games made to last
April 8, 2006 8:45 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for PC games (preferably open-source and/or freeware) that provide limitless amounts of depth and challenge for those willing to stick with them.

NetHack (most Roguelikes, really) and Star Control II are both great examples, but I'm hoping to find something a bit more obscure. I don't really care about the genre, but I do expect that RPGs or strategy games will provide more depth and longevity than any other kinds of games.
posted by jimmy to Computers & Internet (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Escape Velocity Nova

An open ended space game with lot's of different threads you can follow (or not depending on how you feel like playing).

There is a pay version of it that lets you do more stuff, but the free version is very playable on it's own.
posted by quin at 8:55 AM on April 8, 2006

Not open-source or free, but: Combat Mission II: Barbarossa to Berlin.
posted by Prospero at 9:03 AM on April 8, 2006

You can always play Go online. Lots of challenge there.
posted by koenie at 9:05 AM on April 8, 2006

You're not going to believe me at first, but I'm going to throw out Enemy Territory into the fray (click on the Enemy Territory link in the main menu). Yes, it's a FPS, yes it was made by Id, and yes it's free.

The depth of this game never ceases to fail me. It's a WWII game, you can play on either the American team or the German team. Americans are usually the offensive team and Germans the defensive team but there are a few exceptions. This is a role based FPS game. There are different roles for the WWII characters: engineer, mortar, medic, special ops, field ops, machine gunner, infantryman. Each has unique skills, advantages and limitations. There is so much depth to each one of these roles that even though there are only six maps (all of the multiplayer by the way) that after over two years we still weren't bored of any of the maps. Certain skills within a trade are only achieved by hitting milestones, and you can switch trades within a game without worrying about losing what you earned in the other trade when you switch back. The six maps are beautifully designed. Each level is objective based (escort the tank to the final objective, destroy the gun covering the beach, etc...) The cover, the bottlenecks and the workarounds, the progressive spawn points, the ability to gain and lose ground, the potential for so much tactics, it's enough to keep you playing over and over again. Hands down it's the best role based multiplayer FPS to ever come out, but that's also it's biggest weakness.

Since it's multiplayer, you can't really have a good time unless you're about 8 on each team, since you want people in all the roles. It also takes quite a bit of practice to recognize and use your skills effectively (you don't naturally realize that as a covert ops you can steal the uniform of a dead enemy and then dress as them, just to name one example), so if the server is just full of a bunch of n00bs (assuming you host it yourself for a lan party or such) then the gameplay will stay rather primitive, and in fact the gameplay can't advance unless there's at least one engineer. But this can be overcome, and you can have great fun with just two teams of four on most maps. If you ever had a HalfLife server running at lunch time at work, then this is the game for you. So I lay this out here not because I think anyone new will actually play ET, but just to give tribute to what I think was/is the best online FPS multiplayer ever.
posted by furtive at 9:13 AM on April 8, 2006

posted by furtive at 9:13 AM on April 8, 2006

Battle for Wesnoth

A really well-done open-source turn-based strategy game, with fantasy elements. Comes with one scenario, but there are several more.
posted by mkultra at 9:29 AM on April 8, 2006

Not at all freeware unless you know where to look, I find myself entrenched in Bethesda Softwork's $50-$60 The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.

This game requires something of a rather impressive PC, or an Xbox 360 to be fully enjoyed, but scales down nicely, too.

The game consists of a primary quest, but the layout and actions you take are completely open-ended. Your character is tasked with a single duty from the main quest, but if you choose to explore the nearby city, you'll quickly meet with people who have their own worries and troubles. Or you'll steal from them in the middle of the night and catch the attention of the Theives' Guild, who have their own power structure and quest set, assuming you don't steal from them.

You could join the Mages' Guild and become a powerful alchemist, collecting ingredients throughout the entire world, but first, you need to complete a set of quests from each of the regional Mage Guild leaders before they'll recommend you as an eligible to join.

Murder a townsperson with no reason and get away with it, and you might be visited when you next sleep by a member of the Dark Brotherhood, who invite you to join their group. Seal the deal by killing their mark.

What's fantastic about this game is that at practically anytime, you can "pause" a current quest, and go all ADD on it and jump to whatever other active quests you have rolling. The map system and your journal let you know what you need to be doing, but the content of the quests is so varied, it's ridiculous.

Your skillsets are also pretty open-ended, with tons of major and minor skills that are all developed certain ways, and whose different levels (from novice to master) provide different perks. An "apprentice" at Blade can attack while jumping, but not while jumping backwards—only an Expert can do that.

The entire world is peppered with small towns and cities that don't appear on your map until you wander across them. Each of the characters are interactive and give you plenty to do, and you can "fast-travel" to another city by simply selecting it from on your map. The time will pass appropriately, but you won't kill yourself from the tedium of crossing a landscape, though how else will you find some of those towns?

The graphics are amazing, and the world is further peppered with dozens of books that provide background and entertainment if you're bored, and clues about what else you might find. Steal something, go to jail, break out and watch your "sneak" or "security" skill go up a few points.

Buy a house in any/all of the cities with one available, so you have a place to sleep and keep your stuff. Buy a horse, or steal one. And if you decide, let the vampire disease take over and completely transform you, requiring you to feed on your fellow townsmen in their sleep, lest you burn in sun.

Or download any of the dozens of mods already available. There's one that "requires" you to eat every so often, for added realism. There are mods that add additional cities and quests, and tons more.

I'm just excited because I recently discovered this gem, and it's the first completely open-ended, non-linear, SINGLEplayer RPG I've found in a long time that I can just sink some boredom time into. I've heard the last Elder Scrolls, Morrowind, was similarly challenging and complete in its breadth. Honestly, if you have a system at all capable of running it, this game feels a great deal like Escape Velocity in its open-endedness, but, obviously, completely different in everything else.

Honestly, this isn't a Pepsi-blue. You just pinged this question just days after I've dived in and started to fall for this game in all it's insanity and cleverness.
posted by disillusioned at 9:56 AM on April 8, 2006

Oh my god! *giggles* OH MY GOD, another Enemy Territory player!! Furtive, I must play with you.


I agree that the game to date is the only real cooperative multiplayer FPS (I haven't played battlefield 2,, I could be wrong).

There is so much depth to each one of these roles that even though there are only six maps (all of the multiplayer by the way) that after over two years we still weren't bored of any of the maps.

There's more than six maps. Yeah, sure, six default maps, but there are tons of quality custom maps. The ET mapping community is ACE.
posted by Lockeownzj00 at 10:03 AM on April 8, 2006

One game I return to over and over again is Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri. Empire building is fun, and the setting's a bit more interesting than Earth.

The biggest downsides are that the mpeg "cutscenes" (for tech advances and wonders) look really poor by today's standards, and it won't play on a screen over 1024x768.
posted by jepler at 10:25 AM on April 8, 2006

Well, have you tried any MUDs? Pick one at random and it has at least a few months of playability. You can also meet... people.
posted by Hildago at 10:32 AM on April 8, 2006

It's not freeware, but if you like 4X games, word is that Galactic Civilizations II is superb. ("4X" == "Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate")
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:37 AM on April 8, 2006

N is a freeware Flash puzzle/platformer game (think Lode Runner mixed with Mario). It's a pretty simple premise, but tons of replayability.
posted by danb at 10:53 AM on April 8, 2006

I'd also recommend Deadly Rooms of Death.
posted by vacapinta at 11:26 AM on April 8, 2006

I will second Galactic Civilizations II. I have been playing it quite a bit for several weeks and I have just scratched the surface of the possible gameplay options. If you are interested in the type of game, but don't want to shell up the money you could try to find Master of Orion II on the internets. It is a bit old school, but still a very playable game. MOO 3 was junk- so don't waste your time.
posted by Macduff at 12:01 PM on April 8, 2006

Grid Wars 2 is quite a simple shooter but offers more in way of longevity (if that means learning and testing strategies) and fun than many more ambitious games. Here is an excellent articles about it.
posted by richard m at 12:24 PM on April 8, 2006

While the game itself is not obscure, you can find or create your own fun in Second Life. There are already a player-built RPGs and shooters in-game. The amount of content in the game is impressive and since nearly everything in the game is user-created, there's always something new to explore. Plus hey, it's free.
posted by fatbobsmith at 1:10 PM on April 8, 2006

you mention roguelikes, but just to check, have you tried crawl? It's (in my opinion) by far the best one, especially when combined with the travel patch -- the mainline isn't clearly still under development, but the travel patch is.
posted by advil at 1:23 PM on April 8, 2006

Besides go, you might consider Scrabble, chess, backgammon, etc. Most of these can be played for free against other human beings. For me, at least, that's the secret of long-term replay value.
posted by box at 1:36 PM on April 8, 2006

I'd say limitless depth and challenge means multiplayer.
Don't know how many are still playing these, but since you asked for obscure:
posted by teki at 1:40 PM on April 8, 2006

You can't get limitless depth and challenge from AI opponents. Simply can't be done.

If you merely mean 'smarter than I am', you might really enjoy GalCiv 2, as others are mentioning; it has very, very sharp AI, and it's under constant under development.

Other than that..... have yout hought about chess?
posted by Malor at 2:32 PM on April 8, 2006

Ack, one too many unders. Sorry.
posted by Malor at 2:32 PM on April 8, 2006

X-Com: UFO Defense

There is a public release version from Microprose some years back. Updated for Windows - if you're running it in XP, you'll have to set the slider on video acceleration down three notches.

After all these years, I still play the heck out of the game. At higher difficulty levels, it's insane. Especialy if you handicap yourself (say, human tech only).

If you're interested, I still have a copy I got off of a PC Gamer CD many years ago.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 2:44 PM on April 8, 2006

Regarding Battlefield 2: It's not nearly as objective-based or in-depth as the way commenter describes Enemy Territory. It's a great deal of fun, has absolutely incredible graphics, requires an amazing computer to get the most out of, but most of all, it focuses strongly on being better than human counterparts which is a very important aspect to enjoying a game for me (exception being Oblivion).

There's something terribly fun about seeing a tank driven by a human enemy roll into your base camp, and, knowing you haven't been spotted yet, sneaking around them while your fellow squad mate draws their fire, going prone as you sneak up to their flank, sticking to pieces of C4 on them, and quickly running away to get to a safe distance before you press the button and send them to hell.

There are so many terrific encounters that occur in that game that make you feel truly desperate and in the middle of a battle. It's intelligently designed, and they're finally ironing out most of the bugs (though it sometimes crashes if I leave it in dual-core mode).
posted by disillusioned at 9:23 AM on April 9, 2006

Great answers, thanks. I've marked the answers that suggest games that seem interesting to me, or games that I've simply forgotten about.

I don't have a monster computer, so as much as I'd love to play a game like Oblivion or Battlefield 2, it just isn't possible. One of these days, though.

And anyone who suggests that single-player games can't provide limitless depth and challenge hasn't played SC2 or X-Com.
posted by jimmy at 10:42 AM on April 9, 2006

Morrowind does make a good, inexpensive substitute for Oblivion. You can get the Game of The Year edition at Target or any decent game store for $20, it includes the two expension packs, and there is already a whole community chock full of mods for it.

I've just started it myself and I don't think I'll ever be able to see and do everything there is to see and do in this game. I've heard of people spending up to 200 hours with it.

While not as graphically impressive as Oblivion, it's still quite impressive. If you haven't tried either, I'd say start with this, and if you like the style of play, move on to Oblivion when it gets cheaper.
posted by Durhey at 11:00 AM on April 9, 2006

Oh, I just stumbled upon the UFOpaedia. These people are insane; they've managed to reverse engineer a lot of game mechanics.

Not free and possibly difficult to find, but X-Com: Apocalypse (the 3rd X-com game) is pretty involving. Different feel, though, but still really engaging.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 7:41 PM on April 9, 2006

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