20 Best Years in Video Game History, Ranked

5. 2013

Notable Game Releases: GTA 5, The Last of Us, BioShock Infinite, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, Assassin’s Creed IV

We’re down to the final five years on this list, and this is the point where the rankings go from “tough” to nearly impossible. There’s a strong argument to be made that any of these five years deserve to occupy the top spot. 

2013 was undoubtedly highlighted by the releases of Grand Theft Auto 5 and The Last of Us. The former would go on to become the second best-selling video game ever, while the latter is one of those rare titles that nearly everyone agrees is a narrative masterpiece. 2013’s BioShock Infinite may have been anything but universally acclaimed, but that somewhat divisive title remains a compelling lightning rod. This was also the year that saw Final Fantasy XIV transform into Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. The significance of that transformation has become more and more apparent with each passing year. 

Beyond that, you had an incredible Tomb Raider reboot that few saw coming, smaller titles like The Stanley Parable, Gone Home, and Papers, Please vying for GOTY awards, and continuously underrated games like Rogue Legacy, DmC, and Metro: Last Light. All of that, and I barely have time to talk about DOTA 2, A Link Between Worlds, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Saints Row IV, Blood Dragon, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, and Assassin’s Creed IV. Imagine trying to play all those games that year. 

Honestly, one of the best things you can say about 2013 is that we’re still playing some of that year’s best games to this day. 

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4. 2001

Notable Game Releases: Halo: Combat Evolved, Grand Theft Auto III, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Devil May Cry, Final Fantasy X

If you ever hear gamers of a certain age lament that the start of new gaming generations aren’t as exciting as they used to be, try to forgive them. After all, some of us were fortunate enough to be kids in the incredible year for gaming that was 2001. 

Few doubted Microsoft’s ability to eventually make an impact in the console market, but fewer still suspected that Halo would go on to become one of the most impactful launch games ever. Mind you, those that bought a GameCube instead were too busy playing Super Smash Bros. Melee, Luigi’s Mansion, Super Monkey Ball, and Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader to mind. 

During its first full year, the PS2 turned in one of the best single-year software lineups ever. Indeed, it’s sometimes hard to believe that Metal Gear Solid 2, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, Gran Turismo III, Grand Theft Auto III, Silent Hill 2, Devil May Cry, SSX Tricky, Final Fantasy X, ICO, Red Faction, and Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy were all released in the same year. 

Even the N64 got in on the fun with the release of Paper Mario and Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Add Max Payne, Golden Sun, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Dead or Alive 3, and Aliens vs. Predator 2 to the mix and…well, the only way I can justify not putting this year at the top of the list is to move on to the remaining three years. 

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3. 2007

Notable Game Releases: Portal, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Halo 3, World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade, Rock Band, Super Mario Galaxy

Throughout this year, Den of Geek has been celebrating its 15th anniversary. While I hope you’ll celebrate with us, I know many of you entered 2022 ready to celebrate the 15th anniversary of what many consider to be the absolute best year in video game history. 

2007 was the kind of year that gave us Team Fortress 2, Half-Life 2: Episode 2, and Portal in the same collection. It was a year when Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare arguably offered the peak of one of the biggest game franchises ever, while Halo 3 delivered what was essentially the end of an era for another FPS series (though Bungie would still deliver ODST and Reach). If this is the first time you’re realizing all those games were released in the same year, that’s probably because the noise they generated was being drowned out by your Rock Band sessions. That, or you were too lost in WoW’s Burning Crusade expansion to notice anything else. 

More than anything, though, I’ll remember 2007 as a golden time for bold new ideas that became franchises. It was the year that gave us the very first BioShock, Assassin’s Creed, Uncharted, Crysis, and Mass Effect games. Even Super Mario Galaxy was good enough to become the brief future of the Super Mario franchise. 

There’s something bittersweet about looking back at 2007. It’s easy to blind yourself with rose-colored glasses, but there really was something beautiful about this time when the future of gaming seemed so bright because the present was so great. 

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2. 1998

Notable Game Releases: Metal Gear Solid, Half-Life, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Fallout 2, Resident Evil 2, Starcraft

I went into this list fully expecting 1998 to take the top spot. It wasn’t just a great year in gaming; it’s one of the only years in gaming that I would argue was undeniably great. I certainly can’t fault anyone who considers it to be the absolute best year ever. 

Above all else, 1998 will always be remembered as the year that gave us Half-Life, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Metal Gear Solid. More than just three great games, they were three very different games that represented the best of the three biggest platforms available at that time. 

If you need more evidence of 1998’s greatness, you’ll find it in Starcraft, Fallout 2, Resident Evil 2, Starsiege: Tribes, Tekken 3, Grim Fandango, Banjo-Kazooie, Thief: The Dark Project, or even the NA debut of Pokémon. Many of those games (and more from 1998) are rightfully considered to be the very best in their respective genres to this day. 

That’s the thing about the best games of 1998. Like the best movies of the beloved summer of 1982, the best games of 1998 have stayed in our collective conscious for so long that it’s sometimes hard to forget that they weren’t released just yesterday. Many of them could likely still win GOTY this year if they had been.  

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1. 2004

Notable Game Releases: Halo 2, Half-Life 2, Metroid Prime 2, Metal Gear Solid 3, World of Warcraft, GTA: San Andreas, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2

If I told you that Counter-Strike: Source, Killzone, Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal, Everquest II, The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, Halo 2, Half-Life 2, Jak 3, Need For Speed: Underground 2, Metroid Prime 2, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, Spider-Man 2, Metal Gear Solid 3, and World of Warcraft were all released in the same year, you’d probably agree that was one of the best years in gaming history, right?

Well, what if I told you that all of those games were actually released in the same month: November of 2004?

That’s the funny thing about 2004. In a year where the conversation should have been dominated by arguably the best month in video game history, we still got The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, GTA: San Andreas, Ninja Gaiden, Rome: Total War, Burnout 3: Takedown, Katamari Damacy, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2, ESPN NFL 2K5, The Sims 2, Far Cry, and more spread out across the rest of the year. Mind you, that’s only the games that were generally considered hits at the time. There are many more titles from 2004 that have only grown in acclaim since then. This is even the year that gave us the Nintendo DS (though its launch lineup only offered a glimpse at how great that handheld would be).

If you’re one of the many who consider the PS2/Xbox/GameCube console generation to be the best console generation ever, then there’s a good chance you also consider 2004 to be the peak of that particular era. We may never see the likes of this kind of year again, and I’m strangely almost grateful for that. It’s the kind of year for gaming that demands long holiday breaks with friends, lazy summer nights, and many of the other highlights of youth that we are often truly nostalgic for when we talk about the best games of years gone by. 

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