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The 100 best games of the decade (2010-2019): 50-11

Polygon picks our favorite games of the past 10 years

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Our countdown of the best 100 games of the decade continues with heavy hitters like Skyrim and God of War. Read on to see what we chose for games 50 to 11.

[Ed. note: We published the whole list at the same time, so once you’re done here, you can check out the bottom half and the top 10.]

Here’s our attempt at describing each game on our top 50 of the decade in just 7 words or less.

50. The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim

Bethesda’s weighty role-playing fantasy is loaded with lore and lawlessness, in which a central character roams across Tolkienesque landscapes on a quest to slay a mighty dragon.

It’s an archetypal RPG of swinging axes and magical spells, of character development, looting, crafting, exploring, and fighting. But it’s also layered with a cast of characters, places, journeys, and creatures that invite absolute immersion.

Skyrim’s central story and side quests support a complex world where individual expression is encouraged, whether that be in the dogged discovery of hidden Easter eggs or the collection of cheese wheels. The game also provided one of the decade’s most ridiculous, ubiquitous memes.

Colin Campbell

49. Sea of Thieves

Sea of Thieves is an enormous, constantly evolving game that manages to evoke the feeling of a child’s imagination. This is a pirate’s playground in which the main elements are a ship, clothes and accessories to unlock, a gorgeous ocean to explore, and a wealth of challenges. There’s a ton of adventure to be had, from individual voyages to the story-based Tall Tales.

While playing solo or with friends is swell, the best moments can come from PvP encounters with other players. Whether that’s an alliance falling apart over distribution of booty, or an ambush at an objective, any round of Sea of Thieves can turn into an incredible story.

Cass Marshall

48. No Man’s Sky

Few games have experienced the kind of comeback that No Man’s Sky has enjoyed. In the three-plus years since its rocky launch, the game has received five major free updates, each building upon the last and all coalescing into an experience far removed from its original form.

What began as a relatively simple space exploration sim is now a full-fledged multiplayer game with branching narratives, a sophisticated economy, and new and exciting ways to explore the vast universe. No Man’s Sky is a testament to what can happen when a developer buckles down and listens to its audience.

Tara Long

47. Dota 2 Auto Chess

Dota 2 came from a Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos mod called Defense of the Ancients, or DotA. It’s a stand-alone version of the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA). It wasn’t the first MOBA, but it was the game that defined the genre — Dota 2 solidified its place in a now-crowded field. An esports scene grew organically to what is now a professional circuit that culminates in a multimillion-dollar prize pool.

Since modding is ingrained in the culture of Dota 2, it makes sense that the game would lead to another genre-creating iteration. From Dota 2 came Auto Chess, once a mod and now a brilliant stand-alone game that’s essentially Dota 2 boiled down to its team-building phase.

Nicole Carpenter

46. Fallout: New Vegas

Built on the bones of Bethesda’s Fallout 3, New Vegas serves as a proper sequel to the original Fallout role-playing games. It’s a classic RPG that eats up dozens of hours and can easily support multiple playthroughs.

The player assumes the role of a Courier, a mysterious figure who was shot, robbed, and left for dead. The Courier’s cargo, a platinum chip, turns out to be the key to a massive, multifront conflict between factions.

The combat is janky, there are bugs galore, and the graphics haven’t held up. But the strength of the writing, and characters like Joshua Graham and Mr. House, make any struggle more than worth the patience.

Cass Marshall

45. FIFA 17

Over the past 10 years, no sports gaming title has been more emblematic of the genre than EA Sports’ FIFA franchise. Its biggest impact came from loot box mechanics in FIFA Ultimate Team, which technically debuted late in the previous decade but grew into a juggernaut during the current one.

Makers of simulation sports games had been releasing regular roster updates for a while. But the Ultimate Team mode — in which players amass collections of virtual trading cards and use them to assemble fantasy teams — introduced the concept of the full-blown live service to sports titles.

It became so popular, and such a moneymaker, that nearly every annual sports sim now has an Ultimate Team mode or something like it. But FIFA 17 came with another sporting trend: a story mode. FIFA 17’s The Journey offers a pleasing interactive story of a player making his way in the Premier League.

Samit Sarkar

44. Thumper

Thumper is a “rhythm violence” game. Sure, all of the hallmarks of traditional rhythm games are there; the player must keep to the beat and hit the appropriate prompts. But Thumper also comes with an oppressive atmosphere combined with terrifying, abstract visuals. The environments are dark, the music is menacing low bass, and every successful prompt feels as satisfying as a horror game headshot.

Cass Marshall

43. Superhot

Superhot wasn’t made for VR, but it makes the transition so seamlessly that it’s now one of the go-to games to demonstrate virtual reality’s capabilities.

In VR, my gut still plunges when I’m asked to leap off a high-rise, or shoot myself to exit the sim. The twitch of a hand makes the difference between a bullet in the wall or in my head. VR doesn’t yet have many must-play hits, but whatever comes next should take some cues from Superhot.

Simone de Rochefort

42. The works of Michael Brough

If creator Derek Yu is like early Terrence Malick, publishing a new masterpiece every decade or so, then Michael Brough is like late-career Malick: a fearless, productive, and intensely focused creator, releasing something new nearly every year of this decade.

Nominated multiple times for the IGF’s Nuovo and Excellence in Design Awards, Brough focuses on the roguelike genre, simplifying its notorious complexity with confined stages and limited abilities. He doesn’t lard his work with tutorials, and his alien art style can be downright intimidating, and yet, games like Zaga-33 and 868-HACK are immensely accessible — warm, even.

It helps that Brough’s work is widely available for smartphones. If I have one complaint, it’s the number of times these games got me in trouble over the past 10 years. What I thought would be a short weekday break somehow stretched into hourslong diversions. And just when I’d had enough of one game, there was Brough, releasing another, this new addition somehow more life-consuming than the last.

Chris Plante

41. NBA 2K12

From 2009 to 2012, Visual Concepts had a four-year run of annually outdoing itself in its cultural-phenomenon NBA 2K franchise. In 2010, the developer teamed up with Michael Jordan for a dazzling, interactive tour of the greatest moments in his luminous career. In 2012, it reunited the Dream Team — which entailed Jay-Z convincing a Salinger-like Charles Barkley to participate in a video game for the first time since Barkley: Shut Up and Jam.

But the best entry in this stretch was NBA’s Greatest, the jewel-box mode from 2011’s NBA 2K12. Though all of the classic teams that NBA’s Greatest brought back (the 1973 Knicks! the 1993 Hornets!) have been on the series’ roster ever since, this mode — which appears only in this game — gave them period-perfect broadcast presentations, from the 1960s to the present day.

Players in huge afros, short shorts, and floppy socks also play by old rules, such as three-to-make-two foul shots, lanes of varying width, and floors with no three-point lines. NBA 2K12 is a landmark work of fan service, not just for fans of video games, but for fans of an entire sport and its history.

Owen Good

40. Celeste

Punishing platformers saw a renaissance this decade; 2010’s Super Meat Boy ushered in a new wave of gleefully difficult games. Celeste, with its tricky, precarious jumps, fits firmly into that masocore trend.

With its vibrant, charming pixel art and a nonjudgmental assist mode, Celeste brings a refreshing earnestness to an often nihilistic genre. Perhaps Celeste will be the precursor to a kinder, gentler era of masocore game design.

Emily Heller

39. Firewatch

Set in the Colorado wilds, Firewatch is a tale of loneliness and self-discovery. It’s a stroll among corridors of cottonwoods and aspens, boulders and ravines, in which vast horizons belie a mostly linear narrative experience.

One of the decade’s most accomplished walking sims, it’s a gripping yarn of discovery and navigation, dotted with straightforward puzzles. Its main interest is in how central characters Henry and Delilah cope with solitude, paranoia, and emotional vulnerability.

These two people represent a gaming-narrative trend of the past decade, in which paired characters struggle with their own anxieties and with one another’s perceived shortcomings. Their relationship has form and shape, though it shimmers and shifts as the story progresses.

Colin Campbell

38. God of War

God of War’s scope and ambition are as impressive as its gorgeous presentation. This return to the PlayStation combat series took a raunchy franchise and turned it into a mature rumination about family.

Few console games have ever looked better, but God of War’s characters are its most enduring legacy. The game redeems Kratos from his meatheaded origins, giving him responsibilities and a depth of personality that remain rare in big-budget action games.

Dave Tach

37. Destiny 2

Bungie nailed Destiny’s gunplay from the start, but it took months, if not years, for Destiny 2 to figure the rest out.

More than two years after launch, Destiny 2 now looks the complete package, providing a steady stream of content and player-focused updates that increases the purity of Destiny’s mesmeric appeal of shoot-collect-upgrade.

The grind is the thing in Destiny, and Bungie has delivered a compelling shooter adventure that makes that unending grind so enjoyable to play.

Michael McWhertor

36. Titanfall 2

Titanfall 2 is packed with great first-person shooter ideas. Players are bombarded with creativity from the start: fighting through a ‘video game level factory,’ using a stopwatch to control timelines, hopping across space planes in your very own giant robot.

Speaking of giant robots, there are few more memorable or effective combat partners this decade than the classy BT-7274.

It’s a shame that Titanfall 2 suffered from a truly horrendous release calendar, but it undoubtedly laid the foundation for Respawn’s next game, the wildly popular and successful Apex Legends.

Clayton Ashley

35. Red Dead Redemption collection

My relationship with the Red Dead Redemption series has spiked and plummeted since the release of the original in 2010. Itself a sequel to Red Dead Revolver, Redemption traded the cars, urban sprawl, and tasteless American satire of Grand Theft Auto for horses, sun-cooked vistas, and, well, tasteless American satire. The world’s emptiness felt oddly refreshing, a case where the limits of the video game consoles of that period incentivized big, overwhelming spaces peppered with the smallest hints of life.

I was eager to play Red Dead Redemption 2, then surprised with the final product. In our review, I wrote, “Safe to say, Red Dead Redemption 2 is the weirdest, slowest, most confounding big-budget game of this decade — if not any decade.” That’s still the case. It’s a provocative and, at times, laborious game. Once again, I find myself more infatuated with its world. Red Dead Online feels like the best possible endpoint for the series this decade, where the game shifts from recreating the Westerns of the past to presenting a player-driven Western of the present: a bunch of friends riding around a beautiful countryside on a big, dumb horse.

Chris Plante

34. Tetris Effect

More than 30 years ago, the original Tetris came ready-made with a perfect formula. While the puzzle franchise has seen over 100 iterations in the years since, few have managed to surprise or delight in the same way.

Tetris Effect, the 2018 title from Enhance Games, was the first iteration to truly feel fresh. It fuses brilliant sound design, mesmerizing visuals, and a deeply evocative soundtrack to give Tetris something new: soul.

Every aspect of the game creates a stunning feedback loop of harmony and colorful visuals. Regardless of whether you play the game in VR, its audiovisual design is all-enveloping, deepening the connection to its mind-bending gameplay.

Jeff Ramos

33. Kerbal Space Program

Kerbal Space Program began as a simulated spaceflight project and has grown into something much, much more. KSP allows you to build and fly all manner of spacecraft.

It’s a hardcore flight simulator and a hardcore engineering simulator and a decent little management game, all rolled into one. If humanity does actually get to Mars in the coming decades, I have no doubt that a significant portion of the team will have gotten started in this game.

Charlie Hall

32. Divinity: Original Sin 2

A true fondness for mid-’90s RPGs like Baldur’s Gate birthed the Divinity: Original Sin series. Its sequel continued in that fine tradition with an ambitious effort that allows for stunning levels of freedom.

Modern RPG fans bemoan the mostly linear problem-solving in games like Fallout 4, but Original Sin 2 really takes the reins off. An example: Attempting to convince a sentient ship to keep sailing, I came across four different methods to make the case (one of which included enlisting the help of an undead mouse).

Even more impressive: The entire adventure is wonderfully written and voiced, including all the bizarre animals you meet along the way ... so long as you have the requisite skills, of course.

Russ Frushtick

31. Bloodborne

Bloodborne is Dark Souls distilled and refined. Game creator Hidetaka Miyazaki saw the shortcomings of his own games, and how some people timidly played them. So he snatched away any sense of defensive comfort to create an experience that’s aggressive and very offensive.

Bloodborne’s dark Victorian and cosmic horror elements explore similar themes laid out in Dark Souls, with an aesthetic that feels somehow both familiar and fresh. Bloodborne doesn’t break boundaries in the way of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls; instead, it refines their elements to a razor-sharp edge while delivering grotesqueries of a refreshingly different sort.

Michael McWhertor

30. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is brave. For 10 years, Assassin’s Creed meant city-based open-world games with an emphasis on stealth. People love those games — myself included — but the series needed a glow-up.

Odyssey is in every way a perfection of the experiment that began in Assassin’s Creed Origins. Ubisoft expanded and prettified its open world, added dialogue options, and polished the combat to a shine. The result was the best open-world RPG since The Witcher 3.

Simone de Rochefort

29. Florence

From developer Mountains, Florence is one of the best mobile games of the decade. It’s an emotionally engaging game about a fairly ordinary romantic relationship. The story unfolds through interactive minigames and puzzles that use simple touch mechanics.

Florence’s conversation puzzles shift and change as the relationship passes through its various phases. It creates an effective narrative that’s much closer to real life than the often fantastical world of video games.

Nicole Carpenter

28. Portal 2

If you’re ever in a situation in which you’re tasked with introducing video games to a newbie, Portal 2 is the place to begin. It presents a series of clever puzzles that offer playful subversions of the physical world, while also being somehow intuitive.

Players are locked in a room and simply asked to figure out how to escape, using a small set of tools, most notably a “gun” that opens portals.

Valve’s hit game came out back in 2011 and managed to augur some of the decade’s big creative themes, such as shortness in length, environmental integrity, a brilliantly scripted central character, and smart voice acting.

Colin Campbell

27. Doom

Reimagining one of the greatest games of the 1990s was no small undertaking for developer id Software. But this 2016 release oozed panache and self-confidence. It’s fast, loud, pretty (in a horrible sort of way), and violent. It’s also a slickly produced shooting game that understands its craft, and its audience.

Doom recognizes the debt it owes to the past, and the reverence with which the original is held. And so it plays freely with self-referential jokes, while also extending the franchise into newly outrageous frontiers of bad taste.

The introduction of “glory kills” allows the player to gruesomely dispatch enemies using melee moves, but this also yields health bonuses. Its greatest tribute to its genre and its audience is that it’s a ton of fun.

Colin Campbell

26. Dishonored 2

In 2012, Dishonored revived a kind of first-person action game that had been dead for a decade. Building on the work of Looking Glass Studios and its seminal Thief series, developer Arkane Studios constructed a monument to player freedom and set it in a wholly original 19th-century fantasy world powered by whale oil and class warfare.

The 2016 sequel is even better. Arkane doubled down on the original game’s play-it-your-way ethos, allowing players to choose a character and use a unique tool set to puzzle out a path — whether nonlethal, very lethal, or somewhere in between — through each stage. And let’s not forget that Dishonored 2 contains some of the most original, mind-boggling examples of level design in this entire decade.

Samit Sarkar

25. Outer Wilds

Outer Wilds is a clever game in which I explore strange little planets, solving puzzles in an attempt to save the universe. It’s a nonviolent adventure that demands lateral thinking as well as physical dexterity.

I am the pilot of a ramshackle spaceship, but also the on-foot explorer of space stations, antigravitational phenomena, quarks, and quirks. The world ends every 22 minutes, during which time I range further and deeper, trying to comprehend the nature of this temporal apocalypse and the individual personalities of the places I discover.

Along the way, I uncover secret civilizations, I meet strange individuals, and I rattle my noggin against mind-bending problems. Outer Wilds is a challenging scientific adventure, but also a place of wonder and beauty.

Colin Campbell

24. TowerFall

Local multiplayer games weren’t exactly booming at the launch of TowerFall (originally on the defunct Ouya console in 2013). But as it arrived in the hands of more players, TowerFall garnered a fervent fan base that praised its uncanny balance and strategy, which offer a one-hit-kill alternative to Super Smash Bros. Even more unlikely, TowerFall is welcoming to newcomers, thanks to its simple-yet-legible graphics and approachable controls.

At a glance it’s hard to fully grasp the level of depth at play, but after hundreds of rounds, it remains fresh and capable of gathering a cheering crowd. It’s one of the finest local multiplayer games ever made, standing toe to toe with Mario Kart, Rocket League, and whatever else you want to throw at it.

Russ Frushtick

23. Rocket League

There’s a very good reason why Rocket League is often described as “soccer with cars.” Rocket-powered cars push soccer balls across a variety of pitches.

Crucially, it can be played locally and online, between any of the platforms it’s available on: PlayStation 4, Windows PC, Xbox One, Mac, and Nintendo Switch.

Accessibility is an important factor in Rocket League’s success, with a dedicated player base that engages both casually and competitively. The game has enjoyed a steady esports scene that’s made its way into mainstream TV, mainly because it’s easy to watch, lacking some of the complexities of other esports offerings.

Nicole Carpenter

22. Stardew Valley

While not revolutionary, Stardew Valley is a perfect gem of a farming and relationship sim. I plant crops and I slowly mold the land into something productive. But it’s not about the money. It’s about methodically visiting all my plants and hearing those delightful little pops as I fill my pockets with the fruits of my labor.

The game has a gentle “fuck capitalism” undertone that feels like a distillation of a certain millennial exhaustion. Sometimes it just seems like it’d be simpler to live on a farm and do something real with my hands, ya know?

Simone de Rochefort

21. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Building on the grassroots tournaments that had been running through Counter-Strike 1.6 for almost a decade, CS:GO represented a major update for publisher Valve. When it arrived in 2012, it offered a more playable, more readable team shooter that didn’t compromise on mechanical challenge or personality.

CS:GO is one of the most accessible and enjoyable competitive shooters around, and more importantly, one of the best and biggest esports games of the decade.

Austen Goslin

20. Journey

In its few short hours of running time, Journey takes players on an unforgettable adventure that showcases the breadth of the medium.

What starts as a solitary experience of wandering and chirping through a barren landscape becomes a story of exploring the depths of human existence. To reduce Journey to its incredible component parts — the stunning vistas, the evocative orchestral score, the seamless and wordless integration of other human players as companions — is to miss the desert for the dunes. It is a brilliant gestalt, a transcendent fusion of game design disciplines that demonstrates the power of interactivity to move the spirit.

Samit Sarkar

19. Overwatch

Multiplayer hit Overwatch stands apart from its shooter competitors with a heavy focus on a host of playable heroes who augment the game with tactical variety and with personality.

In this highly competitive esports game, team compositions make a major difference to the moment-to-moment action narrative. And the game’s lore has proven to be a rich seam for spinoff comics, digital short films, and even cookbooks. New character reveals are anticipated with eagerness, and usually do not disappoint.

Nicole Carpenter

18. Her Story

Her Story represents a 21st-century mini-renaissance for full-motion video games, laying the groundwork for its follow-up Telling Lies and for wonderful visual novels like Eliza.

But Her Story is a special game in its own right. It’s a murder mystery that’s uncovered through police station video interviews. Players search the interviews, seeking out causal links and inconsistencies.

The presentation is creative, while the acting and writing are as good as they come. Settling into a dark room and solving this mystery will always be one of my favorite gaming memories of the last 10 years.

Simone de Rochefort

17. Persona 4 Golden

Persona games are successful because of the in-game relationships we form while playing them. Persona 4’s roster of characters is hands-down the most wonderful collection in the series.

When Persona 4 Golden came out on PlayStation Vita in 2012 — an enhanced version of the 2008 original — it glowed with warmth and personality.

The funny, sincere students at the center of the story are delightful company, and Golden is generous in the time we get to spend with them. The game’s central mystery — who’s throwing people inside of TVs, and why do their images play on the Midnight Channel the night before? — may be wild beyond belief, but its characters’ charms keep the story grounded.

Despite the later release of Persona 5, Golden remains the high point in this story-heavy turn-based role-playing series.

Chelsea Stark

16. Nier: Automata

Nier: Automata’s cult-hit status has done it a disservice. Fans like to talk about how the game doesn’t really get good until the third or fourth time you reach the credits. And while that’s technically true, it’s also misleading.

Action-slasher role-playing game Nier: Automata isn’t actually something that you play five times. Rather, it’s a game spread across five acts. The game “ends” between each section, but when it restarts, the story shifts to a radically different perspective.

Nier: Automata is a game about video games. That’s why the first act (or playthrough) is admittedly a bit simple and familiar. With each following act it comments on itself, its influences, and the medium as a whole. It bounces across video game history — from modern open-world action games to top-down arcade shooters of gaming’s protozoan period — all within a single fight. It inverts into itself, sometimes literally shifting the battlefield to the protagonist’s mind, other times repeating story beats with unexpected subversions.

Nier: Automata is the game I most often find myself wanting to play instead of the many fine-but-forgettable shooters and open-world distractions that land on my desk. I think about it every week partly because its soundtrack is my favorite writing music, partly because its toys litter my desk, and mostly because it’s just that good. Yes, you have to beat it five times, but in hindsight, I wish I had a reason to play it another five hundred.

Chris Plante

15. Everything

Here is an extraordinary game in the sense that it is literally like nothing else in the world. It is a universe of being, rather than doing, an intergalactic playpen of anything goes.

In Everything, I roam the land and the deep and the heavens and the micro-cosmos as anything and everything, from a blobfish to a supernova, changing my form at will. In doing so, I’m assailed by philosophies about the nature of life and the universe. I am invited to ponder my own sense of self and my place in the great scheme of existence.

Everything is funny, weird, and clever. It’s a work of intense interactivity but also of observational art.

Colin Campbell

14. Super Mario 3D World

This was a decade of excellent Mario games, to be sure, including Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Super Mario Odyssey, both of which merit honorary mentions in this list. But Super Mario 3D World perfects the craft of platform level creation.

Each stage drops a fresh take on Mario, from neon, blinking rhythm puzzles to a power-up that replicates a growing number of Marios. The game comfortably handles the chaos of four players all playing at their own pace and competence.

Super Mario 3D World captures Mario games at their best, with its variety, memorable bosses (Meowser!), and perfect platforming — all on the Wii U, a console that’s one of the biggest failures of the decade.

Chelsea Stark

13. Gone Home

When it was released in 2013, Gone Home wasn’t the first experimental, introspective game in its fledgling genre — the “walking simulator” — but it quickly became the defining archetype of the narrative game.

Gone Home established itself because of its distinct aesthetic of a creepy old house, and its sense of space and timing. Goals are not clearly defined. Instead, player curiosity drives a story about family relationships and coming-of-age romance.

Gone Home prefers quiet contemplation over head-on action, a focus that marks how far game design has changed over the last decade.

Nicole Carpenter

12. Return of the Obra Dinn

Return of the Obra Dinn is a point-and-click adventure presented in the pixelated, two-tone style of early Mac games. But this nod to the past disguises a game of ferocious originality.

Obra Dinn is a murder mystery set on a ghost ship. It’s a delightfully complex, chronologically fragmented puzzle box that demands intellectual focus and player imagination. It’s a clever whodunit that’s best played with a handy notebook, in which its fabulously convoluted secrets can be recorded and unraveled.

Simone de Rochefort

11. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) wasn’t the first game in which dozens of players seek to eliminate each other (aka “battle royale”), but it was the first to be widely accessible.

It wasn’t a mod or an offshoot of something else. It was a stand-alone game with its own extraordinarily well-designed, cleverly balanced shooting mechanics. It’s no small achievement that PUBG’s first map was one of the best, most iconic, and carefully designed multiplayer maps in recent memory.

PUBG is a fun and challenging shooter in its own right, one that proved to be attractive to livestream viewers and set the stage for two of the decade’s biggest cultural icons: Twitch and Fortnite.

Austen Goslin

The best games of the decade await. Continue on to the top 10, or revisit games 100-51.

Update (Nov. 5): We’ve updated the Red Dead Redemption entry on this list to align with our editorial values. We apologize for the insensitive phrasing of the original text.

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