Top 20 Best Video Games of the Century So Far
VOICE OVER: Riccardo Tucci
WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
Script written by Nathan Sharp
Thought we were done with just the Decade? HA! Time to rank the best games 20 games from the last 20 years ... I regret this already. For this list, we'll be looking at the most critically acclaimed, commercially successful, and influential video games released in the 21st century. Because this is a tight squeeze, only one entry per franchise will be allowed. We're also putting a stronger emphasis on their legacy within the gaming industry, so there may be a few changes from our best of the decade list.
Script written by Nathan Sharp
Top 20 Best Video Games of the Century (So Far)
Let’s see review what the industry has offered us in the last twenty years. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top twenty best video games of the century (so far).
For this list, we’ll be looking at the most critically acclaimed, commercially successful, and influential video games released in the 21st century. Because this is a tight squeeze, only one entry per franchise will be allowed. We’re also putting a stronger emphasis on their legacy within the gaming industry, so there may be a few changes from our best of the decade list.
#20: “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” (2009)
When people say “blockbuster video game,” one undoubtedly thinks of “Uncharted 2.” This game perfectly encapsulates everything that makes blockbuster video games so much fun – a globe-trotting, Indiana Jones-esque adventure, memorable characters, and enough excitement to have you shaking from the adrenaline rush. There was simply nothing like it at the time, and it has arguably never been topped (even by its own sequels). It perfected the concept of the action movie-video game hybrid, and thanks to near perfect execution on the part of Naughty Dog, it remains a joy to play even a decade later.
#19: “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain” (2015)
This game served as Hideo Kojima’s final Konami product, and what a curtain call it was. The ninth installment in the “Metal Gear” series, “The Phantom Pain” contained all the signature Kojima wackiness we’ve come to expect over the years, complete with a seriously convoluted story. But it’s the powerful themes and brilliant gameplay design that make “The Phantom Pain” such a masterpiece - if an incomplete one, in fact we almost gave this slot to “Snake Eater” for that. Still, Not only did it expound on the futility of war, but it encouraged the player to experiment and tackle objectives to the fullest extent of their boundless creativity. The game could be whatever you wanted it to be, and it represented everything that made “Metal Gear” such an iconic series.
#18: “Dark Souls” (2011)
“Dark Souls” is a significant outlier in the video game industry. It is incredibly difficult, willfully obtuse, and fiercely weird and uninviting. And yet despite all that, it managed to find a devoted player base and launch one of the most celebrated franchises of the century. The game was endlessly praised for its rich imagination, philosophy, and game design, and its foundation continues to be utilized by various copycats, sequels, and spiritual successors to this day (looking at you, “Sekiro”). “Dark Souls” has since been improved upon both mechanically and visually, but a palace can’t be built without a foundation!
#17: “World of Warcraft” (2004)
When it comes to gaming behemoths, few can compare to “World of Warcraft.” It has become an iconic piece of entertainment since its release back in 2004, a brilliant example of implementing gaming and social interaction. The addictive mechanics and unique social integration quickly allowed “World of Warcraft” to balloon in popularity, and by 2017 it had become one of the most profitable franchises in gaming history. It’s the quintessential MMORPG, and it successfully managed to shatter the barrier between niche pastime and mainstream acceptance. Despite its age, “Word of Warcraft” still feels relevant thanks the expansions that drop every two years or so.
#16: “Batman: Arkham City” (2011)
“Arkham City” remains, and may remain for some time yet, the quintessential superhero video game. All of its stellar elements combined into a magnificent whole that is yet to be bested in the genre. The narrative was mature, introspective, and exciting. The world design was vast, dark, and richly atmospheric. But it was the gameplay mechanics that earned the most praise thanks to the imaginative integration of Batman’s devices and fluid combat system. Its systems are still being copied to this day, and you may have heard people linking the “Arkham” series to Insomniac’s “Spider-Man.” Its legacy in the fighting and superhero genres is unrivaled.
#15: “Portal” (2007)
“Portal” was the surprise standout from “The Orange Box.” It is also a masterclass in game design. The portal mechanic was of course refreshing and original, and it effortlessly combined intellectual stimulation with ridiculous fun. But what’s most surprising and acclaim-worthy is how the game fluidly integrated humor and story into its core puzzle mechanics. The game was often lauded for its dark sense of humor and its cast, including the Weighted Companion Cube and GLaDOS, both of which have become iconic within the gaming community. With “Portal,” Valve proved its incredible talents and creativity by combining tone, story, and gameplay into a wonderfully original and highly enjoyable whole.
#14: “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare” (2007)
“Call of Duty” is a gaming giant today, but there’s simply no conveying just what a groundbreaking release the original “Modern Warfare” was back in 2007. That year belonged entirely to “Halo 3,” and it seemed like nothing could dethrone its console multiplayer crown. Enter “Modern Warfare,” which impressed millions with its fast-paced gameplay and unique mechanics. It not only updated the “Call of Duty” brand for a new generation, but it quickly became one of the definitive multiplayer experiences of the decade. It was so ahead of its time that its basic ideas are still being copied over ten years later. The “Call of Duty” franchise has often been criticized for its lack of innovation, but it’s hard to improve upon something so fully-formed.
#13: “God of War” (2018)
Now THIS is how you revamp a franchise! “God of War” took nearly everything that was beloved about the series and threw it out the window. Hyper-realized stories, a crazy protagonist, Greek mythology – all gone in favor of a more subdued and introspective character study about fathers, sons and legacies, all playing out across a gorgeous Norse backdrop. Of course, it kept the bombastic boss fights and incredible combat mechanics, because it wouldn’t be “God of War” without battling unstoppable Gods and massive dragons! SIE Santa Monica Studio has to be commended – they took a major risk with this title, but it paid off beautifully.
#12: “BioShock” (2007)
By 2007, video games were finally being taken seriously. But it was arguably “BioShock” that finally tilted the medium’s reputation from “enjoyable pastime” to “legitimate art.” That distinction is thanks in large part to “BioShock’s” story and themes, which ignored typical action game tropes to focus on the writings of Ayn Rand, objectivism, capitalism, player agency, and free will. It didn’t hurt that it all took place in the visually appealing and inventive setting of Rapture. Add in some iconic characters, flawless blending of FPS and RPG mechanics, and one of the best plot twists in gaming history, and you’ve got yourself the all-time classic that is “BioShock.”
#11: “Super Smash Bros. Melee” (2001)
It’s the game that has defined the couch multiplayer scene since the turn of the millennium, and to this day it is still being played both casually and competitively. Super Smash Bros has now since become THE greatest crossover franchise of all time, and it has Melee to thank for putting it in that position. Fights are easy to pick up to play, yet incredibly tough to master, the diverse roster can suit to multiple play styles, and it has a devoted fanbase that still insists that it’s better than it’s successors. These days, many others will argue that Ultimate is the better Smash title, but for the massive legacy this game left, Melee’s importance cannot be understated.
#10: “Minecraft” (2011)
We don’t think anyone could have predicted “Minecraft’s” success. This little game was independently created by Markus Persson and didn’t seem to offer much in the way of total world dominance. However, it was instantly lauded upon release, with many critics and players singling out its brilliant crafting mechanic, creative freedom, and countless unique experiences that naturally arise from playing the game. All this, combined with the game’s signature visual design, helped it become popular with YouTube gamers, who in turn helped spread the fun to their viewers. Before long, “Minecraft” was the best-selling game ever, a perfect example of YouTube’s rising influence on gaming, and a bonafide cultural phenomenon. In short, “Minecraft” helped define a generation.
#9: “The Last of Us” (2013)
We almost called “Uncharted 2” Naughty Dog’s masterpiece…but then we remembered “The Last of Us.” This game was a monumental achievement in storytelling and voice acting, and it is still regarded as one of the best-told story in gaming history! While most of the acclaim typically goes to the game’s writing and acting, that is doing a large disservice to its amazing gameplay, which perfectly balanced elements of survival horror, RPGs, stealth-action and Naughty Dog’s signature adventure flare. The game also comes equipped with stellar production values and visual design, both of which help to immerse the player in a realistic post-apocalyptic hellscape. No game is perfect, but “The Last of Us” comes awfully close.
#8: “Grand Theft Auto V” (2013)
Honestly, if it wasn’t for our one per franchise rule, GTA could have taken 5 slots on this list. Yet it’s the story surrounding GTA V that has made it such a titan. It instantly broke sales records, becoming the fastest-selling entertainment product in history after grossing $1 billion in just three days. But while the Single Player was a landmark, it’s the online component that is the true star here. This expansive and seemingly boundless piece of virtual insanity has helped the game ship over 115 million copies, making it both one of the most profitable entertainment products EVER and the third highest-selling video game of all time, behind only “Tetris” and “Minecraft.”
#7: “Mass Effect 2” (2010)
Oh, what we would do to relive the glory days of “Mass Effect.” “Mass Effect 2” promised, and arguably delivered, the future of gaming. It was an intensely personal experience, as players were able to create a character, manipulate relationships, and mold the plot through unique choices and interactive storytelling. Of course, this wouldn’t mean much without an intriguing story, but luckily, “Mass Effect 2” contained offered an original and deeply engrossing tale, complete with rich characters and wonderfully imaginative world building. It also improved on its predecessor in numerous ways, offering cinematic production values and a livelier atmosphere. It’s undoubtedly one of the greatest story-based video games ever released.
#6: “Resident Evil 4” (2005)
This entry took a major risk by deviating from the established formula, but it paid off in unimaginable ways. Of course, the biggest change came in the form of the third-person perspective. But it also took the series in a more action-oriented route while still providing players with the core puzzle and horror elements they’d come to expect from the series. The result was a magnificent mixture of old and new, and the game became a bonafide trendsetter for future third-person shooters. It forever changed camera perspectives, precision aiming mechanics, and inventory management. It also influenced future game developers, helping to pave the way for classics like “Dead Space,” “The Last of Us,” “God of War,” and “Uncharted.” So, thank you, “Resident Evil 4!”
#5: “Halo: Combat Evolved” (2001)
Squeaking just inside the 21st century is “Halo,” one of the most influential first-person shooter of all time. What this game did for first-person shooters is not unlike what “Citizen Kane” did for movies. Complete with amazing weapons and combat mechanics, a massively popular multiplayer component, and a richly inventive story, “Halo” helped redefine the limits of the FPS genre. It also spawned countless imitators, all of which were deemed “Halo clones” and all of which failed to meet (never mind surpass) the heights of its influence. Add in the sequels, spin-offs, remakes, machinima, and novels, and what takes shape is a FPS that not only shook the genre to its core, but also spawned an entire gaming empire.
#4: “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” (2011)
Few open world titles can compare to Skyrim. While Bethesda had been developing “The Elder Scrolls” series for years, it was “Skyrim” that finally broke through to the mainstream thanks to its streamlined gameplay mechanics and gorgeous open world. The game became exceedingly popular through YouTube compilations, and old school “Elder Scrolls” fans were able to delve deeper into the universe’s lore. Both casual and hardcore fans could find enjoyment in exploring the breathtaking settings that the game offered, and yes, the hilarious glitches added an undeniable charm. Video games don’t get much more imaginative than this.
#3: “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” (2017)
Since its release, “Breath of the Wild” has become the most commercially successful “Zelda” game to date, and it’s not hard to see why. Set in an expansive open world that allows limitless freedom and creative problem solving, it really does have something for everyone. If you can imagine it, chances are that there is a way to do it. It also deftly blends numerous genres like adventure, action, puzzle, and RPG, and offers a personal story unlike anything before seen in the “Zelda” canon. Last, but not least, it accomplishes all this within a welcoming, and surprisingly calming, atmosphere - a visual design that helped differentiate it from its predecessors. In short; it’s magic in video game form.
#2: “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt” (2015)
You may argue that “Breath of the Wild” reinvented the open world, but we’d argue that “Wild Hunt” is the better game. For one thing, “Wild Hunt” also boasts an enormous and unique open world filled with magnificent settings, countless quality side quests, and enough lore to fill a Stephen King-sized novel. But it gets the leg up thanks to its narrative, an expansive fantasy epic filled with interesting characters and morally ambiguous situations to navigate. It established CD Projekt Red as one of the decade’s most popular and acclaimed developers, and it introduced “The Witcher” franchise to its now massive player base. It’s an undeniable masterpiece of the fantasy genre.
Before we look at the greatest video game of the 21st century, here are a few honorable mentions.
“League of Legends” (2009)
“Shadow of the Colossus” (2005)
“NieR: Automata” (2017)
“Red Dead Redemption” (2010)
#1: “Half - Life 2” (2004)
There is a very good reason why the last decade has been filled with demands for “Half-Life 3,” The first two “Half Life” games are still regarded as the greatest and most ground-breaking games ever made, but not for any one reason in particular. For “Half-Life 2” So many things went right, including the unique integration of cutscenes and gameplay, the haunting atmosphere, the realistic character and facial animations, and of course the revolutionary physics engine and iconic Gravity Gun. It admittedly doesn’t sound like much on paper, but the sum is far greater than its individual parts. Every FPS that came after has followed in “Half-Life 2’s” footsteps. It was a trailblazer not just for the genre, but for gaming as an artistic medium.