Most games feature some degree of combat. Sometimes it’s extremely abstracted and simplified, other times it’s the main focus. In this list we’re taking a look at the latter: we’re here to bring to your attention games which have tight, polished, exciting combat systems. Most are melee-focused action games, but there are a few surprises which break this trend, but still very much qualify.
Some of these systems will be complex, others will be relatively simple, but responsive and impactful. Other still may be amazing by their tactical depth or sheer fun factor. The one thing that unifies them is the joy and satisfaction you get out of them once you master the skills necessary to turn into an engine of destruction.
|Titanfall 2||2016-10-28||Action & Shooter||Respawn Entertainment||-60%||Read more|
|Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order||2019-11-15||Adventure||Respawn Entertainment||-75%||Read more|
|Chivalry II (Epic)||2021-06-08||Action & Shooter||Torn Banner Studios||-64%||Read more|
|Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (US)||2019-03-22||Adventure||From Software||-||Read more|
|Nioh: Complete Edition||2017-11-07||RPG, hack & slash||Team Ninja||-74%||Read more|
|Nioh 2 – The Complete Edition||2021-02-05||Action, RPG||KOEI TECMO GAMES CO., LTD.||-55%||Read more|
|Baldur’s Gate III||2020-10-06||RPG||Larian Studios||-||Read more|
|Hollow Knight||2017-02-24||Action & Shooter||Team Cherry||-36%||Read more|
|Bulletstorm||2017-04-07||Adventure||People Can Fly||-78%||Read more|
|Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition||2017-04-07||Adventure||People Can Fly||-94%||Read more|
|Monster Hunter: World||2018-08-09||Action||Capcom||-81%||Read more|
|Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance||2014-01-09||Action & Shooter||PlatinumGames||-71%||Read more|
|Dark Messiah of Might and Magic||2006-10-25||Fighting||Arkane Studios||-||Read more|
|Mount and Blade: Warband||2010-03-31||Adventure||TaleWorlds Entertainment||-90%||Read more|
|Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord||2020-03-31||RPG||TaleWorlds Entertainment||-40%||Read more|
|Star Wars Jedi Knight Collection||2013-09-16||Adventure||LucasArts, Raven Software||-71%||Read more|
|Devil May Cry 3 Special Edition||2006-05-23||Action & Shooter||CAPCOM CO., LTD.||-78%||Read more|
|Devil May Cry 4||2015-06-23||Adventure||CAPCOM CO., LTD.||-69%||Read more|
|Devil May Cry 5||2019-03-08||Action||Capcom||-80%||Read more|
|GUILTY GEAR -STRIVE-||2021-06-11||Action||Arc System Works||-13%||Read more|
|GUILTY GEAR XRD COMPLETE||2015-12-09||Action||Arc System Works||-||Read more|
|Guilty Gear Xrd Revelator||2016-12-14||Action & Shooter||Arc System Works||-68%||Read more|
|GUILTY GEAR XX ACCENT CORE PLUS R||2015-05-26||Fighting||Arc System Works||-73%||Read more|
|For Honor||2017-02-13||Action & Shooter||Blue Byte||-||Read more|
|Tekken 7||2017-06-01||Fighting||BANDAI NAMCO Studios Inc.||-84%||Read more|
|Dark Souls: Remastered||2018-05-23||Action||FromSoftware||-23%||Read more|
|Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin||2015-04-01||RPG||FromSoftware, Inc||-55%||Read more|
|Dark Souls 3||2016-04-11||Adventure||FromSoftware, Inc.||-27%||Read more|
|Dragons Dogma: Dark Arisen||2016-01-15||Adventure||CAPCOM||-79%||Read more|
|Star Wars The Force Unleashed: Ultimate Sith Edition||2009-11-03||Action & Shooter||Aspyr Studios||-73%||Read more|
|Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast||2003-09-16||Adventure||Raven Software||-83%||Read more|
|Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy||2003-09-16||Adventure||Raven Software||-56%||Read more|
|Genre||Action & Shooter|
Surrounded by a list of sword masters of all sorts, Titanfall 2 nevertheless deserves a spot, because it does all sort of cool things about its shooting. It comes mostly through the exceptional mobility, which allows you to run circles around you enemies and attack them from unexpected angles. The tutorial alone teaches you to shoot and throw grenades while wall-running and sliding.
Before long you’ll also gain access to a Titan, a hulking mech/robot with its own growing selection of abilities. Shields which allow you to throw bullets back at you enemies, flamethrowers, swords, there’s a loadout for every situation. Jumping into the fray in Titanfall 2 is exciting every time, and once you score three headshots while wall-running you won’t want to go back to earth-bound shooters.
Mordhau is a treat for any enthusiast of medieval armed combat. And unarmed too, if you’re determined enough. The game features an impressive arsenal of weapons and armor you can equip to battle, limited mostly by the very sensible points system. Once you’re on the battlefield, that’s when the fun begins. There are plenty of maneuvers you can perform, including the titular Mordhau.
Each weapon handles differently, each armor has its benefits and drawbacks (like speed penalties), and while the fights tend to be quite hectic, there is a lot of room for technique and skill to shine. Dodging blows, parrying, even mounter combat are all in there. Techniques are more about spur of the moment decision than deploying specific combos, but that just adds to the realism.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Jedi: Fallen Order’s lightsaber combat has more in common with FromSoftware games than the Jedi Knight series. Getting hit hurts a lot, dodging is very useful, and parrying can save your skin many, many times over. You begin with a simple lightsaber, but you’ll be able to upgrade it as you make progress in the story, and you’ll also unlock new Force powers, which will spice the combat up a bit more.
What feels especially great is that the combat is grounded, more in line with the Original Trilogy than other movies. This lack of flair is justified, because the protagonist, Cal Kestis has never finished his Padawan training and has spent the last few years since Order 66 getting rather rusty. Still, if you’re in the market for an impactful lightsaber combat, Jedi: Fallen Order has exactly what you need.
|Genre||Action & Shooter|
|Developer||Torn Banner Studios|
Chivalry 2 functions in a similar space as Mordhau: an online multiplayer game focus on melee PvP. It doesn’t go too far into simulation, settling for three attack paths (two slashes and a stab) which you can chain together smoothly. On the defensive side, you can, of course, block attacks, and a well-times parry can stagger your attacker, opening them up for a counterstrike.
A neat thing is that if you happen to sever an enemy’s limp you can pick it up and clobber the next opponent with it. On top of individual combat, you can also get behind a ballista, or join other players in a siege. Battles can get quite large, with up 64 players supported. You’ll always have plenty of opponents but be careful where you swing your weapons: friendly fire is a thing.
Sekiro : Shadows Die Twice
After Dark Souls and Bloodborne, the famous FromSoftware studio decided to make something familiar, but a bit different. See, in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice the default way to win a fight isn’t to whittle the healthbar down to zero. Instead, if you can throw the enemy off-balance they’ll be open for a lethal blow, ending most fights immediately. The things is…you need good timing for that.
To do that, you need to fill the opponent’s Posture bar, usually by attacking, but perfect parries or special dodges will help you along. Timing is absolutely crucial in Sekiro, but, thankfully, you also have a number of ninja gadgets which can help you tremendously. Sekiro’s combat is fast, precise, leaves little room for blunders, but when you perfectly parry a boss’ barrage of blows, it feels amazing.
|Developer||KOEI TECMO GAMES CO., LTD.|
Created by the developers of the Ninja Gaiden series, Nioh can draw on years of experience to deliver an excellent and varied action game. Where Sekiro focused on a single weapon, the katana, Nioh takes a broader approach, and lets players pick and choose from a broad arsenal of weapons, all of which have their own progression independent from your character’s William Adams.
In addition to the multitude of weapons, you also need to consider the three stances you can assume in combat, the aggressive high stance, balanced medium stance, and defensive low stance. Add to THAT Ki management techniques and you get an action game with a combat system with plenty of depth and breadth. Choose your weapon, master your skills, and complete William’s vendetta.
You can read our comparison between Sekiro and Nioh
Baldur’s Gate 3
Although it’s still being developed at the time of writing, Baldur’s Gate 3 already has a fantastic, satisfying turn-based combat system. Half of that is delivered by the Dungeons & Dragons 5e rules, giving each class something unique they can do during combat. The other half is Larian’s love for making games full of interactive elements you can use to your advantage…or be messed up with.
As a result you can use good, old-fashioned muscle to push people off ledges to plunge to their deaths. You can also throw flasks of alchemist oil, or any other item in your inventory including, famously, a pair of shoes. That’s on top of spells providing crowd control and buffs, rogues stabbing the enemies in the vulnerable bits, or other class abilities making BG3 combat tactically exciting.
|Genre||Action & Shooter|
A combat system doesn’t need to be incredibly complex or realistic to be awesome. Hollow Knight is a great example of that. Its combat system is fast, responsive, and special “Nail Art” abilities to use in conjunction with the basic dashes, strikes, and jumps. And you will need to get the hang of them all, because the boss fights don’t mess around and require focus and concentration.
Oh, in addition to Nail Arts you ALSO get spells which cost Soul but their effects are worth the price. One you get all the abilities, the boss fights turn into a flurry of well-timed dashes, exploding spells, and quick strikes. Hollow Knight is rightfully held as one of the best Metroidvanias currently on the market, and one of the best-animated 2D games you can play right now.
|Developer||People Can Fly|
Bulletstorm wants nothing more than to give you the tools and motivation to be as creative with its guns as you could possibly be. It accomplished that through Skillshot system, which awards you points for…almost everything that isn’t just boring shooting. It ranges from targeting specific body parts to using alternate fire modes to accomplish some highly specific things.
And you can combo all of that! Sending your enemy into the air, setting them on fire, leashing them back to you just so you can kick them into a cactus is a thing you can do, and the game wants you to be even MORE elaborate. All for the sweet, sweet points you can then use for (special) ammo and upgrades. Furthermore, the Skillshots also have delightfully silly names, which is a big plus.
Monster Hunter: World (Iceborne)
Monster Hunter: World already has a great, deep combat system, featuring 14 weapons with unique moves and qualities. Even weapons which might seem similar, like greatsword and longsword function in fundamentally different ways, and that’s not even getting to odd weapons such as a charge blade or the hunting horn. And then the Iceborne expansion came and added a new bunch of new stuff.
In addition to a whole new world to monsterhunt in, Iceborne introduced the clutch claw. With this buffed up grappling hook you can dish out some damage or steer a monster towards a wall. There are also new weapon-specific moves worth adding to the usual move flow, not only because they are very useful, but also because they look pretty damn cool, which is nothing to sneeze at.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
|Genre||Action & Shooter|
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, produced by the creators of hits like NieR: Automata and Bayonetta, Platinum Games, is a pretty interesting game, really. With the cyberninja Raiden as its protagonist, it has a perfectly functional core combat system, but what gets it the spot on this list is the Blade Mode, AKA “Cut Everything” AKA “Oh dear lord, so detailed”.
If something has a discrete model, then there is 95% chance you’ll be able to cut it to tiny pieces. If you’re determined enough, you can cut a watermelon to party-appropriate pieces. The game launched in 2013 (where did the time go?) and yet nobody seems eager to do something similar. We do have dismemberment in many games, of course, but nothing near the freeform of Revengeance.
Dark Messiah of Might & Magic
Dark Messiah is a spin-off from the Might and Magic series, a first-person perspective shooter/slasher with deliciously meaty combat and its systems were full of kinetic joy. If you pick melee combat as your focus, you’ll find yourself hacking orcs to pieces with swords, whacking them around with staves, and every hit and every parry feels like it has proper weight behind it.
If that’s not enough to provide a nice immersion, you quickly discover the joys of ragdolling enemies with well-aimed kicks, swinging chandeliers, or falling barrels. If you’re tactical enough, you’ll impale your foes on spikes abundant in the game’s environments. Magic works like wonder, too, with a level of interactivity unseen until Divinity: Original Sin decided to make it one of its core features.
Mount & Blade: Warband
Mount & Blade: Warband is a very good fir for this list mostly because of its massive variety of melee weapons. Each of them has its own stats you need to consider: things like speed rating or separate damage values for each attack type. Some weapons even have different modes (e.g. you can use a bastard sword one-handed or two-handed), or special properties, like punching through blocks.
You control the type of attack with mouse movement, parrying is managed in the same way. Momentum has importance too, especially if you grab a lance and choose to kill someone from horseback. The game isn’t pretty, true, but the combat and battles are a ton of fun, and every weapon feels unique.
UPDATE: The sequel, Bannerlord, launched in 2020, improved on virtually everything.
Star Wars: Jedi Knight games
Yeah, we had the Force Unleashed series, which made lightsaber combat look cool, but it never managed to make lightsaber feel cool. This is where the Jedi Knight games come in. First with Jedi Outcast II, specifically, and then in Jedi Academy, which added a few very welcome features and extra variety to the gameplay.
Running around slashing foes, directing attacks with subtle movements of your mouse buttons and pre-determined maneuvers was a blast, especially with Raven Software’s dismemberment engine. Jedi Academy added dual lightsabers, and Darth Maul-like staves, each with unique movesets, of course. Buff it all up with acrobatics, and The Force Unleashed can hide.
Devil May Cry 3&4
|Genre||Action & Shooter|
|Developer||CAPCOM CO., LTD.|
The series had a pretty hefty combat systems before, but the Styles introduced in DMC3 and the ability to switch between them on the fly introduced in DMC4 expanded on combat significantly. While attacks on their own are largely about pressing buttons in a certain rhythm, with occasional direction input from the stick, the magic comes from combining them into incredible sequences.
Better yet: these games track just how awesome and diverse your combo is. If you go around spamming the same attack over and over, you’ll never crawl above C, which translates into fewer souls (currency) and lower overall mission score. The Special Edition of DMC4 also happens to have five characters to master, instead of two we got in the game at launch, so more bang for your buck.
UPDATE: the excellent DMC5, released in 2019, features three characters, plus the fourth in a DLC, all with very different playstyles.
Guilty Gear (the whole deal)
|Developer||Arc System Works|
Keeping up the theme of abnormally fast games with absurd skill ceiling, let’s talk Guilty Gear. The 20 years old franchise is in some ways a fighting game version of Devil May Cry. Although it has entered the 3D world with the release of Xrd, it lost none of the speed and crispness of the previous, sprite-based incarnations.
There’s all the complexity expected from fighting games, with cancels, five types of attacks, specials, and more. GG’s systems are complex and require split-second reaction speed, which make it less friendly to newcomers, but very satisfying once you get the hang of them. Oh, and the soundtracks are some prime-quality hard rock, as befits the franchise so heavily inspired by rock history.
|Genre||Action & Shooter|
At its core, For Honor’s system unitially seems to boil down to picking one of three directions: top, left, or right. If your enemy matches the direction of their guard to your attack, it’s blocked. Then you add fast and heavy attacks, specific moves of the various and numerous classes…
Before long you figure out that what looks like a fairly simple rock-paper-scissors type of deal gets enough modifiers and complexities to turn it into a competent, deep 3D fighting game. There are several modes to check out, plenty of classes from several factions, and a lot of customization options to unlock, because looking good on a field of battle is important.
Tekken (currently up to 7)
|Developer||BANDAI NAMCO Studios Inc.|
Tekken 7 being playable on PCs is a cause for celebration already. It also happens to be a pretty darned nifty fighting game, perfecting the more than 20 years old system, and pushing it to the logical conclusion. This is what a long time of “testing” in Japanese arcades does to games, it seems. Tekken at its core is focused on controlling individual limbs, chaining attacks, and looking great.
It’s probably among the smoothest fighting games out there, system and animation-wise. The hitboxes are also very detailed, which can lead to some amazing replays. Tekken might not be the most complex of them all, but polish and cutting away things which do not work is also an important part of development. And Tekken is great at this.
The presence of this series is probably no surprise to anyone here. Soulsborne have become something of a measuring stick for many people. The games have a certainly demanding combat system, which is typically reasonably fair, but also knows no mercy. The key to victory lies in managing your stamina, which is drained by…everything, and in learning your enemies’ attack patterns.
Working out the proper timing to attack, block, dodge will hopefully keep you beyond the striking range of your opponents. It’s a game with a certainly very deliberate tempo, nothing like DMC’s mad speed. The always present threat of violent death, and combat system unlike many we’ve seen before all put From Software’s games as the shining example of how to do challenging combat in games, for better or worse.
Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen
Dragon’s Dogma is a game that’s nearly criminally underappreciated. It blends some of the most distinctive features of other games to deliver something truly worthwhile. DD’s probably most distinctive feature is your ability to climb massive monsters to deal damage much heavier than you would be able to from the ground, often by striking vulnerable spots directly.
Combat is also more interesting thanks to your Pawns: NPCs you can hire to help you along. They can be of any Vocation, and cooperation is often pretty interesting: they heal you, they can stun or grapple enemies to expose them to your attacks, and are pretty helpful in general, albeit largely independent from you, barring basic commands.
So there you have it. Twenty games with good combat systems. Some require skill and patience to master, others are simpler, but with a large scope, or offering excellent interactivity. We’ve even found room for turn-based Baldur’s Gate 3, and two dedicated shooters.
However complex, responsive or fluid they may be, the one constant feature of all of them is that they make engaging in some good ol’ fashioned fisticuffs satisfying and fun, even if you end up dying and have to try again.