You don’t realise how long ten years is until you sit back and take stock of what’s happened in the space of a decade.
Just think back to where you were in 2010 and there’s a good chance your life was different. Perhaps you had another job, lived in a different house, or you have a different circle of friends. Maybe the world wasn’t fucked. Maybe you weren’t longing for an asteroid.
The same goes for video games – the gaming landscape has changed in those ten years, with many developers now focusing on building games that will last a decade, rather than be consumed and forgotten, in the form of service games.
Since we don’t get many chances to look at a decade as a whole, we thought it’d be nice to look back on the past ten years in video games and select what we consider the best of the best, ranking them all to boil some piss.
To achieve this, we used science: everyone on staff picked their top 25 games of the last ten years and placed them in order. Each person’s top choice got 25 points and each underneath it got one point less. Add them together and you get something approaching a consensus. Any games that didn’t make it into the top 50 were brutally sliced off the bottom and lost to the annals of history.
So, let’s get stuck in…
50. Stellaris (2016)
Stellaris brings together two of my favourite genres: sci-fi and grand strategy. While it’s more accessible than other Paradox titles, it’s still a complicated beast that consists of running an empire, exploring the galaxy, and claiming new worlds and systems as your own while tackling RNG random encounters that could indefinitely change the course of your game.
Whether you’re creating a government, mining for resources, or building a Dyson sphere, the granular micromanagement in Stellaris can feel overwhelming at times, but everything fits together wonderfully. You can mod the absolute hell out of it, too, including a sweet Mass Effect mod. And you can play as cat people, which makes it better than most games.
49. Cities Skylines (2015)
I don’t really see Cities Skylines as a strategy game – it’s more of a chill simulation. Set up your road network, lay down the infrastructure, erect your buildings, then watch the world go by as night falls and headlights twinkle along the motorways.
Like most city builders, you have to think about where you place what, but it’s in that traffic flow that Cities Skylines comes into its own. To keep expanding, you need to generate money. To generate money, people need to get to work. To get to work, those roads need to keep flowing. There’s something really satisfying about solving traffic jams, and I wish I could do it in real life – a true power fantasy to rival Doom’s BFG.
48. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (2010)
Part visual novel, part mini-game detective sim, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is the best kind of nonsense. Caught in the clutches of the maniacal Monokuma, the “Ultimate” students of Hope’s Peak Academy are free to leave whenever they wish – as long as they can murder one of their classmates and get away with it.
The ensuing mystery has more twists than M Night Shyamalan’s pile of rejected screenplays, and while its lengthy run-time was perfectly suited to the pick-up-and-play portability of the Vita, you can now grab the whole series on Steam as well.
47. Pokemon: Let’s Go (2018)
Pokemon Let’s Go has the same story as Pokemon Yellow, except for this time you can choose between a Pikachu and an Eevee – oh, and you can play it on your TV! It’s brilliant fun and a great way to introduce Pokemon to family members young and old.
The removal of random encounters improves things and it is very cool to see a chonky Onyx sliding around in caves in proper proportion to other Pokemon. While the story is nothing new, the novelty of playing Pokemon on a 50 inch TV hasn’t worn off yet.
46. Super Mario Odyssey (2018)
It probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that a core-series Mario game is good. That speaks to the quality Nintendo has managed to maintain across the series – but what’s most impressive about Odyssey is how it is a worthy successor to both Galaxy and 64, all while celebrating the joyous energy of Mario’s original outings.
The biggest change here – to replace linear levels with open-ended sandboxes with hundreds of macguffins to find – is straight out of the N64 era, where each 3D platformer developer would add another tier of rubbish to collect. The magic, however, is that nothing feels like busywork. If you start to tire, you can hop into your hat-shaped spaceship and blast off to another colourful, exciting world. Super Mario Odyssey is the best sort of game – one where the hours melt away in the face of simple, white-hot fun.
45. Fortnite (2017)
There’s no denying the impact Fortnite has had on our industry. This is a game that started out as a tower defense co-op affair, but it slowly switched focus to the behemoth battle royale game most people know it as today. Originally a PUBG clone, now a global phenomenon that’s powered the launch of the Epic Games Store. Idiot children have been flossing for the past few years because of this.
Fortnite is also leading the charge when it comes to how service games evolve, hosting live events in-game that drum up hype and buzz to unprecedented levels. For that alone, it deserves a place in this list. But it’s also a very good game.
44. Sleeping Dogs (2012)
From a cultural phenomenon to a game that had about as much impact as a you trying to punch a ghost in a nightmare, Sleeping Dogs feels like a game out of time. A B-tier open-world title, it didn’t quite have the smooth vehicle handling of the competition, or anywhere near the budget of something like GTA, but it carved out its own identity by cribbing on the Batman: Arkham combat system and focusing on fisticuffs. You could also punt peoples’ heads through windows.
One of the things that stands out about Sleeping Dogs to me now is the setting. Hong Kong felt refreshing to explore in a world where games often pretend that the US is the only place on Earth. From the neon glow of street signs to the back alleys full of street food vendors, Sleeping Dogs did an incredible job of capturing a Hong Kong in virtual form and filling it with goons to murder with ceiling fans.
43. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (2010)
Only just making it onto this list by a few months, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is still one of the best multiplayer shooters ever made. It didn’t have a prone button, it barely ran at 30 frames per second on console, but it had some of the best maps and combat mechanics in any shooter. There was a freedom to its multiplayer that made it feel quite unlike anything else, and that freedom made it endlessly replayable.
The maps were all open and varied, and you could even carve your own route through them by blowing a hole in any wall. That’s one thing that’s missing from recent Battlefield games – consistent destruction. Here every building could be completely levelled. On Rush mode, this meant you could even topple structures onto objectives instead of planting the bomb. Strap some C4 to a quad bike and gun it through enemy lines, smashing it into the objective. Add a single-player campaign that riffs off Three Kings and doesn’t take itself too seriously and you’ve got game of the decade material.
42. Civilization 5 (2010)
Civilization 5 was the first Sid Meier game I’d played and over a thousand hours later, I’m still playing it. Each civilisation comes with its own perks, unique armour units, and buildings that can dramatically shift your chances of winning depending on which era you’re playing in.
The addition of Brave New Worlds and Kings and Gods added religion, tourism, and espionage into the mix. There’s also a sweet XCOM crossover in the later stages of the game as you recruit XCOM squads to fight your futuristic battles. It’s still funny to see Ghandi get absolutely raging that you wiped out a civ despite him begging you to go to war with him.
41. FTL (2012)
FTL is a roguelike strategy game that will steal your life force like a breached hull ejecting a spaceship’s occupants into the void. There’s no such thing as having “one more go” here. Every run feels different. Every run is brutal. Every death feels like your fault and you’ll be tempted to have another crack at it. Maybe you shouldn’t have taken that detour, maybe you should have run from that fight.
Even though it’s a simple, top-down affair, you really feel like the captain of a spaceship, diverting power between different subsystems to optimise your ship for combat, escape, attack, and defense. When a fire breaks out in a chamber, do you send someone in to put it out, or do you lock it down, open the airlock and let the vacuum of space deal with the flames? If you somehow missed this gem, get it bought and see for yourself why it was one of Kickstarter’s earliest successes.
40. Doom (2016)
People often talk about flow states when referring to arcade games – stuff like Thumper, Tetris, and Super Hexagon – where you’re fully immersed in the moment, almost moving without thinking, like you’re one with the machine. Doom transfers that mental state to a first-person shooter smothered in demon giblets.
Each weapon feels fine-tuned to deal with a specific threat, and every enemy type forces you to behave differently, with one constant: you’re always on the move. Staying still means death. Even if you need to replenish your ammo, you press forward, chainsaw in hand, and take if from the enemy in a shower of blood. If you need health, you rip it from your enemy’s chest cavity with a Glory Kill. While Doom suffers a little from repetition in the early areas, it opens up later into a beast of a game where combat is like spinning plates while stood on top of a giant, spinning plate.
39. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (2018)
For a long while, Assassin’s Creed was treading water. Caught tonally between a po-faced sci-fi frame going nowhere and Charles Dickens running a ghostbusting detective agency, the series found a new RPG-flavoured direction with Assassin’s Creed Origins. Odyssey then took those ideas and ran to the top of Mount Olympus, expanding and improving on almost every single aspect to create a game as deep as the River Styx.
Ancient Greece is a joy to explore, and is densely packed with three main narrative arcs, tons of story-driven side quests, tens of assassination targets to hunt down, naval combat, collect-a-thon loot, and bloodythirsty mercenaries desperate to claim the bounty on your head.
Alexios and Kassandra are charmingly portrayed on just the right side of goofy, and the progression of the modern day story – especially in the Fate of Atlantis DLC – does right by long-time fans. Also, shout out to Discovery Tour – where you can wander the Penopolese peninsula without quests and enemies and listen to lectures about Ancient Greek culture and landmarks – as one of the most bafflingly cool post-launch features I’ve even seen added to a game.
38. Outlast (2013)
Where Amnesia: The Dark Descent reinvigorated video game horror with creeping dread and spine-chilling atmosphere, Outlast strapped subtlety to an operating table and smashed it to a bloody pulp wearing nothing but a hospital gown flapping in the breeze.
Its fright-a-minute style smooshes tons of horror tropes into one nightmarish package: a foreboding gothic asylum, a rumbling thunderstorm, a night-vision camera with iPhone-tier battery life, and a cavalcade of mutated weirdos ready to jump-scare you into the Shadow Realm. Short enough to scurry through in an evening, but sure to be remembered every time you nip to the loo in the dark, Outlast is destined to be endlessly Let’s Played and is still the best answer to the question: “Shall we play something scary?”
37. Pokemon Go (2016)
Over a decade since every kid lusted after a shiny Charizard card, Pokemon was once again back in everybody’s pocket – and in Pokemon Go, the series has found a natural home and an enticing new form of play. I’ll honestly never forget the summer of 2016, where you couldn’t go to a park without seeing groups of people old and young alike clutching their phones as they tried to catch ‘em all.
Pokemon Go plays on nostalgia, but it’s also rather bloody good. Three years later I am still playing it daily, in large part thanks to constant updates that somehow continue to be decently substantive. Most impressive of all is this game’s reach, however. My nan has this installed on her phone – and that really speaks to it as being something special.
36. Nier Automata (2017)
Nier Automata was the moment when the madness of Yoko Taro and the combat expertise of PlatinumGames collided. The results were exceptional – a huge action RPG where the full story isn’t clear until you’ve played through it at least three times, each subsequent playthrough offering a new perspective, new story moments, and fresh mechanics.
It also features one of the best video game soundtracks in recent memory, as well as an upgrade system focused around swapping out computer chips – pull out the wrong one and you can accidentally kill your android protagonist. It might not have the cultural impact of something like Fortnite, but it’s a unique, beautiful game that also highlighted how thirsty gamers are for robots. It also answers the question: “Do robots fuck?” The answer is yes, by the way.
35. Animal Crossing: New Leaf (2012)
Animal Crossing is the sort of series only Nintendo could make. Sure enough, there’s similar series out there, but there’s something about the energy, the style and the tone of Animal Crossing that is just relaxing and engaging. On paper, the concept of sailing over to an island with a singing turtle to pick up fruit to then sell every single day is tedious busy work – and it is – but the beauty of Animal Crossing is that you still want to do it.
New Leaf is the culmination of the series up to this point, a few generations of gentle, iterative improvement – and it’s bloody brilliant. It is mechanically sharp, absolutely understands what makes the series great, and even masters its tone – which is why new-girl Isabelle has become the foremost icon of the series.
34. Shadow of the Colossus (2018)
Look upon this vast, windswept plain. Gaze upon these tremendous, majestic beasts peacefully grazing this dreamlike, painterly landscape. Now clamber up them and plunge your sword into the soft bits. Shadow of the Colossus is a game of few words and with stylised art, but it manages to elicit more emotion with its visuals and themes than any of David Cage’s perfectly rendered, endlessly talking avatars ever have.
This remaster gives us the PS2 classic exactly as it was, only now you can see each crack in the stone armour that adorns these giants, and thousands of blades of grass now dance in the wind. Shadow of the Colossus didn’t need much of an update because it’s a timeless classic that will always be remembered as one of the best games ever made.
33. Divinity: Original Sin 2 (2017)
Usually I can’t get on with these classic RPGs. There’s something about the distant camera that makes it hard to care about the characters and the world, and the fact that you move around with a mouse only makes you feel more detached. None of that mattered when I played Divinity: Original Sin 2 on PC (you can also play it on console now if you like) because it’s such an interesting game that it all falls away.
Not only is it a huge RPG with choice and consequence, but it’s interesting systemically. Battles are turn-based and you’re equipped with abilities such as telekinesis and teleportation which, combined, allow you to come up with creative solutions to problems. Some speedrunners even take a barrel of noxious substance from the start of the game right to the end so they can one-shot the final boss with it. Then there’s the fact your companions have their own agendas and might sometimes murder an NPC mid-conversation. Don’t pass this up, and make sure you play as the skeleton man.
32. Dragon’s Dogma (2012)
Dragon’s Dogma looks like the video game equivalent of a straight to DVD movie – it’s muddy, brown, and everyone in it looks like a clay model that’s been punched in the face – but if you look beyond that ugliness, there’s inventiveness that’s unrivalled in action RPGs. First off, there’s the pawn system, which allows you to fight alongside an AI companion in a different class to your own – you can also rent your pawn out and borrow the aid of other players’ creations, most of which are also terrifying to look at.
Then there’s the fact you can clamber over monsters like it’s Shadow of the Colossus, clutching the feathers on a griffon as it soars over the battlefield. It’s vast and doesn’t feature a fast travel system, unless you manually set one up yourself by transporting magical crystals across the map and plonking them in strategic locations. At night, the game transforms and it’s almost a survival horror experience – you have to navigate by torchlight and enemies become harder to deal with. Make it all the way to the end and you’ll be treated to one of the most bizarre final hours of a video game ever.
31. Resident Evil 2 Remake (2019)
Resident Evil 2 Remake will, for years to come, be held up as the definitive example of how to remake a classic game. It’s not an exact replica, it takes a few liberties, but it manages to perfectly capture the essence of the original game while still having ideas and surprises of its own. On top of all that, it somehow makes a large man in a tiny hat seem scary.
The thing I love most about Resident Evil 2 Remake is how it’s really a game about mastery. You learn the ins and outs of the strangely labyrinthine police station, the sewers below, and the labs beyond. You become familiar with the place and its arcane contraptions, to the point where you can navigate it without a map and clear the game in under three hours. It also has one of the best gore systems in any game ever, where zombie meat slides off the bone like a slow cooked lamb shank.
30. Disco Elysium (2019)
“Disco Elysium is a groundbreaking open world role-playing game. You’re a detective with a unique skill system at your disposal and a whole city block to carve your path across. Interrogate unforgettable characters, crack murders or take bribes. Become a hero or an absolute disaster of a human being.” – That’s the Steam Description for Disco Elysium and even that is better than most games.
Disco Elysium is the new gold standard for video game writing, taking the concept of a reluctant amnesiac hero and subverting your expectations by letting you see your own thought processes play out. It’s the only game I’ve played in which my lower intestine tried to convince me I’m a fascist, where I’ve sparked out a 12-year-old drug addict, and where I’ve backflipped, Matrix-style into an OAP while flipping off a hotel manager.
29. Final Fantasy 15 (2016)
Admittedly, Final Fantasy 15 is the only Final Fantasy title I’ve ever played, but it’s still one of my favourite games from the last decade. Final Fantasy 15 begins with a wholesome story about four good boys who drive around in their wannabe batmobile helping the locals and avoiding Daemons at night.
Breaking away from the traditional JPRG combat system, Final Fantasy 15 lets you use a mix of directional attacks, combos, and finishers from each of the four lads to smash through your enemies. You can also change the colour and name of your Chocobo and you can pet the dog, which obviously makes it GOTY material.
28. Metal Gear Solid 5 (2015)
It might be unfinished, Keifer Sutherland’s Snake might seem strangely mute for long stretches, and there might be a woman who can’t wear clothes because she breathes through her skin, but all those pockmarks cover over a deep, rich, systems-driven stealth game. One of the deepest and richest stealth games ever made, in fact. This is a game where every tool has multiple uses. Rather than guiding you down a set path in missions, the toolset challenges you to come up with creative solutions.
Take that naked, skin-breathing woman, Quiet – when you first meet her, it’s in a pitched sniper battle across some desert ruins. You could sneak up to her and get the drop on her, you could play her at her own game and take distant shots back at her, or you could call in supply drops and knock her out by bopping her on the head with crates. I know what I’d rather do. The beauty of MGS 5 is that one minute you’ll be doing that, and the next you’ll be driving a blinged-out tank through an enemy base. No two missions are the same, if you’re prepared to think outside of the cardboard box.
27. Torchlight 2 (2012)
Considered Diablo’s more colorful and light-hearted cousin, Torchlight 2, from the now defunct Runic Games, is an excellent action-RPG. Yes, comparisons with Diablo are to be expected, especially considering two of Runic’s co-founders, Max Schaefer and Erich Schaefer, created the original Diablo and also co-founded Blizzard North. But comparisons to Diablo have been done to death so we’re not going down that road. Torchlight 2 stands on its own and deserves to be on this list.
While not all that much different from the first Torchlight, which was an excellent game in its own right, Torchlight 2 is the much larger, and more polished version. It also has co-op multiplayer and a really detailed character customization system the first lacked, and even some of the smaller changes made make this one the better game to play.
The art style gives it a brightness lacking in many dungeon crawlers, the cinematics are fun and really well done thanks to Klei Entertainment (Don’t Starve). There’s never a dull moment, enemies are varied, bosses are challenging, the class skill design is great, and the reward system gives you a nice feeling of accomplishment. Plus, if you play on PC, there are plenty of rather nice mods available through Steam Workshop. If you are a console player, as of 2019, Torchlight 2 is also available on PS4, Switch, and Xbox One.
26. Bloodborne (2015)
Bloodborne is the answer to the question: “What is the best Dark Souls game?” Listen, I know Dark Souls 3 ranks higher on this list, but I want you to know that I personally think all my colleagues are wrong and bad. It’s a combination of the faster combat, focusing on precision aggression, and the Lovecraftian/Victorian world that oozes atmosphere and dread, where unknowable monsters lurk on the periphery of our own existence.
While it has its fair share of huge bastards that will take you hours to defeat, Bloodborne feels best at home in its duels, where you face off against bosses with a similar moveset to your own. The lack of a traditional levelling up system also equalises the playing field when it comes to PvP fights, making them more a test of skill than simply creating an impenetrable character build.
25. Far Cry 3 (2012)
Far Cry 3 is Ubisoft perfecting its open world island playground with confident flourish. The balance between chaos and control is a thin line in Far Cry games, but your adventures on Rook Island skip across this tightrope with glee, raining napalm on a weed farm as you go.
Sequels and spin-offs after Far Cry 3 milked the same formula, with cluttered ideas and gameplay more bloated than a full-english tourist. But Far Cry 3 feels like the real start of the series with its fresh attitudes to exploration, emergent gameplay, a flamboyant villain, lethal weapons, the thrill of capturing encampments and sparking glorious, glorious fire. Yes, the story is corny, pushing an ignorant colonial mindset, and the sex scenes were never going to age well, but the balance of bedlam and beauty in this lush toybox is difficult to find anywhere else.
24. Persona 4 Golden (2012)
Every day’s great with Persona 4: Golden. Good enough on its own to justify the purchase of a PlayStation Vita, Persona 4: Golden is the story of a city kid shunted out into the sticks while their parents work a year abroad. Stuck in the small town of Inaba, things soon take a supernatural turn thanks to a string of gruesome murders and the prophetic appearance of the mysterious Midnight Channel.
Split into the mundane and the magical, during the day you lead a normal teenage life full of friends, school work, and Saturday jobs. By night you crawl through the metaverse’s many dungeons with the newly awakened power of your Persona in search of the town’s enigmatic killer. The relationships you forge with family and friends are what make Persona 4: Golden special; a heartwarmingly personal adventure with a top soundtrack.
23. The Witcher 2 (2011)
We focus on the massive jump in quality between The Witcher 2 and The Witcher 3, but we’re all forgetting how impressive the second game in the series was at the time – especially coming off the back of the ropey first game. Not only does this have one of the best opening cinematics in video games, some of The Witcher 2’s quests are also all-time greats. Never before have I felt so sorry for a troll – I usually just block them on Twitter.
There’s no denying how much playing this game increases your enjoyment of The Witcher 3, with some characters returning as cameos depending on the choices you make. It also laid the groundwork for some of the complex branching quests of the third game, with The Witcher 2 essentially splitting in half at a key plot point depending on who you side with. CD Projekt has always known how to punch above its weight.
22. Hitman (2016)
It looked like Hitman was in trouble after Absolution. IO Interactive wanted to try something new and gave us a story where Agent 47 was on the run, resulting in more linear levels, some of which where you don’t even hit any men. Clue’s in the name, guys. Luckily, with Hitman, the developer came back with exactly what the fans wanted: varied targets, open levels, and a globe-trotting adventure where you’re free to choose your approach.
Sapienza is up there with the best missions from across the series, taking Agent 47 on holiday in a fitted shirt. You can pretend to be dead, swap out someone’s golf ball to make them explode when they tee off, or take one of the many vantage points and pull out your sniper rifle. Then there’s essentially a whole other map beneath the town itself, too, where secrets are being developed in an underground lab. Hitman maps are at their best when they’re about discovery and slow mastery – Hitman 2016 nails that with each one. Plus, there just aren’t enough games where you’re bald.
21. Mass Effect 3 (2012)
While many have an issue with how it ultimately ended, there’s no denying Mass Effect 3 as a unique, standout moment for video games. Yes, we’ve had sequels before. Even trilogies. But this was the culmination of your choices over two previous games, where many characters now either live or have died based on your actions. Video games had never felt this personal, and I’m not sure they ever will again.
The game’s opening leaves a lasting impression, finally taking you to Earth after spending the previous two games exploring alien worlds. You’re only there briefly, but you see the genocidal Reapers ravage your home planet in a bombastic introduction with a much darker tone we’re used to. It makes the stakes feel real, like everything you did in the first two games was always leading up to this point.
20. Portal 2 (2011)
How do you improve on a perfect game like Portal? Expand on everything players of the original loved, turn Glados into a potato, and add in one of the best co-op campaigns of all time, of course. Portal 2 is hands-down the best big budget puzzle game ever made, with such a slick design that you feel like you’re a genius for finding the solutions to puzzles that Valve wanted you to find, unless you’re a speedrunner and you’ve found ways to completely break it, which is still brilliant.
In co-op, these puzzles expand with two sets of portal guns. You and a friend must work together, propelling yourselves, each other, and objects to the end of each test chamber, lining up portals as things fly through the air. One of my favourite co-op memories ever is finishing this with a friend, even though it took us longer than it should have because I kept sending them falling through an infinite loop.
19. Ultra Street Fighter 4 (2015)
It’s important to remember that when Street Fighter 4 made its debut (outside of this decade, but this is our list, shut up) that the series had been dead for years. Fighting games, even, had been in a steep decline. This title was a key influence in reviving the genre to the thriving fighting game scene we have today – from casual button-mashing play from online warriors to the highest level of competition at tournaments bigger than they’ve ever been.
The editions of SF4 released in this decade are all incredible. Arcade Edition made important additions and tweaks, but it’s this version that truly matters, living up to its Ultra moniker with 44 playable characters, a huge number of stages and a generally irresistible, near-perfect ‘feel’ in play – a difficult thing to measure or describe, but undoubtedly one of the most important measures of a fighting game. It is excellent.
18. Hotline Miami (2012)
Sometimes you just need to kill every motherlover in the room. Hotline Miami is a retro-styled top-down shooter where shooting isn’t the focus and you can die in half a second. It’s about never standing still, clearing rooms of henchman efficiently as possible. When you’re in the zone, it’s like a dance. A violent dance. Where people die. Stack up next to a door, kick the door into someone’s face, take another dude out with a bat, pick up a pan of boiling water and tip it into someone’s head – now pirouette.
Once you’ve completed your carnage, Hotline Miami plays its cleverest hand. The thumping soundtrack gives way to a moody thrum and you’re forced to trace your way back through that mayhem, past the bodies and blood spatters as you return to your car. Did I feel bad? No. But it got closer than most triple-A games manage to making you feel implicit in your virtual violence.
17. Stardew Valley (2016)
Stardew Valley is a testament to one man’s attrition, the bulk of development done by a solo developer who just wanted a Harvest Moon-style game on PC. The results are tremendous. The game opens with you inheriting a farm and then you’re left to it, clearing away weeds, rocks, and tree trunks before planting seeds and nurturing them to life. It’s a game about settling into a routine and making sure you put aside some time to break from that routine.
There’s something moreish about building up funds, tending to animals, and making your farm look as pretty as can be. Perhaps you’ll specialise in honey, crops, or even turn your farm into a brewery. When you’re done with that, there are NPCs to court and marry, there are dungeons to delve into, and there are mysteries to uncover. You can even play it in online co-op in 2019.
16. Dark Souls 3 (2016)
It’s important to acknowledge that both the second and third entries in the Dark Souls series released in this decade, and choosing between the two is difficult. Dark Souls 2 is a wild, explorative expansion of what Souls is – sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Dark Souls 3, meanwhile, is a careful distillation of what has come before, building an experience that is satisfying for long-time fans but also altogether more accessible.
Accessible might seem like a dirty word when it comes to this, a series that has primarily traded on its bone-crushing difficulty, but Dark Souls 3 is still difficult in all the right places and ways. Its obtusely-delivered narrative also somehow provides what feels like a satisfying, closing conclusion to the series – though I’d be astonished if we don’t end up revisiting this world in the next decade.
15. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017)
Time can be a brutal mistress, but The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is probably going to be one of those games that ages like a fine wine. It is already excellent – a defining game of a generation, of a genre, certainly of a platform and company – but its influence is likely going to be felt for many years to come, just as with Ocarina of Time in the nineties and noughties.
From a distance and in screenshots this is Zelda, just as you’ve known it. But draw closer and begin to play and it’s quickly revealed what a radical reinvention this is. The influences can be seen clearly in places: the original NES Zelda and Skyrim could arguably be considered this game’s parents. It is also something all of its own, however – something new, exciting and adventurous – and in that design there is a spark that sets the mind ablaze with the possibilities within its systems and huge, always-interesting world. This is a game that comes along rarely – one that will still be talked about in decades.
14. Grand Theft Auto 5 (2013)
Two games for the price of one, across two generations of consoles. GTA 5 is a wild Hollywood adventure, ripe with violence, sex, drugs, booze, madness, and ever-escalating danger. It makes you the star fifty years of American pop culture, pushing you with bloody hands into the lives of three playable rogues. Cock the hammer and get involved.
GTA Online has grown into multiple worlds. If you want it to be, it’s the crime sim, the business empire, the car collection, the photography landscape, the lavish and rich life where gold-dipped super yacht owners rub shoulders with stinkin’ motorcycle scumbags. With Rockstar subsuming so many of its old games and modes into GTA Online, it has become a true virtual world, a game as a service before that was even a thing, a place that lives and parties 24 hours a day. It’s a phenomenon.
13. XCOM 2 (2016)
Most strategy games don’t have immediate stakes, but XCOM 2 changes all that, its unit levelling system investing you in your troops. Played properly on Ironman Mode, you’re forced to live with your losses, each of them represented on a remembrance plaque back at your base. When you leave a mission after suffering losses, it’s almost like a funeral service, their seat on your extraction vehicle sitting empty as their comrades hang their heads.
XCOM 2’s systems are devilish. The safest way to play is to slowly advance your troops while making sure they cover space in overwatch, in case any aliens are revealed beyond the fog of war during your advancement. Only most missions also have time limits, meaning you’re often forced into making rash moves that can result in a complete squad wipe. If you play one strategy game on this list, make it this one.
12. Destiny 2(2014)
I’m going to go with Destiny 2 as its story is still ongoing, but consider this section a nod to both games. Destiny 2 is by far the most popular loot-shooter MMORPG around, striking a perfect balance between a solid FPS experience and inventory customisation and management.
When you’re not grinding out the hours to earn a new Exotic weapon, there’s so much lore to be found, whether that’s through hidden texts, radio transmissions or little tidbits from NPCs walking around the map. Destiny 2’s matchmaking is unrivalled and its PvP modes – particularly the Iron Banner and Gambit – set it apart from the likes of Borderlands 3, The Divison 2, and even Apex Legends. The success of Shadowkeep proves that Bungie can hold its own without Activision and the five-year plan is sure to be full of surprises.
11. Titanfall 2 (2016)
There’s a reason this game is the top-rated FPS on this list – Titanfall 2 is one of the best shooters ever made. It’s the variety that does it. One minute you’re firing silos of rockets from a mech, and the next you’re manipulating time and space to shift between past and present, fighting and wall-running across two separate realities at the touch of a button. Despite the genre name, shooters aren’t actually about the shooting. Yes, the act of firing a gun needs to be satisfying – and it is here – but the FPS, at its core, is about movement. No game does that better than Titanfall 2.
Even online, Titanfall 2 moves at breakneck pace, with players spending as much time in the air as they do on foot. Windows are positioned to be jumped through, while wall-runs line up with those same openings. Camping while watching a door won’t save you here. Every map is almost like a racetrack, built for looping around, pulling off headshots as you go. You haven’t lived unless you’ve sniped someone who just ejected from a mech while you’re sprinting across a wall.
10. Dishonored 2 (2016)
How do you modernise and introduce a new generation to a genre as outwardly impenetrable as the immersive sim? Easy. Place the player in the shoes of a teleporting supernatural assassin, plonk them into an industrialist steampunk world, and let them stab (or not) the local populace. While the first game laid the groundwork and introduced us to a fully fleshed out world, Dishonored 2 improved the formula while taking us on a tour of the sun bleached Karnaca, a fictional take on a Meditteranean city.
Dishonored 2 is a mastercraft in interlocking systems, where the objective is always to get rid of someone, but there’s always a creative way to do it. Have you ever turned a rat into an organic mine in anything else? Exactly. Arkane’s game completely transports you into its world, down into the gutter with the rats and the scum, and then asks you to turn the other cheek. It’s a game about restraint, about forcing yourself to stay your hand when the person who wronged you is only a short dash away from the tip of your blade. And if you do need a bit of catharsis, you can pretend it’s not about that at all, decapitate someone, and throw their head at their friends.
9. Red Dead Redemption (2010)
Red Dead Redemption proved that Rockstar could tell a serious, affecting story just as well, perhaps even better, than it does satire and dick jokes. When I think back to the first RDR, there are three moments that stick in my mind more than the rest. The first is your introduction to this world and how Rockstar’s Rage engine impacts it. You get off the train and arrive in a dusty frontier town just in time to see a man stumble from the saloon. Because it’s powered by physics, this may have played out differently for you, but for me he tripped over the kerb, stumbling drunkenly across the sand before splaying out on the floor.
The second is the moment everyone talks about: the crossing to Mexico. When you leave New Austin and begin to make your way across the Mexican wilderness, Jose Gonzales fades in, a perfect marriage of Rockstar’s love for licensed music and a setting where it truly pops. Up until this point, it’s only been the game’s score to accompany you on your treks and battles across the Wild West. There’s a reason people still talk about it. Then there’s the end of John Marston’s tragic story, which still gets me. There’s a distinct humanity to Marston, a man who’s done bad things but deep down only wants a good life for his family.
8. Fallout 4 (2015)
People still mention how Fallout 4 scaled back on the roleplaying elements of the series, limiting your options in conversation and streamlining systems. Despite all that, it’s easily the most playable Fallout to date. It looks gorgeous, the Boston setting is brilliant, and the gunplay is actually good. It’s no Titanfall 2, but there’s something really satisfying about taking chunks off enemies with every trigger pull. Then there’s the improved AI, which sees feral ghouls spill through windows and crawl out from under cars – in its most tense encounters, it’s almost a horror game.
One of the things that stands out for me about Fallout 4 is its overarching plot. It released when my first child was young, and Fallout 4’s lost kid was a far stronger motivator for me than my dad telling me to help him purify some water. Especially when the twist is revealed and it turns out your son now works for the ‘bad guys’, splitting your loyalties and forcing you to choose between various opposing factions, each of which actually has some abhorrent policies. For me, the choice was easy – my boy. Oh yeah, and don’t forget that Nick Valentine is the best Fallout companion ever.
7. The Last of Us (2013)
The Last of Us’s prologue still hurts. It’s not often I’m emotionally affected by a video game, but Naughty Dog’s opus is bookended with sadness: that little yelp Joel’s daughter makes as her life escapes her lungs; the disappointment in Ellie’s face as Joel decides to lie to her again.
One of the things I appreciate the most about The Last of Us is how it forces you to play as an actual character. Joel’s motivations don’t always mesh with your own – he’s a bad, selfish dude who still has some kindness in his heart, but he actively pushes his own humanity back down as a defense mechanism. It’s rare I play a story-focused game like this more than once, but I’m currently on my fifth playthrough of The Last of Us in anticipation of the sequel, which I’m hoping is a stand-in for when we do another list like this in ten years’ time.
6. God of War (2018)
God of War is the most successful reinvention of a video game franchise ever, and you can thank the influence of The Last of Us for much of that. Much like Naughty Dog’s game, here you’re accompanied by a kid who helps you in battle, and you play as a serial murderer who does his best to not feel any emotion.
Before this game, “subtlety” isn’t a word you would have associated with God of War, but it’s actually the game’s greatest asset. Kratos is a man of few words, yet there’s more conveyed by him reaching out his hand to comfort his son, before quickly changing his mind and pulling it away, than most games manage in a 30 minute cutscene. If that doesn’t do it for you, you later get to impale a dragon’s face on an oversized anchor.
5. Fallout: New Vegas (2010)
If one thing has come to define the choice-driven era of video games, it’s the concept that everything is black or white. It’s blue or red, good or evil, light or dark – paragon or renegade. That thread has crept into many a game; stories that compel with choice but also offer all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. This is what has made Fallout: New Vegas so memorable – it is a world entirely sketched in morally ambiguous shades of grey.
New Vegas is essentially set in the midst of a faction war, with your character a pawn pushed from pillar to post between the various groups. Brilliantly, there isn’t a truly good or right answer – all of these factions are bad in their own ways, and all believe that they are doing what is best for the world. It’s up to you to choose your allegiance, or even strike out on your own – and choices feel like they flow into far more natural reactions than this game’s peers, including the other recent Fallout titles. In an age when role-playing is trending away from more hardcore branching story experiences, New Vegas is a true role-player – and that’s what makes it brilliant.
4. Skyrim (2011)
The soundtrack, the mountains, the dragons, the blasting dragons from the top of mountaintops while listening to that soundtrack – Skyrim has it all. There’s something special about wandering into the landscape of an Elder Scrolls game for the first time, leaving the depths of some dungeon, breaking from captivity, to be met with a world – a world that offers seemingly endless possibilities. You don’t ever really “finish” Skyrim, you just get all Skyrimmed out.
One of the things that heightened my enjoyment of Skyrim is how it released just when I was making my way through the A Song of Ice and Fire books. The giants, the snow, the northern lords – it almost felt like a playable version of Game of Thrones. Once that faded, there’s always the fact that you can put a bucket over a shopkeeper’s head and rob them blind. Skyrim proved that people do want games with immersive sim elements, where you’re often free to come up with your own creative solutions to problems. It still lives on today as one of the first games people with a new PC install so they can try out mods.
3. Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018)
Red Dead Redemption 2 is probably the most confident game on this list. I can’t think of another developer that could create such a complete and accomplished experience in a dusty old niche genre. Barely anyone makes westerns anymore – in any entertainment form – but Rockstar had the (horse) balls to throw everything at this sequel in the belief that story and open world could work perfectly together – and it was absolutely right.
Its tragic and melancholy story stretches from Amberino to New Austin, taking in pulp thrills and politics, philosophy and fist-fights. For a game so sprawling in scale, it also drills down on the finest of details, a nose to tail approach that lets the player gorge on a recreation of the old west crudely stitched together by manifest destiny, capitalism, freedom, and stunning violence.
2. Mass Effect 2 (2010)
It’s a minor miracle that BioWare managed to make the middle point in its planned trilogy feel so pivotal. The core concept of the game – build a team, build their trust, and take them on a mission where it’s likely they will all be killed – felt fresh and exciting, and the threat of death made every decision hold weight. It’s brave of a game built around characters to constantly remind you that you can lose them all during the final moments. That’s without mentioning that it opens with your own character’s death.
As well as nailing it with that premise, Mass Effect 2 improved upon the first game in every place that mattered, making combat actually enjoyable rather than something to be rushed through to reach the good stuff. This was BioWare at its peak. Now we just need a remaster.
1. The Witcher 3 (2015)
From one of the best RPGs ever made to the actual best RPG ever made, it’s The Witcher 3. Developer CD Projekt Red could well have bitten off too much with this sequel, transplanting its RPG series to a fully open world for the very first time. Instead, it cemented the Polish studio as one of the top developers in the world, and primed everyone to be excited for its next game, Cyberpunk 2077, before we ever even knew anything about it.
Everyone always talks about the Bloody Baron questline, but I think there’s another thing that perfectly encapsulates CD Projekt’s approach to RPG design. The Witcher 3 begins with Geralt in White Orchard, a tutorial area where you’re shown the ropes. Here you meet a seemingly innocuous character who you will likely forget within a few hours: Gaunter O’Dimm. Purposely designed to be an everyman, O’Dimm is the antagonist of Hearts of Stone, one of the best video game expansions ever made, and one of the most powerful beings in The Witcher’s world.
He was there from the start, always planned to be a major character who reappears down the line, CD Projekt laying the groundwork for deeper stories as soon as you step into Geralt’s boots. It’s exceptional stuff. If you’ve played the expansion, there’s a good chance you’ll never look at a wooden spoon the same way again.