Holy cow 2019 went by fast. It’s a little hard to accept just how fast this whole decade went by in fact. In the span of ten years, I married the girl I fell in love with, graduated university, bought two homes, had two kids (with a third on the way), turned 30 and worked in more industries than I can count – finally ending up in games! Phew.
Some of the best games I’ve ever played in my life launched during that same period of time, leaving lasting impressions on me that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. I had to think long and hard about the games I was most fond of, and narrowing them down to 10 was impossible. 15? Still too few. 20? Nope. 25 felt right. I struggled a bit with it, but I think I finally settled on a list that reflects the experiences that stuck with me. Let’s get started shall we?
25. Wolfenstein: The New Order
Easily one of the most underrated shooters in the last 10 years, Wolfenstein: The New Order completely took me by surprise. I found its narrative to be quite engaging, eager to see what would happen to that brilliant cast of characters. I cared a lot about BJ, Anya and the rest of the gang. Character performances were well done, the soundtrack was stellar, and best of all – shooting Nazis in the face was the shit.
24. Spec Ops: The Line
Another overlooked gem and one that does so much in terms of storytelling in the video game medium. It actually made me reflect on my ingrained subconscious dismissal of war’s horror in games. It dared to show human barbarism as well as it could as a game and I’ll always appreciate Yager’s decision to subvert the expectations of a shooter.
What Journey lacked in challenge, it more than made up for in artistic beauty, sense of place, mesmerizing visuals and an unforgettable musical score. There was charm and emotion in its story where words weren’t necessary. I’ll always remember sliding across those beautiful glowing sand dunes lit up by the setting sun.
As a huge fan of Limbo, I knew I’d dig Inside. I just didn’t know how much. Playdead created an incredibly eerie and dreadful setting of dystopia. Whether it was the rush of being chased by rabid dogs, surveilled by robots or swimming for your life from some unnatural entity, the world within instilled fear in you. And that ending? Just what the hell man…
21. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
I know, I know…’what the hell is this doing way down here on the list!?’. Hey, I like me some Legend of Zelda, just…not as much as most. I’m a big narrative guy and Zelda games aren’t typically known for that. So while it was sparse on story, it was fantastic in the gameplay department. Even though I despised the weapon degradation system, the combat was fun and punchy. Exploring the world was fairly exciting whether I was climbing up cliff sides or gliding down on my parachute. It was the first Zelda game I’d completed, and I loved it.
In a similar situation to Breath of the Wild, Bloodborne was the first ‘Souls’ game I’d beaten too. I adored it. While I couldn’t quite get into Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls, there was something about Bloodborne that hooked me. The combat was frenetic and more action packed. The dark and desolate Gothic setting was absolutely gorgeous and the level design was sublime. I loved exploring all the different areas and unlocking pathways that all looped back into each other. What a game.
19. Batman: Arkham City
Batman: Arkham Asylum is still my favorite of the Arkham games, but I can’t deny the huge leap in design we saw in Arkham City. The map opened up far beyond Arkham Asylum and flying high over the city as the Bat was pure bliss. Combat was improved upon further, and Hugo Strange was a great villain, as was the rest of the cast of baddies.
18. Marvel’s Spider-Man
A Spider-Man game by Insomniac – a match made in heaven? Yes. Yes it was. This was easily one of the best games I played in 2018. From the adrenaline rush of free-falling off a skyscraper to the chaotic but intuitive combat, it was hard to find anything not to love in here. The story was surprisingly poignant and Insomniac’s take on Peter Parker, Mary Jane, and the rest of the expected cast felt fresh. I can’t wait to see what they do next.
17. Halo Reach
Halo’s one of my favorite series of all time. That’s no secret. Reach carried that torch forward after the incredible Halo 3 and refreshingly different take that was ODST. There was a somber aura surrounding the entire Reach campaign, driven by the knowledge of what comes at the end. Seeing Noble Team picked off one by one to fulfill the mission in front of them actually kind of…hit me hard? It’s difficult to describe, but without them, Halo would have never been discovered. The Covenant would have won. There were so many good moments in Reach that I had to include it here.
16. Gears of War 3
I wanted to put this even higher but regardless…Gears of War 3 earned its spot here. It was great seeing the old cast of characters come together again in what felt like the end of the world. Combat was the smoothest the series had seen up to that point. It was drop dead gorgeous at its time of release. The campaign was insanely varied in locales and design, and there were moments that really got them emotions going, I’ll tell ya. This felt like Epic unshackling the chains and going all out on the Xbox 360.
15. The Wolf Among Us
I loved, loved, loved what Telltale did here. I wasn’t familiar with the Fables license at all before playing The Wolf Among Us, but suffice to say, that wasn’t wholly necessary to appreciate the cool ass world and cast of characters. Bigby might be my favorite Telltale character. I loved the murder mystery tone of the plot, investigating and searching for clues, chatting up the various versions of classic fairy tales and thinking hard on some tough decisions.
14. Horizon Zero Dawn
If you’d told me Guerrilla Games, the studio behind Killzone, would spend ages crafting one of the best third-person RPGs this generation…I’d have called you nuts. But the team pulled it off. Not only did they create a gorgeously massive and detailed open world filled with robot dinos, they also created one of my favorite protagonists in the last decade. Aloy’s charm was in her inquisitive yet stubborn personality. She was endearing as hell, and the story kept me engaged the entire way through. I need the next game. I need it now.
13. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Skyrim was absolutely mind boggling to witness in 2011. Big open worlds weren’t anything new by that point. After games like Oblivion, Red Dead Redemption and GTA IV, a huge sprawling map wasn’t something unheard of. Yet Skyrim felt uniquely vast in feel. I’m not sure if it was the mountainous setting which lent to more vertical environments, but damn that game was huge! The level of detail was staggering and there were so many interesting quest threads to follow. The combat was massively improved over its predecessors, and there was more DLC than you could shake a stick at. It was a monumental achievement and one I thoroughly loved.
12. Dragon Age: Inquisition
Ahh, dearest Dragon Age. It went through some ups and downs. Origins was a masterpiece, and though Dragon Age II was a pretty heavy drop in quality, it was still enjoyable enough to carry the name. BioWare went full throttle with Inquisition. The world was gargantuan in size. While some of the sidequest design left a lot to be desired, the main narrative thread was action packed and had quite a few emotional moments. I loved exploring the different maps and tackling high dragons. Chatting with companion characters was as good as ever and the Trespasser expansion DLC was one of the best pieces of content BioWare’s ever made.
11. Red Dead Redemption
A wild west version of GTA you say? Oh yes, you can bet I was onboard with that. Rockstar knocked that out of the park. Fun missions, a huge open world stuffed with tons of little details, and one of the best stories the studio’s made thus far. John Marston remains one of my favorite Rockstar characters of all time. This is one game I don’t think I’ll forget any time soon.
10. Life is Strange
Life is Strange was a game I’d categorize better as an ‘experience’. That’s not to discount its status as a game, but everything from the amazing relationship dynamic between Max and Chloe, the incredibly tense scenarios or gut wrenching outcomes of some decisions…it was a package of…feelings. I cared about these characters deeply and that’s not something you can easily achieve in the span of a few episodes. Many choices were genuinely hard to navigate and I wanted to see these characters happy and fulfilled in their lives. I’d never, ever felt that way about a game before Life is Strange. It just stuck with me, and I think it always will.
9. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Wrapping up an anthology of games in a critically acclaimed franchise is terrifying, especially when you’re called “Uncharted”. It was a daunting task for the team I’m sure, yet the wizards at Naughty Dog executed it perfectly. Visually stunning, fun to explore and a thrill to play…Uncharted 4 was the ultimate Uncharted experience. While some derided its pacing, I loved it. I enjoy breaks in between the action. Where walking and talking take center stage and you’re able to breathe and take in the sights for a change. The shooting was crunchy as hell and don’t even get me started on the actor performances. I couldn’t believe how well acted every single scene was. Uncharted 4 cemented Nate and Elena as one of my favorite couples in any video game series and ended their story with a perfect, beautiful bow on top. What an unforgettable ride.
8. Dead Space 2
There was no doubt Dead Space 2 would rank in my top 10. While I adored the first game for introducing me to the terrifying world of the Ishimura and Necromorph menace, Dead Space 2 turned everything up to 11. The Sprawl space station was rich in detail and drenched in atmosphere. Whether it was an ominous church dedicated to the worship of the Marker or the creepy hallways of an elementary school, you could slice through the fear with a knife. Necromorphs were even more ghoulish than before and Isaac’s frequent hallucinations effectively marked his descent into madness. This game solidified the series as the cream of the crop in the horror genre.
7. Grand Theft Auto V
There isn’t really much I can say about GTA V that’s not been said before. It’s a monstrous map that Rockstar threw everything and the kitchen sink into and where every inch is ripe with detail. San Andreas serves as one giant playground for the player. Jumping between Michael, Frank and Trevor at any time in the game was an awesome and welcome change of pace for the series. What Rockstar accomplished here on last gen systems was almost inconceivable.
6. Mass Effect 3
When you forget about the damn ending for a minute, you can see what a fantastic experience the other 98% of Mass Effect 3 was. My hype levels had exited the stratosphere by the time launch rolled around. I’d been building up anticipation ever since the original Mass Effect years before and BioWare didn’t disappoint. Watching the inevitable eventuality of the Reapers invading the Milky Way, especially Earth, was an insane sight to behold. Whether is was seeing the Turian homeworld under siege or curing the Krogan genophage, there are too many unforgettable moments to put down in a single paragraph. Yes, the ending was certainly now how I’d imagined things would go down, but that didn’t take away from the incredible ride up to that point.
5. God of War
Not only did Sony Santa Monica reinvent what a God of War game was, they actually redeemed one of the most vile characters in video games. Let’s face it, Kratos is an asshole. The creators behind the IP acknowledge as much. But to construct a story arc that brings out Kratos’ humanity in ways I never anticipated is an accomplishment of its own. There was a never a time where I’d thought I would grow an attachment to Kratos, but there it was. God of War is an epic thrill ride, an emotional tale of a father and son, a frenzied combat bonanza and a cinematic experience of supreme quality. It’s easily the best game in the series and I’m almost getting goosebumps imagining where the team takes it next.
4. Red Dead Redemption II
Monumental. Masterful. Impeccable. Seriously…what words can I use to describe Red Dead Redemption II? I know that can sound a bit hyperbolic but really…the world Rockstar built in this game is nothing short of mind boggling. Almost every NPC can be toyed with. There are spontaneous events that pop up out of nowhere everywhere you go. There’s some of the most captivating performances I’ve ever seen in a game, and the presentation onscreen is unmatched. Arthur Morgan is without a doubt one of my favorite characters of all time. I still don’t understand how the team did it, but they did, and it’s easily the most richly detailed video game I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing.
3. The Last of Us
When I think of video game characters I’ve gotten attached to over the years, Joel and Ellie immediately jump to the forefront of my mind. Their journey is something I’ve replayed multiple times over because of how much thought care into it. There was so much thought put into their personalities, experiences, outlooks on life and desires for their futures. The world of The Last of Us is one of both hopelessness and hope. The pacing was perfect and the gameplay was easy to grasp and intuitive. Though the subject matter wasn’t something we hadn’t seen before, it was executed absolutely perfectly.
2. Mass Effect 2
Even though Mass Effect 2 isn’t my favorite of the original trilogy (the first game still holds that title, don’t kill me!), it’s an extraordinary achievement. BioWare managed to cram a dozen wonderfully acted and well-written companions into a single game, each with their own unique and worthwhile quest lines. Garrus, Grunt, Tali, Legion and so many others…everyone had earned their place. The combat was a tenfold improvement over the first game and the pacing was almost flawless. Chatting up my crew was addictive and I just couldn’t get enough of it. God I loved it so much. It was so, so close to reaching the top for me, and even though Mass Effect remains my favorite IP of all time…there was only one that could challenge Mass Effect 2’s spot for my best game of the decade. I think you know.
1. The Witcher III: Wild Hunt