The 2020 action game of the year

The action genre is perhaps the largest one in the video game industry, spanning multiple gameplay styles from fresh and fast-paced dungeon crawlers to massive open-world experiences. Some games ask you to slice and dice your opponents with melee weapons while others challenge you to lob arrows at enemies who are far away.

While 2019 proved to be an interesting year for the action genre, 2020 elevated it even more with games that sent the PS4 and Xbox One generation off with a bang while kicking off the new generation in impressive ways. Below, you will find the games that defined the action genre in 2020, providing high-quality, action-packed experiences that are all well worth checking out.

Honorable Mentions

Before we hop into the five best action games of 2020, there are some honorable mentions worth talking about. While they might not have been strong enough to be game of the year contenders, they can each appeal to a certain core group of players.

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity proved that the Warriors genre can have more mainstream appeal. Taking the beloved Breath of the Wild world and turning it into a mission-based hack-and-slash marathon against thousands of enemies is a wild ride from start to finish with its varied characters. Only technical issues hold back what is otherwise a terrifically written story and must-play game for Breath of the Wild fans.

If the open-world genre is more your style, Watch Dogs: Legion is the third iteration in the series that tries something bold by making just about every NPC the main character in this near-future version of London. It’s a unique system that works surprisingly well and shakes up what is otherwise a traditional Ubisoft open-world game.

Runner-Up: Assassin's Creed Valhalla

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla could very well be the best game in the series, especially on the next-gen versions. Continuing the legacy started by Origins and Odyssey, Valhalla takes the series deeper into the wonderful roleplaying fantasy side.

This time around, players step into the shoes of Viking warrior Eivor who arrives on the shores of England in the 9th century to stake their claim of the land. The gameplay is intense and varied, using a mix of skills, different attacks, weapons, and assassination to provide an entertaining experience no matter if you like melee, ranged, or stealthy techniques.

The story is one of the best this year, too, feeling like a Viking TV show in video game form. Different chapters are broken up into season-like experiences with well-written characters, heart-wrenching moments, and unexpected story beats that had us on the edge of our seats.

Runner-Up: Ghost of Tsushima

Ghost of Tsushima proves that you don’t have to be Ubisoft to create a great Assassin’s Creed-like game. If you’ve been hoping for a feudal Japan setting for an open-world samurai game, look no further than Sucker Punch’s best game yet.

Players step into the shoes of Jin, the titular ghost samurai who is making his final stand to protect his island home of Tsushima from the Mongols who are invading it. Loosely based on real history, it is a riveting story with a varied collection of characters you’ll meet along the way.

Though Ghost of Tsushima wears its Assassin’s Creed inspiration on its sleeve, the combat is a more complex and challenging system that really requires you to make every slice and arrow count. Couple that with the excellent Legends multiplayer DLC and this Sony exclusive is definitely worth a look with its breadth of content.

Runner-Up: Spider-Man: Miles Morales

Spider-Man: Miles Morales’ announcement earlier this year was a surprising and conflicted one. Many wondered if it would be a full game or just DLC disguising itself as a mainline video game. Now that it is out, it’s clear that Miles Morales isn’t just DLC but a full-on game that rivals its predecessor.

Miles Morales is a strong character who’s already proven that he can stand tall on his own as a superhero but Insomniac Games takes it even further with an intimate and surprising story. Even after the success of the Into the Spiderverse movie, this game is able to live up to its legacy and tell a powerful origin story with its own unique style.

The combat is largely the same as the original 2018 Spider-Man, but it does come with some nifty Venom and camouflage powers that deepen the experience and allow for new combos that freshen up the gameplay enough to make this spin-off/pseudo-sequel a beautiful experience on PS5 and one of the best launch PlayStation games of all-time.

Runner-Up: The Last of Us Part II

The Last of Us Part II had the difficult job of following up on one of the most beloved games and stories of all-time. It not only excels from a writing point of view but it fixes many of the gameplay issues that the original had, making it a much more fun game to play overall.

The action combat is brutal and visceral with meaningful stealth and gunplay that is stronger than anything Naughty Dog has accomplished to date. The open environments and deeper content elevates The Last of Us Part II to be a jam-packed cinematic experience.

That is all before taking into account that it is a stunningly beautiful and equally horrifying experience that is just as harrowing as the original, both in cutscenes and gameplay.

Winner: Hades

No other game captures the insanity of action-packed combat this year than Hades. A rogue-like dungeon crawler from the makers of Bastion, this is Supergiant Games’ magnum opus. Stepping into the feet of Zagreus, the son of the Hades, it is your goal to escape your father and hell itself.

The premise alone is wild and the execution is even more unbelievably impressive. The isometric hand-crafted art style perfectly captures the randomly generated rooms that you fight loads of enemies in.

The combat is swift and elegant, featuring different weapons from a bow to a massive sword and more that each fit totally different playstyles. No dungeon run is the same and the progression system is built in the best way possible, feeling like you are always improving and building towards something great even when you fail.

As a rogue-like, Hades is one of the premier showcases of what makes this genre great but even more than that, it is the perfect spot for rogue-like newcomers to check it out. The strange but interesting story weaves in and out of each run you do, further expanding upon the various Greek gods and motivating you to keep playing to find out more. The captivating gameplay and plot elevate Hades to remind us what pure video game bliss can be in a year where it is much-needed.