The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

The Elder Scrolls 6 is happening! We don't know when, and in fact it might be quite a long time before the game is far along enough to give us a proper trailer. Still there are a few details out there that have allowed us to speculate about the RPG's setting, and the mountains in the announcement sure are pretty.

Until we know more, we'll simply have to speculate about the improvements Bethesda might be planning. Will it be a bigger world? Probably. Will it have swords and sorcery in it? Almost certainly. We'd like more than that, though, as ever. Here's what we want from The Elder Scrolls 6.

Better faces and conversations

Bethesda Studios makes remarkable, atmospheric open worlds, but the NPCs who inhabit them look like they have come from a different era. They tend to suffer from stiff posture, stilted animations and faces that can’t emote very much. That’s fine for cool robo-companion Nick Valentine in Fallout 4. For humans we’d like to see huge improvements. 

Character faces and performances have generally improved a lot in the last five years and when a game falls behind, like Mass Effect Andromeda, it’s painfully obvious. Likewise conversations could be much more engaging than they have been in previous Fallout and Elder Scrolls games. Fallout 4 introduced a Bioware-style cam that improved interactions, so that’s a sign the Bethesda RPGs are moving in the right direction.

Some memorable NPCs

It might be easier to forgive stiff NPC performances if most of the people you met in The Elder Scrolls games weren’t quite so boring. You meet powerful Jarls and master wizards but they tend to grumble mildly about this and that and then ask you to go fetch them something. There are a few memorable characters, often skulking about in the Dark Brotherhood, but for the most part I’m struggling to remember many NPCs of note. Oddball Fallout characters wouldn’t fit the grandiose fantasy tone of The Elder Scrolls, but some humour, romance, and the odd argument would do a lot to make the world more lived-in.

More varied, hand-crafted dungeons

Some of Skyrim’s dungeons were great. The transition from Dwemer city to glowing mushroom underworld in Blackreach is sublime. Typically, though, the typical Falmer dungeons became samey fast. There might be a trap or two, a couple of caves full of enemies, and a few chests along the way. If you happened to wander into a cave of plot significance you were more likely to see more unusual puzzles and some interesting architecture. More consistently interesting dungeons would be sweet.

Bigger towns

Skyrim’s towns each had a separate sense of identity. Riften was grubby and a little sordid, Markath looked like a sweet piece of concept art made real. However compared to The Witcher 3’s Novigrad, or even the Imperial City in Oblivion, the cities felt like limited settlements—a shop or two, a few residential buildings and a central hall. It would be fascinating to see what Bethesda Studios can do with a proper town with distinct districts and a sense of daily working life.

Oblivion-style spellcrafting

Oblivion and Skyrim both had spellcasting, but Oblivion let players become real magic users through spell-crafting, a feature that didn't make it into Skyrim. By using an altar and combining various spell effects they'd learned, players could design their own custom spells, including range, duration, and effects. With crafting becoming such a big part of so many games, including Bethesda's RPGs, I'd love to see a return of spell-crafting. It would be optional, of course, since there will be plenty of pre-existing spells to learn, but for those who really want to dabble in magic there's nothing better than a little DIY.

A polished third-person view

It’s nice to hop out of your skull and see your character’s cool armour or wizard robes, but actually moving and fighting in third-person feels off compared to first-person in Elder Scrolls games. Part of it is down to your janky animations as you hop and slide around the terrain, part of it is that attacks that look cool in first-person look a bit silly when viewed from behind your character. Having said that, on balance I’d probably prefer to have a janky third-person view than none at all—how else are we to take celebratory selfies once we’ve climbed to the highest part of the world?

Settlements

Fallout 4's settlement system had its ups and downs, the up being it was an enjoyable activity to partake in between quests, and the down being that the interface was clunky and the buildings generally looked like shit. Freed from a post-apocalyptic setting where building materials could be made from healthy trees instead of bombed out buildings, I can imagine founding your own town in the Elder Scrolls universe to be an immensely enjoyable pastime. You'll be meeting NPCs from all over the land, so why not invite some to live and work in your town? You could raise livestock and grow crops, build your own house, staff your own city watch, attract vendors, build a pub, stables, maybe even form your own guild, and become mayor of a growing community. We always want to establish a home (or several) in Elder Scrolls games, so establishing an entire town feels like a logical extension.

UI designed for PC, please

Both Oblivion and Skyrim's UI were serviceable but ultimately felt like they'd been designed for someone playing on console, not on PC. The UI was overlarge and clearly made for navigation by cycling through options rather than just clicking with a mouse. Modders, bless them, offered much better and more sensible UI for PC, with the Darnified mod for Oblivion and SkyUI for Skyrim. I'm sure modders will once again retool whatever UI Bethesda creates, but it sure would be nice this time around if more thought was put into the UI for PC by the developers.

Mod support

This one almost goes without saying, but it’s worth mentioning that the mod scenes for The Elder Scrolls and fallout games are astonishing. The mod scene is the reason we got a proper PC UI for Skyrim in the first place. We’ve seen modders transpose old Elder Scrolls games into more current engines. We’ve seen dramatic visual overhauls, new monsters, quests, and much more. Mod support will be essential to the longevity of a new Elder Scrolls game. Hopefully we’ll see that in The Elder Scrolls 6.

What would you like to see from the new Elder Scrolls?

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Bethesda joined with Keegan Michael Key to reveal a big surprise today during its E3 press conference: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is coming to multiple new platforms in a Very Special Edition release that will enable you to play the game in ways you never imagined. 

The Skyrim Very Special Edition will be available on Amazon Alexa, the Etch-a-sketch, Motorola pagers (specific models to be determined), and Samsung smart refrigerators, which will bring a whole new level of depth to those trips to the Nordic north. 

The trailer is a joke, of course, a bit of self-referential fun about Skryim's presence on all sorts of different platforms. But it's a good one too ("That's no horker, that's my wife!") and even better, it's a brilliant idea—you can be damn sure I'd be all over it if it actually worked. And... could it work? I mean, I don't think it would, and I don't have an Alexa so I can't test it myself. But I'm going to try talking someone into firing one up as soon as I can, just in case. I'll let you know how it goes. 

Update: It's real. "That’s right, the version of Skyrim you never saw coming has finally arrived on the platform you never asked for," an Amazon listing that appeared shortly after the end of the Bethesda presser states. It's free to activate, but of course you'll need an Alexa in order to play. 

And in case that's not enough to convince you, James actually took it for a spin. I think it went well.

Portal 2

Whether it’s an Easter egg, a joke character, or just a little nudge at a competitor, developers love slipping the odd reference to other games into their own. Sometimes though, they go beyond just slapping a Dopefish on a wall or quipping about a ‘doomed space marine’, and we get to see our heroes stride into entirely new, often completely inappropriate new worlds.

Here are a few of our favourites, along the ones that caused the most ‘wait, what?’ blinking on discovery. 

Guybrush Threepwood, Mighty Jedi

Yes, he can hold his breath underwater for ten minutes and quip his way through any sword-fight… but only The Force Unleashed II let him try his luck with a lightsaber. Turns out that you don’t need a sharp wit if you’re waving around two of the universe’s deadliest glowsticks and aren’t afraid to use them. Guybrush Threepkiller is so famous in-universe, he even has his own statues. We’re almost positive that’ll be brought up at some point in the next movie. After all, Rey does need a new teacher. Just as long as Elaine never finds out about it. 

Final Fantasy makes history in Assasin's Creed

Obviously, everything in the Assassin’s Creed series is meticulously researched and true to life, especially the alien gods and the time Ezio punched the Pope. Write it all down in your history homework! Which means that, while aliens might not have built the pyramids, they definitely got up to a bit of chocobo racing on the side. That’s according to this crossover, where Assassins ended up in Final Fantasy XV, while its villain ended up pounding sand for a bit before being dragged back to his own game by a hastily summoned Bahamut. There’s even a stuffed Moogle lying around in case you feel lonely after they’ve gone, and some fancy weapons to keep and confuse archaeologists for a few thousand years. Along with that Stargate, obviously. 

Commander Keen hangs about in Doom II

There’s a few odd appearances in Doom 2, including the severed head of John Romero as the end-boss, and a trip back to Wolfenstein 3D in the secret levels. By far the strangest thing though is what lies behind those: former id star Commander Keen… murdered and hanging from meathooks. The story goes that Adrian Carmack was the childkiller in question, having chafed at making cutesy games instead of enjoying himself with blood and guts. However, that was not enough to get rid of the boy-genius forever, for both John Romero and Tom Hall have confirmed that Commander Keen, real name Billy Blaze, is in fact Wolfenstein hero BJ Blazkowicz’s grandson… and father to the Doomguy. What a strange family tree. 

Earthworm Jim digs into Battle Arena Toshinden

He’s the world’s mightiest worm! He fights aliens! He travels galaxies! He gets flattened by a lot of cows! And he’s one of the few 90s mascots to actually be awesome, starring in two excellent platformers, one surprisingly good cartoon series, and… well, let’s not mention the sequels. Like Bubsy, 3D was not kind to Earthworm Jim, though unlike Bubsy, people actually cared. His most successful jump into the third dimension turned out to be this Easter Egg in the PC version of Toshinden, where with the help of his super-suit and a really big club, he was finally able to make the future of gaming eat dirt. Pound them into the ground. Bury himself in glory. Be cut in half and yet… no, wait. Not that one. But it was still as good as fans were going to get.

Everyone plays Poker Night at the Inventory 

Easily the most ambitious gaming crossover in recent memory… and it’s all about hanging out between games. Telltale’s Poker Night series combined, amongst a few others (deep breath) The Heavy from Team Fortress 2, Max from Sam and Max, Strong Bad from Homestar Runner, Tycho Brahe of Penny Arcade Adventures and also some webcomic whose name we forget off-hand, GLaDOS from Portal, Brock Samson from the Venture Bros (not a game, but never mind), Claptrap from Borderlands, Sam from Sam and Max replacing Max from Sam and Max, and Ash from The Evil Dead. Phew.

They weren’t great poker games, but that wasn’t really the point. It was about the banter between the different competitors as they sat back and shot the shit without the customary heavy artillery. We could also have had members of the cast from The Walking Dead and Back to the Future, but they were deemed unsuitable for the atmosphere. They didn’t want anyone crying, or any kids seeing Doc and Marty in a sweary environment. A pity. When the game revved up, they could have seen some serious shit.

Portal 2’s Space Core invades Skyrim 

When Bethesda showed off DLC for Oblivion, it was horse armour. And everybody laughed. Come Skyrim, the laugh was far more positive. One of the earliest additions saw the exiled Space Core (spoilers for a decade old game there) crash-land in Tamriel, still just as eager to explore SPAAAAAAAACE. Going bizarrely unnoticed by the locals, all probably fretting about that whole dragon invasion thing, it came crashing down in a plume of smoke. Pick it up and it still kept blinking and talking in your inventory, delivering… well, not very varied dialogue. In summary:  “Space. Space. Space!” And yet, still it was less annoying than all those guards and their epic tales of glory curtailed by the sudden impact of a ballistic stick to the lower-leg.

XCOM defends Civ V: Brave New World

What does XCOM do when there are no aliens to fight? Apparently, they learn to ****ing shoot straight. The XCOM Squad in Civ V is an elite tactical unit that gets the job done, air-dropping into friendly territory and laying down the law. Specifically, Thou Shalt Not Screw With XCOM. In the absence of aliens, they have their eyes set on "Giant Death Robots," and are happy to act as shock troopers or defensive units while they watch the skies and await their destiny. But since there are apparently no aliens interested in Earth during the Civ games, they’re probably going to be waiting a while. Should have taken the flight to Alpha Centauri.

Princess Rosella favours Leisure Suit Larry 3

Sierra On-Line loved its in-jokes. Not one but two sequels (this one and Space Quest III) ended with the characters somehow finding their way to the developers’ own offices for a chat with studio leads Ken and Roberta Williams, with Larry also taking trips to a Westworld style factory where adventure heroes are rebuilt after every stupid death, complete with King’s Quest’s King Graham being readied for duty, and finally showing up in the Old West for a cameo in Freddy Pharkas Frontier Pharmacist. By far the strangest cameos came at the end of Leisure Suit Larry 3, where the trip to Sierraland involved trekking through scenes from games like Police Quest and Space Quest 2, before meeting Roberta Williams directing a particularly annoying scene from King’s Quest IV, in which Princess Rosella is trapped in the slobbery mouth of a giant whale. Strange.

Frank West covers Lost Planet: Extreme Condition

He’s covered wars, you know. But oddly, Dead Rising’s original and best hero doesn’t seem to know how to cover himself in this odd outing. Despite Lost Planet being set on a frozen world, everyone’s favourite photographer show up not only without his camera, but also without his trousers. Somehow avoiding hypothermia, he runs around in nothing but underpants, while still managing to rain destruction on the armies of insects happy to not have to peel their food for once. What a trooper. 

Scorpion goes mental in Psi-Ops

Fighting game characters are probably the most cameo-friendly of all, whether it’s a full game like Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, or bonus combatants-without-a-k-because-that’s-how-it’s-spelled in the likes of Injustice. But they show up in other games with curious regularity too. Lightning god Raiden for instance showed up in Unreal Championship, while invisible fighter Reptile could have popped into basically any game. Ever seen a flicker on your screen playing, say, Fortnite? As far as you know, it might be him.

But still, this was an odd one. Even though Midway was the publisher of both MK and Psi-Ops, it’s a bit of a leap from fighting game to third-person action game. Sadly, just wearing his palette-swapped ninja outfit didn’t actually make you the world’s clingiest fighter. He still had to swap out his “get over here!” attack for regular guns. On the plus side, having to beat every character in the game two out of three times would have gotten pretty darn tiring.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

My least favorite sensation in all of gaming is when I'm playing an RPG, and I pick up a weapon, or a breastplate, or an incandescent bauble of no obvious importance, and suddenly my feet cement to the floor. My character is over-encumbered! I have to spend the next few minutes on the pause screen, deciding which knick-knacks in my inventory to leave abandoned on the side of the road. Once spry and light again, I continue my adventures deep into the murky chasms of whatever fantasy world I'm exploring, until inevitably I find another item I want and the exact same thing happens again. 

Why do big games, particularly open world games with thousands of objects that can be picked up and examined, so often turn to a mechanic where fun goes to die?

I am not alone in hating encumbrance. It's a source of constant annoyance for gamers everywhere, to the point of achieving meme status in certain communities. And yet, it's still common. Bethesda makes two of the most popular single-player franchises around with The Elder Scrolls and Fallout, and yet we've all crossed our weight limit and hampered ourselves in the middle of a fight with a rowdy sect of Super Mutants. CD Projekt Red is one of this industry's few near-universally beloved studios, and yet Geralt always seems to be one looted corpse away from completely losing control of his body. There are cases where it makes sense, obviously—of course Dark Souls has an opaque encumbrance system, given all its other intentionally draconian quirks—but it certainly seems weird that such a despised mechanic is implemented, and re-implemented, over and over again.

Why do big games, particularly open world games with thousands of objects that can be picked up and examined, so often turn to a mechanic where fun goes to die? I figure there must be a reason. I'm constantly in awe of just how much work it takes to create videogames, and generally, when I find something to be stupid and unintuitive, I'm willing to hear the experts out. There must be some method to the madness, right?

The Witcher 3 is great. The Witcher 3 with a "no weight limit" mod is even better.

Konrad Tomaszkiewicz, game director of The Witcher 3, outlined a few arguments for encumbrance when I emailed him. The first is probably the most obvious: Immersion. "Having a limit to how much equipment Geralt can carry plays a part in making the character and the world around him more believable," he says. "Yes, you’re playing as a professional monster slayer. He’s very strong, stronger than normal humans, due to experiments and mutations witchers have to endure throughout their rigorous training. But even then, Geralt has limits. It’s a small touch that packs a lot of punch for the role-playing aspect of an RPG."

Having a limit to how much equipment Geralt can carry plays a part in making the character and the world around him more believable.

Konrad Tomaszkiewicz

Tomaszkiewicz tells me that he believes the fundamental purpose of an RPG is to embody the central character fully. That's why, he says, some players choose to unequip all of their armor before taking Geralt for a dip in a river or a lake. "They want to live the fantasy the game is enabling them to live, while keeping the experience as close to authentic as possible," he explains. It's the belief of CD Projekt Red that functions like encumbrance, while occasionally annoying, add up to a world that feels more consistent.

Oscar López Lacalle, lead designer of the survival game Conan Exiles, offers a similar justification. Exiles is different from The Witcher, in the sense that it packs a crafting system that heavily relies on resource harvesting and management, which makes it a pretty natural fit for a weight limit. But Lacalle tells me that the team decided to opt for an encumbrance mechanic, rather than a traditional inventory page, because it opened up the flexibility—and yes, the authenticity—of how you fleshed out your character.

"For example, we can set items like explosives to be artificially heavy because that makes players think on the logistics of sieging rather than just bringing unlimited explosive jars or trebuchets to breach any wall while still being able to fight at peak capacity," he says. "We can also say that all our core resources are much lighter than specialty items to enhance the feeling of rarity and the relative worth of items when compared with each other. This becomes an important factor in situations like coming back to your base loaded with riches, or relocating your base to a new location in the map. In general, it's a powerful tool to enhance and promote certain aspects of the game without adding other, more aggressive limitations."

Conan Exiles' inventory system encourages you to trade in raw resources for lighter crafting materials.

That's just the front end of things though. Tomaszkiewicz highlights a number of  behind-the-scenes issues that make encumbrance systems necessary for a healthy experience. He mentions how too many items can clutter the UI, and that adding a limit helps "manage the chaos." Also, you can't ignore the fact that every piece of inventory takes up a sliver of memory, and for a game like The Witcher 3 that already asks a ton of your hardware, developers need to be frugal. "You've got to keep in mind what might happen performance-wise when players hoard insane amounts of items."

Lacalle swears up and down that encumbrance systems are not designed to make players uncomfortable. Instead, he hopes to simply coerce us into interesting choices. Exiles was specifically designed around the remaining weight a character will have access to after equipping a basic set of armor. What you do with that remaining space hollows out your place in the world, and your role in guilds. When he frames it like that, it sure sounds a lot more dynamic than simply choosing a class.

Lacalle swears up and down that he hopes encumbrance systems coerce us into interesting choices.

"We made heavy armor and certain weapons heavier—because we wanted to steer them towards the fighter archetypes—and certain materials heavier or lighter depending on how many are needed for typical activities and how rare they are supposed to be," he says. "For building pieces, we made them lighter than their material parts because we wanted players to commit to converting materials instead of amassing tons of raw resources, with a few hand-picked exceptions like Altars and Wheels of Pain. Finally and most importantly, sprinkle in some design voodoo (lots of testing and iterating) until it feels good!"

It's true that sometimes you don't know what you really want, and as much as it might sound fun to jog through The Northern Kingdoms with Geralt sucking up loot like a vacuum, I'm willing to admit that I might be misguided. However, it's clear that the world at large is not convinced.

Websites like Eurogamer and Motherboard have dedicated blog posts instructing on how to turn off encumbrance, ostensibly because there are so many people on the internet googling for answers. A mod that gives you infinite carry capacity in The Witcher 3 has been downloaded over 30,000 times (it's the third-most popular Witcher 3 mod on the Nexus). The "100x your carry weight" mod for Skyrim has been downloaded 380,000 times. The developers I spoke to are all reasonable people who make good points, but it's hard to shake that fundamental feeling that encumbrance only slows down our fun.

Image via Nexusmods

All that being said, maybe there's a way to make encumbrance better without completely purging it from the code. David J. Cobb has spent the bulk of his modding career tinkering with the nuts and bolts of Skyrim to create a more realistic, more demanding weight system, and he makes a strong point about how encumbrance is often poorly implemented. There's never any warning when you're about to become over-encumbered in Bethesda games. Your momentum comes to a screeching halt after you add one extraneous item to your inventory. "Like carrying hundreds of pounds of gear effortlessly, only to stop completely in your tracks because you decided to pick a flower on the side of the road," he says. He argues that instead of creating immersion, that breaks immersion.

Cobb came up with a set of checks and balances called Cobb Encumbrance that add progressive penalties to your speed and stamina as you add more weight to your character. Essentially, it's an uber-hardcore interpretation of the core Skyrim fantasy. Personally, that doesn't sound like my kind of thing, but it also feels a tad more honest than how most other games deal with encumbrance. Maybe it's not the answer, but it's certainly an answer. 

"The encumbrance mechanic has to be viewed as part of the broader experience," says Cobb. "It influences and is influenced by everything around it."

Thumbnail GIF via the delightful Skyrim animation above by Ferhod.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Despite the mountain of incredible 2017 games I still need to play, I am once again back on my Skyrim nonsense. I reinstalled it over the weekend and I’m still in the process of adding all 10,000 mods that I simply cannot live without, including many featured in our best Skyrim mods list. I might need to add another, however, at least when the gargantuan Lordbound mod launches later this year. 

The Lordbound team is aiming to make an expansion-sized mod with around 30 hours of new adventures, including fancy dungeons, three non-linear faction storylines and an entirely new region of Skyrim, Druadach Valley, located near High Rock, which is also where Daggerfall took place. 

When it launches this year, the mod will throw players into a conflict between Orcs and the Imperial Legion as they fight over who gets to stick their flag in the area. The latest trailer showcases some of the mod’s environments, including some striking magical ruins and weird Dwemer caverns. 

I used to avoid the massive mods that added whole new areas to the game because it can be a bit of a hassle trying to figure out what mods they’re going to conflict with, but after playing Beyond Skyrim’s surprisingly polished Bruma mod, which introduces the northern Cyrodiil town to the game, I’ve been won over. Thank goodness for kind souls making compatibility patches. 

Cheers, Kotaku

Half-Life 2

Every year PC Gamer's editors and contributors vote on a list of the 100 best PC games to play right now, and every year our Top 100 list is contentious. A game is always too low, and another too high, and another unbelievably missing. Such is the inevitable fate of any List Of Things In A Certain Order.

But this year, we decided it would be fun to transform the heated comment threads under our list into a list of their own—the Readers' Top 100. Last week, I asked you to pick your top two games from our Top 100 list, and suggest two games to add. I then compiled the votes (1,445 of them), weighing the write-ins more highly than the picks from our list, given that it's much more likely that 50 people would chose the same game from a list of 100 than all write in the same game.

My totally unscientific method does cause a few problems, namely: how much more do you weigh the write-in votes? A multiplier of three produced the most interesting list in this case, though next year I may ditch that tactic all together and take write-ins only. The danger is that a write-in-only list might be more easily swayed by organized campaigns (though that certainly happened anyway), and for this first attempt, I wanted to include a baseline to build off of just in case the suggestions were too scattered, or too homogeneous.

It worked out pretty well despite the uneven, improvised methodology—but do think of it as a fun exercise and not a perfect representation of PC gamers' tastes. Caveats out of the way, check out the list below. (Games that aren't on our Top 100 list are in bold.)

The PC Gamer Readers' Top 100

  1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
  2. Half-Life 2 
  3. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim 
  4. Dark Souls 
  5. Borderlands 2 
  6. Fallout: New Vegas 
  7. Mass Effect 2  
  8. Doom (2016) 
  9. BioShock 
  10. Doom 2 
  11. Fallout 2 
  12. Deus Ex 
  13. Portal 2 
  14. Life is Strange 
  15. Starcraft 
  16. Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn 
  17. Grand Theft Auto 5 
  18. League of Legends 
  19. Diablo 2 
  20. XCOM 2 
  21. Fallout 4 
  22. Dragon Age: Origins 
  23. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind 
  24. PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds 
  25. Bioshock Infinite 
  26. Overwatch 
  27. Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 
  28. World of Warcraft 
  29. Rimworld 
  30. Path of Exile 
  31. Planescape: Torment
  32. Fallout 
  33. Dishonored 2 
  34. Crysis 
  35. Stellaris 
  36. Crusader Kings 2 
  37. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain 
  38. Dishonored 
  39. Half-Life 
  40. Warcraft 3 
  41. Quake 
  42. Factorio 
  43. Prey 
  44. SOMA 
  45. Fallout 3
  46. TIE Fighter 
  47. Elite Dangerous 
  48. Rocket League 
  49. Civilization 5 
  50. Heroes of Might and Magic 3 
  51. Starcraft 2 
  52. Nier: Automata 
  53. Stalker: Call of Pripyat 
  54. Wolfenstein: The New Order 
  55. Minecraft 
  56. System Shock 2 
  57. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion 
  58. Psychonauts 
  59. Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition 
  60. Knights of the Old Republic 
  61. Age of Empires 2 
  62. Thief 2 
  63. Endless Legend 
  64. Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 
  65. Titanfall 2 
  66. Warframe 
  67. The Secret of Monkey Island  
  68. Kerbal Space Program 
  69. Europa Universalis IV 
  70. Hotline Miami  
  71. Payday 2 
  72. Battlefield 1 
  73. Dota 2 
  74. Total War: Warhammer 
  75. Mass Effect 3 
  76. Batman Arkham City 
  77. Rainbow Six Siege 
  78. FTL 
  79. Stardew Valley 
  80. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive 
  81. The Talos Principle 
  82. Tyranny 
  83. Civilization 6 
  84. Undertale 
  85. Knights of the Old Republic 2 
  86. Team Fortress 2 
  87. The Witness 
  88. Thief Gold 
  89. Arma 3 
  90. Dying Light 
  91. Alien: Isolation 
  92. Hyper Light Drifter 
  93. Planet Coaster 
  94. Jagged Alliance 2 
  95. Call of Duty 2 
  96. Transistor
  97. Mass Effect 
  98. Freespace 2 
  99. 7 Days to Die 
  100. Ultima Online

For reference, the top 10 games on our list this year were: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Dark Souls, Dishonored 2, XCOM 2, Portal 2, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Mass Effect 2, Alien: Isolation, Doom (2016), and Spelunky. If you want a condensed sense of how our tastes differ from those surveyed, here are a few observations:

We like Spelunky a lot more than everyone else. It was in our top 10, but didn't even make it into the Readers' Top 100.

While Half-Life 2 has lost some stock in our minds, it hasn't in everyone's. It was 11th on our list, but 2nd on the Readers' list.

Everyone agrees that The Witcher 3 is great. It was first on both of our lists.

Skyrim is still chugging along. It was 26th on our list, but came in third in reader voting.

Borderlands 2 wasn't on our list, but came in 5th. Did Borderlands fans came out en masse, or are we just weird for not putting it on our list?

14th place is pretty impressive for Life is Strange. Rimworld ranked pretty high, too. Either these games are more popular than we realized, or the survey happened to be circulated among their biggest fans. Probably a mix of both.

League of Legends fans showed up to challenge our preference for Dota 2. It came in at 18, while Dota 2 was knocked down to 73. Justice?

If you'd like to compare the lists directly, I've put them side by side in a spreadsheet. Thank you to all 1,445 people who responded to the survey! Feel free to suggest new ways to compile this list in the comments, and I'll take them into consideration next year. My skill with Excel spreadsheet formulas is at least double what it was last week, a cursed power that will only have grown by next year.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

During the climax of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the Millennium Falcon crashes through a dense pine forest and skirts toward the edge of an icy cliffside. The trees splinter and pancake as the space jalopy slides to a halt and our heroes emerge unscathed, leaving a shower of splinters and snow in their wake.  

But the trees are not what they seem. The forests in The Force Awakens, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, and an episode of Sesame Street are all hiding something. They’re family. 

A significant amount of Mother Nature as represented in games and film starts life at SpeedTree, a small middleware company out of Lexington, South Carolina. Stranger still is that co-founder Chris King credits Bethesda Game Studios director Todd Howard for the company's success and the eventual deforestation of the Star Wars pines.

Todd Howard and the timber in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion are also indirectly responsible for the alien forests on Pandora in James Cameron’s Avatar. You can blame Howard for the best trees in videogames and even in a rival series, The Witcher 3, with its vast windblown forests. You can also blame him for 3D models of the White House and surrounding shrubbery, likely tossed around the US Secret Service’s network to this day. 

You can allegedly blame him for CG pubic hair in 50 Shades of Grey (but don’t, King is totally unaware if SpeedTree's software was used as a dynamic genital hair generator. There are better solutions, I’m told. Still, it’s enough ambiguity for hope). 

But Todd Howard didn’t make the trees or the alleged pubes or the technology behind them. Howard just gave a small company a big job that helped it keep pace in an industry overgrown with new possibilities.

A seed is planted 

SpeedTree is a middleware solution for videogame developers and, more recently, filmmakers who need to make realistic trees en masse, quickly. That doesn’t mean SpeedTree is as simple as a copy and paste engine, or that it spits out photorealistic trees within perfectly simulated ecosystems. It’s easier to think of SpeedTree as more of a specialized tree canvas, a tool used to generate whole forests of trees that look similar but aren’t carbon copies of one another. 

SpeedTree’s tools also include massive libraries of textures for rendering vegetation, and animation tools that simulate wind moving through branches and leaves. Beyond the time and energy saved making so many trees, SpeedTree’s vegetation is also designed to conserve as many system resources as possible. 

For a simple understanding of how it works, the story of their success, and where SpeedTree is being used today, I talked to King over the phone and through a few scattered email exchanges. He’s a bright, generous character, the kind of person that blends a simple answer into an extended anecdote before coming full circle into a question about me. I get the impression the trees are in kind hands. 

“It’s all procedural, meaning we use curves and numbers to input into an algorithm that will generate this tree, and as you change those curves and numbers so changes the tree,” King tells me. “But once you get a definition, you can just hit randomize, one button, and it’ll make a tree that looks similar to the last, but not exactly like it. And you keep hitting randomize and it’ll keep hitting these different random variation, so you can populate a unique forest with trees very quickly.” 

But it’s important to clear up a common fallacy, he says. “It's a misconception that Speedtree generates these procedural trees on the fly, when in fact, it is an offline procedural tool. The procedural part is there, but it's just a tool that the artist uses to create the shape.” 

Simply put, every time you play The Witcher 3, SpeedTree isn’t procedurally generating a new forest. While a game is in development, artists, level designers, and programmers work together to generate a wholly unique forest using SpeedTree’s procedural tools, then touch up and arrange the final result by hand. Once the trees are in place, SpeedTree is also capable of handling “all the loading, culling, level-of-detail, lighting, and wind effects for entire forests” in real-time.

The Witcher 3 has some of the best trees in videogames.

Without the ability to summon a forest of wholly unique trees at will and render them in a live environment, developers have to build their forests entirely from scratch. This can be done by spending endless hours making small tweaks to branch structure from the same starting model, or by building an in-house solution to generate their own trees – albeit likely one with fewer features. Now, when peering out into the verdant, swaying canopies of Toussaint, the time saved and focused elsewhere is plain to see.  

Before setting the stage for Geralt, SpeedTree was a loose assembly of good ideas without testimony. Around the turn of the millennium, videogames with massive forests of distinct timber weren’t a common technical ambition, often reigned in by console hardware. For the most part, they were all done by hand, but off the tail of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind—whose development predates SpeedTree and itself contains many-a-thicket—Bethesda likely wasn’t ready to create a larger space with more realistic trees capable of running on modern PCs and emerging console hardware. They would need help, and that help was just sprouting. 

Counting rings 

Unlike most modern middleware and niche software companies, SpeedTree’s origins aren’t the result of surgical, chartered market research and Silicon Valley capital juicing. King inadvertently started SpeedTree with co-founder Michael Sechrest, the result of modest ambitions steered by restlessness and passion. 

Sechrest and King met as graduate students in the Computer Engineering department at the University of South Carolina in the late 90s. “We were deeply involved with real-time visualization on those huge old Silicon Graphics Unix systems, doing visualizations for the Office of Naval Research and the Department of Energy.”

Coinciding with the release of the original Nvidia GeForce GPU in 1999, King and Sechrest wanted to start a business and bring their experience creating detailed visualizations to the PC, which was finally capable of rendering their work in real time. The pair formed Interactive Data Visualization (IDV), Inc., which King considers “A great name for a company that does engineering visualizations, not so great for vegetation in videogames and films!”

Here's what a modern SpeedTree tech demo looks like in UE4. 

By 2001, the two found steady business creating pre-rendered 3D visuals and animations for a handful of companies, building architectural renders and flyovers day after day. It was good work, but rendering trees for video and stills didn’t challenge their programming skills in the same way videogames would. For King and Sechrest, it was one thing to model a scene and let a powerful computer render it overnight; and another to generate a forest and render it live in the same environment as a little Geralt and hundreds of invisible systems without setting the average household PC on fire.

But during a discussion about the creation of a particular flyover, the client and lead architect was very particular about the trees, requesting that each species be recognizable, a specific height, and to appear wind-blown. 

Without software capable of achieving such effects, King and Sechrest made their own, which ended up as the very first version of SpeedTree. “It consisted of a very rudimentary version of the SpeedTree Modeler and a small 3ds Max plug-in,” King says, “It worked well enough. In 2002, we released it as SpeedTreeMAX.”

More than 40,000 people downloaded the demo, including Todd Howard of Bethesda.

Chris King

It was a useful tool for creating more detailed trees, and in creating a new program entirely, their coding know-how was stretched a bit. In time, King and Sechrest saw an opportunity in SpeedTreeMAX. If properly recycled, the two wondered if the SpeedTree Modeler could be used to make assets for videogames, and if so, whether or not anyone would need them. 

To check, they posted an article on OpenGL.org to introduce developers to SpeedTree’s tech and gauge interest in a version that produces trees for real-time rendering engines. In a stroke of luck, Sebastien Domine of Nvidia read the article and downloaded the included demo, which demonstrated how SpeedTree could be used in a real-time setting. Domine was impressed by the technology, but he also figured a real-time SpeedTree would be an excellent promotional tool for a new Nvidia GPU. He contacted King and Sechrest, they struck a deal, and they started work on SpeedTree’s first true real-time demo.

From a cliched tech demo to Star Wars, SpeedTree has come a long way.

In true videogame form, the demo showed a mech launching and dodging missiles amidst breeze-blown trees, and was put up for download on Nvidia’s developer portal to a fervent reception. Chris tells me that “over the next three months, more than 40,000 people downloaded the demo, including Todd Howard of Bethesda.” Videogames were growing more capable with better technology, and the task of filling bigger, more advanced worlds with realistic, varied trees was growing bigger too. And King and Sechrest now had a major game developer on board to showcase their tech. 

“The only problem was that we'd never sold middleware,” says King. “We had no idea how it should be priced. Amazingly, Todd helped us determine what we both agreed was a fair price and then and there he became our first games client.”

King continues as I imagine an ambling Linklater-directed montage, Howard, King, and Sechrest huddled over a pile of paperwork and tree textures, pinning them to the wall and nodding as revelations dawn one after the other. Emails and phone calls don’t make for a good montage.

“Fast forward to March 2006. Oblivion is released for the Xbox 360. It was a monster hit and the SpeedTree logo appeared on the back of the box,” says Chris, “The perception was that SpeedTree may not be efficient enough to run effectively on a 360 or PS3. Because Oblivion demonstrated in grand fashion that SpeedTree was ready for primetime on any platform, it's probably the single most important title we've ever been a part of. We will always be grateful to Todd.”

At the time, an open world game at Oblivion’s scale running on a console was unheard of. And while the final Xbox 360 version is widely considered a buggy, nearly unplayable mess, SpeedTree demonstrated that it could manage to render trees on 16 square miles of land on hardware that predated even the most average of gaming PCs in 2006. It worked, and that was enough to draw industry-wide attention to SpeedTree.

The exchange went both ways, too. Would Oblivion have captured imaginations like it did with boring and repetitive forests? It doesn’t look great by today’s standards, but at the time, streaming in diverse stretches of vegetation on the relatively meager Xbox 360 specs was a technical breakthrough, proving that open world games could work on lesser hardware at a high fidelity. It set a trend and games with even denser forests followed suit, evidenced by games like The Witcher 3, which would look very different (or wouldn’t exist at all) if not for SpeedTree. 

Branching out 

A snippet from White House Down featuring SpeedTree. 

By today’s metrics, Oblivion is an old game. Now we get thousands of new games every year, a good chunk of which use SpeedTree, and some of which want a little more than a procedural tree tool. What about modeling the life of a tree? When I ask King whether simulation of arboreal biology is a priority for them, I’m told no in the best way possible: an extended anecdote from the left-est of fields. 

Shit, we'll make it 8,000 feet high, we don't care. It makes no difference to us, we're not bound by these botanical rules. What do you want it to be? Do you want it to be White-House-shaped?

Chris King

“One of our competitors was based in Europe, and the US Secret Service, believe it or not, is a customer of ours, and they put together simulations of the White House grounds, or at-least they were talking to us about it.”

It turns out that spending resources on creating systems that consider the laws of nature would only sequester SpeedTree to an even smaller niche. 

“So they call the European people and told them what the problem was and they said, ‘Well, our stuff is botanically accurate and Southern Magnolia's don't grow 80 feet high, so our software won't do that.’ King gets a little louder, “And they called us and we were like, ‘Shit, we'll make it 8,000 feet high, we don't care. It makes no difference to us, we're not bound by these botanical rules. What do you want it to be? Do you want it to be White-House-shaped? We can do that as well.’”

The Secret Service weren’t even the first clients to request similar detailed models of the White House lawn. King says it’s requested so often that it’s become a running gag in the company. The amount of games and movies that feature it as a setting is surprisingly high, and the request for technology that can emulate the nearby vegetation is in equal demand. Filming there is prohibited, and so the the more often SpeedTree becomes a requested tool, the easier it is for future film crews to turn to them.   

From Oblivion to the Secret Service, SpeedTree has since branched out into generating vegetation in general. King and his cohorts are also currently prepping the full release of SpeedTree 8, which is a big leap forward in physically based rendering (PBR) tech, and showcases their new material scanning hardware and software used for an ever-growing database of megatextures and models. To create such a deep library, King even employed a specialist whose job is to literally scan as many plants as possible. Imagine that, strolling about the planet looking for pretty plants to immortalize every day. Noble. 

Prior to placement in a game or film and removed from the discerning touch of an artist, the trees and shrubs and cacti look serene, eerie. They’re nature’s aesthetic devoid of context, cleaner and healthier than any plant will ever be, the Stepford wives of common ferns. They look real, and to someone looking up at the prominence of a potential mountain of work creating their own assets, SpeedTree’s prices are a much more appealing alternative. Still, as useful and seemingly advanced as SpeedTree’s tech might seem to developers, it has plenty of room to grow.  

 “You could say we're currently near the center of the spectrum of digital fidelity in tree models.  We look good from the distance players typically view trees in a game situation—on or near the ground and maybe 10 to 100 feet away.” says King, “So, in ten years, hopefully we'll be zooming from space to a vein on a leaf seamlessly!” With more games like Star Citizen and Dual Universe looking for the same scale and adaptability, King knows they have their work cut out for them. 

 SpeedTree was even used in the 2015 Oscar Winner for Best Picture, Spotlight. 

In the meantime, with every wave of new games, we get a firsthand look at how it’s changing. King can’t disclose everywhere you’ll see SpeedTree used next, but Destiny 2, like the original, will make use of SpeedTree. He also tells me that Industrial Light and Magic has more or less standardized SpeedTree, and that barring any breakthroughs in vegetation generation it’ll be used in most of the upcoming Star Wars films. 

Ubisoft also brokered a deal with SpeedTree in 2016, agreeing to use it as their standard vegetation modeling tool. Given the size of Assassin’s Creed: Origins’ map, SpeedTree makes perfect sense. Since Avatar, SpeedTree has been used in nearly 100 films and well over 1,000 games, making it the industry standard. It's everywhere. 

Rogue One’s beachside battle on Scarif, arguably the series’ best battle ever, used SpeedTree. Whenever you slap a new player into a tree in Absolver or make a hasty getaway through the forest from an irate honey badger in Far Cry 4, SpeedTree is there. So the next time you take cover behind a big hardwood in PUBG, remember who generated its bulletproof bark, and in turn, set the table for this chicken dinner and many more to come. 

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

We're still a ways out from VR becoming Mancubus-mainstream.

I’m not an athletic man, but in Doom VFR, the upcoming VR version of 2016’s hit reincarnation of id’s classic shooter, I am Death Himself. As a possessed soldier tries to shoot me, I point a teleport marker and watch as everything slows down. I duck his bullets, teleport close, and shoot him in the face with a shotgun.

After a few shots, a Mancubus starts to flash, indicating it's ready to be torn asunder. I point my cursor into the center of the Mancubus and release the trigger, teleporting myself into the center of the obese demon. The Mancubus explodes and his immense body sags to the floor, the corpse so large that I have to step out of the empty shell to move on with the fight. Clearly, VR is cool.

But even for a relatively young technology, there have been very few major game releases for virtual reality headsets. It makes Bethesda’s all-in approach a confounding surprise, but by bringing Skyrim, Fallout, and Doom to VR, the company is in a good position to change the pace. In associating some of the biggest names in gaming to VR, Bethesda is trying to set itself up as a leader in VR development, build its own internal expertise, and help jumpstart a technology that has grown in fits and starts.

“If you believe something is going to be big, you can't just say, ‘oh, this will be big in six or eight years, so let's ignore it until it's big, and then we'll jump on the bandwagon,’” Doom VRF executive producer Marty Stratton tells me at Quakecon this year. “There's so much to be learned, and there's so many opportunities to be leaders. We want to be technical innovators, so when we see something we believe in, we want to be at the forefront.”

Of the three VR prototypes heading for release this fall, Doom is by far the best. The closed-in spaces of the UAC’s corridors look sleek and sci-fi inside a VR headset, and teleporting up and down hallways to blast imps and shotgun cacodemons feels spectacular, fast, and smooth. Time slows for teleportation or switching weapons, so I always felt able to react faster and be more badass than my weak, fleshy mortal body could ever allow. No matter which weapons I used, pulling the trigger of the controller felt as natural as aiming down the sights.

Shooting for the Skyrim

Sadly, all of these reasons are exactly why Skyrim VR, which is coming to PSVR first in November and PC sometime in 2018, is the weakest of the bunch. The wide-open vistas of Skyrim look pixelated and low-res running on the Playstation headset, and the 180-degree motion detection of the PSVR meant that I had to constantly use physical buttons on my controller to rotate myself and change direction. 

Descending one of a Skyrim dungeon’s many spiral staircases was dizzying as I used a teleport button to hop down a step or two, then tap-tap-tap-tap-tap to rotate my body, teleport, then rotate again.

Instead of feeling bold as the Dovahkiin, legendary hero of Skyrim, I felt like a child playing Fruit Ninja on a Nintendo Wii.

None of this compares to how disappointed I was when I first heard the call of an enemy bandit. I readied my sword only to find myself waving a wand in space, awkward and unsure if I was even making contact. I wiggled it around a few times and the bad guy fell over. Both of us looked embarrassed about the whole thing. Instead of feeling bold as the Dovahkiin, legendary hero of Skyrim, I felt like a child playing Fruit Ninja on a Nintendo Wii.

“Everybody says that,” says Pete Hines, VP of Marketing for Bethesda, when I complain about how the melee weapons feel. “The problem is that when you do this [he pulls a trigger on a gun], you don't detect the funkiness of the action because it's on a predestined path.” The gun behaves like a gun, in other words, and you’re pulling a trigger just like you’d pull a real-life trigger. “But when the sword swings however you move it, you notice it a lot more, now it does feel more like Fruit Ninja.”

Even though Skyrim will be coming to VR mostly unchanged, with all its quests, dialog, and NPCs in place, Hines expects that players will change how they play the game based on what feels good. In particular, he expects more players to become mages. “Because of the nature of VR and magic, it works exactly like you'd expect it to, because you're not missing the feedback.” Dual-wielding magic, in particular, works better in VR. Being able to move your hands independently gives you the chance to shoot fireballs in two directions at once, or hold a shield against one enemy while you shoot lightning at another.

Waiting for the Fallout

I enjoyed Fallout VR more than Skyrim VR at least, because the world running on a PC looked a lot better and my ability to turn in a full circle was unrestricted. Though I had the option of attacking raiders with a baseball bat, Fruit Ninja Skyrim style, I could easily ignore it since Fallout has a huge array of guns that feel good to use. Launching a mini-nuke at a Deathclaw and watching the blast in VR was every bit as fun as it sounds.

Still, it wasn’t quite right, and I’m not sure if the trade-offs are worth the momentary wow-factor of stepping into VR. Can I explore the Commonwealth Wasteland for hundreds of hours in this gear, or will I always start to feel green like an irradiated ghoul after half an hour?

These are limitations that come with taking an existing game and bringing it into VR. Problems with movement and feedback just aren’t solved yet, and these problems wouldn’t exist if a game was built for VR from the beginning. I can’t help but compare my time with Skyrim VR with Lone Echo, an incredible game that was built to showcase everything VR can do right now, and nothing that it can’t.

But for Bethesda, getting experience is worth it even if the end product isn’t quite perfect. They’ll put out the best version of their games that can exist in VR right now, and they’ll gain valuable internal experience with VR design. I can see how it’s a win-win for Bethesda to take a risk with these experiments, but I’m not as confident that buying these experiments offers much to long-time fans of these games desperate for a familiar experience in their seldom-used VR gear.

Skyrim VR is only scheduled to come to PSVR in November, with a PC release possibly coming in 2018. Fallout VR is coming to PC on December 12, and Doom VFR is coming to both platforms on December 1.

Borderlands 2

Damage dealing is the most selfish of gaming roles. It's not about mending the wounds of your buddies or taunting off the bullies attempting to harm them in the first place; it's about the ecstasy of climbing to the peaks of damage meters and watching ever-larger numbers splash the screen. If gaming in general is a power fantasy, a strong DPS build is the wet dream.

And sometimes they gets out of hand. Some builds are so powerful that developers pull the plug, worried that they're damaging the game itself. This is a celebration of those builds that have achieved or come near those marks: the most famous, powerful, interesting builds that disrupt a game's conventions as violently as the power chords of an Amon Amarth riff at a Chopin recital.

We know we've barely scratched the list of great builds here—almost every game has one! If there's one you think we should have included, tell us about it! 

Skyrim: Sneak Archer with Slow Time (2011)

Subtlety isn't really the first thing that comes to mind upon a first glance at Skyrim—after all, it's largely a game about some rando shouting dragons to death. But for years nothing struck fear into the hearts of giant flying reptiles and creepy Reachmen quite like Skyrim's Sneaky Archer build. It's still quite beastly, but YouTuber ESO describes it in its most broken form.

The build's cornerstone was the Slow Time shout, which you could extend by 20 percent with an Amulet of Talos and up to 40 percent by visiting a Shrine of Talos. Slap some Fortify Alteration enchantments on your ring and swig a Fortify Alteration potion, and you could push that over a minute. That's longer than the shout's cooldown. Pick up the Quiet Casting perk in the Illusion line, and you could wipe out a whole band of Stormcloaks before they even knew you were there.

Combine that with plenty of points in the Sneak line, Fortify Archery enchantments on every bit of gear, and paralysis or fear enchantments on your weapons, and you might be tempted to ask the fur-clad denizens to worship you in place of Talos. Unfortunately, Bethesda killed the fun with last year's Special Edition. Slow Time now slows down time for you as well. But even without it a Sneak Archer remains a force to be reckoned with.

The Witcher 3: Alchemy and Combat build

Most crazy damage builds feel as though they're breaking with the lore of their parent games, but The Witcher 3's combination alchemy and combat builds tap into the very essence of what it's mean to work in Geralt's profession. You're a badass swordsman thanks to 36 points in Combat, and 38 points in the Alchemy line see you chugging potions and decoctions along with making sure you're using the right oil for the right monster.

YouTuber Ditronus detailed the best incarnation of this monster setup, which focuses on stacking everything that gives you both critical hit chance and critical hit damage. Ditronus claims he can get hits that strike for 120,000 damage for the build at Level 80 and on New Game+. 

The tools? Pick up the steel Belhaven Blade for its crit potential and the Excalibur-like Aerondight silver sword for its damage multiplier. Use some other crit-focused gear along with two key pieces of the Blood and Wine expansion's alchemy-focused Manticore set and use consumables such as the Ekhidna Decoction. Toss in a few key mutagens and frequently use the "Whirl" sword technique, and Geralt becomes the spinning avatar of Death herself. It's bewitching.

World of Warcraft: Paladin Reckoning Bomb (2005) 

World of Warcraft has seen some crazy damage builds over the course of its 13-year history, but none has reached the legendary status of the Paladin class' "Reckoning bomb" of WoW's first "vanilla" years. It wasn't officially a damage setup, but rather an exploit of the Reckoning talent from the tank line that some Retribution (damage) Paladins would pick up. Originally, Reckoning gave you a charge for a free attack whenever you were the victim of a critical hit, and in 2005, you could stack this to infinity and unleash them all at once for your next attack. Build enough stacks, and you could one-shot other players in PvP.So how imba was this? In May 2005 a Paladin named Karmerr from the guild PiaS (Poop in a Shoe, if you must know) got his rogue friend Sindri to attack him for three whole hours while he was sitting down, guaranteeing critical hits, until the stacks reached a staggering 1,816. Their mission? The Alliance server first kill of Lord Kazzak, one of WoW's first 40-man raid bosses. Knowing their plan was controversial, PiaS asked a Blizzard Game Master for permission, and the GM claimed it couldn't be done. But Karmerr popped his invincibility bubble and, boom, killed Kazzak in a single shot. Alone. The devastation was so intense that it locked up Karmerr's PC for 10 seconds and the system was so unprepared by the 1,816 attacks it could only register the blow in second-long ticks until Kazzak died. PiaS posted a video, and within 24 hours Blizzard nerfed Reckoning from a 100 percent chance to a mere 10 percent chance and limited the stacks to five.

Diablo 2: Hammerdin 

Overpowered Paladins are something of a Blizzard tradition. One of the most infamous overpowered DPS builds of all time is the so-called "Hammerdin" from Diablo 2. The Blessed Hammer skill was the heart of the build, which shot out a spinning floating hammer that smacked any monsters foolish enough to get near. 

Hammerdins had been around in various incarnations for months, but the build came into its own in 2003 with the introduction of synergies. With Blessed Aim, Paladins could increase their attack rating; and with Vigor, they could boost their speed, stamina, and recovery. Damage, too, got a boost with Concentration Aura. But nothing made the build so broken as the Enigma Runeword, which sent the Paladin immediately teleporting into huddles of nearby enemies and clobbering them for up to 20,000 points of damage each. Watching it in action looks a little like watching a bugged game.

The catch? Almost everything needed to complete the build was outrageously expensive. But as the obscene number of Hammerdins dominating Diablo 2 came to show, that was never much of a deterrent.

Borderlands 2: Salvador

Forget specific builds for a second: Borderlands 2's Salvador is kind of broken by default. His class ability—"Gunzerking"—lets him fire off two weapons and reap their benefits at once, all while taking less damage and constantly regenerating ammo. Nor does this kind of destructive divinity come with any real challenge. If you've got the right weapons equipped, all you really need to do is sit still and fire away. Dragon's Dogma had the right of it: divinity can get kind of boring.

The right weapons push this already preposterous setup to absurdity. Pick up the Grog Nozzle pistol from the Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon's Keep DLC, which heals Salvador for 65 percent of all the damage he deals out. In the other hand, equip a double-penetrating Unkempt Harold pistol, which hits enemies as though seven bullets had hit them twice. Then pick up the Yippie Ki Yay talent that extends Gunzerking's duration for 3 seconds for each kill and "Get Some," which reduces Gunzerking's cooldown after each kill, and you'll always be firing, always be healing, all the time.

Elder Scrolls Online: Magicka Dragonknight Vampire (2014)

Ever wanted to be a raid boss in an MMORPG? You could in 2014, not long after the launch of Elder Scrolls Online, if you were a magicka-focused Dragonknight who'd become a vampire. You were both DPS and tank, able to take on dozens of players in PvP at once and kill most of them as well.

The root of the problem was the vampire tree's morphed "ultimate" ability, Devouring Swarm, which sent a swarm of bats down on everyone else in melee range while also healing you for everyone hit. But every class who became a vampire had access to that.

Dragonknights, though, could also use their Dark Talons skill to root all those players in melee range while roasting them with fire damage at the same time. A huge magicka pool made it even deadlier. Then a passive ability called Battle Roar factored in, allowing the Dragonknight to replenish health, magicka, and stamina based on the cost of casting Devouring Swarm. And it gets crazier. If you were wearing the Akaviri Dragonguard Set, you enjoyed a 15 percent deduction in ultimate ability costs, essentially allowing you to spam Devouring Swarm.

This was already hellish with regular Dragonknights, but players who earned the "Emperor" title in PvP might as well have been Daedric lords. Being the current emperor granted buffs like 200 percent ultimate and resource generation, leading to situations like the one in the video above. 

The easy way to stop this nonsense was always just to stay out of range (although the DK's charge ability from the Sword and Shield line complicated that). Within a month, though, ZeniMax Online nerfed it to hell.

Diablo 3: Inarius Necromancer 

How do you bring interest in your four-year-old dungeon crawler back from the dead? With a Necromancer class, obviously! At least that's what Blizzard Entertainment was apparently thinking when it introduced the class to Diablo 3 in June 2017.

That makes the Necromancer the "youngest" entry on this list, but it's no less deserving of the honor. The damage Necromancers have been dishing out this summer is so crazy that the "best" broken builds change every few weeks. Not long ago the top dog was the Bones of Rathma build, which basically let the Necromancer kick back while an army of skeletons and undead mages did all the hard work. 

Nowadays it's the Grace of Inarius build (which YouTuber Rhykker calls the "Bonestorm" build), which centers on the set's six-piece "Bone Armor" bonus that smacks enemies who get too close with 750 percent weapon damage and boosts the damage they take from the Necro by 2,750 percent. Then the Necro goes around whacking everything with his Cursed Scythe skill with the help of another bonus that reduces his damage taken. Choose the right complementary skills and weapons, you'll soon be tromping through Level 107 Greater Rifts as easily as a katana slicing through yarn. Getting the set pieces will take a bit of grinding, of course, but it's worth it for the payoff. Until, you know, Blizzard nerfs it.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Skyrim, located in the icy northern reaches of Tamriel, is an unforgiving land of freezing blizzards, ruthless bandits, and fire-breathing dragons. But nestled among all this danger, warmed by fires crackling in stone hearths, are the taverns. These cosy, calming sanctuaries offer weary adventurers respite from the cold and chaos, if only for a few minutes. The hardy, resourceful people who call Skyrim home have mastered the art of comfort and hospitality, as anyone surviving in a place as cold and brutal as this would have to. 

And as you step into one of their inns, stone walls lit by the orange glow of the fire, tables stacked with cold mead and hunks of red meat, you feel like you can rest easy. Like you’ve come home. No mudcrabs or skeevers are going to scutter out of the bushes and attack you here. No fur-clad bandits are going to try and shake you down for gold with their bows and arrows. And, best of all, those pesky ancient dragons are too big to fit through the door. 

The perpetual howl and chill of the wind is replaced by the soothing music of a strumming bard, the murmur of the other patrons and the clinking of glasses. It couldn’t be more different from the white, wild outside, and it’s the perfect place for a tired, hungry adventurer to grab a cold drink, a warm meal and a soft bed for the night. You could always just sleep on some grotty old bedroll outside, of course, but the Dragonborn deserves better.

Entering a tavern in Skyrim perfectly recreates the feeling of escaping into a homely country pub after a long walk on a cold, windy day. That instant sense of tranquility and peace. You know you’ll have to go back out there eventually, but for now it’s just you, the fire and a pint of ale. Your troubles seem like they’re miles away, although the concerns of the average person in today’s world certainly can’t compare to the Dragonborn’s quest to save Tamriel from an ancient, evil dragon which wants to devour the world. 

You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to taverns in Skyrim, and their atmospheres reflects their locations. In the city of Riften, a hangout for criminals and other ne’er-do-wells, you’ll find The Ragged Flagon and the Bee and Barb, which are the kind of establishments where you’d get a dagger in the ribs for so much as looking at someone’s pint. While the Imperial capital of Solitude boasts The Winking Skeever, a luxurious, spacious watering hole with a fine selection of quality booze and grub. And as well as these city inns, there are plenty of smaller ones dotted around the countryside, including the Four Shields Tavern.

As well as offering food, drink, and beds, taverns in Skyrim are also great places to meet reliable mercenaries. You’ll often see these warriors sitting in the corner, like Strider in Lord of the Rings, waiting for an adventurer with enough coin to hire them. In The Drunken Huntsman in Whiterun, for example, you’ll find Jenassa, a Dunmer ranger who’s handy with a bow and arrow and doesn’t seem to mind if the Dragonborn slaughters innocent people. But you’ll need 800 gold pieces to retain her dubious services.

Taverns are also rife with gossip, which can lead to some interesting quests. Talk to the bartender and you’ll hear clues about various goings on in the world, including the Imperial boy Aventus Aretino attempting to summon the Dark Brotherhood: a rumour that ultimately sees you joining its ranks. Or you might hear about a shrine to the Daedric Prince Azura, which leads to you obtaining a powerful Daedric artefact. It’s a good thing the proprietors of Skyrim’s inns are so unashamedly nosy. 

The tavern is an important part of any fantasy world, whether it’s the Prancing Pony from Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones’ Inn at the Crossroads, and Skyrim is no different. Wherever you drink and whatever your poison, these are fine places to spend your coin

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