World of Warcraft
It's the game I've played more than any other, by a huge margin. And despite being more than a decade old, Blizzard's classic, genre-defining MMORPG still keeps me entertained - as it does millions of others.
WoW's secret is that it's so vast in scope, and offers such an immense range of things to do that it appeals to a hugely broad roster of players. From casual adventurers pottering around their garrison to hardcore raiders taking on top-end dungeons with military precision, World of Warcraft and its five expansions combine to deliver one of the largest, most varied and comprehensive virtual worlds yet conceived. It really does offer something for everyone, which is why its playerbase is so broad.
While World of Warcraft's subscriber base has dropped from a peak of almost 12m down to 7m over the last few years, that's still more players than any other MMO. Part of the reason why WoW keeps people playing beyond just its sheer number of activities is that over the last decade, its gameplay has been continually refined and tweaked, and is now very buttoned-down. Gone is much of the grindy, inconvenient old-school stuff, and in are far more efficient questlines, convenience features, and easy ways to hook up with other players to enjoy PvP, dungeons and raids.
It all adds up to making WoW the best MMO yet seen.
I know I could be talking about this on iOS or Mac, but I mostly play it on PC, and that's the reason why it's here. If you haven't played it, or have been living under a rock for the past 6 months, Hearthstone is a collectible card game that plays a little like Magic the Gathering, but using characters, critters and spells drawn from the World of Warcraft universe, as well as plenty of new, unique features.
The game is very easy to pick up and play, which is of course its genius. Because while it takes little effort to understand the game, its myriad cards and combinations thereof, plus the differently-themed playstyles of each of its nine classes combine to create a game that's incredibly deep and varied.
Best of all, the game is free to play. Although once you work your way through the basic game and start earning free cards, it won't be long before you'll want to accelerate your acquisition rate, which will have you opening your wallet again... and again... and again.
But you won't mind. Because at that point you'll be way too into building new decks and playing to think about the fact that you've probably spent more on Hearthstone than you did on the last premium game you bought. Especially since you'll likely play it for many times longer.
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls
No, I'm not being sent on a vacation paid for by Blizzard, or taking bundles of used notes from them in brown paper bags. Even though it may seem like it considering my current top three PC games are all produced by the same Southern Californian company.
No siree. There's no kickback conspiracy here. WoW was always going to be on my list considering I've put almost a decade into the game. Hearthstone is a current obsession - and looks like it'll continue to be one for the foreseeable future - and after recently looking for things to do in the dead-zone between the end of the Mists of Pandaria WoW expansion, and the incoming Warlords of Draenor, my partner and I have rediscovered the delights of Diablo III: Reaper of Souls.
It's so much more refined than the original game. And it's a loot pinata too. Blitzing through the early levels, we seemed to be leaving as much loot on the floor as we did dead bodies. Well, not quite, but it's nice to be in a position where you're constantly sorting through your loot haul to make room for better items - while also continually swapping in and out your own gear.
Yep, Diablo 3 is a blast. It does get annoyingly clicky sometimes, and I wish it had support for an Xbox 360 controller so I could play it like the console version, but still. When it comes to multiplayer dungeon crawling, this game is the biz.
Like the man said, kick, punch, it's all in the mind. Also, grapple, body slam, choke hold, and air-dash. Guacamelee takes the time-tested, indie-approved concept of the free-roaming platformer genre and elbow smashes it into a gruesome collision with the fighting game, then lightly dusts it with a gentle coating of Mexican folklore. It's as unlikely a combination as you're likely to find in video games, but then, this is a game about combos - even unorthodox ones.
Don't hate this game just because it began life on Nintendo 3DS; it's still pretty darned good. And it feels right at home on PCs, honestly, hearkening back to computer classics like Boulder Dash, Spelunker, and, uh... Mr. Driller? Well, two out of three ain't bad. Take control of a wild west mining robot digging in search of mysterious lost artifacts from an ancient civilization. It's more interesting and exciting than it sounds, a real love letter to the classics and yet very much its own unique creation.
Avadon 2: The Corruption
Kickstarter has brought the world a new slate of isometric role-playing games in the Obsidian/BioWare style... but don't call it a comeback. Spiderweb Software's been here for years. Avadon is the latest in the company's steady line of old-school RPGs, lacking some of the complexity and scale of their Avernum series, but still plenty meaty. Between its branching story and the multiple character class selections, Avadon should scratch your retro-RPG itch while you're waiting for your next Kickstarter investment to come to fruition.
Just Cause 2
Rico Rodriguez returns to blow up another dictatorship and the civilians that just happen to live there. Just Cause 2 came out in 2010, but it's still a game I can load up today and still have a ton of fun. Such there's a plot, a supporting cast, and character motivation, but none of that matters in the face of the untold destruction you can wreak with one guy, a grappling hook, and a load of weapons. I've had so much fun with Just Cause 2 and it only got better when developer Avalanche Studios let some enterprising modders release a free multiplayer addition to the game. Craziness personified.
Unreal Tournament 2004
For a mere $15, you can pick up the culmination of the best arena shooter ever created. During the Unreal/Quake Wars, every PC player had a favorite, but if Unreal was your thing, these was the best of the best. Deathmatch, Domination, CTF, Assault mode, and the vehicle-powered Onslaught Mode; if you wanted to play an arena shooter, there were tons of ways to play. 2004 has all the weapons, all the characters, and all the levels in one perfect package. The only problem with Unreal Tournament 2004 is Epic count repeat the magic with Unreal Tournament III.
You can play Grand Theft Auto V, Saints Row IV, and Watch Dogs all your want, but for your cold, hard cash, Sleeping Dogs is the absolute winner when it comes to open-world games. Join Detective Wei Shen on his undercover assignment in the Chinese Triad; I'm pretty sure I don't have to tell you that everything goes completely wrong. The strength of Sleeping Dogs is developer United Front didn't have the budget to create this huge, sprawling open-world. So, the world is just big enough and it's really focused on doing what works best, instead of throwing in all the minigames you could ever want. One of the few open-world games I played through from beginning to end (before I became a reviewer).
Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion
Despite being around seven years at this point, Sins of a Solar Empire still looks great, and enjoys the side benefit of being able to run on pretty much everything. It's also one of the only games to successfuly straddle the line between big picture strategy and the moment-to-moment excitement of controlling a really big fleet in real-time.
For you see, unlike most 4x strategy games, everything in Sins of a Solar Empire plays out in real time. In that regard, it has almost as much in common with StarCraft as it does Galactic Civilizations. Choosing from one of three distinct factions, your task it to quickly build an empire and find ways to overwhelm foes, which practically speaking usually means building a giant fleet of advanced ships and bombing their homeworld into oblivion.
All told, it's a pretty unique experience on any platform, and its extensive modding community has churned out quite a lot of good content over the years. If you're a fan of sci-fi, then Rebellion is absolutely worth a look.
StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm
Even if you're afraid of the commitment demanded by competitive real-time strategy, StarCraft II is worth checking out. Between Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm, it now features a campaign spanning more than 50 missions, with more content still to come. Moreover, it can run on most computers these days and look good in the process.
Though it's technically a sequel, StarCraft II largely stands on its own. Much of the original story is told via flashbacks and cinematics, making it relatively easy to follow what's going on. Beyond the story, there's a huge amount of content including AI battles, custom maps, and of course, the ever-present multiplayer mode.
I recently revisited StarCraft: Heart of the Swarm, and I was pleased by the high level of creativity and quality that went into each campaign mission. StarCraft II pretty much represents real-time strategy at its best. The artform may be on its deathbed outside of the indie space, but it's nice that it's going out with a bang.
Star Trek Online
Star Trek Online suffered middling reviews when it was first released back in 2010, with many rightly criticizing its underwhelming ground combat and lack of endgame content. But a lot can change in four years, and Star Trek Online has improved by leaps and bounds since then, adding an additional playable race (Romulans), fleet housing, raids, character traits, and a variety of new systems. Cryptic has even gone so far as to remaster some of the older content, dramatically improving both the production values and the overall design.
At present, it's possible to play as either the Federation or the Klingons, with the Romulans able to join one or the other once they reach Level 10. All three races have extensive stories covering pretty much every aspect of the Star Trek universe, from the Original Series to Enterprise to the most recent movies. Rest assured that you will be fighting the Borg, the Klingons, Species 8472, and even the time-traveling aliens from the episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where they all meet Mark Twain. Comprehensive isn't really the word for Cryptic's approach to the Star Trek canon. Obsessive is more like it.
Like many MMOs, Star Trek Online has long since gone free-to-play; happily though, it hasn't dramatically impacted the progression or the flow of content. Mostly, the monetization comes in the form of new starships to fly and the ever present lockboxes, which can be ignored at your discretion. Otherwise, Star Trek Online is a sprawling MMO with well more than a hundred hours of content that can be enjoyed totally free.
Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition
Though it takes some fan-made modding to make it run properly, the Prepare to Die PC port of Dark Souls is the definitive version of the game. And if you've never played Dark Souls, here's the deal: It's a tough-as-nails, open-world RPG that offers the challenge games once had, but without all the time-wasting unfairness that caused us to shatter our controllers decades ago. The best part? It still boasts an active community which, even three years after Dark Souls' release, continue to play and replay the game (making countless YouTube videos in the process), so there's always help available if you need it. Simply put, Dark Souls is the RPG of a generation, and it typically drops to $10 or less during any Steam sale. If you consider yourself a fan of RPGs and haven't played Dark Souls, you're missing out on one of the biggest revolutions the genre has seen in years.
Left 4 Dead 2
It's hard to imagine a greater bang for your buck than Left 4 Dead 2 -- for the (budget) price of a single game, you also get all of the original Left 4 Dead's campaigns, and every bit of free DLC the series has seen in its short life. Of course, it helps that Left 4 Dead remains a fantastic take on the multiplayer shooter, one that emphasizes planning and teamwork instead of headshots, headshots, headshots -- but those are still important. Though its online community isn't as strong as it once was, if you have a few reliable multiplayer buddies, Left 4 Dead 2 offers a wealth of options for wasting a perfectly nice day indoors. After just a taste, don't be surprised if you find yourself writing angry e-mails to Valve about the distinct lack of Left 4 Dead 3 in this universe.
Fallout: New Vegas Ultimate Edition
Fallout 3 did the impossible by bringing a beloved series into an entirely new format and managing to not screw everything up. A few years later, Fallout: New Vegas arrived, one-upping the previous games with a much larger adventure more in line with the tone established by the first two games. And if you like Fallout, New Vegas Ultimate Edition includes a lot of Fallout. Seeing as this version contains the four DLC packs, you could conceivably take Ultimate Edition to the desert island of your choice and feel perfectly content with your new purpose in life. Until the inevitable Fallout 4, that is.