Ten years is a lot of time, especially in video game time, and over the past decade we’ve seen the birth of many new franchises, new gameplay mechanics. Let’s take a look at an unquestionably subjective selection of some of the most important games from the past ten years.
- “The most important” doesn’t mean “the best”. We may include some mediocrity here if it brought something interesting to the table, and we may omit excellent, but derivative sequels.
- Each year gets two nominees by default, but it isn’t set in stone.
- We care only about the first games in the franchises, unless…
- …the sequel(s) introduced something fresh, or shook the world.
- This list is by no means exhaustive. There are dozens of awesome games popping up every year, we are only human, and you don’t have all day.
- Feel free to fill the comments with games you think were the most important for a given year.
Let’s jump in.
|Mass Effect||2008-05-28||Adventure||BioWare||Read more|
|Assassin's Creed Director's Cut Edition||2008-04-09||Adventure||Ubisoft Montreal||Read more|
|Dark Messiah Of Might Magic||2006-10-25||Fighting||Arkane Studios||Read more|
|Demons Souls||Action & Shooter||Read more|
|Batman Arkham Asylum Goty||2010-03-26||Adventure||Feral Interactive (Mac)||83%||Read more|
|Heavy Rain||Read more|
|Red Dead Redemption||2010-05-18||Adventure||Read more|
|Deus Ex Human Revolution||2013-10-25||RPG||Eidos Montreal||Read more|
|The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition||2016-10-27||Adventure||Bethesda Game Studios||46%||Read more|
|Dishonored||2012-10-12||Adventure||Arkane Studios||66%||Read more|
|The Stanley Parable||2013-10-17||Adventure||Galactic Cafe||Read more|
|Call Of Juarez Gunslinger||2013-05-22||Action & Shooter||Techland||72%||Read more|
|Divinity Original Sin Enhanced Edition||2015-10-27||Adventure||Larian Studios||38%||Read more|
|Hearthstone Booster Pack Code||MMO||Blizzard Entertainment||54%||Read more|
|Middle Earth Shadow Of Mordor Game Of The Year Edition||2014-09-30||Adventure||Feral Interactive (Linux)||81%||Read more|
|Pillars Of Eternity Hero Edition||2015-03-26||Action & Shooter||Obsidian Entertainment||91%||Read more|
|The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt Goty Edition||2015-05-18||RPG||CD PROJEKT RED||63%||Read more|
Oh, what year it was. Several great things came out this year. Bioshock, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl, Hot Fuzz (I know, not a game, but come on!)… It was hard to pick, but there are two options that were meant to redefine their genres.
|Other exemplars of the concepts:||Alpha Protocol (with more dynamic conversations), Deus Ex: Human Revolution|
Say what you want about BioWare, they can tell a story. The plot may not be exactly original, but the cinematic angles, fully animated and voice-acted dialogues sell whatever story they are trying to tell.
Although Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire experimented with this, it wasn’t until Mass Effect that the formula clicked. And for that Mass Effect should be remembered.
|Other exemplars of the concepts:||The Witcher 3 (question marks. Damn you, Skellige!), Batman: Arkham Asylum (traversal)|
I know, but hear me out. AC was an example of what a solid product concept looks like. The core remained virtually unchanged over a decade of the AC franchise’s existence, receiving only relatively minor tweaks.
AC1 was Ubisoft at their peak. And yeah, later they took to peppering their games’ maps with “Collect a hundred feathers” and “climb the tower to synchronise”. But it wasn’t like it was at a core a bad idea, even if collecting the flags in AC1 never made much sense to me. Also: excellent, fluid traversal. Parkour FTW.
In comparison to the previous year, 2008 was kind of boring, or at least not exactly breaking new grounds. It was hard to pick something that would shake up the formula, so bear with us.
Dark Messiah of Might & Magic
|Other exemplars of the concepts:||other Arkane games and nobody else, really.|
The second game of Arkane Studios, after Arx Fatalis and before Dishonored. It showed some great foundations to what later became three incarnations of “That game where you can actually do unscripted stuff with your abilities”.
DMoMaM had fantastic interaction between player character’s abilities and the environment. There were always spikes to kick your enemies at, water to freeze, or platforms to crush orcs with.
We could probably mention Postapo Oblivion here, but the only thing about Fallout 3 that stands out in my memory is the general enjoyment of the songs in the radio.
|Other exemplars of the concepts:||Dark Souls, Bloodborne, a myriad other games|
It gets the spot mostly for one thing: revealing, or maybe even creating the market for almost prohibitively hard action games with RPG elements.
There was also an interesting, somewhat-dynamic difficulty expressed via World and Character Tendencies.
Batman: Arkham Asylum
|Developer:||Feral Interactive (Mac)|
|Other exemplars of the concepts:||Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (half of its gameplay), Mad Max (most of its gameplay)|
BAA admittedly sounds like a distressed sheep, but the game itself was a neat, interesting experience worthy of the Dark Knight.
The thing that is the most memorable is the combat system. It was rather easy to get the hang of, but also responsive, varied (almost every Bat-gadget was a new combat manoeuvre), and visually impressive.
The world itself was gorgeous to look at, and after a while we could access all of it all the time, with just minimal loading screens hidden behind doors and gates.
|Other exemplars of the concepts:||Until Dawn (branching like crazy), Telltale Games’ productions|
Press X to Jason. Heavy Rain was an odd game, especially when you didn’t actually get to play it and could only see videos about it.
As it is, Heavy Rain kept up and arguably mastered the tropes its director David Cage tested in Fahrenheit (AKA Indigo Prophecy). It’s even more of an interactive movie, and has paved one of the ways stories can be told in interactive media such as video games. And probably had more QTEs than Asura’s Wrath.
Red Dead Redemption
|Other exemplars of the concepts:||to some extent The Witcher 3 and Assassin’s Creed 2|
The Western video games for years have been mostly OK, though not very memorable. There was GUN, Call of Juarezes have been occasionally cool… and then came Red Dead Redemption.
Effectively it was the Unforgiven of the Western genre in gaming. It showed that a gripping, emotional tale CAN be told in an open-world, half-sandbox environment. It also allowed you to channel your inner Snidely Whiplash, if you wanted.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
|Other exemplars of the concepts:||the closest, and better at it, is Dishonored.|
Human Revolution substituted the original’s cyberpunk with transhumanism to keep up with the times.
It also gave the player a huge bundle of abilities and large maps with many scripted places where you could use these abilities to discover secret areas or new solutions. Each power unlocked a new approach, sometimes literally. It was all about ability-assisted discovery.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
|Developer:||Bethesda Game Studios|
|Other exemplars of the concepts:||Dragon Age: Inquisition (half-open world full of stuff)|
This is the game that really burst the bubble and made every other game adopt the open world structure. Sure, Ubisoft’s current formula isn’t without fault here, but Skyrim was everywhere for a while.
Large world with (admittedly samey) dungeons around every corner, more approachable progression. And dragons. There were dragons.
There was a lot of lore, too, but it required some effort to get it. The dialogues weren’t anything very memorable either, but at least we got some knee-slapping memes. Apparently many people didn’t need anything more than that. Skyrim was easily the most important game of 2011.
|Other exemplars of the concepts:||arguably: Divinity: Original Sin captures the idea in an RPG form|
This is Arkane Studios’ true breakout title. Dishonored is effectively a goal-oriented playground.
Dishonored allowed you to play with powers without making you “Press E to [something]” or using immersion-breaking half-cutscenes every time you do something cool.
All powers worked within the game’s physics and logic. Crossbows and guns, for instance shot actual projectiles, which you could pick up mid-air when you stopped time with Time Bend, or push away with Windblast. The most important power, however? Passive invisiblity while leaning from behind cover!
Candy Crush Saga
|Other exemplars of the concepts:||any number of mobile games with timers and paywalls|
Let the hate flow through you. Your Jedi training did not prepare you for this. But honestly, when you think about it, Candy Crush is sort of a big deal, and I don’t even mean it in a financial sense.
It’s certainly one of the most well-known games out there. True, it’s more of a “Justin Bieber” fame than “The Beatles” fame, but it doesn’t change the fact that Candy Crush Saga is a game with a lasting appeal, mostly because it takes all the hints from Hazard 101.
Call of Juarez: Gunslinger
|Other exemplars of the concepts:||Deadpool had similar fun with the fourth wall|
This game had no business being as fun as it was. And it’s not only because of enjoyable shooting. Gunslinger pushed the limits of how much you can integrate gameplay and story.
Each mission is a tale told by an old bounty hunter, but he’s often called out on his embellishments, so the game changes immediately. Enemies pop into existence or disappear, scenery shifts, or otherwise adjusts to “Not, it’s not how it happened”, all in real time.
The Stanley Parable
|Other exemplars of the concepts:||no clue, let me know if you heard of a game as meta as this one.|
We’re cheating here, because the game originates from a 2011 Half-Life 2 mod, but 2013 saw the full, stand-alone release. What makes it worthwhile?
It’s a game that explores the idea of player agency in video games in a relentlessly funny, sarcastic way. Do what you’re told. Or don’t. The game will address it. And possibly make you hate games which take your freedom of action and choice away.
Divinity: Original Sin
|Other exemplars of the concepts:||Divinity: Original Sin 2, most likely|
Larian has a habit of experimenting. They’ve been making Divinity games since 2002 and every game is different. And their Original Sin is the most sensibly modern way to make a classic RPG.
Bird’s eye view on the full 3D world. Classic-looking, but voice-acted dialogues. Incredible, consistent interactivity of the game world.
D:OS is an amusingly written, brilliantly designed game pushing traditional RPGs into the 21st century.
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
|Genre:||Collectible Card Game|
|Other exemplars of the concepts:||Elder Scrolls Legends, Gwent|
There were some before, mostly adaptations of physical games, but Hearthstone set a new standard and brought CCGs to a broader audience. Don’t ask me how, I don’t get card games.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
|Other exemplars of the concepts:||infuriatingly none|
We’re cheating again, but you can’t talk about 2014 in gaming and not mention the Nemesis system. How no other developer used this concept to some extent is beyond me.
The idea is that everytime your character dies (for a while) at the hands of an orc, the blighter gets promoted and receives a personality. You can then shape him in many way. Make him scared of fire if you defeat him with a fiery explosion, or covered in scars after you sick a beast to savage him. You could effectively shape an entire orc hierarchy this way.
Pillars of Eternity
|Other exemplars of the concepts:||Tyranny, Torment: Tides of Numenera|
The second founding father of RPG Renaissance in video games, after D:OS. This one decided to embrace the legacy of Infinity Engine games.
It has beautiful, static 2D maps, classic ability and spell usage, and interface familiar to everyone who has ever played Baldur’s Gate II or Icewind Dale II.
With a sequel in the works, and two moderately successful (at least critically) traditional RPGs released since, we can safely assume it did some good.
The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt
|Developer:||CD PROJEKT RED|
|Other exemplars of the concepts:||Dragon Age: Inquisition to some extent, albeit with some hiccups in execution|
The third part of Geralt of Rivia’s journey almost overnight became the new measuring stick for… every genre, really, if some fans were to be listened to.
With a bit more seriousness: The Witcher 3 is an excellent game, taking pointers from different genres and formulas to provide a compelling experience. It also respected gamers’ wallets, with a smattering of free DLC and two fair-priced big expansions.
|Other exemplars of the concepts:||Paladins, Battleborn|
Another of Blizzard’s smashing hits, and their first foray into first-person shooter territory. Overwatch distinguishes itself with the steadily growing, diverse roster of heroes with very different abilities and playstyles even within one role category, and a clever level design.
A serving of extra materials expanding the lore (comics, animated shorts) is a welcome bonus. It effectively placed “hero shooters” on the pedestal. Easily one of the most heard-of games of 2016, and not only because of a certain feature of Tracer.
|Developer:||Niantic, The Pokémon Company|
|Other exemplars of the concepts:||Ingress, albeit with a much heavier multiplayer bent|
For a good while it was everywhere. It had some problems like missing or non-functioning features, and uncommunicative developer, but it came through, mostly.
It managed to reach more people than Niantic’s previous game Ingress, and motivate them to walk around, looking for admittedly cute creatures. The craze is dead, but the game is very much alive.
2017 is still going on (and going strong), but there are some games that are worth mentioning already.
|Other exemplars of the concepts:||possibly Mordhau, when it comes out?|
Yeah, the matchmaking, connectivity, and balance were a trainwreck, but For Honor had a solid, engaging, sensible combat system that deserved better support. It was perfectly suited for duels, using a variation of the “rock-paper-scissors” mechanic.
It was all about using one of three stances (abstracted to left, right, top), which informed the direction of your own attack, and which enemy attacks you’ll be able to parry. Much more engaging than counter-fests of Assassin’s Arkham clones, and should be used more.
The year will see some interesting games yet. Absolver sounds like a breakthrough for fighting games, with fully customisable combos. Agents of Mayhem may turn out to be Volition making fun of Overwatch rather than GTA for a change, though still in single player. Original Sin 2 will explore new ways a cooperative story-focused game can be made. You surely have your own picks.
The point is: until January 2018 this spot will remain as TBD. And then we’ll see.
So there you have it. A possibly rage-inducing, unfair, and unjustly incomplete arbitrary selection of some of the most interesting or important games from the last decade. And let me tell you something, after compiling this thing. 2007 was really an epic year for gamers. I hope 2017 will turn out to be just as good. It has the potential.