I first tried League of Legends
as a way to bond with my girlfriend, and have been an emphatic believer ever since. I've spent hundreds – yes, plural – of dollars in unlocking champions and skins, and I don't regret a dime. When I first started out, I grinded my way to max level as fast and as hard as I could, feverishly trying to catch up to and surpass my significant other. I still play just about every day, meaning my hours on League
outweigh time spent with any other game I've ever owned; save for World of Warcraft
Any game can capture my interest, but League
holds onto it thanks to constant evolution. New champions means new art, new moves, new lore. New maps mean new playstyles, new modes, new discoveries. New items and balance tweaks means a new metagame and new tactics. Two years ago, Nasus was my go-to guy and I relished the chance to get aggressive in top lane. Last year, I tanked and bullied my opponents as the half-dragon, Shyvana. This year, I've learned to love the jungle and discovered the joys of trampling foes underneath my giant boar as Sejuani. League
is always shifting and changing, which means there's always something new to discover, something new to learn. It's been more than two years of nigh-constant play, and I don't see myself getting tired anytime soon.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence
– Kojima Productions / 2006
I've loved the Metal Gear Solid series since, well, Metal Gear Solid
. I've followed and put up with its nonsense story about clones, cyborg ninjas and nuclear dinosaur robots since 1998, and found things to love about each game in the series. While I enjoyed Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
, it was 2006's re-release of MGS 3
(packaged with the new subtitle "Subsistence
") that really stole my heart. Subsistence
added plenty of new content to keep players happy, from finally allowing players to control the game's camera to an addictive new online mode called Metal Gear Online
, and this was all on top of a fabulously-told James Bond-esque story of patriotism, betrayal and love. I still have the opening song on my mp3 player. Snaaaaaaake Eateeeeerrrrrrr!
Burnout 3: Takedown
– Criterion / 2004
I'm not into racing games – not unless there's pornographic amounts of destruction going on. Fortunately, this means I'm a big fan of the Burnout series, and none stand out for me more than Burnout 3: Takedown
. Where other car games punish you for trading paint with the scenery or your competition, Takedown
encouraged you to mix it up and get aggressive. Honestly, the feeling of a race in Takedown
is probably the closest we'll ever get to a hybrid between a racer and a fighting game. But if that was too in-your-face, Crash Mode made for an excellent distraction and/or party game when you wanted to shift gears.
Black & White 2
– Lionhead / 2005
Those who remember the days before Peter Molyneux started reeling in his hyperbolic game design ideas will no doubt recall Black & White
, one of the pioneering games of the "god game" genre. This 2005 sequel took everything great about the original Black & White
and refined it, while also giving players more control over their developing civilization. Part virtual pet sim, part RTS, part civilization builder, the experience of Black & White 2
is layered, and just like a delicious cake, each layer is as sweet as the one before. I still remember installing the game and marveling at how grass would part and become trampled as units moved through it, and my beast creature's awe-inspiring fur physics.
Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening
– Capcom / 2005
The game that would come to define the Devil May Cry series, Dante's Awakening
took the tight, fluid combat of the original game and added multiple layers in the form of tons of cool weapons and fighting styles. Want to ride your enemies like a skateboard? Switch to the Trickster style. Want to fire a shotgun like it's a set of nunchuks? Use Gunslinger. Oh, and that shotgun-as-nunchuks move? That's one of the lamer things you can do in the game. To get a sense of DMC3
's insanity, wait until you kill a vampire queen and take her soul, which turns into a guitar that shoots bats made of lightning and also transforms into a damn scythe. Now that's a weapon.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
– Bethesda Game Studios / 2006
Expecting to see Skyrim
here? Not on my list. While The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
made the first-person RPG series a household name ripe for meme-ification, I prefer the toned down nature of Oblivion
. True, the main story has you fending off an invasion of monsters from what is essentially this universe's version of Hell, but you're not the all-powerful hero here; you're the hero's chaperone. While that may sound a little less epic than being the Listener/Nightingale/Archmage/Harbinger/Dovahkiin, I actually prefer the way Oblivion
made me feel like my titles were earned instead of handed to me because I was some special snowflake standing out against the harsh Skyrim
tundra. I fully admit to the creepiness of Oblivion
's NPC faces, though. Pure nightmare fuel.
Super Mario Galaxy
– Nintendo / 2007
The great thing about Super Mario Galaxy
was that no one really saw it coming. After the letdown of Super Mario Sunshine
– which wasn't all that bad, by the way – people were speculating where Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto would take his famous plumber next. Nintendo managed to keep things a secret up to the game's reveal, and I remember being in awe of how Galaxy
twisted the 3D platformer genre. The best Mario games are remembered not for their titular character, but for their exceptional design. It's the levels and worlds that give the Mario franchise legs, and Super Mario Galaxy
had some of the most unforgettable ones yet.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
– Climax Studios / 2009Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
isn't "scary," per se. It only has a few jump scares, and because players are only in physical danger when the world shifts to a dark and frozen shadow of itself, it's easy to remember that all is well and Harry can't possibly die in the real world. However, Shattered Memories
creeps into your psyche in an entirely different way, subtly altering the environment as you decide how you define Harry. The world Harry explores is also full of ghostly messages that sometimes hint at incredibly dark themes and events like sexual assault, alcoholism and domestic violence. This makes Shattered Memories
hit closer to home than other entries in the series, and it's all the more effective for it. We're not unsettled because of a monster's disturbing visage or because we expect a pop-out-go-boo moment around the next corner – things we know to be fake – we're unsettled because Shattered Memories
is too real.
– Bungie / 2010
I still remember playing Halo: Combat Evolved
at a Software, Etc. store in the local mall with my two step-brothers. We were laughing our butts off as we drove around in the infamously-uncontrollable Warthog, turning Covenant forces into roadkill. The more I thought about it however, the more it bothered me that the Halo games put you into the boots of an indestructible hero who just never seemed phased by the dire situations he found himself in. Halo lore painted humanity as a species struggling to stand on its last legs, but in-game all I heard were overly-enthusiastic marines and a too-tough-to-care badass in power armor. Thus, I appreciated the more somber tone of Halo: Reach
. Right from the start, you knew this team would fall, and one teammate's death in particular had me gasp in audible shock. Reach
also shook up the series' multiplayer formula with the addition of Armor Abilities and new modes. My best friend and I became dedicated Invasion specialists, carrying our teams to victory as often as we could. Plus, Reach
introduced the DMR, my weapon of choice. Pow pow!
Mass Effect 2 – BioWare / 2010
Mass Effect 2 has the distinct pleasure of being everything I wanted it to be: an engrossing story that starts with one hell of a bang, a solid third-person shooter with satisfying controls, an RPG class system that lent itself to distinct playstyles and combat that packed a punch – I still never tire of blowing off robot limbs. I also hold Mass Effect 2 in high regard for showing that not every RPG needs to be open-world. The planets in ME2 are designed with a clear beginning and a clear end, and that's okay. In fact, I'd argue that's good. It controlled my pacing and advancement so that whenever I needed to see, hear or feel something, I could do so as the developers intended. I know that's not everyone's style and that's fine, but it remains to me a fine example of what can be achieved with linear level design.
[Image: Riot, Konami, Criterion, Lionhead, Capcom, Bethesda, Nintendo, Microsoft, EA]