Thoughts on StarCraft Remastered

With all of this talk about the latest World of Warcraft expansion, Battle For Azeroth, happening in the blogosphere it got me to thinking about Blizzard titles I’m actually interested in. Despite playing WoW here and there over the years its never really held my interest like some of the company’s other offerings. I remembered the other day that I had picked up the Necromancer pack for Diablo III and never really played it all that much, and yes I also picked up a copy of StarCraft Remastered because it’s quite simply one of my favorite PC games of all time. I hadn’t played the original in over a decade at least, so my memory of it was fuzzy before I fired up the game. After a few missions I remembered plenty, though I don’t remember many details. Memories come in flashes, but it’s still clearly the same game with some slight differences.

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Graphically it’s still running on the same sort of engine. They haven’t made any sort of major changes to the UI, story or maps. This is still the game you would have played in the late 1990’s down to the sound effects and gameplay. What has changed is that it runs in a higher resolution (1920×1080) and though everything looks sharper from that alone they also changed out character models. The buildings look a little better. The units look a little better. The characters whom you talk to look better. Outside of that it’s the same game and I’m good with this. It would have been nice I suppose to have the game redone completely in the StarCraft 2 engine just so that it really stood out, but I guess holding onto some of the nostalgic bits is still desirable. I absolutely loved this game when I was in high school and I played it for a good few years. After Brood War came out I played it even more. I came back around to it at least once in my adult life, and now I’m a handful of missions into the Terran campaign and would love to finish it again. I still never beat all of StarCraft 2 either, so I suppose this could lead into that as well.

Bottom line, is purchasing StarCraft Remastered worth it? I think that’s subjective. You can currently play the original game for free through the Battle Net launcher, so you don’t necessarily have to play the remastered version at all if you just want you retro gaming fix. Otherwise, it’s $15 for the remaster and that’s not too pricey either. I think it was worth it to see a slightly more polished version of the game you loved. If you weren’t into the original, this probably won’t change your mind about it. If you have only played the sequel, the step back in graphics quality might be a turn off for you. For me, I enjoy going back and playing old games and I also enjoy new games that choose to use pixel art so I might be the target audience for this. And I’m good with that.

King + Blizzard: A Perfect Match

The news is pretty fresh, so you may not have heard: Activision just bought King, the company responsible for that whole Candy Crush thing. Admittedly I haven’t played any of King’s offerings, much like I ignored Zynga before them. Facebook/browser games are mostly throwaway experiences. From the variety of games I’ve experienced on mobile devices, the same can be said. Timewasters, and nothing more aside from a few rare gems.

I have however, spent plenty of time with Blizzard (and Activision) games. Call of Duty aside though, this is a post focusing on Blizzard and King, and how they are a perfect match for each other.

Unable to claim the title of “the first person to say that,” it’s pretty clear that Blizzard titles are basically accessible and polished experiences you’ve already had elsewhere. Their newest games released in the past few years are easily comparable to other titles in the genre who already had a foothold in the market. As a matter of fact, all of their titles are accessible and polished versions of established genres, but let’s start from the newest offerings:

Overwatch – FPS Arena Shooter, similar to Team Fortress 2.
Heroes of the Storm – MOBA, similar to League of Legends/DOTA2
Hearthstone – CCG, similar to Magic: The Gathering

Those titles alone are painting a picture that goes back to Blizzard’s humble beginnings. I’m sure you can see the correlation between Dune II and Warcraft: Orcs & Humans. Even The Lost Vikings is similar to other platformers of the era. The big gorilla in the room though, World of Warcraft, is similar enough in its approach to prior MMOs, but added that blizzard level of polish and accessibility.

That isn’t to say that Blizzard doesn’t make good games. I absolutely adored Diablo and still do. It still does it better than most Action-RPGs out there, and it established the “formula” despite taking elements from various action and adventure games that preceded it. We also can’t say that it isn’t innovative to build on what came before, because that’s been the formula for our entire existence. But in this era of all-you-can-eat gaming, standing apart from the pack means doing something different, and copying what is already successful and getting the perfect storm effect once doesn’t mean it will happen regularly or ever again. I think Blizzard needs to start thinking outside of the box, and this purchase could be part of that.

As I said earlier, I haven’t touched any of King’s titles, but I’ve played enough Bejeweled to know what Candy Crush Saga is all about. In doing some reading and formulating this post, I came across this article that sparked my train of thought in the first place. Go ahead and read it. If nothing else, scroll down and look at the pictures. I’ll wait.

Back? So you’ll have seen how King has been taking the Blizzard method of polishing an existing idea to a whole other level. They don’t make a genre more accessible, they straight copy games, change a few assets and call it their own. Then they monetize the shit out of it and call it a day. Their existing catalog of games are all copies of another game, or sequels to that copy. How they haven’t been sued more I don’t know. It’s as bad as the rest of the mobile games market though, in that anything that becomes popular sees a billion straight copies on the market within days. But I digress.

Does anyone else see the correlation I’m getting at thought? It seems these two companies made their fortunes off of copying others’ ideas and putting their own spin on it. It’s only fitting that they are basically the same company now.

I’m just curious to see if this makes the mobile marketplace better, or if the Kingly influence makes Blizzard a worse company in the long run.

Some further commentary from round the blogosphere:

Keen and Graev
The Ancient Gaming Noob
Syncaine

Blizzard and Me

Blizzard and I have a strange relationship. I was about the biggest fanboy you could be when it came to their early years in the 1990’s. I remember playing Warcraft: Orcs & Humans and Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness back when you still had to run them through DOS. The games were easy to learn but more difficult to master. The original Diablo was also a staple back then, but it wasn’t until Starcraft was installed on my machine that I became a fan for life. Hailed as one of if not the best RTS game of all time, Starcraft was truly a perfect storm. Competitors such as Command & Conquer held their own, but Starcraft set the bar for all RTS games to come. I fell in love with the game, eschewing nearly all other games I was playing to devote my life to it. I beat the campaigns, I beat the expansion, I played regularly on Battle.net, though I never got involved in the ladder. I used the map editor to create new maps, attempted to create a Starcraft RPG within it, and even had a webpage dedicated to it, that won an award back in the days when GeoCities were a thing. Clearly, I was obsessed.

That obsession came back when Diablo II released in 2000. I was in my senior year of high school, and thankfully was at a point where I could pretty much ignore school so my grades didn’t suffer, despite the fact that I was constantly playing it. I lamented when the computer I was using fried and I was unable to play the game after the Lord of Destruction expansion hit. I was able to play it periodically at friend’s houses, but I lost out on part of the game’s evolution for the most part.

When Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos hit stores a couple of years later, I was still computer-less, though I had a good friend who would allow me to play it when I was visiting. Eventually, I had a new computer and I purchased the Battle Chest for the game, that was packed with The Frozen Throne expansion, and ended up playing through both, along with playing the game itself and multiple mods created by the community. Never DotA though, and for that I am sad. Nevertheless, my obsession with Blizzard’s fantastic games continued.

Upon hearing of the upcoming MMO World of Warcraft, I was very excited and wanted to be one of the first to play it. At the time though, I was unemployed and was unable to afford a copy of the game let alone a subscription fee. There were also stories of huge queues and Blizzard pulling the game from store shelves, so I made a decision to stick with the original Everquest, which I had been playing off and on for years (though never very seriously).

A couple of years later, I had basically forgotten about Blizzard altogether. I was busy playing single player games, shooters like Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat, Call of Duty, or whatever was in my Playstation 2 library. Sure, WoW was a success and hard to ignore, but I wasn’t at that point of being obsessed with MMOs like I would be in the future. Eventually my Dad (who had introduced me to EQ) was telling me that he had picked up Everquest 2, and I followed suit. I convinced my roommate at the time to join us, and soon I had a mixture of friends and family that were all playing the game together. It could have just as easily been WoW, because honestly they are very similar games when it comes down to it, but we had found our home in Norrath and my obsession with MMOs had nothing to do with Blizzard. It even came to a point that from what I had read, what I had seen and what I had talked about with friends, that WoW felt like the inferior game in many ways, despite being vastly more popular with most of the world. We felt like we had made the right choice regardless, and since Blizzard hadn’t done anything with any of their IPs outside of WoW for years, I basically wrote them off altogether.

From circa 2003 to circa 2010, I didn’t play any Blizzard games. There were times I would dabble with Starcraft or Diablo II, but I didn’t feel the love for the company that I once had. It was a sad state of affairs, but it was what it was. It wasn’t until I had a falling out with the MMO genre altogether that I opened up the possibility of playing and enjoying World of Warcraft. I had spent very little time in these virtual worlds for a couple of years and had a new job where my direct co-worker wouldn’t stop yammering about the game. I finally succumbed to his pandering and bought the Battle Chest that included Vanilla and The Burning Crusade. I also picked up Wrath of Lich King shortly thereafter.

I was pleasantly surprised how much I could enjoy the game I had spent so much time trashing. So much time arguing over with friends who loved it and I was still wondering why. None of them would even give my games of choice the time of day because they felt like they already had so much invested in WoW. I don’t blame them, looking back. They were right. I was wrong. However, it seems that somewhere along the line Blizzard put all of their eggs in one basket, and forgot about people like me. People who helped them become the behemoth. Who paid their way towards making WoW which would then in turn make them the king of the gaming world.

Sure, I played WoW for about six months and enjoyed myself well enough, but the time investment I had put into Everquest 2 continuously pulled me back to that game instead. Had I started with WoW, I probably would be like most of you who are reading this post. WoW would be my game, and I’d either play it steadily or leave for a couple of months only to return when the next expansion hit. Either way, I had that relationship with EQ2, so it was easy to leave WoW to go back to that game. WoW never hooked me the way other Blizzard games did, and I don’t think it ever will.

It wasn’t until 2013-14 that I really got back into Blizzard games, and this wasn’t due to World of Warcraft. I managed to get into the Beta for Hearthstone and was rather impressed with it, and played it for quite a while. I purchased Diablo III and its expansion, and as it sits now that is currently my favorite Blizzard game, though Starcraft II has been fun as well (though no where near as addictive as its predecessor was for me). I also picked WoW up again, pre-Warlords of Draenor, but only played for a month and wasn’t hooked this time either.

Hearthstone was unique in that it was a free to play title, which Blizzard hadn’t released before. I loved the fact that it was a CCG because of my history with Magic: The Gathering, and though it was simple and still based on Warcraft lore, I was hooked for a time. I played through beta into full release, earned enough gold to buy all of the Naxxramas adventures and even continued playing after Goblins and Gnomes released. It was around this time though that I started to feel disenchanted with the game. The random effects began to get to ridiculous levels where it felt like you had very little control over what happened in a given match, and if I wanted to play a dice game I’d just go play craps. Still, it has become a steady revenue stream for Blizz, and they’ve added more solo adventures and are teasing a new set of cards coming out sometime soon in The Grand Tournament. Good on them, but it’s no longer a game that gets my regular attention.

Diablo III launched and had its issues (namely the Auction House) and I avoided playing it until after they fixed the problem with the patch 2.0. Shortly thereafter Reaper of Souls released, and along with it one of the best ideas the company had in a while: Adventure Mode. The level of replayability and the fact that patches are still released fairly regularly leads me to believe that Blizzard learned their lesson from the past. Diablo II didn’t have much added to it after LoD. Diablo III looks to have new content added regularly, and that’s good for the franchise overall. Even now, patch 2.3 is in testing and they’re adding a whole new zone, a powerful artifact, and changes to Adventure Mode.

Starcraft II was different from its predecessor in that it released only one single player campaign at a time, but has made changes through Battle.net to the multiplayer portion of the game. Mods are better supported through the Arcade as well. The third campaign Legacy of the Void, centering around the Protoss is in development now and the game has definitely lived a long life, sitting at the five year old mark already.

Clearly, Blizzard is starting to remember those of us who weren’t that taken with WoW but still love their other offerings. They’ve also started to branch out a bit by adding new IPs, such as Heroes of the Storm. Granted, this game still draws from their other IPs so it’s not entirely new, but it is their first foray into the MOBA scene and seems to be doing fairly well, though it’s not as popular as the kings of the genre League of Legends and DOTA 2. Personally this game appealed to me because I figured Blizzard would make a great MOBA, but it fell short of my expectations and I haven’t touched it since it was in Beta. Still, it’s good to see the company do something else besides make content for their MMO.

Lastly, a completely new IP called Overwatch has been in development for some time now. It’s actually showing up in the Battle.net launcher now too, though I haven’t heard of anyone getting any in-game time just yet. It’s a team-based lobby shooter, and though this isn’t a new genre in itself it’s something Blizzard have yet to do and it looks good. Hype got the best of me with HotS though, so I’m not super excited but I will try it when I get a chance. Perhaps it will exceed my expectations if I keep them low. Video of the game does look fantastic though.

Most people are in the middle of writing (or have written) posts about their predictions for the next WoW expansion which will be announced later today. The other big news is that WoW is down to 5.6 million subscribers, a low not seen since 2005 or so, yet still the biggest amount of subscribers in any western MMO at this point, with FFXIV coming in a close second. I really wanted to make some commentary but as you can see, my history with WoW is limited, though my history with the company might exceed some of yours. I’m thankful that they have done well and can potentially make more games that I’m interested in sometime in the future. But I have nothing overly positive to say about their MMO and I don’t suspect that will ever change. I’m in agreement with some members of the blogosphere that WoW is slowly being sunset and focus within the company is shifting to other projects. Honestly, I think diversification is good not only for Blizzard but for gamers like me as well.

WoW is dead. Long live Blizzard.

#blizzard #history

The Influential 15

Wilhelm, The Ancient Gaming Noob, along with some others in the community have posted their top 15 games of all time. He took things a step further by picking games that he felt influenced his love for various genres/styles of games, and then towards the end of his post invited others to treat this as a meme. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a meme around the blogosphere, the last time I participated in one was years ago and it was Everquest II themed. So anyway, here’s the picks for my 15 most influential games of all time, listed in chronological order (release dates, not necessarily saying one is better than the other):

Tetris (1984):

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Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE has played Tetris. If you haven’t played Tetris, not only are you living under a rock, but you’ve at least see in, heard about it, you know what it is. Tetris isn’t an amazing game. It’s about the simplest concept ever. There isn’t anything graphically astounding here, the sound was what you would expect out of a puzzle game, and the game play is repetitive, there is nothing dynamic about increasing the speed of the pieces. But this simple concept has captivated millions around the world, and for good reason — it’s about the most addictive game ever. And, without a game like this you wouldn’t have games like Angry Birds or other puzzlers that have added depth over the years. I’m not sure if I originally played the game on the NES, Gameboy or my Dad’s Atari, but I’ve owned a copy on nearly every platform since, and nearly every cell phone I’ve ever owned. A timeless classic, and one that introduced me to the puzzle genre, without Tetris I’d have never played games like Dr. Mario, Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, Columns, and many others. Bejeweled anyone? You can thank Tetris for that too.

Ghosts ‘n Goblins (1985):

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Yeah, I played Super Mario Bros. (and even the regular old Mario Bros) before I played Ghosts ‘n Goblins. My true love of this series was Ghouls ‘n Ghosts on the Genesis, but have to credit the roots here, because Ghosts ‘n Goblins gave me a love for platformers that would continue for years to come. Hundreds of these types of games spawned during the late 80’s into the 90’s, all trying to tap into Mario’s success. I think this is probably where my relationship with Capcom began as well, though we didn’t become super close friends until Resident Evil and Street Fighter later on. I actually played this one in the arcade, and the “port” to the NES was a bit different, but still good. Console wars of the 90’s split the franchise into Super Ghosts ‘n Goblins and the Genesis title I mentioned earlier, but I was fully invested in Sega by that point (still would be if they didn’t go belly-up outside of software). Still, this was my kind of platformer, and I preferred Nintendo back in these days when they had games with darker content, rather that all of the family oriented stuff they do now.

Angband (1990):

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I’m not sure when I initially played Angband, but my Dad introduced me to it, and I remember putting copies on 3 1/2′ floppies to get my friends in on the action. Some of us had started playing games like Magic The Gathering and AD&D, so this was a graphical representation of our imagined adventures. This was also my introduction into Rogue-likes (which wasn’t really a genre at the time), which were games that were based on the original game called Rogue, a game that featured procedurally generated content and permadeath. This meant ever trip into the dungeon would be different, and if you died you had to start all over. There were tricks to getting around this, but that sort of destroys the purpose. I have gone back and played this game several times on several machines, and I’d play it again, given the time.

Street Fighter II (1991):

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Fighting games are a strange beast. It makes sense that they were instant hits in the arcade, because people could gather around and challenge the guy who kicks everyone’s ass, and he earns that arcade tons of quarters. Sometimes it felt like someone was paying that shorter-than-average adult to dress and act like a kid, just to take all our money. He secretly worked for the arcade. Or Capcom. Or something. I never heard of Street Fighter in the 80’s when the original was out. I don’t think many people did, but when the sequel released, everyone ate it up. It changed the way fighting games were marketed (read: it was everywhere), the way they were played, and came during a time when consoles were still trying to define their futures. Since then, more titles and new series have launched it’s not even funny, and in most cases these types of games are garbage. There was always something about Street Fighter though, and I’ve played them all in some form or another. My true favorite was the Marvel vs. Capcom series, followed by SF Alpha, but we owe it all to this classic. Though I don’t play them all that much anymore, I still own SFIV and spent some time with MvC3.

Shining Force (1993):

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To this day, Shining Force is one of my favorite RPGs of all time. More specifically, the series is known for it’s turn-based grid-style tactical play. Games like Final Fantasy Tactics took this formula and added some more depth and polish, but this is the true progenitor. If I recall correctly, I rented the first game in the series, but didn’t own it until after I had acquired a copy of the sequel. I spent hours playing both games, trying different teams, beating them over an over again. I re-purchased them via the virtual console on the Wii when I had one of those. I just realized they are on Steam, and I am seriously considering buying them both again. I cannot express enough how much these games changed my life, and truly turned me into a RPGamer. The story wasn’t half-bad, but the battles was where the true fun was at. If you are one of those PC master race types, you need to do yourself a favor and play these games. You will not be disappointed.

Doom (1993):

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Yeah, Wolfenstein 3D came out before it. And yeah, many games have improved upon the formula. But you cannot be a fan of the FPS genre and not mention Doom. Doom took blood and gore and senseless violence to a new level, and at the time it shocked people. This was around the time Mortal Kombat came out and people were freaking out that their kids would turn into serial killers because of a video game. Everyone was susceptible, even my parents wouldn’t allow me a copy of Mortal Kombat (silly parents, and silly media!). The ESRB formed around the same period. I played through the originals back in the day, and played through them again when I got a copy of the Doom 3 BFG edition a couple of years ago, and they were still enjoyable (but harder than current gen shooters!) Say what you will about it, but Doom deserves a place on everyone’s list.

Resident Evil (1996):

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Resident Evil was the first game that actually scared me. Well, that’s not true, there were some spooky games that my Dad used to play on his computer when I was really young that he will attest freaked me out, but I mean the first game I was playing on my own that actually got an emotional reaction out of me. That’s not something that’s easy to do, and the memories of when I bought the Director’s Cut of the original game on my PSOne, and spent the night at my friend Jason’s house playing into the wee hours of the morning will always stick with me. Every door opened was another tense experience, everytime you could hear the zombies or dogs nearby but couldn’t see them would cause the hairs on the back of our necks to stand up. Later, we grew more accustomed to the genre (although Silent Hill 2 had some moments that got me) and the newer iterations of the series are less scary and more action packed, but the first game will always resonate well with me. I wouldn’t be such a fan of Horror movies and games if it wasn’t for this title.

Final Fantasy VII (1997):

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Final Fantasy VII was the reason to buy a Playstation. Xbox didn’t exist yet, the Sega Saturn got assed out, as did the Nintendo 64. These days you can get it just about anywhere, as its success catapulted it onto other platforms. I actually bought a Playstation just to get this game, but also because it was apparent that the Saturn was losing the console war, and did anyone actually buy a Dreamcast? Anyway, this game turned me on to JRPGs, which have a style all their own and I never really played before. Later I would go back and experience earlier Final Fantasy games, but it wasn’t until after I “broke the clock” (maxed out the hours played counter in the game) and played it through more than once besides that. I did EVERYTHING there was to do in this game. I bred chocobos. I beat Emerald and Ruby weapon. I maxed my characters out at level 99. Despite all of that, I haven’t ever gone back to play this one. I could have sworn I had a copy on my PS3, but upon inspection I don’t. I might have to rectify that eventually.

Starcraft (1998):

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Starcraft came at a time when I actually had my own computer, which meant that I could play it to my heart’s content. This I did, and this was the ONLY RTS game that I ever devoted much time to. Sure I played Command and Conquer, Total Annihilation and many many others (there was a huge market for these types of games in the late 90s), but none of them grabbed me the way Starcraft did. I spent hours playing the campaigns, playing multiplayer with friends via modem (that was an ordeal in itself) and even made my own custom maps and game modes. I was heavy into this game for a long time, and I haven’t played any RTS games since, until Starcraft II that is.

Baldur’s Gate (1998):

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Baldur’s Gate was the first time I got to know Bioware. It was the first true cRPG I ever played. Sure there were others, but this was one that I owned, loved, and played through. I recall buying the expansion as well, but never finishing it. I also picked up the sequel when it first released, and spent even more time with that game. If you enjoyed games like Dragon Age today, this is what we were playing almost 15 years ago, and in some ways these original games were better than their predecessors. This game blended so many good aspects from other games, it had the D&D setting which is almost always awesome, a party system, interactivity in the group, dialogue choices that affected gameplay, and tactical battles with an active pause. Every bit of this game can be seen in modern games, and that’s a testament to how good this game really is.

Gran Turismo (1998):

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Although I did play the original Gran Turismo, I didn’t really get into the series until the sequel. I spent countless hours with friends trying to complete that game, and doing so was quite an undertaking. The endurance races still give me nightmares, hours-long races that would require you to be your best the entire time, or play catch up for many laps. A simulator, the game has the best controls in a racing game that I’ve experienced, and had some of the best graphics possible at the time. The series continues to push the envelop on that front. I have played all of them except for the fourth, and the newly released sixth game. A true masterpiece if you’re into that sort of thing.

Half-Life (1998):

Half-life

I already had a FPS on this list, and yes, that still gets the credit for getting FPS games off of the ground and running. But what about the competitive aspect of these games? Half-Life had its own multiplayer deathmatch, but no one played that. What people did play, were the mods created by the community, and some of those actually went on to be sanctioned by Valve. Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat were my favorites, and I was pwning noobs long before Call of Duty was even in development. Not only that, but this was the first FPS game that had some physics involved, and a hair brained story that actually worked. Now if we could just get Half-Life 3 for fuck’s sake.

Everquest (1999):

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Yes, there were technically MMOs before this game, but this was the first MMO I ever played, albeit not as seriously as most. I only tried it out when it first released, played it more seriously in the early to mid 2000s. I never reached cap, I probably only saw a third of the game world, but it was still fun for a time. I really got into MMOs later with Everquest II, and I plan to give Everquest Next a whirl once it releases. But we must give credit where credit is due, and this is the game that opened up the possibilities long before World of Warcraft.

Diablo II (2000):

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Wait what, you’ve been paying homage to the originals through this whole list, and now you’re skipping an OG for a sequel? What gives? Yeah, I know, it’s not congruous but it is what it is. The original Diablo was a game I enjoyed, but never owned and never beat. Diablo II was the game that hooked me into a loot hungry frenzy. Diablo II did everything its predecessor did only better. It sucked you in and didn’t let go. I played it through multiple times with multiple characters, and to this day it’s still better than most Action-RPGs that have come since. I’m rather fond of Diablo III as well, but I’m not sure it’s got the same level of “just a few more minutes, mom” to it.

League of Legends (2009):

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Finally, the last game on my list is League of Legends, because well, just because. Seriously, it’s the first MOBA I invested time and money in. I know it’s based on DOTA and DOTA was a Warcraft III mod, and DOTA 2 is out and there’s all kinds of competition, but League does it for me. There are others I have tried and a few that I have liked, but this was my first, and Shen makes me feel safe 😛

So there you have it. My top 15. Feel free to make your own list and/or mention mine.