For today, I’ve taken the opportunity of composing a list of my top 10 favorite video games, beginning with number 10, to express my love for the medium of video games.
#10: Age of Empires
I’ve never been good at Age of Empires, or any real-time strategy game for that matter. I find that there are too many moving parts to keep track of at once, such as the number of villagers I should assign to resource-gathering operations, the pace at which I progress to future epochs, and how to defend my town from my opponents’ unforeseen, premeditated sieges. Despite such ineptitudes that I have yet to address, I know that with enough practice and due diligence, I could come to conquer the world, figuratively speaking. It is for that reason Age of Empires is the mentor I wish I had growing up, as it both teaches and refines important leadership, delegation, and time-management skills that are inherent to our professional and private lives.
Although each subsequent installment in the franchise was worse than the last, with Fable: Heroes so bad that Microsoft cancelled its development and shut down Lionhead Studios, the aura of charm of the original Fable cannot be understated. For every time I booted up that game and entered its mystical world, I felt like a child awakening on Christmas morning to open up presents and spend time with his family, a cup of delicious hot cocoa in hand. More importantly, Fable’s approach to character development was like none I had ever seen, and have yet to see, in role-playing video games, with your Hero’s body undergoing observable and physical changes relative to the number of good versus bad deeds you committed throughout your journey. It’s a game mechanic that I hope is reintroduced in the rumored-but-surely-inevitable Fable reboot, developed by the guys behind the Forza series, Playground Games. But who knows? Maybe the franchise will never climb out of the hole Lionhead Studios dug for it. Only time will tell.
#8: Dead Rising
Truth be told, I had not played Dead Rising until last summer. But similar to Fable, this incredibly addictive, open world survival horror beat ‘em up introduced me to a mechanic that I had not been accustomed to, fundamentally shifting the gameplay dynamic: a rigid schedule that you had to follow. Fail to show up at a particular location before a particular hour of the day, and you’d have to start the game from the beginning, assuming you’re hardcore and haven’t saved at all – it’s your fault, after all, for not checking your watch when you were supposed to. It creates a sense of urgency that other games struggle to emulate through their arbitrarily allotted time limits that, if reached, revert you back to a previous checkpoint. Where’s the urgency in something so inconsequential? Not to mention the insane amount of replay value you get from striving to unlock the multiple alternate endings and experimenting with even the most mundane of objects in the environment to see if they’re viable weapons. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore, folks.
#7: Portal 2
Portal 2 is the first and only sequel to Valve’s beloved puzzle game, Portal. In addition to the test chambers that make you feel like Albert Einstein for figuring them out, and whose feels and flavors change throughout the story’s 9 chapters, Portal 2 deserves to be commended for its narrative direction, hilarious but smartly written character dialogue, and cooperative campaign mode.
From a narrative standpoint, Portal 2 is one of the few pieces of media I’ve consumed that has subverted my expectations by flipping the roles of the villain and the comic relief, such that halfway through the campaign, Wheatley takes the role of GLaDOS. Moreover, close to all of Cave Johnson’s pre-recordings are classic comedy gold. My favorite line of his is, “Alright, this next test may involve trace amounts of time travel. So, word of advice: If you meet yourself on the testing track, don’t make eye contact. Lab boys tell me that’ll wipe out time. Entirely. Forward and backward! So do both of yourselves a favor and just let that handsome devil go about his business.”
Finally, the cooperative campaign adds 8 to 10 hours of play time independent of the singleplayer mode, promoting essential problem-solving skills between two people that do wonders for your relationships inside and outside the game.
Portal 2 is simply a special game. Let’s hope that Valve can learn to count to ‘3’ soon.
#6: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Seven years later, Skyrim has not aged well for me, but when has any Bethesda game aged well? Still, my reasons for putting Skyrim on this list can be found here.
#5: Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V, the latest installment in the Grand Theft Auto franchise, rightfully earns its #5 spot on this list not only for correcting all of GTA IV’s mistakes, but for delivering upon its most ambitious and most variable story mode yet. In fact, GTA V’s story yields the most mission variety in any game I’ve played – I’ll be repossessing cars as Franklin in one mission, and learning yoga as Michael the next. Or I could be going on psychopathic killing sprees as Trevor. Not to mention the increasingly intense and epic heists whose logistics you must coordinate in advance with your fellow criminal associates.
The three aforementioned playable protagonists are welcome additions to the GTA formula, and switching between them during the larger-scale missions has always felt organic to me. I’m confident that Red Dead Redemption II will reach similar heights, though I’m skeptical of its multiplayer component for fear that, like GTA Online, it will alienate more story-centric audiences.
#4: DARK SOULS
I have a special relationship with the original DARK SOULS. In the spring of 2014, my brother purchased it from the Xbox LIVE marketplace without my consent. I didn’t hold it against him since it was only $5. Plus I wanted to try it out for myself to see if its supposedly brutal difficulty was all that game reviewers cracked it up to be.
Thrust into the dismal and decaying world of Lordran like a frightened child, my only weapon a broken straight sword, I initially felt intimidated – disheartened, even – by the difficulty level that was anything but noob friendly. Slowly, however, I powered through my disillusionments when I became convinced that my inability to progress forward in the game was because I couldn’t “git gud,” thereby conquering every boss and challenge and gaining genuine self-confidence that I took with me into the real world and continue to apply to my life every day.
DARK SOULS earns its #4 spot because it is one of the few games to make me feel like a cockroach whose sole purpose in life is to travel from point A to point B, diminutive and powerless but determined to push forward and stay alive regardless if everybody, and everything, wants to see me dead. I liken the experiences of venturing into Blighttown and the Depths for the first time to accidentally stumbling upon your high school’s boiler room – yes, it’s “there” per se, but that doesn’t mean you belong in there, so you should probably turn back while you still can.
Most of all, DARK SOULS taught me that success can only be achieved through failing, repeatedly, and learning from exactly what we did wrong so we can do better the next time we make an attempt at overcoming a challenge.
What a happily depressing game to play.
#3: Ori and the Blind Forest
I consider Ori and the Blind Forest to be the Mona Lisa of video games. Developed by Moon Studios, this platform-adventure, Metroidvania, quasi-RPG is perhaps as close to perfect as any piece of art can get. Right off the bat, Ori rips your heart out and shatters it into a million pieces, constituting an intense emotional roller coaster of an experience without sacrificing its narrative integrity. It’s a story of loss, hope, tenacity, redemption, and reinvigoration, with the main character and white spirit, Ori, embarking on a fantastical journey to restore sustenance to a forest that’s been ravaged by a storm. The pacing is excellent, the gameplay is slick, variable, and satisfying, and the set pieces are practically interactable paintings. And then there’s the music.
Gareth Coker’s score is, unequivocally and indisputably, the best music I have ever heard in my life, transcending my consciousness and connecting my soul to force far greater than myself (and I’m not even religious). Its mystical placidness – its aura of serenity – fills my heart with such joy. My personal favorite tracks are “Up the Spirit Caverns Walls,” “Riding the Wind,” and “Completing the Circle.”
If you haven’t played this masterpiece of a game, what have you been doing with your life? It’s so good, we’ll be playing it in one or two hundred years from now.
#2: Halo 2
If Halo: Combat Evolved defined the first-person shooter story campaign for a generation, Halo 2 defined multiplayer gaming for generations to come, utilizing revolutionary technology that allowed players to connect to and communicate with one another across large geographical distances and, therefore, conceiving of the first online competitive environment.
Also, unlike the more recent Halo titles, Halo 2 built upon the core Halo formula but did not stray too far from it. For instance, it introduced dual-wielding to the franchise, a mechanic in which you can wield two weapons at a time to increase firepower and gain a slight but notable edge over your opponent, and an ambitious, lengthy Campaign mode whose levels alternate between the Master Chief and a new character, the Arbiter, that went on to become a fan-favorite.
Halo 2 is my #2 favorite game of all-time and my #1 favorite Halo game because both of the main characters’ respective story arcs are logically tied together in a way where every time you switch from the Chief to the Arbiter or vice versa, it doesn’t feel like the game is “cutting away” from something important or spending too much time playing one character and not enough time playing the other (I’m looking at you, Halo 5). Above all, the grander story told here deals with profound themes of brotherhood, betrayal, loyalty, devotion to one’s in-group, and the dangers of religious extremism, paralleling modern day terrorist incidents.
The revolutionary multiplayer component. The epic rivalry between Master Chief and the Arbiter. Marty O’Donnell’s iconic music. The expansion of the core formula that makes Halo, Halo. The memories. All of these things, and more, make for a game that I still revisit and thoroughly enjoy like I was playing it for the first time.
#1: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
I resent The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt in a way. I resent it because it set the bar so ridiculously high – and was so jam-packed with an absurd amount of quality, handcrafted content – that it ruined what little fun I could have had playing other role-playing video games, like Horizon Zero Dawn, Assassin’s Creed: Origins, and Middle-earth: Shadow of War. I’m not exaggerating, either. According to statistics on HowLongToBeat.com, it took players, on average, 49 hours to beat the main story and 55 hours to beat the side quests and Witcher contracts. And that’s excluding Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine, the two DLC packages which take an additional 50 hours to beat, give or take.
To put it differently, if the game isn’t Witcher 3, it’s average at best. For example, the latest entry in the Zelda franchise, Breath of the Wild, launched last year. While I commended its unfathomably large open world, imaginative puzzle shrines, and slick and satisfying combat mechanics, I found myself constantly comparing it to Witcher 3 on account of its cookie-cutter storyline and lack of fully voice acted quests that trampled on my sense of immersion. I thought, “If Witcher 3 did ‘this’ and ‘that,’ then Breath of the Wild should’ve met ‘these’ standards.” But it didn’t, and it couldn’t. I was thoroughly disappointed enough with BotW to feel fooled by the game’s misleading reviews, thus selling my Switch on Craigslist and jumping back into, you guessed it, Witcher 3.
Nothing about The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is half-baked or half-assed, unlike most of today’s AAA games. Every quest serves a purpose, telling a story unique to the character who assigns it. Every choice you make carries weight, demonstrably impacting the game world and its various inhabitants. And every line of dialogue is expertly written, beautifully delivered, and loaded with information that lends remarkable insight into the Witcher mythos. What’s more is that the characters, even Geralt himself, are all flawed but complicated, their motivations hard to discern at face value and necessitating some deeper digging. The Bloody Baron is a perfect example. (The quest “Family Matters” is where I really fell in love with this game.)
The Witcher 3 is a one-of-a-kind game, and we may never see anything like it again. The only game that could come close to it is CD Projekt’s next open-world RPG, Cyberpunk 2077, but we’ll see if it lives up to the hype or not.
And there you have it – my top 10 favorite video games. If you’ve made it this far in the article, thank you for reading. Now what are your 10 favorite video games?