The 2010s were a unique time for video games but also a turbulent one. Bolstered by the changing economy at the end of the 2008 recession and a changing marketplace in the form of an expanding digital world and ecosystem which touched every part of the industry and changed the landscape by the end of the decade. As that happened, big-budget video games got even bigger which costed more to develop and generated huge revenue streams and in that environment, things were moving faster.
This list contains some of the biggest games that made an impact on the culture and in the world. Big and small, here are some of the games that made history within the last decade.
20: Gone Home (2013)
Starting off small.
Gone Home is a small, lovely piece of thing. It’s a game about a house, and the memories that lay within it. A pillar of the genre that would later be dubbed, “the walking simulator,” Gone Home shares a lot with BioShock and Dear Esther. It’s a game about exploring a space, picking up cues, and discovering a wonderful story told in a very simple way without violence.
19: Dark Souls (2011)
For a while, it seemed like everyone wanted to make a Dark Souls game. Dark Souls, first launched in 2011, as a spiritual successor to 2009’s sleeper Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls cemented a formula that truly defined gaming in the 2010s: ultra-hard difficulty, punishing deaths that either broke you or made you learn from your mistakes, and a compelling world. If done well, these elements are perfect and create one of the best games of all time.
Dark Souls singlehandily brought the discussion of difficulty back into gaming and popularized the notion that difficulty still had a place within gaming. Everyone wanted to make a game like it, it even created a genre all by itself titled, “Souls-like” and journalists everywhere started comparing difficult games to it.
18: Fallout: New Vegas (2010)
Fallout: New Vegas brought the franchise back to its roots after going cross country in 2008 with Fallout 3, taking place in Nevada and once again on the West Coast, New Vegas was more of a Fallout 3 than Fallout 3 ever was. It was a true sequel to the older Fallout games of the 1990s and at the same time, it upended Bethesda’s iconic take in many different ways.
New Vegas was more of an RPG than Fallout 3 ever was. From different branching options, more dialogue options, romance, more perks and a lot more made New Vegas a standout hit early on in the decade and an influential RPG of the decade.
17: Amnesia: The Dark Descent (2010)
Gaming is often associated with giving you the tools of fantasy and power, usually doing things that you wouldn’t do out in the real world. Even, Resident Evil 2, the game that put Survival Horror on the map gave you a rocket launcher and a submachine gun. Indie studio Frictional Games dared to make you powerless by removing the safety net and by only giving you a lamp to lead the way.
Early on in the century, publishers and developers were weary of survival horror games outside of Konami and Capcom and the usual publishers until the return of the genre with Dead Space, only to be killed off again, in the 2010s with the likes of Resident Evil 6 and Dead Space 3. Triple A horror seemed dead and the indie side of game development picked it up and thanks to their efforts, horror has returned to the Triple A space. Amnesia inspired the likes of Alien Isolation, the Outlast set of games, and the ill fated P.T. The Horror scene of 2020 owes a lot to Amnesia and it’s attempt to revive the horror genre.
On top of reviving the horror genre, Amnesia launched the careers of Youtubers like PewDiePie and made Let’s Plays sort of videos popular. The internet hasn’t been the same since.
16: P.T (2014)
Arguably, the decade’s most important horror game outside of the earlier horror games that launched early in the decade.
P.T is the only game on this list that makes a compelling argument for not being called a game at all. It is, instead, a teaser, as the title indicates, for one of the most promising horror games since the original Dead Space in 2008. Released without fanfare or hype, the title soon revealed to be a reboot of the Silent Hill franchise led by Hideo Kojima and GDT, Guillermo Del Toro.
It promised a very scary game by using minimalist tactics and repetition, P.T crafted terror out of familiarity and its disruption, the unexpected and the frightening was always lurking behind the corner. The internet went ablaze and it further caught on fire when the game was shown to be a Silent Hill game and it cemented itself into history.
Unfortunately, the game would never be made and Kojima left Konami in a nasty breakup, which only adds to the game’s mystique. P.T is a glimpse of what could’ve been, a game that surely would’ve been the decade’s most important horror game.
15: Destiny (2014)
Earlier on in the decade, in 2014, have introduced the concept of “Live Service” to multiplayer-focused games. Destiny crystalized the concept but not foregoing it’s terrible issues that it suffered.
When released, reviews were harsh. Activities were boring, loot was inadequate, and the story was nonsense. It proved that it would be quite difficult to create “games as a service” and maintain them. Destiny’s ill fated mistakes were repeated by other developers and by Bungie themselves again in 2017 but Bungie would right the ship, which demonstrated the beauty of this new concept that is now a part of everyday gaming.
The story of gaming in this decade would not be complete without Destiny turning around and Bungie learning from its mistakes.
14: Battlefield 1 (2016)
Battlefield 1 is probably the most immersive military shooter ever. Set at the very end of The Great War in 1918, it shined a light on a forgotten conflict that was lost to time and the stories of fighting men a century ago lost to the wind.
Thanks to EA DICE’s efforts by bringing a light to this forgotten conflict, we learned so much about a conflict that most of us skipped over in history class or learned so little about as it laid the groundwork for the largest single human event in history, the Second World War. The world went from 1870 to 1940 in just under four years: soldiers began the conflict with primitive technology that was a result of the Industrial Revolution and ended the conflict with technology that would change warfare forever and brought the beginning of modern day conflict. Battlefield 1 brought The Great War to life in ways that only the 2000’s era World War II shooters could’ve done. This was a historic game done right.
13: Battlefield 3 (2011)
What were you doing in 2011? Do you remember the hype and masterclass marketing that was Battlefield 3? The epic showdown between Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3?
Whispers of the next mainline entry in the Battlefield franchise arrived in 2009 when EA confirmed that EA DICE Stockholm was hard at work at the next mainline installment after years of spin off games like the Bad Company set of games. The last big mainline entry arrived in 2005 with the release of Battlefield 2, the PC only exclusive that would become an icon of the 2000’s. 2011 came around and the first glimpse of the game was revealed and what came after would be a masterclass in hype and marketing.
After a few teasers, the game’s first trailer hyped and it proved to be that this game would be peerless and solidified that the Frostbite Engine was the best in it’s class. U.S Marines ran realistically, their bodies moved realistically, weapons fired and moved realistically, it was one of the most realistic games for the time that it released in. Battlefield 3 transcended the genre and for many, it is EA DICE’s magnum opus. A passion project that put the franchise into the mainstream once again.
12: Red Dead Redemption (2010)
Probalby the decade’s most influential Western game.
The original Red Dead Redemption is a game unlike any other, a game that never ever comes. The original Red Dead Redemption and it’s sequel are perhaps the ultimate Western games ever made, both games have made a huge impact but the original is the one that set everything in motion.
Red Dead Redemption is set in 1911, at a time and place when the Final Frontier has faded out of existence as the emerging technology of the era and civilization itself moves its way West and transforming the way of life that was there since the early days of America. You took control of John Marston, a character that we fell in love with, he must find his former outlaws and bring them to justice to see his family again. There was nothing quite like it and never will be again. A timeless classic that made me and many others fall in love with the American West.
11: Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018)
If the original game was one of the greatest games of the early 2010s, Red Dead Redemption II is one of the greatest games of the later half of the decade. If the original was super influential, the sequel built upon it and rebuild everything that it tore down. Red Dead Redemption II is Rockstar’s greatest work and I rightfully believe that.
Red Dead Redemption II is a beautiful companion piece that blends into the original game and is a game that can stand out on its own. Rockstar Games in traditional fashion pushed the envelope and pushed the medium forward, Red Dead Redemption II is the gold standard of open world video games from here on out.
10: L.A Noire (2011)
One of the decade’s most underrated games that left a huge impact on the gaming scene.
L.A Noire, much like the Red Dead series, is a game unlike any other and it’s unlike any other game that I have played throughout my career. L.A Noire is such a different type of game and it is why it has landed here on this list.
L.A Noire used MotionScan, a technology that hasn’t been used since it’s release in 2011 and not only that, it was the first game to be shown at the Trifecta Film Festival and received widespread acclaim for its storytelling and the MotionScan technology. It was striking in 2011 and its still striking now as many video games are cinematic experiences but L.A Noire was a complete cinematic experience from top to bottom. L.A Noire wasn’t a perfect game but even with it’s flaws, L.A Noire is a game that you never see.
9: Candy Crush Saga (2012)
The one of two mobile game on this list which speaks volumes to its legacy and the influence that it set.
I’m not usually a big fan of mobile games and I don’t like them, I personally think that if you play a mobile game then you are not a gamer at all, but put my personal belief to the side. Candy Crush Saga is one of a kind mobile game outside of Pokemon Go and Angry Birds.
Candy Crush Saga began as a Facebook game which doesn’t surprise many of us and it makes sense, considering that no other game on this list has been as disruptive to the business of video games. Candy Crush Saga popularized the “freemium” model that we see today with many mobile games and this sort of model has kind of leaked itself into the actual gaming scene: give the core gameplay away, but charge for virtual items that either enhance, beautify, or quicken things up. Thanks to this model, many mobile games have moved over to “Pay to Win” , a model that is most despised while at the same time being the most profitable.
Dark Souls and Candy Crush represented the two extreme ends of gaming culture: the casuals and the hardcore.
8: Pokemon Go (2016)
When discussing the legacy of Pokemon Go, it is important to address the question of augmented reality so here it goes: Pokemon Go is the clearest evidence of how fucking irrelevant augmented reality really is. ( There goes my curse word)
When the game released way back in 2016, Pokemon Go was hyped to the next level. With its massive success, Pokemon Go was the game that launched thousands of decks, prompting questions from everywhere, and then it fucking died out just as quick as it came. It’s quite funny, in 20/20 hindsight, is that the killer app for this technology is the reason why it’s so damn irrelevant. The game allows you to turn off the technology as nobody wants to be the idiot on the train walking back and forth trying to find a Pokemon amongst thousands of people going to and from work.
To be fair, Pokemon Go is a game that is meant to be played between doing other things. It’s gaming in between the micro moments of your everyday life. Pokemon Go is the “I’m always listening to podcasts or music to pass the time or have something to do” of games.
7: Resident Evil 2: Remake (2019)
For nearly a decade, Resident Evil has struggled to stay a float and was struggling to find its identity. Resident Evil 4 focused a lot on action which translated over to Resident Evil 5 which further translated over to Resident Evil 6 which destroyed the franchise and made it go dormant until 2017’s Resident Evil 7. Resident Evil 7 brought the franchise back into the forefront with a radical reinvention that was inspired by P.T, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, and Outlast. Capcom captured lightning in a bottle with Resident Evil 7 and they found it again with last year’s Resident Evil 2: Remake.
In its heyday, at the very end of the 20th century, when video games were considered to be nothing more than just for losers and weirdos, Resident Evil 2 was at the height of its power and was the pinnacle for what would become the survival horror genre. In 1998, it paved the way and raised the bar for what would become a new genre and raised the bar for what games in this genre could become in the new century. Unfortunately, the game that would pave the way for games like Dead Space wouldn’t hold up the test of time and so Capcom decided to remake it from the ground up and the result was possibly the best remake of the last decade.
The remake variation of this cult classic game is very influential and it proves that horror is back and it’s well and alive. The remake pleased old fans and introduced brand new fans to the franchise, perfect for the rebirth of this classic franchise.
6: The Mass Effect Saga (2007-2012)
The Mass Effect saga helped define the previous generation with the original’s release in 2007. If the original helped a generation, the sequel defined what an RPG could become in the new decade and in the generation. It’s sequel, Mass Effect 2, is possibly one of the greatest RPG’s of the decade and is one for the ages.
Mass Effect 3, which released in 2012, was the ending to this epic saga that started in 2007 and it was a bittersweet ending to a journey that we grew attached too. The story of Commander Shepard and his friends is the greatest story of all, Mass Effect 3 was the culmination of our decisions, our story arc for Commander Shepard, and the culmination of our friendships with these iconic characters. It was a tearful goodbye. It’s the conclusion of one of gaming’s most beloved sagas, the 2 games that released in this decade is one of the greatest games of all time and very influential to the RPG genre and to gaming as a whole. There’s nothing quite like the Mass Effect saga.
5: The Last of Us (2013)
When a game does more than just a regular videogame, it becomes something more and it transcends the medium. From BioShock to Resident Evil 2 to Medal of Honor: Allied Assault to the original Call of Duty, there has been plenty of games that did it before but The Last of Us was something else entirely: Much like L.A Noire did before it, The Last of Us is a complete cinematic experience from top to bottom, blurring the lines even more.
At a time when the zombie fad was nothing more than just a fad, a far cry from what it was in the 2000’s, Naughty Dog brought it back by tapping into human connections and how humans react in a post-apocalypse setting. It blended nail-biting moments, high-octane action, tension-filled scenarios with a captivating story that doesn’t seem as original now but it was at the time. It proved that video games were more than just a pastime: it was the culmination of such games like BioShock and Call of Duty 4 pushed in their respective time periods. This is the direction that we need to go in in the new generation that is to come.
4: The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt (2015)
The world of The Witcher 3 is large and scary, daunting in scope but this magnitude set the bar for open world RPGs and RPGs in general. It’s ambitious narrative fits inside the world, both through emergent storytelling and scripted scenes. As with every game in this generation, CDPR looked to Skyrim which released in 2011, as inspiration but they went far and beyond and destroyed Skyrim and any resemblance of Bethesda Game Studio, CDPR was hailed as the new king of RPGs.
3: Minecraft (2010)
Minecraft began development in the late 2000s, but it didn’t release it’s 1.0 version until 2011. Developed initially by Notch Persson before he sold his development studio, Mojang, to Microsoft, Minecraft is the defining game of the decade that was dominated by creativity within games: the emergence of video games as a means of creation, building your own world instead of playing through a different person’s world they crafted. Minecraft is a game for any age, for any person, you could play it forever.
2: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)
The fifth Elder Scrolls title is considered to many as Bethesda Game Studio’s magnum opus and for good reason. While in essence, it was a continuation of the previous entries in the franchise, fantasy games exploded in a way they never really had before Skyrim. Skyrim is the American version of Final Fantasy 7, it was the mother to so many things that emerged in the years following it’s release in 2011.
Thanks to the explosion, it also created an explosion in the modding community. As Bethesda Game Studios moved on to Fallout 4 which later would release in 2015 and would never hold a candle to Skyrim, players kept the game alive via modding which keeps it fresh and unique. It’s a game that will never die until the release of The Elder Scrolls VI.
1: Grand Theft Auto V (2013)
A single game with staying power is difficult to obtain in this industry and difficult in general. With dozens of titles launching a week or a month, the spotlight tends to move quickly.
Few games can buck that trend, can break the wheel. Grand Theft Auto V is one of those games, possibly the only game that did it in our lifetimes. Since it launched in 2013, it has surpassed 115 million copies sold and continues on the top 20 games sold every month. Grand Theft Auto V is an absolute classic crime-ridden story while it’s multiplayer component, Grand Theft Auto: Online, is how to do a Live Service right and has evolved into something bigger than life itself.
Though it was grounded from the beginning, GTA: Online has evolved into a crime ridden playground where you could do anything. The rise of social gaming in this decade has propelled GTA: Online to the status where it is right now, the rise of GTA: Online and social gaming goes really hand in hand as GTA: Online is the perfect example of that. It’s the unstoppable game of the decade.
0: Fortnite (2017)
Fortnite is the biggest influential game of this decade, outside of Grand Theft Auto V and it made Battle Royale games popular and it revolutionized the way MTX and cosmetics are handled within the gaming industry now. Everyone now wants to chase the Fortnite money and for good reason.
Fortnite started off as a flop but thanks to Epic’s launch of the Battle Royale mode, Fortnite took off with the extreme speed and rocketed to fame and Fortnite found new ways to engage players. While, the game was free, the Battle pass system found ways to engage players to garner new rewards. Thanks to numerous controversies that coincided with the game’s release and the release of the battle pass system, the loot box practice of offering surprise rewards for real money became the most hated thing in the industry.
Fortnite offers 100 tiers of rewards for only $10 every few months within a season and players get to see what they would earn throughout the season. The transparency and low commitment kept players coming back and combine that with skins and cosmetics, the industry found something new and found a groundbreaking formula. Thanks to this formula, every game from Call of Duty to Overwatch now has a Battle Pass system.
Then there is the spectacle of the game. Much like Amnesia: The Dark Descent did back in 2010, Fortnite launched the careers of Twitch streamers like Ninja and CourageJD and many others alongside the game. Both the streamers and regular players smashed Fortnite through the screens and into mainstream popularity. Over the last three years, Fortnite was literally everywhere, so much so, that it became the biggest pop phenomenon of 2018.
At the end of the decade, Fortnite, although somewhat declining, thanks to Epics’ decisions regarding the game, Fortnite is still speaking volumes.