Diablo II – 2000
You know this series holds up well after all these years, because it seems like when a newer game attempts to copy this game’s design, and doesn’t do it justice, gamers lament “Well Diablo II is still better.” Even today, during any hour of the day, you can check out Battle.net hosted by Blizzard and find thousands of people online (and that’s even with Diablo III being out!). Diablo II continued the dungeon crawling hack-n-slash gameplay from the first entry of the series, but this sequel was developed with one focus clearly in mind: multiplayer.
The online aspect allowed players to quest with their friends (for free mind you). Diablo II made popular the “party” system now commonplace among MMOs. Friends could combine their skill sets in order to take down the crushingly difficult dungeon bosses. It introduced a PvP system in which players could win bragging rights from their friends as they collected “ears” from the players they’ve defeated.
This online aspect was expanded further with the ladder system, giving players a way to rank on a “leaderboard”, featuring harder enemies and ladder specific items and goodies you could only gain by participating. It’s because of this multiplayer dynamic (and improvements to Battle.net admittedly) that has made this game so playable even after nearly 10 years. It’s innovation in online play has contributed greatly to its longevity, creating systems that are now staples in other franchises (even Blizzard’s own World of Warcraft).
Grand Theft Auto III – 2001
This one seems like a no-brainer on this list, doesn’t it? But if you trek back to GTA 2, you’ll experience a game that doesn’t quite hold up like this one did. One of the first games to truly define “sandbox gameplay” (though to give credit, the game Hunter was really the first 3D sandbox game in 1991), this title took away the top-down views of the city that were once staples of the franchise and placed the player in the middle of the sprawling Liberty City.
For the first time players were actually faced with the problem of getting lost in a game. Large buildings, responsive traffic, and interactive AI characters kept players going on this game years after it was released in 2001. With so much to do, players found themselves walking around and experimenting, as opposed to going from one level to the next. They could choose what they wanted to do, when they wanted to do it. Killing hookers became a strange pastime in the game (as were many of the more violent acts).
In the game you play a small time thief, who through the aid of another prisoner escapes some serious jail time. You start working as a thug and grow your influence by working for various rival gangs and even a corrupt cop. Needless to say, each group offers slightly different missions/tasks for you to complete in order to get paid. These missions moved the story forward which in turn opened up more areas of the city for you to explore. While this idea wasn’t exactly new, it’s implementation was. Unlike other games, the world evolved along with you. Choices that you made earlier had a real effect on the world later on. As you opened up new territory, the previously available areas became increasingly more dangerous, as rival gangs become more hostile towards each other. While newer GTA games have been able to improve the graphics in leaps and bounds, introduce deeper mission structure, and more elements to interact within the world, the core of what makes this series so fun is found within GTA III, and that’s why the game holds up so well.
Knights of the Old Republic – 2003
Released only on the Xbox, this game was the sole reason many people purchased an Xbox (I know that was the case with me for sure!). With 48 different Game of the Year awards, Bioware easily created one the best Star Wars games to have ever been released, as well as one of the most influential RPGs to hit the market.
KOTOR redefined the way RPGs were played. It gave the player an unlimited amount of freedom, meaning you could handle every situation differently. A fully voiced cast of characters and NPCs populated the galaxy. Every conversation you had with a character allowed you to choose different responses. You could be a meanie, a nice guy, completely indifferent, or whatever captures your mood. The catch? Your actions actually had consequence.
Consider an early mission on Dantooine. You come across what is essentially a crime scene, where law enforcement officials ask you to help them to determine which two suspects is the real killer. Through a series of questions you must figure it out on your own without any other help. Using your powers of deduction you must eventually choose who is lying and who is innocent. The result being if you chose wrong, it was highly possible you were sending the wrong man to jail, setting a murderer free.
KOTOR has introduced many action oriented elements that have now become staples in Bioware’s design efforts. While the mechanics have been further deepened and refined for more recent games, including their Mass Effect franchise, there’s no denying that KOTOR‘s storyline and gameplay mechanics still holds up well today. Just look at how well received it’s 10th anniversary launch on the iPad was.
Beyond Good & Evil – 2003
Arguably one of the best games that seemed to have slipped into the shadows on the PS2, this third-person action adventure romp centered around the main antagonist Jade. Most of the action takes place with you sneaking around (borrowing heavily from the popular stealth action titles of the time) and using your camera in most situations. When combat was the only option you were equipped with your trusty Dai-jo fighting staff and your friends to help you tackled the challenge.
The story really set this game apart from the rest, and that’s why it holds up so well today. It was compelling and engaging, and the JADE engine immersed you in the world. Utilizing something similar to the “sandbox” feel, the world of Hillys felt alive. AI characters interacted smoothly and intuitively with your character as she traversed the land, rivaling even the systems used today. Had it not come out alongside triple A titles like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Splinter Cell, this could have gone on to become as big a commercial success as it was a critical one (having won many prestigious game of the year awards).
Half-Life 2 – 2004
It seems like FPS games are one of the gaming genres that generally don’t age well, as so much of the experience is based on more explosive graphics and onscreen action. However Half-Life 2 is still a game that can wow you to this day. There are a couple of innovations here that make the game worth going back to.
One of the most remarkable aspects of this game is the inclusion of what’s arguably the best weapon to ever grace a shooter: the Gravity Gun. Utilizing its impressive physics engine, any object in the game had the ability to become a weapon, even people. You could fling objects through the air with sickening speed and accuracy, with the satisfaction of seeing said object react realistically to the environment it was thrown into. The concept of using physics as a gameplay element introduces so many variables that makes the game feel fresh each time. In addition, while the graphics do look somewhat dated now, the animations used in the game, and the way characters express emotion are still better than many FPS’ of today’s generation.
More revolutionary, this game introduced us to the concept of Episodic Content, before the days when DLC became the norm. Each new episode brought nearly a completely new game into the world, while maintaining the same story and continuity. They really are extensions of the story, giving players new experiences without taking them out of the world and surroundings they originally fell in love with. This also allowed Valve to make some noticeable improvements to graphics, AI, and gameplay as well. What’s interesting is that when even compared to the newer episodic experiences, the original game is still just as compelling.
God of War – 2005
While Sony has now re-released the original God of War in a variety of packages with graphical enhancements to look silky smooth on today’s HDTVs, they nary touched the gameplay. It’s testament to how well the mechanics originally worked, and how well it still works. Smooth controls and intense action comes so easily to this title it makes one wonder why developers before then hadn’t thought of such control implementations (and why some developers today still can’t accomplish this). One of the most remarkable features of this title was the elimination of load times. Since the creation of 3D on consoles, gamers have been plagued by interminable loading screens. Through clever level design and usage of PS2 hardware/software, the developers were able to keep the gameplay flowing.
God of War also seemed to have nailed the fixed camera issue so many developers today still struggle with. In fact, because of the camera placement, the game had a cinematic quality to the visual storytelling. Beautifully crafted cutscenes integrated smoothly into the game play making you feel as much a character as you did a player.
What made combat so engrossing is that while it was possible to get by on just button mashing, there were layers of combos that you could master and it would make you feel like king of the world (or god) if you could pull them off. Though the game is story focused, the replay value is high as the way in which you dispatch enemies or solve puzzles can be handled differently.
I know what you’re thinking…I’ve omitted anything from the current generation of gaming. To be honest, that’s an article in and of itself and when talking about games that have aged well, it doesn’t seem all that fair to include stuff from the current-gen seeing as how they haven’t had much time to age yet!
I’m sure there are quite a few others I could have put on this list, and I want to hear about them from you, the readers! What games have you played from the 00s that you still love and find yourself coming back to?