As the others have said, the seventh generation of consoles was a long one. When it started, I was a freshman in high school and relied mostly on Blockbuster and the kindness of friends and family members over the holidays to get my video game fix. By the time it ended, I’d graduated from college, and I could pretty much buy what I wanted, whenever I wanted, and starting working as a freelance writer within the industry.

Of course, my tastes changed over time, too. If you’d told me that I’d actually see a sequel to StarCraft in my lifetime, get hype about Street Fighter, or consider a rogue-like one of my favorite games of the last generation in ‘05, I probably would have laughed at you. But this was an amazing generation, full of comebacks, new stars, and surprises. With that in mind, here are the ten games that impressed me the most in the 7th generation.

 

10. FTL: Faster Than Light

Of all the games on this list, Faster Than Light is the one was the hardest to write about. That’s probably because it’s a different experience every single time you play it. If you’ve ever watched Star Wars, Star Trek, or Firefly and thought about how cool it would be to command your own ship, you’ll love Faster Than Light. The game places you in command of a small Federation ship trying to escape from Rebel forces with important data vital to the war effort.

The big wrinkle is that the galaxy you’ll traverse, and the things you encounter, are random each time, meaning you can’t rely on the same strategy to get you through. Success comes from gutsy choices, quick reactions, a little strategy, and a lot of luck. You’ll fail a lot in Faster Than Light. In fact, you’ll fail far more than you succeed, and when you do, you’ll likely get demolished by the game’s monster of a final boss. But you’ll learn something new each time, and maybe unlock a new ship while you’re at it. And then you’re back out into the black, giving it another go. Losing never felt so good.

 

9. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

The Zelda timeline is the best example of “No good deed goes unpunished” in video games. In the best (and darkest) version of the timeline, Link goes back to warn everyone what the future holds, and Ganondorf is executed. The events that follow lead directly to the darkest events in the series, namely Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess. That’s what you get for being responsible, Link.

That branch may produce the worst possible result in terms of the Zelda timeline, but it’s produced arguably the best 3D games in the series. Twilight Princess starts out as a slow burn, introducing you to Link’s world before throwing you to the wolves. From The Arbiter Grounds on, Twilight Princess is arguably the best Zelda game in terms of design. It combines an immense open world with some of the best dungeons in the entire series, and given Zelda’s history, that’s no small feat. The game may be a little too much like Ocarina of Time for some people, but that’s because it is the ultimate realization of Ocarina’s formula. If there was a natural ending point to the formula that Ocarina established, Twilight Princess was it. Plus, it’s got Midna, and that special brand of darkness that Zelda does so well. What’s not to like?


8. Super Street Fighter IV

In the days of the arcade, you were either a Mortal Kombat guy or a Street Fighter guy. Don’t get me wrong, I dumped quarters into Street Fighter II like there was no tomorrow, but I was always a Mortal Kombat guy when it came to arcade fighters. I didn’t truly discover my love of 2D fighter until Guilty Gear, which won me over with its speed, soundtrack, and flashy depth. The thing that threw me about Street Fighter was its pacing. It’s a slow game, and hard to learn, and Street Fighter III didn’t really do the casual Street Fighter fan any favors. I’ve always respected the series for its impact and depth, but I was staunchly against playing Street Fighter coming into the seventh generation because of its lack of speed.

Still, it put on a hell of a show at EVO every year. And after years of watching guys like Daigo, Infiltration, and Justin Wong go at it, I finally decided to give it a shot, and Super Street Fighter IV didn’t disappoint. It was well-paced, had an enormous roster with a ton of variety, and found the right balance between Street Fighter II’s accessibility and Street Fighter III’s depth. It’s a complicated game, and it takes dedication to learn, and I’m by far the worst Street Fighter IV player on the EndlessBacklog crew, but then you’ve got the incredible comebacks, like when I landed a Raging Demon on Aljosa to take a match, or a FADC Ultra on Ben. There are very few other games that allow you to experience those kinds of moments, and Street Fighter IV does it better than pretty much any of them. Oh, and Indestructible is pretty much the best theme song ever.

7. Super Mario Galaxy 2

Look, let’s get something straight: if Super Mario Galaxy 2 didn’t exist, Super Mario Galaxy would probably be the best 3D platformer ever made. But Super Mario Galaxy 2 does exist, and it makes its predecessor, which is an absolutely fantastic game, look pedestrian. It’s a game that really shouldn’t exist. There’s absolutely no way that Nintendo should have all of the ideas that they have in Super Mario Galaxy 2 after the original, but they do. 

In fact, Super Mario Galaxy 2 has more ideas in it than most games have in a franchise, and they’re introduced in a very Nintendo way. You’ll see the idea in its simplest form initially, and Nintendo will add layers and wrinkles to it, each testing your knowledge of the mechanics in question and your knowledge of the tools at Mario’s disposal, culminating in the level (or world’s) biggest challenge. Then, Nintendo discards the idea, and focuses on the next one. Constantly. For more than 200 levels. And it does it perfectly, even with motion controls. Nintendo’s got a lot to prove with Mario’s next single player 3D outing, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: you don’t bet against Mario, and you certainly don’t bet against Nintendo.

 

6. The Last of Us

The last generation was something of a turning point for Naughty Dog, as the studio moved away from the Jak and Daxter series and the cartoonish, action-platformer hybrids that had previously defined them. Some will lavish praise on the Uncharted series, but I would argue that there’s only been one good Uncharted game (Uncharted 2), and Naughty Dog didn’t really step it up as a studio until The Last of Us.

The Last of Us is a truly special game for a number of reasons, but the thing that will stick with me for a long time is the relationship between Joel and Ellie. The way Naughty Dog developed that relationship, using everything from changes in perspective to cutscenes to in-game mechanics, is both unique and affecting, and the story only resonates because you identify with both characters. That’s to say nothing of the excellent writing, gunplay, melee, stealth, crafting and upgrading mechanics. Pretty much everything in The Last of Us is great, from start to finish. It’s an emotional ride, arguably the best game of the generation, and easily Naughty Dog’s finest accomplishment.  

 

5. Bioshock Infinite

I know what you’re thinking: “Bioshock Infinite over Bioshock? Are you crazy?!” Don’t get me wrong: choosing between Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite was tough, but in the end, I had to go with the one that left me starring, mouth agape, at my computer screen for more than thirty minutes after it ended. Bioshock Infinite also has the benefit of being a better game than its predecessor ever was. Sure, Bioshock has the “Would you kindly?” moment, but Infinite had better gunplay, a better overall cast of characters (seriously, Booker and Elizabeth are amazing, as are the Luteces), an incredible city to explore in Columbia, and a great story that doesn’t fall apart in the third act. Infinite had everything you could want from a sequel to the original, and it left us with a hell of an ending that people are still talking about. If Irrational had to go out, this was a hell of a game to do it on.

 

4. Halo Reach

In a lot of ways, Halo Reach is the truest sequel to Combat Evolved. It took many of the ideas introduced in Halo 2 and 3, like dual wielding, the multiple types of grenades, the lack of a health meter, and the poor pistol and SMGs, and threw them out in favor of a game that drew direct inspiration from Combat Evolved.

In a lot of ways, Reach is the ultimate Halo game. Mechanically, it’s probably the finest in the series, and yes, that includes Armor Abilities. It has the best campaign in the series since Combat Evolved, the best feature set (the best version of Forge, Theater, Firefight, and Co-op) in the series, and some of the finest multiplayer maps to ever grace a console. Seriously, Powerhouse was an instant classic. Combine all that with the freshness provided by Armor Abilities, and you had one of the best, most replayable shooters to ever grace a console, no matter how you wanted to play. Reach had to be great to give Halo the send-off it deserved, and Bungie absolutely nailed it. 

 

3. StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty 

We waited a long, long time for StarCraft II, and man, it was worth it. The finest RTS of the last generation (and maybe ever) brought a great and varied campaign that allowed you to choose what missions you want to play and what units you want to specialize in. Throw in top-notch game mechanics, a map editor with nearly limitless potential, Blizzard’s trademark excellent visual and sound design (featuring some fantastic voice acting), the return of a number of fan-favorite characters (and some new ones, like Tychus Findlay), and the best, most competitive RTS multiplayer in the genre, and you’ve got something truly special. After so many years in development, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is nothing short of a triumph for Blizzard. Don’t call it a comeback, though; as Brood War’s ridiculous longevity proved years ago, StarCraft was always here. 

2. Red Dead Redemption

Westerns are rare in the world of video games. It makes sense: the genre is often a slow burn, focusing on setting, character development and interactions with very little action over the course of the story. These things don’t translate particularly well to video games, because they don’t allow the player many ways to interact with the game world or other characters. Rockstar, however, wasn’t intimidated. Red Dead was built like a typical Rockstar game, for which it was (mostly) jokingly referred to as “Grand Theft Horse,” but that didn’t stop the developer from hitting it out of the park.

Red Dead Redemption succeeds because it captures every aspect of the genre, from the large, beautiful open world to the characters and the horse riding mechanics. The game perfectly captures and sells every aspect of the Western, and while the story and characters have been rightfully lauded as among the best of the generation, Red Dead Redemption's lasting appeal comes from the simple satisfaction of riding a horse along the prairie as the sun passes below the horizon, from winning a particularly hard-fought duel, from tracking down a bounty, from exploring the beautifully realized New Austin as former outlaw John Marston. Red Dead Redemption was a fresh, well-realized take on an underrepresented genre from a studio at the height of its power. Simply put, it doesn’t get much better than this. Outlaws to the end, indeed.

  

1. World of WarCraft: The Burning Crusade

It’s rare that an expansion completely outshines the original game, especially in the MMO space. Usually, expansions add a few new races and classes, raise the level cap, add new endgame content, change a few of the core mechanics, and call it a day. But Blizzard wasn’t content to do that. Hype for The Burning Crusade was through the roof, as it was World of WarCraft’s first expansion, and Blizzard delivered in spades. They threw a lot of beloved content from Vanilla WoW (40 man raids, faction specific classes, the tank and spank approach to endgame content, class specific tier gear in raids) out, and started from scratch.

WarCraft’s story was brought into the game in a major way for the first time, and presented in an engaging manner. Questing and zone structure improved significantly. The Horde and Alliance became more alike than they were different. Raid tokens replaced individual pieces of gear, ensuring more people got more gear when raiding. Dailes became a major part of the game, and Heroic dungeons were introduced. 25 man raids became the standard, and featured an enhanced focus on skill. Fights in The Burning Crusade, like Lady Vashj, Kael’Thas, and Reliquary of Souls, are still some of the hardest (and best) to ever grace the game. In an ironic twist of fate, BC’s quest content is now the oldest and most dated in WoW, and any problems that the game has are more due to it being a victim of its own success than anything else. That said, the expansion’s endgame content, from Karazhan to The Sunwell Plateau, is arguably the best to ever grace the genre. That’s probably why The Burning Crusade became the blueprint for designing MMOs, and continues to shape the genre today. Many pretenders have approached the throne since 2007 but, dated questing aside, the original is still the best.

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Will Borger
Managing Editor

Will has been gaming ever since he stumbled across a friend’s copy of Super Mario Bros. 3 in the early 90s. The rest, as they say, is history. He has a deep and abiding love for storytelling and the written word, and spends most of his free time absorbing and discussing stories through literature, games, film, and television, and writing his own fiction.

You can follow him on Twitter @Will_Borger.