. But I
think there’s more fun in making
a more humble thing in your
private or shared world. A little
amphitheater crafted from a
natural cave. Maybe a railroad
down into your mine. Maybe
a lighthouse. Playing and
making, with your friends, is one
of the most rewarding pastimes
the to-the-point occult story.
And most of all, I love that when I
think of the musty dungeons I
explored, the undead monsters I
killed, the items I collected, and
the characters I played, the best
word I can think of to describe it
all is “neat.” Everything in Diablo
II is just really damn neat.
Shepard makes a galaxy-defin-ing decision or a companion’s
fate is sealed are more arresting
Logan: What’s more, you’re not
simply asked to make a tough
call and then everybody takes a
deep breath and moves on.
Instead, you have to grapple—
intellectually, emotionally, politically—with the consequences of
those decisions. And no matter
what you do, innocent people
who had no choice or influence in
the matter are likely to suffer as
a result of your decisions.
For me, those “
character-defining” moments define the
entire Mass Effect series.
9 Civilization IV Release: 2005
Rob: Civ IV takes everything that was clever and addicting about the series and
fixes or removes everything that
fell short of perfection. It
remains the pinnacle, and it is
every bit as good today thanks
to two things: several satisfying
paths to victory, and the
moddability that gave us gems
like Fall From Heaven. As
Civilization V proved, Firaxis broke the
mold after making this one.
Tyler: We all love to joke about
Civilization IV’s life-consuming
nature, but for those who have
been ensnared, it’s not a joke.
Nor do we regret any of the hundreds of hours we’ve spent building nations. At least I don’t.
14 Portal 2 Release: 2011
Rob: It’s funnier and even more endearing than its predecessor, and invents several
new types of puzzle that make
the Portal gun seem even more
amazing. Perhaps Portal was
perfect, but it’s tough to go back
to Aperture without Wheatley,
GlaDOS, and Cave Johnson.
Cooperative puzzle-solving is
just the icing on the cake.
Tyler: Portal 2 couldn’t recapture the surprise of Portal—that
would be like sneaking up on
someone and catching them off
guard, then trying to do it again
while looking them in the eye
and grinning. So it did the next
best thing: it sat us down and
told us a completely charming
story, pulling back the curtain
enough to satisfy the curiosity
Portal inspired without revealing
enough to kill its subtleties.
broad strokes of SC2 in place.
And all the units are different for
each side. And there are dozens
of different boards. And you
don’t take it in turns to play. And
like Evan said, the animation is
superior. Screw you, chess. We’ve
got something much better.
Tom: Actually since the en passant rule was added in the 15th
century, White has been OP.
magic lady with ferocious tiger
guards. Another had you launching yourself via catapult onto the
back of a tank while the rest of
your teammates poked it with
dwarven APCs. WoW feels
harder, more hardcore now and
for that reason I’ve paused playing. But I miss it terribly.
Josh: With powerful contenders
like The Old Republic and Guild
Wars 2 entering the field, Blizzard’s starting to take big risks
and tackle long-requested features to keep its playerbase. That
pressure should lead to some
very exciting developments to
keep the game fresh for vets like
us. Here’s to the only other game
besides FarmVille that our grandmas have ever heard of!
18Half-Life 2 Release: 2004
Nathan: Half-Life 2 managed to both create the blueprint for the modern single-player shooter and be the genre’s
high water mark. It was first and,
arguably, still is the best at what
it does. Ravenholm still makes
me yelp like a frightened puppy,
Dog is still the reason my pets
have crippling self-esteem
issues, and I still keep a crowbar
in my car’s trunk. You know, just
17Half-Life 2: Episode 2
Rob: Episode 2 just does everything per- fectly. You have an adventure in a mining
complex with a hilariously tame
Vortigaunt companion, a frantic
last-stand against hordes of
antlions, an ambush where
Combine troops destroy a mansion around you, and finally: a
battle with a legion of Striders.
16 BioShock Release: 2007
Chris A: To this day, horror games remain little more than jump scares and sudden
sound blasts. BioShock’s submerged tomb of forgotten
dreams and broken promises
consistently cranks out an ambiance far more discomforting
than any blood-drenched wall or
hulked-out zombie could ever
13 Quake Release: 1996
Chris C: Quake isn’t a game, it’s a phenome- non. Without it, TF2 wouldn’t exist.
Fatal1ty would be stocking groceries at Costco. QuakeCon
would be…uh, StuffCon. And it’s
still amazingly playable. Perforating Fiends with Nine-Inch
Nails and blasting Shamblers
with quad-rockets is every bit as
fun now as it was in ‘ 96. Dedicated servers still exist, and for
good reason: Quake is the Dom
Pérignon of FPS deathmatch.
11 Counter-Strike: SourceRelease: 2004
Evan: From what dark magic does CS source its lasting appeal? Purity. It’s one of the
few modern multiplayer shooters that doesn’t jangle with bells
and whistles when it walks—
there’s no cover system, iron-sights, kill-streak rewards, airstrikes, vehicles, or unlockable
anything—just you, some ballistic weapons, level geometry, and
a few grenades.
I love the way dying in
Counter-Strike stirs critical thinking.
That time-out between
respawns gives you a chance to
iterate on tactics and change
things up—camping instead of
rushing, left instead of right, an
AWP instead of an AK.
12 Mass Effect 2 Release: 2010
Josh: It’s been two years, and I still cannot hear Shakespeare’s name or any reference
to his work without the voice of
an Elcor reciting the most
moving lines in Hamlet (with less
emotion than the tiny Australian
lady trapped inside my GPS)
popping into my head. ME2
matched the incredible story of
the original, and raised it with
perhaps the best ending
sequence ever made in a game.
With the trilogy capper just
around the corner ready to
accept our saved game files,
those poignant moments where
10StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty
Evan: It’s the current foundation of eSports. I love StarCraft II because people—
North American people—are
gathering together in bars to
watch it ( www.reddit.com/r/
barcraft). I love StarCraft II
because IdrA, a player from my
home state of Michigan, has a
t-shirt that I can buy (http://bit.
ly/gracken). And let’s have a
moment to celebrate SC2’s readability. The way armies animate
and express players’ intentions
shows Blizzard’s careful thinking
and Frankensteinian craftsmanship; they imbue life and true
personality into unit models.
Without SC2’s ease-of-spectat-ing, it’d simply be a game, not a
rising culture that anyone can
Tim: I look at the design of the
Zerg, Protoss and Terrans and
just gaze in awe. It took thousands of years to balance chess.
It took Blizzard just half a year
following release to get the
7Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Chris C: There’re those that boast about free- dom and player choice, and then there’s
Oblivion. “Freedom” is putting it too
lightly. Wanna ignore the main
quest and butcher every single
person in Cyrodiil? Go for it.
Wanna spend 300 hours collecting Daedric weaponry to display
in your corpse-rugged mansion?
No problem. Punch bears down
cliffs? Please do! Endlessly
moddable and dizzyingly enormous, Oblivion is what happens
when you let players create their
own unique adventures, wholly
independent of developer intent.
5 Dragon Age: Origins Release: 2009
Chris C: Dragon Age took all the clichéd fan- tasy motifs and twis- ted them up delightfully. Instead of beautiful castles
filled with nobles, we got filthy,
racist cities populated by selfish
elves and morally corrupted
dwarves—and it was amazing.
Each of your party’s companions
had their own agenda and motivations, and I’d often field
opposing characters just to hear
them banter and prod each
other. If only every RPG after it
had adopted the brilliant real-time/pause-able battle system.
Nathan: Dragon Age made me
miserable. I was playing a “good”
character, but I screwed up at
every turn. By the time the credits rolled, I’d sacrificed my best
friend in a moment of cowardice
and driven away a woman I
cared deeply about. But I
accepted the guilt. I never once
reloaded a save to “fix” a dumb
mistake. Dragon Age’s world and
characters were so convincing
that I felt like they deserved me
at my most authentic—even if
that meant making some really
15 Diablo II Release: 2000
Tyler: I love Diablo II ’s aesthetic, which makes me feel like I’m living in a miniature
model world like the kind once
used to create film effects. I love
6 World of Warcraft Release: 2004
Tim: There was a time, during the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, where raiding was the
most fun you could have in any
game, ever. Delving into Ulduar—
still the best dungeon the Wo W
team have created, was an
adventure you looked for ward to
all week. The fights felt hard, but
the mechanics understandable.
One had you split your team—
half to hold a gladiator’s arena,
the other to run a gauntlet of
baddies to knock a boss off his
pedestal. One saw you fighting a
4 Fallout 3 Release: 2008
Nathan: One of the (few) downsides of cri- tiquing games for a living is that I can’t
really lose myself in them anymore. Most people watch the
puppet show, but all I see are the
strings. Fallout 3 put the magic
back in games for me. It gave me
this giant, personality-packed
universe to just live in. I still go
back and wander the landscape
when I need an escape. Most
importantly, though, it taught
me a very valuable life lesson:
Tunnel Snakes rule.