Almost two decades of the 21st century have already passed so it’s a perfect time to make a list that summarizes the best games released up to this point. Games that paved the way for new generations of titles. Games that became worldwide hits and defined the gaming industry. Check out our list of the best video games of the 21st century to find out what game we picked for each year, starting from 2000.
And now, let’s get down to business – here’s the list of top video games for each year since 2000
2000: Diablo II
|Genre:||Hack and Slash|
- The Sims
- Baldur’s Gate 2
- Deus Ex
You don’t have to be a fan of hack and slash genre to objectively admit that Diablo II had a tremendous impact on the future generations of isometric h&s games that are now often even called diablo clones because of all the similarities. The game itself is quite simple but it implements certain solutions that make it deeper than it may appear to be at first sight.
After choosing your character class you will be able to explore the dark and ever-changing world of Tristram, killing hordes of evil enemies in the process and picking up tons of valuable loot with randomized stats. This kind of randomization, together with unique skill trees for each class, allowed developers to create the game that encourages players to carefully craft their character build if they want to survive the highest difficulty level and face the biggest challenges the game has to offer.
2001: Grand Theft Auto 3
- Halo: Combat Evolved
- Max Payne
- Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3
Games from the GTA series were always known for the amount of freedom players were given during play – you can simply ignore all the missions and walk around the town, beat other people for no apparent reason, steal a new ride, or play a game of cat and mouse with the police that at some point may want to get you busted so desperately, that they will send an army with a Rhino tank after you.
Speaking of freedom, there are a lot of side missions you can do. Steal an ambulance and play the role of a paramedic or jump inside a cop car and help the police chase the criminals and other wrongdoers, to name a few examples. What made this game unique when speaking of the GTA franchise, is the fact, that it was the first time players were able to play it in a 3D environment, making the whole experience so much more realistic.
2002: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
|Developer:||Bethesda Game Studios|
- GTA: Vice City
- Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos
- Neverwinter Nights
2002 was probably the best year for the gaming industry in the entire 21st century. Because of that, it’s quite hard to choose the best game of 2002, as the competition was amazingly strong. With that being said we decided to honor the third installment of The Elder Scrolls franchise, widely-known simply as Morrowind.
Just like the GTA series, Elder Scrolls games usually offer huge explorable worlds with tons of things you can do, but instead of a realistic setting, they throw you into the fantasy world, where magic is just as popular as sword arts. One of the most interesting aspects of Morrowind is character development. To become more proficient in chosen skills you have to actually use them over and over again – the more often you do, the faster they grow, allowing you to swing your weapon more accurately, brew more powerful potions, or even jump higher. Another strong point of the game is its lore and setting.
Millions of fans and most critics agree that the island of Vvardenfell depicted in Morrowind is one of the most interesting game worlds in history. The game was revolutionary at the time it was released for both its gameplay, story, graphics and soundtrack.
2003: Star Wars – Knights of the Old Republic
- Beyond Good & Evil
- Need for Speed: Underground
- Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Depending on the genre you like more, you might want to argue on this one, as 2003 was also the year when Need For Speed: Underground appeared on the market. We decided to go with Star Wars: KotOR, however, as we believe it’s not only the ultimate Star Wars experience but also one of the best role-playing games ever created. And it says a lot when you take into account it’s a title from 2003.
Story-wise, KotOR takes place almost 4 thousand years before the formation of the Galactic Empire, and you will be tasked with defeating Darth Malaak – a Sith Lord responsible for unleashing a Sith armada against the Empire. During your journey, you will travel to distant planets, including Tatooine, and develop your character by learning new skills to increase your chances of surviving the awaiting dangers. You will also be able to make important moral decisions that will affect your character in various ways.
2004: Half-Life 2
- World of Warcraft
- Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
- Rome: Total War
2004 was also a good year for the gaming industry, but picking the best game of 2004 is not particularly hard. Half-Life 2 was meant to redefine the first-person shooter genre by focusing more on physics and non-player characters and it did amazingly well. It shares a lot of similarities with the first Half-Life, but it has better graphics and it was made using a newer engine.
Once again you will be playing as Gordon Freeman wearing his legendary hazmat suit that features tons of useful utilities, such as a radio, a compass, tracking devices, and a Geiger counter. The sequel starts with a meeting with a mysterious G-Man and follows the events of the predecessor. Opening a portal to a dimension of hostile aliens attracted the forces of Combine that conquered the Earth in a few hours, forcing Gordon to find a way to deal with a new threat.
2005: Shadow of the Colossus
|Developer:||SCE Japan Studio/Team Ico|
- Resident Evil 4
- Sid Meier’s Civilization IV
2005 was a year in which many successful games were released, including the fourth installment of Civilization, but we decided to pick something entirely different and unique – Shadow of the Colossus.
Shadow of the Colossus focuses on boss battles, with bosses being huge monsters you can even climb on. These bosses can’t be defeated by usual means, but they have their weaknesses, forcing you to find them and use them against the creatures. Killing the creatures has its purpose – the plot revolves around your character wanting to revive a young girl named Mono, and the only way to do so is to ask Dormin, a mysterious entity, for help. However, Dormin won’t help you until you fulfill his wish, which is to slain all colossi, and here your journey begins.
- The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
- Gears of War
- Company of Heroes
This is a hard choice, as one could argue that the best game of 2006 was Company of Heroes, a very successful WW2 real-time strategy game that is quite popular even today, but we had to choose Ōkami instead, as it was one of the more unique titles available at that time.
The game lets you control a fox called Amaterasu as she tries to save the land from the darkness. The title is a mix of exploration, combat, and puzzle solving and reminds games such as The Legend of Zelda. Ōkami stands out from the crowd because of the unique art style known as ink wash painting that helps to immerse more into the world of Japanese mythology and folklore. It also utilizes a gesture drawing system that can be used to perform actions, from slicing through the enemies to manipulate objects by drawing certain shapes.
|Developer:||2K Boston/2K Australia|
- Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
- Mass Effect
The title of the best game of 2007 goes to BioShock, although there are multiple other possible choices, such as Mass Effect and Portal, just to name a few. BioShock combines fantastic gameplay with a great story and wonderful scenery, making it a title worth giving a try even after all those years.
It’s dark, it’s thrilling, and it manages to surprise players in a variety of ways. The claustrophobic setting makes things even more horrifying – you are trapped in the underwater city of Rapture, and you have to find the way out. During your adventure, you will be able to learn the history of the place you’re in and discover the reason behind the city’s seemingly abandoned state.
2008: Fallout 3
|Developer:||Bethesda Game Studios|
- Left 4 Dead
- Dead Space
The best game of 2008 is undoubtedly Fallout 3, period. The game is set in an alternative post‑apocalyptic version of the Earth that suffered from a nuclear war.
It presents players with a vast number of opportunities as they explore the inhospitable open-world environment while trying to survive the dangers in the form of mutated creatures, other survivors, and the environment itself. To increase the chances of success you will need to level up your character and learn new skills, hopefully making it easier to overcome the challenges awaiting you in the wilderness.
2009: Assassin’s Creed II
- The Sims 3
- Batman: Arkham Asylum
- Dragon Age: Origins
2009 brought some interesting titles to the table, including the sequel to Assassin’s Creed, beginning the Ezio trilogy that is considered by many the best part of the entire AC franchise. That’s not only due to the beautiful scenery of renaissance Italy we’ll be able to explore during our journey, but also because of the presented story and the charismatic character of Ezio himself.
Those who are not familiar with the series should note that the game actually is split between the past and present times – the main character here is Desmond Miles while the Assassin named Ezio is his distant ancestor. Using the machine called Animus, Desmond will relive the history and Ezio’s life in the hope of gaining the knowledge needed to thwart the Templars’ schemes.
2010: StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty
- Red Dead Redemption
- Fallout: New Vegas
- Mass Effect 2
Fans of real-time strategies rejoice because the best game of 2010 is Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty from Blizzard Entertainment. The rules are simple. Pick your faction, build the base, recruit troops and eliminate the opponents. But there is much more than meets the eye – it must be, or the game wouldn’t even appear on this list.
The game revolves around three different races that compete for domination in the StarCraft universe. Each has its own unique units with their own abilities – to achieve success in the game you will need to master micromanagement. Combining the strengths of different types of troops is crucial, and fast reflexes are required to outplay the enemies.
2011: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
|Developer:||Bethesda Game Studios|
- The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
- Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Once again there’s a game from the TES franchise on the list. This time it’s Skyrim and the choice is fully justified. Because of how beautiful the game looked at the time of release, it attracted a huge number of players who never played The Elder Scrolls game before.
Even now it looks quite amazing for its age and it can get better if you consider installing some graphics-enhancing mods. Speaking of mods – the game still has a large and active community that constantly releases the craziest modifications you can think of, so you can have plenty of fun even after fully experiencing the entire base content.
2012: Mass Effect 3
- Far Cry 3
Judging by the number of action role-playing games on the list it’s safe to assume that the genre is among the most popular ones. And here’s yet another such game that, in our opinion, happens to be the best game of 2012, despite the initial release issues that were fixed later on – Mass Effect 3.
ME3 concludes the trilogy that follows the story of Commander Shepard – an elite soldier tasked with defeating the mysterious alien race known as the Reapers. The game is played from a third-person perspective and focuses on combat and exploration. During your journey you will visit many different planets with a unique environment, giving you the opportunity to admire various different landscapes. To fight the enemies you will be able to use either weapons or biotic and tech powers or any combination of these.
2013: The Last of Us
- Grand Theft Auto V
- Tomb Raider (2013)
- Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
Next on the list of the best games, we have The Last of Us that presents the moving story set in the post-apocalyptic vision of the world that suffered an outbreak of Cordyceps fungus which decimated the civilization and only small quarantined enclaves of people remained.
The gameplay focuses on staying low and sneaking – although there are weapons available in the game, the ammo is scarce, encouraging players to find an alternative way to deal with the enemies and use firearms as a last resort. Story-wise you will be tasked with escorting a young girl named Ellie, but she’s not just a simple companion. She can aid you during fights by distracting enemies or announcing the position of those remaining unseen.
2014: Divinity: Original Sin
- Dark Souls II
- Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
- South Park: The Stick of Truth
Divinity: Original Sin also joins the list of greatest games of the 21st century. It was called by the reviewers the best classic-style RPG in years, and that’s quite a feat.
It’s a turn-based RPG set in the fantasy universe of Divinity, offering players an epic journey full of intriguing quests and surprising encounters. One of the most interesting features of the title is the possibility to play with a friend online and argue with him through argue system whenever some kind of choice has to be made. You can both have different views on a certain topic and may want to choose a different approach to solve the problem – in this case, your argument will be resolved by playing a fun minigame of rock paper scissors.
2015: The Witcher III: Wild Hunt
|Developer:||CD Projekt Red|
- Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
This one undeniably earned its place among the best video game of all time. The biggest and fullest RPG experience to date, especially considering two huge expansion packs that significantly extend the amount of in-game content.
The game is based on a series of fantasy novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski and tells the story of a Witcher, a mutated man who makes a coin by utilizing his powers to defeat dangerous beasts and undo powerful curses. In the world of Witcher, things are not white and black – although he helps people, they are often ungrateful and treat him with contempt and distrust, seeing him as one of the dangerous creatures.
- Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
- DOOM (2016)
- Final Fantasy XV
Overwatch instantly became a bestseller. It’s an online first-person shooter game where players pick their unique hero and then participate in dynamic team versus team matches. It’s not a typical FPS, however. Heroes can belong to one of three different roles that make them better suited for certain tasks.
Tank characters are tough and focus on protecting the team from taking damage, damage heroes focus on dealing massive bursts of damage quickly, and support heroes provide additional utility like strengthening allies’ power, healing them, or performing some sort of crowd control moves. Because of this, teams are required to cooperate closely to make the best use of the individual abilities of their heroes.
2017: Horizon Zero Dawn
- Divinity Orginal Sin 2
- Assassin’s Creed: Origins
The title of the best game of 2017 goes to Horizon Zero Dawn, an action role-playing game where players take the role of a young huntress named Alloy who wants to uncover her past. The task is not an easy one as the world she happens to live in is inhabited by various machine creatures.
Although they are usually peaceful, they started to turn corrupt lately, becoming more aggressive and dangerous. As you travel the open-world environment you will encounter dozens of different types of these creatures. Hunting them is vital for your survival, as this way you will be able to obtain valuable resources needed to craft many useful items, from ammo and pouches to antidotes and traps.
2018: God of War
|Developer:||SIE Santa Monica Studio|
- Monster Hunter: World
- Red Dead Redemption 2
Another good year that brought some interesting titles to the table. For 2018 we choose God of War, a game that follows the story of the former Greek God of War, Kratos, and his son Atreus, as they venture through dangerous places in order to fulfill Kratos’ wife’s last wish and spread her ashes at the highest peak of the nine realms.
The game is played from a third-person perspective and stands out from the crowd thanks to its combo-based combat system. God of War is based on Norse mythology – for the first time in the series, as opposed to Greek mythology that was referenced in the predecessors. This makes it a truly new and exciting experience, and a breath of fresh air that was surely needed for this long-running series.
2019: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
- Death Stranding
- Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
- Devil May Cry 5
2019 was an amazing year for gamers. We had many successful releases, so choosing just one was not an easy task. We decided to go with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice thus giving it the title of the best game of 2019.
Those who are familiar with the FromSoftware team know exactly what to expect from this game. Just like the famous Dark Souls franchise, Sekiro is hard, difficult, and does not forgive mistakes. You will die many times when trying to figure out how to defeat each of the demanding bosses the game throws at you, and you may feel tired and resigned at times, but don’t be discouraged – the game requires patience and fast reflexes, but the feeling when you finally manage to achieve victory is totally worth it.
As 2020 just started, it’s impossible to name the best game of the year, obviously. We do, however, have some clues, and the expectations are high, as there are some big and promising titles set to be released in the upcoming months. It wouldn’t be surprising if the best game of 2020 turned out to be Cyberpunk 2077, a title made by the creators of the famous Witcher franchise (with a special mention of the epic and the award-winning third part of this action RPG series that became a worldwide success and an important milestone for the Polish company).
But Cyberpunk is not guaranteed to win the competition, as there are also other strong contestants participating, like Marvel’s Avengers, Halo Infinite, or the remake of Final Fantasy VII, to name just a few examples. 2020 is surely going to be full of exciting releases, and things may take an unexpected turn – watch the gaming scene closely to not miss any important event.
The last two decades brought plenty of interesting games you should definitely try if you happened to miss some of them. No matter what genre you are a fan of, you’ll definitely find something that will suit your needs and taste – pick your favorite and enjoy a great time.
Two Decades of Gaming
Twenty years in the tech industry is a tremendously large amount of time. New generations of processors and graphics cards are released every year, with each one being significantly faster. This directly translates to more ambitious and bigger games being released on a regular basis, as developers are able to utilize more computing power and resources to deliver better playing experience than ever before.
It wasn’t that long ago when a typical gaming computer had only one single-core Pentium III processor clocked at 1 GHz that was supported by a mere 256 MB RAM – these are truly laughable specs for today’s standards, but they were more than enough to run games like the classic Diablo II, The Sims, or Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2. If you showed today’s personal computer packed with the latest Nvidia or AMD graphics card running on a CPU with six or more cores to someone living in 2000, he’d probably run away screaming you’re a witch.
New and more powerful hardware allowed us to not only run games in a more efficient and smooth way but also for developers to utilize new solutions and make games even more engaging and immersive. Virtual and augmented reality sets, 4K resolution, voice and facial recognition, gestures, cloud gaming, real-time ray tracing – and it’s just a tip of the iceberg as the new and more advanced technologies are popping out every year. Looks like only physics can stop this process – our world is built from very small particles that can’t be divided any further, so the miniaturization can’t go on forever. Or can it?
But having all this said, today we’ll focus on a more classic approach to video games. This means that our list of the best games of the 21st century is limited to games that don’t require players to use fancy goggles or to wave their hands in the air to perform in-game actions. You’ll mostly find classic PC and console titles here, so usually, a gamepad or a keyboard and mouse combo is enough to fully enjoy the game.