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12/15/2020

Top 101 PC Games, #60-51

60. Horizon's Gate (Rad Codex, 2020)

A game that has been described by many as "Final Fantasy Tactics by way of Uncharted Waters", and upon playing it, I can certainly confirm that is indeed the case.  You build a character, take part in turn-based battles both on foot and by sea, unlock new classes as the game progresses, and can basically explore, trade or become a pirate or privateer at your leisure, taking part in ship battles or legitimate business to earn loot for later upgrades.  Inventory management and item manipulation is simple as can be too, using a keyboard-and-mouse interface that reminds me more than a bit of the classic Ultimas.  It's certainly not the deepest example of anything it attempts to be, but it is a lot of fun, and really, that's what I come to a game for anyway.  Very good game.

59. Ultima VI: The False Prophet (Origin Systems, 1990)

It seemed that every subsequent Ultima title did its best to up the ante over the previous one, and Ultima VI was no different in that regard. While the previous games had a recognizable world to venture through, Ultima VI set out to create a realistic environment that you'd live an alternate life in.  You could hunt animals for food, milk cows, load and fire cannons, move furniture around, and so forth, and as a result, the immersion factor is immense. The story was another great one too, starting with what appears to be a hostile invasion but having you looking at things from a very different perspective by the end.  The somewhat clunky UI and limited viewpoint don't make it my favorite Ultima to play, but even with that, it's another fantastic RPG from Origin and a very worthwhile entry to a legendary franchise. 

58. Heroes of Might and Magic II (New World Computing, 1996)

Might and Magic has had a number of spinoff and side games over the years, and easily the most successful and long running one is the Heroes series.  Basically a turn-based, fantasy themed 4X franchise incorporating a lot of series names and story elements, it's gone on to have seven entries and a number of expansions, outliving the original franchise as it continues to this day.  2 is my personal favorite, though, as it's gameplay is just the right blend of both worlds and its presentation is utterly fantastic. It's a ton of fun collecting resources, upgrading your castle, outfitting your heroes and their armies and setting out to conquer everything in your path, and the fact that it supports online play makes it one you can still compete with friends in. 

57. Path of Exile (Grinding Gear Games, 2013)

A game whose core design is heavily inspired by the likes of Diablo II, though released on a free-to-play model that doesn't rely on scammy micro transactions (shocking, I know). It also seemingly goes out of its way to succeed where numerous other games fail as well, effectively incorporating a cash-free economy into its design and basing power growth not on dull numbers, but upgradable gems that grant abilities and expanding ones path across a large grid to shape one's abilities and characteristics (similar to certain Final Fantasy mechanics, but far better executed here).  A triumph for free-to-play gaming and a great action RPG to boot. 

56. Starflight 2: Trade Routes of the Cosmic Nebula (Binary Systems, 1989)

The followup to the groundbreaking original game, and while the core gameplay remains mostly unchanged, the way it all unfolds is now quite a bit more sophisticated. As the subtitle implies, your main source of income this time is from establishing trade routes - buy goods, venture to another planet, sell them and hopefully turn a profit along the way.  Of course, you'll still have to do a fair bit of puzzle solving and adventuring to unravel the underlying plot concerning the Cosmic Nebula, as venturing too far into it takes a severe toll on your sanity for reasons unknown.  However, the sharp sense of humor of the original keeps things fresh, as does a significant technological upgrade from the first making the gameplay faster and the graphics sharper.

55. Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 / Yuri's Revenge (Westwood Pacific, 2000)

Red Alert is an offshoot of Command and Conquer that takes its concept much more into comic book territory. Beginning with Albert Einstein creating a time machine and using it to assassinate Hitler before he ever rises to power, he inadvertently creates a new timeline where the USSR becomes a global threat. That story gets taken even further in 2, when the ambitious USSR agent Yuri causes them to rise again and invade the United States, but has rather megalomaniacal ambitions of his own as well. The gameplay remains largely unchanged from the originals, though it's made more fun by some of the sillier units you get to command this time - from giant squids to dolphins to giant brains on tank treads that mind control your enemies, both the silliness and the badass factor are ramped up to eleven, but still as intense and strategic as ever. Sadly this was also the last great Command and Conquer, as like so many other companies of the era, Westwood was bought out by EA and turned into a soulless sequel wheelhouse until they became unprofitable and were scrapped.

54. Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos/The Frozen Throne (Blizzard Entertainment, 2002/2003)


Warcraft was one of Blizzard's earliest hits, launching a game with two long and varied campaigns and plenty of charm and atmosphere.  The sequel offered a vastly improved UI and larger-scale battles, and Warcraft III certainly upped the ante too.  The total number of playable factions was raised to four (adding the corpse-manipulating Undead and nature-oriented Night Elves) and working some RPG elements into the proceedings - each army gets their own unique "hero units" that power up after defeating foes, carry an inventory of items (like temporary power boosts or potions to recover HP) and have powerful spells that can quickly turn the tide of battles; however, losing one at an inopportune time can quickly put you at a grave disadvantage, too.  I wasn't a huge fan of this element as it overtakes a disproportionate part of the game's overall strategy, but the polished design and sheer diversity of the four races make it a great RTS nonetheless.  The Frozen Throne is a great expansion too, adding new units for each army, two neutral factions (the Naga and the Dranei), reintroducing naval battles, and of course continuing the storyline from the original game.


53. Heretic (Raven Software, 1994)

As popular as Doom was, it was little surprise that it would get a number of spinoff games and engine licenses.  Heretic is definitely one of the more memorable ones, taking the basic monster-blasting, puzzle-solving format of Doom and putting a hint of dark fantasy on everything.  Golems, axe-throwing skeleton knights, sorcerers and demons, among many others, stand in your way, while you get several weapons like a magic staff, a triple-firing crossbow, a fireball-launching mace and my personal favorite, gauntlets that launch lightning at your enemies.  More than that, though one could actually pick up many powerups and use them when needed, rather than being forced to activate and use them right then and there.  From temporary flight to powering up all of one's weapons to simply restoring a bit of health on-demand, they were all quite handy to have.

52. Commander Blood (Cryo, 1994)

The sequel to the 1988 cult classic "Captain Blood", a game as well-known for its trippy atmosphere and outlandish premise as for its exploration-driven gameplay and a unique, intricate dialog system - picking 150 different icons from the HUD to string together sentences and communicate with the various aliens you encounter.  Sadly that iconic element didn't return for its sequel, but the surreal atmosphere and weirdness certainly did, being amplified by the advent of CD-based FMV.  A combination of CGI animation and practical effects (with all of the aliens being portrayed by puppets), a funky and original eurobeat soundtrack, and some delightfully bizarre characters, visuals and humor make for an unforgettable point-and-click experience.  There was one more game in the series - Big Bug Bang - but as it's only available in French, few gamers outside that part of the world have experienced it.

51. Starcraft II (Blizzard Entertainment, 2010)

Released more than a decade after the still-massively-popular original game, Starcraft II certainly had a legacy to live up to.  Fortunately they did a good job, keeping what worked with the original while adding in a plethora of new units that have a lot of creative abilities (hopping between terrain heights or teleporting short distances) and gameplay twists like weather hazards and rising lava.  As per the original, it also features a highly customizable map editor, allowing a lot of creativity and even entirely new games to be built.  I don't think it's quite as fun and polished as the original, the story feels a little too "fan-fictiony" for my liking and there are some glaring omissions (like LAN support), but it's a great RTS regardless.