Now that the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X have finally released, a new generation has officially begun. There have been a few games over the last generation that completely floored me. Weeks or months after finishing them I couldn’t stop thinking about the story, the gameplay or the whole experience. These are those games, in no particular order.
I’ve been a fan of the Souls games since the original Demon’s Souls but I’ve never fallen so far for one until Bloodborne. From the world design and unfolding narrative to the combat and boss fights, it all came together to produce an adrenaline-fuelled experience that I’ll never forget.
It is remarkably rare for me to play games multiple times (the games on this list notwithstanding), but with Bloodborne, I kept coming back to it over and over as I explored every corner.
Bloodborne combat is so simple, yet constantly rewarding. Every time you take damage, you get to recover that health by inflicting some pain of your own. This leads to a frenetic combat system where you are constantly on the attack. Gone was the slow, considered pace of the Souls games. Instead, it was about getting stuck in and giving as good as you got. This meant that while every enemy felt dangerous and deadly, you were just as devastating.
And this was reflected in the world and narrative. The stronger you become through levels and personal growth, the more you are sucked into the destination Bloodborne has in mind. The more you become a monster in the combat, the more you sink deeper into the hunt and watch your humanity fade away. However, as with any Souls game, it isn’t that simple and unravelling the mystery at the heart of Bloodborne is part of the experience.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice very nearly made this list, but Bloodborne edged it out as it felt like the culmination of FromSoft’s work on the Souls franchise and came to define this generation of games.
NieR: Automata broke me as no game has before. To this day, I think about the repercussions of the story and gameplay. Everything works together to challenge the player mechanically and philosophically. Platinum Games’ excellent, crafted combat isn’t the most complicated, but between the perspective shifts and scale of opinions available, every confrontation is exhilarating.
I’ve seen people occasionally put off NieR: Automata because they think you need to complete the game multiple times, but that is a fallacy. The game is more or less linear but has part breaks which are often confused for endings. It’s a bit like getting to the end of a disc in Final Fantasy VII and saying that you now need to play the game again on a new disc, it isn’t true. Yes, you play through similar events but from entirely different perspectives with the story continuing throughout. Please don’t let this misunderstanding mean that you miss out on one of the best games made in the last ten years.
The concept of life has been done in video games before but never has it affected me like it did in NieR. I made a video about falling through bushes which is basically me going insane and considering some of the possible ramifications of the fact that these robot death machines fall through bushes. So as you can imagine, this game sometimes keeps me up at night.
The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt
The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt is my favourite game of all time. I’m not afraid to draw that line in the sand. It is an amazing achievement in storytelling and world-building. Every aesthetic element of The Witcher draws you deeper and deeper into its universe. I’ve been a fan of The Witcher series since the first game, read the books, and yet nothing quite compares to The Wild Hunt. It’s an absolute masterpiece throughout and nothing has managed to capture my heart in the same way.
It was through my Death March playthrough that The Witcher 3 cemented itself in my mind as the bar for all future games. I try not to compare other open-world games to The Witcher 3, but it’s difficult not to. If you haven’t managed to play this game yet, then it’s out on basically every platform and the two expansions are the most comprehensive pieces of DLC I’ve ever played.
I’m not sure what else to say about The Witcher 3, as it’s one of the most popular games on the planet and pretty much everything to say has already been said (or is in my article I’ve already pointed you towards). However, to make it clear, no you don’t need to have played the other games. Yes, The Witcher 2 is great and will give context to some of the events in the third game but if you can’t get it on your platform or want to jump to the best the series has to offer then go for it. Don’t miss out because you think you need to have a history lesson. If you need to, watch a story summary video on YouTube.
The first time I played Hollow Knight, I bounced off it. Thankfully though, I gave it a second chance and as a result, fell for this bug-filled kingdom. No game, other than Bloodborne, has pulled me in so much through its atmosphere. I love exploring and wandering around the world of Hollow Knight. And, as you can see from my previous article, the map is fantastic.
I won’t repeat my map reading article here, but suffice to say that exploring, filling in the map, learning the routes to the surface and repeating that process is one of the most compelling feedback loops I’ve ever experienced. If you want more of this, then check out my full article on map reading in Hollow Knight.
However, the map alone doesn’t earn a place on this list. Hollow Knight’s boss fights are a thing to behold. Their complexity steadily layers the more you play and just when you think you’ve seen it all, a brand new boss appears and changes how you think of the game. And all of this is packaged together into a world that never breaks character.
If you enjoy Metroidvania games, then you owe it yourself to pick up Hollow Knight because it refines and redefines what to expect from this genre and has become the new benchmark by which all other games should be measured.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
In 2020 I replayed the entire Uncharted series and documented my thoughts as I went. Each game in the series is an achievement for different reasons, but nothing can quite compare to Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. While, yes, some of the character beats are similar to Uncharted 3, that game felt unfinished at best. A Thief’s End is exactly that, an ending. Something that long-running franchises rarely see (after all, where’s Mario’s happily ever after?) and it’s perfect.
Do I think it could have been shorter? Yes. Is the gunplay still not quite as good as it could be? Yes. Does any of that matter? Absolutely not. If anything, the extra length lets you enjoy the environment more and builds up the ending. And if you come to an Uncharted game for the shooty bangs, then you were in the wrong place already. It’s the story, characters and set-piece moments that count and they shine through in Uncharted 4 brighter than ever.
Unlike some of the other games on this list where I’ve said, “Nah, skip to this instalment”, on this occasion you need to play the previous games first. If you only play A Thief’s End, then you don’t get the three-game build up. You don’t see Nate grow as a person and it means that the conclusion doesn’t hit as hard. Is it still a great game without that? Hell yes, but to see it at it’s best, you need to experience Drake’s full journey (although you can skip the Vita game, I’m not a monster).
I don’t think I could pick a single one of these to be my generation-defining game, they all mean a lot to me in their own way. All that’s left to do is ask, what are your games of the generation?