The past decade really made me who I am as a gamer and writer, and some of the games I played have been a big part of my journey.
Some of you may know I started playing games as an adult, and the first two games that truly made me a gamer were BioWare’s Dragon Age: Origins (2009) and Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011). It hit me recently that I started playing these games about a decade ago… and next year marks the 10-year anniversary of this blog.
To celebrate — and because I’m feeling nostalgic — I’ve decided to share my personal Game of the Year (GOTY) for the past decade. Rather than placing these games in the order in which I personally played them (which wasn’t always the year they were released), I will be ordering them by release year, for a traditional GOTY.
It’s not always an easy choice, but these are the games that have meant something to me during my time as a grown-up gamer. I’m choosing games I personally enjoyed, with an eye for innovation where I can. But there are so many others I love as well! I would love to hear what your personal GOTYs are, too.
2011: The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim
This epic open-world RPG is so good, I’m still playing it a decade later. In at least half a dozen playthroughs, I’ve never actually completed the game… because I don’t know that you can with this one. Skyrim is so big, I still discover new quests and characters as I explore. And even now, I struggle to find any video game landscapes that are quite as breathtaking as the ones in this 10-year-old game.
Did you think I was going to pick Mass Effect 3 for 2012? I was tempted, but Arkane Studios’ steampunk-inspired stealth game Dishonored takes the cake this year. While it was the unique Blink teleport mechanic that initially captured my imagination, ultimately what I remember most about the game is just how beautiful it was. The game’s art style makes you feel like you’re inside a dank, dark painting, and it still holds up today.
2013: Bioshock Infinite
For me, 2013 was a doozy when it comes to game releases. There was Grand Theft Auto V, The Last of Us, Tomb Raider, and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag — all of which I loved. But Irrational Games’ Bioshock Infinite is the game I went back and replayed because I just couldn’t get enough. The gameplay is a tantalizing mix of traditional shooting and magic. The setting is a city in the sky run by a strange cult. And the story has a twist at the end that still sticks with me today.
While I loved Dragon Age: Inquisition and didn’t technically play Bungie’s Destiny for another couple of years… I ended up falling in love with the online shooter in a way I have with few other games. I have fond memories of playing at all hours of the day and night with my husband (then boyfriend), just a few months after we first moved in together. Maybe it’s the nostalgia of playing with him that makes me love this game so much. Or maybe it’s that I have yet to experience such a perfect combination of cozy sci-fi fantasy world and butter-smooth shooting mechanics. Now I kind of want to play again…
2015: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
After enjoying CD Projekt RED’s remarkable video game The Witcher 2, I dove into The Witcher 3 with curiosity more than anything. Would this game be as brutally difficult as I found The Witcher 2? Would it have as elaborate a story? And what would it be like as an open-world game? As it turned out, the game was more versatile with its challenge. It had incredible stories with meaningful choices. And best of all, the beautiful open world was not only full of monsters, it was also full of characters that made the world feel truly alive. To me, The Witcher 3 remains the standard for what open-world RPGs can be.
2016: Gears of War 4
In a year with a lot of game releases but nothing that stood out as a global GOTY, Gears of War 4 is a very personal choice. As long-time Gears of War fans, my husband and I have played all the games together. Although Gears 4 is not my favorite game in the series, I thoroughly enjoyed this nostalgic romp back into the horde-infested world of Gears, and I especially appreciated the new female protagonist with a fascinating past. I’m still thinking about that cliffhanger ending…
2017: Horizon Zero Dawn
Horizon Zero Dawn by Guerrilla Games is right up there with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt in setting a new standard for open-world RPGs with strong narratives. I loved playing as a compelling, realistic female heroine. And the combat — a mixture of stealth, archery, and hacking — still stands out as some of the most creative I’ve experienced in a game. I can’t wait to play as Aloy again in the sequel next year.
2018: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
In another doozy of a year with God of War, Red Dead Redemption 2, Monster Hunter: World, and Marvel’s Spider-Man, my personal choice for GOTY in 2018 was Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. As a former history major and big-time history nerd, I love the AC games. And while Odyssey doesn’t have my favorite setting of the bunch, the game innovated in so many ways. It features a sprawling, breathtaking open world. It pioneered the choice of male or female protagonist for the first time in the series. In an exciting story, it even gave you optional romances to pursue. If someone has not played AC yet, I always recommend Odyssey as what I consider to be the best in the series.
2019: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Is it a truly award-winning game? Maybe not. But Respawn’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order remains one of my most beloved games. It may not accomplish much in terms of innovation, but it boasts a heartfelt story, exciting gameplay, and the familiar Star Wars world with stunning landscapes to explore. I had a blast with this game, and I still think it should have received more recognition when it first came out!
2020: Cyberpunk 2077
Despite the stream of issues when Cyberpunk 2077 first released last December, I was lucky enough to experience very few bugs during my play time with this CD Projekt game. After awaiting it for so many years, I dove in with high expectations — and I wasn’t disappointed. The game is filled with meaningful choices (including romances), memorable characters (including one played by Keanu Reeves, of course), and a unique urban landscape to explore (by foot or by vehicle). I loved every minute I spent with this game.
2021: Life is Strange: True Colors
I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t play a lot of new games this year. It just wasn’t a big year for RPGs. However, I recently finished my first playthrough of Deck Nine’s narrative game Life is Strange: True Colors. Like other Life is Strange games, True Colors has a strong story with key decisions that affect the outcome of your experience. Best of all, that story takes place in a cozy Colorado mining town that just happens to hide some dark secrets. It’s a heartwarming game about community and caring for others, and it’s just what I needed to end this crazy rollercoaster of a year.
What are your favorite games of the past 10 years?