Gaming is defined by our memories, and this past decade has created many, many special memories.
We've spoken about the indies that defined the decade, the games that deserved more love and the ones that let everyone down. But gaming is a deeply personal experience, and it wouldn't be right to talk about the games that spoke the most to us on a personal level.
While the major publishers and their buckets of cash have the potential to change the conversation in a way few games can, sometimes it's the indies, the diamonds in the rough, that rise above it all. Over the last decade, indies have had a profound effect on the industry. Here's some whose waves are still being felt today.
So for this list, I've done a whiparound of all the gamers in the office and asked them for their personal tales and experiences. If you have any of your own, let us know in the comments!
Looking back at StarCraft 2 hurts, the way you might think about a lost love or a deep, deep mistake from the past. There was a couple of years where StarCraft 2 was starting to define the modern phase of esports. The community was outstanding, tournaments were popping up every week, and streaming was just starting to pop off. A new world, literally, was opening up. South Korean stars were being opened up to the world, and more Westerners found opportunities to compete in Korea. Some even did outstanding well.
What happened from there has been well chronicled. But why the game still sticks out in the decade for me was a moment in the Paragon Hotel, an ordinary pub just opposite Circular Quay station, around the corner from Sydney's Opera House and some of the city's most iconic sights.
I was standing in the pub with a friend. It was standing room only, because hundreds had packed out the room to watch the GSL finals. I specifically remember one moment in the fifth game, when the Terran player MVP had a enormous army of battlecruisers. A bit of poor scouting meant he never saw the Protoss Mothership coming, resulting in half the army getting sucked into a black hole - and the entire Paragon Hotel screaming as loud as any sports match I'd ever heard.
It was an unreal sight, one that caused the bar staff to take a couple of steps back at how excited everyone became. And I remember turning to my friend, one I'd spent years playing Counter-Strike with at shitty LANs for prize pools of $50 or less, and we just looked at each other. Esports had come so, so far. - Alex, Kotaku Australia editor
The Last of Us
I really can't fault Last of Us. Every moment of exploring, hiding, combat and the moments between Joel and Ellie in between had me so incredibly invested in this world and the characters that made it up. While one might see this game as just some other survival horror franchise with a new spin on the way the world ends, they'd be missing out on one of the best stories of any piece of media in recent times, with some of the most gripping gameplay one could hope for. Please lord give me number two already. - Jack, Pedestrian.tv strategy and response manager
Bravely Default is a fun and addictive adventure for fans of old-school RPGs like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. It features the familiar dungeons and turn-based battles of those games, with a gorgeous picture book art style and a few fun modern twists. The unique battle system allows your party members to recklessly spend their actions to unleash a series of attacks, or save them up defensively, and wait for the chance to strike. The job system features a huge variety of different roles to try out and skills to master. The sequel was just as good, although it remains to be seen if we'll ever get a third on the Switch. - Alasdair, weekend editor for Pedestrian.tv
Jackbox Party Packs
I mentioned how game nights have transformed over the decade, but a major factor has been games that bring people into gaming in very different ways. Even games like Mario Kart are completely inaccessible or impenetrable for some. The Jackbox games don't have that problem, and they're still a perfect accompaniment to a drunken evening.
The packs themselves have started to dip in quality - nothing has quite matched the value of the first few - but nothing gets as easy laughs as firing up a few rounds of Quiplash and Fibbage. There's no easier entry into a game than telling someone to pull out their phone. The real crime is that more games haven't gotten the technology downpat: Sony's PlayLink games aren't too bad, depending on what you're playing, and while Use Your Words nailed the tech, it failed on the gameplay. Hopefully the next decade nets us more accessible party games of the same ilk, without venturing down the Project xCloud/Remote Play route. - Alex, Kotaku Australia editor
Dishonored 2 built on the success of Dishonored in so many ways, crafting a smooth, brilliant and totally gorgeous stealth game that required a great deal of strategy and planning to get through. Being able to play as either Corvo or Emily, both with unique powers and skillsets, was a joy, and while it’s rare I’ll go back and play the same game twice, I did with Dishonored 2 because there was so much to explore and find. Sailing past rooftops and finding alleys to bypass guards was a real challenge, and one I enjoyed immensely. - Leah, Kotaku Australia producer
Persona is one of my favourite series, and the fifth game absolutely nails everything that's great about it, while improving on past entries in every possible way. The visuals are as stylish as anything I've seen in a Japanese RPG and the turn-based battle system is smooth, refined and truly satisfying when you learn to master it. You play as the leader of a scrappy bunch known as The Phantom Thieves, who pull off daring heists in order to steal bad guys' hearts. Every dungeon is twistier and more creative than the last, from a casino to a spooky cruise ship, and every minute you spend with the game is a joy. - Alasdair, weekend editor for Pedestrian.tv
Did anything dominate people's time and social feeds as much as Pokemon Go for that brief month? There have been plenty of popular games since, and Fortnite has certainly dominated for lots of families, but nothing has had that intergenerational appeal the way Pokemon Go briefly did.
The game itself was almost irrelevant to what mattered. Hundreds of strangers were gathering in public places, sometimes to the detriment of those who lived there, going on walks together. The mainstream press became fascinated with the game, and within weeks had started hunting down stories about how cafes and other places were banning people from playing Pokemon Go in the area.
Rhodes is over. Rhodes as we now know it, is over. We've been hearing multiple reports that the Pokestops at Rhodes have been changed. It's no longer what it once was. But last Thursday, we visited this hive of villainy. We experienced peak Rhodes. This is what we saw.
But Pokemon Go also represented a shift. It made AR properly mainstream, even though most people enjoyed the game purely on a geolocational basis. It found a level of success that allowed Niantic to transform its company to a service provider, selling its engine and geolocation data to other studios to build their own games like Catan World Explorers. In a year where VR finally went mainstream, AR showed us why it will ultimately win: AR fits into people's lives without hassle, whereas large parts of the population still can't enjoy VR without physical discomfort. Pokemon Go didn't just usher in technology into people's lives in a way we hadn't seen, it popularised a brand new genre, and gave everyone a dose of Pokemon nostalgia right when the series needed it. - Alex, Kotaku Australia editor
Nier Automata starts out as a slick action game where you take on the role of a combat android in an eerie, post-apocalyptic open world. The first part of the game is spent exploring future earth in the wake of an alien invasion and it's all fast-paced battles and swift combo attacks, but the deeper you get, the stranger the game becomes, and the more you start to question your part in all of this. When you think things are ending after your first playthrough, they're really just getting started, and without wanting to say too much more, Nier: Automata is a game that stayed with me for a long time after I finished it. - Alasdair, weekend editor for Pedestrian.tv
It’s true: Five is a ridiculous number for summing up a decade’s worth of video games. It’s far too small. One can’t even put together an already-insufficient list of one game per year with that little real estate. You should know, then, that this is a different kind of list.
This hit my gaming sweet spot - a rich historical backdrop that generated a variety of experiences. It was also hard enough to keep the non pro always on their toes. Sure it could have launched a little more loaded, but at the time the gameplay graphics were a whole new experience. - Matt, Pedestrian Group CEO
Here's a nightmare I've actually had: I'm a soldier in a war, and no one's told me what to do. Bullets are whizzing overhead and death could arrive at any moment. Everyone around me seems to know what they're doing, but not me. I shouldn't be here. I'm just some guy. I sit there, paralysed, waiting to die.
Fortnite definitely won the test of time and the speed and pacing means Apex is probably my favourite battle royale out of the traditional shooters. But all the best experiences early on, through all the losses, came through PUBG.
There was something special about those initial buggy few hundred hours, before first-player mode was introduced. The tales of everyone wiping because someone didn't know how to drive properly. Winning a game by proning in the swamp. Those matches where you drop and spend 20 minutes talking to your mates instead of ferreting around looking for ammo and loot.
I spent a lot of time playing with my partner, who was just reacquainting herself with mouse and keyboard controls, and so a lot of play was almost anti-competitive. PUBG was more a forest to hang out in and chill out in. It was a special time, before the servers were utterly riddled with cheats, a time when you could accidentally run into your friends and have some wild experiences on Discord. - Alex, Kotaku Australia editor
The other night, I jumped into a game of Battlegrounds with some friends. We hopped into the same Discord server so we could all chat to each other, even though we had eight players and PUBG squads have a limit of four. But no matter. Both teams searched for a game separately, and continued on our merry ways. And then about fifteen minutes in, things started to get a little awkward.
"Hopefully, I can actually win one," YouTuber Whisper Plays breathed into his microphone before he parachuted off a plane in PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. His mechanical keyboard clacked loudly as he dropped down and collected his first few items: a few packs of 9mm ammo and a P1911 pistol, which actually takes .45 ammo. "I'm not gonna lie," he whispered. "I'm a little scared."
Breath of the Wild
Breath Of The Wild is a game that just feels like it was made with love. Nothing is off limits in its enormous open world, and you can do whatever you like. If you want to fight enemies or solve puzzles, then go for it, but if not, you're free to just wander around, exploring the rocky peaks and mysterious forests of Hyrule and see what you can find. There's so much going on in Breath Of The Wild that even though I've sunk more than a hundred hours into beating the main story, I probably haven't found half the game's secrets. There are a bunch of other unplayed games on my shelf but I'll probably just go ahead and dive back into this one again. - Alasdair, weekend editor for Pedestrian.tv
When we look back at the decade, there's still only ever been one killer app: Breath of the Wild. But more than being an exceptionally good game, Breath of the Wild has already left its legacy on other games. Developers are stripping back their own systems, tutorials and prompts to players based on the Breath of the Wild experience.
Breath of the Wild is one of those games that you can return to weeks, months, years later. There are so many moments that make you just stop: the first time you see a blood moon rising. The Horse God. Magda's descent into madness. Having that moment where the game's physics all comes together to reveal a neat solution you hadn't really thought of.
It is, without doubt, one of those once in a generation games. It's a game about what you can do, and the things you haven't thought of, instead of the things you can't do. It offers a sandbox so large and vibrant, an approach that could have only ever come from the unique way Nintendo looks at video games, and it'll probably only be surpassed when Breath of the Wild 2 comes out. - Alex, Kotaku Australia editor
The Witcher 3
In a world where it feels like the business of video games all too often encroaches on their primary function - fun, escapism, sharing with friends - everyone turns to examples of the games that do it right. Breath of the Wild is the obvious example, but it's always qualified with Nintendo. That's how Nintendo does things. Nintendo are different, people say. They do things their way. The rest of the gaming world just isn't like that.
And then you have The Witcher 3, offering everyone hope. The multiple delays before the game's release proved well worth it: Geralt's magnum opus set not only the benchmark for the studio - one they're striving to surpass now, with great effort and not a small amount of crunch - but also a new high for open-world RPGs. It would take some patching to correct issues with the stiff movement and the inventory system, but the freedom and the quest writing made the game an instant all-time classic.
The game offered no shortage of things to talk about or explore: just on Kotaku Australia alone, more than 300 stories have been written about the game since the first artwork was announced in 2013. The game was so special that CDR made sure to get a signed copy of The Witcher 3 to President Obama - even though the former President apologised for not really having played it (which is totally reasonable, to be fair).
Can you imagine Scott Morrison ever being proud enough of the Australian video game industry to gift a copy of Goose Game or Hollow Knight? Probably not. But neither of those games mean as much to Australia as The Witcher does to Poland. There was immense pressure on CDR to burn every candle imaginable to get it right - and get it right, they most certainly did. - Alex, Kotaku Australia editor
I know everyone raves about how gorgeous the graphics are, and how well-crafted the story is, but beyond that The Witcher 3 gave me a world to play in when I was going through a really rough time, so it means more to me than I can convey. It was immersive and expansive, and with the exception of the odd goat-catching quest, nothing felt unnecessary or draining. I continue to replay it whenever I feel anxious, even if it’s just trying to navigate the countryside on Roach or admiring the characters (Geralt is hot as fuck and you know it). - Steph, Pedestrian.tv and Kotaku Australia native writer
Mario Kart 8
When the Switch was first announced with its catchy trailer and a shot of Breath in the Wild in the background, everyone was like ... wait, what's this portable gimmick? People are playing it on a plane? At the airport? Is Nintendo serious?
But that portable, casual vision has come completely true over the last few years. Who cares about the shitty screen in your ancient 747 on a long-haul flight when there's three or four indies to knock out? Long weeks travelling are made easier by a bit of downtime in bed, playing some Mario Kart or Zelda or any other giant RPG you care to imagine. Game nights have been completely transformed by how efficient the console is, whether it's just playing couch co-op indies like Nidhogg and Dive Kick, or something more serious like Smash Ultimate.
I mention Mario Kart 8 only because it's the game that has defined that portability for me. Whether it's playing on the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka, using my laptop to find a workaround so I could get the Switch working on a locked down TV on a cruise, or just firing up a few rounds of Mario Kart at a friend's place over some drinks. It's the game that everyone can always return to, the one game that people are always chill to see at parties, and a game that would really only be perfected with more content.
I've been cruising in the South Pacific the last couple of weeks. It's the kind of holiday you take when you want to disconnect, although, as is customary these days, there's technology everywhere. But satellite internet costs a motza. On top of that, there's restrictions in place that are designed to encourage cruisers to purchase entertainment through the provided services. Thankfully, that's where the Switch comes in.
It's been a few years since Mario Kart 8 came out. I wonder what Nintendo's planning for 2020 and beyond. - Alex, Kotaku Australia editor
Super Mario Odyssey
Odyssey was a toybox that I got to do anything I wanted in. While a 3D Mario game might to some sound pretty copy & paste, the simple mechanics of Cappy could be used and exploited in so many different ways. The gameplay and cute characters throughout made every moment an absolute joy, and it looks absolutely gorgeous, which really helps. - Jack, Pedestrian.tv strategy and response manager
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Rainbow Six: Siege gets a lot of credit for recovering from a difficult launch, but many forget that CS:GO did the same thing years earlier, too. The game launched initially without matchmaking or a suite of the features that it's now known for, and there was a genuine concern in its first year that the CS community would be split across titles once again.
But the game recovered and has gone on to, appropriately so, be a pillar of the esports world once again. CS:GO also continued to thrive with its predominately third-party model, reliant on tournaments, leagues and circuits that anyone could organise, instead of the tightly controlled developer model that defined League of Legends, Overwatch and other leagues. That freedom has allowed CS to flourish in a way that restricts other games, but it also allowed the scene around esports to grow and thrive too. Teams are more active and have more tournaments to play in. There's more content and more going on in any given week, because there's so much more to compete and practice for.
There's also the other side of CS:GO, the rise of microtransactions and loot boxes.
From all of the public responses to microtransactions and the rise of loot boxes, the most consistent line of attack in gaming — and the one most easily adopted by authorities worldwide — has been against the grey market. The rise of the rainbow gun economy has been the area most heavily criticised by academics, with class action lawsuits even being filed against Valve for exposing minors to gambling. But despite the legal threats, crackdowns from Valve, and changes in the marketplace designed to dampen trades, skins are still going back and forth for hundreds, even thousands of dollars.
Can you think of anyone else that can just hang out with their shirt off and sell skins like this?
Regulators worldwide didn't hone their attention on the secondary market and in-game skins because of CS:GO - thank Battlefront 2 for that - but their gaze, as it stands, is permanently fixed. That model has changed the lives of a lot of people: not just from the tens of thousands people have collected from trading skins, but also the ecosystem allowing players to recoup money from sticker sales which end up making a decent contribution to their bank account, should they run deep at a major tournament. It's a system that has sustained careers, teams and to a degree, one facet of the entire esports industry. Other games can't - and probably won't - implement similar models going forward. It'll be fascinating over the next decade to see how regulators eventually respond to loot boxes and the ability to sell items for real-world money, and how games like CS:GO respond. - Alex, Kotaku Australia editor
Paradigm might seem a weird choice for a game of the decade, but for me personally, it was one of the most memorable, quirky and hilarious games I’ve played in a long time. Solo-developed by Jacob Janerka, this point-and-click adventure follows the titular Paradigm, a mutant from the European country of Krusz, as he struggles to escape his past (while building up his burgeoning rap career). It’s disgusting, irreverent and extremely weird — it even features a sloth that spews candy — but it’s rare that a game is so damn funny and so damn good all at once. - Leah, Kotaku Australia producer
What have been your favourite games of the decade?