The Best Games of the Decade

7:15 AM 12/6/2019

by Trilby Beresford, Jason Fanelli, Natalie Heltzel, Pete Keeley, Richard Newby, Ryan Parker, and Brittany Vincent

A snowy realm full of dragons and Nords, a 20th century floating city in the sky, a satirical take on Los Angeles, a reimagining of the kingdom of Hyrule, post-apocalypses of various flavors and many more enthralling worlds transported gamers to virtual playgrounds throughout the 2010s. Here are the best of the best.

Skyrim, The Last of Us and God of War- Publicity-H 2019
Bethesda; Naughty Dog; Sony Interactive Entertainment LLC

The 2010s offered a lot to gamers, from new franchises that have gone on to be industry leaders of their own to reinventions of decades-old series that benefited greatly from a foundational shake-up. 

Below, a group of The Hollywood Reporter's game critics, columnists and staff writers choose their picks for the most influential, impactful and memorable titles released over the past decade. While a number of games that are still major forces in the industry today are absent from this list (such as League of Legends and Minecraft), such titles were omitted because they launched last decade and this list employs a strict "2010-onward" rule for its entries. 

The entries on this list are not ranked and are presented in the chronological order of their release. They were chosen for their impact on the industry and the lasting impressions they made upon the gaming community. 

— Patrick Shanley, gaming writer/editor at The Hollywood Reporter

 

  • Mass Effect 2

    The Mass Effect series peaked with its second entry in 2010 (before going off the rails in the trilogy’s finale two years later, which was quite possibly the most divisive title of the decade). While the first game did an admirable job of world-building and introducing players to a swath of characters they’d inevitably want to get to know much more intimately, it wasn’t until the sequel that they began to feel like fully realized individuals with hopes, dreams and feelings. The game's seemingly endless array of dialogue options and permutations for how one simple conversation could affect the narrative was influential in several ways. It's a system that hasn't quite been perfected since, even in the game's lukewarm follow-up Mass Effect Andromeda. It also featured a variety of endings that fit the type of Shepard you groomed perfectly. All the puzzle pieces fit together to help make it one of BioWare's best, a feat it hasn't yet been able to match, and likely never will again. This was the last great moment in Mass Effect history, because while the third game showed flickers of excellence, it was Mass Effect 2 that took the franchise and made it feel more like an experience than a relatively new game series. — Brittany Vincent

  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

    While the fifth installment of any game franchise can feel daunting to newcomers, Bethesda’s Skyrim felt just the opposite in its approach. The high-fantasy game created a rich tapestry of lore and history that was easy to become acquainted with and invested in. While the character models of the NPCs may have left something to be desired, the detail in the expansive settings, locations, armor and weapons displayed the kind of ambitious detail that swallowed other games of its ilk whole. The open-world nature of the story and seemingly infinite side quests often eclipsed the main narrative, and yet that factor worked to the game’s advantage. Skyrim truly did invite players to create their own narrative for their characters, and make in-game choices, both in terms of characters and quests, that added to the replay value of an eternal game that never plays the same way twice. — Richard Newby

  • Dark Souls

    Dark Souls is the ultimate challenge in modern video games, its brutal world serving as a true test of a player’s mettle. It’s not all a masochistic wonderland, however, as there’s also an intricate story woven into the experience, with pieces of lore scattered throughout, but the challenge is easily the most appealing part of the game. In fact, ever since Dark Souls launched in 2011, difficulty in games has been described in four ways: easy, normal, hard and Dark Souls. No game has become so intertwined with gaming difficulty, and with good reason. This hellish title will test every one of the player’s faculties throughout the adventure. — Jason Fanelli

  • Batman: Arkham City

    Retaining the combat flow and emphasis on gadgets that made Batman: Arkham Asylum such a success two years earlier, Rocksteady’s Arkham City creates a larger canvas for players to truly feel like the Dark Knight and explore Gotham City from its rooftops to alleyways. Co-written by Paul Dini, celebrated comic writer and producer on Batman: The Animated Series, Arkham City has an original sprawling story that employs the majority of Batman’s rogues gallery in the main narrative and engaging side missions. Plus, the familiar voice talents of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as Batman and the Joker, and designs that blend comic book costumes with the more grounded look of Christopher Nolan’s films, served to create a game that feels like a union of everything that fans loved about Batman and his world at the top of the decade. — Newby

  • The Last of Us

    What is there to say about The Last of Us that hasn’t already been said? From the opening moments, Naughty Dog’s masterpiece breaks your heart, and then proceeds to build it back up over the course of the game by running the full gamut of emotions you could experience playing a video game, only to break it all over again in the end. Part of the game’s initial success was that it came during the height of zombie media, but long after that hype has died down, The Last of Us still has so much more to offer. It’s a game that rewards smart gameplay, resourcefulness, yet still puts you in predicaments where you never feel quite prepared for what you’re about to face. The horror doesn’t simply come from the clickers or variety of other Cordyceps (infected humans) you encounter, but from becoming emotionally attached to the game's protagonists, Joel and Ellie, beautifully given life by stars Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson. The Last of Us isn’t simply a game about survival, or finding a cure for the end of the world. It’s a game about the courage it takes to love something in the face of the fear of losing it, and ultimately fighting against that fear with everything in your disposal. — Newby

  • Bioshock Infinite

    “There’s always a man. There’s always a lighthouse. There’s always a city.” Irrational Games’ Bioshock Infinite is a next-level examination of class, race and American exceptionalism, beset by a tear in the space-time continuum. Rather than a direct sequel to the first two Bioshock games, Infinite works in conversation with them, taking us to a new world, Columbia, that has its own parallels to Rapture. One of the rare video games that feels literary in its examination, and rewarding in its overly complicated narrative, Bioshock Infinite is a masterpiece in video gaming, a Watchmen-like equivalent that pushes the storytelling capabilities of the whole medium forward. And it’s a damn fine first-person shooter as well. — Newby

  • Grand Theft Auto V

    While its predecessor was set in a fictional reimagining of New York City, Rockstar Games' Grand Theft Auto V transports players to a satirical version of Southern California and lets them roam the sprawling spread of Los Santos (a take on Los Angeles) on foot or, more likely, in any vehicle they manage to swipe. Long a marquee franchise in gaming, Grand Theft Auto V broke through in a way no other title had (which is saying something). Since its release, the game has become the highest-grossing media title of all time, generating more than $6 billion in lifetime revenue. The staggering financial figure is a testament to the game's resonance with fans. Its open-world environment allows for a highly immersive experience, whether completing a high-stakes heist mission in the main campaign, trying to lose the cops in the Hollywood hills or grabbing some sustenance in the kitchen as you pretend to lead a normal domestic life for a moment. With the series-first ability to switch between three characters — including fan-favorite stringy-haired, grimy loose cannon Trevor — GTA V's story is deeper and more engaging than any other entry in the franchise. Visually, the game is as cinematic as any movie epic, elevated by small details throughout that make the world feel real, such as changing colors in the evening sky, pot holes in the road and the verbal comebacks from everyday citizens on the street who get pushed around by the lead players. — Trilby Beresford

     

  • Bayonetta 2

    The original Bayonetta was a groundbreaking action game with a heroine who wasn’t afraid to be sexy while taking care of business. For once, the gaming industry didn’t shy away entirely from an independent woman who also loves suggestive poses and double entendres. So when Bayonetta 2 rolled around and doubled down on the sexiness, it was a blessing for so many women who had fought for the same appreciation of female characters who were both attractive and intriguing protagonists. More importantly, it’s an improvement on the original game in every conceivable way. It’s frenetic, feminine and challenging in all the right ways. Plus, it gave the titular heroine the option to dress up in endearingly fun Nintendo costumes — such as a sexy Fox McCloud — which made unlocking new outfits a whole lot more fun. Bayonetta is Devil May Cry with a heavy coat of lipstick and rouge, and it’s a franchise that deserves to truly reign once more when Bayonetta 3 finally drops in the coming years. — Vincent

  • The Witcher III: Wild Hunt

    There will be plenty of debates about which game is the single best from the decade. Comment sections and message boards will rage with arguments for a variety of games, each with valid arguments. However, unless those arguments are talking about The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, they’re going to fall short. This game has everything a video game fan could want: high action, exceptional writing, a fantastic story, wonderful voice acting, hundreds of hours of content and the list goes on. When we look back on this decade a few years into the 2020s, there’s no doubt that Wild Hunt will still be as revered then as it is now. — Fanelli

  • Pokemon Go

    Mobile gaming established itself in the 2010s and no game better represents its peak than Pokemon Go. Sure there’s Candy Crush Saga and other mobile hits, but no other title on our phones had us moving outside in the actual world, catching Pokemon and making friends simply by meeting at the in-game PokeStops and Gyms. Pokemon Go was such a cultural breakthrough, in fact, that it was mentioned during one of the speeches at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. When a game is being mentioned during a convention to choose a presidential candidate, it’s definitely made the big time. — Fanelli

  • Overwatch

    Blizzard Entertainment announcing a new IP is always a big deal, but no one had a clue of the impact Overwatch would have back at BlizzCon 2014. The eclectic cast of characters and five-on-five multiplayer gameplay quickly captured the hearts of players when it debuted in 2016 and the game’s grip continues to tighten with its recent release on the Nintendo Switch. As the decade draws to a close, Overwatch has grown into a competitive gaming juggernaut, with two full seasons of the Overwatch League showing that city-based esports leagues can not only work, they can thrive. With the next chapters of the franchise coming early in the next decade, fans can always look back at the 2010s as the time when we all joined the ranks of Overwatch. — Fanelli

  • Fortnite

    Few games have made such an impact in a short time as Fortnite Battle Royale did when it launched in 2017. The addition of the free-to-play multiplayer mode turned Fortnite from a nearly forgotten IP into a household name, synonymous with video games and the culture itself. Such is the mainstream reach of the title that instead of uninformed parents saying their kids are “playing Nintendo,” they’re now saying “playing Fortnite.” With the release of Chapter 2 this year, it looks like Fortnite is here to stay, and considering how insanely popular the game has become, that longevity is well-earned. — Fanelli

  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

    There's a reason why Breath of the Wild is the best selling Zelda game of all time*: Because it's simply one of the best games of all time. It's no easy feat to reboot a franchise — especially one that has been so beloved and iconic for nearly four decades — but with its stunning graphics, impressive attention to detail and just the right amount of nostalgia, Breath of the Wild was a hit on all fronts when it debuted in 2017. Gameplay starts with Link waking up in the Shrine of Resurrection 100 years after the Hyrule castle fell to Calamity Ganon. While Link has been snoozing, Zelda has been using her supernatural powers to seal Ganon in the castle, preventing him from overtaking all of Hyrule. Link must free four Divine Beasts from Ganon's control before facing off with the big, bad supervillain (superpig?) himself. Aside from the main storyline, there are plenty of optional side quests to complete but what keeps players active for hundreds of gameplay hours is the fun of exploring the open world. Not to mention that in said open world the ability to climb anything and everything (minus the rain factor) is groundbreaking. For what was probably the most anticipated Zelda title of all time, this one truly delivered. — Natalie Heltzel

    *Not including remasters

  • Cuphead

    If there's a level of game difficulty above "Dark Souls hard," that would be "Cuphead hard." The years-in-the-making brainchild of brothers Chad and Jared Moldenhauer, Cuphead is a love letter to both the "rubber hose" animation style of the 1920s and '30s, and the "bullet hell" run-and-gun games of the 1980s and '90s. The short trailer included in the Xbox presentation at E3 in 2014 caused a minor sensation. Thirty seconds was more than enough time for everyone to buy in to the Moldenhauers' singular vision: Metal Slug, with sprites by Ub Iwerks. When the game released three years later, it presented players with a unique incentive to spend hours grinding past each one of its grueling levels, most of which consist of a single multiphase boss fight: the chance to unveil the next bit of gorgeous, hand-drawn character art. (Even if this style of gameplay isn't your, ahem, cup of tea, it's still worth it to watch a complete playthrough of the game just to see the all the incredible artwork.) Also, it's very, very fun. If there were a separate list of best two-player games of the decade, Cuphead would be on it. If there were a list of games that are just as much fun to watch as they are to play, Cuphead would be on it. Most beautiful games? Most original games? You get the idea. — Pete Keeley

  • Super Mario Odyssey

    The Super Mario franchise has always been a reliable bet, but Odyssey took the familiar gameplay of a decades-old series and injected it with new life. The game offers a gorgeous, colorful 3D landscape where every level boasts a completely different visual aesthetic and player experience — from a bubbly, lava-filled danger zone to a wooded forest home to T-Rex to a sprawling metropolis rife for platforming action — all critical parts of the Italian plumber's treacherous journey to rescue Princess Peach. But it's the introduction of Cappy, Mario's companion on this new adventure, that was a real game-changer. The sentient hat acts as an extension of our hero, opening up the traditional Mario formula in a way that is absolutely revolutionary. The capture mechanic that allows Cappy to overtake various enemies, imbuing the player with their specific powers, provides an impactful update while flicking a Joy-Con controller to send Cappy off to scoop up moons and coins is among the most satisfying bits of gameplay innovations in recent memory. Another crucial success of the game is its integration of 2D gameplay within the 3D world. Players can be moving through a 3D level and enter a tunnel, suddenly to find themselves transported into the side-scrolling world of the older Super Mario games, complete with the classic sounds. Nostalgia factor: check. The boss fights in the game also warrant a mention, because they're so varied that they rarely hit a ho-hum note.  — Beresford

  • Celeste

    The first thing that stands out about Celeste is the credits. They appear on a single card, before the title screen: "A game by Matt, Noel, Amora, Pedro, Lena, Kevin & friends." The first two names, developers Matt Thorson and Noel Barry, created the prototype over four days at a "game jam," which is exactly what it sounds like. They then enlisted artists Amora Bettany, Pedro Medeiros, sound designer Kevin Regamey and composer Lena Raine to build that prototype out into, simply put, one of the greatest, most challenging platformers ever. The story, about a girl who decides to climb a mountain just to prove to herself that she can, who battles her self-doubt — like really battles it — on the ascent (and descent, and re-ascent), is a major part of what so endeared this game to critics and players alike upon its release. But playing through the game, with its lovely pixel art graphics, ear-worm score and ultra-precise controls, it becomes harder and harder to believe that it's (mostly) the work of six people. The game takes all the classic platformer obstacles — wind, spikes (so many spikes), disappearing platforms — and combines them with brilliant, innovative mechanics too numerous to list (Dream blocks! Kevin blocks!). And the challenges are endless; beating the game is only the beginning. After that you can try and unlock all the B-sides — extensions of each level that are even more challenging. Then there's the C-sides. And of course you'll want to collect all 175 red strawberries hidden throughout the game's eight chapters. And the golden strawberries you get for beating each of the 24 levels without dying. And the final golden strawberry, which is too brilliant a feat of thoughtful game design to spoil in a best-of-decade blurb. Dying 10,000 times in a game has never been more rewarding. — Keeley

  • God of War

    A fourth entry that surpasses the previous installments in its series, God of War feels like a legacy sequel as players return to Kratos a little older and a little wiser than the cantankerous Greek demigod depicted in the previous three games. SIE Santa Monica Studios strips away the excess and exploitation that God of War was known for in order to tell an epic father and son story that tugs at the heart strings while simultaneously encouraging you to rip the heart out of your enemies’ chests. The new mythology at its center — Norse instead of Greek — sets up a fascinating new narrative that ends with a major ramification that makes the sequel one of the most anticipated games to come. And, from a design standpoint, every character model and setting is a work of art, set to Bear McCreary’s lush score. — Newby

  • Marvel's Spider-Man

    Marvels Spider-Man from Insomniac Games thrusts players into a fully realized world populated by citizens of New York going about their business. There are routine traffic jams, domestic chores at Aunt May's house, all the visual cues of a normal life — but when the action starts, we are reminded that Spidey is anything but normal. The game, which was a highly anticipated exclusive title for the Playstation 4 console, has gained a reputation among players for its faithful and emotionally impactful portrayal of Parker and his alter-ego Spider-Man and its ability to capture the experience of a superhero: swinging from every high to low. Many Spider-Man games (and superhero games) have existed in the past, but none have provided such a richly detailed and immersive world coupled with a strong narrative through-line. The game packs in a tremendous amount of high-stakes combat, complete with often humorous commentary from Spidey himself, but ends each big moment on an emotional note — a strength not often achieved in superhero fare, in games or elsewhere.  — Beresford

     

  • Red Dead Redemption 2

    Red Dead Redemption 2 is one of those special, unique games with sky-high expectations that not only meets them, but surpasses them, a rarity among video games in this day and age. Fans of the series were clamoring so much for developer Rockstar Games' return to the Wild West that each time the release date was pushed back, it literally ruined their day. From the storytelling to the open world to the colorful characters to the guns, RDR2 is easily one of the best first/third-person adventure games ever made. It allows the player to live through the last remnant of the Old West at their leisure. Play the main story, or don't. Go hunting and fishing all day, or don't. Just ride around the land and discover Easter eggs and unusual characters, or don't. The brilliance of RDR2 is it feels like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book, rather than a title with one main story and a few side missions here and there to try to control pacing. Red Dead Redemption 2 redefined what an open-world game could be and set the bar so high, it will be near-impossible to clear anytime soon. — Ryan Parker

  • Death Stranding

    Hideo Kojima’s latest masterpiece is a haunting journey that lingers with you long after the credits have rolled. Everything, including the loneliness that permeates every inch of your journey through the barren wasteland of what was once America, is like a tiny needle tattooing your soul with a melancholy reminder that humanity is meant to come together, not to be scattered and left alone. From the heartrending soundtrack (primarily from indie band Low Roar) to magnificent performances from stars Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelsen and Tommie Earl Jenkins, Death Stranding oozes finesse from practically every pore. The game is marked by cinematic excellence and successfully takes players outside of the box that so many developers insist on remaining in, and for that alone, it could be praised. Luckily, Death Stranding is so much more. This is the complete package and an absolute must-play. — Vincent