Counter-Strike: Global Offensive has been popular for a long time because it is one of the most concentrated and technical first-person shooters available, relying heavily on team-based dynamics, game sense, and pure talent. Its difficulty and depth make it not only one of the most difficult competitive shooters to learn but also one of the most rewarding.
CS: GO has done a lot to make the Counter-Strike formula more enticing to both experienced players and newbies, and it’s now completely free to play. Built-in casual modes provide a solid place to practice, while competitive matchmaking and a rating system add a way to track skill and development.
Quick installation of essential training maps is also possible thanks to the integration with Steam Workshop. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is a challenging game to learn, but those who have the patience and dedication to learn the subtleties of this team-based shooter are in for a treat.
1. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Death is an excellent instructor. Failure in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is the best way to learn where you should have gone, what you shouldn’t have done, and how you could have done better, as it has always been for this franchise. Counter-Strike players devote a significant lot of time to learning, and as a result, they are always improving.
Growth is crucial in Global Offensive, especially if you’re new to Counter-Strike or have taken a break from the game. This is a challenging, skill-based first-person shooter that pushes you to think in ways that other recent shooters do not.
To succeed here, if you’re a Call of Duty player, you’ll have to modify your play style. Counter-Strike also attempts to evolve into something new here, albeit accomplishing nothing to go beyond what it’s always done best.
For the first time in nearly 15 years, Global Offensive alters existing maps to keep veterans on their toes and offers official new modes that encourage diverse play styles.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is a small-scale, team-based first-person shooter featuring permanent death for the uninitiated.
When a counter-terrorist kills an explosives-planting terrorist in a standard Defusal match, or when a CT escort eats a sniper round in Hostage Rescue, the victim is permanently killed and does not respawn until the next round.
As a result, players on both sides must be skilled and cautious. The nuclear goal, on the other hand, provides everyone a reason to exist.
Of course, matches end when all members of a team are dead, but a well-coordinated terrorist team will give the CTs, plant their device, and guard the bomb site. Everyone spends their hard-earned money on better gear and guns between rounds, and the cycle continues.
Some aspects of the Counter-Strike formula have become antiquated, but Global Offensive’s outstanding heart and spirit remain ageless. The teams are small, the guns are deadly, and the rounds are brief.
Because there’s a persistent urge to do better than the last time, get a satisfying kill, or win in a novel way, it has an addicting just-one-more-round element to it.
Veteran Call of Duty and Battlefield players will be perplexed as to why they can’t sprint to avoid enemy fire or stare down the iron sights to enhance aim; Counter-Strike players will feel as if they’ve walked into a freshly painted room.
Hardcore fans will be surprised by some map redesigns, but the modifications are for the better — the underpass choke point in de dust, for example, now has a new escape route.
Even though the genre is changing, Global Offensive refuses to adapt. CSGO, despite market and trend changes, is so committed to Counter-outdated Strike’s values that it brute-forces its way to success. Killing in Global Offensive involves a wholly different skill set than in other shooters, which is part of what makes it such a fascinating competitive game.
Everyone is constrained by what they have and what they can see, leaving little room for character development or on-the-fly benefits.
Even if you’ve acquired a helmet and kevlar that round, running and gunning is a pointless play style, and someone standing still is more likely to score the kill. To lessen the imprecise spray of machine-gun fire, try walking, crouching, or standing.
As a result, killing feels good in Global Offthe ensive. Dropping someone dead is a horrible experience because you know they won’t come back. It’s also satisfying to play that you made the most of your limited resources to outsmart your victim.
Players who don’t keep an eye on corners, provide cover fire, or use smoke grenades and flashbangs are more likely to be hit in the head by a more careful and patient triggerman. Even when you’re getting thrashed by a superior team, the desire to experience that specific feeling is a powerful drive to keep playing.
If you’ve ever played Counter-Strike, you’ll notice that Global Offensive sounds a lot like Counter-Strike. Global Offensive, like Counter-Strike: Source before it, exists solely to modernize the look of the classic competitive shooter while making few changes to the core form and function.
At the same time, coloring outside the lines of the convention is sufficient to warrant your time and effort. One of the most interesting new battle factors is fire. Molotov cocktails and flaming grenades either roast or drive groups of men in one direction or the other.
Flames can also be used as a distraction or a scare technique. They’re especially handy in Demolition matches, which concentrate the action on a single bombsite rather than providing terrorists the option of choosing between two.
The new and redesigned maps in this mode aren’t as large as classic Counter-Strike arenas – entire parts have been cut off to drive teams to a central place – but they’re just as detailed.
The Lake map is unique in that it features a large open yet densely inhabited yard surrounding the bomb site, which is located within a large lakefront home with numerous vantage points and hiding areas.
Players can’t buy between rounds to distinguish Demolition from Defusal. Rather, it takes a page from the other new mode, Arms Race, in which each kill instantly unlocks a new weapon. Because Demolition is so fast, you’ll need to be quick on your feet. The better you do, the more you’ll have to switch up your playstyle.
Arms Race, unlike other game variants, allows for respawns. It’s Global Offensive’s most chaotic and carefree mode, with players tossing caution to the wind to ascend the kill ladder as rapidly as possible. It’s a shame Arms Race only has two maps, a problem that will most likely persist on consoles rather than PC.
If you have the chance, playing Counter-Strike: Global Offensive on a PC is the greatest way to experience the game. Mods, mouse and keyboard, and the normal PC-only options are better than the ports.
Valve is also considerably better about long-term PC support; Team Fortress 2 was never released on consoles, while Portal 2’s level builder was only available on PC.
Global Offensive looks and feels like a Counter-Strike sequel, with slight modifications here and there to help balance previous flaws and surprise longtime players. This is a difficult, skill-based multiplayer game that’s as satisfying now as it ever was, but it’s for a special kind of player.
Look elsewhere if you’re unwilling to learn to play in a different way than you’re used to. Aside from that, this is a top-tier tactics game that will most likely follow in the footsteps of its predecessors.
2. Slay the Spire
Slay the Spire was one of those games that I found myself playing alone at my desk, giggling. Not because it’s particularly amusing – though its well-written interactions can be – but because some random combination of cards would go off, resulting in an exhilarating experience.
I couldn’t help but giggle because that combo may never appear again, win or lose. But, boy, was it a lot of fun at the moment. This is a genre mashup you’ve probably never seen before: Slay the Spire is a roguelike dungeon crawler with a deckbuilding mechanic.
It’s not a deckbuilding game like Hearthstone or Magic: The Gathering; instead, you choose from three different but equally interesting characters, each with their card pool, and begin with a very basic deck. As you progress up the Spire, you’ll face increasingly difficult monsters to gain a randomized selection of new cards that will gradually improve your deck.
Being a roguelike, a run in which you make it to the top only takes around an hour, giving Slay the Spire an addictive loop of picking cards, learning out how good they are, dying frequently, and then taking that hard-earned information with you into the next run.
You never actually gain stronger from one run to the next, except unlocking a few additional cards and collectible Relics as you play. You just get smarter and better at fast determining what will or will not be useful, and one of my favorite parts is experimentation.
It might be as simple as deciding whether to play an attack or defensive card. Knowing when you can afford to absorb a few points of damage to inflict a few more isn’t a big problem in the heat of battle, but it can make a big difference when the Spire wears you down in the long run.
Those seemingly insignificant choices have a lot of weight, and there’s rarely an objectively “correct” option, leaving plenty of room for you to find your playstyle.
Slay the Spire doesn’t hammer you with a countdown while you make those tough decisions, so each failed run boosted my confidence. Early on, I found that taking as much pressure-free time as I wanted was beneficial, and bringing up the deck or discarding screens even allows you to halt the action during your opponent’s turn.
However, the simple animations for playing cards are still satisfyingly swift, and once I got more comfortable, I was able to take some turns lightning fast.
While the playable characters are roughly based on RPG archetypes — the Ironclad is a warrior, the Silent is a rogue, and the Defect is a bio-mechanical version of a mage – they all have multiple play styles that you can try to build your deck around.
The Silent, for example, may pick up attacks that stack a poison effect on enemies, which you can then increase or burst with rarer cards, but its card pool also supports a deck focused around generating a ton of free Shiv attack cards and enhancing them with other effects.
When you decide to lean into a certain style and find all of the combo components you’re looking for, tearing through enemies with synergies that were created specifically for each other, it’s a terrific feeling. But luck isn’t always on your side, and the fun and ever-changing challenge of Slay the Spire is figuring out how to adjust your approach based on the cards you’re dealt.
While it’s frustrating to work toward a goal only to never see the key card you need to make it happen, one perk of these brief runs is that it’s not difficult to build from a bad break and try again.
Aside from cards, you can find consumable Potions that give you momentary benefits, but it’s the Relics that are the most interesting.
They can be found in chests and obtained by defeating bosses or elite enemies, and they provide permanent (and often large) benefits. Some are as simple as a permanent attack boost, while others may do things like changing the cost of every card you draw at random.
Things get wilder the more you have. Many of them have downsides that go along with their benefits, such as Relics, which increase the amount of mana you need to play cards at the cost of not being able to heal or gain gold, adding to your list of difficult choices.
It was also entertaining to figure out Slay the Spire’s monsters and bosses in addition to knowing which Relics to choose and which cards to play.
The art style incorporates a plethora of influences, including Dungeons & Dragons, Cthulhu, and much more, to create something unique. As a result, you’re up against tentacle creatures, weird slimes, and enormous bird cultists.
Each one is a difficult puzzle in and of itself, with a variety of unique attacks and powers to experiment with. Because you can almost always predict what an enemy will do next – whether it will attack, defend, or apply a buff or debuff – you can time your moves intelligently to counter their plans.
Slay the Spire takes the greatest elements of deckbuilding games, roguelikes, and dungeon crawlers into a wholly new and highly satisfying experience. It encourages you to challenge new things, allows you to make mistakes, and will put you to the test as you navigate your way through floor after floor of fascinating, puzzle-time conflicts.
It’s a good idea that inspired a dozen other games before it even left early access, but none of them come close to duplicating it.
3. Return of the Obra Dinn
On the Obra Dinn, nothing moves, but it’s still one of the most active video game boats I’ve ever been on. Its crew may be long gone, but they still have interesting voices and intricate stories to tell, most of which involve horrible deaths. Return of the Obra Dinn is unlike any other game I’ve ever played, and now that I have, all I want is more.
This investigative story deftly crosses the line between an adventure game, a puzzle game, and a nasty, supernatural version of Guess Who with a Moby Dick theme. It’s a detective game at its core, but you’re not on a quest for justice or vengeance.
You’re just an insurance evaluator tasked with determining the extent of damage to a commercial ship known as the Obra Dinn, which has inexplicably returned after four years at sea. Thankfully, a pocket watch that allows you to see the precise moment someone died, frozen in time, makes this job a lot easier.
You can enter a corpse’s memory and hear what that person heard for a few seconds before they died if you find one aboard the ship. Then there’s generally a bang or a crunch (or just one last exhale), and the gruesome moment of their fate pops into view for you to explore and, perhaps, piece together what happened.
This is the core hook of Return of the Obra Dinn, and it’s one of the most innovative mechanics I’ve seen in a long time. It doesn’t feel like the forced, phony inquiry of games like The Witcher 3 or Marvel’s Spider-Man, instead of empowering you to hunt for less obvious clues and solutions. You won’t find any highlighted items or hints here, making Return of the Obra Dinn as difficult to finish as it is rewarding.
The overall purpose is to fill out a book with the identities and final fates of all 60 passengers on the Obra Dinn. Your book has a ship’s chart, a list of names, and a sketch of everyone on board, but you have no idea which name corresponds to which picture, making it a difficult yet gratifying chore.
Only by thinking critically and piecing together bits of information as you explore more death memories will you be able to figure out who is who.
You might hear one character refer to another by name, but it’s rarely that straightforward. I used what accent people had, what type of hat or clothes they were wearing, where they died, how others addressed them, the tasks they were doing, the people they were friends with, the bed they slept in, how their pictures were drawn, and a billion other little things to make the necessary connections over the roughly eight hours it took me to fill out my book.
The Obra’s Return Dinn doesn’t teach you how to utilize or hunt any of that information, but it does an excellent job of introducing you to its tools and motivating you to seek the truth.
Collecting fresh information reminded me of a point-and-click adventure game, however, instead of picking up various goods that would inevitably be utilized in specific situations down the line, I was accumulating information about various characters that would hopefully help me solve additional fates.
Return of the Obra Dinn allows for some guessing by rote here and there, but it always felt more laborious than simply looking for clues as I was supposed to.
Your predictions are only verified once you’ve entered three correct fates at the same time, stopping you from simply trying every combination on a single name until you get it right without leaving you in the dark hoping everything is going well.
The amount of feedback is just right. However, some of the terminology for the fates you might choose from can be a little perplexing. It took me a few tries to sort out the difference between “speared” and “spiked,” and I didn’t know that “drowned” and “fell overboard” were two different things at first.
But I enjoy that there are so many different fates to choose from (many of which aren’t used at all), even if it can make the very specific answers Return of the Obra Dinn is seeking more difficult to find.
The visual style, which creator Lucas Pope calls “1-bit,” surely adds to the confusion. At any given time, there are just two colors on the screen, and you can switch between a variety of pallets based on various antique computers.
I enjoy how its low-detail, “dithered” visual style is distinct and expressive, but it does make everything difficult to see. That can be frustrating in a game where you’re looking for small clues, but I enjoy the flavor it adds — it’s not like a miraculous memory of death four years ago would be completely evident.
This painting is complemented by some excellent music and sound effects, which make the Obra Dinn a sense of life and character. The voice acting is also excellent, with a surprising quantity of it. It had better be because I relied on the intonation, emotion, and tone of distinct characters’ voices far more than I expected to help me figure out who they were.
Something as simple as an accent or as subtle as addressing a character as “sir” could assist me to figure out whose fate I was delving into. Return of the Obra Dinn is a one-of-a-kind experience.
It’s a hard exercise in piecing together a mystery without being spoon-fed what to pay attention to in this investigative puzzle game with defined goals but fully open-ended paths to completing them.
It has a few minor quality-of-life concerns, but the “moment of death” clue-hunting concept at its core is a complete triumph. Return of the Obra Dinn is one of the best detective games I’ve ever played, and it’s made me want to play it again and again.
4. FTL: “Faster Than Light.”
Have you ever wanted to be Captain Picard or Captain Reynolds and lead a starship? FTL stands for “Faster Than Light.” It’s a game where you’re more concerned with issuing orders, making difficult decisions, and checking on damage to important systems than with manning weapon stations, and it’s limited to 2D maps of your ship and those of your opponents.
It’s a Roguelike at heart, with a sci-fi premise that effortlessly incorporates the genre’s famed usage of randomly generated dungeons.
The music is full of the electronica synth you’d expect from a late-’80s game, and the animations are limited to explosions and the actions of your little crew members, but few starship command games have ever felt so fresh.
Faster Than Light keeps things straightforward. Your ship is a Federation vessel carrying vital information, and its main job is to outrun and outmaneuver the rebel fleet that is constantly on the lookout for you.
Unfortunately, the galaxy becomes a dull place as a result of this concentration on simplicity, as the same backdrops of asteroid fields, nebulae, or populated planets appear behind the map of your ship regardless of your progress.
Still, it’s a perilous adventure, especially because transit is based on faster-than-light “jumping” to another galaxy node with little knowledge of what lies beyond.
Sometimes you’ll find up in an asteroid field, and even worse, you’ll find up in a deadly ion storm that eats away at your reactor’s power while you wait for the jump drive to recharge.
As text-based pop-ups push you to make risky options like assisting besieged space stations for the chance of loot or continuing safely with your systems intact, these jumps also give what little story FTL has.
You’ll also have lots of encounters with the rebels. Faster Than Light’s gameplay revolves around real-time ship-on-ship fights, which, at their best, add to the drama by pushing you to make split-second decisions at every turn.
FTL is a micromanager’s dream come true, and the 2D projection of the ship’s interiors makes balancing your own ship’s maintenance while combating another ship a breeze.
The adversary uses the same targeting systems as you, and it’s your mission to damage theirs while defending your own.
It’s difficult initially, especially when you only have three crew members to man the four manageable stations strewn about your ship, and the ship itself is equipped with the Federation’s cheapest guns and shielding for this ostensibly critical mission.
It can also be stressful at times because FTL’s randomly generated nature means that even in simple settings, an otherwise unremarkable journey can turn into devastating pandemonium in seconds.
For example, around six jumps into my first playthrough, I found myself facing a heavenly ship that had transferred an enemy saboteur into my engine room, and I had to dispatch one of my crew members to fight him.
By clicking on the enemy’s weapon room, I attempted to disable his missiles, but one of their missiles hit me first, knocking out my weapons and igniting a fire in my weapon room. I tried to put out the fire by opening the maze of bay doors, but I used up too much of my oxygen in the process, and additional disasters killed my surviving crew members and reduced my hull integrity to zero.
That was the end of it. I’d just been in the room for 30 minutes and already had my own Kobayashi Maru. FTL thrives in situations like these, and the ability to pause and issue multiple orders at once is the only way to give the constant demand for strategic thought.
Deaths like these are irreversible, so if you want a second chance, you’ll have to restart your trip through the galaxy from the beginning. They’re also common when you’re still learning (and even if you’re an experienced player), and they’re especially aggravating if you’re on an unlucky playthrough with just challenging opponents.
It’s a design that infuses almost every victory with a sense of dread; you’ll rejoice that you made the latest ordeal alive, but you’ll be concerned when you see your battered hull, your dead crew members, your rapidly depleting fuel supply, and then realize you’re only halfway home according to the map.
If FTL never enabled you to progress, it would be a miserable experience, but the chance’s design encourages you to learn from each playthrough, and a succession of unlockable ships with specializations make the punishment a little more pleasant.
There aren’t just enemies out in space; just as frequently as you’ll find across pirates and enemy combatants, you’ll also come across merchants selling or trading equipment upgrades for the scrap you collect after each battle, or opportunities to recruit new crew members through the text-based options that appear after almost every jump.
Fortunately, opposing ships drop vital supplies after each engagement, and they’ll occasionally offer you some as a gesture of surrender if they feel they’re going to lose. As a result, it manages to seem fair on most playthroughs once you’ve made your way up the steep learning curve and learned to deal with its obstacles.
If you’re a sucker for this kind of punishment, it’s all wonderful fun, but if there’s a drawback, it’s that it becomes a little too predictable after a while.
After only a few hours with FTL, you’ll have played through every scenario and pop-up option available; the only change is how the random generator shuffles them for the following playthrough.
Unfortunately, that randomness can make you feel as if luck has a slightly stronger influence in this game than competence. It’s possible to gain plenty of scrap for trading and access to some highly powerful missiles while fighting several fights with little in the way of upgrades or vital supplies.
5. Hollow Knight
It’s easy to become lost in Hollow Knight’s deep, subterranean world – and I mean that in more ways than one. There are several passageways to explore and secrets to find in Hallownest’s vast catacombs. But it’s also full of lore, history, and purpose, which dragged me into a 2D Metroidvania country where I wanted to uncover every inch.
The more I played Hollow Knight, the more I realized how much content and freedom the game has to offer. I could go almost everywhere and find bosses to fight, upgrades to collect, and secrets to uncover. Exploring this long-dead kingdom’s atmosphere, though, is genuinely compelling.
Each area of the map has its distinct sense of place, thanks to art, music, color tone, sound, and a million other small elements, and those areas jigsaw together in a way that feels intentional and alive.
There are considerably more of these distinct biomes than I anticipated to discover, and their edges blur together in ways that let them make sense in the world.
Walls on the boundary of the Fungal Wastes, for example, will be dotted with its unmistakable mushrooms, even if they are impassable in other locations. Greenpath’s verdant environment feels lively and steamy, in the sharp area to the chilly, gloomy dungeons of the Forgotten Crossroads.
Although the bubble-filled portion of Fog Canyon isn’t technically underwater, the muted filter applied to all of its sounds pairs well with jellyfish foes and a brighter blue tone.
The City of Tears, Hallownest’s capital, is a metropolis encased in a massive cave where it is perpetually raining. But it wasn’t until 10 hours later that I came across the Blue Lake, a vast expanse of calm water just above the underground metropolis.
Hollow Knight doesn’t force the link on you; instead, it allows you to explore its world and put together the story for yourself while you sit back and relax.
Hollow Knight gives you very little information about what’s going on, instead of immersing you in a world full of monumental events that occurred long before you arrived: wars and heroes, love and culture, sickness and destruction.
The repercussions of Hallownest’s tumultuous past are left for you to discover, and it comes through loud and clear if you listen carefully. It’s told subtly, but it teaches you so much about Hallownest in the process that I feel like I could write an entire book about it.
It manages a tragic story with slain heroes and full decisions, yet there are lovely, tranquil, and hopeful moments sprinkled throughout.
Hollow Knight’s hand-drawn imagery is extremely lovely, thus it’s easy to enjoy those moments. Even though its inhabitants are tiny bug-people living in a dying cave, it’s a world that manages to feel unified.
As you go, the story (and your place within it) gets picked up. Some of it will come from conversations with the adorable and quirky characters who still inhabit this decaying country, while others will come from examining your surroundings and the clues littered about it.
I have a reasonably clear image of Hallownest’s past after my second playthrough, but it’s one I put together myself.
As much as I enjoyed being shoved out of the boat and encouraged to start kicking, Hollow Knights’ opening few hours can be a sink-or-swim result.
It’s an unabashedly difficult game that does an excellent job of gently teaching you how to play, but it was still a touch intimidating, to begin with — especially since death meant fighting your way back to your body to retrieve your money, called Geo.
Before you can start keeping track of where you’ve been, you’ll need to find a map salesman named Conifer in each area, and even then, you’ll need to equip a particular charm to see where you are on it in real-time. That, along with the fact that getting competent at combat takes time, meant I spent the first few hours just trying to figure out how to play Hollow Knight.
Hollow Knight clicked in a way that made me never want to put it down once I picked the hang of its combat and the pattern of exploring its first constrictive subterranean areas. You reach a point after Greenpath, the second big area, where there is no clear “right” direction.
Your path possibilities are limited, as they are in any Metroidvania, by things like ledges that are too high to reach or gaps that are too far to jump until you find the proper upgrades, but there are enough options that don’t result in dead ends to keep you exploring for a long time.
Thankfully, the Stagways, a flavor-filled quick-travel system, is available. Stag stations can be found and unlocked throughout Hallownest, allowing you to summon The Last Stag to transport you between them.
What could have been a simple jump between places became a mission in and of itself, and I almost always spoke to The Stag after unlocking a station, not to travel, but to hear his gruff but hopeful view on whichever new stop I brought him to.
As you progress in Hollow Knight, the world around you transforms more dramatically. Railways and elevators will be permanently unlocked, allowing for loopbacks to earlier parts and reducing the need for backtracking. Hollow Knight is a Metroidvania with a wealth of content as deep as its labyrinthine caves to discover.
The world of Hallownest is captivating and fascinating, full of stories that you must discover for yourself and built with branching routes that offer you an unbelievable amount of options in how you go about doing it. With so many secrets to finding an exciting, hard foe to face, it’s well worth your moment to spend as much time as possible in Hollow Knight.