It may be harder to name a defining feature of the eighth generation of consoles than in previous generations. You could argue that this is the 4K generation, as it was the first to boost visuals to that resolution, but that feature only popped up midway through the generation in enhanced versions of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Even now many current-gen releases don’t support 4K just yet.
This generation could also be remembered as the one where a reliable, high-speed internet connection became more important than ever, not only for innovative new experiments with online connectivity and the burgeoning battle royal genre, but just to download the hefty updates most AAA games require today. Still, some of the best games of the last few years have been single-player only affairs.
Perhaps this is the console generation that embraced the idea that gamers should be able to play what they want, how they want. Whether you wanted to play a big-budget new release in glorious 4K on the Xbox One X or PS4 Pro, or relax with an on-the-go port of an old favorite for the Nintendo Switch, these consoles had your back. Best of all, cross-platform play, cloud gaming, and subscription services like Xbox Game Pass made it easier than ever to play some of the most popular games on the device of your choosing.
Regardless of how we ultimately remember this generation, one thing is for sure: there have been plenty of great games across the PS4, Xbox One, and Switch. As we look forward to the impending launches of the Xbox Series X and the PlayStation 5, these are the very best games we played on the current generation of consoles…
2017 | Epic Games
It’s no secret that there are still plenty of legitimate criticisms lodged at Fortnite, even three years after its release. New updates often leave it feeling incredibly unbalanced, it unapologetically targets its core audience of young gamers with microtransactions, and it really sucks when those kids handily beat you in solos and start screaming into their microphones. But Epic deserves a lot of credit for popularizing many of the staples of the once-niche battle royal genre, from parachuting unarmed into a remote island to the closing circle pushing players toward each other. In the years since its release, those ideas have been co-opted into everything from platformers to racing games.
Yes, PUBG came first, but the hardcore nature of Fortnite‘s predecessor turned off more casual players. With its bright, inviting graphics and forgiving gunplay, Fortnite made the battle royal accessible to the masses, while also spearheading the genre’s push to mobile devices and adoption of cross-platform play in an effort to get the game in as many hands as possible. Fortnite isn’t for everyone, but even if it’s not your cup of tea, it’s hard to escape the profound influence that Fortnite has had on this generation of gaming.
24. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
2019 | FromSoftware
Many gamers rank Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice as not just one of the best games of this generation but among the greatest action games of all time. This is a deeply rewarding game that emphasizes intricate, precise combat and meticulously planned stealth, while also boasting a faster pace than its classic FromSoftware predecessors. With its mix of historical and fantastical elements, Sekiro is the shinobi game that many players have spent years fantasizing about.
Sekiro’s biggest flaw is what others will say is its greatest strength: mercilessly unforgiving difficulty. FromSoftware’s previous titles were difficult, but Sekiro can be a downright masochistic experience, demanding not just skill, but absolute perfection to defeat its bosses. If you’re not perfect, you will die. A lot. Some gamers welcome that kind of challenge, but for the more easily frustrated among us, there are plenty of other games that offer just as much enjoyment with a lot less frustration. Still, you can’t deny this game its place as one of FromSoftware’s very best.
2016 | Playdead
Inside is a master class in minimalism. The visuals are simple and monochrome. Sound and music are used sparingly. And the story is largely open to interpretation. But all of that is used expertly as way to entice the player fill in the gaps and project their own beliefs into the experience. Does the Boy you control have free will or is he under the control of some other force? Do you even have the control over him that you think you do?
For most of its brief runtime, Inside plays like a fairly traditional puzzle platformer but then the last half hour or so turns into something very, very different. If you haven’t experienced it yet, we won’t spoil it here, but it’s well worth taking the time to play before moving on to the next generation of consoles.
22. Persona 5 Royal
2020 | Atlus
Many of us would have liked high school better if it had been more like Persona 5. Atlus has been working on this high school-set RPG saga for years and Persona 5 might be its masterpiece. The game doubles as both an incredibly well-written day-in-the-life simulation of the life of a student — with all of the social interactions, stresses, and crushes that go with it — and an intense dungeon crawler to rival the best in the genre. There’s a lot to do in Persona 5, but the story and gameplay are so engrossing that even the 100 hours it takes to complete the game feel like they fly by.
Even the original 2017 release of Persona 5 would have made this list, but the addition of a new playable character, new palace, and a third semester make Persona 5 Royal the definitive version of the game to pick up if you’re digging into it for the first time.
21. Death Stranding
2019 | Kojima Productions
When Death Stranding was first announced in 2016, there were a lot of questions about what exactly it was about. A year after release, it’s still hard to fully explain a plot that intertwines magic babies, whale ghosts, strategic urination, a complete misunderstanding of how the federal government works, and the potential extinction of mankind. Also, Conan O’Brien shows up and everyone drinks Monster Energy for some reason.
There’s a lot going on here, but Hideo Kojima’s overly-complex storytelling is ultimately much less important than the point he’s trying to make: though technology is making us drift apart, and we might feel lonely and separated from each other at time, we are all inextricably connected and stronger when we realize it. And Kojima does a fantastic job of making players feel the weight of Sam’s mission to connect with others across the game’s beautiful and haunting environments.
Death Stranding’s story of a porter who keeps America together by delivering packages to people stuck in their homes due to an invisible danger overtaking the outside world seemed rather silly when it was released, but the Covid-19 pandemic quickly made the game feel much more poignant. You might not get what’s happening from one moment to the next but it’s clear that Kojima’s latest is a prescient work of art.
20. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
2018 | Ubisoft
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey really doesn’t care about the Assassin’s Creed franchise. In fact, you don’t even play as an actual assassin once you enter the animus and select to play as either the male or female protagonist. There are no Templars to fight, no creed to follow, and not even a hidden blade. Instead, Odyssey lunges head first into its Ancient Greece setting to just tell the best (mostly) self-contained story possible. There are kings to topple, famous battles to fight, legendary philosophers to argue with, and even a few mythical creatures to discover late into the game.
If Odyssey has one flaw, it’s that it’s too big. Even after 80 hours, it’s unlikely that you’ll have seen everything that the game has to offer or unlocked all of the upgrades for your character and their ship. But for such a lengthy game, Odyssey remains surprisingly enjoyable dozens of hours in, which just speaks to the strength of its gameplay systems.
19. Rocket League
2015 | Psyonix
“Soccer, but with vehicles,” is such a simple but brilliant concept that it’s amazing that it didn’t catch on sooner. Of course, any idea is only as good as its execution, which is why Rocket League has been so successful, especially when compared to its little-known predecessor, the 2008 PS3-exclusive Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars.
But Rocket League hasn’t achieved greater popularity just because it has a better name. The secret to its success is in the physics. The way that the cars and trucks move and boost and fly through the air to hit the giant soccer ball just feels like the perfect mix of skill and luck..
The version of the game that Psyonix put out in 2015 was great before any changes, but the constant flow of updates, including new cosmetics, skins, arenas, and game modes solidify Rocket League’s place among the best games of the generation. At this rate, there’s a very good chance that we’ll still be playing it years from now, even when the successors to the PS5 and XSX come around.
2015 | Toby Fox
Undertale is proof that groundbreaking 3D graphics and a huge team of developers aren’t necessary to create a classic title in the modern gaming landscape. Developed almost entirely by one man over the course of 32 months, the beauty of Undertale is in its simplicity, the clear inspiration it takes from so many classic games of the 16-bit era, and the way it turns so many of those retro conventions on their heads.
Undertale might look like a typical old-school RPG at first, but once you dig into it, the fantastic writing and turn-based/bullet hell hybrid battle system reveal a much more innovative game. Undertale is proof that the indie game development scene is still alive and well.
17. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
2020 | Nintendo
Playing AAA games can sometimes be stressful: tough new enemies around every corner, the constant threat of death or failure, the burden of resource management, mind bending puzzles, and unending list of quests and collectibles to find. But Animal Crossing: New Horizons isn’t like those games. New Horizons is about chilling on your own personal island with friends, living life at your own pace, and creating your own little slice of paradise. Go fishing, collect fruit, redecorate your house, or just ignore all of those things and talk with your friends. It sounds really boring to a lot of people who have never experienced the magic of an Animal Crossing game, but it’s hard to deny how incredibly cathartic the experience is after just a few minutes.
Part of New Horizons appeal can be attributed to the timing of its release. The game came out just as Covid-19 lockdowns were being instituted across the globe, and it gave us all a nice, pleasant distraction from the chaos of the outside world. But even without the pandemic, it’s impossible to deny just how relaxing New Horizons is as a sort of anti-game free from the stresses caused by so many other games.
16. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
2015 | Kojima Productions
Even before his high-profile departure from Konam in 2015, Kojima warned us for years that Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain would be his last installment in the series. After his contentious exit, it seems that he has truly closed the door on the series, but at least he went out on top in his final adventure with Snake. Sure, the storyline is as convoluted as ever, but The Phantom Pain is easily the best Metal Gear Solid from a gameplay perspective.
After years of required linear stealth gameplay, The Phantom Pain opened up the world and gave Snake way more tools and options that ever before, making a full-on assault just as viable a plan as sneaking around. Sure, other games took similar approaches years before The Phantom Pain’s release, but the trademark Kojima quirkiness, including equipment like Snake’s customizable prosthetic arm and the ability to recruit goats to your home base via giant balloon, puts it a step above the titles that influenced it.
2016 | id Software
It’s difficult to innovate in a genre as well-worn as first-person shooters, but with Doom, id proved that there’s still new ground to cover. The genius of Doom is its incorporation of risk-reward gameplay to encourage a faster, more aggressive style of play. If you hide behind cover, don’t move much, and play more conservatively, the hordes of hell are going to tear you to pieces. You need to constantly jump into the fray and go for glory kills to gain more health if you want to progress and live to fight another day. Add in superb level and creature design and you have the recipe for what’s easily the best first-person shooter of this generation.
And yes, the sequel Doom Eternal is quite good as well, but the gameplay additions never click quite as well as in its predecessor, and the additional platforming sections feel out of place. Doom 2016 remains the undisputed king of fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat running and gunning.
2015 | FromSoftware
What if the best Dark Souls game isn’t technically a Souls game at all? Yes, Bloodborne is built on the foundation of that classic series, but by tweaking the combat to focus more on offense than a carefully timed defense, Bloodborne is a faster, and frankly, more enjoyable game. Plus, the Gothic, Lovecraft-inspired world is just a lot cooler than Dark Souls’ fantasy setting. And while all of FromSoftware’s Souls titles have garnered a hardcore fanbase that continues to play these games years after release, Bloodborne’s randomly generated Chalice Dungeons gives it a staying power that few other RPGs and even the Dark Souls trilogy can compete with.
Rumors of a Bloodborne sequel have swirled online basically since the game’s release. Given its overwhelmingly positive reception, its curious that Sony (which owns the IP) hasn’t officially commissioned a sequel yet, but maybe the release of the PS5 will be just the motivator the publisher needs to make another Bloodborne game.
2016 | Blizzard Entertainment
Of all the games released this generation, Overwatch may have inspired the most imitators, but more than four years after release, still nothing comes close in terms of quality or popularity. Part of that success is thanks to developer Blizzard, which has spent years perfecting multiplayer modes and has put in the work to keep Overwatch fresh with everything from minor balance tweaks to new characters, maps, and modes.
But another part of Overwatch’s appeal is its accessibility. If you’ve barely played a shooter, you can hop into a game with a hero like Soldier 76 who plays like a traditional FPS character and have a ton of fun. Or, you can put the time in to master a more complicated melee hero like Doomfist for a much more unique experience. Prefer more of a supporting role? Heal and revive your teammates just in the nick of time to turn the tide of battle as fan-favorite Mercy. The ways to play in Overwatch are essentially endless, easily making it the best multiplayer experience of the generation.
12. Marvel’s Spider-Man
2018 | Insomniac Games
There have been plenty of Spider-Man games over the years, but few developers have nailed the superhero and his world as well as Insomniac. This isn’t the first game to let you swing freely around New York City as Spider-Man, but it may be the best designed, thanks to the intuitive controls and brilliant map design that encourages and facilitates high-flying maneuvers. And the combo-based combat system makes each fight a joy right up until the credits roll.
But what really makes Marvel’s Spider-Man great is that it never forgets the man behind the mask. Like the best Spider-Man comics and movies, Insomniac’s game smartly weaves between the struggles of Peter Parker’s daily life and his duties as a hero to create one of the best Spider-Man stories ever, regardless of the medium.
11. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
2016 | Naughty Dog
To be fair, we didn’t really need another Uncharted game. The trilogy was tied up neatly on the PS3. But Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is certainly a welcome finale to Nathan Drake’s story and arguably the best of the series. For one thing, it’s absolutely gorgeous and still has some of the best graphics of the generation, even though it was released midway through. Uncharted 4 isn’t an open world game, but its levels are so large that it might as well be. And with locations that span the entire globe, it’s impressive just how much detail Naughty Dog was able to include in each level.
But A Thief’s End is also one the best told video game stories of the last few years, featuring both the big, explosive set pieces that we’ve come to expect from the series, as well as quieter, more introspective moments that tie the story together. This was a proper send-off for this all-time great action-adventure franchise.
10. Nier: Automata
2017 | PlatinumGames
After abought eight hours of hacking and slashing through hundreds of robotic enemies in Nier: Automata’s post-apocalyptic setting, you’ll reach the ending. But it’s just the first of several endings you’ll encounter, as you tumble deeper down this rabbit hole. Dozens of hours of gameplay await you after that. And right up until the end, Nier: Automata will keep surprising you, not just with its somewhat convoluted plot, but by constantly throwing new styles of gameplay at you. Sometimes it’s more of a shooter. Other times, it’s a brawler. There are even a few text adventure segments.
Then there’s the sprawling chorus-filled soundtrack, which is among the best of the generation. It’s the type of music you’ll be listening to long after you beat the game. Well, beat it for real.
9. Outer Wilds
2019 | Mobius Digital
Outer Wilds is perhaps the most unique and innovative game of this generation. You play as an unnamed alien astronaut preparing to launch a decrepit spaceship into your solar system 22 minutes before the sun goes supernova. Your goal is to explore the different planets, solve puzzles, and figure out just why the solar system keeps exploding every 22 minutes, only for you to end up right back where you started in a sort of Groundhog Day-style time loop.
Outer Wilds emphasizes discovery above all else, enticing you to explore every last corner of its unique environments. The new worlds and the game’s surprising storyline will keep you entertained until the very end(s).
8. Horizon Zero Dawn
2017 | Guerilla Games
So much of Horizon Zero Dawn‘s gameplay is obviously inspired by other titles, but it emulates those games so well and its setting is so strong that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. At its core, Horizon Zero Dawn is an open-world sandbox with combat and missions similar to other titles in the genre like Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and Far Cry. But what separates it from the pack is its post-post-apocalyptic setting.
Horizon Zero Dawn takes place in a world so far in the future that it resembles the prehistoric past, except the towering monstrosities that dot its landscape are made of metal and circuits instead of flesh and blood. You might have tracked a beast through the wilderness using nothing but a bow and arrow in other games, but only Horizon Zero Dawn will let you use shock arrows to take down a giant robot dinosaur.
7. The Last of Us Part II
2020 | Naughty Dog
While its predecessor was one of the most widely acclaimed games of the previous generation, The Last of Us Part II has the distinction of being one of the more divisive games of this generation. That mostly comes down to the story. The Last of Us Part II is a hard game to get through, not so much because of its difficulty, but because of the emotions it invokes. This is a lonely, brutal, and tragic game, and it leaves Ellie changed in ways that turned off many hardcore fans of the original. The Last of Us Part II pulls no punches in how it handles some difficult issues.
With so many sequels going the iterative route, The Last of Us Part II’s bold narrative choices are a breath of fresh air. Making Ellie a more nimble character who can jump, swing, and avoid combat also added some interesting twists to the strong gameplay foundation that was laid down in the original. The Last of Us Part II may not quite surpass the first game, but it stands out as a prime example of a fantastic and daring sequel.
6. Super Mario Odyssey
2017 | Nintendo
The gaming landscape today is nearly unrecognizable from what it was like in the ‘80s, and yet after all that time, Nintendo’s plucky Italian plumber still stands tall as one of the biggest stars in the industry. Super Mario Odyssey is impressive for the way it embraces the entire history of Mario, with fun throwbacks to his original adventures on the NES and the timeless platforming mechanics from his first forays into 3D, Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. It says a lot about the quality of those games that the basic gameplay fundamentals still hold up so well.
But then Super Mario Odyssey improves on those ideas with the addition of Cappy, Mario’s new sentient hat who he can use to take control of other characters and objects in the environment. This mechanic leads to some of Odyssey’s very best moments. And while it’s debatable whether Odyssey is the very best of Mario’s many outstanding adventures, it’s a testament to his staying power that after all these years, we’re still talking about him.
2019 | Remedy Entertainment
Even if you’re not typically a completionist, Control will get you searching every last nook and cranny of the constantly-shifting The Oldest House for files detailing the paranormal phenomena investigated by the Bureau of Control. It’s not that these collectibles unlock anything that great or that they have a ton of achievement points attached to them, it’s just that the writing is that good. Control expertly weaves so many threads about the occult, paranormal, and government conspiracies that you’ll just want to keep learning more about the world as you take down the monsters.
While Control seems to be a fairly typical third-person shooter at first, it quickly opens itself up to reveal a whole host of psychokinetic powers that make each combat encounter feel unique. With all your combat powers unlocked, it’s a real thrill to launch debris at a group of Hiss or turn them against each other with mind control.
Control is constantly surprising, unapologetically weird in the best possible ways, and always fun to play. While it may not have received as much mainstream attention as many of the other games on this list, it is absolutely worth checking out now, especially with a confirmed next-gen upgrade on the way.
4. Red Dead Redemption II
2018 | Rockstar Games
Red Dead Redemption II is the pinnacle of what this console generation is capable of in terms of game design, and a prime example of what some of the best developers in the world can do when given near limitless time and money to complete their vision. Arthur Morgan’s journey of redemption in the final days of the Wild West is told with the skill of an Oscar-worthy film. And much of that comes down to the details. Everything, from the dust covered trails to the signs you encounter in the game’s lively towns, is artfully constructed to give this land a special, lived-in feel.
For a massive game that demands 50 hours of play just to complete the main story, there’s remarkably little repetition from mission-to-mission. Red Dead Redemption II evokes a living, breathing place and in a way few other games have. It’s likely as close to Westworld as any of us will see in our lifetime.
Red Dead Redemption II isn’t perfect, of course. The increased focus on realism, requiring things like dressing properly for inclement weather and keeping your horse fed and groomed, annoyed some players. And for all of the successes of the single-player campaign, the multiplayer mode has remained unusually glitchy and underdeveloped two years after release. Yet, few other games even come close to its standout world development and story.
3. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
2017 | Nintendo
The Legend of Zelda games have been consistently great throughout the franchise’s long history, but let’s face it: the series was getting stale after cruising on the formula established by Ocarina of Time for almost two decades. Luckily, Breath of the Wild was exactly what Nintendo needed to reinvigorate Hyrule.
The genius of Breath of the Wild is how it uses fairly simple gameplay mechanics to explore the world in a multitude of ways. Unlike previous games, which would regularly introduce a dozen or more new weapons and tools, the Link in Breath of the Wild really just relies on four abilities: bombs, stopping time, ice blocks, and magnetizing metal. All four of these powers are introduced within the first hour or so, and then you’re off to explore the world however you see fit. You can even try to fight Ganon immediately, though that’s almost certain to end in a quick death.
Breath of the Wild successfully reimagined The Legend of Zelda by stripping it down and remembering that above all else this is a series about exploration, experimentation, and the thrill of discovery. And by returning to that foundation, Nintendo create a game that arguably surpasses Ocarina of Time.
2. God of War
2018 | SIE Santa Monica Studio
The adventures of Kratos have always been well regarded, but 2018’s reboot/sequel solidified God of War’s place among the greatest series of all time. Much of the credit goes to the revamped combat system. Kratos’ new axe, Leviathan, feels revolutionary. There’s a real impact each time it hits an enemy, but the true innovation is in being able to throw it and call it back at will, much like how Marvel’s Thor wields his hammer. It’s a simple mechanic, but no game had ever pulled it off quite this well.
The other thing that separates God of War from other games is the cinematography, something that seemingly gets little attention in most games. Putting the camera closer to Kratos is one of the design decisions that makes the combat feel much more visceral, but the real accomplishment is that the entire game, from brutal combat to introspective cinematics, is told in one continuous shot, creating one of the most immersive and innovative experiences in gaming history.
1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
2015 | CD Projekt Red
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is now five years old, having come out relatively early in the console cycle, but it still holds up as the very best example of what gaming has had to offer over the last generation. The Witcher 3 tops this list for its outstanding world building and storytelling. Sure, it’s a fantasy game at heart, but every inch of the map, from Skellige to Toussaint, feels like an actual place. And characters like elves and trolls have backstories and emotions that make them feel just as real as any living, breathing human.
The world building in Wild Hunt is second to none, and that extends far beyond the main questline or even books and notes scattered around the world. While many open-world games cut corners with simple side quests that recycle locales and goals, some of the side quests in The Witcher 3 are actually among its best content, with stories and missions that rival some full games. The level of detail is absolutely astounding, and that’s before even mentioning the deep combat system which lets you fully customize Geralt of Rivia’s weapons, armor, spells, and traps. There is a ridiculous amount of quality content in The Witcher 3 and no shortage of ways to complete it.
Had CD Projekt Red just shipped Wild Hunt in 2015 and called it a day, it very likely would have topped this list, but the support the developer has shown in the years since has just further solidified its place in gaming history. Two expansions, Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine, essentially added two full games-worth of content while still maintaining the high quality of the base title. Updates for the PC, PS4 Pro, and Xbox One X added 4K support, making an already stunning game a contender for best graphics of the generation. And if you’ve seen everything in those versions of the game, a shockingly good Switch port has now made the entire adventure playable on-the-go. Looking ahead, a free next-gen upgrade for the PS5 and Xbox Series X is already in development. With that many options to play, there’s really no excuse to have missed out on Wild Hunt at this point.