What a long, strange gaming decade it’s been.
It’s up to future generations to decide what will ultimately define the 2010s, but what we can tell you now is that it was a decade that consisted of some truly great years for gaming.
Which was the best year of them all, though? It’s as subjective as a question of any “best of” query, but we must say that breaking down the gaming decade by years reveals fascinating trends, truly great years, and a few years that were, perhaps, a bit lacking.
At the end of it all, though, here are the best (and worst) years of the last decade of video games.
Notable Games: The Walking Dead, Dishonored, XCOM Enemy Unkown
Well, there were no “awful” years this decade, but this is as close as we came.
Titles like Assassin’s Creed 3, Diablo 3, and Mass Effect 3 were supposed to be the biggest games of the year but (at least initially) proved why the third time isn’t always the charm. The year was “won” by smaller titles like Journey and The Walking Dead as major studios continued to fire blanks throughout 2012.
Notable Games: Resident Evil 2, Death Stranding, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Call it a strange case of recency bias, but this feels like one of the worst years of the gaming decade.
Part of the problem is that most developers seem to be firmly focused on the next generation of gaming. That means that we ended up with quite a few “leftover” and “placeholder” titles. There were plenty of games that managed to exceed expectations (such as Control), but Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony all felt like they were spinning their wheels.
Notable Games: Destiny, Wolfenstein: The New Order, Mario Kart 8
2014 was a year of very good games, but it was severely lacking in truly great ones.
Even in a relatively “bad” year, though, you had a few sleeper hits like Wolfenstein: New Order, South Park: The Stick of Truth, and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter grab more of the spotlight than they otherwise may have. Still, this year needed one ore two more best of the decade contenders in order to be elevated above “ok.”
Notable Games: Overwatch, Uncharted 4, DOOM
There’s a valid argument to be made that 2016 should be slightly lower on the list, but a host of smaller games released this year elevate it above its competition.
From Stardew Valley and Superhot to Darkest Dungeon and Firewatch, this was one of those years that encouraged people to explore beyond the latest major releases. This was also the year that Pokemon GO managed to become a fascinating (if brief) phenomenon.
Notable Games: Red Dead Redemption 2, God of War, Spider-Man
2018 manages to catch your retrospective eye via an intimidating steady release of very good to great games.
The year was clearly won by Sony who unleashed the year’s two best exclusives (God of War and Spider-Man) within a relatively short frame of time. Elsewhere, Red Dead Redemption 2 proved to be much more than more of the same while Tetris Effect and Beat Saber put us all in a hypnotic state.
Notable Games: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Dark Souls, Portal 2
Well, you’re certainly never going to argue against a year that featured those three titles you see above. That’s three top-tier best of the decade contenders released in a single year.
The supporting games of this year weren’t necessarily as strong as we see elsewhere on this list, but games like L.A. Noire, Dead Space 2, Deus Ex: Human Revolution certainly helped fill the gaps between three of the best games ever made.
Notable Games: The Witcher 3, Bloodborne, Rocket League
While not the deepest year in terms of its top-to-bottom game lineup, 2015 boasts some of the absolute best games of the decade.
The Witcher 3 set an almost impossible bar for RPGs, Bloodborne altered the Dark Souls formula in incredible ways, Rocket League took the world by storm, Undertale caught everyone by surprise, and Destiny: The Taken King showed the power of that franchise’s best concepts. Just a great overall year.
Notable Games: BioShock: Infinite, Grand Theft Auto V, The Last of Us
You obviously can’t ignore a year that saw both GTA V and The Last of Us hit store shelves, but 2013 also happened to boast some of the decade’s more fascinating surprise title.
Papers, Please forced everyone to change their ideas of what social commentary in gaming could be while Gone Home ignited a debate about what constitutes a video game that rages on to this day. Elsewhere, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon became a beloved piece of purely enjoyable gaming, Outlast helped reshape the horror genre, and Path of Exile and DOTA 2 laid the foundation for great things to come.
Notable Games: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, Horizon Zero Dawn
The fact this isn’t the runaway year of the decade says more about the next year on this list than it does about 2017’s overall quality.
Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, Cuphead, Fortnite, Horizon Zero Dawn, Resident Evil 7, Hollow Knight, Sonic Mania…this is one of those years where it felt like a great game was being released on a near-weekly basis.
Notable Games: Minecraft, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Red Dead Redemption
2010’s place atop this list isn’t just about the quality of games released during that year. It’s more about the diversity of great games.
Minecraft truly hit the scene and changed how games are perceived, shared, and played for the rest of the decade. StarCraft II was finally released and proved to be something of a swan song for the RTS genre (at least as we knew it). Red Dead Redemption set the standard for Western games. Fallout: New Vegas and Mass Effect 2 got us to raise our expectations for the modern RPG, and Super Meat Boy alerted us to the incoming age of the indies.
2010 showed us that the future was going to be as exciting as it proved to be.