- Diablo III (2012, PC) – 48.9
Gameplay – 10
Streamlining the legacy that D2 left, D3 is buttery smooth to play. Some will say “they made the game for casuals and noobs,” and to that I say, “Enjoy Path of Exile, asshole.” D3 is recklessly fun to play, and while it does have flaws, Blizzard did a solid job of rectifying where they went wrong. It hasn’t always been a politically smooth ride, as far as decisions made by the devs and holes in philosophies, but considering I put probably 1000+ hours into this game, I clearly don’t have too much room to complain. D3 rocks.
Story – 6.7
After the haunting and near-flawless story arc of its predecessor, the writing team kind of limped to the finish line with their narrative. Presented in very well-done cutscenes and unique ink-and-parchment dioramas, the tale of Leah, Cain, Tyrael, and the player isn’t bad, but it’s such a major drop off from D2 in many, many regards. It is predictable as hell, does a poor job making consequences or the world feel relevant, and for the most part simply hopes the players are so content with how COOL everything looks that they don’t stop to consider how hollow most of the plot turned out to be.
Music – 7.1
No doubt, Blizzard spared no expense (probably the 800th time I’ve used that expression in these reviews) on the OST of Diablo 3, and it shows. The quality is fantastic, and while it definitely borrows from Diablo 2 on occasion, for the most part it has new elements that are at times simultaneously spellbinding and ignorable. Again, this would be higher in many ways if the game it followed up wasn’t such a masterpiece.
Style – 8.6
Diablo 3 looks pretty goddamn amazing. I personally was disappointed with how colorful and bright the world turned out to be, even after they toned it down from what we saw in demos and test footage, and while Blizzard definitely twisted a few knobs to have it stylistically fall into more of a “fun” and less of a “gothic horror” category, it still carries with it that bewitching tone of mysticism, destruction, and madness. On an HD television or high quality monitor, D3 is a jewel to behold, regardless of criticism.
Challenge – 6.6
There IS some merit to the “THEY NOOBED THE GAME” argument that many a Diablo old-timer will shout to the clouds. There’s certainly a few things I can customize to try unique builds in, but really if you have the time and patience to grind, you’ll eventually spec out a sweet-ass build for any class that can handle high torments. Ultimately the challenge isn’t so much the game itself as much as it is combating your own patience and dedication.
Meat – 9.9
With the variety of classes available (and one more on the way), it’s well worth exploring each one’s quirks, spells, and abilities. Beyond the main game there’s piles of end-game content for those who simply want to grind and grind for ceaseless days. People played D2 for years and years after it was out. D3 is following somewhat of a similar pattern.
- The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998, N64) – 49.3
Gameplay – 8.9
This game was, at the time, a breakthrough. Often considered the greatest game of all time, I didn’t end up playing it until 10-odd years after it came out, so my criticisms may be harsh to those who would be otherwise influenced by nostalgia, so be patient with me. Z-targeting was a total revolution, but on occasion I would get frustrated with it and the camera, namely due to the limitations of the console at the time. When it was being cooperative, however, it is a total joy to employ. Exploring and combat is mostly fun, the world is expansive and colorful, and while I played it during the heart of the Wii era, it looked fantastic. OoT is simply just one of those games. Everybody needs to play this. It’s historic.
Story – 9.3
One of the great Zelda tales in the series’ legacy, Link has to traverse the large world of Hyrule from two sides of his life, ultimately freeing the sages to save Zelda and, as always, foil Ganondorf. The narrative adds weight to Link’s decision to sacrifice his childhood, explores the backstory of the Triforce, Ganondorf, and the ending is the best in the LoZ series, hands down.
Music – 10
Koji Kondo is a legend, and this was his master work. The ocarina obviously is employed to showcase the bevy of memorable melodies that sweep in and out of the game’s story arc, and many of these will never leave the minds of those who love the game for so long as they will live. The Song of Storms, Song of Time, Epona’s Song, the Bolero of Fire, Gerudo Valley, and many more are now imbued into the very fabric of The Legend of Zelda series, never to depart.
Style – 7.6
The N64 was a badass console, but it had graphical limitation of the time that were a bit of a roadblock. OoT has some majorly unpleasant faces for its characters, and obviously textures throughout the game were on the low end. That said, graphics aren’t everything, and considering the bottleneck of its host console, Ocarina is a massive undertaking, complete with vast fields, hills, caverns, and mountains, numerous buildings and NPCs, all for the player to explore and be enchanted by. It may not look sexy compared to the HD gaming world we inhabit today, but it holds up very well.
Challenge – 5.8
If you discount the frustrations occasionally levied by the wonky camera system, the game is for all ages and rarely stands in your way for too long. It never stops being fun, from the first moment you power the console on, however, and I feel like that has to count for something. The Water Temple can go to hell, however.
Meat – 7.7
Like pretty much every LoZ game, you want to gather all the Heart Pieces, Bottles, and Great Fairies, but there’s a decent amount of stuff to do beyond the main game: Tricking out your arrows, the Biggoron Sword quest, Happy Mask Shop stuff, and of course the Golden Skulltula challenge.
- Halo: Combat Evolved (2001, XBOX) – 50
Gameplay – 10
Every now and again, one of those games comes out; a keystone game that marks a time in gamers’ lives. Halo is the Doom of my group of friends. It’s the Wolfenstein, the Quake, and the Unreal Tournament of my life. The combat is flawless, the weapon set is perfect, and the levels in its multiplayer are essentially pristine. Customization for game modes is easily handled, and if you want to system link your boxes, multiplayer is glorious. It’s the best shooter I’ll likely ever play, even if I sucked at it.
Story – 6
This rating may make some shout in anger, but I really don’t go in for science fiction. There’s a reason Super Metroid isn’t on this list, among others. I can’t do science fiction 88% of the time. It doesn’t speak to me. The plight of Master Chief is a bodacious ride in his battle against the Covenant, the Flood, and Guilty Spark, all to save the people of Earth and set up innumerable sequels. It’s just not for me, however, and this is my list, so that’s just how it is.
Music – 9.4
The music of Halo even still gets my hackles standing, and when the main menu vocals soar I instinctively look around the floor for an S-type controller. Beset with chants, percussion, strings, and a healthy dollop of electronic elements, few games can match the quality of H:CE’s score.
Style – 8.1
Science Fiction elements often end up looking same-y, much like fantasy or other popular genres, but Halo’s designers worked hard to give the world a unique, slick appearance. This is one of those instances where the limitations of the console benefited the game’s final look, as textures weren’t overly complicated or gritty, detail was good but not overcooked, and the world wasn’t bloated with a lot of extra garbage for the sake of looking like a wasteland or whatever. Master Chief obviously is one of gaming’s most identifiable protagonists, Cortana now pollutes Windows 10 users’ lives, and a good portion of the mobs throughout the game are recognizable even still among casual Halo fans.
Challenge – 7.5
Halo’s main storyline is long as hell and can be a real pain in the ass when it wants to be (the Flood in particular are exhausting), and the multiplayer portion requires some gumption to not get killed routinely by more experienced players (something I would certainly know about, often being on the shit end of KDR stats on Halo Sundays in the past). It got a little absurd even, what with latency and “host box” preferences causing arguments among our group of regular Halo junkies.
Meat – 9
The game came out in 2001. We played it regularly for 5 or 6 years after that. Halo 2 came out in 2004, and after a brief dabble with it, we returned to Halo CE since frankly it’s an infinitely better game. Halo Sundays were a routine thing for 2-3 years, if not longer, and were some of the most fun days of my life. I swear to God, Thill, if you keep sniping me I’m going to come in there and smack you in the damn mouth. Sorry, that was a triggered burst of nostalgia that came spilling out. But seriously. Nick, knock off your spawn camping bullshit. Brett, stop using the pistol, Brett, stop – dammit he just killed me again. Did you fuckers just pass the flag through the cage again? Come the fuck on already, guys; that’s so weak. Garth just called “Gold Team!” Shit. Soon enough they’ll be eating Victory Cake, and nobody wants to see that.
- Grand Theft Auto V (2013, X360/PC) – 50.1
Gameplay – 8.8
Taking the bones of GTA IV and its sequels, Rockstar was looking to build something enormous with its follow-up, and they crushed it. Perfecting the handling of the countless quantities of cars, boats, and other odd vehicles, it has never been more satisfying to cruise around the simply colossal world of San Andreas. Physics feel right (and at times appropriately over the top for bonus silliness), controls are familiar and intuitive, and the gunplay/targeting system was vastly improved over IV, courtesy of employing elements of it from Red Dead Redemption.
Story – 8.8
Rockstar put the story in the hands of three different characters this time around, and all three are superbly voiced, fleshed out, and carry the narrative seamlessly. It’s necessary to have this divide since the world is so vast, but it also provides further hilarity/growth when they all spend time with one another. An awkward, at-times reluctant friendship forms, and ultimately they all seem to accept that they are simply content to be violent, maniacal outcasts that don’t know how to live any other way. Carried along by several key heists, GTA V’s chronicle may not be as poignant as Red Dead or as movie-inspired as Vice City, but it is perhaps the most character-driven fable they’ve cobbled together in the company’s history. With the sheer quality of their main cast, they rolled a wobbly strike, but a strike nonetheless.
Music – 7.5
Like GTAIV before it, I can’t do much higher than this since the soundtrack is generally licensed songs that are immediately familiar and world building, but supplemented by original talk shows, commercials, and some original songs, the music is good, but not what defines this game.
Style – 8.9
More subtle with their humor than in past titles, the devs aimed for realism in the world of San Andreas, and it turned out to be an incredible thing. The scale of the island world you get plopped into is unfathomable, and from the craggy rocks at the northernmost coast all the way to the sprawling freeways of Los Santos, the attention to detail is second to none. The world doesn’t glow in a neon haze like Vice City, nor does it bask in the sun-baked sepia of Red Dead Redemption, but instead gives you a kaleidoscope of colorful lighting, all dependent upon where you are and when. Whether it’s the sun spilling through the towering buildings of downtown Los Santos or the violet warmth of a dusk shuddering across a sandy beach, there is so much to look at and absorb with every available mile and minute.
Challenge – 6.7
I found some of the missions in the main game pretty easy to overcome in comparison to previous titles, admittedly, and honestly I found that way more appealing. Ask anyone who had to deal with some of the final missions of GTA IV or fly the fucking “Zero” mini plane from San Andreas, and they’ll tell you GTA V was merciful by comparison. Things definitely get hairy toward the end, and no doubt you’ll have to restart a mission or three, but ultimately I was very pleased by the balance of challenge and forgiveness afforded.
Meat – 9.4
In addition to each character having unique interactions with various weirdos to open side missions (of which there are quite a few), the world is chock-full of bizarre NPC interactions, Bigfoot mysteries to solve, UFOs to see, and apparently a Mt. Chiliad mystery quest that required fans to go into the code of the game itself for clues. That said, if you’re like me and are simply giddy with the landscape to explore, GTA V has you covered. I’d often suit up as Michael, hop into a tricked out car (I love that you can customize/sup-up your rides), and cruise the city and beaches, on the prowl for crimes. Police car chasing can get tricky if you don’t keep your distance, but inevitably they’d come across a shootout or car chase, and I’d happily join the fray. Vigilante justice obviously earns the ire of the LSPD, so then I’d have to survive several stars worth of police presence, and that is a total blast that’s unique to the franchise. Beyond that, it’s great to cruise the beaches on a bicycle or take a motorcycle to the mountains, doing flips and killing yourself in glorious fashion. Hop in a jet and fly to your heart’s content if you like, or maybe you’d like to plow around the northern woodlands raising hell. If that’s not enough, join some friends in GTA Online and go hog wild.
- The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past (1991, SNES)
Gameplay – 9.8
Top-down Zelda titles may not be every fan’s bread and butter after OoT blew so many minds, but I prefer this version of Zelda every time. The menu system dropping down can be a little tedious from time to time, but otherwise it’s awesome to fling your boomerang around, ploop a few arrows toward your adversaries, or hear the chk-chk-chk-chk of the hookshot as it rings out toward your target. It can be a bit jarring wait for the next panel of the world to scroll into view, but after a few minutes of playing you don’t notice it anymore. Great, great game. One of the best ever. Obviously. It’s 6th on my damn list. Love this game.
Story – 8.9
In the pouring rain, you wake up as Link, setting out into the downpour to find your dying grandpa (1991 spoilers) and claim his sword and shield. Shoving you right into the adventure, you slay your way to the princess and make a daring escape through the sewers. It never drops off from there at any point. Gathering the pendants to reclaim the Master Sword gives you a smooth escalation into the world of Hyrule before they flip things all the way over with the Dark World and salvation of the Seven Sages. Agahnim/Ganon is a fun and unique adversary, especially now that Ganondorf has taken hold as the primary nemesis in current releases.
Music – 9.7
Essentially without a misstep, the score of LttP is wonderful. From the quirky minigame theme to the sweeping comfort of Kakariko Village, the colorful and diverse areas of both variations of greater Hyrule are masterfully scored. As you enter the Dark World, the change in tone is not only done with color scheme and unique visual cues, but musically driven by a militant thrumming march that lets the player know this is not the sunny, genial Hyrule you left behind. Many of its themes persist in Zelda titles to this day, 26 years later, and likely always will so long as the series continues.
Style – 9.3
If you can look past Link’s pink hair, the game is visually resplendent throughout. Masterful use of the SNES’s full range of color, you don’t want to look away. Dungeons are appropriately gray and spooky, forests dusky and lush, and villages homey and warm. The Dark World isn’t that pleasing to the eye, but it’s not meant to be, as shown by the vomit-like color pallet employed in that portion of the game. The contrast of going from light world to dark is very intentionally stark, and I always felt a sense of relief when returning to the lavish and picturesque confines of the light world after a tepid journey amidst its dark counterpart.
Challenge – 5.7
With the exception of dealing with ice dungeons, the game is pretty straightforward with its medium-to-low difficulty. That doesn’t matter, however, like most Nintendo titles of that time. If you’re playing LttP, you’re having fun and immersing yourself in the quest at hand. That’s all that really matters in the end.
Meat – 7
While not as beefy as other LoZ games, there’s still a fair amount of stuff to unlock. Upgrading your sword, shield, and getting your magic meter halved is there, along with the heart pieces and bottles. The reason I gave this title a 7 in this category is namely due to how many times this is a pure pleasure to play through again and again. Link to the Past is, in many ways, a core part of my gaming life that I will always treasure, immediately sending me back to simpler times as a child and spending time with Nick, one of my oldest and best friends. It’s just a game, yes, but to me? It’s always going to be more than that, and that must count for something.