Despite somewhat rocky beginnings for both platforms, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One became home to some of the most celebrated games of all time. While we’re all excited to see what the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S have in store, we’d be remiss if we didn’t take a proper look back at the era we’re leaving behind.
Though we were tempted to try and formally rank them, it’s obvious that there are just too many amazing games to crown one as “the best”. So after extensive internal debate among practically the whole IGN staff, we came up with a list of the top 100 games from last-generation consoles.
Assassin’s Creed Black Flag
The best Assassin’s Creed games aren’t necessarily the ones that pioneer new ideas or mechanics – they’re the entries that come right after. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is perhaps the best example of this, taking concepts introduced in Assassin’s Creed 3 – particularly its treetop parkour and naval combat – and refines them almost to perfection, creating a new high-water mark for the franchise in the process. It might have released on the previous generation, but it truly soared as a PS4/XB1 launch title.
It was also the first main entry in the series that did away with the Desmond Miles story, proving that the series could push beyond the 1:1 past and future link while still expanding the mythos in interesting ways. It’s lush Caribbean setting was easy on the eyes, and one of the most satisfying worlds to explore, whether you were exploring sunken wrecks for treasure or creating new ones in legendary ship battles.
FFXIV: A Realm Reborn
Originally released in 2010 (and discontinued in 2012), Final Fantasy XIV was given a second life with FFXIV: A Realm Reborn, improving on the performance, gameplay, story, and pacing problems of its predecessor in monumental ways. It masterfully weaves the lore of Final Fantasy games into a story and gameplay that feels like a natural fit for the MMORPG format, with crossover appeal for both fans of the series and the genre. With meaningful updates that continuously improve gameplay, a generous free-to-play trial, several races, classes, and jobs to choose from, and a story that only seems to get better with each expansion, FFXIV: A Realm Reborn stands out as one of the best MMORPGs of our time. And it has a dope soundtrack, too!
Kentucky Route Zero
It’s fitting that Kentucky Route Zero’s first act was released in 2013 – the dawn of the last console generation – and its last came in 2020, as we enter the next one. Played as a whole, in retrospect, it’s fascinating to watch how a generation of thinking about one project saw developer Cardboard Computer adapt how to tell its magic-infused tales of small-town woe.
Over the game’s five acts, we see a smart take on the point ‘n’ click – where you don’t just guide characters’ bodies, but their emotions and backstories too – become far more experimental, giving us moments along the way that no other game has tried. Nothing else is quite like Kentucky Route Zero, because no one else has made a game in this way.
Rayman, a limbless, spike-haired ‘90s video game platforming mascot has never really been able to rub shoulders with the likes of Mario and Sonic. Part of that is because he barely even has shoulders, but it’s also because he went ages without a truly great side-scrolling game that modern audiences and vintage gamers could enjoy in unison. So when Ubisoft put out Rayman Origins – and subsequently, the even crazier sequel, Rayman Legends – Rayman could finally get the respect he deserved. Rayman Legends is packed with gorgeous and wonderfully animated stages to play alone or with friends, hours and hours of side content, and a fantastic, catchy soundtrack. It’s a great platforming game and a great reminder that Rayman has always been there for us.
While it isn’t the first “walking simulator,” but Gone Home definitely helped popularize the genre and, for many, expand the idea of what a video game could be. You won’t find any enemies to fight or even puzzles to solve – that’s not what this game is about. Gone Home was unique when it came out in 2013 because its goal was to tell a story through exploration, a task at which it succeeds and then some. The story it tells is touching, surprising, and beautifully told, and an absolute must-play for any PS4 or Xbox One owner.
Grand Theft Auto 5 / GTA Online
It may have initially launched on the Xbox 360 and PS3, but it was on the PS4/XB1 generation that GTA 5 – and especially its multiplayer component, GTA Online – claimed its place in the sun. With gorgeous visual and mechanical updates to the base game including enhanced textures and lighting, a fully-functional first-person mode, and even a gameplay editor, Grand Theft Auto V on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 became the definitive experience of Rockstar’s latest modern crime saga.
Similarly, GTA Online increased its per-session player cap and offered a continuous feed of weekly events, daily challenges, and regularly-released content packs – all the way up to the recent Cayo Perico heist. Whether alone in the base game or online with friends, San Andreas is still an exceptional digital playground, even after all these years.
Warframe struggled to find its feet for a while, but eventually began to thrive as a free-to-play MMO. The Second Dream expansion – its first cinematic story quest – gave Warframe a revival as players revisted the game to experience the new story and updated movement mechanics. Warframe’s ninja-like dashing and sliding mechanics were a huge part of its success and the ability to craft anything without having to really pay real money was an incredible statement. Even though the grind in Warframe can take days, it also is incredibly rewarding when you can finally create the weapon or suit you want. Warframe is a game that continues to grow and thrive with a dedicated community, which more than qualifies it as one of the best of this generation.
Though designed as a ‘playable teaser’ for Silent Hills, a game that would never see the light of day, PT is nonetheless one of the most chilling horror games of the last several years. It trades on the idea that familiarity can be chilling if tweaked ever so slightly, and as you loop around PT’s corridors you get the feeling that despite the familial trappings something is terribly wrong. The best part? There really is something to be terrified of. Lisa is one of the most twisted characters you’ll ever go face to face with, and your first encounter with her is surely one of the most memorable in horror game history.
Shadow of Mordor
If Shadow of Mordor were simply a stealth action game set in the iconic fantasy universe of Lord of the Rings, it would still be well worth playing. But rather than simply settle for regurgitating what worked in Assassin’s Creed and Arkham Asylum, Shadow of Mordor gave us the innovative and technologically mind-boggling Nemesis system. Knowing your victories and defeats will feed directly into every interaction with Sauron’s Orc captains helped Shadow of Mordor stand truly alone.
Nostalgia paints our perceptions of 8-bit NES-era platformers. Memories fooling us into thinking that era was better than the reality of revisiting “the classics.” Shovel Knight is the game your brain thinks it remembers about the Golden age of platformers. Better than nostalgia in its execution of the (not)8-bit style and banging soundtrack that utilizes one, too many sound channels than an NES was capable of. Shovel Knight is the evolution of over 30 years of platforming design, distilled down to not one, but five fully-featured games that each promise to cement themselves as the game(s) you will look back on as an old man and think: “Video Games were good back then.”
Insomniac’s criminally underplayed open-world shooter is a modern incarnation of old-school game design, where narrative and character development take a back seat to the moment-to-moment joy of frenetic, finely tuned gameplay. Sunset Overdrive succeeds thanks to the synergy between its traversal mechanics and world design; objects are perfectly placed throughout Sunset City to enable and encourage non-stop bouncing, grinding, flipping, and wall-running. The result is hours of pure, unadulterated fun moving through a charming, colorful apocalypse only Insomniac could have imagined.
There’s a Xenomorph with incredibly smart AI loose in a space station, and you have to survive it. It’s a simple premise, and 2014’s Alien Isolation makes it an almost unbearably tense reality. Creative Assembly not only created one of the most terrifyingly relentless villains in video game history here, but also managed to create a lived-in, cohesive world that was completely in line with Ridley Scott’s 1979 original. A harrowing experience that is arguably the best entry in the franchise since Aliens.
Wolfenstein: The New Order
Wolfenstein 3D is the immensely influential granddaddy of the first-person shooter and the first and last word in no-holds-barred Nazi killin’, so crafting an installment worthy of that pedigree is no easy feat. However, MachineGames knocked it out of the park with its 2014 take on the iconic Wolfenstein series. Wolfenstein: The New Order is a magnificent, unapologetically single-player, alternate history shooter, transporting players to a perverted version of the 1960s where the Nazis won WWII. With a story that takes us from deep under the ocean in a stolen U-boat to a Nazi research base on the moon (and features perhaps the most badass death scene of all-time where a technically unidentified left-handed guitar god from the ’60s distracts the Nazis with rock ’n roll in a dramatic last stand), Wolfenstein: The New Order is straight out of the top drawer.
Dragon Age: Inquisition
Inquisition is huge, frequently beautiful, and rewarding both of exploration and investment in its characters. It’s BioWare’s last whole-hearted success, a culmination of decades of RPG, narrative, and adventure innovation. But perhaps its most lasting success is in the courage of its convictions – in a game built on choice, the fact that its latter stages force you to reckon with some truly shocking personal revelations- regardless of the path you’ve chosen – make it stand out as one of last-gen AAA’s bravest storytelling choices.
In a just world, Towerfall would be a recognized sport. We’d be taught Towerfall at school. There would be Towerfall events at the Olympic Games. It’s rare to find a multiplayer game that so accurately maps the joys of in-person sport into digital form – the simplicity of the rules, the beauty and calamity of physics, the delight in pure skill, and the even more powerful delight of completely random acts of luck. And, just like the best sports, it’s enjoyable to play (and watch) from the lowest to highest levels of skill. Towerfall is ostensibly a game about just shooting everyone else with a bow and arrow, but it’s been polished to a gold medal sheen.
The Witcher 3
Open-world RPGs are known for their size and scope, but even so, The Witcher 3 is astonishingly massive, with a continent-spanning story and a plethora of twisty, wonderfully-written side quests. The combat and upgrade paths are rewarding, enemies are varied and creative, and The Witcher 3’s in-world card game Gwent was such a hit that it became its own stand-alone game of its own. Topping it off, every inch of its dark fantasy world is utterly gorgeous, making The Witcher 3 (and both it’s exceptional full-length expansions) truly an experience you can sink into and forget about everything for hours on end.
Many games are quick to teach us how to play them, or what they’re about. Bloodborne plays hard to get, burying its story in the margins and hiding entire sections of its brilliantly designed world, guarding both with a gauntlet of viciously challenging enemies. And sure, Dark Souls did it first, but while Dark Souls is rooted in somewhat familiar medieval fantasy, Bloodborne starts as dusty gothic horror before taking a hard left into slimy, cosmic Lovecraftian territory, cribbing from The Mountains of Madness and The Shadow Over Innsmouth (among others) and bringing numerous Great Old Ones to life better than any other visual medium to date. Bloodborne is a notoriously difficult, often obtuse game, but as any player who’s conquered it can attest, it’s also a downright singular one. Really, the worst thing about Bloodborne is playing any other game after it and hoping for the same experience.
Batman: Arkham Knight
A couple of egregious Batmobile tank missions aside, Arkham Knight is every bit as thrilling a Batman tale as Asylum and City. Choosing to focus on just a couple of Bruce Wayne’s most deadly foes as opposed to the rogues’ gallery approach seen in previous entries, led to a more personal and emotionally accomplished story than Rocksteady had previously offered. Plus, you still got a whole heap of that brilliant Batman brawler combat that very few have been able to match since.
Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain
Metal Gear Solid 5 is a masterpiece, even if it’s essentially unfinished. So what if the second act is filled with repeated missions? MGS5’s stealth-focused gameplay verges on perfection, allowing improvisation on an unheard-of level: want to throw a grenade in the air, signal to a partner to snipe it from the sky, and ricochet it into a helicopter without missing a beat? You can, and it’s truly a thing of beauty. From extreme open-world experimentation to complex themes (and implementation of) nuclear disarmament to a twist ending that ties the series together, MGS5 shines.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
With the Tomb Raider franchise successfully rebooted in 2013, its sequel Rise of the Tomb Raider had to up the stakes and refine the gameplay while still maintaining what this legacy video game franchise has always been about. No small task, but 2015’s Rise of the Tomb Raider easily rose to the occasion by giving Lara some larger, denser playgrounds to explore along with new tools and weapons to deploy. By emphasizing stealth options and customizable skill trees, players were able to make the experience much more personal, while grandiose set pieces and intimate conflicts alike kept the experience pulse-pounding.
Rocket League is, quite simply: car soccer, and its simplicity was also the recipe for its success. Casual gamers can pick up the controls and get it instantly, while pros master boosting around the arena to dominate the field from the ground to the air. Its arcade-style driving juiced up with ensuing vehicular mayhem is why, five years on, it’s one of the top esports in the world – with no sign of pumping the brakes.
Undertale’s brilliance is in its ability to challenge you to think outside the norms we’ve grown accustomed to in games. Monsters are no longer disposable adversaries you can mindlessly defeat and move on from. Instead, Undertale puts an emphasis on morality, asking you very early on to view each encounter as special and consider the weight of your actions. Players can opt for pacifism, neutrality, or violence, but every route has a different outcome. Regardless of where you land on the spectrum, your choices permanently alter Undertale’s world, even if you decide to reset the game. It’s a fun story with a powerful message; and accompanied with its minimalist art style, memorable characters, fantastic soundtrack, and thoughtful gameplay, Undertale stands out as an indie gem that deserves all the praise it gets.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided made cybernetic implants, arm swords, and hacking cool long before Cyberpunk 2077 did. This immersive sim allowed you to mess around its world in a variety of ways, whether you decide to be a heavy gun-toting tech-armored brute to a sly socializing hacker. Dripping with atmosphere, Mankind Divided’s version of Prague feels like a real city where something new is always happening around the corner; it’s a pristine example of European architecture to a gritty neon-drenched slum at night. Throw in a ton of intrigue and a cohesive black and gold color aesthetic and you’ve got yourself the best neo-noir game of the mid-oughts.
2015’s Mad Max is, simply put, one of the most criminally underplayed games of the Xbox One/PS4 era. Initially released on the same day as Metal Gear Solid 5 (arguably the most anticipated video game launch to date), Avalanche Studios’ open-world adventure – set in the post-apocalyptic film universe of the same name – is an exceptional example of “video games based on movies” done right.
Its story is a series-appropriate blend of revenge tale and bleak survival drama that isn’t afraid to lean into the darker tones of its source material, and it features some of the best vehicular combat in recent gaming memory. While not without its missteps – its massive desert world is fairly empty once you defeat a region’s warlord, making long drives back across the dune sea a bit of a late-game chore – but it’s still an absolute must-play for anyone filling out their PS4 or Xbox One dance card.
Fallout 4 is a great example of taking everything that works with an established series and improving it in every way. The gunplay and VATS system is leagues above what was offered in Fallout 3, and the expansive, vibrant Commonwealth has more secrets and areas to explore than ever before. With multiple, feuding factions to align yourself with, Fallout 4’s ending can vary wildly, almost always leaving you questioning what you could or couldn’t have done differently. And of course, the core of Fallout’s scavenging is finally given purpose with fully upgradable weapons, an entire base building mechanic with Sims-like mood levels for your settlers, and even the ability to set up trading between settlements. As always, Fallout 4 features the trademark Bethesda-level of wonkiness, but when it works, it’s great post-apocalyptic fun.
Elder Scrolls Online
While Skyrim may have the reputation of being the most widely-available Elder Scrolls game, TESO should be known as the Elder Scrolls adventure with the biggest world by far. It’s an experience that aims to let you play anywhere in the beloved world of Tamriel and dives deep into the rich lore of each region. Since its launch in 2014, Bethesda has continuously improved the experience and has released expansions to this MMO that allow players to travel to Morrowind, Summerset Isle, Elsweyr, and even Skyrim itself. The Elder Scrolls Online provides players with an expansive, ever-evolving universe that invites them to become the hero they have always dreamed of.
Life Is Strange
Life Is Strange is a coming-of-age story, a love story, a murder mystery, and a time-traveling thriller; it’s a tale of choice and consequence, an exploration of what-ifs. It’s a lot to fit into a five-episode narrative, but developer Dontnod managed to balance it all without losing sight of what makes Life Is Strange so memorable: the emotional arc of its relatable protagonists Max and Chloe. Your mileage may vary based on your tolerance for regional teenage lingo, but beyond the sometimes silly dialogue lies a hella good adventure full of heart.
Rainbow Six Siege
After a rocky launch, Rainbow Six Siege has evolved into one of the most played and most dynamic shooters of the past generation. Dynamic is the keyword as well, as no two rounds of Siege are ever the same due to its uniquely destructible maps, variety in operator abilities and a plethora of tactical approaches available at your fingertips. A slower, more deliberate multiplayer shooter, Siege creates unparalleled pockets of tension during last-second bomb defuses and blockbuster action moments through well-coordinated breaches that are still no less satisfying to pull off after all this time.
The outrageous, grotesque ending to Inside is one of the most memorable moments in video games of the past generation. But that shouldn’t mean that the masterful few hours of atmospheric puzzling should be forgotten as a result. Developers Playdead took things to the next level after Limbo with another dark tale about finding answers in a grim world. It’s a hauntingly beautiful, meticulously designed puzzle-platformer that once played, is not easily forgtten.
The “hero shooter” has been around for a long time now, but the genre found new life when Blizzard’s Overwatch arrived in 2016. Overwatch combined first-person class-based combat similar to games like Team Fortress 2, but added strategy elements drawn from MOBAs like DOTA 2 and League of Legends.
Overwatch has changed a lot over the past four years, but its core gameplay mechanics still hold up, and the steady flow of new heroes (32 and counting!) and updates keep the experience fresh. It’s also a game that plays well on both PC and console, with a control scheme that adapts well to fast-paced competitive PC gamers and those who play on PlayStation or Xbox. Even the Switch port remains more than playable even with the constant updates.
Uncharted 4 earned its acclaim not by simply doing more of the same, but by daring to slow down its pace. With a focus on moment-to-moment gameplay (we love you, magic grappling hook), a strained but ultimately enduring love for the ages, and a fan-pleasing ending that would satisfy even the most jaded of critics, Uncharted 4 remains one of the greatest – and most beautiful – games of its generation.
The Witness, Jonathan Blow’s 2016 puzzle game, is one of the most cleverly constructed of the generation. Its smart puzzle progression guides you through its melancholic world, and what seems like a relatively simple single-player journey has a surprising amount of depth. It’s all the more impressive that Blow designed a game that let the player discover their own path without using verbal guidance; your breakthroughs, such as when you realize the puzzles you need to solve are actually embedded in the environment without you, carry that much more weight.
The roguelike genre exploded over this generation, but Darkest Dungeon managed to stick out from the pack with an arsenal of unique features. There’s the striking, macabre art style, the grim narrator who describes your every misfortune with sadistic glee, and, of course, the signature Affliction System, which either debilitates or empowers your adventurers. While so many games make dungeon crawling seem like a carefree jaunt with your fantasy friends, Darkest Dungeon takes the pursuit deathly seriously. Rarely has having the odds stacked against you been so oddly satisfying.
The unrelenting battles, explosions, and classic weaponry of Doom was reworked, updated, and brought into the modern era in 2016 with a game that lets up just long enough for you to catch your breath before diving into the next level of hell. On top of an incredible new facade of high-resolution, high-fps graphics, Doom snuck in amazing nods to its past by way of entire secret sections of classic levels from the bygone era of MS-DOS. Perhaps one of the most polished shooters of this generation, it’s an absolute beast of gameplay, level design, and art direction, all set to a savage heavy-metal soundtrack. Doom is the full realization of the FPS dreams we were promised in the 1990s, and it’s an absolute MUST play of the generation.
Titanfall 2 has one of the best campaign modes of this generation. Though it’s short (clocking in at around six to seven hours,) its story is captivating and heartbreaking, focusing on pilot Jack Cooper and his new Titan, BT.
While every part of it is brilliant, the campaign chapter “Cause and Effect”, which showcases the mind-bending mechanic of instant time travel, elevates Titanfall 2 to a masterpiece.
From its timeless art direction to its layered level configurations, Dishonored 2 is built on a series of brilliant design choices. Arkane could have opted for a more guided experience to ensure players discovered the depths of its ingenuity, yet the developer didn’t concern itself with how you explored Karnaca. Instead, it let you loose in its labyrinthine levels to complete objectives and uncover secrets in your own way, at your own pace. There’s no “right way” to play Dishonored 2, and it’s that imaginative game design and player freedom that make it so special.
MLB: The Show
When you’re the only game in town, as MLB The Show has been to die-hard baseball fans for an entire generation, you’d better be good. And brilliant it has been. Despite having no competition thanks in part to licensing restrictions but mostly to a lack of interest from other publishers in making a baseball sim, MLB The Show has consistently been the best representation of Major League Baseball in video games since the peak MVP Baseball days in the PS2/Xbox era. Pitching, hitting, and fielding — the three core components of any great baseball video game — have been outstanding for years. Couple it with great graphics and even better animation and you’ve got a series that has continued to be a haven for hardball fanatics — even when the real-life sport was unable to get on the field for most of the year.
Like Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing before it, Stardew Valley is a life simulator with a surprising amount of depth. Stardew Valley has a an accessible point of entry as a farming RPG that encourages its players to get as much out of it as they put in. And you can get so much out of it, like the rich, oftentimes heartbreaking backstories you draw out of your fellow residents the more you get to know them. Stardew Valley is the type of game you can easily sink over 100 hours into and still find new secrets to unravel, so there’s no wonder it’s been ported to every system of its generation.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown revived the long-dormant turn-based tactics series on the 360 and PS3, and on the PS4 and Xbox One Firaxis took the fight against alien invaders to the next level in XCOM 2. Building a squad of alien hunters (preferably named after your friends and family), upgrading their gear with salvaged alien tech, and overthrowing the rulers of an occupied Earth is a relentless challenge with high stakes: one wrong move and permadeath can claim your finest troops. But consider each move carefully and you can fight through to victory again and again thanks to the procedurally generated maps and modifiers that ensure each run will play out differently from the last.
Forza Horizon 3
The Forza Horizon games are the gold standard in modern open world racing and the incredible Forza Horizon 3 remains as essential as its Britain-based blockbuster sequel, Forza Horizon 4. Forza Horizon 3’s greatest achievement is its wonderfully varied map. It’s an eclectic mash-up of quintessentially Australian landscapes, from picturesque beaches to rolling farmland and from a damp and dense rainforest to the red dust of the iconic outback – and that’s before you even consider the Blizzard Mountain expansion (a wintery take on the Australian Alps) and the absolutely delightful Hot Wheels expansion. Sadly Forza Horizon 3 was delisted from digital storefronts this year but, if you love FH4 and don’t have FH3, find a used copy today.
Civilization has long been one of the best strategy series around, and while Civilization VI launched with a more simplified formula to appeal to a wider audience, its recent expansions have added back in many features initially absent. Now, Civilization VI is regarded as the definitive version for many Civ enthusiasts. It offers a vast number of world leaders to command, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Multiple win conditions allow you to strategize and build out your civilization in many unique ways that will surely provide you dozens upon dozens of hours of entertainment.
Watch Dogs 2
On the surface, many could mistake Watch Dogs 2 as a Grand Theft Auto clone, but its distinct flavor of hacking in its tech-driven version of San Francisco makes it much more than that. Its main protagonist Marcus Halloway is a lovable upgrade from the original’s brooding Aiden Pearce, and we’re presented with a much lighter story about the real-life dangers of national surveillance. With multiple ways to tackle almost every mission available, Watch Dogs 2 offers the freedom and diversity to make Marcus the stealthy hacker he’s intended to be, or a (very out of character) stone-cold killer. Regardless, it’s excellent fun, as long as you never take it too seriously.
Battlefield 1 was an interesting risk for DICE and EA, dialing back the clock a full century and taking Battlefield’s popular brand of team-based first-person combat back to the First World War. An uncommon backdrop for video games, the move to Word War I proved to be a masterstroke; Battlefield 1 was a critical and commercial hit, earning plenty of praise for invigorating its robust multiplayer with an uncommon setting. Its interesting, anthology-style solo campaign may have been short, but it was a fantastic approach that allowed DICE to cast players as heroes from a variety of nations in a number of very different theatres of war, from the Harlem Hellfighters to a Bedouin rebel fighting alongside Lawrence of Arabia, and from a member of the Italian Arditi to an Australian messenger runner during the Battle of Gallipoli. Battlefield 1 is the best Battlefield game of its generation.
No Man’s Sky
No Man’s Sky infamously had an incredibly rocky launch, but 2016 was a long time ago, and that initial version has been completely buried by goodwill ever since. It seems every month No Man’s Sky is making headlines with massive quality of life improvements and content additions. It has a thriving community that have built entire cities with its base-building mechanics, and its story is genuinely intriguing. No Man’s Sky, now in its fourth year, has vastly improved in virtually every way, and there’s still more to come.
Dark Souls 3
Developer From Software confidntly walks the line between risk and reward in Dark Souls 3, slapping your wrist when you slip up, but offering immense satisfaction–and access to jaw-dropping new locales–when you succeed. This is a massive, gorgeous game that’s filled with secrets to discover and worthy challenges to face for anyone brave enough to try.
Yakuza Kiwami 2
Did you hear that? That’s the sound of someone getting angry we didn’t put Yakuza 0 here – Yakuza 0 is also awesome, but it had one foot on the PlayStation 3. Yakuza Kiwami 2, on the other hand, truly put this generation’s hardware to good use, giving the original Yakuza 2 a full overhaul in the Dragon Engine, as well as adding tons of new features and content. In between Kiwami 2’s gorgeous cutscenes weaving an operatic crime tale, players were turned loose in the stunningly realized neighborhoods of Kamurocho and Sotenbori, which at this point bear more of a resemblance to their real-world counterparts of Kabukicho and Dotonbori than they do to orignal PS2 graphics.
Nier: Automata, by all accounts, shouldn’t exist. Director Yoko Taro’s original entry in the Nier franchise back in 2010 flopped, but developed a ravenous fan base – and for good reason: Nier: Automata does what the original sought to do, but perfects it. Its blend of hardcore and fluid combat, bullet-hell shoot ’em up segments, and visual novel stylings coalesce into something entirely new, with a little something for everyone.
Nier: Automata’s staying power is etched somewhere within its philosophical musings of humanity, pain of existence, and ability to find the humor in between. Each of these narrative moments, punctuated with a haunting soundtrack courtesy of composer, Keiichi Okabe. It’s a game that needs to be experienced from beginning to end. And not just ending A, but endings B, C, D, and E, too – those multiple endings build to something few games dare to attempt (with apologies to the original Nier), and this one just hits a little different.
Much like the world it takes place in, Hollow Knight can be bleak and punishing when you first start, but digging past that tough exterior reveals a game that’s as deep as it is rich. There’s just so much to see here, so many secrets to find and bosses to fight, so much history tucked into its corners and weaved into every part of Hallownest, and so much variety to keep you wanting to dig deeper and deeper still. Hollow Knight doesn’t reinvent the Metroidvania structure, but it’s the closest a game has come to perfecting it in recent years.
What Remains of Edith Finch
What Remains of Edith Finch came out during an era where first-person story-driven experiences were aplenty, and yet, it stands head and shoulders above the pack. It’s seet in a fully lived in multi-generational house, oozing with history, and instead of a linear story told through the main character’s point of view, you travel from room to room, recounting tragic tales that each member of the Edith family fell victim to. Walking into a room can tell you more story than the vignette itself, and the hacked together house is a heartbreaking monument to what this cursed family went through. Edith Finch is short, roughly the length of a movie, but its stories, settings, and character will stick with you.
Building on what it learned from the first Destiny, Bungie doubled down on the looter-shooter formula and focused its attention on telling a more compelling story. Destiny 2’s vanilla campaign reconnected players with many characters from the original, but made us actually care about them and their individual story arcs. Destiny 2 has set the standard for gunplay in a first-person shooter, whether you prefer its PvE or PvP content. Now entering its fourth year, Destiny 2 has added a free-to-play tier called First Light and continues to keep players invested with regular updates and large expansions to its overall story.
Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age
Obscure title aside, Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition is not only the definitive edition of a fantastic game – one could argue it’s the best in Dragon Quest’s rich history. The phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applies here, as Dragon Quest XI takes the successful formula of the Dragon Quest series and turns it up to – well – 11. The world of Erdrea is massive, and features a beautiful cel-shaded art style. Its cast of characters are simple, yet lovable, and there are dozens of familiar enemies to encounter along the way. While it doesn’t push the JRPG genre forward in any meaningful ways, it is definitely video game comfort food. Dragon Quest remains a consistent experience that you know you can get completely lost in for 80 hours without thinking twice – and sometimes that’s just fine.
Middle Earth: Shadow of War
Much like how Arkham City expanded on the ideas of its predecessor, this 2017 sequel took the already-excellent Nemesis System introduced in Shadow of Mordor and made it that much better. The main story plays even faster and looser with Tolkein’s lore than the original, but it’s the personal relationships you forge with the Orcs, Uruks, and Ologs that really steal the show throughout its 20+ hours.
Forging alliances, defeating rivals, and countering sudden-but-inevitable betrayals all create unique, dynamic stories as you build your armies and command your garrisons. Adding in the ability to pit your armies and strongholds against your friends in asynchronous multiplayer battles is a great end-game addition, one that will keep you exploring each realm of Mordor to find the biggest and baddest orcs to add to your army. It’s a unique adventure that absolutely deserves to move to the front of the line if it’s still in your backlog.
Canadian brothers Chad and Jared Moldenhauer went through more than a hundred different designs for their very first video game hero before settling on Cuphead and his frankly less important brother Mugman. What always remained at the core of the game, however, was the brothers’ shared love of the cartoons of the 1930s by creators like Walt Disney, Max Fleishcher, and Ub Iwerks. Toons like early Mickey Mouse and Betty Boop were known for their big band soundtracks, bouncy, fluid look, and extended trippy dream sequences, and by combining those elements with boss rush gameplay and a steep difficulty curve, studio MDHR burst onto the scene with one of the most captivating indie debuts in recent memory. With hand-painted watercolor backgrounds, stellar animations and plenty of on-brand weirdness, Cuphead proved to be a truly beautiful love-letter to a hyper-specific time, place, and art form. The team at MDHR revitalized both classic cartooning and run-n-gun shooting in one deft move, as spry as Cuphead backflipping off of something pink.
Assassin’s Creed Origins
Departing from the nine mainline Assassin’s Creed titles that came before, Origins takes the stealth action-adventure gameplay that made the franchise famous and infuses it with a deep RPG system that became the new basis for the series. Exploring Ubisoft’s take on ancient Egypt is a marvel to behold, from historical wonders like great pyramids to the more fantastical inclusion of the ancient gods, it’s breathtaking in its scope and ambition. While grinding for XP does slow the pace of the game, its heartbreaking story and intense fighting mechanics brought much-needed new life to the franchise.
Horizon: Zero Dawn
Though we’d already seen some gorgeous PS4 games, 2017’s Horizon Zero Dawn – aka the time Killzone developer Guerrilla Games finally got to stretch its wings – was the most stunning yet. This was the game you’d put on to show off what the PS4 could do, especially in 4K, with its gorgeous vistas and dinosaur-like machines that towered over protagonist Aloy. It didn’t just look good, either. Zero Dawn’s main activity, combat, was a wonder, thanks to the variety of machines and the plethora of ways in which you could down them. Throw in a wonderful performance from Ashley Burch, an intriguing dystopian story, and tons of side quests, and you’ve got a game of a generation.
Fortnite: Battle Royale
When Fortnite launched, it changed the battle royale genre forever. Fornite features unique game modes, customizable skins, exciting updates, regular map changes, interesting battle pass challenges, and so much more. Fortnite’s live, in-game events are unparalleled. Fortnite has introduced skins and storylines from Marvel, Star Wars, DC, John Wick, Ghostbusters, and Stranger Things, letting players become their favorite characters. Fortnite created a game that is accessible for all ages and all play styles across multiple platforms. Three years on, it continues to leave its mark on the world of gaming and streaming, and pop culture at large. So, where we droppin’?
Divinity: Original Sin II Definitive Edition
When the CRPG revival began, most developers looked back to beloved classics and attempted to replicate those experiences. But with Divinity: Original Sin 2, Larian Studios looked forward. While this RPG may look like isometric classics, its gameplay is cutting-edge. The world of Rivellon is highly reactive, both in the way its people respond to your decisions, and the manner in which the physical world around you buckles, breaks, and burns as you barrage it with all manner of spells and abilities during Divinity’s puzzle-box combat encounters. Influenced more by the tabletop than the glory years of Black Isle Studios, Divinity: Original Sin 2 weaves an epic tale tailored to your actions.
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
Building off of three supporting characters, Lost Legacy expands on the treasure-hunting world of the Uncharted franchise while proving you don’t necessarily need Nathan Drake for a great adventure. Its lush West Indian setting provides a unique backdrop to Chloe & Nadine’s quest for the Golden Tusk of Ganesh, and the two make for a compelling duo with great chemistry (not to mention some great character moments) throught the 10-15 hour story. Don’t skip on this one because it’s not a numbered entry, The Lost Legacy is easily one of the best in the series.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
The New Colossus revels in the cartoonish excess that MachineGames began with The New Order, and really takes it over the top in the best way. It’s a rollercoaster of a shooter with wonderfully crunchy combat that throws in some of the most wonderfully twisted characters in recent memory, and it’s got a real f*ck you attitude to boot that’s incredibly fun.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was a sleeper hit for Ninja Theory back in 2017, and even if you missed it the first time around, you probably didn’t miss the trailer they recently dropped for its follow-up, Senua’s Saga. Senua’s Sacrifice, which serves as a sort of extended prologue to this larger story, was short and decidedly not sweet. It’s a hero’s journey into the depths of Helheim to defy the gods of Valhalla themselves in the name of a lost love and with the unlikely assistance of a decapitated head. Sound familiar? But unlike Kratos, Senua is an extremely grounded and tempered character. In fact, the designers employed multiple Mental Health Consultants to consult on the story, resulting in a humane and nuanced take on mental illness that may well be the most realistic depiction of Schizophrenia and Psychosis ever presented in a video game.
Steamworld Dig 2
Steamworld Dig 2 is a damn near perfect video game in the most traditional sense: it features a fantastic gameplay loop by frequently rewarding exploration from start to finish. The concept is simple, really. You dig down, explore, break stuff, find treasure, climb back up, and sell your treasure so you can buy better tools to dig down deeper, break tougher stuff, and find better treasure. Along the way you’ll meet interesting characters, battle bizarre enemies, and discover wonderful secrets. It’s just a fantastic distillation of why so many of us love this medium so much.
While Gran Turismo Sport arrived in 2017 as the most-polished GT game in over a decade and instantly carved out a space as an incredibly robust online racing destination and a major force in motor racing esports, it was also weakened by its thin garage and track roster (and its lack of a meaningful solo player campaign). Three years down the track, however, and GT Sport is more than twice the game it was on launch: literally. Developer Polyphony Digital added the single-player focussed GT League, and a steady supply of new tracks and vehicles has bolstered GT Sport considerably, turning it into something that more closely resembles the truly classic GT games of the PS1 and PS2 era.
Forza Motorsport 7
The razor-sharp and pristinely polished GT Sport may be the preferred battlefield for serious online racers, but it’s Forza Motorsport 7 that emerged as the definitive ‘car-PG’ collectathon during the PS4/Xbox One generation. Nothing can match the breadth of the Forza Motorsport 7 garage, which ranges from bleeding-edge modern hypercars to world’s greatest race cars, and from true cult classics to lesser-known oddities pulled in from the far fringes of global car culture. It’s the best instalment of the series since the fan-favourite Forza Motorsport 4.
Gravity Rush 2
If you love the way you swing around New York City in Marvel’s Spider-Man, then you owe it to yourself to try Gravity Rush 2. Traversing its world as Kat with and her gravity powers is so much fun that it made us never want to take advantage of its fast travel system. Add great writing and engaging side quests that reveal more about Kat and the game’s universe, and you have a game that feels like a breath of fresh air.
With everything that developer Arkane owes to immersive sims of the early 2000s, it’s no surprise that one of its strongest games is a homage to System Shock. But Prey isn’t about imitating a classic; it’s about bringing those ideas into the 21st century. Talos 1, the infected space station you explore, feels like a genuine workspace gone wrong. That wrong may also become your right; the ability to spice your DNA with that of the aliens taking over Talos 1 gives you the edge – be that being able to morph into inanimate objects or fire plasma bolts – albeit all at the cost of your humanity. And this all begins with arguably the greatest pull-the-rug-from-underneath-you introduction ever in games. It certainly starts how it means to go on.
Red Dead Redemption 2
Set in Rockstar’s most authentic and lived-in open world ever, Red Dead Redemption 2 is an absolutely sprawling Western and Rockstar’s most patient and polished game to date. Boasting a thoughtful and earnest story buoyed by excellent performances, Red Dead Redemption 2 captures the true grit of the outlaw era.
The gameplay asks a lot of the finite amount of buttons on a controller but the frantic, close-quarters gun battles feel personal and dangerous and movement is smooth and grounded. More than anything, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a game of rare detail, with an astonishing array of unique encounters and opportunities, a deep well of period-authentic items and sound effects, and every nook and cranny of its immense map lovingly massaged with handcrafted flourishes.
God of War
The medium of video games has no shortage of stories where chiseled, angry, tough guys grab weapons, smash skulls, and bludgeon big baddies to death, but very few of them also manage to depict grief, fatherhood, anger management, and humility in the way that God of War does. Kratos and his son Atreus’ journey midgard is a violent one, sure, but it’s also incredibly heartfelt, earnest, and beautiful.
Return of the Obra Dinn
There are rare moments where beating an incredible game actually makes me mourn the loss of it. No game made me feel this way more than Return of the Obra Dinn, a lo-fi detective puzzler where you manually investigate to figure out what happened. Its novel setup of exploring the moment someone died and then being asked to piece together exactly how is unlike anything else, with no highlighted objects to keep things on rails and nothing but your wits to get you answers. The word unique can be thrown around a lot, but Obra Dinn truly is.
Dead Cells crashed into the roguelike scene confidently boasting beautiful pixel art, satisfying platforming, and a huge array of fun weapons to yield. It draws you in with the simple pleasures of jumping and rolling around the pixel prison, collecting cells as you hack and slash zombies and worms. Then it convinces you to stick around – probably much longer than you expected – with layers and layers of weapons to unlock, hidden passageways to explore, and secrets hidden within secrets. Frequent free updates to the adventure have ensured that Dead Cells remains very much alive.
Insomniac’s Marvel’s Spider-Man checks every box you’d want for bringing Spider-Man to consoles, from challenging boss fights to a strong storyline rooted in the comics mythology to a smart skill tree system and dynamic fight sequences. But where it truly succeeds is in the joy you get from just swinging around New York City, stopping crimes and taking selfies with fans, allowing the audience to truly get to live in Spider-Man’s skin for as long as they’re playing.
Forza Horizon 4
Forza Horizon 4 takes almost everything that made Forza Horizon 3 the best racer in its class – the stunning visual quality and sound design, the massive array of automobiles from all over the world, and the extensive and completely customisable career mode – and supercharges it with a map that supports shifting seasons and a neverending stream of fresh challenges. With new, free cars available almost every week, Forza Horizon 4 hasn’t stopped growing since its launch in 2018. Forza Horizon 4 is more than just the heavyweight champion of open world racing – it’s the highest-rated Microsoft exclusive for Xbox One, ever.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
If Assassin’s Creed Origins was Ubisoft’s wade in the RPG kiddie pool, Odyssey was its high dive into the genre’s Aegean Sea. Much like the way Assassin’s Creed 2 built on the stealth-action foundation of its predecessor, Odyssey expanded and improved upon the RPG mechanics introduced in Origins, resulting in a massive open world and one of the generation’s best action-RPGs.
Odyssey’s gorgeous recreation of ancient Greece, complete with homages to Greek history and mythology alike, remains one of the most well-realized game worlds of all time.
Subnautica, much like the ocean it sets itself in, is filled with secrets just waiting to be found. However, do not expect its world to just hand you all it has to offer. It’s filled with sea monsters, darkness, and the limitations of your own supply of oxygen. Luckily, you have a robust crafting system at your disposable and a compelling story that is not obtuse like some other survival games to keep you invested in your adventure without getting too frustrated. This is one dive worth taking.
Tetris is arguably the most addictive puzzle game ever created. But when that design was basically perfected way back in the NES/Game Boy era, it can be hard to find new ways of repackaging an old favorite. That is, unless you hand the reins of the franchise to producer Tetsuya Mizuguchi. The result is a stunning mash-up of classic Tetris gameplay and the audio-visual synesthesia of Rez. This is the only version of Tetris practically guaranteed to make you cry.
Plenty of games tell a moving story, and plenty of games have impressively sharp platforming, but few blend them together quite as well as Celeste. Its themes and the journey Madeline goes on ties in directly to the practical obstacles in her way, creating a challenging but still wonderfully encouraging trek up a very strange and beautifully presented mountain. It’s fun, touching, and hard as heck while still having nuanced difficulty settings that make it more broadly accessible. Celeste is not just one of the best games of its generation, but one of the platformers of all time.
Monster Hunter: World
Monster Hunter has been many things over the years – vertigo-inducingly deep, gorgeously precise, stupendously weird – but it’s never been truly popular outside of Japan. It really can’t be overstated how huge an achievement World (and its 16 million copies sold) is. That Capcom turned a silly, hard-to-master action game into a gorgeous, mainstream success story across the world is a magnificent, unbelievable thing. That it’s quite probably emerged as the best Monster Hunter game at the same time is even better.
Resident Evil 7
Resident Evil 7 will forever be remembered as the game that saved Resident Evil. After the fun (but simple) action co-op of Resident Evil 5 and the bloated FOUR campaigns of Resident Evil 6, RE7 transformed the future of the franchise by shifting to an even more horrifying first-person perspective (complete with traumatizing PSVR support) and returning to the more puzzle-oriented, scare-inducing, inventory-centric roots of the PS1 classics. We’ll never forget its VHS escape room puzzle, grotesque Baker family boss fights, and truly unsettling southern bayou backdrop.
The Hitman series is one of the most unique stealth series to ever grace a game shelf, and it’s hard to go past Hitman 2 as the pick of the PS4/Xbox One era litter. There’s certainly an argument to be made that its immediate forebear (the episodic 2016 revival of the series, Hitman) boasted slightly better levels overall – but Hitman 2 was bolstered with all those maps anyway, allowing players to slay their way through two games in one. A patient, slow-paced action game like few others, Hitman 2 remains slightly undermined by its easily-exploited AI, but the spiderweb of assassination opportunities in every environment makes Hitman 2 a fulfilling experience that truly rewards thoughtful play and experimentation.
Remastering one of the most iconic survival horror games ever made would be no small task, but remaking and completely modernizing it (while still managing to maintain exactly what made it so great to begin with) seems like a damn near impossible order.
Thankfully, the expert team at Capcom pulled it off with the Resident Evil 2 Remake, a stunning and impeccably crafted horror game that ditches locked camera angles and ancient tank controls of the original for a fully realized and overhauled 3D action horror game with just as much camp, terror, and thrill as the original.
The intricate, interconnected gears of Outer Wilds’ clockwork solar system are remarkable. You’re given a rickety spaceship, a couple of leads, and the complete freedom to explore the planets around you from there… apart from the small fact that the sun explodes and starts you over every 22 minutes. Even without a guiding hand, it still manages to tell an engaging story that (like its alien language) can be unraveled from any number of directions – as well as throw you into exciting moments that feel handcrafted and intimate despite the fact that they’ll be happening whether you’re there to see them or not.
Apex Legends dropped without a single marketing campaign or ad post and it is one of the best battle royale games available. Using elements from Titanfall and Titanfall 2, Apex continuously drives unique and creative mechanics into its game, including the smooth movement fans loved in the Titanfall series. Apex pushed the boundaries as the first battle royale to have characters who have unique set abilities. Apex also was the first battle royale to include a ping system where players could communicate non-verbally and also provided more accessibility features. Apex also the best ongoing narrative that digs into what happened after Titanfall 2. Overall, Apex Legends is one of the best innovative battle royales of this generation.
Control is reminiscent of the best parts of The X-Files with a little Twin Peaks, The Lost Room, and Warehouse 13 thrown in.
Everything about its universe begs to be explored in detail: the mysteries of The Oldest House and its shifting interiors, the ominous Board that dictate your actions from a parallel dimension, and the countless assortment of Objects that do random things (a Post-It that multiplies seemingly without stopping) or do incredibly dangerous things (a refrigerator that kills you if no one’s constantly looking at it). Control is a great game wrapped in a fascinating world, and an absolute must-play for any fan of third-person action.
Slay the Spire
The roguelike deckbuilding genre didn’t start with Slay the Spire, but it did refine the idea in a way that launched a thousand copycats and derivatives of it afterward. It’s got that wonderfully addictive “just one more run” appeal, offering a huge amount of choice and strategy on top of a core that’s incredibly easy to pick up. It’s certainly not the flashiest game on this list, but Slay the Spire if probably one the most quietly influential (and certainly most enjoyable) games of its generation.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Sekiro eschewed the grounded, heavy conflicts of it’s Soulsborne predecessors for daring verticality and lightning fast blades, resulting in a Fromsoft game that often feels like a hyper violent rhythmic dance between two sparring partners. Its combat is simplistic in its execution but consistently rewards patience over chaos and meticulous, perfectly timed blade strikes and parries over button mashing. This creates an incredible bond between the player and the sword that lasts through the entire journey, but more importantly, creates an increasingly challenging and fulfilling test for that bond.
Gears 5 has more heart than its bro’d-out appearance would initially lead you to believe. A lot more. In fact, the heroes at the center of Gears 5’s story do a better job of making you care about them and their plight than you’d probably expect. Gears 5 blends the original Delta Squad crew in with the next generation of Gears in a very seamless way. Nowhere will that be felt more than when the time comes to make a very difficult choice in the latter stages of the campaign. Couple that campaign with a rock-solid multiplayer suite that returns the stellar Versus and Horde modes and introduces the excellent Escape and you’ve got a wonderful third-person cover-shooter package — one that’s been given new life by some truly gorgeous Xbox Series X optimizations.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Back in the 90s, it felt like we got a new Star Wars game every twenty minutes. They weren’t always winners, but they let us explore that galaxy far, far away for ourselves and told us new stories in a time when the number of Star Wars films could be counted on one hand. In recent years, we’ve gotten a deluge of new Star Wars movies and shows, but single player games have been few and far between – until Jedi: Fallen Order. Between the deeply satisfying lightsaber combat, massive evironments filled with enemies, creatures, secrets, and collectible ponchos, and a healthy amount of puzzles, bosses, and setpieces, Fallen Order struck that precarious balance between giving us plenty to do without spreading itself too thin or overstaying its welcome. Narratively, it took us on a phenomenal adventure that also helped bridge the gap between original and prequel trilogies, exploring a period of Star Wars history we’d only heard referred to as “the dark times” – and introduced a whole new cast of characters we can’t wait to see again.
Mortal Kombat 11
Mortal Kombat 11 may not be everyone’s cup of tea, whether it be because of the ultra-violence or the more deliberate pace of its neutral heavy fighting system, but one thing that’s hard to dispute is that it’s one of the most feature-complete fighting games of all time. It’s got one of the best single-player campaigns you’ll find in the genre, a ton of unlockable content within its Krypt and Towers of Time for completionists, and on top of all that it has excellent netcode, a huge roster of characters that all feel unique and relatively well balanced, excellent online lobbies, fantastic training modes, customizable costumes, and more. If ever there was a blueprint for everything that should ideally go into a modern fighting game, it’s Mortal Kombat 11.
The Outer Worlds
‘Fallout New Vegas in space’ is a fun phrase to use when talking about The Outer Worlds, but it does somewhat oversimplify what is actually an incredibly dynamic and downright hilarious experience. Packed with a witty assemble of characters, a fascinating story, and that iconic Obsidian dialogue to-boot, this RPG is guaranteed to keep you coming back for more.
The Last of Us Part 2
Revenge is a disease. It is infectious, contagious, and consuming. How much you let it take you – or how much sympathy you have for those who become consumed by it – will determine and define the kind of people we become. Do we root for those who kill monsters, or do they become monsters themselves? The answers are never that cut and dry, but the Last of us Part 2 does a brilliant, haunting job of asking them over the course of its tangled, dark, and unforgiving story through the perspectives of two very different people who both think they’re doing the right thing, no matter how much it destroys them.
Dreams started this generation as a puppet show and ended it as a magic box of creativity limited only by your own imagination. It’s an ambitious project that has been expertly brought to life by Media Molecule, and an audacious experiment in game design that gives you endless ways to enjoy your time with it, whether you want to play games, create animations or share works of art. A wholly singular concept, Dreams is like nothing else, hell, no two minutes within Dreams are even alike.
Ghost of Tsushima
Ghost of Tsushima, in addition to just being an absolutely gorgeous adventure with great characters and excellent open-world design, is especially notable for the ways in which it manages to avoid the common pitfalls that frequently affect other games within the same genre. It keeps its combat fresh over the course of its entire campaign by smartly introducing new stances and enemy types that regularly change up how you deal with specific enemies, it never gates your progression based on your level so you’re always free to do whatever you want whenever you want to do it, and it keeps exploration exciting by having you follow environmental cues as opposed to just waypoints on a map. Not to mention that it has gotten even better since release thanks to the launch of Ghost of Tsushima Legends, an excellent multiplayer that players can sink hours into in order to prepare for the fantastic raid waiting for them at the end of the loot grind.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps
While this generation was – thankfully – inundated with delightful and difficult Metroidvania games, Ori and the Will of the Wisps captured a feeling of wonder, intrigue, and magic in a way that few others could. With unmatched beauty and animation, Ori’s adventure through his mysterious and painterly world feels as breathtaking as it does dangerous, and exploring its intricate corners and sprawling vistas never ceases to be rewarding.
Persona 5 Royal
The modern day mix of challenging RPG combat and engaging day-to-day social time management is the signature of the series, but Persona 5 amps everything up an extra notch. Its story and characters are excellent, and its bespoke palaces are often as strange as they are entertaining. The Persona 5 Royal rerelease made tons of impressive quality-of-life changes and exciting content additions too, but it did so to a base game that was already one of the best modern JRPGs around.
Call of Duty Warzone
If one genre has defined the past generation, it would arguably be battle royales. Following the lukewarm response to Blackout, Call of Duty decided to dip its toes back into the last man standing waters with the introduction of Warzone. It’s fair to say that lessons have been learned as the frantic fun of Verdansk has had players hooked throughout the last year of this generation. The introduction of the 1v1 gulag system provides a thrilling second chance to players who fall on the field and also offers variety when compared to the large-scale conflicts happening on the main map. Who would have thought that combining the most popular multiplayer genre of a generation with Call of Duty’s hallmark gunplay would be such a hit?
Final Fantasy VII Remake
Many remakes feel designed to entice new audiences thanks to their updated graphics and new mechanics that de-age OAP classic. Final Fantasy VII Remake certainly does that in spades, but it’s a remake notably built for fans who know the original 1997 version intimately. It’s a different spin on familiar events that builds to a whole new mystery, one where the pieces are significant because they change what you know so well.
While much of FFVII Remake’s joy comes from seeing your favorite moments brought alive in 4K, high-fidelity visuals, it’s the smaller details it adds that are its true triumphs; nuances in voice acting and facial animation make Cloud, Tifa, Barret, and Aerith more relatable than ever before, and they’re guaranteed to steal your heart.
The PS4/Xbox One generation saw Codemasters’ F1 series go from strength to strength, and F1 2020 is the best instalment yet. This is particularly impressive when you consider it arrived right in the middle of a turbulent 12-months that put the brakes on international motorsport for some time. Boasting a full suite of helpful options for F1 newbies and young players alongside the excellent new custom ‘My Team’ mode – which allows players to build a brand-new F1 team from scratch and take it to the top of the sport – F1 2020 is simultaneously the deepest yet most accessible Codemasters Formula One experience to date.
With the original Nioh, Team Ninja managed to take its unique brand of fast-paced, brutally difficult action, made famous by the Ninja Gaiden series, and marry it with the typically slower and more deliberately paced soulslike genre. The unlikely combination was a massive success, and Nioh still remains, arguably, the best non-From Software developed soulslike around. That is, until Nioh 2 came along. To put it simply, Nioh 2 was Nioh 1, but better. It added a brand new Castlevania-esque Soul Core mechanic that allowed you to steal the abilities from fallen foes, a burst counter that would allow you to turn your opponents’ biggest and most dangerous attacks into your best opportunities to deal damage, and an incredibly deep character customization feature, while staying true to the deep, challenging, and frenetic combat that made Nioh stand heads and shoulders above the rest in a crowded space.
Spelunky is one of the most influential games of the last 15 years, with elements of its design impacting virtually every roguelike that has been released ever since. While Spelunky 2 might not have the same genre-defining quality that the original had, it is nonetheless a better and more complete game than its predecessor, which was a game that in many fans eyes, was already nearly perfect. Spelunky 2 sticks mostly to its roots but expands the experience by giving players more control over how their run plays out, while also recapturing that magical feeling of discovery that made the original game such a classic to begin with.
Death is a part of most games nowadays in some form or another, but Spiritfarer puts it in the spotlight without having any combat in the entire game. Instead, this gorgeously presented hybrid of a platformer and a town management sim doesn’t shy away from having very human conversations about life and death with its adorable animal characters. It’s part puzzler, part adventure game, and part crafting game, but all these strange systems come together to make something lovely, new, and extremely memorable.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim
While Vanillaware games are known for their striking and gorgeous visuals, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim adds in a strong sci-fi story and a new real-time tactics battle system that elevate it into something special. Additionally, the localization deserves to be commended in a game filled with so much text and makes the adventure filled with intricate, hand-drawn backgrounds, Sentinels, and kaiju just that much more enjoyable.
And those are our favorite games from the PS4 and Xbox One era – what games are on your list that didn’t make ours? Let us know in the comments, and for everything coming up in the next generation of gaming, check out all the big games coming out in 2021 and our review of the PlayStation 5, along with our Xbox Series X and Series S reviews.