6 | Civilization IV
Why are we including Civilization IV, a game from the last generation, instead of Civilization V on our list? As of publication, Civ IV remains the superior turn-based strategy game of world exploration and domination, even if we prefer some of the changes in Civ V (like hex spaces over squares, single units per hex vs. unit stacking, interesting social policy trees and city states). But Civ V still has some issues with diplomacy and A.I. combat tactics that recent patches haven’t addressed. And Civ IV has real expansions that add greatly to the gameplay, not DLC money-grabs that add one new civilization or a couple of scenarios to the game. Add that the modders for Civ IV have produced far more interesting content than those still learning Civ V a year after launch and a Grammy Award-winning soundtrack and you can see why Civ V isn’t yes=t ready for this list.
The sequel to the iconic sci-fi strategy game pushes the genre forward once again. Set in the far future where three races battle for dominion among the stars, Starcraft 2 picks up several years after the events of Starcraft: Brood War. In the campaign, you play as Jim Raynor, the rebel captain fighting both the alien Zerg and the human Dominion. Over the several hour long campaign, you’ll employ a variety of units to take out targets, capture territory, and perform strikes against a corrupt human Emperor and an alien race that threatens to wipe out humanity.
Not only does Starcraft 2 feature three well-balanced, unique sides (each with their own strengths and weaknesses), but the campaign has a strong story that offers a surprising amount of choice to the player. From your ship, you can decide what units you want to upgrade, what missions to take, and what moral choices you make in your overarching quest.
Wings of Liberty is the first of three planned chapters -- a hell of a way to continue a franchise.
4 | Left 4 Dead 2
The team-based survival horror multiplayer game was pretty much invented by Valve when they released Left 4 Dead. The premise of both games is simple: You and three of your friends must fight your way through hordes of zombies towards a safehouse or extraction point. But if you stray too far from your friends, you might be picked off by a “hunter” zombie or strangled by a “smoker” zombie. There are few games out there that make you rely as heavily on your teammates, or are as genuinely frightening.
With the sequel, you get a new set of locations in the Deep South, a new cast of characters, and the addition of melee weapons. Like all of Valve’s games, Left 4 Dead 2 is best played on the PC. The DLC packs are all free for PC users and help flush out more of the story and the overlap between the events of Left 4 Dead and the sequel.