As this extraordinary decade draws to a close, we decided it was time to make a list of the 100 best games of the past 10 years. You know how these things go, so we’ll keep the explanation brief.
We began with a long list of around 300 games that team members nominated. Then we individually voted for the 50 we most wanted to see in the list. After we tallied the votes, we gathered together to sort out the unholy mess, and to argue the merits and faults of the top 150.
After a surprisingly calm and erudite discussion, we agreed on the following list. It is, by its nature, a compromise, but it’s the best we’ve got.
For criteria, we gave ourselves a lot of latitude. Most importantly, this list represents games that Polygon’s team members have enjoyed playing the most, and still admire. Most of these games either significantly advanced the art and craft of game design in the past 10 years, or innovated in the specific context of their genre.
Some of them represent wider shifts in gaming culture in the last decade, including esports, games as a service, representation, streaming, and the rise of indies. We wanted to present a list that represents how games have forged an ever more intimate relationship between the player and the experience. Here we go!
It’s almost impossible to imagine a game like Virginia appearing in the years prior to this past decade. It’s a story about two women detectives who are searching for a missing teenage boy. The women are professional rivals.
This is a game that’s just two hours long, and features no dialogue, yet it has more to say than the vast majority of 40-hour games. Virginia explores how women in the workplace are undermined by patriarchal power structures, including divide-and-conquer strategies. It’s a work of creative courage that tells a deeply engaging story about friendship, loyalty, betrayal, and identity. It’s also a valuable example of how, in the last few years, game developers have embraced complex political and social issues.
99. Life Is Strange
In the early part of this century, the question of whether or not games could make us cry was one that exercised plenty of convention panels. In those days, examples of genuine emotionally charged games were certainly extant, but they were rare. These days, we’re seeing more games that tug at our feelings.
Life Is Strange is a game that places players at the very center of complicated, layered relationships, between friends, enemies, colleagues, and family. It’s a puzzle game with heavy narrative/plot directional choices that makes merry with time-travel dynamics, while keeping its focus on lead characters Max and Chloe, whose feelings become a part of a compelling episodic drama.
98. Slay the Spire
Slay the Spire is a small indie game, but it challenged the collectible card game business by creating an ever-changing dungeon for players to battle through without fear of failure.
Hearthstone bred frustration in players for over five years, with its deck-building complexities. But Slay the Spire offered a perfect safe place to learn how to build a deck on your own. As we’ve traveled up and down Slay the Spire’s titular tower, we’ve learned more about building a card game deck than any CCG’s ever been able to teach us.
97. Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Fire Emblem: Awakening is perhaps the game that, ahem, reawakened the tactical role-playing franchise, but it is Fire Emblem: Three Houses that represents a masterful culmination of the series. The game draws on the aspects that made Awakening appealing (the focus on individual characters, robust support conversations, and, yes, romantic relationships), but fine-tuned the failed experiments of Fire Emblem: Fates (the branching narratives, the gray morality, and the devastating results of turning on your friends).
Three Houses crafts a hefty narrative, four separate routes within one game — none of which are presented as solely “good,” but instead all with varying shades of gray. It’s different from the very clear black-and-white morality of Awakening, but offers the whole experience in one game (unlike the two-separate-titles-plus-DLC Fates). While not as tactically difficult as previous titles, Three Houses marks the franchise’s firm step into RPG territory.
96. Super Mario Maker
As an online video game, Super Mario Maker showcases Nintendo’s empathy for the creativity and fandom of its followers. It’s essentially a level creator for Super Mario games, but it’s also a multiplayer game.
Watching players feud through Mario Maker, creating levels meant to strike at another’s weaknesses, and seeing those players ultimately triumph is a highlight from this decade. Super Mario Maker changed the streaming game by allowing viewers to create an endless stream of content for their favorite personalities.
Cuphead took the modern trend of difficult games and married it to a brilliant art style. It evolved 2D action shooters like Contra and Metal Slug by focusing mostly on boss fights.
The game is hard, and a clear response to FromSoftware’s legacy of infinitely frustrating titles like Dark Souls. But difficulty isn’t enough to make any game interesting. Instead of leaning on complex mechanics or slow animations, Cuphead offers an unmistakable art style to keep things fresh, pushing the player forward in anticipation of the next visual revelation.
94. What Remains of Edith Finch
Giant Sparrow’s What Remains of Edith Finch is a beautiful meditation on family ties — most notably, the secrets we keep from the people we love in an effort to keep them safe — and the capacity of grief to linger across generations.
While the Finches may be more cursed than the Kennedys, the game’s economical writing walks a tightrope between farcical and maudlin, never falling into either one. And it all comes to life in a dilapidated, gorgeously realized house that somehow feels simultaneously like a video gamey setting and a real place.
93. Total War: Three Kingdoms
Developer Creative Assembly has been plugging away at its historical-strategy series Total War since 2000, with various degrees of critical and commercial success. Three Kingdoms represents a peak in the company’s often experimental attempts to recreate the power structures of the past.
As well as its trademark real-time battleground strategy elements, Three Kingdoms manages to create a believable network of AI allies and enemies, whose shifting wants and needs constantly tax the player’s skills as an ancient Chinese warlord. The game creates a web of intrigue that brings the real challenges of historical leadership to life, augmenting a genre that has often suffered from tactical rock-paper-scissors simplicity.
92. Device 6
Developer Simogo has quietly created hit after hit. This year’s Sayonara Wild Hearts is a trippy rhythm game. Adventure game Year Walk explored Swedish folklore. The Sailor’s Dream was a meditative narrative mystery. And Device 6 is a Bond-tinged puzzle game. Each Simogo title is relentlessly stylish, and visually distinct from the others.
Device 6 uses screen rotation and sound cues to create a hybrid book/audiobook/visual novel/puzzle/spy thriller. A typical screen might look like an ebook, but with a tiny picture embedded in it that moves when you scroll, like a window into the game’s world. Nothing looks quite like it, and nothing plays quite like it. Frankly, it’s a masterpiece.
91. The Walking Dead
Telltale was formed in 2004, with the aim of creating episodic games that would be eagerly awaited by fans. The company’s brief flowering came and went with its biggest success, The Walking Dead, between 2012 and 2018.
The first season was its biggest hit, telling the story of a man (rare in games, an African-American lead) who seeks to save a young girl from a zombie apocalypse. During the game, players solve simple puzzles while making difficult moral choices that affect the story.
The Walking Dead finished its first season with a dramatic high that left many players in a state of emotional turmoil. But Telltale’s brief success was marred by another phenomenon of the last decade: mismanagement and crunch. The company was wound up in 2018.
90. Resident Evil 7
After Resident Evil 4, Capcom led the legendary horror franchise down an increasingly ridiculous road of betrayals, clones, and infected presidents. Resident Evil 7 took a hard turn off that track, into welcome new territory.
Its protagonist is just a guy looking for his wife; the armies of zombies have been replaced by one spooky family with moldy minions; and the action movie set-pieces are gone in favor of one sprawling, creepy Louisiana estate.
This reset works to tremendous effect. There are individual elements that tie the world together, creating a suffocating atmosphere of terror — from small touches like the VHS tapes to big swings like the Baker family matriarch and her jumps between kindly host and single-minded, hysterical murder.
Less is more, and Resident Evil 7 cuts the franchise down dramatically before expertly executing on a damn fine tale of navigating and exploring a family estate that’s gone straight to hell.
89. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
When it first arrived, Shadow of Mordor felt like an Assassin’s Creed-style game set in Tolkien’s world of orcs and elves. But it came with a key innovation: the nemesis system.
Players take on the role of The Ranger, who spends his days infiltrating orc strongholds and ambushing orcs in the field. But if he fails to defeat certain enemies, they become stronger, and they acquire a nasty grudge against The Ranger.
This pleasing dynamic gives an otherwise competent action-adventure the bonus of drama, character, and personality, as variously vile orcs take their turn in the narrative limelight.
88. Monster Hunter: World
Monster Hunter is one of those franchises that is as strange as it is popular. It’s a series with a satisfying, beautifully animated combat system, a vast bestiary of inventive monsters, a compelling gear grind, and loads of personality. There are little cat men called “Palicoes.” One of the weapons is a war hammer that you play like a bagpipe. It’s so damn good.
Monster Hunter: World takes everything great about the franchise and polishes it up, while sanding down the rough, archaic bits that have scared away newcomers. It’s still a big, dense, difficult mess, but it’s your best shot at seeing what all the fuss is about.
Control, from developer Remedy Entertainment, is weird, confusing, and beautiful. As we said in our review, “being lost is a feature, not a bug.” Being lost is part of the draw, in particular, because of Control’s setting: the Oldest House.
The beauty in the Oldest House’s built-up and ever-changing Brutalist architecture is that everything can be broken down and torn out. Main character Jesse Faden has powers that allow her to telekinetically pick up and throw nearly anything in the area, which is a thrilling juxtaposition to the pristine, bold lines of the building.
86. Kim Kardashian: Hollywood
This was a decade of mobile games unapologetically tailored toward young women. Before Choices: Stories You Play, before The Arcana, before Mystic Messenger, before all these other successful mobile games for girls, there was Kim Kardashian: Hollywood.
While not a visual novel like the other specified titles, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood was perhaps the biggest indication that a mobile game for girls could be successful. Naysayers scoffed at the idea of a Kim Kardashian game. But within five days of its 2014 launch, it had already made $1.6 million.
It’s delicious, campy fun — the player moves to Los Angeles and is greeted by Kim K., who takes them under her wing as they rise in fame. It’s the drama of celebrities, the allure of playing dress-up, the glamour of Hollywood. More importantly, it paved the way for a whole genre of games that didn’t exist for easy consumption before this decade.
85. FTL: Faster Than Light
I’ve played FTL: Faster Than Light hundreds of times and still never won the damned thing. But I don’t care, because dying in this pausable puzzle game is always a joy.
At first glance, FTL looks like something of a microgame. Just get your little spaceship from point A to point B and you’re done. Playing FTL as much as I have, however, I’ve come to marvel at its subtle intricacies.
Every one of its ship designs is the best, and each one of their systems is vital to survival. Trouble is, there’s never enough of anything — including time — to go around. I think I just talked myself into downloading it again, didn’t I?
84. Flappy Bird
In the middle part of the decade, Flappy Bird was the most downloaded game on the iTunes App Store. At its peak, it was earning creator Dong Nguyen $50,000 a day in advertising revenue.
It’s a game of extreme simplicity. Players navigate a bird past a series of pipes, and that’s about the sum of the game’s activities. Its success mainly comes down to its familiarity — the art style evokes Super Mario Bros. This is an unashamedly derivative work that nonetheless offers comfort through simplicity, and a feedback loop that soon becomes addictive.
Indeed, at the height of its fame, Nguyen pulled Flappy Bird from mobile stores, saying that he thought people were spending too much time on the game.
83. Papers, Please
Bad guys have been staples of video games since the first aliens invaded our space. Mostly, their motivations go unquestioned.
But Papers, Please is a story about how we are all vulnerable to performing evil acts and, in the right circumstances, capable of being villains.
Players take on the role of a border guard working for a totalitarian regime. The entire game centers on civilians passing through the border. Players inspect paperwork and behavioral patterns, on the lookout for terrorists and political opponents of the regime. Catching them secures food for the player’s family, but who is a terrorist, and who is simply an innocent person looking for a better life?
82. XCOM 2: War of the Chosen
Firaxis’ XCOM: Enemy Unknown launched way back in 2012, treating fans of turn-based tactics to a AAA version of the game they’d loved since the original was released in 1994. Even more spectacular than the graphical upgrade, however, was the addition of controller support that literally makes the game faster to play.
XCOM 2: War of the Chosen — released in 2017 — is the definitive modern version of the game. It adds interesting boss characters, allies, and an overarching narrative that’s the absolute best in the franchise’s history. The voice-over work also makes for, weirdly, a secret Star Trek: The Next Generation reunion minus Picard.
Dialogue has been one of the biggest challenges in game design these past 10 years, as designers have sought new ways to invest characters with depth and personality, while utilizing conversations as a useful, entertaining mechanic.
In Oxenfree, players take on the role of Alex, a teenage girl embarking on an island jaunt with her friends. She interacts with them through dialogue trees presented as speech bubbles, and in real time.
The game is dotted with physical and logical puzzles, but it’s the emergence of emotional depth through conversation that stays in the player’s memory, as Alex copes with the recent loss of her brother while trying to open up to new relationships.
Oxenfree is a smartly written coming-of-age mystery that holds promise for the future of dialogue-as-game.
80. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13
I will remember Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 not only for its polished second year of Augusta National, but also for the inclusion of an LPGA Tour in career mode. Women golfers could be created in Career for years before then, but this edition gave the women’s professional tour full parity.
PGA Tour 13 also created a plausible scenario through which a woman could play The Masters, which is not a men’s PGA Tour event, and does invite the winners of three world amateur tournaments, none of which are gender-restricted. Years before most folks were talking about inclusion, and in a genre where the subject is rarely brought up, PGA Tour 13 was doing it matter-of-factly, as a value-added feature for all players.
79. Animal Crossing: New Leaf
This is the game you get when developers actively listen to what players want. Nintendo managed to take everything we loved about the past Animal Crossing titles and crank it up beyond our expectations, adding a plethora of new features.
New Leaf gave us the customization and control over our towns in ways never imagined. It serves as a feel-good game, a welcome escape from reality. It also brought us our adorable queen puppy, Isabelle.
78. The Stanley Parable
Humor is difficult to come by in video games, but The Stanley Parable offers plenty of wit by lampooning the po-faced culture of ... game design. It’s the first-person story of Stanley, an office worker whose co-workers suddenly disappear. Stanley begins the game following the instructions of a snarky narrator, but the player soon starts to rebel, setting up a conflict that’s ostensibly between player and game.
Ultimately, it’s a smart, funny treatise on the meaning of freedom, both in the context of playing games and in real life. It’s one of the shortest and most graphically minimalist games on this list, but also one of the most influential, exposing some of gaming design’s most lazy tropes and so helping to consign them to the trash heap.
Gorogoa is one of the most visually appealing games ever made. It’s a hand-drawn world of intriguing puzzles, in which the old certainties about point-and-click adventures are undone by stark originality. I mix and match images, playing with size and perspective in order to create sense from disorder.
It’s like a layered picture book that’s indulged in hallucinogens, stretching and twisting the meanings of shapes, colors, and objects. The story and the puzzles are engrossing without being annoying, marking a new direction for a genre that had become wearying through obfuscation. It’s also one of those rare games that really takes advantage of technical leaps in mobile touchscreen technology.
76. Gravity Rush 2
I would like to thank whoever at Sony spent all of their goodwill to get a sequel to Gravity Rush greenlit. The original was a beautiful and quirky open-world game. The ability to shift the direction of gravity — effectively flying/falling in any direction — turned its floating city into a playground, and made the often static genre feel more lively, vibrant, and surprising.
Fortunately, the game could be played anywhere on the PlayStation Vita. Unfortunately, few people played the game anywhere because, hey, PlayStation Vita.
Minus a comically slow and off-putting intro, Gravity Rush 2 builds upon the potential of its predecessor. On the PlayStation 4, the creators have the graphical power to make a world that matches their concept art, a world that is bigger than I expected.
Not enough people played these games. I feel a compulsion to make up for everybody else, to play one every couple of weeks, if only for an hour. Or to listen to their soothing soundtracks. I can’t imagine we’ll get a “Gravity Rush 3” on PlayStation 5, but whoever at Sony is advocating for this precious series, know there are a few fans cheering you on.
75. Beat Saber
While the decade hasn’t resulted in a clear winner for VR hardware, it’s shown a few examples of what the technology can offer.
Beat Saber, a rhythm game that requires players to slash colored blocks to the beat of its EDM-heavy tracklist, is a crossover hit that’s on just about every VR headset available. It’s often a go-to for showing off what VR games can be at conventions, parties, and even on late-night TV. Its premise is simple, its soundtrack is infectious, and because its gameplay is so easy to grasp, it makes a strong case for what sets VR gaming apart from traditional experiences.
Players step into a simple VR landscape. In front of them is a lane that sends blue and red blocks toward them, in time to the music. Each block has a direction plastered on it and must be “slashed” in that direction with your VR controller.
Playing Beat Saber feels like a mixture of a rave and a futuristic gymnastic dance. It requires full body movement, hand-eye coordination, rhythm, and a whole lot of sweat. Playing through each song takes about two minutes, and that’s all the time Beat Saber needs to show off why it’s one of the best VR games of the decade.
74. Two Dots
So many titles that cropped up in the last decade of mobile gaming relied on microtransactions and bubbly play to stoke players’ addictive pleasure centers. In the end, the triumph of PlayDots’ minimalist puzzle sequel Two Dots comes down to trust.
A player can buy more lives, more bonuses, more problem-solving weaponry to conquer the endless path’s most difficult puzzles, but a variety of modes and in-game prizes never made purchasing a requirement.
It’s a real game, rewarding pattern recognition and concentration. Staying three steps ahead of seismic dot shifts could mean playing for a steady hour. The path is endless, but never a grind. Adapting to each new twist of the concept renews the game and its players’ energy. As you connect a four-point box or take down a tower to send a chomping dot on a new path, there’s a sense that Two Dots was made by a team that needed a simple mobile game to pass their own time.
73. Mario Kart 8
When Mario Kart 8 was released for the Switch in 2017, I breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, it was here — the infinitely playable racing game, which feels as fun today, five years after its release, as it did when it came out in 2014 on the Wii U.
Mario Kart 8 is pure polish, and on Switch it’s criminally easy to bust it out at a party, in a hotel, at a bar. Oh, and its cruel, randomly distributed items have the kind of big impacts that make gameplay feel meaningful, no matter your skill level.
72. Mass Effect 2
Mass Effect 2 is the ultimate BioWare game, setting a bar that many players believe the studio has yet to top. While the first Mass Effect introduced players to a stellar sci-fi world, it asked them to struggle through obnoxious controls and vehicle sections to see it through. Mass Effect 2 changed all that, while retaining a compelling narrative world and environmental setting. It isn’t just a brilliant RPG with some of this decade’s best characters; it’s also a fun and well-made cover shooter.
Warframe was born in 2013 as a last-ditch effort to keep the lights on at Digital Extremes. In the years since, it has managed to evolve into one of the best action games on the market, all the while remaining free-to-play.
It’s tough to get into Warframe, but a patient player will soon find a wealth of content. Whether that’s running, gunning, and pulling off murderous parkour through a spaceship, or going through the mind-blowing twists and turns of the game’s story campaign, there are genuinely brilliant moments hidden in this shooter.
This isn’t just a poor man’s Destiny; it’s a universe that stands alone, invoking properties like Warhammer 40K and Dune through deft storytelling. Every minute of action in Warframe feels cinematic and incredible. There’s a thousand-hour feast here for those with the time and inclination.
70. Diablo 3
No game has had quite the same journey as Diablo 3. Praised on release as the next evolution of dungeon crawlers, it was then hated for its real-money auction house. Finally, Diablo 3’s first expansion, Reaper of Souls, managed to transform the game from the controversial mess it had become into something great.
The introduction of rotating seasons and Great Rifts as a way to make players compete with one another made Diablo 3 a perfect prototype of what online PvE games would become.
69. The Witness
The Witness is a game in which you solve a series of seemingly impossible line and maze puzzles that populate a pretty island. It’s fair to say that this is one of the most challenging games of the decade, creating its own vocabulary of logic and reason — one which the player must explore and navigate, but which always retains its fidelity.
And while it is challenging, the game never feels unfair, gradually giving you all the mental tools necessary to figure out the next tricky puzzle. Jonathan Blow’s game is an astounding achievement in game design and alternative storytelling, one that offers delight and frustration to its players.
68. Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain
Hideo Kojima didn’t get to properly complete his swan song, and it shows. But The Phantom Pain is the most enjoyable Metal Gear to play, even with its sundry faults, mainly around story and multiplayer modes.
Kojima and his team at Kojima Productions brought decades of stealth gameplay experience to bear with a layered open-world game of sneaking, tactics, and countertactics. The Phantom Pain is further enriched by Kojima’s own quirks, like a surreal opening sequence and the ability to tactically have your horse poop on command.
It will forever be tinged by its creator’s breakup with Konami, but it’s a fitting send-off for long-running protagonist Snake.
67. Universal Paperclips
In 2018, we invited Charles Yu, the author of some of the best science fiction of this generation, to write about Universal Paperclips. For Yu, the game approached the story of artificial intelligence from a place of cold, grim honesty. As an AI, your sole task is to make paper clips. As many as possible. As efficiently as possible. What happens in pursuit of that goal is neither good nor bad; it’s merely process.
“This [isn’t] a story about domination or conquest,” Yu wrote. “It doesn’t have anything like the shape of a story at all. You feel used, but that’s beside the point. You were used — and so was every other bit of matter in existence.”
The AI has a goal. It improves itself to reach that goal. Then, when it has reached its goal, it dismantles itself. There never even was a “self”; just a goal. It feels grim, cold, ruthless, inhuman, and devastatingly true.
66. Doki Doki Literature Club
Doki Doki Literature Club starts out as a harmless, saccharine dating simulator set in a high school, before it subtly builds to a creepy crescendo, featuring one of the best video game villains of all time.
The game’s story plays out through surreal poetry and cutesy, PG-rated dialogue trees that gain a sinister edge over time. It not only manages to twist expectations of the genre, but breaks the fourth wall in spine-chilling ways that will make you rethink all your anime girl crushes forever.
65. Grand Theft Auto Online
Grand Theft Auto 5 is a technical achievement and an incredible open world. Grand Theft Auto Online takes place in that same world, taking advantage of the same tech, but behaving more like a multiplayer environment. The player is granted more freedom, with less of the story mode’s mean-spirited satire and unpleasant point-of-view characters.
Sometimes, that means players pass time by jumping on Hot Wheels-style track races in the sky. Other times, you can find players role-playing out elaborate scenarios that are totally divorced from Rockstar’s original intentions.
It’s a great way to experience the incredible open world of the campaign without being chained to a standard crime narrative.
64. Johann Sebastian Joust
The only game on this list that doesn’t require anyone to look at a screen, Johann Sebastian Joust is more of an event than it is a game. Utilizing the rarely seen PlayStation Move controllers, Joust has players perform an organic ballet that blends strategy, fencing, and the two-step in surreal fashion. The objective: Jostle someone hard enough to set off their controller, while keeping your own controller protected.
While the game is notoriously difficult to coordinate (who has that many Move controllers, after all?), pulling it off created one of the most memorable game experiences ever.
63. The Jackbox Party Pack 1-6
The Polygon team has been playing Jackbox party games since their debut in 2014. Resurrecting an old ’90s series of irreverent trivia games, these couch games make use of touchscreen phones connected to set-top devices, to bring players together as they doodle and noodle their way through various prompts that manage to create an atmosphere of cheer and fun.
The games themselves come with names like Fibbage, Quiplash, and Patently Stupid, and while some work better than others, they’re a great way to liven up a social gathering.
62. Super Street Fighter 4
Prior to the release of Street Fighter 4, it had been almost a decade since Capcom released a new entry in its landmark fighting game series. And while Street Fighter 3 might have been the pinnacle of pixel art 2D fighting games, it was unclear if the company could translate its iconic characters into 3D.
In 2009, Street Fighter 4 proved that Capcom had retained its fighting game crown, but it wasn’t the finished article. The next year, a massive update called Super Street Fighter 4 cemented a legacy that still lives to this day.
Super was more than a mere update to the base formula. It rebalanced the gameplay, making it tighter than ever; brought new and classic characters into the fold; and added several other features like new modes and the ability to unleash one of two Ultra Combos to swing the balance of any fight. It wouldn’t be the last update that would come to Street Fighter 4, but it was the first and the most significant.
61. Frog Fractions
Frog Fractions looks like a crappy math game for elementary school kids, in which a frog uses its tongue to zap bugs that turn into fractions. But it gets crazy fast, morphing into a genre-spanning spoof of edutainment and old-school gaming nostalgia.
The free browser game embarks on a bizarre narrative journey that’s designed to surprise and amuse the player over its hourlong play. It’s a strange and hilarious journey that refuses to take itself seriously.
60. Bayonetta 2
Character-action games seemed to be on a tear this decade, with Bayonetta 2 developer PlatinumGames at the forefront.
It’s impossible not to feel cool while playing this game. Lead character Bayonetta is a captivating badass, and her variety of witchcraft attacks never gets old. Layering precise timing with her aerial attacks, her pistol-packing high heels, and her horrifying spectral hair monsters is a sight to behold.
The game’s overall allure has made it a true cult classic, and has set a high bar for action games to come.
59. The Last of Us
After releasing three Uncharted games in five years, PlayStation stalwart Naughty Dog took a massive departure from the globe-trotting franchise’s blockbuster action set-pieces with 2013’s The Last of Us.
It’s perhaps best remembered for its gut punch of an introduction, but this bleak tale of a bereft father and a surrogate daughter trekking across America pulls off an even more impressive feat: making a post-apocalyptic zombie game feel fresh.
That’s due in large part to the enemy infected, which are legitimately terrifying. If their fungus-riddled appearance and echolocation clicks aren’t unsettling enough, their impressive AI keeps players on their toes.
58. Subsurface Circular
Mike Bithell has proven himself one of the most creative developers of the past decade, with wonderful creations such as Thomas Was Alone and Volume. He’s also tested the limits of storytelling in games, releasing surprise shorts such as Subsurface Circular, in which humble text adventure mechanics are brought to a new generation.
Set in a single location (a train carriage) and relying heavily on dialogue trees, it’s the story of a slave robot that works as a detective. The robot interviews other passengers (also robots) in order to uncover a mystery. Puzzles offer welcome and timely pacing breaks.
Bithell’s work is lean and witty; Subsurface Circular is no exception. It’s a sparkling adventure in dialogue, personality, and interrogation.
57. Civilization 6
In Civ games, players build cities, develop tech, train military units, and expand their territories. Cities are the most important elements in these games.
In 2010’s Civilization 5, developer Firaxis took a major step forward with its historical strategy series by moving to a hexagonal grid and abolishing “stacking” of military units, placing an extra emphasis on tactical warfare. Cities were better able to defend themselves against numerically superior forces.
But it was Civilization 6 that really shook up the much-loved franchise by giving players control over the areas surrounding their cities, even in noncombat situations. Natural resources more forcefully dictate each civ’s culture, as players make use of hexagons to construct buildings and improvements.
The game’s AI was also upgraded, improving communications between players and enemy NPCs. Expansions released post-launch deepened systems such as trade, tourism, religion, and even environmental sustainability. Civilization 6 provides players with worlds unto themselves.
56. Into the Breach
Despite its cute art style, strategy game Into the Breach understands what it means to pilot a giant robot better than most giant robot games. In a flawless tactical game, mechas can be placed in the line of fire to protect a building, or they can be used to crush buildings for tactical advantage. In short, their largeness matters.
Into the Breach trusts the player enough to give them a near-perfect level of information about what will happen on the next turn. There’s no dice rolling or random numbers to get in the way; success or failure is entirely up to what you do with the tools you’ve been given.
55. Hollow Knight
There is very little that Hollow Knight does poorly. Every world your little bug knight travels to is packed with memorable enemies and lush scenery, all set to a beautifully melancholic score.
The bug inhabitants of this game are cute and frightening, from spore-spewing toadstools, to ghostly wizard slugs with bulging eyes, to a flamboyant dung beetle brimming with bravado.
While you start powerless, welding a single nail as a sword, the breadth and utility of new abilities earned through each challenging boss fight separate this from many other exploration games. Combat is precise, and Hollow Knight’s toughness has made many compare it favorably to Souls games.
As the world of Hallownest expands through your new tools, it’s impossible not to appreciate how much there is to explore — which is especially amazing, considering it was made by just a few people. If nothing else, you’ll never look at bugs the same way again.
54. Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn
Final Fantasy 14 producer Naoki Yoshida took the original version of the game, widely known as one of Square Enix’s biggest flops, and turned it into something beautiful.
A Realm Reborn brings all the best elements of a great multiplayer role-playing game together with the kind of fantastic story we’ve come to expect from the hallowed Final Fantasy series. And Yoshida continues to impress as each new expansion launches. This game proves that any bad game can be fixed and turned into a huge success, as long as the right person is in control of the project.
53. Death Stranding
The decade ends with a suitably perplexing work of grandiosity from Hideo Kojima, who sets a dense, confusing narrative inside a beautifully stark world. Yes, players do video gamey stuff like fighting, stealthing, and shooting, but mostly the game is spent walking and carrying things from A to B.
Kojima personally provided one of the decade’s most intriguing game industry dramas, when he acrimoniously split from Konami and wound up as Sony’s star developer. The resulting big-budget game is astounding in its scope and in its ambitions, weaving apocalyptic sci-fi tropes with creepy ghosts and a tale of conspiracy, while creating interactive drama from relatively simple activities.
At first glance, Undertale looks like yet another ironic indie RPG, but it’s got way more to offer. Its subterranean labyrinths are stuffed with monsters, but instead of slaying them with swords and spells, the player is given the option to pacify them, and to show them mercy.
This is a game that asks players to consider the implications of killing monsters in games, without absolutely forcing the point. Undertale’s subtle take on morality doesn’t succeed merely in how it rewards player decisions, but in how it makes players feel while they’re making those decisions.
51. Limbo / Inside
Danish developer Playdead released Limbo in 2010 and Inside in 2017. Both are essentially the same experience of 2D side-scrolling dread, in which a vulnerable character journeys through a dark and twisted world of traps.
Artfully constructed, these melancholy games of eerie silhouettes subvert one of gaming’s most childlike genres. Platforming standards like lava levels and ice worlds are replaced with devilish puzzles and creepy enemies, clanging Orwellian constructs and deliciously imagined horrors.
Puzzle solutions reveal a bleak, obsidian humor that stays in the memory, long after the games are finished. Impressively, these are also games of skill and judgment that feel like a perfect reconstruction of the real, physical world of jumps, stumbles, and falls.
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