Better late than never, right? While I have a personal list of best games of the past ten years, I also wanted to challenge myself and I thought I’d take a different personal look at what I feel represented the best of gaming for the past decade from 2009 through 2019. For this list I wanted to highlight what I felt were the most impactful and influential games of the decade. Games that defined a genre or were responsible for a big craze that showcased the power of gaming overall.
As a personal anecdote, God of War 2018 will not be on this list. While I see God of War as the Game of the Generation and quite frankly one of the best action games of all time if not THE best, I wanted to single out other games that impacted the industry in some major way, regardless if I liked them or not. These are the games I felt were talked about in good standing as they represented what gaming can do, could do and will do going forward.
This is a list of the most impactful and influential games of the decade from 2009-2019
Honorable Mention: P. T.
I want to start off with this little tidbit because even as just a one-off demo that’s currently no longer available, P. T. by Kojima Productions was an awakening for what the horror genre needed in gaming. I’m giving it an honorable mention because it’s not a full-fledged game, but it represents a lot of special moments in gaming and even simply as a demo it changed the horror video game genre forever.
Tense, atmospheric and scary as all heck, P. T. was eventually revealed to be a teaser for Silent Hills, a sequel to the hit franchise from Konami with Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro at the helm and starred Normand Reedus. We are all aware of the incredible and insane fallout that resulted from this game and the spat that erupted between Konami and Kojima resulting in Kojima taking his toys and leaving the company he worked at for so long, and P. T. being removed from the PlayStation store as well. The impact and the design of P. T. was influential as we saw a lot of copycats come forth, and even Resident Evil VII: Biohazard took some cues from the little teaser that could. Honestly, Capcom probably would not have saw fit to revitalize Resident Evil 2 with its amazing remake/remaster/seriously Resident Evil 2 2019 was God damn amazing you should all play it/etc. had we not gotten P.T. first. A shame it never amounted to a full game, but time will tell if Kojima Productions decides to make the next big horror game as teased by Hideo Kojima himself.
10) Portal 2
Keeping it simple is something a lot of developers tend to lose sight of when making a video game, and if I had to point out one game in particular that takes the concept of simplicity while adding layer after layer of puzzle solving, platforming, a brilliant script AND also managing to be an all around fun game for both newbies and veteran gamers alike, Portal 2 is the game I point to with neon signs and an airplane runway strip. Portal 2 showcased that the old adage of keeping it simple works best and influenced many an indie game that a short length isn’t indicative of quality.
I would place this higher if it weren’t for the fact that Blizzard seems content to balance this game like dirty clothes in a washing machine as it tumbles all over the place, but I’d also be lying if I didn’t say that Overwatch didn’t have any impact on gaming and Esports as well. The Overwatch League is one of the steadiest watched games on Twitch and even traditional networks like ESPN. Watch parties get hosted during the competitive season at many different venues like Waypoint Café NYC. (Where we host our weekly podcast every Thursday on our Twitch Channel. What, you thought we WEREN’T going to plug that?) Different heroes making the game feel a little at home for MOBA enthusiasts combined with objective-based shooter mechanics is apparently a recipe for success as it inspired a swath of like-minded games. Though some have achieved some mild popularity like Paladins, others like Battleborn and Lawbreakers saw dwindling audiences and lack of sales. There are others on the horizon, so the hero shooter genre is here to stay, and many will have Overwatch to thank for their existence.
8) Fortnite: Battle Royale
If we’re going to talk Esports, then Fortnite: Battle Royale is the Esports elephant that lands in the room dropping in from above and hitting with thunderous applause. Whether you like the game or not is irrelevant when streamers like Ninja have made their livelihood on the game and their premiere Esports event saw Bugha, a teenage Fortnite prodigy, become a millionaire after besting the competition at the Fortnite World Cup event in 2019…itself one of many major Esports tournaments held in 2019 alongside a League of Legends World Cup, Overwatch League, the Call of Duty League and The International for DOTA 2. Esports became the spectacle to watch in 2019 and a large part of it is due to Fortnite being the Pokémon of Esports games showing up in television shows, Hot Topic clothing and even toys. Not just for video games, but the impact and influence Fortnite has had on culture and gaming is testament to the juggernaut it is in real life.
7) The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
RPGs owe their existence to a lot of older games, but the key to influence and impact is taking an idea an older game had and rising it into the stratosphere. The Witcher 3 owes a lot to Skyrim, but the biggest reason Witcher 3 is on this list and not Skyrim is mostly because Witcher 3 is a much better game and showcased how to do open world RPG games correctly. It also showcased how focusing on an overarching narrative can help flesh out a huge world. 2018s God of War and a few other major releases probably wouldn’t have taken the tonal shift they did were it not for how The Witcher 3 handled its own story. With a popular Netflix show out now, this series is impacting a’plenty and still worth tossing a few coins to.
Remember when I wrote earlier that Portal 2 was an inspiration for games with short lengths to do what they do and then some. Journey embraced that concept and filled it with majestic art: from dynamic visuals to a phenomenal soundtrack all in one to be an evocative think piece on the nature of art and gaming as whole. Journey transcends what it is to be a video game, creating an illusion of solitude as you wander and chime through an empty landscape of desert vistas. If you’re connected online however, sometimes a random player will appear in your game and through the weird effects and abject brilliance that Journey is, it showcases what it is to experience the beauty of art and gaming in one as your adventure is now shared with no words, no in-game chat…just the sheer will to help them achieve the same goal you are; to reach the top of the mountain in the distance.
5) Dark Souls
Want proof that Dark Souls was impactful? Note how any game that releases currently and has some amount of difficulty immediately becomes, “it’s the Dark Souls of ::insert genre here::” Seriously, we dedicated an entire podcast episode to that journalistic distinction and are even guilty of using it ourselves from time to time. “Soulslike” has also become another recent entry into the discussion of “games as genre-descriptors” as many games have begun drawing influences and elements from it. Dark Souls was so influential it even has its reach in one of our best games of all time, 2018’s God of War with how it took the DS style of combat and added a fighting game juggle mechanic touch to it to cement itself as the best action in a video game to date and possibly the best action game of all time. It’s gotten a trilogy, two quasi-spin-offs in Bloodborne and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and even inspired a lot of copycats. Lords of the Fallen, Ni-Oh, The Surge and a whole slew of others all have Dark Souls to thank for their existence and even some indie developed side scrollers garner the inspirational gravitas of Dark Souls as a whole.
4) League of Legends
Esports have been around a lot longer than most would think, but when it came to building the audience and marketing it to mass market ideology, I’d point to League of Legends as being the defining influence on why Esports is being looked at the way it is today. Selling out stadium venues like Madison Square Garden or even the Barclay’s in their NYC events is insane when you consider that it’s a video game selling out said stadiums. League took the crown that DOTA2 formally had and ran it so far into the endzone I’m not sure other Esports can keep up. DOTA has since change their tournament structure and prizing efforts to catch-up, and Overwatch League probably wouldn’t have been conceived of as a thing were it not for how LoL set up their community driven events. Whether you like League or not, or think it’s a good game or not, League has had a major impact on Esports and gaming all in one. With Riot poised to release new genres featuring their storied cast of characters like Runes of Runeterra (a digital card game featuring popular League Characters currently taking the world by storm…and it’s just in BETA!) and an upcoming fighting game, we may see a shift in Esports and its effect on culture sooner than we think. League singlehandedly helped turn Twitch into the media platform it is today, mainstreamed Esports as a whole and it did all this while being FREE.
3) Pokemon GO
If anyone ever doubted the power of Pokemon, I need only remind you of the bliss few weeks of borderline world peace that was achieved when this game initially dropped on mobile devices. The other thing this did was cement mobile gaming as a true dedicated gaming space. Sure, we had the Clash of Clans and the Candy Crushes, but there was a period of time where people looked at Mobile Gaming as a sort of non-gamer marketplace and not for serious gamers. Nintendo throwing Pokemon on it and immediately garnering millions of players worldwide is testament to the opposite of that statement and the power of nostalgia all in one.
2) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
In 2017, Nintendo looked absolutely spent. The failures of the Wii and Wii U had caught up to them and they needed some type of resurgence and revitalization. The once proud giant of gaming came ever so close to irrelevancy. It’s absolutely fitting then, that their comeback and resurgence into the industry came on the back of one of their flagship titles. Breath of the Wild was a testament to the Nintendo we know and love, with grandeur and an affection for history in deep rooted nostalgia. It also happens to take the open world genre and truly embrace the go anywhere, do anything motif a lot try to aim for but miss. While owed to other games on this list, Breath of the Wild hits my number 2 most impactful and influential game of all time solely due to how it took from those that came before it and skyrocketed the ideas into the future. Just watch any World Record speedrun to see how much freedom the game has, or the creative solutions that players took down some of the game’s hardest open world bosses. Skyrim, Witcher 3 and Dark Souls elements all thrive in this game to create something that is enjoyable for the casual gamer and streamlined for the hardcore. All open world games going forward need to be as good if not better than Breath of the Wild and that’s something only Nintendo could have achieved.
In 2009 Minecraft stepped out of its early development test stage as a little survive and build indie game and dipped its toes into the waters of the bigger games. In the ten years the game has been in existence, it is the corner AND centerstone of media entertainment and pop culture. It is the embodiment of the creative experience and a proverbial gateway to gaming. It’s the only game on the market that I know allows passionate children and creative adults to share in a world building experience. To me that is the biggest key on the influence and impact of Minecraft. It happens to be the entry way for young children be the inheritors of today’s technological dependency and highlights that video games can be used as a force for good.
Admittedly, I’ve largely ignored Minecraft because it wasn’t for me, but began to take notice when my now 10-year-old son began to create within the confines of its engine. The pixely block building I once scoffed at was now seen by a different eye; the eye of a parent. I woke up to the realization that this is the future of gaming. By embracing the need for creation and world sharing, Minecraft has done something I don’t think any game coming out could ever achieve but could only emulate. By being the gateway to world building within the confines of a video game, Minecraft has inspired the next generation of coders and developers. Seeing my son take his creative process from Minecraft to it’s inspiration in things like ROBLOX and several other online build your world games is inspiring. Death Stranding, our 2019 Game of the Year is the only thing that comes close in my opinion in that world sharing motif, but the divisive reaction to that game showed me most gamers clearly aren’t ready for video games to be that sounding board and are largely ignoring the importance of things like Minecraft. That we can come together to be better together is a community aspect that shines immensely in video games. One need only to look at the efforts of things like Awesome Games Done Quick that brings all gamers together to raise money for cancer, or the communal efforts of something like Destiny and their relief efforts and charitable endeavors.
While video games are mostly just seen as interactive pieces of entertainment, something like Minecraft showcases that it can be so much more. When video games do get that sense of recognition, it’ll be at a point in time when people will look back and see this decade of history and they’ll see all the insanity of politics and real-world drama and how hatred took center stage in a world trying to build towards peace. Then they’ll see Minecraft, a video game that just wanted to show us how to build a better world.