CoG Staff Starts Our List of The Best Games of The Decade, Unranked (1-10)
Making a list of the best games isn’t an easy feat, especially when there are hundreds of options summed down to just 20. Here are the best of the best for the decade. You can check out the second half of the list here.
1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)
My brother and I were waiting outside a GameStop on Skyrim‘s release night. When we went home, we played the game for 24 hours straight, with only a bowl of popcorn and several liters of Mountain Dew for sustenance. The Elder Scrolls V goes beyond best game of the decade — it is quite possibly the best video game of all time (and I don’t say that lightly). It’s one of those games that everyone owns because it’s recommended by friends, family, and foes alike. Everyone can agree that this game is at the tip-top of the list, and nothing quite compares.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is very, very expansive, featuring a wintry realm full of dragons and Nords and a massive list of quests with tons of items for you to collect in addition to the game’s main storyline. There are pages of lore backing each and every one of its villages and cities and the characters that inhabit them. And to top it off, it has every single RPG element that you could ever wish for: leveling, magic, sword fighting, whacky NPCs, and countless hours of content that’ll keep you occupied without a dull moment of gameplay. By the 50th hour you’ll probably have killed more dragons than you’re willing to admit, been knocked off a cliff by a giant, dabbled in all nine guilds, and I bet you’ll have taken advantage of at least one of the hundreds of beautiful mods on offer from Skyrim‘s modding community.
2. Fire Emblem: Three Houses (2019)
Fire Emblem has always been a fantastic strategy franchise, but Intelligent Systems really put some hard work into the series’ latest release. During the Nintendo Direct that took place earlier this year, Nintendo announced that Fire Emblem: Three Houses had been delayed, and due to the enormity of the game and its in-depth story, players were honestly thankful for it. Just like other Fire Emblem games, you start off as the tactician, creating the perfect team composition and maneuvering them around a grid map against deadly foes. At the beginning of the game, you choose one of three lords to accompany, each promising 40+ hours of game play with unique story plots to uncover. There are several plot holes and unresolved threads in each story, and you’ll have to play through each path to get all of your questions answered. Fire Emblem: Three Houses is the best FE release this decade, by far.
3. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017)
Longevity is a recurring theme here; I thought I’d explore everything there was to explore in Breath of the Wild during my 150-odd hours with the game, or at least everything I wanted to get out of it, but my aimless wandering led me to Tarrey Town, a large, empty rock island. Completing the From The Ground Up quest allows the player to build this empty island into a bustling village. Prior Zelda games have had relatively linear stories, but Breath of The Wild has segments of the story that are completely optional. There’s so much to do in the world, and so much of it is beautiful and delightful, that it’s easy to get distracted and drawn towards a side quest or shrine puzzle. More than once, I’d forge my own adventure and I’d forget about saving the world from Ganon.
4. Bloodborne (2015)
Dark Souls was the first of its kind, but Bloodborne perfected the formula. The first, and sometimes the only thing, people say about Bloodborne and the Dark Souls franchise is that it’s hard. Really hard. It’s so difficult that I nearly gave up within an hour of starting the game. Players say it’s the most challenging RPG of all time. While its predecessor Dark Souls is nothing to sneeze at, Bloodborne might be the most challenging and rewarding of the series, and that’s why we’ve added it to the list. The creature design and the horrible, evil, terrifying world were given form through fast, chaotic, and visceral combat. The joy (and frustration) I felt when facing its toughest foes was unmatched by any other game. Even through all of the gore, I will always appreciate the architecture and atmosphere of the Victorian-inspired city of Yharnam.
5. Nier: Automata (2017)
Nier: Automata is an action role-playing hack-and-slash game developed by PlatinumGames and published by Square Enix. The OST is absolutely gorgeous and the graphics are insanely beautiful (something that Square Enix always does right). The night I finished my first playthrough of Nier: Automata felt rewarding, but the night that I completed Nier: Automata in its entirety filled me with anxiety, and only one thought filled my head: “But why?” Our main characters are androids made by humans who are blindly fighting the eternal fight to regain possession of planet Earth. An important part of the story is that the androids have evolved to have emotions and a sense of consciousness.
This game has a total of 26 endings and epilogues, the majority being silly jokes, but the conclusion to the main story was one of the most emotional, heart-wrenching endings I’ve ever had to play through. How would I describe the end? Imagine being at the pit of despair with no escape and knowing there are no good outcomes in sight; you’re forced to watch the same result over and over again, omnisciently knowing that there isn’t a happy ending. That’s how I would describe the final end of Nier: Automata. There’s a lesson of life to be taken away from this game — time spent with the people you love should be cherished, always.
6. The Last of Us/Remastered (2013/2014)
Voice acting in games can be tough, but Naughty Dog really outdid themselves with The Last of Us. It’s just one piece of an assortment of things that they did right with this game. Every plot hole is explored and fleshed out in its entirety, and the acting is without a doubt the best you’ll find in any video game of this decade. The emotional roller coaster that this game puts its players through is a testament to how moving some of the performances were. For those that aren’t so great at shooters and tend to faint easily when playing horror games, it can feel cumbersome and sometimes a little overwhelming, but that handicap didn’t stop me; in fact, the emotional trauma inflicted upon me is what kept me hooked! Our main character Joel is a man once soft turned ruthless survivor — he is selfish and cruel, but all for good reason. He exemplifies the act of survival when there’s nothing left to survive for, but I felt safe with him, and there’s a reason why our girl Ellie did, too.
The Last of Us is a PlayStation exclusive — pick it up here!
7. Persona V (2016)
I almost felt personally attacked when someone on the internet suggested that Persona 5 was superior to the all-time award winner Final Fantasy VII. It’s blasphemous, they’re simply not the same thing at all. I can, however, agree that Persona 5 has set a new bar for what JRPG storytelling can be. Our main character isn’t the talkative type, so it can be easy to breeze by in this game saying nothing at all. But you’ll get sucked in to its story and characters whether you like it or not. A talking cat? It doesn’t bother you anymore, Morgana is Morgana. Nothing strange to see here, move along. The threat of your world coming to an end? You’re not saving the world for you, you’re doing it for your friends because their happiness means more to you than anything else. Ryuji’s energetic personality will grow on you and before you know it, Ann’s naive nature will melt your heart.
On your first playthrough, you’ll think these friends will be around forever, but you’ll soon realize that isn’t the case. You spend your precious moments leveling, not really hanging out at all, and then it all comes to an end, leaving you with so many unanswered questions because there just isn’t enough time. So in the second playthrough, you’ll start setting schedules and checking guides to make sure that you witness every cherishable cutscene you can before you’re inevitably sent away in the summer. You’ll realize every day, right down to the hour, is a gift strategically well spent. You’ll look at your time played and see that you’ve put in 100 hours into a story and its characters that you didn’t even realize you had fallen in love with. But you did.
Persona V is a PlayStation exclusive — pick it up here!
8. God of War (2018)
When God of War was announced in E3 2018 and described as a “gentler” Kratos than what I was used to, I snorted and said, “Yeah right!” Well, it turns out it was true. Our once destructively frenzied berserker had taken up a fatherly role. He had gotten softer, but only barely. Players got to see a new side of Kratos that they’d never thought existed — and it was great! In many ways, Kratos still loved partaking in some good old-fashioned skull-smashing, but now he thinks before putting his axe into an enemy’s skull. God of War sounds Dark Soul-ish because in some ways, it is Dark Soul-ish. No sniper rifles or knives in this game. Instead, especially in the extremely difficult postgame content, you get Kratos’ trusty old axe. Gifted by the Gods of Olympus, the blades represent years of deceit and servitude, and lots and lots of killing. According to game director Cory Barlog, “We were experimenting with lots of different weapons, lots of different things. I think we wanted to create an identity, because to me the blades represent a very dark time in [Kratos’] life.” The creators decided to swap these for the Leviathan axe — new axe, new journey, new Kratos.
9. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (2013)
After a nearly three-year hiatus, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn — Square Enix‘s second go after botching the first launch in 2010 — was released on Aug. 27, 2013 on the PC and PlayStation 3.
The initial launch of this game was a huge failure. It was met with a terrible player response and equally terrible media reviews. Remember what I said earlier about Square Enix being a pioneer in graphics? Well, graphics was the ultimate contributor to FFXIV‘s failure. The poly count and lag was so bad that only a handful of players could be present in the same space at any given amount of time. There were other factors, such as SE‘s inexperience with MMOs since Final Fantasy XI (2002). MMOs had changed significantly since then, and Square Enix‘s model was obsolete. Immediately after FFXIV‘s catastrophic launch, Naoki Yoshida was brought on to restructure the development team and was tasked with rebuilding the game from scratch.
He succeeded, and now several years later, FFXIV has established itself as the best MMO of the decade. Earlier this year, SE released FFXIV‘s 3rd expansion Shadowbringers (2019) with well over 14 million subscribers to date. I’ve spent weeks of my life immersed in Eorzea before Shadowbringers and gladly continued after its launch, clocking in at 930 days. I have found a community of friends with which to explore a world filled with a vibrancy that other games cannot offer. Shadowbringers’ story is one to remember, with well over 50 engrossing hours of gameplay (that is, if you don’t skip the story, which you shouldn’t!). There are a few unpleasant things, such as patch notes changing my favorite class(es), but ultimately, Shadowbringers rises above menial class changes and fixes. It cements Final Fantasy XIV’s place in the hallowed halls of the Final Fantasy franchise, and it marks the absolute redemption of an initially troubled game.
Final Fantasy XIV Online has been released on several different platforms, and lucky for you there’s a free trial! Additionally, FFXIV has a recruitment campaign that offers additional rewards for both recruiters and recruitees. If you’re interested in playing with some of CoG’s members, give us a holler and we’ll send you a recruitment code!
10. Xenoblade Chronicles (2010)
Initially, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 was on the list, but I’m here to tell you why the first Xenoblade Chronicles is better. While the second one has its fair share of issues, like the lack of voice direction and lip syncing in the English dub, it still comes out as a pretty solid game, maybe even the best JRPG of this decade. Even though the landscape is beautiful to roam through, and the weapons and battle systems are top-notch, you’ll wish it was released on a more powerful console. The time it takes to render textures after fast traveling a long distance, and the memory leaks that can lead to the game crashing if you play long enough in one continuous session, make this game less than stellar. But it mostly comes down to personal preference.
Both Xenoblade Chronicles games are incredible and had wonderful stories to tell, but the sequel had its fair share of irritating characters with even more irritating catchphrases. Also, even though I’m not one of those prudes who demanded Pyra censorship, some of the more sexually overt character designs can also be a bit off putting to casual players who aren’t exactly used to that sort of stuff. It may be awkward to try to play the game while your mother is home. The expansion pack for Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Torna: the Golden Country, fixed a lot of the issues with the base game, but that’s not enough to warrant placing the whole game above the first.
And that’s it for the first half, folks. Stay tuned for the rest!
For more gaming editorials like this, keep up to date with Culture Of Gaming for news, reviews, and all things geeky.
Excited for more? Or do you simply not agree with what’s on the list thus far? Yell at us in the comments!