Sometimes I consider myself lucky that Steam et al were not a thing in my teenage years. Because if they had been, there would now be a permanent record of the ungodly amount of time I sank into them. Well, apart from my parents that is, who vividly remember it to this day. Still though, these videogames are pretty great, so here is a trip down videogame lane!
1. Gothic 2
Gothic 2 was definitely my largest childhood addiction. A gritty and unforgiving world that got even grittier and unforgiving-er with the expansion, several possible paths to choose from and sheer endless exploration, I cannot even begin to imagine how many hours I have sunk into this game.
Even if the story seems a bit bare bones (you have amnesia, but you are the one chosen to defeat the Big Bad), the real protagonist of the game is the world. Despite the fantasy setting the world just feels incredibly real, with animals that behave as real animals should and characters who couldn’t give two shits about who you are and what you want from them.
Sure, the combat system is a bit weird and if you played it today the graphics might feel like they are actively reaching out of your screen to gouge out your eyes. But just writing this right now, I almost feel like picking it up again – just to probably die immediately to one of those goddamn field raiders.
Who would believe it, but unlike the other games on this list, Age of Empires is actually alive and well! Microsoft outdid themselves with an up-to-date Definitive Edition that feels like the original game, but on closer inspection has been improved a lot.
Back when I played it, though, it usually resulted in a few minutes of silence as the game and connection booted up, quickly followed by shouting matches between my brother and me. Yes, we were very competitive.
The game rightly ranks among the all-time best computer games though, in my opinion. In its essence, it’s just good old Real Time Strategy (RTS), powered by a robust stone-paper-scissor method. Every unit will be good against a certain type of unit, but terrible against another.
With all the years the game has under its belt by now, the system has been developed to perfection and still keeps things interesting until today, thanks to new civilizations and regular patches – although I only watch other people play it sometimes these days.
3. Warcraft III
Talking about RTS archetypes, Warcraft 3. Another ancient game that has a huge community to this day (spectacularly botched ‘Reforged’-edition notwithstanding). I mostly played Warcraft 3 for the excellent player-made scenarios, though.
Since Warcraft 3 and its expansion came with powerful tools to create your own maps and scenarios, the amount of online content for this game was quickly mind-boggling. It went so far that it even gave rise to an entirely new type of gaming: The original MOBA-game Dota was originally created as a Warcraft 3 scenario, until it eventually became its own thing.
Another highlight of Warcraft 3 was its story and the smooth-as-butter game mechanics. It is telling that even today, the cinematic campaign videos from almost 20 years ago still look epic, playing the game feels in no way outdated or clunky, and just playing through the campaign is as enjoyable as ever.
As a huge Star Wars nerd with strong tendencies of escapism, this game was like crack cocaine for my teenage brain. What, you can learn and play around with all the force powers from the movies and more, you can fight with all the different lightsaber styles and you even encounter some of the big Star Wars personalities like Luke Skywalker and Boba Fett? Sign me up! And then again and again and again.
This was another one of those games where a story that Lucian of Samosata would have thought to be a bit quaint didn’t take anything away from the game at all. It really was all about the gameplay, with its stunts and acrobatics, cool force powers and lightsaber moves, and sometimes minutes-long battles against powerful wielders of the dark side.
It is telling that there has never been a game like it since. There have been uncountable Star Wars games, for sure – and some extremely good ones, like the KOTOR series, among them. But still, nothing was ever quite like this game again, especially when it comes to lightsaber combat.
The original Stronghold will fill those who played it back then with an odd mixed sense of joy and disappointment. Rarely has a gaming IP ever been so great in its original installment (including the first add-on Crusaders) and then been so spectacularly shitty ever since. No, Firefly Studios have never been able to build on their initial success and they are still milking the success of the original game until today.
But if you ever wanted a medieval building simulator, then Stronghold is and was the best. The one thing that no other game ever did as well as Stronghold again is that true-to-heart feeling of building and ruling over a medieval castle. It had a great campaign, scenarios where you attack or defend historical castles, endless modes and economic challenges and it is just the perfect medieval building simulator from front to back.
Even if the graphics are a bit rusty nowadays (the game came out in 2001 after all), there is an HD-version on Steam that at least makes it playable on modern computers – and if you don’t mind seeing a pixel or 10, it really does still look very pretty indeed!