While there’s not yet hard data on Bitter Empire’s readers’ preferences, I’m going to assume that at least a sizeable percentage aren’t big fans of video games. And those of us who do like games certainly know people who just don’t get the appeal.
That group of people is shrinking, however: in 2014, the ESA reported that a full 59 percent of Americans play video games – a number that, while still remarkable, makes more sense when you consider how accessible and prevalent mobile games have become.
But what about those poor folks who haven’t yet experienced the wonder of a deep, engaging RPG, or a demanding strategy game? Here are a few titles that make good entry points for the uninitiated, which won’t shock them with stuff that moves too fast, upsetting levels of violence, or an off-putting price tag. A couple of these have turned people I know into devoted gamers.
Created by a team that included veterans of the original Diablo, Torchlight is an action-RPG romp that’s much more brightly-colored and inviting than its forebear’s gothic horror. You don’t need a bunch of crazy macros or a NASA-approved keyboard to play, and it’s a perfect introduction to role-playing games’ leveling systems. I was very accustomed to playing games like this with keyboard and mouse and was delighted to find that the gamepad works quite naturally with the genre on the Xbox 360.
Available on PC, Mac, Linux
It’s an old franchise, but it’s survived this long for a reason – Civilization games have long been very solid, approachable 4X strategy titles that still maintain a lot of depth. The fifth entry in the series is perhaps the most welcoming for new players – tutorial tooltips guide you through each phase of the game, and a “Civilopedia” accessible in-game provides background on all relevant units, research, and terrain types. Furthermore, the game’s turn system allows for a very leisurely pace of play, making Civilization V one of the most relaxing games in my library. The expansion packs, Gods & Kings and Brave New World, both enlarge the game in meaningful ways, making Civilization V an ideal beginning platform for brand new players.
Jonathan Blow’s Braid (pictured above) is a perfect update for anyone who hasn’t seen a platform game since Super Mario Bros. The gorgeous hand-painted visual style is matched with a lovely ambient score, which both bely the devious nature of the game’s puzzles, which use a time-rewinding mechanic. Braid is a very easy game to pick up and play, but ramps up the difficulty by introducing new ideas in each distinct area. Another nice touch is that you can’t really hit walls to progression – if you get stuck on a particular stage, you can always explore one of the other worlds for a while and come back later.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Modern controllers can be daunting if you’ve never had the chance to get used to one. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons uses a completely unique control scheme that can serve as a “controller boot camp.” Each thumbstick controls one of the two titular brothers, and you direct them to cooperatively navigate the game’s various puzzles and obstacles. None of these are too taxing on paper, but the central game mechanic pushes players to use both sides of their brain at once. Brothers also manages to deftly tell a very touching story without ever uttering a word in any language, and it doesn’t outstay its welcome – the game can be finished in under four hours.
Crusader Kings II
Available on PC, Mac, Linux
Its sheer size and complexity level perhaps make this an odd choice for new players, but because of how Crusader Kings II forges its own path away from strategy game tropes, this game might actually be easier for new players to learn than for old hands. Like all of Paradox’s “grand strategy” games, Crusader Kings II takes a while to really learn, but there’s a point where things just “click” and scrolling around a map trying to figure out what’s going on turns into running a medieval dynasty. It’s perfect for history buffs: Each ruler (where records exist) from backwater count to Holy Roman Emperor, is an actual historical figure (so think twice before making an enemy of William the Conqueror). It’s less a game about securing resources and war than it is about politics – marrying children off to the right people, assassinating the odd brother-in-law, and keeping in the good graces of the pope are all considerations for the would-be medieval power-broker. And if actual history isn’t your thing, there’s a terrific total conversion mod available for free that shifts the action to George R.R. Martin’s Westeros.
This is obviously not an exhaustive list — so leave your suggestions in the comments! It’s always great to find that special game that can make someone a convert.