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.

Cutscenes were one of the driving forces behind the success of PC gaming in the late '90s and Blizzard was regarded as the king when it came to jaw-dropping visuals. They took things to an entirely new level with StarCraft and the Brood War expansion in 1998, though. Not only were players treated to an excellent RTS experience, but their reward for completing sections of the campaign were evocative visuals that further immersed you in a world where humans are losing a war against brutal space aliens.
Fortnite changed the playing field of battle royales upon its release in 2017. Originally starting out as a purchase to play cooperative shooter-survival game with the title “Save the World,” Epic Games branched out and opened up an early access Fortnite Battle Royale mode. Over 10 million players amassed over the first two weeks of the release and Epic quickly changed their Battle Royale to a free-to-play model. Almost overnight, Fortnite became the reigning battle royale game to play as consistent updates to the map and limited-time game modes rolled out. With the steady flow of fresh content and updates to Fortnite’s Battle Royale, it stands out in its genre as a colorful and unique title other games have yet to compete with.
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.
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.
As Microsoft Flight Simulator to the flight sim genre, so Polyphony Digital's Gran Turismo series to hi-fi motorsport hot-rodding. Of all the Gran Turismo games, 2001's Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec for the PlayStation 2 remains the series' apotheosis, a madly ambitious encyclopedia of lovingly modeled vehicles and vistas surpassing the wildest gear nut fantasies. Here was a racing game to rule all others, that on its surface promised endless championship events framed by thrillingly realistic physics and painstakingly replicated visuals, but that also catered to armchair grease monkeys, who might spend hours fine-tuning then gawking at their drop-dead gorgeous rides.

By no means the first city-builder, SimCity 2000 undoubtedly influenced all those that succeeded it. The 1994 game established a near-perfect balance between the inputs and outputs of running a (virtual) metropolis. Graphics that rendered the corner-view of each building, bridge, road, hill and valley made the series look more true-to-life. And the constant chatter from policy advisers as well as feedback from the local newspaper—precursors to modern notifications—made players’ roles as mayors feel particularly realistic.
Myst is a perfect example of a monumentally influential game that would be almost excruciatingly painful to play today. The 1993 graphical adventure famously let players loose—sort of, since it consisted of a slow-loading series of beautifully rendered photos—on a mysterious island. Despite its now-clunky mechanics, it established an entirely new kind of fiction whose influence can be felt in everything from mythic sci-fi novels to the ABC television show Lost. Its vast popularity also helped establish the then-nascent CD-ROM format.

Halo didn't invent the first-person shooter. Not by a longshot. Nor was it even the first console FPS. But it was the first FPS to finally get it right on a console, and the industry hasn't been the same since. Halo: Combat Evolved simply felt at home on a gamepad, and the fact that it had a likeable and heroic protagonist, a rich sci-fi universe that felt fleshed-out despite this being the first game in the series, and Halo became an instant smash hit.


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.
Designed by a Russian computer scientist, mass-distributed by a Japanese company and devoured by gamers—casual or compulsive—around the world, Tetris has been a global phenomenon since its arrival in 1984. In 1989, Nintendo put the legendary tile-matching puzzler on the NES and Game Boy, where it catapulted the latter to meteoric success. It's been available on nearly every platform since, a testament to our never-ending zeal for stacking blocks. However addictive, Tetris also appears to have modest health benefits, like cravings control and PTSD prevention. Devotees would probably nod and note how much a high-scoring, in-the-zone session can feel like meditation. And speaking of Zen, the game's also generated its share of life lessons, including this apocryphal truism: "If Tetris has taught me anything, it’s that errors pile up and accomplishments disappear." 

Pokemon GO in 2019 is a game I shouldn’t care about. When it launched in 2016 it was in a lot of ways a mediocre experience. Outside of catching the original 151 Pokemon the game itself relied heavily on the nostalgia of the Pokemon franchise and augmented reality gimmick of having them show up in the real world. If you didn’t care about the IP, the game itself was very lacking. In 2019, the game is flooded with a multitude of tasks, activities, and events that can involve anyone from yourself to a large group of people. These additions create an experience that incentivizes users to be more dedicated to daily play without feeling like a grind. Friendship has been introduced and allows users to now exchange gifts, trade or even battle each other. Quests (research tasks as they are referred to in-game) have been added that reward items and even special Pokemon. Events now fill each month’s calendar with new (and sometimes shiny) Pokemon, exclusive rewards and new ways to play the game. There is even a burgeoning competitive PVP scene which gave Pokemon GO its first-ever appearance at the Pokemon World Championships this year.
Nearly every facet of Sony Santa Monica's Norse epic is working in concert with one another to craft a thrilling, memorable, and engrossing adventure. From its haunting score, to the beautifully written and acted story of Kratos and Atreus, to the incredible feel of the Leviathan Axe, God of War's impressive craftsmanship shines through at every step, honoring the past while forging its own path.
Where Mass Effect set the stage a futuristic Milky Way, Mass Effect 2 let you explore and experience so much more of it. As Commander Shepard, I traveled the galaxy on the best recruitment trip I could have wished for, and experienced possibly one of the most heart-wrenching stories – but whether or not the game ends in tears is entirely up to you.
2008's GTA 4 may have been the reason that I bought an Xbox 360, but RDR is the reason I kept it. Not only did I get completely lost in the massive single-player world, to the point where I'd started talking with a bit of a drawl because I was so used to hearing it, but it also drew me into online gaming unlike anything I'd played before. Sure, CoD was fun for a bit and racing games were okay, but never before had I so successfully crafted my own stories and adventures (with friends and strangers alike) than in Red Dead's Free Roam mode.
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.
Furthermore, and perhaps even more importantly, Halo 2 was the killer app for Xbox Live. It brought the party system and matchmaking hopper concept to consoles, instantly making every other online console game look archaic in its infrastructure by comparison. Of course, it helped that the multiplayer gameplay was, well, legendary. The maps were almost all memorably brilliant, the match options were vast, and the ranking system kept you fighting night after night to try and move up. Halo 2 remains the gold standard for console first-person shooter multiplayer, despite the fact that it's been 15 years since its release. 

Furthermore, and perhaps even more importantly, Halo 2 was the killer app for Xbox Live. It brought the party system and matchmaking hopper concept to consoles, instantly making every other online console game look archaic in its infrastructure by comparison. Of course, it helped that the multiplayer gameplay was, well, legendary. The maps were almost all memorably brilliant, the match options were vast, and the ranking system kept you fighting night after night to try and move up. Halo 2 remains the gold standard for console first-person shooter multiplayer, despite the fact that it's been 15 years since its release.


Released in 2019 by Square Enix for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, Kingdom Hearts III is set against various Disney and Pixar worlds. It’s the 12th installment in the Kingdom Hearts series, meant to wrap up the narrative arc that began with the first game. It sold more than 5 million copies in its first week, making it both the fastest-selling and also the best-selling installment in the series. 
Everything about DOOM was incredible. The graphics were colorful and convincing. Lightning was spooky. It felt like you were on a Martian moon. It's music was memorable. Weapon design was brilliant, and enemy design even more so. From the imps to the Cacodemons to the Cyberdemon, nearly every creature in DOOM was the stuff of nightmares – and in a then-unheard-of gameplay twist, they hated each other as much as they hated you.

Starting the journey of Fallout 2 as a tribesman with nothing more than a loincloth and a spear to my name and gradually fighting my way up to a power-armored, gauss-gunning killing machine is a fantastic and surprisingly natural feeling of progression – one that few games have been able to match. Exploring a vast and open post-apocalyptic world full of deadly raiders, supermutants, and deathclaws is daunting but exciting, and thanks to attention to detail, atmospheric music, powerfully written morally ambiguous quests, and voice-acted interactions with key characters, the world feels personal and vivid even though we view it from a distant third-person camera.
×