As the end of 2019 approaches, we begin to draw the curtain on what has been an incredible decade for gaming. With that, I expect many people will be looking back on their favorites and creating similar lists. But, I want to clarify that this isn't a list of the "best"(however you define that) or my favorite (how most people define "best") games of the decade. I set out to compile a list of the most "important" games, which is a term I'm still using loosely. By "important", I mean games that had some kind of lasting impact on the industry, maybe creating a new genre or changing the way we think about them. There's no ranking here, so I'll list them in release order, so the numbers aren't completely arbitrary.
Perhaps one of the easiest entries to place on this list, it's also a perfect example to explain my method. The impact of the Souls series is so severe that you can hardly include a stamina bar in an Action RPG without people clamoring over each other terms like souls-like or souls-clone. And while Demon's Souls was technically the first game in the series, it was Dark Souls that caught the attention of the world and changed the way we look at death. Dark Souls makes you feel strong by first making you feel very, very weak. You could make a strong argument that the best Souls games is actually Dark Souls 3 or even Bloodborne or Sekiro, but there's no doubt that Dark Souls is the most important entry in the series.
One of my fondest memories of college was setting up 3 TVs side-by-side in my dorm so that my friends and I could all play Skyrim at the same time on launch day. It's predecessor Oblivion was a huge success, but Skyrim has reached near immortality at this point. It set a new benchmark for open world games, and became one of the first console games to allow mods when the Special Edition was released on PS4/XB1 in 2016. I know Fallout 4 allowed mods on console first when it lauched earlier in that same year, but that title just didn't have quite the impact that Skyrim did. It has since been ported to just about every platform imaginable, and you would be hard-pressed to find a gamer today who hasn't interacted with the game in some way.
If you ever find yourself struggling in an argument over whether games are an art form, just make them play Journey. Playing for the first time is a truly unique experience, where the beautiful visuals mesh perfectly with the audio and come together around a simple yet powerfully emotional narrative. Supporting this is the brilliant multiplayer system where you can randomly come across another player in your game, but cannot communicate beyond a simple chime noise you can make. You can't even see the other player's username until you complete the game. This limited system somehow makes you care for your mysterious partner even more, as the connection between you seems so fragile and fleeting. The first time I played through to the end I ended up adding my partner as a friend and exchanged a few messages. They ended up being in an entirely different country, and we haven't exchanged messages or played a game together since, but I'm reminded of that first experience every time I see them online.
Do I even have to explain this one? The Last of Us is one of the best video games ever made. Many people (myself included) have widely varied and highly debatable opinions on what The Best Games of All-Time are, but I can't think of anything that has as much unchallenged acclaim as The Last of Us. The positive reception for this game is nearly unanimous, and rightfully so. Even if it's not to your personal taste, it's difficult to argue against how well-executed it is. Aside from scooping up just about every award a video game can win, it helped pave the way for narrative-driven single-player games.
I know this one might be questionable, seeing as P.T. stands for Playable Teaser and depending on your definition is not a complete game. Despite that, it remains a meticulously designed experience that has won numerous awards and greatly influenced the horror genre. Konami's decision to remove it from the PSN following the cancellation of Silent Hills was also a point of great controversy, as it makes it incredibly difficult (though not impossible) to play one of the finest works of horror gaming of the last decade.
Now, in my opinion, Destiny was not one of the best games of this decade. Even Destiny 2, which I consider generally better in every way, might not make my top 10 list. But, when Destiny first launched, it introduced several new concepts that changed the way games are played and developed. The most obvious was the "shared community" world that wasn't quite an MMO but wasn't a traditional multiplayer shooter either. It created a lived-in feeling the way MMOs do, but did not carry the same intimidating sense of time commitment. This immediately set it apart from other shooters, but perhaps even more striking was the fact that Destiny wanted to be the only game you played, and it wanted you to play for years. This new model, the persistent world online shooter with RPG elements, would quickly be adapted by many AAA studios. Games like The Division and Anthem have taken very similar approaches, with varying degrees of success, but it was Destiny that laid the groundwork.
Believe it or not, I went back-and-forth on whether or not I wanted to include The Witcher 3:Wild Hunt. At first glance, it wasn't a particularly revolutionary game. Single-player open world RPGs have been around for years, with even The Witcher series following a similar template for their games dating back to 2007. What sets the third entry apart is how truly epic it is, and I use the term 'epic' very specifically. There have been open world games with massive maps for a while, but there was typically a lot of emptiness to them. The Witcher 3 is a densely packed, lore-rich, Odyssean epic of a game. It has well over 100 hours of content, and is arguably the first major entry in the continued trend of games that are...probably too big. This entry could have easily have been Red Dead Redemption 2 or Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The 100+ hour game has become shockingly commonplace, and it poses an interesting dilemma for the modern gamer who doesn't necessarily have hundreds of hours to throw into games. Is more always better? It's a complex issue that I won't delve into here, but you bet The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a part of the conversation.
Few people had heard of Rocket League or it's developer Psyonix when it was included as one of the monthly free games for PlayStation Plus members upon launch. That would quickly change, as the car combat-meets-small-sided soccer game would explode in popularity. I've given many hours of joy and frustration to Rocket League, but the reason I've included it has nothing to do with it's intuitive gameplay. The reason Rocket League makes this list is because of the influence it had on the state of cross-platform play. At launch, it featured crossplay between PS4 and PC players, but it didn't stop there. In 2016 it became the first Xbox One game to feature crossplay with PC. When the Switch version launched in 2017, it featured crossplay with both PC and Xbox One. After years of continued pressure, Sony finally allowed crossplay with other consoles in February of 2019. The idea of Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo players playing online together was absolutely absurd at the beginning of the decade, and Rocket League is one of the games that have made that a reality today.
Blizzard's megahit competitive hero shooter Overwatch makes this list for so many reasons. It's astronomically successful gameplay has prompted many (mostly unsuccessful) clones, but it's impact goes way beyond that, both positively and negatively. For many people, it was their introduction to loot boxes, the bundles of randomized in-game items that could be bought for real money. Overwatch was not the first game to do this, but it definitely brought it into the public spotlight. Loot boxes quickly became an aspect of many games, including several on this list. They have sparked many conversations and debates about their ethics and continue to be the subject of legal battles over gambling concerns. More positively, it's esports league Overwatch League has been groundbreaking in terms of format, and continues to be one of the most successful in the world, with the prize pool for this current season being $3.35 million.
I am fully prepared to receive criticism for this one, not so much for it's inclusion as much as what has been excluded as a result. Only one battle royale was ever going to make this list, and for me it had to be PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. What started out as a mod for ARMA 2 took the PC (and eventually console) gaming world by storm. While you could argue that PUBG wasn't the absolute first game to adopt the battle royale concept, it was without a doubt the first game to get it right. It effectively created the battle royale genre, which would be adapted by many others in the following years. No big-name shooter gets by now without the swirling rumors of whether or not it will include a battle royale mode in some form. You could argue that it's no longer the best battle royale on the market, that it's been eclipsed by one of it's clones in Fortnite or Apex Legends or even H1Z1, but for me, there is only one progenitor of the battle royale genre, and that's PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds.
Well, that was more difficult that I originally imagined. Lists are supposed to be easy, right? Let me know if there's anything obvious that I missed. I'm sure there are several. I'm going to toss out a list of honorable mentions below as well, with little-to-no context. Just some titles that I considered but didn't make the cut for one reason or another.
Final Fantasy XV (such a strange game, occasionally brilliant, consistently frustrating for what it could have been)
Kingdom Hearts 3 (simply for existing)
Fallout 76 (see: How to Kill a Franchise)
The Outer Worlds (giving people what they want...works?)
Death Stranding (haven't played a minute)