Updated: 1/12/2023

In case you are wondering what my favorite video games of all time are, here is my exhaustive list, along with how I got there.

Navigating this page

How I built my list

First, this is my own list, and it is based around my favorite games, with plenty of nostalgia present. You will see a lot of Nintendo and Valve. Second, this list is not about the games I think were the most influential. For example, games like Minecraft and Demon’s Souls would be some of the most influential games of all time, but they don’t make my personal list.

That being said, I do factor age and series into the ranking. If every game released yesterday, I would have very different thoughts. To better explain, I consider when the game released in the ranking. In some cases, when a better sequel iterates on an amazing original game in a series, I will lean towards the original first game in the series.

Finally, I do factor innovation heavily into the ranking, though this is mostly because I personally like games that break the mold and offer new types of experiences.

Pairwise

I gathered my list of all games I have played and grabbed the top 60 to 70 of them. From there, I ranked them using the pairwise method, similar to what I did with my best games of the last generation.

This is important for situations where I have genre bias and want to ensure that the best racing games and puzzle games can stand up against the “heavy-hitting” action adventure titles.

Thoughts and Insights

This process has allowed me to be introspective as to where my tastes lay:

  • Like I said before, there is a heaping helping of Nintendo classics (Mario and Zelda) on the list, as well as a lot of Valve. I attribute this to Nintendo informing my love for games and to both companies, especially Valve, for their constant innovation.
  • I value innovation in video games, not because of the influence but because I like playing games that challenge my expectations and feel “new.”
  • I love exploration as a gameplay loop, and this is apparent in many of my top picks.
  • My tastes have changed over time. Even if you click on the link above to my greatest games of last generation, my tastes have changed even since then.
  • I feel fortunate to have lived the age of the Playstation 2, Xbox, Gamecube generation during my years of growth. There are so many classics. While nostalgia plays a part, I think this generation is where the technology of the television console experience finally caught up with the vision of developers and designers. Any generation after that is still good but has diminishing creative returns until a new way to play becomes popular, like VR or something else.

Honorable Mentions

Before I get to my listen in earnest, here are some honorable mentions that just missed the cut.

  • Xenoblade Chronicles: An evolution in the JRPG genre with seriously massive overworlds to explore and an expansive combat system.
  • Goldeneye 007: The original party shooter, with so many great memories.
  • Okami: A great Zelda-like game with a lot of heart and a unique brush mechanic.
  • Super Metroid: One of the games that started an everlasting genre.
  • Donkey Kong Country: Another Super Nintendo classic with insane difficulty and fun mechanics.
  • NBA Jam: Whether at the arcade or at home, a solid and wonderful sports game.
Return of the Obra Dinn Compass

Numbers 50-26

50. Civilization VI (2016)

I recently got back into Civilization VI and reflected on how many hours I had spent playing this stupid game. How many times I had invested hours into a run, only to hate my civ and restart or quit without saving.

. . . How many times I made about 1,000 strategic micro decisions, only to look at the clock and realize that five hours had passed in a flash.

This is the only game on the list that my life partner actively despises, due to its addictive stranglehold on my life.

49. FEZ (2012)

Source: Fez press kit (via email)

FEZ probably would not have made my list if soundtracks weren’t important to me, but soundtracks are important to me, and FEZ has the best game soundtrack ever.

Additionally, while the mechanics of moving your character are milquetoast, FEZ was the first game (of which I am aware) to start the trend of “indie games that aren’t what they seem.” Scanning QR codes with my phone, writing down cyphers hidden in the environment, and decoding languages provided an unexpected second layer to what was previously an unassuming platformer.

48. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (2000)

“You’ve met with a terrible fate haven’t you?”

No game–not even a horror classic like Amnesia: The Dark Descent–carries the same sense of dread as Majora’s Mask. The repeating, three-day cycle of events, schedules, and impending doom work in a dissonant harmony and lead to constant scrambling and planning. How will you utilize the timelines imposed by the world on this loop?

I am really happy to see this style of design making a comeback with games like Prey: Mooncrash, Deathloop, and. . . another game much further down this very list!

Nintendo tends to use Zelda as a vehicle to deliver innovative ideas, but I honestly wish this was its own thing.

47. Stardew Valley (2016)

Stardew Valley is one of the most content-rich and addictive games on the list.

And it was largely made by one person.

Starting as a life/farming simulator, Stardew Valley‘s continuously added systems reveal it as much more than a game about planting crops and talking to townsfolk.

It is simply a great escape, something gamier than Animal Crossing, but scratching the same itch.

46. Super Meat Boy (2010)

I love platformers, and Super Meat Boy is one of the fastest and most brutal of them all.

The thing that makes this game so good are the flawless controls, quick retries, and varying levels of content for people who just want to play the game or those who want to complete it all.

Sporting loads of fast standard levels, secret levels, collectibles, characters, and time challenges, Super Meat Boy is platforming delivered as raw as the meaty main character.

45. Borderlands (2009)

While Borderlands hasn’t aged as timelessly as other games on the list, I have nothing but the best of memories from my time playing with friends in co-op.

Borderlands was the game that popularized the looter shooter and had great cooperative mechanics and a really unique aesthetic to boot.

44. Chrono Trigger (1995)

There are not many JRPGs on this list, mostly because they are not a favorite genre of mine. I find them often long, verbose, and lacking in gameplay.

That being said, I have to include Chrono Trigger, a game that was so far ahead of its time that it is still incredible today. Chrono Trigger tells a really cool story about time travel and features a unique and lovable cast of characters and soundtrack.

Also, the game was made by many important Japanese game creators. Dubbed “The Dream Team,” the game was made by Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator of the Final Fantasy series, Yūji Horii, the creator of the Dragon Quest series, with art by Akira Toriyama and some music from Nobuo Uematsu.

43. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (2019)

I am not the biggest fan of the developer FromSoftware despite my appreciation for their influence on the industry and the popularity of Demon’s Souls and its ilk. Difficulty aside, I don’t find the gameplay mechanics particularly compelling once you strip them down to what they actually are.

That being said, I absolutely love the developer’s world building, exploration, art, and lore, so I understand why people revere their work so much.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was the first time that FromSoftware’s gameplay matched the quality of the rest of the game components, in my opinion.

42. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (2009)

Part of what made Uncharted 2: Among Thieves such a pleasant surprise was how bad the original Uncharted game was.

This game was like playing a linear adventure movie, but one with perfect pacing and incredible set pieces. While I don’t like the impact it had on the AAA industry, I will never forget the train sequence and trip through a native mountain village as standout moments in a cinematic powerhouse of a game.

41. ESPN NFL 2K5 (2004)

ESPN NFL 2K5 was priced—brand new—at $20, to compete with EA’s Madden NFL series.

Well, you can thank the success of this $20 gamble for the utter stagnation of the Madden series for the past 20 years. Because ESPN 2K5 was so well done, EA went ahead and entered a contract for exclusive rights to publish NFL video games after 2004 in response. Good-bye, innovation!

ESPN NFL 2K5 brought the presentation of the televised product to video games and was a more realistic take on the genre. Even at $20, it was the best football/traditional sports game made then and ever since.

40. LittleBigPlanet (2008)

LittleBigPlanet is probably higher than you would want, but that is because I played the crap out of it upon its release and really dug into the building mechanics.

Combining physics-based platforming with extensive tools, people could make their own platforming video games or other things with their own unlockables, challenges, and levels. This meant a practically unlimited pool of levels and ideas to explore. LittleBigPlanet was the spiritual predecessor to Media Molecule’s later game, Dreams.

39. The Oregon Trail (1971)

oregon-trail-1971
The Oregon Trail, MECC

I have played a few different versions of this game in my life, but Oregon Trail is just a great, text based game with the right amount of strategy and luck. Sometimes life just isn’t fair, so I love a game that involves luck while still providing room for strategy. The game is way ahead of its time and it is still fun in its own way, today.

Importantly, it exposes a still fairly untapped market of history games that use gameplay to put you in the shoes of the people who actually lived it. Think about how many other applications there are for this theme, throughout time!

38. Mass Effect 2 (2010)

Mass Effect 2 is a weird game to discuss. This game and series does not hold up compared to many others. The reasons for this have nothing to do with content that hasn’t aged well. Instead, games and their storytelling have evolved in a way that renders Mass Effect void, and the series has fallen out of grace in years since.

When Mass Effect 2 launched, however, I can’t deny that it was one of my favorite things I had ever played. The varied relationships and branching stories from the first game returned, but with much better gameplay to match. The game gave you as much or as little as you put in, with a satisfying conclusion.

37. Half-Life: Alyx (2020)

Valve won’t make Half-Life things just to make Half-Life things.

But when Valve finally decides that a new technology deems a return to the series as worthy, I get excited. Additionally, I know the experience is going to be high quality, cinematic, and groundbreaking.

Half-Life: Alyx single-handedly justifies the cost of an OculusMeta Quest 2 and shows you the full possibilities of VR. It is unfortunate that nothing else in VR even comes close and that developers and publishers aren’t willing to take a chance on the limiting market.

Some of the set pieces in this game would be incredible on a normal monitor but enter their ultimate form when the moment surrounds you.

36. Super Mario 64 (1996)

I don’t really know what to say that hasn’t already been said about Super Mario 64, but I will write some words. For many people, it was their very first 3D platformer, maybe even the first 3D game that they ever played.

Nintendo decided that they would deliver on the promise of three-dimensional play, but then they also decided to perfect the whole thing at the same time.

3D camera controls notwithstanding (which are still a problem for modern games), Super Mario 64 is a timeless classic that can be played and enjoyed by literally anyone, from a new gamer to a seasoned veteran.

35. God of War (2005)

It is unfortunate to see the new direction of God of War in recent years, bending to the whims of modern game development. However, there will always be the original God of War trilogy.

All of the games in the original trilogy are good, and they arguably get better and better. But the original game started the whole phenomenon. To me, it perfectly encapsulates what makes games great. There is an engaging gameplay loop that makes you feel like the character while using your actions to help convey the story.

The difficulty is malleable, making the game great fun if you want to do a casual playthrough or challenging if you ratchet up the difficulty for an action fix more akin to Devil May Cry.

34. Guitar Hero (2005)

Guitar Hero is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I really liked the idea and loved playing it with friends. The track list was good and the gameplay was unique, simple, and fun.

I have fonds memories of playing this my family and friends, and the peripheral-game zeitgeist that developer Harmonix started with Guitar Hero would eventually build to Rock Band, which was simply the coolest way to spend an evening with friends as a kid, if you were a nerd.

33. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (2000)

I talked to an old, good friend recently about my plan to make this list. They, a total non-sports person, asked me if I was going to include Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (THPS) 2 on the list.

That statement from my friend defines the bizarre appeal of the THPS series. While not a “traditional” sports game, THPS 2 has a rhythm and feel that is enjoyable for all. It is easy to get lost in the zen of a massive trick string. This second game in the series had the best levels and gameplay in my opinion, before they added too much crap on top of it.

32. Ms. Pacman / Pacman (1980)

I bundled Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man together, since they are extremely similar games, but my experience is more with Ms. Pac-Man.

An obviously simple game, you navigate a one-screen map, collecting dots while avoiding ghost enemies, each having their own specific AI. You can have fun with this game for hours, and the interplay of getting points, avoiding enemies, and finding moments to capitalize on fruit and attack dots is addictive fun.

31. Half-Life (1998)

Half-Life would probably be higher on the list if I played it earlier in its lifespan, but I actually went back and played this later, after I finished Half-Life 2.

Regardless of when I played this, it holds up as a wonderful first person adventure with puzzles and great combat scenarios. It was effectively the first shooter game with a heavy focus on storytelling.

This is the only game on the list where I will recommend a remake, but a team of passionate devs created Black Mesa, which is Half-Life completely redone with a new engine. It is unbelieveably good as well and worth playing in place of Half-Life if you want to give it a first try.

30. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007)

I literally played Warzone 2.0 with some friends the other day, and the popular series was catapulted into industry dominance with Call of Duty Modern Warfare.

This is for good reason.

Sporting an infinitely replayable online experience and a gloriously epic single player campaign, the game had it all. Who can forget the nuke explosion from within the airship, laying prone while an entire army walks over you, or grabbing the pistol for the final shot on Zakhev?

29. Apex Legends (2019)

Apex Legends, EA/Respawn Entertainment

I would argue that I have logged more hours into Apex Legends than I have from every other game on this list… combined. It is a fun, fast, movement based battle-royale game.

While it is great fun, the reason it is on this list and why I have logged so many hours is personal. I started playing this game with some acquaintances as the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The hangs grew and grew to the point where we are all now great friends and even go on trips together!

28. Fallout 3 (2008)

This another game that hasn’t aged super well from a gameplay and story perspective, but Fallout 3 has one of the best complete atmospheres of any game on this list.

No matter the limitations of the gameplay, when you turn this game on, you live a post-apocalyptic life. You walk a haunting wasteland, listening to rebellious radio stations and encountering decayed points of interest.

27. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (2004)

I liked Paper Mario, but I felt that Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door was the first game in the series that lived up to the concept that “the world is paper.” Not only does Mario capitalize on his papery body with inventive paper powers, but the world takes better advantage of the unique aesthetic.

Every individual area does a better job setting a theme, and the concepts are unique. Nowhere else will you get a black and white forest with little soot critters.

I would be angrier about Nintendo never making another game in the series, but part of what elevates this one is the thought that we may never get another one like it.

26. Return of the Obra Dinn (2018)

Return of the Obra Dinn Compass
Return of the Obra Dinn, 3909/Lucas Pope

Developer Lucas Pope is a man on a mission: Take a menial occupation and make a compelling game around it.

Getting his start with Papers Please, Pope’s next project was about being an insurance inspector. On a ghost ship. With a time traveling compass.

Return of the Obra Dinn is a fascinating puzzler. A murder-mystery logic puzzle with the personnel being the crew of a ship.

Numbers 25-11

25. Baba is You (2019)

It doesn’t sound fun on paper, but pushing blocks of text around a screen thrives with Baba is You.

Taking a slightly meta approach to game development, the text you push around the screen in Baba is You literally programs the various elements of the mechanics on the fly, depending on how the text is ordered. So pushing a text block to change the statement from “Baba is You” to “Wall is You,” gives you direct control to move every “wall” piece on the map.

As you bang your head against a devious puzzle for half an hour, you will ask yourself how nobody else thought of this idea before.

24. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)

To play Skyrim is to walk through a timeline of the last 15 years of video games.

Skyrim is on the list because it seems to flow with that timeline. As it released, it was a competent RPG with a snowy world to explore. Then, as time moved on, it was given an update with better graphics and embraced by the mod community on both console and PC. As people picked up VR headsets, a VR version of the game was created, which works with the game and any supported mods. What is coming next?

Skyrim is an ever-growing platform that is nice to return to, from time to time.

23. Devil May Cry (2001)

There was a time where, if you wanted a third person action game like Devil May Cry, it literally didn’t exist. Then, Devil May Cry released.

Famously started as “Resident Evil 4,” Capcom saw how innovative and special the new direction for the series was and decided it shouldn’t be Resident Evil at all. It should be its own new series!

Devil May Cry is still the game I think of when somebody uses the genre term “action game.” Controlling Dante and unleashing juggle combos is a blast. The length is short but sweet and with replay value. Devil May Cry never stops being engaging and stylish, except maybe the one weird swimming section.

22. Resident Evil 4 (2005)

The “almost Resident Evil 4” at #23 on this list was incredible, but the real Resident Evil 4 was apparently just one tiny bit better.

These days, Resident Evil 4 can be played on everything from a Gamecube (it’s original home) to a VR headset to a potato.

I made up the potato thing, but still, this game is available on so many different platforms and for good reason. It is one of the best survival horror games and outright action games ever made. Even organizing a briefcase is fun in this game.

21. Hades (2020)

Hades, Supergiant Games

If Hades has fallen down this list at all, it’s because the roguelite style of gameplay loop isn’t my favorite. When you peel back the layers, the game on offer is fairly simple.

It is a shame, because Hades is an absolute triumph in every other facet. No other game contextualizes the gameplay into the story like Hades does. Every run exposes new details around the world and its denizens. The idea that Zagreus is trying to escape hell and different people are encouraging and discouraging it along the way is brilliant.

20. Super Smash Bros. Melee (2001)

I spent hundreds of hours as a teenager wearing out my friend’s copy of Super Smash Bros. Melee. While I have always loved the series, Melee is the game that stuck with me—and others, apparently! In a world where the new multiplayer game seems to change every year, it is telling that a game from 2001 is still enjoyed competitively by a huge number of people.

I follow the series to this day, but Melee is special.

19. Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow (1996)

The game of the schoolyard, Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow took the world by storm.

What is craziest about the first three games in the series is that they got so much right the first time. Future games are good, but they often only serve to expose the deep systems and mechanics that were already hidden in the code of the originals.

Now that there are more than a thousand of the pocket monsters out there, I would argue the 150 original ones were also the best and are still standouts in later titles when featured.

18. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (2004)

Like Pokemon, the Dragon Quest series has been around for a while and mostly just throws a fresh coat of paint on top of the systems from the 1980s.

Or so I understand.

Honestly, I have never played Dragon Quest I-VII, but I fell hard for Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King. To me, this is turn-based RPG bliss, with a fully explorable world and lots of fun distractions. Even newer entires like Dragon Quest XI seem to scale back the things that made VIII so good.

17. Super Mario Galaxy (2007)

Super Mario Galaxy is 3D platforming perfection.

More than that, it doesn’t waste any of the space on the disc. You are constantly moving forward, playing a level with a brand new concept or fighting an inventive boss. All the while your perspective is skewed with gravity bending micro-planet levels. Despite being upside down some of the time, the camera has never been better in the series, due to the concentrated pockets of level afforded by those micro-planets.

16. Disco Elysium (2019)

Disco Elysium, ZA/UM

One of the difficulties of playing a “role” in a “role playing game” is that you cannot disconnect yourself from the role you play.

Disco Elysium throws you into a warped reality in the shoes of an amnesiac and asks you to piece it all together. Through this lens, you don’t have to pretend to play the character’s role, because you are as confused as they are.

If this wasn’t enough, contextualizing the skill system as different lobes in your brain is wild and leads to many surprises.

15. Rocket League (2015)

It is never a bad day to turn on Rocket League. Whether alone or with friends, there is something zen about playing “footie” with cars.

And, like other games on this list, anyone can get into it for different reasons. Play it casually and it is mindless fun. Apply yourself, and it becomes a team sport with roles. Play way too much and the game morphs into an aerial monstrosity that doesn’t resemble the casual experience in any way.

14. Portal (2007)

Short but sweet, Portal is one of those genius ideas that starts and ends exactly when it should.

Despite its brief length, both the story and character of gladOS are some of the most memorable across the landscape. By the time the famous and hilarious song “Still Alive” plays in the credit you will be invested in the world and thinking with portals.

13. Burnout 3: Takedown (2004)

I used to love racing games. Then I played Burnout 3: Takedown and realized that it was the best the genre could offer.

Even last year, when playing Forza Horizon, I found myself longing for the streets of Burnout 3. The thrill of “Crash Mode.” Racing has never been more fun than it was in 2004.

12. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1991)

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past needs no introduction. It is on many lists like this and is a certified classic.

I would say it was ahead of its time, but it is just as good today as it was back then. The blueprint of explore the world, find a dungeon, get an item, beat the boss, go to next dungeon stuck with the Zelda series for almost 30 years, a testament to the design of this SNES must-play.

11. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (2004)

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater takes the stealth action and attention to detail of the Metal Gear Solid series, but opens it up to a larger world.

In this prequel, you play the original Snake and battle against a colorful cast of characters, including arguably the best boss fight of all time—The End. The game strikes the right balance of story to gameplay with interesting survival mechanics added to the stealth loop.

It is also the only game that has made me cry with its powerful story and emotional ending.

outer wilds review feature

Numbers 10-1

10. Outer Wilds (2019)

outer wilds review feature
Outer Wilds, Annapurna Interactive / Mobius Village

Yes, I am part of the cult that recommends Outer Wilds to friends when they didn’t even ask for a game recommendation.

This recommendation, however, is a faulty one. You are either going to really like it or really not like it. But… if you really like it, it will make your own top ten list.

Outer Wilds is a space exploration game that gives you a million directions to go and trusts that you will find your way to the end through that unique path. It is also a game that you can’t really enjoy more than once, which is why I am not spoiling it here and which is why I watch people “let’s play” the game whenever I feel in the mood for Outer Wilds.

Whatever path you take, the emergent gameplay moments, discoveries, and ambient storytelling are practically unmatched and lead to an ending that is equal parts introspective and cathartic.

9. Tetris (1984)

I’m not going to belabor this one. If you don’t think Tetris is one of the best games of all time, you either haven’t played it or you are a psychopath.

8. Half-Life 2 (2004)

Half-Life 2 is the game I have played through the most times. It was my introduction to PC shooters, and it was the first game I played on the first PC I built with my dad. So yeah, there is nostalgia at play.

But beyond the shackles of shooter-dom, Half-Life 2 is a perfectly paced single-player adventure. The Gravity Gun was (and still is) a revelation and perfectly took advantage of the physic-focused puzzles and combat.

It is a game I can still play today, and it holds up extremely well with tight controls and surprises around every corner.

7. Shadow of the Colossus (2005)

Shadow of the Colossus is the game most likely to end up closer to #1 on my list in the future.

The gameplay concept is novel-that you have to fight 16 titans by literally scaling their bodies and finding the strategy to best them.

But stopping at the unique concept would rob Shadow of the Colossus of its true strength, which is a story that is the best in all of video games. What makes it so special is the simplicity of it, how it weaves with the colossus fights, and how personal and interpretive it all is. Like a timeless song, the lyrics are there, but you can bring your own baggage along with it. The girl who you are trying to rescue could be your mother. She could be your partner. Your sister. She could manifest as guilt. The demon Dormin could be real or could just be a voice in your head.

Whatever you decide, the path you take to complete the game is a long and introspective one.

6. Katamari Damacy (2004)

I can’t even put into words why this is one of my favorite games of all time, because this game is strange beyond words, but I will try.

So you are the tiny, centimeter-tall prince of all cosmos, and your dad got drunk and destroyed the universe except for Earth, so now you need to roll up random shit on earth to rebuild the stars with the trash of Earth. If you are worried that was a spoiler, that is pretty much the opening of the game.

The game only gets crazier after that.

No game makes me happier to play than Katamari Damacy, and I think that is part of the reason why it rolled up to the top ten.

5. Hollow Knight (2017)

In many ways, Hollow Knight earned this spot on my list more than anything else, even the games further down.

My journey through Hollownest was innovative in its own creative way, but the game is fundamentally a MetroidVania-style game.

What takes Hollow Knight over the top is how masterful everything element is. It is one of the most beautiful games ever made, with one of the best soundtracks and probably the best atmosphere of anything on the list. The story is simple but also complex and somewhat open to interpretation, using emergent moments and encounters to help tell the story. The level design oozes exploration and experimentation. The gameplay loop encourages failing and going into scary new areas with no sense that you can ever return. The world building and lore are unmatched.

Despite how massive the world and game is, I never wanted it to end.

Hollow Knight is a masterpiece.

4. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (1995)

Full disclosure, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island was the first game I ever owned. I would say that nostalgia factors in here, but in the same breath I would also say, “it is because of the impact of this game that I kept playing games.”

It is crazy to me that Yoshi’s Island does not get more love from gamers. I wouldn’t call it underrated, but I think it is often overlooked in these types of conversations.

Yoshi’s Island combines the complicated mechanics of games like Super Mario Sunshine with the unique level designs of games like Super Mario Galaxy. It is in 2D, but every step you take is expanding your perception of it in depth or breadth or challenge. And it is fun and uniquely itself the whole dang time.

3. Halo: Combat Evolved (2001)

As I was making this list, I had an idea about most of the games that would make my top ten, but I forgot about Halo: Combat Evolved.

If this list were strictly about impact, Halo: Combat Evolved is number A1. It basically launched multiplayer console gaming and shooters into the stratosphere. It also invented many mechanics which would ripple through the industry for 20 years, like regenerating shields, modern shooter button mapping, and two-weapon systems.

No other game launched so many trends, but then the game was also perfectly tuned and inspired. Who can forget their first glimpse at trailing distance of the Halo ring or the Gregorian chant-theme that rings through as you boot the game.

The AI was also advanced and lead to combat encounters that always felt dynamic, even on repeat playthroughs.

2. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)

Calling Ocarina of Time a favorite game is a pretty safe take, but it is for good reason. “Link to the Past in three dimensions” is already a tantalizing concept, but Nintendo went all out. Again, I don’t know what else to add to this conversation.

Considering it was released in 1998, the game was absolutely filled with incredible content, featuring some of the most iconic dungeons, music, and set pieces in the series.

Similar to Super Mario 64, Ocarina of Time is perfection of a concept that was just invented, and, like Mario, will hold up forever.

1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017)

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nintendo

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild rekindled my love for video games.

In my 20s, I didn’t spend as much time in the hobby due to my personal life, but also due to burnout and games that weren’t up to the quality of games past. I checked out the biggest games, but couldn’t commit as much time to them as I used to and didn’t feel compelled to play most games.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild changed all of that.

Everything in Breath of the Wild feels familiar but revolutionary. Throwing random ingredients in a pot makes basically what you would expect. Dropping a piece of flint and a bundle of wood on the ground and striking them creates a campfire, which warms your body in the middle of a cold desert at night. Sneaking is easier when rain is falling on the world. Shooting water with electric arrows causes the water to ripple with electric energy. Cutting a tree down can create a natural bridge to cross a chasm. Systems which encourage “play” is why we… play… games.

After the Great Plateau section ends—which is the greatest tutorial ever—Breath of the Wild shows you exactly where to go to beat the game and has the confidence in knowing that you will take your time getting there.

Mix the nostalgia of Zelda with the incredible concepts and systems added, and you have the recipe for my favorite game of all time.