Washington – Gaming is now humanity’s favourite form of entertainment, and the medium’s legacy was cemented this past decade.
So, which games have made the biggest mark on the industry from 2010 through 2019? After much deliberation, here is a list of titles we believe aren’t just quality games but ones that have shaped the medium and continue to do so in extraordinary ways.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Video games are often known for being power fantasies. Even the game that popularized survivor horror, Resident Evil, gave you a rocket launcher and an exploding mansion as its coda. Indie studio Frictional Games dared to make you powerless, with just a lantern in hand to light the way.
It gave you no methods of attack. Hiding in the dark would make you lose your sanity. And don’t even think about glancing at the creatures that stalk you. Amnesia was an unrelenting assault of nightmares. You stand in a flooded basement and see ripples in the water, realizing you’re stuck in there with an invisible horror. All this was a breath of fresh air for a genre whose default dynamic was to slash/shoot/explode your way through terror.
Early this century, publishers were wary of funding survival horror games, and the best franchises were either abandoning the genre (like Resident Evil) or were left abandoned on the roadside (like Silent Hill). Amnesia inspired the phenomenon of horror with a first-person camera perspective, including Alien: Isolation, Outlast and the ill-fated P.T., the “playable teaser” for the infamously canceled Silent Hills directed by Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro.
What genre is Minecraft? If you call it a survival game, you neglect the sizable portion of its player base that spends its time futzing about in the creative mode, or building elaborate trick doors with redstone. The compromise pick would be to call it a sandbox, but that just takes us back to square one. A sandbox is a blank canvas.
Minecraft represents, in the history of gaming, the ultimate blank canvas. It is The Everything Game by merit of the perfect simplicity of its base formula: building with blocks.
Eventually, every video game is compared with Dark Souls. Comparing anything to Dark Souls was a pervasive meme, but in every meme lies some truth. Yes, Dark Souls provided the template for the “Souls-like” genre, games that harshly punish you and set you back for failure. But ideas about player progress, online interactions and environmental storytelling eventually made its way to the rest of the industry.
With no direct contact with one another, players could leave messages, warnings and other thoughts to lift others going through the same harrowing experience, planting the seed for Hideo Kojima’s grand vision for player interaction in this year’s Death Stranding. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, the best Star Wars game in the last decade, wasn’t shy about its Souls inspiration. And with its exhausting difficulty, From Software challenged and asked us to redefine the very concepts of “fun” and “reward.” It forced us to earn every inch of progress by learning from our mistakes.
The fifth Elder Scrolls game from Bethesda Studios became the benchmark for role-playing adventures games in the past decade. While it was really just an evolution of the previous four games, fantasy games went mainstream in a way they never had before Skyrim. Skyrim is, for many, the American role playing game’s Final Fantasy 7. And it was the mother of a thousand memes.
Todd Howard, creative director of Skyrim, said the team hoped Skyrim would enter the pantheon of timeless fantasy worlds.
“The game reflects back on the player as much as possible: ‘Who would you be, what would you do in that world?’” Howard told The Washington Post. “That’s the thing games do better than other entertainment.”
Candy Crush Saga
Candy Crush Saga’s humble beginning as a Facebook game makes sense, considering no other title on this list has been as disruptive to the business of selling video games. Candy Crush Saga popularized the “freemium” model within the mobile gaming market: Give the core gameplay away free, but charge for peripheral virtual items that either enhance, quicken or beautify the player’s experience.
It married online shopping and gaming to the point where the two were indistinguishable. Mobile gaming eventually created “pay to win” games, referring to video games insidiously designed to slow your progression, encouraging you to pay to win. It is one of the industry’s most despised – and most profitable – practices.
The Walking Dead: Season One
Reviving adventure games is no small feat, but Telltale’s The Walking Dead was one of the major players that helped reinvigorate the genre. The game told the story of young Clementine and her friendship with Lee, a man whose story began in handcuffs until a zombie apocalypse broke out. The two venture out on a heart-wrenching journey together as they attempt to survive a crippling world’s harsh realities.
Before its release, “adventure games are dead” was a common sentiment in the games industry. The genre had its golden era in the 1980s and early ’90s, but it then quickly dwindled in popularity. Sales of subsequent adventure games often fell flat, including LucasArts’s Grim Fandango. Telltale’s The Walking Dead changed everything: It spurred similar games such as Life is Strange, Firewatch and Oxenfree – some of which were made by former Telltale developers themselves.
Recent years have introduced the concept of video games as a service or “live service games.” Bungie’s Destiny crystallized that model, despite its early missteps.
When released, Destiny was not well-reviewed. Activities were boring, the loot was inadequate, the story was nonsense. Destiny’s disastrous launch was an omen that these persistent “games as a service” titles will be really hard not only to make but to maintain. Destiny’s early missteps were repeated not only by its competitors but by Bungie itself for Destiny 2.
The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt
The world of The Witcher 3 is so large it can be almost daunting, but this magnitude set a new standard for open-world design. Its sprawling narrative seamlessly fits inside the world, both through emergent storytelling and scripted moments, as you visit travel from one village to the next. During development, creator CD Projekt Red looked to Skyrim, which released just a few years beforehand, as inspiration. But they didn’t want to just copy what Skyrim got right.
“We drew inspiration from a whole range of titles, and Skyrim was definitely among them; it was the benchmark for open-world games back then,” Witcher 3 writer Jakub Szamalek told The Post. “At the same time, while there’s a lot to learn from the folks from Bethesda, we knew we didn’t want to simply copy their game. Most importantly, we put a much greater emphasis on the narrative aspect of the game.”
When discussing the influence of Pokémon Go, it’s best to address the question of augmented reality (AR) upfront, so here goes: Pokémon Go is the clearest evidence of AR’s irrelevance.
When the game came out, the hype was tremendous. With its massive success (over 540 million downloads to date), Pokémon Go was the game that launched a thousand decks, prompting questions from every tech, media and software company as to how AR could factor into its work. And then the hype died down. It is funny, in retrospect, that AR’s killer app is such a capitulation. The game allows you to turn off its AR capabilities, and frankly, is all the better for it. Nobody wants to be the overeager jerk on the subway platform, sweatily pivoting back and forth trying to find the Pidove hiding among the commuters.
No, Fortnite is not on here because it popularized the battle royale genre. Fortnite’s best-known mode is itself a result of the popularization of the genre, thanks to PlayerUnknown’s Battleground. But once Epic Games successfully aped the formula, Fortnite found new ways to keep players engaged. The game was free, but the battle pass system kept players subscribing every few months to log on and garner new rewards. Thanks to several controversies that coincided with the rollout of the game’s battle pass, the loot box practice of offering surprise rewards for real money became a pariah of the industry.
Fortnite offered 100 tiers of rewards for only $10 every few months in a “season,” and players got to see everything they would win along the way. The transparency and low commitment cost kept players coming back and – combined with direct payments for skins and other cosmetics offered outside of the battle pass – suddenly the industry found a winning formula. Soon, everyone from Call of Duty to Halo to Overwatch had a similar battle pass system.
The Washington Post