Browser-based games, games that are played entirely within a web browser, are a strange breed. Lacking the resources of a dedicated gaming console it would seem that, at first glance, they would be mostly throwaway fare. While many of the earliest browser games were garbage when compared to any of the full-fledged gaming experiences available, recent years have seen a bevy of high quality titles from mainstream and independent developers alike. Today I cover a few of the best browser games available.
If you are even moderately familiar with the board game Risk you will have a pretty good idea of what WarLight is all about. Taking the core concepts from its close cousin, WarLight offers strategic global domination backed by easy to understand calculations. Instead of luck being the dominant factor in the path to victory, solid tactics and quality strategic planning almost always win out. While the graphics leave a lot to be desired and the music/sound effects should be turned off immediately, WarLight knows its role and opts for solid mechanics over graphical frills to entice players. WarLight is also strongly community driven with a robust map editor and rating system that ensures the best and brightest scenarios rise to the top. While WarLight's AI is downright amazing, a multiplayer suite is also available to play against humans. I cannot recommend this game enough to anybody who is even marginally a fan of Risk. For others, it is definitely worth a try; don't let the presentation throw you off, the foundation is rock solid.
While many modern browser games are capable of sporting top notch 3D graphics, Quake Live was one of the first and remains among the best. Essentially a browser version of Quake 3 arena, widely regarded as one of the best multiplayer FPS games of all time, the concept of Quake Live sells itself. Solid design renders the game virtually lag free and matches are as competitive as they have ever been with a rabid fan base who simply refuse to acknowledge more recent FPS offerings. If you are not an avid FPS player, be prepared to be dominated but don't let this discourage you, learning the fundamentals from some of the best players in the world is a treat you won't find anywhere else in gaming. On the other hand, if you really want to see how your elite Call of Duty skills measure up you couldn't have picked a better place.
I mention this here primarily as an example of how browser games can tackle serious themes just as well, if not better, than the big boy toys can. While gameplay in Depression Quest is quite simplistic, essentially boiling down to a choose-your-own-adventure type story, the way that it conveys the absolute despair that can be manifested by depression is expertly done and is a good method to explain an often misunderstood mental ailment. If you have ever wondered about the machinations of the depressed mind, I would suggest that you would be hard pressed to find a better explanation. Even if you absolutely detest games, this is worth a look solely as an illuminating experience. The game can easily be completed in 10 to 20 minutes but, by the end, most people should have a significantly more refined idea of what suffering from depression is really like. Fair warning, don't expect to walk away thinking about sunshine and rainbows.
Many browser games have used the sidescrolling beat-em-up genre as a base but few present an experience as well crafted as Abobo. Essentially a love-letter to fans of classic gaming, each screen is an homage sure to tickle the nostalgia centres of the brain. I won't say too much for fear of ruining some of the joy to be found here, but if you are an old-school gaming aficionado this one should not be passed over. Younger gamers may miss out on the references, but the gameplay is mechanically tight and difficulty ramps up satisfyingly enough that the overall product stands on its non-nostalgic merits.
Runescape bucks the trend of most browser games and provides an immersing MMORPG experience that typically commands more than a few minutes per play session. One of the first online RPGs, Runescape has seen continuous overhauling for over a decade and is unbelievably massive in scale. If Runescape proves anything, it is that a browser based game need not compromise in ambition or scope;a full-fledged MMO experience in a browser is, quite simply, amazing. While I am personally not a huge fan of the gameplay, 150 million subscribers disagree with me and I would have no problem recommending it to someone who was curious about the MMORPG genre but didn't have the hardware to test out one of the numerous non-browser free to play options out there.
I think one of the most interesting things about the list I have compiled above is that each game encompasses a complete different genre. Indeed, browser games have clearly evolved from being the bottom of the gaming barrel to a remarkably competent platform. While it is fair to concede that many browser games still fail to meet the standards set by AAA titles, I think that that, by and large, there is some good fun to be had and they should not be dismissed out of hand.