This is a tough one. How to take ten years of video games spanning multiple consoles and console-generations as well as an ever-evolving PC gaming spread, and pluck out the video games that were the best and most important?
I’m not sure I can even remember all the right games at this point. A decade is a long time and my memory isn’t what it used to be. I think. I’m not sure I actually remember ever having a terrific memory.
So what games helped shape my life from the ripe young age of 28 until now? So much has happened in the meantime. My son’s entire life, for one thing. He turns ten in 2020. The games he plays, and that we play together, are important. My daughter turns 13. The games we’ve played together also matter.
In 2010 I was clean-shaven, not a grey hair to be seen. Now there is grey scattered throughout my beard. In 2010 I didn’t write about video games at all, though that changed shortly after with the release of Mass Effect 3 on March 6th, 2012, and my somewhat unusual entrance into the wild world of video game journalism.
My god, has it been that long? How the years fly. They always tell you this when you’re young, but you never really understand it. In ten years I’ll look back on this moment and shake my head at my young, naive self. That 38 year-old whippersnapper didn’t know how right he was!
And on and on through the years, if we’re lucky enough to make it that long.
The following games are important to me, specifically, though many are also important to the industry and gaming in general. They are mostly my favorites, though not all of them, and they’re all very good though I’ve also left out many other very good games.
We’ll start with Mass Effect 3, not because it’s one of my favorite games of the decade—Mass Effect 2 is better and was also released in the past ten years—but because of what it meant to me and, I believe, to the gaming community. I started writing about games at a tipping point. And I believe, to this day, that the events that followed both in gaming (two years later GamerGate emerged) and the wider world (yes, even the 2016 election) are all connected. Pretty wild.
Mass Effect 2 & 3
2010 / 2012 — BioWare
When I decided to start writing about video games instead of the other topics I used to write about, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and what lay in store for me over the next few years. The Retake Mass Effect movement was something I couldn’t possibly imagine in my wildest imagination, because before this I simply wasn’t that tuned into the online gaming community and its myriad controversies.
I admit, I’ve stepped back quite a ways from gaming controversies these days. Since the GamerGate thing and all the fallout of that mess, it’s all just too exhausting and can leave one feeling . . . depressed, stressed out and for bad reasons. So I try to stick to writing about the games I enjoy and keep it light and breezy for the most part.
Well light and breezy was certainly not the reaction many fans had to Mass Effect 3 and its disappointing ending(s)—or lack thereof. It was fascinating to see the split between game journalists and fans, the finger-pointing, the blame, the derision so many in the press felt toward gamers. History kept repeating itself after this, with various smaller controversies right up until GamerGate blew up in everyone’s faces.
Mass Effect 3 didn’t just introduce me to game writing, but to the stakes. To the weird sides that had formed and the weird animosities that still exist to this day. To the way the gaming community could unify behind a cause, or tear itself apart. I learned a lot—most importantly, I learned how to listen better, and to always treat my readers with respect.
The game was okay. The trilogy is amazing and even with a lousy ending it’s still one of the best RPGs out there with a colorful cast of characters you really do care about. But for me, Mass Effect 3 was important because it set the stage for the next eight years.
Mass Effect 2, however, is the better game and while it isn’t as important to me or the gaming industry, it’s the one that deserves the “Best” qualifier here.
2011 – 2019 — FromSoftware
Dark Souls actually released before Mass Effect 3, on September 22nd 2011. That’s . . . wow . . . that’s a long time ago. I didn’t play it until sometime later, however. Maybe it was Christmas of 2011, or early 2012.
In any case, the first time I played it I didn’t like it at all. I played some of the tutorial stage and felt like it was super clunky and just not fun. So I set it down and didn’t pick it back up for a few weeks. Then I had a vasectomy and was laid up for a few days and needed something to do. So I fired up my Xbox 360 and gave Dark Souls another try.
And my eyes were opened and I saw the light and it changed my life. The last time a game so profoundly impacted me was probably Half-Life 2, which got me back into PC gaming by forcing me to build my own rig capable of handling the graphics.
Dark Souls, man. What can I say about this game? I went back and read my first impressions of the game and I can feel all that excitement and (weirdly) good stress and the tension and intimacy you feel with the game, with its systems and its level design. I still remember the first time I encountered an enemy with a shield and didn’t know how to beat him and we just circled one another.
Times have changed, of course. Those enemies are a breeze now. Now I’ve cut my teeth on all the Souls games and Bloodborne and Sekiro and frankly, each and every one of them belongs on a “Best Of The Decade” list. Demon’s Souls may be clunkier and more confounding than the games that came later, but no other Souls game can hold a candle to its atmosphere. The madness, the dread.
Bloodborne may not give players as many options as Dark Souls in terms of builds and magic, but the art direction and world-building and faster gameplay are all insane improvements on the basic systems of Dark Souls. You learn, once and for all, that shields really aren’t necessary, after all. You learn to go on the offensive.
Sekiro takes all of this and distills it down into a pure action game, stripping away all the RPG elements and the leveling in favor of a simple skill tree, and a razor sharp test of your skill and patience as a gamer. This entire series of games from FromSoftware remains my favorite series in all of gaming.
In many ways, these games have ruined all the others for me. I love them so much. That thrill of triumph, of overcoming such long odds, of beating that damn boss finally after all those tries, of making your way past those godforsaken silver archers in Anor Lando. Nothing else compares. It is my video game heroin and nothing else compares.
It’s also a game that has, miraculously almost, made a profound impact on the gaming industry, with titles as wide-ranging as Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order to Darksiders III taking cues from the game’s mechanics, concepts and design.
Dark Souls is, perhaps unsurprisingly, my Game Of The Decade. Even though it’s not necessarily the best in every way, it’s the one that got me hooked and it’s the one that still has my best (and most painful) memories.
The Rest Of The Best Games Of The Decade
The following list represents many of my favorite games of the past decade. Some I will talk more about than others and because there’s a whole bunch, mostly I’ll keep each blurb short. Let me know your favorites—and it’s entirely possible I’ve forgotten something and will add it later. We’ll start at the very beginning.
(Note: I didn’t play many games at all in 2010 or 2011 as this was prior to me writing about games and I was working full-time with two very small children and a lot of stress. I have gone back and played some of the titles from this period, like Mass Effect 2, Portal 2, Halo: Reach and so forth, but by and large I was playing older games (when I had the time) like Counter-Strike: Source and Team Fortress 2. This is why there are very few titles on this list before 2012).
Super Mario Galaxy 2
2010 — Nintendo
All the goodness of the first Super Mario Galaxy and then some. A terrific, gravity-defying 3D platformer that helped raise the standard for the genre and truly a masterpiece in game design from Nintendo.
Super Meat Boy
2010 — Team Meat
I love and hate this incredible, challenging, frustrating indie platformer. You will die so much in this game, but mastering the cleverly designed (and very small) levels is very satisfying.
Halo Reach / Halo 4
2010 / 2012 — Bungie / 343 Industries
It’s crazy that Halo: Reach came out so long ago—and now, finally, nearly ten years later we have a PC port (albeit, a somewhat messy one). Halo: Reach is one of the best games in Bungie’s (and now 343 Industries’s) space opera shooter franchise. While it’s the fifth game in the series, it’s actually a prequel to Halo: Combat Evolved, and it’s a nice change of pace from the Master Chief saga.
Halo 4 I also liked quite a bit, though I know that’s a controversial opinion to have since many fans of the series felt let down by 343 Industries’s freshman attempt at making a Halo game. I thought the relationship between Master Chief and Cortana was really powerful, however. One thing’s for certain: It was way better than the terrible Halo 5 campaign (though that game’s multiplayer was good). Halo 5’s campaign was so atrocious, it doesn’t get to be on this list at all.
2011 — Valve
A classic and a masterpiece in puzzle-design, here’s yet another Valve game that never got a sequel. It takes all the best aspects of the original Portal and makes them better, and throws in two-player co-op also. What a gem.
2012 — Thatgamecompany
I absolutely love Journey. It’s one of those games that I tell everyone to play, because anyone can play it and make it through the very short, very beautiful game. It also has some of my favorite video game music in a score composed by the talented Austin Wintory. There’s a cool twist, also, that I don’t want to give away, but it was one of the more profound moments in gaming for me when I realized. I’ve played this many times and watched as others played it and it’s always a neat experience.
2012 — Subset Games
Sure, there’s some RNG involved in this game. My brother beat it on his very first try because he kept getting all the best possible scenarios. He died in two minutes on his second try. Still, a terrific game that makes you feel like you’re the captain of a starship, filled with ship management, exciting space battles and a terrific soundtrack that fits the game like a glove.
2012 — Dennaton Games
Man, 2012 was a great year for video games wasn’t it? Hotline Miami is another terrific, ultra-violent top-down brawler that’s as bizarre as it is fun. And once again, tremendously good soundtrack to go with all that killing. Trippy game. Never really got into the sequel.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
2012 — Firaxis
XCOM: Enemy Unkown also came out in 2012 because 2012 was just an insanely great year for games. In fact, I’m giving 2012 the “Year Of The Decade” award for gaming, it was that good. XCOM was such a terrific turn-based tactical game. I loved it from start to finish, even as I made mistakes that cost me dearly. I really didn’t care for the sequel all that much even though they’re very similar. It felt poorly paced and too chaotic from the get-go. But I loved this one, and apparently so did a lot of other people as the format has been used in numerous other titles since, including the adorable Mario vs Rabbids game on Nintendo Switch.
Spec Ops: The Line
2012 — YAGER Development
Spec Ops: The Line isn’t the best third-person shooter ever, but it’s an important game and one of the game’s I’m most thankful I played over the past decade. It’s that rarest of shooters that actually makes you think about the brutal costs of war, and it has a terrific twist.
2012 — Capcom
The only problem I have with Dragon’s Dogma is the fact that it came out in 2012 and there hasn’t been a damn sequel. Where is the sequel, Capcom? Why do you hate your customers? Seriously, though, what a unique RPG. Terrific combat, magic, character customization. You can climb up big monsters. And the unique (and often hilarious) pawn system was really creative. I’ve played this game a bunch, and the Dark Arisen expansion makes it even better.
Far Cry 3 & Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon
2012 / 2013 — Ubisoft
The two best Far Cry games of the past decade released back to back. Far Cry 3 was a phenomenal game that really redefined the series and pitted you against one of the best villains in gaming. Then Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon released as a stand-alone game the following year and remains one of the funniest shooters I’ve ever played. Truly great games with very, very different tones.
2012 — Arkane Studios
While I found the ending lackluster, it’s the journey that counts, right? And the journey in Dishonored is thrilling. It’s part stealth, part magic, part assassination, part puzzle and all very, very good. Too bad the sequel was such a disappointment! Oh well, if you somehow missed Dishonored, please do yourself a favor and go play it ASAP. The level design, art-style, combat, setting—it’s all just incredible.
The Last Of Us
2013 — Naughty Dog
Easily one of my favorite games of the decade, The Last Of Us takes place in a brutal post-apocalyptic world. Society has collapsed after the Cordyceps Brain Infection basically turned most of humanity into Infected—zombie-like mutants that are only slightly less horrifying than the very bad people you encounter. You play as Joel (mostly) as he and the young girl, Ellie, make their way across country to find a cure. The ending is among the very best in any video game I’ve ever played. It will haunt you. I can’t wait for the sequel which is supposed to come out next year.
Grand Theft Auto V
2013 — Rockstar Games
I’m more of a GTA guy than a Red Dead guy, though both Rockstar’s main franchises are terrific in their own right. My only real quibble with GTA V is the fact that it never got any single-player DLC, which is both a huge shame and kind of stupid when you think about how many copies this game has sold and how many people would surely buy an expansion. Oh well, all Rockstar and 2K care about is GTA Online which basically prints money. What a great game GTA V was, though. Trevor is one of the best video game characters ever, period. He’s worth the price of admission alone.
2013 — Irrational Games
I know, I know—this game failed to deliver on all of its promises. Like so many other games in the past decade, what we were first shown by the developers did not come to fruition when the game actually released. But you know what? I still loved it, warts and all. And frankly, Infinite’s world design is among my very favorite. That moment when you first walk out into the cloud city of Columbia remains one of the most jaw-dropping moments I’ve ever had in any game. Great characters and a cool story about racism and its ties to radical nationalism that really makes you think. It doesn’t all work, but when it does it’s a tremendous game.
Uh-0h, so far 2013 is shaping up to be almost as good as 2012! Maybe it’ll have to be a tie!
2013 — Crystal Dynamics
Honestly, I think the rebooted franchise has grown somewhat stale since Tomb Raider reinvented itself in 2013, but I really loved this first one a lot. It was more linear than the sequel, but also more focused. I loved what they did with Lara Croft and frankly, the game gave Uncharted a run for its money and remains one of my favorite action-adventure games of the past ten years.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
2013 — Platinum Games
What do you get when you combine the weird storytelling and world-building of Hideo Kojima with the frenetic action combat of PlatinumGames?
You get the weirdly titled Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Pretty sure “revengeance” isn’t a word, but whatever. The game was awesome with super fast combat and plenty of bizarro Metal Gear stuff. Like no other Metal Gear game, Revengeance truly prioritized its combat systems. Raiden is a terrific protagonist, also, with some very cool abilities. Pick this up on Steam if you get a chance.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
2013 — Ubisoft
I also liked Assassin’s Creed III but this one is basically a better version of that one. You should probably play them both even though III isn’t as good. Black Flag is my favorite Assassin’s Creed game, which I know many people think is weird. I just loved the main character and all the pirate stuff, and it also had a terrific, emotionally powerful ending. 2013 was a great year for strong narratives and powerful endings. See the next entry for yet another example of this.
Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons
2013 — Starbreeze Studios
I think I’m including every game that made me cry in this list, and I cried at the end of Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons. It’s an adventure game about two brothers on a magical quest through a beautifully crafted world. It’s mostly a puzzle game, with no combat or anything like that. But the twist at the end is not only incredibly clever, it’s also one of the most emotionally poignant moments I’ve experienced in video games.
Path Of Exile
2013 — Grinding Gear Games
I haven’t played this game in a long time even though it’s received a bunch of expansions. I really need to now that it’s changed so much, but even back in the day this was a great ARPG that really scratched that Diablo II itch. It’s free-to-play also, which is nice. It’s also one of the biggest success stories of the last decade with a huge following. It’s even getting a sequel finally.
Mario Kart 8
2014 — Nintendo
One of my very favorite games of the past decade, Mario Kart 8 was probably my favorite Wii U game, and it’s even better on the Nintendo Switch. I’ve played so much of this game I could probably play it blind-folded. It’s also one of my favorite family games of all time, and one I’ve spent a lot of time playing with my family. It’s the best in the Mario Kart franchise, and truly a masterpiece. Just writing about it makes me want to go play.
Divinity Original Sin 1 & 2
2014 / 2017 — Larian Studios
One of the best things about Larian Studios’ Divinity Original Sin games is the fact that they opted for turn-based combat instead of the clunky, annoying pausable real-time combat from other isometric RPGs. I can’t stand that style of combat, and it frustrates me to no end in classic RPGs and newer ones like Pillars of Eternity. I wish more devs would just choose between turn-based or actual action-combat.
In any case, Divinity Original Sin 1 and 2 are simply terrific RPGs, filled with clever humor, phenomenal combat that let’s you make great use of your skills, magic and the world itself, and great stories. Definitely my favorite of the new batch of top-down RPGs that came out over the past decade.
2014 — PlatinumGames
The sexiest character in video games is also one of the most badass. The angel-killing Bayonetta with her guns and her gun-shoes and her magical hair was saved by Nintendo and is now a Nintendo exclusive. Good news that the franchise was saved, bad news that it’s an exclusive—because everyone should play Bayonetta 2. Just another brilliant action game from the PlatinumGames team.
Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze
2014 — Nintendo
Another game that began life on the doomed Wii U (like Mario Kart 8 and Bayonetta 2) and was given a second chance on the Nintendo Switch, Tropical Freeze is a wonderful, brilliantly designed platformer that is just so damn challenging. There are some levels that I absolutely hate to this very day, but man it’s so good I can’t hold it against the game.
Wolfenstein: The New Order
2012 — Machine Games
Like Tomb Raider, this is a major reboot of a classic series. And like Tomb Raider, I feel like the rebooted series has grown stale with disappointing sequels. Still, The New Order was a fantastic shooter and a very solid reboot of one of gaming’s most beloved properties.
Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor
2014 — Monolith Productions
Another game with a promising first entry and a disappointing sequel, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is one of those Lord of the Rings properties that is kind of absurd and kind of misses the whole point of Tolkien’s work, while still being really fun to play. With elements of both Assassin’s Creed and Batman Arkham games, Shadow of Mordor had great combat, a cool story and the very innovative Nemesis System that turned orcs who killed you into mini-bosses. There was this whole web of different ranked orcs you had to kill and they would grow in power as you were defeated. Of course, your wraith-infused ranger also grew in power over the course of the game and by the end nothing could stand in your way.
Destiny 1 & 2
2014 & 2017 — Bungie
I’m not a superfan when it comes to Destiny—that honor goes to my colleague Paul Tassi who writes about the game pretty much every single day. But I do love the franchise and I’ve had a blast with both games over the years. It took me a while to warm up to Destiny, and I’ve never been able to keep up with the second game’s grind, but both games were among the best first-person shooters of the decade, and Bungie did a bang-up job creating a new space opera after leaving Halo behind. Also, Destiny 2 is now on Steam, and the base game is free-to-play, so that’s good!
The Witcher 2 & 3
2011 & 2015 — CD Projekt RED
Okay, I still need to play The Witcher 1, and I promise you that’s on my list. I’ve got it downloaded and ready to go. For now, though, I’ll sing the praises of Geralt of Rivia’s second and third games. The second game, Assassins of Kings, was my introduction to the Witcher and that whole incredible world of magic and monsters. I loved it, clunky combat and all. It was a very linear game (with two branching paths and many different possible endings) but that linearity gave its narrative more focus than the third game, The Wild Hunt.
The Witcher 3 is better overall, though I admit I did find the open-world aspect a little disappointing at the time, simply because I loved the format of the second game. Graphically and mechanically it was a huge improvement, however, and there were some truly incredible stories in the game, even in the side-quests. With time, and two very good expansions, the game has grown on me and is now one of my favorite RPGs ever.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
2015 — Konami
I was at GDC when Hideo Kojima walked out fully wrapped in bandages and then took those off and revealed that the game The Phantom Pain from fake studio Moby Dick Studios was actually Metal Gear V—a fact everyone already knew. But hey, it was a clever way to build hype for the game, which marked Kojima’s final game with both Konami and Metal Gear. (He went on to make the very strange, strangely tedious Death Stranding starring Norman Reedus, which I honestly think was a step in the wrong direction).
Anyways, it’s not my favorite Metal Gear game, and I really didn’t care much for the online stuff, but the gameplay itself is excellent. The game doesn’t quite work when it comes to story—clearly it was rushed/unfinished. But the actual gameplay is phenomenal and I had a lot of fun knocking out bad dudes and having them whisked up into the sky on my balloons. What a trip.
Batman: Arkham City / Knight
2013 / 2015 — Rocksteady
Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham trilogy was terrific. Each game is different, with Arkham Knight going fully open-world in truly breathtaking fashion. Gotham has never looked so good. My only complaint about that game was the stupid Batmobile, which is a cool thing in theory but ended up being a major drag in practice. Way, way, way too many car chases. Other than that, stellar game. City was also great (and no stupid Batmobile) though graphically it pales in comparison. The original Arkham Asylum released in 2009, so it’s not allowed on my list. All these games, and even Arkham Origins, helped set a new standard for superhero video games.
2016 — Blizzard
Many of my fondest gaming moments over the past few years have been with Overwatch. It’s like a new Team Fortress 2 but much prettier. I often prefer games that have a single-player mode attached, but Overwatch doesn’t really need that. Blizzard did a great job giving all its heroes personalities and backstories. Meanwhile, the gameplay is just fantastic. It’s a “hero shooter” in which each different character has its own unique weapons, powers and so forth, and it’s a ton of fun (though matchmaking can be slow these days). It’s also one of the games I’m using to introduce my nine-year-old to PC gaming which makes it even more special.
Uncharted 3 & 4 & Lost Legacy
2011 / 2016 — Naughty Dog
Everyone pretty much agrees that Uncharted 2 is the best in the series, at least in terms of story. But all three Uncharted games that came out in this past decade were also very good. Uncharted 4 really pushed the envelope in a lot of ways, with some of the best graphics I’ve ever seen and a really great story as well. Too much climbing, of course, but that comes with the territory. Lost Legacy ditched Nathan Drake and followed two female protagonists, which was a nice change of pace. It wasn’t as big as 4, but it was still a really great game.
2016 — id Software
Wasn’t the rebooted DOOM great? It had everything! It was funny, bombastic, filled with blood and gore and crazy demons. It’s fast and exhilarating. The levels are filled with secrets. It’s challenging. The soundtrack is badass. This game has it all, even a pretty good multiplayer. I can’t wait for DOOM Eternal. I hope it doesn’t let me down like all these other reboot sequels!
2016 — Red Hook Studios
This game will drive you crazy—or, rather, it will drive all your party members crazy, bit by brutal bit, as you crawl through dark-ass dungeons and slowly go mad. It’s such a clever turn-based RPG. As you delve deeper into the bowels of the earth, your party will slowly gain afflictions like Masochistic, Hopeless, Paranoid and so forth. These can be cured in town, but it isn’t cheap. Some of these Afflictions will cause your party members to do stupid things like refuse to eat at camp. It’s a great game, though kind of stressful (in a good way) and I highly recommend it. I have to get back into it as I haven’t played in some time and a lot has been added and changed.
Hitman 1 & 2
2016 / 2018 — IO Interactive
I played more of the 2016 Hitman reboot than I did of the sequel, and I hear the sequel is better. But Hitman was great—huge sandbox levels, tons of different ways to approach each job. I loved it, so I really need to go play more of the sequel. (See how this starts to add up???) If you like stealth and really open-ended mission design, these are great games that truly live up to the series’ legacy. I liked Absolution also but it’s nowhere near as good.
Persona 5 & Persona 4 Golden
2012 & 2016 — Atlus
When I first played Persona 4 Golden on my PS Vita I didn’t like it. I was so bored. But people told me to stick with it and man am I glad that listened to that advice. Both Persona 4 Golden—now my favorite Vita game—and Persona 5 are brilliant. By day, you’re a normal kid, going to school and working jobs, studying and going out to eat (and mostly managing your time). By night you’re a demon-fighting superhero.
In 4 you go into the mysterious, foggy TV World to rescue missing students from demonic Shadows. In 5 you go into bad peoples’ Palaces to steal their hearts. You use Personas to fight monsters, and have to figure out which element or power is each different monsters’ weakness. Sound weird? It is weird. It’s also great fun. These are two of the best JRPGs ever made as far as I’m concerned.
Titanfall 2 / Apex Legends
2016 / 2019 — Respawn Entertainment
I loved Titanfall 2. The campaign was one of the best FPS campaigns of the decade, and the multiplayer is excellent, too. In the campaign you play as a brand new Pilot after your Titan’s previous Pilot is killed. You and your Titan, BT, set off one hell of an adventure that takes advantage of all the game’s cool movement mechanics like wall-running. You’ll fight inside and out of the mech. The really surprising thing about the campaign is just how much these two bond.
The game has a bunch of multiplayer modes and it’s a great mix of normal FPS gameplay and mecha. Like the first game, some modes have bots as well as real human adversaries. This is a nice touch since it allows even lower-skilled players to wrack up some kills. Just a terrific game all around, and criminally underrated.
I’m going to give a shout-out to Apex Legends here also. I don’t think it’s as good as Titanfall 2 but it’s still a top-notch Battle Royale / Hero shooter and even though I’m not thrilled by the fact that you have to play in squads, it does what it sets out to do very well and it’s free-to-play. Really solid mechanics and game design make it my second favorite battle royale game at this point.
The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild
2017 — Nintendo
Breath of the Wild was the Nintendo Switch’s flagship launch title, and it did not disappoint. The game turns the whole Zelda formula on its head. Instead of gating away content until you find that certain item you need to reach new areas, Breath of the Wild let’s you go pretty much anywhere almost from the very start of the game. It’s open-world and open-ended and players can tackle it pretty much however they choose.
It did so many things really well. You can climb any surface, but things like rain make it harder. In the hot areas of the map you can cook food on the ground. In the cold areas, food will freeze. Don’t hold metal weapons or shields in a thunderstorm because lightning might strike you down.
There were some valid complaints about the game’s dungeons, which are fewer and smaller than previous titles. But the experience wasn’t meant to mirror past games, it was designed to be a wholly different kind of Zelda game. I think it’s brilliant.
Assassin’s Creed Origins / Odyssey
2017 / 2018 — Ubisoft
Assassin’s Creed Origins was basically a reboot of Ubisoft’s long-running Assassins vs Templar series. Overhauled combat, more of a focus on fantastical elements, and a truly ancient setting. Odyssey took all that and ran with it—essentially going full-blown RPG in the process. It’s an impressive evolution of the franchise, and in many ways Ubisoft is now making bigger, more impressive roleplaying games than companies like BioWare or Bethesda. Go figure.
2017 — Studio MDHR
Cuphead is such a feast for your senses. Visually, the game looks like an old-school cartoon from the early days of Mickey Mouse. It’s colorful and zany and loud and, above all else, it’s challenging. You can’t slip up much in Cuphead’s increasingly frantic boss fights. The game will test your gaming mettle at every turn. What glorious fun!
2017 — Square Enix / Platinum Games
Nier: Automata is a very, very strange game from PlatinumGames and director Yoko Taro. It’s also really fun. You play as human-like androids in a desolate post-apocalyptic world filled with hostile machines. Like most of Platinum’s titles, the combat is god-tier. You play as three different androids over the course of the game, each with different abilities and personalities. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but trust me it’s worth the ride.
What Remains Of Edith Finch
2017 — Giant Sparrow
Yep, here’s another tearjerker. What Remains Of Edith Finch is pretty much a “walking simulator” but the storytelling is so good, and each area so well-designed, that you certainly never get bored during its several-hour run. But man, it’s sad! There are parts that are just unbearably sad, and I was pretty shook up by the end of it. It’s worth it, don’t get me wrong, but maybe only play this game if you have a box of tissues handy and aren’t already feeling depressed—though sometimes sad things can be good for depression, too.
2017 — Team Cherry
One of my favorite 2D platformers in the modern era—and there have been many good ones—there’s just something so great about Hollow Knight. The combat and exploration, the atmospheric insect world. It’s just a brilliant game all around.
Super Mario Odyssey
2017 — Nintendo
Hats off to the game designers at Nintendo. They just can’t stop making great games for the Nintendo Switch. Super Mario Odyssey is one of the best 3D Mario games ever made. The unique use of the hat, which allows you to—among other things—possess enemies and control their bodies, really gives this game its own unique identity, and leads to some terrific platforming.
Red Dead Redemption 1 & 2
2010 / 2018 — Rockstar Games
I admit, I’m more of a GTA guy than a Red Dead guy mostly because GTA games are just a lot more fun in my opinion. But there’s no denying that Rockstar has crafted the two most expansive, impressive cowboy games ever made. The sequel is drop-dead gorgeous, and while it’s a little weird—all that realism stuff can make it a bit tedious at times—it’s still an incredible game with beautiful music, art design and top-notch writing and performances. I haven’t dabbled much with the online component, but the single-player story is worth the ticket price.
2018 — Nomada Studio
Yes, another game that made me cry in the end—though I’m still not entirely sure why. There’s no talking and no real character interaction in this game. The girl you play as interacts with the world in really interesting ways, and as you play you realize that the world you’re exploring is a reflection of her inner world and inner turmoil. Brilliant platforming that’s also quite challenging at times, some of the most gorgeous artwork/graphics I’ve seen in a video game ever, and a lovely soundtrack. You really, really shouldn’t miss this one.
2018 — Insomniac Games
I loved every minute of Marvel’s Spider-Man. It’s pretty much my favorite superhero game of all time. Spider-Man has so many cool abilities. Even just swinging through the city, running across walls and diving off skyscrapers—I could do that all day long and not even bother with the story or the combat. But the story and combat are both really good also. It’s pretty much perfect, and yet another solid single-player game in an era where that’s going out of style. This (and several other games on this list) is just another great reason why you should own a PlayStation 4—the best console of the decade.
God Of War
2018 — Sony
You never know if a reboot is going to be a good thing, and certainly there’s reason to worry when a reboot is as drastic as God of War. Thankfully, all that worry was over nothing. This is by far the best God of War game as far as I’m concerned. It’s the most serious. It has very different combat, but I like it a lot more than the older games. Kratos is a more interesting character and his relationship with his son is what solidifies this as one of the best games of the decade. It’s also gorgeous. The setting is Norse this time around, so a pretty big change from Greece, but it works. It works so damn well.
Resident Evil 2 Remake
2019 — Capcom
Okay we’re catching up to the present now. I’m not going to write about these next few games because they’re all on my Best Games of 2019 list which you can read right here. But there are some honorable mentions and a couple other big games I discuss below, so definitely keep scrolling down!
Devil May Cry 5
2019 — Capcom
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
2019 — Respawn Entertainment
Call Of Duty
2010 – 2019 — Activision
This decade was very much a Call of Duty decade for me. I had played the first couple of games a bit back in the day, but I was more of a Counter-Strike player than a Call of Duty player. I didn’t get into the series until around 2012, and then I went back and played the games I missed. Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is one of my favorite shooters of all time and I enjoyed both its sequels. I also really enjoyed Black Ops, Black Ops 2, Advanced Warfare, WWII and the newest entry, Modern Warfare—a terrific reboot/re-imagining of the Modern Warfare sub-franchise. Even some of the less impressive entries, like Infinite Warfare, had a lot that I enjoyed about them.
Call of Duty is one of those franchises people like to make fun of and it’s certainly one that people love to complain about while still playing it ten hours a day. I just really enjoy it for whatever reason. I love the short campaigns and I love the competitive multiplayer. I just think they get the shooting down almost perfectly. The series as a whole can be uneven—the last couple Black Ops games have been okay, but I tired quickly of all the double-jumping and wall-running and then Black Ops 4 kept all the annoying hero shooter stuff and didn’t even ship a campaign.
But really, these games have played a huge part in my gaming life over the past decade and they deserve a special shout-out here.
2017 — Epic Games
Fortnite also deserves its own special spot in this list. It’s been one of my favorite video games of all time partly because I’ve spent a lot of time playing it with my kids, and partly because it’s been a huge part of my job. Fortnite has certainly been the biggest game I’ve ever written about. The game has driven more traffic to my blog than pretty much any other topic out there, including Game of Thrones which is always a big hit.
It’s also been quite a phenomenon in the wider culture. The game’s live-events create record-breaking numbers of concurrent viewers on Twitch and YouTube. Fortnite has had cross-overs with Marvel, Star Wars, John Wick and Marshmello (just to name a few). It’s huge and Epic Games has made billions and billions of dollars from it, despite it being a free-to-play game.
So yeah, not only is this one of my favorite games of the decade it’s also one of the biggest, most important games of all time. It’s had a major impact on the industry that’s gone beyond just the game itself. Epic has even started its own PC storefront to compete with Steam, and I’m not sure that would have happened without Fortnite’s outrageous success.
Okay, that’s it for my favorites. I have a few Special Mentions below for important games.
Special Mention: PUBG
You can’t really talk about Fortnite without acknowledging that PlayerUnkown’s Battlegrounds popularized battle royale first. It didn’t invent battle royale, but it made it what it is today. Fortnite quickly eclipsed PUBG’s popularity, but it did so leaping off the back of PUBG. That’s how it works, of course. Successes will be copied. PUBG is an okay battle royale game, but it’s a lot jankier than Fortnite or Apex Legends and I don’t think it’s quite as much fun. Still a very important game to the industry and it can be pretty fun sometimes. The mobile version is surprisingly good.
Special Mention: Minecraft
Minecraft came out in 2009 so it kind of doesn’t qualify for the best of the decade, and in any case I don’t actually play Minecraft. However, the game’s impact on culture, the industry, etc. was felt throughout the past decade and has only grown over time. It is without a doubt one of the most important games of the last ten years.
Special Mention: Fallout and Skyrim
What can I say? I’ve tried many times to get into Skyrim and I always get bored. I’ve tried many times to get into the Fallout games and I just don’t like them. Even Fallout: New Vegas was just not my cup of tea, though maybe that’s because I played it years after release.
But these are two very important series. The Elder Scrolls is one of the biggest, most essential RPG series out there, and I have to give it credit where it’s due. The modding community built around Skyrim is extraordinary. And the Fallout games are another major RPG franchise that have made a huge impact on gaming. So kudos to Bethesda for these games. I just wish I enjoyed them more.
Special Mention: Pokémon GO
Pokémon GO and the whole Pokémon video game franchise (I know it’s also books, cards, movies, TV shows, toys) has had a profound impact over the past decade as well, though like Minecraft, I personally don’t play the games. Pokémon GO has certainly been a cultural phenomenon and changed the way we play mobile games.
I don’t have any mobile games on this list because I’m not a huge mobile game player, but I may write up a best mobile games list at some point as well. There are a number of very good ones—diamonds in the rough, as it were. Most mobile gaming is trash, filled with micro-transactions and time-gates and all the rest.
The Missed Games
Then there are all the games I didn’t play that I really need to like Disco Elysium, The Stanley Parable, Undertale, and Stardew Valley. I only played a little of games like Dead Cells,Celeste and Shovel Knight. Many, many others I skimmed or passed over, far too many to list.
I know these are all great games, and I’m sad that I’ve left them on my backlog for so long. That’s one of my New Year’s Resolutions—to go back and play some of the great games I missed or only played very briefly.
It’s just easier said than done.