Brandon’s Top 10 Games of the Decade

Here at the Good Gamer Society we’ll each be doling out our games of the decade, and then giving our overall list afterwards. The 2010’s have been an incredible decade for gaming, with the industry evolving dramatically in technical, artistic, and gameplay aspects.

This list is purely subjective. It is not intended to be an objective Top 10 Greatest Games of the Decade list (perhaps we’ll do that in the future). Instead, these are my personal favorites from the 2010’s. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a to play a number of the top games from the decade, especially those on Playstations. Nevertheless, the games I list below are absolutely incredible in my opinion and are worth a look, though I’ll guess most readers have played several of these already. Onwards!

Honorable Mention (#11) – Subnautica (2018, PC)

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This is kind of a cheat but I really wanted to get this game into my article so I went ahead and did it. Subnautica is a truly unique game – it’s a survival game set virtually completely underwater. Trapped on an ocean planet, the player comes into contact with the remains of an ancient civilization as they attempt to survive – not only from hunger and thirst, but the many terrifying monsters of the deep.

I’m not usually ones for horror games (although Subnautica is not primarily one), but the satisfying sense of progression, the unique and beautiful ocean environments and biomes, and the tense escapes from sea monsters made Subnautica one of my favorites of the decade. See my full review here.

 

#10 – PUBG (2017, PC/XB1)

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Fortnite may be the cultural icon, and Apex Legends may be the new kid on the block, but for me, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is the true ‘apex’ of the Battle Royale genre. PUBG was created by the arguable founder of the genre, PlayerUnknown, who originally created an entertaining Battle Royale mod for the military shooter Arma II. It features more realistic shooting mechanics compared to its competitors, and the intense thrill of surviving to the end and getting that ‘Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner!’ is a feeling I don’t think I’ve quite felt in any other game.

I’ve played on both PC, and mostly on the Xbox One version to play with friends, which was very rough to play on at first. The team has greatly improved both versions, adding maps, fixing bugs, and increasing performance. The game is certainly more janky and less smooth than its genre competitors and other, arguably less ambitious military shooters. However the strong tactical, team-focused gameplay, satisfying shooting, and the thrill of survival made PUBG an absolutely memorable experience for me in the 2010s and a game I return to frequently today.

 

#9 – Divinity: Original Sin II (2017, PC/NS)

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The most recent game on the list for me, it was impossible to keep Divinity Original Sin II off here. Considered by many to be the finest CRPG in years, Divinity combines great writing and characters, an expansive world to explore, and entertaining and challenging tactical combat to create a truly great RPG experience.

Amid a resurrection of CRPGs (see: Pillars of Eternity, Pathfinder: Kingmaker, the Wasteland remakes), DOSII stands tall as a shining example of CRPG quality. It even inspired me to go back and play many of the RPGs I’ve never touched, through my Great Campaign series.

 

#8 – Fire Emblem: Awakening (2013, 3DS)

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Awakening is considered the best in the series by a significant portion of Fire Emblem fans. It was the game that revitalized and kept the series going, as if it didn’t sell enough, the franchise would have been shut down. The developers poured their heart into the game, and it paid off as one of the best selling entries in the series.

It features Fire Emblem‘s classic tactical gameplay with an increased focus on building relationships with other characters. This even played out in a time-travel mechanic that allowed players to recruit children of current relationships from the future. Additionally, the game was the series’ first outreach to a wider audience, introducing a Casual mode that disabled perma-death for characters (a staple for the series). This enabled even gamers like my brother Andrew, not exactly the biggest strategy fan, to enjoy the game.

 

#7 – Fallout: New Vegas (2010, X360/PC)

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Bethesda revived the Fallout series in 2008 with Fallout 3, a first-person shooter / RPG hybrid set in the familiar post-apocalyptic setting. Though critically and commercially successful, and a favorite of mine, Fallout 3 strayed far from the series’ CRPG roots. It still put a focus on character progression and did emphasize dialogue and lore more than your average FPS, but it lost a lot of the role-playing core of the originals.

Enter New Vegas. Developed by seasoned RPG developer Obsidian (several of whose members created the original Fallout titles under the name Black Isle Studios), New Vegas took Fallout 3’s engine and core gameplay and centered it more around role-playing. A large focus was placed on the faction system, which allowed you to gain and lose reputation among a bevy of different factions depending on your actions. Additionally there were many endings to see, and your choices often had a significant impact on the outcome of the story and individual quests. Throw in great writing, characters, some of the best vaults in the modern series, upgraded gunplay, and some incredible quests (Beyond the Beef, anyone?) and you have a fantastic Fallout game.

 

#6 – Outer Wilds (2019, XB1)

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No, not The Outer Worlds. It’s Outer Wilds! If you’ve read any review of this game, then you probably have heard something to the effect of: “It’s too hard to explain, you’ll just have to play it yourself.” And this is definitely true to a degree. The game is much better played knowing very little about it. However, I can tell you that it is set in outer space with a very unique core mechanic. Working in conjunction with (or against) this mechanic, you’ll explore a model, clockwork solar system packed to the brim with secrets, remnants of an ancient civilization, and fascinating worlds.

At its core, you are an explorer who needs to piece together what is going on in this star system. The mysteries in the game are tantalizing and every world is very unique, and must be approached differently. I played through the game in a week and when I wasn’t playing it, my mind was continually thinking about it, theorizing, speculating. Outer Wilds is full of charm and you probably won’t expect how much of an emotional impact the story will have on you. Let’s just say, no game since Undertale has hit me so hard. It’s worth picking it up (it’s currently on Xbox Game Pass or the Epic Game Store). Full review here.

 

#5 – Red Dead Redemption II (2018, XB1)
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#4 – Read Dead Redemption (2010, X360)

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I’d like to discuss these games together, as it would be very difficult to otherwise. Red Dead Redemption kicked off the decade with a bang. Sue me, but I had never been a big fan of the GTA games. They were a bit too over-the-top and crass for me (and still are), but having played and enjoyed parts of GTA IV and V, I understand where the appeal is. Nevertheless I was a huge fan of open-world games (which were still pretty rare at the time) and I love the Wild West motif. All in all, Red Dead was a perfect match for me, and it didn’t disappoint.

RDR is carried by a strong story and main character in John Marston, who is a tough, but relatable cowboy with an outlaw past, in a dying Wild West. RDR is features vast and beautiful environments, interesting characters, and solid gunplay. One of the best innovations was random ‘world’ events where something interesting might happen as you were wandering the wild. A woman might cry for help beside a broken-down wagon, only to have you ambushed by a group of thugs. Or a hunter might challenge you to a shooting contest, with a wager of course. These kind of events, along with a multitude of side activities such as hunting really made the game feel immersive, especially for its time.

Red Dead Redemption II, the long-awaited sequel, arrived after an 8-year hiatus. Utilizing the vast generational improvements in technology, RDR2 expanded on basically everything RDR featured. Graphically, it’s probably the best-looking game I’ve ever played. It features incredibly beautiful, vast, and varied landscapes and detailed characters and animations. RDR2 doubles down on story and character development, and it’s protagonist Arthur Morgan is one of my favorite video game characters ever.

It also doubles down on realism in gameplay – animations are very detailed and take time; everything from mounting your horse, to skinning an animal, to walking into a saloon features a very high level of detail and realism. This turned a portion of gamers off from the game, as it is definitely a slower type of game; not arcadey by any means. I really enjoyed this realistic perspective and was constantly in awe by how alive the world felt. The story is long and (generally) gripping, the areas are packed with content and full of variety, and the gunplay is improved upon, if still somewhat lacking compared to gunplay in traditional shooters. I actually felt the game was a bit too long as I needed to take a break at one point to come back and finish the game later.

I placed RDR1 over its sequel primarily due to its origination of the concepts that RDR2 expands upon. RDR2 really does feel like RDR1 with a different story and characters, in a new generation. Which is a great thing, and may make it an objectively better game. But it is similar enough to warrant placing it below RDR1.

 

#3 – Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (2018, NS)

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I’ve posted a lot about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on this blog and it’s no coincidence – it’s my most-played game of the last year-plus and I’ve loved every minute of it. Ultimate is an absolute love-letter to not just Nintendo fans but to the history of gaming in general. Featuring up to now an absurd 80+ character roster, over 100 stages, hundreds upon hundreds of classic music tracks from across gaming history, including remixes composed by artists from different game franchises, and a frenetic, refined, and incredibly fun fighting system – Ultimate truly does live up to its name. At this point you can have an 8-player showdown featuring Mario, Cloud Strife, Solid Snake, Joker from Persona, Banjo-effing-Kazooie, Mega-Man, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Pac-Man, playing on a stage where the guy from Duck Hunt is shooting at you, while Megalovania is playing in the background. This is the best timeline.

Ultimate is one of those special games that has appeal to both casual, intermediate, and hardcore fans due to the breadth of the game’s content and both the depth and accessibility of its fighting mechanics. In addition to the central and robust multiplayer modes, it also features a lovingly-made and long (if tedious at times) single-player adventure. This mode packs in a thousand more video game characters from across gaming as collectible “spirits” which provide buffs and mechanics changes for your battles. With a variety of other modes, unlockables, stats, and more thrown in, the amount of content and painstaking detail put into Ultimate may not yet be rivaled by any other game, ever

Although surely for some the fighting gameplay style may not quite click, and not all gamers are quite as attached to as many of Ultimate’s characters as I am – nevertheless, the game is truly near and dear to my heart and is one of the best games ever made. Thank you Mr. Sakurai!

 

#2 – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011, X360/PC/NS)

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One of the truly defining games of a generation, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the most successful and popular iteration of the Elder Scrolls franchise yet. The series is known for its large game worlds, immersive first-person role-playing, unique usage-based progression system, and allowing players to define their character builds with a lot of variety. Skyrim takes the expansion of accessibility and tighter storytelling of it’s predecessor Oblivion, throws in Dragons and unique abilities called shouts, and it resulted in an epic for the ages.

As a fan of TES since Morrowind, Skyrim was one of my most-hyped games ever – I drove three hours away to my buddy’s school to stand in line with him; we played it all night, slept until 4 the next day, and continued to play. Especially for the time, the scope of the game is truly impressive. You can climb distant mountains, discover many interesting and detailed towns and cities, and explore ancient ruins and caverns to your heart’s content. Skyrim does a great job of capturing the spirit of adventure at the heart of the best role-playing games, as you truly feel like you are growing stronger throughout your journey. There are so many sidequests, faction quests, activities, etc. to do it feels like you never run out of content to engage in.

Especially looking back, it’s clear that Skyrim has some apparent flaws including dated combat, stiff character animations, unexciting world traversal, greater accessibility at the expense of removing many core, traditional role-playing elements in the series, and a tendency to turn your character into a do-it-all superhero (which does have its perks!) instead of a specially-built and crafted role-playing hero. And nowadays, with Bethesda’s (deservedly) sharp decline in public perception, there are some who are reconsidering if Skyrim was even that great in the first place. And while I somewhat understand where they are coming from, it is certainly far too contrarian to declare that so unilaterally. Skyrim may have its issues, but it’s a truly epic and lengthy tale of adventure, role-playing, and exploration that has appealed to millions of both casual and hardcore gamers alike. And nothing that modern-day Bethesda does can take away from that.

#1 – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017, NS)

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I consider myself a huge Zelda fan. Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, Windwaker, and Twilight Princess stand as some of my favorite games ever. It would be reasoned that I would have been excited for 2011’s Skyward Sword, but for one reason or another, that wasn’t the case. The primary reason was likely due to Skyrim coming out at about the same time, which I invested all my energy into. However, I think I had also become disillusioned with the Wii in general, and wasn’t all that excited for Nintendo’s design for Skyward Sword, including the art style and motion controls.

I wanted Twilight Princess 2, preferably as an open-world game, which was becoming all the rage. Skyward Sword was almost the exact opposite, one of the most linear Zelda games ever made. It had good critical reception, and much later I went back and played through a good portion of it. It’s an enjoyable game, but not one of my favorites, and I felt restrained by its strict linearity and hand-holding nature (the motion controls and art style were fine, on the other hand).

Now add to this that I never bought a Wii U – I was content with my Xbox 360 and PC at the time, and my brother had his own Wii U for Smash Bros. action. So when he told me about a new Zelda game in development for the system, I was pretty ‘meh’. Even after it appeared that the game might be more of an open-world style, I had little faith in Nintendo to truly embrace the open-world genre and remove the hand-holding found in its previous titles. And, I didn’t have a Wii U…

Enter the Nintendo Switch reveal presentation in January of 2017. On top of revealing an exciting new hybrid console, they showed a trailer for what was now known as Breath of the Wild at the end of the presentation, also announcing its release on the Switch at launch. I truly believe this trailer might be the best trailer for any media ever – the sheer epic scope and drama is incredible. It single-handedly made me extremely interested in BOTW, and I got very excited for what Nintendo was trying to do – combine my two favorite things in gaming: Zelda and open worlds.

The rest is really history at this point. Breath of the Wild released with perhaps the most critical acclaim I’ve ever seen a game receive, and people absolutely ate it up. A lot has been written of the game, most overwhelmingly positive, and a large portion of that is absolutely true for me. BOTW has become my favorite modern game of all time, and I believe it’s something every gamer should experience themselves.

BOTW has just about perfected the satisfying feeling of curiosity, exploration, and discovery in a virtual world. The very landscape of Hyrule is shaped to draw the player’s attention and the world is filled with interesting landmarks and areas. No other game lets you go where you want and do what you want quite like BOTW. A physics-based ‘chemistry engine’ built into the game gives you a large variety of ways to handle any given situation. Being able to climb virtually any surface allows you to approach problems from many directions, literally, and frees you to explore almost anywhere.

Additionally, the Zelda combat system received an upgrade featuring a large variety of weapons, several useful techniques, and more challenging enemies. There are times when it truly feels like you are just using every possible resource at your disposal to overcome enemies. From smacking them with metal boxes using magnetism, to throwing explosive barrels into a camp from above, to flying high in the air to line up precise arrow strikes.

BOTW is one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played as well, only losing out to perhaps Red Dead Redemption II. The striking vistas, mountain ranges, and shimmering lakes assist in immersing you in the wilds of a post-apocalyptic Hyrule. I could go on and on about all of the wonderful things in BOTW: many interesting locations, the incredible final dungeon, the detailed sound design, many of the excellent puzzles and shrines, charming towns, variety of armor and weapons, the fitting and evocative music, the total lack of hand-holding whilst being very accessible, and giving the player a huge amount of agency and motive to learn on your own.

The game has its flaws: a slightly-overbearing weapon durability system, lack of enemy variation, some combat scaling issues, weak dungeons (especially for the series), and generally weak and very infrequent story sections. And, I’ll even say there is certainly a portion of gamers who very well may not like the open-ended exploration and the nature of intrinsic, rather than extrinsic rewards; in addition to a mix of the above flaws.

However, for the vast majority, the strengths of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild well out-weigh its flaws, and if you’re looking for a game to give you that child-hood feeling of wonder and discovery, this is it. It’s a title that has shaken the foundations of the open-world genre and it’s even more incredible that Nintendo nailed their first open-world game so well. What’s scary is that a refined Breath of the Wild 2, currently in development, could be even better.

 

Thanks for reading my Top 10 Games of the Decade! What are your top 10 games? Any games in this list that you feel significantly differently about?

– Brandon

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