Melee weapons are really fun to swing around in games. Be it a gravity hammer that sends Brutes flying in Halo, your flashy omniblade in Mass Effect 3, or just a good old bat to crack a zombie with, if there’s a melee weapon in your game, it will be swung around indiscriminately. As such, it needs to feel fun to use, whether it’s played as a goofy joke, or serves as a bit of overkill that lets you really lay waste to whatever it touches. In honor of these hard hitters, here’s a list of some of the best melee weapons in games. And let me just get ahead of it and say, yes, the crowbar in Half-Life doesn’t make the cut. It sucks. Sorry, Gordon.
I’ve played with tons of joke weapons in games, but I think few are as insulting to the person on the receiving end as much as the fish in the latest Hitman series. Here is Agent 47, the world’s most lethal and skilled assassin, and here he comes, lunging at you with…a fish? Before you know it, you’re knocked on your ass by a smelly mackerel and wondering what you must’ve done in a past life to deserve this. I almost think I’d rather my head be dunked in the toilet than smacked with that.
Dead Island may not be a great game (and it certainly isn’t what it seemed to promise) but I think it ultimately swung and kind of connected for some reason or another. For me, it was the weapon mods. Bats are pretty popular melee weapons, but Dead Island’s modification system allowed for some tweaks that took this one a bit farther. Yeah you could hook up some wires to any old blade and shock some zombies, or you could invest heavily in this plain old one and start sending suckers flying. More than any other feature or aspect of Dead Island, literally sending zombies flying through the air till they popped against a wall or off a hillside made this uneven experience hum.
When you think of the appropriate weapon for a zombie apocalypse, what do you see? Personally, I see a scene straight out of dozens of movies, where someone busts open a display case with a handy fire axe. It’s got some heft that makes it satisfying to swing, but is light enough anyone can pick it up and do some damage with it. This is exactly the fire axe in Left 4 Dead 2, and it’s everything the visions made it out to be. It’s so satisfying to swing and connect against zombies with a fire axe, I wound up playing most of the campaigns in the game with just it. It’s got a physicality and presence that other melee weapons just don’t, and while they don’t necessarily suffer in feel for it, nothing feels as powerful as the axe in the right hands.
So I’ll admit at the front that I haven’t played much of the Yakuza series. As a matter of fact, I’ve only played Yakuza: Like a Dragon recently and the spinoff Judgment. But I got enough of a feel for how they play and what they carry over that I think I can make this call. The streets of Kamurocho and Yokohama are alive with the sound of yakuza being pummeled by himbos with traffic cones, shop signs and whatever else you may find. Knocking someone over with a couchto then slam it on top of them is simply poetry in motion. Or throwing a bike in the air and kicking it back down at some poor soul. Or even holding them in place and smacking them over and over with a traffic cone. What a sweet symphony.
The original Infamous always felt like it hewed a little too close to being a straight up third-person shooter. Nowhere in Cole McGrath’s electrical repertoire did there seem like there was something that encouraged me to get up close and flashy with my powers. And everything that existed felt like a stand-in for a gun in an arsenal. Seriously I basically had a sidearm (your basic zap attack), a grenade, a rocket launcher, and a sniper rifle but nothing that communicated your power in a simply awesome way. What it needed was The Amp.
In Infamous 2, Cole is not only sporting a new look but a new weapon, a gianting tuning fork looking apparatus he can channel electricity through. The result of this is that you can start swinging an electrically charged blunt weapon at foes, shocking them and initiating flashy finishers that communicate your strength and how cool you can be without being a stand-in for a gun. Suddenly you could do way more than just jump and scale building-you could flip, slide under enemies or even hook the Amp around an enemy’s neck and spin in midair before slamming them back into the ground, emitting a satisfying shockwave.
At about the same time that Infamous first came around, there was a competing game about another guy with superpowers. They ultimately differed enough that you couldn’t really compare the two despite how much people wanted to. Prototype, unlike Infamous, did feel like a superhero game with some shooter elements unfortunately mixed in. But when you weren’t shooting things, you were jumping super high or running up walls and gliding. More importantly, as Alex Mercer, you were shape-shifting, turning yourself into the ultimate weapon, and no weapon was more iconic in the game and useful than the giant blade you could turn your arm into. It absolutely eviscerated anything that got in front of it and looked incredible to swing around, which helped you channel the brutality you were meant to wreak with it attached. Prototype was a bit of a nasty game, and this was the perfect weapon to leave the bloody mess the game seemed to always want you to leave in your wake.
From the outside in, the Drake sword is probably the most iconic weapon in Dark Souls, and stands as an example of that series’ approach to just about everything. The game doesn’t explicitly tell you to cut off the tail of the dragon on the bridge, nor does it really tell you how to. But if you explore enough you’ll come to the underside of it, where you have a clear shot at the tail and lo and behold you’ll get the chance to shoot it off and be magically rewarded with a whole sword. And it’s a powerful one too. This is to me a prime example of the legacy of Dark Souls and the kind of stuff that stuck with players and casual observers, like myself. When I started Dark Souls last summer, I did exactly this because I knew to and felt like it was the only way to get ahead.
In a game like Dark Souls, it’s a little fun to chart your own path though. Maybe you’ll go with magic instead of weaponry altogether. Or approach things via an alternate route and skip out on whole segments of the game, or remix the order of them. Or maybe even most simply, you’ll just pick up a weapon that’s more powerful than the thing you’ve been led to believe is the most powerful weapon, but actually scales like crap by the middle of the game. And so maybe one day, you drop the Drake Sword in favor of this “ultra greatsword” called the Zweihander, which seems more powerful than God and at least as tall as Her. The Zweihander would turn out to be another popular weapon, known for its power, but to me, discovering it and the potential of it versus the conventional wisdom opened me up to the versatility and variety of Dark Souls. It also taught me that, yes, you should absolutely always go for the big ass sword.
This is probably the single most iconic entry on this list and the one most aided by this legacy. The Buster Sword doesn’t feel like anything per se in its initial appearance. It just looks like a sort of big sword compared to our little guy holding it in Final Fantasy VII. But it’s still a comically large and cool looking sword, with a decent backstory as to how it eventually fell into the hands of its current user, Cloud Strife. The adventures it would go on with him would frame and solidify it as a legendary weapon, and the final fight and attack you unleash with it still holds up to this day.
Last year, Final Fantasy VII Remake released and realized the weapon to a greater degree than ever before. It took the mostly static image of a big ass sword and turned that into something. While there are tons of weapons to play with in that game, I never wanted to let go of the Buster Sword and continuously invested in it, because here I was with a legendary weapon that not only looked the part but finally felt it. Every blow that connected felt immense and earth-shattering and no challenge seemed too big for my Buster Sword.
Final Fantasy is great because it can just give you a big ass sword one game and then in the liternal next installment say, “Okay, we did the big sword, the only natural next step is to attach a gun to it.” Except they would really wind up doing the reverse, attaching a sword to a gun, basically making the entire barrel a blade, and then shipping a game with that. The absurdity of the Gunblade is what gets it on this list, because it certainly isn’t the implementation of the gunblade in combat as an innocuous quick time event every time you swing it. The critical hit was rarely worth the effort of trying to time the button press. Yeah, the Gunblade is awesome because it’s just a really dumb weapon in a game that seems impossibly hard to pierce through. But damn did it look good in that opening cinematic…
I don’t play Bloodborne with anything else but the Saw Cleaver. It’s the weapon on the cover, so it’s hard not to feel basic as hell playing through it with that. But simply no other weapon feels as right. “Visceral” is an overused word in this neck of the Forbidden Woods, but as you hack away at foes, blood splashing against the Victorian cobblestones beneath you and your own cloak, it’s the only word that feels appropriate for how using the Saw Cleaver feels. The world of Bloodborne is also one born of a medicinal breakthrough that ended up rotting and corrupting the people and society whom it touched. So when you come in looking like a plague doctor with a serrated operating blade, ready to cut into and expel the demons haunting this place and these people, the Saw Cleaver feels like the only logical weapon to take with you as your carve your way through Yharnam.
Moises Taveras is an intern for Paste Magazine and the managing editor of his college newspaper, the Brooklyn College Vanguard. He was that one kid who was really excited about Google+ and is still sad about how that turned out.