My Top 25 Games of All Time: A Personal List

I've decided to put together a personal list of  what I feel are the top 25 games of all time - and this list is not meant to please anyone, nor would any such list ever do that even if it considered all platforms, genres, and eras of gaming equally. Nor was this decided by even a small group of editors. It's just me. Which means that since I generally don't like JRPGs, they're not on this list. The same goes for quite a few games that are great but that I feel fall short in some way or another - many adventure and simulation games wound up in this unfortunate spot for me - or games that I feel have at least one critical flaw that the rest of the game doesn't make up for in some way. 

One other limitation I decided to impose is to say that only one game per franchise is allowed. This definitely changes what this list would've been otherwise, but it gives the list a sense of diversity that I think helps keeps things open and at least a little bit fresher. 

Yes, this list will seem a little bit PC-centric, with a good half-dozen PC exclusives, but that's just the platform I've spent the most time gaming on. And keep in mind that to date, yes, 22 of the 25 games listed here are available on PC, but still, a rather respectable 18 of them were console-only or are now available on modern consoles. 

In no particular order: 

Super Mario Bros. 3
- While the original Super Mario Bros. certainly broke more new ground and turned the Nintendo Entertainment System into a powerhouse that revived the home gaming industry after the crash of the early 80s - and it was highly tempting to put that game in this place - in my opinion it was the polish, inventiveness, and accessible difficulty of Mario 3 that makes this the one Mario game on this list. I even considered substituting in my 3D Mario favorite, Super Mario Sunshine on GameCube, but I'll stick to my guns on this one. Even though I'm still having second thoughts. 

Star Wars: TIE Fighter
- Not only was TIE Fighter the first Star Wars game to let you play as the bad guys, but it also improved greatly on its predecessor, X-Wing, by not retreading video game ground for the nth time and by using challenging new ships and wonderful puzzle-like mission design. The twists in the plot and the first on-screen appearance of now-favorite Star Wars extended universe champion Admiral Thrawn was just icing on the cake. And don't even get me started on the power fantasy that the TIE Defender embodies - a ship so powerful that missions with it were completely packed with powerful enemies and they still all get turned to dust. It's pure bliss and as "simulation" games go, TIE Fighter sits atop the decades-long niche genre that never seems to find the mainstream success it often deserves.

Doom - What can I say that hasn't already been said about a game that has long sat at the top of so many all-time best lists? In 1993, id Software singlehandedly created a game genre, the first person shooter, that has dominated sales charts ever since and while this wasn't the true first FPS even by id, this is the one that hit the mainstream and put PC gaming on the map. This masterpiece of fast-paced action and unsettling horror-meets-sci-fi atmosphere was brought together with amazing graphics and realistic levels that blew the minds of basically everyone who saw this game in its heyday for the first time. And one thing we can't discount is that the support built in for user-made mods created a niche trend in PC gaming that is so complex yet rewarding, it's still largely an exclusive feature only for PC games even today.

- Instead of starting a genre like Doom did, Rez pretty much ended one. The on-rails shooter, as it was called, was filled with fantasy and sci-fi worlds of fanciful creatures and aliens, but Rez took it to another level with one of the best soundtracks in any game, timing its cyberpunk 80s vision of a supercomputer's inner world to the amazing music that drives its action. And once this game was dropped on the world, it seemed like every other developer saw Rez and threw their hands up, like "that's it, we can't outdo this". With only maybe one more sputter by way of Panzer Dragoon Orta, the on-rails genre died very shortly after this. Rez is that good.

Mass Effect 2
- From a pure gameplay standpoint, Mass Effect 3 would have been the one to choose here, but its ending is widely considered clumsy and contrived. And the first ME game did the heavy lifting of world-building and included the most gear customization, but it has awkward limitations stemming from being BioWare's first action game that even the Legendary Edition remaster hasn't fully addressed. What's left is Mass Effect 2, a game that eschews traditional RPG elements like managing inventory and instead puts you in unprecedented charge of your conversations, your choices, and the more tactical battlefield (especially on higher difficulties) in a way that hits high notes for the franchise. 

Ultima Underworld
- More than anything else on this list, it's a wonder to me that a game so innovative was even concepted and built, much less completed and released with so much polish. Back in 1992 before even id Software's pre-Doom title Wolfenstein 3D, Origin and Looking Glass released a first-person action-RPG called Ultima Underworld that created its own mini-genre that's now clumsily called the "immersive sim" (to which games like Deus Ex, Thief, BioShock, and System Shock all pay homage) and let players loose in a sandbox of a dungeon where many interesting and unique choices could be made on the way to fighting an evil wizard that's trying to - you guessed it - take over the world. This game piles on one amazing piece of technology after another, which in many ways were years ahead of other first-person games, and dresses it up in an intuitive and slick interface that almost makes you forget its rather narrow window into the world is tiny. 

The Orange Box
- I'm cheating here. I'm counting all of the games that were in The Orange Box including, primarily, the FPS masterpiece Half-Life 2 as well as Portal. These games defined the first person shooter genre during the entire decade of the 2000s, as their slick presentation, wonderful engine, and in the case of Portal, absolutely unmatched sense of humor and writing made The Orange Box an unforgettable must-play. The fact that that these games, including a package of new releases that each could have been sold for full price on their own made for the absolute best value in AAA gaming probably for the decade preceding and the one following.

Borderlands 2
- Combining a slick sense of humor, the franchise's most interesting characters, and a great system of looting and making use of so many randomized guns, this game is the result of an iteration of studio Gearbox Software with their most talented people working at the peak of their ability that they hadn't matched before and haven't since. After now being out for over a decade, BL2 has stood the test of time as one of the best action-RPGs you can play. And topping it all is Handsome Jack, possibly the most interesting and entertaining villain seen in a video game ever. 

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
- This first-person fantasy RPG sequel by Bethesda takes an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach and while other games like The Witcher 3 or Dark Souls have smarter systems, more challenge, or better graphical quality, I commonly find myself coming back to Skyrim for its accessibility and simplicity as well as its absolutely gargantuan mod selection. The fantastic soundtrack and cohesive attitude and atmosphere that Bethesda Game Studios built certainly don't hurt either. 

Super Metroid
- While the original Metroid innovated with non-linearity, freeing the traditional run-and-gun genre from iffy game design decisions that depended on people feeding quarters into arcade machines, this third game in the series on the SNES used fantastic special effects, huge bosses, wonderful sound and music design that did more to solidify the Metroidvania genre than the previous games in the series or with the similarly inspiring (but often frustrating) Castlevania II. Even ignoring all of the stuff surrounding how Super Metroid influenced so many other games, it surprised players in its day with a kind of mysterious energy, offering slick action while oozing excitement and polish. Nearly three decades later, games large and small are still taking cues from Super Metroid

- The story of Tetris has been told many times, but this basically created the modern puzzle genre of games, where fast reactions and planning must be juggled constantly. What makes Tetris so good is that such simple mechanics work equally well all the way from beginner to expert players, and it all still proves to be incredibly enjoyable and challenging at their respective levels of play. Dozens or even hundreds of versions of Tetris were released but if I were to pick just one to highlight, it has to be the one on the original Game Boy due to it being played by so many (it was a system pack-in initially) and being so perfect for the Game Boy's disappointingly dim and smeary screen and generally fairly weak system specs.

Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn
- Of all of the games that played with classic AD&D rules and worlds, to me it's the fantastic villain played by the late David Warner and the combination of so many complex systems for combat and character building that put classic CRPG Baldur's Gate II above the rest of the pack. Memorable characters, wonderful world design, and really interesting combat that was technically turn-based (following the AD&D rules!) yet played out like real-time kept things flowing in a way that classic CRPGs just couldn't manage. 

Grand Theft Auto V
- I'm not from Southern California and I've only spent a scant few weeks there on various trips. But GTAV so perfectly captured the look and feel of the Los Angeles/Hollywood area so perfectly I could remember the heat, sound, and even smell of the real-world place. Few games do that. Oh, and there was, you know, a whole game that's fantastic too along with a long-running online mode that somehow eclipsed all of this with so many activities and years' worth of play that is still being enjoyed today. I admit that I struggled with possibly putting Vice City in here instead for its cohesive 80s atmosphere, but GTAV is just undeniably too excellent to ignore.

Deus Ex
- I'm always a fan of those futuristic, urban, lived-in dystopic worlds that I guess can be considered a cyberpunk setting, and Deus Ex does seem to match. But my most favorite part of this game is its freedom of choice in handling potentially deadly situations within the game's story. Other than a single encounter halfway through, Deus Ex can be completed without killing, which has now become a bit of an honored tradition in the immersive sim genre moving forward, and the ability to complete a blockbuster game without killing people is a feature I value more and more as the years go by. Either way, the brooding atmosphere and warnings of an autocratic future sure seem more prescient as the years go on, and for that I'll always be a fan.

Halo 3
- This is the Halo game that gave me and my friends the best couch co-op (which is our favorite way to play Halo) moments - the funniest and silliest firefights, the most ridiculous vehicle sections, and the most interesting tactical situations on Legendary difficulty. More than others, this one felt the most like developer Bungie was firing on all cylinders and making the best game they could on the limited specs of the Xbox 360, and our subsequent playthroughs of this classic always deliver my favorite moments as we run through the series. 

- A world that can be infinitely deconstructed and remade. A challenge that was barely even  relevant for most players because building what you wanted was just that compelling. Many multiplayer worlds that could be adventured in, or built in, entirely with friends - and all of this came with a first person view in a simplistic package on so many home and mobile gaming platforms that tens of millions of players feel like it's still only just the beginning for this franchise. The online communities that have built up around Minecraft are varied and often massive, and generally nowhere near as toxic as we often see around other games. 

Street Fighter II
- Not only did this create the fighting game genre, but Street Fighter II singlehandedly revitalized arcades for years to come as the premier place to play video games. Arcades were struggling in the late 80s and early 90s as Nintendo and Sega presided over one hit after another on their home consoles, delivering games that were designed to be enjoyed and beaten, and not just centered around figuring out how to best take your money like most arcade games were. It took a fiercely competitive angle to bring people back towards finding the value in spending a quarter to take on an opponent, and Capcom's hugely successful classic, with its inventive and well-designed characters, revolutionary combo system that came about almost entirely accidentally, and excellent presentation, made all of this seem easy - like it was a given that all of this would happen. The truth is that none of this was predestined.  

Diablo III
- As someone who adored Diablo II for years, it took the remake from last year to remind me that while it's a legendary game, I always peter out towards the end when the loot upgrades slow to a crawl and the leveling slows down, and then I just kind of stop playing. Diablo III was released in a horrific state but Blizzard redeemed it masterfully and then have supported its addictive action-RPG gameplay with new seasons every few months that breathe new life into the game. The end result is what I can now confidently say is my favorite game in this style. 

Rock Band 3
- Of all the Harmonix-made music games, this is the one that brought it all together for me and my group of friends. I always said that what these games do best is allow people in a party-type setting to enjoy music together in a unique way, because you're not just listening to it, you're interacting with it all together with your friends at once. When it comes together, there's just nothing like it, and for me, RB3 was the height of that excitement with the biggest and best tracks, the best peripherals, and the introduction of multiple microphones to get way over the original four people playing at once. I still try to host parties to play Rock Band 4 on the latest Xbox, but every year it gets more difficult as the old plastic peripherals age and the list of tracks falls further behind in updating to catch the latest releases. 

World of Warcraft
- Possibly the best MMORPG ever made, World of Warcraft was developed by a team at Blizzard Entertainment that had gone through EverQuest at both its best and worst, and delivered a game that succeeded at improving on every single weakness in the entire MMORPG genre. WoW proved to be an accessible yet still deep MMO experience, sucking players in for years of satisfying gameplay. Sure, it destroyed lives for some of the folks that couldn't pull themselves out, but that's because this game and the communities that popped up around it were so addictive to just get lost in. This game's best days are probably behind it now, but many of the friendships we made here have lived on. 

- I couldn't bring up WoW without also acknowledging EverQuest. This was a graphical adaptation of the early proto-MMORPGs called MUDs seen on college campuses a decade prior, and while many elements of this nearly 25-year-old game are rudimentary, EverQuest influenced games with large online worlds possibly more than anything else short of Dungeons & Dragons itself. The sense of wonder, the crazy and inventive fantasy race and character designs, and the weird but compelling world design all contributed to provide memories and stories the likes of which will probably never be reproduced again in online gaming. 

- This stylized and relatively simple adventure and exploration game had one amazing trick up its sleeve when it launched on the PS3 a decade ago, which is that it had a seamless online multiplayer mode that would pair you up with another person without telling you. The player gets led through a wordless adventure with grand mysteries, interesting puzzles, and a wonderful soundtrack from Austin Wintory that reacted in real-time to the players' actions. All of it culminated in an emotional finale that may come as short as 2 or 3 hours after starting, but nearly every second of the Journey experience is memorable. 

Fallout: New Vegas - When Obsidian Entertainment created what many will argue as the best Fallout, they took the formula of FPS-RPG gameplay from Bethesda's third game that revived the long-dead series and brought back a focus on a critical element: building back in conversations, plot and writing. Gone is the bombast of a huge robot causing huge carnage and explosions, replaced instead with a nuanced portrayal of the brutality of post-apocalyptic life, complete with questions about how far is too far to go to impose peace in a lawless wasteland. It helps that New Vegas and its DLC packs included excellent and weird characters, strange humor, more satisfying combat than its predecessor, and a main quest filled with twists and interesting angles presented to the player. 

Civilization II - Many series diehards will say this is not the Civ game to pick, but to me there's a weird kind of balance in Civ II's intricate city and army designs along with its rather simplistic gameplay compared to what came later in the series. And for its time, it was fantastic. Even though the majority of resources were put into the presentation and UI and making things clear - and not at all into graphical beauty - that's exactly what basically every player of this game wanted back in the day. When it came out in 1996, here was a real reason to fire up Windows to play some games. But be careful, because this game was notorious for causing people to look out the window and see that light of dawn, making them suddenly realize they had unwittingly stayed up all night playing a computer game. 

Supreme Commander - Of all of the real-time strategy games that have come out over the years, this is the one I can't stop thinking about. 2007's Supreme Commander offered huge battles with robotic land, sea, and air units all the way up to unleashing Independence Day-esque huge UFOs, massive mecha-spiders and huge tanks that fire a dozen cannons and produce their own units. Oh, and don't forget nukes that actually can level an entire base. Finally, we also get a revolutionary feature that allows seamless zooming in to a single unit all the way out to a minimap-style strategic view of the whole battlefield with a single flick of the scroll wheel. 15 years later, Supreme Commander still does some stuff better than any RTS game released since, including its own sequel and other spiritual follow-ups.