With the 2010s coming to a close, I wanted to look back at what has been my favorite decade of gaming so far. This was the decade I was old enough to have my own disposable income and purchase games that I wanted, not just limited to what I was gifted on my birthday and Christmas. So here it is, these are the most important games to me of decade.
#12 Pokemon Go
Released worldwide on July 6th, 2016, this game, more than any other I can think of, dominated conversations and attention when heading out of the house. I’ve always been a big fan of hand held gaming and this was the first time it actually made use of that, with gameplay dependent on where you were in real life. It was so fun heading out into parks and downtown areas around me and seeing so many people playing. Based on the swiping catching motion they would make, you knew exactly what they were doing.
Once raid battles were introduced later in the game’s lifespan, that is what really solidified my love for the game. You now had a better reason to head out and meet up at certain locations to get a unique and powerful Pokemon. We even have a dedicated Pokemon Go Slack channel at work specifically for coordinating walks when raids happen at the nearby college. This game was a phenomenon and I can’t see anything on this scale happening ever again.
#11 Halo Reach
I’ve been a fan of Halo since the beginning. I got my Xbox on launch day in 2001 and had Halo right along side it ever since. Reach, for me, was the peak of the Halo franchise. It had the best campaign for solo and cooperative play, my favorite multiplayer maps, and, my personal favorite, a robust and customizable Firefight mode.
Whenever my friends would come over to play games together, this was the game we played. Split-screen team slayer, invasion, and big team battle were all heavily rotated through playlists. Firefight Arcade even allowed this to be the first multiplayer game that my then girlfriend (now wife) and I played together.
We still bust out our system linked Xbox 360s whenever we have people over to play games 10 years later to play a specific custom game: Super Happy Fun Slide. In this custom game, everybody except one person starts off at the bottom of a big slide. The other person starts off at the top with a garage full of warthogs and mongooses and drives down the slide trying to splatter everyone else. When that player reaches the bottom they get teleported back up to the top, keeping their momentum, and continue down the slide. If you get splattered, you respawn at the top and get to drive down yourself. Everything quickly evolves into an insane downpour of vehicles raining down on you. Playing that specific mode with a big group of friends is one the fondest memory I have of any game on this list.
#10 Pokemon Heart Gold
While technically released in 2009 if you lived in Japan, Pokemon Heart Gold & Soul Silver came to us in North America on March 14th, 2010. These games are the peak single player experience of the Pokemon RPG franchise. Typically in a Pokemon game you go through a region, collecting 8 badges, culminating in a battle with the elite 4 and champion. This game you get all that in the Johto region, but once you beat them the entire Kanto region opens up and you get to battle another 8 gym leaders.
If that wasn’t enough, this was the last generation of games to include a bunch of end game battle facilities in the Battle Frontier. The Battle Frontier had a bunch of gauntlet style battles with different rules. The team you made battling through the previous 16 gyms wouldn’t be able to do much here. You needed better pokemon. These were the games that I found out all about maximizing your pokemon’s stats through natures, breeding for perfect IVs, and EV Training. Not to mention all the little bonuses this game had like your partner pokemon following you as you walk around the world, the included pokewalker so you can bring one with you in the real world, and the really fun Pokeathalon mini games that allowed you to play in a variety of touchscreen based minigames for prizes.
I think my copy of Heart Gold had well over 500 hours on it before I, regrettably, sold it to Gamestop for the next game. No Pokemon game since has had this amount of content. And with their recent switch to a yearly release schedule, no future game probably will either.
Hearthstone was the game that got me into trading card games. While I had played the Pokemon trading card game in my childhood and early adulthood, I hadn’t really realized my love for the genre until Hearthstone. Being able to find an opponent online whenever I wanted? Awesome! earning new cards through gameplay without needing to purchase them. Amazing! Everything in the game was so endearing. From the different tables having interactable elements to play with to each and every card having it’s own personality. I was so hooked on this game that I would spend hours outside of the game reading articles on different decklists and strategies.
I didn’t start playing Hearthstone right at the beginning, and I’ve since stopped due to the excellent Magic the Gathering: Arena (and it’s original paper incarnation) taking it’s place in my time budget, but Hearthstone will always be remembered as my gateway drug to this cardboard crack known as trading card games.
#8 Destiny 1 & 2
I had very mixed feelings after completing the first Destiny on my Xbox One. This was the game that I bought my Xbox One for and I honestly felt a bit disappointed after completing what felt like a very short game. But that wasn’t what the game was about.
The game was about grinding events and story missions to get better and better loot. Everything was about getting different armor pieces and weapons and I loved it once I reset my mind to not expect what I initially thought the game was. After playing the game for a few months…. I heard a new noise on one of my latest weapon drops and it was….yellow? Yellow represented the color of an Exotic weapon, the rarest weapons in the game with unique and interesting mechanics. One gun you never have to reload, this rocket launcher shoots multiple rockets at once. I had played this game for months and never even knew that exotics existed. The slow trickle of new and increasingly more powerful gear and features kept me playing for years.
#7 No Man’s Sky
No Man’s Sky had one of the weirdest launches for me ever. Everyone hated the game at launch and I…. liked it. The game was all about exploring and finding interesting things and upgrades on procedurally generated planets. I loved visiting space stations and looking through every ship’s stocks to try to trade with them, or scanning planets to look for a material I needed to craft a new upgrade. It was a very zen experience. If that was it, though, it wouldn’t make it on this list. What made this game great was the amount of content that was added to the game post launch. Base building, ground vehicles, creature riding, customizable freighters, missions, and multiplayer! This game added all these things for free and kept me coming back each time that new content released.
#6 Rocket League
Rocket League came out of nowhere. The first time I saw this game was in a gif posted to Reddit. It was still so new at the time that everyone in the comments was asking what the name of this game was. Since it launched as a PS4 Plus free game, and I didn’t have a PS4 at the time, I had to purchase it on PC in order to play, but it was worth it. This is my main game to play with my friend Sean online, and we’re terrible. No other game makes me feel like I absolutely suck at a game, but still feels so unbelievably fun to play.
This game is also significant for me as it’s the first cross platform game I owned. Being able to play on my Switch with someone playing on PC or Xbox is amazing and I love that the trend has continued across the industry. This game also holds the record for me in hours played on Steam, more than double that of the next game in the list. It also happens to be the next game in this list….
#5 The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
I still remember the first time seeing this game during Xplay’s E3 coverage. As soon as that giant dragon landed in front of you and challeneged you to a fight, I was immediately hooked. Having enjoyed The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion previously thanks to my sister, I was already familiar with the series & setting. But this game gave me so much more freedom and things to find that i’m still finding new dungeons and landmarks in subsequent playthroughs to this day.
I love games that let you discover and explore at your own pace and let you do your own thing. I’d have hours of play time between quests where i’m going from mine to mine digging up ore, then bringing it back to town to smelt into ingots and build and improve my armor.
This game also holds the record for me of most times purchasing the same game. I purchased the game for myself on Steam first, then on Xbox 360 so my sister could play, again for Xbox 360 as a gift to my now wife, again on Xbox One to play the Special Edition, and finally again on Nintendo Switch to play handheld. Writing this list is even inspiring me to go back and play through yet again with a different character build.
#4 Stardew Valley
Back in early 2012 there was a 3DS game called Harvest Moon: A New Beginning. I had never played a farming game before that and it captivated both me and my wife. There was a whole weekend we didn’t move from the couch at my parents house playing that game. Once I realized I quite liked this genre, I tried out a myriad of other farming games but couldn’t find one that I liked as much as A New Beginning. Of course, that was until I found a little blog from an unheard of indie developer making his game: Stardew Valley. I followed this game’s development so closely, anxiously waiting for it’s release. Once it released, I played it a ton, and was quite involved in the community, moderating the subreddit for the first few years in addition to helping the developer in collecting bug reports in a constructed manor. But I didn’t really dive deep into it until it released on Switch. There’s something about playing a farming sim on a Nintendo Handheld I guess.
The game gave me the freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted. I never felt punished for playing the way I wanted to play. I could plant crops in my field or work toward automating it all by getting through the mines. There was so much to do in this game and I will be going back to it soon with the new content that just released.
#3 Mass Effect 2
Back in the early 2010s, if you would have asked me who my favorite developer was, I would have said Bioware. That was 100% due to this game. I had never been so emotionally invested into the storyline and lore of a game. While I enjoyed the first Mass Effect, the sequel blew it out of the water. This time the story was focused on you and your crew that you were building. This made every decision you make so personal and emotional.
But to be honest, I hadn’t realized how important this was until my second play though of the game. My first play though I raced through the story to get to the end because I wanted to see what happened. That was a mistake. Because I hadn’t taken the time to talk to all my crew mates between missions, they weren’t ready for the big end mission and all died during it. EVERY. LAST. ONE. I was so devastated that the game would kill off all these great characters that I had gotten to know. Then I started to google and found out I got the bad ending. I had no idea that multiple endings were even a thing and it blew my mind at the time. My second play though I made sure to talk to EVERYONE and the game had so much more to offer when doing that. More missions, more humor, more drama. it was like playing a whole new game again.
#2 The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
The Nintendo Switch was the first console that I stood in line at midnight to buy. With that purchase, this was the game that I (and most other people) bought with it and it has never left the cartridge slot of my Switch. This was the game that really delivered on the “if you see it you can go there” aspect that open world games had been trying to do forever. You’d usually hit some kind of invisible wall or slope to steep to climb. But not in Breath of Wild. I’ve said in previous entries in this list that I love when a game lets you do what you want and this game does that perfectly. The climbing mechanic and glider encouraged getting up high, looking around for the next place you wanted to go, and jumping off towards it until you land and start climbing again. Then there’s the physics and elements that all works how you would expect it to. I big boulder on top of a hill, sure it’ll roll down and kill the enemies at the bottom. Everything in the game works so well together and encourages exploration and experimentation.
If you know anything about me, then you might have assumed that this would be my #1 game of the decade. No other game has occupied my time and thoughts more than this game. I’ve run multiple private servers with old friends and public servers with new ones.
If there’s any kind of overarching theme theme to this it’s that I love games with freedom. No other game gives you the freedom to do what you want more than Minecraft. Minecraft lets you explore in an infinite world, search out interesting terrain and creatures or focus on a single place to settle down in. It was also a creative playground for me and my friends to build ascetically pleasing castles, create in game mini games, or giant automated farms.
In addition to actually playing this game. It has, no joke, helped me in my professional life. Because of this game, I delved into creating data analysis tools in Python with all the data from players on my servers, and taught myself Linux so I could host servers. All of this just to be able to get more out of this game.
Minecraft is hands down the game of the decade for me and I don’t see it ever being beat as my #1 game of all time.