The GYGlist: Best video games of the 2010s

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The 2010s are behind us, and they brought a lot of changes to the industry and how we play video games. Gone are the days of buying a game and having all of its content available on a disc and not locked behind paywalls, micro transactions, loot boxes and 5 planned DLCs.

Of course it wasn’t all bad. We experienced the golden age of the indie developer and the rise of digital distribution services. Luckily, there are many quality games that bucked the current trend, or at least made it tolerable. Here’s what the GYG staff considers to be some of the best video games they played from the last decade as we look forward to blistering our thumbs on what’s to come.

Total War: Rome II (2013)

Picked By: Alex

Platform: PC

I know what you’re thinking. This recommendation goes against what we just talked about in the introductory paragraph, but hear me out. I didn’t know the Total War franchise existed when this Rome II came out so I was lucky enough to not experience its botched release that gives this game such a low ranking on people’s top Total War game lists.

I bought the game in 2017 after picking up Rome: Total War for a few bucks during a Steam sale. When I started playing, I was delighted to find it (and the series for that matter) combined the best elements of RTS and turn-based strategy. I got the empire/city management seen in Civilization with the exciting tactical combat of an RTS. You can also pause and rethink your strategy when things get hectic mid-battle, or if you’re like me, fuck up entirely and rage quit. I ain’t no tactical genius like Alexander the Great despite being named after him.

But one of the most alluring parts of the game is the fact that being outnumbered doesn’t mean you’ll automatically lose the battle. Your army is only as good as your tactical command skills. You could use the terrain and units to your advantage. I once held off a barbarian horde in southern Germany with 1,000 more troops than me because I goaded them into attacking my position on a bridge. I sent a few units over a river crossing to attack the army from the rear, but they got decimated by the chieftains bodyguard units. However, it was enough to thin out the elite unit so when it broke through my main shield wall, my reserve units held them off long enough to barely win. They were left with 40 men, I had 70 men. We started the battle with thousands of soldiers.

My experience with this game reignited my love for grand strategy and 4x games. If you love antiquity, tactical combat and games that leave you with fun stories to tell, I’d recommend this game. You should also check out Medieval 2, Shogun 2, and Three Kingdoms if you prefer different time periods and settings. If you prefer something more fantastical, check out the Warhammer games. My computer can’t handle those games unfortunately.

Mass Effect 2 (2010)

Picked by: Joe

Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC

This has been said before, but the Mass Effect series really does mirror the Star Wars film series to a remarkable degree. Mass Effect 1 is just like A New Hope, it’s the innovator, the one that started it all, and even though it’s a bit dated, it still holds up due to its imagination and vision. Mass Effect 3 is just like Return of the Jedi, it’s overall a hugely satisfying conclusion with the most emotional moments in the franchise, but it also makes a few questionable decisions (the Star Child is to Mass Effect as the Ewoks are to Star Wars). And then of course you have Andromeda, which is just like every other Star Wars movie outside the original trilogy (it sucks).

But then of course, there’s Mass Effect 2, the Empire Strikes Back of BioWare’s space opera. It’s the dark middle chapter, it has the most mature storytelling, and it contains the most shocking twists in the series. And just like Empire, it built on the groundwork laid by its predecessor to make something far greater. It may have stripped away some of the RPG elements that the first game had, but honestly, did anyone miss ME1’s inventory management? 

What makes ME2 stand out from the others in the trilogy are the little things. It’s a much more stylish game, for one, with so many of its environments bathed in an ominous red light, giving the whole game this pervasive sense of dread. And because the entire game is based around your relationships with your crew, it allows for so many more small character moments. From Mordin revealing his conflicting feelings about helping to sterilize an entire species, to Garrus telling you to piss off so he can work on some calibrations, each squad mate is given their time to shine. 

Of course this all leads up to arguably the most thrilling conclusion in all of gaming. The suicide mission is just as intense the seventh time you’ve played the game as it is the first, because no matter how much you prepared, no matter how many planets you’ve scanned for resources, no matter how loyal your crew is, there’s still that nagging doubt that you screwed something up. Maybe you picked the wrong guy to lead the wounded back to your ship. Maybe you just forgot to get the right upgrades. You won’t know for sure until you see your favorite character blown away unceremoniously in a cutscene. No other game before or since has captured that tension.

We all know now that Mass Effect 3 didn’t live up to the high expectations of 2. This might be a hot take, but I actually love 3, and I even like the ending. And I do not begrudge it failing to match the quality of one of the absolute greatest games of all time. After all, we still like Return of the Jedi, even if it never comes close to touching Empire.

Silent Hill: Downpour (2012)

Picked By: Brian

Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3

At the time of writing this list, this has been the latest entry in the Silent Hill series. 

This game has stayed with me for several reasons. Firstly, I felt that the game did a great job of keeping the same creepy ambience of the town of Silent Hill while updating a lot of the game’s mechanics. The game moved the series from a clunky follow-behind camera to an over-the-shoulder camera that made it easy for players to interact with the environment, while also giving the game a fluid combat system.

The addition of the weather effects to the town were also a cool addition. When the rain came, stronger enemies appeared in the town in greater numbers (hence the name, Downpour). There were also some pretty cool Easter eggs in the game, like being able to find the apartment from Silent Hill 4: The Room.

South Park: The Stick of Truth (2014)

Picked By: Alex

Platforms: Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC

There’s nothing like making the enemy violently poop themselves in a role playing game. 

I never laughed so much while playing a video game. From trying to remove an anal probe from Randy Marsh to dodging genitalia while fighting underpants gnomes as Tweak’s parents have sex in the bed above you, South Park: The Stick of Truth provides non-stop gags.

The battle system is engaging, especially the farting mechanic. One style of fart attack has you guiding it in the enemies face with the thumb stick to gross them out, which slowly drains HP like the poison effect in traditional JRPGs. Each class provides a fresh take on well-worn genre mechanics that keep the game fun to grind, even if the Nazi Zombies become  super repetitive in the late game. 

The story winds its way through episodic quests as if you’re playing through an interactive season of the show. All the throwbacks make an appearance – Mr Hanky, Canadians, Man Bear Pig, the homeless infestation, the beef between the Chinese restaurant owner and the Mongolians, and it all centers around radioactive Taco Bell waste. If you love RPGs and a good laugh, there’s no reason to not try this one out. I have yet to play The Fractured But Whole, but I know when I eventually do, it will be a treat.

Undertale (2015)

Picked by: Joe

Platforms: PC, Mac, PS4, Switch, PS Vita

Let’s get this out of the way: Undertale has one of the worst fan bases in gaming. They’re a bunch of overzealous weirdos at best, and mean spirited bullies at worst. It’s ironic, because anyone who would be an asshole about Undertale obviously didn’t understand its message.

There are three different ways to play Undertale, and I believe it’s important to experience them all to some extent to see everything this game has to offer. The neutral route is what most players will get their first time around, and its conclusion is intentionally unsatisfying. The true ending is both heartbreaking and heartwarming, telling one of the most life-affirming stories in any video game. 

Then of course, there’s the bad ending. I wouldn’t blame anyone for not wanting to even attempt this. It turns what was once a charming and beautiful experience into a horror game. The gorgeous music has been distorted into the soundtrack to a slow motion nightmare. It truly makes you feel like the scum of the earth, but knowing what happens when you play it truly makes you appreciate the true ending all the more.

I don’t wanna say much more about it for anyone who hasn’t played it yet. Unlike the game’s more toxic “fans,” who have notoriously harassed Let’s Players for not playing it the “right” way, I believe you should go into Undertale completely blind. Ignore the fandom, stay off any Undertale Tumblr threads, and I promise that you’re gonna have a good time.

To The Moon (2011)

Picked By: Brian

Platforms: PC, Switch

This is one of the few games to ever make me feel truly emotional, and if you played it and can’t say you were moved then I’m 94 percent sure you’re completely dead inside.

Everything about this game is fantastic, from the nostalgic top-down camera angle, to the writing, music, and the overall narrative. What makes it even more impressive, is that the game was designed, written and composed by an independent game designer, Kan Gao, and it was created in RPG Maker XP.

The game saw a sequel, Finding Paradise, in December 2017, which was just as good as the first.

Super Mario Odyssey (2017)

Picked By: Alex

Platforms: Switch

I haven’t been more enthralled with a Mario game since the first time I jumped into a portrait in Super Mario 64 in the 1990s. Especially since I never played a 3D Mario game in between. Sunshine seemed too much of a radical departure and by the time. Galaxy came out when I was an Xbox fanboy talking shit on Halo 3 matchmaking. But over the years, I always dusted off the N64 and returned to Mario’s first 3D platforming adventure.

Odyssey lured me in with nostalgia and hooked me with its refreshing twist on what Mario can do. I know it’s been said a million times, but there’s nothing cooler than taking control of the T-Rex and just destroying everything in sight. It’s as close to GTA as Mario can get. And the formula doesn’t get old since you encounter new enemies and challenges with each world you visit.

My biggest gripe would be that about 70 percent of the boss battles are pretty stale, especially when it comes to Bowser’s rabbit henchmen, but there are some really creative ones that make up for this. The octopus in the Seaside Kingdom was the most memorable and the most fun I’ve had during a boss fight over the past few years.

I’m not the type of guy to 100% a game so the 1000-moon-collect-a-thon doesn’t appeal to me. That’s way too many moons to collect for my taste. I had a hard time getting enough stars to get through Super Mario 64. But it is nice to know if I want to challenge myself, I still have more content to get though and a reason to keep picking up the game. It’s rewarding enough to explore each world and figure out what to do to earn enough moons to move on to the next level. 

I can’t recommend this game enough, but I assume if you have a Switch, you already own this game And if you’re about to buy a Switch, you’ll buy this game. If you are a Sony or Microsoft diehard and you have young kids, you’ll eventually buy a Switch and play this game. I will always have a reason to play the N64, even if it’s just to replay Whomp’s Fortress. Now I’ll always have a reason to dust off the Nintendo Switch, if the hardware can last that long.

Detroit: Become Human (2018)

Picked by: Brian

Platforms: PC, PS4

This game still blows my mind three playthroughs later.

The narrative is strong, driven by split-second decisions that put the player in a position that can — and almost definitely will — impact the rest of the game in some way. 

The choices the player makes helps to shape the personalities and individual stories of the three main characters. Each of my three playthroughs has been entirely different — my first playthrough I made all of the choices that aligned with my own moral compass; the second I made all of the opposite choices; and the third, I was chasing trophies.

Dark Souls (2011)

Picked by: Joe

Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, Switch

Some may only know of Dark Souls as that game that hack game critics use as shorthand to describe a difficult game. “It’s the Dark Souls of platformers!” “It’s the Dark Souls of erotic visual novels!” Well Dark Souls is the Dark Souls of Video games, and it’s so much more than its difficulty. 

I’ll use a very specific moment to describe what makes Dark Souls special. There’s this douchebag named Lautrec of Carim who you can save from a prison cell early in the game, and he tells you that he’ll repay you soon. But the only thing he does for you is make your life miserable by murdering and stealing the soul of the fire keeper at Firelink Shrine, the central checkpoint of the game, making it useless. You have to track down Lautrec in another dimension and fight him and two of his cronies in what is one of the hardest fights in the game. It’s super annoying and I hate it.

But on my next run of the game I realized that I can just kill Lautrec before he even has the chance to off the fire keeper. He hangs out by a cliff near Firelink Shrine and you can just kick him off the ledge to his death and take his really powerful ring. You can completely skip this annoying part of the game, and I love that Dark Souls gives you that freedom.

A lot of so-called “open world games” taut the freedom they give the player, but in my experience, most open world games are linear as hell. You have to complete the story in THIS order, you go to THIS glowing icon on the map, and talk to THIS NPC. Oh and you can do some side missions along the way, but they’re mostly all the same boring fetch quests. Dark Souls isn’t like that. It truly drops you into a world with very little fanfare, and it makes you figure out where to go. Sure you might end up going the “right” way, but then you might end up finding a secret area like the Great Hollow or the Painted World. You don’t feel like you’re checking off boxes on a list like most games, you feel like you’re discovering a new world.

I thought about putting some of FromSoft’s other games from this decade on this list, like Bloodborne and Sekiro, both masterpieces in their own right. But Dark Souls is the original, a game that has helped change the medium for the better. There’s a whole sub genre of Souls clones out there, including Nioh, Code Vein, The Surge, and so many more. And just like those lazy game journalists who compare all hard games to Dark Souls, those imitators only scratch the surface of what makes it one of the best games ever made.

What were your favorite games of the 2010s? Keep the discussion going in the comments!

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