The past decade has been an embarrassment of entertainment riches — especially in the world of gaming.
From cultural phenomena like Pokémon Go and Fortnite to niche favorites like Return of the Obra Dinn, Papers, Please, and Subsurface Circular, an endless array of incredible games have graced our screens these last ten years.
We piled around couches playing Overcooked and Until Dawn. We joined forces to take on enemies in Call of Duty and Destiny. We battled each other in Tetris 99 and Rocket League, then hated ourselves trying out Dark Souls and Cuphead. We made whole worlds in The Sims 4 and Minecraft. We tried to download P.T. just one last time.
It’s nearly impossible to choose the best games of this decade because so many provided us with amazing and unique experiences. There are too many factors to consider when thinking about what makes certain games “the best.” Is it story? Gameplay? Innovation? Cultural impact? So instead of debating endlessly about what makes some games better than all the rest, we chose our favorites.
Here are 15 of our favorite games from the 2010s, listed alphabetically.
1. Batman: Arkham Knight (2015)
Even though Batman: Arkham Knight was the fourth Arkham game and the third released this decade, it stands alone as a titanic achievement in the action-adventure genre. While Arkham Asylum, City, and Origins were solid Batman games, the map expansion to encompass all of Gotham City and the gadget-driven improvements on the franchise’s signature freeflow combat system make Arkham Knight a pinnacle of roleplay immersion.
Arkham Knight lives up to its “Be The Batman” tagline. For the first time, players could survey all of the Dark Knight’s domain from the sky and the streets to explore a Gotham packed with easter eggs, hidden mysteries, and constant battle encounters. Its villain-driven side quests feel like comic book arcs that require all of Batman’s (and by default, the player’s) detective skills and lightning-fast reflexes.
Its early launch was muddled with PC errors that damaged the game’s reputation early on, and many players have taken issue with the addition of a Batmobile that slides around Gotham so weightlessly the streets seem paved by Mr. Freeze’s undisclosed municipal side project, but the overwhelming Batman-ness of the design, story, and puzzles make Arkham Knight a remarkable adaptation of DC comics and a fantastic bat-game. -Alexis Nedd, Senior Entertainment Reporter
2. Celeste (2018)
The 2D platformer came back in a big way in the 2010s as independent developers began revisiting one of the earliest genres in gaming with fresh eyes, giving the world such amazing games as Super Meat Boy and Limbo without the need for a big studio. It’s one of the simplest ideas for a game, to get from point A to point B, but when done well, it can be amazing.
Celeste is one of the best platforming games ever made. It begins simply as the main character Madeline is heading to climb a mountain, jumping over gaps and climbing up walls. As the challenges grow harder, Madeline meets some new people on her journey and she begins to open up about her mental health issues. She’s not just climbing a physical mountain, she’s also climbing a mental mountain to prove that she can do it, despite the anxiety, depression, and panic attacks she experiences.
I played this game at a time when I was experiencing some debilitating anxiety on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis. Not only is it a fantastic platformer with plenty of juicy, challenging levels, it paints mental health issues in a way that makes them seem conquerable, and helped me realize that my own issues were something I could actually address instead of just deal with. Mental mountains are just as valid as physical ones, and both can be climbed. -Kellen Beck, Entertainment Reporter
3. Destiny (2014)
Destiny didn’t exactly come from out of nowhere in 2014, but the splash it ended up making is still rippling across the industry today. Bungie, architects of the Halo franchise, had of course proven its chops as a studio in the years leading up to Destiny. But that success was a double-edged sword: how do you follow an act as successful as the flagship Xbox series?
Destiny turned out to be a compelling answer to that question, delivering a multilayered experience that reinvented what an online first-person shooter could look like. It started with the meaty foundation of smooth and impactful running and gunning. There are plenty of games where you shoot things, but Destiny one-ups them all with its varied arsenal and momentum-shifting “space magic.” It just feels amazing to play.
Then, layered on top of that, is an always-online game that pushes players toward cooperative and competitive “pinnacle” activities – with the rewards to match. It’s the sort of massively multiplayer experience that was popularized by classics like World of Warcraft, except it sticks that framework into what is arguably the best-feeling FPS on the market.
Destiny‘s mainstream success has always been more of a slow burn, thanks in part to a rocky start in 2014 that left even the most dedicated early fans clamoring for balance updates and additional content almost immediately. But few games in the past 10 years have done more to cement a set of fresh ideas that others have since tried to replicate again and again. -Adam Rosenberg, Senior Entertainment Reporter
4. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)
Some games feel like more than what they are. On paper The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is an open world action RPG set in a fantasy land with a growing dragon problem, but anyone who has played and loved it knows that what makes the game exceptional lies beyond its main plot (which is very good) or its mechanics (which kind of suck).
Skyrim is an experience, an ever-expanding and sustained feeling of “oh my god” packaged in game format. Whether it’s finally glimpsing the view from the Throat of the World to feeling your heart rate pick up when your screen dims around a hidden Word Wall, it’s a sensory masterpiece that remains exciting through all eight billion playthroughs the average player attempts. Do not check that math.
Released in 2011, Skyrim set the tone for the upcoming decade in gaming by having crossover appeal to the rest of the normie internet — its memes trickled out to Twitter and Tumblr (Arrow to the knee! Fus Roh Dah! Shut up, Nazeem!) and its characters lived new lives in novel-length additions to Archive of Our Own. All hail the Dragonborn. All hail Skyrim. -A.N.
5. Firewatch (2016)
Walking through the Shoshone National Forest falling in love via walkie-talkie. That’s the kind of experience gamers could have in Campo Santo’s Firewatch, an adventure game that brought the romantic melancholy of a Wyoming sunset to consoles everywhere.
A divisive first-person exploration that left some enchanted and others underwhelmed — we’re in that first camp — Firewatch captured simplicity like few other games this decade. Boiling away complex mechanics and design to focus on character and feeling, Firewatch struck a chord with many who played it. It is at once a stunning reminder of the world beyond your screen, and a meditation on the highs and low of self-imposed isolation.
Beautifully designed and deeply felt, Firewatch offered a walk in the woods worth remembering, if not because you could relate to it, then because you knew someone who could. -Alison Foreman, Entertainment Reporter
6. God of War (2018)
God of War is the definition of an epic. The journey of Kratos, both inwardly as he learns to control his rage and become a loving father to Atreus, and outwardly as he explores the worlds of Norse mythology to spread his wife’s ashes on the highest peak in the nine realms. The realms are beautiful and the characters that populate them are so vivid.
The combat in God of War, which primarily relies on Kratos’s Leviathan Axe, is superb. The close proximity of the over-the-shoulder camera makes every encounter feel personal, and the movement and attacks are handled fluidly. The way the axe connects with enemies is cathartically brutal.
But what lingers in my memory of God of War are the set pieces — the moment the giant world serpent Jörmungandr appears, impossibly large and with an indescribably otherworldly voice, the fights with the immortal Baldur, the reveal of Freya’s house, built on the back of a giant turtle in a vibrant grove. They stand out because they’re so well crafted, just like the rest of the game. God of War is airtight in every way. -K.B.
7. Gone Home (2013)
When you first step into The Fullbright Company’s critically acclaimed hit Gone Home, it’s like walking into a ghost story. You come back to your childhood home after a long time away at college. It’s a dark and stormy night, and the house is empty. There’s evidence of lives being lived all over, but your parents and sister are just… absent.
As it eventually turns out, Gone Home is indeed a ghost story – but probably not the kind you were thinking of. The game consists of wandering through the house and piecing together a picture of this family’s present-day existence. Almost all of it is observational, with only a minimal emphasis on traditional game mechanics.
Instead, you paw through your family’s possessions in search of clues that, over time, paint a clearer picture in your head. At various points throughout the story you also unlock diary entries from your sister that unravel even more of the mystery.
All of that exploration eventually leads you into the family’s attic, where a surprising revelation upends virtually everything you’ve come to understand about the story. It’s an emotional moment that simultaneously leaves you breathless and makes a very clear statement about the power of video game storytelling. -A.R.
8. Journey (2012)
If anyone questions the potency of games as an art medium, I still to this day direct them first to Journey. Not only because it’s accessible and objectively gorgeous to behold, but because Journey shows everything right and wrong about our presumptions of what games are capable of.
By stripping everything from online co-op and narrative to its bare essentials, it proved how you can do a lot more with far less in video games. On a personal level, I’ll never forget the bond I formed with my anonymous co-op player, who went through the full 3 hour game with me in one sitting. He wore one of those special all-white robes, which meant he’d unlocked every secret in the game. He kindly and patiently showed me each one, and I thanked him by running and jumping around him in circles, chirping excitedly.
At the end of our journey, my companion created the outline of a heart in the sand. I did the same. When his identity was revealed, he sent me a message to verbally thank me for such a beautiful journey, and I did the same. It was the only time I’ve ever left an online gaming experience without being harassed and, let me tell yah, as a girl that meant the world. -Jess Joho, Staff Writer
9. Just Cause 2 (2010)
Just Cause 2 is the perfect open world action game, top to bottom. With its fast cars, explosions, airplane hijacking, gunfights, attack helicopters, and more explosions, it’s wonderfully chaotic and exhilarating.
You play as action hero Rico Rodriguez, who is helping to liberate Panau, a fictional collection of islands in Southeast Asia ruled by an oppressive dictator. The best way to unseat this dictator is to blow up his stuff — from billboards to military bases. The whole point of the game is to tear down a fascist with explosions, causing chaos all around you, and helping rebels regain control of their lands. There aren’t many objectives that are more enticing than that.
All of this takes place on the most ecologically diverse section of the planet, containing jungles, tropical beaches, deserts, snowy mountains, and a skyscraper-filled city. Jumping between them is a blast, whether you hijack a passenger plane and fly there or tear through the highways with a tank. Every mode of transportation feels so great, and the addition of Rico’s signature grappling hook and parachute make traversing on foot so easy. It also allows you to jump out of a helicopter mid-flight, skydive down to a passing airplane, grapple onto it, commandeer it, direct it toward a giant gas silo on a military base, jump out, and open your parachute to float down safely as the plane and silo blow apart in a fiery mess. -K.B.
10. The Last of Us (2013)
It feels contrived to name Last of Us a best game of the decade. Its excellence, its mastery of the narrative action game as a form of storytelling, is practically self-evident — needing little defense. But what I love most about Last of Us, is the ripple effect it continues to have on the gaming culture and industry around it, even six years after its release.
I’d never seen myself reflected in any game before, let alone in the beautifully complex three-dimensional strokes used to paint Ellie. It was almost a shock, realizing how much I needed that, to feel finally seen by a medium that always left my gender out or used us as objects. Few games (and honestly, few TV shows and movies) give as much weight and deference to a young girl’s perspective, to her horrible pun jokes, to her interiority like Last of Us did.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe how limited women characters were in games before this game broke new ground. Now, we have numerous women and girl-led blockbuster games. But in the days before Last of Us released, Naughty Dog actually had to bait-and-switch people into being ok with an action game where you played as a teen girl, even flat out lying about Ellie’s playability.
It was a game and studio that bet it all on the belief that a fourteen-year-old girl could tell one of the most powerful stories the medium had ever seen. And in doing so, it made me believe that I could tell some my own most powerful stories through games. In return I bet it all on making a career out of writing about my experiences in games. I have to name Last of Us one of my best games of the decade, because it changed the entire course of my life in the decade that followed it. -J.J.
11. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017)
One of the more charming elements of the Legend of Zelda series is its relative predictability. When picking up any of its main titles gamers can look forward to something about Link being a chosen hero, Zelda being a princess, the master sword being awesome, and Hyrule needing a good save. How comforting that in the 33-year history of the franchise these elements remain mostly the same.
Breath of the Wild knows this, and instead of upping the ante with massive twists or turning anything on its head, it focuses instead on the beautiful moments that sit between its expected setpieces. The appeal of Breath of the Wild is not in gunning for Calamity Ganon as fast as possible, it’s in the journey it takes to get there — in tiptoeing across soft grassy fields to sneak up on a new horse friend, or climbing trees in search of an egg for breakfast. It’s catching dragonflies and descending into deep subterranean shrines.
The massive world of Hyrule is Breath of the Wild’s best and most impressive character, with its distinctive domains, cultures, cuisines, and people. Its gorgeous graphics make climbing a tower and watching the land spin around you a dazzling spectacle all fifteen times it happens. Mostly though, Breath of the Wild feels like a true heroic adventure, complete and unending in its beauty and its danger. -A.N.
12. Minecraft (2011)
Is there any video game that had more of a broad impact on pop culture over the past 10 years than Minecraft?
It’s as much of a household name in 2019 as Mario or Sonic have ever been. Even people who don’t necessarily understand how Minecraft works are aware of its existence and, broadly, its impact. And while its earliest beginnings go all the way back to 2009, when the very first alpha version was released, the global takeover really didn’t get started until 2014.
That’s when Microsoft acquired the already-massive Minecraft and Mojang, the Swedish studio behind it, for a whopping $2.5 billion and turned it into something bigger. Pocket Edition put Minecraft on every smartphone. A virtual reality update let us step inside our own worlds. Mojang’s Bedrock update shattered the traditionally unassailable walls that separate audiences across different platforms. And soon, Minecraft Earth and Minecraft Dungeons will introduce new twists on familiar ideas.
Minecraft transformed over time from video game to force of nature, and its growth over the past 10 years is a roadmap through all the changes a decade wrought across the entire industry. -A.R.
13. Red Dead Redemption (2010)
At the time I played it, Red Dead Redemption was just a really great shooter game with a protagonist I definitely wanted to marry. It wasn’t until I started professionally writing and critiquing games, though, that I fully appreciated the brilliance lying below its surface.
Beneath all the traditional blockbuster action game mechanics, Red Dead Redemption is a profound reckoning with violent masculinity’s role in a modern world, both in games and culture at large. Perhaps without even realizing it, this story about a man seeking redemption for past violence and mistakes in an era of changing values makes it one of the most prescient narratives of our decade — in or outside of games.
It’s also just a deeply weird blockbuster game, taking risks and making counterintuitive design decisions that were radical at the time. No one has been able to replicate what Red Dead Redemption did (especially not Red Dead Redemption 2).
It’s ending stands as one of the most deliciously sardonic and poignant endings in gaming history, the word “REDEMPTION” flashing across the screen when John Marston’s son kills the men who killed his father — restarting the cycle of violence his father had worked so hard to keep him from. This was Rockstar at its peak, as a daring studio willing to go where few other studios would. -J.J.
14. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (2017)
The nightmare fuel that reignited a franchise, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is among the best and worst playing experiences of the decade — and I mean that as the highest compliment.
On the one hand, being terrorized by the Baker family sucked. Really sucked. So much so, that players across the globe banded together to find ways of bringing down RE7’s intensity, clinging to survival guides and walkthroughs with unprecedented desperation. Some franchise fans were so afraid of Resident Evil’s first-person, all-horror pivot that they avoided RE7 altogether, a regrettable consequence of a horror game made well.
But on the other hand — you know, the one your estranged wife didn’t detach with a chainsaw — RE7 fostered a narrative so compelling and novel that those who did brave a playthrough couldn’t help but love it. Gorgeously designed and meticulously written, this literal residence of evil housed one of gaming’s greatest twist endings, and set a new standard for virtual survival. Whether you were dodging “Grandma” in a stairwell or decoding one of Lucas’s sadistic traps, RE7 tested you with the kind of relentless tenacity only good games can.
For good or for bad, we’ll always remember Resident Evil 7. (Even if the Umbrella Corporation keeps trying to cover it up.) -A.F.
15. Stardew Valley (2016)
To make the mundane charming. It’s a task countless simulators have attempted, but only a select few have achieved — and none have pulled off like Stardew Valley.
In this delightful world of 28-day seasons, neighborly friendship, and agriculture, players escape the hustle and bustle of city life to take over a rundown farmhouse. There, they farm, fish, cook, craft, and mine, all while getting to know the other inhabitants of this quaint town.
Created by indie designer Eric Barone while he worked as a theater usher (but aspired to make games professionally), Stardew Valley provides solace for anyone in need of a safe haven. It’s a place of warmth and hospitality, lovingly crafted by the man who seems to have needed it most.
A testament to the possibility of games and the power of dreams, Stardew Valley touched our hearts this decade. Thanks, Grandpa. -A.F.
Honorable Mention: Telltale Games
Making this list of top games of the decade was freaking hard. So many excellent games came out in the past ten years, but it would be difficult to complete this list without bringing up Telltale Games, which did an incredible amount of heavy lifting for the adventure genre, changed the way people experience and distribute games, and sadly fizzled out at the end of the decade in a publicized assignment proceeding that killed the company where it stood.
Telltale had been around before 2011, but it was in that year that the first season of The Walking Dead was released. Its episodic nature and choice-based story tied beautifully into the comic book series and led to further successes with 2013’s The Wolf Among Us. Telltale collected IP contracts with some of the biggest and most recognizable names in TV and film — Guardians of the Galaxy, Jurassic Park, Batman, Game of Thrones — and even if the results weren’t always consistent the excitement around any property getting the “Telltale treatment” was a win for any fandom lucky enough to join the fun.
Telltale’s episodic release schedule went on to inspire great games like Life Is Strange, and its early writers and developers branched off to found the studios that created Firewatch, Oxenfree, and the upcoming Afterparty. They also connected streamers to their audiences by adding Crowd Play to Batman: The Enemy Within. Their now-scuppered Netflix deal helped the streaming platform to invest in choose-your-own adventure content like Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, which is the first video game to win a literal Emmy Award. Telltale might not ever exist in its original state again, but the people who made its games had a greater impact on gaming than many even realize. -A.N.