Although every year sees the release of tonnes of games, none of them were made in a vacuum, the one thing nature truly abhors. As we are given new vistas and new exciting cinematic trailers for top-shelf games and creative revamps of classics, it’s not a bad idea to take a look at the classics themselves.
With that in mind we’ve assembled a list of a few classic PC games from the 90s and (very) early 2000s which are still playable, still fun, still worth checking out, because they don’t make them like they used to anymore. The graphics may have gotten old, and the interfaces might be unwieldy, but there is greatness which inspired many successors.
Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn
|Release year:||2001, 2013 (Enhanced Edition)|
|Developer||BioWare, Beamdog (Enhanced Edition only)|
The Baldur’s Gate series, particularly BG2: Shadows of Amn is one of the all-time classics, a series which defined the course of video game RPGs for years to come. Both of BioWare Baldur’s Gate games use an isometric camera giving players a good view of detailed, pre-generated maps on which your party of intrepid adventurers move and confront their enemies. And then there’s the story itself!
The games tell the story of a character known as Gorion’s Ward, whose unpleasant heritage plays a key role in the story of both BG games. In BGII it also draws the attention of powerful Jon Irenicus, who has his own plans and ambitions. It’s a great D&D adventure full of fantastical creatures, epic battles, and a few appearances from characters from deeper Dungeons & Dragons lore.
Chrono Trigger is one of the jRPG classics, with some world-famous talent behind it, such as Akira Toriyama, the creator of Dragon Ball, or Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of Final Fantasy. The result is a game which remains playable in the cool future we live in despite being made back in the ancient past of 1995. It has complex mechanics, many endings, and a score co-written by Nobuo Uematsu.
Chrono trigger’s story relies heavily on time travel, which will take you on a journey through different eras of the game’s world, including even the prehistory. All of that is supported by animated cutscenes from Toei animation. And the Steam version even comes with a slew of upgrades to graphics, and even new bits of content, to make the already playable classic even more enticing.
|Genre:||Action role-playing, first-person shooter, stealth|
Deus Ex is one of the all-time great games. It’s set in a cyberpunk dystopian world, ruled by corporations and hiding numerous grand conspiracies such as the Majestic 12. You’re playing as J.C. Denton, an operative of an agency called UNATCO, whose nanotechnological augmentations give him abilities beyond those of regular humans. He’s going to need every upgrade he can find to survive.
Deus Ex left a lof of freedom to the players in the way they can approach any given problem. Stealth was just as valid and going in guns blazing, or using technology to dispose of obstacles. There are skills, unlocked with dynamically assigned experience, and augmentations found in the world, to help with any playstyle. Despite the years gone by, it’s still an immersive and interesting game to try out.
|Genre:||Action role-playing, hack and slash|
Diablo II, more than the first game in the series, became a codifieir of what a good hack’n’slash should be like. There are five character classes in the base game and two more which arrived with the Lord of Destruction expansion, and each not only plays in a unique manner, but can also be customised within their skillsets thanks to ability trees and bonuses from loot you discover.
There’s still a lot to enjoy about Diablo II. It has dark, crisp aesthetic, and the locations provide a great backdrop for all the monster-slaying you’re going to be doing. The game is also great in multiplayer, capable of handling up to eight players online of over LAN, which makes for a powerful adventuring party and paves the way for more challenging encounters as the game adjusts.
Disciples 2: Gallean’s Return
Disciples 2 didn’t reach the fame of Heroes of Might and Magic, but it should have, because it’s a great turn-based strategy game with RPG elements. The campaign, no matter which faction you pick, is a series of scenarios in which you usually need to expand from your single city by claiming resources and capturing castles from opposing factions through turn-based battles.
Each faction is very different, such as the Legions of the Damned and their massive units, or the resilient Mountain Clans and their powerful support spells. Battles are static in style, waged between two teams, each with six slots worth of units (large units take two spots), taking turns to act based on their initiative. There’s also map editor, individual scenarios, and multilayer!
|Developer||Black Isle Studios|
Fallout 2 is a very successful sequel to Fallout 1, itself a spiritual successor to Wasteland. Fallout 2 expanded on the original in every manner, adding more settlements, more stories, more freedom. Taking place eighty years after FO1 it follows a Chosen One, picked to find the Garden of Eden Creation Kit in order to save their village from drought. But the journey goes to weirder places…
Once your character leaves their village, technically there is nothing to stop them from going almost anywhere, and do whatever they want, like becoming a boxing star who cheats by using plated gloves. The clock to deliver G.E.C.K. is ticking, however, and if you stall to much, your village WILL die. It’s just one of the arcs you can pursue, however, and doesn’t mean a game over at all.
Quake III Arena
Quake III Arena stands in the annals of FPS history alongside games like Tribe and Unreal Tournament as a legendary multiplayer first-person shooter. Q3A multilayer is all shades of PvP playing out in the stone corridors and rooms of a space-age Gothic castles, with a gallery of weird individuals serving as player avatars. The flipside is that there’s no singleplayer story campaign, it’s all multiplayer.
Even if you play by yourself, the only singleplayer content is fighting on MP maps with bots. In either case, you’ll find deadly, often explosive, weapons, power-ups, and various ways to outmanoeuvre your enemies and get a good shot in. The multiplayer can handle up to 16 players in deathmatch, which result in a fantastic chaos of weirdos, bullets and rockets going every which way. It’s glorious.
|Release year:||1998 (SC), 2017 (Remastered)|
StarCraft hardly needs introducing. It effectively became a new definition of how a real-time strategy should work when it launched, and it’s overwhelming popularity among Korean gamers is now stuff of legends. There’s no denying that the science fiction counterpart to Warcraft is an important game. And, especially thanks to the 2017 Remastered version, it remains very much playable even today.
The game depicts a conflict between Terrans (humans) with their technological focus, insectoid Zerg working as a hivemind, and psionically gifted Protoss. True to the best RTS ideas, each faction plays differently, and the storyline of their conflict is quite interesting, and later expanded very well in StarCraft 2 and it’s several expansions. The original SC is still a fantastic, crunchy must play RTS.
Classic Starcraft (1998) is free to play.
|Release year:||1998 (Thief), 2000 (Thief 2), 2004 (Thief 3)|
|Developer||Looking Glass Studios, Ion Storm|
The Thief series, originated by the Looking Glass Studios, are some of the best stealth games in history, set in an interesting, dark steampunk world. You play as Garret, a master thief, who finds himself involved in intrigues which threaten to upend the status quo in The City, the games’ setting. The story is engaging, but it’s the gameplay that made Thief, especially Thief 2, a legendary retro game.
The maps are intricate and filled with details and bits and pieces you can steal to fence it after the mission. You get a variety of arrows, which can, for example douse tourches, or spread a moss layer making your step quieter. The more items you fence, the more useful gear you can buy for the next mission. Thief is a great series, and well worth checking out. It’s shares some DNA with Deus Ex.
X-COM: UFO Defense/UFO: Enemy Unknown
|Genre:||Strategy, turn-based tactics|
|Developer||Mythos Games, MicroProse|
The original X-COM, an ancestor of Firaxis’ 2012 reboot, and the oldest game on the list. X-COM Enemy Unknown puts you in control of a paramilitary organisation devoted to defending Earth from invading aliens. The game, like its spiritual successors operates on two levels: the strategic view of the world, and the tactical, turn-based missions taking place in discrete locations.
Between mission you will assign research goals, buy and distribute equipment, manage military and civilian staff. You will also have to decide where to send your forces, and where to establish bases. During mission you’ll be managing your soldiers as they go about eliminating the alien threat. It’s quite a complex game, and running a perfect mission is very satisfying.
Old, but gold
That’s just ten old games worth playing, but there are scores of them out there from many genres. Classic first-person shooters that new FPSs want to emulate, even older dungeon crawling RPGs which inspired Legend of Grimrock, and real-time strategies which acted on ideas of Dune II. There’s a wealth of old games which are worth dusting off and playing them again.