Games to play before the end of time arrives

So the world didn’t end today, that’s pretty great. There’s still a huge number of games in my backlog that I’ve never touched, and it would be a damn shame if the apocalypse came and went without my playing any of them. That said, I’ve been going through the list of games that I have played and it’s quickly becoming overshadowed by the growing backlog. At the rate I’m going, it seems like there’s not going to be enough time to finish it all.

So I’ve decided to put together a list, both for my own personal reflection as well as to serve as a guide to any other gamer out there who happens to find him or herself in the universal situation of not knowing what to play next. It’s mostly composed of indie games, for two main reasons:

  1. They’re usually underrated,
  2. They’re usually cheap.

The list is not arranged in any particular order – I’m just running things off at the top of my head – and is purely subjective. Also, some of these games were played in beta stages, so when it comes to the final experience, YMMV.

Minecraft

Of course, this is the indie game that arguably made indie gaming mainstream. Its massive sales and near instant-hit status brought the idea of profitable indie game development – which had remained a pipedream for many studios and individuals alike – to the table. The game itself isn’t for everyone, contrary to what its popularity might suggest. Primarily, it’s more of a creative sandbox than a game; it’s a canvas which allows you to express your artistic side in pixelated, block-by-block form.

Rivendell in Minecraft

Here, for example, is the city of Rivendell from The Lord of the Rings built entirely out of Minecraft blocks.

There is also, however, a survival mode option. Should the player choose to play in this mode, s/he will find that:

  • Resources (blocks) are limited and must be manually gathered from the randomly-generated map
  • Enemy critters hinder the player from building during the in-game night cycles and, to a lesser extent, even during the day
  • Even if the player does manage to build a structure, certain enemies can destroy them
  • The player character can die

This mode has more of the trappings of a traditional game and certainly serves to spice up what would otherwise be a digital version of Lego. It even offers a “Hardcore” mode option, wherein if the character gets killed in the game, the map becomes inaccessible to future playthroughs – essentially making it a permadeath option.

Terraria

Fighting the Eye of Cthulhu

If it wasn’t enough keeping those pesky zombies away from knocking my doors down, I also have to worry about that peeping Tom, Chtulhu.

Terraria, like Minecraft, involves a lot of mining, crafting, building, and fighting, but does so quite literally with a different perspective and offers different end-game goals.

First and foremost is the obvious 2D side-scrolling presentation. Whereas Minecraft is played in a 3D open-world style, Terraria plays more like a game of Super Mario Bros. or Megaman. This makes it a lot simpler – indeed, it’s almost impossible to get lost in Terraria when compared to the vastness of Minecraft maps.

Character progression plays a more prominent role in Terraria, as players can “level up” their avatars through increasing their HP and Mana. Additionally, there are more unique items, gadgets, and equipment to discover and craft. The addition of minibosses, random events, and an explorable randomly-generated dungeon level adds to the feeling that this isn’t a game just for creatives.

Don’t Starve

Yet another survival game, though unique from both Minecraft and Terraria in that it doesn’t yet have any semblance of building a defensible shelter or mining underground. In Don’t Starve, though, there’s a more looming sense of doom and dread; the game really, actively, pervasively seems like it is out to kill you.

Building in Don't Starve

Despite the lack of instructions, most of the advice the game does actually present is fairly straightforward.

The first hint of this is in the very jarring lack of any instructions, help text, or guides of any kind. You’ll have to figure out everything on your own, which means you will die many many times before you do something right. If the idea of failing frustrates you, then don’t bother playing this game.

If, however, you are a masochist or you find satisfaction in discovering game mechanics by yourself, then this game might just be right up your alley. It rewards curiosity and incessant looting; many crafting recipes are unlocked as soon as you have enough material for it, and there are additional formulas to unlock beyond those as well. While the benefits or uses of particular tools or items are rarely if ever explicitly defined, most of them are fairly self-explanatory, and much of the satisfaction comes from learning how to use or deploy them properly.

I haven’t yet played much of this game to describe it further, but it presses the right buttons in me and I can definitely see myself coming back to it often.

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