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Top Ten Games of the Decade

This decade of gaming has been outstanding on every level. Graphical precision, narrative complexity, and input precision have evolved and made each genre of games more and more amazing as time has progressed. This list was as much a delight to put together as it was challenging. This is my list alone of games that I have played and loved throughout the course of this decade and I hope some of these have delighted you along the way as well.

10. Titanfall 2- October 2016

Image EA

Synopsis:

Today Respawn is known for its mega-franchise, Apex Legends, which caught the gaming world by storm with its rich characters and crisp gunplay. But back in 2016, Titanfall 2 released to little fan fanfare as it was swallowed up by the release of other holiday juggernauts such as Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. However, the unique FPS traversal options, personalized mech gameplay mechanics, intriguing multiplayer options that kept matchmaking fresh, and continued support well into the games cycle propelled Titanfall 2 to critical acclaim.

Personal thoughts:

I played this game constantly after it came out. As an original Titanfall stan, this game improved on the original in every way imaginable. The single-player campaign was fresh and fun in a way that most first-person shooters glossed over at the time. The best part about this game was how balanced it played. Mechs were the great equalizer in multiplayer. Even people such as myself who aren’t the best shooters out there could still hop into a match and feel like they are contributing to a team. And the movement of the pilots was just so fluid. One can see how this game helped shape many of the options in Respawn’s newest game, Apex Legends. This game was crafted with care and supported for many months after release even with the early lackluster sales. Titanfall 2 was an excellent game, and I pray that Respawn somehow finds room in their release schedule to make a third.

9. Pokemon Go- July 2016

Synopsis:

Niantic’s Pokemon Go was a global phenomenon when it was released in the summer of 2016. The revolutionary augmented reality gameplay encouraged users to get off the couch and head outside to add monsters to their collections. Pokemon were in the streets and parks and homes nearby, and millions of people risked real-world safety to just have a chance at grabbing the next Pokemon. Kids and adults alike battled over gym supremacy with the swipe of their phones, and to this day, Pokemon Go remains one of the more popular mobile games on the market.

Personal thoughts:

I remember being blown away by the concept of Pokemon Go early on. I would take my lunch breaks at the local park and represent the Red Team Valor as I crushed children’s hopes and dreams when I took over the local gyms. I had an extensive collection of Pokemon and would make sure to always check the app when I would head to the store or stop at the gas station. This game lands on my list for the sheer amount of wonder it instilled at me at the time. Pokemon Go captured the childlike innocence that made me fall in love with videogames in the first place. I would become genuinely excited when I would catch a new Pokemon or take over a new gym. There was nothing quite like the rush of playing that game, and I appreciate all of the battery life I burned on my phone from trying to catch em’ all.

8. Hearthstone- March 2014

Image playhearthstone.com

Synopsis:

In 2014, Blizzard Entertainment decided to take the popularity of their World of Warcraft property and turn it into a card game. This simple idea with a very basic rule set has spawned many clones over the course of time, but nothing is quite clear and concise as securing a victory in Hearthstone. The rules are simple. The goal is to drain your opponent’s life force to 0. A player builds their deck with various cards that are controlled by the hero. Each turn, the amount a player can spend on a card goes up, allowing for more powerful cards to be played. Turns are alternated until a winner is decided.

Personal thoughts:

What makes Hearthstone so fun is the uniqueness of the cards that have been created and the strategic ways that people can play the game. Hearthstone is very easy to pick up and play, but it is very hard to master. The better one plays, the better the opponents one faces. This became a staple on my phone for a long time. I was obsessed with beating the next opponent and climbing the ranked ladder every cycle. New card sets were exciting those first few years, and I long for another game that grabs me in the way Hearthstone was able to.

7. NCAA Football 2014- July 2013

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Image ESPN

Synopsis:

NCAA Football 14 was the last of its kind. This college football game was more than just a typical sports title. It had over a hundred actual colleges in the game, with real stadiums, team chants, and fight songs represented. The on the field gameplay was markedly different from its NFL counterpart Madden, with playbooks that would be found in colleges such as option football or no-huddle air raid offenses. The great part about NCAA 14 was its customization options. One could play a dynasty mode over countless seasons online or solo. Conferences could be edited it whichever format the user desired. Custom teams could be added via Teambuilder, where one could upload original logos and create players in any form or fashion desired. The gameplay was perfected at this time as well, with smooth player animations and quick gameplay.

Personal thoughts:

NCAA Football 14 gave me what no other sports game ever could- my alma mater being competitive in football. Joking aside, I loved the dynasty mode in this game. Some of the most fun I have ever had in gaming was the recruiting “mini game” aspect as I would try to convince top high school prospects to come to my lowly school. And when things got stale with my alma mater, I would turn to Teambuilder and create outlandish teams. I still remember my Alaska State Ice Dogs fondly as I played crazy football games in the virtual snow. There is a reason why this classic game still sells for 60 dollars when copies come on the market.

6. Fire Emblem: Three Houses- July 2019

Image Nintendo

Synopsis:

Fire Emblem: Three Houses is the latest entry in the turn-based strategy RPG franchise. It still has all the stat heavy chess-like gameplay the series is known for, but what lands it on this list is Three Houses’s strong narrative style coupled with its terrific character building. Imagine if Game of Thrones took place in Hogwarts and you are well on your way to understanding the premise of this game. The user can pick from one of three houses at the start of the game, and each house has its own unique storyline and characters that play out over the course of up to 50 hours of gameplay.

Personal thoughts:

Woo, the opening cinematic of this game sets the tone for the entire journey! This game made me fall in love with its characters. I knew that the relationships I built early in the game would ultimately be tested as the inventible conflict between houses would pit everyone against each other. And don’t get me started on the surprise twist! The only way to play this game is with permanent death turned on. As the leader of my team, I lost one of my characters in an early battle and his death really weighed on me throughout my journey through the story. The emotional ties are just amazing in Three Houses and that is what made this a must have addition to my personal list.

5. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate- December 2018

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Image Nintendo

Synopsis:

The greatest fighting game of this generation came to the Nintendo Switch in 2018, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has done nothing but gets better with every release of downloadable content. The music, the stages, the bits of nostalgia, and the grandiose character selection would be nothing without the intricately balanced gameplay elements that make Smash the pick up and play master class of a fighting game. There is a reason that Smash was given the primetime slot at EVO 2019 over Street Fighter V this year. SSBU is fast, fun, and yet complex enough to allow those with the skill to truly separate themselves.

Personal thoughts:

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is one of the most played games in my household. My children and I play it regularly. The sheer amount of characters in this game allow for everyone to have a favorite, and the balance fighting styles allow for everyone to be competitive. The downloadable content that continues to be released is always thoughtful and unique. New fighters and stages meld perfectly into the base game. And the custom stage designing has allowed my children to torture me with enough portals into lava shaped boxes to last a lifetime. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the definitive fighting game of the decade.

4. Mass Effect 2- January 2010

Image EA

Synopsis:

My name is Commander Shepard, and Mass Effect 2 is my favorite game on the Citadel. The cinematic space opera lands and number four on this list due to its ability to take a galaxy-sized story and make it about the minute, detailed, moment to moment interactions with Commander Shepard and her crew. This amazing achievement was made even more interesting with a complete revamping of the crew from the first game. Developer Bioware made the player have to move on from the relationships built in the first game and forge new bonds with completely different characters with interesting and complicated motivations. Although the series ended with a whimper, Mass Effect 2 will always be remembered as the high point of this incredible series.

Personal thoughts:

I have put hundreds of hours into the Mass Effect series over the years, and yet the game that I continue to explore the most is Mass Effect 2. Bioware showed their immense genius by using the narrative to force the player to move on from the past. There is a moment early when Commander Shepard is speaking to the Illusive Man and he is asking about his crew members from the Normandy, and I remember how hurt I was that all over my former crew members had moved on and lived their lives after I had left them for two years. That is what made this game, and this series so special. It was that this game made me care about these fictional characters in a way that no game had ever done before. It was that same magic that allowed Bioware to perfect that formula years later in another series. Just writing this paragraph makes me want to fire up the game to go adventure with my faithful crew again. Keelah Se’lai.

3. Dragon Age: Inquisition- November 2014

Image Mircosoft

Synopsis:

So, that other Bioware game I alluded to earlier? Dragon Age: Inquisition is what some would call the zenith of the Bioware role-playing games. The characters in this game are presented here in amazing detail both graphically and narratively. The diverse array of characters is created more complex by the addition of racial, religious and political motivations built into lore rich with deep, and sometimes dark, history. The combat engine that was created here is excellent, combining the top-down views from classic strategy-based RPGs with the modern sensibilities of a third-person action game. The sheer size of DA: I was staggering. The different areas on the map that one could travel to were immense, with varying secrets to uncover and stories to be told.

Personal thoughts:

I continue to marvel at the way Bioware creates believable worlds and characters that grab my attention in such a way that stay with me to this day. I can still hear Varric’s snide comments. I snicker at Sera’s crude humor. I am humbled by Cassandra’s steadfastness. My inquisitor valued each member of my team and couldn’t wait to take them on the next quest. And this game provides many quests throughout its multiple hour’s long campaign, but the journey never felt tedious. Also, the Trespasser DLC is one of the best add-ons’s to a game ever created. Damn you, Solas. Damn you.

2. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild- March 2017

Image Nintendo

Synopsis:

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the greatest Zelda game ever. Period. There is a reason that this massive, marvelous game was released on the Nintendo Switch in front of their other famous mustached mascot. The underpowered console was able to deliver a whimsical, fantastical story with creative gameplay elements in a way that only the minds of Nintendo could. Link was meant to be in an open-world game. BotW feels like the culmination of the original vision of Zelda Miyamoto had all those years ago. After the beginning area, one can literally take Link anywhere they want to go, including to face the final boss Ganon if they choose. This game is immensely friendly to the user. Everything from easy to use UI to concise controls on the battlefield. This game never feels cumbersome to play. Breath of the Wild is approachable in concept, fanciful in its world-building, and enjoyable throughout.

Personal thoughts:

The original Legend of Zelda for the NES is an open-world game. It is hard to believe that Breathe of the Wild is the Zelda franchise’s first foray back into this genre. The puzzle-solving elements really set this game apart. The puzzles are the perfect balance of challenging enough to make solving the problem rewarding without being overwhelmingly frustrating. But it’s hard to explain just how interesting each and every shrine puzzle is without being overtly repeatable. Puzzles in Zelda are never about just moving blocks and switch levers. Using the various gizmos and gadgets that Link acquires allow for fun an interesting ways of traversing the puzzle shrines throughout the game. The cooking, fighting, horse riding, gliding, and exploring make this game one of the best of the decade and beyond.

1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim- November 2011

Image guardian.com

Synopsis:

Fus Ro Dah. Nothing could stop The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim from bludgeoning its way into the hearts of gamers when it was released back in 2011. Bethesda has always touted that players could travel anywhere and do anything in their stories, but it took Skyrim to truly fulfill the promise of generations of Fallout and Elder Scrolls games. This is the pinnacle of story-telling coupled with the idea that players are not beholden to the lore the game has crafted for the user. Skyrim spins its tale, heralding the advent of the return of the player as the next Dragonborn. However, what makes the game one of a kind is that the player can choose to “be” the Dragonborn as much or as little as she wants. Users can head to the College of Winterhold to become a mage, or perhaps join a rebel army to try to win Skyrim for its leaders, or maybe just explore the countryside and search the tombs and caves for interesting treasures. The best part about Skyrim is that it leaves the choice completely to the user, without forcing a path or demanding a conclusion. The truly best part of Skyrim is the journey, and one is encouraged to put off the conclusion for as long as needed.

Personal thoughts:

It is amazing that my favorite game came out as long ago as it did, and yet still holds up in both concept and execution almost a full decade later. Skyrim grabbed me early on as a game that literally allowed me to do whatever I wanted. When I first got the game I was so compelled to play it like the other RPGs on this list. I needed to head to this quest or that quest and make sure I could complete the journey of becoming the Dragonborn. When I played Skyrim in that manner, I wasn’t enjoying myself. The turning point for me came in the Dark Brotherhood questline. I remember I was tasked with assassinating someone, and my character got involved in some stuff he wasn’t supposed to. The people that came looking for me didn’t care that I was some sort of hero of legend. They just wanted me out of their business. It is in those moments that Skyrim truly shines. So many RPGs need the main character to move the narrative forward. The world of Skyrim feels like it will keep on functioning whether or not your character is around. It is that worldy independence that makes this game revolutionary. It is the only RPG that I have ever felt I could just turn it on, wander around and suddenly find myself in an adventure. It is for that reason I feel that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the best game of the decade and my personal favorite game of all time.

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Ryan Files is an avid comic book and video game consumer, reviewer, and critic hailing from the boondocks of Illinois. He has taken his ethnographic cultural studies background and applied it to his love of geekdom. He is a huge Star Wars nerd, Castlevania fanatic, and his power level is definitely over 9000. When he isn’t online writing about how he misses old school beat em’ ups like Final Fight, Streets of Rage, or TMNT IV Turtles in Time, he raises his 3 Dora Milaje warrior girls with the most awesome wife a blerd could ask for. You can reach the mumbly one @moblipeg on Twitter or email him at moblipeg@gmail.com.

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