While it might be hard to hear it, we are now nearly two whole years into the current decade. Two. Whole. Years. Now, if you’re looking for a way to process that information — or simply want to soak in some nostalgia to escape it — I’ve got just the way to do it: a good ol’ fashioned retrospective.
Now that we are two years out, it’s the perfect time to look back upon the 2010s with newfound clarity and round up all the best things the decade had to offer. As it turns out, when it comes to games, it offered a lot. In the 2010s, we saw the creation of the Nintendo Switch and the rise of the “narrative-driven PlayStation exclusive.” We watched developers craft up bold new takes on our most cherished series, and got the chance to sit down with new stories that somehow already feel like classics. In short, it was a great decade for gaming, and if you don’t believe me, I’ve got a list of 20 games right here to back it up and maybe even get you a bit misty-eyed.
Oh, but before we get to that, let’s touch on just how I settled on these 20 games. When it comes to how this list was rounded up, I turned to trusty, aggregate review site Metacritic for aid. You see, while I absolutely could create my own personal list of the top 20 games of the 2010s, it felt most fair to turn to what both the critics and fans were saying to compile a list that won’t exclude any important titles I never got around to playing. So, now that we’ve got that cleared up, here’s a complete list of the 20 most well-reviewed games of the 2010s! As always, feel free to comment on what games you think are missing or shouldn’t have made the cut.
20. Persona 4 Golden (2012, 93%)
While the original Persona 4 was released in 2008, Golden (it’s enhanced edition) is absolutely worth the spot on this list because, quite simply, no one does enhanced editions like Atlus. Whereas many times a re-release of a game means it looks a bit better, some cool skins were thrown in, and a couple of hours of content were tacked on to its ending, Golden offers fans a massive expansion with in-game months of new content, a new character, two new “social links,” added voice actors, and several quality of life changes. It’s also thanks to Golden that the Persona series gained a ton more traction in the United States, directly contributing to how well Persona 5 performed over here. For those who’ve yet to dabble into the Japanese RPG series, if you like turn-based combat, time management sims, fantastic murder mystery stories, making life-altering choices, romance, and anime, this is me urging you to get on it.
19. Minecraft (2011, 93%)
Long before kids were doing Fortnite dances and accusing each other of being “sus” in Among Us, there was Minecraft. A cultural behemoth, the blocky survival-adventure game is the best-selling video game of all time and is somehow still incredibly popular and relevant. Don’t believe me? Check YouTube. Or Twitch. Or walk into just about any store selling children’s toys. I mean hell, as recently as last year, Microsoft reported the game hit 126 million active users in a month, which, just to put it into perspective, is about 123 million more than even the most popular MMOs. The game is actually so popular, it is now utilized in schools to teach chemistry and computer science. If there is one game on this list that has to go down and perhaps the most culturally significant, it’s gotta be Minecraft.
18. Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty (2010, 93%)
Time to crack open the spreadsheets folders because we’re going to talk about Starcraft for a second. A science-fiction, real-time strategy game famous for, well, being complicated as hell, Starcraft has earned itself a cult following with Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty being particularly loved by its fans. While the game was criticized for not having some of the features the first game had, overall it marked a massive improvement in terms of storytelling and overall gameplay in the series. If you love tactical thinking and a good space setting abundant in its own history and lore, Starcraft is definitely worth trying — though don’t blame me if it turns your hair grey.
Of course, what would any gaming list be without the inclusion of the one-and-only Mario? While a remaster of this game was just released earlier this year on Nintendo Switch, it’s definitely worth noting just how great the original game was when it hit the WiiU back in 2013. The first multiplayer 3D Mario title, Super Mario 3D Land was a brilliant and chaotic new direction for the series that — while not as revolutionary as some of the later Mario games on this list — offered fans a unique experience and a really enjoyable time.
If you’re a pen-and-paper RPG fan, Divinity: Original Sin II was made for you. The tactical, action RPG that allows you to play with up to three other people as you traverse a fantasy land has been praised for just how well it gets fantasy and what makes a good session of a game like Dungeons and Dragons so compelling. If you’re a fan of games like Diablo and are looking for something somewhat similar to play with friends, you’ll find Divinity: Original Sin II is a similar-yet-different take on the concept that you might love just as much as all the folks who gave it so much praise it wound up on this list.
The third title in the Bioshock series, Bioshock Infinite completely shifts away from the sunken city of Rapture and takes us up to the stunning, sky-high city of Columbia. However, despite this change in scenery, the game still maintains its predecessor’s efforts to question everything — most of all our morality and free will. Bioshock Infinite seeks to be an examination of American exceptionalism and its dangers, and while it sometimes stumbles in its studies, the overall experience is interesting and undeniably fun to play.
13. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D (2011, 94%)
While it does feel a bit odd to include a game from 1998 on this list, it ranks too high and is far enough apart from the original to where it still feels right to include it. Plus, it’s honestly just a really fantastic game. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is widely regarded as the Legend of Zelda game all fans of the series should — and probably already have — played. The first 3D title in the series, the game revolutionized what The Legend of Zelda was at the time, and also went on to inspire the entire genre of action-adventure games, including creating the target-lock system. In 2011, Nintendo re-released the game on the Nintendo 3DS, allowing a whole new generation to get a chance to play the series which, on top of being groundbreaking at the time, has some incredibly fun bosses, level designs, and a really fun time travel mechanic that just doesn’t get old.
12. Batman: Arkham City (2011, 94%)
While superhero games weren’t always known for being the best in terms of quality, quite a few in the past decade have turned that reputation around a bit, most notably Batman’s Arkham series. Arkham City is the second title in the series, and follows a dying Batman as he takes on the Joker one last time, which, yes, they do say a lot but is actually true in this case. What makes this game so impressive is the number of twists and genuinely great story beats it has, along with its list of cameos that will leave DC fans more than satisfied with the amount of time they can and presumably will sink into it. Furthermore, the freedom to fly around a stylish Gotham, taking down baddies, picking up collectibles, solving puzzles, and listening to a fantastic soundtrack as you do so, is both incredibly liberating and immersive. Oh, and another plus, while the map size and side quests make Arkham City an open-world game that offers a lot, it doesn’t feel wildly overwhelming — which is a huge bonus for people desperate to completely clear their map, such as myself.
11. God of War (2018, 94%)
While there are a lot of games on this list that are a part of a larger series, none of them completely reshaped their franchise the way 2018’s God of War did. The first God of War games, released from 2005 to 2010, were hack-and-slash adventures that followed the story of the vengeful demigod Kratos as he slaughtered the Greek pantheon, and were honestly pretty vulgar and brutish. God of War 2018, however, ditched those qualities in favor of creating a more traditional and refined AAA experience similar to Red Dead Redemption or The Last of Us. While still brutal and centered around the idea of vengeance, the latest God of War follows an older Kratos and his son, Atreus, shortly after the death of his second wife. As they make their way to spread her ashes from the highest peak in the nine realms, Kratos is dragged once again into godly conflict — though this time, the Gods are Norse and his son is involved.
10. Portal 2 (2011, 95%)
If you think Monopoly or Mario Kart are the best games for testing your relationship, clearly you haven’t played Portal 2 — and you should fix that, because it’s fantastic. A lesson in physics, logic, and, if you’re playing cooperatively, teamwork, Portal 2 is a puzzle-platformer heralded for its cleverness. However, while the game is pretty straight-forward, self-contained, and quite frankly small in scope compared to the vast majority of this list, it doesn’t stop it from also having memorable characters, moments, quotes (“The cake is a lie?” Yeah, it’s from Portal), songs, and an interesting story drenched in dark humor. If you want a game that’ll frustrate you, make you laugh, and make you feel like an absolute genius all within the span of fifteen minutes, you gotta try Portal 2.
9. Red Dead Redemption (2010, 95%)
Created by Rockstar, the powerhouse studio behind the Grand Theft Auto series, Red Dead Redemption is a big-budget, action-adventure game that quickly rose to fame for both its beauty on screen as well as on paper, and defied fans’ expectations for the company in a pretty major way. Set in America’s “wild west,” Red Dead Redemption tells the tragic tale of John Marston and the gang of cowboys he calls family, and is widely-regarded as one of the best stories in games. However, that’s not all it has going for it. Despite the game’s hyper-focus on its narrative, it also offers players an open-world experience that is populated by random events they can take part in, with their actions ultimately dictating their overall morality as well as how big of a bounty they have on their head. For those looking for a title that captures the feeling of a movie but still has an appreciation for fun gameplay, Red Dead Redemption is pretty high on the “must-play” list.
8. The Last of Us (2013, 95%)
And speaking of games with extremely tragic stories, this list wouldn’t be complete without The Last of Us. The game follows a father named Joel and a young girl named Ellie as they traverse the end of times in search of a cure for the disease that destroyed humanity. It’s a heartbreaking, brutal, and sometimes frustrating story about the best and worst things we do for love that takes inspiration from some of the bleakest post-apocalyptic science-fiction and is sure to make you shed a few tears. And hey, the good news is, if you’re not planning on getting around to this one anytime soon, a television series based on the game is currently in the works over on HBO.
7. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011, 96%)
Ah, Skyrim. The game so nice, they ported it, well, on just about everything. Largely considered one of the greatest open-world games of all time, the high-fantasy RPG is renowned for the amount of freedom it gives players to exist and be whomever they’d like to be in a world full of magic, secrets, and, of course, dragons. While it feels extremely safe to say the main quest-line in Skyrim doesn’t hold close to the same amount of reverence as a lot of the titles on this list, Skyrim just isn’t really about that and that’s become something fans embrace. Whereas games as a whole have grown more “cinematic,” polished, and fairly linear as time goes on, Skyrim is a wide-open and sometimes-buggy sandbox folks simply love playing in — and what’s wrong with that?
6. Mass Effect 2 (2010, 96%)
As a studio, BioWare has become known for creating immersive RPGs set in brilliantly thought-out worlds, inhabited by compelling characters, and completely driven by player choice — and arguably none of their titles does any of this better than Mass Effect 2. In Mass Effect, you play as Commander Shephard, a tiny human in a vast universe who, with the help of a team of misfit allies, must save it. While each game in the series has an incredible story that runs throughout them all, what sets Mass Effect 2 apart from the other two entries in the series, is just how important that team of misfit allies becomes to you in it. While it boasts the largest party of all the games, it also feels the most intimate — allowing you to take on “loyalty missions” to better understand your team’s motivations, fears, and struggles as you grow closer to them. Relationships are key in this game, and if you don’t nurture them or make choices they agree with, it’ll cost you.
5. Super Mario Odyssey (2017, 97%)
For whatever reason, I have unfortunately only sunk a few hours into Super Mario Odyssey, and I say this only to emphasize how much it stuck with me regardless of how long I spent with it. Despite only playing for a brief period of time, I still get songs from Odyssey stuck in my head, recall fun mechanics, or think of how lush one of the game’s many locations looked. Everything about it is simply infectious, but like, in a sugary, dazzling way. Super Mario Odyssey is a game brimming with life and Nintendo charm and has so many different concepts and mechanical gimmicks it’s a ton of fun to play regardless of if you’re generally more of a 2D Mario fan. Now, the last thing I’ll say is that those of you Nintendo fans who are bummed Mario didn’t make it even higher on this list… I wouldn’t be sweating it.
4. Grand Theft Auto V (2014, 97%)
Grand Theft Auto feels like a series that needs no introduction because chances are you’ve either played it or have heard some of the constant controversy that surrounds the mature series. However, GTAV does deserve to be talked about because it’s one of the beloved games of the last decade, and for good reason. Grand Theft Auto V is what happens when a developer takes all the best pieces from their catalog of games and crafts them into exactly what their demographic is looking for. It has the realism and social commentary of previous entries in the series, the absurd nature of titles like The Bully, GTA: Vice City, and GTA: San Andreas, and, best of all, places them all in an engaging, story-filled sandbox that they clearly learned how to make when working on Red Dead Redemption. It’s a game for Rockstar fans, and Rockstar shows them even more love with the frequent updates the game is still getting.
3. Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018, 97%)
If you read that previous excerpt on the first Red Dead and are pretty shocked its sequel somehow topped it, you have to understand that most fans find 2 did all the same things one did, but better. Set before the events of Red Dead Redemption, Red Dead 2 is an emotional slow-burn set in a hyper-realistic world with unparalleled — and at times straight-up baffling — attention to detail. In the game, you play primarily as Arthur Morgan, and get the unique opportunity to watch how his story directly leads to the downfall of John Marston. Much like any good Western, Red Dead Redemption 2 examines the themes of loyalty and honor — and raises the question of just when a person should stick to their guns, both literally and metaphorically.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017, 97%)
When you decide to completely revamp a beloved series with over 30 years of history, there’s a whole lot of pressure to get it right. Luckily for Nintendo, they nailed it. In the few years since its release, Breath of the Wild has become heralded as one of the greatest Legend of Zelda games of all time — which is no easy feat when you think of just how many titles in the series weigh in with nearly perfect scores. In Breath of the Wild, Nintendo shook off the series’ more linear formula in favor of creating a vast, open-world adventure, and while it was a major departure from what we had come to expect, it still feels like home sweet Hyrule and captures a similar feeling to what the earliest titles in the series inspired.
1. Super Mario Galaxy 2 (2010, 97%)
When it comes to who reigns supreme in gaming, does anyone really beat out the man in the little red hat? In typical Mario fashion, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is vibrant, fun, and full of cool ideas that push the series forward. However, in Galaxy 2, that “push forward” is actually more of a cosmic leap, and helped elevate the franchise to new heights, literally! While the game is decidedly more streamlined than Galaxy was, the physics-based 3D platformer is packed with all the “aha” moments its predecessor was missing when exploring space and its various planets. In addition, new power-ups, lush and dynamic environments, and even Yoshi were added into the second entry of the space-filled series and made it overall a ton more fun to play. Despite their differences, you can truly start to see where Odyssey started from when playing Galaxy 2, and considering they’re both on this list, that’s definitely a good thing.