Have you ever experienced something so unexpected that everything related to it somehow loses your interest? Maybe it was too good, a peak, and everything else now pales in comparison. Or it could be an experience so terrible that it sucks the joy from blissful memories of the past. Either way, the result is often the same: suddenly, the desire to delve deeper into your interests are gone. The things that you once loved now seem uninteresting at best, or downright aggravating at worst.
No, you’re not suffering from clinical depression. You’ve just played a game that ruined its genre.
Gamers everywhere deal with it. Whether it’s an all-consuming open world that makes everything else look tiny by comparison, combat mechanics so in-depth that all other games feel like a hack and slash, or merely a UI so beautiful you can’t possibly go back to those pedestrian alternatives, if you game long enough, you’re at risk. To make sure you know the best-worst offenders, we’ve cataloged 20 great games that made it really hard to play the genre again—whether by comparison or because of the effect it had on the industry. Bad games need not apply!
If you’re more interested in the future of gaming, rather than the past, be sure to check out our list of 8 Game Franchises That Are Screwed And 7 That Will Flourish.
20 The Walking Dead
Few series are as gripping as Telltale’s The Walking Dead. Even in the face of overwhelming critical acclaim for its source material, Telltale managed to create an adaptation that truly felt comparable to its source material in quality, without even relying very heavily on said source material. Even more surprising, The Walking Dead’s episodic style—at the time, rare to most who were not Telltale—actually enhanced the suspense of the story.
Unfortunately, the creativity, thoughtfulness, and careful design that made the episodic style of The Walking Dead so engrossing is rarely found in newer games using it as a model. While using episodes in video games is not inherently bad, it can come off as a cheap way to cut up content at a higher price. As publishers find more and more ways to take that last dollar from your wallet, this accidental tool has proven terrible.
19 Heavy Rain
Speaking of terrible things, how about QTEs! Ah yes, the preponderance of quick time events that has plagued gaming in the last few years is impossible to pin on a single culprit, but Heavy Rain is a big contender if ever there was one.
Even the aforementioned Telltale studio fell prey to this in their misguided Jurassic Park game, directly stating that they took influence from Quantic Dream for game’s mechanics. Unsurprisingly, this meant it felt pretty un-intuitive and really dull. Heavy Rain itself was the resultant mix of numerous quirks that ultimately gave it a rugged charm, but if you can corrupt even one of the most respected developers in the industry (albeit retrospectively), it’s hard to deny that your game might be a bad influence.
18 Batman: Arkham Asylum
If you’ve played any of the Arkham games, you probably know why this one’s here. That cool detective vision that made puzzles extra enthralling? Not quite so fun when it’s hastily slapped on to a much worse product. What about the combat that is so fluid it’s practically a brand name? Yeah, it’s not as easy to replicate as it looks, huh lazy devs?
The Arkham series has, for the most part, continually refined its world and the mechanics within it, exploring new avenues to let players really feel like they’re in the dark knight’s shoes. That’s why it’s such a shame to see all the hard work and effort shamelessly co-opted.
17 Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Grand Theft Auto already had some great experience making open world third-person shooters by the time San Andreas rolled around; GTA III and Vice City proved that Rockstar wasn’t a one-hit wonder. But there’s something about San Andreas that has stuck in the hearts of many gamers—and minds of many developers.
Unlike their previous two titles, San Andreas was met with a deluge of games that tried to cash in on the phenomenon: open world games, linear single players, you name it, and there’s probably some crappy knock off either so closely inspired by San Andreas that it looks like a poor replica or so blithely trend-hopping that it’s not even much of a game. The whole process was so bad, in fact, that two such titles made our list of the 25 Worst PS2 Games Of All Time.
16 Rock Band
By the time Rock Band came out, Harmonix—and the gaming public at large—were no strangers to rhythm games. Guitar Hero 3 had just been released, doubling down on becoming a guitar god, so it was a somewhat daring move to introduce so many new mechanics; and boy, did it pay off!
At first, that might seem like a wholly positive thing, no longer restricting players to endless iterations of the same instrument (though that would come too). Instead, for every deviation, there was bound to be two or three derivations, bloating the rhythm game market beyond what it could handle. While Activision, and to a lesser extent Neversoft, are certainly more to blame than Harmonix for the death of the genre, it was their ingenuity and willingness to take a risk that ultimately opened the floodgates and sealed its fate.
15 Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune
Whether you love it or hate it, think it’s massively overrated or an “8” to any entry is a slap in the face, one thing is true: the Uncharted series is an exceptionally high quality game, if only from a purely technical standpoint. Long have developers tried to make games more “cinematic” (I’m looking at you, David Cage), but really we’ve seen the best game equivalent of a summer blockbuster action flick in Uncharted. That is, in itself, not bad.
It has, however, had a pretty massive impact on the industry. Sometimes “cinematic” and “art” games are conflated (again looking at Cage), but make no mistake, Uncharted is the game that proved games can go toe to toe with film on its own turf. And that’s...good? It would be, if only all the other cinematic-heavy games were as good, or even merely good. And let’s be honest, how often does that really happen?
14 Madden NFL 2005
When it comes to the corporate side of the video game industry, sometimes the decisions they make are absolutely inscrutable. Sure, a game dev might add a weird or awkward feature into their game, or noticeably omit an important one, but by and large there’s some logic behind it. Companies, on the other hand, may arbitrarily decide a genre is dead (such as survival horror prior to its recent indie-spurred revival) or might be so focus group driven that they’ll never let a genre go (ala modern military shooters).
So it’s hard to say for sure why Electronic Arts decided to push out all competition in the football sphere by securing an exclusivity deal with the NFL, but the excellence of Madden NFL 2005 probably had something to do with it. The effects of this deal—which killed the 2K series—were seen in the very next iteration, often considered the worst in the franchise.
13 The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
There’s a lot of flaws about Skyrim that, retrospectively, appear much more prominent. The struggle with voice acting—though much improved from Oblivion—along with bugs and a litany of fetch quests make playing it six years later a lot less enthralling.
Back in 2011, however, there was simply nothing like it. Skyrim’s massive scale, seemingly limitless content, and even its incredibly catchy soundtrack all contributed to a stunning and very lucrative experience. Video game execs learned a lot of things because of this: memes can be monetized, games can be re-released ad infinitum, and, most importantly, open world games are the thing of the future. Boy, how that turned out! Whether you love open world games or hate them, you have to admit, the market got really over-saturated thereafter, and few of those games reach the lofty heights Skyrim achieved. Or even, you know, basic competence.
12 The Witcher 3
Within the last decade, we’ve been graced with many great games, and as there's been a lot of open world games—I did just complain about that in the last entry!—there's quite a bit of overlap. This inclination toward open-world games has made the field pretty difficult to compete in, making it all the more shocking that The Witcher 3 is just so good. Even its expansion won Game of the Year!
The Witcher 3 certainly isn’t the cause of the open world swarm, but it really does put a lot of other games in the genre in perspective. Suddenly, Skyrim looks a lot more empty than it did before, Far Cry seems like a drop in the bucket, and you start to question how fleshed out the characters in Dragon Age really are. Even the combat, which really isn’t much more than hack and slash with some great spells, is strangely addictive.
It’s hard to pinpoint the moment, or even the era, in which “video games as art” came into the public consciousness. Harder yet is to the task of labeling the catalyst for the art-house game explosion which has largely defined the naughts. Okami is perhaps the most representative blend of gameplay and art, as the conceit quite literally does just that, and it’s among the best to boot.
But it was the shock critical and commercial success of Journey that really set the art game revolution in motion, rightfully remains one of the best “proof of concept” art games to date. If nothing else, it proved the commercial viability of similarly styled games.
Unfortunately, that is also its curse. Perhaps in conjunction with its proximal release to the “walking simulator” progenitor, Dear Esther, this proved to simultaneously break new ground and subvert the process altogether, leading to a deluge of shoddy, pretentious games claiming the veiled security of being an “art” game.
10 Team Fortress 2
By all accounts, Team Fortress 2 is considered to be one of the best multiplayer shooters ever. One need only look at the longevity of the series, which has an exceptionally active user base 10 years after release, to prove that for many people it is still the definitive experience of its kind. It also, unfortunately, introduced the world at large to a “crate” market that eerily borders on gambling.
While the prospect of gambling within a video game is not necessarily a negative in of itself—after all, if you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to!—it did open up an avenue for scammers and shady business practices. Even worse, a lot of this is easily accessible by children. Still, things didn’t really boil over until the “CS:GO Lotto” scandal of 2016, using a system the predicates itself on that market first developed back in the early days of Team Fortress 2.
9 The Last Of Us
There’s something special about The Last of Us that I think everyone recognizes, whether you actually like the game or not. There’s a reason people flock to hate it the same way they flock to worship it: it’s just so unflinchingly ambitious.
Simultaneously, The Last of Us takes on the feeling and quality of a compelling film, while keeping itself mechanically grounded with fun, if not exactly revolutionary gameplay, dwelling somewhere between action-adventure and survival horror without falling strictly into either, and still managing to find time to talk about gender and sexuality in a way that’s not horrifically cringe-worthy. No wonder it gets all those accolades.
The problem here is as vaguely omnipresent as the game’s genre: it spurred a lot of attention on the notion that video games are “growing up,” or that they already have. Not only is that premise inherently biased, but it leads to a lot of really painful “deep” storytelling. Angrier gamers often respond with “SJWS!” when this effect becomes apparent, but I simply prefer “bad writing.”
8 Burnout 3: Takedown
If you’ve played Burnout 3: Takedown before, you probably know where this one is going. I mean, it’s in the title. The takedowns in Takedown were supremely enjoyable. While Burnout was hardly the first game to think “hey, let’s turn this ostensible race into a bloodbath of metal and rubber!” the manner in which the takedown system was implemented was nothing short of a masterclass.
Sadly, most racing games that have since dove into the surprisingly unrepresented vehicle mayhem genre end up just taking the bare bones of the system that Takedown innovated and making minor positive tweaks or really pointless, obnoxious ones. That’s not to say that they’re all bad; Need For Speed: Most Wanted was able to put its own twist on the formula. But everybody else? Not quite.
7 Starcraft: Brood War
Brood War is one of the few games on this list that didn’t really have any negative impact on its genre. It was considered, and still is by many, one of the finest examples of an RTS available, if not the best. It helped launch eSports as a consistent entity within the gaming sphere, and its mechanics are really too in-depth and well-crafted to be easily copied. As a result, it almost singularly enhanced the RTS genre. Even with a sequel that updated the gameplay, Brood War is still considered by many to be the undisputed greatest game of its kind.
So why is it on this list? It’s just too good. Few games have as high of a skill ceiling while still being relatively accessible to new players, and its presence has remained consistent to this day. So while the genre has flourished, as of yet there’s really nothing that has attained the supreme level of influence that Brood War achieved that holds up to this day, making all other games like it feel kind of outclassed.
6 Far Cry 3
After a severely underrated second iteration, Far Cry 3 made several changes that were, at the time, pretty flooring. Sure, Vaas gets all the attention, but he’s not really the game’s legacy. Two mechanical elements of Far Cry 3 were among the most standout: tagging enemies and climbing towers.
Naturally, one is more enduring than the other, but games have been pretty liberal in their willingness to copy both, even when they’ve long since lost their luster. At least tagging still serves a gameplay purpose and can, when done right, still be engrossing. However, the more uniquely Far Cry element—climbing those darn radio towers!—still, confusingly, comes up at a pretty regular interval in open world games. Let’s give it a rest already!
Do I really need to say it? Really? The screaming 8-year-olds in Walmart begging for a creeper plushie, the frankly disgusting amount of voxel-based asset flips on the (now defunct) Steam Greenlight page, the need for crafting in every single game ever in all of history and until the end of time when we may finally rest?
Minecraft gets a lot of unwarranted flak because of all of this, despite being a persistently solid game that continually reinvents itself (though you really have modders to thank for that), but dear lord the amount of crap the Minecraft explosion has flung at the gaming populace is nearly inescapable. That might be mitigated somewhat if most, or even some people didn’t just cheaply rip off the aesthetic and/or merchandise for quick bucks, but really, what innovation has there been since 2009 that’s not actually in Minecraft? Not much.
4 World Of Warcraft
Think “MMO.” What’s the first thing that pops into your head? It could be Runescape; most gamers between 18 and 30 had some kind of experience with it in their formative years. Alternatively, you might think TERA, EVE, ARMA, ESO or—god forbid!—Second Life. But most likely, you thought World of Warcraft.
There’s a reason for that. World of Warcraft has dominated its model, simultaneously working as an ever-expanding proof of concept and the genre’s worst enemy. In a subscription model, more so than any other payment system, competition is fierce. So while those name drops prove that there is some space in the market, it’s the many, many dead or failed MMOs that hint at the awful truth: on this platform, only the strongest survive, and World of Warcraft is king.
3 Modern Warfare 2
Call of Duty is often blamed for the current massive amount of crappy modern military shooters out in the gaming marketplace. A lot of this is unwarranted, considering the variety and effort that Activision has put into diversifying the series, even if a lot of it is off the mark. But one thing is undeniable: the catalyst definitely started with Call of Duty.
Some might take the obvious claim that the first Modern Warfare was the beginning of the trend that will seemingly never die, but on release Modern Warfare was incredibly new and fresh. It wasn’t until Modern Warfare 2 that the cycle of rinse-and-repeat gritty near-future battles was solidified. While the game is still pretty great, it cemented the formula both in setting and in its yearly development time.
2 Dark Souls
By all accounts, Dark Souls is the epitome of a great game that spurred horrible things to come. To start with, it’s hard even now to play a game even remotely resembling Dark Souls and not compare the two, much less on release. Does your game heavily rely on the right trigger (or a single key) to hit? Dark Souls did it better. Is it having trouble challenging you? Man, Dark Souls didn’t have that problem. Is the experience glitchy and full of bugs? Dark Souls...well, it’s also a problem there, but you get my point.
Even as the unique nature of the combat has waned, and other games like Bloodborne have arguably improved upon it, its second genre-killing effect kicked in: copycats. Soulsborne-esque combat has become ubiquitous, as developers forget that the reason everyone liked Dark Souls to begin with was because it did something new. Here’s to hoping a challenger emerges!
1 Diablo 2
Despite the many praises that are given to Dark Souls for reinvigorating ARPGs, even without wading into the treacherous depths of whether it truly is one, it’s just really hard to compete with Diablo 2—both on merit and influence. Though the games are distinct in many, many ways, they do share a commonality: being plagiarized.
The difference? Where Dark Souls is most commonly associated with unique combat and high difficulty (though of course, there will be detractors), and thus its successors are as well, in many ways western ARPGs simply haven’t evolved much past Diablo 2. The randomized, yet complex loot system, the crafting mechanics, the classes and leveling, all of this had been done to some extent before, but never so fully realized and permanently ingrained in a genre’s psyche. A lot of what the game has to offer still remains unknown to many players.
It’s unsurprisingly then that, over the last 17 years, a plethora of clones have been spun out for better or worse. For the genre, though, Diablo 2 remains a point of reference from which it’s still very hard to break.