So, I wasn’t going to make another 10 list, but on request from someone in our community, I shall present my Top 10 Best Games of the Decade. I’m going to do this the same way as the last, taking the best game from each year, and it has to be a game I played, duh. But this is important because there are some Game of the Year competitors I never played. Also, I tried to limit honorable mentions to games I finished, with only a couple exceptions. And if you’re wondering why there aren’t a lot of Nintendo games on this list, it’s because the last Nintendo console I owned was a Wii, so I haven’t played them, although I am itching for a Switch to rectify that.
COMPLETE WRITTEN ARTICLE (along with honorable mentions) BELOW!
2010 – Fallout: New Vegas
Like I mentioned before, 2010 produced great games if you are me. Honorable mentions go to Red Dead Redemption, which still holds up even to it’s sequel, Mass Effect 2, truthfully the best of the trilogy, and I throw in Heavy Rain, because it’s the most interesting title in Quantic Dreams’ library.
But my best game is Fallout: New Vegas. Not only is it the best of 2010, it’s the best Fallout game and one of the top RPGs of all-time. They took the formula from Fallout 3 and improved basically everything. The writing was sharp, the post-apocalyptic wild west setting was atmospheric, the characters and factions were so much more complex than “we’re the good guys and those are the bad guys”. Obsidian outpaced Bethesda at their own game with this one and even did better at the DLC, all of which was marvelous. Quick tip: If you are picking it up today, get the Ultimate Edition, because you’ll be paying less for the whole game than those DLCs cost alone. You know, there are RPGs where you do missions to level up and RPGs where you level up because you were doing missions. New Vegas is in the latter category. All the quests, sub quests, character arcs, etc., are things you want to play, not things you feel you need to play to get experience. And on modern systems, it runs way better than it did on release. Great game even today.
2011 – Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim
Some exceptional titles came out this year. Honorable mentions go to Assassin’s Creed Revelations, which concluded the Ezio trilogy, Saints Row the Third, which was the most bonkers open-world game until next Saints Row 4 came out, Portal 2, a brilliant physics puzzle game with great story and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which came real close to being my favorite of the year because I love the franchise and loved what they did to revitalize it with this game.
However, I had to give this to Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim, because it’s not only the best in the Elder Scrolls series (Morrowind is close behind), not only because it’s been rereleased 100 times so you can play it on a Game and Watch, but because it remains the modern standard for epic RPGs. And it deserves that title. Rarely have I ever seen a game world as richly built and ambitious in it’s scale as Skyrim. And the mechanics in the game work well, propelling you to play this for hundreds of hours without blinking. Even to this day, I am compelled to replay Skyrim with a new character build playing in a completely new way, similar to New Vegas. The mark of great games is whether you feel compelled to replay them, which Skyrim absolutely does.
2012 – Borderlands 2
I said it before, I’ll say it again, 2012 was a great year for video games. Honorable mentions go to Dishonored, which deservedly put Arkane on the map, Far Cry 3, where the franchise really hit it’s stride, XCOM, which put turn-based war gaming back on the map, the Walking Dead, which is still the best thing Telltale ever made, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, which is still an ambitious RPG by modern standards, and Spec Ops: The Line, which is a brilliant game about the horrors of war that deserves your time if you haven’t played it yet.
But hey, this is the year that Borderlands 2 came out, so that’s my pick. Gearbox took the formula they spearheaded in the first game and vastly expanded those ideas with a deeper narrative, more weapons, a longer campaign and more options for character customization. This was basically video game crack and remained that way right until 3 came out. The way they engineered positive feedback loops was brilliant and diabolical at the same time, but you can’t deny how much fun it was. Tiny Tina alone is worth the price of admission and her Assault on Dragon Keep is the best DLC pack available. You will be compelled to play different characters even once you’ve capped out your main class.
2013 – Bioshock Infinite
Did I say 2012 was a good year? 2013 was equally excellent. The Last of Us, a narrative marvel from Naughty Dog, Tomb Raider, the first installment of the excellent Survivor trilogy, Grand Theft Auto 5, because of course I had to include it, Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon, the 80s neon fever dream I never knew I wanted, and Splinter Cell: Blacklist, a great return to one of my favorite series.
But my top game for the year is Bioshock Infinite. I always liked the Bioshock series. You can’t go wrong with any of them, but what they did with Infinite is worthy of praise. The first time you pass through the clouds and see Columbia, it is truly breathtaking. The story is far more complex than previous entries, dealing with prejudice, religion, science, alternate timelines and the philosophical debate of destiny versus chaos theory. The whole thing is paced beautifully and endears you to your main characters Booker and Elizabeth.
2014 – South Park: The Stick of Truth
A lot of games spammed the colon this year. Such as honorable mentions Wolfenstein: The New Order, an FPS with a great writing staff, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, the game that invented the Nemesis System, Dragon Age: Inquisition, giving an open-world treatment to a great RPG series, and Divinity: Original Sin, which makes a great case for cRPGs. I also list Thief here (no colon) because it was better than the credit it receives and is a worthy entry in the stealth genre.
But the colon that out-coloned all the others this year was South Park: The Stick of Truth. Not only was it a solid RPG, but it also managed to be a complete deconstruction of RPGs. The turn-based combat was a cool throwback to classic Final Fantasy, while it’s focus on expanding your social network and utilizing farts as your magic system are a satirical critique of the typical trappings of the genre. And for fans of the show, the art style and writing felt like it was ripped right off the screen. This was a perfect example of how to make a game of a licensed property.
2015 – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
This one is fairly straight-forward for me. Honorable mentions go to Fallout 4, a game I spent way too much time playing like every Fallout game, Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain, a crazy addictive installment in a legendary franchise, Rise of the Tomb Raider, because Crystal Dynamics was on a roll with this series, Dying Light, one of the best zombie games ever made, and Thea: The Awakening, a great turn-based strategy game that flew right under the radar.
But you knew I had to give top honors to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. No, it wasn’t the game I played the most or one I replayed like some of those honorable mentions, but what it did achieve is excellent. Imagine creating a massive RPG with around 100 hours of gameplay, a fully-explorable landscape, rich character development, top level storytelling, solid gameplay, beautiful world-building and a mini-game that warranted it’s own standalone title with Gwent. Now imagine creating DLC packs that were not just tacked on to the main game, but complete storylines all to themselves. Games like that come along very rarely and even less so with the polish of Wild Hunt. And hey, for anyone just learning about this fantasy setting because of the Netflix show, this game shows that Geralt, Yennifer and Ciri do indeed have a satisfying conclusion to their story.
2016 – Stardew Valley
Some worthwhile titles came out this year, such as Final Fantasy 15, the only game in the series I felt compelled to finish, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, continuing that series stellar reputation, Hitman, a terrific reimagining of the series with open ended gameplay, Slime Rancher, which is too darn cute not to enjoy, Pokemon GO, which I am still playing today, and Firewatch, a short but sweet narrative game with some great voice acting and atmosphere.
But look, the best game of the year was Stardew Valley. An evergreen, charming and addictive game you could play for 100 hours or more without thinking about it. I know, because I did. The single player experience proved to be a better game than the Harvest Moon series it was based on, there I said it. And the recent inclusion of a multi-player mode is far better than I ever imagined. The care and passion ConcernedApe put into this game is obvious from the start and seeing him continue to update and add to a game that was great to start with is a marvel.
2017 – Prey
Most of the “great games” that came out this year were also ones I did not play, so honorable mentions are limited for me. Assassin’s Creed: Origins, seeing the series come back from a hiatus in grand fashion, South Park: The Fractured But Whole, another fine installment that adds grid-based combat, and What Remains of Edith Finch, a terrific little game that will stick with you far past the few hours you play it.
However, the game that I give big props to is Prey. This reboot inspired some mixed feelings before it’s release due to a game we never received in Prey 2, which did look great but was also, you know, cancelled. However, Arkane built a brilliant space horror survival game in Prey that keeps you glued to the screen through your entire playthrough. From the giant behemoths that plow over you in an instant to the deceptive mimics that make you question which coffee cup will try to kill you, every enemy in the game hits you in a different, distressful way. We may not have gotten that bounty hunter game, but this was a consolation gift I can totally get behind.
2018 – Red Dead Redemption 2
Honorable mentions go to Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, which I played longer than I can justify, Forza Horizon 4, an absolutely brilliant racing game with changing seasons, Far Cry 5, the best outing for the series since Blood Dragon because there’s a bear named Cheeseburger, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider, a very satisfying conclusion to the Survivor series. Also, Subnautica officially came out in 2018, although I played it earlier as a game preview, but it is the most engaging horror survival game in disguise I ever had interest in playing.
But, yes, despite it’s more obvious problems, I have to give Red Dead Redemption 2 credit for being an even more ambitious and sprawling wild west setting than it’s predecessor. Although the first game actually plays better and has a classic narrative, there is no denying how much of an event playing this was. It’s simply gorgeous, sounds like a dream, features top tier voice acting and presents a great Western story of outlaws facing a new era where they are a dying breed. Arthur Morgan is one of Rockstar’s best player characters and seeing his story from beginning to end, especially in relation to the events of the first RDR, is an experience worth having.
2019 – The Outer Worlds
This is a hard one, because I haven’t played a lot of games from the last year. A few notable honorable mentions go to Borderlands 3, because of course it is, and Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, a fantastic case for Metroidvania games in the modern era. Everything else I either did not play or did not like very much. Take your bets now on which is which.
So my game of the year is The Outer Worlds. Obsidian has officially stepped out of the shadows from creating sequels for other game developers and beat them at their own game. While those companies have graced us with tire fires like Anthem and Fallout 76, Outer Worlds managed to make a sci-fi RPG with great writing, beautiful graphics, engaging gameplay, deep lore, a world populated with believable characters and important narrative beats that act as a cautionary tale to our real-world society. All of this without a whiff of micro transactions or live service models, flying in the face of the very thing it critiques. Better yet, it manages to be a complete, satisfying experience out of the box with hardly a glitch or bug to it’s name. Sadly, yes, these are things that need to be lauded in the modern era of video gaming. And in true Obsidian fashion, the choices you must make are much more nuanced than simply being “good” or “evil”, adding extensively to replayability. This is the kind of RPG experience that comes along far too infrequently and deserves all the credit it gets.