When I sat down at the end of 2019 to compile my “best of” the decade list, it ended up being a massive undertaking, and it turned into a larger project than I had anticipated. I had a really hard time with the list I made. It had been whittled down from 180 titles, spanning 2010-2019. I was aiming for twenty or less, but even then, there were titles I personally wanted to include, but didn’t feel like they objectively merited being in the best of the decade.
So for my compromise, I’ll compile two lists. First list (Part One) would be my five favorite games of the decade. These would be five games that were the most important to me over the decade.
The second list will be games that I feel were some of the most objectively important of the decade. These aren’t “the best” but rather, the games that had the biggest impact and influence.
The 2010s were a wild one for games. It was a decade that saw the fall of popular party rhythm games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero and the rise of VR, battle royale, and the boom and bust of Kickstarter-funded video games. Blizzard and Bioware went from trusted household names to controversial ones, while EA managed to (somewhat) get consumer trust back. But the one thing that seemed to permeate throughout games was the need for challenge. No more “guaranteed” win games, but instead, the rise of “git gud” and the attitude of perseverance through adversity. And the first game that comes to mind when I consider that is Dark Souls.
True, Demon’s Souls came before it (and in a previous decade) but Dark Souls put From Software’s brand of risk/reward gameplay into the popular consciousness. And while Bloodborne is closer to perfection, Dark Souls holds that special place in my heart—and I’ve played through it more times than I can even remember.
Though, the same can be said for others in the series. I’ve easily spent over a thousand hours between Dark Souls, Dark Souls 2, Dark Souls 3, and Bloodborne. And I can probably get away with adding Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice to that list.
Dark Souls’ tight gameplay, help/hinder multiplayer mechanics, and unique way it conveys its story make it my quintessential game of the decade.
I can’t wait for Elden Ring later this year.
Subnautica was a game I kept hearing about before I actually played it, and it turns out, for good reason. In Subnautica you’re stranded on an ocean world with nothing but fantastical sci-fi tech to keep you alive. That fantastical tech is one way that helped me suspend my disbelief at the normal open-world survival game mechanics. Gather a few shark teeth and quartz? You have reinforced glass thanks to this neat sci-fi matter conversion thing. In fact, one of Subnautica’s best tricks is its ability to turn the open world survival genre into a medium that can tell a tight, interesting story.
Each clue you find in Subnautica to what to do next is usually nestled alongside other breadcrumbs you are already following. This lead to a story, for me, that had a perfect pace to keep finding new, surprising things about my world—while being able to explore and play in it the way I wanted. And even if you get lost on your way, there is always the draw for you to go deeper. And deeper means more horrific monsters as you dive into these fantastical alien depths.
If you went back in time and told 2012 Antal that he would not be playing Star Citizen, and would instead be obsessed with Elite Dangerous, he would not have believed you. Surely, after Star Citizen releases in 2014 it’ll be the game to play for the rest of the decade, and beyond…right?
It turns out that one guy I kept arguing with on Reddit WAS right, and Elite Dangerous did turn out to be more of a game first—arguably. (Still no atmospheric landings though! Take that internet stranger!) But I don’t want to dredge up Elite Dangerous vs. Star Citizen debate, I just want to emphasize just HOW MUCH Elite Dangerous turned out to be the space game I wanted all along.
Many jokes are made about the space trucker nature of Elite Dangerous—but there is more to it than trading, including exploration, mining, and artifact hunting. And even though I haven’t played it since they’ve been introduced, you can even tangle with the alien Thargoid race in their formidable, flower-shaped craft.
I’ve spent a lot of time in Elite Dangerous—my wife (then girlfriend) and I even took a multi-month journey from the cluster of civilized planets around Earth to the other side of the galaxy and back, which yielded some of my favorite co-op memories of the decade.
One of my first “favorites” of the decade, Portal 2 is a game I found myself returning to repeatedly. Ever since I played through Portal 2 in one sitting on release day, I’ve been returning to it every few years. The story is great, and full of laugh-out-loud moments, and a few surprises. But the real draw, for me, was the co-op sections, something I played through with numerous people over the years.
Super Mario 3D World
This is my absolute favorite Mario game—Nintendo finally dethroned my love of Super Mario World and Super Mario 3—both titles that used to be tied for my favorite Mario game. Super Mario 3D World is absolutely charming with wonderfully colorful graphics, and a soundtrack I still listen to. Super Mario 3D World takes the 2.5D gameplay from Super Mario 3D Land on 3DS, and adds simultaneous co-op—like what was in the New Super Mario Bros. series. With two players on the screen it’s hard not to interfere with each other—but with four, it can be delightfully chaotic.
Forget Super Mario Odyssey—I just want more Super Mario 3D World.
If the rumors are correct, we could be seeing a Super Mario 3D World rerelease on Switch later this year—something I’ve been hoping for since Nintendo started releasing Wii U games on the Switch.
Like I said, this list was hard for me to make. Even on my personal list I’ve left out lots of games that have given me joy over the decade. I mentioned the other From Software Souls titles earlier, but there are so many I should at least mention.
Evolve and Evolve Stage 2 will always hold a special place in my heart. I love asymmetrical multiplayer gameplay, and Evolve was the best example of that I ever played. Popular opinion killed it in its cradle when publisher 2K released a glut of overpriced DLC. Turtle Rock Studios is working on a Left 4 Dead spiritual successor, and Friday the 13th developer Illfonic is working on a Predator game that looks a little bit like Evolve—but nothing will replace it. The servers are still technically alive, but with no more updates forthcoming it is dead. RIP.
Death Stranding came very close to making it to my proper list. While it is polarizing, I ended up on the end that loved it. It’s one of those games that, if it clicks for you, it REALLY clicks. I absolutely love games with satisfying mechanics, and I found the delivery missions to be great—not a surprise if you noticed Elite Dangerous on my list earlier. In fact, I liked to describe Death Stranding as a terrestrial Elite Dangerous—but with a story. And its story, at first, seems absolutely batshit, but it has a satisfying conclusion—if you stick with it.
Deep Rock Galactic – this would probably be on my main list if it was actually released. I’ve spent so many hours digging and fighting in Deep Rock, it’s been my go-to game for the last few years. I have a group of friends who play twice weekly, and I jump in solo every so often to blow off some steam. I like to describe Deep Rock as “Minecraft’s cave sections, without the building.” You dive deep, get minerals, and fight off the local fauna while so doing. Rock and stone!
Vermintide 2 fell from grace with its latest Winds of Magic DLC, but if it wasn’t for that, it would almost certainly have made my main list. Vermintide 2 was an obsession for our group for a while—its first person melee combat was extremely satisfying, and reminiscent of ARPGs my friends usually spend most of their time in. We may come back to Vermintide 2 in the near future, but balance and gameplay decisions put it on hold for us.
Mechwarrior 5 is my new addiction. It’s far from perfect, and only released during the last month of the decade keeping it off of the best of list. Its spawn issues, glitches, and other issues would have probably kept it off the list, too, but as Piranha Games’ follow-up to (another favorite of mine) MechWarrior Online it turned out to be everything I wanted.
The Forest is another open world game. Much like Subnautica it has an underlying story that serves as impetus to explore, but it just doesn’t manage to bring everything together as well. But what it does do, it “survival” horror like I’ve never played before. My first experience with The Forest had me captured by the mutant natives and tied up in a cave. I escaped, killing everything I saw until I broke out into the daylight in a scene that could have been a storyboard from The Descent. I can’t wait for Sons of the Forest to release, especially after that awesome teaser trailer.
The Long Dark is another open world survival game that I fell in love with, but it is so different than the others. It doesn’t really have an underlying story, unless you specifically play in story mode. Otherwise, Survival mode, the mode I play most frequently is all about just staying alive as long as possible. With hungry wolves, angry bears, and aggressive moose about that’s not too easy to accomplish. But it’s not just the wildlife you have to contend with—the cold, and dwindling resources will always be an issue. With the recent addition of episode three, and upgraded gameplay mechanics, now is a great time to check out The Long Dark.
For as much as Soma comes up on my “best of” lists when I’m talking to friends, I’m surprised Soma isn’t on my main list here. I’ve been a long fan of Frictional Games’ stuff, and Soma ended up ticking all the boxes for me: it has a compelling story, great puzzles, and it is suitably horrifying. It also has a philosophical question as its main theme that has since given me vast existential dread. And it all takes place in one of the scariest, more oppressive environments: on the ocean floor.
Frictional Games is currently teasing something on their website—whatever it is, it will probably be great—and terrifying.
There’s not much I can say about Journey. It has a unique multiplayer system, but you don’t really play with other players as much as accompany them. And while it is definitely a game, it’s also an experience—one that you have to have for yourself. Unique, poignant, thought-provoking and haunting—it’s a game I think about frequently.
Inside is a spiritual sequel to Limbo, while also being completely different. Clever, terrifying, and with a healthy dose of body horror, Inside is one of my favorite games I’ve played this decade.
FAR: Lone Sails is extremely similar to Inside mechanically. You’re a child, you’re alone, and you interact with the world by picking things up, jumping, pushing, and pulling. Except, you also have a giant land ship that you use to drive (and sometimes sail) your way across dried-out oceans. It’s a poignant game about loneliness, and a quest to have a better tomorrow.
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