The last decade has seen a huge increase in online functions, indie developer releases, narrative-based games, and genres being redefined. Looking back, the list for the past decade could be up to 50 games long (but that would make the other decade lists uneven).
The diversity of games in tone, art style, and mechanics is impressive, and unfortunately, I can only be exposed to so many games. This list is made up of the games that have continued to stick with me over the years, but there are dozens of games that were so close to making it.
I’m sure there is a little bit of excitement mixed in as I played some of these alongside other people, and we would talk about them at every lunch break or walk home from school in some cases.
I feel like this list is less set in stone than the other decade lists just because the 2010s really were one of the best decades in gaming for the explosion in the variety of games but let’s dive in and see some of the games that stand above their peers.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
It’s impressive when you can complete a 100-plus hour playthrough of a game and immediately jump right back in for another run, and that’s exactly what I did after I beat BoTW for the first time.
I loved just wandering around Hyrule, watching leaves fall or the Bekoblins sniff and laugh at each other. The world felt so alive, and I wanted to experience every moment of it.
Climbing mountains, riding horses across plains, and floating down frozen rivers on freshly cut logs: these things all added to my adventure in this expansive game. The experience I had in BoTW will probably be one of my favorites that I ever have in gaming for a very long time, or at least until BoTW 2 finally releases.
Bloodborne took everything that made the Dark Souls games special and turned the gothic aesthetic up to eleven. The world feels like you are creeping through Bram Stoker’s own imagination.
As you progress, you will feel every victory in the pit of your stomach, especially since these enemies are even more grotesque and terrifying than almost anything you’d find in the Souls games.
After finishing this goliath of a game, you’ll fall back exhausted on your couch for a few moments as the adventure plays back in gritty detail in your mind, just for you to start again with the determination to be even better than before. There’s always a challenge waiting in Bloodborne, and you never quite feel like you are at the top of your game until you can breeze through it.
I was a little shocked when I started Nier: Automata because it felt like several games all packaged into one. There are bullet hell sections, RPG elements, 2D-like boss fights, and fighting elements straight out of games like Bayonetta. It always felt like it was evolving and becoming a better game.
On top of that, the world is one of the best examples of an apocalyptic dystopia that I have seen with a wonderful little mystery at the center of the machine, alien, and human war.
The cybernetic characters grappling with their own Humanity and thoughts about the situation makes for an intriguing character piece that had me more invested in their identities rather than the overall plot a lot of the time. If you enjoy a challenge and one that constantly adapts and changes, Automata is one of the best examples of that in the 2010s.
God of War
God of War used to be about an angry man out for revenge against the Gods. It was a fun hack and slash that used Greek mythology as a backdrop for its plots and characters. A smart if not overly simplistic gameplay loop.
The soft reboot of the series sees the return of Kratos after the events of God of War 3 with his new son Atreus and stars a Norse mythology backdrop this time around. Kratos is greatly expanded on in his character development in this latest adventure, too, and it makes all the difference in my enjoyment of it.
He struggles with his past and with moving forward while trying to care for his new family, but as he is drawn back into a new conflict, he must learn to accept his past rather than to simply bury them. It’s a more intriguing story than has ever been seen in this series and one of the best of the past decade.
Stardew Valley is one of the best examples of a farming simulator done right because it’s so much more. You are leaving the old 9-5 behind to accept your inheritance from your grandfather, who left you a rundown farm and a plot of land.
You can renovate the home, do some serious landscaping, and become one of the richest in Pelican town by selling an abundance of blueberries and potatoes. However, that is just the beginning.
Stardew is a social sim as all the people in town you can have some sort of relationship with, and there is a combat system as you explore cave systems for ore and treasure. It’s a game that just keeps giving, and with a stunning pixel art style and beautiful soundtrack, it’s infinitely replayable too and exudes a charm that will whisk you away and make you a little digital farmer in no time.
In my humble opinion, Hollow Knight is the best Metroidvania to date. It has completely taken the title from Super Metroid, and it’s going to be a challenge for any game to overcome the standard set by it.
The world’s beauty and diversity help make it one of the most fun games to explore, as each section of the map is filled with distinct enemies, environments, and secrets. There were dozens of moments where I would stop everything just to soak the atmosphere of the game in before I started off on my difficult journey once again.
On top of that, Hollow Knight has more content than almost any game on this list, and for a tiny 15 dollar indie game, that is impressive. I felt like I was constantly finding new things to do and see long after many other games would have finished, and yet it never felt bloated. It just so happens to be one of the most expansive 2D worlds I have ever had the pleasure to get lost in.
From the word go, Portal 2 had me in its grip. The opening section where Chell is waking up from hibernation in the fake hotel room is one of the most memorable scenes I have in gaming.
The comedy introduced in the first game is tuned to a perfect notch, with the character dynamics between GLaDOS, Wheatley, Cave Johnson, and Caroline being the center for most of the laughs and smiles. The audio helped to keep the puzzles entertaining as I pondered how to progress next.
However, that doesn’t mean the puzzles were boring; just that Portal does everything it can to keep the player entertained even in the normal lulls that might affect a less tightened puzzle game. Portal 2 is an example of a perfect game, and if you still haven’t played it, you need to find a way to change that and start thinking with portals.
I’ll defend BioShock: Infinite till the day I die. While the atmosphere isn’t nearly as immersive and groundbreaking as the original game developed by Irrational Games, Infinite manages to introduce a story that has sparked dozens of conversations between my friends and me.
It pulls from both Puritan themes and quantum physics ideas to give us a story that can connect to the original games.
It’s a fun sci-fi game that has kept me coming back throughout the years for its characters, fast-paced gunplay, and story. It may have its issues, but the game more than makes up for it with its direction and imagination.
Fallout: New Vegas
The best Fallout game, hands down, is also my favorite western-style RPG of the past decade. While the Mojave Wasteland isn’t as engaging a setting as some other worlds, the game mechanics, side quests, characters, and DLCs help to make this the gold standard for Fallout games.
I loved getting lost in the different dungeons of the game and finding rare weapons or learning a way to complete a quest that none of my friends even thought about doing. New Vegas allows you to create stories for yourself, and that is priceless.
The number of times that I have booted up this game and created a new playstyle, I can’t even begin to count. New Vegas often feels like an experience that truly lets you decide for yourself how you would like to play, and unlike many other games that might say that you have choice – New Vegas delivers on that choice.
Horizon Zero Dawn
One of the most beautiful games of the 2010s also has some of the most engaging combat systems. Zero Dawn has you fighting giant machines in a variety of ways that make you feel like you have a huge say in how you would like to approach a combat situation.
Often, there were times when taking down a particularly difficult or large enemy made me feel like how the Shadow of the Colossus made me feel with a similar sense of scale and accomplishment.
Exploring this world is often a captivating experience that makes you honestly feel like you were deposited on a futuristic planet struggling with giant machine creatures. Horizon delivered one of my favorite worlds ever in a game hunting metal animals has never felt so good.