Video games are a relative baby compared to every other medium. A baby who, over the course of fifty years, has learned to crawl, walk, run, jump and fly. The rate in which video games progress is astonishing, with just five years feeling like an eternity. Movies from thirty years ago still look great but a game that is just a couple of years old has already dated. Making a list to accommodate every evolutionary sea change and groundbreaking title while also paying homage to the classics that laid the groundwork for everything that came after is no small feat. How would one for example rank an outdated game that introduced a major mechanic going forward, a great game who was surpassed by all its sequels or two completely unrelated titles? How do you compare Portal to Pong or God of War (2005) to God of War (2018)?
Firstly, I (to the best of my ability) eliminated personal bias and then focused on a set of objective criteria (importance, influence, etc.) that I used as a metric to give titles a numerical value. Historical importance was obviously a huge component but if no one plays it today (like Spacewar! or Hunt the Wumpus for example), it didn’t make the cut. Graphics were only ever a plus, never a minus (games date horribly, so I didn’t judge that against them but if a title had unique graphics, it certainly got a bump) and popularity and fun were major factors as well. It required a lot of math, some impossibly hard cuts and a ton of sleepless nights to whittle the entire history of video games down to just five hundred titles but it’s finally done.
These are the 500 Greatest Video Games of All Time.
250. Ultima Online (1997) | PC
Raise your hand if you remember MUDs? Now for the rest of you non skeleton ass nerds out there, MUDs were multi-user dungeons that only the most tech savvy of hackers and basement dwellers knew how to figure out properly. They were the beginning of online role-playing games but since they weren’t user friendly, history usually just pretends it all started with Ultima Online. Before Warcraft stole from EverQuest, Ultima got there first. Everything gamers love about MMORPGs (griefers and gankers, cratering game economies, houses you can buy or sell, PvP arenas, dungeons to loot, a lore that needs a dictionary sized guide to understand) all started here. And the thing is, it’s not just influential, it’s still super popular within the community. The game still claims about the same number of players today as it did in its heyday. Those numbers are but a fraction of a fraction of WoW but the fact that tons of people still play a game released almost ten years before that, proves how good it was when it was first released.
249. Panzer Dragoon Saga (1998) | Sega Saturn
On rails shooters almost exclusively involve either the military or law enforcement blasting away at some sort of terrorist, lawbreaker or zombie and here’s the part when I say, “until the release of Panzer Dragoon Saga” but outside of the sequels and the obscure Elemental Gearbolt, the genre never really followed suit. Which makes for a very frustratingly generic genre but it also means that Panzer Dragoon Saga still stands alone as a unique innovator. Half RPG, half Rez-like shooter, the game has you fly around on a dragon, targeting multiple enemies at once and unleashing a volley of projectiles. But on land, the game plays like a typical RPG minus the randomized battles. You’ll explore the world, collect items and then run into another battle that requires dragon fire. It was ahead of its time and is still a highly sought after disc by collectors.
248. The Last Of Us Part II (2020) | PS4
I haven’t been this excited for a sequel since The Dark Knight and the anticipation for that movie consumed my life for like eight months. Did it live up to the hype? Yes and no. Everything outside of the story, is a vast improvement over the last one. The combat and stealth are much more refined, the semi open world structure gives you far more to explore, the character AI is actually helpful instead of being beyond useless like the first one, the graphics are among the best of last generation, the set pieces are incredibly dense and the universe feels more fleshed out. There’s also a mode that makes the colors all muted to either easily locate collectibles or to help the color blind navigate the levels. I have no idea what its purpose is but the fact that it’s included is a testament to the amount of polish Naughty Dog put into this. Whether you like the story or not, it’s impossible to deny the effort that was put into this game. In a world of micro transactions or whatever bullshit developers put into their games to milk the player’s wallet, it’s refreshing to see a game actually provide an experience worthy of its price tag.
247. Fable II (2008) | Xbox 360
There’s a reason Peter Molyneux lies through his teeth when it comes to hyping up certain games, it’s because he knows that after the initial disappointment wares off, the vast majority of players will forget what bullshit they were even sold in the first place. When it comes to Fable II, Molyneux promised the world and what he delivered instead was a really nice city in a small country. It was the No Man’s Sky of its day but the reason gamers still fondly remember this game, is the fact that it at least delivered a game. There’s still a lot here, it’s just not the Elder Scrolls experience he promised. But that’s actually a perfect description of the game as a whole — baby’s first Elder Scrolls. You still have everything that game has (the freedom to do whatever you want, a morality meter that either turns you into an angel or a devil depending on your choices and a complex combat system), except just not as much. It’s the Kmart version of the Witcher 3 and while that seems like a slight, the fact that this came out before the first Witcher, is actually impressive.
246. Homeworld (1999) | PC
It’s insane that this came out almost a quarter of a century ago because it feels as fresh today, as it did in 99. Sending the point-and-click mechanics of a real-time strategy game into space, seems like a great idea until you quickly realize that there are no borders or obstacles to take cover behind. You have to formulate strategies that involve attacking and defending from any direction. And on top of that, you also have to take the arc of fire from the various different turrets into account. Basically, it’s naval warfare except in space. Or alternatively, the hardest version of 3D Worms ever. But the brilliant single player is just half the games appeal. The multiplayer supported thousands of players and even when the official servers were discontinued, the die-hard community made sure it stayed online and was regularly updated. Few games inspire that level of dedication but few games offer as much as Homeworld.
245. Civilization VI (2016) | Various
A more flexible, cohesive and complete experience than any base-game entry in the series’ 25-year history, Civilization 6 offered players the total package before the expansions made this a definite must own. Never resting on its laurels, the series is all about refinement. The makers take player feedback to heart, and craft an experience to cater to their needs. Since the game let’s you rule however you see fit, complete freedom acts as a double edged sword. It’s letting you do what you want but it’s also not stopping you or even suggesting what you’re doing is wrong. You may be failing for hours without even knowing it but that feeds your desire to try again with slightly different tactics. Learning its systems and uncovering its secrets is a particular type of joy and dedicating time and brainpower to doing so is part of the enduring charm of a series that is a quarter of a century old with no signs of stopping.
244. Hotline Miami (2012) | Various
Hotline Miami didn’t feel like it was released so much as it was unleashed. It came out swinging like a man dressed in a bloody Letterman jacket wearing a rooster mask brandishing a hammer. If you couldn’t tell, that’s one of the many characters you’ll play as and run across as a hitman dispatched on a number of dangerous jobs. Since it implements one hit kills, figuring out how to successfully clear a stage comes down to luck, repetition and a bit of strategy. This is the only game in existence (minus the sequel) where doors are an invaluable asset. You can use them as shields, kick them open hard to kill whoever’s on the other side or just use ’em to signal the arrival of inevitable carnage. Even though you’ll die a million times per stage, each and every time you try the level again, you feel like a badass. Which is due mostly to its slapping 80s inspired score and gratuitous over-the-top violence. Even if you ignore its surprisingly deep story (it uses violence to commentate on our attraction to violence) and focus squarely on the action, Hotline Miami will still deliver.
243. Medieval II: Total War (2006) | PC
The Total War series has such a strong track record, that any one of them could be considered one of the best games ever made. They all brought something new to the table and while Medieval II: Total War has less to offer in the innovation department (it being a sequel to Medieval: Total War and all), it does have more refinement of any game in the series. It’s not perfect mind you (it’s definitely got some issues such as the pathfinding bugs and some AI problems) but those flaws are miniscule compared to all it has to offer. Split into two equally entertaining parts, the game offers campaign and battle. The campaign, which is turn-based and starts in the 1080s, allows the player to play as one of seventeen factions in a bid to take over and conquer. In order to do that, you have to manage the faction’s military by way of creating cities and castles. One boosts your focus (allows your nation to play better), while the other boosts the economy (what you’ll need to buy better armor and weaponry. Like most strategy games, it makes you strategize even when you don’t have boots on the ground because how am I going to afford boots for everyone!?
242. Monster Hunter World (2018) | PC, PS4, Xbox One
A reboot of sorts for the series, Monster Hunter: World aimed to bring in new players by making the game more accessible without sacrificing or changing the core Monster Hunter formula. Capcom really wanted to tap into that western audience, so they made the game’s story and gameplay easier to jump into. The lore is there if you want it, but the critical bits are explained at the beginning and the difficulty can still be a bit daunting due inexperienced players but the algorithm usually does a great job of teaming you up with players that are slightly higher level than you that can show you the ropes. Most games that cater to newbs have training wheels on so that they’re encouraged to keep playing. Monster Hunter: World does such a great job of encouraging you, that you realize the training wheels were never there in the first place. Once you get your bearings, you’ll be thrown head first into giant monster slaying territory and the first time you bring one down, you’ll be hooked for hours and hours to come.
241. Torchlight II (2012) | Various
Diablo will always be the go-to name in hack and slash loot based dungeon crawlers but Torchlight proves that, while it may forever be synonymous with the genre, it is no longer the only game in town. Torchlight II came out right before Diablo III, and many gamers who were eagerly anticipating that game decided to boot this up to at least get some of that experience while they passed the time waiting and when Diablo III finally did come out, a good number of them went back to this. Not because Diablo III was bad, on the contrary, but because this was just as good and even better in some regards. This offers offline/LAN play, which is a huge selling point to those who hate needing to constantly be online. There’s also the addition of pets that act as useful companions. Unlike the mercenaries in Diablo III that just hold some of your inventory for you, the pets in this can actually go back to town and sell it for you, so that you don’t have to stop playing. There’s also a robust single player campaign, the composer of Diablo II doing the score, a more satisfying skills and leveling up system and it also boasts a healthy modding community. It’s ok Diablo, ain’t no one top dog forever.
240. Battlefield 1942 (2002) | PC
Since both series’ evolved into massive battle royale action extravaganzas, it’s easy to forget that both Call of Duty and Battlefield were just two more shooters set in WW2. Great shooters to be fair, but it’s just interesting that the two biggest FPS franchises today started off as Medal of Honor clones. But games like this show why they’ve endured, while Medal of Honor died out yet decades ago. Medal of Honor was a big deal in the PS1 era. It had Spielberg’s name attached to it and everything. It was a huge hit that spawned yearly sequels but after the second one, they all started to get repetitive. The series never evolved. Cut to Battlefield, who releases similar games but offers more than any of those games combined in just a single entry. The single player campaign of 1942 is a bit weak but the multiplayer is still legendary. They obviously refined it and arguably perfect it over the years but it was this game in particular that they used to build upon going forward.
239. Ori and the Blind Forest (2015) | Xbox One, Switch
Moon Studios took the platforming gameplay they loved from certain titles (most notably Metroid and Rayman), merged it with the emotional stories of animated movies that touched their hearts (they were quoted as saying they were inspired by The Iron Giant and The Lion King) and out came Ori and the Blind Forest — arguably the most beautiful platformer ever made. Beautiful in terms of its visuals and its story. What starts off as a simple story of a forest spirit named Ori on a quest to restore harmony to the forest, eventually turns into a surprisingly deep and heartbreakingly tale of redemption and forgiveness. This is golden age of Pixar level writing, with characters almost as fully realized. There’s also the excellent platforming, well implemented and cleverly designed puzzles and the ability to create checkpoints wherever. It took ages for Microsoft to get a great exclusive platformer but damn, it was worth the wait.
238. XCOM: Enemy Unknown (2012) | Various
A remake of the 1994 cult classic strategy game UFO: Enemy Unknown and a reboot of the 1990s X-COM series, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a strategy game that takes place in an alternate version of 2015 that has you control an elite multinational paramilitary organization called XCOM during an alien invasion of Earth. The player commands troops in the field in a series of turn-based tactical missions that makes you factor in not only the correct location of your troops but their mental well being as well. Fear can strike at any time and when it does, that character becomes hysterical to the point of uselessness. They’re no longer in your control and will take aim at the other squad-mates or will run face first into danger. It’s frustrating when this happens but it undeniably adds a unique layer of strategy that became the selling point of the entire franchise. When in between missions, the player directs the research and development of technologies from recovered alien technology and captured prisoners, expands XCOM’s base of operations, manages finances, and monitors and responds to alien activity. The missions themselves are only half the battle, if you don’t properly allocate funds or have enough people assigned to R&D or the sick bay, you’re not going to make it. If aliens ever do attack us, I guarantee they’d be easier to deal with than this game and a helluva lot less exciting.
237. Forza Horizon 4 (2018) | Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
Whether competition breeds excellence or innovation (I honestly can’t remember which idiom is right) the fact remains, when two companies try and one up each other, everyone wins. Sony dominated the market with its Gran Turismo series for so long, no one ever thought they’d be challenged, let alone surpassed but Microsoft did the impossible. Their Forza franchise went after the Kings and while the first game admittedly didn’t light the world on fire, it did eventually grow into a racing titan. Each sequel got better than the last until the third in their Horizon series arguably hit their apex. It had a massive open world, a season changing mechanic, some of the best graphics of last generation and it never slowed down or lagged even when 72 gamers were playing at the same time. The only thing it could offer that it didn’t already, was the moon and the only reason it didn’t already, was because they’re most likely saving it for a sequel.
236. Skies of Arcadia (2000) | Dreamcast
Apparently forgetting they already had a flagship RPG series to compete with Final Fantasy, Skies of Arcadia was Sega’s second attempt behind their Phantasy Star series to take on role playing’s biggest adversary and arguably their best. As the title suggests, the game puts you in the shoes of a sky pirate named Vyse who suddenly finds himself embroiled in an epic quest after he rescues a mysterious princess at the beginning of the game. As you can tell based on that generic plot synopsis, the game doesn’t try to revolutionize the genre but its near mastery of every other element (unforgettable characters, outstanding worlds, brain teasing puzzles, massive boss battles and smooth combat) proves you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you release a new car.
235. Hitman III (2021) | Various
The final part in the World of Assassination trilogy, Hitman 3 is arguably the best entry in the series. And to be clear, the series as a whole, not just the rebooted trilogy. Blood Money had some amazing missions and it could be argued was the first to solidify and perfect the stealth mechanics and level structure but there’s no denying the World of Assassination trilogy took everything it did, improved it and then got better with each new iteration. Every game before III, feels like it was building up to it and I’m not talking in a story sense. They all feel like they’re helping it be the best entry by acting like building blocks for it to build upon. It’s a far more grandiose game than its predecessors and it’s an epic finale to an already amazing library of Hitman games. The Dartmoor mission is almost worth the price of admission alone with its Knives Out-inspired murder mystery. And if the new levels aren’t doing it for you somehow, the game also comes Legacy missions (if gamers own the previous two games in the series that is) that will allow them to replay the older games with the new features which also include improved visuals if playing the PS5 and Xbox Series X. That’s a helluva deal but IO wanted to make sure they went out with a bang and they did.
234. Perfect Dark (2000) | N64
When you’re a former contrarian as I used to be, it’s hard to distinguish between the genuine opinions that go against the grain and the ones you have just to stand apart from the grain, especially when you make them over twenty years ago. Since I haven’t replayed a lot of the games from that time, I honestly couldn’t tell you if Final Fantasy 9 is better than 7 or if I still think Diddy Kong Racing is better than Mario Kart 64 but I can emphatically state that younger me was right about at least one thing: Perfect Dark is leagues better than GoldenEye. The single player campaign is better designed, the weapons are more fun (especially the X-ray gun), the soundtrack is better in every respect and the gameplay is as good now as it was then. The only reason gamers still think of GoldenEye and now this, is because of the multiplayer. Which I’d argue is better here but by the time this came out, that had already been a multiplayer phenomenon. If this had came out first, there’s no way in hell we’d still remember GoldenEye.
233. Tetris Attack (1995) | SNES
A reskinned version of Panel De Pon, Tetris Attack is just that game but with more Nintendo characters. In fact, Nintendo loved this game so much, they released it twice. Once as Tetris Attack and again six years later on the N64 as Pokémon Puzzle League. It’s easy to see why, Panel De Pon is the most addictive puzzle game since Tetris. Don’t be fooled by the rebranded name — the two games couldn’t be further from each other. Tetris Attack works as a reversed version of the falling-block puzzle genre made famous by Tetris. Here, the blocks all rise up from the bottom of the screen. Nor do these blocks come in different shapes. Instead, they are all bricks adorned with different colors and symbols (like red blocks with hearts, yellow blocks with stars, and blue blocks with diamonds) and it’s your job to match three of a set. The bigger the combo, the more junk you send to your opponent. You’ve played terrible clones of this on your phone without knowing they were actually Tetris Attack. This might actually have as many imitators as Tetris and that’s saying a lot.
232. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (2004) | PS2
Since 1986, the Dragon Quest series has continually proven to be the most consistently great RPG series around. The series reshaped the RPG genre for the Japanese market, has sold roughly 60 million copies and since each one only comes out when it’s ready, each game feels like a mini event. It’s impossible to quantify which one would’ve been the most anticipated since fans eagerly await all of them, but since VIII is the consensus best game in the franchise, I think it’s fair to say this was an event. Since this only just now started making waves here in America, we had no idea how big a deal this was but this was for the Japanese, what Halo 2 was due us. This cel-shaded whimsical adventure, which one critic referred to as “Monty Python meets The Princess Bride”, was an instant and immediate smash hit. It sold insanely well and paved the way for the empire of spin-offs it would eventually inspire.
231. FTL: Faster than Light (2012) | PC
One of the major successes of the Kickstarter fundraisers for video games, FTL: Faster than Light hit grabbed backers immediately and actually delivered more than it promised. A top down strategy game set on a spaceship located within the deep recesses of space, FTL is as vast and as difficult as the space it takes place in. On the run from a rebel fleet, your mission is to deliver critical information to your superiors without getting caught or killed. The player must guide the spacecraft over eight sectors, each with planetary systems and events procedurally generated in a roguelike fashion, while facing rebel and other hostile forces, recruiting new crew, and outfitting and upgrading their ship. It gives you multiple systems to deal with, like a checklist you have to constantly keep checking, which would be hard enough but then it throws maddeningly difficult fights at you that will test you like you’ve never been tested before. You would think permadeath and its hardcore difficulty would keep players away but since the mechanics are so tight and the gameplay so rewarding, they found instead a highly-replayable experience.
230. Pac-Man: Championship Edition (2007) | Various
When remaking his own masterpiece, Toru Iwatani must’ve had two goals in mind: update the graphics so that future generations will considered timeless and to shift the focus from endurance to speed. He accomplished his first goal by having the outline of whatever part of the maze the player is currently at (and to a lesser extent the ghosts) act as a spotlight, helping any player, whether they be a newcomer or a seasoned veteran, immediately clock their position. There’s also a ton of subtle visual touches such as sparks when you grind on a path for too long, bonuses that pulsate neon colors and a wave of light followed by an explosion of pixels every time you die. The entire package (along with the thumping soundtrack) is a treat for the senses. His second goal he accomplished by adding a time limit, which turns you into a point obsessed speed freak. It’s these minor changes (and many more) that make this more than just a remake, it’s a full on reimagining.
229. Guitar Hero (2005) | PS2
A victim of its own success, Guitar Hero singlehandedly created a gaming revolution that fizzled out not but a decade later. Part of that was due to Harmonix ditching the series for the superior Rock Band, some of that is due to the market being flooded with inferior knock offs but I’d say the biggest reason behind its slow death is the constant need to justify people buying those plastic guitars in the first place. Everyone bought one to play this game but in order to cover the cost of them, the company had to fill the need for them. Which meant sequel after sequel in quick succession. Did anyone play the Van Halen one? Or the Lego one? In the end, Harmonix created a fad but I’m order to sustain the fad, they pushed it to its breaking point and then let it implode. Which is a shame because if they created a more sustainable business model, people would be buying these games to this day. Because who doesn’t want to be a rock God?
228. Rayman Legends (2011) | Various
Even after a strong debut, a phenomenal follow up and a string of successful sequels, Rayman never really felt like a contender in the mascot wars. But, if Legends had come out back then, there’s no doubt in my mind he’d be as famous as Sonic. A sequel to Origins (which can be unlocked in this game), Legends continues that games trajectory towards the top of madcap mountain by upping every level and boss encounter tenfold. Acting more like a race than a typical platformer, the game encourages the player to go fast as possible (while collecting every Lum and all the Teensies), which becomes hilariously difficult once you play with 2 or 3 other people. If you thought New Super Mario Bros. was hectic, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
227. Psychonaughts (2005) | Various
One of gamings most beloved cult classics, Psychonaughts is by no means perfect (early versions of the game were riddled with bugs, the hit detection is wonky and the Meat Circus can go fuck itself) but it has so many ideas, those flaws are easily overlooked. Due to the fact that each level takes place within someone’s mind (who is either insane, eccentric or of the giant fish-man variety), the game isn’t tethered to any one genre, visual or play style. One minute you could be in the middle of a romantic adventure that looks like a velvet painting, the next you could be exploring the paranoid delusions of a milkman represented as a seemingly endless Möbius strip Americana suburb. Whatever Schafer thought of, he put in the game and he was only limited by his imagination. Which according to this seems to be, like his humor, in endless supply.
226. Sid Meier’s Pirates! (1987) | PC
Not to be confused with the 2004 game of the same name (which itself is also stellar), the 1987 original was the game to kickstart the massively influential and incalculably important empire that is Sid Meier. Just two years after the video game resurgence of 1985, he released this game and he’s been cranking out gold ever since. Pirates! is so important to the foundation of video games, that even if this was the only thing he ever made, he’d still earn a place in the hall of fame. The sheer variety of things to do in this game, the amount of content he was able to pack into it, is mind blowing. There’s six different time periods to choose from, beginning in 1560 all the way to 1660, each covering a major historical moment in time. Each features different ships, which all come with their own challenges and since everything is randomized at the start of each session, you also have to spend time exploring the geographic, economic and political nature of each environment in order to form a strategy. Everything is in a state of constant flux, so there’s no guide to help you get through it. Like all of Sid Meier’s games, you have to truly put yourself in the shoes and mindset of whatever the game has you doing in order to succeed.
What do you think of the list so far? What games are some of your favorite games?