Premiering Sunday night on HBO, hotly anticipated The Last of Us stars Pedro Pascal and Game of Thrones alum Bella Ramsey as survivors trekking across the U.S. after a species of fungus has crumbled modern civilization.
The Last of Us is based on Naughty Dog’s 2013 PlayStation game, and early reviews have unanimously declared the series to be the finest adaptation of a video game of all time. To celebrate the release of the first must-see show of 2023, we’ve rounded up and ranked the best video games ever. Over roughly a half-century of ever-expanding popularity, the medium of video games has evolved from a rudimentary novelty to one of the foremost entertainment mediums on Earth. At their best and most sophisticated, video games even push the boundaries of great storytelling.
In ascending order, here are the best video games of all time, ranked.
Related: Everything to Know About HBO’s The Last of Us Series
Best Video Games of All Time
25. Animal Crossing: New Horizons (2020)
It’s no secret that 2020 was a tough year. It’s also pretty well-documented that Animal Crossing: New Horizons was a balm in troubled times, a soothing, kid-friendly and beguiling confection that encouraged creativity and social interaction. Released in the chaotic moment that was March of 2020, New Horizons has sold 40 million units to date; it’s a genuine cultural landmark.
24. Ghost of Tsushima (2020)
One of the absolute peaks of the last generation received widespread acclaim, and yet it’s still underrated. Sucker Punch’s open-world Ghost of Tsushima, a well-written and brutally violent adventure set in 13th-century Japan, is one of the most recent titles on this list, and it is already a flat-out classic. Sony has announced a film adaptation, and demand for a sequel is loud.
23. Mass Effect 2 (2010)
Several of the very best games in history are indeed sequels, made with more confidence and resources than their predecessors. One key example is Mass Effect 2, the sequel to the impressive but clunky Mass Effect, a dark space opera done to near-perfection, with splashes of neo-noir. The action RPG sees players’ decisions yield varied story destinations. It’s tantalizing, heady sci-fi that’s also just damn fun to play.
22. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015)
Before Netflix’s hit series premiered, and long before the scandalous recasting of Geralt of Rivia broke the internet, Wild Hunt pushed the bar for adult fantasy, RPG and pure action. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was released in a next-gen update in late 2022, looking and playing better than ever.
21. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (2016)
PlayStation’s Nathan (“Ah, crap!”) Drake is one of the most appealing depictions of masculinity in any medium of the modern era. He’s funny, intelligent, chivalrous and tough. Many prefer the explorer’s glorious second outing, but Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a more mature, character-rich effort, a loving finale for a character everyone adores.
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20. Elden Ring (2022)
FromSoftware’s high-fantasy open-world marvel received numerous “game of the year” accolades in 2022, and has already sold nearly 17.5 million copies. Elden Ring is a stunning game that arguably re-sets the bar for open-world exploration—and, like other games of its ilk, it’s not really recommended for a casual gamer.
19. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (2018)
Mario Kart 8 certainly comes close, but this is the ultimate party game on the Switch, and the best in the long-running Smash franchise. One of the greatest things about video games is the way they bring people together, and Nintendo’s expansive, purely fun crossover brawl between iconic characters is endlessly appealing. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the bestselling fighting game ever, with nearly 30 million units sold.
18. God of War: Ragnarok (2022)
A tender story of father and son matched with brutal, intricate combat took the God of War series to new highs in 2018. Santa Monica improves upon a near-flawless foundation with Ragnarok: the stakes are higher, the gameplay is richer, and the story has an even stronger primal hook.
17. Tomb Raider (2013)
Studious, lethal English archaeologist Lara Croft is a gaming icon, and one of the great action heroines in any medium. Since 1996, the Tomb Raider series had seen soaring heights and cringe-worthy missteps. A bold and risky M-rated reinvention that leaned into violent survivalism was an unexpected but glorious move. 2013’s Tomb Raider is tense, well-acted (especially by Camilla Luddington as Croft) and reminded gamers of why the character struck such a chord in the first place.
16. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003)
The Force, and every other element of George Lucas‘ sprawling original world, have inspired many of the best video games ever (most recently the triumphant Jedi: Fallen Order), but this epic space Western remains the very best, a turn-based RPG that ranks alongside the best of the Final Fantasy series and more. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is the most expansive imagining of the world Lucas created and populated, with a plot twist comparable to “I am your father.”
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15. Metroid Prime (2002)
The first Metroid game since the SNES days took a fun, challenging game series to astonishing new heights. Set mostly within Samus Aran’s Power Suit, it’s faithful but far more polished and confident sci-fi that blends exciting action and puzzles. Metroid Prime has received universal acclaim, and still looks and sounds great.
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14. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (2001)
Orwellian sci-fi and bar-setting stealth mechanics made an essential title for the PlayStation 2 (the bestselling game system ever). The writing and the gameplay of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty were both ahead of their time, holding up tremendously decades later.
13. Resident Evil 4 (2005)
Capcom’s survival horror Resident Evil series is one of the most celebrated and enduring in all of gaming; the all-time high is Leon S. Kennedy’s adventure that’s equal parts gripping, gory and gleefully campy. Originally released on the GameCube, the beloved Resident Evil 4 (at least, so far) was a Wii release. A remake is slated for 2023 on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S and Windows platforms.
12. Grand Theft Auto V (2013)
Arguably as controversial as they are well-made, the Grand Theft Auto games never leave the conversation. The series’ high point, Grand Theft Auto V, offers a seemingly boundless world of criminal possibilities. It is the second best-selling video game of all time, earning $1 billion in its first three days of release.
11. Street Fighter II (1991)
Mortal Kombat rocks, but there’s really no question what the G.O.A.T. fighting game is. Brawling with Guile, Chun-Li, Ryu and Vega has never really gone out of style; originally released in arcades, Street Fighter II has been re-released countless times, as recently as the current generation.
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10. Halo: Combat Evolved (2003)
Any fan of the oh-so-gratifying first person shooter genre must also experience Doom, Half-Life, BioShock and GoldenEye 64, but this iconic space opera Xbox launch title is, pound for pound, the best and most timeless FPS ever. Halo: Combat Evolved practically made the Xbox, and launched a long-running franchise.
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9. Pac-Man (1980)
Alongside the likes of Mario, Donkey Kong and Sonic, the yellow orb from the golden age of arcades is one of gaming’s instantly recognizable icons. Namco’s Pac-Man is an ingenious, non-violent and addictive game that appealed to men, women and children. Pac-Man is the most successful arcade game ever, and its popularity endures.
8. The Last of Us (2013)
From a gut-wrenching animated opening that’s so devastatingly poetic it deserves comparisons to Pixar’s Up!, to heart-stopping final moments of moral ambiguity, Naughty Dog’s story of a world-weary man protecting a mysterious girl post-apocalypse set a new bar for storytelling in this medium. The strong, if hardly groundbreaking, gameplay takes something a backseat to The Last of Us’ story, but it’s a great story that everyone—not just gamers—should experience.
7. Wii Sports (2006)
Nintendo’s bestselling game ever is fun, accessible motion-controlled sports pack that’s won the approval of players of all ages. The game’s remarkably intuitive controls and simplicity notably appealed to seniors, and the movement required to play even turned the heads of health nuts. Wii Sports is a major moment in gaming history whose effects are felt to this day.
Related: The Top 10 Pokémon Games
6. Pokémon LeafGreen and Pokémon FireRed (2004)
Blue and Red flat-out changed the world in the late ’90s, spawning the single most valuable entertainment franchise on Earth right now (yes, Pokémon is considerably more lucrative than even Marvel or Star Wars). The original games still hold up marvelously, but Pokémon FireRed and Pokémon LeafGreen smoothed out the rough edges, and remain an all-time high for the beloved monster-training series. Pokémon HeartGold and Pokémon SoulSilver are also must-plays.
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5. Minecraft (2011)
Minecraft is, in fact, the bestselling video game in history … and it’s easy to see why. The blocky 3D world builder has sold over 238 million units, with around 140 million active players today. For decades, some naysayers have said video games are poison for children’s development. One of the most remarkable things about Minecraft is that it’s been used extensively for educational purposes.
4. Tetris (1984)
An import from Soviet Russia (created by software developer Alexey Pajitnov), this iconic game of vertical blocks was bought by Nintendo for a period in the late ’80s through the mid-’90s, after an intense rights war. The Tetris Company now owns the rights, and compulsively playable Tetris holds a Guinness World Record for the most ported game ever. It’s perfectly possible you have it on your phone right now.
3. Super Mario World (1990)
The beloved Italian plumber, the O.G. side-scroller, has been front-and-center in so many of the best video games released over nearly four decades. If there’s one entry that must be in the time capsule, it’s the iconic SNES hit Super Mario World. Mario’s quintessential quest to rescue Princess Peach from Bowser and the Koopalings was the SNES’ top seller and is still a pure joy to play on the Switch.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017)
It’s about neck-and-neck with 1998’s Ocarina of Time, but The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is an all-time high for Nintendo’s wildly acclaimed bestselling fantasy series, and a major factor in Nintendo’s Switch system becoming one of the bestselling systems ever. Breath of the Wild is challenging, fantastical and inviting.
1. The Last of Us Part II (2020)
It would be reductive to call The Last of Us Part II the Last Jedi of gaming, but that’s not entirely off the mark. Naughty Dog’s heavily hyped follow-up initially wowed critics but divided fans with uncompromising story choices. Now that the dust has settled a bit, it’s still just as easy to admire the and dazzling technical specs. It’s also hard to deny this game is altogether in a league of its own.
The Last of Us Part II perfects combat mechanics and pushed the PS4 to its absolute limits, but the narrative is what’s most impressive. Five decades after simulated table tennis first made video games a thing, The Last of Us Part II utilizes staggering cutting-edge technology to weave a story of vengeance and mercy with the expansiveness of a novel and the immersion of great cinema. If you’re looking to experience the absolute zenith of complex character development in this medium—tough to swallow though it may be—here it is.
Next, find out your favorite celebs’ favorite video games.