Top X lists are fun to read/create for a lot of people because they give a glimpse into what each individual’s personal preferences are for that particular topic. For a vast medium such as video games, top ten lists for the year, and especially a longer period of time like the decade, can wildly vary depending on the biases of the creator of the list. People’s own tastes also change with time as well; I was but an underclassman in high school when the 2010’s began, and the games I enjoyed playing back then are very different from what I enjoy playing now, so this piece is also a personal reflection in a sense. This piece covers 10 games (or series) that were influential to me over the course of the past decade, and are very roughly ordered. This is a personal list so at no point am I going to say my opinion is objectively correct; I also am only human meaning I have not played every single masterpiece out there, so a game not being included does not necessarily mean I did not think it deserved to be on here; I could have just not had the chance to experience it. My opinions are also primarily geared towards the PC platform, due to PC being my preferred (and more or less only) platform, meaning that a lot of console exclusives will not be mentioned as I probably did not have the opportunity to play them. I also have not dabbled a lot in indie games, which I seek to change in the next coming decade.
10. Dota 2
The funny thing is that I utterly despise Dota 2 now, though to be fair that is not really the fault of the game itself. At my current age, I have little to no tolerance for competitive, team-based multiplayer games in general, as almost all of them eventually devolve into me getting constantly angry from either toxic teammates or just frustration with my own performance, to the point these games are more stressful than fun. These sorts of games force you to cooperate with other players to accomplish an objective, which is not inherently a bad thing, but a lot of players online are utter assholes, and dealing with people who clearly do not know how to work with others is very taxing, especially if you do not have enough real-life friends to consistently form a full squad, like in my case. That aside, Dota 2 is an incredible game, and I did spend/waste a good part of the early decade playing it. It has a ton of depth and a massive learning curve, but is also very rewarding to players who actually take the time to learn the game and become proficient at it. And for all the countless times I was frustrated by playing with other players online, there were also countless times where things just clicked and the game was genuinely a blast to play. I am glad that I have played it, and I am also glad that I no longer play it.
9. Mass Effect Trilogy
While this is technically three games and not one, I figured it would not do this particular series justice if I just picked a single game from the trilogy. This trilogy also does not actually begin in the 2010’s, as the first Mass Effect game came out in the late 2000’s, but since the last game came out in 2012 I might as well count it. The Mass Effect series was influential to me in the sense that it showed me that one can blend fun game mechanics with an engaging narrative without sacrificing either. From chasing after Saren in the first game to forming a galactic military force to combat the threat of the Reapers, there was never a dull moment in all the hours I spent progressing. What made the adventure influential to me were the characters, who were excellently written and brought to life by top-notch voice acting, and the interactions I had with them as Commander Shepard. While technically the player chooses how Shepard interacts with others, the decisions that are presented to the player are generally very well crafted, and sometimes have very real, far-reaching consequences. What I also thought was very cool at the time was the save file transfer mechanic, which let me carry the decisions I made in one game over to the next. I actually enjoyed the third game the most, which might be a controversial opinion due to a lot of people’s dislike for the way it ended. I do agree that the ending to the entire trilogy could have been better executed, but often times the journey is far more important than the destination, and the Mass Effect trilogy was one hell of a journey. I personally liked the final game the most mainly because of the more polished/fleshed-out combat mechanics that were introduced by the second game which made actually playing the game the most enjoyable, and I also thought the DLC/expansion content for the third game was absolutely stellar.
8. Civilization V
Civilization V, or Civ 5 for short, is the fifth game in the Sid Meier’s Civilization series, which are turn-based strategy games that revolve around players trying to build their civilizations and try to establish dominance over the others in various ways, from the classic tried-and-true method of war or through science, or even through cultural influence. Civ 5 was my first experience with the franchise, and I was immediately hooked after playing my first game, understanding the truth behind the common meme in the community that is “just one more turn.” There is honestly a lot to love about this game, provided one has the time and patience to learn the mechanics, as building and maintaining a civilization is actually kind of difficult, even in video games. Initially one needs to grow your civilization’s population, as more people means more productive output, and to do that good food sources at vital. At the same time, scientific research to advance technology is important as well, and just like in the real world, having an edge over others in science means having an edge technologically, which also leads to other important advantages (such as military supremacy). Also just like the real world, it is important to not neglect a civilization’s cultural output, and establishing means of producing more art/music eventually allows a civilization to exert their cultural influence over others. The difficulty, and the fun, in Civ 5 is striking a balance between all those factors. Certain civilizations are better than others at certain aspects, so one should exploit each civilization’s strengths. Civ 5 was also massively improved by its expansions, Gods and Kings as well as Brave New World, which added even more features like religion to further spice up the gameplay (then there are mods if one gets bored of those as well). I unfortunately did not get quite into Civ 6 as much as I enjoyed 5, but now that 6’s big expansions have been released I am very tempted to give it another shot in the future.
7. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
I never played any of the previous Metal Gear Solid games due to not owning the appropriate consoles, so MGSV was the first title I actually got to play due to it being the first to release on PC. I remember actually watching videos on YouTube to figure out the background story due to never playing any of the previous games so that way I can at least somewhat understand what was going on. I thought the overall story was pretty good, albeit a bit convoluted at times, at least while Skull Face was still around (it becomes kind of a mess after). However the story was not the primary reason I fell in love with MGSV. I dropped countless hours into this game almost solely due to its world/level design and its core gameplay loop, which was extremely addicting. The enemies do not feel super robotic nor dumb, and react to the actions of the player; they even change their gear to adapt to common strategies the player uses to give a constant challenge (ex: soldiers begin to wear more helmets if headshots were the primary method of taking them out). The controls are extremely tight and movement feels super good, and I also thoroughly enjoyed how the weapons handled, which is extremely important to any game where shooting is a heavily incorporated mechanic. Even the non-shooting elements were awesome, be it knocking out enemy combatants via CQC (close-quarters combat) or sneaking through a base completely undetected to reach the objective. Finally there’s the part where you get to be a badass warlord, kidnapping enemy soldiers and brainwashing them to your cause, being able to send them on different operations, and even getting to deploy as them on missions. Is it morally questionable? Obviously, but it is certainly enjoyable. Every player has their own base, and there is even a unique online component where they can invade each others’ bases to try and steal resources/soldiers. Coming up with different strategies to infiltrate other bases and defending your own also has its own fun, and as a result there was never a single time I felt bored while playing MGSV.
6. Divinity: Original Sin 2
This game is probably my favorite isometric computer RPG of all time, and it more or less spoiled me regarding games with turn-based combat systems. There is honestly a lot to love about this game, including its compelling narrative, lively and complex characters, interesting art style, and absolutely banger soundtrack, but in my opinion the combat was Divinity: Original Sin 2’s (DOS 2) crowning achievement by far. An extension and improvement of the already excellent system established by the first DOS, the turn-based combat system of DOS 2 is best described as a sandbox that heavily rewards thinking out of the box. Most attacks and spells have unique interactions with each other, and the 3D environment also plays a big role. Water can be frozen or electrocuted, oil can be ignited by fire which can also be put out by water to create steam, just to list a few. Elevation and physical obstacles also play a factor, where ranged units do more damage if they have the high ground but they can also be blocked if their line of sight is obstructed. Players are allowed and encouraged to exploit the given mechanics in the craziest fashion; there is a popular meme strategy known as “barrelmancy” where a character invests all stat points into strength to max out carry capacity, then collects every heavy object known to man and stores them in a container, throwing that container at enemies and crushing them with the weight. There is also the fact that during dialogues, any party members who are not involved in the conversation can still freely move or even interact with the speaking parties (as long as no damage is done). This means it is a completely valid strategy to position party members in strategic spots, apply buffs, and do all sorts of battle set-up if one knows that an engagement is about to occur. I have found it harder to play most games involving turn-based combat after playing DOS 2, and for very good reason.
5. Nier: Automata
The game that inspired me to actually start this blog in the first place, and if you want to read my comprehensive thoughts on it then read the review. From a gameplay perspective Nier: Automata was not super revolutionary, as the combat, while fun, was not anything mind-blowing and the non-combat portions were your standard bullet-hell sequences. What made this game phenomenal were its story, the way the story was delivered to the player, the characters, and its thematic elements. Playing through the game once gives the impression of a rather standard narrative, but upon playing through the subsequent paths up to route E reveals something way more thought-provoking, albeit rather tragic. What does it mean to be human? What is the purpose of existence, if there even is one? This game is not a philosophical essay nor was it intended to be one, but it does delve into some of those topics in a relatable way while still telling a great story and being a fun game at the same time. I was also a huge fan of the world/environment, which feels almost magical despite its post-apocalyptic setting, and its soundtrack, which in my opinion is one of the greatest video game soundtracks ever made. The final knockout is delivered by the end credits of ending E (the “true” ending), which is a real tearjerker that makes one truly appreciate the social aspect of humanity and why we as a species should focus on working together towards greater things instead of bickering over selfish, petty conflicts.
4. Deus Ex: Human Revolution
I will admit that I had a hard time getting into the very first Deus Ex game, which is probably one of the greatest games ever made, due to its age (it released at the start of the millennium) so some of the mechanics felt difficult to get used to. Deus Ex: Human Revolution (DXHR), in my opinion, brings a lot of what made the first game so great, but gives it a significantly more modern finish which is appealing to somebody who was too young to really appreciate the original when it first came out. I actually replayed it last year, and felt that even in 2019 it still held up well despite it coming out at the beginning of the decade. Aside from the ending of the game (which gave me Mass Effect 3 vibes), I could find almost no negative qualities about DXHR, which further strengthens my personal philosophy of the journey mattering more than the destination. The gameplay is superb; one of the brilliant things about the Deus Ex franchise in general is level design, and like what I praised about Divinity: Original Sin 2, the game excels at giving the player a multitude of options to tackle a problem depending on what their play style is. There is nothing to stop the player from taking the straightforward approach and using violence to clear the way, but the game does like to reward one who takes the time and thought to explore and find an alternative route. When in conflict with a particular individual, one can simply neutralize the target and extract information from the body (or elsewhere), or one can go for the more empathetic approach and try to reason/persuade the person to give the player what is needed. The different gadgets, or augmentations, one can use enable even more ways to deal with obstacles, and it is a blast to try and figure out different, useful applications of each augmentation. The narrative is also excellent, and I thought Adam Jensen was a well-crafted character who conveys one of the central themes of the story very well; is technological self-enhancement the future of human evolution and we should embrace it, or is it something dangerous that should be feared?
3. Sekiro/Dark Souls 3
I cheated by putting both games here, but I decided to put them in the same spot because I loved them for similar yet different reasons, and because they are both developed by FromSoftware, which is probably one of the most influential video game developers in the industry. Every remotely challenging game released today gets compared to Dark Souls, and I see more and more games utilizing some of their game design choices, which is a testament to what FromSoftware has accomplished. It is often said that the first Dark Souls game one plays is the best, and I find that to be very true, having played the series in reverse order due to my relatively late exposure to the franchise (if I played the first one first it is very possible that would be my favorite instead of the third one). Sekiro, while not in the same franchise, shares a lot of similar design elements and the same fundamental game philosophy. Both games are challenging and punishing, but are not difficult for the sake of being difficult, and heavily reward the player for having the perseverance and the awareness to learn from mistakes, which results in a greater feeling of triumph when one actually beats a hard encounter. These games are not just examples of excellent design philosophy, but also come with intricate, fascinating world building. I will not say that a strong narrative is a forte of FromSoftware games, but they make up for that by having thoroughly thought-out worlds with tons of lore sprinkled in the environment that give clues to the greater story and the environment. I enjoyed the setting of Dark Souls 3 more, as well as its invader/co-op phantom system which allowed to me share my experiences with other players, whether it be beating a boss together or invading someone else’s world just to be a dickhead. On the other hand, in Sekiro, I had to face all hardships alone, but I also loved the combat and overall movement system significantly more. I cannot say which game I liked more overall, but both are excellent. The original Dark Souls should get the credit for spawning such a successful franchise/genre (one could argue that it was Demon Souls that was the OG, but Demon Souls’ exposure was very limited in comparison), but as somebody who played it after playing 3, it was hard for me to enjoy it more due to the relative lack of polish and quality-of-life features that were present in the later titles.
2. Monster Hunter World
Fitting that the Iceborne expansion releases for PC around the same time, Monster Hunter World (MHW) is another incredible experience, and I am a tad embarrassed by the amount of time I have dropped into it, though in my defense MHW is a game that definitely requires a lot of time commitment to truly get the most out of it. It has a story, but honestly I could not care any less about it; what drives me to play it is purely the gameplay. The gameplay loop is ridiculously simple: hunt monsters, make awesome gear out of them, then hunt stronger monsters. The trick is that MHW does a next-level job of perfecting that gameplay loop. The monsters are visually stunning to look at and are just as fun to hunt, with well-designed AI that makes it feel like one is fighting an actual, living creature. Of course, every monster has its patterns and when one hunts a certain monster enough, recognizing the monster’s patterns becomes second nature. In that sense it is very similar to the FromSoftware games, presenting the player with something that is a huge obstacle at first, but as the player gets better, that obstacle eventually becomes a cinch. However, a key part of MHW also lies in the player’s gear and item loadouts, and learning to create the most efficient sets also plays a role in improving one’s monster hunting experience, and and planning out such sets can also be a fun endeavor itself. Another brilliant aspect of MHW’s combat design is in the weapons players can wield, where each weapon class was designed with its own strengths and intricate mechanics to master. The satisfaction I get from mastering both the weapon I use as well as the monster I am hunting rivals the feeling of defeating a difficult boss in a FromSoftware game, but what makes me enjoy MHW a bit more is that the nature of its mechanics allows for a potentially higher skill cap that keeps me coming back to it. On top of that, there is co-op, and unlike most multiplayer games that happen to have a lot of in-depth mechanics, MHW is not a competitive game, which means the frequency of running into toxic players online is far lower. Finally, the best thing about this game is that it featured a crossover with the game that takes the number one spot for me.
1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Funny that as soon as the Netflix show aired, Steam’s statistics indicated that thousands of people started to play this game again. But when one considers the sheer impact this game had when it was released, it is not that surprising. While CD Projekt Red did become well-known with the first two Witcher games, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt shot them into massive stardom and made them one of the most popular game studios today, so much that the hype behind their next project, Cyberpunk 2077, is already huge despite the game not dropping for another few months. There is no real big secret formula that this massive, open-world game followed; it was great just because it executed well on basically all fronts. While the writers of the game did not have to worry about creating the core cast of characters from scratch thanks to the great collection of stories originally written by Andrzej Sapkowski, they clearly paid homage where it’s due by staying faithful to the characters’ original characterizations. The world of the Witcher was also amazing in its own right; each major hub you explore has its own distinct atmosphere and little details to differentiate itself from one another, and exploring the world never felt dull despite its massive size. The quests, whether main story-related or side, are also very well designed, including even some of the more unimportant side quests like monster contracts. A lot of the monsters in those contracts can be terrifying, and watching Geralt examine the carnage they left behind builds up suspense towards the inevitable showdown. The biggest appeal of the game was definitely Geralt of Rivia himself though; I was a fan of how the writers gave me enough choice to decide how Geralt should act under certain situations, but generally presented those choices in a way that would still be faithful to Geralt’s character. Ultimately Geralt is a noble individual who seeks to do right by the world despite his stoic exterior, but unfortunately there is not always a right choice, and those he helps are not always grateful for it, and some even despise him for his differences (witchers are modified humans, and humans in the universe are notoriously racist to anyone not their own kind). What solidifies The Witcher 3 as my personal number one lies in its two expansions — Heart of Stone and Blood and Wine — which are some of the best expansions I have played in any game, and its relative modding-friendliness (it is no Bethesda game level of moddable, but there are a lot of things one can customize about it) that let me mod out any problematic mechanics I might have disliked or improve the combat, which admittedly is not as outstanding as everything else in the game in its base form. But for a game to do so many things right on such a large scale, I can easily forgive it.
- PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, or PUBG as many people have come to know it, deserves a spot here because as unpolished and buggy as it was, it arguably started the battle royale craze, and I absolutely enjoyed my time playing it with friends. It was honestly the only “competitive” multiplayer game that I could play for long periods of time without wanting to blow my brains out at the end of a session, because there are so many different ways to approach it. Whether it be going for a YOLO drop into a hot zone and fighting to the death or landing somewhere more remote to safely gather loot to stand a chance later on in the round, I liked the flexibility of being able to approach every game with either a “screw it” or a tryhard attitude and have fun regardless of what mentality I started the game with. Factoring in all the stupid things one can do in a squad, it had a lot of lasting entertainment value that didn’t quite seem to be as present in other future, more polished titles released by other companies.
- Prey, released in 2017 by Arkane Studios, hit a lot of the same notes as Deus Ex: Human Revolution did as an “immersive sim” game. Interesting powers, wacky gadgets, and brilliant, nonlinear level design that accommodates multiple play styles all combine to form a satisfying gameplay experience, but what I enjoyed about Prey specifically was the setting and the way the story is told to the player. It takes place in space (space is never uncool), and the enemies, known as the Typhon, are extremely creepy, sometimes terrifying. The game never fails to keep me constantly on my toes, and to be honest the only reason I put Deus Ex over it is my personal preference for Deus Ex’s narrative, though Prey’s own story is no slouch.
- Portal 2 by Valve. Valve doesn’t make a lot of single player titles now, with Half-Life: Alyx being its only single player release in years, but back when they did they more or less revolutionized the industry with every game they put out. The Portal games are puzzle games where the player must find the exit to each level through a combination of two portals that link with each other, utilizing the environment and a knowledge of basic physics to get past. Portal 2 has probably some of the most brilliant puzzles of any video game, but with a great story and lovable characters too; in my opinion it’s basically an improvement over the first Portal in almost every single way, and that is also a phenomenal game in its own right. It also has a co-op mode, with a whole unique set of levels too, so there’s fun to be had both alone and with a friend.
The last decade was definitely a great one to play video games in, and there are honestly a lot more that deserve recognition, including a ton of stuff I have not gotten a chance to experience. I like to think that some of the best games that came out in the 2010’s have helped to change the public perception towards video games for the better, that games are just as valid a media form as TV shows or movies. That is not even going into the topic of esports, where the attitude towards professional, competitive gaming is becoming more welcoming as more individuals get into competing and streaming for a living.