Over the course of a decade, the gaming world evolved from pixelated nerdom into a mainstream behemoth of entertainment. Storytelling became more fluid, worlds grew epic and grand, graphics exceeded what was ever thought possible, and it seems that everyone is playing. The 2010s is marked as a time of innovation by constantly questioning how far video games could go, and of expansion as they become more and more popular in the mainstream. Over the course of the last decade, ten games clawed their way onto the list that defined the 2010s and redefined the gaming world.
10: Red Dead Redemption (2010)
Rockstar Games kicked off the decade with Red Dead Redemption by developing a lawless Wild West open world in which players could experience a declining American frontier as the rugged outlaw John Marston. The morality system defined whether the choices the player took were righteous or evil, and those choices defined who John Marston was and how the world responded to him.
Along with superb voice acting and a beautiful dynamic soundtrack, Red Dead Redemption is considered by critics as one of the best games of all time, earning several Game of the Year awards, and releasing a Game of the Year edition. This foray into a world of cowboys, outlaws, and an old-timey Americana began one of the most pervasive trends in 2010 a living world where choices matter and the player decides what type of character they want to play.
9: Super Mario Odyssey (2017)
Mario’s face is one of the biggest in gaming, synonymous with childhood memories of Nintendo 64. Super Mario Odyssey is the latest evolution of this famed legacy, touted as an almost spiritual successor to Super Mario 64. Nintendo wanted to appeal to original fans, returning to sandbox exploration-focused style gameplay while adding collectibles and numerous secrets to uncover.
By September 2019, this return-to-roots Super Mario game became the third highest selling game on the Switch with a number of accolades and awards. More than anything, Super Mario Odyssey is a callback to the original, childlike love for video games and how a trend of wistful nostalgia threaded itself throughout the best games of the decade.
8: Mass Effect 2 (2010)
Bioware blended RPG elements with shooter gameplay to create Mass Effect 2, an interactive galaxy with lifelike characters capable of making decisions. The game utilized a context-sensitive interrupt system to interrupt conversations with actions, thereby giving their snap-second decisions weight in the overall gameplay.
This lauded game was a massive upgrade from the original Mass Effect in almost every way. The environments became more unique and dynamic, the art design was expertly done, and the gameplay was more realistic with overheating guns and degrading health.
If a player wanted to continue their story from the first Mass Effect, it was possible to port over and play them in this new, immersive world. Critics venerated Mass Effect 2 as a deeply personal game that pushed the RPG and shooter genre forward, winning several awards such as Outstanding Achievement in Story and Best RPG. Bioware described its goal during production as “creating a game that was an experience,” and that experience culminated in one of the best games of the decade.
7: Portal 2 (2011)
A puzzle-platformer became one of the most interesting and unique games of the decade. The mission objective was simple: explore and solve puzzles through a modular environment, using a portal gun to open two continuous planes to jump or throw objects between. In addition to a unique premise upgraded from the original Portal, Portal 2 featured fantastic voice acting by none other than J.K Simmons, and a humorous approach to its storytelling.
Then, there was near infinite replayability. Along with a cooperative mode, Valve released modding tools on the PC and Mac to create and share user-generated levels. User-created maps were downloaded over a million times shortly after release for single and cooperative play. Still, the potential didn’t end there.
The Portal 2 team unleashed their “Teach with Portals” initiative, bringing ‘Puzzle Maker’ to teachers and students—a new and unique way to teach kids about psychics and science. Portal 2 has effectively become the TV in the classroom, except instead of outdated films, students are playing video games, and making their own levels. In this way, Portal 2 began to answer the question: how far can video games go in the mainstream sphere?
6: God of War (2018)
God of War brought a touch of grandiosity and mystique to the decade by exploring a mythic world. The character-oriented storytelling was masterful, grounding a story of gods into a story of mortals. From rageful Kratos and his son Arteus to a host of side characters and villains, the characters were drawn in an enchanting way befitting an ancient Norse world.
For the first time, the God of War series fully incorporated RPG elements into the 2018 iteration, and made serious updates to gameplay. Battle became more nuanced and calculating, a fixed cinematic camera was introduced, the Blades of Chaos were updated to the Leviathan Axe. God of War was re-imagined in this modern cinematic landscape of gaming, earning numerous Game of the Year awards as well as Best Story.
5: The Last of Us (2013)
Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us follows the journey of a teenage girl and a smuggler as they attempt to survive a zombie-infected wasteland. This intimately told, story-driven epic anchored with impossibly high stakes featured detailed environments, a haunting score, and gameplay that felt real in the hands of the player. Furthermore, this coming of age story featured diverse characters and stories which were rare at this time but accurately predicted this positive trend in gaming throughout the decade. After the game was touted as one of the best games of the seventh generation of gaming, and received several Game of the Year Awards, the recognition proved that this was the type of deep storytelling and unique character development that modern audiences crave.
4: Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017)
Nintendo fans across the world held their breath when the Nintendo Switch was announced, wondering the capability of next gen’s games. As the Switch’s launch game, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild answered those questions by presenting the boundless open-world of Hyrule, contributing to the Switch’s monumental success.
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is designed for open-ended exploration with systems to make the world more lifelike and engaging. The physics engine and chemistry system allowed Hyrule to be interactive and explorable. Players can transverse the environment to solve problems and explore the world in a dynamic manner. The chemistry system allowed players to wield the power of the world around them, using lightning against enemies, or receiving damage during thunderstorms.
Furthermore, the world teems with hidden secrets. Items have multiple uses. Victory in battle can be achieved in multiple ways. This was the Zelda game that fans had been dreaming of for years. Not only did fans get the best example of the Zelda series, but one of the best games of the decade.
3: Grand Theft Auto V (2013)
Grand Theft Auto V is a juggernaut in the world of AAA gaming. The game revolutionized its series, featuring three separate, distinct characters and storylines—contrary to the single player protagonist of past Grand Theft Auto games. This deviation was implemented in a switching mechanic that allowed players to toggle through all three characters, keeping them in the thick of action by cutting down on long travel times to keep gameplay pacing as exciting as ever.
Even more, the graphical fidelity was top-notch, rendering Los Santos and character cut scenes with cinematic precision. In many ways, the game was filmic in its approach, developing a gritty social commentary of American culture. Considered by many the blockbuster of this decade, GTAV is the third best selling game of all time. After winning tons of accolades and awards, including Game of the Year, Grand Theft Auto V evolved beyond a mere installment in the overall series and into a generation defining title.
2: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015)
CD Projekt RED created this generation’s most enormous video game world in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Even more, the player is intimately involved with the game world through Witcher Senses, that help discover hidden secrets and mission clues. The world is also littered with dark, well-detailed characters with interesting stories to discover.
CD Projekt RED also brought a sexuality to the RPG genre by maturing some of the themes, and even involving cinematic sex scenes. In addition to developing a realistic, high-fantasy world, CD Projekt RED set the bar on ethical dev practices. The company received praise for the quality of their DLCs, such as Blood and Wine—which was critically acclaimed—and by fostering a deep connection with its fans and consumers. Beyond mentioning all of its accolades and awards, base game and DLCs, everyone also loves a simple game of Gwent.
1: Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)
Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is arguably the most famous and defining game of the decade. The epic, open-world title spawned numerous remakes over two different generations of consoles, as well as PC, Switch, and VR ports. In fact, it’s been remade and re-imagined so many times that it’s become a bit of a meme. However, there is no denying Skyrim set the pace of the decade’s games to come.
The player could choose who they wanted to play, with numerous races and skill trees available to finetune your warrior (or sorcerer, thief, so on and so forth) to fit into the snowy, sprawling world of Skyrim in anyway they saw fit. Still, the customization did not end there—Skyrim became even bigger through its widespread implementation of mods.
Players could rebuild the world of Skyrim on PC and console in startling ways. These included massively upgrading the graphical fidelity, adding revealing outfits to Lydia, more immersive currency systems, and exploring whole user-created lore friendly regions. The modding was, quite simply, insane. Skyrim was more than just the best game of the decade, it was a phenomenon that set the stage for every following game after it.
The 2010s was a shining era in the development of video games. During this time, games crawled from the basement and out into mainstream society. Worlds opened up, stories deepened, and technology made graphics shine like never before. With the next-gen coming, the 2020s is sure to show even more grand achievements in game development and story creation. The ten best games of the decade just paved the way.