When you look back at a decade, you suddenly start to realise the extent of time that it was. Thinking of myself 10 years ago as a confused and awkward teen with his only worry being maths homework is a surreal thing when I compare it to my life now. A great many things happened in these past 10 years. Many tragedies, many heartbreaks, many triumphs and a whole heck of a lot of gaming.
Gaming has been the only constant in my life and through all the silly trends and experiences on the way to maturity, gaming was always the perfect distraction to take me away from this confused and often frightening world of ours. It was an oasis, a refuge, away from so many things that brought me fear and comforted me by giving me a majestic reality to escape from my own.
The past 10 years have been a privilege to be a part of and we’ve seen such a rapid evolution of gaming during this time. I’m here to share my personal top 10 games, but you can be sure that the list extends way past just double digits. These were just the games that stuck with me the most. And you’re lucky I didn’t just put down The Witcher 3 10 times because I totally would have done that.
10. Mass Effect 3 (2012)
The Mass Effect series and I have come a really long way together. The first game came out before the time when you instantly knew that something was good and there was this innocent discovery of something truly remarkable. I did seven playthroughs of the first game. No skipped quests and no codex entry left unturned. I was just enthralled by it.
I’m going to cheat a little and lump Mass Effect 2 and 3 together for this entry. Both had their strengths and have special places in my heart, but the Mass Effect series as a whole had a profound impact on my life. It’s the first time narratives in videogames really started to grab me and as you can see from the rest of my list, I now prefer storytelling over everything else. Mass Effect was the catalyst for that. Also, Tali is best girl, fight me.
9. The Last of Us (2013)
Coming off the tail end of the last generation, The Last of Us arrived to show us just how far gaming has come. No longer were we perfect heroes out to save the world, we were stuck confronting our inner demons. It brought a maturity to gaming narratives in such a gorgeously sculpted way that it grabbed my attention and fought tooth and nail to not let go of it.
I loved everything about The Last of Us. The stressful and impactful combat, the beautiful moments interspersed with all the tragedy, the people we fought against and met along the way and the astounding relationship of Ellie and Joel. I cried like a little girl multiple times and that’s usually my barometer for when a game is truly good.
8. BioShock Infinite (2013)
BioShock Infinite was one of the few games that consistently caused me to be speechless. The story ventured into so many untouched territories with its sobering look at things like race relations, the dangers of a cult of personality and the seedier side of religion. It’s a game that pushed boundaries and did it with enough care that its song always resonated with you.
The combat is often the thing most criticised, but I didn’t mind it and I was instead focused on having my head in the clouds and experiencing a story of mind-bending proportions. Its finale is still a sticking point in my head and every so often I remember the bright spark of genius that was this game and get filled with joy.
7. Grand Theft Auto V (2013)
Grand Theft Auto V was an event. The game steamrolled every record that was in place for a game release and it felt like the world had a fever for this crazy crime extravaganza. It’s since become the most profitable entertainment product ever and has persisted through the almost seven years since its release. Often you could look at sales charts and the game would still be on top and it takes something really special to manage that.
Grand Theft Auto V combined a gigantic detailed world with a three-way story full of violence, revenge, insanity and a whole lot of robbing. I played the game mercilessly when it first released and lost a chunk of my life to the online portion as well which is still going strong to this day. It’s a gaming colossus that has managed to not only stand the test of time but flourish in it and that’s truly remarkable.
6. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)
Liking Skyrim today almost feels cliche and you can argue that many other open-world titles far surpassed it in scope and quality. But man, I cannot escape the memory of first getting my hands on this game. It launched in the middle of my final high school exam and I sacrificed an uncomfortable amount of studying to keep on exploring this frozen world full of dragons and people shouting all the time.
I spent an embarrassing amount of time playing Skyrim and looking back on it, I only remember it fondly. It was just so easy to lose yourself in the world. I often just picked a direction to walk in and adventures would always follow. Looking at Skyrim with a modern lens, there is a lot that can be criticised, but this was the game that capped off my adolescence and that nostalgic rush of excitement I felt when I camped out in front of a game store on release day has a very special place in my heart.
5. NieR: Automata (2017)
The strength of NieR: Automata lies in its eccentricities, of which it has a staggering amount. The tale of androids fighting for a ruined Earth was one thing, but the sheer complexity and nuance of its narrative was something to behold. It’s a game that you need to finish at least three times to get the bigger picture and when you do, all your expectations get subverted and you’re left gobsmacked.
NieR: Automata was so different in how it handled pretty much everything. The game would change genres on a dime and throw you into these surprise scenarios that often left you flustered but always engaged. It was so different and the way the story unfolded is something that we’ve never ever seen before in gaming narratives. Something as unique as that should be celebrated.
4. God of War (2018)
God of War struck several personal cords with me. I don’t have a father anymore and to see this fantastical tale of father and son unfold was remarkably poignant and impactful. It gave me a glimpse of something I will never have and I’m happy that the game granted me that experience. Not only that, I’ve always been a huge fan of Norse mythology ever since I was a boy and being able to recognise all the names and have them have such beautiful manifestations was a dream.
God of War kept me hooked right from the start screen to when I got its platinum trophy. It kept that consistent quality throughout and I would be hard-pressed to point out anything that comes close to a lull. If I have a son, you can bet good money that I will call him boy and he’ll love it.
3. Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018)
Like with GTA V, Rockstar set the bar for what gaming can accomplish with Red Dead Redemption 2. I’ve never laid eyes on a world as detailed as this and I honestly think it’ll be a long time before I do again. The slower pace often leaves people divided, but I’m one of those people who doesn’t mind taking things slow. It grants the game time to build things up and really colour in the world until it reaches this wonderful point of catharsis that takes your breath away.
The sheer amount of detail in this Western epic is unrivalled and the story was so carefully planned out and executed that Hollywood would be smart to take some notes. For weeks after I finished the game, I still kept calling everyone feller and secretly wishing I also had a horse called Hela. I told you I was into Norse mythology.
2. Persona 5 (2016)
Persona 5 was a big part of my life and I mean that literally because I spent upwards of 300 hours on it. And even though that is an extreme amount of time, it still felt like 300 hours too little. Persona 5 is a masterpiece and even knowing the severity of such a claim, I will always stand by it. The characters felt like true friends to me and thinking back on the memories made with them, I revere them the same as someone nostalgically looking back at that one wonderful summer of love and self-discovery.
It’s a game that wasn’t afraid to tackle the ugly in our society and things we often look away from were made tangible in the game’s mind-bending Palaces. It’s an emotional trip through so many things that are part of the human experience, both the good and the bad. It also did all that with such overwhelming style in everything from the lavish Phantom Thieves outfits to the UI. The soundtrack is also one that slaps so hard that even though I heard the battle theme approximately a million times, I still jam out to it. Persona 5 really stole my heart.
1. The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt (2015)
And here we are, the inevitability. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love The Witcher 3 and I’ve confidently called it the best game of all time on numerous occasions and meant every word of it. Often I think I’m going a bit overboard with my fanboying and that the game probably wasn’t as much of a revelation as I think it was. Then I just think back to when I played it and all that hesitation dissolves faster than a Nekker in Bullvore vomit.
The Witcher 3 was phenomenal in every way. The richness of its dark fantasy storytelling is still unmatched and every character, big or small, was written with such laser-focused intent that it was almost impossible not to be enthralled. The open-world was full of adventure and deep, meaningful quests that would often rival other contemporary stories even if they’re just considered side-quests.
The storytelling was the obvious standout feature and each emotion on the spectrum was explored with so much care being put into the smallest facets. It’s a game that is unbelievable and it’s one that I will forever cherish in my heart and each day I wish I can erase its memory from my mind and experience its brilliance again. Best game of the decade? It wasn’t even a contest.