39) Assassin’s Creed: Origins

Oh wow, been a while since I brought up this series, huh? Well, despite having played about half the series, the first entry to radically change it’s formula in the modern era is still my favorite. I’ve talked previously about how much I love the combat and stealth of the prior games, and despite changes, I still enjoy those aspects in Origins. The combat doesn’t lean into the same combo-chaining flow of Syndicate, but it’s reliance on weapons and brutal finishers make it more visceral and satisfying to finish a fight. There might not be the same variety of stealth options as Assassin’s Creed II, but it’s streamlining here means that it more quickly gets you to what this game really shines at: exploration. Despite being an open world series, there never really was much to explore in the ancient metropolises of the series. The rooftops of Italy and the back alleys of London were wonderful visually, but served as little more than a backdrop for the main missions of the game and some collectibles. Origins finally takes the series from a small sandbox to an actual open world, with over half of the entire country of Egypt to explore. And good God is it beautiful. This game easily could have been as brown as every cover shooter of 2007, but it’s use of gold, black, and bronze always complemented the art design rather than held it back. And now that exploration is a main pillar, Ubisoft made sure the world was full of things to do, from platforming challenges, combat arenas, loot to scavenge, animals to fight, and side quests to tackle. It all comes together with the added RPG mechanics that reward you for every kill, every discovery, and every mission you complete. And all of that doesn’t even mention how much I love characters like the stoic, yet lovable Bayek and the fiery, yet caring, Aya. All of these elements make for a game that was a joy to submerge myself in for nearly 100 hours, and even still I can’t wait to head back to Africa to clear the rest of the DLC.

38) Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019)

The most recent Modern Warfare is easily one of my favorite in the series, but not for the reason I initially thought when I first played it at launch. See, the first thing I did was play through it’s campaign, which I enjoyed at the time. It didn’t do much gameplay wise, but Infinity Ward built off the great narrative of it’s prior title (which I’ll get to soon) and implemented many of the same elements here to great effect. Characters were strong and endearing and there were plenty of story beats that tugged on the heart strings. But over time, and after hearing plenty of other opinions on the game, I began to see it’s flaws. The game is a work of fiction, but the way it portrays real life war crimes committed by the US, and how they portrayed the cruel actions done by US forces as always necessary, left a bad taste in my mouth. And the reliance on traumatic imagery and emotional torture to heighten emotional connections didn’t sit right with me over many months. But all of that took a back seat to what ended up being my favorite part of Modern Warfare, the multiplayer.

Yes, this is the premier mode of the series, but they usually all blend together so much that I differentiate each title based solely on their single player offerings. But as someone who’s played every game in the series since CoD 4, the new additions really made this offering stick out to me. Core gunplay had been tweaked to make recoil much more visceral and combat overall feel less arcadey. This made guns feel so much more powerful when trying to get them to shoot straight, kinda like taming a bull as a bull rider. This added an extra layer of skill to combat besides simply just staying on target. The addition of wall mounting and super sprinting, alongside the expected shorter time to kill and knee sliding, make for an incredibly fast paced game. But on top of that, the new monetization systems have done a lot to keep me playing way longer than any other Call of Duty game. $50 season passes have been replaced by battle passes, and while the new weapons in those battle passes were already free, paying the $10 for the other cosmetics and currencies that I already unlocked proved to be much more tantalizing. And that’s all without mentioning the solid free-to-play Warzone mode and the largely forgettable co-op missions, both of which I’ve put much less time into in comparison. But despite that, the overall package that is Modern Warfare has yet again set the standard that all other multiplayer FPS games will be measured going forward, and I can’t wait to see it’s best aspects spread out throughout the genre.

37) Tales from the Borderlands

Remember when I said my favorite Borderlands game is the only one without its traditional shooter gameplay? Well, here I am, ready to simp for Telltale’s most underrated game. But why is it so great? Well, I love it because it balances it’s outlandish humor with a lot more heart, style, and creativity than any of the narratives of the first two Borderlands games. The classic opening sequences of the main games are recreated here for each of the five episodes, and each one sets the tone perfectly for the story that’s about to unfold. The characters here feel so much more three dimensional than the main cast of the prior games, and even when those characters appear here, they are further fleshed out to an impressive degree. This is also the part where I wanna shout out Loader Bot and Gortys, which are my favorite characters in the entire series. And while the gunplay of the series is nowhere to be found, Telltale’s classic gameplay formula fits so well with this world. Every choice has major consequences, and the way those choices culminate in the final act is probably the most impressive video game writing feat I’ve seen in a game like this. So, yea, I know this game is such a weird departure from what the series is known for, but it works better than anyone would have expected, including me. It makes for what some consider to be Telltale’s best game, and while you’ll eventually see how much I disagree with that statement, I clearly love the game enough to almost agree with them.

36) Wolfenstien: The New Colossus

Huh, guess this is the part of the list where I revisit a bunch of franchises that were mentioned at the beginning of the countdown. Well, this is a hell of an entry, because The New Colossus almost single-handedly made the modern Wolfenstein series one of my favorite FPS franchises of all time. Now that’s high praise, especially since we’re not even in the top 25% yet, but I stand by both of those facts. Now despite me loving first-person shooters, and being quite good at many of them, The New Colossus is not a game I love for its combat. No, the characters, narrative, and world do all of the heavy lifting here. Take the protagonist as an example. BJ Blazkowicz could have easily been another bland white dude shooting the most widely used bad guy in gaming, Nazis. But Machine Games made him a kind-hearted, melancholy, blindly optimistic man whose assertive belief that the only good Nazi is a dead one is just as strong of a personality trait as his love for his wife, Anya. But he’s not the only strong character, as the deviant and sinister Irene Engel, the bumbling, yet brilliant, Set Roth, the passionate and headstrong Grace Walker, and many others all get to steal a scene or two. And it is this ensemble cast that gives the game its signature tone. For a world in which Nazi rule has lead to the revival of slavery, among other atrocities, the game is often light-hearted and goofy. It treats the horrors of a world run by fascists with unflinching seriousness, but it makes sure to have its fun as well, often at the expense of said fascists. It makes for a story that should have immense tonal whiplash, but it doesn’t somehow. And they way it incorporates so many different ideologies and perspectives on and about the American experience makes it feel like one of the only games ever made to truy portray the diversity found here. So, yea, I absolutely adore this game’s campaign, but it’s gameplay is the only reason it’s not higher on my list. Gunplay is as visceral as you’d hope for a game that simulates Nazi murder, and it’s upgrade systems have thankfully been more streamlined than the original game. But the difficulty is scaled way out of favor of the player to the point where combat encounters often feel unfair. There are narrative justifications for this, and they’re admittedly pretty smart, but that doesn’t make the game any less frustrating to get through. So, if you have the will to make it through one of the most difficult first person shooting gauntlets I’ve ever encountered, then you’ll be rewarded with one of the most endearing, subversive, hilarious, and painfully honest games I’ve ever played.

35) Doom Eternal

I was one of Doom 2016’s biggest fans. I loved how it modernized the simple yet compelling gameplay of the original Doom and Doom 2. I loved it’s hilariously destructive and nonchalant protagonist. And I was even one of the few people who loved it’s multiplayer offering, and I played it way longer than most. But in comparison to its sequel, Doom Eternal, the original game feels like a prototype to build on top of, because Eternal almost feels like a brand new subgenre in the FPS space. It’s focus on resource management, on top of platforming and precise aiming, makes every single battle in the game a nail biting affair and makes the impact of every incremental upgrade all the more important. The combat keeps you on the edge of death at any given moment, but it gives you the tools to dig yourself out of the grave every time, you just have to be skilled enough oti use them. The cost of this more challenging pace of combat makes the game less casual and satisfyingly mindless, but I think it’s worth the trade, as combat is so much more active as a result. Plus, this game succeeded not only thanks to it’s combat, as hunting for secrets and platforming gauntlets are even more satisfying in this entry. Now, the replacement of PvP multiplayer with Battle Mode is a tad disappointing, and the story exchanging most of its moments of cheeky humor with an ocean of lore is also not ideal. But all of that is a small price to pay for what is easily the most mentally stimulating shooter of all time. Much like the feeling right after running a race or lifint weights, the high from the challenge leaves you not only relieved, but also satisfied that you had the whits to push through it at all, and it’s a loop that almost no other game, let alone shooter, has been able to give me.

34) Far Cry 3

Many of the games on this list are open-world affairs, and almost all of them I adore for the sense of place they emit. Just being in these worlds and absorbing these stories are rewarding enough before gameplay even starts. That is not the case for Far Cry 3. I have no strong feelings towards most of its characters, especially in the case of the most generic protagonist of all time: Jason Brody. Its narrative thinks way too highly of itself for a game that asks you to set fire to marijuana fields with Skrillex playing. And the way it leans into the trope of a white savior in a foreign land makes me increasingly uncomfortable as the years pass. But, as a recent replay has proven to me, the parts of this game that make it a game are way too strong for me to ignore. Far Cry 3 doesn’t really have an open world, just a nonlinear space full of content, all of which is engaging. Taking out outposts, wingsuit-ing across coastal skylines, and fighting wild animals for minor inventory upgrades is a blast, and that’s thanks to light RPG elements that not only reward you for every interaction outside of murder, but also reward you for doing murder stylishly. Exercising a power fantasy in an exotic locale is one of the most common scenarios that games give to us, but Far Cry 3 is a damn good one, which makes it troubling when they comment on the fun you’re having with disdain. The commentary it tries to have about Jason being “the real bad guy” and how you are being consumed by your violent side rings pretty hollow when the game itself not only invites aggression but rewards you handsomely for it. It’s a dichotomy that makes Far Cry 3 fun in the moment, but less satisfying to look back on more critically. But strictly due to it’s gameplay, this game is one of the best open-world shooters out there and has helped set a long standing template for the genre.

33) Tearaway

By now you’ve likely been inundated with so much digital violence that I can imagine even the non-gamers watching and listening are likely desensitized. But this title has no guns, no gore, hell you can’t even make a headshot. In fact, Tearaway is much more about the joy of creativity rather than the joy of destruction. In this Vita exclusive turned PS4 Remaster, you play as Iota or Atoi as they journey to deliver a message to a very important person: you, the player. That’s not where the meta ends, because the core gimmick of Tearaway is that you get to have very physical interactions with the gameworld, from using your finger to move around platforms, to tapping the touchpad to bounce Atoi over long gaps. You even can use the Vita camera and microphone to further personalize the game world with the sights and sounds of your own. It plays wonderfully into the games papercraft artstyle, which makes everything look like everything in the art room of a local elementary school came to life. But those gimmicks aren’t what makes this one of my favorite games of all time; it’s the heart that Media Molecule brings to all of their titles that makes this truly special. Atoi is the paper equivalent of a ray of sunshine, and seeing how they brighten up the lives of these vibrant characters is always a treat. But the game goes through it’s campaign with this earnest sincerity rarely found in other titles, especially AAA ones. The combination of its eye-popping artstyle, wonderful soundtrack, and endearing tone just makes for an experience that melts away even the thickest layers of emotional armor. It’s one of the only games to make me shed tears of joy, and despite it’s PS4 port, it is still one of the best excuses to break out the PlayStation Vita.

32) God of War III

SAY WHAT?! HE LIKES GOD OF WAR III MORE THAN THE REBOOT?!?! Why yes, yes I do. Now, I know plenty of people love God of War (2018), but I’ve shared the reasons why that game didn’t resonate as strongly with me. But, especially after a recent playthrough, God of War III hits the spot much more effectively for me because it is everything that the reboot wasn’t, for better or worse. Now, this does mean that the most dated and embarrassing aspects of the franchise appear, like its distasteful treatment of women and it’s near-pornographic level and presentation of gore. Even when playing the game originally years ago, those moments still left a bad taste in my mouth, so to speak, and I have no desire to defend them. But, this also means that the more linear nature and more epic scale of the earlier games is here in full force. My biggest issue with the reboot is how overwhelming it’s amount of content was, as it’s sea of side missions, collectibles, and sheer square mileage to traverse felt bloated. But in GoW III, it’s a straightforward marathon of combat encounters and set pieces, and as the game went on, the scale and creativity of them impressed more and more. And speaking of impressive, another thing the reboot didn’t have was one of the identifying traits of the series, epic scale. Now while I understand it did have a massive open world to explore, and there were huge creatures to battle, none of the encounters in the reboot held a candle to the most famous set pieces of GoW III. Think about how wild it was to rip off Chronos’ finger nail, or how awe-inspiring it was to climb up Gaia’s back in the introduction, or the anime-ass boss fight against Zeus? The series was already dripping in this adolescent-male energy, but the inconceivable ridiculous scale of God of War III takes that vibe to its most extreme extent. That energy is just so much more novel in a generation where the Dadification of games and the proliferation of RPG systems and loot grinds was already getting old before the God of War reboot. Plus, character action games of this style are much more rare nowadays as well, and the combat on display here is the most satisfying I’ve ever played in the genre, with one big exception I’ll soon mention. So, yea, I understand why folks love the reboot so much, but personally, God of War III will always be the pinnacle of that franchise, though that itch will likely never be scratched by this series ever again.

31) Bioshock 2

Ah, yes, another one of my, what do the kids call it, hot takes? No but seriously, I’m very outspoken about how Bioshock 2 is my favorite game in the series, even though it’s widely looked at as the red-headed step child of the series. Well, folks with that opinion are wrong, and here’s why. First off, Bioshock 2 has the best combat in the entire series. We all love the Big Daddy fights in the original games, but it became difficult to set yourself up for them when they’d roam the map freely until you engaged. Those battles are still here in the sequel, but now they are accompanied by Little Sister protection missions, and these are where the full arsenal is allowed to really shine. Like, think about it, how many times did you use the defensive plasmids in Bioshock 1? Maybe a few times when a Big Daddy was lined up to charge you, and then never again. But setting up the area with various traps, both of the lead and plasmid variety, finally adds the tactical second half that completes the combat loop of the game. It sometimes plays like a tower defense game more than an FPS, and the fact you’re given enough tools to even do that effectively makes this game special to me. Then the story your playing through is much more engaging than both the original and the spiritual sequel Infinite. Where those games make a commentary on player choice by making the player’s choices not matter, Bioshock 2 does the same by giving the player direct consequences for their actions. Every primary character and little sister you kill or save affects how Elanore, your little sister, sees you, and you can easily sawadee her towards cruelty or kindness. It might not have the crazy twist you might expect, but overall the story is way more consistent, especially since it doesn’t have a terrible boss fight to wrap it all up. And none of that is including my thoughts on Minerva’s Den, a separate DLC chapter that many consider to be the best piece of DLC released for any game, which is exactly the quality you should expect from the team that would go on to make Gone Home. So, yea, Bioshock 2 fuckin rules and everyone should put way more respect on it’s name, and I’m sick of pretending we shouldn’t.

30) Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

I don’t think I’ll ever get over just how dirty everyone did Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. It was the third game in a row to bring “advanced movement” to the series, and considering it’s fanbase was already tired of wall running and boost jumping, I can understand why it was so hated on leading up to release. But the fact that it’s still considered the black sheep of the franchise is proof that many of those who hated on the game never actually played it, because the game is legitimately outstanding.

As I alluded to with Modern Warfare, this is the game that set the template for Infinity Ward’s modern, and more grounded, style of storytelling, and it works wonderfully. Despite the sci-fi world everything takes place in, the groundedness of the characters and their missions make the story feel less like Star Wars and more like Saving Private Ryan. These characters feel like real people, and the subtle ways they show genuine care for one another despite the desperate circumstances are always equal parts heartwarming and eventually heartbreaking. The game even takes heavily from another series with strong characters, Mass Effect. Unlike most other Call of Duty campaigns, main and side missions this time are chosen non-linearly from your own command center aboard your own spaceship, much like the N7. Visiting that ship between every mission to talk to fellow soldiers and to see how your actions affect the world in news broadcasts just added to the atmosphere of the game even more. And missions felt so much more rewarding, as perks and new weapons were given to you for playing them.

And speaking of playing, the combat is fast and fluid, like any other CoD game in the series. But the setting allows for a lot more variety in your moveset and toolset that really helps the pace of the game. Like, sure, shooting a robot is fun, but hacking into it to kill a few of it’s mates before detonating it to kill even more is even more fun. And of course, the ship combat, while sparingly used, was way more fun that I expected it to be. Speaking of that, the multiplayer was also nowhere near the garbage fire folks were expecting. Now, much like other Infinity Ward entries, the time to kill is incredibly low, but they once again use the sci-fi setting to add so many new mehancis to both movement and gunplay. Despite how frustrating the time to kill can be on the receiving end, switching up my tactics from match to match was some of the most fun I had with a CoD multiplayer title. But don’t get it twisted, this game gets such a high ranking due to the excellence of it’s singleplayer, and I hope Infinity Ward isn’t completely scared off from the sci-fi setting, because I know they’d deliver another classic if they took another shot at it.

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