The 2010s have been more than kind to gaming. Indie games have been catapulted into the mainstream consciousness, and there have never been so many independent developers experimenting with the form. At the same time, big publishers also haven’t dropped their standards. While many publishers have walked into big controversies over microtransactions, pre-order bonuses and loot boxes, so many blockbuster studios continue to restore our faith in triple-A productions because of their meticulous quality and creativity.
But with a decade that has delivered so many standout gaming experiences, what single year has defined the decade? Join us as we rank every year in the 2010s based on the quality of the games that released that year.
The first year in any console’s life cycle is always a very exciting time. However, 2014 was just fine, and in a decade full of brilliance fine isn’t really enough.
2014 definitely did have good games. South Park: The Stick of Truth was a hilarious love letter to the series. I have no idea why the rest of the industry haven’t stolen Shadow of Mordor’s impeccable nemesis system. Dragon Age: Inquisition featured a cast of endearing fantasy characters. Blizzard conquered another genre with the addictive card game, Hearthstone. Shovel Knight was a retro throwback for the ages. Bungie launched Destiny to huge commercial success. And Child of Light was an amazingly sentimental love letter to the golden age of JRPGs… from Ubisoft?
Nintendo tried its hardest to sell you Wii-Us with Mario Kart 8 proving the king of kart racers. Smash Bros. for Wii U was trying to replicate the competitive nature of Melee. And Bayonetta 2 released as one of the best character-action games of all time. Team Xbox also tried their hardest to comeback from an embarrassing Xbox One reveal. They nabbed a Sony partner, Isomniac, to develop the underappreciated adrenaline rush that is Sunset Overdrive. The wildly anticipated shooter from Respawn, Titanfall, was released as an Xbox console exclusive. And Xbox pulled out all the stops with Halo MCC, however that game’s online matchmaking wouldn’t be fixed for another few years.
2010 was a year with a handful of highlights and exceptionally well made titles, but it had an equal amount of contentious releases as well. Some of 2010’s best games also don’t feel as fresh and exciting as they did almost ten years ago, which is expected, but to the year’s credit most of them still hold up as great games.
Mass Effect 2 is one of the best written games, period, and arguably Bioware’s last home-run. They successfully raised the stakes, built up this universe, introduced a plethora of iconic characters and fixed the original’s clunky combat to give us a solid and weighty shooting experience. Red Dead Redemption made cowboys cool again with Rockstar’s loveable, cynical writing, fun side-quests, solid sense of place and a timeless ending. On the exact same day Microsoft put out one of the best action-horror games ever made with Alan Wake. Obsidian one-upped Bethesda (not for the last time) with Fallout New Vegas. Nintendo one-upped themselves with Mario Galaxy 2. Bungie said goodbye to Halo with an epic, tragic prequel in the form of Halo Reach. Limbo further legitimised indie games with an amazing atmosphere and smart physics puzzles. Amnesia influenced a decade of horror games. And finally Platinum cemented themselves as the character-action studio with Bayonetta and Vanquish releasing in the same year.
As great as these games were, many of them were outdone by their successors and many further weren’t game changers. They’re stuck in the middle of a generation where they’ve improved upon what came before but none of them are innovative to any substantial extent. Also, Kinect.
The indie market carried 2012 on its back. Many years have two triple-A offerings going head-to-head for many game of the year awards. However, 2012 was The Walking Dead vs Journey. Both were two more giant steps forward for interactive storytelling. Journey’s immersion and unique multiplayer meant it confidently told a transcendent and interpretive narrative. The Walking Dead, on the other hand, replicates and sometimes exceeds the dialogue-heavy nature of television; 5 intense, character-driven and exceptionally well written episodes culminated in one of the most memorable endings in gaming history.
Fez, FTL: Faster Than Light and Hotline Miami round out the indie highlights from the year. Far Cry 3 and Borderlands 2 catapulted their respective series into the mainstream. Spec Ops: The Line and Dragon’s Dogma were underappreciated in their year but have gone on to gain cult status. Halo 4, Mass Effect 3 and Diablo III had divisive releases to put it mildly but time has been kind to all three games. Aaaaaand there was the Wii U… RIP.
2019 lacks any obvious highlights and nothing stands out as a universal “must-play”, but the sheer volume of great games is truly striking.
The Resident Evil 2 remake lovingly – and horrifically – reimagined a classic for the modern day. It streamlines the survival action horror genre to the greatest extent, and completely modernises the original’s camera angle, gameplay and setting. Sekiro shows a more action-oriented stance to FromSoftware’s brutal Souls-likes, which went on to influence Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. The Outer Worlds firmly plants Obsidian as one of the premiere RPG studios. Kingdom Hearts III closes a saga 13 games in the making and brings JRPG melodrama to beloved Disney worlds. And Gears 5 brings a collection of smart new ideas and modes to rejuvenate the long-running series. Nintendo continued to kill it with entries to several of their series such as Luigi’s Mansion, Fire Emblem, Mario Maker 2, Yoshi, Legend of Zelda, Pokemon and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3. They also invested in new IPs such as Platinum’s Astral Chain and Ring Fit Adventure.
2019 also got weird as Untitled Goose Game became a meme factory, Control warped our minds, Outer Wilds gave us an existential crisis in space, Disco Elysium gave us dementia and Death Stranding finished its abstract marketing campaign. 2019 got weird in other ways too… Crackdown 3 blew its chances of a sequel, Days Gone was a rare dud for Sony and Anthem upheld Bioware’s flop streak.
A number of incredibly influential titles kickstarted the decade. Many of 2011’s biggest games have had an immeasurable influence on the gaming landscape as a whole.
Skyrim’s wide open-world, filled to the brim with content, inspired a generation of open-world RPGs, including games from CD Projekt Red and Bioware. Dark Souls invented its own genre of games; mechanics like bonfires, recovering XP and stamina-based combat have been replicated in so many games from Zelda to Shovel Knight. But it was Minecraft that has had the longest legs. Since the beginning of the decade Minecraft has become the best selling game of all time and a cultural behemoth.
Gears of War and Uncharted received the 3rd entries in both of their respective series and delivered bombastic action sequences. Valve delivered the most hilarious and trippy puzzle game of the decade with Portal 2. Batman put his cape to good use in the open skies of Arkham City. Square Enix rebooted the Deus Ex franchise with flying orange colours. Skyward Sword controversially made motion controls compulsory in Zelda. And EA released Dragon Age II and their MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic, which has since become a great game in its own right… and it’s free, by the way.
2015 is the next-generation year we thought 2014 would be. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was a generational RPG with unparalleled world-building. Not only was it large in scale but every side-quest, NPC and town was written with purpose and heart. In a decade full of open-world games stuffed with filler, Witcher 3 is a rare instance of a game whose substance matches its scale.
Batman: Arkham Knight and The Order 1886 pushed the next generation consoles graphically. Also, Nintendo gave us their take on the shooter genre with the surprisingly successful Splatoon. Indie developers also thrived in 2015 – Rocket League became a worldwide hit and legitimate eSport. Undertale presented a subversive, inventive and masterfully crafted RPG. Life is Strange took on serious subject matter like mental health and sexuality. And Ori and the Blind Forest was a surprise gem for Team Xbox.
2015 wasn’t without its juicy scandals though. Rise of the Tomb Raider was controversially a timed exclusive for the Xbox One and, for some reason, released on the same day as Fallout 4. Hideo Kojima’s relationship with Konami came to a dramatic end with back-and-forth accusations. Kojima’s last game with Konami, MGS V, might be the most spontaneous game ever made, giving players all the tools they need to make their own fun. However, just like Halo 5, it had a rushed and abrupt ending. In fact, Halo 5’s entire campaign inspired passionate divisiveness amongst fans, though its multiplayer modes were incredible.
2018 continues the trend of non-stop releases for interesting, impactful games.
Monster Hunter: World added more fuel to Capcom’s renaissance and became their bestselling game of all time. Dragon Quest 11 and Octopath Traveler presented the purest JRPG experiences of the generation. Florence rose above other mobile games and gave us a universal story of love and loss. Celeste achieved pixel perfect platforming, a euphoric soundtrack and a story that could give anyone goosebumps. Forza Horizon 4 cemented the series as the definitive racing franchise in gaming. Spider-Man carried the baton from Batman and was another home run for superhero games. Sea of Thieves set sail on rocky tides but through Rare’s commitment became a sizeable success. And Super Smash Bros. Ultimate gave us an impossible amount of content.
However, by the end of the year, it was Red Dead Redemption II and God of War battling for game of the year accolades. God of War (2018) turned a previously shallow avatar into a loveable dad. This tale of fatherhood was wrapped in blockbuster production values and a hefty, technical combat system. Not one to be outdone, Rockstar didn’t disappoint when it came to their Western prequel. RDR II featured an open-world that’s unparalleled when it comes to detail both big and absolutely miniscule. What’s most impressive is that, despite its gargantuan scope, it still tells a story so genuinely intimate and moving. It was unbelievable that the writers behind GTA’s satirical, cynical shenanigans told a story so thematically cohesive, narratively logical and emotionally subtle for a 70 hour story.
2013 might have been hugely anticipated because of the release of the Xbox One and PS4, but it wasn’t the next-gen games that defined the year. While Ryse: Son of Rome, Dead Rising 3 and Killzone Shadow Fall, were beautiful and fun in their own right, they didn’t hold a candle to the other games in this standout year. And part of what made 2013 so incredible was the sheer amount of amazing games.
GTA V should have made our 360s and PS3s explode but worked phenomenally, while breaking sales records left and right. While GTA Online was broken for its first 2 weeks, it’s since become a juggernaut in the industry, sustaining GTA V’s continued success to 110 million copies sold. GTA Online’s success has had every other publisher scramble to create their own games-as-a-service scheme for continued revenue. Tomb Raider made its grand return and Bioshock Infinite, while polarising, was undoubtedly just as ambitious and daring as the original. Microsoft found a new franchise in State of Decay. Meanwhile, Final Fantasy 14 was rebranded as a Realm Reborn and stands as one of the biggest comebacks in gaming history.
The Nintendo 3DS had its own killer year with 5 great system sellers. Luigi’s Mansion 2, Fire Emblem Awakening, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Pokemon X and Y and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds were all game of the year contenders and commercial successes. 2013 arguably justified the system that has gone on to sell 75 million units.
However, 2013’s biggest achievement was the number of developers thinking of the medium as a legitimate way to tell serious stories in several different ways. The Last Of Us told a cinematic and heart-wrenching tale of survival and hope. Papers, Please used puzzles to get political with a game about borders and desperation. Gone Home got intimate and put the player into a family’s home. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons delivered the Pixar tears. And The Stanley Parable confronted the very nature of video game design. 2013 fired on all cylinders.
2017 was a year where two S-tier games were surrounded by a collection of A* titles. It’s also another year that was blessed with great games of all different sizes, genres and aesthetics. Developers continued to do what they’ve always done, experiment. But this year it paid off big time.
Nintendo made a glorious comeback with the Nintendo Switch that had two killer apps in the same calendar year. Zelda: Breath of the Wild completely reinvented the open-world genre. Exploration was put at the centre of the experience with a plethora of smart design choices, including the ability to climb literally any surface. Not to be outdone, Super Mario Odyssey also got creative with a return to the Mario 64-style sandbox levels.
Ninja Theory (now an Xbox Game Studio) revealed what it was like to live with psychosis in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. With a viking twist, this gem set a new bar for facial capture, sound design and meaningful storytelling. Elsewhere, Microsoft released the most powerful console (so far) with the Xbox One X and published the indie hit of the year, Cuphead.
PUBG blasted the Battle Royale genre into the mainstream and Fortnite turned it into a worldwide phenomenon. Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy proved 3D platformers (not named Mario) can still be mega-hits. Resident Evil 7 was the first step in Capcom’s unbelievable comeback. After a one-year hiatus Assassin’s Creed Origins reinvented the series and successfully excited people again. Wolfenstein II walked a fine line between poignant and wacky storytelling. What Remains of Edith Finch explored the hereditary curses we all carry in the most inventive ‘walking simulator’ of the generation. Nier: Automata subverted every expectation we had by fusing legitimate philosophical ideas with stylish JRPG action. And Persona 5 exuded style with its vibrant art style and energetic jazz soundtrack.
2016 featured defining experiences in almost every genre. In the middle of a generation, 2016 both perfected several aspects of design and also presented us with innovative takes on familiar genres.
Forza Horizon 3 garnered serious heat for its deep and accessible take on open-world racing. Dishonoured 2 and Hitman hit store shelves as the best stealth experiences of the decade. Final Fantasy XV ended the decade long wait for Versus 13 with a unique take on Western open-world design. Firewatch and Oxenfree took Telltale’s adventure game formula to new heights. Stardew Valley remains the best farming simulator on the market by mixing in RPG elements and managing to capture pure happiness. Naughty Dog developed a jaw dropping technical showcase with Uncharted 4. While Pokemon GO had the world unite to catch ’em all, No Mans Sky’s launch led to internet sighing with united disappointment.
Shooters had a phenomenal year as Doom brought back the grandaddy of first-person shooters with bloody flying colours. Titanfall 2 was sandwiched between Call of Duty and Battlefield 1, but the industry still recognised it as an exceptional game featuring one of the best shooter campaigns, in a generation light on that. Superhot got super weird as time moved only when you do, forcing gamers to actually slow down in a shooter for once. And of course, Blizzard released the juggernaut that is Overwatch: taking inspiration from MOBAs and TF2, Blizzard introduced the ‘hero-shooter’ with this fresh, strategic and cooperative team shooter.
However, it’s Playdead’s Inside and Jonathon Blow’s The Witness that stand as the highlights of 2016. Inside invites us into a masterfully realised nightmare with layers of meaning, potential interpretations and thematic density. Playdead’s Orwellian dystopia has about 6 coats of polish, impeccable sound design and the richest atmosphere since 2007’s Bioshock. Meanwhile, The Witness perfects the idea of a 3D metroidvania, includes the best tutorial of all time and invites gamers on a therapeutic trek on a vibrantly coloured island. It’s a testament to Jonathon Blow’s genius that drawing lines can be sustained and iterated on as a gameplay mechanic for 40+ hours in a satisfying way.
So there we have it – 2010-2019 ranked from the worst to the best in terms of the games released each year. But what do you think? Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments!