The 2010s was an amazing decade for gaming. So amazing that it’s nearly impossible to pick just a few, believe me I tried, best games or most influential games or even worst games of the decade. So instead, I’m going to talk about some of my personal gaming memories that made this decade for me and top it all off with my number one game of the decade. There’s a lot to cover so let’s jump right into it.
E3 is as good a place as any to start. E3 was always a place I dreamed to go. It’s where you got to play never before seen games, try out new technology, and just hang with game devs. Every year I hungrily wait the live streams and reveals. 2013’s E3 in particular was amazing. It was the big year of reveals. Microsoft had Xbox One and Sony had the Playstation 4. While that was already going to make for a pretty big show, what really makes things stand out was the mishandling of the reveal by Microsoft. Always online. The infamous “if you can’t be always online, we have a system for you; the 360.” DRM. No used games. The kinect always watching. It was an absolute mess. Sony’s infamous “how to share games” video being a particular highlight from the whole debacle. Sony had the privilege of going after Microsoft so as to not only undercut on price, but to back track on any potential always online stuff they may have also decided to implement before the poor reception. The memes, of course, were brutal with Sony always in the winner position while Nintendo…did its own special thing.
Speaking of Nintendo, their directs kicked off this decade and are amazing rapid fire ways of conveying information and one of the best decision they could have made in relation to E3. Their best contribution to the decade, aside from some amazing new IPs like Splatoon, was the Switch. The WiiU never caught on because Nintendo never really communicated just what the system could do in a way the average Joe could understand, but the Switch was easy to grasp. Put it in the dock, TV. Take it out, on the go. Nintendo always was best at grabbing the handheld market (RIP Vita gone too soon) and dominating it. So a machine that could do both was perfect, especially since most Nintendo fans who grew up defending it against the Sega were now older and free time harder to come by. This little machine works with your life. And is still my ideal way to game.
This leads us to Breath of the Wild. Not since Wii Sports has a launch title been so beloved. Selling this title at launch could not have been a better decision for the company. What an adventure as well. I’m not even sure what it was about this title, but I was enraptured in its world and exploring. There was always something over the horizon to find. Everything felt full of detail and there was no wrong way to play. One of my personal favorite moments was when I was walking up a path and saw what looked like smoke. I zoomed in on it and it was…a dragon?! So I made my way over. I found a giant plateau I had to scale, but it started raining. So I took shelter under a wooden lean to. A guy and his donkey also took shelter with me and I made a lot of stamina restoring food while I waited. The rain parted and I made my climb, ending up in a jungle. I looked around for hours with no sign of the dragon. I was about to give up when the wind picked up and I heard a small trill of music. I turned and there was the giant electric dragon! This was one of the most magical moments of gaming for me of the decade.
What wasn’t magical were some of the blunders of the decade. Clash of Clans and Mass Effect 3 may have started toeing into the micro-transaction and loot box realm, but Overwatch brought this concept to a whole other level. Overwatch smashed onto the scene, assuring Battleborn never stood a chance, with several character trailers. Similar to League of Legends’ array of fighters, Overwatch boasted many well written and classic characters we will see at cons for the next decade to come. I don’t need to tell you their names because you already know them all. The loot boxes were simply cosmetic, sure, but the limited edition skins ensured people would drop a pretty penny to ensure they got their witch Mercy costume. Because of Overwatch’s success with them, soon every game had some sort of loot box or v-bucks that you could spend your hard earned coin on. Nothing was more egregious, however, as Star Wars Battlefront 2 where it was almost not possible to grind for certain things so the only way to get them was the will of the loot box gods. So botched and hated was this move that Disney stepped in. EA has fixed this and the game is fine now, but that doesn’t change their intent.
We also saw the rise of the day one patch and road maps for games that so infrequently follow them. A roadmap can be a great way to get longevity from a title. Splatoon has their splatfests, The Witcher 3 had a whole series of smaller free updates, many games have events, Destiny and FFXV have DLC and expansions, and then there’s Anthem with a roadmap of promised content and loot showers. However, due to problems on both Bioware and EA’s ends, the game was rushed, not what was promised, and rather empty. The game play was fun and Bioware is known for a great story, yet this game didn’t even deliver on that. The roadmap was stalled while they tried to fix all the issues cropping up and soon dropped as Anthem’s player base dwindled lower and lower. What was once a game with such promise ended on a whimper.
While one of my personal favorite franchise in gaming, Mass Effect was also poorly handled. The decade started well for the franchise with the smash hit Mass Effect 2. Mass Effect 3 soon followed and while the game is emotional and beautiful, being one of the only games to have me full on weeping for the characters I grew to love, it had a small misstep. The ending. What color do you want your ending? Fans were not happy that the only real difference was what color was overlayed to your choice of ending. A whole trilogy of choices had little to do with where we ended up. That, however, was small potatoes compared to Mass Effect Andromeda. I worked at GameStop during release and so I had the privilege of playing the game early. Before the day one patch. Oh boy. I’ll spare the details for a future write up, but at one point, Liam just rose into the air and never returned leaving me with one team mate for the rest of the game. He was in a much better place not being part of the mess. Rest in peace Liam. Perhaps giving a small inexperienced team one of your main franchises isn’t a good idea.
Speaking of small teams, Indie games flourished in the 2010s. From Limbo to Shovel Knight to Undertale to Five Nights at Freddys and that’s not even the tip of the iceberg! So many amazing games that I cannot possibl name them all. It got to a point where Indies were doing better than most Triple A games. In fact, Sonic Team hired an indie team to bring us the amazing Sonic Mania. Kickstarter was a great way to pledge your loyalty to a title and get games you wanted but weren’t being provided by the bigger teams and even give older teams a chance to make games they no longer could which was the case of Yookah Laylee. While most games back through kickstarter provided great experiences, some games like Mighty No. 9 showed that the promise of a good game like the olden days isn’t always going to be followed through. And then there was Shenmue.
Epic games created one of the biggest hits of the decade with Fortnite. You know it, your aunt knows it, the kid down the street is dancing to it, and even the old man checking you out at the grocery store knows it. This game was everywhere. It still is. I applauded it at first because it gave kids and adults something to bond over and kids weren’t afraid to dance in public, flossing almost as if it was their idle animation. But soon Fortnite was having big reveals for Star Wars that should have been in the movie and my good graces waned. Part of this was also the Epic Games store. At first a great idea because it gave indie devs more money for their games and more visibility and competition for Steam is a good thing, soon turned into a soured idea with Epic exclusives including Shenmue 3. A crowdfunded game that promised backers a steam code for the title soon went Epic exclusive for more sweet cash. And if you’ve promised your backers something, you shouldn’t go back on it. The main issue, however, is there’s too many of these clients for games. My husband not long ago asked me where he could get the newest call of duty because it wasn’t on Steam. And I had no idea. We googled it and found out it’s on Activision/Blizzard’s service and in the time it took us to find it, he lost interest in trying it out.
One trend I’m also happy to see calming down is the preorder bonus. While I love getting a cool trinket or a soundtrack for my game, when you have to have a chart to figure out what exclusives to get where, that’s extremely consumer unfriendly. And pure greed. Luckily we seem to be on the back end of that whole trend. Give publishers an inch and they’ll take a mile.
Games also became so much more cinematic in the 2010s. Beautiful titles telling an engaging story became more of the norm. We had Heavy Rain to start. Memed to death now, at the time, the game was quite engaging and unlike anything else we’d seen. The Last of Us made many people extremely emotional, myself included, as we watched the struggle of Joel and Ellie. Tell Tale’s The Walking Dead had us protecting Clementine from the start of the zombie apocalypse. God of War showed us a new side of Kratos as he journeyed with his son to spread his wife’s ashes. And that’s just a handful of the amazing stories we were given.
Speaking of ground breaking, I would be remiss to not mention Skyrim. Skyrim is also a meme at this point, but at launch, nothing to that scale had been done before. Now we have The Witcher 3, Breath of the Wild, Horizon Zero Dawn, so many amazing titles that couldn’t have existed without Skyrim. Soon every game wanted to capture the feeling of you could do anything in a vast world. We also got Grand Theft Auto V which is one of the best selling media things ever. This game is a juggernaut and still looks amazing to this day.
The 2010s also saw Pokemon Go launch and become an instant global phenomenon. Everyone was playing the game and getting outside! Pokemon Go’s pokestops saved small businesses, brought people out in numbers not often seen and also landed some people in hot water with trespassing, discovering murder scenes, and being injured. But the good did outweigh the bad and Pokemon brought people together as only it can with its collection of colorful critters and the need to catch them all. Side note, I was meeting up with friends to play Pokemon Go after work and heard an angry man yelling. He saw us looking at him and disappeared. Later we heard an entire clip being unloaded and the next day on facebook there was a call from the police department for information, so I called in and told the detectives what I knew which apparently helped them catch their guy. I feel I’m not the only one with a Pokemon Go story like that.
This is getting long, and I could talk forever about horror games of the decade and more, but I’ll save that for future articles. For now, I’m going to wrap things up now with my personal game of the decade. This is unsurprising to anyone who knows me, but my choice is Portal 2. This game is expertly and amazingly crafted. Everything works together to help tell the story and give the players clues on how to solve puzzles without a word of dialogue. I love the hidden areas, the continued relationship of GLaDOS and Chell, quipped remarks from Cave Johnson, the delightful idiocy of Wheatley, and the absolute blast it is to take in all the game has to offer. The game never out stays its welcome in any area, knowing when to give you a breather, knowing when to pull back from the tutorial to let you figure things out, and tells a well paced and hilarious story with deeper implications when you look into it. It’s a treat start to finish. But not only does this game have a single player mode, but a just as expertly crafted multiplayer mode full of the same charm. The things they do with two portal guns and some of the puzzle solutions are just genius plain and simple. There’s so much to love here and it’s one of gaming’s classics that will be relevant for decades to come.
Also Deadly Premonition came out this decade and is the best worst thing ever. That is all.