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10 Fantastic Games from the PC Gaming Golden Age

As Shamus young argues quite convincingly, 1997 through to the year 2000 was an absolutely phenomenal time in PC gaming. PC games were truly beginning to earn mainstream acceptance beyond the few blockbusters of earlier years (such as DOOM and Myst) and were gaining some traction against the more popular and approachable console market. PC games were proving themselves to be a profitable investment, and the Dotcom Boom paid attention. While PC games had shown their money-making potential, investors were yet to discover the formula for profitability; based on today’s market, that formula consists of huge marketing budgets, no bug-testing, microtransactions, and pre-orders.

As a result of this rising popularity and naivete, the games industry was truly starting to see some impressive budgets and sales, and developers were still largely free to experiment with ideas and abstract or ambitious game design concepts. Today, this sort of freedom is only seen in the indie and AA-scene, but back in the late 90s, it was everyone (I’m not kidding, even EA was pushing boundaries).

This list highlights some of the best games to come out of the PC Gaming Golden Age. These are by no-means the “best” games, but they are games that shook the industry and have left a lasting legacy.

#10—The Sims (Maxis, 2000)

The Sims is a bit of an anomaly on this list, as many of its players didn’t consider themselves gamers. It is often said that “some gamers are Sims fans, but not all Sims fans are gamers”. The Sims played a huge part in diversifying and expanding the gaming population, and the series is so immensely successful that hardly anyone has even bothered to challenge it. Under the guidance of auteur game designer Will Wright, The Sims took gaming in a direction not seen since Activision’s Little Computer People (1985), a game that Wright called a major influence. With Wright’s departure and EA’s increasing influence, the series eventually became one of the worst examples of uninspired game design and monetisation in the industry; despite this, its near total monopoly of the lifesim genre has scared off any would-be challengers.

#9—Homeworld (Relic Entertainment, 1999)

When Homeworld was released in 1999, it completely revolutionised the real-time strategy genre. At the time, RTS games stuck fairly closely to their immensely successful formula – usually top-down base-building. Not only did Homeworld add an entirely new dimension to the battle (the Z-axis), Relic made the system easy and intuitive to learn. The mobility of the mothership and carriers also changed the flow of gameplay – players weren’t confined to a single location, but could shift their operations around the map, creating an incredibly dynamic battlespace reminiscent of the Pacific Theatre battles in World War II, like the Battle of the Coral Sea. Homeworld’s campaign also told a compelling story, and the game still looks beautiful even today. Both Homeworld and its sequel were remastered in 2015, and I highly recommend the series for any strategy fan looking for a challenge.

#8—Omikron: The Nomad Soul (Quantic Dream, 1999)

The late 90s provided the perfect environment for the birth of David Cage’s Quantic Dream, developer of thought-provoking, story-driven videogames reminiscent of European Arthouse cinema. The plot was equal parts unique, engaging, and bizarre, and the game featured the music and acting of none other than David Bowie, one of the most respected artists of the 20th century. Omikron: The Nomad Soul earned Quantic Dream respect and admiration, and showed the industry that the definition of what could be considered a “game” was becoming increasingly fluid.

#7—Starsiege: Tribes (Dynamix, 1998)

Large scale multiplayer shooters like the series Battlefield (DICE) and Planetside (Sony Online Entertainment) owe a huge debt of gratitude to Dynamix. Starsiege: Tribes was one of the first games (if not the first) to take the FPS genre into sprawling outdoor environments, featuring huge amounts of players, vehicles, diverse classes, and rock-solid network code. In 1998, the idea that 128 players in a match would be anything other than complete, lag-ridden chaos was totally foreign, but Dynamix showed the industry that, in a well-designed game with clearly defined tasks and goals, players would easily find a team role that appealed to them. Indeed, many players spent their time doing nothing but driving troop transports or healing other players. The Tribes series peaked with Tribes 2 (2001), but sadly the master was eventually beaten by its numerous apprentices. Still, the legacy of Starsiege: Tribes is unquestionable, and it more than deserves a place in my top ten.

#6—Thief: The Dark Project (Looking Glass Studios, 1998)

Looking Glass Studios is arguably one of the most important developers in gaming history. During their relatively brief ten-year existence, they produced three enormously influential series – Ultima Underworld, System Shock, and Thief. In the era of run-and-gun first-person shooters, 1998’s Thief: The Dark Project challenged notions of what to expect from the genre. This “first-person sneaker” rewarded a thoughtful, considered approach; the tension of carefully moving between shadows created a refreshingly exciting experience that resonated with gamers. Thief’s legacy can be found in the DNA of many modern games, most notably its spiritual successor, Arkane Studios’ critically-acclaimed Dishonored series.

#5—Ultima Online (Origin Systems, 1997)

Blizzard’s World of Warcraft (2004) took the world by storm, but could never have done so if Ultima Online hadn’t laid the foundations of the genre. Growing out of the Multi-User Domain (MUD) scene, Ultima Online was one of the first examples of the Massively-Multiplayer Online RPG (MMORPG) genre. Set in the world of Richard Garriott’s acclaimed Ultima series, Ultima Online gave players the opportunity to live out a virtual life alongside thousands of players from around the world. Ultima Online was a truly a pioneer, and showed game developers what worked and what didn’t in this uncharted gaming territory.

#4—Unreal Tournament (Epic Games, Digital Extremes, 1999) / Quake III: Arena (id Software, 1999)

id Software vs. Epic Games. id Tech 3 vs. Unreal Engine. Quake III Arena vs. Unreal Tournament. One of the great rivalries in gaming history is that of the FPS heavyweight id Software and upstart developer Epic Games, and it all came to a head in the Golden Age of PC Gaming with two first-person shooters that forever changed the games industry. The two games and their legacies are so thoroughly entwined that it is impossible to separate them. In 1999, online gaming was truly starting to become a global phenomenon thanks in large part to the FPS genre. So, id Software and Epic Games both decided to double-down on the rising popularity of multiplayer and release shooters that were designed with barely any single player to speak of, save for some (impressively coded) bots for offline play. These two games not only birthed the still-popular arena shooter genre, but they utilised what would become two immensely successful game engines.

#3—Half-Life (Valve, 1998)

To understand how important Half-Life was to first-person shooters, one needs to consider the state of the genre at the time. Many FPS games in 1998 featured fast-paced action, hordes of enemies, engaging but simple mechanics, and minimal plot. Half-Life, from fledgling developer Valve Software, featured a vibrant and believable world, challenging puzzles and mechanics, unique and memorable weapons, and a plot that achieved a masterful balance of exposition and narrative in a genre not known for either. A big part of Half-Life’s massive success was that it provided fertile ground for the modding community, giving us none other than the legendary Counter-Strike. Half-Life also paved the way for its hugely successful sequel, and redefined gamer expectations of FPS games.

#2—Planescape: Torment (Black Isle Studios, 1999)

While I believe that BioWare’s Baldur’s Gate II (2000) is a much better all-rounder RPG, it is Planescape: Torment that more wholly embodies the unrestrained creativity and experimentation that the PC Gaming Golden Age was famous for. Black Isle Studios took an utterly unique Dungeons & Dragons’ setting and gave us one of the most thought-provoking and introspective narratives in the history of gaming. Planescape: Torment is a game in which any doorway could take you to a different dimension, where belief can shape the world around you, and where mighty foes can be defeated by philosophical debate. There is an immense amount of reading in this game (the total script is over 800,000 words), but Black Isle proved that the games industry was ready for truly mature storytelling. Planescape: Torment has long been regarded as the gold standard for video game writing, and its legacy lives on in the endless number of writers who try to match its reputation.

#1—Deus Ex (Ion Storm, 2000)

In a single year, the short-lived studio Ion Storm released a game considered one of the worst ever made (Daikatana) and another considered one of the best. Deus Ex took immersion to unprecedented levels, amalgamating the mechanics of several genres into one incredible package. Deus Ex felt like the magnum opus in Warren Spector’s career, which was already defined by brilliance with games like Ultima Underworld and System Shock. Deus Ex’s fusion of genres seemed an appropriate herald of the new millennium in hindsight – so much of what was revolutionary then is now considered the benchmark.

Thanks for reading, we hope you enjoyed the article! If you’d like to see some related content, and support Exclusively Games in the process, click on our Amazon Affiliate links listed below to find related products. – EG Staff

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  1. Cameron Wallace on May 19, 2019 at 7:18 am said

    So much yes for Deus Ex!!
    One of my favorite games of all time and only played it for the first time last year.

  2. Aww man this list takes me back! Me and and my bro fighting over the one pc in the hallway running Windows 98!

    • jschmelter on May 22, 2019 at 3:57 am said

      I loved the Sims so much when I was in 7th grade. It was so amazing to play at the time. I don’t think I actually got the orig. Sims though until it was already out for about a year. It was still mind blowing though when my buddy in 7th grade showed me the game it was unlike anything else I had ever played at the time…

  3. I’ve played several of those, but I’m a bit disappointed that Heroes of Might and Magic 3 didn’t make the list. It’s the one game I and my friends go back to every year.

    • I second this. HoMM3 was the pinnacle of a whole game genre – the turned based strategy and remains to date one of my favourite games. Unfortunately, this game genre is pretty much dead now. Oh, but the sweet memories… HoMM, Disciples, Etherlords, Age of Wonders and more.

  4. Glad homeworld got a re-release

  5. Honorable mention: the Myth series of RTS games from Bungie.

  6. Ranek Eisenkralle on May 19, 2019 at 11:21 pm said

    ” Black Isle proved that the games industry was ready for truly mature storytelling. Planescape: Torment has long been regarded as the gold standard for video game writing, and its legacy lives on in the endless number of writers who try to match its reputation.”

    It is too bad that this standard has by now largely been abandoned across the industry and replaced with ever more creative attempts at monetization. I really wish developers would return to what they did back in those good old days….

  7. Damian Cunliffe on May 19, 2019 at 11:22 pm said

    I reckon AvP 2 deserves a spot on this list. It was the last good game in the Alien franchise until Isolation came along. That’s quite a long reign.

  8. These days are the best to enjoy PC games, but before past 10 years the 5th generation was the best possible time to be a PC gamer. The console companies were like drunk people trying to get things right on the transition to 3D, but the companies releasing for PC were just improving their games because they already had the basis, also varios console titles for the PSX and Saturn were beign ported much better than the originals.

  9. They look like they are having such a nice time ^_^ Like they all like each other.
    I have never attended a lan party/PC gaming party type thing, but this almost makes me feel envious.

    This article really took me back to the days of Black & White, Dungeon Keeper and Populous: The Beginning. So many new types of games to discover. So experimental and fresh. Yeah, that was a good time!

  10. If it weren’t for the fact there’s not a single dud in the list, System Shock 2 and the Civilization series were list worthy. But it’s hard to complain because it’s a great list.

  11. Type text here…No Diablo 2??? Sacrilege!!!

  12. Homeworld is a great RTS. Spent lots of hours with the series.

  13. James Vasquez on May 21, 2019 at 8:22 pm said

    There are so many great PC games from the ’90s that this article could have multiple sequels. This is an excellent list, though.

  14. Deus Ex is one of my favorites of the past century. just love it!

  15. The awesome game truly Golden age

  16. Tribes was the first online game I ever played and in 1999 I was turned on t0 Asheron’s Call and for the next 5 years that’s what I played.

    • DarkDruid on May 22, 2019 at 7:50 pm said

      Wasn’t expecting to see someone mention Asheron’s Call in the comments 🙂 That game was legendary!

  17. commenting giveaway but love the gamer vibe here. keep the good work THE QUARTERING

  18. am i early

  19. I wish I didn’t have such a hard time playing older gen graphics games, I would love to check some of these out. My personal favorite PC game of all time was Age of Empires 2. Easily the best RTS for me. Can’t wait to see what they do with AoE 4

  20. keith fifer on May 22, 2019 at 12:47 am said

    to be honest why isint devil may cry on here

  21. ProjectOMA on May 22, 2019 at 12:50 am said

    Ultima Online was great back in the day. So many good memories and even met a few great friends, two of which I went drinking with when I flew out to Cali.

  22. Fruitytoast on May 22, 2019 at 12:54 am said

    Thank you to the Quartering for introducing me to this site. Feels right at home.

    HL and Deus Ex are so nostalgic. No matter how old I get, I feel like I can always go back and play these games again from start to finish and enjoy it every single time. Really liked what those guys did with Black Mesa. Be keen to see an HD remake of Deus Ex.

  23. Domnickhardin on May 22, 2019 at 1:06 am said

    Deus Ex best game.

  24. While i agree with the list im sad to not see Stronghold or any of the earlier C&C games included :/

  25. dbrock1031 on May 22, 2019 at 1:08 am said

    I really need to play Planescape:Torment. I have read nothing but amazing things about it. My all-time favorite game is Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn. To see Planescape touted as a must play in the same breath as Baldur’s Gate, well that is all I need to hear.

  26. cws_exclusivelygames on May 22, 2019 at 1:09 am said

    This makes me want to go back and play some of these.

  27. Catdaddy on May 22, 2019 at 1:09 am said

    Love some of the games mentioned but must say am surprised of the omission of the best combat simulator ever-Harpoon.No one even comes close

  28. mohanadmohamed2188 on May 22, 2019 at 1:18 am said

    Type text here… I thought that I was going to know like at least half the games here but turns out I only played three of them

  29. I’m always amazing seeing things like this, people saying how these games are great. I’m not saying they aren’t, but whenever I tried any of them, namely Half-life, Thief, and Deus ex I just can’t play them. Maybe it’s because of how I’m used to things working now, or perhaps I’m more for graphics then I let on, but I just am slightly envious of how everyone can have such fond memories of old games like these. I guess I’ll just need to hold onto my memories of Pajama Sam, though I’m sure I could never play that now.

  30. stargorger on May 22, 2019 at 1:28 am said

    The first pc upgrade I ever bought was a new graphics card to run Homeworld. My mom would only let me buy it because, although it was a ‘pricey’ 40$ (!!!!!!), it came with a mail-in rebate for 20$ off! Lol can you imagine that now? EA producing a game with rebate codes? LMFAO

  31. Pretty sad that gaming these days just leads me to pine to be reliving this era. Also LAN Party! I miss these too 🙁

  32. re_enright on May 22, 2019 at 1:32 am said

    I feel like everyone has forgotten one of the greatest strategy games made, Rome Total War

  33. dicksassy1984 on May 22, 2019 at 1:39 am said

    Unreal (in my opinion) should be number one. Maybe it’s just my nostalgia. Fook me, right?
    This list totally reminded me to download “Half Life.”

  34. therealbenkenobi20 on May 22, 2019 at 2:33 am said

    I really like Garfield Kart

  35. Type text here.So many good memories of Deus Ex.

  36. k.paprocki696 on May 22, 2019 at 5:13 am said

    Where is diablo? :<

  37. I’m 45 years old and I still have fond memories of LAN parties with my college buddies in the mid 90s. Command and Conquer was our game of choice!

  38. So many of these games take me back to a better time. Love the website!

  39. For pc games at this time in article i would add two titles fallout1\2 also from black isle studios and legacy of cain soul reaver from crystal dynamix .

  40. kongqueror on May 22, 2019 at 7:25 am said

    I really enjoyed Homeworld and it’s sequel a lot! The gameplay was fantastic, the sci-go story truly engaging, and the audio/music haunting!

    I also nominate Neverwinter Nights and KOTOR. The stories they told was riveting and tragic.

    • Neverwinter Nights remains one of my favourite games and one of my most played ones. Literally hundreds of hours over half a dozen replays with different character classes and races.

  41. maxime.gilles81 on May 22, 2019 at 1:27 pm said

    Kinda agree with the list although .. there are so many more missing ! <3

  42. GodoftheSword on May 22, 2019 at 2:17 pm said

    I wish we could get games back to this standard. What happened?

  43. DogEared on May 22, 2019 at 4:30 pm said

    Alas, poor Morte!

    But “What changes the nature of a man?” Well from personal experience playing Half Life, Thief, Ultima, Torment, etc. can definitely change you! LOL
    Played all but one on the these (Omikron: The Nomad Soul) and so many more. My 30s were a great time for me … and gaming! A lot of companies trying new things.
    I wonder how many more great titles from this small 5 year window could be added to the “great games” list??

    I still laugh that the people that gave us System Shock and Deus Ex made …. Daiktana.

  44. Namewithnumbersafter on May 22, 2019 at 5:25 pm said

    An often overlooked title from this era is Sacrifice by Shiny Entertainment. The gameplay is unique (first game to use mouse gestures as a control) as are the graphics and character designs. The music is superb (Kevin Manthei, who also did the music for Invader Zim) and the voice acting is top notch and includes talent like Tim Curry, Kevin Michael Richardson, Grey Delisle and Charlie Adler,

    A remake of this game is on my dream list if I ever win a huge lottery. Also, Magic Carpet.

  45. Ann Varghese on May 22, 2019 at 7:32 pm said

    I have fond Memories of the LucasArts Games especially the monkey Island series & Grim Fandango ! The 90’s were truly the greatest time to be a kid !

    • I’ve replayed the remastered version of LukasArts’ Full Throttle just a couple of months ago. It is short (I finished it in under five hours), but so fun. Pitty games like this are not made anymore.

  46. DarkDruid on May 22, 2019 at 7:56 pm said

    My personal favorites from that era are Populous: The Beginning (1998), Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings (1999), Asheron’s Call (1999), Diablo II (2000), and RuneScape (2001).

  47. How could you not have Total Annihilation on this list? Greatest Real-time Tactical game of all time.

  48. Anthony Statera on May 22, 2019 at 11:01 pm said

    Great list guys, a couple there I need to check out. I still hold fond memories of Dues Ex, even after almost 2 decades, I can clearly remember scenes from the game. Its up there with Civilization and Half Life, few games make such an indelible moments that stand the test of a poor memory. I even lost my job because of Dues Ex, opting to stay home for a whole week and not calling in, oh well, lessons of youth.

  49. krazIIvan on May 23, 2019 at 2:50 pm said

    Never played Deus Ex. I had a gf at the time. Loved #3,5,6,10 though. The fact that this list doesn’t contain Tie Fighter, which is the greatest game of all time, negates that this is a real list. It doesn’t even contain Jedi Knight or any Dark Forces games. Please delete this article and never touch a computer ever again.
    Thank you.

  50. What, no Fallout 1 & 2!? Good list by the way!

  51. I would also add, Jagged Alliance 2. Read about it, at:

    https://colapoweredgamer.wordpress.com/2019/02/21/review-jagged-alliance-2/

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