What follows is a the complete top fifteen list I posted over the past five days. In case anyone came to this late and wanted to just see the whole thing in one go rather than clicking around a bunch of links. The following is a top 15 list of the most important video games of the decade, not a critical or quality one. Rather, it’s the games that meant the most to me on a personal level.
Some of these were very time and place experiences that I might not readily go back to. But they all meant a lot to me at some point in this past ten years and I just wanted to share that all with everyone before I get swamped with games I never end up playing this decade.
#15: Apex Legends
Released in 2019 | Played on Xbox One X | Developed by Respawn Entertainment
Those of you who remember my top ten video games of 2019 list from the end of last month might be a little confused as to why Apex Legends has made it onto this list, while my #1 video game of 2019; Fire Emblem: Three Houses did not. (Spoiler: there are no other 2019 video games on this list.)
To be honest, there are so many complex and minute reasons behind this decision. And I could bore you by going into depth of each one, but to save you all time, let’s just say that it’s because I’ve played Fire Emblem games before, and Apex Legends was something entirely new for me.
On top of that, the last three years of this past decade have been swamped with Battle Royale games, after Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds came out of nowhere and then Fortnite went and ate it’s, and everyone else’s, lunch. For the longest time, I could not get into the Battle Royale genre, and then Respawn dropped this out of pretty much nowhere, surprising everyone and angering others who realised Titanfall 3 was probably a ways away.
Apex Legends is the perfect blend of charm, fast pace and visual style to turn my head. On top of that, it’s a much more forgiving game than the likes of PUBG and Fortnite, thanks to it’s team based gameplay, it’s pining system and its respawn beacons. It’s a game I have continued to play very regularly, and will most likely continue to play for the coming year and beyond, or until EA decide to stop supporting it.
It makes it on my list for making me love a Battle Royale game, and it would not very a fair reflection of this past decade if there wasn’t at least one of these present somewhere. And while the game has already managed to find itself a nice, toxic little fan base in under a year, I am very happy with the attention and the approach Respawn are taking to continued support for this game. Including the fake out buildup to the release of season 4.
#14: Portal 2
Released in 2011 | Played on Xbox 360 | Developed by Valve
The first Portal was a shock revelation to me, being introduced to me by a friend, who then proceeded to play through it with me and a group of other friends in a single sitting. The release of a sequel to that first game that both expanded upon the unique mechanics introduced in Portal and then built on the world as well as something I simply couldn’t wait to get my hands up.
In many ways, the first Portal seems like tech demo, an experiment in a new kind of physicals based gameplay. One that was so foreign that the entire game ended up feeling like a tutorial. Going back and playing Portal 2 this past month when compiling games for this list, that difficulty seems oh so quaint now when you go back and breeze through it all.
Portal 2 was a more substantial game than the first in every regard. Adding a more robust story, characters and mechanics that build on the portal puzzles of the first game. It also added a whole co-op campaign that forced you to think of solutions to puzzles using four portals instead of just 2.
Going back, the game feels a little more dated than I’d expect, the writing and disconnect between the player and the “story” feel a little last generation. But I suppose that’s exactly what they are. Still, the strange redemption of GLaDOS, culminating one of the best final moments in a video game I’ve ever played really offsets just how out of place Stephen Merchant’s Wheatley character ends up feeling to the rest of the game.
Portal 2 might not have ages quite as I would have liked in terms of its writing, but when it comes to gameplay, it’s still a totally unique game that nobody has really managed to replicate. It’s still totally holds up and a physicals based puzzle game and I wish Valve would do something else with this property.
#13: Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate
Released in 2011 | Played on Wii U | Developed by Capcom
It took a lot of head scratching for me to decide which game in the Monster Hunter franchise would make it onto this list, because there have been quite a few of them. I came very close to giving the honours to Monster Hunter: World, a game that shook up the franchise so profoundly that its make me feel like I can never go back to the old style Monster Hunter game ever again.
In the end though, the tough decision came down to me giving it to Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. The game that I spent the most time playing on my Wii U by far. Before World rebooted the franchise and made it so much more accessible to the newcomer, it took a special kind of person to get into the Monster Hunter franchise. It was a game that was not all that welcomeing to newcomers at all, nor was it always especially easy going to veterans either.
A hell of menus within menus, layers of systems to keep track of and on top of all that, the combat was dense. 12 totally unique weapons to pick from and learn. And learn them you needed to, because the combat in the game did not hold your hand. Monsters could take out your entire health bar in a few moments if you got caught in an unlucky spot or mistime your counter.
And yet, with all this pain and frustration came the satisfaction of doing it well. Playing the old style Monster Hunter games was more akin to dancing than combat, learning the rhythms and tells of a monster as you ended up fighting them over and over to get the rare materials you needed to make that next armour set or weapon.
3 Ultimate was special for me in a lot of ways. First off, it was the first game in the series with HD textures. Which meant a lot from a series that mostly existed on SD platforms like the PSP and the Wii before this. Additionally, it was the first game I really got to play with friends, as I knew people who played it on the 3DS, the poor souls.
Plus, as much as it rubbed people the wrong way, I really liked the underwater hunting, as the aquatic monsters have been amongst some of my favourite monster designs in the entire franchise. I love Monster Hunter, but this game was the one that probably meant the most to me over this past decade.
And in case you were wondering: I was a Switch Axe main who occasionally used a Heavy Bow gun.
Released in 2016 | Played on Xbox One | Developed by id Software
The importance of the original Doom is undeniable, it was one of those genre defining, no, genre creating video games. And I missed out on all of it. The whole Doom/Quake/Unreal Tournament boom of PC shooters passed me by entirely, as all of my time on PC in those years was spent on garbage shovel-ware and licensed games.
DOOM (2016) was my first exposure to the franchise proper, and ho boy was it a game that stuck with me. There is something delightfully irrelevant about the nature of 2016’s Doom with works perfectly with how self series and heavy metal it can be the rest of the time.
Bringing yet another unique spin to the first person shooter genre, this Doom styled itself more as a “combat puzzle” game than a straight up first person shooter. There is a loop to gameplay; your health is drained fast and you regain health by killing enemies, using the gory glory kill mechanic to increase the health replenished. Thus the game naturally forces you to go at enemies hard and fast.
It’s an example of the gameplay and the tone of the game complimenting one another perfectly. The game takes place in a very modern FPS setting, in which mega corporations are tapping into hell as a resource, only for their own greed to backfire and cause hell to spill out onto the surface of Mars.
On more than on occasion, the supporting characters of the game try to wax lyrical and justify the choices they’ve made and in every instance, the Doom guy does not care. As a character, the Doom Guy is amazing. He’s the personification of the impatient gamer, he cares little for nuance or justifications, he simply wants to rip and tear through as many demons as he can as quickly as he can.
Doom was an exhilarating experience from beginning to end, and one of the few games that has me audibly reacting to things that were happening on screen pretty constantly. Doom (2016) is an amazing games and one of the few single player campaigns in the past decade that I’ve gone back to again and again.
Anticipation for the sequel made me go back and play through it again last month alone.
#11: Halo: Reach
Released 2010 | Played on Xbox 360 | Developed by Bungie
I agonised about where to put this game on my list. After going back and playing Halo: Reach again with it’s recent addition to the Master Chief Collection, I doubted myself that it was even worth putting this high up the list, or even at all. But then I calmed down and thought back to the game and what it meant to me at the time is came out a decade ago.
In a lot of ways, Halo: Reach seems to be the bridge between Bungie’s work on Halo, and what they eventually created with Destiny. On its own, Reach was just one more first person shooter and the fifth game in the Halo franchise, a series whose best years had arguably come and gone.
To me though, Reach was a defining video game that would exemplify what I eventually come to value in not only video games, but also in online communities. Reach was the first shooter to really allow the player to feel like they were creating their own identity within the game, what with the endless combinations of armour pieces, colours, emblems and tags. It’s the first game I ever played where I felt some real attachment to my character in an online community.
And Bungie fostered that community, having a robust website that tracked a wealth of online multiplayer stats and forge communities creating their own modes in the multiplayer. I like the campaign for Reach just fine, and the firefight mode was a great addition. But what really roped me into this game in a deep way is the connection it made me feel to an online avatar and the community that jumped up around that. Something that nearly every video game seems to do these days.
But Halo: Reach is the first game that really hit me in that particular way, and I need to put it on my list for that very reason.
#10: FTL: Faster Than Light
Released in 2012 | Played on PC | Developed by Subset Games
I feel like I’ve talked about FTL a lot since it came out. It’s a video game that I can’t seem to get away from, and one I end up coming back to over and over.
A simple game. FTL: Faster than Light is part RPG, part star ship crew management game. The player takes control of a ship and her crew, as they try to make their way from one end of a star system to another while a rebel fleet pursues them. The simple design aesthetic is the perfect choice to get the idea cross while also letting your imagination fill in the rest of the gaps. It also does a great job of creating this lore and science fiction world while not overloading you with information, it lets it out in drips and drabs and let’s you pick and choose which bits you care about.
It’s very much the same thing they did years later when they made Into the Breach. Which is also a very good video game.
The thing that kept me coming back to FTL through was just how repeatable it is. There are a ton of different ship layouts, alien crew members, weapons and ship systems to make one run utterly different from the next. Not to mention the countless different encounters and little adventures that can occur as you make your way from way point to way point.
It’s a game I have played over and over and over, coming back to it pretty consistently in the eight years since its release. It’s not just the setting that gets me, its the sense of progression that comes from discovering all of the different ships, that often come from performing a bunch of tasks within a run, that you don’t generally know is a thing until after you’ve done it. There are checklists to fill in, but also secrets to discover that the game isn’t too overt about.
On top of that, there are alternate layouts to each ship which come from performing challenges during runs. Something within the game that promotes different styles of play, ones that might not seem optimal, but end up being a lot of fun either way. Subset seem to have a perfect blend of endlessly repeatable gameplay, but also dangling carrots to encourage players to keep playing the game in different ways.
It’s a game about making the best of what you’re given and while nearly all runs end in failure, it’s always fun getting there and discovering new combinations of crew, weapons and ship upgrades. I love the replayability and setting of the game despite how ungodly difficult and unfairly random it can be at times. Both this and Into the Breach are simple, yet endlessly intriguing games, and I can’t wait to see what the studio makes next.
#9: Sonic Mania
Released in 2017 | Played on Xbox One & Nintendo Switch | Developed by PagodaWest Games & Headcannon
Sonic Mania was something of a revelatory moment for me in my video game life. It was a game that made me realise that I didn’t have to stand for sub-par games anymore. That maybe it was okay to let go of my childhood nostalgia and just move on with my life.
And what better way was there to do that than play a perfect love letter to those very games of my childhood. And that is exactly what Sonic Mania is. A game made by fans for fans. For so many years, I would take on the role of the Sonic apologist, playing these bad games and trying to find the little glimmers of quality within them.
Writing reviews that amounted to almost reluctant praise. “No, really, this one is okay.”. And there are parts of Sonic Generations and Sonic Colors I still love, Sonic Mania is, without a doubt, the best Sonic game since before the franchise made the jump away from sprites and into polygonal nightmares.
A perfect combination of nostalgic throwback, remixes and brand new ideas. Sonic Mania does what those original games did so well and cracks it up another notch. Since playing this game, I don’t feel the need to pick up every Sonic game that comes out anymore. Especially when this came out in such close proximity to Sonic Forces, which was one of the very worst examples of what the franchise has become.
I’m okay letting Sonic just be a children’s franchise these days, this game helped me let go of my nostalgia in a way that liberating. And if I want to play some Sonic again, I’ve got this game to go back to. I just hope they let Christian Whitehead continue making this style of game in the future.
While Breath of the Wild might have been my game of the year for 2017, it hasn’t stuck with me in the same way Sonic Mania has.
Released in 2011 | Played on most platforms | Developed by Mojang
It’s up for some debate as to whether this game should count towards being something that was released in this decade. But let’s be real, for the very majority of people, they spend a significant portion of this decade playing the game. Seeing as how the beta version came out at the tail end of the previous decade is a minor point.
It almost feels unnecessary to justify putting Minecraft on a list like this. It was, for a long time, the biggest video game in the world. Almost like the realisation of playing with Lego as a child re-imagined into an actual video game, it combined adventure game mechanics with the ability to freely build just about anything. Making Minecraft into a very malleable game, something that could become almost anything to any number of different people.
I also put hundreds of hours into Minecraft, over several different platforms. Even now I have run a server between me and a few friends. I spent hours exploring the underground, I spent even longer building castles, towers, pirate ships and a very bad Death Star.
Minecraft inspired a whole generation of twitch streamers, Youtubers, developers and bootleg t-shirt makers. It’s influence is impossible to deny, and while I don’t have the time these days to invest into it like I did a decade ago, I still hugely appreciate this fantastic game. It’s just too bad that Super Duper Graphics Pack the for One X got scrapped.
#7: Star Wars: The Old Republic
Released in 2011 | Played on PC | Developed by BioWare Austin
There are not many video games out there that can make me buy a platform. The only two examples I can think of were picking up a Wii expressly to play Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and also getting a brand new, high end PC built for the sole purpose of playing the new Star Wars MMO; one that followed up the story started in Knights of the Old Republic.
I love Star Wars, and KOTOR is amongst my favourite video games of all time, so excitement and anticipation aren’t large enough words to describe how much I was looking forward to playing The Old Republic. And I wasn’t disappointed either.
The Old Republic was a gargantuan video game, combining all of the best aspects of an MMO with all of the most beloved aspects of the Knights RPGs that preceded them. While an MMO, The Old Republic leaned heavily into the story driven, dialogue heavy gameplay that made people fall in love with the other games in the series.
And then it went and multiplied it by eight. Each of the four character classes on both the Republic and Empire factions had totally unique stories, ones that ran alongside the overarching narrative being told, as well as all the side quests and companion quests along the way. And they were all good stories too.
It’s literally the only example I can think of not only playing eight different characters in a single video game, but also getting all of them to the maximum level. I did it because I wanted to see these individual stories play out. Playing an entire story where you follow an Imperial spy, bouncing from planet to planet, playing both sides of a conflict for personal gain was not something I ever knew I wanted.
And yet I loved the Agent’s storyline so much that he ended up becoming my main, as my Jedi Sage ended up being forgotten in favour of this James Bond-esque Chiss and his adventures. I loved the game so much that I even tried raiding. It ended up being a little more than I could handle, but I still had a go and that’s more than I can say for any other MMO I’ve played.
It’s been a good few years since I played The Old Republic, and it seems like the game is winding down now. But I still look back on that game incredibly fondly, as some of the best Star Wars content I’ve ever seen in movies, books or video games. And I really do hope this is not the end of the Old Republic in Disney’s new vision for the franchise.
#6: Pokemon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire
Released in 2014 | Played on 3DS | Developed by Game Freak
There was no way I was not going to put a Pokemon game on my list, and there were seven mainline entries in the series to come out this past decade. Y’know, realising that fact just now, I think the critics of the franchise might have a point. They are churning these games out far too often.
I’ll put my hands up and say that the last two generations of games haven’t had the impact on me as the earlier entries have. I don’t know if it’s just a case of diminishing returns in terms of my fandom, or if Game Freak really are struggling to keep up with the demand that the Pokemon Company are forcing on them in terms of marketing and the anime.
That being said, between Black/White, X/Y and ORAS, it was really difficult for me to pick a favourite. In the end though, I have to pick the game that combined and refined my favourite other games in the franchise, Ruby’s setting in X’s engine.
X and Y were great, adding Mega Evolution as my favourite new mechanic added to a game since its inception, and being the first game to use polygonal models instead of sprites (Stadium and Colosseum notwithstanding), Omega Ruby refined that engine and then added even more to it.
In a great setting with a great story and every little quality of life change from the modern iterations of the game added on top of them. Additionally, the game had a pretty decent post game as well, which is something the games haven’t always done that well.
Pokemon might not be the all-important franchise to me like it used to be even at the beginning of this decade, but I still love it fondly and Omega Ruby might just be the best entry in the entire franchise for me, let alone the last decade.
#5: Borderlands 2
Released in 2012 | Played on Xbox 360 and One X | Developed by Gearbox Software
I knew this game was going to appear in this list somewhere, even before I started compiling a massive list of games that could potentially show up on it. I had some kind of unhealthy obsession with this game, for a good long time. Playing it through in it’s entirety, DLC included, about six time. And that’s no mean feat considering how much content this game has, especially when it comes to the Handsome Collection.
I know people have mixed feelings when it comes to Borderlands and it’s style of “memey” internet humour. But when it came out in 2012, I was in my early 20s and the tone and humour just struck for me. It’s not aged well by any means, but underneath that veneer of cynicism and irreverence, there was a heart to these characters, one I connected with.
I’m not the only one who feels that way, as the years following was filled with games that found inspiration in the game’s style of humour. Or if not that, then its visual style or even their RPG and loot mechanics. Borderlands didn’t invent any of these ideas, but it put them all together in a product that really worked and turned the heads of a lot of people. Picking the bits they liked and sometimes improving on them.
As both a single player experience, and a multiplayer one, as a story and as a mindless shooter, the game fills so many different roles for me and has been a game I’ve played over and over and over. At this point, I feel more likely to play this one again than I do Borderlands 3.
It’s the definition of a time and place game. It hit me at a particular time in my life and hit me hard, and as a result I have a huge amount of nostalgia for it. Playing Borderlands 3 this year really made me realise that most of my enjoyment of this game is powerfully driven by nostalgia. If only they’d modernised the latest entry in the franchise rather than just making a game that feels out of time, then that might have shown up on my list.
Released in 2016 | Played on Xbox One | Developed by Blizzard Entertainment
For about three years after its release, Overwatch was the game I played. Putting close to 400 hours into it collectively. When the game first game out, I fell in love with its style. There was this “Disneyfied” look to the whole game, one that was perfectly suited to this weird and wonderful cast of characters.
It also had this “feel good”, celebration of the players and masking of the under performers. Everyone was whisked up by this feel good approach, low pressure the game seemed to have to everyone riding the train of just celebrating these characters and celebrating one another.
As time has gone on, the game has grown and changed. The Overwatch League, which seemed like a great idea at the time actively ended up hurting my personal enjoyment of the game. It gave people a glimpse of the very best players making use of strategies that requires high teamwork and high levels of skill, and made them think they could emulate it.
Metas came into being, forcing players to playing particular heroes instead of heroes they wanted to play. The toxicity of the player base increased as the game aged, turning the more casual players away from the game. Additionally, because Blizzard started using the league as a basis for hero balance, the skill ceiling on certain heroes became too high for more casual players.
Zenyatta is still my second most played hero, despite the nerf to his projectile speed making him all but unplayable for me now. I’m simply not good enough to lead players on a game of this speed, but because the best player in the world was too good with him, they had to nerf him. It’s not a good look when you have to stop playing your favourite character in a game and start maining a new one because the developer became the fun police.
All I’ve done is complain though, and this is a list of celebration. But because I have so much to criticise, it’s just a testament to how much I care about and have invested in this game. I made online friends playing this game, got into small groups that I’d play competitive with some regularity.
I do adore these characters and would love to see them outside of the context of this competitive based shooter. I haven’t played the game once since Overwatch 2 was announced, nor do I think I will go back to it until the sequel comes out. But no matter my feelings of the game, that three and a bit year period in which I was playing it near enough every day can’t help but make it one of my obviously most important games of the decade, having a huge impact on me outside of the game in terms of the clothes I’ve worn and the logos I’ve proudly adorned my property with.
#3: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Released in 2011 | Played on Xbox 360 | Developed by Bethesda Software
There’s a reason that Bethesda keep putting Skyrim over and over. Hell, there was even an official trailer for a Microwave Edition. It’s all for good reason though, because Skyrim is something of a revelatory video game, especially for me.
I’d put a ton of time into Fallout 3 and New Vegas, being my real introduction to this action style RPG genre, but Skyrim went above and beyond anything that game did for me and changed my perception of what video games could be. I never really spent any time with the older games in the franchise, but the openness, the seemingly endless ways to play and having so much to see was totally new to me. Doing it far better than even Fallout could.
What really did it was the unique progression system in which you could really create your own class by levelling up individual skills. Rather than picking a class like other fantasy RPGs of the sort. In Skyrim, you just used skills enough and they became more powerful. Want to be a Summoner/Barbarian? No problem. But as well as the stories I created myself, there were so many quest lines in the game that I only just discovered a pretty major one the most recent time I played it.
Today, there are countless games that do much the same thing as the Elder Scrolls V, but none of them do it better. I like Fallout 4 just fine and The Outer Worlds is a good game that never really grabbed me. But Skyrim, it’s just Skyrim. It’s a game that has stayed with me this past decade and will continue to stay with me for years more to come. I might even pick up that version on the Switch.
I only wonder what the tentatively announced Elder Scrolls VI will be when it comes out at some point this decade and whether it can succeed in knocking Skyrim off its lofty perch.
Released in 2014 | Played on Xbox 360 | Developed by Bungie
There was no way Destiny wasn’t going to make it onto this list, let’s be real. It has been and continues to be the game I’ve put the most time into this decade. I mean, I haven’t crunched the numbers, but there’s no way it can be anything else, I’m literally playing it nearly every day.
While I’ve simply listed Destiny in this entry, really I’m talking about both Destiny and Destiny 2 collectively here. While they are technically two different games, in my head there’s no real differentiation between the two. Bungie have created something more than a simple video game in Destiny, they’ve created a world, a setting and a community that I want to be involved in all the time.
The blueprints for this were apparent when they made Halo: Reach, which I’ve already spoken about. Much like with MMOs, Bungie have fostered a living game, during which there is always something to talk about. Good or bad. Personally, I feel like the game is in the best position now that it’s ever been. Their current seasonal model makes it so it feels like there is always something to do, something to work toward.
Destiny is a game that has moved beyond the realm of a mere game for me. It’s a bit of culture and community I want to be a part of, and that’s in no small part thanks to Bungie’s amazing work outside of the game in their out of game work. The app, their website and their rewards system makes me want to do things in game and get tangible reward for them.
I’ve got the T-Shirts, purchased my title medals, bought the physical lore grimoires and seriously thought about getting tattoos based on the game.
Destiny is the game I play right now, to the point that other games have become something of a distraction from my time working on whatever title or ritual weapon for the current season is going. It also helps that Bungie make a damn fine playing first person shooter.
#1: Mass Effect 2
Released in 2010 | Played on Xbox 360 | Developed by BioWare
I don’t think there is a video game, maybe not any piece of fiction, that has hit me as hard or as powerfully as the Mass Effect trilogy has. Three very different games, there is little debate amongst fans which of the three is the best. Mass Effect 2 is truly a special game, while it might be rather basic when it comes to gameplay, it’s the story and the characters it presents that elevates it to something more special for me.
I don’t think there is any other game where I so profoundly care about and connect with so many of its characters as I do with Mass Effect 2. The first game got the story going and set the scene for what would come, but the writing was stilted and hampered by cliche. There were some great moments in there, but for the most part it was a pretty cheesy science fiction story. But the setting, and the lore, that’s where it shone so brightly.
By the time Mass Effect 2 came round we were in a game that wasn’t really about saving the galaxy or securing humanities place amongst the stars. It was a game about building a team, getting to know how they tick and earning their trust and respect. There is so much downtime in Mass Effect 2, and during that time you just go around and chat with your crew, get to know them and come to love them.
And I’m not talking about banging aliens here either. I really do love the cast of Mass Effect. Garrus, Liara, Tali, Wrex, Mordin, Thane. I’ve spend so much time playing these three games, at least ten times each, so much so that the greater story, while important to me, ended up being secondary to those little quiet moments that proliferated the games. Seeing these characters open up and share their passions, their fears and their hopes.
If there was ever a combination of setting, style, writing and tone that could draw me in, Mass Effect is the game franchise that managed to hit on the absolute perfect blend for me. While the final game was the best playing, the extreme macabre tone of everyone’s impending doom made it kind of a bummer. Compared to the second game which was more of a lighthearted romp by comparison, the closet thing to a Star Trek game I’ve ever played.
I adore Mass Effect 2 and would love/be terrified of Bioware and EA going back and doing something else with those original characters in the future.