Simply put, video games are humanity’s greatest intersection of enterprise and creativity, and this past decade yielded some of the most incredible stories and interactive experiences ever created. Games need to be celebrated and appreciated in circles beyond typical gaming outlets, and thus this list was born. These are my personal picks for the best games of the past decade, which I am considering to be 2011-2020. Why there isn’t a consensus on when a decade actually starts and ends, I’ll never know.
I decided to narrow down the formal list to 10, as if I didn’t this piece would be way too long for its own good, but there were numerous games that I simply had to mention in some capacity. All of these games are amazing in their own right, but just didn’t quite crack the top 10.
Life Is Strange
Far Cry 3
Red Dead Redemption 2
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
10. The Walking Dead: The Final Season
The first entry in Telltale’s The Walking Dead series marked a watershed moment; it ushered in a new era of narrative games, as well as marked the cultural zenith for zombie stories. The TV show was an entertainment juggernaut, and this indie game series put to the test something that we have probably all thought about at some point: What would I do in a zombie apocalypse?
While the obvious choice would be the legendary first season, the fourth and final season is unequivocally my favorite. We get to see our girl Clementine grow up from a bright-eyed little girl to a strong-willed and capable survivor throughout the first three seasons, but the fourth places her in her most important role yet: mother. Her relationship with her surrogate son AJ is so compelling and evocative, and the ending left me an emotional wreck. There is no doubt I’d die for two of my favorite characters in all of video games.
It’s sort of miraculous that this game even came out at all, as the original developer, Telltale Games shut down after the second episode of this 4-part conclusion to the series. Luckily for fans everywhere, Skybound Entertainment swooped in and saved the day, so we can finally experience the conclusion to Clementine’s saga. Thanks for all the tears.
9. Final Fantasy VII Remake
It’s a testament to the creative vision of the original game that a remake such as this can be such an enjoyable experience for someone like me who had never played it. Indeed, this remake was such a joyous experience for me despite the unrelenting ridiculousness of it. The characters and dialogue are over the top and silly, the combat is bonkers and the plot is insane, but it all worked in such delightful fashion.
While there are a few pacing issues that keep this game from ascending to even greater heights, I’ll never forget the pure elation of the entire Wall Market section. One thing that really strikes me is just how aggressively horny this game is, yet at the same time there aren’t any romance options. Everyone is just so enthralled with protagonist Cloud’s stoic boy band aesthetic, yet the closest he gets to doing anything about it is receiving a literal hand massage. Playing this game is a strange exercise in sexual repression.
Still, the intoxicating sense of adventure that this game inspires makes it a worthy pick for this list. It is a truly memorable and bombastic journey that only scratches the surface of the Final Fantasy VII canon, and I truly can’t wait for more. Although I’m going to have to, because we really have no idea when the next installment is coming. In the meantime, any PS4 owners who haven’t yet taken the plunge into Midgar can do so in March for no extra charge if they are a PlayStation Plus subscriber. Oh how I envy anyone who gets to play this for the first time.
8. God Of War (2018)
Whatever you’d like to call this installment – a soft reboot, a reimagining or whatever – there’s almost no disputing just how incredible the final product is. Taking the hack-and-slash series from the 00’s in a more mature and deliberate direction was a bold move that paid off tremendously. The tumultuous and distant relationship between Kratos and his son Atreus is compelling and relatable in ways that I would have never expected from the franchise. Watching Kratos try and fail to reach out to his son in times of need is truly heartbreaking.
The combat is so satisfying, and the Leviathan Axe has got to be one of the best weapons in gaming. Throwing and recalling it always feels so good. The game is stunning to look at, with some of the best set pieces and sense of scale in recent memory.
While the game doesn’t break new ground in most of its design elements and instead opts to borrow some familiar tropes of open-world design, God Of War polishes the elements with incredible precision, and of course I have to mention the camera. The entire game is presented as a one-take, which adds incredible immersion and fluidity. Replaying it on PS5 in 4k resolution and 60 frames per second has been a revelation.
7. The Wolf Among Us
I am an absolute sucker for Telltale Games and narrative adventure games in general, so it’s no surprise that another one wound up in my top 10. Based on the “Fables” comic book series, you play as the sheriff of a community of fable characters living in New York City in secret. You’re tasked with maintaining peace in this clandestine commune when a string of murders shakes the very foundation of Fabletown. Oh yeah, you’re also the big bad wolf.
The juxtaposition of watching wholesome folklore characters like Snow White and the three little pigs doing and saying some decidedly not wholesome things and navigating some very adult situations is fascinating.
The Telltale comic book art style has never been applied more successfully than in The Wolf Among Us, and the combination of the drab, film noir style with neon colors is great to look at and lends the game so much personality. If you simply want a great story with plenty of twists and interesting characters, then you can’t miss this one.
6. Marvel’s Spider-Man
My love for this game can be summarized very quickly. It’s just so much fun! Spidey seems like the perfect candidate for a game, so it seems strange that there have been so few Spider-Man games that are actually good. Developer Insomniac’s take on everyone’s favorite web-slinger succeeds because it just feels great to play. Swinging through the beautiful New York skyline is the kind of satisfying and meditative experience that only video games can provide, and combat is tremendously stylish and fast. Just swinging around the game world fighting bad guys is good for hours of joy.
Beyond the fantastic gameplay is a story that is surprisingly good. Superhero stories in general are so commonly tread, and Spider-Man’s story has been told in mainstream media time and time again. Still, the developers managed to make these characters interesting and likeable, taking just enough artistic freedom with them to keep things fresh without deviating from the essence of the source material. For my money, this is the ultimate superhero game.
5. The Last Of Us
Controversy about the sequel aside, the first game is one of the most universally acclaimed games of the decade for good reason. It uses the zombie trope as merely a backdrop to tell a painfully human story about the lengths to which a person is willing to go for someone they love.
Developer Naughty Dog’s approach to storytelling is unparalleled in the industry. Their commitment to creating quality animations in their absurdly well-crafted cutscenes lend their stories an emotional weight and subtext that most video games can’t even dream of. While the “Uncharted” series is great in its own swashbuckling way, Joel and Ellie’s story is just a much better application of the studio’s strengths. It’s a story that sticks with you, and the tremendous backlash to the bold decisions made in the sequel is a testament to the lasting impact that this game had.
Alright, now we’ve crossed the threshold into games I love like my own children. Choosing the order of these final four was nearly impossible, and I feel guilty. Children deserve to be loved equally. Regardless, Bloodborne is a game that just gets under your skin. The dark and harrowing aesthetics of Victorian England, the oppressive difficulty and the creeping sense that not everything is exactly what it seems make for a singularly engrossing experience.
Bloodborne takes the punishing and deliberate experience of the Dark Souls series and speeds everything up, which is perfect for someone like me who doesn’t want to cower behind a shield. It is constantly slapping you in the face with its intense difficulty and grotesque enemy and environment design, yet it still manages to be tremendous fun. I’ll never forget the moment about halfway through where the true nature of the game began to reveal itself. Genius.
3. BioShock Infinite
It is with a heavy heart and a great amount of shame that I must admit that I missed the boat on the original “BioShock.” Granted I was only 13 when it came out, but still. This entry to the series emerges from the underwater dystopia of Rapture to the brilliant and horrible skies of Colombia. The combat is frenetic and fun, with a host of ridiculous abilities to choose from and numerous skylines to ride. Murder of Crows will always be one of my favorite abilities in any game ever.
Still, what makes this title so great isn’t the gameplay, but the story being told, both through traditional means and through environmental storytelling. The hauntingly beautiful art style underscores the nature of the game world perfectly. It is a beautiful haven in the clouds plagued by zeal and prejudice, and there are few games with a more complete sense of location than this. The game engages the player on an emotional, intellectual and metaphysical level, and there are more twists per capita than any other game I’ve ever played.
2. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
I want to take this opportunity to cast my mind back to a time when developer CD Projekt Red was still the people’s darling, and not one of the most hated and distrusted companies in the industry after the “Cyberpunk 2077” debacle. The third game in the Witcher series is one of the best role-playing games ever released thanks largely to the studio’s commitment to detailed storytelling and elaborate side quests, even if the combat and character progression were just average.
Indeed, this game’s side quests are better than most games’ main quests. There are countless memorable characters and such incredible world building here, and this game is good for hundreds of hours of great stories if you include the incredible DLC. I really hope that the slew of legal issues and the cyber attack on the company don’t rob us of a fourth game, because I yearn to spend more time in this wonderful world.
1. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
We’ve finally reached the end, and the game that is not only my favorite game of the decade, it’s my favorite game of all time. At the risk of being over-dramatic, it changed the way I play and understand video games, and by extension, my life.
Before this masterpiece, my experience with FromSoftware’s notoriously hard games was brief and embarrassing. I rented “Dark Souls 3” when it first came out and only played it for about 45 minutes before I said “Screw this, life is too short.” You see, I couldn’t even get past the first boss and just threw in the towel.
When Sekiro came out in early 2019, it looked just different enough to inspire me to give these games another shot, and I am so grateful that I did. Sekiro kicked my ass in a way that I had never felt before in my whole gamer life, and I loved every awful second of it. The sense of accomplishment that it provided when I finally outlasted a tough boss is indescribable.
If it weren’t for Sekiro, I would have never gone back and played any of the other games in the genre, a genre that taught me so much about myself. I love you, Sekiro.