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.