It’s been far too long since I’ve posted another geek-related Top 5 list, and I aim to fix that. (Given that you’re reading this, I suppose my aim turned out pretty well.) Way back when I started this series, I began with the Top 5 PC Games of all time, many of which were quite old. Yet I cannot live in the past (at least not until I work out the kinks in my homemade flux capacitor), and so today’s list will be…
Top Five PC Games of the Last Five Years
As with all of these lists, this is only my own opinion. I haven’t played every single game that’s been released, and my tastes are sometimes a bit odd. You’ll find no MMOs on this list, and–much to the surprise of some, I’m sure–no Bioshock: Infinite. (I liked the original Bioshock, and Infinite’s story was interesting, but its gameplay just didn’t hold my interest for whatever reason. I know, I’m a dirty heathen.) So without further babbling, and in no particular order, let’s do this thing.
Dragon Age: Origins
I still maintain that one of the most engrossing fantasy RPGs was Baldur’s Gate II. Isometric tactical combat, a deep story, fun and interesting characters, a myriad of monsters and items, and a miniature giant space hamster named Boo. There hadn’t been another game like it for quite some time, which is why so many people got so excited when Bioware announced Dragon Age: Origins, which would follow in BG2’s footsteps.
It wasn’t quite the same (and some people didn’t like the Song of Ice and Fire-inspired grimdark), but it was close. The story was rich, many characters were fantastic (and one of them voiced by Farscape’s Claudia Black), and the game was–for me, at least–just plain fun to play. One of the best things about the game was the epilogue that describes all of the different ways your choices throughout the game affected the world. I love games that give the player some real agency rather than presenting the illusion of choice on a fixed path. (I’m looking at you, Dragon Age 2.)
Was it perfect? No. Yet it was a more than welcome return to a cRPG style that had been sorely absent for too long.
It is, I think, a shame that the BG2-inspired tactical gameplay was only a feature of the PC version. I know that some who experienced it on consoles disliked it, and I’ve always wondered how they’d feel about Dragon Age if they’d played it as it was originally imagined.
Fallout: New Vegas
Bethesda’s Fallout 3 was a huge change to the look of the post-apocalyptic RPG franchise, and not everyone liked it, but its first-person RPG style introduced Fallout to a whole new generation of followers. Fallout: New Vegas, which was developed by Obsidian (Knights of the Old Republic 2, Neverwinter Nights 2), built on that with a more complex storyline, character choices, and a more interesting leveling system that, for me, was a welcome improvement.
Perhaps I should elaborate on that: For me, one of the most enjoyable things about a game in which you can develop your character’s power and abilities over time is being able to a) grow strong enough to venture into more dangerous areas and b) be able to kick the holy hell out of something that had previously given you trouble. (What? It’s gratifying!) Fallout 3’s enemies–and note that I’m over-simplifying for the sake of brevity–were auto-adjusted to your level so that no matter where you go, you’d never be TOO over your head. New Vegas didn’t care about that. You wander into the hills north of where the game begins, ignoring all of those “danger!” signs? Unless you are very, very careful, you’ll get your butt handed to you by cazadors and deathclaws. (And then they will take your butt back and eat it.) Frustrating for some who want instant gratification of going anywhere at the start, but for people like me, the payoff when I managed to be strong enough to handle myself in the rougher places was far more rewarding.
This game is the best kind of ordered chaos. With a goofball storyline, hordes of monsters, a strong dose of meta, and–most importantly–a magic system based on elemental spells that can be combined on the fly to produce a myriad of effects that make you a danger to yourself and others, Magicka is one of the most enjoyable multiplayer co-op experiences I’ve ever had.
Not only is the gameplay itself a blast, but the writing is hilarious. This is not a game that takes itself too seriously. Magicka’s creators have loaded it with more geek references than you can shake a lightsaber at. “Only goblin archers are so precise.” One Admiral Agnar shouting, “It’s a trap!” And much more. Heck, your wizards can even get a functional machine gun made out of a paperclip and a shotgun from a guy who seems awfully similar to MacGyver.
And sure, you can play through it on as a single-player game as well, but then how can you experience the joy of combining your firey beam with a friend’s water beam to make a steaming lance of heinous death, or , ah, “accidentally” setting that same friend on fire afterward when they get a little too close?
“Bleeeeigh!” -Vlad (who is not a vampire)
XCOM: Enemy Within
The original X-COM: UFO Defense from the 1990s is a PC classic. Aliens are messing with Earth, and only you and your shockingly low-funded organization can fight back. Firaxis’s recent remake, XCOM: Enemy Unknown (no hyphen) was a worthy re-imagining with addictive gameplay and, if you wanted, the original’s unforgiving difficulty. Yet it wasn’t until the expansion, Enemy Within, that it became truly fantastic.
Okay, so I thought it was pretty darned good before the expansion. Now I don’t know how I survived without genetically modified soldiers, MEC-troopers, and so many new gameplay options. (Randomizing abilities adds so much more spice. Sure, Sectopods are unholy alien squad-killing monstrosities, but give me a sniper with heat ammo and suddenly they’re not quite so scary.) The Exalt storyline, along with a few other special operations, makes it almost like playing an entirely new game.
I look forward to see what Firaxis comes up with for a sequel.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
If you thought I would get through this list without mentioning Skyrim, you don’t know me very well. Sure, it’s got a few bugs and the dungeon concepts could use a little variety (“I wonder if there will be some glyph puzzles and a metric fuckton of draugr in this place!”), but somehow it’s still engaging enough for the average Skyrim player to sink hundreds of hours into playing it.
There’s just so much you can do! Quest lines are huge, even without going into the main quest. Hunt for more dragon shouts. Rise to the leader of numerous guilds (even if it doesn’t keep people from asking if you’ve been to the Mage’s College while you’re wearing the archmage’s robes). Fill an entire building with dragon bones! And of course, the scenery is gorgeous. Why not just wander around the map–with or without your cliff-scaling horse–and see what you run into?
There’s some Skyrim DLC out there that I haven’t checked out yet. I’m afraid to, because if I do I figure I’ll just be sucked back into the game again and not have any time to spend on regular life things like writing. Or eating.
(Because, as usual, I don’t know the meaning of the word “five.”)
While not as ground-breaking as its predecessor, Portal 2’s additions to both gameplay and the setting itself earn it an honorable mention. Repulsion gel, propulsion gel, conversion gel, tractor beams, repulsor beams… The list goes on. Pair that with an absolutely fantastic co-op experience, and you’ve got a game that’s an absolute blast to play. This doesn’t even take into account the hilarious writing and voice acting behind GlaDOS, Wheatley, and my personal favorite, Cave “I’m going to blow up your house with the damned lemons!” Johnson. I could have done without some of the long sections where you’re just walking through the guts of Aperture Science, but that’s but a small nitpick.
Total War: Shogun 2
I’ve been a fan of the Total War series ever since TW: Medieval. Well, okay, so I didn’t really get into Empire or Napoleon, and I haven’t yet tried Rome 2, but let’s not get pedantic. Shogun 2 is the 7th installment. The series combines a broader strategic 4X game with tactical battlefield simulation, in this case set in feudal Japan as factions vie for the title of Shogun. Diplomacy was a little odd, the battlefield maps weren’t as tied to the campaign map as they were in Rome and Medieval 2, and the battles went a little too swiftly than I’d have liked, but that didn’t stop me from having a great time playing multiple campaigns. It felt like a move back toward the things that got me excited about the franchise in the first place.
Hah! Just kidding. Like we’ll ever actually see this game in our lifetime.