Did you know that the first PC game was released in 1962? It was called Spacewar, and while by today's standards it might be outdated in design, back then it was groundbreaking.
Since 1962 more than 100,000 games have released on PC, some more memorable than others. It seems that each decade there are a small handful of greats that are remembered well into the future, while most others games fade from memory.
In this feature we're going to look back at some of the best PC games in history, 20 of them to be exact. These are games that changed the industry, and kept us hooked for hundreds of hours.
Release Year: 1993
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When Doom released, there was no turning back. Gamers were infatuated with the joy of blasting away demons, and firing the BFG-9000 was just about the most entertaining thing you could do on a computer in 1993. It’s the father of shooters with its satisfying gunplay later inspiring the creation of Call of Duty, Counter-Strike, and other popular shooters. The 3D-rendered halls were critical to the evolution of video games, so if nothing else it was a huge stepping stone for the virtual world—and arguably mankind.
19. League of Legends
Release Year: 2009
League of Legends is the most popular game in the world and for good reason. It took the wildly successful formula of DotA and weaved in some of its own magic. The result was a game that provided the perfect breeding ground for competition. It’s considered the top competitive game around the world for its emphasis on teamwork, timing, and skill. Not only would it show that action RTS games are extremely relevant, but that the free-to-play model is the future for multiplayer-based PC games.
18. Baldur's Gate
Release Year: 1998
BioWare’s second product was an instant hit that every RPG fan was drawn to. Baldur’s Gate was the first Dungeons and Dragons inspired video game to nail down the formula with complex stories, deep character customization, and bucket-loads of exploration. Additionally, its morals system incentivized several playthroughs making it a game that some RPG fans spent the entirety of the year playing. They were never to be seen again.
17. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Release Year: 2006
Bethesda made its entry into the modern gaming landscape with just about the biggest bang possible when it debuted The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion in 2006. It quickly became the must-play game of its era and showed that realistic graphics and game worlds do make an RPG that much more immersive. If they weren’t enough to suck people in, its hundreds of quests were. Even after completing its hundreds of hours of content, there was still more to enjoy due to the expansive list of community-developed mods.
16. Unreal Tournament
Release Year: 1999
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Unreal Tournament is where many FPS addicts got their start. Coupled with stellar gameplay, it delivered a polished experience with some of the best visuals of the time. Its frantic, high-paced combat style was backed by a diverse array of weapons that were always fun to use. Also, have you ever played a game and heard an announcer say “Dominating!", “Double Kill!", or “Godlike!” Well, those came directly from Unreal Tournament. Despite being thirteen years of age, you can go back and have a blast rotating through several powerful weapons, laying opponents to waste, and then hear the announcer say “Killing spree!"
Release Year: 2009
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Unlike virtually every other game on this list, Minecraft ditched complexity for minimalistic design. Its entire world was constructed with square blocks which could be used build anything you could think of. You can find pictures on the internet of castles, massive statues, and even recreations of the Earth all made using Minecraft’s simple toolkit. Hopping online with a friend and making something was strangely addicting, and it was always worth the effort after seeing the result. Those who weren’t as adept at creativity found addiction in the game’s survival mode where the game threw in a day/night cycle, hunger, and enemies, driving players to craft items and interface with the world.
14. Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings
Release Year: 1999
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Ensemble Studios believed RTS had the capacity to bring history to life, and their second shake at it was a masterpiece. The journey through the eras of civilization was met with fantastic gameplay and presentational values. People who didn’t find enjoyment in other strategy games found Age of Empires II’s friendly design and exciting combat to be an irresistible affair. Its campaign contained great historical moments while its multiplayer was a crowd-pleaser.
13. Portal 2
Release Year: 2011
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Puzzle games are one of the least-represented genres in gaming, but Portal 2 demonstrated how good the genre can be when it came out in 2011. Using the simple portal gun, the opportunity for exciting puzzle-solving was created. As fun as the gameplay was, it was the hilarious dialogue that pushed it from being a fun game to being an extremely memorable one. As if the game’s delightful story mode wasn’t enough, working with a friend in co-op was enthralling. Its charming atmosphere and mentally-engaging puzzles were one of the biggest surprises in 2011 for hardcore gamers and casuals alike.
12. The Sims
Release Year: 2000
Development studio Maxis had a dream that recreating the monotony of everyday life in the virtual space would be a smash hit. Surprisingly, its dream was right on the money. The Sims sold out for days following its release and has become the best-selling franchise on the entire PC platform. People were drawn in by the virtual development of a typical household, from its habitants to its furnishings. You could get a job, have kids, and go to the bathroom. The joy of seeing a virtual person go from rags to riches under your guidance was something millions of people couldn’t get enough of.
11. Rome: Total War
Release Year: 2004
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Why battle with 100 units when you can battle with thousands? That’s the basic principle that Rome: Total War followed. Commanding hoplites and trebuchets into an opposing civilization’s territory before bombarding its cities was fully brought to life in 3D. What made Rome: Total War such a standout game was how well everything was presented. There was a world map where important strategy would take place before the advent of sizeable battles, and once you became commander of thousands of troops, it was hard to go back to the smaller scale of other RTS games.
10. Team Fortress 2
Release Year: 2007
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As with Portal 2, Valve used creative character design to pump up the fun factor of Team Fortress 2. Instead of the serious tones of other shooters, Team Fortress 2 drove for a cartoon-style with a vibrant palette and witty humor. Characters cracked jokes as they blew each other to bits—literally—and toggling between the game’s nine-distinct classes never grew tiring. Lead the way with a minigun, or make the enemy pay with a rocket launcher? Decisions, decisions.
Release Year: 1989
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SimCity was one of the first games to be truly addicting. The intricacies of turning a block of land into a sprawling city were realized with Will Wright’s second creation, a game that would go on to receive overwhelming acclaim in 1989. It eventually paved the way for future Sim games, as well as many strategy titles that would later be inspired by its creative qualities.
8. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Release Year: 2003
It was only a matter of time before gaming would properly meet the award-winning Star Wars universe, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic did it with passion. It featured all of the IP’s greatest qualities including locations, characters, and intense sci-fi battles. It championed huge RPG worlds backed by voice-acting, and was a grand undertaking by none other than BioWare. All future Star Wars titles are now burdened with having to match the brilliance of KOTOR.
7. System Shock
Release Year: 1994
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The fact that it’s been hailed as the inspiration behind BioShock and Deus Ex says it all: System Shock was something special. It was the pioneer for what would become the sci-fi horror genre, a group of games with cold, desolate environments and advanced technologies. Its environments were laden with intricate puzzles, horrifying moments, and catchy electronic music.
6. Sid Meier's Civilization IV
Release Year: 2005
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One minute you’re developing your agrarian empire; the next minute you realize you should have been in bed four hours ago. There’s something to be said about a game that draws you in so far that you forget about your existence. Civilization’s roots began to grow 14 years earlier but it wasn’t until the fourth game that its formula was perfected. Advancing through eras and growing an empire while competing for resources isn’t just a challenge, it’s an addiction.
Release Year: 2000
At a time when twitch-based shooters ruled the world, Counter-Strike appeared out of nowhere with its realistically-paced design that rewarded the patient and precise. Counter-Strike was a bold creation by a mod developer that grew to insurmountable heights when hundreds of thousands of players surged in from word of mouth. It rapidly became the most popular shooter in the world and would remain that way for years to come once people experienced the satisfaction of shooting its long list of real-world weapons. Its cohesive combat can be attributed in part to Half-Life from which its engine was run-on, but it wouldn’t have been the same without its money system or bomb defusal maps which worked harmoniously with the game’s structure.
4. Deus Ex
Release Year: 2000
Deus Ex was a cutting-edge blend of first-person shooting, role-playing, and sci-fi. It was a beautiful construction of endless possibilities in character development that made conquering its many challenges personally rewarding. Its futuristic landscape was wrapped in conspiracy theories that made it easy to become engaged. The dynamic narrative was successful in enticing RPG fans across the board. Deus Ex was a rare success story in a sea of games looking to stray from the norm.
Release Year: 1998
Blizzard Entertainment showed its brilliance in 1998 when it released StarCraft. Although its story delivered some blockbuster moments, it was the online experience that captivated a sizeable audience. The game’s three diverse races provided the potential for endless strategy that many would spend countless hours trying to perfect. Its map editor allowed users to developer thousands unique creations, from tower defense to paintball matches. Asia in particular was blown away by its release, and it has remained a staple competitive game despite the emergence of a successor 10-years later. Consequently, it became the game that all future RTS games were to be judged—a truly unfair proposition.
2. World of Warcraft
Release Year: 2004
Blizzard saw Warcraft’s highly-developed storyline as an opportunity to branch out, and what a genius idea that was. The marriage of Warcraft and the scale of MMOs, a genre that was in its adolescence, was a match made in heaven; the illustrious world where stories of Arthas, Illidan, and other alluring characters had been brought to life. Before its time, MMOs were known for intimidating level grinds and clunky combat, but Blizzard fed that to the wolves with World of Warcraft. Instead, the enjoyment of each player became the number one concern, and its fluid combat was the perfect host for such an arrangement. More than 13-years later World of Warcraft still stands tall with millions of subscribed players and a world that’s probably even bigger than our own. If that isn’t indicative of its success, I don’t know what is.
1. Half-Life 2
Release Year: 2004
Valve achieved the impossible by making Half-Life 2 better than its predecessor, and most surprisingly it surpassed it in every way imaginable. The story was engrossing with an oppressed world that continually introduced interesting characters through its journey. The venture through its fervently evolving chapters were paved with struggle and glimpses of success. Gameplay was full of variety with puzzles, vehicles, and cohesive shooting mechanics to complement its assorted weaponry. The engine included realistic physics that were employed in novel ways. Case in point: The Gravity Gun. What Half-Life 2 represented was what video games could be when their imaginative concept was brought to fruition. If imitation is the best form of flattery, then consider Half-Life 2 flattered through the roof. The game’s story delivery and gameplay elements have become a model for success by which future stories would be cultivated.
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