The eighth console generation was, in my opinion, the one where the delineation between generations and even consoles became blurrier than ever before. Despite owning both a Playstation 4 and an Xbox One, I’m primarily a PC player. This tends to blur the lines a bit, with your gaming experiences not (usually) lining up neatly with the manufacturers’ console release schedules. As it happens, mine basically did, with a new-build PC in early 2014 kicking the bucket with a wonky GPU at the start of 2021. I’d define this generation as playing host to a number of different trends – not all of them positive. I’m not going to use this list to rag on any games, but some of these aren’t here for all the right reasons…
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
I’m no Nintendo-head by nature. Apart from playing a little bit of Ocarina of Time on the 3DS, Breath of the Wild is my first Zelda game. Much was made on release of its immersive, clean open world, its compelling physics-based mechanics and specifically how it contrasted with its increasingly-cluttered stablemates in the genre. I’m not going to make the outlandish claim that BotW was some sort of silver bullet that cured the ills of the genre, but I will say that its influence is keenly felt all across the worlds of many of its successors.
Ghost of Tsushima, for instance, merged much of the essential ‘feel’ of a game like BotW with the classic Assassin’s Creed formula. AC has seen no such change, and will likely continue to plough its own furrow in the open world genre. Instead, Ubisoft pretty shamelessly cloned BotW with Immortals Fenyx Rising. I hope that the influence of Nintendo’s modern classic continues throughout the next generation, because frankly I find the dominant AC-type open world exhausting.
Tekken 7 will always have a special place in my heart. Even as successive DLC releases have diluted the original brilliance of the game (I basically stopped playing for months after Leroy and Fahkumram), I can’t deny that the core of the game that finally hooked me as a latecomer to the fighting game genre is still as great as ever. An excellent cast, obscure yet infinitely learnable mechanics that will fascinate the ‘right’ sort of person (even as they admittedly repel others with unnecessary opaqueness) and a vibrant competitive scene made T7 the best intro I could have hoped for.
All through this, Tekken 7‘s competitive scene has kept me engaged, through the yearly World Tour and beyond. While it’s maybe unfair to account for a game’s effect on me as a person in this list, as my introduction to fighting games and the FGC, Tekken 7 has had an indelible effect on my experience of the eighth generation.
I really like this game, and had a lot of fun playing it. The characters are nice, the plot is solid and tackles some interesting issues, and the style is off the charts. It’s not without its problems, but I can (and will) forgive them because I like the full package. I wish I’d played more Persona when I was at school – I seem to care more about this fictional kid’s social skills and grades more than I ever did about my own.
Persona 5 makes it on to my games of the generation mostly because I just really like it, but also because it shows that the JRPG genre, which despite its strengths can often feel a bit stuck in time, can continue to expand its aesthetic horizons even as it keeps the things that makes it unique.
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, or PUBG after George’s failed attempt to make Plunkbag the dominant shorthand term, is maybe the game with the single most to answer for this generation. Following on from a successful Arma 3 mod, Brendan ‘PlayerUnknown’ Greene released this game in collaboration with Korean studio Bluehole into early access back in 2017, and the gaming landscape was changed forever.
Whether it’s purely PUBG or if the battle royale craze would have happened regardless is up for debate, but surely this game’s meteoric popularity had an outsized effect on the genre. BR’s sudden appearance on the scene, largely out of the ashes of the ailing survival game genre, eventually went on to spawn a huge number of imitators, either entirely new games (like Apex Legends) or retrofitted onto pre-existing games, such as H1Z1 or, of course, Fortnite and the Call of Duty franchise.
It’s my opinion that the BR genre has basically outgrown PUBG by now. Compared to other entries, it feels a bit strange. Not as polished or refined as later games by major FPS studios like Warzone or Apex, or as painstakingly realistic as its Arma origins, it’s sort of an odd middle-ground. However, as a ‘gaming event’, the release of PUBG was maybe the most important of the entire generation, and the heady feeling of seeing a new craze explode while playing it in those first months in 2017 is impossible to replicate.
Red Dead Redemption 2
I really like RDR2 for all the conventional reasons. As an object in motion, its beautifully-detailed world is still without compare. It still has a bit of Rockstar rough-about-the-edges-ness, and its missions are stuffed with videogame-y contrivances in order to have you shoot the mandated 50 people per game hour – this latter problem was so evident that Nevi insisted the game should have been a walking sim.
However, RDR2 is also emblematic of much of the prevailing conditions in the industry for the last 7 years. It possesses all of the qualities that many of the industry’s biggest names have been aiming for – verisimilitude, an enormous open world, a monetised multiplayer mode, beautiful graphics, and so on. It really is incredible. It also cost a fortune to make, involved massive crunch from Rockstar’s employees, and garnered enormous critical acclaim. It’s a successful example of many of the negative parts of the gaming industry. The next one in the list, less so. You can really think of this list as five proper ones and the last one.
(Dis?)honourable Mention – Cyberpunk 2077
Does Cyberpunk 2077 count as this generation? Being released basically alongside the new generation of consoles, whether it started a new one or ended the last is up for debate. I just think it’s sort of interesting, so I’ve whacked it in here – sue me. It represents the next chapter for the developer that made The Witcher 3, a game which is no doubt ubiquitous on lists like these, for good reason (it’s on Nevi’s list, anyway!). Much like RDR2, it was also made under much-reported crunch conditions, and released to a strict deadline, and became the focus of a lot of criticism. Unlike RDR2, it released in what can only be described of an absolute shocker of a state. It’s hard to describe how wonky this game was, though to say it that way implies it’s properly fixed.
With a titanic budget, enormous marketing spend, and the classic over-promise and under-deliver strategy, Cyberpunk released to pretty variable reception. On the eighth generation consoles the game was almost unplayable, which is part of the reason I’ve included it here. Despite reassuring people about the state of the game on Xbone and PS4, and releasing ‘trailers’ for these consoles, it released like this. Some swan song.
As this generation draws to a close, these are the games that defined the traditional AAA generational gaming experience for me. While there were many others I maybe even liked more than some of these, none were more appropriate for the industry’s overall conditions and grand ambitions, even as it sometimes struggled to match up to reality. Only time will tell what this next generation will bring, but I’d imagine more of the same – those blurred generational boundaries have only become blurrier.
If you want to see more games of generations, take a look at Nevi’s article from last week. I rudely left Dirt Rally 2.0 off the list, despite how much I liked it, but I might have put it there on another day – take a look at my article on it here.