6 of the Best Action Games: From Legends to Newbies
Anyone who loves to put their reflexes, timing, and strategic skills to the test has probably tried some of the best action games. Based on the concept of physical challenges, this genre is one adrenaline junkies love.
If that sounds like you, read on to find out which are the six best action games for PCs and consoles in 2023, according to us.
So What Exactly Makes a Game an "Action Game"?
Playing action games, you have to complete physical challenges and tasks in order to overcome obstacles, opponents and, very often, levels. The challenges are physical in nature because you need to combine between hand-eye coordination, reactions, and timing.
Action games can also be broken down into subcategories and subgenres, making “action games” an overarching title. This means that action games can be shooters, robot games, beat ‘em ups and even puzzles. Action games can also be combined with other genres, including adventures and role-playing games (RPGs) creating new hybrids.
What Was the First Action Game?
Pac-Man (1980) is considered to be one of the first action games because it emerged from a new wave of character-led innovations coming out of Japan. The defining features of early character-led action games were scripted, pattern-type gameplay backed by hand-drawn animations and backgrounds.
Japanese developers took their inspiration from anime culture, which brought in the idea of character-driven storylines, i.e. the character develops throughout the game. This progression occurs when players complete physical challenges, leading to the categorization of “character-led action games.”
OK, so what is an example of an action game? Classic action games include Donkey Kong and Frogger. These simple but entertaining offerings exemplify the central idea of needing to complete physical challenges in order to progress through a series of levels.
For example, the aim of Frogger was to get across roads and rivers. To do that, you needed to avoid cars and use items in the water (such as logs) to avoid falling in the river. And with timing and strategy being the top skills needed in this game, Frogger fits nicely with what we said earlier about the best action games being physical challenges.
The Best Action Games of All Time
What is the most interesting action game? Something as simple as Pac-Man could be up there as the most interesting PC action game because it was a raw test of timing, reflexes, and perception, not to mention the game's longevity!
But when you bring newer games and genres into the mix, like action RPG games (such as Elden Ring and Fallout), a game such as Pac-Man might start to look a little less appealing. One person’s top pick might not necessarily be the same as someone else’s.
The point is that there never is only one "best" of anything, since criteria changes according to the person/s judging it, with personal preferences always being part of the decision-making (whether intentionally or not).
That being said, here are two of our favorite action games to have ever been made:
1. Call of Duty (the franchise)
We could have listed the God Of War Series, but we want to stick with one franchise, allowing Call of Duty to get into our list. Aside from being one of the best action games ever, the original Call of Duty and its follow-ons are also regarded as the leading lights in FPS.
It's worth noting that FPS is a subgenre of shooters which, by definition, are action games. This is because shooters are character-led, pattern-type games where you need to complete physical challenges to win, i.e. plan a tactic and react to situations. Of all the best action games in this sub-genre, Call of Duty definitely stands out.
This franchise stands out because there’s a certain frenzied pace to each game that really pushes the physical challenge part of action games. There’s a bit of a storyline but perhaps not quite enough for it to challenge action RPG games in this regard.
What really makes Call of Duty one of the best action games, though, is its multiplayer element - completing missions as part of the team mimics the act of war. That gives these games a certain sense of authenticity that other popular action games on PC and consoles can’t match.
2. Ghost of Tsushima
Ghost of Tsushima is certainly up there when it comes to the greatest action-adventure games. Released in 2020 and available on PlayStation, this game combines multiple genres, including RPG, shooter, fighting, adventure and stealth. All of these elements combine to present physical challenges that will test even the most experienced players.
The game itself lets you take control of Jin Sakai, a samurai trying to protect Tsushima Island. The action takes place during the Mongol invasion of Japan, which means there’s an overarching storyline backed by an open-world format. As a true test of gaming ability, Ghost of Tsushima has absolutely got to be one of the best action games of all time.
Best Action Games: The Indies
The best action games don’t always come from big-name studios. In fact, when you scroll back through history, a lot of popular PC action games are actually based on indie classics!
3. Dead Cells
If you’re a fan of roguelike gameplay (turn-based dungeon crawlers), you really need to try Dead Cells. The aim is simple: fight your way through dungeons and defeat bosses to unlock new worlds.
This satisfies the physical challenge aspect of action games, but what’s neat about Dead Cells is the way new situations unfold. The developers have combined roguelike gameplay with metroidvania.
These qualities, combined with a procedural generation system, mean that virtually no session is the same. The lack of uniformity in how you progress through the various worlds works in tandem with the changing dynamics of each dungeon to create new experiences. That’s why Dead Cells is one the best action games to come out of the indie community.
We can’t talk about the best action games from indie developers and not mention Braid. For many, this is the first indie game to break through and get mainstream acclaim without needing a major publisher. You assume the role of Tim and your mission is to save a princess.
OK, so now you’re thinking it’s Super Mario in a different format. Fine, in some regards, it is. That being said, we’ve not listed Braid as one of the best action games because it copies another industry classic. Braid has unique plot twists that turn an otherwise standard storyline into something way more interesting. Throw plenty of platforms and puzzles into the mix and you’ve got an action game capable of entertaining on a multitude of levels. Yes, that's right, several platforms and puzzles in an indie action game. Go ahead, try it!
Best Action Games in 2023: The Newbies
This category could be filled with remakes and sequels. In fact, one of them is a sequel. But in the interests of finding the best action games for 2023, we’ve also included an original offering. So, to conclude our rundown of top-rated action games, here are two of 2023’s hottest releases.
5. Assassin’s Creed Mirage
If we're perfectly honest, all installments of the Assassin’s Creed franchise are worthy of being called the greatest console and PC action games of all time, so it makes sense to include Mirage in our list. The 2023 game sees you take on the role of Basim as he parkours his way across the rooftops of the Round City.
When it comes to character-led action games where stealth, cunning, tactics, and reflex are paramount, Assassin’s Creed Mirage is a front-runner. As you’d expect, the latest installment in the franchise takes the parkour element to new levels and visuals are stunning. But it’s the historical element and the fact that you’re fighting during the Golden Age of Baghdad that gives this game an even greater resonance.
6. Where Winds Meet
Where Winds Meet is an action RPG game where you battle with monsters in China of the 10th century. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to defeat the enemy. Fighting the enemy, your actions will shape a nation that is divided by war, stressing that one of the defining features of this game is choice.
Should you fight with a sword, or perhaps learn ancient martial arts? This decision alone is an example of how each one you take affects the way the story unfolds. This unique dilemma creates a connection to the storyline that few games can match. So, for this reason alone, Where Winds Meet has to be ranked among the best new action games, if not the best one.
Test Your Body and Mind with Action Games
The action games genre is extremely diverse, as our list of top picks shows. So, if you’re someone who likes to put themselves to the test, you should really embrace this genre. The action games we’ve highlighted are great, but they’re just a starting point. We recommend that you go out there and explore - you’ll find plenty of awesome games to try out!