The transition to a new console generation gives us many reasons to be excited about the future of gaming. However, as we anticipate what lies ahead, we should also pay our respects to the current-gen games that brought us to this point. After all, the big next-gen releases on the horizon are only possible thanks to the innovations in gameplay, storytelling, and technology that we’ve seen introduced in recent years.
Here we celebrate the highest achievements of the current generation. It’s impossible to call out every great game on PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC – though do we hand out additional accolades in our End-of-Generation Awards feature. But here, we’re singling out the best of the best; read on to see our for the top contenders across various categories and genres. Whether you want to find a hidden gem you missed or just reminisce about your favorites, these are the games that shaped the generation.
The Top Tier
The Top Tier
Some games are simply must-plays. They are so groundbreaking and astounding that they rise to the top of the conversation regardless of genre confines. That’s what these five games represent; if you want a crash course in what was great about this generation, these are what you need to play. They encapsulate the current height of the craft, with memorable characters, immersive gameplay, and clever approaches to player agency.
God of War continues the story of Kratos, but he isn’t the warrior you remember. Transplanted into the world of Norse mythology, the Ghost of Sparta is now raising his son, Atreus, while also reckoning with his own violent deeds. Santa Monica Studio’s narrative strikes a more thoughtful and mature tone than previous entries, but retains the stylish gameplay; the adventure is full of intense combat and epic moments, and the star of the show is the Leviathan – a magical axe Kratos can throw and recall at will.
Naughty Dog set such a high bar with The Last of Us, many players felt the game did not need a sequel. However, The Last of Us Part II proves that the tale of Joel and Ellie is far from over. It tells a nuanced story of revenge, with fantastic characters and emotional performances that create a cinematic experience. The tense and brutal encounters force players into uncomfortable situations, but the attention to detail in your surroundings make the setting feel grounded and believable.
If you want to live the cowboy fantasy while also being treated to some of the best storytelling in the business, Red Dead Redemption II is for you. As part of an outlaw gang, Arthur Morgan explores a vast frontier as he tries to secure a better life for himself and his friends. Players can pull off heists, have shoot-outs, and even hop into an ever-evolving multiplayer mode. Rockstar Games has filled its world with countless events and secrets, so it feels alive in a way that no other open-world game can match.
Long-running series occasionally need to be revitalized to stay relevant, but The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild goes a step further. It completely reinvents Nintendo’s classic franchise with an emphasis on open-world exploration, flexible combat, and the joy of discovery. Link glides and climbs through Hyrule, conquering shrines and making friends until he is able to confront Ganon. This entry forsakes the “visit dungeon, get item, beat boss” formula, finding a new level of freedom that helps it soar.
Many games tout the importance of player choice, but few can pull it off like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. CD Projekt Red presents decisions with no clear right or wrong path, and players must live with the consequences. Even if things don’t turn out well, the array of well-written sidequests keeps you invested, along with satisfying combat against intimidating beasts. This sprawling RPG gives you an entire fantasy world to explore, and makes you feel like a capable warrior every step of the way.
Great gameplay keeps you entertained in the moment, but a great story can lodge itself in your memory for years. Of course, systems and mechanics are still important, but these games distinguish themselves with outstanding characters and original narratives.
The members of a cursed family keep dying in improbable ways, and you relive their final moments. Giant Sparrow’s What Remains of Edith Finch turns that unusual premise into a compelling series of poetic vignettes.
Bizarre and captivating, Disco Elysium is unlike anything you have played before. You are a lousy and unstable cop trying to solve a murder, and developer ZA/UM surrounds you with fascinating dialogue and deep fiction to make the unique world more than a backdrop.
On one hand, Ninja Theory’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is about a quest to the Norse underworld. On the other hand, it’s a bold and illuminating look at how Senua’s mental illness can shape and distort the world around her, calling the nature of reality into question.
The freeform narrative of Her Story is assembled as players sift through video clips of a police interrogation. Because it’s based on the keywords you choose to search, no two players see clues in the same order – but they all reach a similar, chilling conclusion.
Kentucky Route Zero is all about the journey, not the destination. Cardboard Computer’s surreal road trip is full of dream logic and ambiguity. But amid the magical realism, it tells relatable tales about regret, community, and the debts we owe.
- Her Story
(PC, iOS, Android)
- Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
(PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC)
- What Remains of Edith Finch
(PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC)
- Kentucky Route Zero
(PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC)
- Disco Elysium
For decades, firearms have been the default choice for video gaming weapons. Though many developers have branched out into more diverse experiences, some of the most popular, successful, and impressive games have you looking at the world down the barrel of a gun.
In Destiny 2, Bungie combines an evolving multiplayer world with best-in-class controls. The array of satisfying weapons (and ever-expanding opportunities to use them) make this shooter more than a game. It’s a hobby by itself.
Want to have fun slaughtering gross demons? Doom Eternal is a romp through hell with a clever arsenal and thrilling traversal. Id Software fully understands and embraces its mission, providing a wild ride full of gore and adrenaline-fueled action.
Half-Life: Alyx isn’t the sequel fans expected, but Valve’s return to City 17 is amazing. Intuitive VR controls help you make the most of your environment and loadout, supported by immersive gunplay and a captivating world.
Entries of an annualized series can blend together, but Call of Duty: Modern Warfare stands out with its exciting tactical options and multiplayer progression. Infinity Ward also pulls off a great single-player story full of unexpected twists.
Flexibility and fun are the core of Titanfall 2. Giant robots, various playstyles, and stunning moments create a roller-coaster campaign. Meanwhile, Respawn’s generous approach to multiplayer keeps you invested.
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
(PS4, Xbox One, PC)
- Destiny 2
(PS4, Xbox One, PC, Stadia)
- Titanfall 2
(PS4, Xbox One, PC)
- Doom Eternal
(PS4, Xbox One, PC, Stadia)
- Half-Life: Alyx
For all of their achievements in other areas, certain games are at their best in the heat of the moment: the death-defying leaps, last-minute escapes, and final sword slashes. After that, you get a moment to rest before your momentum propels you into another intense situation. Though they can still have great characters and worlds, these are the games to play if you thrive on danger and the triumph of survival.
Nathan Drake is the Indiana Jones of gaming, and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a thrilling finale to his adventures. Drake searches for treasure and reconnects with old friends, but the path is full of explosions, gunfights, and chases – not to mention plenty of precarious ledges to dangle from. Naughty Dog’s reputation for impressive setpiece moments continues, but amid all the action, the story has surprising heart. Saying goodbye to Drake, Elena, and Sully is tough, but at least they get to quit while they’re on top.
From Software’s Souls series may have spawned a whole subgenre, but Bloodborne perfects it. Your hunter goes head-to-head with fiendish monsters and hideous bosses, all demanding precise timing and careful observation. Find a playstyle that appeals to you by experimenting with weapons like claws, guns, and transforming blades. Just don’t expect a fair fight, because the eldritch horrors that lurk in this Lovecraftian setting will show you no mercy.
The titanic beasts of Monster Hunter: World make even the biggest sword look tiny – perfect for players who like overcoming the odds. You kill fierce monsters in epic battles, harvest their body parts, and then use those parts to craft even more powerful weapons and armor. The diversity of gear opens up dozens of possible playstyles, but you can’t win every fight alone. That’s why the cooperative multiplayer is key; only by teaming up with friends can you topple the most challenging foes Capcom crafted for this installment.
Control puts unbelievable power at your fingertips. Pick people up and throw them. Fly through the air. Create a shield out of concrete. Jesse can bend her surroundings to her will, but even those abilities are just enough to survive. Armed guards and otherworldly evils stand in Jesse’s way, and Remedy designed encounters that strike a delicate balance between reasonable challenge and satisfying fantasy. Being smart about how you approach combat is the only way to find the answers hidden in the Oldest House.
Mr. X can always be just around the corner. That’s just one of many hard lessons you learn in Resident Evil 2, the reincarnation of Capcom’s survival-horror classic. The hulking, hat-wearing creature is just one of many terrifying foes you face in this reimagined return to Raccoon City. Zombie swarms and scarce resources force you to be deliberate as you shoot and stab your way through the outbreak, and the scares keep you off balance with looming threats and a haunting atmosphere.
With open-world games, players can be transported to different places that span time periods and realities. The ability to let us roam free in fully realized worlds makes this kind of experience especially immersive; it’s like we live there ourselves, getting to know the people, mythology, and geography. Many games excel at providing cool settings to explore, but these are our picks for the best worlds to get lost in.
Sci-fi meets prehistory in Horizon Zero Dawn, which has robotic dinosaurs rampaging through a post-apocalyptic world. Aloy ventures into this vast and dangerous landscape, hunting the vicious machines with her trusty bow. Exploration, combat, and narrative all share the spotlight here, but Guerrilla Games pays special attention to building the lore and mystery of the unique setting. When you’re looking forward to a new audio log as much as your next battle against a Thunderjaw, you know you’re playing something special.
With so many Assassin’s Creed games to choose from, it’s hard to pick just one – but Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is ultimately a distillation of everything the series does best. Evie and Jacob Frye’s gradual takeover of London’s boroughs makes you feel like an effective criminal kingpin, even when you’re getting your hands dirty in timing-based combat and crafted assassination scenarios. The city has an unconventional, industrial beauty – and Ubisoft makes it a blast to explore when you are sailing up to the rooftops with a zipline.
Get your photo mode ready, because Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima is the most stylishly striking open world in years. Serene mountains, gorgeous sunsets, falling cherry blossoms – you see it all on your journey through the Japanese countryside. Whether you’re following foxes or paying your respects at shrines, the island is full of rewarding activities. The picturesque setting is inspired by samurai cinema, as is the precise sword-focused combat that includes noble duels and sneaky infiltration.
You’ve probably seen a few video game versions of New York, but not from the angle that Insomniac’s Spider-Man provides. The streets blur past at high speeds as you swing and leap from one building to the next. This experience captures the acrobatic exhilaration of being Marvel’s iconic hero unlike any game before it, letting you glide through the city with majestic ease. When your feet are on the ground, you’re treated to a great comic-book story and super-powered combat.
For some open worlds, wandering around a massive map is more important than the tasks at hand. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain sends players on missions in focused areas, but the depth of those areas is astounding. Kojima Productions built intricate systems that interact in clever ways, turning the various camps and compounds into playgrounds you can prod using tools like sleeping darts, canine companions, and cybernetic rocket arms. What the environment lacks in free-roaming distractions, it more than makes up for in density.
The past influences the present in many ways, but these games take direct inspiration from the gameplay and visuals of bygone eras. They still innovate and impress on their own, but a certain retro aesthetic is an undeniable part of their appeal.
If you like Metroid, then you cannot miss Axiom Verge. Trapped on a hostile alien planet, you explore dangerous passages and hunt for secrets using an inventive arsenal of weapons and mobility-focused powers.
Undertale subverts your expectations at every turn. Developer Toby Fox turns this classic-style RPG into a wild ride full of delightful characters, timing-based combat, and meta-story that blows your mind.
It may look like an old-timey cartoon, but Studio MDHR’s Cuphead is a side-scrolling gauntlet that requires unflinching focus. The challenge can be unforgiving, but that just makes your eventual triumph even more cathartic.
Pixelated platformers don’t get much better than Celeste. Developer Matt Makes Games mixes responsive controls and elegant puzzles to tell a story of self-discovery, all framed by the trek up an intimidating mountain peak.
Team Cherry’s Hollow Knight is a fusion of 2D exploration and demanding combat. Gorgeous graphics and animations create a desolate world, but the sense of discovery (and cool abilities) make the many dangers worth facing.
- Hollow Knight
(PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC)
(PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, Stadia)
- Axiom Verge
(PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Wii U, Vita, PC)
(PS4, Switch, Vita, PC)
(PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC)
Don’t worry about turning these games off when your family enters the room. They’re great to play with an audience, or when you just want a break from tough decisions and heavy narratives. The main thread running between these experiences is an emphasis on the joy of play.
Nintendo’s industry-defining plumber has another outstanding adventure in Super Mario Odyssey. Taking control of enemies adds an irresistible new wrinkle to the combination of inventive puzzles and inviting worlds.
Live the quiet life in ConcernedApe’s Stardew Valley by building up your farm and becoming a pillar of the community. Hard work and patience pay off as you perform chores and make friends, allowing you to build a peaceful little farming empire.
The welcoming storybook vibe in Ori and the Will of the Wisps hides challenging combat and platforming. Even so, the heartwarming story and lush world create an uplifting experience that even tops Moon Games’ stellar first entry.
Dreams can be as complicated or simple as you like. Media Molecule’s fantastic creation tools let you shape your own interactive experiences, or surf through user-made content to see other people’s strange and wonderful ideas brought to life.
Set your own goals and customize your island in a cute escape from reality. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is your ticket to relaxation; Nintendo’s laid-back simulation provides an idyllic setting for players to share, socialize, and optimize.
Sometimes mental agility is more important than quick reflexes. Whether you’re assembling clues or organizing blocks, the “a-ha” moment when a puzzle clicks into place is an energizing thrill. These games let you chase that feeling, rewarding brainpower instead of firepower.
Drawing lines on a grid doesn’t seem too hard. The Witness (from Braid designer Jonathan Blow) takes that straightforward idea and unfolds it into a surprising variety of complex puzzles that test your logic and observation.
A ship floats empty in the middle of the ocean, but what happened to the crew? That’s what you figure out in Lucas Pope’s Return of the Obra Dinn, which makes it deviously fun to discern the identities of the missing sailors.
Tetris Effect is classic block-dropping with a hypnotic new layer. Developers Monstars and Resonair enhance the action with responsive music and visuals that morph as you play, plus a new “zone” mechanic to help you set up big clears.
Playdead’s Inside, like Limbo before it, is a brilliant and haunting journey. Careful timing and thorough experimentation are required to progress through the nightmarish world, and the solutions are clever without being overcomplicated.
With its minimal visual style, Boxboy + Boxgirl highlights HAL Laboratory’s clever puzzle design. The simple concept of placing boxes is used to build bridges, steps, and other ways for you (and a co-op buddy) to bypass obstacles.
(PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, iOS)
- Boxboy + Boxgirl
- The Witness
(PS4, Xbox One, PC)
- Tetris Effect
(PS4, PC, PSVR, Rift, Vive, Quest)
- Return of the Obra Dinn
(PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC)
As more games incorporate ideas drawn from JRPGs, the qualities that define the genre have gotten blurrier; it isn’t just turn-based battles and anime cutscenes anymore. We’re applying the label here to games that embody some of the genre’s purest ideals, including strategic combat, satisfying progression, and intriguing character development.
Part RPG and part simulation, Persona 5 Royal has you saving the world while also balancing your friendships and schoolwork. It’s a long and complicated journey from Atlus, but full of great moments and stylish flair.
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age sticks close to the series’ traditions, but with several modern touches. Likeable party members, challenging bosses, and a colorful world make Square Enix’s classic formula feel fresh again.
Connections are at the heart of Nintendo’s Fire Emblem: Three Houses. As a professor, you forge memorable bonds with your students, guiding them in their personal lives and through top-notch tactical combat.
Final Fantasy VII Remake walks the impossible line between surprise and nostalgia. Square Enix appeals to fans of the original by reimagining the characters and setting, but injects new life into the battle system and story.
The twisting tale of Kingdom Hearts III finally gives fans some answers, even if the tale is inscrutable to newcomers. Square Enix’s spectacle-filled adventure has iconic Disney characters and settings alongside action-oriented combat.
The taste of victory is sweet, and video games are uniquely equipped to bring people from around the globe together to compete. Though sports and racing games translate real-life competitive events into a digital format, here we’re focusing on the kinds of clashes that don’t exist anywhere else. Defeat your opponents with improbable weapons, magic powers, and cars that push the laws of physics to their limits.
Fortnite needs no introduction. Epic Games’ battle royale isn’t just a fun game; it’s a cultural phenomenon that captures the spirit of competition through clever play and continuous improvement. Shootouts, scavenging, and the thrill of survival keep you playing match after match – and no game ever plays out quite the same, especially with the steady stream of updates keeping the action fresh. All of this (and more) is why we gave Fortnite our Generation Defining award, which you can read more about here.
While the core concepts behind hero shooters have been around since the days of Team Fortress 2, Blizzard’s Overwatch deserves credit for modernizing and popularizing the format. The exciting roster of cool characters makes it hard to pick a favorite, especially since they all have interesting and distinct playstyles. Every match is full of opportunities to showcase your individual skill and your ability to function as a team, with nail-biting close calls and one-in-a-million shots that keep you coming back for more.
If you combine Fortnite and Overwatch, you end up with something like Apex Legends. Respawn’s team-focused battle royale challenges three-player groups to survive using character-driven powers and an innovative ping system. The movement and gunplay feel great, and the different abilities add a layer of strategy to the combat beyond simply trying to collect the best gear. As a live service, Apex Legends has only improved with time, receiving new content and tweaks that push players to stay at the top of their game.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate provides multiplayer bouts involving Nintendo’s classic characters alongside a host of cameos from across the industry. But this game isn’t just about seeing Mario go head-to-head with Cloud Strife; it also has the delightful ability to accommodate players of all skill levels. Smash Bros. is great for casual brawling among friends, but it can also be an intricate fighter that tests the skills and strategies of hardcore players. This entry refines ideas from the past, but also has fun new twists on the action.
Soccer played by R.C. cars? Why not! Psyonix’s Rocket League puts players in control of cute, agile vehicles that tear around the field to knock a ball into their opponents’ goal. You get last-second saves, exciting breakaways, and ridiculous four-wheeled action. Behind all of the chaos is an irresistible mixture of luck and skill, with impressive physics and polished controls that turn every five-minute match into a series of plays worthy of the highlight reel.