playstation classic

The 15 Games We Want on the PlayStation Classic

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When Sony announced the PlayStation Classic, they teased only five of the 20 included games: Final Fantasy 7, Jumping Flash, Ridge Racer Type 4, Tekken 3, and Wild Arms. The original PlayStation has plenty of great classics to get excited about, so we’re listing the 15 other games we’d like to see on the mini emulator. Some of these games face an uphill battle given licensing and company restrictions, so consider this our dream list representing multiple genres and gameplay styles.

The PlayStation Classic is launching December 3.

Final Fantasy 8

playstation classic

The Final Fantasy series was on a roll throughout the 90s. Final Fantasy 7 gets a lot of love and attention as one of the first big 3D JRPGs, but 8 is beloved by many as a worthy followup. It portrayed characters in a more realistic art style and featured a complex battle system that involved ‘drawing’ magic instead of using MP. Even with Final Fantasy 7 already announced for the PlayStation Classic, few PS1 fans could complain about including FF8 as well.

 

Final Fantasy Tactics

playstation classic

While the main series put out some of the greatest RPGs of all time, Final Fantasy also enjoyed an excellent strategy spinoff in Final Fantasy Tactics. The 3D chessboard-like battlefields provided fun tactical opportunities. Each character could switch between 20 different classes, creating endless combinations and replay value. It also introduced the world to Ivalice, a popular Final Fantasy universe that would later be utilized in the later Final Fantasy MMOs.

 

Metal Gear Solid

playstation classic

A relative late-comer to the PlayStation One, the action series Metal Gear Solid became renowned for its excellent stealth mechanics, practically inventing an entirely new subgenre of stealth games. The series went on to spawn bigger and better sequels through multiple generations of PlayStation consoles, making series director Hideo Kojima a household name for many gamers.

 

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

playstation classic

Speaking of inventing genres, Symphony of the Night reinvented the platforming of classic Castlevania games into something else entirely. It, along with Super Metroid (featured on the SNES Classic), are considered the progenitors of the ‘metroidvania’ genre, creating an open 2D world full of secrets, hidden paths, extra bosses, and numerous abilities, weapons, and spells to unlock.

 

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2

playstation classic

Skater culture was all the rage in the 90s. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was the perfect confluence of tight controls and great game design that took full advantage of popular culture. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was the Madden Football of its day, and the sequel is often considered one of the best sports games of all time.

 

Resident Evil 2

playstation classic

The original PlayStation era witnessed the birth of the now classic horror series Resident Evil. The original was memorable but rough around the edges. The sequel opened up the action from beyond the mansion into the surrounding city in the grips of a zombie apocalypse. It remains a masterclass in creating uneasy tension through graphics, sound, and pacing.

 

Gran Turismo

playstation classic

The emergence of 3D was rough for many genres, yet racing games made an excellent transition thanks in large part to Gran Turismo. The racing simulator quickly became one of best-selling games on the console, featuring a staggering 140 licensed cars and cementing the genre’s popularity for years.

 

PaRappa the Rapper

playstation classic

Without the dance pad there’s not a good way to include Dance Dance Revolution but that doesn’t mean the PlayStation Classic should turn a blind eye to the then-emerging rhythm game genre. PaRappa fills that requirement nicely, as the titular anthropomorphic dog matches symbols flying across the screen to right beats.

 

Tomb Raider

playstation classic

With the success of the recently rebooted trilogy, it would be more than appropriate to revisit the game that started it all. Tomb Raider was one of the best 3D action-adventure games of its time, spawning a host of sequels and immortalizing beloved heroine Lara Croft for decades to come.

 

Chrono Cross

playstation classic

Chrono Cross was the highly anticipated sequel to one of the best RPGs on the SNES (and best RPGs period). The time-traveling adventure explored alternate dimensions with a ridiculously huge cast of characters and a highly customizable spell system. It also features one of the best soundtracks ever produced.

 

Crash Bandicoot

playstation classic

Some may only know Crash Bandicoot from Skylanders, or maybe from that certain sequence in Uncharted 4. But back in the day, Crash was considered the Mario of the Sony PlayStation. He never quite achieved the popularity of the mustachioed plumber, but he still starred in some solid 3D platformers, spawning several sequels and spinoffs.

 

Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver

playstation classic

Hack and slash action games were still in their infancy in the early days of 3D gaming. Legacy of Kain helped pave the way by putting you in the shoes of a powerful vampire. Raziel could employ a large variety of weapons, glide with his wings, and use the environment to defeat his enemies.

 

Medal of Honor

playstation classic

One of the biggest and most popular shooter franchises today, Call of Duty, can be traced all the way back to the PS1 with the original Medal of Honor. Originally developed as a video game version of the seminal World War 2 Steven Spielburg film Saving Private Ryan, the series really took off thanks to its split-screen multiplayer mode.

 

Metal Slug X

playstation classic

Our dream list is woefully short on cooperative games. Thankfully the perfect series exists for couch co-op. The Metal Slug games were 2D, arcade-like shoot ’em ups that reveled in over-the-top 80s and 90s era action movies. Players could find different weapons as power-ups and even command vehicles against gigantic bosses.

 

Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysse

playstation classic

True to its name, Oddworld was a 2D platformer in a bizarre alien world. At a time when many games were experiencing the technical woes of early 3D design, Oddworld gave us refreshingly beautiful 2D art and animations, with a great balance of action and puzzles.

no man's sky

Revisiting No Man’s Sky Two Years Later

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Even if you never played the game, chances are you’ve heard of No Man’s Sky. The universe-spanning indie game proved incredibly ambitious coming from tiny studio Hello Games, who helped steer the hype train all the way to its release in Fall 2016.

The shoe dropped rather spectacularly, creating one of the bigger video game dramas in recent history. It launched with loads of technical bugs and problems, and even on launch day consumers weren’t sure if the game supported actual multiplayer (it didn’t).

The result was a massive drop-off in players and a huge round of refunds. Hello Games went quiet, for better or for worse, but kept plugging away at the game.

no man's sky

Since then they’ve released four major content updates, all free. These updates have updated, improved, and changed major aspects to the core game, including adding land-based vehicles, base-building on planets, and controlling a fleet of frigates. The latest update, titled No Man’s Sky Next, officially added multiplayer support, nearly two years after launch.

With two years worth of updates, No Man’s Sky is unquestionably a better game than the original launch version. It sits comfortably as a more relaxing, friendlier survival-crafting game that emphasizes exploration above all else, yet it still falls far short of its initial grand ambitions.

Star-Crossed

From the beginning I’m able to quickly jump into a game with a friend. Despite the fact that the universe supports countless planets to explore, only four players can join a game together. When joining a game you plop down near the location of the host player. If you want to return to single player, you can reload and seamlessly return to back where you left off.

no man's sky

The multiplayer is oddly the least impressive new change. Having a friend to bounce around planet withs, firing lasers together isn’t terribly exciting, at least in the early game. Not being able to opt-in with sharing resources, inventory, or even missions is a terrible constraint that highlights multiplayer as a tacked-on feature rather than built into the gameplay.

I didn’t have much luck with random folks either. While exploring a planet I had a quaint fellow named “Lucifer69” join my server. This fine chap proceeded to ram into me with their space buggy, bounce all around me, and begin firing their terrain manipulator at the ground beneath me, trying to bury me in a makeshift cave. Players can’t really hurt each other but they can certainly be an awful nuisance. They were the only other human being in our entire universe, and I hated them.

Builder Better Worlds

I hadn’t played No Man’s Sky since that ill-fated initial launch, so all of the previous updates were new-to-me as well. The base building is solid and well-integrated into the tutorial. It doesn’t do anything I hadn’t already seen in other survival games like ARK: Survival Evolved, however. I gather resources by blasting rocks and trees, and use them to construct walls, doorways, and roofs.

Bases provide a nice sense of permanence, though No Man’s Sky’s themes are still deeply rooted in pressing forward and continuing to explore the stars, not necessarily putting down roots. Thankfully many of the important buildings, like the refinery, are built to be mobile and easily picked up when I’m ready to move on to the next planet.

I haven’t yet unlocked the ability to build land vehicles or purchase my own frigate, but those are definitely interesting goals to work toward. The ongoing story campaign feels roughly the same, and I actually enjoy the way it holds your hand through every step of the process, whether it’s how to craft Antimatter or teaching me to refine Ferrite Dust.

no man's sky

Space Stations have also been vastly improved. No longer are they embarrassingly big and empty. Now they’re full of aliens milling about, all of whom can be interacted with. Some provide side quests, other trading opportunities or gifts. It’s not exactly Mass Effect’s Citadel but it makes the universe feel much more alive.

My primary issue with No Man’s Sky’s is similar to most survival games – it demands a large amount of your time before it gets interesting. The early game is still very much about shooting lasers at rocks, though inventory management is much improved these days. I start with a larger inventory on both my exosuit and my starting ship, and receive less random items that I have to travel all the way to a settlement or space station to sell.

The economy of resources and credits is more streamlined, which is also No Man’s Sky’s greatest strength. Since there’s no food or hunger bars and most fauna aren’t hostile, the universe is a much more relaxing space to explore.

The bleeding-color art style evokes classic sci-fi literature at its purest form, before Star Wars pretty much took over the genre and made space all about war. I love Star Wars as much as the next geek, but what No Man’s Sky provides is a journey into a science fiction universe I rarely see in games or any media. One that’s primarily about making new discoveries and taking striking screenshots.

The procedurally generated universe can still provide endless hours of exploration, though you’ll quickly see through the curtain after less than a dozen hours, recognizing the basic template of every rock, tree, creature, and planet. The universe loses its sense of wonder after that, and even traveling planet-to-planet with friends doesn’t quite hold up to the ambitious space game we dreamed about. No Man’s Sky is definitely a better game now that it was two years ago, but it remains a cautionary tale of over-hyped glitz that was doomed to disappointment.

co-op

Divinity: Original Sin Is One of the Best Co-op Games for Couples

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Seven months and 80 hours later my partner and I finally put down our PS4 controllers in triumph to watch the end credits roll on Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition.

We have played many cooperative games together over the years but none have enthralled both of us quite like D:OS. Its rewarding tactical combat system, huge world, and most importantly, a story that weaves together both characters equally kept us invested in one of the best cooperative gaming experiences we’ve ever had.

Divinity: Original Sin was part of the new wave of Kickstarter indie games back in 2013, riding the explosion of successful multi-million dollar campaigns like Project Eternity, Wasteland 2, and the Double Fine Adventure. The common thread through most of these campaigns was nostalgia. Indie developers wanted to bring back niches genres that weren’t popular with major publishers, such as point and click adventures, and tactical computer role-playing games. Two of my favorites.

Divinity’s campaign was a big success, releasing in 2014 on PC. As a fan of classic PC RPGs like Fallout 1-2, Baldur’s Gate, and Planescape: Torment I immediately devoured it. While it definitely fits the mold of a classic cRPG, Divinity goes beyond what I expected. It takes its open-world cues from the even older Ultima series and adds gameplay functionality that’s closer to actual tabletop Dungeons & Dragons than anything else.

A year later, in 2015, it released on consoles with an Enhanced Edition upgrade. It would be several years before we finally caught up with modern consoles and I considered giving it a replay, this time cooperatively with my partner

I was unsure it would be a good fit for us. Until then we’d enjoyed quicker, easy-to-digest co-op games like Diablo 3 and the entire Borderlands series. Divinity: Original Sin is a huge, dense, lengthy RPG that refuses to ever hold your hand. Yet we completely fell in love with it.

It Takes Two

Want to pick a lock and steal from someone’s home? Go for it! Want to murder everyone in sight? You can certainly try. Just want to head into a dungeon and find some sweet loot? Now we’re talking!  These things have all been done before, and done well, but Divinity: Original Sin puts a unique cooperative spin on everything. One character can distract a guard while another sneaks past. One can be in the middle of a lengthy dialogue session with a dangerous cult leader while the other can get into a battle with mutated plant life outside of town.

The seamless split-screen opens up the possibilities in an already player-driven world, allowing couples to join forces or separate to do their own thing as much as they want.

co-op

The story focuses on two main characters who are equal in every way. Instead of having a second player tacked on as a sidekick or hireling, both are Source Hunters, essentially federal agents who hunt down dangerous magic users in the fantasy world of Rivellon. In Single Player you customize both of them at the beginning. Obviously in multiplayer we each get to choose and make our own Hunter. My partner created a mage who specialized in Fire and Earth magic, while my rogue wielded a bow along with some useful Witchcraft abilities.

While both characters begin the game as blank slates, we’re given numerous opportunities to flesh them out. Throughout several key moments in the story, our characters indicate they wish to chat. We had some fun roleplaying our characters with each other. Our responses earn points towards various personality traits, such as Romantic vs Pragmatic and Forgiving vs Vindictive. These traits don’t influence the game much (a +1 to a minor skill or so) but do wonders to bring our characters to life.

These moments are also baked into the single player, leading to some challenging exercises in juggling multiple character roles. Divinity is built from the ground-up for two player co-op, but playing single player is equally viable thanks to its carefully tuned turn-based combat.

You Have My Sword

Combat in Divinity is challenging and complex, which are not typically hallmarks of a good couch co-op game. It’s completely turn-based, with characters receiving a pool of Action Points each turn. Everything from moving to attacking to casting spells costs a certain amount of AP, along with putting spells and abilities on cooldown. Learning how and when to use skills is paramount.

Even more challenging is that characters don’t automatically learn new skills when they level up. Skill books must be found or purchased from vendors. This grants total customization to how we want to play our characters, but can be overwhelming in the beginning with so many options available.

co-op

Complexity brings perseverance, and Divinity’s combat is very rewarding. Many abilities can be combined with the environment for satisfying effects. Cast a lightning bolt on a puddle to create an electrified zone that stuns anyone inside. Shoot a fireball into some oil barrels and watch the gigantic explosion that sets the ground aflame. Coordinating together is the only way to win many battles. Nearly every turn we had to discuss how best to utilize our abilities in any given situation, like the best cooperative board games.

I’ll never forget the time I lost my characters midway during a battle with some nasty giant spiders in the desert, only to have my partner pull us through with careful coordination and strategic planning. What seemed like a quick reload turned into an epic comeback as she gradually prevailed, and we cheered together at the end.

Thankfully Divinity’s battles prioritize quality over quantity. Many RPGs, particularly Japanese RPGs, are plagued with repetitive random battles designed to gradually drain your resources. In Divinity all enemies are visible directly on the map, and they’re relatively few and far between. Individual battles last much longer but are also much more meaningful, which is more how tabletop D&D operates than many hack and slash video games.

co-op

Divinity’s huge world and length can be off-putting for many couples. Eighty hours is incredibly intimidating if you want to see it all the way through. If you do the math we averaged only about three hours a week, and that was typically long sessions on weekends.

Firing up the game became like our weekly D&D adventures (shameless plug): getting together once a week to unwind and play the next phase of a story together. The familiarity of jumping in to accomplish the next tasks at hand – rescuing an imprisoned witch, avoiding deadly patrols in a mine, helping a sentient wishing well find his brother – provided a strong sense of purpose and organic narrative throughout many weeks and months.

Completing Divinity: Original Sin has left a temporary void in our gaming schedule. Yet we’re also excited to jump into Divinity: Original Sin 2 when it launches on consoles this fall. I’m sure it will take us another 6+ months to finish. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

skylanders: imaginators

Opinion: We’re Witnessing the Death of the Toys-to-Life Genre

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Last year Disney abruptly announced they were ending Disney Infinity after three years. Earlier this year Activision gave the foreboding announcement that they would not release a new Skylanders game this year – for the first time in six years. This week Warner Bros. confirmed that they’re ceasing development on LEGO Dimensions (though online support will remain).

At this point there are more discontinued (or on hiatus) toys-to-life games than ongoing. In the span of a year we went from most major game publishers wanting a piece of the surging toys-to-life pie, to suddenly being left with a grim outlook for the future of the genre.

The concept of “toys-to-life,” that is, physical figures with built-in Near Field Communication (NFC), began with a little known toy series called U.B. Funkeys in 2007. U.B. Funkeys was a PC game with cutesy figures designed by Mattel.

I’d never even heard of it, and it looks more like a toy with a gimmicky toys-to-life mode rather than a full-blown video game. Being PC-only appeared to cause lots of technical headaches and vastly limited sales, and it was discontinued in 2010.

The House That Spyro Built

Meanwhile Activision took a chance with developer Toys for Bob (who ironically originally pitched their toys-to-life concept to Nintendo). They used a similar concept as U.B. Funkeys, using well-made physical action figures armed with NFC readers along with a “Portal of Power” that digitally transported the figures into a vibrant game world. The entire concept was still commercially uncertain, so Activision slapped a semi-recognizable brand and character on top of it. Skylanders: Spyo’s Adventure was born.

Skylanders’ immediate success was at least partially due to the exciting novelty of the toys-to-life technology. But its staying power is owed to the quality of the figures as well as the solid, kid-friendly, cooperative gameplay. Skylanders included funny characters, simple puzzles, fast-paced action, and a light-hearted Saturday Morning Cartoon story.

toys-to-life

Every year begat a pricey new Skylanders starter pack along with several waves of figures and bonus levels. Each game introduced new types of figures or concepts (you couldn’t even jump in the first two games).

The third game, Skylanders: Swap Force, was particularly noteworthy by adding swappable figures with interchangeable top and bottom halves. In many ways Swap Force represents the peak of both physical innovation and brilliant game design. Trap Team added Pokémon-style monster catching, while the most recent game, Imaginators, let you create your own digital custom Skylanders with multiple unlockable body parts and weapons.

Activision was able to leverage the series into a full-on kid franchise, saturating the Skylanders brand from everything to paper plates to an animated series on Netflix. Skylanders became the World of Warcraft of the genre, the one game that dominated its space and dared anyone else to compete with it.

To Infinity…

Disney answered the call in 2013 with Disney Infinity, an unabashed Skylanders-like game that also used NFC figures along with a portal and 3D platformer-like gameplay. Anticipation was huge; this was basically a Skylanders game but coupled with the immense backing and popularity of Disney characters and series.

Avalanche Software produced three games in three years, each modeled after a major Disney property: Disney movies, Marvel, and Star Wars. Figures ranged from superheroes to princesses to obscure Tron characters, though there was some criticism for conforming such a wide variety of characters into a uniform art style.

toys-to-life

Unlike Skylanders, Disney Infinity’s gameplay pushed more toward a Minecraft model. Players could build their own levels and content and share them online. The community that sprang up was impressive and some of the content and level designs were amazing and creative. Unfortunately official gameplay was limited almost exclusively to the playsets. Disney made the odd decision that only characters from that franchise can play in their own playset.

Between the two game series I vastly preferred Skylanders. Skylanders’ gameplay was much more RPG-like and the combat more fun and interesting. The level designs also felt more like an actual game.

Disney Infinity’s figures all controlled too similarly and simplistically, with only major differences coming with figures like Tinkerbell who could fly, or Star Wars characters with Force powers. The user-generated content was a really neat idea, but Activision wasn’t making money off of it, they needed to sell playsets and figures. If Minecraft + Disney couldn’t end up successful, what chance does anyone have?

Enter Nintendo

We may joke that Nintendo is always a step behind the times, but when they enter a new market it’s almost always hugely successful (see mobile development, and Wii sales). Nintendo introduced amiibo figures in 2014 to immediate success. Unlike all other toys-to-life games, there wasn’t an actual game to go with the figures. Instead Nintendo uses its figures to unlock goodies in other games, such as costumes or extra levels or power ups in games like Mario Kart, Smash Bros., and Super Mario Maker.

This simple concept proved so effective that a New Nintendo 3DS was built with an NFC reader to accommodate amiibo scanning. Both the Wii U and Switch came with built-in NFC readers.

While not having a centralized game is bizarre, it’s proven effective in lowering the cost of buy-in. There’s no pricey $70 starter pack required; all you need is the appropriate Nintendo console. Nintendo’s recognizable roster of characters have proven extremely popular for collectors, despite their limited gameplay use.

toys-to-life

Yet even Nintendo’s toys-to-life beacon is beginning to dim. Nearly 25 million figures were sold in the 2015-16 fiscal year, taking full advantage of then-popular game Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U. Super Smash Bros. used amiibo figures as RPG-like fighters you could level up.

But the first three quarters of the next fiscal year (ending March 2017) saw only 6.5 million amiibo units sold. No game since Super Smash Bros. has been able to effectively use amiibo figures beyond simply unlocking a costume or perk.

Many complaints have surrounded amiibo as little more than physical DLC you can buy for Nintendo games. There’s also the sadly typical Nintendo frustrations regarding limited supply. Amiibo figures are still popular (millions of units sold is nothing to scoff at), but without better game tie-ins like Smash Bros., the future doesn’t look good.

Everything Isn’t Awesome

LEGO Dimensions’ cancellation is equally upsetting, though probably the least surprising. Warner Bros. and Traveler’s Tales (TT Games) have been successful making fun, cooperative, family-friendly LEGO video games for over a decade. Creating a toys-to-life version, with actual LEGO toys, feels like a natural evolution.

LEGO Dimensions was released in 2015. It launched with a starter pack that took advantage of the popular LEGO Movie along with Warner Bros’ access to various movie franchises, everything from Lord of the Rings to The Goonies. They planned on a three-year cycle of expansion pack content. That’s a long time for an increasingly aging game that still supported last-gen hardware.

They would make it to the end of year two before the announcement hit this week. Figures and sets weren’t selling as well as they’d hoped, and any parent is all too familiar with how expensive LEGO sets run.

toys-to-life

They banked heavily on blockbuster movie tie-ins, which didn’t quite pan out with big sets like Ghostbusters. I also question the target audience for LEGO Dimensions. Their tie-in franchises ran the gamut from The Simpsons to 80s stuff (The A-Team, really?) to modern kiddie cartoons. I can see kids being interested in Batman and Harry Potter, but Knight Rider and Gremlins?

LEGO Dimensions’ wide-net approach has proven unsustainable, and TT Games will return to making regular LEGO games, such as the upcoming LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2.

Toys-to-Death

The future of the genre looks bleak. The only new AAA toys-to-life game on the horizon is Starlink: Battle for Atlas, which was announced during Ubisoft’s E3 press conference. It will feature buildable spaceships that will spring to digital life by attaching directly to the controller. It has a tentative Fall 2018 release date, but Ubisoft is very aware of the current market of toys-to-life games, and there’s a chance this game won’t even see the light of day.

Not all is lost. For a more indie option you have Lightseekers, which was successfully Kickstarted last year and launched earlier this year on iOS and Android.

Lightseekers uses bluetooth technology instead of requiring a portal. It has a very Skylanders aesthetic but with fully articulated figures and AR cards that can be scanned in game or played physically. Both cards and figures are actually optional, and the mobile game is completely free to play. Only the two initial launch figures are available, however, and there’s no telling whether Lightseekers can ever reach the sales numbers of the once titans of the genre.

Amiibo figures are still being produced and selling millions, and Skylanders technically hasn’t been canceled yet. It’s entirely possible Skylanders will pull an Assassin’s Creed and shift way from an annual release schedule. Meanwhile season two of Skylanders Academy just hit Netflix, and a third season is in development for next year.

Toys-to-life games are an intriguing blend of toy and game and can be a lot of fun, particularly for families. I’ve enjoyed playing both Skylanders and Disney Infinity with my young daughter (she’s only recently discovering LEGOs). I particularly enjoy the progression of leveling up Skylanders figures over years of games.

The toys-to-life genre offers the rare kind of game that both of us can enjoy equally and excel at, despite our vastly different gameplay levels and experiences.

I’m very saddened and worried to see all these death notices pile up. It reminds me of another genre that was mined, exploited, and died all too quickly just a few years ago – rhythm games with physical instruments. Like that genre, toys-to-life requires pricey initial buy-ins and upkeep, and physical goods are not exactly cheap for companies to produce. I was hoping game publishers learned their lesson about over saturating a lucrative, but expensive market. Time will whether toys-to-life games will meet a similar wistful end, or find the right balance to remain a welcoming avenue for family-friendly gaming.

GTA 3

How GTA 5 Became a Top-Selling Game

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There’s a good chance you’ve heard about a little game called Grand Theft Auto 5.  After all, the game has sold more than 80 million copies worldwide, not accounting for digital sales. Either your kid plays it, a friend plays it, or you yourself hop into the virtual world of Los Santos for an hour or two after work once in a while. GTA 5 is the best selling non-bundled game of all time.

How does a game become so popular? Read More

We Have Reached a Golden Age of Space Strategy Games

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Not long ago the strategy genre was struggling when it came to the final frontier. Fans of endlessly replayable strategy games and galactic empires frequently cite 1996’s Master of Orion II as the pinnacle of the sub-genre. Nearly two decades have gone by without much competition.

Fast-forward to 2017 and suddenly we have a myriad of excellent space games all vying for your star-faring gaze. If you want to smash spaceships together, you’ve got Homeworld Remastered. Fancy jumping into the cockpit and playing Choose Your Own Adventure in Space? Try Elite: Dangerous or Rebel Galaxy. Want to learn the actual real-world science behind the space program? Hello Kerbal Space Program! And I haven’t even mentioned Eve Online, which remains one of the most popular and successful Massively Multiplayer Online games without the word Warcraft in its title.

But what if you want to take a few steps back and guide an entire galactic empire to victory? The time has finally come for my beloved strategy genre, or “4X” (Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate) to take its place among the stars.

Between 2015’s Galactic Civilizations III, last year’s Stellaris, and the recently released Endless Space 2, I’m officially declaring it the Golden Age of Space Strategy Games. But which one is right for you, O Conquistador of the Cosmos?

Galactic Civilizations III

The Galactic Civilizations series, published and developed by Stardock Entertainment, was one of the few games proudly carrying the torch of 4X space games through the dark ages of the 2000s. Galactic Civilizations III had a rocky launch two years ago but has since received some quality updates and well-received DLC.

Galactic Civilizations III is the most board game-like of the space strategy games in its visual style. Planetary maps and even space itself are represented by hex grids. You can dive into micromanaging adjacency bonuses on each planet, or let a governor run things and turn your attention to those pesky space orcs next door.

A short story-based campaign is included, which features humanity facing off against the Drengin Empire. The visuals boast some fairly high production values, with fully animated leaders and voice acting. It adds a rich amount of personality to each playthrough, whether in the campaign or through scenarios with dozens of potential players.

GalCiv 3’s best component is the ship builder. It features one of the most comprehensive spaceship creators since Spore, letting you resize pieces and slide them around to create unique designs. It’s easy to lose hours designing your dream vessels with the LEGO-like builder. Unfortunately the actual space combat is little more than watching ships pew-pew each other (a problem every space 4X game seems to suffer from).

Play Galactic Civilizations III If: You’re a galactic warlord who loves customizing and tinkering with spaceships.

Stellaris

If you’re coming from a Civilization background, Stellaris will feel completely alien, and not just because you can play as a fungus hive-mind if you want to. Stellaris is developed by Paradox, who carved out a successful niche with their Grand Strategy titles. Their games eschew standard turn-based gameplay for a real-time experience that demands constant attention as you fly through epochs of technological advancement, explore anomalies, and colonize distant star systems.

Stellaris has the weakest visual presentation but comes with a large amount of customization for building your own galactic race, from totalitarian lizards to honorable space-birds. Diplomacy comes down to your chosen ethics and technology choices, and combat largely relies on who can muster a bigger fleet to throw more spaceships at their opponent.

What makes Stellaris compelling is the emergent narratives that crop up, such as uplifting a young race on a promising planet only to have them rebel against you. Or catching a scientist being worshiped as a god in another planet, complete with pyramids.

If you haven’t played any of Paradox’s Grand Strategy games, Stellaris can be an intimidating game to get into, with a steep learning curve. But it’s a rewarding experience that is absolutely worth discovering for fans of space strategy games.

Play Stellaris If: Taking turns is for suckers and you want to shape the entire history of your galactic empire.

Endless Space 2

endless space 2

Hopefully you’ve already read my review and know that Endless Space 2 is a great game. It brings everything that made Amplitude Studios’ Endless Legend a breath of fresh air back where it belongs – in space!

Endless Space 2 may be the easiest game of the bunch to get into, even if you haven’t played Amplitude’s previous Endless games. It’s the most Civ-like of the bunch as each unit in your diverse population produces food, industry, science, and dust to empower your military, build structures, research new technology, and grease the right palms.

Unlike Civ choosing your empire doesn’t just provide a few bonuses, it completely changes the way you play, from space vampires who drain planets to a race of genetic clones and tree-people. Each faction has dramatically different play-styles, political affiliations, and narrative arcs. RPG-like quests demand you make choices that affect your entire empire, letting you customize your game both mechanically and narratively.

I’ve never played a game that let me enjoy politics as much as Endless Space 2. The political system is built into every area of the game, making politics an integral and compelling feature.

Play Endless Space 2 If: You want to run your galaxy with a hefty dose of resource management and RPG elements.