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12/15/2020

Top 111 PC Games, #60-51

60. Starcraft II (Blizzard Entertainment, 2010)

Well it took over a decade, but Blizzard finally launched a sequel to their mega-hit Starcraft.  A somewhat controversial sequel, as its single player campaign was released episodically (with three full-priced campaigns all sold separately and separate mission packs on top) and it still lacks features that were prevalent in the original version like, y'know, LAN support.  Still, the game has some quite nice UI upgrades, substantially improved pathfinding, plenty of new units and all three major races, while heavily tweaked, are still well balanced and competitive with one another.  There's a lot to like no matter what your preference is - single player, co-op or competitive multiplayer and a legendary map editor that adds endless replayability and customizable gameplay make this another fantastic and endlessly replayable RTS that's worth your time.  It just doesn't hit quite the same as its legendary predecessor, y'know?

59. Ys III: The Oath in Felghana (Nihon Falcom, 2005)

A remake of 1991's Wanderers from Ys, though it did away with the controversial rework into a sidescrolling platformer design and went back to the more fast-paced action Ys became known for.  They take the same engine from Ark of Napishtim and rework it substantially to further emphasize the combat, with some downright crazy, fast-paced platforming and combat that requires well-timed dodges, strikes and effective use of all your moves to survive, and actually encouraging you to blast through enemies as quickly as possible with cumulative attack, defense and experience bonuses.  And of course, the game's music is simply phenomenal, with a hard rock/metal bent to typical fantasy soundtracks.

58. Commander Keen in Goodbye Galaxy! (id Software, 1991)

The fifth and sixth parts of the Commander Keen series (though labeled as 4 and 5... it's complicated) were a big leap forward for not just platformers on the PC, but for the series itself.  Smooth-scrolling, fluid platforming action was almost unheard of in DOS games at the time (compare this to say, Duke Nukem 1 or the Mega Man DOS games - BIG difference!), and the level of graphical detail was sublime and imaginative, looking like a cartoon on your computer.  Many of Keen's trademark elements return - the stun gun, the pogo stick and tons of collectibles - but the smoother controls and new capabilities like climbing up poles, unlocking rooms with keycards and mantling up ledges made its gameplay both more fun and more complex than previous entries.  He may not be as well-known as Sonic or Mario, but Keen was the closest thing the PC platform had for a good, long while.

57. Doom II (id Software, 1994)

Doom was an enormous game-changer and hugely successful when it was released in 1993, so of course sequels, engine licenses and countless copycats soon followed.  Doom II was released less than a year after the original game, and while it doesn't change up the formula too greatly, does it need to?  Not really.  Just add in a new weapon (the Super Shotgun - quite deadly at close range but considerably less so at a distance), a few new enemy types and 32 new stages, and you've got another top selling game.  There was also an official add-on called "Master Levels for Doom II" featuring several high quality user-created maps and a standalone expansion called "Final Doom" that added 64 new stages.  The game also continues to get countless fan mods and addons even today, so it's proof positive of its timelessness.

56. Simcity 3000 Unlimited (Maxis, 2000)

Simcity was of course a big hit and Simcity 2000 even moreso, so 3000 had quite big shoes to fill to live up to its legacy; moreso because it was the first game in the series that Will Wright wasn't involved in creating.  They did an admirable job, though - initially planned to be in full 3D, those plans were eventually scrapped owing to hardware limitations of the time and the game went back to a 2D style, giving it a substantial visual overhaul and larger maps to compensate.  One prominent new element is that you now have to implement trash collection services, and you have the option to make business deals with neighboring cities - either to offload some of your own problems at a cost or take on some of theirs for extra revenue.  You'll also get proposals for things like golf courses, maximum security prisons or casinos, which bring in a substantial amount of cash but often come with a sizable hit to land value, crime or pollution.  The Unlimited expansion (released under many different names depending on the region) also adds in numerous real-life landmarks to decorate your cities with and even an easy-to-use editor to create your own, letting you put some amazing new touches on your creations.  The third Simcity may not have been a huge leap over 2000 in terms of design, but when it's so well made and fun, I certainly won't complain.

55. Shadowrun: Dragonfall/Hong Kong (Harebrained Schemes, 2014/2015)

The second and third games in the rebooted Shadowrun franchise, and easily my favorite ones so far, expanding on everything the original brought to the table while losing nothing that made it great.  The story is nothing short of brilliant, bringing together a cast of diverse and complex characters to solve the mystery of their friend's death and the underlying conspiracy behind it.  Throughout the game, every choice you make seems to be the wrong one, making you new enemies and seemingly digging you deeper into a pit you can't escape from, while the combat only gets more intense with enemies bringing out bigger guns, setting up nastier traps and summoning bigger monsters to get in your way.  Stellar stuff all around, and a perfect example of how to do a grim, atmospheric game experience right.

54. Ultima VII Part 2: the Serpent Isle (Origin Systems, 1993)

The direct followup to Ultima VII (and the spinoff game Ultima Underworld II), Serpent Isle was also a callback to the franchise's earliest days, returning to worlds not seen since Ultima 1 and showing a world very different and considerably more troubled than the Britannia we've come to know.  The stakes were higher too; not just with the looming threat of the Guardian and his underlings, but a cosmic imbalance is causing reality itself to slowly unravel, adding considerably to your woes.  Unfortunately the game was also the first to really suffer from the EA buyout, as the world feels much more barren and the latter half in particular very rushed and definitely not up to the series' high standards in design.  Nevertheless, the story is captivating and the solid engine of 7 is tuned up in quite a few ways, making it another very worthwhile Ultima adventure.

53. Symphony of War: The Nephilim Saga (Dancing Dragon Games, 2022)

Another example of a game clearly inspired by classics of the genre (Fire Emblem and Ogre Battle in particular), but which ends up being so well-made that it stands out and becomes a fantastic title in itself.  Case in point, you move across the map with your squads (consisting of up to nine units of varying classes), capturing towns, utilizing strongholds and terrain to give themselves an advantage in skirmishes, and exploring characters through mid-battle dialog scenes. Battles get surprisingly large in scale (sometimes overwhelmingly so), though you get powers to do things like grant units extra turns or deal damage over a large area to help speed things up or get yourself out of a jam.  A wonderful and engrossing strategy RPG.

52. Betrayal at Krondor (Dynamix, 1993)

A groundbreaking and influential title in the genre, Krondor was based in the same universe as Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar novels and made a strong attempt to replicate their style, with in-depth descriptions and well-written prose for even the most mundane of interactions.  It also featured open-ended exploration with quite a lot of hidden secrets and side-quests to experience, tactical turn-based combat, and is among the earliest games I know of to do away with a traditional experience system, instead giving each character a variety of skills that must be improved either through use or training with various NPCs.  It later had a spiritual successor of sorts (Betrayal in Antara) and an actual sequel later on (Return to Krondor), though the original team was involved with neither game and the quality definitely suffered as a result.

51. Sid Meier's Civilization V (Firaxis Games, 2010)

Sid Meier's Civilization is a long time favorite among strategy fans, and it's easy to see why - it's a clever concept that's executed well.  Put in command of a civilization, you lead them over thousands of years, guiding them toward one of the game's victory conditions.  Civ 5 marked a substantial overhaul of the core mechanics, giving you things like Culture that can be spent on permanent upgrades and a focus on religion that can be used to build influence with other cultures (and resist theirs in turn), as well as independent city-states to befriend or subjugate.  There are four ways to win - by conquering every other civ's original capital, by winning the space race, by having an enormous influence over every other civilization through tourism and/or religion, or by being voted world leader in the UN after securing enough delegate votes.  A deep and ruthlessly addictive game, and it even supports Steam Workshop so you can add even more to it or tweak the rules however you like.