November of 2004. For most people, it’s not a particularly exciting month. The Incredibles was bolstering Pixar’s legacy in movie theaters across the nation. “Drop It Like Its Hot” was a fresh track from Snoop. Most people reading this were likely in grade school. But for gaming enthusiasts, it was something altogether different. While every November tends to bring a strong showing of new games, the 2004 showing was the stuff of legend. Multiple games released, many of which the best of their respective genre, and over the coming decade they would shape the industry in the directions we see today.
World of Warcraft (Released November 23, 2004)
It’s hard to believe, but there used to be a point in online PC gaming, specifically massive multiplayer online games (MMOs) before World of Warcraft. In fact, at the time of release, plenty of analysts expected WoW to be DOA. Even Blizzard “grossly underestimated” demand for the game. Coming out in the same season as an expansion to Star Wars Galaxies and a sequel to the then-champion of the genre, Everquest, it was hard to see how Blizzard’s online expansion to a series of real-time strategy (RTS) games would ever gain popularity. But oh how wrong we were. Ten years later, WoW is still the leading name in massive-multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) and has become a defining cultural moment for the 2000s. The game’s monumental success spawned an entire generation of clones that hoped to recreate the cultural fervor of WoW within other properties. But none could match the combination of gameplay balance, variety and community that made WoW a classic. Even now, it’s bigger than most new games on the market. The freshly released expansion Warlords of Draenor boosted subscribers numbers to an impressive 10-million active players.
Nintendo DS/Super Mario 64 DS (Released November 21, 2004)
Nintendo as a company has been defined in the past generation by their excitement towards new ideas that (depending on whom you ask) can be defined as game-changing innovations or shallow gimmicks. The WiiU’s Gamepad, the 3DS’ 3D screen, the Wii’s motion-based controller – these concepts set Nintendo products apart from the competition and have produced some undeniable classics. This habit of breaking the norm began in 2004 with the original Nintendo DS. Just from appearance, it challenged every preconceived notion of handheld gaming. The original model was a blocky clamshell, a beast of a machine that could barely fit in a pocket. Having two screens felt like overkill, and the concept of touchscreen gaming (three full years before the first iPhone was ever released) was unheard of. Fortunately, the system shipped with one of the best launch titles and one of the best remakes of all time. Super Mario 64 DS reinvented the legendary 3D-platformer with three new playable characters, 30 new missions, all new areas and remastered visuals that proved how much power was hidden in that ugly grey clamshell. The Nintendo DS would go on to become the second-highest selling games machine of all time, with over 154-million units sold. It would be the first Nintendo console to resonate with the booming casual gaming market, a partnership that would drive Nintendo’s entire strategy for the coming console generation. It was a handheld machine like no other, and one whose legacy lives on in the 3DS, a worthy successor to the throne.
Bejeweled 2 (November 5, 2004)
In a list with heavy hitters like World of Warcraft, Halo 2 and Half-Life 2, it might seem weird to call out Bejeweled 2. But while those games came to define a generation for the hardcore gaming community, Bejeweled 2 would serve to define it for the casual consumer. The simple match-3 puzzle game remains one of the most senselessly addictive games available, and it’s no surprise that it was soon ported to every gaming system under the sun. Angry Birds, Candy Crush: they all owe it to the original game that made every cell phone owner a hopeless gaming addict.
Halo 2 (Released November 9, 2004)
Few series can honestly say they’ve had as big an impact on the gaming industry as Halo, and the biggest release of any of Master Chief’s adventures had to be 2004’s Halo 2. The first game proved to be an invaluable system seller for Microsoft’s brand new XBox console in 2002 and had built a massive fan base of console shooter fans. Halo 2 took a big step forward and brought those gamers online together, the first time in the Halo franchise. The runaway success of Halo’s multiplayer mode pushed just about every shooter to come after it to incorporate something similar and made XBox LIVE a must-own subscription for a generation of couch gamers. If you own an XBox ONE, check out Halo: The Master Chief Collection, where this classic has been fully remade with a shiny new coat of paint.
Half-Life 2 (November 16, 2004)
Widely regarded as the greatest game of the past decade, Half-Life 2 is Valve’s magnum opus. The first-person shooter was years ahead of anything else on the market, with innovative physics systems, seamless integration of storytelling and a scale that went so far beyond what shooters had tried in the past. Being chased through the slums of City 17, precariously crossing the underside of a bridge and making the mistake of walking into Ravenholm – it’s an adventure for the ages. But Half-Life 2’s most relevant legacy is in its popularization of Steam on the PC platform. The digital games storefront has since become the undeniable market leader, and made PC gaming a simpler, more unified experience for all. The strength of Steam is partially why PC gaming has gained popularity in the past decade and Half-Life 2 served as the best vessel to get users to adopt the platform.
Even more games are celebrating tenth anniversaries this year. Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas hit the big 1-0 in October, Everyone’s favorite masseur to the God-complex, The Sims 2, had its in September. Plus two of Nintendo’s best sequels – Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, and Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. All of these games helped to shape their respective companies and turned plenty of people into lifelong gaming fans. If you’ve never played one of them, do yourself a favor and experience a classic. Even if the visuals are no longer at the apex of technology, the experience they offer is timeless.
Follow Chris Berg on Twitter @Mushroomer25