The past ten years of gaming were a whirlwind of fantastic triple-A titles, curious indie gems, and a series of excellent remakes and sequels that turned into smash hits. From sprawling RPGs to aesthetically impressive puzzlers, there was a spread that could please even the most discerning player, with exciting narratives and compelling mechanics baked into each title.
Now that a new decade is upon us, it’s time to take a look back on the games that were more than memorable -- they defined the art form from 2010 to 2020. Whether you’re into gritty open-world adventures or colorful platformers, you’ll find a new favorite here to start the new year off right. Here’s to another ten years of exciting releases, especially now that we’re on the precipice of a whole new console generation.
Death Stranding (2019)
Hideo Kojima's Metal Gear Solid series may be his most well-known, but his magnum opus debuted in 2019. Death Stranding is a cinematic masterpiece that pushes the boundaries of what we expect from gaming as Sam Porter Bridges (Norman Reedus) travels across a fractured vision of the "United Cities of America" in a bid to reunite the country after an extinction event. This challenging open-world adventure forces players to confront issues like traveling with too much or too little cargo, horrific creatures known as Beached Things, and a simple quandary: How do you reunite a fractured people? Hollywood A-listers, like Laura Wagner, Mads Mikkelson, Margaret Qualey, etc., and industry newcomers lend their talents and faces to the game for acting chops punctuated by a beautiful soundtrack and melancholy storyline. If you play one new game at the start of the decade, make it this one.
Super Mario Odyssey (2017)
Mario sets off on his grandest journey yet in Super Mario Odyssey, which tasks him with rescuing Princess Peach from the evil Bowser’s clutches. Again, right? This time Bowser, along with the aid of rabbit-like ne'er-do-wells called the Broodals, plans to marry the princess. Mario, clad in a brand new hat named Cappy that can help him transform into just about anything in the world, heads out to bring Peach to safety so she can avoid the nefarious nuptials on the horizon. The largest Mario world ever conceived is boisterous, colorful, and rife with exciting destinations to explore. This is Mario perfected, and it's one great reason to own a Nintendo Switch.
Bayonetta 2 (2014)
One of the most stylish and sexy action hack-and-slash adventures of all time returned with a slinky sequel on the Nintendo Switch after originally debuting on the Wii U. This time, the sensual Umbra Witch brings her feminine charm back for a second round of good old-fashioned combat. When her partner and fellow witch Jeanne is stolen away to the Gates of Hell, Bayonetta has to recover her soul while fighting against a masked Sage with bad intentions. Combat feels like a bullet-and-sword ballet as Bayonetta dances around the battlefield, interspersed with eye candy like the Umbra witch's demon hair transformations and charming dialogue. It's a nonstop thrill ride with action oozing out of every pore, and a great example of a female character who doesn’t ever need a man’s assistance to come out on top. It’s a joy to play and replay Bayonetta 2, even if you know it like the back of your hand.
Resident Evil 2 (2019)
How do you make a survival horror classic even better? You remake it from the ground up. Capcom did just that with the impressive Resident Evil 2 remake, which used the original Resident Evil from the PlayStation as a base template and redesigned protagonists Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield from scratch while retinkering the familiar Raccoon City Police Department and cityscape to make something that felt completely new. More than just a slick graphics update, this Resident Evil adventure felt more like playing a different game entirely: a challenging, terrifying, and wholly addictive experience that had you playing through multiple times to complete more scenarios. Most importantly, it gave a master class in making an old game new again, and its success ushered in the now-confirmed Resident Evil 3 remake, scheduled for release in March 2020.
Mass Effect 2 (2010)
BioWare’s Mass Effect series is one of the most exciting sci-fi diversions the game industry has ever seen, and it peaked with the second game. Mass Effect introduced us to the sprawling world of Spectres, Asari, humans, and other alien species, and Mass Effect 3 tied things up quite nicely. But the story’s middle part fine-tuned everything we came to love about the franchise, its characters, and environments. It introduced some of the most heart-wrenching narrative decisions anyone would ever have to make within the story of Commander Shepard and his (or her) crew on the Normandy. With satisfying gunplay, world exploration, and plenty of romance to top things off, Mass Effect 2 was the series at its absolute best, and exemplary of what BioWare was able to accomplish by sending players to space alongside some of the most memorable shipmates to date: namely Tali, Garrus, and Thane.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (2015)
Hideo Kojima knew he was going to end the Metal Gear Solid saga once and for all, so he did so with a bang. This is the most explosive, heartrending entry of the series and the lengthiest. It also flipped the script on what everyone thought they knew about the game’s mainstays and plot points, while introducing new heroes like the enigmatic Quiet and the villain Skull Face for an even more dramatic change. As such, it brings gamers full circle from the other titles and links the idealistic, peace-seeking Naked Snake from Peace Walker to the warmongering villainous Big Boss of the original Metal Gear. With Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots closing out the story of Solid Snake, The Phantom Pain’s wrapping up of Big Boss’s legend makes for the best Metal Gear of the decade, and one of the best experiences Kojima has ever created.
Rez Infinite (2016)
The PlayStation and Dreamcast classic Rez was a surreal shooter steeped heavily in the world of music. Rez Infinite, a slick new remake that debuted on PlayStation VR, added a completely new level, and a fresh coat of paint. It’s a transformative experience both for newbies and experts in the genre, and this updated version is worth the few hours you'll spend exploring the musical world. Sweeping your vision across the room and even behind you while shooting at enemies that make music as you destroy them is an addictive gameplay loop. The all-new content, Area X, is some of the most exciting the PlayStation VR has going for it, and acts as a reminder that a new Rez game (and not a spin-off, despite how good Child of Eden was) is sorely needed in the next decade. Hopefully there's more Rez in all of our futures... someday.
Tetris Effect (2018)
There are few things more satisfying than a perfect game of Tetris, when all the blocks fall in all the right places and you can carry on stacking line after line in a puzzle-induced euphoria. It’s the kind of satisfaction that can spill over to your dreams -- it’s nicknamed Tetris Effect. After settling in with this gorgeous synesthesia analogue that features colorful tetriminoes falling to the rhythm of a series of beautiful techno, trance, pop, and even jazz songs, you’ll wonder why this game was missing from your life for so long. This is pure, puzzle-solving bliss attached to some of the most emotional musical moments you’ll have ever seen in a game. Don’t like Tetris? Tetris Effect will change your mind.
Disco Elysium (2019)
Disco Elysium is an acquired taste, but one that you'll come around to loving near-instantly. At its most base level, the game puts you in charge of a murder investigation that you’ve got to get to the bottom of -- if you can be sober long enough to figure things out. Your character is a drunken fool with amnesia who can barely think straight, yet, he’s also a detective with a partner (Kim Kitsuragi) who demands he follow protocol and get off his butt and actually do something. From there, as the game shifts around you in a labyrinthine pattern, it’s up to you to shape your detective as you see fit according to the decisions you make and traits you acquire. It may sound complex, and it is, but in a satisfying, refreshing way that truly makes you feel as though you have real power over the character you’ve taken on. Its dreamlike, surreal art is beautifully odd, and it's hilarious in the weirdest ways. If you play one RPG this year, let it be Disco Elysium.
Devil May Cry 5 (2019)
Devil May Cry fans were finally given a new entry in the core series after waiting patiently for 11 years -- and the wait was certainly worth it. Devil May Cry 5 is a direct sequel that fleshes out the tales of Dante, Nero, and newcomer V as they work to stand against an evil force that could destroy the world. While doing so, it doles out visceral, stylish action made even cooler by Nero's new prosthetic arm and Dante's tremendously powerful weapons, like one that turns into a literal motorcycle. V's combat is different, but satisfying, as he uses his creature companions to do his dirty work while he stands by and directs them. It's buttery smooth, frenetic, and a reminder that sometimes all you need is to smack some monsters around.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015)
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a gorgeous, sprawling journey throughout a picturesque fantasy land that stars Geralt of Rivia, the hunter and titular Witcher, who controls a powerful array of supernatural abilities. Geralt spends most of his time excavating a dense narrative with a long list of quests, side missions, and even some romance. As such, at any moment you could be flirting with a love interest, slaying ferocious beasts, or hitting up the old dusty trail as you sail into the sunset on your faithful horse Roach. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt ensures you practically never run out of things to do, and it's glorious for it.
Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018)
Talk about taking your horse down to Old Town Road and riding 'til you can't no more. If there's one game to inspire you to do just that, it's Red Dead Redemption 2. The tale of the outlaw Arthur Morgan and his final days as a member of the Van der Linde Gang during the death throes of the Wild West is a must play, even if you're not into open world games and have never seen a single western. It really does feel as though you've been transported to the 19th century, right in the heart of America, where you'll participate in heists, head out to the saloon and play casino games, ride your horse across the snowy and desert countryside, and watch your best friends and gang members basically go crazy. It's a moving adventure that would only be more realistic if there were real cowboys portraying the characters in-game.
Skyrim, the fifth main entry in the Elder Scrolls series, is one of the biggest of the titles and also one of the most exciting. You take on the role of the Dragonborn, a knight with some seriously devastating abilities that happen to bring with them dragon-like powers. With that in mind, you set off on a storied quest to conquer a super powerful dragon known as a World-Eater, which is on a path to obliterate the world as you know it. Luckily, you've got a little time to prepare, as you explore a world set 200 years after the events of Oblivion: Skyrim, the northern part of Tamriel. You've got to continually level up in this massive world and hone your Dragonborn powers to "shout" the World Eater dragon out of existence. Thus begins a quest that lasts for a few hundred hours, steeped in dark fantasy and exciting storytelling that will plant its claws in you. It's worth every moment you spend on it, and you'll be left waiting to see what's next for The Elder Scrolls.
Persona 5 (2016)
The fifth core entry in the Persona series is known for its jazzy soundtrack, effortlessly cool presentation, and dating sim elements, which all contribute to one of the most fun experiences you can have on the PlayStation 4. You'll live the day-to-day lives of students of the fictional Shujin Academy while they navigate scandalous double lives as the altruistic band of Phantom Thieves by night. They're on the hunt to eradicate humans with corrupt "mind palaces," or people who have dark, villainous hearts and bad intentions. Persona 5 is part dungeon exploration, part friend hangout, and all twisty excitement. You'll be humming the battle theme all day long after the first time you hear it, too.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (2018)
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate definitely lives up to its name -- it’s the greatest version of Smash out there, and one of the most exciting fighting games of the past 10 years. With every single character and most of the content from the earlier games, it’s a celebration of all of the amazing things Nintendo has to offer. Team up with friends to brawl against Mario, Samus, Link, and all your favorite characters while unlocking Spirits, honing your skills, earning useful items, and seeing if you have what it takes to become a Smash master. Just about every game you can think of is represented in the very first Smash for the Nintendo Switch, and you can take it with you on the go to deliver a beatdown anywhere.
NieR: Automata (2017)
NieR: Automata seemingly came out of nowhere, going from relative niche title to blockbuster overnight. It's difficult to explain why this mishmash of genres comes together to work so well together, but it does, turning into a singular gaming experience. It takes place in a futuristic dystopian world that isn't all that it seems, where android 2B must routinely clash with killer robots in a bid to ensure humanity's continued safety. But why are the robots insane? Why do they want to kill anything that moves? And what is 2B's android organization, YorHa, trying to accomplish? The story unfolds at a breakneck pace until you realize you really have no idea what's going on at all -- and that's when it all comes together. It really has to be played through -- yes, all five of its endings -- to be truly appreciated.
Blizzard created the veritable king of hero shooters when it debuted Overwatch, and at the end of the decade, it remains as such. For a game that's basically about getting cargo from one spot to another, it's positively teeming with lore and alternative game types in various creative settings. It also features a diverse cast of iconic characters (though not without blind spots) paired with addictive team-based gameplay that makes for an experience that players want to come back to time and again. With a sequel on the horizon, there’s plenty of reason to return to rack up skins, sprays, and emotes that can be carried over to Overwatch 2.
God of War (2018)
The God of War series was once known for its violent protagonist, Kratos, and his hack-and-slash adventures taking out gruesome monsters and mythological nightmares. I appreciated those games and loved getting down and dirty with them, but at some point, Kratos grew into someone I no longer recognized. When he became a father in this beautiful reboot, he transformed from a seemingly one-dimensional killer into an honorable warrior and austere caregiver. Adventuring with Kratos and son Atreus is satisfying in several ways, featuring meaty combat and a touching story rife with exciting twists and turns. This PS4 exclusive is a must-play, and one of the console’s killer apps.
Grand Theft Auto V (2013)
Grand Theft Auto V is one of Rockstar Games' best titles, period. There's a reason why it managed to sell 110,000,000 copies and became the third best-selling game of all time. Plus, let's face it: Grand Theft Auto has become a veritable cultural icon. Without ruining the narrative, its trio of protagonists are essentially degenerates who willingly commit just about every crime imaginable. Picking up the pieces as they blow their way through marriages, stolen cars, bank heists, and drug deals has been exciting since the very first Grand Theft Auto, and the single-player game has only gotten better with time. The online mode shares the same expansive map as the story, and you can hang around with friends in a massively populated server and pretend you're hot shots. Really, what's not to love?
Saints Row: The Third (2011)
Grand Theft Auto may be the definitive experience for open-world destruction and chaos held together by an intriguing narrative thread, but Saints Row: The Third excelled at combining humor, exciting missions, and kooky character customization for a fun twist on the typical GTA model. The dual violence and gross-out humor works surprisingly well as you dispatch enemy gangs while cruising through the city of Steelport. Complete various missions to unlock souped-up abilities, slap the bad guys with decidedly phallic swords, and cause as much chaos as possible. Only then will you be worthy of staying in Johnny Gat’s gang. Are you cool enough? Doubtful, as few are.
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