As one console generation launches, another comes to a close. The release of the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X|S is what will take us out of the 20-teens and through the 20-twenties. Nintendo marches to its own beat, so the Switch will join in the conversation. Sorry, PC lovers, this article isn't for you. While it's arguable that 2020's run of new RTX-ready graphics cards from Nvidia and AMD might be considered a new generation of sorts, having definitive generations is too nebulous a process in the ever-evolving PC market. No offense intended. Several of us on staff are PC-first gamers.
No, Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo aren't sunsetting the PS4, Xbox One, or Switch yet. But with our excitement over new gaming possibilities reaches fever pitch, it's nice to tie a bow on the previous generation, paying tribute to our favorite games since the launch of the ziggurat-looking PlayStation 4, the PS2-looking Xbox One, and the puppy-dog-eared Switch. You too, you Switch-looking Wii U. (That's backwards, we know.) Are these the best console games of the last seven to eight years? Possibly. But more importantly, they're the ones that spoke to us. The ones that meant something to us. The ones we'll still remember fondly two or three more console generations down the road. That is, if consoles still resemble anything what they do today. So, here they are, our favorite games on the PS4, Xbox One, and (because Nintendo is weird) both the Wii U and Switch.
I didn't get into Destiny with the original game. While I did check out the demo eventually my friends at work mostly played it on the Xbox One which I didn't have at the time. It also never released on the PC which is where I mostly played FPS games so I sat that one out. When Destiny 2 launched on the PC a couple of months after the Xbox One and PS4 (and after the issue the game had with certain graphics cards) I played it for a while off and on. Once I finally got an Xbox One in spring 2019 I picked up the Forsaken bundle and have been hooked ever since. The game has had its ups and downs with each passing season, but Beyond Light has been a pretty good experience so far, though it's pretty hard to top the story of Forsaken.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
I've been a fan of The Legend of Zelda ever since the original way back on the NES with that and A Link to the Past being my favorites in the series where the games didn't really hold your hand on where to go or what to do. Breath of the Wild holds your hand less than that. You get the quest to defeat Ganon...and that's it. Everything else is up to you. You can roam around Hyrule and basically do whatever you want. You can go straight to Ganon and get your butt kicked or go and get powered up a bit before giving it a shot. You didn't even have to do any of the main "dungeons" but doing so would help you out in the long run. While A Link to the Past and the original on the NES are still my two favorite Zelda games, Breath of the Wild is a very close third and an incredible game for the Switch.
Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth
While I've always been more of a Pokemon fan than a Digimon fan, I have had my fair share of experiences with the digital monsters, at least with the cartoon series when it first aired. Video games though are a different story as I've played a lot of the first four Digimon World games, but that's about it and each of those games seemed to be hit and miss. Finally a couple of years ago I picked up Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth on the PS4 and started streaming it on Twitch and got hooked pretty quickly. The story is unique and the battle system is turn-based with you being able to have up to three Digimon battle at once, but your overall party can include more depending on how much memory your character has. It's a bit more complex than how Pokemon works and once I understood how everything worked I had a blast playing through the main story and seeing just how powerful I could get my team to be by the end. While I'll still always like Pokemon more than Digimon, Cyber Sleuth helped make the favoritism a bit more even.
I knew about this series for quite some time but never got around to playing it. So when Yakuza 0 was announced as a prequel and a good way for new fans to jump in I was all for it. What a ride that was. This is now one of my favorite games of all time. The combat system was so much fun that I found myself purposely getting into fights over and over again. The story was incredible as well as I love mystery, crime, thriller stories, with fantastic acting, characters with great character development and some pretty intense moments. And the music, oh man the soundtrack for this game was certainly added to my rotation. Then there are all the minigames. I must have spent hours upon hours just doing all of the minigames. I was hooked from this point and now own all of the Yakuza games and have made my way through the entire series.
This game kinda came out of nowhere for me. I played it for review not knowing anything about the game or the NieR series. Pretty much the only thing I knew about it was that the main character became a meme due to her...uhh well-designed posterior. But hey I got no issues with that at all so I played it and got the first ending of the game and thought it was a pretty decent action game. Not terrible, not amazing. But then you realize that there are multiple endings to the game and story actually continues and...wow just wow. I went into this game thinking it was just a generic action game with a cute robo waifu and was in full-blown tears by the time the actual final credits started rolling. An absolutely incredible experience that I wish I could erase from my memory and play again.
Persona 4 was one of those random games I rented off of Gamefly cause I needed something to play on my PS Vita and was hooked immediately just for the atmosphere and Persona 5 did the same thing. This game just exudes such an incredible style and atmosphere that I got completely lost in the game world. It took everything that was great about the Persona series up to that point and dialed it up to 11 with a fantastic new cast, great story and the new dungeons were so much fun. I already played through the original release twice and had no problem playing through it a third time when Royal was released this year.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
It's been over five years since I spent 150+ hours of my life playing The Witcher 3 over the course of summer in 2015 and to this day, I still revere it as the greatest game of the generation. Put simply, it's a masterpiece. CD Projekt Red created a world that was beyond my wildest imagination of what was possible on Xbox One at the time. I've played many other amazing games this generation, but nothing has matched the genuine awe I felt over and over again roaming the game's open-world regions as Geralt of Rivia.
God of War
I've played a few of the older God of War games, some on PS3, some on PSP, but it was never a franchise I was really invested in. That is, until Sony Santa Monica's awe-inspiring God of War in 2018. Intended as a soft reboot of sorts, it breathed new life into the familiar old Kratos and engrossed me from beginning to end.
Horizon Zero Dawn
As far as new IP went this generation, Horizon Zero Dawn from Guerilla Games was the most impressive. A female protagonist—a hunter in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by machine dinosaurs...Need I go on? The very premise alone is intriguing but Horizon Zero Dawn is a success on all fronts: combat, open-world, mystery, story, it's a standout new IP and kudos to Guerilla Games and Sony for taking that risk.
Honorable Mentions: Life is Strange, Ori and the Blind Forest, Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, What Remains of Edith Finch, Persona 5 Royal
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Probably one of my favorite games of all time, let alone the generation. It also sparked my interest in the books (read them if you haven't) and made me a firm fan of CD Projekt Red. It's truly a masterpiece, and few things will ever top it in my mind. However...
God of War
Kratos initially drew my skepticism and disinterest. How wrong I was. I mentioned masterpiece before, and there's a real danger that I'm going to overuse that word here, but Dad of War is the flagship game for the PS4 generation in my mind; not only this generation, but a shining jewel in Sony's crown of exclusives. I'm going to actively limit myself from waxing lyrical about this game, because it speaks for itself.
Horizon Zero Dawn
My third pick was a little more difficult. I had two specific games in mind, but I'm going to have to go with Horizon. Frankly, I think this game suffered with the release of Breath of the Wild and the Switch within days of its own release. It's an open-world action game, with fantastic themes, a wonderful story, a great protagonist, compelling gameplay, and extraordinary environments. While my previous two games are 15/10 games, Horizon is still a solid 9.5/10. And don't get me started on the music.
Honorable Mentions: Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, Battlefield 1, Destiny 2
I know that a lot of folks consider Fallout 4 to be an inferior game to New Vegas, but that doesn't change the fact that I spent over 100 hours wandering around the Boston Commonwealth looking for my wayward son (spoiler: in the end, I did not allow him to carry on). Though I spent almost as much time in Fallout 76 before its recent Wastelanders update removed its long-standing feeling of sad isolation, Fallout 4 is still the RPG of the generation for me. One of these days, I'll have to dip back in and knock out the DLC.
Pinball FX 3
Pinball FX 3 is actually a cross-generation pick, as I started collecting Zen's amazing pinball tables in earnest on the Xbox 360. But regardless of that technicality, FX 3 was one of my most played games this generation. With an enormous variety of licensed tables and a very strong collection of digital real-world tables, Pinball FX 3 is a nonstop good time. I'm actually rather terrible at Pinball, but that doesn't stop me from enjoying the clever design and bountiful creativity on display in Zen's fantastic collection. And yes, this entry is intended to include Star Wars Pinball and Marvel Pinball, so it's kind of a cheat.
When PS5 recently released with an amazing (and depressing) feature that showed Plus members' overall hour count playing games, I was shocked to see that Dauntless was my number one game—and that doesn't include the time I spent hunting behemoths on Switch and Epic. To me, a list of the best games of the generation must include a free-to-play title, and hands down, Dauntless is the free-to-play title that captured me more than any other. Tight controls, fantastic variety, and an amazingly fun progression loop make this multiplayer monster hunter a complete winner. If you haven't tried Dauntless, you are seriously missing out on one of the best games of the generation—free or not.
Honorable Mentions: Wasteland 3, Pistol Whip, The Outer Worlds, Concrete Genie, Monster Hunter World, What Remains of Edith Finch
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
When I was 10 years old, LEGO released the Black Seas Barracuda, that one sick pirate ship with the red and white-striped sails. From there, I waited nearly 25 years for a game like Black Flag to come along. I love sailing the Jackdaw as much as I love flying Mass Effect's Normandy. And those sea shanties forced me to keep Sean Dagher's salty pipes on my Spotify favorites ever since. What will we do with a drunken sailor?
No Man's Sky
As far as the last generation is concerned, it feels like there never was a time before No Man's Sky. Not for me, anyway. From its reveal in 2014, to its launch in 2016, to every few months when I have to dip back in for yet another major update. I know, the consensus is that the game we got at launch was bad. And I know, the consensus is that The Game Is Actually Good Now. But my favorite time in No Man's Sky were those first dozen or so hours. When we were all lost, alone, and just forging a path to the center of the galaxy because that's all we could do.
Hyper Light Drifter
This game speaks quietly and insistently to the drifter in me, too. The drifter in me that used to pick a direction on the map and go. That used to ram his head against a wall until that miniboss was defeated. That wordlessly collected stories from the people he met before he took the money (or left the money) and ran. This doesn't sound like a compliment, but Hyper Light Drifter rings in my ears like tinnitus from time to time. It also explains my compulsion to follow any stray Doberman Pinscher I find across a shallow magenta sea.
Honorable Mentions: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Darkest Dungeon, Firewatch, Kingdom Come: Deliverance, Control
Tetris is one of the best games ever in any generation, and this is probably the best version of that game ever to come out. How then can this not be one of the games of the generation? This was actually the first game I played on my PS5. Partly because I needed to get a digital copy anyway with my disc-less PS5 and wanted to test the purchase and download of a PS4 game on the new system, but also partly because even as I move into a new generation I dare not leave this game behind.
Maybe not even so much for what this game was, but for what this game was able to do—show me just how powerful playing in a clan can be. Destiny is just part of the furniture when it comes to games in my rotation, and even as everything else has come and gone and rotated out (except Tetris Effect above), Destiny or its sequel are still there, always ready to play and always getting loaded up whenever new content drops or whenever someone from the clan feels like raiding this weekend.
Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Even considering the other games on this list and mentions, I could point to at least one thing I would have liked to be tweaked or done slightly differently, incredible games as they are. But not the Witcher 3. This is the most complete game I have probably ever played. It has breadth and depth, characters and a plot that you can't help but get invested in, a world that comes to life, a combat system that blends both strategy and skill unto a dance-like fluidity, choices in how to carry out your goals, and more side quests and side plots than you deserve, some just as compelling or even more so than the main quest. I was moved to take a screenshot of a certain spoiler-free pyre after the successful defense of Kaer Morhen because the moment was just so moving and meaningful and that shot still stands as my PSN profile background today, and I'm not sure I'll ever change it.
Honorable Mentions: God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, The Last of Us Part II
There was a need for a AAA VR title to really push that platform and Valve delivered in spades. Half-Life: Alyx not only marked a return to an IP that many clamored for, but also marked Valve's entry into an area that really needed a jumpstart from a major company. Yes, other large companies tried VR, but Valve delivered a 10+ hour gaming experience like no other that took advantage VR and pushed it forward with the showcase of the controllers that tracked each individual finger. Oh, and the game was hella fun to play expanding on the story and, of course, ending on another cliff hanger that hopefully doesn't take another 13 years to resolve.
It's no secret that Fallout is one of my favorite IPs and while Bethesda doesn't deliver problem-free experiences, I always love going into the world of Fallout (76 not included). First off, they had one of the most incredible E3 presentations ever, dropping bomb after bomb and showing off an impressive display of features for a game that would come out later that year. While the story wasn't on par with the last two Fallout games, Bethesda managed to make the world even more alive adding such things as settlement building and making each item have some purpose by allowing you to break them down into components for crafting. The VR port is even more fun making you feel really immersed in the world. It's not the best Bethesda open-world RPG, but I spent a ton of time in it.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Kojima delivered another classic in his final game with Konami. He showed he can create intrigue and excitement with weird cut scenes that all come together in the end. The Phantom Pain added more lore to the Metal Gear story line and let you play how you wanted to in this open-world installment. Want to just ignore stealth? Go shoot everyone up. Don't want to alert anyone? Do what Snake does best and sneak around. It's all up to you. And there's multiple ways to complete some of the missions. Phantom Pain was a very solid entry in the series and one that I truly enjoyed on the last generation of consoles.
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