Top 25 games from 2010 to 2019
You don’t realise how long ten years is until you sit back and size up of what’s happened within the space of a decade. Just remember where you were in 2010 and there’s an honest chance your life was different. Perhaps you had another job, lived in a different house, or you have a different circle of friends The same goes for video games – the gaming landscape has changed in those ten years, with many developers now focusing on building games that will last a decade, rather than be consumed and forgotten, in the form of service games. We write all the time about the simplest games you’ll play on PC, but the top of the last decade is a call for participation to look at which games have changed PC gaming itself.
This list of 25 is our memory of games that still matter for his or her themes, for his or her impact on the business or technology of games, for reshaping the relationship between players and developers, for having formed a new genre, or for failing spectacularly. Not all of these games released between 2010 and 2019—following one of the biggest trends of this decade, some PC games have had tectonic effects on our hobby long after their launch day.
25) Persona 4 Golden (2012)
Every day’s great with Persona 4: Golden. Good enough on its own to justify the purchase of a PlayStation Vita, Persona 4: Golden is the story of a city kid shunted out into the sticks while their parents work a year abroad. Stuck in the small town of Inaba, things soon take a supernatural turn thanks to a string of gruesome murders and the prophetic appearance of the mysterious Midnight Channel. Split into the mundane and the magical, during the day you lead a normal teenage life full of friends, school work, and Saturday jobs. By night you crawl through the metaverse’s many dungeons with the newly awakened power of your Persona in search of the town’s enigmatic killer. The relationships you forge with family and friends are what make Persona 4: Golden special; a heartwarmingly personal adventure with a top soundtrack.
24) The Witcher 2 (2011)
We focus on the massive jump in quality between The Witcher 2 and The Witcher 3, but we’re all forgetting how impressive the second game in the series was at the time – especially coming off the back of the ropey first game. Not only does this have one of the best opening cinematics in video games, some of The Witcher 2’s quests are also all-time greats. Never before have I felt so sorry for a troll – I usually just block them on Twitter. There’s no denying how much playing this game increases your enjoyment of The Witcher 3, with some characters returning as cameos depending on the choices you make. It also laid the groundwork for some of the complex branching quests of the third game, with The Witcher 2 essentially splitting in half at a key plot point depending on who you side with. CD Projekt has always known how to punch above its weight.
23) Hitman (2016)
It looked like Hitman was in trouble after Absolution. IO Interactive wanted to try something new and gave us a story where Agent 47 was on the run, resulting in more linear levels, some of which where you don’t even hit any men. Clue’s in the name, guys. Luckily, with Hitman, the developer came back with exactly what the fans wanted: varied targets, open levels, and a globe-trotting adventure where you’re free to choose your approach. Sapienza is up there with the best missions from across the series, taking Agent 47 on holiday in a fitted shirt. You can pretend to be dead, swap out someone’s golf ball to make them explode when they tee off, or take one of the many vantage points and pull out your sniper rifle. Then there’s essentially a whole other map beneath the town itself, too, where secrets are being developed in an underground lab. Hitman maps are at their best when they’re about discovery and slow mastery – Hitman 2016 nails that with each one. Plus, there just aren’t enough games where you’re bald. 22) Mass Effect 3 (2012)
While many have an issue with how it ultimately ended, there’s no denying Mass Effect 3 as a unique, standout moment for video games. Yes, we’ve had sequels before. Even trilogies. But this was the culmination of your choices over two previous games, where many characters now either live or have died based on your actions. Video games had never felt this personal, and I’m not sure they ever will again. The game’s opening leaves a lasting impression, finally taking you to Earth after spending the previous two games exploring alien worlds. You’re only there briefly, but you see the genocidal Reapers ravage your home planet in a bombastic introduction with a much darker tone we’re used to. It makes the stakes feel real, like everything you did in the first two games was always leading up to this point.
21) Portal 2 (2011)
How do you improve on a perfect game like Portal? Expand on everything players of the original loved, turn Glados into a potato, and add in one of the best co-op campaigns of all time, of course. Portal 2 is hands-down the best big budget puzzle game ever made, with such a slick design that you feel like you’re a genius for finding the solutions to puzzles that Valve wanted you to find, unless you’re a speedrunner and you’ve found ways to completely break it, which is still brilliant. In co-op, these puzzles expand with two sets of portal guns. You and a friend must work together, propelling yourselves, each other, and objects to the end of each test chamber, lining up portals as things fly through the air. One of my favourite co-op memories ever is finishing this with a friend, even though it took us longer than it should have because I kept sending them falling through an infinite loop.
20) Final Fantasy XIV (2010)
Final Fantasy 14 wasn’t the primary game to launch in an absolutely disastrous state, but it was the first time a major studio admitted fault and then sunk considerable resources and time into rectifying its mistakes. In 2010, the original FF14 was intended to be a kind of spiritual successor to the aging Final Fantasy 11 MMO, but it ended up being a mishmash of unfun ideas and incomprehensible designs. People hated it. The wisdom of that era would have suggested Square Enix sweep it under the rug and never look back, but instead it did the exact opposite and set an industry-wide precedent in the process. Over the course of nearly two years and with a visionary new director at the helm, Square Enix rebuilt FF14 from the ground up—an almost entirely different game but still set in the same world. It was a historic display of commitment and an enormous gamble that, ultimately, paid off. FF14 is now easily the best MMO available. But FF14’s real legacy is leading a way wider trend of increasingly common comeback stories that speaks to our increasingly complicated relationship with games as both products and experiences. Shigeru Miyamoto once said that “a delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.” But Final Fantasy 14 proves that may not true. Games have always come in all shapes and sizes, but FF14 is a testament to how that shape and size is transient.
19) Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (2010)
The way Ubisoft’s various open world games have grown and altered over the past decade has been interesting to witness. Series like Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, The Division, Watch Dogs—they all interbreed and learn from one another. If one game develops a replacement feature (climbing towers to get new areas of the map in Assassin’s Creed, for instance), it’s not unusual to see some form of that feature appear in a game from another series (you climb similar towers in Far Cry 4 and Watch Dogs). Sometimes those features disappear, too, when players get absolutely disgusted by them (which is why you do not climb towers in Far Cry 5 or Watch Dogs 2, thank god). It’s a computer game cross-pollination, and it isn’t limited only to Ubisoft. Plenty of other games have learned lessons from Ubisoft’s endless refining of its open world games. There’s a sweet spot within the creation of a world, a line between a setting that feels too barren to make exploration or side-tracking rewarding and one that feels overstuffed with pointless, grinding activities. Ubisoft has veered back and forth over this line several times this decade, often cramming in far too much—like in Far Cry 4, with so many gatherable resources and crazed animals and hostile NPCs and other distractions—that the sheer amount of icons on the map feels exhausting. Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood had the balance just right, a vibrant, interesting world with only enough engaging side-quests and distractions but stopping in need of feeling like an oppressive to-do list. You couldn’t go hog-wild without gaining notoriety, meaning guards would begin recognizing you more easily, giving your actions consequences. You also had an impact on the world—taking down a tower and killing its commander revitalized the area, letting you renovate shops that would benefit you with new items and upgrades. A novel feature that permits you hire, train, and dispense your own collection of assassins provided a sense that things were happening albeit you were not there to witness them. It’s easy to ascertain the influence of Brotherhood in other open world games—and it’s obvious when Ubisoft doesn’t carry its lessons forward on its own.
18) The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)
How do you make a singleplayer game that thousands of people will still play on a daily basis almost 10 years after its release? Make it moddable. Does anyone talk about 2016’s Doom these days? No, because what is there to talk about after you’ve finished it? But 1993’s Doom is still making news regularly because it’s still being modded after 26 years, and that I guarantee people will still be modding Skyrim for an additional decade, too. No need for years of DLC, no season passes required. Just give passionate and artistic players the tools and freedom they have to craft their own fun. It helps that even vanilla Skyrim is all about freedom and creating your own adventures. Its big open world is full of quests, stories, characters, and lore, but once the tutorial is completed there’s little or no pushing you in anybody particular direction. You can go where you would like and be who you want—you’re the Dragonborn, sure, but you can play for hundreds of hours without ever kicking off the questline that introduces dragons into the world. That same spirit of freedom applies to Skyrim’s extreme moddability. Nexus Mods, a Skyrim modding hub, reports over 1.7 billion downloads of mod files, and quite 60,000 different mods. That keeps the aging RPG fresh with new adventures, companions, locations, weapons, spells, and complete overhauls of game systems long after you’ve completed the vanilla experience. Just in the week alone, 56 new Skyrim mods appeared on Nexus Mods for the nine-year-old RPG. There’s a whole lifetime of latest experiences for players to get and how for Skyrim to endure long after Bethesda has moved on to other games.
17) Dark Souls 3 (2016)
It’s important to acknowledge that both the second and third entries in the Dark Souls series released in this decade, and choosing between the two is difficult. Dark Souls 2 is a wild, explorative expansion of what Souls is – sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Dark Souls 3, meanwhile, is a careful distillation of what has come before, building an experience that is satisfying for long-time fans but also altogether more accessible. Accessible might seem like a dirty word when it comes to this, a series that has primarily traded on its bone-crushing difficulty, but Dark Souls 3 is still difficult in all the right places and ways. Its obtusely-delivered narrative also somehow provides what feels like a satisfying, closing conclusion to the series – though I’d be astonished if we don’t end up revisiting this world in the next decade.
16) Mass Effect 3 (2012)
Fallout 3’s ending was so disliked Bethesda rewrote it within the Broken Steel DLC, grafting on a replacement epilogue and a far better climax. But if you didn’t buy that DLC you continue to have the ending where your companions refuse to assist because the finale was clearly plotted before they were added. Mass Effect 3 was different. Its original ending was honestly no worse than Fallout 3’s, but unlike Bethesda, BioWare didn’t wait seven months and two DLCs to deal with fan complaints. It was 16 days after its release when BioWare CEO Ray Muzyka wrote that “out of respect to our fans, we need to accept the criticism and feedback with humility” and three months later the Extended Cut was out. The fan rage at Mass Effect 3’s ending was effective because it had been organized. A campaign called Retake Mass Effect that involved donating money to Child’s Play to get BioWare’s attention raised $80,000, there was a flood of YouTube videos breaking down different reasons why the ending was bad, conspiracy theories about the “Indoctrination ending,” and thanks to social media, the conversation fed itself. If there’s one thing YouTube, Twitter, and Reddit all agree on it’s that anger is the best fuel for engagement. Legitimate complaints that the ending was a touch weak were buried under the type of hyperbolic rage that goes viral. It provided a playbook for fan discontent that’s reared up again and again, from the reaction to No Man’s Sky to the Sonic the Hedgehog movie. After years of trying to explain that the stereotype of “entitled gamers” is a myth the 2010s came along to say that no, actually some people are pretty entitled and will campaign to have an ArenaNet employee fired because she was rude to a Guild Wars 2 fan on Twitter.
15) CS:GO (2012)
On the Day of Judgement of salutation Prime 2011, I took twenty minutes to wander over to a little, half-populated booth on the show floor and consider Counter-Strike: world Offensive. CS:GO wasn’t a giant priority for computer Gamer’s coverage that year—a heap of the game’s development had been outsourced to Hidden Path, creators of a tower defense game. CS:GO was simply a better-looking CS:Source, right?
Actually, it had been principally a port. With Microsoft and Sony’s consoles obtaining long within the tooth, Valve did not wish to miss the business chance to bring one amongst its franchises to the Xbox and PlayStation. Sure, they’d place world Offensive on computer too, however the main target was totally on porting it, proven by the very fact that CS:GO was solely playable on the Xbox 360 at salutation. Valve touted cross-platform play aboard visual makeovers of beloved maps like de_dust2 and cs_office.
This afterthought unharness eventually became the most important competitive independent agency of the last decade.
What galvanized Valve to rework CS:GO from a console port into a flagship were the teachings learned over Team defense 2’s development. In 2013, one year after CS:GO’s unharness, Valve introduced cosmetic weapon skins. however wherever TF2 just popularized the crate-and-key system, CS:GO brought new layers of economic psychopathy thereto. inside the player-run Steam Market, custom AWPs, M4s, and Deagles—with thirteen years of which means soaked into their metal—became huge standing symbols, with eminent, real-dollar value tags. The dullest pure-white MP7 skin will still fetch many bucks, just because it’s somewhat rare.Before weapon skins arrived, the populations of atomic number 55 ’99, CS ’04, and atomic number 55 ’12 were roughly equal. however skins role player CS’ most entrenched fans out of their favorite edition, and were the carrot that world Offensive required to soak up its older siblings. Not solely might you earn limited-edition skins by looking at massive CS:GO tournaments, however third-party sites like CSGO Lounge let 10000 of players wager esports matches with their Steam inventories. 2 YouTubers exploited the black market that had emerged around CS:GO, making their own gambling website and promoting it to their audiences on YouTube and social media while not revealing their co-ownership, a scam that eventually LED to new independent agency tips governing influencers.
CS:GO’s rise coincided with Twitch’s own, and as Valve discovered that it had a extremely watchable, exciting spectator independent agency, the studio began a golf stroke up award for major tournaments. the foremost in style execs showcased their gun and knife fashion like sneakers on LeBron. Eventually Valve made team-specific skins and digital player signature stickers, with plenty of the issue relating to those execs. With match spectating engineered directly into the sport shopper itself, Valve had created a wonderfully contained loop of self-promotion.
14) FTL: quicker Than lightweight (2012)
Though it’s unusually humble now, FTL was a pioneering game in all kinds of ways. Years before the likes of Broken Age and Pillars of Eternity, it had been one amongst the primary titles to be with success funded through Kickstarter, earning over $200,000 bucks from eager fans – twenty times its initial $10,000 goal. Created by a little two-man team, its immense success and recognition helped pave the means for myriad indie games to return over the course of the last decade, demonstrating definitely that clever style and power might enable little studios to rival the endless resources of their triple-A competitors.
Casting you as the captain of a rebel ballistic capsule on a desperate martyr operation, it challenged you to manage your vessel’s crew and systems throughout Star Trek-like battles as you progressed through procedurally-generated galaxies. the mixture of ingenious strategy with the look principles of the then-nascent roguelike genre established instantly compelling. And in conveyance that formula firmly into the thought, it ordered the foundations for myriad hits to return, as well as recent gems like dispatch the steeple, Darkest Dungeon, and also the developer’s own Into the Breach.
13) Crusader Kings 2 (2012)
Crusader Kings 2 may be a singular sandbox that’s unlike the other strategy game, though it isn’t obvious at a look. The seemingly infinite menus and lists and popups that you simply think will cause you to glaze over are really windows into the best medieval serial, filling the last eight years with countless absurd anecdotes about murder plots, sexy scandals and occasionally black magic. This obtuse historical grand strategy game unexpectedly became a gateway drug, with all the story possibilities making the dense strategy easier to digest. A lot of individuals go their first taste trying to unite Ireland, once the recommended root for newcomers. Previously, grand strategy had been great at conjuring up interesting scenarios, but stories not such a lot. They were focused on warfare and economics and every one these abstract things, but Crusader Kings elevated the much more unpredictable and stimulating people (and sometimes animals) that lived in these competing kingdoms. If you enjoyed torturing people in The Sims or watching the drama unfold in Game of Thrones, suddenly there was a strategy game perfect for you—social, human and a bit silly. It’s also stuck around throughout the decade thanks to a cavalcade of DLC and free updates that have overhauled the game several times over, flinging in more religions, cultures, vikings and just as many new systems. So many live service games have sprouted up, but Paradox Development Studio managed to try to do a way better job of making a living game without tons of the accompanying nonsense. The amount of paid DLC has ruffled some feathers, but I can consider few other games that are given this type of support, especially when so many of the significant additions have been free. And now the base game, which has benefited from eight years of continued development, is free, so there’s nothing stopping you from usurping some thrones.
11) XCOM (2012)
Sometimes a game can rescue an entire genre. We enjoyed some niche turn-based strategy games before Firaxis’ spectacular XCOM reboot, but this game pulled the genre closer to the mainstream with cinematic production values, a friendly art style, and most importantly a set of XCOM recruits that inspire tremendous empathy across the course of an extended and gruelling campaign. You can build a beautiful numbers system based on gear power and chances to hit, but it’s something else to translate those stats into drama. It’s the drama that makes you hold your hands to your head and cry “nyoooo” when Sergeant “Balls Balls” misses a Chryssalid at point-blank range and is immediately murdered halfway through a mission. That might seem frivolous, but that reboot has little question inspired many new XCOM style games in several settings. There are obvious examples like Phoenix Point, but we’ve also seen weirder games like Mutant Year Zero. You could even look at games like Into the Breach and claim that XCOM: Enemy Unknown opened a door to new audiences that would appreciate such a beautifully balanced tactics game. Turn-based tactics games have done surprisingly well on console, if you’re taking under consideration Pokemon, Advance Wars, Shadow Emblem, Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre, and more. XCOM: Enemy Unknown went back to the source – an old, obtuse, but brilliant game – and modernised it perfectly, bringing tactics games back to their old home on the PC.
10) Dark Souls (2012)
How many games can brag about birthing a genre? It’s a short list. First there was Rogue. Until we all got some collective sense and christened the first-person shooter, there was the Doom Clone. Metroid and Castlevania fused into a beloved style with a hated name. And this decade, From Software gave us Souls-like. No other game within the 2010s has more dramatically changed how we mention games, particularly difficulty. Nothing has so quickly inspired so many knock-offs. More importantly for us, Dark Souls is the reason I can browse Steam today and see games like Ni No Kuni, Nier: Automata and Bayonetta. It may be the only time in history an online petition changed the world. Something like 90,000 people said they wanted it, and publisher Bandai Namco made it happen. From there, Dark Souls’ influence carved three new trails. It sold and sold and sold, then did the sequels, making From Software the foremost respected developer in Japan not named Nintendo. Its success on PC in the west encouraged other Japanese developers to bring their games over, too, and today it’s rare for big Japanese games (or even indies) not to launch on PC, or a minimum of a delayed port. Finally, Dark Souls made the web realize just how important modders are to PC gaming. Without Durante’s DSFix mod, which repaired an egregiously slipshod port, the series may never have begun on PC. The standards for quality ports are now far higher. Meanwhile, From Software got George R. R. Martin to assist write its next game, Elden Ring. It’ll probably be out before his next book.
9) Gone Home (2013)
The Fullbright Company had no idea that its first-person atmospheric exploration game would cause quite the cultural shift in the video game world to the interest (and anger) of many critics and fans. Gone Home’s empty house opened the door to a discussion that got right to the heart of the gaming community: What exactly makes a video game a video game? In Gone Home, you play as Katie, a young woman who has arrived at her family home to find it completely empty. The story unfolds as you walk around the house, exploring its rooms and picking up objects, and you slowly begin to learn about the circumstances surrounding the family’s disappearance. As you walk around the house, exploring rooms and picking up objects, Gone Home slowly reveals a compelling family drama and tells a sincere story about the struggles of being a queer teenager living in the 1990s. Gone Home built upon the foundations of a new emerging genre—games like The Chinese Room’s Dear Esther had paved before it—but it’s play style and storytelling was not celebrated by all players. Due to its emphasis on exploration through walking, Gone Home was dubbed a “walking simulator,” a game during which there’s no gameplay and thus, not a game. Since 2013, we will see how Gone Home has made a crucial shift within the computer game community. The walking simulator genre is now an area where games can specialise in telling diverse narratives through top-notch writing and interesting exploration. Gone Home’s design led the way for more exploration games to emerge like Firewatch, Layers of Fear, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, and What Remains of Edith Finch. Gone Home’s release challenged the way video games are played, experienced and defined which makes it a crucial game of the last decade.
8) Broken Age (2014)
Kentucky Route Zero was funded on Kickstarter in 2011, as was Octodad: Dadliest Catch. The amounts were modest: $24,320 for Octodad and a mere $8,583 for Kentucky Route Zero. When Double Fine turned to Kickstarter in 2012 to fund their next adventure game and a documentary to go with it, they asked for $400,000 and received $3.3 million. The effect was sudden. A month later Wasteland 2 raised $2,933,252, and Shadowrun Returns $1,836,447. People who’d made Kickstarter accounts to give Double Fine money were hanging around looking for other projects to back, and everyone with an intellectual property in an underserved genre was there to collect. Genres that had been largely abandoned—or left to the bedroom coders and Germans—were resurrected and built on. Broken Age, sort of a lot of the Kickstarter success stories that followed it, asked the question: “What if we never stopped making games like this? What would they look like today?” Subsequent crowdfunded games like Divinity: Original Sin 2 and Project Phoenix continued providing the answers. The last big videogame success story on Kickstarter was Subverse, which raised over $2 million. Before that it was Pillars of Eternity in 2017. The million-dollar hits still happen, but are fewer and farther apart than they were in the boom years of 2012-2015. If you’ve got a board game with a lot of components, or your name’s Chris Roberts, there’s still big money in crowdfunding, but mostly it’s more modest games being funded by fans lately, and sometimes faraway from Kickstarter—like Outer Wilds, which was backed through Fig. The influence of the Kickstarter boom isn’t over, but the gold rush certainly is. There’s no better sign of that than Double Fine cheerfully being acquired by Microsoft in 2019.
7) The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015)
In the 1970s, Barack Obama was Barry, a highschool student with the basketball skills to assist win a state championship in his senior year. By the time he transferred to Columbia University to study political science, you could probably tell he was going places—but president of the United States? President Barry was probably not on anyone’s radar, back on the court. Likewise, in 2007, if you’d told anyone on an online video game forum that a sequel to a messy RPG, made by an inexperienced Polish studio, would be the biggest and best RPG of the next decade, they’d probably laugh you off the board. Really? That game? The Witcher? Sure, it’s got some good ideas, but it’s barely bolted together, and who’s ever heard of these Polish fantasy novels? That’s never going to be big. Anyway, what I’m saying is: Geralt is essentially the President of PC games now. The Witcher 3 followed a pair of much smaller RPGs with a vast open world, and filled that world with writing (so much writing) that elevated standard sidequests into memorable hunts, heartbreaking stories, and wonderful adventures. With two games of practice, CD Projekt Red learned the way to make Geralt an ideal vehicle for players. He’s a person, not a blank slate, which enriched the impact of every decision you were forced to make. The average Witcher 3 sidequest is more creative or better presented than the story of most RPGs, then it went and did that part better, too. The Witcher 3’s truly massive success entered CD Projekt into the elite ranks of the foremost respected game developers within the world. When was the last time a game was as hyped as Cyberpunk 2077? Maybe never. When it’s finally real, it’ll have remarkably high expectations to live up to: expectations that it’ll be as good as The Witcher 3, the benchmark for RPGs this decade. And quite possibly the next. Way to go,
6) No Man’s Sky (2016)
Hype can be dangerous, and there’s no better example this decade than No Man’s Sky. Long before Hello Games’ ambitious procedural galactic sandbox launched, the hype was already in orbit. Early trailers in 2014 showed off towering, graceful alien dinosaurs and sandworms the size of freight trains. A VP at Sony declared No Man’s Sky as “potentially one of the biggest games in the history of our industry.” The media PC Gamer included stirred the pot by getting swept up in the potential of an endless, infinitely varied galaxy. The game would be so big there was nearly no chance of meeting another player, but we were told they’d be out there, somewhere. We wanted to believe.
As the release date loomed, Sean Murray tried temper player expectations but it was already too late. The hype train was well off the rails. By the 2016 launch, expectations were so high there was no way any game could possibly deliver on all of them. The reality was that No Man’s Sky’s alien dinos weren’t nearly as towering and majestic as those seen in trailers. The massive sandworm that had captured people’s imaginations had been cut from the game before launch. There were plenty of beautiful planets and sights, but before long the procedurally generated features began to feel a bit predictable, like the same handful of parts used to build creatures and planets were just being assembled in slightly different configurations.
And there was that vaguely defined multiplayer aspect “Online Play” was even listed on the PS4 box, though it was covered by a sticker when the reality was there no multiplayer feature at all and the two players who found each other (on the first day, no less) couldn’t actually see each other. The blowback for No Man’s Sky came in just as frenzied as the hype had, and from the same places: the players, the media (yes, PC Gamer too) and even from Sony.
But Hello Games demonstrated how a studio can survive both the highs of hype and the lows of backlash. It stepped back from the press that had been eager to pounce on every tiny shred of new information, it filtered out the voices of those who only wanted to pile on more grief, and it focused on the feedback of the only people who really mattered: the players who actually loved No Man’s Sky despite its issues, who were actually playing the game and who saw its potential to continue to grow. And over the past several years an astounding number of new features have been added to No Man’s Sky, all for free, giving players new and different ways to explore the galaxy or build a home on their favorite world. We never got our sandworm (apparently it was cut because playtesters hated it) but that vague multiplayer feature missing at launch was added and then greatly improved upon. No Man’s Sky isn’t just a place you can briefly meet another player, it’s become a true multiplayer experience. That’s a height even the initial hype never reached. —Christopher Livingston, Staff Writer
5) Star Wars: Battlefront 2 (2017)
There were a few problems with Battlefront 2’s planned economy, but the primary issue was that class upgrades came in loot boxes that could be obtained with both in-game and premium currency. These weren’t just cosmetics: You could pay to get an advantage over those who were grinding. It wasn’t the most exploitative use of randomized rewards at the time, and EA put a hold on premium currency at launch due to backlash, but that didn’t matter. Battlefront 2 was a watershed moment for anti-loot box sentiment, and led to regulation in Belgium and elsewhere, as well as continued investigations and debates in the US, UK, and around the world. Overwatch, FIFA, and other games contributed, but Battlefront 2 marked a turning point. After it was released, loot boxes were no longer just the subject of grumbles from dissatisfied players, but also of legislative debates over whether or not they should be classified as gambling.
Many games, most recently Rocket League, have ditched loot boxes to focus on battle passes and other paid progression systems without randomization. While a few have held onto loot boxes—EA makes gobs of money off FIFA—they’re clearly on their way out. Battlefront 2 is a good game, especially after the changes to its progression system, but unfortunately for DICE’s talented developers, it will be remembered for instigating an industry-wide upheaval in how games are monetized.
4) Butterfly Soup (2017)
When the tools to make and distribute games were democratized in the 2000s, we sure did get a lot of puzzle-platformers out of it. The impact was felt further afield in subsequent years, and one genre where that impact was felt was the English-language visual novel.
Visual novels have always been about relationships, whether in the classic dating sim sense or the deepening characters even something as superficially silly as Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney has. Among the flood of visual novels in the 2010s were a batch made by a generation of LGBTQ+ game designers and informed by their own experience of relationships games rarely dealt with. Games like Ladykiller in a Bind, Coming Out on Top, Extreme Meatpunks Forever, Genderwrecked, and Dream Daddy (highly recommended: The episode of Tone Control where Dream Daddy co-writer Leighton Gray talks about its creation and the realization if she went ahead with it she’d need to come out to her parents).
Butterfly Soup is about teenagers questioning their sexuality (it’s also about baseball and dogs but mainly it’s the sexuality thing), and like a lot of those other examples it’s largely wholesome. It touches on familial abuse, but it’s a very light touch and it’s not the kind of game where you’ll have to choose between your lesbian girlfriend and the lives of an entire town at the end. It’s radically positive in a way a lot of games about LGBTQ+ characters are when made by
It’s also free. That’s important because Butterfly Soup, with its examples of teenagers learning about their queerness in a way that’s framed as a positive experience, is exactly the kind of game a certain kind of teenager needs to play and they also need it to not show up on their parent’s credit card. The significance of that, both for what video games can meaningfully achieve and what Butterfly Soup means for the kids it’s perfect for, can’t be overstated.
3) PUBG (2017)
Like Dota and Team Fortress before it, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds began life as a mod—for DayZ. There had been other Battle Royale-inspired mods before it, including a Hunger Games Minecraft mod in 2012. But creator Brendan Greene refined the concept with innovations including weapons being randomly scattered around the map. When Battlegrounds eventually became a standalone game in 2017 its popularity exploded, legitimising the genre and ultimately paving the way for Fortnite.
In a group Battlegrounds is a thrilling, tactical squad shooter; solo it’s like a big-scale stealth game where the ‘guards’ are all unpredictable human players. Both are valid ways to play, each with its own unique rhythm and feel. There are some similarities to DayZ: a large map with a bleak aesthetic, permadeath, player interaction, and a constant feeling of tension. But the rapidly shrinking play space in PUBG makes for a much more immediate, action-packed game, which made it particularly fun to watch on Twitch another reason the game became so popular. It was simply more fun to watch on a stream than DayZ.
There’s something wonderfully simple about the battle royale concept. A hundred players enter, one player leaves. Perfect for an online shooter. Brendan Greene was by no means the first person to try and turn the premise of the cult Japanese film into a game; he just refined it, laying the groundwork for an entire genre in the process, whether he meant to or not. The popularity of battle royale can’t be understated, and it’s wild to think that it’s reached a level of cultural saturation where a clip from a new Star Wars is being screened exclusively in Fortnite. But it all started with PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
2) Fortnite (2017)
Who said it? Who at Epic Games—during whatever meeting about the questionable outlook of its cooperative base building game finally entering early access after nearly seven years in development, announced in 2011 and delayed multiple times since who said, “Maybe we could turn it into PUBG?” There’s never been such a rapid, derivative, and successful pivot as this: Fortnite’s barebones battle royale mode was made in two months. And it wasn’t even good.
But, unlike the then-phenom PUBG, Fortnite: Battle Royale was and still is free-to-play. It didn’t matter that the building system wasn’t made for twitch shooting in a 100-person free-for-all or that the map began as a featureless wasteland. What mattered is that when kids with no money logged into PSN, Xbox Live, or Googled “free PC games,” Fortnite was there, with its colorful island, smiling cartoon combatants, and potent arsenal of dance emotes. Raise your hand if you saw someone floss this year.
Fortnite was poised to be a temporary craze, but Epic kept it growing with an unprecedented update schedule, introducing new weapons, items, vehicles, and major balance changes on a near-weekly basis. In-game events like the meteor impact or epic mecha vs. kaiju battle took Team Fortress 2’s narrative and updated integration to a new damn dimension. Within months, a derivative game became one of the most exciting shooters ever, a game whose meta mattered as much as its living mythology.
Fortnite was already massive, but then Ninja streamed with Drake. Suddenly, Fortnite wasn’t just how you became a successful Twitch streamer, it was how you became a star. In just a few years, Fortnite legitimized a new kind of celebrity, changed what we expect from F2P and service-based games, and, most miraculously, made flossing cool. All because of a last-second design pivot. What the hell.
1) Artifact (2019)
In retrospect, I should have suspected that there was something wrong with Artifact. My first exposure to the game, during the reveal at Valve’s Bellevue HQ, left me with a splitting headache, but otherwise enthusiastic about such a deep, polished entry to the card battler genre. After all, there was plenty to be confident about. This was Valve’s first game proper in five years, something akin to Willy Wonka announcing he was resuming production because he had a particularly delicious nougat to share. And this CCG was being made not just by Valve’s own braintrust, but also Richard Garfield, legendary creator of Magic: The Gathering. Artifact was his new baby, it couldn’t fail.
But it did in such spectcaular, flameout style that it has secured Artifact a place here, among the decade’s most noteworthy games. Prior to Artifact, even if you suspected that Valve, the closest thing to a platform holder we have on PC, was capable of making a bad game, nobody imagined it releasing such a catastrophic one. But just six months after Artifact’s launch, the game had been abandoned so entirely that its Twitch directory was being overrun by people streaming obscure African war movies, anime, and actual pornos. Incredibly, it took some time for anyone to even notice.
The failure seem almost unfairly easy to analyse with hindsight. The three-lane structure borrowed from Dota made board states inherently taxing to remember, and was a poor fit for stream viewership. More problematically, as card game pro Andrey “Reynad” Yanyuk noted in his firm but fair evaluation, the game just wasn’t much fun. Too much of the combat revolved around stacking multiple arithmetical effects, rather than delivering the kind of one-off flashy moments that Hearthstone specializes in. Artifact’s player population soon dropped to embarrassing numbers, and in March Valve effectively mothballed Artifact, citing “deep-rooted issues” with the game but promising to get back to us once it had a plan. Since then recriminations have been made by Garfield, who’s no longer attached to the project. I’d be amazed if we ever see Artifact rebooted meaningfully. Instead, it will serve as a reminder that just as no-one is too big to fail in modern PC gaming, nor can they be too talented.