Nobody's Top 100 Games of All Time: 40-31
40: What Remains of Edith Finch (Giant Sparrow/Annapurna Interactive, PC, 2017)
The elevator pitch sounds like a horror game: Members of the Finch family have a way of dying early and horribly, and you've come back to the family home to experience the stories of the dead through their rooms and belongings. But although it sometimes does get a bit spooky, it's more of a series of short biographies than a ghost story. Each story is presented in its own way, from the papercraft castle you see above to a comic book, and so on. It's a walking sim, so there's basically nothing in the way of traditional gameplay. This is one you come to for the pretty graphics and stay for the amazing writing.
39: Dishonored 2 (Arkane Studios/Bethesda, PC, 2016)
In some ways, Dishonored 2 is the classic "the first game but better" sequel. It's got the bigger worlds extra playable character, and all that you might expect from a stealth sequel. And Dishonored was already on this list, so clearly being better than it is enough for a high spot. But it's really one minor choice at the beginning that rockets D2 all the way to #39: reject your powers. This is a game designed for ninja-wizard players that gives you the option to just be a normal person instead. It's hard as hell played this way, but it's also unbelievably rewarding to overcome it with nothing but your own creativity.
#38: Disco Elysium (ZA/UM, PC, 2019)
You are truly the worst detective. Instead of investigating a murder that might set off a new civil war, you've crashed your car, lost your badge and gun, and gotten so outrageously drunk that you don't even remember who you are. From that premise, Disco Elysium turns into a game about building a new identity for our disaster of a detective and, maybe, eventually solving the murder. It isn't a visual novel, but so much of it happens in text descriptions that it's damn close to one, much in the way that it is about as close to being a true role playing game as video games have ever been. I love it, and I wish it could be so much higher, but it has dice everywhere. You can't do anything without dice, and they're never a fun or interesting way of determining success.
#37: Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun (Mimimi Games/Daedalic, PC, 2016)
It's fitting that this is so close to Dishonored 2, because they're both hard-as-nails stealth games that came out at almost exactly the same time and succeed for almost exactly the same reasons. Every level in Shadow Tactics looks impossible when you first see it. But then you start to poke around at the edges of the scene and find a way past one barrier, and then there's an angle where you can just about take out a guard safely, and so on until two hours later when you've finished. It's exhausting and nearly impossible to play without quicksaves, but much like D2, actually finishing a level feels like a real triumph.
#36: AI: The Somnium Files (Spike Chunsoft, PC, 2019)
Not for the last time on the list, this game makes it very much in spite of its stupid ending. Also in spite of its largely awful protagonist. In spite of a lot of things, really. It's here because the memory-diving mystery that runs alongside all its flaws is so good until it isn't. And also because of the way it screws with the player and expectations you might have. And, somehow, because it has one of the most honest portrayals of Alzheimer's that you can get in a game. AI is probably too many things trying to be too weird for it to have ever fully worked, but the end product still makes #36 despite tripping over itself at every other opportunity.
#35: Crusader Kings II (Paradox Interactive, PC, 2012)
If you looked at the above image and thought "that looks like a spreadsheet from hell!" then yeah, that's pretty much what CK2 is. There's an RPG about being a medieval dynasty tacked on to it: my main game of it had me playing an Irish kingdom that converted to Catharism almost immediately and then had to fend off the entire world. who were mad that we let women do stuff. So in that sense it's also an internet RPG. Anyway, the rest of it is a lot of managing overwhelming amounts of numbers that only get bigger and more overwhelming with time, and also dealing with feudal politics and succession laws. CK2 can feel like a treadmill when those laws aren't working with you, but at it's best it's a game of seeing your strategy play out over entire centuries.
#34: osu! (peppy, PC, 2007)
osu! is an indie game that reimplements the Elite Beat Agents rhythm game to be much faster, play with a mouse or tablet, and support any custom map. It also has modes for Taiko, Beatmania, and some weird thing they call "Catch the Beat", but those are similarly just faster reskins of existing games. The community support is amazing, to be sure, but it's one you really have to play to fully appreciate. A good osu! map that's just the right difficulty puts you into a weird state that's almost meditative except that your brain is screaming "how am I doing this, aaaaaaaaaa" the whole time. It used to be as high as #7 on my list, but progression is defined by a ranking system that becomes increasingly frustrating the longer you play, and that ultimately got me off the train. Still, an amazing game.
#33: Yakuza 0 (Ryu Ga Gotoku/SEGA, PS4, 2017)
Yakuza 0 is a serious story about crime in 80s Tokyo when it wants to be. When it doesn't want to be, which it usually doesn't, it's honestly just whatever it wants to be. Disco dancing sim? Yup. Real estate tycoon? Sure. Suddenly a quest to befriend every cashier in town? You bet. Sometimes that silliness can work against it - it's impossible to tell if someone is meant to be dead until another character explicitly says they are - but in general the contrast between the serious main story and the slapstick everything else just enhances both. Someday I'll actually finish these games and the list will be full of Yakuza, but for now 0 is the scouting party.
#32: Europa Universalis IV (Paradox Interactive, PC, 2013)
CK2 and EUIV are similar enough that understanding one puts you well on the road to understanding the other. This is also a game of strategizing over centuries, but its map covers the entire world, it's way spreadsheety-er, and the RPG and inheritance elements have left the building. The core satisfaction of seeing your blob spread across the world is more or less the same in both games (and you can even import a CK2 end state to start EU4 with), but personally I prefer the bigger world and lessened domestic politics of EU4.
#31: Subnautica (Unknown Worlds, PC, 2018)
If you want a pure exploration game, it really doesn't get better than Subnautica, which drops you in a 4kmx4km stretch of alien ocean and just says "go." There's weird and wonderful (and often horrible) stuff to find everywhere, and each time you venture out you'll come back with the material and confidence to go just a bit further next time. I wish it had kept up that loop until the end, but unfortunately the final sequence turns into boring material grinding and I ended up using cheats to skip it and reach the credits. But damn if it doesn't nail the 35 hours before that part.