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The best games that defined the decade

This was a hell of a decade for games, but these 10 really helped shape it.

knowtechie's games of the decade
Image: KnowTechie

Ah, the 2010 decade, it seems we barely knew you. Originally, we thought about looking at each of the best games for each year of the decade. However, everyone is dropping their own steamy hot takes on that after they’ve clicked a few filters on Metacritic.

Instead, we thought it would be way more interesting to take a look at what games defined this decade as a whole. These games shaped and molded this decade in video games and will likely continue their influence into the 2020s. These games include some smash hits and also some titles that helped make the industry what it is today.

We could have probably grabbed about 25 total titles but whittled it down to the 10 most influential. Of course, once you’ve gone through our all-decade list, we’d love to know what games you felt needed to make the cut.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

skyrim and games of the decade

Image: Bethesda

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has to be on this list, it’s already everywhere else. On November 11th, 2011 The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim launched for the first time. It was received quite well and really showed what the last-gen consoles were capable of. End of story, nothing more to write here.

Just kidding! What makes The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim worthy of being on our all-decade list is that Skyrim is the game that just can’t stop releasing. The game released on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC to start but then re-released on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC (again) and Switch. It also released on PlayStation VR and PC VR platforms with it’s own special version. Then, last year, Skyrim finally was released on Amazon Alexa devices. Yup, you can say “Alexa, play Skyrim” and go on a text-based full adventure with levels and skill-building.

Let’s be real, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has been a constant throughout the entire decade and we all know that it will find a release on the Google Stadia, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Scarlett. It’s gotten so wild that Toddposting has become a prank on the internet these days. Don’t know what it is? Would you like to know?


Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

True story: I don’t love Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. However, I am not ignorant to ignore how massive the game has been for Nintendo as a launch title for the Nintendo Switch. If you look at the history of Nintendo launch titles, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild stands alongside Mario 64 and Super Mario World. What makes Breath of the Wild such an impactful game is that its success as a launch title set up the Switch for the mega-success Nintendo’s latest console has had.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is far different than any other Legend of Zelda title. With third-person open-world survival and exploration, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild puts Link in a bleak situation where he’s essentially failed at his quest. He has to pick up the pieces, figure out what went wrong and save Zelda.

The game features heavy exploration and lots of puzzles with solutions based on how well you can manipulate the game. Like I said, not my favorite Legend of Zelda title, but holy hell you can’t argue with a 97 total score on Metacritic.


Undertale

undertale games of the decade

Image: Toby Fox

There were indie games before Undertale and there will be indie games after it. Way back in 2015, though, Undertale did the unthinkable. Coming out of absolutely nowhere, Toby Fox’s odd little RPG won the hearts of many, me included.

It also legitimized indie games and showed that a game put together by a handful of people could stand toe to toe with giants like The Witcher 3, Fallout 4, Bloodborne and others. Undertale breathed life back into the indie scene and showed indie devs that their titles didn’t have to be Minecraft clones or Souls-likes for people to play them.

Undertale is an absolutely charming game. It still holds up years after and has been released on every console, even recently coming to the Nintendo Switch. I’d argue that the game opened the door for other indie gems like Celeste, Stardew Valley, Owlboy and Cuphead. Undertale was all about being yourself and indie games haven’t been the same since. My kids even know what Undetale is. Plus, the characters are lovable.


Pokemon GO

pokémon go ultra event

Image: Pokémon Go

Do you remember when Pokemon GO came out? For that brief moment back in 2016, the world seemed to collectively get together and forget most of its differences. Older people were out and about catching Pokemon. Kids and their families were spending time together at Pokestops, waiting to collect their rewards every 3 minutes. Traffic was often congested in areas with points of interest. Cell-phone providers cashed in on advertising that Pokemon GO wouldn’t go against their data limits. The craze was real!

Now, Pokemon GO has cooled its jets a bit in the 3+ years since launch, but it is still a top earner. It’s also been improved and built upon in the years since its release. The studio behind Pokemon GO, Niantic, hasn’t gone without their bumps but they have kept the ball rolling. However, on top of the poke-fever that it launched, Pokemon GO did something else as well – it legitimized mobile games. July 2016 was the turning point of smartphone games going from Candy Crush, to being recognized as full, interactive experiences.


Overwatch

overwatch characters against light background

Image: Blizzard

Overwatch makes this list for two reasons. Blizzard’s hero-shooter is absolutely a game of quality. In the 3 years since Overwatch has released, the game has enjoyed regular updates, new characters and even an extra map or two.

Generally speaking, changes aren’t too drastic, but it does keep the game fresh. In fact, The Overwatch League ended up being the first esports league to actually get major network traction. You can catch it often on ESPN and many pro-sports teams own their own Overwatch League teams. A great example of this is the Craft-owned Boston Uprising.

While the esports publicity is great for legitimizing the field as a whole, Overwatch is also infamous. Credited as the game that normalized the idea of microtransactions for loot crates, Overwatch has done quite a bit of damage to the industry as well. The game starts players off by drip-feeding them loot boxes at regular intervals until it begins to dry up. At that point, players are encouraged to buy loot boxes with real money so they can get unique skins and emotes. Other games do it too but Overwatch made it cool.


Grand Theft Auto V

grand theft auto 5 games of the decade

Image: VG247

As a standalone single release, not too many titles can ever get close to Grand Theft Auto V. Releasing back in September 2013, GTAV earned $1 billion in sales in its first 3 days. That’s not just record-breaking, that shatters those records into oblivion. While the 3rd best selling game of all time, GTAV also was a really good game. It ended up getting the game of the year nod from many outlets and generally just kicked a whole lot of ass. Currently, Rockstar’s GTAV is still printing money, earning a total of $6 billion and continuing to run a successful online mode.

With all the success, Grand Theft Auto V also dealt with some weird issues too. Lindsay Lohan tried to sue Rockstar for use of her alleged likeness and GTA Online was plagued with connectivity issues and hackers.

Perhaps one of the biggest issues has been that the game was fantastic, but Rockstar pooled their efforts completely into GTA Online after launch, leaving the core game essentially useless once players have completed it. Well, for the most part.


Rocket League

rocket league progression update

Image: Josiah Motley / KnowTechie

I think Kevin would fire me if I didn’t put Rocket League on the list here. Rocket League has actually accomplished a whole ton of things in the time since its 2015 release. It won Indie Game of the Year in 2015. It was hailed as one of the first casual esports games. The studio behind Rocket League, Psyonix, was purchased by Epic Games this year and it did something that no one ever thought was possible throughout this decade.

Rocket League was the first game to truly allow everyone to play together. Sure, it was only for a temporary moment, but you’d better believe Psyonix knew that they were doing. The pressure to make this permanent led to a friendship between Microsoft and Nintendo. Sony dropped their tsundere act, as well, and announced they’ll play again too. Meanwhile, I think PC is just happy to be able to score some goals on the weaker console players.

What is Rocket League? It’s car soccer, but in that simplicity is also its brilliance. Anyone can watch a game of Rocket League and understand what is going on, but for players, it is a constantly evolving game that only evolves when you do through the mastering of new mechanics.


Dark Souls

dark souls remastered

Image: Bandai

Dark Souls launched an entire genre this decade. The follow-up to 2009’s Demon’s Souls kicked ass and you can fight me if you disagree. As a matter of fact, the success is so deep that it impacted the gaming ecosystem on two separate fronts. The brutal difficulty of Dark Souls helped coin the term “The Dark Souls of‘” and the game’s success spawned a new genre. Souls-like games are generally difficult and include elements that encourage growth through failure. FromSoftware and director Hidetaka Miyazaki also became household names.

The Souls-like genre contains amazing titles like Bloodborne, Nioh, Code Vein and even Star Wars: The Fallen Order. The aforementioned “the Dark Souls of” is used to describe many games with a difficulty curve higher than usual, in jest most of the time. FromSoftware’s Sekiro, which is a Souls-like, just took top honors at The Game Awards just earlier this month. Dark Souls created an entire genre and nowadays everyone wants a piece of that pie.


Fortnite

fortnite characters dancing on a games stage

Image: Epic Games

It’s Fortnite, what can I say? If you don’t play video games, you know what Fortnite is. My 80-year old grandparents know about “the Fortnite“. I guess if you are new to this planet, I can give you a quick crash course though.

Epic Games’ cash cow started with relatively humble beginnings as a failing 2017 zombie survival game with a building mechanic. Shortly after launch, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds skyrocketed in popularity and convinced Epic Games to add Battle Royale as a free expansion to their game. Fortnite included some design choices that helped differentiate itself from PUBG and appeal to a wider audience. Epic’s plans worked because Fortnite absolutely exploded. It also didn’t hurt Epic Games’ wallet that they ran a very successful microtransaction shop on the side that is filled with unique cosmetics and dances. Oh god, the dances.

The thing about Fortnite that sets itself apart from almost every other game is that it is a cultural phenomenon. Walk through a public place and count how many Fortnite shirts you see. Target and Walmart have an entire aisle just for Fortnite toys. Hell, that’s just about how GameStop stays open these days.

Fortnite isn’t only the most popular game currently, it’s a merchandising behemoth as well. In the world of battle royale games, Fortnite gets the victory royale.


Minecraft

Minecraft best games of the decade

Image: Mojang

Do I really need to explain Minecraft to you? Officially launching November 18th, 2011, Minecraft has been a massive influence in pop culture and gaming this decade. Minecraft has influenced so many other titles but still continues its relevance today. Games like Terraria, Dragon Quest Builders and perhaps even Fortnite have their Minecraft roots.

In 2015, Minecraft was even given a Telltale game. Minecraft’s influence extends well beyond video games, with a whole line of LEGO sets, clothing, furniture and can be credited for a lot of the growth of gaming channels on YouTubeMinecraft is used in schools to teach kids things like engineering and even has competitive leagues where kids build working Minecraft machines in-game.

What’s probably the most amazing thing is Minecraft is still getting regular updates. The game continues to add new and unique biomes and locations, with fresh batches of enemies and fauna. On top of that, the modding scene has been able to twist and change the game into clones of some of the decade’s most popular games. Also, the game is the highest-grossing game on this list and has sold nearly 200 million copies. Neat.


These are just the 10 titles we felt defined the decade. I considered adding a list of honorable mentions, but you’d be here all day. The 2010-2019 decade gave us all sorts of fantastic games like The Witcher 3, Spec Ops: The Line, Persona 5, Super Smash Bros Ultimate and more, like Destiny and Destiny 2 (#11 on the list).

Perhaps we’ll revisit those games in the near future, maybe even horrible shit-games like Brink. Either way, this list of games are those that did their part to change the course of video games.

Personally, I can’t wait to see what the next decade holds. We have incredible games on the horizon like Cyperpunk 2077, Final Fantasy 7 Remake and more. We’ll have our old favorites and new ones as well. The future is bright indeed!

What do you think of our games of the decade? Do you agree with the list or are there any changes you’d make? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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Longtime games journalist and Florida resident. I'm a Guinness World Record holder, wordsmith extraordinaire, MOBA fan, devoted dad and husband. I'm here to spread the gospel of video games.

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