10. The heroes of Overwatch (Overwatch)
There's hero rosters, and then there's the Overwatch hero roster. A diverse, immaculately concepted bunch of humans, animals, and robots from all walks of life, who together represent a futurist celebration of multiculturalism. Everyone has their favorite, but none outshine the rest when every single character could be the star of their own game. Despite setting no limits when it comes to visual and conceptual design, Blizzard has still managed to successfully tiptoe the fine line between gameplay variety and competitive balance, where each hero's distinct set of abilities and traits are fine-tuned to the dynamics of Overwatch's online combat. As Blizzard continues to adapt to the meta and expand the roster with new personalities, it's become increasingly clear that this is a collection of heroes that won't be going away anytime soon.
9. BJ Blazkowicz (Wolfenstein series)
It takes a particular blend of careful writing and perfectly pitched performance to give real, emotional and philosophical soul to the hero of a game where you can shred mecha-Nazis with dual-wielded shotguns, but the modern Wolfenstein games (The New Order and The New Colossus) nail it. The key factor, really, is that unlike the vast majority of games, with their simplistic worship of heroism and victory, the modern Wolfensteins are fundamentally concerned with a hero who has already failed. By the time The New Order reaches its second mission, everything is lost. The Nazis have won, the world is theirs, and no resistance exists. Thus, without the traditional things to prove, without the traditional fears to stave off - because the worse has already happened - BJ Blazkowicz can reflect. He can ponder. He can muse on childhood traumas, as brutish evils in the modern world send echoes through his mind. He can fuel his crusade with a thin thread of light, spiralling abstractly from whatever personal hopes and dreams he can still muster belief in. The modern Wolfensteins are as much about the man as the mission, and you'll be aware of him with every shot you fire, hanging just on the edge of hope, his every near-defeated monologue motivating you to hold on just that little bit longer.
8. Ezio Auditore (Assassin's Creed series)
There are few video game characters that we have the honor of sharing life with for the entirety of their existence, from the moment of their birth through to their passing. But over the course of three games (and one animated short), we witness Ezio grow from helpless babe to master assassin, tracing every step of his character development along the way. We see him enjoying life in Florence as a carefree adolescent, experiencing the trauma of his own family being unjustly executed by templars, finding purpose in the creed, fighting the good fight as a young man in Rome, hitting a midlife crisis as he searches for answers in Constantinople, before starting his own family and finding bittersweet peace as a sagely elder in the heart of the Italian countryside. Thank you, Ezio Auditore da Firenze, it's been an absolute pleasure.
7. Lara Croft (Tomb Raider series)
Lara Croft is the original female gaming hero, and despite the fact she was originally very much sexualized (despite the triangular nature of her breasts), she managed to capture a new gaming audience in the form of young girls. Because when Lara Croft arrived, she wasn't only beautiful. She was also intelligent, fearless, and capable of doing anything that a male adventurer - like Indiana Jones - could do, diving headfirst (literally) into tombs full of deadly traps, avoiding big rolling boulders, and solving puzzles. There aren't many gaming heroes who have gone from being just a game character to a face on TV ads, movies, and more too. And, of course, she's also transformed incredibly well into a hero for the modern age too, with the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot transforming Lara from sex symbol to vulnerable teen who evolves into the badass Tomb Raider we know and love.
6. Geralt (The Witcher series)
Geralt is a great hero precisely because he's not a hero at all. While other protagonists on this list might shine with valiant righteousness, or struggle winsomely against adversity in order to rise above strife, Geralt is something far more interesting than any of those clichés. He's a real guy, in a realistic world, frequently surrounded by assholes and their resultant bullshit, and he doesn't feel the need to pander to any of it. He's a fundamentally decent person, mind you, but he's not perfect, nor does he aspire to be. Thus, when playing as Geralt, everything is relatable and dramatic, from the biggest monster hunt (its backstory no doubt filled with human foibles and failings to judge and grumble at) to the smallest, local nuisance (who Geralt's weary, seen-it-before demeanour might well convince you is best served with a simple, stout punch to the face). There's just an immense, unpretentious humanity to Geralt, and that makes every story you share with him both entirely more normal, and far more exciting.
5. Commander Shepard (Mass Effect series)
What's interesting about Commander Shepard is that there is no single, definitive version of the spacefaring hero. When fans talk about the character, you'll often hear "my Shepard." While many games of the time featuring a customizable protagonist made them a blank (or silent) slate, BioWare expertly meshed player choices with a defined persona and history. You could be ruthless or forgiving, selfish or generous - but you were always the first human Spectre, out to save the galaxy from annihilation, and your choices were always validated by top-tier voice acting and writing. This gives players an intense connection with their vision of Shepard, and helped the character gain broad appeal. A few memes and in-jokes along the way ("Wrex." "Shepard."; "This is my favorite store on the Citadel."; the 'Shepard Shuffle') made us love BioWare's leading lad / lady even more. How cool is Commander Shepard? Cool enough to get their own theme song.
4. Aloy (Horizon Zero Dawn)
Life as an outcast could make you bitter. I wouldn't blame you if you despised the society that's ignored you all your life, or were reluctant to help anyone because you'll had to fight alone for so long. Yet Aloy, after being consigned to the outskirts of the Nora tribe, doesn't hold a grudge. But that alone doesn't make anyone a hero, just a decent human being. No, what really makes the Seeker a hero is how she uses the mistreatment she's endured for so long to fuel her fierce curiosity surrounding why she's been shunned. Deep down, Aloy just wants to understand the world around her, yet even when she realises that the gods worshipped by the Nora are actually AI Aloy doesn't ridicule them. Unlike the Nora or any of the other tribes Aloy doesn't define herself by her worldview or take a holier-than-thou stance just because she understands the technology that literally makes their world go round. Pragmatism courses through her veins, and her ability to compromise with those tribes and with morally ambivalent characters like Sylens proves that she knows nothing will really change, but she can do her damn best to figure out how it all works. Glory is the furthest thing from Aloy's mind throughout Horizon Zero Dawn. But it's certainly at the forefront of ours.
3. Nathan Drake (Uncharted series)
You can't not love Nathan Drake. The Uncharted series' leading man is gamingkind's Harrison Ford: like Han Solo, he's a scoundrel with a heart of solid gold, always managing to save the day in spite of his devil-may-care attitude, and his knack for treasure-seeking and knowledge of ancient civilizations is more than a little inspired by Indiana Jones. Always ready with a real zinger of a quip or the near-infinite upper-body strength to scramble his way up just about anything, Nathan's immensely likable and immediately relatable to anyone who's had to tussle with a particularly bad day. The company Nate keeps is a reflection of his own upstanding character; his relationship with Elena is one of the most real, empathetic romances in AAA gaming, and his lifelong bond with Victor 'Sully' Sullivan is just so endearing (even with all the dirty jokes). Yes, Nathan's the kind of hero who, when you think about it, has killed hundreds of gun-toting goons with little remorse - but all it takes is an exasperated "Oh crap!" to make us forget all about the mass murder.
2. Ellie (The Last of Us)
Ellie is the thudding heart and tender soul of The Last of Us, making sure that Naughty Dog's zombie story was more than just another undead shooting party. She's the perfect balance to Joel, the bereaved smuggler you play as for most of the game, and manages to avoid the stereotypical damsel in distress moments that so many female characters are pushed into. While Joel handles most of the combat, Ellie is the one that gives us something to fight for, just an ordinary teenage girl - one who likes blueberries and carries a joke book - who has managed to hang on to a spark of innocence in the face of a horrific pandemic. That connection you build with her as Joel makes the role reversal in The Last of Us, when she has to become the carer and face the horrors of the world on her own, feel all the more desperate. A big part of the success has to be down to Ashley Johnson, the actress who did the motion capture and voice acting for Ellie, but also clearly helped shape her character. We don't know what Naughty Dog has in store for Ellie or us in The Last of Us 2, but goddamn it I want to be by her side to find out.
1. Raiden (Metal Gear Solid series)
When it comes to the Metal Gear Solid series, many feel that Snake is the indisputable hero of the games. Au contraire. Throughout the trials and travails of Metal Gear Solid 2, leading into Metal Gear Solid 4, and even his cyber ninja exploits in Metal Gear Rising, we feel that Raiden is undoubtedly the greatest hero the Metal Gear series has ever... ok, we can't keep this up. We're obviously joking, because the actual best hero in video games is...
1. Big Boss / Solid Snake / Venom Snake (Metal Gear series)
Solid Snake (Metal Gear Solid / MGS2) is the archetypal 1980s action hero: a gruff, sardonic, chain-smoking special services veteran. But it's Hideo Kojima's subversion of the 'Snake' character that defies categorization. The Snake 'family' of parents and clones, including Big Boss, Solid Snake (plus non-playable brothers Solidus Snake and Liquid Snake), and Venom Snake examine how upbringing, genetics and events can shape a character's destiny and moral compass; across a series of 20+ games, spanning 28 years. In Metal Gear (1987) you play as Solid Snake versus 'villain' Big Boss. In MGS3 (2004) you play as a youthful Big Boss to discover what turns him 'bad'. In MGS5 (2015) you play as Venom Snake (aka Big Boss, but… it's complex), in an examination of our roles as players and the relationship between a creator and his work. If that sounds insanely complex... it is, but it's also completely unmatched in terms of ambition or scale. "I'm no hero, never was. Never will be. I'm just an old killer hired to do some wet work," says an aging Solid Snake in MGS4. It's a statement typical of this contradictory, introspective series that makes you feel like a badass, while provoking deeper introspection of our loyalties and responsibilities.
To see which heroes - new and old - will be answering the call in the near future, look no further than our list of the best new games of 2018.