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Top 64 Games: 40 to 33

By Shamus
on Sunday Oct 26, 2014
Filed under:
Video Games


Reminder: Try not to stress out too much about the order of the items on this list, what games made it and which ones didn’t. This list is just PC games, limited to the ones I’ve played and I thought were worth discussing. If you rage out because I left out your favorite game then you’re just making a fool of yourself. Also remember the rule: A particular franchise can only appear in the list once, so if Resident Evil 4 makes the list then Resident Evil 2 can’t.

Just use this as an excuse to talk about / praise / eviscerate games we might not get to discuss very often. Read the intro to learn why we’re doing this.

Also! Some people are having fun trying to identify the games in the header image. That’s actually a fun idea. I’ll post the answers for each image at the end of this series.

40. Mass Effect 2

You want to see the future? It’s a constipated white guy holding a gun up to the camera – forever.

I didn’t like the game. It was dumb, it was ugly, and it was thematically disjointed. At the same time it had far better production values, bigger name voice actors, more mainstream gameplay, and more gameplay polish. Mass Effect 2 is at the very center of the BioWare vortex. This game is the bridge between old BioWare that focused on ideas and world-building and new the BioWare that focused on spectacle and style.

After Mass Effect 2, “old BioWare” is gone and “new BioWare” is more popular than the old one ever was. Mass Effect 2 is the one game where both versions of the company existed at the same time. Yes, we got the Illusive Mary Sue and a team parceled out into fragments of Day One DLC. But we also got Legion, Mordin, Thane, Samara, and JacobHaha. Just kidding. Nobody likes Jacob..

39. Nethack

Ossipewsk gratefully inherits all your possessions.

Nethack was not the original roguelike. The original roguelike was – and I hope this doesn’t need further explanation – called Rogue. But Nethack made the genre famous and was wringing salty tears out of overly ambitious gamers long before the first inklings of Dark Souls appeared on the dry-erase board of a heartless and sadistic game developer.

Its adherence to text tiles gives it ridiculous levels of interactivity: Examine things, kick things, throw things, use things, rub things, shoot things, ride on things, sit on things, engrave in things, dip things into other things, sacrifice things to gods. Pray, eat, drink, search steal and chat.

It’s deep. It’s long. It’s completely unfair. It doesn’t even feel bad about it.

38. Metro: Last Light

It begins with an apocalypse that wipes out humanity. Then monsters. Then Nazis. After that things take a turn for the worse.

Videogames rarely do well at adaptations. Translating the events of a book or movie into a game usually ends in a talky, poorly paced, un-fun disaster, and only part of the blame can be placed on the fact that most adaptations aren’t funded very well.

Metro: Last Light avoids these mistakes by not using the source material for story, but instead using it as a foundation of lore and worldbuilding. The result is a game with a solid grip on tone that doesn’t let story get in the way of the interactivity. The game also comes from Russia, giving us westerners a very different sort of apocalypse than what we’re used to.

37. Duke Nukem 3D

Hail to that thing, maybe.

Ha ha! That videogame character referenced a movie I’ve seen! This is new and different! And look, I can flush toilets! See myself in the mirror! Turn lights on and off! Catchphrase!

Like a lot of 90’s stuff, it hasn’t aged well. But for a brief moment, this thing represented a breath of fresh air and a new kind of playful interactivity for videogames. And the long-delayed sequel “Duke Nukem Whenever” joke kept us going for a decade and a half.

36. Dark Souls

You don’t actually need to prepare to die. It just happens.

A masterwork of game design that sets out to create a very specific tone with a tightly enforced set of mechanics, and executes it perfectly. At first the game feels hard and unfair. But as you refine your skills the game becomes reasonable, and if you stick with it long enough you might even find the challenge to become trivial. This is not true of a lot of modern games that attempt to funnel all players into a single experience, where skill has only a modest impact on outcomes. Here your success is driven entirely by skill and foreknowledge, and the game isn’t afraid to throw up a wall until you master the skills needed to proceed.

I find it too stressful to enjoy, but I admire the game for what it does anyway.

35. Wolfenstein


The great-great grandfather of the manshoots. The springboard for id Software. It’s aged poorly and is really only notable for its legacy, but what a legacy.

34. Kerbal Space Program

On one hand, these guys are adorable and it’s a shame to see them die in fiery explosions. On the other hand, they don’t seem to mind and they seem to be asking for it.

As it turns out, this orbiting business is a lot of fun. There’s an entire game packaged in the rules of real-world space travel. It’s a creative puzzle game where you figure out how to get from A to B without running out of energy. Maybe you’ll attack the problem by trying to build better rockets, or maybe you’ll try to solve it with tricky slingshot orbital maneuvers. Either way is fun, and to get to the really tantalizing targets you’ll need to excel at both.

Kerbal is notable for being the most educational game I’ve ever played. The mechanics are physics, and as you learn to play the game you’ll learn how the space program works. It’s one thing if Randal tells you that space is easy to reach and hard to STAY in, but nothing teaches like experience. I learned why, in real rocket launches, they do a vertical burn that gradually curves east, then they do nothing for a while before doing another burn parallel with the equator. I’d always wondered about that. I mean, I could have looked it up, but I never got around to it. Then suddenly I had game mechanics that nudged me into this understanding though simple experience and experimentation. Along the way I got a sense of how geosynchronous satellites work and why we have so much junk in space.

33. Descent: Freespace – The Great War

Rejected titles include “Freespace: The Not-So-Great War”, “Freespace: The War That Was Pretty Great But Not As Good As Some Of The Other Wars”, and “Freespace: The War That, Upon Reflection, Probably Could Have Been Better”.

Descent: Freespace – The Great War is usually held up as one of the greats of the space-fighter genre. The sequel – which I haven’t playedI own it through GoG. Got stuck trying to get it to recognize my controller. I’ll give it another go one of these days. – is usually given the title of “best” of the form.

I wonder how much of this is due to the simple fact that it’s one of the last? Developers had nailed down the essentials of this kind of gameplay as far back as X-Wing, which came out in 1993 – five years before Freespace. Since then it had been a simple process of polish through iteration. While I’ve heard lots of theories, I’ve never heard a really satisfying explanation for why this genre died. We just stopped making them.

The “Descent” moniker is really unfortunate. At the time, Publisher Interplay was worried about name recognition so they slapped the name of their popular (but totally unrelated) indoor space shooter on the thing. It would be like Nintendo launching the Zelda franchise by calling it: Mario Brothers: The Legend of Zelda. Just dumb.

The irony is that Freespace is now more renowned and remembered than Descent.


[1] Haha. Just kidding. Nobody likes Jacob.

[2] I own it through GoG. Got stuck trying to get it to recognize my controller. I’ll give it another go one of these days.

Comments (170)

  1. syal says:

    Oh man, now Duke Nukem Forever can’t make the list. :(

  2. Taellosse says:

    I get why you did it, but I kind of wish you’d put up the first Mass Effect instead of ME2. I dislike the sequels a lot less than you do, but still, my love for the original Mass Effect (despite its clunky interface and controls) is deep and abiding. It remains the only RPG I’ve played through to the end more than twice – even in games where there’s a lot of actually meaningful choice, knowing how the plot goes tends to make RPGs grow boring for me. I’ll start playing a new character, but always move on to something else by the halfway point. But I love the world of Mass Effect so much that I played it through to the end 5 times, and I’ve started it half a dozen more. I sometimes dream of the series it could have been, if they’d refined the clunky aspects, rather than tossing them all out wholesale, and not introduced so much dumb.

    At the same time, there are parts of both the sequels that I do love, same as you – some of the companions in ME2 are fantastic, and a few of the missions done with them are great bits of game writing. And in ME3, some of the major side quests are fantastic, and the gameplay even feels pretty solid, combining many of the best elements from the two previous games into a cohesive whole that actually works. Both sequels have alarmingly dumb main plots, though, and the sense of grandeur and mystery that laced the original is simply lost.

    I do hold out a small measure of hope that the next Mass Effect will recapture what was cast aside. Some of the early things they’ve been saying suggest they want to try – it just remains an open question right now whether they’ll manage it (or whether they really know what they need to do to bring that tone and feeling back).

    • MrGuy says:

      What the ma what?

      Ok, I guess I’m just out of the loop, apparently, but they’re making another Mass Effect? After the last one wrapped up/killed off most of the cast, destroyed The Citadel, and, oh yeah, destroyed the entire mass relay system that’s the central premise of the game? How the holy heck are they making a sequel?

      • syal says:

        Could always be a prequel; the end of the Rachni War and the start of the Krogan one.

        …and then they could do a bunch of alternate history games where they never used the Genophage and the Krogans just start wrecking stuff across all of space. And then the preliminary Reaper forces start showing up and you have to convince everyone it’s a bigger threat than the Krogan.

        • General Karthos says:

          If I were them, I might go with the First Contact War, except for the fact that you then can’t have aliens on your ship….

          • Taellosse says:

            “The First Contact War” sounds like a big deal, but it was a pretty minor altercation, it only lasted a short time, and there was very little complexity to drive a game from it. I don’t think it would make a good RPG.

        • Felblood says:


          Imagine a prequel with the balls to be set before Humanity enters the game.

          It will never happen since Bioware’s marketing is vocally of the (appearently, tragically correct)impression that they can make more money appealing to racist dudebros than to space opera nerds.

          • Taellosse says:

            Unfortunately, it’s already been made clear that isn’t what’s happening – the new protagonist is going to be another human, so it can’t be set before the First Contact War.

            • You’ll play a human child who dreamed he wasn’t saved by Shepard during a huge war with metallic space-squids. Shepard is his/her favorite fictional character, along with Blasto, of course. The child then has a series of nightmares where they run through a forest while Shepard goes streaking across the sky in his/her spacesuit, burning up in the atmosphere, only to be caught in a colossal hand reaching down from the cosmos. A voice that must belong to this godlike being grumbles, “It was a rogue cell,” before vanishing.

              A fast-talking Salarian scientist and his surly Krogan sidekick appear to the child, telling him that he holds the key to defeating the Reapers. After many misadventures across the galaxy, it’s revealed that the one thing that can destroy these ancient invaders is… love.

              • lurkey says:

                I’ll see your Some Kid © and raise you an impossibly cool space ninja with awesome haircut who…

                …it was a joke! Please put that axe down!

              • syal says:

                I’m still waiting for the story where the unstoppable enemy is defeated by their inability to understand pure, unconditional hatred.

                • Thomas says:

                  You joke, but there have been stories about aliens who’ve run away from humans in horror that we could possibly think those kind of things.

                  Although there’s yet to be one about an alien race who decided to leave us alone forever because they couldn’t understand our capability of producing Mass Effect 3

                  • Usually it’s one of those brain-scan plot devices (like in a recent Capaldi episode of Doctor Who where a Dalek sees the Doctor’s hate of his species) or they come into the story thinking humans are evil barbarians but Captain Kirk shows mercy and they decide not to kill us.

                    Love (also “Luv” and “Lurve”) is usually portrayed as defeating the baddies by means of some Dragonball-Z ass-pull where a big ol’ heart-shaped energy wave wipes out every enemy, assuming it doesn’t transform them into “nice” versions of what they were.

                    Wait a minute… A big wave of energy that…

                    Never mind. It’s been done already, apparently. :)

                  • syal says:

                    Yeah, but they understand the thoughts in those stories. I want a race of invading aliens who are just plain deer-in-the-headlights dumb about it.

                  • For some reason that reminds me of an old story about these energy-and-particles-in-rarefied-plasma sort of aliens who have a heck of a time figuring out that the alien race they’ve found evidence of is us, and are scandalized when they find out.

                    “You mean–they’re made of meat?!”

              • Venalitor says:

                You are a master of nightmares.

          • Jamen says:

            Sorry, what? “Racist”?

            • Felblood says:

              There’s a prevailing attitude at Bioware and many other AAA studios that people won’t buy a game that doesn’t have a white dude on the cover.

              Whether this is because gamers are racists or because publishers wont advertise games without white dudes on the cover is a matter of debate but, well… I played Call of Duty once.

              My Faith in Humanity meter is on the E, to start with though, so there is that.

              • Shamus says:

                While I agree with that assertion, I’m pretty uncomfortable branding everyone a racist just because they like to play as a character that looks like them. I think it’s a terrible trend, but the word “racist” is super-loaded.

                Part of this is because the word racist is stretched too thin. We use it when talking about rudeness and social awkwardness: The suburban white guy who – because he’s not been around black people much – says something clumsy or tries to do a handshake he saw in the movies once. This gets called “racist”. But we also use “racist” to mean, “Murderous assholes who lynch people because they’re the wrong color.”

                So when you call some guy “racist” because he likes white dudebro protagonists, he thinks you’re accusing him of hating and (wanting to / approving of) the terrorizing of minorities. You meant one thing, they heard another, and the resulting flamewar is usually horrible and ugly and will not end in mutual edification.

                • Shamus says:

                  And while I was writing my reply, you stated exactly the same thing in an unrelated discussion. “names, like all language symbols, have meanings that actually exist in a Heisenbergian state of being both a solid point and a waveform.”


                  • syal says:

                    I like that “racist” somehow manages to share space with “allergic”, in terms of wildly varying meaning.

                  • Felblood says:

                    –and yet I still feel the need to clarify my position; when you see the waveform on the road, you must collapse it.

                    I wasn’t saying that we are actually racists, I was just poking fun at Bioware (AAA devs in general) for being so scared to try anything new that their rigid adherence to formula is starting to resemble an unintenional agenda.

                • Dirigible says:

                  This reminds me largely of your position during the #FEMINISM Diecast, so I’m interested: How, in the context of games, would you solve this #RACISM issue?

                  • Ivan says:

                    Forgive me for jumping in as you directed your question at Shamus, but I don’t think this is a problem that you can simply “solve”.

                    I don’t believe that all major publishers and game devs are racist simply because I have trouble remembering the last time I played a game that featured someone of a minority (in the USA) race as the main protagonist. I think they do it simply because it sells. That means the cause of this lack of diversity is due, at the very least, to the belief that since the majority of their audience is white and male, that the easiest was to create a protagonist that their audience will identify with is to also make them white and male. There’s nothing malicious going on here, but it’s lazy and safe. In other words, it’s par for the course for the game’s industry today.

                    The only way to address this lack of diversity issue would be to affect the culture of the country as a whole. If publishers thought that not only was there a demand for non-white/male characters, but that they could sell more copies of the game if they changed things up now and then, then they absolutely would. Actually creating that change isn’t a simple task though. I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

                    • syal says:

                      I would have to do a lot more research than I want to, but my opinion on why we see so many white male thirty-somethings in games is because most programmers are white male thirty-somethings, and if you want diversity in videogames you should start with the development teams.

                    • Felblood says:

                      –but isn’t that assumption actualyl kind of chaky when you think about it?

                      Statistically, men are more gender-fluid in their fantasies. It’s way easier to get guys to try on female avatars, than to get women to try male ones. I wouldn’t dare to speculate why, but there are numerous studies to this effect.

                      Isn’t the smart move, then, to build brands around female avatars, since women will be drawn to their feminity, and men will typically not care?

                      Like any successful alter ego, you need to combine elements that the user will recognize as self (ego) and other (alter). –but they need to be elements that the audience finds pallatable. If you know men are likely to find feminity a palattable form of alterity, why not use it?

                    • syal says:

                      I don’t think so; people make what they know, and thirty-something white guys know thirty-something white guy attitudes and behavior. They have no experience at being women. Why try to make a woman when you could end up insulting women because you don’t know enough about them?

                      Avatars aren’t a good example, because a female avatar is usually the same blank slate as a male one; you don’t have to take a chance at writing her.

                      (And I’m pretty sure that’s just a novelty factor to begin with; there aren’t as many women in games so everyone wants to play one when there is. If there were an even number of women and men, that ratio would even out, and if there were more women, more women would play as men than men as women.)

                • Zak McKracken says:

                  I think this is a big truth that could bear being explained to a lot more people.
                  Same goes for “sexism” and related “-ism”s.
                  I think it might be slightly less confusing calling it “casual racism/sexism” because it’s not something that people actively pursue.
                  It’s not about hating people, it’s about not realizing (and failing to acknowledge when pointed out) that what’s the normal “in-group” behaviour for you might make another group’s members uncomfortable; and deciding that they just need to adapt to what’s normal in your own view rather than adapting your own behaviour to suit them.

                  It’s also about not realizing when somebody violates your perception of what members of a particular group are like, and continuing to treat them according to your own stereotypes. That’s incredibly human since we need to put things into categories, but it can be incredibly kafkaesque for someone who doesn’t conform to their stereotype.


                  • Daemian Lucifer says:

                    “it's about not realizing”

                    I dont think so.I think its mostly about laziness.I mean that quote from ubisoft about female models in asscreed 4 multiplayer practically spells that out.They dont want to do it because its too much work.Its the same reason we are bombarded by sequels and remakes so much.

                    • Zak McKracken says:

                      On the side of Ubisoft: agreed.
                      I was more thinking about the general public debate.
                      “I’m not sexist/racist, my wife/friend is has a different gender/race than me and it’s never been a problem” or that sort of thing often comes up, but it’s beside the point, because it’s not about hating anyone; it’s about not being considerate of how you’re making others feel, thus not realizing how important it would be to do (or not do) certain things, and then concluding that because you have no ill will against a given group, their negative reception of what you do must be because they either don’t get it or because they’re using their status as “minority” (mind those quotes!) against you.
                      Back to Ubisoft: I don’t think they realize why it would be important to have a more diverse cast of protagonists. And most companies who do offer female protagonsist don’t realize why not all chicks have to be super-hot.

                      Of course: “Don’t have to” is distinctly different from “may not” — another thing that gets conflated a lot of the time.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Its not just ubisoft.Majority of the developers are guilty of being lazy.

                      And because of that,technically its correct that when someone takes issue with games being about mostly white dudes its because they dont get it.Usually theyll talk about the devs being sexist,or racist,or other ist,but very few people will actually call them out on their laziness.

                      And though it may not seem like it,I think the distinction is very important.If developers keep being call -ist,they will simply try to pander to the minorities by doing lazy stuff like slapping a different character or two here and there,thinking thats the solution.I mean,thats what they already are doing.Just think back at the “choose your femshep” or the spectacularly insensitive “players will want to protect lara” pr campaigns.Thats what you get when the least necessary effort is put into researching the reason of why people are bored of/angry at you.

                    • M. says:

                      Accusations of lazy sexism here are not really fair at all.

                      The multiplayer in AC4 is based on four reskins of the (male) main character: they all have the same skeletons and identical animations. A female character would, at an absolute minimum, have to have a different skeleton and different animations. That’s a lot of additional work — anyone who tells you it could be done in a day is full of crap, sorry — and also a lot of extra data that needs to be stored in memory which wasn’t before. It would have been the same if the main character was female and the ask was for a male multiplayer character. This has to be balanced against all the other demands on time and memory, and so “having any kind of multiplayer character that isn’t a reskin of the main guy” got cut.

                      And then there’s the story issue: my understanding is that the local player always sees themselves as the game’s protagonist, with the other MP characters wearing the other skins. So you wouldn’t be able to “select” a female character and ever see her on your screen anyway; the whole issue is moot.

            • Epopisces says:

              I think he meant to say ‘speciesist’.

              Those speciesiest bigots keep making games that appeal only to humans, after all. Did they even bother to check with the animals?!

              • Mephane says:

                There really need to be more games where you play an animal (not as a minigame or sidekick, but the one and only protagonist you control).

                I am still hoping that Feral will become a thing. :)

              • Zak McKracken says:

                To me, it’s more … boring? non-diverse? There’s a pretty rich background of different species, genders, stories, people, histories … younameit, and the developer thinks I’m only ever interested of seeing the part of the actor that (in the eyes of the developer) most closely resembles me, and already holds the same views?
                The choice of the protagonist is designed to minimize exposure to new perspectives, and the entire story is only ever seen from his perspective. How many more interesting angles could we get if we were actually playing some of those other people?

                I guess it comes down to what you expect of a game/movie/book: Good entertainment, a happy end, and confirmation of your own beliefs, or something that gives you a new angle for looking at the world?

                Well, it’s pretty clear which way Bioware chose, and Michael Bay says that’s where the money is.
                Then again, the original Star Trek introduced diversity at a time when it was most unusual and was hugely successful with that. Somebody needs to do that (relative to today’s standards), in a game.

      • Thomas says:

        I think at the moment it takes place during the events of 1 and 2 but is a much smaller scale story.

        It was either that or they were going to go _way_ into the future, or pick a part of the galaxy that isn’t really explored

      • Taellosse says:

        It’s going to be some sort of spin-off, not following Shepherd (though it’s unclear whether it will take place before, after, or during the existing trilogy). They’re bringing back more of an exploration theme, with a new version of the Mako. We don’t know a whole lot more than that yet – there’s no release date and no official title yet.

        Here’s a summary of what has been revealed so far, as of the last significant news: http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2014-07-28-mass-effect-4-everything-we-know-so-far

      • Bryan says:

        …Never underestimate the dedication of executives to an established piece of fiction. They’ll extend it as far as humanly possible, and then some.

        Because a new story is risky! We spent $X billion making this last game, and it just barely made that money back! We can’t take on all that extra risk as well!


  3. Zombie says:

    I thought Mass Effect 2 was better than the 1st Mass Effect, mainly due to the fact that the Mass Effect 2 combat actually felt good, while the Mass Effect combat was just annoying. Also, playing Mass Effect 2 before Mass Effect might have played into that.

    I’d still rather replay Mass Effect 2 over Mass Effect, even though the story for Mass Effect is way better than 2. Its not a slog to get from story point to story point in 2 like it is in 1.

  4. lethal_guitar says:

    So, guess it’s my turn to kick off the next round of image guessing!

    1. Doom
    2. ?
    3. ?
    4. Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast (same image as in previous post)
    5. ?
    6. Metro LL (image also in this post)
    7. Kerbal Space Program (Ok, that one’s too easy!)
    8. ?
    9. ?
    10. Probably one of the Borderlands games, although I don’t recognize this character..
    11. ?
    12. Minecraft

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    “The original roguelike was ““ and I hope this doesn't need further explanation ““ called Rogue.”

    This needs further explanation.

    • Thomas says:

      I found that time interesting when people were complaining that ‘roguelike’ was sort of disrespectful to new games in the genre.

      For all the people who don’t even know that Rogue existed, which is probably the majority, roguelike has a completely different connotation. But to some of the people who were there at the beginning, the word still sounds like ‘GTA clone’

      • Arven says:

        You know, I hate it when people described things as [game]-clone and rougelike is no exception. Because not only do you have to go somewhere to find out about [game], chances are they are very different games that only shares some small set of mechanics. Can’t they just make a more descriptive genre name like, I dunno, Procedural Perma-Death (PPD)?

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Its odd that roguelike is the only one that persisted like this.I mean weve stopped calling fps games doom clones a loong time ago.I wonder why that is.

          • syal says:

            Rogue has other connotations that can be applied; a loner with moderate medieval-style combat abilities that’s still kind of squishy. So you’ve got “Game featuring one guy with a melee weapon in a place that can pretty quickly kill him”. Whereas “Doom-like” implies apocalypse-level stuff, not gunplay.

            (See Joe’s Shift example below; Shift can easily apply to shifting the functions of keys as well.)

          • Kalil says:

            “Diablo-clone” and “GTA-clone” are still pretty persistent, although both do have ‘aternate’ terms, they both lack the descriptive power – “action adventure” and “third-person shooter”, respectively, don’t hold the full connotations of both gameplay and tone that the ‘-clone’ terms do.

            • Thomas says:

              Diablo’s problem is that the thing that defines Diablo isn’t actually it’s central mechanic. It led to Diablo to getting tons of names that don’t actually describe it. ‘Action Adventure’ means something like Uncharted or Tomb Raider (or sometimes something like Assasins Creed), Hack ‘n Slash refers to something like Devil May Cry or even Dynasty Warriors, WRPG and RPG mean… etc

              Whereas what people actually wanted was a word that explains why Diablo and Borderlands are the same game.

              I think that’s beginning to happen now though. Variations of ‘Loot and Grind’ are beginning to pop-up to cover everything from Destiny, Borderlands, Torchlight and Diablo. I expect within 5 years something like that word will be the default for describing Torchlight 4.

              (Also I think you mean sandbox, not third-person shooter =D Cover-based shooters got called Gears of War clones for a while, I don’t know if third-person shooters ever had a clone-name.)

              • Steve C says:

                I’m fond of “3rd person looter” to describe Diablo. But Diablo-esk and Diablo-like has become the defacto description kind of like Rogue-like even though modern games are nothing like Rogue.

                • Thomas says:

                  I’m not convinced it’s entrenched. The very fact you can’t put a name to the exact word suggests it’s not entrenched to me. Until very recently we haven’t had games that push for a name to be made for it and now we have I think we’re at the point where alternatives are emerging and will be gradually adopted. ‘Like Diablo’ is never going to work as a genre title. It’s when people use it without thinking of the actual game in context that a new word has been created. But at the moment when people say ‘Diabloesue’ they’re _consciously_ comparing to Diablo.

                • Eruanno says:

                  I’d be more inclined to call it “top-down 3rd person looter” on account of the camera hanging from slightly angled-above rather than following behind you, Tomb Raider/Uncharted/Assassin’s Creed-style.

              • KMJX says:

                The word to describe the type of game where you repeat maps to get new loot is “Loot Grinder”, though even then there is so much variation of types that it can’t become an all-encompassing term without pissing a lot of someones off.

          • Thomas says:

            It’s because no-one even knows that Rogue existed. It’s the reason. Most gamers, including those who play roguelikes would give a ‘huh’ when they realised that roguelike actually meant rogue-like.

            Whereas GTA is big enough that that’s impossible and Doom’s name transitioned into FPS when Doom was at it’s heights.

            I think Rogue wasn’t a big enough game, and roguelike wasn’t a big enough genre. It didn’t really hit the mainstream like FPS’ and Sandbox’s did. It basically died off for a long time with Nethack being the ‘roguelike’ stallwart, and then fairly recently had a revival.

            The people playing the games in the revival for the first time heard the veterans refer to them as roguelikes and so that became the genre name, but they heard that without actually hearing about Rogue. If anything people would say ‘Oh Binding of Isaac? That’s a roguelike, like Nethack’. Nethack ended up being the genre defining game.

            All the other ‘clone’ titles went mainstream on their first try and for long enough for games to come out that forced people to change their habits (like Saints Row 2)

          • Felblood says:

            roguelike devs know that what their players are looking for in a roguelike isn’t really ASCII text, or a hunger meter, or permadeath, or a level of slapstick violence that makes the act of walking down stairs a potential deathtrap.

            A roguelike doesn’t have to look like Rogue, or play just like Rogue. It has to feel rogue like; it needs to capture that magical feel of rogue, preferably better than the original. There even used to be epic flame wars over what features a game needed to have in order for it to market itself a roguelike, as if capturing that magical sense of creativity, exploration and danger was something you could determine based on a simple checklist. It’s the distinction between a worthy spiritual successor, and a shovelware title that apes the mechanics of whatever was popular last season.

            Indeed, I would posit that that the reason so many “clones” get a bad rap is that the vast majority of them fail to feel as good as the original. COD, UT99, Doom, GTA III, these games were often poorly cloned by people who could see they were good, but couldn’t see deeply enough to take the fine tuning of gameplay and mood that made them blockbusters. It’s the difference between meeting the son of a man you respect and finding that you can respect the heir on his own terms, and meeting the deformed clone of a man you respect and performing the requisite mercy killing.

            • Cybron says:

              “There even used to be epic flame wars over what features a game needed to have in order for it to market itself a roguelike, as if capturing that magical sense of creativity, exploration and danger was something you could determine based on a simple checklist.”

              In some places, there still are.

              • Felblood says:

                There are still lingering coals of instability, but nothing like the global crusades they had in the old days. You couldn’t go anywhere related to Roguelikes without being harangued over it.

                For those who weren’t there, imagine the first few weeks of #GAMEGATE lasting for years.

        • Starker says:

          “Because not only do you have to go somewhere to find out about [game], chances are they are very different games that only shares some small set of mechanics.”

          Isn’t it only natural, though? We talk similarly about Spenserian sonnets and Lovecraftian horror, after all. A genre is nothing more than a shorthand, a tool to help weigh the work against similar works. Sometimes these similarities are on a thematic level, sometimes they are based on the structure.

          Also, a game that’s simultaneously a roguelike and a platformer will naturally be quite different from a game that conforms more closely to the Berlin interpretation of the genre: http://www.roguebasin.com/index.php?title=Berlin_Interpretation

          • Felblood says:


            That’s the sound of me not launching into a long dissertation on how genre names, like all language symbols, have meanings that actually exist in a Heisenbergian state of being both a solid point and a waveform.

            It’s hard to explain and this is not the place for it, but language just makes SO~ much more sense when you start thinking of word meanings in the same quantum mechanical terms as valence electron shells, so a given word can have a given meaning 80% of the time, to 67% of the populace, etc.

            • Starker says:

              For me, it was Wittgenstein and his Philosophical Investigations that brought better understanding of how stuff like this works. Heartily recommended to anyone who wants to understand how the language game is played.

        • Csirke says:

          Like… Procedural Death Labyrinth, or PDL? Although it seems the corresponding Steam tag has now been redirected to Rogue-like and not the other way around. :S

      • Joe Informatico says:

        I’m going to guess that’s why the term persists: it’s a short term to describe a wordy mechanic and most people using it haven’t heard of the original.

        I dunno, I guess it’s like the “Shift” key. There are probably whole cohorts of keyboard users out there who don’t know it originally referred to physically shifting either the basket of type bars, or the paper-holding carriage, so different characters on the type bars could strike the platen. To these users, the Shift key is that thing you hold down to type capitals and special characters, or to sprint in an FPS.

        • Felblood says:

          That, and it usually has the word “Shift” written on it. There’s no shorter path to standardized terminology than a good label.

        • Zukhramm says:

          Fine. The question is then what we now should call those games we used to call roguelikes?

          • syal says:

            Or Classics.
            Either one should work.

            • Felblood says:

              Something that differentiates them from both classic arcade games, and other types of classic strategy or role-playing games, please.

              This is an exercise in harmful futility. XKCD says it better than me:


              • Felblood says:

                Customer: Do you have any of those old games?

                Clerk: like Pong?

                Cu: No, the one where you took moves in turns.

                CL: I have Chess, or video Chinese Checkers. It’s the good one, by Fourwinds.

                Cu: I was thinking about something where everything is letters.

                Cl: Well, I’ve got “Zork” and “Spider and Web”.

                Cu: No, not palyable stories, but like a random challenge, maybe something about making interesting decisions about resource consuption.

                Cl: You mean Hammurabi?

                Cu: NO! er.. no. that’s fine. Like, the ones where you are a character, and you have to survive by your wits in a world that is basically trying to kill you.

                CL: You mean Rogue?

                Cu: Well, not exactly. Proceedural levels are nice, but I think I’ve seen everything rogue has to offer.

                Cl: So you want a game that is like Rogue, but not actually Rogue?

                Cu: Yeah, it has to capture the feel of rogue, but have a novel twist to make things fresh.

                Cl: Well then, I recommend Gearhead Arena. It’s like Rogue meets Oblivion, but with gladiator mecha pilots.

                Cu: That sounds fun, but mecha gladiator sounds awfully empowering for a rogue-like role.

                Cl: Well, if you get good you can make your character into a mecha gladiator, but until then it’ll mostly be a simulation of being a mentally-ill homeless person in a capitalist dystopia.

                Cu: That’s the sense of clawing desperation I’m looking for!

      • CrazyYarick says:

        It’s funny because to me Rogue-like is a fine enough description of a game. Over time it just became the genre name. Seems to do more of a disservice to the original game than to the spin-offs.
        My take away from it though is slightly different than that of most people. Rogue(like) is not necessarily about procedural generation. Not entirely about the permadeath and leathality. Rogue was, to me, always about depth on interaction. The fact that you can do so frigging much and it simulated it. That was the capstone of that genre. I think that I agree with TB’s assertion that games like Rogue Legacy, Risk of Rain, and Binding of Isaac are rogue-Lites. At the same time I think a game like Neo Scavenger has more of the Rogue soul than most modern imitations.
        By the way more people should play Neo Scavenger. It is an awesome game once you get a bit used to the mechanics.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      I’m going to be a semantic pedant for a moment here, and note Rogue can’t be a roguelike. Rogue isn’t like Rogue–it is Rogue!

    • Zak McKracken says:

      I just read this thread, and I’m still not sure what “Rugue-like” is supposed to mean. I’ve seen it applied to so many different games that in my world-view the Heisenbergian cloud of meaning has become a very stretched thing encompassing anything that is neither straight shooter nor Tetris.
      Shamus’ reference to nethack helped increase that cloud’s density in a few places but it’s still rather foggy.

      • Matt Downie says:

        The things that make something like the game Rogue are:
        Randomised dungeons, loot and enemy placement.
        You control a single character.
        Turn-based RPG combat.
        D&D-like fantasy setting.
        Permanent death – no reloading at an earlier point.
        ASCII instead of graphics.
        Practically everything is trying to kill you.

        But to be merely Rogue-like, you don’t have to be all those things at once. You just have to have enough of those things that it feels like one of those games. Some people are purists about the definition. Others are more flexible. For example, take a game like FTL. You have random threats, terrain and loot, you control a single ship, you have pausable real-time combat, science-fiction setting, permanent death, graphics, and practically everything is trying to kill you. Is that a Rogue-like? A Rogue-like-like? Who knows?

    • swenson says:

      I’m going to hop into this to explain a different piece of videogame naming lore that most people have probably never thought about.

      Text adventures. They’re called that because they’re adventures explored through text, right? WRONG. They’re called that because they are Adventure games that are text-only. An Adventure game is, of course, a game in the spirit of the granddaddy of text adventures, Adventure. You might know it as ADVENT or Colossal Cave instead.

      It’s actually a bit like the terms “tabletop RPG” or “pen-and-paper RPG”. When RPGs began, they were all “tabletop”/”pencil and paper”, but the popularity of videogame RPGs lead to “RPG” generally meaning “videogame RPG” instead. In the same way, “adventure games” started out referring only to text-based interactive fiction, ended up getting used for stuff that wasn’t text-based, and thus the term “text adventure” had to be invented.

    • MichaelGC says:

      Is this still the Internet? We start on the definition of “Roguex” and 40 posts later everyone’s mother remains uninsulted and instead we just get reasoned debate & Wittgenstein?

      This is an odd place, at times. (I fluctuate between seeing that as a good and as a bad thing. Generally the former, as I am mostly quite limited & selfish in outlook.)

  6. poiumty says:

    You haven’t played Freespace 2? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? The storytelling in that game is NOTHING like the first one! It gave me goddamn goosebumps with how masterfully it was executed.

    Also… early precursor civilization, race of artificial enemies wiping out civilizations in a cycle, points in space connected by nodes left behind by said ancient civilizations, rogue faction that favors humans over everything else, humanity’s first reaction when encountering an alien race being all-out war… sure looks like something else on that list… Just sayin’.

    I have a feeling Dark Souls would’ve been much closer to #1 on that list if you had liked it, just like Baldur’s Gate 2 would’ve doubtlessly been #1 if only you had played it.

    • syal says:

      Eager to see which of the many Contra games makes the list, and which of the top five spots it occupies.

    • Starker says:

      It’s not an ordered list.

    • Josh says:

      I don’t understand. If Shamus had played Baldur’s Gate II, why wouldn’t he give the top spot to TIE Fighter?

    • Otters34 says:

      Mr. E’Toile, the guy who did all that design stuff for Freespace, worked on the first and some of the second games in Mass Effect. Apparently he was the main force behind the likes of Mordin and Legion, though I’ve obviously no idea if that’s true or not.

      Considering Freespace 2’s failure at the marketplace, maybe he decided to try and tell his story again?

      • poiumty says:

        Interesting, I didn’t know people who worked on Freespace 2 also worked on Mass Effect to some degree. Could be where the overlap is coming from.

        Now I just need to know if any of the artists also worked on the 1997 movie Contact.

    • Richard says:

      Shamus, seeing as you own Freespace 2, you absolutely must go download the New and Improved FS2-SCP complete with MediaVPs.

      It’ll probably fix your joystick problem and by $deity, it looks gorgeous while losing none of the gameplay.

      Imagine if you had a near-infinite budget or a couple of decades to polish a game and keep it up to “modern” graphical standards – that’s FS2 SCP!


    • Corsair says:

      Regarding FS2: Not to get all nitpicky (that’s a lie, really) but the Terran-Vasudan War doesn’t start until a good bit after First Contact, as a result of mounting political tensions and Humanitý’s general inability to grasp the Vasudan language and therefore routinely telling the Emperor to go piss up a rope when trying to say good morning – it’s their fault, the language changes depending on time of day and physical distance from the Emperor, don’t ask me how that works.

      Also, there’s no suggestion that the Subspace Nodes are artificial. The Gamma Draconis-Nebula Portal is stabilizing an already existing node.

  7. RonC says:

    I wonder if any of the GoldBox D&D games will make the list or any old school RPG, like Ultima or Bard’s Tale. Maybe Wasteland? What about the Wing Commander series or Privateer.

  8. krellen says:

    Shamus, I think you missed a golden opportunity here. Your first footnote should instead read simply “That was a joke.”

  9. boz says:

    Space Sim genre died because of consolitis. This is how many keys you need for Freespace 2. (You may want to print that if you really are gonna play it sometime)

    • ehlijen says:

      And I believe that is one of the reasons Freespace 2 was so much better than X-Wing.

      I’ve recently replayed X-wing, and it doesn’t hold up (mostly due to technical limitations, but some other factors as well).
      Without voice over the game drowns the player in status messages (even though the game never has more than a dozen or so ships in play). Those messages bury the plot important ones so deep you often don’t realise that you’ve lost the mission until 5 minutes after the fact (and that’s assuming you’ve failed once before and know which messages to look out for because the game doesn’t announce failure immediately).

      I’m going to use TIE Fighter (CD) as my basis for comparison with Freespace now, because it was such a vast step forward from X-wing and fixes nearly all the technology driven problems (it adds voice over, graphics improved to let you spot ties amids the background stars etc).

      Targeting controls:
      Freespace treats fighters and bombers as separate target categories and adds an automatic ‘priority vessels’ list with its own targeting key. This makes doing what the player is told to do without cycling through more than 6 targets each time much easier and directly contributes to enabling the player to have fun rather than play interface management.
      In Tie Fighter you can save 3 targets manually, but bombers will be buried in the fighter category and there are no automatic priority target keys.

      Capital ships achieve things:
      In Tie Fighter, capital ships were laughably impotent. Their only function appeared to be to launch player controlled craft which, with the right warheads, far outperformed them in damage dealing potential. There is even something I call ‘Star destroyer symptom’: as laser range was 1.5 km, a star destroyer’s rear laser turret couldn’t even shoot past the thing’s nose (1.6km long).
      Almost all missions resolved around fighters protecting capital ships from bombers, rarely each other.
      Freespace also had that problem, but Freespace 2 added beam cannon and everything changed.
      Now capital ship combat was at last possible, and thanks to carefully crafted missions, the player was still powerful enough to affect the outcome. It was just the right mix of ‘ant trapped between two waring giants’ and ‘david taking on goliath’ to make the player feel powerful and yet part of the world.
      Meanwhile in Tie Fighter, the AI couldn’t even lead the target; the player at times seemed the only capable person in the galaxy, and their craft often had more firepower than half the starfleet.

      Wingman controls:
      In Tie Fighter there were rudimentary wing man controls. They worked and were essential to some missions, but the ways to use them were inconsistent (cover me always worked, attack required the target to be targeted, but evade meant you had to target your wingman) and they were limited to one flight.
      The comms menu in freespace is both more intuitive and allows for more commands, more ships to be put under player command and commands to be issued more selectively. Add better pilot AI and you could actually feel like a squadron commander if the mission allowed.

      Mission editor:
      Freespace 1 and 2 came with a fully functional (ok, some bugs) mission editor. It’s what started the modding community and kept it alive until the source code was released.

      Tie Fighter was a great game thanks to its story and mission writing, but I think these aspects show that improvements to the core game were still possible and did happen with Freespace 2.

    • Patrick the Marker sniffer says:

      I always thought the genre died because there really wasn’t a way to differentiate one game from another. All of the space sim/freespace shooters would use essentially the same physics. The rest would just be different graphics and slightly different mechanics. Essentially, they would ALL be clones of each other.

      The FPS/dudebro/face exploder games are different only in the environment they are set in, really. How authentic is the city? How interactive is it? How is the terrain blended or used as another obstacle, or even another enemy? I mean really,,,what makes one shooter that much different than any other?

      In a freespace shooter it would be even more difficult to create a ‘new’ game. There is no environment. Not really. Sure you could throw in the Star Wars trench runs, but that gets pretty old, pretty quick.

      And, as someone said already, they would be PC only. Until they progress a lot further in motion detection the genre is all but dead on the consoles, IMO.

      Making a FPS different from any other is difficult. Making a freespace shooter different is even more so.

  10. Trainzack says:

    2013_kerbal.jpg is the best punchline ever!

  11. Anonymous says:

    I liked Jacob. Having a Standard Bioware Starting Human Companion who isn’t a mopey crybaby or an unlikeable bitch was a nice change of pace.

    • The weird thing about him was how they made him romanceable by only a female player, yet you had the same flirty dialog and poses regardless of your intentions or gender. It comes off as really odd not because your selection of dialog not matching your actual choices is anything new for the ME series, but that it happens without any warning. The one time I tried romancing a crewmember, it was pretty obvious which choices would lead to le sexytime.

      I guess it was also strange that they recycled the poses/dialog from what I assume was FemShep, but even with her it was really weird to be all “let’s all soldier-talk” and then suddenly you leaned on a nearby counter and started sounding like you were on the pull.

      He also was placed in the role of Captain Exposition early on, and that never sells a character when he becomes a sockpuppet for an info-dump like that.

  12. Ilseroth says:

    I have to say, I greatly respect that you added Dark Souls to the list. while you don’t personally enjoy the game you respect it’s goals and singleminded devotion to those goals.

    Personally I love being provided with systemic challenge that requires mastery of a subset of skills that gradually builds to a climax.

    Which is what made me simultaneously happy and sad at the ending, which I am going to spoil now.

    When you fight Gwyn, you can counter his attacks.

    Originally I didn’t attempt the end boss with that particular method, so for me the ending was a terribly challenging as my lightweight assassin character nimbly bounced around, with every failed dodge ending with me getting crushed to pulp.

    When I found the method in question it actually cheapened the fight for me, since it was the penultimate test of my dodging capabilities to that point.

    Now granted, a few dozen playthroughs on Dark Souls 1 and 2, now I can walk in and cream him with some silly ridiculously overpowered build and entrained muscle memory…

    But that first time, (since i hadn’t played Demon’s Souls) was an epic ending that helped solidify the game as one of my favorite RPGS.

    • Zukhramm says:

      I don’t know, if you don’t like a game to such a degree that you haven’t played much at all, can you really determine if the game succeeds and doesn’t just completely change a bit further in? Other people say so? Well they might be wrong!

      Of course, I’m saying this while trashing Sonic the Hedgehog having only gotten past Green Hill Zone twice.

  13. Jake Taylor says:

    It’s kind of funny… Gaming-wise, I’ve increasingly felt disconnected from this site over the last few years. I liked each Mass Effect game better than the one before it (I don’t have too many good things to say about ME1), and I loved the ending of ME3, as well as the intro to ME2. I also love Dragon Age 2, and hate Origins. I love Fallout 3 and New Vegas, and hate the originals.

    I don’t watch Spoiler Warning because I so often disagree with everything being said that it’s just frustrating. And it keeps doing games I love which I don’t really feel like hearing people complain about for dozens of hours all the way through.

    But I’m still on this site not only for all of Shamus’ writing, but because it’s such a great place to see intelligent discussion, a rarity on the internet. And even when I don’t share the opinions here, I still love seeing different opinions presented in reasonable and justified manners. It reminds me that my opinion isn’t “right”, just an opinion.

    Posts like this really encompass that, I think. Shamus put games on his list that he thinks should be represented for some reason or another, trying his best to remain objective, and that’s admirable in many ways, and it makes things like this a joy to read whether I agree with it or not because it’s such a well-presented viewpoint.

    Also, as an aside, Jacob Taylor does suck, a fact that is all the more annoying for me since my name is Jacob Taylor. Anyway, sorry for rambling.

    • Thomas says:

      I like ME2, the ending to ME3 (well the original ending), Dragon Age II and Fallout New Vegas! (Although I also really like DA:Origins).

      To be fair, I think Spoiler Warning likes New Vegas too right? As it totally deserves, it’s a runner for best WRPG ever.

      • They did. Just listen to the first and last episodes. Only Josh didn’t like it enough to finish it, as he thought it got boring.

        I think Spoiler Warning works because no video game (yet) seems to be able to survive as a form of passive entertainment. That is, if you try to watch a playthrough like a movie, it’s going to stall, stumble, be silly, etc. especially if it has a strong narrative component because you’re not engaged in the participation bit of the game.

        Take Fallout 3 or New Vegas, for example. What movie would ever include inventory management and house decoration as a part of the plot, unless it was for comedic effect? And even then, it wouldn’t be nearly as long as we see on SW.

      • lurkey says:

        Well, I like Witchers and a couple of other games Shamus cannot stand but it never bothered me at all. People have different tastes in games, and you know what — it’s really not a big deal.

        Fallout New Vegas is one of my favouritest games ever, and SW season of it is my favouritest season of them all. See, I really like when smart and funny people make fun of things I love. Guess that makes me some sort of untrue fan, but hey, laughter allegedly prolongs life, so I win anyway.

        As for ME 2/3 thing…for me, this blog is like the last shelter of sanity, when everyone around raves about how gorgeous Emperor’s new clothes are.

    • Vermander says:

      I feel the same way sometimes. I have a lot of the same opinions as Shamus about storylines and writing in games, but sometimes our tastes are really different, particularly in regard to how Bioware has been changing. Mass Effect 2 may be my all time favorite game (though I hated the ending of the third).

      I’ve always liked Bioware games because I love the characters and the fun and creative side quests, but I’ve never enjoyed the traditional RPG tactics and mechanics. I hate having to constantly change everyone’s equipment and upgrade their skills in various trees. I pick my party based solely on which characters I like and want to see interact with each other, I could care less who is a “tank” or a “healer”.

      That being said, I still really enjoy reading a site that values story and writing in games and it’s cool to hear about gaming from the perspective of someone else who is over 30 and raising a family. And like you said, I enjoy the shockingly courteous, civil and well reasoned discussions in the comments section.

      • Thomas says:

        “I pick my party based solely on which characters I like and want to see interact with each other, I could care less who is a “tank” or a “healer”.”

        This so much. One of the things I really hated about Dragon Age Origins was the balancing meant you couldn’t really afford to have the party with you that you wanted to have with you.

    • RandomInternetCommenter says:

      Hear, hear.

      There was a post by Shamus the other day warning someone else he hits all the points on his personal checklist for trollish behavior, anonymity stuff mostly. So do I. I’m not here to rile people up, just to get some perspective. This is a great spot to hang out to see some of the best arguments from the “other” side.

    • Duffy says:

      I severely disliked Origin’s player insertion aspect and how it played out, the actual plot threads were pretty good, but I felt so disconnected from everything that I never really finished it.

      I burned through DA2 pretty much non-stop in three days.

      If the could combine the personal narrative of DA2 with the scope of Origins…

  14. Freespace 2 is available on Steam, now.

    I’m just throwing that out there.

  15. Am I like the only person who thought ME1 played better than ME2, but the story wasn’t as good? In ME2, the ‘simplified’ skill system abstracted everything to the point where I had no idea what anything did and buffing it out didn’t create a tangible difference in play. The ammo system made busywork outta fights as I now had to run around looting with no guarantee I’d break even on the ammo count. The planet scan mini-game was less immersive and miles more repetitive than the Mako ever was and that fucking toy ship you piloted around was the most childish and aggravating addition the game ever got!

    And yet the stories were told better, had better dialogue, were more personal and character focused than ME1 ever was. The simple fact is that both games revolved around a core story of “space marine fights alien threat”, but I can understand why engineers and general trek-style nerds would prefer ME1’s world building – which as a rule is more tangible and easier to define and quantify – over ME2’s focus on character development.

    All that said, ME1’s inventory management can suck all the bags full of all the dicks forever and all eternity and ME2 can be almost deserving of the spot on the list for the act of removing it alone.

    • Thomas says:

      ME1 had too many bullet sponges and any time I tried to do anything clever (sniping geth a mile away with the sniper rifle) I found out it was much easier to Rambo in.

      The prefabricated sidequest away missions were super repetitive, too.

      I did miss the vehicle sections, though.

    • Thomas says:

      I’m not a huge fan of ME2’s combat, I think it was ME3 that nailed it, but I think I still prefer it over 1. The AI and enemy design in 1 was beyond atroscious, particularly in the side missions where it’s hard to believe the developers even play tested the game once.

      And all the skills systems in 1 felt like complicated ways of hiding the fact that it was a really simple and unflexible system. There were actually only like 10 upgrades in the whole ME1 skill tree which they hid by +0.1ing your damage on each ability. And each ability didn’t really encourage any kind of unique playstyle. It was basically about spamming all your abilities and then waiting for the 30 second cooldown to come up. None of the classes in 1 were actually special and a lot of the abilities were basically clones of each other.

      In 2 the abilities at least encouraged different playstyle and were crucial to how that worked out. Biotic detonating, vanguard charging, slow-mo aiming. They all added actual tactical elements to how a battle played out. The vanguard charge for example completely changes how the game is made and forces you to try and catch the AI when it’s isolated and judge the damage you can do before being overwhelmed. Generally instead of just ‘pressing all the buttons’ you actually had to select the correct ability for the correct situation.

      But the actual upgrades for the abilities in ME2 were weak and the combat feeling was weak. It didn’t excite at all, the enemy AI was years better but the enemy design wasn’t.

      In ME3 the upgrades were meaningful and more than that the enemy design and AI was varied enough to force situational tactical thinking

      • swenson says:

        ME3 perfected the combat. A big part of that, IMO, was the combos. ME2 had a couple of weak ways to combine powers, but ME3 took that idea and just ran with it.

        ME3’s combat is just plain fun. Regardless of what I think of various aspects of the game, I still hop into it every once in awhile just for the combat. (also, the multiplayer lets me live out my dream of running around as a krogan, punching people people to death while I laugh maniacally)

      • Thomas says:

        By the way, I should point out that the first Thomas isn’t me. He’s one of the many other tom’s and thomas’ frequenting twentysided =D

  16. Zagzag says:

    It’s worth noting that Freespace was only known as “Descent” in the US. Over in Europe it was “Conflict: Freespace”

    It was the first game I ever played, and I’m still amazed by how well it holds up today.

  17. Vipermagi says:

    “But Nethack made the genre famous and was wringing salty tears out of overly ambitious gamers long before the first inklings of Dark Souls appeared on the dry-erase board of a heartless and sadistic game developer.”

    From Software’s particular brand of self-inflicted agony started a fair while prior to Dark Souls however, with the King’s Field series. Still a solid seven years younger than Nethack, the first entry in the King’s Field series was released in 1994. Demon’s popped up fifteen years later; Dark another two after Demon’s.

    I actually played a couple hours of King’s Field IV (2001) a while back. Within three steps from where you begin the game is a patch of discoloured earth. Stepping on it causes it to crumble, revealing surprisingly cold lava – deadly only when touched. Of course, the ground you were just standing on has recently and rapidly dissolved.
    At least the intro can be skipped! Welcome to King’s Field.
    (also slimes are the devil)

    • Rob says:

      Kings Field 2 (1 in the US) takes place on an island, and has four paths leading away from the starting shore:

      Ahead and to the right of you lies a cave and the path to the first dungeon, which in turn leads to the NPC villages and the main story.

      To the right of that is a pirate cave filled with traps, locked doors and incredibly deadly skeletons. You won’t be able to progress very far here until you discover a specific key much later in the game. The entrance to this area looks the same as the entrance to the first dungeon.

      Behind you is a lighthouse whose ‘lantern’ is actually a magic crystal that unlocks the basic fireball spell, followed by a path that loops back around to the starting area. The only enemies in this area are on the path back and are harmless as long as you don’t stop moving.

      To your left (literally meters away) is a narrow ledge, alongside which is a mid-game boss who’s blocking the entrance to a small cave. He will likely one-shot you if you try to pass since he’ll throw you backwards off the ledge if he hits you. This boss is identical to the first and most common enemy you’ll fight in the starting dungeon, just larger and immobile.

      And even worse, there’s actually a small fifth area on the other side of that ledge that you can just barely see from the spawn point, and with careful timing you can run past the boss, search behind a waterfall, and fight a tough-but-doable pair of skeletons to loot a shiny Knight Sword you normally wouldn’t obtain for another hour or two.

      There is no indication of which path you should take other than you start sort of facing the cave that leads to the first dungeon. And that’s not much help. Players going that way will miss the fireball spell and the sword, either of which turn the early game from excruciating to merely frustrating.

      • Starker says:

        Strangely enough, all of this makes me really want to try King’s Field. There are barely any games outside of roguelikes these days that encourage this sort of careful exploration and learning from mistakes.

        Oh, and speaking of roguelikes, Nethack might finally get an official update after 11 years — there was a code leak recently that showed some non-trivial changes.

  18. swenson says:

    Nethack! I’ve played that game off and on for years and still never beaten the quest. (in my defense, I tend to go several months… or years… between playing, so I forget everything) But man. That game is so much fun. I’m usually a massive wimp who likes my games to be very forgiving, but there’s something about Nethack that makes me not mind permadeath so much.

    I do love that it’s entirely possible, if unlikely, to die before you can make your first move. (if, for example, an artifact of the wrong alignment/whatever is randomly generated on the first space… autopickup will cause you to pick it up immediately and it’ll blast you, and could easily kill you)

  19. Patrick the Marker sniffer says:

    Nethack…..what a game. A completely unfair, “eff you for playing!” type game, but an amazing chunk of software none-the-less. What 30 year old game is played as frequently or downloaded as much? Above all, it's the game that almost EVRYONE has played. Like Tetris, everyone has played it at least once.

    I wonder if Nethack covers the text style genre? Does this mean the “The Lurking Horror” will not make an appearance?

    • Cybron says:

      I highly suspect the number of people who’ve played nethack is much less than the number of people who’ve played Tetris. It takes a very particular social group to not encounter people who’ve never played nethack.

    • WWWebb says:

      “What 30 year old game is played as frequently or downloaded as much? ”

      Zork…which will (I suspect) be appearing on this list fairly soon.

  20. Sean Riley says:

    I’m actually weirdly disappointed you were joking about Jacob.

    No, nobody likes him, but he’s in a grand fine tradition of dull male romantic options including Sky from Jade Empire and Carth from KoTOR. As such he’s very much a proud symbol of old Bioware. ;)

    • RCN says:

      At least Carth was a tinfoil hat paranoid who turns out to be completely right about being paranoid about you, considering what happens but I can’t say because of SPOILERS and I’m a dummy who to this day hasn’t learned how 20-sided does spoilers.

  21. RCN says:

    Jacob? I mean, Samara I can kinda get. She’s full-blown Lawful Stupid, but at least she admits she’s being Lawful Stupid and suffers for it.

    Jacob? Jacob is what you get when you want to make the “Whacky Black Sidekick” and upper management says “no, that’s too stereotypical”, but you have no other ideas. So you make a “Whacky Black Sidekick” who’s not whacky, is not recognizably a sidekick and is barely even black.

    Zaeed was much more fun to bring along. He reminded me a lot of Canderous from KotOR, but less conflicted about being a total bastard.

    EDIT: Good, the notation didn’t load the first time I read the post. Now I feel like a jackass.

  22. Phantos says:

    For what it’s worth, I liked Jacob a lot more than uh… white male Ashley…

    Whatever his name was.

  23. Phantos says:

    Even when it kills me in absolutely cheap, unfair ways, I still love Dark Souls. Just today I discovered a place and an enemy I didn’t know was even accessible without no-clipping wizardry. Every time I think I’ve seen it all, this game surprises me.

    God help me, it’s probably my Game of the Decade.

    I love it so much, I want to try the sequel, even though everything I’ve heard about it suggests they kind of screwed the pooch on that one.

    • Starker says:

      “I love it so much, I want to try the sequel, even though everything I've heard about it suggests they kind of screwed the pooch on that one.”

      It’s still good, just… less so. But it’s still a Souls game and scratches a lot of the same itch.

  24. Someone says:

    Picture guesses 40-33:
    1 – Doom
    2 – Champions Online
    3 – World of Warcraft
    4 – KOTOR
    5 – Left 4 Dead 2
    6 – Metro Last Light
    7 – Kerbal Space Program
    8 – Bioshock Infinite
    9 – Saints Row 4
    10 – Borderlands
    11 – ???
    12 – Minecraft

  25. Daniel says:

    I prefer ADOM over Nethack. I feel like that’s the game that really perfected the formula.

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