As with all technology, change happens fast in the video game world. Games change from one year to the next, and when given an entire decade, they change a lot. But some games make a lasting impact that can be felt for years to come, shaking, advancing, and changing the video game industry in new and exciting ways. These games have been influential beyond their release and some will continue to be influential in the coming years. The 2010s saw the release of many influential games, especially with the release of new consoles like the PlayStation 4 and the rise in popularity and capabilities of mobile games.
So which games were the most influential in the 2010s? From games that pushed what was considered “difficult,” games that brought people together like never before, games that changed entire genres and more, a lot of video games made a lasting impact on the game industry. Whether they made an immediate influence that can be traced within the decade or whether they have started to influence the games of tomorrow, these games are the ones that defined what made the 2010s a great and impactful decade of gaming.
10. Mass Effect 2
- System: PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows
- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Developer: Bioware
- Release Dates: Jan. 26, 2010
Mass Effect 2 continues the story of Commander Shepard from Mass Effect. It’s an action role-playing game set in the 22nd century where humans have finally discovered long-distance space travel and life on other planets—a whole lot later than the natives of those planets. Now, the Milky Way is under the threat of giant insectoid aliens known as the Collectors. It’s up to you, Commander Shepard, and your chosen team to lead a suicide mission to try to stop the Collectors once and for all before they destroy the remainder of life in the galaxy.
Argued by many to be one of the greatest role-playing games of all time, Mass Effect 2 set the standard high early on in the 2010s. It was also one of the first games to carry over not only the narrative but also all your choices from the first game into the second one. Suddenly everything you did in Mass Effect had a very real bearing in the sequel, with continuity that hadn’t been seen in video games up to that point. Since the success of Mass Effect’s choice-driven, branching storyline, a lot of other RPGs have had the same kinds of features. It’s too bad the Mass Effect series couldn’t keep up its own success following Mass Effect 2!
9. The Last of Us
- System: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3
- Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
- Developer: Naughty Dog
- Release Dates: Jun. 14, 2013
The Last of Us is set in a post-apocalyptic America that has been all but wiped out by a fungal virus that has turned humans and creatures hostile—and cannibalistic—twenty years ago. You play as a man named Joel who is escorting teenage Ellie. Both of them have no one else left as the world has all but disappeared, leaving behind only a few survivors amongst the Infected. When Joel first meets Ellie, he learns she is actually infected with the fungus as well, but it hasn’t turned her. She believes that her invulnerability may lead to a possible cure! Joel decides to try to take Ellie across a dangerous country to the right people, recognising her as possibly the only hope for humanity.
The narrative of The Last of Us heavily revolves around the relationship between Joel and Ellie, something not usually highlighted by horror survival games. It gives The Last of Us a powerful story that a lot of people never could have predicted to expected to get from a game in its genre, and left a lot of players very emotional by the end of the game. The Last of Us became so famous for its characterisation and story that gamers who normally stay away from horror games even tried it out, motivated by the widespread love that the game had. It showed that all genres of games can have a great story, and set the bar high for the rest of the 2010s for any other game to try to compete with how The Last of Us made players feel.
8. Life is Strange
- System: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, iOS, OS X, Android, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
- Publisher: Square Enix, Feral Interactive, Black Wing Foundation
- Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
- Release Dates: Jan. 30, 2015 (First Episode)
In Life is Strange, you play as a teenage art student named Max who has the unique ability to rewind time, which allows her to change her decisions and get a second chance at her choices when she doesn’t like the result. Her small town in America has a giant storm approaching that can destroy the community, but only Max can save everyone. Too bad no one is willing to believe a troubled teenage girl. You play through the last days before the storm, slowly learning about Max’s missing best friend and how she is connected to other missing girls, struggle through the challenging life of a teenager, come to grips with time manipulation—and deal with a town on the brink of destruction.
Life is Strange was a unique kind of game when it released. It was in part a walking simulator, devoid of combat, levelling up, health bars, inventories, weapons, and the like. But it is possible to “lose” the game, though luckily the rewind time mechanic can help fix any bad mistake that you make. Its also a choice-driven game, with different results based on what you say and do that can alter the story. It also had a social media element by showing you at the end of each episodic chapter the percentage that other players made the same decisions as you. Life is Strange started as a small indie game but due to its unique style and extremely thought-provoking story, it became a hot topic of conversation in the game world. And now it has opened a door for other similar kinds of games to follow, changing what a walking simulator can be capable of, connecting players to one another, and exploring very real topics that games have not touched on before.
7. Fortnite: Battle Royale
- System: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, iOS, macOS, Nintendo Switch, Android
- Publisher: Epic Games
- Developer: Epic Games
- Release Dates: Sep. 26, 2017
Fortnite: Battle Royale is a multiplayer online game that drops players onto an island where they have to fight to survive. Fortnite features solo, duo, and squad gameplay modes, where you play by yourself or with a small group of friends to try to outlast everyone else on the island. As time passes, space on the island becomes more and more restricted to force players into a confrontation with one another. The last player or team to remain alive is the winner in a true battle royale fashion. Fortnite sets itself apart from other similar games by also having construction elements that allow players to build things like defences to add another layer of gameplay.
Fortnite: Battle Royale has another game on our list to thank for its initial success—League of Legends, which we will talk about more later in the article. But the reason we have included Fortnite as well on our list of the most influential games is that it’s impact has been quite different. Fortnite gets a lot of praise and simultaneously a lot of criticism especially from parents. The game appeals strongly to children because it’s cartoonish and free to play—but it’s also violent. While some parents praise Fortnite for helping their children make friends outside of their normal social circles and also use it was a reward to motivate kids, it’s also been criticised as violent and extremely addictive or even disruptive to children’s lives.
Fortnite now has a warning to discourage kids from playing it in class time, especially since it has a mobile version. Fortnite also has been hugely influential in the continuing rise of eSports, with big monetary prizes and the potential for players to go professional alongside a massive streaming audience. Fortnite came out late in the 2010s and is going strong, so we will have to wait and see how it continues to influence this newer genre of games—and the gaming lives of young players especially.
6. Gone Home
- System: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, OS X, Linux, iOS
- Publisher: Deep Silver, Warhorse Studios
- Developer: Warhorse Studios
- Release Dates: Aug. 15, 2013
Gone Home is set in the year 1995. You play as a college-aged student who had just returned to her family home in Oregon only to found the house suspiciously empty. It’s up to you to figure out what happened in the house and where your family is by exploring the house to find clues such as reading journals and examining items. It’s slowly revealed that your little sister came out as a lesbian to a less-than-accepting response from the rest of the family. If we tell you any more of the plot it will ruin what makes Gone Home special, though, so you’ll have to play for yourself to learn the rest!
Gone Home was a very unique style of game when it first released. Many called it part of the new “games as art” movement, citing it as showing that the video game industry had the potential to move forward in a more artistic way. The narrative in Gone Home is non-linear as well, leaving it up to you to discover what happened at your own pace and in your own way while not losing track of the story. It’s one of the earliest successful walking simulators, without any combat or experience to be gained. And since the success of Gone Home, many other walking simulators and games as art have been released to even greater success. Luckily for them, Gone Home paved the way by taking a risk at the time!
5. Dark Souls
- System: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
- Publisher: The Fullbright Company, Majesco Entertainment, Annapurna Interactive
- Developer: The Fullbright Company, Blitworks
- Release Dates: Sep. 22, 2011
Dark Souls has a minimalist style of storytelling, with most of the narrative being told through NPC dialogue and flavour text (the stuff you can optionally read in the codex) rather than flashy cutscenes. It is set in the Age of Fire, a time that has seen an end to dragon overlords and the rise of humans. But the Age of Fire has been artificially prolonged, which has sparked a rise in the undead who now walk the realm and some people are cursed to return every time they die. You play as one such cursed undead, and you can choose to try to restore the Age of Fire or to allow the Age of Dark to take over.
When Dark Souls was released, it received a lot of critical acclaim for its storytelling style and use of flavour text. But that’s not what had a lasting influence, and that’s not what everyone was talking about. What players remember about Dark Souls is that it was punishingly difficult. It was difficult in a way that new adventure and RPGs were not when played on their normal difficulty settings. It had players breaking controllers in frustration. And it also had players feeling incredibly accomplished and satisfied when they were successful! Many gamers were intrigued by the rumours about Dark Souls and wanted to experience that unforgiving difficulty for themselves, and it’s popularity soon inspired other challenging and difficult games to follow throughout the rest of the 2010s. Now there’s the start of a whole genre of extremely brutal adventure games out there for masochist players—and we have Dark Souls’ success to thank for that.
4. Pokemon Go
- System: iOS, Android
- Publisher: Niantic, The Pokemon Company
- Developer: Niantic, The Pokemon Company
- Release Dates: Jul. 6, 2016
Pokemon Go is a mobile game that you play as you are walking. As you walk around the real world, you can encounter a growing variety of wild Pokemon in the game world. The locations match those in real life, with actual landmarks and businesses serving as Pokestops to resupply and Gyms to battle. In addition to catching and evolving wild Pokemon to fill up your Pokédex, you can also battle against AI trainers and other players. There are also group gym battles called “raids” that you can get legendary Pokemon from that can’t be caught any other way. Pokemon Go also features daily tasks and rewards as well as ongoing achievements to unlock and lets you hatch eggs with even more Pokemon based on the distance that you walk.
Pokemon Go was not the first mobile game to make use of moving around the real world to play, but it’s arguably the first widely successful one. In the weeks after it’s release, Pokemon Go was a household term around the globe—for good and bad. People were being more active and motivated to walk outside, players were making the friends... and also people were getting hit by cars and trespassing illegally while glued to their phone. In the past couple of years, the number of Pokemon Go related negative incidents has nearly disappeared though, and loyal players have been rewarded with plenty of new updates and features that make the game something that can be played for a long time. Pokemon Go has opened the door for this style of an interactive mobile game, and others have already started to follow suit. Who knows what we will see in the next decade!
3. League of Legends
- System: Microsoft Windows, macOS
- Publisher: Riot Games
- Developer: Riot Games
- Release Dates: Oct. 27, 2009
League of Legends is a multiplayer online game that pits players against one another in standalone matches. Each player controls a specific champion of their choosing and fits in arena-style battles against other champions either controlled by players or the computer. The goal of most matches is to destroy the opposing team’s Nexus, or centre of control, by bypassing its defensive structures. All champions start off each match relatively weak and must earn experience and find items within the match to become stronger. It means that each match is its own game without experience and items being carried over from previous matches. While this prevents the League of Legends from having an over-arching narrative, Riot Games has created stories for all the champions in their universe.
You may be saying, wait, League of Legends came out at the end of 2009. But bear with us; the game’s influence is largely a part of the 2010s, so we let it slip under the wire. League of Legends has had a huge impact in the gaming industry, both in the way it was developed and delivered and in the impact it continues to still make. League of Legends was originally created by a group of game developers who had had enough of modern game business practices and decided to strike out on their own. They made the game free to play and made changes to it based on actual player feedback and requests. It was practically unheard of in the gaming industry, and they gained a lot of loyal fans for that alone. With its popularity on the rise, League of Legends inspired countless cosplays of its champions and an onslaught of merchandise. It has a very loyal following both with active players and also people watching live streams. And it doesn’t look like there’s any end in sight just yet as more and more unique characters continue to be added to keep interest high.
2. The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim
- System: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows
- Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
- Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
- Release Dates: Nov. 11, 2011
In The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, you play as a customised main character who narrowly escapes execution when a dragon attacks the town, signalling the return of the dreaded beasts to Skyrim. When you absorb the dragon’s soul and are summoned to the top of a mountain by a mysterious group of men, you learn you are the Dragonborn. Not only can you absorb the souls of dragons, but you can also speak their language and master some of their abilities. Thus it falls into your hands to figure out why the dragons are returning—and put a stop to it. Or, well, you can also totally ignore all of that and just spend your time exploring Skyrim, joining guilds, and building houses. The beauty of Skyrim is that the story is really up to you!
The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim may have released almost ten years ago now, but it still holds strong relevance in the gaming and pop culture world. Every time it’s re-released for a new console or in a new addition, it’s a best-seller. Players around the world have sunk innumerable hours into exploring its every secret—many multiple times. Coming out so early in the decade, Skyrim set the standard for what an open-world game could be. With its huge map, seemingly endless questlines, and sandbox appeal that allowed players to do whatever they wanted (including skip the main quest completely) Skyrim got players hooked in 2011 and still does now. It showed what an open-world game could be, and made a lot of gamers expect big, open-ended worlds they could lose themselves in for other RPGs. And that’s exactly what the 2010s delivered, building on Skyrim’s model and making open-world games bigger and better than ever.
- System: Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, Xbox 360, Raspberry Pi, Windows Phone, PlayStation 3, Fire OS, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation Vita, Universal Windows Platform, Wii U, tvOS, Nintendo Switch, New Nintendo 3DS
- Publisher: Mojang, Microsoft Studios, Sony Computer Entertainment
- Developer: Mojang
- Release Dates: Nov. 18, 2011
Minecraft is a sandbox game displayed in an intentionally pixelated and blockish style. It allows players to explore a procedurally-generated environment collecting raw materials and building and changing the world around them with only their imagination as their limit. It also has combat modes available, allowing players to fight AI enemies. Minecraft can be played single or multiplayer and has a lot of different gameplay modes. Two of the most popular are survival mode, where the player must harvest resources to keep their health up, and creative mode, which gives the player unlimited resources to use as they wish. Minecraft is very open-ended and how it is played lays in the hands of the player.
Minecraft is currently the best selling game of all time since it’s initial release in 2001. Minecraft has released for nearly every system available and has players around the globe. Appealing to both children and adults and with so much flexibility in how it’s played, nearly anyone who enjoys video games can find a way to enjoy Minecraft. The game is whatever you want it to be and that appeals to a lot of people. Minecraft has inspired a lot of merchandise, is a huge part of gaming pop culture and has given rise to countless YouTube channels and other streams as players from around the world connect over this game. Minecraft has had a huge impact on the gaming world (and even beyond it, as many non-gamers also know what it is) throughout most of the 2010s and continues to do so into this new decade.
From across several genres and platforms, the 2010s saw a lot of great games—and a lot of influential ones. These are the games that everyone was talking about, the ones that defined their genres, and the ones that created new parts of the gaming world. These games are the titles that defined what gaming in the 2010s was, and the ones that will likely be remembered by history for what they did. And if you played these games (it’s not too late if you haven’t to pick them up, too) you can consider yourself a part of history.
Have you played any of these games? Did we miss another influential title from the 2010s you feel should be on here? Do you think our ranking order needs an adjustment? What game do you think had the biggest influence, or will for the future? Let us know in the comments!