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9/29/2015

Top 50 PC Games, #30-21

30. Ys Origin (Nihon Falcom, 2006/2012)

Falcom's Ys series has always been a bit overlooked as Japanese RPGs go, and to be fair, it's never exactly been the top of the line in terms of production values or overall depth.  But that doesn't mean they're not fun games, as they provide a very fast-paced, action-driven take on the format.  Ys Origin is definitely proof of that, as well as a unique break for the series by giving the player the choice of three playable characters - the axe-wielding Yunica (who plays most similarly to main-series protagonist Adol), Hugo Fact (a mage-type character who fights with projectiles) and "The Claw", a character who utilizes short-ranged but very powerful attacks, making him more geared toward advanced players.  The overall quest is the same regardless of whom you choose, but the added playable characters and modes lend the game some replay value, and the overall experience is still a joy despite its relative simplicity.

29. Castle of the Winds (Saadasoft, 1993)

Roguelikes have always been a pretty PC-centric genre; various attempts at creating them on consoles have always been met with relatively lukewarm reception (Fatal Labyrinth, Nightmare of Druaga) or relegation to cult classic status at best (Toejam and Earl).  Out of all of the games in this vast genre, though, Castle of the Winds has to be my favorite, in no small part because it manages to be relatively easy to pick up and play while retaining the challenge the genre is known for.  Simplistic yet charming visuals and a relatively bare-bones yet still captivating story also make it an enjoyable experience, and let's be honest, it's always fun carving your way through an entire swath of ogres or giants and emerging victorious with enough loot to buy a luxurious mansion, only to spend it on some better equipment instead.

28. Half Life 2 (Valve Software, 2004)


Valve Software's followup to the massively successful and innovative Half-Life, and it managed to be quite a landmark in itself.  Not only for its advanced visuals and engine, but for its creative enemies, oppressive atmosphere and some very clever weapon types (including the famous Gravity Gun, which allows you to weaponize virtually anything in the environment).  Half-Life 2 is also a testament to excellent level design, requiring you to do everything from puzzle-solve to last through intense shootouts to numerous vehicle-based obstacle courses, and even face off with building-sized monsters on occasion.  All good stuff; just a shame that more first person shooters didn't follow in its mold...

27. Diablo II (Blizzard Entertainment, 2000)

The followup to Blizzard's mega-hit Diablo, the second game in the franchise upped the ante in almost every way.  Featuring faster gameplay, a choice of five new classes (seven in the expansion) each with their own variety of skill sets and equipment choices, and of course a plethra of new quests, items, bosses and challenges to undertake.  It also featured multiplayer for up to eight simultaneous players, who could choose to tackle dungeons, gain levels or just duke it out in battles to the death.  Other new features, like "Rune words" and the ability to combine gems and reroll equipment properties would also become staples of other games in the genre.  Once again, a major hit for Blizzard that continues to be fun even today.  There are even a few killer fan mods available for those tired of the stock game.

26. Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne (Remedy Entertainment, 2003)


The followup to the John Woo inspired shoot-em-up hit Max Payne, Max Payne 2 continues the story while changing up its mood considerably.  Rather than a kitschy tale of revenge against drug-dealing mobsters, Max Payne 2 is a complex film noir plot involving a power struggle left in the void of the previous game's actions.  The visceral thrills are also amped up thanks to the implementation of in-game physics and a revamped engine making the bullet-time mechanic into something much more fast-paced and intense.  Of course, being published by Rockstar also ensured that they got to shoehorn in some of their corny humor, which dampens things a bit, but Max Payne 2 was still a very compelling experience nevertheless.

25. Fallout: A Post Nuclear Role Playing Game (Interplay, 1997)

Drawing heavy inspiration from their earlier hit "Wasteland" (with the license having fallen to EA years prior), Fallout set out to create a bleak post-apocalyptic landscape for the player to explore, and did so admirably, combining a grim atmosphere with a sly sense of humor throughout.  What really sold the game, though, was the sheer amount of thought put into its story  and design - rather than encourage the player to just mindlessly blast everything as so many RPGs of the time were wont to do, the player is given many choices to deal with every questline put before them - a combatative approach, stealthy approach and even pure diplomacy will work in almost any situation.  Hell, it's even possible to complete the game without firing a single shot or witnessing a single death.  The first in a great series of games.

24. Portal 2 (Valve Software, 2011)


Portal was an experimental title in Valve's Orange Box compilation, but it proved to be a surprise hit with its clever puzzle solving and enormously funny character dialog.  Portal 2 is more of the same, upping the stakes with new characters and obstacles and a story that manages to be even more absurd than the last one.  But the things most people remember are the cooperative two-player mode and the "Infinite Testing Initiative", a clever way for users to create and upload their own levels for others to try out, complete with a very simple and innovative editor.  Really good stuff, and easily one of my favorite action-puzzle games of all time.

23. StarCraft (Blizzard, 1998)


The game that tore the real time strategy genre down and rebuilt it from scratch, Starcraft was quite a sight to behold at the time of its release.  Not content to have just two armies with mostly identical units, Starcraft has three to control, and despite having very different playstyles, all are relatively balanced and require quite a bit of differing strategy, with the Zerg mostly relying on swarming tactics, the Protoss having powerful but slower and costlier units, and the Terrans falling somewhere in the middle, utilizing their versatility to their advantage.  That, and it had an incredible map editor that allowed for scripting, enabling complex new gameplay dynamics and even entirely new games at times.  An incredible game in 1998 and still the best of the genre today.

22. Diablo (Blizzard, 1996)

Blizzard's Diablo was one of their first enormous hits, inspiring a whole new style of action-RPG gameplay with randomized equipment, shuffled quests for each playthrough and even online multiplayer, all of which lent it tremendous replayability.  Most people swear by the second game in the series, which added more classes, quests and raised the stakes storyline-wise, but for my money, the original is still the best.  It effectively conveyed the grim reality of a town slowly being overrun by evil, and the dark lighting, relatively slow pacing and heavy atmosphere (complete with some amazing, eerie music) all perfectly complemented the oppressive mood.  There was even a surprisingly solid add-on by Sierra that added in several more missions and three new playable classes.  Diablo is still an excellent game.

21. Shadowrun: Hong Kong (Harebrained Schemes, 2015)


The third in the revived Shadowrun CRPG franchise, and like its predecessors, it's a brilliant experience.  The intricate skill system and character customization is certainly a nice draw, but more than that, the writing in the game is nothing short of brilliant, effectively setting up a cyberpunk universe full of corruption, gang warfare and magical forces at constant ends with one another, with some brilliantly-worded character dialog and prose drawing you in and refusing to let you go until you've seen the story to its conclusion.  Hairbrained Schemes' name is a misnomer, as they definitely know how to craft a fine RPG experience - not only one of the best I've played in years, but one of the greatest ever.