Borderlands 2 elevated an excellent game to Legendary status. The original Borderlands captured the attention of gamers, seemingly from out of nowhere, and its sequel took everything that made the original great and expanded on it. From its seamless continuation of the Borderlands vault hunting lore, to its unmatched writing, Borderlands 2 remains the high point in the Borderlands franchise. Borderlands 3 is overflowing with improvements over its predecessor The Pre-Sequel, but Borderlands 2 still can't be beat for its awesome levels, excellent DLC, and series-best villain, Handsome Jack.

Super Nintendo players knew Final Fantasy VI as Final Fantasy III for years after its release in 1994, because no one expected this Japanese series to become so popular stateside that the original II and III would be localized and the series renumbered. What made Final Fantasy VI one of the exemplars—not just of console roleplaying, but the genre in general—was how pitch-perfectly it synthesized so many different tangents: real-time battles, summonable magic-bestowing creatures, indelible characters, party-swapping, heartrending plot twists, an unforgettably iniquitous villain, a four-minute play-along opera and its artful inflection of dark fantasy steampunk.

While some would vote Final Fantasy VI the better game, 1997's Final Fantasy VII is arguably the bolder one in this anything-but-final roleplaying series. Laying complex polygonal graphics over beautiful pre-rendered backgrounds, Japanese developer Squaresoft took advantage of the PlayStation’s compact-disc drive to craft an experience Sony rival Nintendo—who’d rejected Sony’s pitch for a disc-based add-on to the Super Nintendo—simply couldn’t. The operatic, labyrinthine and often wonderfully weird tale of ecologically minded heroes out to save their “living” planet from corporate energy raiders proved the most popular in the series, selling over 10 million copies worldwide and prompting perennial cries for a remake (that's finally happening).
While it may not be as old as Super Mario Kart or Road Rash, when it comes to arcade racers, Burnout 3: Takedown is an undeniable classic. I must have logged 60 hours in this game, and that was well before the days where I got paid to do that. I defy you to bring up arcade racers and not have someone mention Burnout 3. Its predecessor, Point of Impact, had fine-tuned the balance of high-speed racing and vehicular destruction, but Takedown perfected it.
Still, the highlight of StarCraft is easily its multiplayer. Few gaming moments are as satisfying as defending your base against a Zerg rush as the Protoss or successfully sending in a fleet of Terran to decimate an enemy's base. StarCraft is still played competitively in parts of the world, making it remain relevant for longer than almost any other video game in existence. There's a reason too. It's because the gameplay is so expertly crafted and balanced that players can continually go head to head with a different result each time. It's those near losses and photo finish victories that keep you coming back and have kept the series alive all these years.
Spelunky is a game about triumph. When you finally make it to a new area for the first time, when you finally beat Olmec, when you finally beat your best time, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment. You earned this. You did it. But maybe you should go back and try to beat it. You can shave a few seconds off, right? Spelunky is a game about always being able to improve.
Kill a monster, make gear out of its parts, and hunt a stronger monster sounds like a gameplay loop that can get old fast, but Monster Hunter: World has taken that decade-old hook and downright perfected it. World has streamlined the cycle and made the introduction into monster hunting more palatable for newcomers all without watering down the deep action-RPG mechanics longtime fans loved most.
The key here is in how Blizzard looked beyond simply making a good shooter – it made an interesting one. Its backstory is PG-13 Pixar, its characters are diverse and lovable, and its community engagement is… well, it’s Jeff Kaplan. Pro gamers, cosplayers, fanfic writers, ARG detectives and everyone in between have all been given a reason to play a single game – no mean feat.
Sam Fisher's third adventure is actually three masterpiece games in one. In the campaign, a stunning real-time lighting engine and open mission design allows you to play in countless different ways: total stealth, full gunplay, or a gadget-fest (shoot a Sticky Shocker into a puddle as an enemy walks through it, anyone?). Memorable locations like the lighthouse, bank, Hokkaido (with its "anti-ninja flooring"), and more made every mission memorable. Game 2 is the four-mission two-player co-op campaign, in which two young agents work together in a side story that runs parallel to Fisher's adventure. You literally have to play together, from boosting each other up to high ledges to going back-to-back to scale elevator shafts, the co-op mode committed to cooperation in a way no other action game had. And then you had Spies vs. Mercs, which took the asymmetrical multiplayer mode introduced in Pandora Tomorrow and refined it into something truly unique in the gaming world. Agile, non-lethal spies playing in third-person view faced off against slow-moving but heavily armed mercs that saw the game through a first-person helmet. It was tense, riveting, and brilliant.
Counter-Strike is the game that’s been with me the longest, in one form or another, but for me, it all started here. Many of the things I value most in skill-based games, I value because of Counter-Strike: good level design, team-based dynamic, the dedication required to master it, a friendly sense of competition, and a solid sense of community. It taught me the joy of earning my victories in a game, but also the importance of learning from my failures. It’s the reason I love first-person shooters and the reason I stuck by PC gaming at a young age, and I owe it all to its earliest iterations.
The Legend of Zelda and The Adventure of Link laid the foundations Link’s quest, but it was A Link to the Past that built the land of Hyrule into a world. From it’s unforgettable beginnings guiding a swordless Link through the rain, to the final showdown with Ganon and utilizing mastery of sword and bow to defeat evil, Link to the Past measured out a perfect pace of dungeons, exploration, and a gripping narrative that was almost unheard of at the time. It’s open landscape was always inviting but never felt aimless – striking the perfect balance of freedom and purpose in your quest to save Princess Zelda.
Transforming competitive racing into zany fruit-tossing fun, Super Mario Kart was much more than one of the smartest-looking games on the Super Nintendo. As the first in what would become a dynastic line of racers, this 1992 gem was full of kart-racing firsts: a circuit mode with varying degrees of difficulty, a split-screen versus mode so you could take on your friends and a battle mode to break up the monotony of straightforward sprints. And Super Mario Kart launched the series to a rocket start with memorable tracks like Rainbow Road, expert tactics like drifting and maddening equalizers like the lightning bolt.
Taking it a step further, those cutscenes were paired with some truly talented voice acting and narrative design. As I played through the storyline I learned to love the different little characters I interacted with and felt genuine anger when the Zerg managed to capture Kerrigan and bend her to their will. This character had been with you through thick and thin and after she's captured you, of course, begin the mission to rescue her.

I came to the Diablo II party incredibly late. The first time I actually played it properly was in 2011, more than ten years after its initial release. Could this iconic game possibly live up to my lofty expectations that late in the day? Absolutely. In fact, I was surprised by just how good it was. After all, Diablo II doesn’t exactly go out of its way to be user-friendly. Even choosing a class and build is daunting, let alone learning the quirks of its many systems.


If you’re doing it right, you’ve named each of your very mortal soldiers after your friends and family, making the inevitable casualties you’ll take in combat sting far more than losing nameless fodder. Randomly generated maps ensure you never quite know what might be lurking around the next corner, and destructible terrain means that knocking down a building is always an option. The unpredictability makes the feeling of going from scrappy underdog to elite alien-butt-kicking futuristic super soldier squad incredibly rewarding, every single time. Except when you lose horribly.
When I was famished for Dungeons and Dragons, Divinity: Original Sin 2 filled that void for me. It gave me the freedom to cheat, steal, kill, or persuade my way with kindness through the campaign with a friend (or three!) just like in D&D. Creative play is not only allowed, but encouraged and intentionally made possible by the developers. It felt liberating playing a huge RPG that rewards “cheating” the system, and encountering NPCs and opponents that acknowledge and react to it. I’ve since recommended it to all of my real-life D&D parties, and they’ve all come back with the same opinion: This is the best D&D experience you can get from a video game. DOS2 even has a Game Master mode, which lets you build your own campaigns. But, the built-in story is decidedly plenty and nearly infinitely replayable. The premade characters all have their own special storylines, and the numerous way things pan out depend on player actions, backstory choices, race, and more. Whether playing on an easy or hard difficulty setting, as an Elf Ranger or an Undead Conjurer, as a helpful adventurer or a murderous thief, DOS2 is a fun fantasy world to get lost in no matter what.
Mario games are synonymous with fun and innovation, and perhaps Mario 64 is the best example of the latter. It gathered the core elements of Mario’s best 2D, side-scrolling adventures and worked out how to translate them into a groundbreaking 3D world. It was still recognisably Mario – he collected mushrooms and ran and jumped his way to success, but he was forever changed. He could now long jump, triple jump, and backflip. While the underlying challenge remained the same and the locations were reassuringly familiar, the shift in perspective changed everything.
Resident Evil was not only an impressively faithful remake of one of the most important games ever made – it managed to surpass the base material in almost every way, carving out an identity all its own without sacrificing an ounce of the original's creative vision. Retreading even the most familiar paths through the Spencer Mansion's many hallways and rooms felt like a fresh experience with its highly detailed, Gothic art direction. The classic puzzle-heavy horror and inventory management were revamped rather than abandoned, polished up for a new generation of players without scorning the old. And yet it was the bold new additions that ended up as some of Resident Evil's most iconic elements: the otherworldly groaning beyond that mysterious gate behind the stairs, and the terrifying subversion of the original game's faithful promise – that the zombies you kill will stay dead. Resident Evil's reanimated zombies and vicious Crimson Heads brought a frightening intensity to the ghostly halls of the mansion, upping the stakes in a whole new way and bringing a new dimension to the core elements that drive the series: exploration, combat, and strategic item management. While the series has taken many turns, few games in the series have come close to being as perfect as this one.
Mortal Kombat has always distinguished itself from the excess of fighting games that made their way from arcade cabinets to players' living rooms with its unapologetically sadistic violence. Gore isn't an afterthought to your blows in this 1992 brawler, it's the main spectacle. Mortal Kombat and the controversy it stirred were crucial in shifting the video game market from one that was evidently aimed at kids, to one that could appeal to teens and young adults. But it wasn't thanks to the game's bloodiness alone: Its smooth controls, rewarding combinations and imaginative roster of characters earn it a top spot on our list.

While the Tomb Raider reboot in 2013 kicked off a new direction for the iconic heroine that was more in line with modern AAA storytelling (read: Lara was given a deeper backstory and a personality), Rise of the Tomb Raider took it and ran a mile. It continued to flesh out Lara as a driven, wary character while upping the ante on what made the 2013 game so fun; fluid traversal, crunchy combat, and beautifully intricate puzzle tombs. Add a delicately told emotional throughline centered on Lara’s relationship with her father, and you’ve got what is currently the series’ apex.
Say it with me: “UP, UP, DOWN, DOWN, LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT, RIGHT, B, A, START.” The most iconic secret in video game history became a litany for the millions of kids who joined Bill and Lance on their quest to destroy Red Falcon. While a truly skilled player can clear Contra on a single credit, the power of the thirty lives code gave all of us a fair chance to power our way through the gauntlet of alien invaders, or more likely die trying.

Its premise was straightforward: you found yourself alone on a space station where you were apparently the only thing left alive. Well, the only organic thing. Rogue AI SHODAN wastes little time in establishing herself as your formidable opponent. Along the way you pick up elements of the backstory through audio logs (another design feature that's standard fare now) and can mold yourself in any way you choose, from a DPS/combat focus to a pure hacker that can infiltrate any system. System Shock 2 was tense, smart, and as great as it was immediately upon its release in 1999, ahead of its time.
At its core, Shadow of the Colossus is really a puzzle game. Once you’ve managed to recover from the shock of stumbling across each of the colossi, you’ll need to figure out the best way to scale, and ultimately destroy each monster. Each of these harrowing encounters will not only leave you sweaty, but reveal just the tiniest bit more about the vague, mournful plot that main character Wander has managed to find himself in. Part love story, part monster hunt, part parable, Shadow of the Colossus borrows heavily from what came before, but inspires much of what came after.
With its expansive environments and crafty puzzles, this 2015 installment of Crystal Dynamics' vaunted Tomb Raider series is easily its best (read TIME's review here). It transcends the tired run-and-fight mechanic that dominates so much of the action-adventure genre by instilling genuine feelings of wanderlust and peril. Here, players might dangle from grappling lines tenuously tethered to shimmering walls framing glacial cathedrals, or explore optional booby-trapped tombs, each a study in the art of not repeating puzzles or level design. It's survivalism at its best, and a stunning exemplar in the studio's reinvention of an iconic 1990s franchise.
As the second 3D game in the now mega-series Grand Theft Auto, Vice City had enormous shoes to fill coming off the groundbreaking statement that was Grand Theft Auto III. And did it ever deliver. Set during the 1980s in Rockstar’s facsimile of Miami, the violence, sex, and excess of this defining decade was slathered across a fully playable world of wannabe gangsters, sports cars, mountains of drugs, and briefcases full of bills.
Counter-Strike is the game that’s been with me the longest, in one form or another, but for me, it all started here. Many of the things I value most in skill-based games, I value because of Counter-Strike: good level design, team-based dynamic, the dedication required to master it, a friendly sense of competition, and a solid sense of community. It taught me the joy of earning my victories in a game, but also the importance of learning from my failures. It’s the reason I love first-person shooters and the reason I stuck by PC gaming at a young age, and I owe it all to its earliest iterations.
Who can forget the moment they first shot the face off a possessed farmer in Resident Evil 4, only to conjure a lively Lovecraftian horror with tentacles squirming from its neck? This was Resident Evil reborn, its creaky fixed perspectives and klutzy directional controls supplanted by a freer over-the-shoulder, shoot-first perspective that felt at once elegant and intuitive. Instead of cheap haunted house scares in claustrophobic spaces, the story shifted to organic exploration of delightfully creepy areas, punctuated by frenzied scrambles to fend off the series' most inspired adversaries. Capcom's timely embrace in 2005 of action-oriented principles stole nothing from the game's cheerless ambience, and actually amplified the sense of trudging through a phantasmagoric nightmare.
The first four Silent Hill games will always be dear to me, but Silent Hill 2 holds a special place in my heart. It was the first Silent Hill game to establish the town itself as a character – in a genre oversaturated with run-of-the-mill killers, zombies, aliens, and other more conventional adversaries, Silent Hill 2’s focus on horror in architecture, in the layout and personality of a space, of the human psyche turned tangible, was vastly more interesting to me.

Pushing the limits of the NES's 8-bit architecture, 1987's Castlevania was a monster of a game, with stirring graphics, sophisticated physics (for such an early platformer) and unforgettable music that perfectly matched the title's creepy feel. While nowhere as frightening as the yet-to-surface survival horror genre, it offered an experience in stark contrast to Nintendo's whimsical Super Mario games. Exploring Dracula's castle as vampire hunter Simon Belmont, players ran into some pretty haggard stuff. Bloodstained gates greet players off the bat, holy water and crosses were throwing weapons, and, oh yeah, you have to beat Death—and that's not even the final boss.


The list goes on of all the mechanics and elements that make Pokemon GO a game that’s worth playing every day in 2019. As Andrew Goldfarb stated last year when we named Pokemon GO our hundredth game, “it is as relevant for what happens outside of the game as what happens in it,” and to this day that could not be more true. Few games in history have done as much to bring together communities of the most disparate interests, locations, cultures, etc as much as Pokemon GO has. The experiences I have had, the places I have gone and the people I have met because of Pokemon GO are all part of why it is still so special to this day. With the game having its highest-grossing month since launch, it's safe to say Pokemon GO isn't going...anywhere, especially not off of this list.
Sorry, Madden NFL fans, true football gaming fanatics know this is the best gridiron game ever made. Released in 2004 for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, ESPN NFL 2K5 featured a standout franchise-building mode and in-game on-air talent from the eponymous sports network. It also marked a watershed moment in sports gaming lore: Publisher Sega priced the game at just $19.99, a fraction of what EA was charging for Madden NFL at the time. A frightened EA later scooped up the exclusive rights to the NFL and its players, making Madden the only name in town.

Next time you're on a commercial flight, ask your pilot if they ever played Flight Simulator growing up. Odds are the answer will be "yes." The hyper-realistic series puts players in the cockpit of everything from tiny Cessnas to massive jumbo jets. Obsessed flight simmers have built gigantic, multi-screen rigs in basements worldwide to better imitate the real thing. 2006's Flight Simulator X, meanwhile, let players into the control tower, giving birth to a diehard community of simmers who to this day spend hours flying and directing mock routes.
As you head out for a suicide mission, you’ll meet some of the best-written characters that feel original and have the power to evoke true emotions. Perhaps one of the best parts about earning the loyalty of each of the companions was discovering more about their respective species and seeing how they’re surviving in a violent galaxy. Maximum loyalty for my companions in Mass Effect 2 was not an option; for my heart’s own good, it was a requirement.
If you’re connected at all to the gaming world — either through your kids or as a gaming fan yourself — you probably already know about some of the most popular trends in video games right now. But if not, the American market research company the NPD recently released its list of the best-selling video games of 2020 so far. The company looks at digital and retail sales to determine what games people are buying.
Playdead's bleak, gorgeous puzzle-platformer builds on its predecessor Limbo in all the right places – hello, colour palettes; goodbye, boring gravity puzzles. It leaves us with a game that sleekly, wordlessly pivots from brain-teaser to body horror, until hitting an ending that ranks among gaming’s best, a masterpiece of animation, design and outright strangeness.
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