What Makes the "Best" Game?

For years I’ve felt that the original Deus Ex is my favourite game of all time.

While I still feel that to be the case, I wonder if it can still be considered the “best PC game of all time”?

Many publications in the past have said that it is, and I think it’s very much a contender for it, but I wonder how much gameplay VS influence plays into these things.

I’ve recently started playing Cyberpunk 2077 and it feels very Deus Ex-ish. Obviously there isn’t the conspiracy laden plot and the atmosphere is very different, but the influence of Deus Ex (DX) is so obvious that with a few tweaks it could easily be a continuation of the series.

But then you consider the changes to gameplay between now and 23 years ago; the mechanics that have been introduced that the original DX didn’t have. For example, there are no iron sights in the original DX. The closest you could get was to have a scoped weapon, regular guns you just had to aim “manually” and shoot.

Then there are the advancements in AI, integration of an open world, various playstyles, motion capture, etc.

On a technical level, DX is the lesser game because it could never hope to live up to the prowess of Cyberpunk. But then if those technical elements don’t work - as with Cyberpunk’s release - does it even matter?

Conversely, if we didn’t have DX, we may never have had Cyberpunk. DX introduced the deep, story driven RPG shooter with “play-your-way” elements (yes, I know Thief came first, but I feel like DX is the perfection of what Thief started). So does the path DX laid make it more meaningful to the history of gaming, and thus a “better” game?

I find this whole conversation really interesting and would love to hear other’s thoughts.


Saying what your favorite game is infinitely easier than trying to decide what “the best” game is. For the former, just say the game you like most – the specifics behind why don’t really matter.

Trying to decide what the greatest video game of all time, on the other hand… How do you rank stuff as varied as Space Invaders and Elden Ring? It’s not hard to argue the latter is technically more impressive, but even all these years later people are still enjoying the simple fun of the former (and indeed may even prefer it). Obviously different sorts of games aim for different things and should be critiqued accordingly. (I’m reminded of the GameFAQs days when all game reviews seemed to have ratings not just for the game as a whole, but for specific categories like “graphics,” “sound,” “multiplayer,” and “story,” even if there was no point in doing so…)

I think the main point you’re making in your post though is that generally speaking, the development of games build off each other and therefore genres naturally improve over time. And it goes beyond mere graphics and performance capabilities. Often when an old game gets re-released, new “quality of life” features are included that make it more enjoyable to play. The average gamer is probably going to say that of course the FPS games of the past five years play better than the ones of the first five years. But I think it’s fair for discussions like these to give some weight to the older titles that paved the way for newer ones, and to keep in mind the limitations of hardware in past decades. It’s all just a matter of opinion at the end of the day though, and the same sort of discussion could easily be had for movies, books, songs, and so on.


My favourite PC game of all time is Plants vs. Zombies. I wouldn’t change a thing about it. I play it once a year and I still love it. It still makes me smile, it still holds up. I hate that they never made a second one on PC and killed the second one on mobile with microtransactions. On a more objective level, it is the best game I used to introduce non-gamers to PC gaming. It was fun and accessible to most and opened them up to more.

For an objective “best game of all time” vote, I don’t know what the criteria would be.

For example, you can look at the most played games on Steam right now and see that Skyrim, a 12 year old game, is still at number 45 (I think mods are largely responsible for that) and Europa Universalis IV, a 10 year old game, is at number 68 and I wonder if we would have numbers on really old games like Deus Ex or the original Thief how often they are still played. If we did some sort of chart related to the age of a game and playtime over the last year, I think Deus Ex would be above the original Thief there and maybe one of the highest games on the list for ~20 year old video games.

That could at least be something of a criteria, but then how can it be a “best game of all time” that someone would accept who started their gaming career last week with their first game ever being Apex Legends. Wouldn’t they laugh DX out of the room? “Best of all time” is always going to be a title that’s only interesting to old(er) gamers anyway, whereas “best of last year” can be interesting to all of us, the 9 year old currently playing Fortnite on their phone, and us thinking about games to play for Retro Club.


There’s no “best”. Different genres have different strengths and appeal to different people. Even different games in the same genre make different trade-offs. Ultimately, there is some general ladder of quality that people can agree on, but the question of “best” is not defined well enough to make strong claims for one game over the other of similar quality.


Hmmm…interesting question, good thoughts. My initial thoughts are that I think it depends on some definitions.

“Best” or “better” may not be the best, I mean most accurate or appropriate terms.

“Favorite” is sometimes more what a person means.
“Most Influential” could be more apt.
“Most Important” game to a genre, franchise, or series could fit.
“Genre Defining Classic”

When saying something is “the best of…” I think it helps to clarify some objective standards of measure. My “favorite” game, while objectively not the best among all, may be subjectively best to me.


I really appreciate all the replies here. Good stuff. Got my brain going.

Deciding the quality of a game (good, great, best…) is worthwhile. How one does it is the question.

Generally, before I buy/play a game, I check review sites and see what most agree upon. Even Metacritic has some use. It’s fairly easy to tell if a new game has favorable reception or not.

A game that seems great earns a chance. But even after buying it, the game might not “click” with me when playing. In that case, how great is the game, really?

That said, I think there are some general ideas “out there” about what makes a great game, like “good graphics.” Well, is 16-bit pixel art “good” or is the standard now 4K textured 3D polygons? Who is to say? In this case, while technically inferior, pixel-art can be great like 4K photo-real games, but it’s now an art-style, a developers choice, rather than a technical limitation.

Nice discussion overall. Thanks.