I don’t have a lot of time to spend on playing computer games these days, but I still get in an hour or two occasionally when I can. Computer games have been a big part of my life, particularly in my 20s.
I do not play console games, i.e. Xbox and Playstation stuff. While I appreciate the skill involved in making these games, I find these games boring, repetitive and a little childish. Instead, I like PC games, particularly big, expansive, complicated games that take hundreds of hours to master.
I’ve played a lot of these games over the years, going all the way back to the 1980s. Today I’ll count down the top 10 games I’ve ever played. I note the year the game was released as well as honorable mentions; other games closely related to that game that were also very good, but not quite as good.
Here we go!
Honorable mentions: Master of Orion 2 (1995), Birth of the Federation (1999), Star Wars: Rebellion (1998)
There are many galactic conquest games, where you start with one little world and build and empire, colonize the galaxy, and do battle with other empires. The Master of Orion series is probably the best known of these. Birth of the Federation was the Star Trek version and Star Wars: Rebellion was the Star Wars version, and they’re all very good. But Ascendency was the best one I’ve played. The graphics (for the time), the depth, the customizations, and the fun; so far no other galactic conquest game has beaten it (though many have come close).
Doom and Doom 2
Honorable mention: Wolfenstein 3D (1992)
I still remember the first time I saw Wolfenstein 3D, the very first first-person shooter ever invented. We were all at work huddled around a computer, and watched in awe. We had never seen anything like it, and the computer world would never be the same.
As fun as that game was, it was Doom (and its sequel) that really brought the first-person shooter to the fore. When I was still a corporate drone (before I started my first full time business) my nerd co-workers and I wasted hours of time killing each other with the multiplayer as well as beating the levels on single player. Doom was a game-changer.
Honorable mention: Freelancer (2000)
The oldest game on this list, I played Elite on the Commodore 64 way back in the 80s. Despite it being a black and white game with very primitive graphics, it remains to this day one of the best games I’ve ever played.
It was a game about economics, business, and combat. You had a single spaceship and your job was to travel the galaxy buying and selling commodities, with ever-changing prices on hundreds of worlds, in order to make as much money as possible, while fighting off pirates (and sometimes police) along the way. Later they made a modern version called Freelancer which was also very good.
World of Warcraft
along with its expansion packs, too many to mention
I prefer single-player games, so this is the only multi-player game on this list. I played Warcraft for at least two years, playing solo and leveling my characters as fast as possible, or playing with my friends or my kids. Eventually it got repetitive and old, and I would never play it again, but for a while it was one of the most engrossing gaming experiences I’ve ever had.
Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny
Honorable mention: Ultima V: Lazarus (2005)
There were nine Ultima games in all, and this was the second-best one. I played this game while in high school, once again the Commodore 64 (the awesomest computer ever made for its time, by the way). The world you explored was so massive that it could not fit on one disk, so as you walked around the forests or sailed on the oceans, every few minutes the entire game would freeze and load off the floppy disk, or worse, tell you to swap the disk with a different one (there were four).
It was a huge pain in the ass, but the game was so immersive, so interesting, so intelligent, so creative, and so exciting, I put up with it and had a great time regardless.
Almost 20 years later some fans created an updated version using the Dungeon Siege engine called Ultima V: Lazarus, and it was really fantastic. If you buy a (cheap) copy of Dungeon Siege you can download Ultima V: Lazarus for free, making it, by far, the best free game I’ve ever played.
along with its expansion packs, Tribunal and Bloodmoon
Honorable mentions: Daggerfall (1996), Oblivion (2006), and Skyrim (2011)
When it comes to the Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim gets all the press. Oblivion was good too. However Morrowind is a better overall game than either of them. The sheer amount of options and customization you can make to your character, spells, armor, and weapons in Morrowind is staggering. It was also one giant, contiguous world, with no loading screens or pauses until you opened a door. The graphics (for the time) were also amazing. I remember how surprised I was at this, seeing how the game was only on one CD. This was at a time when most games like this were on multiple CDs.
When Oblivion was released a few years later, the entire game was dumbed-down to fit into the limited memory space and screen space of Xbox and Playstation games. Skyrim sadly followed this same model. While those two games were good, they were nearly as immersive and awesome as Morrowind was. I doubt any future Elder Scrolls game will be as good.
Honorable Mention: Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011)
Okay, now we’re getting down to top four. These four are truly the most amazing games ever made. The computer gaming industry may never make games this good again, seriously.
Deus Ex was a mind-blower. It’s not a first-person shooter. It’s not an RPG. It’s not an adventure game. It’s not a stealth game. Instead it’s all of those things, or none of those things, depending on how you chose to play the game. Every time you played this game, it was a different experience. Your choices radically altered the actual gameplay experience, the world you played in, the characters, the villains, and the story.
This was one of the few games that actually made me feel real emotions during the game. While the graphics are very dated now, this is one of the few perfect games ever made. Astounding.
along with its expansion packs, Gods and Kings and Brave New World
If you don’t count the times I went back and re-played a game after a long time of not playing it, I have played Civilization V more hours than any other single game in my entire life. It is, without a doubt, the most complicated computer game I’ve ever played, and perhaps ever will play. Despite it being five years old I still play this game occasionally to this day, and will continue to do so for many years.
You start with a small nation back in the caveman era and over many hours of play, expand and build your empire to modern-day and even beyond. There’s economics, military battles, spies, resource management, religion, history, politics, and everything else you can think of. This will always be one of my all-time favorite games, and easily the game with the most replay value of probably any other game you can buy. I could easily be still playing this game ten years from now. It’s that good.
If you like really difficult, long, complicated, addictive games, Civ V is the game for you.
Ultima VII Part Two: Serpent Isle
Honorable Mention: Ultimate VII: The Black Gate (1992)
I played this game way back in the early 90s while I was in my early 20s. I remember how excited I was to get it at the store; it’s big black box with a giant cobra on it. It cost $70(!) back in 1993, a hell of a lot of money for me to spend on a game at the time.
It was more than worth it. The best entry in the Ultima series (and that’s saying something since almost all the Ultimas are amazing) Serpent Isle elicited the most emotions from me of any other game I’ve played since. It probably engaged my emotions more than any book I’ve read too. When my companions in the game were wounded or died, I actually felt sad. When I romanced a woman in a game, I actually felt in love. When I won a battle I actually felt victorious. When something dark and twisted happened (this was a very dark game) I actually felt disturbed for the rest of the day. Serpent Isle one of the richest and darkest fantasy worlds I’ve ever experienced in computer game.
If I ever get a chance to go into a “real” version of a fantasy world via virtual realty or whatever, my first choice isn’t Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. It would be the world of Serpent Isle.
There was also an Ultima VII part one called the Black Gate. It was very good, but Serpent Isle was an improvement in every way.
Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn
along with its expansion pack, Throne of Bhaal
Honorable mention: Dragon Age Origins
Here we are, the all time best computer game EVER (at least to me). Baldur’s Gate 2 is considered the best RPG computer game ever made, and it’s true. Like Deus Ex, it’s a perfect game. It uses the rules, mechanics, and monsters of Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition, but it’s not really a “D&D game.” It is its own world.
The world is amazing and rich. The characters are incredibly well-written, better than characters in TV shows, movies, and most novels, even good ones. The world you play in is ridiculously huge, requiring literally hundreds of hours of gameplay to actually explore and experience everything. The replay value of this game was incredible. You could play it over and over again and still have a very different and exciting experience each time. The villains were complex and endlessly interesting. The voice acting, all of it, was perfect, and I mean perfect.
The game mechanics are flawless despite its complexity. The proof of this is that even though it’s been almost 20 years since this game was released, no other game, and I mean no other, comes close to such seamless mechanics. With most games, even really good ones, you always wish there was a feature to do this or that which doesn’t exist in the game. Not with Baldur’s Gate 2. It did everything you could ever want, and did it flawlessly.
Many games have tried, and failed, to be the “next” Baldur’s Gate 2. It hasn’t happened yet. It may never happen. The company that originally designed the game (Bioware) now has a new series called Dragon Age that is the “spiritual successor” to Baldur’s Gate 2. The first one, Dragon Age Origins, was very good but still no where near as good as BG2. The second one, Dragon Age 2, was horrible. The third one, and one I’m playing now, Dragon Age Inquisition is also good but loaded with left-wing, politically correct garbage that takes you out of the flow of the game.
There will probably never be another game as good as BG2. Oh well. Maybe that’s a good thing.
Today you can purchase an “enhanced edition,” playable on a PC, smartphone, or tablet. The graphics are dated, but I still recommend it if you like immersive RPG games.