Longtime pointy-eared and green-trousered protagonist Link's 1998 Nintendo 64 odyssey through a vast, three-dimensionally exquisite version of Hyrule routinely tops "best" games lists for several reasons. Its approach to letting players explore a 3D world was so consummate and sublime, that it felt less like Nintendo shoehorning eureka concepts into a new paradigm, than the paradigm bending to Nintendo whims. Its clockwork puzzles, artful area and dungeon levels, and breakthrough interface—we can thank Nintendo for intuitive lock-on targeting that preserves our freedom to execute other actions—were so groundbreaking, they're reverently hat-tipped by just about every designer, prompting some to call the game a "walking patent office."
With 14 unique weapons that all control entirely differently, endless armor customization options that change more than just fashion, and incredibly difficult (but fair) fights that reward players with an incomparable sense of accomplishment, Monster Hunter: World is in a world of its own when it comes to endless replayability and challenge. Add in the fact you can hunt with your best friends, and you have a recipe worthy of the Meowscular Chef himself.

Portal undoubtedly came out of nowhere and shattered the mold, but Portal 2 took that raw and incredible concept and managed to shape it into a more polished and impressive package. It cranked the dials up on just about everything that made the original so special. The mind-bending puzzles, the surprisingly dark story, and the ridiculous humor that balanced it out - each piece of that picture was refined and refreshed to build a sequel that actually surpassed the ambition of an already extremely ambitious game, making something both familiar and altogether new.
There's a reason first-person puzzle games far and wide are constantly compared to Portal — though a brief adventure, its gameplay, tone, writing, and structure so cohesively work together to create one of the most memorable, challenging, and fascinating puzzle games around. Arming players with the now-iconic Portal gun and the devastating - and lethal - wit of Glad0s, Valve guided players through a fantastically orchestrated and escalating set of physics-based puzzles. Learning to use the seemingly simple Portal gun in increasingly more complex, all culminating in perhaps one of the most memorable end-credits songs of all time.

To me, everything about Skyrim was a vast improvement over its predecessor, Oblivion. The craggy, intimidating peaks of the Nord homeland and the saga of the Dovahkiin were much more interesting than the relatively sedate happenings of their neighbors in Cyrodiil. But what’s more, there’s so much lying just around the corner, off the beaten path, that you could never even stumble upon it in a hundred hours as the Dragonborn. But the fact that such care for detail, for world-building, for exploration and for immersion was paid to every tome, tomb, and quest, is enough to cement Skyrim as one of the absolute best role-playing games we’ve ever seen, and one of the best games of all time. 

But it’s Super Metroid’s ability to consistently invite the player to be curious – and then rewarding that curiosity – that makes it one of the greatest video games ever made. It’s not just that there are secrets hidden everywhere (although there are, and it’s awesome) – it’s that the game teases you with tantalizing clues – items, always just out of reach. An energy tank embedded in a seemingly impassable wall. A pair of missiles only obtainable from the collapsing blocks above, leaving you no idea of how to get up there, just with the knowledge that you can get up there.

Along with its incredible story and soundtrack, Final Fantasy VI also features a fantastic combat system, which includes the ability to freely swap out party members between battles. (There are a whopping 14 playable characters in all.) The tetradeca of heroes isn’t stacked with useless filler characters either, something I remember very much appreciating when I was faced with a tough Boss fight and needed to adjust my strategy. I also liked switching out spells and abilities using magicite, which allows players to freely customize characters however they see fit.

When Monkey Island 2 came out, we knew who Guybrush Threepwood was, so we knew what to expect. Or so we thought. Somehow, creator Ron Gilbert threw everyone for a loop, ending Monkey Island 2 in a carnival, leaving us to wonder if everything we'd played in the first two games took place in a boy's imagination, or if the ending itself was simply another LeChuck voodoo spell. Regardless, the story, jokes, and pacing were all tightened up for the second Monkey Island, making it arguably the best of the incredible run of LucasArts adventure games.
Chrono Trigger is widely regarded as the greatest RPG of all time, and for good reason. What begins as a typical “day-in-the-life” adventure, quickly spirals into a sprawling, epoch jumping romp that is equally exhilarating and endearing. Created by a “dream team” at Squaresoft including Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, Dragon Quest creator Yuji Horii, and character designs by Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama, Chrono Trigger’s pedigree was only outshined by its universal praise upon its release in the spring of 1995. Even at the twilight of the SNES’ lifespan, Chrono Trigger’s branching narrative, colorful characters and unforgettable soundtrack were are more than enough to earn it a place on our list in this timeline or any other.
X-COM’s magic is how it makes the war to defend Earth from a vastly superior alien invasion force feel so intensely personal, even with its extremely dated (but expressive) graphics and spreadsheet-like interface. Part of this comes from the way that every decision you make, from where on the globe you place your bases, to which alien technology to research, to whether to spend your soldier’s last few time units to reload his weapon, crouch, or take a Hail Mary shot at a distant alien, has enormously high stakes. Choose right, and your team of alien hunters will gain a leg up on the battlefield from advanced weapons (like the guided Blaster Launcher missiles), armor, or tactical positioning; choose poorly and literally everyone could be slaughtered – or worse, transformed into drooling zombies to serve as incubators for horrific Chryssalids.

Soulcalibur is that rare sequel that supplants the original. The successor to 1995’s Soul Edge, Soulcalibur perfected the formula for 3D weapon-based fighting games. A smash-hit in arcades and the first “must-have” game for the Dreamcast system, Soulcalibur is remembered for its balance, imaginative characters, and smooth combat. In the flood of new fighting game franchises that were introduced in the mid-90s, Soulcalibur separated itself from the pack because the core gameplay mechanics were so strong. Any fighter – whether a ninja, pirate, knight, or warrior monk – could challenge any other and the outcome would depend on the skill of the player. There is a reason why this fantastical tale of swords and souls has spawned so many sequels.
Achtung! If Doom is the father of modern first-person shooters, Wolfenstein 3D is their granddaddy. Made by id Software and released shortly before Doom in May 1992, Wolfenstein 3D cast players as William "B.J." Blazkowicz, an Allied spy captured by Nazis in World War II. As Blazkowicz, your job is simple: Escape from Castle Wolfenstein and shoot a bunch of bad guys in the process, which was (and remains) the definition of "thoughtless catharsis"—words that to this day define so much of Wolfenstein 3D's progeny.
The original Fable, while very very good, never quite lived up to co-creator Peter Molyneux's lofty "plant an acorn and it will grow into a tree over the course of the game" promises. Fable 2, however, fulfilled an amazing amount of this charming, decidedly British-humored action-adventure. The world of Albion came alive on the Xbox 360, while Fable 2 was also one of the first games to give you a full-time canine companion. The dog was, in gameplay terms, rather straightforward, but for many players, the pooch tugged on your heartstrings and made you care about him/her in a way that you typically wouldn't above the average human or fantasy-pet RPG. Solid combat, a multiple-choice ending, great music and world-building, and a deft balance of action, adventure, and role-playing helped make Fable 2 both the pinnacle of the series and one of the finest bits of escapist fantasy ever coded.
Stepping into the Black Mesa Research Facility as mild-mannered Gordon Freeman and bearing witness to the accident that sets off an interdimensional invasion is a master class in introducing a game’s universe. Instead of stopping the action and playing a cutscene to advance the story, Half-Life’s tale all plays out from Gordon’s perspective, never taking control away from us, but directing our eyes toward its scripted events. That technique was surprisingly effective at making me feel like Gordon and I were one in the same.
History buff Sid Meier had played and admired both Maxis’s SimCity and Bullfrog’s Populous when he set out to design something grander that intermingled warfare, exploration, diplomacy, city-building and elements of political philosophy. 1991’s Civilization launched a series of widely played, deeply loved turn-based strategy epics in which players lead a society from the stone age far into the distant future. Civilization IV, released in 2005, was the apotheosis of the series, and universally acclaimed for its many innovations—from its 3D graphics to its much-improved artificial intelligence. It's arguably the greatest strategy game ever made, and remains a reference design for developers today.
Achtung! If Doom is the father of modern first-person shooters, Wolfenstein 3D is their granddaddy. Made by id Software and released shortly before Doom in May 1992, Wolfenstein 3D cast players as William "B.J." Blazkowicz, an Allied spy captured by Nazis in World War II. As Blazkowicz, your job is simple: Escape from Castle Wolfenstein and shoot a bunch of bad guys in the process, which was (and remains) the definition of "thoughtless catharsis"—words that to this day define so much of Wolfenstein 3D's progeny.
Thief II gave the player all the right tools for the perfect heist, along with interactive maps for writing notes. It rewarded taking your time, and of course, listening to some of the best guard banter in any game to date. Silently sprinting along rooftops, ducking through secret mansion passages – the game didn't just make you feel like a thief, it made you feel like a master of the craft.
Like so many Blizzard games, this long-awaited StarCraft sequel released in 2010 was less about rolling out wildly new real-time strategy mechanics than honing the traditional rock-paper-scissors dynamic to perfection. Has there been a more finely tuned asymmetry between three discrete factions in an RTS series? Its enduring legacy can be summed up in three letters: MLG. As in “major league gaming,” or just “e-sports,” a form of competitive video gameplay that's come to encompass a now very wide variety of genres.

And as is typical of Blizzard as a studio, Diablo II can be played on countless different levels. I never even touched most of what the game had to offer, but ultimately I didn’t need to. The simple joy of wading through thick knots of enemies with my necromancer and his summoned brood of skeletons and mages, setting off chains of corpse explosions and painting the world red was an end game in itself.


Few games had more of a buildup prior to their release than Halo 2, and even fewer managed to live up to them in the way that Halo 2 did. Master Chief taking the fight with the Covenant to Earth was epic, action-packed, and visually stunning on the original Xbox. Sure, the campaign didn't so much end as much as stopped, but the shocking reveal of the playable Arbiter and his story that mirrored the Chief's was a twist no one saw coming.
There's a reason first-person puzzle games far and wide are constantly compared to Portal — though a brief adventure, its gameplay, tone, writing, and structure so cohesively work together to create one of the most memorable, challenging, and fascinating puzzle games around. Arming players with the now-iconic Portal gun and the devastating - and lethal - wit of Glad0s, Valve guided players through a fantastically orchestrated and escalating set of physics-based puzzles. Learning to use the seemingly simple Portal gun in increasingly more complex, all culminating in perhaps one of the most memorable end-credits songs of all time.
Swedish studio Mojang's indie bolt from the blue turns out to be that rare example of a game whose title perfectly sums up its gameplay: you mine stuff, then you craft it. At its simplest, Minecraft is a procedurally generated exercise in reorganizing bits of information—all those cubes of dirt and rock and ore strewn about landscapes plucked from 1980s computers—into recognizable objects and structures and mechanisms. Or put another way: part spreadsheet, part Bonsai pruning. Since its launch in November 2011, it's sold over 100 million copies, colonized virtually every computing platform, spawned an official "Education Edition" tailored for classrooms and inspired feats of mad grandeur, like this attempt to model staggering swathes of George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire. Has there ever been a game as impactful as this one?
The premise of Minecraft is incredibly simple. Mine materials such as first and wood, and build things with it. Yet the possibilities are incredibly limitless. An epic gaming moment many people have reflected on is what they call, “The First Night in Minecraft.” The world always begins as a bright sunny day, and you use this time to chop down trees, dig, and maybe even slay a few animals for food. It’s great, until the sun starts to set and the actual enemies start to appear. It’s at this point you realize this is actually a survival game, and you’re forced to either burrow underground or make a quick makeshift wood cabin. Then as the sun rises and you watch all the enemies burn to a crisp, you are finally free to explore again, you are hit with a joyous urge to explore and dive even deeper into the game. Will you keep your first house, or search for a better landscape? Will you become an unground dweller, or live atop a mountain? These are the freedoms Minecraft offers, and the only thing that’s standing in between you and literally anything, is imagination.

I still think about three moments in The Last of Us at least once a week, nearly five years later. The first is when Joel’s life changes in a moment in the game’s intro. I knew I was in for something so narratively special from Naughty Dog. The second moment solidified that, as, late into the game, it demanded I make a certain gameplay choice because that’s how Joel would act, even if it wasn’t what I wanted to do. That dissonance struck me, but made so much sense. This was Joel and Ellie’s story I was experiencing, and those characters feel so real thanks to the script, animation, and Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson’s stellar performances. The Last of Us marries its storytelling with its gameplay, and nothing made me feel more than that last moment. The game’s final discussion between its two protagonists that is filled with so much emotional weight because of their experience – because of what you experienced – that it’s difficult to think of another ending so perfectly true to this unforgettable experience.


History buff Sid Meier had played and admired both Maxis’s SimCity and Bullfrog’s Populous when he set out to design something grander that intermingled warfare, exploration, diplomacy, city-building and elements of political philosophy. 1991’s Civilization launched a series of widely played, deeply loved turn-based strategy epics in which players lead a society from the stone age far into the distant future. Civilization IV, released in 2005, was the apotheosis of the series, and universally acclaimed for its many innovations—from its 3D graphics to its much-improved artificial intelligence. It's arguably the greatest strategy game ever made, and remains a reference design for developers today.
Longtime pointy-eared and green-trousered protagonist Link's 1998 Nintendo 64 odyssey through a vast, three-dimensionally exquisite version of Hyrule routinely tops "best" games lists for several reasons. Its approach to letting players explore a 3D world was so consummate and sublime, that it felt less like Nintendo shoehorning eureka concepts into a new paradigm, than the paradigm bending to Nintendo whims. Its clockwork puzzles, artful area and dungeon levels, and breakthrough interface—we can thank Nintendo for intuitive lock-on targeting that preserves our freedom to execute other actions—were so groundbreaking, they're reverently hat-tipped by just about every designer, prompting some to call the game a "walking patent office."

Akin to Chrono Trigger in stunning art direction, mechanical simplicity, and musical significance, Suikoden II diverges from Square’s masterpiece in its sense of moral ambiguity and dark storytelling. For the longest time, Suikoden II was locked behind a near-impenetrable wall of scarcity that kept it out of the hands of most American gamers. Now that it’s finally available to a wide audience, it’s a must-play for any RPG fan.
And as is typical of Blizzard as a studio, Diablo II can be played on countless different levels. I never even touched most of what the game had to offer, but ultimately I didn’t need to. The simple joy of wading through thick knots of enemies with my necromancer and his summoned brood of skeletons and mages, setting off chains of corpse explosions and painting the world red was an end game in itself.
So yeah, I rented it. Obviously, it didn't come with the pack-in player's guide, so I only made it so far before I had to return it. Then I rented it again. And again. And again. Eventually, my parents noticed that my college fund was being given to Blockbuster, so they nipped the problem in the bud and bought it for me. It's been my favorite JRPG ever since.
Quick, name your favorite modern first-person shooter. Maybe it's Call of Duty, or Halo, or Counter-Strike. All of those games—and dozens, if not hundreds more—owe an immense debt to Doom. Developer id Software's 1993 classic pit an unnamed space Marine against the forces of Hell, plunging gamers into a high-intensity battle for Earth. Another id title, Wolfenstein 3D, may have arrived a year earlier. But Doom became a true phenomenon, introducing millions of gamers to what have become bedrock principles of the genre, from frenzied multiplayer deathmatches to player-led mods that can alter or completely overhaul a game's look and feel.
Portal's unexpected balance of wit, dark comedy and captivating, reality-bending puzzles made it a surprise hit in 2007. Its sequel, Portal 2, built on that success by adding additional polish and puzzles that were more involved and complex when it launched in 2011. 3 million copies of Portal 2 were reportedly sold within three months of the game's launch, proving that the franchise had turned into much more than just a casual puzzle game.
Iconic monsters – most notably the Alien facehugger-like Headcrabs that transform scientists into gruesome zombies – and impressive soldier AI gave Half-Life a spooky atmosphere backed up by enemies that pose a real threat. Great and memorable weapons, from the simple crowbar to the silent sniper crossbow and the biological homing weapon that shoots alien bees, made fighting through the spooky ruins of Black Mesa a fantastic battle.
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