Trying to find the best definition for the hack and slash genre is much like trying to pinpoint 15 of the best games within it. It’s an arduous task that requires a lot of contemplation, plenty of thought, and a little bit of luck that what you’re thinking matches the majority definition. After plenty of time and deliberation, we’ve decided that there is only one true way to define a hack and slash game – it has swords and other pointy objects.
Okay, we know it’s not that simple, especially since modern hack and slash titles are generally married with other genres. The following selection of games defines the genre at their core. When you pick them up and start playing them, though they may be very different in many ways, you’ll understand what makes a great hack and slash title.
As with most of our lists, for a series of hack and slash games, only one entry was selected using an intricate system few would understand.
A dartboard. We used a dartboard.
The Best Hack and Slash Games
15. Golden Axe (1989)
Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega
It’s difficult to talk about the best hack and slash games and not bring up such a classic. By today’s standards, Golden Axe may be a little rough around the edges, but the side-scrolling, co-op multiplayer embodies the spirit of early hack and slash titles.
Equipped with a battle axe as Gilius Thunderhead the dwarf, a broadsword as Ax Battler the barbarian, or a longsword as Tyris Flare the Amazon, players battle through waves of enemies to square off against Death Adder.
Those are some incredible names and they may be one of the best things about Golden Axe; but that’s not to say it doesn’t have solid gameplay. When a second player plugs in, the experience gets even better. There’s nothing like swiping through incoming enemies with a friend.
14. Path of Exile (2013)
Developer: Grinding Gear Games Publisher: Grinding Gear Games
It’s too easy to point to screenshots of Path of Exile and exclaim “Diablo clone,” but that would be doing the work of Grinding Gear Games a great disservice. Path of Exile may borrow a lot from Diablo, but it stands on its own with unique mechanics, a solid storyline, and an engaging competitive PVP multiplayer option.
Path of Exile expands upon a tried-and-true formula with ample customization not just for your character, but also for hideouts that serve as your hub in between the onslaughts of enemies. Fast-paced gameplay is everything you expect from a game that’s all about cutting through dozens of enemies using your choice of weapon, magic, or skills.
13. Dynasty Warriors 8 (2013)
Developer: Omega Force Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Since its beginning, the Dynasty Warrior series has been a picture-perfect example of a hack and slash game. The core gameplay is exactly as the genre would lead you to believe. As a warrior, you slice and dice through waves upon waves of enemies. In later entries, especially the best of the series, Dynasty Warriors 8, the screen becomes a mess of fodder just waiting to be cut down. The result is a beautiful display of attack animations and flashy action.
Dynasty Warriors 8 is true to the rest of the series but elevates the experience just enough to rise above the rest. Players choose from 83 playable characters, most of which are unlocked as you progress through the game, and battle through hundreds of on-screen enemies that somehow don’t kill the game’s framerate.
Developer: PlatinumGames Publisher: Konami Digital Entertainment
For so long, the Metal Gear series has been synonymous with stealth and Solid Snake. When Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance was revealed, showcasing action-packed gameplay and Ninja Raiden as the focal character, long-time series fans were less-than pleased. The thing is, the game is really good.
The story is as wacky as any of Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear plots and the sword-based melee combat is a stark contrast to the stealth exploits of Snake. It’s difficult – maybe sometimes frustratingly so – but once you get a handle on cutting through the environment (literally), it becomes a satisfying experience. It’s even easy to overlook how hated Raiden was in Sons of Liberty as his character is entirely different and somewhat more complex.
11. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (2014)
Developer: Monolith Productions Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
There have been many games set in the Lord of the Rings universe, but Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor may be the most satisfying to play thanks to its hack and slash RPG gameplay. As new character, Talion, a captain of the army of Gondor, players wield a sword, dagger, and bow and arrow, all the necessities required for cutting down an army of orcs.
Shadow of Mordor’s Nemesis System lets you target individual Uruk that are vying to become one of Suron’s captains. There is nothing more satisfying than setting your sights on a specific Uruk and slicing his head off in combat. In fact, many heads will roll as you perfect the dance-like combat of dodging and striking.
Shadow of Mordor is an incredible stress reliever with dozens upon dozens of orcs to dismember and maim.
10. No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle (2007)
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture Publisher: Marvelous Entertainment / Ubisoft / Rising Star Games
Thanks to Killer7 and the original No More Heroes, we already knew the development team of Grasshopper Manufacture was known for its zany gameplay and unique means of telling a story. No More Heroes 2 happens to be one of its best efforts, exceeding the expectations set by its predecessor.
Though it swaps out swords with the beam katana, it’s a clear-cut hack and slash game, which was a relatively new genre for the Nintendo Wii. The second adventure of Travis Touchdown (yes, that’s a name) still had the potential to fall flat on its face, but it winds up being a ton of fun that improves upon the combat and mechanics of No More Heroes. It doesn’t hurt that Travis dual-wields beam blades, which automatically makes anything better.
The original Prince of Persia was a far cry from the visually stunning 3D adventure Ubisoft Montreal wound up giving gamers in 2003. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was a mingling of platforming and hack and slash, a pairing that works really well. The prince is an acrobatic character, allowing players to vault off of walls to add some style to the combat.
There is much to like about Sands of Time, from plenty of adventurous exploration to fighting mechanics that have stood the test of time. There’s a bit of strategy involved and button mashing attacks will surely get you killed, but the prince puts his sword to good use quite often. The game’s biggest selling point has to be the time-manipulation, which lets you rewind time to solve puzzles and rectify missteps in fights.
8. Onimusha: Warlords (2001)
Developer: Capcom Publisher: Capcom
After astonishing players with the Resident Evil series, Capcom moved on to a faster pace with Onimusha: Warlords, a game that features elements of the popular survival horror trilogy. Rather than slowly exploring the narrow halls of mansions and police stations, Onimusha’s sword-wielding protagonist, Samanosuke Akechi, is a bit more hurried in his battle against demons in Feudal Japan.
Equipped with a variety of upgradable swords and ranged weapons, Akechi cuts through a host of monsters in another Capcom success. Combat is solid and there’s nothing quite like wielding a katana like a trained samurai. Warlords went on to spawn a series of sequels, but nothing quite captured the essence of the original.
7. Bayonetta 2 (2014)
Developer: PlatinumGames Publisher: Nintendo
It’s no surprise that Bayonetta 2 comes from the same developer responsible for turning Metal Gear into a fast-paced hack and slash game.
PlatinumGames once again delivers on an exquisite experience featuring some of the strangest combat you may ever get your hands on. Bayonetta, the shapeshifting witch, runs headfirst into battle against hordes of demons using her sidearms, a sturdy pair of heels, and her hair. Yes, her hair. Equipped with magic and her flowing locks, Bayonetta summons an array of brutal weapons and towering figures that lay waste to whoever or whatever blocks her path.
Some may try to peg this as a Devil May Cry clone, but Bayonetta 2 is its own creature, even stepping ahead of its predecessor in many ways. Visually, it’s utterly fascinating to watch and the combat is nothing short of varied, stylish, and engaging.
It seems like PlatinumGames may know the secret formula in making successful and thoroughly enjoyable hack and slash games. Automata is not the first NieR game, but it’s by far the best and is accessible to anyone that didn’t even know the series existed.
Playing as YoRHa No. 2 Model B (2B) and 9S, players wield short and long swords, spears, and bracers in fast-paced and often chaotic combat. The seamless transition from side-scrolling to a 3D open world gives players plenty of chances to admire the gorgeous and detailed world. That is when they’re not too busy performing a series of crushing attacks on robotic enemies.
Automata’s open world gameplay gives players a lot to do for an in-depth experience that rarely lets up.
“I encourage you to try Nier: Automata. It’s unique and quirky, dark and exciting. It’s a challenge but not one so hard to put you off trying one last time.”
5. Ninja Gaiden Black (2004)
Developer: Team Ninja Publisher: Tecmo
Ninja Gaiden has come a long way since its debut on the NES. One thing that hasn’t really changed is the difficulty level. Much like how the 90s original was frustratingly hard, Ninja Gaiden Black punishes players that think they can breeze through without giving strategy any thought.
Though the game may be laborious, especially when it comes to boss battles, that doesn’t ultimately take away from how good Ninja Gaiden Black is. It’s not hard just for the sake of being so, however. Team Ninja clearly wants players to take their time and plan out each fight to get the most out of the solid mechanics. Those that take great care in mastering Ryu Hayabusa’s abilities and swordplay are treated to a solid hack and slash title that has plenty to offer.
4. Devil May Cry (2001)
Developer: Capcom Publisher: Capcom
Devil May Cry never took itself too seriously, but the original entry had the perfect tone for the series, coupling Dante’s no-nonsense attitude with a gothic ambience. Coupled with gameplay that’s still a blast to immerse yourself in today and a fun story, it’s hard not to love the original over its three successors. No, we don’t talk about that one.
Devil May Cry may look like the kind of game you can aimlessly mash the “attack” button through, but even the lower-level baddies require some attention to attack animations and patterns. Things only get more complex later on, providing players with some intricate hack and slash action.
Initially, it was a tough call between Devil May Cry and the latest entry, but seeing as how Dante doesn’t do a Michael Jackson impersonation in the original, the choice became clear.
Developer: Blizzard North Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Having to choose between Diablo, Diablo II, and Diablo III is almost as painful as shoving a Soulstone into your forehead. While sequels can often trump their predecessors in the gaming industry, when it comes to Blizzard’s hack and slash dungeon crawler, we have to pay respects to where it all started.
Diablo II may have had a greater variety of weapons and enemies and Diablo III may have been a fantastic multiplayer experience, but the original point-and-click adventure is overall more enjoyable. There is no trumping the first time you face off against The Butcher, come up against the Skeleton King, and go toe-to-toe with the Lord of Terror himself. Diablo also benefited from a much tighter story and moodier atmospheres than its sequels.
2. Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance (2001)
Developer: Snowblind Studios Publisher: Black Isle Studios
How do you create a top-down hack and slash game and not find it lumped in as nothing more than a “Diablo clone?” Snowblind Studios may have received some negativity for developing a game that looks like Diablo, but that’s just shallow criticism that ignores so much about Dark Alliance.
At its heart, Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance is so much more than a Diablo clone. For starters, it has deeper gameplay and a flashier style that’s more accessible to casual players. Sure, you traverse a 3D world in a top-down view, battle an assortment of enemies, and pick up loot along the way, but that’s where the similarities pretty much stop.
Dark Alliance is powered by the aptly titled Dark Alliance Engine, which results in smooth character animations, detailed levels, and impressive lighting effects.
1. God of War III
Developer: SCE Santa Monica Studio Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
By the time God of War III released, Kratos’ rage had already guided him through two critically acclaimed games. It was entirely possible for the third title in the series to show some wear, but SCE Santa Monica Studio knew exactly what to tweak to keep players engaged in the adventures of the frenzied Spartan.
Everything received a little polish when it came to God of War III, so it felt similar to its predecessor but definitely with some improvements. Even the story remains fresh despite still focusing primarily on the antagonistic relationship between Kratos and Zeus by introducing the Titans, who also happen to serve as some of the series’ best set pieces.
If you enjoyed ripping apart your foe in God of War and God of War II, then you’ll love what God of War III has to offer. A revamped magic system and tighter controls enhance the experience of battling through a robust rogue’s gallery of monsters and notable Grecian figures.
God of War III wraps up the story nicely but gives us the ending needed for SCE to move ahead with the equally-as-stellar God of War for PS4. In fact, had it had retained the series fast-paced combat, the latest entry may have taken this spot.