The recently released God of War: Ragnarök is a fresh example of how satisfying melee combat can be in modern games. This style of combat is pivotal to action-centric video games, and there have been plenty of shining examples, especially over just the last decade or so.
A good melee combat system is either accessible enough for players to pick up and enjoy, mechanically deep enough to allow for satisfying mastery, or a combination of the two. For two examples, the Batman: Arkhamseries revolutionized combat for the superhero subgenre, and Final Fantasy VII Remake introduced the best real-time combat system in the legendary JRPG franchise.
After earning a spot in the global limelight thanks to the mainstream success of the 2017 prequel, many fans around the world are coming to appreciate what Sega and Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio’s Yakuza series has to offer. The games have been praised for their balance of serialized Japanese crime drama with hilarious camp in the side stories.
The core element that made the moment-to-moment gameplay so engaging is the combat. Most of the Yakuza games take a bombastic approach to the beat-’em-up combat style, with Kiryu and co. capable of dishing out satisfying combos.
Middle-earth: Shadow Of Mordor/War
The Lord of the Rings franchise has defied the odds before by spawning good movie-to-game adaptations. More recently, Monolith Productions’ Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and War proved to be worthwhile spins on mainline J.R.R. Tolkien lore.
They gave this world a darker fantasy interpretation, telling tales of revenge for a Gondorian Ranger and an Elf Wraith. In terms of combat, the action was also reminiscent of the rhythm-focused inputs, without feeling derivative. Even greater was the ingenious Nemesis System that bolstered the combat by pitting Talion against dynamic Orc tribes.
Developer FromSoftware pioneered the now-iconic Souls-like subgenre with its action RPGs in a similar fashion to what Metroid and Castlevania did for Metroidvania. The PS4 exclusive Bloodborne was the most unique of the team’s RPGs at the time, as it was still a dark-fantasy world, but this time with a gothic Victorian-era flavor.
Just as well, the combat was well-received for being a refreshing change of pace from Demon’s Soulsand Dark Soulswhile keeping the essence of what makes that overall formula work so well. Unlike the more methodical approach other medieval fantasies asked of players, Bloodborne rewarded the smart use of relentless, high-speed aggression combined with dodges and parries for defense.
Continuing the trend of high-quality superhero titles, Insomniac’s Spider-Man games offered a similar Arkham-style reinvention for the titular Wall-Crawler. Story-wise, both Spider-Man, and Spider-Man: Miles Morales boast compelling stories that do great justice to the essence of what makes this hero so beloved in the source materials.
Just as well, its combat does a superb job of capturing the breathtaking agility of the character. It can be described as a mix of Batman-like free-flow combat mixed with far more acrobatics, and the execution created a solid foundation going into Miles Morales and the upcoming Spider-Man 2.
Devil May Cry 5
The entire Devil May Cry series stands as some of Capcom’s crowning achievements in the gaming industry. But considering the generational gap and leap in advancements made from DMC4 to the latest release, Devil May Cry 5 deserves to be singled out.
The fifth entry in the mainline series was released in 2019 to excellent critical praise, bringing back the IP’s vintage brand of charming 2000s-era camp and edginess for a modern audience. Likewise, the combat system reached a series peak. It’s welcoming to pick up for newcomers but encourages mastery over its addictive combo-focused mechanics for maximum style.
Final Fantasy VII Remake
A top-to-bottom remake of an all-time JRPG great, Final Fantasy VII Remake shaved off the rougher edges of what XV started. The game was remade and even made some narrative twists to the Midgar portion of the original story, but the gameplay is buoyed by a fast-paced and polished combat system.
It incorporated the role-playing elements of the Materia system to load Cloud and co. out with optimal equipment, while preserving the more tactical elements of managing party composition in real-time. Likewise, making each attack a separate input proved far more engaging than XV‘s press-and-hold inputs.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
The first of FromSoftware’s Souls-like games to not be an RPG, the team nonetheless took an inspired spin on what they’d learned up to that point with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Taking place in a dark-fantasy rendition of Japan’s age of the samurai, players take on the role of the titular protagonist as they venture through a grueling world.
The combat is as demanding as it’s ever been, with the melee requiring intimate knowledge of its sword-fighting mechanics and guard-breaking system. It’s for this reason that some longtime fans consider Sekiro the toughest Souls-like, but it also makes for some of the most immersive swordplay action in gaming.
God Of War, God Of War Ragnarök
The God of War series is credited as being some of the most exceptional PlayStation exclusives ever, but the latest two soft-reboot entries are a tier above. Aside from the incredible cinematic approach taken to the 2018 game and the direct sequel Ragnarök, the combat is a satisfying gameplay loop.
Santa Monica Studio’s 2018 God of War already had a strong base to work with between the axe/shield combo and the eventual use of Kratos’ classic chained weapons. Meanwhile, Ragnarök gives players access to the latter from the off, makes some adjustments to shield functionality, and more.
When Rocksteady released Arkham Asylum during the PS3 and Xbox 360 console generation back in 2009, the team accomplished for Batman in the video game space what Christopher Nolan did with his theatrical The Dark Knight Trilogy. Altogether, they make for some of the best modern superhero games.
It only got better as the series progressed into Arkham Knight and in addition to the loving narrative creativity on display and reverence for the source materials, which was also due to the satisfying combat systems. The free-flowing combat system was satisfying and immersed players in the role of the Caped Crusader with his physical and gadget-focused acrobatic action. Meanwhile, the stealth action accentuated Batman’s covert abilities.
Perhaps FromSoftware’s crowning achievement, this dark-fantasy epic is the developer’s first foray into the open-world format, and it ended up being a new high standard for that gameplay style as a whole. Like Bloodborne and Sekiro before it, Elden Ring builds upon the Souls-like combat systems that began with Demon’s Souls in 2009, however, this is the grandest culmination of all the team’s games.
As simple as having a dedicated jump button sounds, it does wonders for giving Elden Ring a rejuvenated sense of verticality with its combat (and traversal). But its incredible depth in classes, character builds, weapons, armor, magic, and Ashes of War are what let the game make its case for having one of the best combat mechanics in a modern RPG.