When it comes to music oror television there’s a tendency to lionize the good old days. The classics. To remember older works or art with fondness or even rose-tinted glasses. Video gaming, as an art form intimately connected with cutting-edge technology, is slightly different. Often we forget the games that come before, or replace them with something shiny and new.
Despite that, you’d be crazy to argue that the last decade — 2010 through to 2019 — hasn’t been one of the best in terms of high-quality video games. The 2010s has delivered some of the greatest video games ever made. Try to imagine the gaming landscape without some of the games on this list. It’s near impossible.
This list attempts to represent the wide spectrum of experiences the increasingly fragmented video game space has to offer, from open-world masterpieces made by hundreds of people to indie experiences made by small, dedicated teams. From mobile games to MOBAs. We’ve tried to cover it all. You’ll almost certainly disagree with some of this list, and you’ll have your own ideas about what was “best,” but we’re sure you’ll agree: The 2010s was a very good decade for video games.
30. Outer Wilds (2019)
So far 2019 has been a solid, if unspectacular year for video games. With one exception: Outer Wilds. It’s a living, breathing snow globe of a universe that’s constantly dazzling the player with its inventive spaces. Best of all, it’s wrapped in a bizarre mystery, unraveling the secrets of a lost civilization. Outer Wilds is spectacular in every sense of the word.
29. Stardew Valley (2016)
To this day Stardew Valley is a game to disappear into. The absolute best way to waste your time.
28. Destiny (2014)
It’s not perfect, and it’s definitely a “play it in spite of itself” sort of experience, but who can deny the sheer influence of? It might be the most influential video game on this list in terms of the way it’s helped craft a new business model: the 10-year game.
It’s also a lot of fun to play with friends. Almost too much fun.
27. Overwatch (2016)
From the very beginning, from its announcement at Blizzcon in 2014,was destined to be a classic. And it was. It still is. Overwatch might not be setting the competitive world on fire, but Overwatch is accessible, fun and remarkably well balanced for a game with 30 playable heroes to choose from. We’ll be playing this one for a long time.
26. Dota 2 (2013)
It’s insanely complex with a sharp learning curve. But if you know, then you know. In terms of depth and balance, Dota 2 is about as good as a competitive video game gets. One of the most-played video games on Steam ever. They can’t all be wrong.
25. Hotline Miami (2012)
24. Alien: Isolation (2014)
Forget Goldeneye 007, Alien: Isolation is the new best movie video game. Being stalked around a spaceship by a terrifying alien that responds to your every move is one of the most terrifying experiences in video game history. Absolutely insane they haven’t made a sequel yet.
23. Dead Cells (2018)
Dead Cells is just a game that just gets its fundamentals so right. It’s endlessly replayable, endlessly rewarding. It’s one of the best games of 2018.
22. Hollow Knight (2017)
It’s hard to imagine a game like Hollow Knight being built by three people.
But it happened. Hollow Knight takes the structure of Super Metroid and combines it with the atmosphere and world building of Dark Souls. Can’t go wrong with a combination like that.
21. The Witness (2016)
The Witness is like Super Metroid, only you don’t unlock new sections of the world with power-ups, you unlock new sections of the world using your brain.
The Witness is incredible. No other video game on this planet is quite as capable of making you feel like a genius. Then a complete idiot.
And it’s beautiful. Beautifully designed, beautifully executed. Beautiful in general.
20. League of Legends (2009)
Not many games can claim to be an entire industry in and of themselves, butcan. This game was technically released in 2009, but it’s a living, breathing game and it’s hard to argue it didn’t dominate in this decade.
19. Pokemon Go (2016)
Pokemon Go is the ultimate real-life walking sim. Remember those precious few weeks when Pokemon Go legitimately took over the world and we were all getting our 10,000 steps a day? Bring back those halcyon days.
18. Gone Home (2013)
And speaking of walking sims, Gone Home is a perfect, influential slice of video game storytelling. Without Gone Home so many classic games — What Remains of Edith Finch or Firewatch — don’t exist. And no, walking sim is not a pejorative.
17. Nier: Automata (2017)
In any other year besides 2017 Nier: Automata would have been a shoe-in for game of the year. So it speaks volumes that in a year that gave us Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey and Horizon: Zero Dawn, Nier: Automata didn’t lose its shine. It’s an incredibly fluid action game with a glorious soundtrack: You should play this video game.
16. God of War (2018)
This is how you do a reboot. You connect the story to its past, but rebuild from the ground up. You capture the spirit of its predecessors but develop everything in ways that surprise its established audience. Massive in scale but focused,tells a big story, but also feels personal. It’s a great example of what AAA video games can achieve when they push boundaries.
15. Rayman Legends (2013)
Hang every single frame of this video game in the Louvre: Rayman Legends is beautiful. It’s also inventive, a platform game that somehow manages to out-Mario Mario. This game will never age. It’s as gorgeous today as it was when it was first released in 2013.
14. The Last Of Us (2013)
The Last of Us is game developer Naughty Dog working at the absolute peak of its powers. After a heavy, grim opening, The Last of Us opens up and tells a genuinely unique and powerful post-apocalyptic story. One of those few games with a story that matches the best seen in other mediums.
13. Metal Gear Solid 5 (2015)
The ending is botched and makes absolute zero sense, but this doesn’t stop Metal Gear Solid 5 from being, at its core, the best stealth game ever made. Metal Gear Solid 5 is an open world game that’s endlessly deep and provides a huge amount of options for creativity within its structure. Also, it has a dog companion that carries a knife in its teeth. End of discussion.
12. Super Mario Galaxy 2 (2010)
The original Super Mario Galaxy was revolutionary, and full of intergalactic weirdness, but its sequel was the better game.explodes with ideas and energy. It is a video game that just drowns you in joy. Also, it has Yoshi.
11. Horizon Zero Dawn (2017)
suffered the indignity of being released in the blast radius of Breath of the Wild, but it’s a classic in its own right.
Visually spectacular, borrowing the best parts of games like Batman: Arkham Asylum, The Witcher 3 and Mass Effect to create something unique, but familiar. In a good way. Horizon Zero Dawn is a greatest-hits video game of sorts.
What elevates Horizon Zero Dawn is its combat, which requires strategy and rewards creativity. Taking down a robot T. rex or a gigantic robot pterodactyl via your own sense of ingenuity is the stuff video game dreams are made of.
10. Fortnite (2017)
Love it or hate it, you cannot deny Fortnite’s impact on popular culture.
Fortnite has become something more than a video game. It’s a talking point on the playground, a place for teenagers to hang out after school. A place for old people to remind themselves of the harsh ravages of time.
9. The Witcher 3 (2015)
The Witcher 3 remains one of the best worlds ever committed to the medium of video games and, unlike most open-world RPGs, it’s absolutely committed to the meaningful side-quest. Nothing in this game feels extraneous, yet it’s also unimaginably massive in scale. You’ll want to savor your time with this one.
8. Mass Effect 2 (2010)
By miles the best Mass Effect game, partly because it tells the most compelling, self-contained story in the series. It’s the Dirty Dozen in space, essentially. A collection of ragtag aliens on a suicide mission to save the universe.is full of interesting characters and great dialogue, and that’s all made possible by brilliant world building.
7. Bloodborne (2015)
was the game that proved Dark Souls wasn’t a fluke. The game that proved developer From Software was capable of pulling off the same magic trick twice. Capable of creating worlds as dense as those in Dark Souls, with combat that felt different but equally rewarding. Capable of creating a different sort of weirdness, a different type of atmosphere that was just as compelling as the one found in Dark Souls.
Many have argued that Bloodborne is better than Dark Souls. I’m perfectly willing to hear that argument. It’s close. It’s very close.
6. Skyrim (2011)
Can you believe that in 2011,and Dark Souls were released within two months of each other? Insane.
Dark Souls was smaller in scope, but deep as an ocean. Skyrim may have lacked the intricate combat of Dark Souls, and the lore baked into every single brick, but it made up for it with sheer scale. It’s arguably Bethesda’s greatest-ever achievement, and that’s saying something.
Also dragons. And mods. And Macho Man Dragons because of mods.
5. Red Dead Redemption (2010)
Rockstar never made a world like it, before or since. A world you want to explore and live in. A legitimate masterpiece. Red Dead Redemption is a game that excels in quiet moments. A game that somehow made foraging for herbs a fun, meaningful experience.
It succeeds because of its attention to detail. More than any other game in this list, Red Dead Redemption created a universe that felt like a real place.
4. Portal 2 (2011)
One of those properly perfect video games in every facet of its existence, is a puzzle game, and a genius one at that. It’s a story, and one well told with great dialogue — incredibly rare in video game land.
It’s also a game that never outstays its welcome. A game that’s worth replaying. A game you tell your friends about. An accessible game anyone can play, but somehow never patronizes its most experienced players. Pure magic.
3. Minecraft (2011)
Minecraft is Lego for an entire new generation of children. Its cultural impact is that sizable; that important. Lego reared a generation of creators and engineers; what will Minecraft help influence? The impact Minecraft will have on the millions of children, teenagers and adults still playing is almost impossible to measure.
And Minecraft will persist. Believe that. I have a 6-year-old who just started playing. All his friends are playing, too. The Earth will turn to dust, humanity will cease to exist. But the cockroaches who survive the apocalypse will be playing Minecraft on whatever gaming devices still work.
2. Dark Souls (2011)
For years we’ve talked about Dark Souls in terms of its difficulty, the way it punishes players (fairly) for their mistakes. Even the marketing material, with the tagline “prepare to die,” speaks to the game as a “challenge.”
But that’s not what makes Dark Souls special.
What makes Dark Souls special is everything. The world itself, dripping with lore and atmosphere. A twisting, interlinked mess of weird history that feels oblivious to the player’s existence. The combat, which feels weighty and deliberate, forcing you to make strategic decisions in real time. Forcing you to learn from your mistakes. In Dark Souls you are always learning, and every death is a lesson.
Most games exist to serve the player, Dark Souls exists. Spending time there can be frustrating, but it never feels like time wasted.
1. Breath of the Wild (2017)
The open-world game, as a genre, is a bit of a bloated mess.
For decades now they’ve been building atop one another, borrowing each other’s ideas, adding to those ideas. Removing some ideas and placing them in different spots. Like a terrifying high-stakes game of Jenga, they have you openly wondering if it all will just collapse under the weight.
Endless quest lists, expansive worlds for the sake of it, leveling up, crafting. In some ways, the open-world genre is a homogeneous mess that sucks the joy out of adventuring. We’ve become accustomed to how these games should play, how they should feel. The end result: gaming feels like a chore you’ve become all too familiar with.
The magical thing about Breath of the Wild is that it doesn’t play by those rules.
Breath of the Wild feels like an open-world game from a parallel universe. It’s isolated from that swaying Jenga tower of old ideas. Instead, it’s stripped back. A game that asks itself, “what evokes a sense of adventure?” And pursues that at any cost.
In some ways, Breath of the Wild is lean, but it’s all the better for it. Its internal rules make sense. It’s an open world in the purest sense. It rewards exploration and experimentation. It rewards esoteric problem-solving. It makes other games seems uninspired.
Breath of the Wild is a place you want to visit, explore and live in. A game that seems separate and distinct from the games you’ve spent the last 20 years playing. It’s the best game of the decade.
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