Get up close and personal with your favorite video game creatures as we have fun with another random draw episode! We asked our listeners to send us their favorite non-humanoid video game creatures and challenged ourselves to provide the taste, feeling, and smell that their two-dimensional video games cannot. Join us for a spectacular FIVE DIMENSIONAL adventure!
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim developed by Bethesda Game Studios
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time developed by Nintendo
Viva Piñata developed by Rare
Stardew Valley developed by ConcernedApe/Eric Barone
Mass Effect/Mass Effect 2/Mass Effect 3 developed by BioWare
Happy New Year! In this year’s first episode of the Gaming Corner, we talk about cherishing characters in Darkest Dungeon, the difficulties of space in Outer Wilds, and dealing with grief in Kentucky Route Zero.
Greetings, travelers! Happy 2020 and welcome to the second annual Purposeful Gaming Challenge!
Whether you are a veteran of the challenge from last year and looking to come back for round two or just now joining us, know I’m happy to have you with us. Community makes all the difference for challenges of any size. We were lucky to have a core group of people working together last year, sharing successes and sorrows alike, and all keeping one another going during the hardest weeks. I learned a lot from how the challenge was approached and tackled, and have made some needed adjustments to the rules this year to make it more flexible and provide greater opportunity for customizing it for a wider audience.
Before we get started properly, I want to give a very special shoutout to two very awesome people in the Greetings From community who made it all the way with us: Boots (@JGtotheMAX) and Aethom (@theapthomas). The Greetings From team also assembled our thoughts on the challenge from last year: Rebecca | Olivia | Tyler.
What is it?
The Purposeful Gaming Challenge (PGC) is a twist on the traditional 52 Week challenges that tend to pop up as part of new year resolutions. You may have even already participated in something like this, whether it was watching 52 movies or reading 52 books. The “purposeful” part is what we at Greetings From strive to make a key aspect of our relationship with video games, and have each approached this idea differently during our first year with the challenge. Ideally, we like to use the challenge to help ourselves and others accomplish a few important goals:
Basic practical knowledge of more games. For those aspiring to be developers, artists, writers, and so on–there is no better way to learn the craft than to purposefully consume and study it.
A dent in your backlog (or forelog). We’re all guilty of long backlogs or lots of plans to balance all the new games coming out every year. The PGC provides an opportunity to plan out your year of gaming and ensure you have time to see everything you want to see.
A better understanding of your own interests. Do you keep picking up the same kinds of games, playing them until you’re tired of them, and never really learning anything from it? Don’t do that anymore! Learn what really appeals to you and hone your ability to meaningfully critique the kinds of games you can’t get enough of.
How does it work?
I refined the rules in 2020 to remove some of the confusion that came about last year. In particular, I wanted to refocus the framing of the challenge itself to widen the scope for Purposeful Gaming and provide more opportunity and inspiration for customizing the challenge to fit your unique 2020 goals.
Your goal is to play 52 different games in 2020. That’s one game per week for each week of the year. You can play more if you would like to, and there is no penalty for playing fewer. Fifty-two is merely an easily trackable number that will allow you to see a good variety of games throughout the year. This is not an easy feat, however; I do call it a challenge for a reason!
Any game counts. Phone games, big long commercial games, small team games, demos, DLC, old games, even board games! The choice is totally up to you as to what you want to play, because you should always be playing what you want to.
Make decisions about your games. At the end of each week, I’d like to challenge you to reflect on the game that you played, and place it into one of our suggested categories:
Finished – Whether you saw to the end of the main story or hit a crisp 100%, you feel comfortable having seen everything the game has to offer.
Unfinished/Will Complete – It’s not always easy to finish a whole game in a single week, so this category is for games you enjoy and want to keep playing.
Unfinished/Won’t Complete – This is the category for learning to say no. You may not particularly like every game you engage with and that’s totally okay. Part of respecting your time is about setting your own boundaries
Other Categories – You’re free to use any categories you’d like to help group your games together, beyond just the three listed above. I often use Ongoing as a category for games that are generally endless, like Stardew Valley or Destiny 2. I’m also someone that likes to dip back into an old favorite I’ve played before, so to give myself that leniency, I use the category One-Off to mark games that fall outside of the PGC scope.
Keep track of your games. You’re free to do this in any way that is meaningful to you! I like to use Airtable, while others may stick to a Google Sheet or Excel document. You may find that you also like blogging or journaling about your gaming experiences, or creating art about them. Keeping track of what you’re playing is more for you than anyone else, but it’s fun to go back at the end of the year to see everything you played. For 2020, we’re providing both an Airtable template and Google Sheet template to help get you started.
Each week, beginning on January 1st, I’ll post a thread on the Greetings From subreddit. These threads are optional, but a great way to connect with others and share what you’re playing that week and what you think of it. I am certain I was only able to finish the challenge last year because I had others in the Reddit and Discord to hold me accountable, and their support and enthusiasm for their own challenges made it a fun way to bond together over something we all love.
How can I make it my own?
I’m glad you asked! The primary challenge of the PGC is meant to be twofold: play 52 games during 2020 and play them purposefully. The “purposeful” part is meant to be up to your discretion! I created the PGC originally around the idea of playing purposefully with your time, but I would encourage everyone to level up in 2020 and consider other ways to be purposeful with your gaming. Think about causes that are important to you (e.g. fair labor, supporting minoritized creators, unionization, environmentalism, etc.), ways to be more frugal or judicious with your spending, opportunities to support independent artists and teams, and so forth.
I’ve included below some ideas from the community to help give you a launching point to design your own PGC:
Backlog Buster – We’ve all gotten a little too excited during a Steam Sale and ended up buying more games than we might have actually had time to play. Maybe there are a few games you’ve played in the past couple of years that you’ve really wanted to get back to but just haven’t had the time. The Backlog Buster challenge is all about working your way backward and carving a purposeful dent in your backlog. Looking to level up your Backlog Busting? Take the frugal route and go on a no-buy or low-buy to ensure that you’re giving time to the games you already own, and saving some extra dollars for the games you really do want to buy.
Patient Player – Video games are often a major investment, and not everyone has the ability to buy every new game as it releases. Patient Playing is for those who are more focused on buying games for the challenge, but still looking to stay frugal. Sales and deals come along frequently, making it more affordable to buy big box games within a few months following their release, and is a great way to engage with the criticism and discourse around games you may have regretted buying on Day 1.
Itch Idealist – The Greetings From team is a big fan of Itch.io, a platform where developers can easily self-publish their work. There are a lot of incredible games available on Itch (and we have an ongoing roundup of our favorites!) and many are available for free, for a donation, or for a reasonable price. The Itch Idealist is someone who is interested in exploring more experimental games, more complex narratives, and more artistic experiences that are not always found in the big box gaming space.
Subscription Seeker – Subscription services are all the rage these days, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you were already paying for a few! I personally pay for Game Pass/Xbox Live Gold, Twitch Prime, Apple Arcade, and PlayStation Plus, which nets me quite a few free games every month. Many of you may also have subscriptions to Humble Bundle, or regularly pick up free offerings from the Epic Games Store. Regardless of what you’re subscribed to, a great way to challenge yourself this year is to explore all the games at your fingertips. You may not have purchased them, but you are paying to access them; make the most of your subscription!
Cause-Conscious Choices – This is a more personal way to approach the PGC, but after so many issues in the gaming industry came to light in 2019, I thought it would be a smart way to approach gaming in 2020. The Cause-Conscious gamer chooses to vote with their wallet, and abstain from purchasing games from creators, studios, or publishers whose actions or values go against what is important to them. Consider boycotting studios who support unfair labor practices or create hostile work environments for minoritized groups. Don’t give money to known abusers. Make a commitment to what you believe in.
I still have questions!
And I have some answers! Here’s some of the most frequently asked questions:
52 games is a lot of money! How can I keep up?
You’re absolutely right! There is no rule about needing to spend money to accomplish this challenge. Obviously I’m not condoning piracy, but I’m also not telling you to buy 52 $60 games on Day 1. Here’s some frugal gaming tips:
Pull from your backlog!
Sales, baby! Gamestop, Target, Best Buy, Steam, the PlayStation and Xbox stores, and on and on–sales happen all the time and it’s a great way to catch up on stuff you’ve missed on the cheap.
The Epic Games Store is giving away free games every two weeks!
Humble Bundle is a great way to get a lot of games for the price of one!
Subscriptions! Humble Monthly, PSN, Gamepass, Twitch Prime–all these and more give away free games every month.
Free games! They exist! https://itch.io/ is a great place to find experimental free or extremely inexpensive games.
I’m going on vacation and I won’t have access to my Switch/console/PC and can’t dedicate time to playing this week. Does this mean I’m disqualified?
Not at all! This is a challenge after all, not the rules by which you must now live your life. If you know you’ve got some busy time coming up, consider playing a couple small games in the same week beforehand. If life comes at you fast and you lose all the free time you had, try a mobile game or something arty on Steam. The goal is just to experience 52 games, but they don’t all have to be 60 hour monsters. Don’t forget your old friend https://howlongtobeat.com/ if you need some help scheduling.
What do I get if I actually play 52 games in 2020?
We have something special planned for those who make it through to the end of 2020. Stay tuned and keep gaming!
I thought that 2019 was going to be a slow year for video games. After the blockbuster years of 2017 (The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nier: Automata, etc.) and 2018 (God of War, Red Dead Redemption 2, etc.), I was kind of ready for a little reprieve. Surprisingly, 2019 was full of fantastic games that were barely on my radar before they came out.
It was both thrilling and exhausting to have this litany of games come as recommended must-plays from people I trusted. Every year, I seem to have less and less free time, which stresses me out. There were so many overlooked games that I didn’t have time to play, and I’m sure I will look back on this list as incomplete. Alas, there is only so much time in the year, and I am only human. Please forgive me for this failing.
This game of the year (GOTY) list is going to get into plot spoilers for the following games: Death Stranding, Hypnospace Outlaw, Outer Worlds, Control, and Outer Wilds.
10. Death Stranding
The story of Death Stranding is Hideo Kojima at his worst. The plot is indulgent, plodding, and often nonsensical. Except for one notable exception, women in this game have no agency beyond being baby-making machines and tarnished sexual beings. It’s so bad y’all. I can’t even tell you how fucking stupid this game is because it would take another 1,000 words to describe what exactly “The Last Stranding” is and how it was never explained until the last minute.
Forget about the story. The reason that Death Stranding makes this list is because of ziplines. You see, playing Death Stranding is a chore. Dodging or fighting the ghostly Beached Things (BTs) is a stressful experience that never gets easier. Many remote outposts have no roads or easy to walk paths. Ziplines are a late-game item that allows you to fly over BTs and other enemies quickly.
Building a network of ziplines across the world of Death Stranding was one of the most rewarding gaming experiences I had this year. I hated sneaking by BTs and walking across the giant map. Ziplines were my reward for putting in the time trying to understand this story and thinking strategically about my resources. Every open-world game should have ziplines that let me fly around while my ghost baby laughs maniacally.
Other things that make Death Stranding bearable are its beautiful graphics and commitment to being a literal walking simulator. The game is powered by the same technology that made Horizon Zero Dawn, so it isn’t a surprise that it looks great. The slavish dedication to creating a world where players must watch where they step is admirable even if it is sometimes annoying.
Seriously though, who the fuck thought the concept of “still mothers” was a good idea?
9. Devil May Cry 5
Sometimes, I want to turn my brain off and wail on some bad guys. Devil May Cry 5 revels in this brainless fun. I got to play as a demon hunter who has a motor on his sword that he revs to do more damage and a prosthetic arm that has an engine in it so that he can fly. Nico is a daisy-duke wearing merchant who drives her van into the bowels of demon-infested territory. And by drive, I mean that she comes flying out random holes and falls from the sky. It’s ridiculous, and I love it.
The ridiculousness of this game is epitomized in the 21st-century masterpiece that is “Devil Trigger.” I didn’t like this song when I first heard it, but the game assaults you with it constantly. When you are playing as Nero, this is your battle music. Every time you get into a fight, it starts playing “Devil Trigger.” It’s audacious. It’s over the top. I got Stockholm syndrome and caught myself humming “Devil Trigger” while not playing Devil May Cry 5.
Devil May Cry 5 also has an intricate fighting system with three different playable characters who each have their own combat system. While not every character is as fun to play (I’m looking at you, V), I can respect the developer’s commitment to trying something new. I enjoyed using most of the prosthetic arms that Nero can equip, and upgrading my skills was fun.
I also appreciate how lame and dad-like they made Dante. He’s gone from being a cocksure punk in the original trilogy to a guy who listens to Slayer while picking up his kids from soccer practice. I’m glad he is still rocking out and using his big-ass sword.
8. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
The Game Boy Color version of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening won me over because of how weird it was. There was a village of talking animals that was never explained and the hint system involves calling a guy over the phone because he is too bashful to speak in person. The game isn’t afraid to be cute and strange.
The Switch version of Link’s Awakening takes this cuteness to a new high. The plastic-like aesthetic of the game’s characters sets up the world as a toy box that doesn’t need to make sense. Chain Chomps in a Zelda game? Sure! What if Kirby was an enemy? Go for it! Goombas— YES! This game is a relic from a time when Nintendo was much less precious about mixing its intellectual property, and it’s a great treat.
The puzzles can be a bit strange, and it feels old when compared to more modern games in the Zelda franchise. Additionally, the pervasive frame rate and performance issues ain’t cute. I don’t understand why this game has so many technical problems when other more graphically demanding games seem to work better on the Switch.
I so badly wanted to play the original Super Mario Maker that I almost bought a Wii U in 2017. I had already bought my Switch, but I couldn’t wait to start building levels. Thankfully, my bank account and partner stopped me from making this tragic mistake. I resorted to downloading a Wii U emulator and checking out the unofficial Mario Maker subreddit to get my fix. Still, I felt like I was missing something.
Imagine my relief when Nintendo finally brought Super Mario Maker 2 to the Switch, along with a new single-player campaign. I picked up the game right around launch, and it’s been fascinating to watch the player-created designs evolve. The 20-second levels, strange puzzles, and horror-themed chase sequences are excellent examples of these new and popular level formats. The Legend of Zelda update has also completely changed what levels are popular, and I can’t wait to see how designers use these new tools.
While the single-player campaign is short, it’s still fun. We received 100 Nintendo designed levels that all illustrate the basics of creating a well-designed level. The game also includes a series of design lessons narrated by a pigeon. It’s a 100-level game design course that goes over the basics and explains that not everything needs to be a Kaizo-death gauntlet.
Super Mario Maker 2 originally was not this high on the list, but the new “Ninji speedruns” mode raised its place significantly. These speedrunning levels have multiple paths that only become clear after completing the same level many times. It’s exhilarating to watch the Ninji ghosts run the level and to pick up the strategies that the fastest players are using.
Ninji mode almost makes up for the ongoing trash fire that of online competitive racing. Nintendo, please fix the lag and make that mode playable.
6. Pokémon Sword and Shield
I’m a lifelong Pokémon fan, who keeps coming back for every other game. I loved Pokémon X and Y but skipped Sun and Moon. Grookey stole my heart in the first trailer for Pokémon Sword and Shield. Even in the shadow of “Dexit,” the newest Pokémon game still blew me away with its cute aesthetic and quality of life improvements.
For me, Pokémon games are about interacting with my adorable creatures, crushing gyms, and catching legendary animals. I am happy to report this game delivers on all these essential features. I was able to play catch with my Pokémon and make curry with them at my camp. The gym battles are framed as over-the-top soccer matches with crowds in a stadium. While there are only a few legendary Pokémon, I love my shield dog.
The aesthetic of this game is a mix of small pastoral towns in the United Kingdom and idealized coal town. You can customize your player character by equipping them with giant backpacks, gingham skirts, knit sweaters, and a million other vaguely British clothing options. I very much appreciate being able to give my character fiery eyes that show my blazing determination or rainbow eyes to express my blazing queerness.
The lack of a national Pokédex is a bummer, and I would love to know more information about how banked Pokémon will be brought forward. But I love the new Pokémon so much that I’m fine to chill with my Wooloo and ghostly Corsola. That being said, I do want the Squirtle line brought forward. How could you do this to my squirting turtle man Game Freak?
5. Magic the Gathering: Arena
Digital card games have become a borderline obsession for me recently. Out of all the digital card games I tried out this year, Magic the Gathering: Arena (Arena) was the only one that I stuck with besides my old standby of Hearthstone. I had played paper Magic the Gathering (MTG) in the past, but the rules were so complex that I didn’t have a desire to stick with it. Having a computer mediate these complex rules and show me the ropes has been immeasurably helpful. I would recommend that anyone who has had any interest in MTG give Arena a shot to learn the basics.
The game teaches new players by having them play against a basic bot in practice matches and a free deck of every color and dual-color combination. Compared to the starting grind of Hearthstone and other major card digital card games, MTG is generous. Granted, MTG has significantly more cards than Hearthstone or other comparable card games, so it all balances out.
There are a few issues with Arena that I hope Wizards of the Coast addresses. The AI-controlled drafting mode often makes dumb mistakes. The client is also missing popular formats, like Commander and Pauper (outside of special events). Also, the abundance of expensive cosmetics, including card sleeves, pets, and hero portraits, feels a bit gross.
MTG is one of the most complex games ever created. You can literally create a programmable computer with paper cards. Arena is the most approachable and affordable version of this game.
But don’t play MTG. It will ruin your life and your bank account.
4. Hypnospace Outlaw
Hypnospace Outlaw is a simulator of a fake 1990s internet that never actually existed. In this world, people can surf an approximation of the early internet while sleeping. This fake internet is dominated by hyper-compressed gifs, basic text websites, and auto-playing music. Your job in this dreamscape is to be a cop who hunts down copyright-infringing content, illegal commerce, and other actions that break the terms of services.
The game unironically loves the old internet that was comprised of GeoCities text websites and auto-playing music. The graphical interface is obtuse and never feels like an easy-to-use modern UI. As the game’s plot unfolds, this interface starts to become even more overwhelming as you unlock more helpful “features” and get computer viruses.
As a child of the 90s, the internet seemed to offer unlimited promise and the gateway to the future. Once I got on the internet and accidentally installed BonziBuddy, I realized that the hope of the internet was a lie. But even though my dreams were crushed, it was so cool to build an HTML website. But, My Final Fantasy X website that was comprised of a table of screenshots still feels like the coolest thing I ever created. Hypnospace Outlaw helped me relive this experience by using the built-in editor to create a terrible facsimile of a web page.
One of the best things about Hypnospace Outlaw is the music. If you haven’t heard “Granny Cream’s Hot Butter Ice Cream” or “Hypnospace Is Great,” please do yourself a favor and listen to them now. These songs have dominated my Spotify most-played songs and have forever ruined improved my song recommendations
This game was a pure shot of nostalgia with a plot that takes a turn into the melodramatic. The post-game mode of playing as an archivist who is attempting to fully backup the website is an interesting approach. It’s such a strange and genuine game that was unmatched by any other experience this year.
3. The Outer Worlds
As I talked about in my Games of the Decade List, Fallout: New Vegas still reigns supreme when I think about the best games of the last ten years. This unabashed love of New Vegas led to me following every piece of pre-release coverage of The Outer Worlds. I thought that Obsidian Entertainment would be unchained from Bethesda’s Creation Engine and make the game they always wanted. Unfortunately for me, The Outer Worlds was never going to be New Vegas 2. It’s disappointing to have your expectations crushed, but The Outer Worlds offers a good but much different experience than I expected
The Outer Worlds is a much more focused and shorter experience than a modern Fallout or The Elder Scrolls game. This more limited experience allows the developers to give the game a fine-tuning that the Bethesda-created games never offered. Using a gun feels like a modern first-person shooter (FPS) that is comparable to an entry in the Borderlands series. The highest compliment I can give is that when you pick something up, the other objects don’t float away.
The society in The Outer Worlds is a hyper-capitalist nightmare set on a distant solar system full of deadly creatures. The citizens of the world have been so brainwashed that they refuse critically needed medical attention from non-affiliated providers. The corporations are so villainous that I never planned on ever allying myself with them. But the characters do make some compelling arguments about why you should maybe not burn the entire system to the ground. The game convinced me to choose the centrist path and not try to be a true radical. Once the stakes of the problems in the game become clear, the game asks you to make hard choices and give in to the path of least resistance.
You can see everything in the game in about 35 hours, and everything can be wrapped up cleanly. With a high enough skill level and the right choices, you can avoid most of the bad endings. Beyond the unique items, player equipment boils down to Chest Armor 1, 2, and 3. Its limited scope does function well, but I do wish the game had a little more meat.
The writing, gameplay, and general polish of The Outer Worlds make it a must-play game of 2019. At the very least, you should get to know Parvati and listen to Ashley Burch’s amazing performance. Plus, the “dumb” character options are hilarious, including a hidden ending.
The moment you get the ability to fly in Control was when I realized that this game was more than just an art direction, storytelling, and graphical marvel. Flying showed off how complex the Oldest House was and the hidden locations throughout the world. Hovering over the Black Rock Quarry and the astral spike enemies is such a rewarding experience.
In Control, you play as a young woman named Jesse Faden, who has an entity living within herself named Polaris. Jesse has an unclear connection to the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC), a government that oversees the protection of powerful supernatural items. These items may have powers that can change the world in the form of an “Altered World Event.” Control is a lore-dense game, and these basic concepts just the surface of what you can expect to learn.
Control has already widespread praise from the press for the way it handles the story’s dream logic, but it’s important to stress that the story is very good. The mystery of who exactly is Polaris, what Dr. Darling was trying to do, and how the Hiss took control is engaging. The set pieces, like the Ashtray Maze, are some of the best moments I’ve had this year.
Intense plot beats aren’t the only way that this game drips out plot points. The amount of lore that you can find in ancillary materials around the world is overwhelming. That is not to say that the lore is bad. I loved these dossiers and how much we are able to learn about the world. Listening to the Mirror Debrief interview reversed is a high-point of the lore that you can find in this world.
The world design in Control is another high-point of this game. I loved how the designers trust the player to figure out how to navigate the world by reading the signs and warnings placed around the world. Like the bureaucratic leaders at the FBC, the designers expect you to pay attention and not fly off into an abyss.
The technical issues on a base PlayStation 4 are inexcusable. This problem is especially pronounced during the already challenging Hedron boss fight, which only makes that battle more difficult. Eventually, I was able to get used to the slowdown and frame rate drops, but it’s such a disappointment.
There is so much more that I love about Control. The music is awesome, Threshold Kids is all I can think about, the hints about Alan Wake’s connection to the FBC are what I didn’t know I needed, and Ahti is still a thirst trap. I cannot wait to see how the DLC expands the world and what the eventual sequel will look like.
1. The Outer Wilds
The Outer Wilds is one of the most demanding and intricate games I have ever played. It’s a clockwork world that resets every 22 minutes. As the player, you must find clues, takes notes, and make your own connections about how these various clues fit together. The game doesn’t dole out the clues, and you are expected to go out and find them yourself. The only mission you are given at the start of the game is to go out and explore the world.
It’s best to play The Outer Wilds with as little information as possible. Solving the puzzle box and making those connections yourself is 90% of what makes this game interesting. Because less information is better, I want to talk about a few specific moments in the game that will stay with me forever. These will not make sense unless you have played the game to completion:
Entering the Dark Bramble and seeing the giant anglerfish and then realizing that I could not go backwards. I didn’t expect to be scared by this game. I was foolish.
Getting trapped in a cave that was filling up with sand and realizing that I had no way out. I kind of gave up and let the sand take me. It was horrifying.
Shooting myself into the far reaches of space and thinking that I had broken the game. I didn’t figure out what I needed to do for like ten hours because I avoided the slingshot.
Hanging out with Chert and watching him start to lose his shit as he realizes that the sun is going to explode. I felt bad for him, so I stayed and waited for the explosion to take us.
Jumping into the Ghost Matter on Timber Hearth before talking to the Nomai statute and getting a surprise game over screen.
Jumping from crumbling platform to platform on a planet that was falling into a black hole and then missing a jump and flying off into space. Then I just had to sit there for like five minutes until the sun exploded.
There are so many other moments in The Outer Wilds that I decided not to include in this list. Unlocking the story and learning more about what exactly happened is a gift that I want to give you. The Outer Wilds is on Microsoft Game Pass. You could play this game for $1. There is no excuse not to play this game. If I can break away from my Hearthstone addiction, I know that you can find the time.
Games That I Didn’t Get A Chance To Play
Here are a few games that I didn’t get a chance to play, but I’m sure would have been notable:
Sekiro Shadows Die Twice: The Dark Souls of samurai/ninja games.
Resident Evil 2 (2019): What did they do to my poor boy Leon’s chin?
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order: The Dark Souls of Star Wars games
Disco Elysium: Shout out to Marx.
Sayonara Wild Hearts: My favorite soundtrack of a game I’ve never played.
I’ve heard more than a few people express a sense of frustration with the quality of games put out in 2019. It’s the tail end of a console cycle, of course, with both the new Xbox and PlayStation set to release about a year from the publishing of this article. Now is when all the stragglers start to roll out; all the games that seem like they should be next-gen but somehow aren’t, yet will probably be released as remasters for the new consoles in the coming months and years.
Maybe it’s because I find myself to be someone who generally loves almost all video games, but looking back at the past year, I’ve found it to be packed with great releases at all scales. Short and sweet? We’ve got those! Big and incomprehensible? We’ve got those too! 2019 is the year that those madlads at CD Projekt Red managed to put a true behemoth of a game, being the excellent The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, onto the Nintendo Switch for goodness’ sake. There’s no rules anymore.
Much like my Top 10 Games of the Decade, I found myself equally in agony over the ranking of this list, and somehow ended up with 25 games I couldn’t quite figure out what to do with. If you’ve listened to our podcast episode for The Posties 2019, many of these will likely not come as a surprise. I enjoyed immensely the opportunity to go back through the games I loved the most this year, and spend a little bit of time reflecting on why they helped make 2019, and the end of the decade, a knockout.
10. Death Stranding
There is a lot that could be said about Death Stranding, though somehow it feels like the discourse keeps waffling between “is it good?” and “is it bad?” I can tell you that it is unequivocally both at the same time. It’s a beast of a game that it feels like it shouldn’t work when it does, and should work when it doesn’t. But there is just something about it; playing Minecraft recently, I found myself peering down into a ravine and wishing I had Sam’s climbing rope and ladders to scale into the abyss with safety. In as much as Todd Howard once told us, back in 2011, that we could see a mountain in Skyrim and climb it, Death Stranding feels like the logical, decade-end conclusion of that promise, and one whose systems speak to a fascinatingly complex (and extremely literal) iteration of the “walking simulator.”
Yeah, the story is really bad. It’s hamfisted and lacking in subtext. When it comes to its handling of female characters, or just the sheer concept of women in general, it is easily Kojima at his worst. Did you not think we could outdo ourselves after Metal Gear Solid V’s Quiet fiasco? Think again! Yet, to its benefit, parts of its ridiculosity somehow become so-bad-it’s-entertaining, if even laughable, and perhaps that is what kept me going in Death Stranding’s longest hours. More than that, I found myself walking away with a sense of appreciation for the asynchronous multiplayer aspect woven into the game’s fibers. Watching roads being built before my eyes as I traversed parts of the map, bridges over BT-infested areas appearing precisely when I needed them most—there were a lot of moments that spoke far better to the point Death Stranding wanted to make than its writing did. I am left to wonder in the quiet moments of the game, the ones I love the most, with open road before me and timefall behind me, if Death Stranding deserves some kind of credit just for trying, even if it is a messy, chaotic, overwrought try.
9. Devil May Cry V
Listen, you can come at me and tell me that “Devil Trigger” is a bad song, and maybe you would be right about that. Instead, I implore you to imagine a game with the sheer audacity to make “Devil Trigger” not only a battle song, but the only battle song, played on an endless loop in a game built almost entirely around super sexy stylish combat. I’ll admit that I’m a bit of an interloper when it comes to the Devil May Cry franchise; I originally was introduced to the series by a friend in high school obsessed with Dante, and at the time I found the games to be perfectly fine. To the original series’ credit, the games themselves improved over time as stories and characters became more complex, the settings less boxed-in. But I won’t lie: DmC, the more grimdark re-imagining of the Devil May Cry series released in 2013 by Ninja Theory, is still my favorite under the franchise’s umbrella.
What I still love very deeply about mainline Devil May Cry games is that they are often wacky as hell (pun thoroughly intended)—something I thought Devil May Cry V embraced with unrepentantly open arms. From “Devil Trigger” starting and restarting on a loop to Nico’s van dropping into locations entirely inaccessible by anyone, least of all a Winnebago, Devil May Cry V is top-to-bottom fun. The addition of three playable characters creates great variety in combat scenarios, with series veterans Nero and Dante feeling as punchy and stylish as ever. Newcomer V, an Adam Driver look-alike, added much needed nuance as a generally non-combative character, instead using summons and spells to slice and dice enemies with as much style as his forebears. But don’t worry: Dante is still one hot piece of garbage, the women are all still tenuously clothed, nothing really makes sense—and I love it.
8. Luigi’s Mansion 3
If Nintendo won’t crown 2019 as the Year of Luigi, then I, in all of my auspicious power and influence, most certainly will crown it the Year of Gooigi. Yes, would that I could have a backpack vacuum that contained the ectoplasm essence of myself that I could use to reach money left in drains and pass through poorly-constructed, absolutely not OSHA-compliant wall fixtures.
I admit, I always was more of a fan of the concept of Luigi’s Mansion games than the execution; I never had a Gamecube as a kid and thus, never played the original Luigi’s Mansion until its re-release on the Nintendo 3DS. I found the controls mapped awkwardly to the 3DS handheld, and I never ended up getting as far in the game as I would have liked to, as I’m always a sucker for a little bit of cartoon horror. To my absolute glee, Luigi’s Mansion 3, the first Luigi’s Mansion game released for the Nintendo Switch, instead takes pages from the brilliant Super Mario Odyssey as it builds out thoughtful puzzles and willingly embraces increasingly weird and delightful level design. While I can’t say that Luigi’s Mansion 3 doles out anything you haven’t seen before, it is such a crisply delivered package of solid goodness that I can’t say I really mind very much at all. Easy to pick up and put down, fun to play solo or cooperatively, constantly surprising, and thoroughly packed with hidden secrets, Luigi’s Mansion 3 is delightful way to spend your gaming hours.
I would also make the irrefutable argument that any game that allows Toad to drive a bus should automatically be considered for game of the year, but that’s just my two cents.
7. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
When Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was first teased a few years ago, a lot of people on the internet thought it meant that we’d get what many were really hoping for: Bloodborne 2. Bloodborne is a very dear favorite of mine and I, like many, would love to see another follow in its lineage, but it raises a lot of questions as to what From Software could really bring to the table to elevate a game already so exquisite.
Enter: Sekiro. An enormous departure from From’s most recent games, being, of course, Bloodborne and the Dark Souls trilogy, Sekiro feels exactly like From at the best they have ever been, and certainly at the most technically masterful. Where Dark Souls 3 may have lacked poise, Sekiro is all about it; combat is grueling, precise, and immensely rewarding. Traversing the world, full of zippy verticality, made me feel like Samurai Spider-Man in every way I could possibly hope for.
The caveat I’ll admit to here is that Sekiro is a beast I have been grinding myself up against most of the year; I am terrible at it. It’s pretty unrepentantly hard. There are times when I wanted to throw my controller into the TV. I can’t say that I recommend it to anyone who doesn’t like sometimes feeling like they want to throw their controller into the TV. But I find that Sekiro is, while difficult, also immensely compelling. Beautifully acted (I recommend using the Japanese voice cast for this one!), cinematically directed, and with a fascinating story of revenge, political intrigue, and one extremely supernatural child, Sekiro feels like a traditional Japanese folktale come to life.
6. The Outer Worlds
I am a big fan of Obsidian Entertainment, as someone who is also a big fan of 2010’s Fallout: New Vegas. Olivia summed it up far better than I can in her excellent games of the decade write up: one of the most compelling things about New Vegas was that it presented no easy, black and white answer the same way that Bethesda-led Fallout games tended to. In place of “choice good” and “choice bad,” there were a lot of morally grey factions and characters that helped the stakes feel more significant, and the conflict more realistic.
The Outer Worlds, Obsidian’s Fallout-in-space-without-the-Fallout-brand-name, is an interesting evolution of this formula that focuses less on conflicting political systems and instead rides fully into the horrors of late-stage capitalism. Workers suffer under grueling conditions that always favor company interest, product suffers to save costs, the system suffers under class warfare and gross negligence. I’d argue The Outer Worlds toes the black and white line a little more closely than New Vegas may have done, yet it still manages to very cleverly subvert expectations. Indeed, the strength of the game is often in the strength of the supporting cast—companions from many ideologies and walks of life help to make already difficult choices all the more difficult by challenging the player to think more critically about the weight their choices make. In place of black and white, there is more often the question of, “Is this thing better for the many or better for the few?”
I wouldn’t go so far as to say The Outer Worlds completely changes the game, but I have to give it immense credit for providing a lot of paths and outcomes to really challenge the moral compass a player might want to walk. When I made the choice to side with a corporation to save a group of people, the game was quick to remind me that my actions, though they had been valiant, still served an emotional blow to the people I thought I’d been a hero to. There is no easy solution to conflict, no direct good and bad. Whether it is the good of the many or the few, someone still has to lose so someone else can win.
5. Later Alligator
If it were possible to bottle up happiness, I imagine that bottle would contain only the purest essence of Later Alligator.
Created by SmallBü, the husband and wife animation duo behind Baman Piderman, Later Alligator is a sort of pre-murder murder mystery. You play as The Investigator, a private detective in Alligator New York City (where everyone is an alligator, obviously) hired by Pat, an increasingly paranoid and childish twenty-something who believes that he will be murdered by someone in his family at something he calls “The Event.” The game takes place over a few in-game hours, with time advancing incrementally as certain actions are taken, like traveling to different areas of the map. The largest chunk of time will be spent talking to the various members of Pat’s eccentric, vaguely Mafia-adjacent family, allowing you the opportunity to grill them for information about The Event. But no information comes free, of course; tips about The Event are given as prizes for winning minigames of varying slapstick hilarity, from plain Old Maid to a fully realized dating sim.
Later Alligator deserves immense credit because it is genuinely funny. Everything about it is funny. There is nothing that is not funny. I mean this sincerely when I say it; comedy, in any of its forms, is not easy to conjure and yet Later Alligator manages to do it so smartly and elegantly that I find it impossible not to recommend and even more impossible not to enjoy every minute of. Each of Pat’s friends and relatives is somehow themselves a fully realized character full of so much heart that it’s hard not to love every one of them, from Tall Jared and his haunted cellphone full of anime pictures, to Slick Mickey and his questionable skin condition (that he is very, very open about).
Time is short in the game but multiple playthroughs are rewarded and encouraged, with new endings to unlock and new family members to talk with. It is a game full of stand-out moments that never stops delivering on itself, never for a single moment eases up on the joy.
Oh and hey, The Knife? Call me.
4. Hypnospace Outlaw
By trade, I am a community manager and strategist, which essentially boils down to me running forums for a living. There is a lot more social complexity embedded in this role that separates it from merely throwing the ol’ banhammer around, but the concept is mostly the same. It’s kind of a weird job to have as I cut my teeth as a teen on the internet by participating in communities run by people willing to give their spare time over to supporting something they really believed in. It never seemed like something people could do for real actual money (spoiler: you can!).
Hypnospace Outlaw is somehow both catharsis from my day-to-day and intense nostalgia rolled up into one perfectly executed package. It’s the late 1990s again—a lawless time online full of looping midi autoplay, extremely low-resolution images, terrible gifs, and amateur web designers. Hypnospace Outlaw presents a satirical, alternate-timeline depiction of these early days; in it, players assume the role of a volunteer Enforcer tasked with basic content moderation on the Hypnospace, scouring webpages for illegal content, copyright violations, or anything that violates Hypnospace’s terms of service. At the surface it sounds a little bit like throwing the ol’ banhammer around, but what unravels is a delightful little mystery-solving puzzle game that oozes a great deal of love for the zinesters and mischief makers that made sites like Geocities so iconic and memorable.
It’s like a fever dream of the way the internet used to be, made only more authentic by its packaging; players surf the Hypnospace using a Windows 95-ish operating system complete with stupid music player skins, pop up viruses, and awkward user interfaces. I admit, it’s likely I found myself so attached to Hypnospace Outlaw this year because I am the right age for it, but I would be hard-pressed to believe that anyone couldn’t love what magic the game makes. It is in every way whimsical, silly, thoughtful and truly a love letter to the internet, with a surprising relevancy to the online politics of today.
I also haven’t been able to get “Granny Cream’s Hot Butter Ice Cream” out of my head for the last eight months. You take the hot butter, mix it with the ice cream…
3. Disco Elysium
My name is Rebecca and I am an unrepentant save scummer. It sounds terrible, I know, but I’ve found that the less time I have to play games, the more I feel this creeping urge to play them correctly. To walk the path of least resistance and see as much of the game as I possibly can in one go. I’m usually on the straight-and-narrow when it comes to video game morality, too, which means that I am all the more likely to roll back a save when I accidentally make a choice that maybe pisses off one of my dearest companions. Maybe, just maybe, I have a little bit of a problem.
Disco Elysium deserves a lot of credit for doing a lot of things very, very well, but perhaps more than anything, I am grateful to it for finally forcing me to confront my desire to always play a game “right.” There really is no “right” to Disco Elysium; it is a traditional RPG in the sense that chance is determined by a randomized dice roll instead of a skill cap, and failure is possible at any moment, even for checks that guarantee a high level of success. At first, I thought I would balk against this notion, but in Disco Elysium’s world, it feels so unbelievably right. Revachol, where the game takes place, is a messy, forgotten former capital under the strain of a labor crisis, thrown into even more peril when a gruesome murder occurs. You are a messed up, alcoholic cop expected to solve that murder…who also doesn’t remember who he is, can’t find his badge and gun, and may have thrown a shoe through a window. Maybe.
In a game of chaos, both internally and externally, in a game that confronts how messy and confusing it is to be a functioning human, it feels right to never know where the chips will fall. I could put my nose in a guide and prepare myself for every outcome but it would never determine how fate might decide something for me—an action, a conversation. I died of humiliation once because I could not pass a very easy skill check to step over a small concrete barrier. I reloaded a save to try it again and managed to fail the skill check a second time. And for once, I felt totally okay with that. I didn’t want to be so messed up, but I realized that maybe the game was telling me that I had to be, was forcing me to really confront the difficulties in just getting through the day. Video games often present the ideal world or present conflict without real teeth, yet Disco Elysium is willing to get messy in a way I have never experienced before and, as it turns out, in a way I was really craving.
2. Outer Wilds
If you’ve listened to episodes of our podcast this year, you’ve probably heard me say more than once that I thought Outer Wilds was one of the greatest video games ever made. At the same time, it’s also one of the most difficult to talk about meaningfully, as talking about it often spoils all the things that make it so great. I realize it sounds pompous to call it one of the greats, as if my personal opinion holds any real meaningful value over these kinds of things, but I am hard-pressed to find many other games that do what Outer Wilds manages to do.
At its core, Outer Wilds packages together immense scale, responsive physics, and impeccable worldbuilding in a way that outpaces games made by studios ten times the size of Mobius Digital with ten times the budget. It is a soaring, breathtaking tour through the final moments of a dying universe whose primary strength—though it has many—comes from beautifully crafted moments of serendipity. It is never just one, here and there. They are constant, they are gratifying in a way that it is hard to put words to. The feeling of learning and exploring and understanding grants even greater power to Outer Wilds’ swelling conclusion, leaving us to ruminate on the meaning of life and our place in the universe. As much as we are just small things with short lives, our existence is not forgotten, our accomplishments never meaningless.
Our own world feels short on time these days, and with a muddy, uncertain future ahead of us, I sometimes think Outer Wilds is one of those games that snuck in at the right time. My soul needed to know that we have a chance to make a difference now, even if it would only be meaningful to those who will come long after us. We owe them that much.
I felt like I was making an extremely audacious decision by assigning Control my #2 game of the decade, but I find myself feeling more empowered by the decision every day. There is so much to love about Control that whatever tedium remains gives way to a game that is smart in every way it could possibly be. From absolutely magnificent art direction and level design to an incredible cast of powerful characters, I firmly believe that Control will long stand as one of those touchstone games that will be an influence on what comes after it, whether it does so quietly or loudly.
I touched on this fact a bit in my decade in retrospect, but when I think long and hard about Control, I find that I am most attached to—and validated by—Control’s decision to tell a story of corporate horror from the perspective of the Bureau’s women. There is a brief sequence toward mid-game; a conversation between the player character, Jesse Faden, and Emily Pope, direct report of the Bureau’s Head of Research, Dr. Casper Darling. Jesse has an opportunity to question Emily’s feelings on Dr. Darling’s attempts to protect Emily from his work, and Emily responds so wonderfully matter-of-fact: “FUCK THAT.”
There are a lot of energies worth channelling in 2020, but Control reminds me that one of the most motivating for me is Emily’s. Don’t take things lying down. Don’t let others determine your feelings or decide what is best for your well-being. Take control.
And Now: A Series of Smaller Games You Should Play On Your Holiday Break
It’s been a great year for games from smaller teams, and perhaps one of the best we’ve been so lucky to have in the last few years. Here are a few of my favorites from 2019, all of which made a 10-game-only list almost impossible to finalize: Ape Out, Baba is You, Grindstone, Manifold Garden, Mutazione, Observation, Overland, Sayonara Wild Hearts, Untitled Goose Game, WATTAM, Wilmot’s Warehouse.
Here we are, the end of a decade. Congratulations! At the beginning of the decade, 2010 was a year when Humble Bundle launched, the war between Microsoft’s Kinect and Sony’s Playstation Move had just begun (Kinect now defunct and the Move left behind by PSVR), and Facebook social games like Mafia took us all by storm by beginning to shape and redefine what we considered “social gaming” (does anyone remember Outernaughts by Insomniac Games??). Now we have games like Fortnite, Overwatch, and DotA bleeding into mainstream channels thanks to the rise of Esports and streaming services like Twitch. It’s cool to be a gamer—finally—and for some, it can be an incredibly lucrative career (looking at you Ninja).
Strangely, I can’t believe the most influential games that are responsible for this growth were released ten years ago, such as Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Bioshock 2, Limbo, Alan Wake, Civilization V, Super Meat Boy, Dark Souls, Cave Story, and Mass Effect 2 which all released in 2010. I’m sad to report none of these games made it on my top ten-decade list but they are definitely among my favorites. You really need to play them if you haven’t yet.
The ones that did make it on my list are very personal to me and are in no particular order of importance. It was not easy to come up with ten games to define my decade of gaming and in the end I think it’s impossible to be 100% satisfied with my selection. I hope you enjoy hearing about the games that I loved over the years and maybe you’ll love them too.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent walked so SOMA could run. The Swedish developers at Frictional Gaming have always delivered good horror but what really shines in SOMA is the plot to this survival horror game.
SOMA leans more on pathological horror rather than traditional terror one might expect from this genre. Where most horror games rely on blood, guts, and gore, SOMA instead tells a harrowing story about Simon Jarrett, whose last memory was performing an experimental brain scan. Simon then wakes up, suddenly no longer in the medical research facility but in a crumbling, dark, and industrial research facility are known as PATHOS-II at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. The story only gets stranger as you begin to unravel the mystery while trying to help Simon escape with his life.
SOMA honestly has one of the most refreshing narratives within the horror game genre that I’ve experienced. It brings a dash of cyberpunk to the table while wrestling with philosophical quandaries like “What does it mean to be human? What is consciousness really? Do you have free will, or is it predestined programming?” All of this while you navigate the corridors of the now deteriorating research facility. I really can’t say more without spoiling so I’ll leave it at that. Of course, the aesthetic and environmental/level design really play a huge part in what makes this game scary. The atmosphere becomes very hostile and unsettling the more time you spend exploring. That and the sense of isolation as you search for someone, anyone who’s human like you.
If scary games aren’t your thing, rejoice! The developers at Frictional Gaming added a story mode where the monsters can’t harm you. The game becomes less scary but instead infinitely creepier because the grotesque monsters follow you around like a pet, staring at you, making wailing noises.
Year Walk (2013)
“In the old days man tried to catch a glimpse of the future in the strangest of ways. They locked themselves in dark room, not partaking of food and drink. At the stroke of midnight they ventured out into the night, through the dark woods where strange creatures roamed. To see if they would be wealthy To see if they would be happy To see if they would live To see if they would be loved.”
Surprise! Another horror game, though this is more creepy than scary. Year Walk by Simogo is a point and click adventure game rooted in Swedish folklore about seeing into the future. You play as Daniel, a man who is warned to not go on a year walk by his crush but does so anyway (men never listen to women in the horror genre). The game itself is a journey with Daniel, performing little rituals to appease strange mythical creatures in the dead of night, hoping to catch a glimpse of the future. What could possibly go wrong? It turns out a lot and that’s why I like it.
Year Walk feels very much like Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” poem come to life. There is fresh snow falling and everything is extra quiet, save for the satisfying crunch beneath your feet. It gives you that sense of peace, the one that lulls you into a false sense of security until you suddenly realize you’re alone in the woods at night and the silence has become deafening. The rituals are no more than simple puzzles yet they made me feel like I was performing witchcraft. Upon completion, the rituals always end morbidly and they become more intense the longer you go on. Enter a singing competition with a siren, sacrifice four babies to the water horse, mark gravestones for a picky bird, attend church with a goat. I’m being flippant about what happens but I’d hate to spoil things.
I will spoil one thing: The Doll. There’s a wind-up doll hanging by a thread in a small, dark shed and you need to wind its head for a solution to a puzzle. This doesn’t seem too creepy unless you’re playing on iOS, where you have to use your fingers on a touchpad. I cannot tell you how jarring it was to wind this doll up with my fingers, bit by bit until it wouldn’t wind anymore and then slowly watch it unravel as it sang a tune doing a creepy dance. Interacting with Year Walk via touch makes it an extremely effective and powerful horror game. I highly recommend you try it sometime.
Dead Space 2 (2011)
I really have a theme of horror games for my decade’s list. Listen, what’s not to like about being a space engineer with a laser gun for slicing off the limbs of your enemies?
Dead Space 2 is a third-person survival horror action game set in the future. You play as Issac, a very troubled and unlucky spaceship engineer who seems to have misfortune everywhere he goes. In the first installment of Dead Space, Isaac had to trudge around the haunted Ishimura ship in search of his missing wife and unravel the secrets of the missing crew (hint: they all died). In Dead Space 2, Issac wakes up in a commercial space station, which is suddenly in disarray and under attack by familiar foes. He once again needs to escape with his life while simultaneously figuring out who is responsible for the monsters, called necromorphs, getting loose again. Dead Space 2 ends up being a bigger and better Dead Space, it’s really an Alien to Aliens comparison in every way.
I absolutely love this game. A lot, a lot. I won’t say that it’s one of the most influential horror games of the decade; it has problems with the way it treats women and mental health, but I love it anyway. Here’s what I love about the sequel and Dead Space franchise overall: spooky space stations? Yes! Creepy and disturbing yet familiar looking monsters? Check. Is a religious cult single-handedly responsible for the fall of humankind because they can’t keep their hands off an alien space rock??? Amen. If I’m being honest, the reason why I love Dead Space 2 so much more than Dead Space is because the religious cult, known as Unitology, is fleshed out. Essentially, Unitologists believe humans were created by intelligent aliens and those aliens sent a beacon, or ‘marker’, as an invitation to converge with their creators. It’s a very wild concept, there’s so much lore around it, and it’s a big driving force within the game, in between all the necromorph slaughter.
If this franchise is ever revived (Visceral studios rest in peace) I really want this franchise to take off and dig deeper into the cult aspect because that’s what’s really scary about Dead Space.
Into the Breach (2018)
I’ve never been a tactics gamer. Yes, I’ve played RPGs like Baldur’s Gate and Dragon Age: Origins, but those never felt like tactics games at their core… not like Into The Breach, a top-down 2D tactics game where you command three robots to defend earth from kaiju-esque bug monsters.
What sets Into The Breach apart from other tactics games is the way it handles turn-based combat. Most tactics games have you create a strategy based on predicting the enemy’s next movements. It requires a certain degree of thinking ahead and usually your best laid plans are forfeit to the seemingly random enemy AI, never knowing the true outcome until it’s too late. With Into The Breach, you’re able to see what the enemies will do next and plan around that. You’re even able to move your units and experiment on what the best position for them would be, and if it’s not correct you can simply undo the movement with no consequence. It’s like a game of chess, where your opponent broadcasts their next move. Just because you know what they’ll do next doesn’t mean you’ll always succeed in countering them. This helped me internalize strategy and tactics better, without feeling like I was subject to fail due to random RNG of the AI. Instead, when I got myself into a pickle it was absolutely my fault for overlooking something.
Excuse me while I go off about the soundtrack for a moment because the music and sound design really tie this game together well. The composer is none other than Ben Prunty, who is also responsible for the well received FTL soundtrack. If you’ve been following me on Twitter then you know I’ve sung praise about Prunty for a while now. He just knows how to make great music and I find myself listening to the soundtrack of Into The Breach often., In fact it’s made it into my Spotify top 10 list two years in a row. You don’t realise how distinguished this soundtrack is in the game until you listen to it by itself. Truly a masterpiece.
From Software knows my soul when it comes to crafting games, they can’t make one that I don’t like. I was introduced to Dark Souls in 2011 and it swept me off my feet. I fell deeply in love with the franchise, as most of the gaming world did, and since then I have spent too many hours across the entire Souls series. I have bought Dark Souls full price at least four times… But despite that, Bloodborne without question is the #1 game of the decade for me personally.
Bloodborne grabbed me instantly. It has a grimdark setting, starting with a simple beast vs human conflict, but then it grows and keeps growing, and eventually crashes through the ceiling into the realm of cosmic gods. What really makes Bloodborne stand out over the other Souls series is its world-building. Yes, the Souls series is also known for its extensive lore but Bloodborne’s lore hits my cosmic horror-loving bones the right way. I was especially taken with one of the characters Eileen The Crow and her ethos Hunter of Hunters. You see, there are Hunters and there are beasts. The beasts prey on the hunters, so the hunters hunt the beasts. But sometimes the hunters go mad, influenced by the beasts, and they become much more dangerous. That’s where Hunter of Hunters come in, to save the now frenzied, infected hunters from themselves. This is where Bloodborne excels where the Souls series does not. It gives more thought and complexity to the characters and the result is they’re more memorable.
But it also likes to play with Lovecraftian ideas and introduces cosmic-horror in a refreshing way. In the beginning, you’re hunting beats, possibly werewolves, and vampires, and then somewhere along the way things get mad and you’re suddenly face to face with a cosmic being with tentacle wings and a clam for a head. And don’t get me started on the DLC, which just gets even wilder.
I feel like this game will be on everyone’s list and honestly it’s the true gem of the decade.
The Stanley Parable (2013)
If you’re a real gamer you’re required to play this, sorry I don’t make the rules.
The Stanley Parable is an interactive storytelling “walking simulator” (the quotes are because I hate that term) and it’s pure parody from start to finish. The developer Davey Wreden takes your preconceived notion of what a game is and slaps you in the face. It follows Stanley, an average everyday person, who pushed buttons all day for a living, until one day he’s suddenly alone. A narrator talks and directs Stanley through the story, telling him where to go and what to do. Deviate and the Narrator breaks the fourth wall by saying something like, “Stanely insists on touching literally everything he can, searching for a way to advance the story. He is not very good at picking up on environmental cues, is he?” The Narrator essentially makes fun of you throughout the game if you control Stanley any way the narrator doesn’t like. He’s trying to tell a story and you the player keep messing it up.
Any Dungeon Master of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign has felt this pain. You take all this time to create a story, give certain characters extensive backgrounds, and within five minutes of the campaign your players ditch the story, kill a critical NPC, and bugger off on their own adventure. The Stanley Parable is like that.
What makes The Stanley Parable a strong game is the complete freedom you have as a player and the witty narration that happens along the way. You can follow the narration to a T and you’ll be told a story, or you can break away from the narration and you’ll be told a better story. You could also just sit and work at your pretend job and the narrator will tell you the best story about how mundane you are in a fictional world where anything can happen.
The Stanley Parable had no problem breaking my comfort with games. It easily subverts expectations at every turn and doesn’t apologize if you’re not having fun (but you really are having fun).This game is incredible and you have to experience it for yourself. You’ll love it, I promise.
Darkest Dungeon (2016)
I love it when a family member gifts me a large mansion and I go spelunking in caves beneath the foundation, seeking fame and fortune only to exhume a dark portal that unleashes all kinds of terrible monsters throughout the land. Does this happen to anyone else?
I clearly have a theme of dark, dank, grimy art aesthetic. There’s just something about banding your troupe together to go adventuring in a deep, dark cave where monsters lurk. Darkest Dungeon is a 2D side-scrolling roleplaying game by Red Hook Studios, where you band together mercenaries to fight back against the evil that now surrounds your beloved estate (and the townsfolk too I guess? Talk about the 1% messing things up for the little guys, am I right?). This is a game that I come back to every year like clockwork in January and I have yet to actually beat the game. I really hope my yearly ritual will allow me to finish soon. It’s very punishing and heavily reliant on group makeup and prior knowledge of surroundings to succeed in a dungeon crawl. Any kind of progress is slow, and it’s very easy to lose your heroes along the way.
What I love most about this game is its Madness system. While your heroes adventure and battle the horrors within, they gain stress. Become too stressed and their resolve will be tested. This is my favorite moment in the game because your hero either falls into madness, becoming a source of pain for themselves or the party or they prevail and becomes a temporary Saint, blessing everyone and remaining wildly optimistic. You never know which way they’ll fall, usually madness, but it’s always a delight when they succeed and become a powerhouse to be reckoned with.
I feel like I’ll always play this game at least once every year as tradition dictates. It’s always a source of enjoyment for me and I can’t wait to see what lies at the end. I wonder if I’ll make it through alive?
This game has affected me deeply, more than it has the right to. Florence is a narrative-driven mobile game about a young girl who falls in love with a boy and starts a relationship with him. It is simple and charming, yet complex enough to leave you guessing what’s next. There are no words, no voice acting, no text, only the story.
I related to this game on a whole other level. I even had a friend, who also played the game, say they thought of me while playing it. I recently got into my first relationship within the last few years, even moved in together. My life paralleled what was happening in the game and I was having a surreal experience. It made me question what I was doing with my life. I was depressed for hours, maybe days after I finished it. In some ways, it was a wake-up call for me. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to be in life and that upset me. I wasn’t happy and Florence let me know that it was going to be okay.
I’ve since split with my partner which was difficult, but necessary.
Thirty Flights of Loving (2012)
An even shorter game than Florence. This 5-minute game, that I’ve spent two hours with, impacted me and made me question what a game can really be.
Thirty Flights of Loving, a small indie game created by Brendon Chung of Blendo Games, has more content and a better story than most 60-hour big studio games. The narrative is tight, the design is flawless, and the world is charming. There is no text to direct you, or voice acting to express emotion, only smart visual design. My personal highlight of this game is when you’re in a hotel room watching your partner peel an orange. It’s night time and the moon is out, it’s quiet, but also the city has that nighttime bustle as your partner sits out on the balcony of the hotel room simply peeling an orange and taking it all in. This moment in the game acts as a reprieve from the very chaotic scene beforehand and it’s just lovely. There are many moments like this in the game and my words can’t do this game justice. Please, please, please play this game.
BioShock Infinite (2013)
There’s too much to say about this game. People won’t put it on their lists for valid reasons. But it exists on mine for a single reason: the Greetings From crew bonded together around this game. It was the very first podcast that we did back in 2013. We were young, in college, and BioShock Infinite had just released. Several beers and one mic later, we recorded our first podcast. It was long, maybe too long, and probably bad—but an incredible experience that I will never forget.
BioShock Infinite is a problematic hot mess but I love it because it forged a sentimental bond between me and my friends. That’s it.
Oh, but there was one thing I really liked about BioShock Infinite: the Boys of Silence level. It’s definitely a great transition from boring shooter to suspenseful horror, much like in Half Life 2, also an action shooter game which then turns into a horror game for one level in an underground parking garage. With BioShock Infinite, you’re thrown into this level as a reprieve, only the tension keeps going by introducing horror and depowering the guns you’ve come to rely on for safety.
That was a good surprise.
Other Games I Cherish:
Alas, these games didn’t make the list but they’re among my most favorite in gaming over the last ten years. I highly recommend you check them out because if you asked, I could talk about them all day.
Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild (2017), Outer Wilds (2019), Control (2019), Hollow Knight (2017), Prey (2017), What Remains of Edith Finch (2017), Portal 2 (2011), Hyper Light Drifter (2016), Super Brothers: Sword & Sworcery (2011).
This list went through countless revisions and reshuffling. I struggled with determining, “what are the most notable games of this decade?” I questioned if I should choose games that created new genres, refined a formula to its essentials, or games that created a strong emotional connection. I decided to go with the latter.
These games all punctuate specific points of my life, and I find myself wishing that I could play them again for the first time. They either challenged my expectations, forced me to face something about myself, or created a space that I could call home. It’s saccharine and sentimental, but I can’t find any other way to decide what games meant more to me.
When I look back at 2010 through 2019, the central theme was learning to roll with the punches. This decade is when I transitioned, graduated from college, moved across the country, got engaged, lost a parent, and cried a lot. It was hellish and amazing, and I’m scared of what happens next.
10. Civilization V
Civilization V (Civ V) was so close to not making this list. I have put more than 200 hours into Civ V,and there are parts of the game that I still don’t understand. I tried to read the wiki and get my mind around the complexities of managing my many cities, who each have economies and needs, while also balancing my society’s technological progress. It’s a bureaucratic nightmare.
Civ V made the 4x genre (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate) accessible to a mass audience. Not even itssequel could usurp Civ V’s place as the king of the genre. This game has staying power because of how it ramps up its complexity. All players start building their first settlement and choosing from a handful of technologies. Most people will then begin developing the area around their settlement and research a basic technology, like horse domestication or mining. A few players may choose to start building Wonders, which have wide-ranging effects like free technology or more culture. Other players may want to militarize and start expanding their borders. Others may decide to start trading with their partners or specialize in creating great works of art. The decision tree that players can follow is massive, and no two games are the same.
Finally, there are the expansions, DLC, and mods. Civilization V has two massive expansion packs (Gods & Kings and Brave New World) and 14 DLC packs. There are 9,409 mods on the Steam workshop as of this writing. There is so much extra content, and a lot of it is good. You can even play as the characters from My Little Pony. I know that it’s a gamer sin to cheer on expansions and DLC, but I’m happy this game received so much support. Steam sales often bring the collection down to $5.
I cannot stop playing this game. It is my warm blanket of nuclear destruction and city-state subjugation. I love setting up a giant map with 22 opponents set on easy and crushing them. Sometimes, I befriend them, and we go to space or whatever. But I mostly like crushing them.
I played Undertale later than most people I know. I had already seen the memes of skeleton dudes, heard the music, and decided that it wasn’t for me. I never played Earthbound, which seemed like the energy this game was channeling. It wasn’t until a family member asked me if I played Undertale that I gave it a shot over the Christmas break. I was enthralled. I didn’t talk to my family that break but instead sat on my laptop trying to get past the killer robot with a variety show. I felt terrible when I killed my adoptive dog mom because she wouldn’t let me go through a door. Then the game laughed in my face for trying to save scum the encounter.
Undertale is a game all about subverting expectations and making you care about a strange cast of characters. The more that I say about how the story of Undertale unfolds, the less interesting it will be
Because of this paradox, I want to talk about W.D. Gaster. Gaster is a scientist that is not referenced in the main story, but he was responsible for unspeakable atrocities that appear in the game. Players can only learn about Gaster if they meet one of three randomly spawned Non-player characters (NPCs) that appear based on a hidden value that is determined at the start of the game. Players may also be able to find out more about Gaster by examining the game’s files and using the developer tools to travel between rooms. Gaster has a secret song, a possible character sprite, and a cryptic message written in Wingdings.
Gaster is a creepypasta made manifest in the periphery of this game. You can appreciate the story of Undertale without knowing anything about W.D. Gaster. I hope that I have been able to pitch you on the mysteries hidden within Undertale.
I turn 30 in less than a month, and there is something cosmically horrific about realizing that my young adulthood is almost over. This cosmic horror caused me to look back five years to when I thought it was time to put away childish things like video games and focus on more erudite hobbies, like chess or reading books or eating fine cheese and knowing what exactly tannins are. I didn’t buy the latest consoles. I was ready to be a “real” adult.
Then my roommate let me play Destiny on her PlayStation 4. I felt this rush of Halo nostalgia come over me. Destiny felt great to play, and there was loot to try on. I could dress up my space wizard in ornate robes with a headdress that looked like a deer skull. I became obsessed with doing bounties and taking on strikes.
The story of the first Destiny is nonsensical, but I didn’t care because it felt so good to play. I got to team up with other guardians in this weird world that had robots full of milk and space dragons.
It was the first Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MMORPG) to get its hooks into me. I got lost in raising my light levels and completing obscure quests. I remember being so proud of taking down Oryx and getting his sword as my own. I loved getting the strike specific armor that makes you look like one of the bosses (bring this back Bungie!).
Destiny 2 refined everything in the original Destiny,but I’ve fallen off it much more quickly. The new expansions and season system seems cool, but I get so tired when I imagine myself getting back on the grind treadmill.
Destiny put my life back on a collision course with video games. I would not be here writing about my games of the decade without having played Destiny. That being said, I’m still not sure what tannins are.
7. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Skyrim) is a game that I’ve felt come in and out of my life many times over the last decade. I played a little of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, but the generic aesthetic never spoke to me. The announcement trailer that showed a Dragonborn using his “FUS-RO-DAH” to fight a dragon on the side of a frozen mountain all while the chanting monks played in the background made me want to explore the land of Skyrim (I watched the trailer again while writing this, literally chills).
My first experience was getting the game in college and pouring hundreds of hours into the Xbox 360 version. Looking back, that version of the game is deeply flawed, with long load times and a multitude of glitches. Nevertheless, I played the hell out of it. I remember gawking in awe at the butterflies around Whiterun and being taken aback by how big the game felt. I beat the main story and faction quests but then put the game down.
I came back to Skyrim on the PC years later and realized how much better life could be. The load times were fast, the mods offered massive quality of life changes, and the console commands let me create whatever character I wanted. This time with Skyrim was my experimental period with the game. I started tens of characters and played with a variety of mods. It was fun, but I drifted away from it and played new releases.
The latest stage of my relationship with Skyrim involves the PSVR and Nintendo Switch. Playing the Switch version involved me making a spreadsheet to document everything in the game. I didn’t want to beat Skyrim; I wanted to finish Skyrim completely. I did learn so much about the game; did you know there is a weird light orb in a dwarven ruin called Kagrenzel that, if touched, will trap you and drop you down a pit?
Trying to learn everything about Skyrim showed me that the game is both much bigger and smaller than I thought. Sure, there is a lot of content, but it doesn’t go on forever. This in-depth documentation broke the illusion of this ever-expansive world. It was a bummer.
The PSVR version of the game gave me back a little of the magic of looking at the butterflies. It also helps that my motion sickness is so bad that I have to move very slowly in the world.
I have a complicated relationship with Hearthstone that I’ve documented in another blog post. The game has an abusive monetization strategy, addictive free-to-play trappings, and the developers have a kowtowed to repressive governments. Hearthstone is also one of the purest examples of complex design and player choice ever created. Over the last five years, the Hearthstone has released 13 expansions that each add many new cards to the game. It has also gone through more than 100 balance patches and popularized the digital card game genre around the world. Valve, Riot, CD Projekt Red, Bethesda, and countless other studios are still trying to chase the cash cow that Blizzard made.
Hearthstone is a platform comparable to League of Legends and Fortnite, with different game modes, metas, and competitive scenes. There is a subculture on YouTube, Twitch, and Reddit that uses complex tools to create competitive decks. Hearthstone is, in the words of Randy Pitchford, a “hobby grade” game.
I became part of this subculture on accident and loved how much analysis goes into the game. I feel a kinship to those nerds who would talk endlessly about their love of DotA 2 or League of Legends. I have become that nerd who annoys my partner by talking about the latest balance patches and upcoming sets.
2019 has been a big year for Hearthstone. I would guess that the Blitzchung situation and competition from Magic the Gathering: Arena has led to these changes. The last year of expansions has added an overarching story, and the newest set is overpowered and ridiculous. If you are at all interested in Hearthstone, the best time to start playing was five years ago. The next best time is now.
5. Animal Crossing: New Leaf/Stardew Valley
Animal Crossing: New Leaf (New Leaf) and Stardew Valley both occupy the same place in my brain, which is why they both live on the same spot on the list. I play these games when I need a moment to heal. I picked up New Leaf when I was working at a job that I hated and wasn’t sure what I was doing with my life. Being able to organize a little home and say hi to my friend was what I needed to keep my sanity.
I’ve played Stardew Valley off and for a few years, but it wasn’t until 2019 that I fell hard for it. There were some incredibly hard times this year, and all I wanted was something that felt safe and comfortable. Something that didn’t demand a lot of thinking, but instead let me take comfort in repetition. Stardew Valley was the game I needed when I could not bear to think about anything else.
Both of these games are deceptively complex life-management simulations that let me feel okay when it felt like everything was falling apart. They were places where I could hang out with those that I love and exist in the same space for a little while. There is no fail state in these worlds; your only goal is to be present.
When life gets too hard to bear, I know that my friends K.K. Slider, Blathers, and Mr. Resetti will be there to let me chill.
4. Nier: Automata
Brawlers like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta aren’t known for being introspective art pieces that meditate on the meaning of being human. Those two examples are loud and obnoxious beat-em-ups that revel in being “low-culture.” Nier: Automata builds on these earlier works by giving us a treatise on why we should continue to exist even if the world has no meaning. This message is delivered by a sexy anime robot in a maid costume who wields a katana. It is a silly game.
The game’s combat system doesn’t play super well compared to its contemporaries. The game’s world is a bunch of low-resolution textures with a bland art direction. I also died in the opening section of the game before I could save, which made me put it down and
This game was created with a shoestring budget when compared to its Square Enix-published contemporaries. That low budget let director Yoko Taro and his team make something so beautifully weird that I cannot help but love it.
One of the first lines in the game is, “I often think about the God who blessed us with this cryptic puzzle [life]…and wonder if we’ll ever get the chance to kill him.” The story goes buck wild from there. The player sees snippets of the alien robots learning what it means to have a culture and to live in a society. Like a Greek tragedy, there is no happy ending for anyone beyond the player who bears witness to these bizarre morality plays.
Nier: Automata is a dense allegorical work told through the framework of an over-the-top, anime-inspired action game. The meaning of this game will be debated and analyzed for the next decade. All I can say is, please get through all the endings. It will be worth it.
3. Gone Home
I will admit that Gone Home is the right game at the right time kind of situation. I played this game shortly after coming out as queer and trans, I grew up in the 1990s, and have a gay sister. I am the target audience for this game.
Now that my biases are out in the open, I still believe that Gone Home is one of the best examples of a “walking simulator” out there. It is a subtle game that plays with your expectations and tells a genuine story about a queer person growing up in the 90s. You never meet another person in the game, but the small remnants of their life that you find around the house paint a clear picture of who they are.
I do need to say that I can’t handle the stress of horror games. Gone Home sets up the player to expect horrific scenes and jump scares. But, it never scares the player. This space that seemed so creepy becomes comfortable and welcoming. The shift from threatening to cozy is so subtle that I didn’t even notice it until I was walking around the threatening basement looking for clues without panic sweats.
This game was something I shared with my partner as soon as we started dating. It was an emotional and sappy journey for both of us that ended in happy sobbing. I don’t think I’ve had that experience with another game, which is the best compliment I can give Gone Home.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
I didn’t finish The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time until 2019. My first Zelda game was The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and I thought it was okay but not life-changing. I liked Zelda games well-enough, but I didn’t understand the fanaticism around these games. Playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (BotW) felt like opening my eyes and seeing why other people loved this series.
BotW is an open-world adventure game, like Skyrim, that lets you climb mountains and explore to your heart’s content. Unlike Skyrim, BotW has been fine-tuned into a game that feels fun to live in without the open-world “Bethesda-jank.” The paraglider that Link uses to traverse the world is something that every other open-world game should steal and use forever. It is a pure act of joy to move around and take in the world.
Everything about this game feels like the perfect version of what came before it. The combat is challenging and asks the player to stay engaged. The world is beautiful, and the art direction reminds me of a Studio Ghibli movie. The music is phenomenal and understated. This game is an adventure, pure and simple. You can fight the final boss if you want, or you can explore and power up. Or you can go to Hateno Village and chill. There aren’t that many rules or things holding you back except your skill and ingenuity.
The game has a few minor issues, like climbing in rain or weapons breaking. But, those small problems pale when compared to everything else BotW has to offer. I beat this game and then immediately started another playthrough. I wanted to recapture that feeling of experiencing its world for the first time. If you haven’t played BotW, I’m jealous that you get to see this game with fresh eyes.
BotW is quite possibly the best game of not only this decade but the best game ever created. It was such a battle to choose what game defined this decade for me, and BotW almost took the top spot.
1. Fallout: New Vegas
Fallout: New Vegas (New Vegas) is not the best game of the decade for everyone. The game is a bug-filled, often ugly, and obtuse game that has flying killer bugs that will poison you. New Vegas is a flawed game that I love with every ounce of my being. I will fight for this game at every opportunity that I get and have already written about why it holds up.
New Vegas sets up a conflict between warring nations and ideals that goes beyond “fascists bad” and “democracy good.” There are no good people. There is a sense of history and place in this world. The NCR, a democratic republic in a desolate wasteland, committed a campaign of genocide against the locals and is being torn apart by infighting. Caesar’s Legion is a slave-holding and militaristic culture led by an autocrat. Mr. House is a libertarian who will use his vast intellect to remake the world in his image.
Additionally, there are so many smaller factions that I don’t have time to outline. All the factions are equally valid (except Caesar’s Legion), and you can decide to ally with none of them. No matter who you choose, you are going to make someone angry and have to live with your choices.
I love the desert and have only grown fonder of it after moving away. The world of New Vegas is beautiful because of its austerity. There aren’t a lot of buildings in the Mojave Desert, so you’re often fighting against the elements and wasteland critters. You may also be jumped by a crew of Legionnaires because you might have assassinated their leader. I know that New Vegas didn’t create scripted events, but it uses them so effectively to place you in this world.
The DLC is strange and great. It builds out the world and presents odd new wrinkles in the Fallout canon. The DLCs range from a horror-themed casino heist to a B-movie plot about floating robots and dating your disembodied brain. The DLC stories are tied together by an unseen character named Ulysses. His story culminates in the Lonesome Road DLC, where your relation to Ulysses and your character’s dark backstory is finally revealed. It is an audacious idea to take away a player character’s backstory and replace it with a developer-concocted one, and I love that they were willing to go there.
I found my deep conviction for New Vegas years after it came out. It was a slow burn that took over my brain and made it so that all I can think about in my free time is what happens after New Vegas? Do the Tunnelers destroy all life in the Mojave? Did the NCR win? Will I ever be able to romance Arcade Gannon? These questions keep me up at night. Bethesda you cowards. Let Obsidian make another Fallout game. I played The Outer Worlds, and it didn’t stick with me. I’m begging you.
Other Notable Games
Here are a few games that were on the list and were then dropped:
Mass Effect 2: I’m sorry Garrus.
The Walking Dead: Season One: Lee dying crushed me.
The Outer Wilds: This is a beautiful and impactful game that did not hit me as hard as these other games because nostalgia is a toxic impulse.
We Know The Devil: For making me realize that I was a snob for not playing dating sims.
Overwatch: Overwatch is a good shooter that I am so burnt out on and never want to touch again.
Super Meat Boy: For breaking my brain and making me want to grind my face against challenging games.
Bloodborne: It has wormed its way into my brain, and now I have eyes on my brain.
Minecraft: I don’t think I need to say anything else.
Like others who dedicate some carved-out part of their identity to the craft, I can punctuate almost every year of my life by at least one video game that came to me at the right place, at the right time. I was 17 when I graduated high school in May of 2010 and spent the summer immediately following bouncing between undergraduate coursework and Red Dead Redemption. With 2011 came The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The summer of 2012 was built around the Humble Indie Bundle V as I was making the long commute back and forth to work with the soundtracks of Bastion and Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery on repeat in the car. In 2015, when I returned from a year spent living in Boston, finding myself confronting depression and feeling as though my future was falling apart, there was Night in the Woods and Hohokum.
Now at 27, though far from the oldest or wisest person I know, I feel as though I have the clarity to reflect back on the last decade as a pivotal one in my ongoing relationship with video games as a medium. While I started as someone who was willing to buy every popular game that was released, and felt like I had to in order to stay ahead of the discourse, even if I knew I would never finish it; I now feel like someone whose taste has been refined to the point that I don’t feel shame in saying out loud that I just don’t like platformers very much. I don’t feel guilt in not buying the latest hot thing until the review embargo has lifted. My heart will always lie with the weird, the esoteric, the experimental, and the narrative-driven.
Below I have listed my 10 landmark games from the last decade (2010-2019), many of which have become powerful rituals in my life as much as they have become the touchstones that have developed my interests and tastes as a young adult. There are a lot of games worth loving out there and certainly far more than just these 10, though I hope you have loved, or will come to love, some of my dearest favorites.
I’ve seen Minecraft appear on a few other end-of-the-decade lists, and there’s usually some ensuing kerfuffle about how the game released in Alpha in 2008 which somehow means it couldn’t possibly count, despite a full release in 2011. I’m saving you the trouble by telling you this now, so you know that I’m not a stickler for particulars, and thus, am putting Minecraft on my end-of-the-decade list.
I owe a lot to Minecraft; it was one of the first games that got me actually playing games on my PC, and is also one of the first to teach me about modding communities. I was active for many years in the Minecraft subreddit and on some Minecraft-related forums, where I enjoyed playing custom-designed game types, maps, and on multiplayer servers. It is impossible to talk about Minecraft, of course, without acknowledging that it stems from problematic origins. In spite of this, I feel that the team deserves immense credit for persevering in spite of it all. Indeed, Minecraft is one of the few games that continues to improve in incredible ways; the current game is almost unrecognizable from where it started with even more great content on the horizon that will surely keep it on many best-of lists going well into the 2020s.
For me, Minecraft has been a very special place I return to when I need a break from things, even other games, and over time has become the common ground I share with many of the friends I’ve made playing social games on my PlayStation. Minecraft has been the glue that has kept us playing together for years now. We’ll build our hearts out, explore the depths of each map, and start all over again with even more enthusiasm than the last time.
9. Dishonored1 and 2, and no, I will not choose between them
Look, Dishonored is one of the few franchises that reads to me like a package deal. There is no Dishonored without Dishonored 2. Sure, there was that time between the games when we only had Dishonored, but that’s the past. The future is now.
The Dishonored games on their own are a blissful combination of a grotesque, whalepunk, industrial revolutionist aesthetic with immersive stealth-’em-up mechanics, brought home by an immensely thoughtful narrative of political intrigue and otherworldly influence. The premise of the series is simple enough; you play as former Royal Lord Protector—turned spectral assassin—Corvo Attano. His primary goal in life is to hand anyone who took part in wronging him their very own ass. You have the choice to do this the easy way, by killing everyone and everything who stands before you, or the hard way, which allows you to assign a fate often worse than death to many of the targets who stand in your path. The beauty of Dishonored is that it rises to be more than just Corvo’s story of revenge, and tells deeply personal, troubling stories about characters in a world built on the back of poverty, disease, exploitation, and death. Not one iota of content is extraneous in Dishonored; indeed, Dishonored boasts some of the most incredible DLC stories I’ve ever played, bringing great complexities and perspectives to a story about so much more than revenge. More than just this, the series is also responsible for some of the most loved, cited, and influential level designs of the past decade, from Dishonored’s brilliant social-warfare simulator Lady Boyle’s Party to Dishonored 2’s intricate murder house The Clockwork Mansion.
I also named my dog after Corvo Attano, so it has that going for it too.
8. Dear Esther
Dear Esther is a ritual I have returned to and meditated on frequently since its release in 2012, though I didn’t hear about it until it was included in Humble Bundle’s Humble Indie Bundle 8 in 2013. At the time it was the talk of the office; I remember being asked so many times if I’d played it because it was just that good that I broke down and bought it the same day the bundle dropped.
While not the first game to be called a “walking simulator” pejoratively, it is a game that introduced me to a genre I was previously unfamiliar with and came to love and care for very deeply. Dear Esther tells a haunting narrative of a man struggling with grief over the death of his wife and his own deteriorating health, told in randomized, disjointed, repetitive pieces of dialogue offered at intervals as the player explores a ghost-inhabited, picturesque island in Scotland’s Hebridean archipelago. It is a remarkable example of how the lived experience of games, of their settings, of the actions taken in being present in a space or environment, can sometimes be the most meaningful way to tell a story. There is great life here, even with poignantly sparse, minimalist gameplay as the unnamed narrator makes an arduous, painful trek to find some sort of solace in his sorrow while occasionally relaying the stories of the men who had lived on the island centuries before his arrival. He grapples with and tries to unravel their motivations and their pain in a way that flows effortlessly with his own struggle to unpack and gain authority over his trauma in a way so remarkably human and greatly moving that it is no surprise Dear Esther inspired the design and the stories of so many games in the years following.
7. Return of the Obra Dinn
I’ve long been a fan of developer Lucas Pope, the man behind 2013’s Papers, Please—an immensely affecting simulation game about the tedium and morally grey day-to-day of working as a border agent whose well-being, and the well-being of his family, relies entirely on his ability to successfully complete his duties to the fictional nation of Arstotzka. Pope was similarly open about the development of his follow up game, Return of the Obra Dinn, whose demo I played in 2014.
The demo was clever and interesting, with a captivating art style, but it did not betray the incredible masterwork that the game would become. Return of the Obra Dinn again puts you in the tedious position of a public officer, this time as an insurance adjuster for the East India Company, sent to explore an abandoned ship and make some kind of sense about how members of its entire crew either mysteriously vanished or died violently. As others have noted before me, Obra Dinn is a fascinating game of three dimensional sudoku; armed with a pocket watch that allows players to travel back in time to the exact moment of a person’s death, players must thoroughly and correctly fill out an insurance claim while piecing together which sailor each corpse belonged to and what exactly their fate was. Using only sharp eyes and the clues of deduction, Obra Dinn is easily one of the most competent, complex, and thoughtful puzzle games of recent years, whose story takes such awe-inspiring and fantastical twists and turns that the act of exploring these frozen scenes of often horribly gruesome deaths is morbidly fun in the most unexpected way.
6. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
I went into this past decade a massive Elder Scrolls fan. When I was in high school, right around the time that I got my first big console upgrade to an Xbox 360, a friend recommended that I check out The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, as I was into Fable at the time. Even to this day I can’t say if there is a game I have ended up playing as thoroughly or for as long as Oblivion and so, naturally, I was fully prepared to spend forever and a day combing every inch of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I bought the special edition, I did the midnight release. I’ve carried that damn Alduin statue around for almost a decade, from move to move. It’s sitting behind me on a shelf as I type this.
Skyrim decided to haunt me in a much different way than I was expecting. I never really had the same kind of time in these past 10 years as I did during my Oblivion days, yet I have found myself gently orbiting around Skyrim, always buying a new copy for this platform and that platform, always returning for a few spare hours, here and there, now and again. There is something so wonderfully familiar in Skyrim’ssweeping plains and snow-capped mountainsthat feels like home to me—a feeling I hadn’t properly grasped until playing Skyrim in VR late last year. I was in Jorrvaskr, the mead hall home of Skyrim’s mercenary group, The Companions, and decided to just sit down with my VR headset on, next to the fire. For a moment, everything around me melted away. It felt real, it felt comfortable, like I was meant to be there. Like I was in the company of a good friend.
Without a doubt, I knew I wanted to put at least one Fromsoft game on my list but I struggled to decide which one. I’ve dedicated a fair chunk of the last decade to the franchise as I love it dearly; Dark Souls 3 is my all-time favorite of the Dark Souls series, and one I often return to. In truth, despite how much I love them, I have only ever really been a bystander to the Dark Souls series. I have not mastered them as others have, I have not carved through their idiosyncrasies or “gotten gud” enough to walk with those who have.
Maybe it is because of this that I have long found Bloodborne to be the closest-to-perfect distillation of the type of game Fromsoft has been making since 2009’s Demon’s Souls, and one of my favorite games of all time, even outside the last decade. A contained experience, affecting a lone Hunter over the course of one hellish night, Bloodborne marries sharp, speedy combat with a highly aesthetic, cosmic-horror vision of traditional Souls-style sprawling locales. Unlike its “Souls-sisters,” I find that Bloodborne shines because of its more human-focused and environmentally-driven storytelling; presented are several key, conflicting factions whose various obsessions with being recognized by unknowable comic gods, known as Great Ones, helped to create the sick dynamic that has brought the spiraling gothic city of Yharnam near to ruin. Where the Dark Souls series often revels in its purposefully designed murkiness, Bloodborne instead spends its time lingering on the characters at play, on the settings it encompasses, and tells a moving, tragic story of the unknowable undoing brought about by the sheer hubris of man.
4. Disco Elysium
At the risk of sounding like the fun police, I often refer to myself as someone who is anti-hype. For whatever inexplicable reason, I feel an internal cringe anytime some piece of media arrives as The Greatest Thing That Everyone You Know Loves And Won’t Stop Talking About. Maybe I’ve just been burned so many times by That Greatest Thing to have learned this cynicism but, of course, it kicked into high drive in 2019 once again with the release of Disco Elysium. Lauded almost universally and self-billed as both “groundbreaking” and “revolutionary” (like, who does that?), I naturally paused on this insane amount of hype to really consider if it was earned.
As it turns out, the right to call itself both groundbreaking and revolutionary is not only earned but earned tenfold. Disco Elysium is a fascinating character study of an objectively terrible person built on one of the most complex narrative systems I have ever seen, considered the natural iteration of 1999’s long-reigning RPG favorite, Planescape Torment. It is a game with such incredible depth and clarity of vision that I have not stopped thinking about it since the day I put it down. I know this all sounds like the hype machine at work, but Disco Elysium, like many of 2019’s games, grapples very earnestly with mental illness, with racial, political, and economic strife, and contributes meaningfully (in my opinion) to the overall discourse—and deserves credit for trying even where it stumbles. It is one of those games that I found at the right time and has been a solace for me ever since in trying to exercise some of my conflicting, frustrating feelings about our late-stage capitalist hellscape.
3. Outer Wilds
I hit a few snags in writing this list, one of which being the sense that I had to cite only the games that introduced some new mechanic or concept or idea first, even if they may have not necessarily done it the best. Such thinking feels like a trap; games that build on those mechanics and concepts and ideas are often disqualified because they are not thought of as original, even if they are the most polished, most thoughtful iteration.
Outer Wilds rests at the intersection of those concepts, in my eyes. While it is made up of parts familiar from other games, such as Majora’s Mask, Subnautica and No Man’s Sky, it packages them up so effortlessly and expertly that it’s easy to forget how many years and how many games had to happen before Outer Wilds could exist. And exist it does; as an indie joint, developed into a full game by the small team at Mobius Digital after early beginnings as a student project, Outer Wilds rises effortlessly to heights sometimes not even seen in the AAA space. A compact, yet somehow sprawling story of a civilization long past told from the eyes of a charmingly hobbyist spacefaring race living out the last hours of a dying solar system, Outer Wilds provides an endlessly surprising (and wonderfully tiny!) space exploration sim that meditates so beautifully on what it means to exist in a universe so much larger than just one person. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.
Every couple of years, one game will sneak out of the void and become the only thing I can think about. I hate to call it an obsession, but I’ll admit the feeling is something like it; it’s hard to say what exactly inspires this feeling in me, but Control was one of those games to take me by the shoulders and shake me until I was all in for the ride.
Control is Remedy Entertainment at its finest (and weirdest)—a game that feels like the natural conclusion of a decade chasing the supernatural that started back in 2010 with Alan Wake. While Alan Wake, as both a character and concept, is very much alive and well in this story, Control chooses to instead focus on the Federal Bureau of Control, an SCP Foundation-like that exists to research, contain, and understand anomalous objects and world events. The strength of the game is several-fold; stylish, mid-century, brutalist art direction melds so beautifully into incredible levels and interiors that grant a character and familiarity to The Oldest House’s otherwise incomprehensible architecture. Such a strong setting only sweetens fast-paced, third-person gunplay (with not a waist-high wall to be found!) that, while occasionally frustrating, made me feel more like a superhero than I ever have in a game before. But more than all of these wonderful parts, Control won my heart because it unabashedly celebrated its women. Rather than falling back on an old trope, Control instead empowers protagonist Jesse Faden and whip-smart bureau employees like Emily Pope to literally take control and make meaningful structural change in a system built on the backs of men whose actions nearly brought the Bureau, and the world, to its knees.
1. Kentucky Route Zero
I am certain my placement of Kentucky Route Zero (KRZ) comes as no surprise to those that know me well. I loved every second of KRZ so intensely that I had a pivotal scene from Act III, released in 2014, tattooed on my body. But the importance of putting KRZ at the top spot from the last decade is not so much because it is my favorite game from the last decade (or games, if I include the four supplementary interludes that have been released: Limits & Demonstrations, The Entertainment, Here and There Along the Echo, and Un Pueblo de Nada), but also because I find it to be the most quietly influential, the most creatively ambitious, and as of yet the only unequalled game from the last decade. I had hoped to be able to see KRZ through to its completion by the end of 2019 so that I could meditate on the closure of something so personally meaningful. But I returned to the game recently, to sit and ruminate again on its lessons, and I wonder if there is also something poignant to be found in the pause we are left on as we enter a new decade.
Perhaps it is because I am older now, and understand it now, but I can’t help but feel as if the world we live in is full of more horror and terror than it has been before. KRZ confronts a lot of these evils directly, from corporate greed destroying rural communities, debt and alcoholism crippling those most vulnerable, to loss and guilt and the way that our histories, our traumas, and our relationships shape the people we become as we grow older. But what KRZ does so elegantly is present groups of people, as broken as they may be, often unfettered by what ails them—these artists and creators and magic makers—and celebrate how they manage to thrive and make meaning of things at the darkest hour, how they find some quiet sense of peace when there is no certainty in their futures. Perhaps this is an idealist’s view of things, but there is something about KRZ that gives me hope, that keeps my soul strong when the weight of the world makes me feel so impossibly insignificant. It reminds me that there is room for carving out joy wherever it can be found. It will always be meaningful to someone.
I agonized over this list immensely and ended up cutting several games that are very dear to me in the process of finalizing it. Because of this, I wanted to take a moment to name a few very special games that made creating this list almost impossible: Red Dead Redemption (2010), Mass Effect 2 (2010), Fallout: New Vegas (2010), Journey (2012), Hohokum (2014), Gorogoa (2017), and Prey (2017).
At the beginning of 2019, I entered the Purposeful Gaming Challenge (PGC) with hope, ambition, and devotion. I told myself I was going to once-and-for-all reduce my backlog of 2017 games while simultaneously playing new games that released this year. I am proud to report I was not successful.
We all have a dreaded and extensive backlog of games we purchased but never played. The majority of mine come from steam sales; those sweet, sweet discounts get me every time. According to Steamdb.info, I have only played 185 out of 345 games that I own. What is even scarier is that over 12 years I’ve played 2,222 hours and I’ve spent $5,045 on games, and that’s just on Steam. That doesn’t include other timesinks like the 600+ hours I’ve dropped on Bloodborne (the time I’ve lost on the Souls series haunts me at night) or my total /played over the 8 years I spent with World Of Warcraft. My point is that while we as gamers laugh when told people to spend an average of 7 hours per week playing games (thanks Forbes), we can’t seem to find the hours to play the unplayed games we already own. And the PGC made me realize that I’ve become the 7 hours a week person (which is a shame because I used to be at least 20 hours a week).
As with any challenge, there are hurdles to overcome and the PGC was no different. My main hurdle was finding time to even play a game. Surprisingly when you’re suddenly 28 with a full-time job, a partner, three dogs, a podcast, and a desire to improve on your art skills while also going to the gym and trying to get a healthy amount of sleep, there’s very little time to spend with games. I found myself planning to play games but never actually playing them. I never returned to the games I played and out of everything I played this year (27) I was able to only finish 9 of them. But hey, 9 out of 27 isn’t bad, and 27 out of 52 games the PGC is supposed to make you play isn’t quite unsuccessful. The biggest challenge was playing them when scheduled. I almost never played the games the week that I planned to play them. Instead, I would go weeks without playing a single game until I had time to play over a large chunk of days.
If I’m being honest, I’m conflicted about the PGC. While I love how it champions mindfulness around time spent playing games you love, I hate how it holds me accountable and blatantly flaunts my procrastination in my face. I’m not here to dismantle or rant about a wonderful challenge, I’m just frustrated with confronting my personal growing pains. It made me feel more like the adult I’ve become, which is a good thing, but also, as Liz Lemon said in an episode of 30 Rock, “UGH!! Realizations are the worst!” The PGC made me realize just how little time I had to myself and the hobby I love. 2019 was a very busy year for me, for all of us probably, and the PGC is proof that I have an issue with time management. I may not have stuck to the PGC faithfully but now I have a baseline for next year and can only improve.
Finished – (8 games/16%) These are the games I truly finished within 2019. This doesn’t include DLC or 100% find-all-the-knick-knacks completion, it just means I saw the credits roll or the official end of the game.
Unfinished – (22 Games/45%) These are the games I spent some time with but didn’t finish. They’re on the ever-growing backlog now. Maybe I’ll play and finish them in the PGC 2020, or maybe they’ll be waiting for me when I retire at the ripe age of 80 (I’m thinking about degrading my hand-eye coordination now, accessibility is important!).
Didn’t Play – (14 Games/29%) These were the games I never touched. The problem was either no time to play or not justifiable to purchase at that time. I definitely want to play these games because they excited me a lot, I just never followed through with commitment.
Previously Played – These are the games that I played and finished it in previous years. I really only returned to one game (Diablo 3). I also played Darkest Dungeon, WHICH I LOVE, but I technically haven’t beaten that game, so it’s labeled as unfinished.
No surprise here, PC is my main platform and, as I mentioned earlier, the majority of my games come from Steam.
That said, I’m very surprised that the iPad won over the Switch and the PS4. However, I want to let The Gamers™ know that while it looks like I’ve become a mobile gamer (thanks Apple Arcade), the Switch is still my #1 console with time spent playing games this year.
Shout out to the one Xbox One game I played (Remnant: From The Ashes) because they don’t allow crossplay between games on Game Pass.
Despite failing to play from my backlog, I must say that I did a pretty great job of playing games within the concurrent year, even if I didn’t finish them—Go me! I think next year I will try to focus more on games from the past (again, my gigantic backlog) and focus less on the releases in 2020.
I have never been good at doing challenges related to playing games, watching movies, or consuming any other types of media. My free time keeps shrinking as the responsibilities of life keep growing, especially when it comes to playing games. My pile of shame is so big that I’ve had to create spreadsheets and use tools to try to organize it. Looking at my list of backlogged games in Howlongtobeat.com, it would take 408 days and 2 hours to finish everything I want to play. That number is not counting ongoing games like Destiny 2 or Fortnite.
Having a backlog is emotionally taxing for me. It stresses me out to think about all the games I don’t have time to play and it stresses me out to say no to nearly anything. With new releases coming out all the time, my backlog grows larger every day.
Because of that stress, I fall into the games that feel the most comfortable for me. That means grinding out packs in Hearthstone or playing a game of Civilization 5. It’s hard for me to find the emotional energy to open my backlog spreadsheet.
Doing the Purposeful Gaming Challenge (PGC) this year was my first step in admitting that maybe I have a problem with enjoying the media I play and setting hard boundaries. The PGC gave me a toolset to view my backlog through and forced me to pick up a new game every week. This habit made me face the cold realization that I was never going to finish all the games on my list, and, as painful as it is to say, that is okay.
Learning To Let Go
I was extremely hopeful that I would have time to go back and finish the games that I started during this year’s PGC. I had 22 games that I marked as, “Unfinished, but will complete.” This category includes absolute bangers like Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. With the current backlog that I have and the slew of 2019 releases I’ve yet to play, I don’t think these games are going to get finished anytime soon. I still haven’t updated my spreadsheet to say that I won’t finish these games. I’m working up to it, okay. Get off my back.
Currently, I have finished 13 of the games I put on my list, and I expect to finish a few more of those recent releases before the year ends. A few of these finished games include Control, Gorogoa, and another playthrough of Fallout: New Vegas. This relatively large number of games beaten is a serious accomplishment for me. I will strive to continue this greatness into next year.
I put 10 ongoing or live-service games on my list that cannot be beaten. This group includes Fallout 76 and Animal Crossing: New Leaf (ACNL). ACNL stood out to me because can you actually finish an Animal Crossing game? I would posit maybe. I have an ongoing spreadsheet of all of the items in ANCL. Here is hoping I can either “beat” ANCL or figure out how to say goodbye to it before Animal Crossing: New Horizons comes out next year.
There were three games I chose not complete. These three games are Crackdown 3, Ducktales Remastered, and Crusader Kings II. Crackdown 3 was a boring game that couldn’t hold my attention, Ducktales was hard as hell, and Crusader Kings II required me to read an encyclopedia to play it efficiently. My hope for next year is that I can make this category grow the most.
I skipped one week of the year. This missed week is my eternal shame and stands empty in my spreadsheet. I pray that one day this failure will be forgotten in the annals of history.
Other Fun Graphs
Above is a breakdown of the platforms that I played my PGC games on. Here are a few takeaways:
I played the majority of my games (14 titles) on the Nintendo Switch. I traveled a lot and share the TV with my partner, so the portability of the platform made it incredibly useful.
The PC was my second most-played platform this year with 12 games. I played a mix of indie games and AAA titles on PC, both new and old. The oldest game I played on the platform was the 2010 Fallout: New Vegas and the newest was the 2018 Cultist Simulator.
I played a few older games on Nintendo platforms, including the Game Boy Color and Nintendo DS,. with the oldest being the original The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening which was released in 1993. The other Game Boy Color game was a ROM hack of Pokémon: Crystal, called Pokémon: Crystal Clear.
I was surprised that I played more games on the Xbox One (7) than the PlayStation 4 (5). Every game that I played on Xbox One was on Xbox Game Pass, which continues to be an amazing deal.
Above is a graph that shows the year that my PGC games released. A few interesting factoids:
2019 was my most popular year with 12 new releases. The majority of these new releases (5) were on the Switch.
2012, 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2019 were the only years that had more than one of my PGC games released.