Power to the players...who own multiple consoles
If you've followed this site for long, you've likely figured out that The Ranter is a proud Xbox owner that prefers the green machine over other consoles.
That much is true and it certainly isn't changing anytime soon - but that isn't to say that Playstation doesn't have plenty of games that merit a gamer's attention all the same.
Though there are plenty of fanatics that will argue until they're blue in the face that their chosen box of gaming goodness has the superior console exclusives, the reality is that it entirely depends on your preferences and taste in games, much like the debate still rages on over whether the Playstation "dual-shock" controller or the Xbox's staggered-stick layout is superior (personally, I prefer the Xbox's layout by far and can't use the PS layout at all for first person games, though it's fine for other genres).
When talking purely about console exclusives (this includes many games that are also released on PC, but aren't on rival consoles), there are certainly some pretty clear truths however - Microsoft's platform is the undisputed king of shooters, multiplayer experiences, and racing games, while Playstation holds the crown for the best single player experiences, third-person action/adventure games, and Japanese titles.
Not to leave anyone out, there's also of course Nintendo, the long-reigning champion of children's games (and grown man-children who never grew out of Pokemon and Mario).
Having rival companies duke it out for player's wallets has certainly helped the industry move forward as a whole and has forced the major players to higher standards in order to retain their player base, but the unfortunate result of having games tied up exclusively to one console means that those on the other platform inevitably miss out on great experiences.
If you can afford to own multiple consoles however? Well then you can experience the best of both worlds.
As such a gamer that has access to both sides of the equation and has for quite some time, while I'm still firmly on team Xbox based on my own preferences (not to mention the incredible value of Game Pass), Playstation has still been home to some of my all time favourite gaming experiences and gamers that love narrative-driven campaigns can find plenty of special titles to sink their teeth into.
With God of War: Ragnarok releasing in less than 24 hours in what I suspect will earn itself a spot as one of my favourite games of all time, not to mention that you can get a PS4 relatively cheap nowadays which still has all of Sony's biggest new releases, there's never been a better time for Xbox gamers to get a taste of the other side.
For those that wish to stray from the land of ABXY for an adventure in the world of triangles, squares, circles, and X's, these are the top five games they need to check out.
Note: this list is specifically for singular releases, so each entry in a series/franchise counts separately, and just one entry from each franchise is listed.
5. Marvel's Spider-Man
Insomniac Games, 2018 (Re-released on PS5 in 2020, PC in 2022)
Insomniac Games rarely ever misses and when they're in top form, nobody makes action games like they do.
The creators of the beloved Spyro and Ratchet & Clank series which were a staple of many childhoods, Insomniac are masters of platforming titles that have since branched out into broader action-adventure fare.
Though occasional forays into shooters largely failed to deliver the same level of acclaim, their first open-world action/shooter experiment, Sunset Overdrive, proved to be an exceptional and highly underrated game that unfortunately failed to deliver impressive sales as an Xbox One exclusive in spite of its high quality.
Their next crack at an open world adventure would not only be an excellent game, but it would have no problem finding mass appeal thanks to its legendary titular character.
The gaming world was thrilled to hear that Marvel's world-famous Spider-man was getting his own adventure on the PS4, and it would be created by none other than Insomniac Games.
When the webbed wonder's game hit store shelves, it became clear that Insomniac's years of world building and action game expertise paid off in spectacular fashion as not only was their take on the iconic web-slinger arguably the best videogame ever for a comic-book adaptation, but it's genuinely one of the best action-adventure experiences money can buy.
Rather than being a cash-grab movie tie-in like many gaming adaptations of yesteryear, Insomniac's project is a completely standalone experience and their passion for your friendly neighbourhood Spider-man oozes out of every frame.
Joining the plethora of easter eggs and fresh takes on familiar story beats (J. Jonah Jameson's podcast clips that are doled out as you play are brilliant and deserve their own mention) is an incredible attention to detail that really brings the project to life. From the brilliant recreations of dozens of different Spidey-suits the web-head has donned over the years, to the fact that the webbing you shoot as you swing across the city is always attached to physical elements in the world (from sides of buildings to signs, trees, or whatever else adorns the streets you pass by) even when they're far from your present view.
This level of detail makes the game world feel lived in and real, especially when combined with the stellar graphics and silky smooth animations that bring Spidey's adventure to life.
Insomniac's recreation of New York is not only gorgeous, but it is a fully open world chock full of things to do and people to save.
Rather than retreading origin stories that we've all already seen countless times on the big screen, the game picks up when Peter Parker is already a seasoned superhero with years of experience behind the mask, with plenty of references to past encounters in Insomniac's version of the web slinger's mythos.
Its meaty campaign has Spider-man facing off against plenty of members from the character's famous rogues gallery, and of course sees him get by with a little help from his friends like Mary Jane and Miles Morales - the plot and its characters borrow threads from plenty of different arcs from the source material while introducing new wrinkles to the fold in an incredibly well-produced package which creates a new Spider-man universe that fans will want to revisit for years to come.
Combat borrows heavily from another legendary hero in the form of Batman's Arkham series, even borrowing stealth elements which allow players to approach scenarios from multiple angles as they kick down doors or sneakily string up enemies from the ceiling, and it expands upon Arkham's flow of combat thanks to Spidey's supernatural abilities and web-based gadgets.
It's also perhaps the most fun open-world to traverse in all of gaming - rather than driving through traffic or flying around town, you of course get to swing around Manhattan to travel around the activity-filled map in style.
Not only is the mechanic incredibly fun (and relaxing in a way), but it's one of the only times I've ever actively avoided fast-travel when it is presented as an option in an open-world game; it's simply much more fun to take the extra time and swing your way to the next objective instead.
The game is also extremely well-polished, with the only real issues most people will ever encounter being a sporadic few seconds of bad framerates as your PS4 struggles to keep up with the wall-crawler on occasion.
If you've sprung for the comically over-sized PS5, you can pick up a remastered version to swing your way through Insomniac's beautifully crafted world in full 4K and at a rock solid 60 fps, though those upgrades include a few odd changes like swapping Peter Parker's voice actor and image that are arguably a downgrade.
And if you can't get enough of the game before its full-fledged sequel hits the market next year, there's a season pass (also included in the Game of the Year edition) with additional missions and areas to explore, as well as Spider-man: Miles Morales, which is an excellent spin-off that effectively serves as a large expansion for the original smash hit, this time with Miles donning the Spider-man mantle to take on his own adventure.
4. Horizon Zero Dawn
Guerilla Games, 2017 (came to PC in 2020)
Guerilla Games has taken a rather odd journey on their path to becoming a studio producing blockbuster open-world action-RPGs.
Starting out as a small developer for titles on the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance, Guerilla would go on to release two FPS games in 2004 - Shellshock: Nam '67, a rather mediocre shooter set during the rarely visited (in gaming at least) Vietnam War, and Killzone, a PS2 exclusive sci-fi FPS that came out to quite a bit of hype as being a "Halo-killer" and ended up selling well despite middling reviews.
It's unique world and solid shooting inspired Sony to buy the company and get their studio to pump out three sequels for its consoles over the years (as well as a spinoff for the PSP), most recently with the visually stunning Killzone: Shadow Fall in 2013 which launched alongside the PS4.
Although Killzone had plenty of success in its own right, it ultimately never quite lived up to its lofty ambitions of dethroning the likes of Halo as the ultimate console shooter exclusive. Nevertheless, the series still managed to sustain a strong fanbase and maintained a high quality for every entry in the franchise, in the process becaming known for pushing the graphical capabilities of Sony's hardware with every release.
It came as a rather big surprise then that the studio which had been wholly dedicated to first person shooters since it broke into the mainstream announced they would be committed to creating an entirely new IP - one set in an open world that was definitely not a shooter but instead an expansive action-adventure game with deep RPG elements.
Guerilla Games more than justified this surprising shift with the release of Horizon Zero Dawn, a brilliant open world experience with an entirely unique story and setting that also pushed the PS4 to its limits with incredible graphics and an enthralling art style.
Set in a post-apocalyptic world, Horizon Zero Dawn features a catching aesthetic that combines advanced futuristic sci-fi technology with raw nature and tribal vestiges, crafting a unique and captivating world all its own.
Players progress through this beautiful world as Aloy, a young hunter from one of many primitive tribes that dot the game's diverse landscape. She stumbles into finding a device from the "Old Ones", a lost race of predecessors, which augments reality and aids her in her quest to uncover her surprising origins.
The plains, forests, mountains, and deserts of Horizon Zero Dawn are inhabited not only by human tribes but also "the machines", large robotic creatures that roam the land and had largely co-existed peacefully with humans before the "Derangement" - something that caused the machines to become hostile and prompted deadlier machines to appear in large numbers.
Gameplay focuses on both stealth and Aloy's ranged abilities as she can hold her own with her spear, bow, and sling, with players able to craft upgrades and different ammo types for her weapons by scouring the world for a variety of resources and harvesting parts from downed machines.
As Aloy gains experience and expands on her abilities, you'll even earn the ability to "hack" machines to make them serve as mounts and later allies to aid you in combat.
The world of Horizon is deep and filled with beautiful areas to explore, with a captivating story of uncovering a lost civilization and its technologies combined with the struggles between varying tribes in a dangerous world inspiring players to search every nook and cranny in hopes of finding more backstory for its lovingly crafted universe.
There are also tons of side quests and additional content spread throughout the world of Horizon, offering plenty to explore and do even after the credits roll on the main storyline.
It also has an excellent expansion, The Frozen Wilds, which offers plenty of additional land to explore (it's snow-themed to boot, my favourite setting in videogames) and another intriguing story thread to unravel.
Though even more visually stunning than the gorgeous original, its newly released sequel Horizon Forbidden West didn't quite live up to the original in terms of story and many of the new features ultimately didn't hit the mark the developers were surely aiming for, but it's still a great game worth checking out if you enjoyed the first entry and want to get more of its unique and captivating world.
3. Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
Naughty Dog, 2016 (Re-released on PS5 and PC in 2022)
Legendary game developer Naughty Dog was once best known as the creators of the legendary Crash Bandicoot franchise, a staple of virtually every kid with a Playstation's childhood.
The talented developers would follow up their beloved Crash series with another popular platformer in the form of the Jak and Daxter series - as the studio matured however, so did its games as Naughty Dog ushered in a new era with the release of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune back in 2007.
A third person action-adventure title with cover-based shooting mechanics, the Uncharted games would become a big hit for Playstation thanks to their intriguing Tomb Raider/Indiana Jones-style storylines, their blockbuster action-scene setpieces, and solid third person shooter mechanics.
The series follows main protagonist and avid treasure hunter Nathan Drake as he embarks on grand adventures across stunning locales in search of ancient secrets and hidden fortunes, stumbling into trouble and gunfire all the while.
Naughty Dog seamlessly blends in their platforming expertise thanks to plenty of platforming traversal elements and puzzles to solve as your journey unfolds, breaking up the gunplay and action sequences to create a well-rounded and diverse experience.
Though the first entry in the series is quite dated gameplay-wise and had a rather odd tone-shift in its closing act, the next two entries really showed off the studio's ability to deliver polished and engrossing action sequences paired with compelling storytelling and likeable characters.
Gamers who haven't played the Uncharted series would certainly benefit from picking up Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection for the PS4, which includes the first three games in all their glorious remastered form, and given they aren't particularly long titles, it sets the scene perfectly for the final act in the legendary series.
Of course if you'd rather jump in to the pinnacle of one of Playstation's biggest franchises, you can always catch a short summary of the trilogy on Youtube before diving into Uncharted 4: A Thief's End.
Set years after the events of the third game, A Thief's End sees a softer Nate as the explorer has opted to retire from treasure hunting. The seasoned explorer has traded in his treasure maps in order to settle down with his wife Elena and live a relatively "normal" life as a diver for a salvage company in New Orleans.
His retirement is cut short however when his long-presumed dead brother, Sam, finds his way home and entices Nate into one last job - the hunt for pirate Henry Avery's lost treasure.
Taking the developer's shift to a more mature and engrossing narrative style like the one seen in The Last of Us, which was released in between the third and fourth Uncharted games, the final game in Nathan Drake's saga features plenty of twists and delves deeply into the Drake brothers' pasts while maintaining the action-packed gameplay and bombastic setpieces the series is known for, this time in even more exquisite detail thanks to the leap in console generations.
With the added visual fidelity of the PS4, A Thief's End often feels like you're playing through a AAA movie - the incredible detail throughout the game world, the satisfying and fluid animation and character movement, the excellent use of sound design to create atmosphere, the thrilling action sequences and moment-to-moment gunplay all combining to create a blockbuster adventure that you won't soon forget.
Like its predecessors, A Thief's End is a traditional, linear game but it adds plenty of large, open areas to explore throughout its lengthy campaign. These areas allow players to take different approaches to enemy encounters, from stealth mechanics that allow you to take out the enemy forces without firing a shot to blasting holes in everything that moves.
These open areas also do wonders in making Uncharted 4's world feel more realistic and inspire a sense of true adventure as you're encouraged to explore rather than simply charge toward the next story beat.
Simply put, the game is a masterpiece that concludes one of gaming's greatest series not only with its best entry to date, but also features a truly satisfying ending that completes the story while still leaving the potential for a return open (albeit in a new form which I won't spoil here).
A standalone expansion/spin-off, dubbed The Lost Legacy, was released just a year later and expands upon the open area idea that highlighted the fourth entry's levels, this time putting players in the shoes of Chloe Frazer, a fellow treasure hunter that was first introduced in Uncharted 2 and subsequently played a role in Uncharted 3.
In a twist, she pairs up with ex-mercenary Nadine Ross, one of the main antagonists in Uncharted 4, to hunt down a lost treasure in the beautiful mountains of India. Utilizing the same engine and assets, it's an excellent spin-off that offers a shorter, yet plenty memorable campaign that's well worth a playthrough if you enjoyed the main game.
Of course, if you have a PS5 you can pick up both Uncharted 4 and The Lost Legacy in remastered form as part of the Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection, in all its 4K glory.
2. Ghost of Tsushima
Sucker Punch Productions, 2020 (Re-released on PS5 in 2021)
Assassin's Creed fans have been begging Ubisoft for an AC game set in feudal Japan for years, with the setting fitting so perfectly with the series known for its blend of historical settings with stealthy assassinations and action-packed combat.
For some inexplicable reason, those calls fell on deaf ears as Ubisoft has taken the series to pretty much every place you can think of except for Japan in recent years.
Those pleas may have been ignored by Ubisoft, but the talented developers at Sucker Punch Productions clearly heard the gamers and decided they'd fill the void with a game of their own.
The team at Sucker Punch was already well-known for creating the Sly Cooper series in the PS2 days and then launching the popular Infamous open-world superhero-inspired action games, but its next hit would take the studio to an entirely different level.
After four titles in the Infamous universe, Sucker Punch wanted to move on and create something entirely new - and they would spend the next six years crafting a masterpiece.
Ghost of Tsushima launched in 2020 and set the gaming world on fire - it was essentially the game millions of Assassin's Creed players had been begging for for years, yet it was even better than they could have imagined.
In many senses, it is a more brutal, more stylish, and more polished version of AC in terms of gameplay - for the most part it has better stealth mechanics that make it a viable option in virtually every scenario and rarely causes frustration, it has deep and rewarding combat that takes time to master and yet is extremely satisfying and doesn't feel unfair or too difficult, and its story is deep and engrossing without having to weave into dozens of other plot threads or an overarching sci-fi narrative to hold things together like the series its gameplay has been compared to.
Ghost of Tsushima wears its inspirations on its blood-soaked kimono and there's no doubt the game has been heavily influenced by classic samurai flicks and specifically Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa - the game even features a "Kurosawa mode" which presents the entire game in black and white with a weathered film effect as well as Japanese dialogue with English subtitles for a real 50's samurai movie experience.
The game follows samurai Jin Sakai in his quest to save Tsushima Island from the Mongol invasion of Japan in 1274, and after the island's samurai force's brutal and absolute defeat in their attempt to repel the invaders, the surviving Lord Sakai travels across the island to recruit allies in his bid to retake the island through non-traditional means.
The lengthy story explores Jin's struggles with the fact that in order to save his homeland, he has to betray his samurai code and teachings and engage in underhanded tactics like guerilla warfare; as he strays further from the traditional path of the samurai, his legend across the island grows to instill fear in the Mongol invaders and hope in the oppressed inhabitants of Tsushima.
The art direction and presentation elevates an excellent campaign into something unforgettable - even on a base PS4, the visuals will leave you awestruck.
From cherry blossom-coated fields to climbable mountain passes to the stylish trappings of the "Ghost Stance", Ghost of Tsushima has one of the most beautiful open worlds ever created and it's chock full of side quests and activities.
These range from beautifully illustrated tales of mythical armour and weapons which you can hunt down and collect, "test your might"-style bamboo strikes, hidden shrines that require platforming action to access, to villages that beg to be liberated from Mongol forces, each rewarding players with resources to improve their abilities, weapons, armour, and other gear.
Ghost of Tsushima leans into its brilliant setting and atmosphere regularly, such as in the way it lets players navigate the world - rather than a traditional "go here" marker or minimap to aid player navigation, Jin's next objective or custom marker is instead "pointed to" by gusts of wind, with leaves or rain being blown, tree branches ruffling, and tall grass or fields of wheat waving in the direction of your chosen path.
Of course, even the most well-presented videogame story would fall flat if it didn't have excellent gameplay to complement it, and in that area Ghost of Tsushima shines just as brightly.
As has been mentioned, the game serves a variety of playstyles as both open combat and stealthy approaches are encouraged. The stealth elements are similar to what you'd find from other, similar titles like Assassin's Creed - hiding in tall grass, behind walls or other cover, or above enemies on rooftops or slack lines, with Jin's tanto serving as his weapon of choice to silently carve up his foes from the shadows.
You can also take out enemies from afar with a bow and arrow, with Jin later unlocking the use of both a long bow and a more compact bow to allow him to be effective at different ranges, with a variety of ammo types (flaming, poisoned, etc.) also serving to provide players with plenty of options - blow darts are also a handy tool to silently put enemies to sleep or drive them mad with a special poison, highly effective for causing distractions and simultaneously whittling down opposing forces as you stealthily sneak past the preoccupied combatants.
Other tools like smoke bombs, wind chimes which can be thrown as a distraction, and throwing knives all serve to provide Jin with tools for every situation he can find himself in, and the game's rather extensive upgrading system allows players to improve Jin's tools' potency and the amount of them he can carry.
The third person action takes a more strategic approach to open conflict reminiscent of many other recent action titles, putting an emphasis on defending incoming attacks through dodges or blocks/parries in order to create opportunities for counter attacks, along with building up energy that can be unleashed in the form of special attacks.
In a brilliant wrinkle however, the game implements stances - different stances (there are four main stances that can be unlocked as you progress, and changing between them is done on the fly with a button press) each have their strengths and weaknesses, being strong against certain types of enemies and enabling you to cut through their defenses, while being largely ineffective against other types of enemies.
This seemingly simple system adds great variety to gameplay and forces players to be aware of their surroundings at all times, in addition to providing Jin with tons of different attacks and upgradable moves for each of the four stances. For instance, players might have to switch to the Water stance to take down an enemy holding a shield, before switching to the more acrobatic Wind stance to close the gap and carve up a spear-wielding foe.
After piling up a certain number of kills without being hit in return, Jin can activate a final, ultimate stance - the Ghost Stance, which strikes fear into his enemies as the screen turns to black and white and allows players to eliminate targets with a single button press before the ability wears off, splashes of red vividly flowing across the screen as Jin draws his enemy's blood with his unblockable sequences of pure violence.
It's a stylish and powerful ability that captures the cinematic flair of its inspirations in brilliant fashion, and highlights a surprisingly deep and extensive yet intuitive and satisfying combat system that never gets old even after sinking dozens of hours into the game.
Simply put, Ghost of Tsushima is one of the best games of the past decade and begs to be experienced by every gamer out there, regardless of their console of choice.
The game also features a multiplayer co-op mode called Legends that allows 2-4 players to tackle a handful of missions together, with several classes of characters being available that have unique special abilities and bonuses. Players can also unlock upgrades and cosmetics for their multiplayer characters as they rank up.
It's a fun mode that adds even more variety to the already massive game, even if it isn't quite as good as the main attraction.
If you can't get enough of Jin Sakai's adventures, there's also the Iki Island expansion, which sees Jin travel to the nearby island in order to free its inhabitants from Mongols led by a particularly devious warlord - except in a twist, Iki Island is filled with people that loathe the samurai, and the Sakai clan in particular, given that Jin's father previously led an unsuccessful invasion of the island when Jin was a child.
It's an excellent campaign in its own right and players can get it as part of the Director's Cut for the PS4, or with the enhanced 4K version on the PS5.
1. God of War (2018)
Santa Monica Studio, 2018 (came to PC in 2022)
There was a single title that inspired me to purchase a PS4, and that title was God of War.
The franchise began way back in 2005 when Kratos was first introduced to the world - a mighty Spartan who became a servant of the Olympian Gods after calling on Ares, the God of War, to spare his men and grant him the power to defeat his enemies after suffering defeat at the hands of a Barbarian king.
It was then that Kratos had the Blades of Chaos bonded to his arms, a pair of chained swords that would become one of the most iconic weapons in gaming history.
Kratos would serve as Ares' bloodthirsty pawn for years, but Ares, seeking to create the ultimate warrior, would betray his finest disciple - in secret, Ares hid Kratos' wife and daughter in a village he set his servant loose upon, leading to Kratos accidentally killing his own family in a blind rage.
Thinking the loss of his familial attachments would unshackle Kratos and allow him to become the ultimate killing machine, Ares would instead turn his mightiest warrior against him as Kratos vowed vengeance and renounced the God he had sworn to serve.
The oracle of the village that Kratos destroyed cursed Kratos by bonding the ashes of his slain wife and daughter to his skin, turning his skin ashy-white and earning him the nickname "The Ghost of Sparta" in the process.
Kratos would then embark on his quest for vengeance, working for other Olympian Gods for years, eventually allying himself with Athena in order to access Pandora's Box: within was the power to kill a god, something he required in order to enact revenge on Ares.
If you are a fan of Greek mythology, you can see just how well the story Santa Monica Studio crafted fits in with the mythology of the Olympian Gods, to the point it genuinely seems like it was a story that would have been told in Ancient Greece. Over the course of the original trilogy, Kratos' path crosses almost every Greek God and Titan ever known as he himself becomes the God of War and slaughters the corrupt deities of Olympus.
Although the first entry is a bit dated with its platforming, it was an excellent action-adventure game with stellar and unique combat in an engrossing setting that only got better with every sequel - the second installment was bigger, better, and more badass and had some of the most satisfying combat you can find in an action game, only for it to be outdone once more by the final entry in the trilogy which brought some of the most epic boss fights in gaming history and offered truly best-in-class action to every level.
A prequel, God of War Ascension, would explore Kratos' time serving the Gods before his quest with Athena began in the first God of War game. In it, Santa Monica Studio expanded on the third entry's massive boss fights which had Kratos quite literally climbing on his massive foes as he struck their weak points and battled enemies on the limbs of Titans, somewhat akin to the Shadow of the Colossus games but in far grander (and more violent) form.
The series also spawned two excellent PSP games that pushed the portable hardware to its limits and are easily two of the biggest highlights of the platform's entire catalog, and are even worth playing when ported over to consoles, which you can play on the Playstation Now streaming service.
With the series already going so big and bold and having thoroughly explored Greek mythology, there didn't seem like much more could be done with the God of War story nor many improvements could be made to the stellar combat systems that had been tapped out after so many titles.
The talented developers at Santa Monica Studios weren't done with Kratos' story however - not by a long shot.
The team took it upon themselves to reinvent the series in a way no one saw coming, one that would not only surpass their prior works, but elevate the franchise above any and all of its peers.
With the Greek Gods having been thoroughly smited, God of War sought a fresh setting for Kratos to wreak havoc in and an entirely different mythos to explore and tear apart.
In a monumental shift, Kratos' journey would set its sights on Norse mythology.
With such a big change in setting and mythos, many believed that the series was getting completely rebooted to tell a similar tale with different Gods and settings, which was further evidenced by the fact that the fifth console entry in the franchise was to be called simply "God of War", reclaiming the title that started it all.
In some facets, 2018's God of War can be called a reboot - after all, it completely changed the perspective, setting, and gameplay systems to make it wholly unique from the prior entries. Its story is also completely understandable and clear for those that haven't played any of the prior games, with the only things they'd really be missing (besides the incredible experiences those games produced of course) is some easter eggs and knowing fully what the subtle hints and callbacks to Kratos' past refer to.
And yet, it is still very much a sequel, a continuation that picks up quite some time after the events of God of War 3.
In what can best be described as a semi-reboot-sequel, Kratos is once again the main protagonist, but instead of being a bloodthirsty warrior seeking more Greek Gods to punish, he is a devoted father grieving the sudden loss of his second wife.
You see, after his triumphs over the Olympian Gods, Kratos locked away his blood-soaked blades and sought to live the rest of his life in peace and solitude, settling down with a woman named Faye and retreating to a cabin in the woods of Scandinavia. Kratos and Faye would live their quiet life in the snowy Scandinavian mountains, soon after joined by their son Atreus.
As Kratos found a new lease on life and was given a second chance at having a family, he sought to protect his son from the suffering he had seen and caused, keeping his past a secret and instead focusing his attention on teaching "the boy" how to hunt and survive off the land, now on his own after the untimely demise of his second wife.
Soon after giving Faye a proper Norse farewell, Kratos is forced into a fight with a mysterious stranger that seems to know all about Kratos' past.
After dispatching the unwelcome guest and unknowingly setting a series of events into motion, Kratos sets out with his son to fulfill his late wife's dying wish - for her ashes to be spread from the highest peak of the nine realms, a task that will ultimately take them on a monumental journey that sees them cross paths with plenty of monsters and the Norse Gods themselves.
With this change in environment comes a newfound dedication to storytelling and providing a deep, rich world with plenty of complex characters and genuine emotion.
While past God of War games always had an intriguing storyline that wove Greek mythos brilliantly into its campaigns of carnage, the tale of unfettered rage and vengeance rarely had time for more fleshed out interactions or featured much in the way of character development, eschewing those concepts in favour of relentless action.
This shift then may seem jarring, yet it is done in such a clean and realistic way that it feels entirely like a natural progression of the character - Kratos has seen and done it all, and is tired of getting involved in the Gods' quarrels and agonizing over his past failures.
When he saw an opportunity for a second chance at happiness, he took it, and will do anything he can to protect it and prevent himself from making the same mistakes. Unfortunately, when your past is as legendary and as haunted as Kratos', you can only run from the past for so long before it catches up to you.
The new (old?) Kratos no longer charges headstrong into confrontation, instead doing his best to avoid conflict as he tries to teach his impressionable son to follow in his footsteps, but despite his best efforts, the two are forced to fight for their survival as they navigate the wondrous and dangerous world of Norse mythology.
With the new environment and focus on deeper storytelling came a drastic change to God of War's traditional, more top-down action gameplay - now, a tight third-person camera more closely resembling what you'd see in an Uncharted or Gears of War game brings players closer to the action than ever.
Paired with this new perspective is an entirely new combat system that combines elements of Kratos' past melee proficiency with one that rewards well-timed parrying and attention to defense as much as it does relentless offense.
Kratos' iconic Blades of Chaos have been replaced with the Leviathan Axe, a powerful weapon that not only features ice-related special abilities but can be thrown at enemies (or things in the environment, which becomes mighty handy for solving environmental puzzles and the like) and then returned to Kratos' hand with the snap of his fingers.
This Mjolnir-like mechanic is incredibly satisfying to use and the seamless transitions from using bare fists to batter opponents while the axe is away, to chopping up foes as it returns to your side, is just plain awesome.
Any concerns that the complete overhaul would make God of War less fun to play, or ruin its incredible combat, are quickly put to rest as soon as you pick up the controller. It mixes up enough of the old style with a new, more modern system to create something new yet oddly familiar and oh-so-satisfying.
Kratos' attacks feel appropriately weighty and powerful, and the new close-up perspective combined with the incredible graphics present the violence in ridiculous detail as Kratos rips apart monstrous foes and mercilessly demolishes those who would threaten his family.
Speaking of family, Kratos' new sidekick is more than just a helpless travel companion you must protect.
Though Atreus is nowhere near Kratos when it comes to fighting ability, he serves as a welcome supplement, providing ranged attacks with his bow as well as spells that create special arrows or can summon spectral animals that aid Kratos in combat. He's also helpful in solving environmental puzzles (which are a surprising highlight here) as well as aiding his father in exploring the rich environments they find themselves in.
Their journey sees them (inadvertently) gain plenty of enemies but also several key allies as well, from the hilarious dwarf brothers Brok and Sindri who aid Kratos and Atreus by forging new gear and improving their existing weapons and armour, to the brilliant Mimir who accompanies them and regales the duo with his whimsical storytelling.
The lengthy and unforgettable campaign is presented from start to finish with a polish rarely seen in gaming and a cinematic quality that puts many famous Hollywood directors to shame, with stellar voice acting and animation work not to mention an epic score combining to create a bonafide work of art.
Aiding in the beautiful presentation is the studio's committment to keeping the entire experience a single, continuous shot, similar to the impressive recent war movie 1917 which came out shortly after Kratos' latest adventure and effectively presented the entire film as one long, fluid sequence.
Once you load into the game for the first time, there are no further loading screens or camera cuts, even in the game's cinematic sequences and its fast travel system, which effectively uses portals and an "in-between" realm area to allow the area to load without ever taking Kratos off of the screen.
While the majority of your playtime will see you in the fixed view above Kratos' shoulder, the camera will regularly zoom out or whirl around to present the game's cinematics, giving you the best angle of the proceedings before seamlessly moving back into position when it's time for you to regain control of the Ghost of Sparta.
Though this transition from cutscene to player perspective is now commonly used in titles, no other major game has come even close to the level of dedication as 2018's God of War in implementing it for an entire game, especially while presenting cutscenes.
It may seem like a gimmick on paper, but in practice, it truly works wonders to immerse players in the experience and present a sense of wonder during many of the incredible sequences the story flows through.
Simply put, God of War is a masterpiece and one of the greatest games ever made, and one that should be experienced by every gamer, regardless of their console of choice.
Now, God of War: Ragnarok is just one day away, and it promises to be a similar leap forward just like God of War 2 was to the original title - a massive expansion on its predecessor's ideas, with bigger and bolder encounters, even better combat, and even greater production values.
With the Norse saga originally intended to be a trilogy, Santa Monica Studios instead opted to make the game even bigger and more loaded with surprises by concluding the arc in Ragnarok; if early reviews are any indication, this decision not only resulted in a massive game but it's one that absolutely lives up to the hype and delivers the sequel that 2018's game of the year deserves.
The Last of Us / The Last of Us Part II
Naughty Dog, 2013 (PS3, Remastered on PS4 in 2014, Remade for PS5 in 2022) / 2020
Given how highly regarded (and now, divisive) Naughty Dog's latest franchise is amongst critics and the gaming community alike, it deserves a mention here especially since both games only narrowly missed making the cut for this article.
The Last of Us, a smash hit for the PS3 in 2013, was a memorable experience with extremely high production values and a great story despite it being in a somewhat cliche "zombie apocalypse" scenario.
A third person action/shooter, its more generic gameplay was what ultimately prevented it from earning a slot on this list, but it's still a great game worth playing through and there are plenty of ways to do so.
The hit new IP received a remastered version for the PS4 less than a year after it was released, which drew the ire of fans given that they had to re-purchase the game at full price in order to play it on their new consoles (since the PS4 didn't feature backward compatability), and Sony didn't offer a less expensive upgrade option for prior owners.
Sony apparently felt it was so great it warranted a complete remake that released (again, as a full-price game) earlier this year on the PS5, although the actual gameplay was only slightly modified and apparently remains nearly the same as the original but with upgraded graphics. Considering the 2014 PS4 version of the game still looks great and can be had for a handful of dollars, the newest version doesn't seem worth the investment but if you've never played it and have a PS5, that's always an option.
The second entry in the series vastly improved the game's combat system and brought it more up to par with the likes of Naughty Dog's other hit series Uncharted, but with an emphasis on stealth and silent takedowns over that series' more bombastic approach.
Ignoring a few moments of woke nonsense that were shoehorned into the game, the biggest letdown in the sequel was some rather questionable story decisions that ended up enraging much of its fanbase and for good reason.
While the decision to kill off a rather important character very early in the sequel had some fans irate, it did fit the universe and the story was well-written throughout the events that unfolded in the aftermath. Even if the death was a bit early, and the inclusion of a different playable character was a bit of a weird choice that didn't seem to hit home the way it was intended, thanks to its excellent gameplay and world building it was still plenty of fun; the game's real sin however was its atrocious final act.
The game's "ending" is actually a pretty decent one (no spoilers of course) - while not being perfect, it wrapped up its plot threads well and provided a satisfying conclusion to the story even if it might not have been the happy ending some hoped for.
If you're playing through it for the first time, you'll undoubtedly think the story has concluded as Naughty Dog quite literally tells you that the game is over and rolls the credits, and you'll wonder why there was so much controversy over its ending...but then the game keeps going.
Its epilogue seemingly shows the immediate aftermath of the ending to let things sink in and provide final closure, almost like the way Uncharted 4's does...but then it throws that closure into the trash, spits on it, and for good measure unzips and takes a dump on it.
In a painfully stupid decision, Naughty Dog has the main character make an absolutely retarded decision that drags you back into an entire fourth act, with hours of gameplay left to go after the "fake out" ending credits roll.
Without anything really new or unique to add given that by this point you've been playing for around twenty hours, the final chapters turn into a slog and the real ending is about as anticlimactic as one would imagine when one set out upon the epilogue's poorly contrived quest, not to mention it's just blatantly infuriating given some of the protagonists prior decisions.
It was quite clear the writer(s) involved were trying to say something profound about revenge and letting things go, but instead made their main character completely unlikeable and illogical with absolutely no payoff and nothing intelligent to be gleaned from the resulting mess.
Considering the talent behind the game, it's absolutely mind boggling that such a pitiful final act was ever considered let alone put into the game, and I'd strongly suggest to anyone that seeks to play the game (which is, prior to the final act, admittedly pretty great): turn off the console as soon as the epilogue starts and just pretend the game is over. Carry on as if you've gotten the full story, and never look back.
Trust me, you'll regret it if you don't.
Infamous Second Son
Sucker Punch Productions, 2014
Sucker Punch's last Infamous game, Second Son follows a new protagonist and as such the prior games aren't neccessary for new fans to jump into (the first Infamous' gameplay and voice acting has aged very poorly, though the second is still pretty decent).
Players control Delsin Rowe as he is infused with superpowers and is forced into a fight for his freedom and survival against a government organization which imprisons any and all powered beings for the safety of society.
The open world is tons of fun to wreak havoc in with your supernatural abilities and thrilling combat, making it a title that's well worth giving a try if you're into action games.
Shadow of the Colossus
Team Ico, 2005 (PS2) | Bluepoint, 2018 (PS4)
A classic from the last years of the Playstation 2 era, Shadow of the Colossus tasks players with hunting down 16 massive colossi across a forbidden land in order to gain the power to revive a mysterious girl named Mono.
The game's stellar art and sound direction as well as its unique level design are a wonder to play through, as players travel the dreary realm and climb massive beasts in order to find and attack their weak points and slay them.
The 2018 remake by Bluepoint on the PS4 brings the classic up to modern visual standards while maintaining its one-of-a-kind art direction and gameplay and is well worth a journey through one of the most cathartic experiences in gaming. Plus, it was heavily featured in Reign Over Me, an excellent film starring Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle.
If you like Dark Souls then you'll probably love Bloodborne, another of FromSoftware's titles that, while personally I find them to be rather mediocre with the incredible difficulty being a gimmick to offset rather standard combat systems, have large followings amongst critics and gamers alike.
If you are like me and prefer to simply enjoy your games and not die thousands of times trying to perfectly string together dodges and counters just to progress past a single enemy, then this would be a game to avoid, but I'll leave this here in case someone reading this is into those kinds of games.