It’s been a hell of a generation, and with games like Persona 5 coming out towards the end of 2014, it’s still going strong. But with the new generation upon us, the time has come to decide upon which games were the best of this generation. It’s not an easy task: I started with fifty games and yet, somehow, I reduced them to only ten.
Well, kind of.
If you’ve paid attention to my Top 5 lists throughout the year, you will have probably noticed my tendency to include honorable mentions, and this list is no exception. Throughout the top ten I tried to mention lots of other incredible titles from the 7th generation, but there were a few I couldn’t squeeze in, so here are the rest of them!
Super Street Fighter 4: Arcade Edition – For being the best version of the game that rekindled my interest in fighting games.
Mortal Kombat – For breathing life back into the franchise and being a damn good game too.
Tomb Raider, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Gears of War – The best 3rd person shooters of the generation, and extraordinary examples of cinematic gameplay.
The Last of Us – For unprecedented storytelling.
Defense Grid: The Awakening and Plants vs. Zombies – My favorite tower defense games.
Diablo III – It may not be the sequel to Diablo II everyone wanted, but it still managed to occupy me for a couple hundred hours.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds – I can’t fathom why it took so long for Nintendo to make a sequel to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. A Link Between Worlds is excellent.
Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 – The perfect dual stick shooter.
Heavy Rain – Unique and engaging.
The lists for this feature include games released for any platform after the release date of the Xbox 360. The only games not allowed are next gen (PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Wii U) exclusives. Now, without further ado, here are my Top Ten Games of the Generation:
10. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
There are two reasons the Call of Duty franchise is as big as it is today. The first is Call of Duty 2, which had an incredible campaign that was as rewarding as it was challenging. The second is Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. If Call of Duty 2 loaded up the bases, Modern Warfare drove the base runners home with an explosive grand slam.
With another excellent campaign that broke away from the usual World War II setting that was so common among first person shooters, and the addition of a fantastic suite of multiplayer features, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was the king of first person shooters. There were plenty of other great shooters throughout the generation including Halo 3, Borderlands 2, Far Cry 3, Left 4 Dead, Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite, but I don’t think any of those topped Modern Warfare overall.
9. Rock Band 3
I have to give Harmonix a lot of credit for their part in delivering music games to North America. Despite Konami’s many efforts, their flagship titles like Beatmania IIDX, Pop’n Music, Guitar Freaks, Drummania and Keyboardmania never saw much success in the west. Instead, it was Harmonix who, after a few experiments with games like Frequency and Amplitude, finally broke the market wide open with Guitar Hero. For one reason or another, people connected with it, and it became a perfect party game. Eventually, MTV Games would acquire Harmonix, and the next phase of their plan was released upon the world.
Rock Band had it all: Guitars, bass guitars, drums and vocals, all working together in a single game, powered by a living room filled with plastic instruments. Activision would continue the Guitar Hero franchise and, for a while, it seemed like players were more interested in that brand than the fact that its original developer had a new product. People eventually caught on. A few more Guitar Hero games were released, with each of them seeming more “gamey” than the last, and then the franchise went into a long hibernation that continues to this day. On the other hand, as the Rock Band franchise matured, it was clear that the developers had a much stronger focus on the music and real instrumental play.
Rock Band 3 set a new bar. Featuring “pro” difficulty for players that wanted to play with real guitars, keyboard support, cymbal parts for drums, and 3 part vocal harmonies, Rock Band 3 took plastic instruments to a whole other level. It also featured a record breaking library of downloadable content, though it was a shame that most of it did not support the new features and was borrowed from previous installments. Regardless, Rock Band 3 was the pinnacle of music games in North America and the ultimate party game. It’s just too bad that by the time Harmonix released it, interest in the genre was already waning. After 5 years of releasing weekly DLC, Harmonix released the last track of DLC for Rock Band, “American Pie.”
Since then, Harmonix has been hard at work on a couple of mysterious projects. We know of one, Fantasia: Music Evolved, but something tells me they have something even grander in development behind closed doors. We’ll just have to wait and see. But nothing changes the fact that Rock Band 3 was the peak of music gaming in North America, and so it has a place on this list.
8. StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty
I’ve always been a fan of Blizzard’s real time strategy games, and StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is currently my favorite. Though I also really enjoyed its first expansion pack, StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, it was just that – an expansion pack. It built upon the foundation laid by Wings of Liberty, and in that foundation is the game’s strength. The Terran, Zerg and Protoss are still incredibly fun and varied races to play as, as they have been since the original StarCraft. Thanks to Blizzard’s obsessive attention to detail when it comes to balancing and patching (occasional oversights notwithstanding), the game remains a lot of fun to play for casual and professional players alike. As an eSport, I find it to be one of the most entertaining to watch, and I love to learn new tricks from watching competitive play.
StarCraft II is also a surprisingly versatile platform for customized content. In the past, Blizzard’s creation tools have led to the development of not only new games, but entirely new genres. Tower Defense had existed prior, but was made popular in StarCraft and WarCraft III custom maps. And we all know how Defense of the Ancients was born from WarCraft III and spawned the entire MOBA genre, culminating with League of Legends becoming most played PC game in the world (though I’m not personally a fan). There are countless custom maps that are freely playable in StarCraft II and there very well may be a genre defining game among them. In any case, I consider StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty to be an essential part of any PC gamer’s library.
7. Super Mario Galaxy
Just when it was starting to feel like Mario and platformers would fade into obscurity, Super Mario Galaxy was released and injected so much creativity and fun into the genre that most of us enjoyed it, despite any preconceived notions about the franchise. What did it matter if the franchise and the platform it was on was marketed primarily to children when the game was this much fun?
Super Mario Galaxy, with its incredibly creative level design, was one of the more enjoyable experiences of the generation. It’s no wonder that it sits at the very top of the GameRankings.com all-time list, and in the 6th position on Metacritic at the time of this writing. I also want to mention New Super Mario Bros. Wii for its simultaneous multiplayer mode that might have provided the most entertaining couch coop moments of my entirely life, primarily because of all of the accidental sabotage. New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Super Mario Galaxy proved why Nintendo is still the king of platformers and, if critics are to be believed, that tradition continues with Super Mario 3D World on the Wii U. In any case, Super Mario Galaxy was one of the defining games of the generation, and just writing about it makes me want to go back and play it again.
6. World of Warcraft
Yes, World of Warcraft was technically released before the start of the 7th generation, but given that the majority of its expansion packs were released after, I’m included it here. If nothing else, World of Warcraft is consistent. It consistently made headlines throughout this entire generation and consistently managed to sneak back into my life and onto my computer’s hard drive. No matter how much I claim that I am done with WoW in those moments that I cancel my subscription, all it takes is the announcement of a new expansion pack and I’m back in. World of Warcraft almost has a monopolistic hold over me when it comes to MMORPGs. There have been a couple of great games released over the years in that genre, especially some recent games like Guild Wars 2 and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, but they don’t have the hooks that WoW has. I’m not sure if it’s the passion of the player base or the quality of the game itself, but for one reason or another, WoW doesn’t let go. It is the single game that I’ve put more hours into than any other, and is surely one of the greatest games of the generation.
5. Persona 4 Golden
In a generation that has been difficult for the JRPG genre and Japanese games in general, there was one franchise that came to life in a big way. The success of Persona 3 was huge; it was a breakthrough for the Shin Megami Tensei franchise in North America. Drastically different from its predecessors, Persona 3 combined a high school life simulation with a dungeon crawler, and the end result was incredible. And though Persona 3 was deserving of its success, it had a few notable flaws. When it came time to make a sequel, Atlus knew exactly what worked and what didn’t. As a result, Persona 4 was created, and was undoubtedly the best JRPG of the generation.
Granted, that’s not saying much! With Final Fantasy struggling, Dragon Quest releases few and far between and Suikoden seeming to have dropped off the face of the Earth, there isn’t much to get excited about lately. Sure, fans of the Tales series have plenty of games, and there have been quite a few Nippon Ichi games like Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness and The Guided Fate Paradox, but as fun as they are, I wouldn’t call them “Game of the Generation” material. There were other noteworthy games too like Xenoblade Chronicles, Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies, and Fire Emblem: Awakening, but were any of those games as great as something like Final Fantasy VII, Suikoden II or Chrono Trigger? Not in my opinion.
That leaves Persona 4, or to be more specific, the best version of it which is available on PlayStation Vita, Persona 4 Golden. With improved visuals, new story content including voiced dialogue and easily 100 hours of gameplay, I can’t think of any JRPG that’s easier to recommend this generation than Persona 4. It has pretty much everything you would want from an RPG; a deep storyline, interesting characters, challenging gameplay and tons of ways to customize your characters for combat. If you haven’t played Persona 4 yet, it’s actually worth owning a Vita just to play it.
4. Grand Theft Auto V
I thought about several open world action games for this list including Saints Row 2, Saints Row: The Third, Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption. But as great as all of those games and others released throughout the generation are, Grand Theft Auto V is the best in my opinion. It was a game that I literally couldn’t put down until I had finished every storyline mission in the game, and even after reaching the conclusion of Michael, Franklin, and Trevor’s adventures, I was still hooked. The enormity of the world, the endless little details and the countless distractions kept me entertained for hours on end, and even now, the game is still sitting in my Xbox 360.
I’m one of those players that will actually take the time to watch an in-game television show, browse the in-game internet and see an in-game movie. I even listen to the talk radio stations that fill some of the Los Santos airwaves. I took the bus tour through Vinewood and listened to the tour guide as she explained the significance of a variety of buildings and sights, many of which corresponded to real life places. I didn’t skip ahead when the bus was stuck at a red light. I just looked around and enjoyed everything about this incredible simulation. I visited the places around Los Santos that were familiar to me, both from my time playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and from living in Los Angeles my entire life. I particularly enjoyed going down the 3rd Street Promenade and checking out Venice Beach. In many ways, Grand Theft Auto V was made for me, and it is currently my favorite open world action game.
3. Portal 2
I loved every second of Portal 2. The original Portal was also fantastic, but this is one case where the sequel improved upon the original in every way possible, which was no easy feat when considering the quality of its predecessor. Both games have fantastic puzzles based upon the portal gameplay mechanic developed by Nuclear Monkey Software for Narbacular Drop, but Portal 2 has more of them and the addition of the three gels to further complicate the puzzles without ever making them overwhelming.
And while Portal did a great job of telling its story and introducing GLaDOS, one of the greatest and most entertaining villains in the history of gaming, Portal 2 built upon that with an ever greater sense of humor and perfect comedic timing. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed more while playing a video game than while playing through Portal 2 and that means something. Video games are not funny enough in general. A lot of games attempt humor, but very few succeed like Portal and especially Portal 2. For its amazing sense of humor, great storyline, devious puzzles and an excellent cooperative mode, Portal 2 easily earns its place on this list.
2. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Of all the decisions I had to make while coming up with this list, putting Skyrim in the #2 spot was the most difficult. I almost feel like I betrayed it by not declaring it #1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was my favorite RPG this generation for sure, and I played it for hundreds of hours. The best thing about it was how fun it was just to walk around and explore the world Bethesda crafted. For an open world game, it was incredibly dense. You could literally walk in any direction and come across something interesting and unexpected. It was also a world worth exploring more than once. Starting over as a new character with a different background and focusing on a different skillset drastically changes not only how the game is played, but how the residents of Skyrim perceive and react to you.
And even if you manage to see every corner of the world and complete every quest—something I have not even come close to doing after over 250 hours—that is still just the tip of the iceberg, because Skyrim can be modified. There are countless mods available for the game, which can make changes both subtle and extreme. Want the grass to look prettier? No problem. Want to replace all of the dragons with My Little Ponies? Easy. Want a massive new collection of weapons and armor to be available throughout the world? Piece of cake. Want the mudcrabs to swear profusely whenever you attack them? There’s a mod for that. Want a whole new quest with over 20 hours of gameplay? Try Falskaar. Through modding, there is no limit to how much Skyrim can be enjoyed.
But even without all that, Skyrim is still extraordinary. It has tons of dungeons, several meaty quest chains, lots of interesting locales and countless reasons to get lost in its depth. This is truly one of the greatest RPGs of all time, and is easily worthy of its spot on this list. I also want to give credit to The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which was also a fantastic game for many of the same reasons, and would have likely sat in this very spot had Skyrim not stolen its place. Fallout 3 is another Bethesda game that impressed this generation, and with game’s like Bioware’s Dragon Age: Origins and the Mass Effect trilogy, truly this was a fine generation for Western RPGs. If only the same could be said for JRPGs, but alas…
I can say this with a straight face and utmost sincerity: Minecraft is the greatest game of the 7th generation of video games. It’s one thing for a game to perfect its own genre, but it’s another thing entirely to come up with something new and original. Though Minecraft borrows plenty of mechanics from other genres, it pioneered its own kind of sandbox survival, and that has been the basis for many new games since.
How often do we hear about games that are kind of like Minecraft? Terraria is another one of the generation’s great indie titles, and it was like a 2D version of Minecraft with lots of interesting enemies and weapons, but the same “gather and build” sandbox gameplay. Starbound is another recent indie title about survival, discovery, exploration and building. Then there are the countless blatant Minecraft clones trying to capitalize on its success, and the occasional game that does a decent job of it. In any case, it is clear that Minecraft has birthed a new genre.
But that’s only the beginning of why Minecraft is great. In many ways, Minecraft is this generation’s Lego building blocks. With enough imagination, inspiration and will power, it’s absolutely amazing what can be constructed within the game. Go ahead and do a Google image search of “amazing Minecraft creations” and you will discover a massive array of incredible constructions. This game has truly captured the world’s imagination.
Beyond that is perhaps the most important point of all: the game itself. It’s fantastic! Obsessively addicting, deeply rewarding, and infinite in its potential, Minecraft manages to remind us about why we fell in love with video games to begin with. It spends little time hand holding and instead encourages exploration and discovery. It punishes new players brutally, but that only further encourages learning through trial and error, eventually leading to growth and incredibly rewarding accomplishment.
Minecraft is a game of ever increasing depth. The more you learn, the more there is to learn. Whether it’s the most basic act of exploring mines and acquiring ore, building your first house or designing a complicated monster trap, there is always room for improvement and enhancement. It’s great in terms of gameplay, and it’s also no wonder that Minecraft is even used as an educational tool!
But when all is said and done, it’s just a lot of fun to play. Minecraft proves that a game doesn’t need to cost millions of dollars to be great. Videogames have always been more about the games themselves rather than the cosmetics layered over them. The 7th generation has been fantastic for Indie developers. Games like Super Meat Boy, Braid, Limbo, FTL: Faster Than Light, Spelunky, Super Hexagon, Fez and countless others have stolen our attention from the blockbusters. But Minecraft stands above them all in my opinion. It is without any doubt my #1 game of the generation.
Well, there you have it. I’m sure my top ten games of the generation are much different from yours, so let me know what you think in the comments below. Also, be sure to check out the other lists from the rest of the Gamer Horizon crew. One thing is for certain, we live in an age with no shortage of fantastic games. Good times!