A lot has happened over the past decade. We saw the current generation of gaming platforms release and duke it out. Each took turns in delivering experiences that most gamers once thought impossible and the gaming industry is all the better for it. But while we have all welcomed with open arms everything that the decade has given us, the advent of social media and virality has made it difficult if not impossible for a game to take us by surprise.
Or, at the very least, it should have.
Even in this day and age where everything is hyped up and the only question is whether or not a game lives up to the hype, some games are still able to come out of nowhere and sweep us expectant gamers off of our proverbial feet. We raise a glass to such games of the 2010s.
Below, you’ll find 10 games released over the past 10 years that were not expected to be as big as they have become but left a lasting mark in video game history.
Red Dead Redemption 1 & 2 by Rockstar Games (2010, 2018)
Red Dead Redemption deserves to be put on the list twice because damn did I not expect this game. From the developers of Grand Theft Auto comes a Wild Wild West gunslinging adventure with all of the fun plus a whole lot of heart.
Red Dead Redemption showcased the best of what open-world games had to offer. Each corner of the map, every little aspect was rich in detail and helped shape the world around you. The game was huge and by its second game RDR2, the game got even bigger. There was a lot of doubt when Rockstar launched this franchise. I thought it was going to be GTA with horses, but Red Dead is so much more.
Come for the sundown showdowns and the spaghetti western vibes, but stay for Red Dead‘s deep and heartfelt stories. Both of the games continued to impress and I won’t lie to shedding a tear during the story. Even the sidequests are so rich in detail. Red Dead Redemption is a game that really raised the bar of all open-world games.
Minecraft by Mojang (2011)
Minecraft has become so ingrained in video games and pop culture that you would’ve thought that it had been around for decades. But alas, that’s not the case.
The first developmental release of Minecraft was around 2009. It then saw a proper release two years later, in 2011, before Microsoft eventually bought the game in 2014. Since then, the game has become one of the best-selling video games of all time, and largely one that’s uncontested as THE sandbox game to beat.
It’s amazing how what once was a single-player adventure with a multiplayer aspect has since become an open-ended platform where you can freely express your creativity and where community building is as vital to the gameplay experience.
Minecraft’s effect on the gaming industry is both subtle and obvious. For one, there are countless games that obviously used it for inspiration. The aforementioned Fortnite is a good example. There are also streamers who have Minecraft to thank for their current careers. Many games borrowed from the game’s open-ended and creative nature and yet do it subtly enough that you probably wouldn’t notice unless you devote enough time to dissect where some of its gameplay features are based on.
Candy Crush by King (2012)
Candy Crush?! Before you scoff at me just think about it. Released back in 2012 it has become one of the most impactful mobile games of the decade. While it’s not a sexy AAA title or a game with any iconic characters or game mechanics. It is a game that really took over the casual gamer market. Few games are more ubiquitous, with more accessibility. Candy Crush is probably the game most responsible for getting people who don’t play games to play games.
It is, of course, a take on the long-running match-three game concept. Match like-coloured candy in groups of three or more to remove them from the board. It’s a video game, in so far as it’s a digital application with interaction, but it’s far from the likes of Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto. It’s a far simpler, easier-to-understand entry point to video games – and for that, it’s hardly comparable to the rest of the games on this list. But it did make a surprising impact and that’s what this article is for.
The Last Of Us by Naughty Dog (2013)
These days, it’s impossible to make a list of the best games of all time and NOT include The Last of Us. In fact, not naming The Last of Us as one of the best game of the decade feels somewhat blasphemous at this point. But if you circle back to a time before its release, no one would have expected a post-apocalyptic zombie action game to have tugged on our heartstrings quite the way in which it did.
From its gameplay, how it told its story, and how it broke social norms, as well as how it continues to affect gaming culture and industry as a whole today. The Last of Us may have been an anticipated title prior to its release, but there’s no way anyone could have predicted how big and influential it has become.
It’s truly has become one of the most powerful stories in gaming history. As well as one of the most beautiful games on the PlayStation 3. Truly a fitting swan song for that noble console’s last breathe. Since then The Last of Us has received even further improvements and refinement with the release of the remastered edition for the PlayStation 4.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt by CD Projekt RED (2015)
Some sequels are expected to be good. Some aren’t expected to be anything at all. CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was more of the latter. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was released back in 2015. It was expected and anticipated, to some extent. However, no one really predicted it would become what it is today — one of the best games of all time.
No offence to CD Projekt Red, but the first two The Witcher games were largely forgettable. They were okay, to say the least. It’s just that they weren’t really what you’d consider the best games of their respective generations. But the third game? It’s a must-play and for a lot of good reasons.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was one of the first video game titles created specifically for the current generation of consoles. As a result, it showcased the kind of polished and epic experience made possible only because of the technology available today. Surely, CD Projekt Red thought it was a big risk. This is especially since, as already mentioned, the first two titles weren’t really good enough to hype the third game as something that would change the gaming industry forever.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt had everything going for it. It had a vast open-world, deep and intricate combat system and side quests that actually felt essential to the main story. Plus, who could ever forget about Gwent, the best in-game game of all time? To top it all off, it saw two massive DLC instalments that were pretty much their own games themselves.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was and will be meme’d and remembered for years to come. Not only because of its gameplay and impact but also because of how it paved the way for Netflix’s The Witcher series. If you haven’t played The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt yet, then no time is better to do so than now. Just do it. You’ll be thanking us later.
Pokémon Go by Niantic (2016)
Remember that time in 2016 when everyone stopped what they were doing and decided to play Pokémon GO? It’s unbelievable to imagine what kind of phenomenon would cause everyone to run outside to battle gyms and catch little digital pocket monsters. But that’s what Niantic did.
Using AR technology and real, physical locations on maps to create its own game world, Pokémon GO became a cultural phenomenon seemingly overnight. It had players running outside and visiting places that they never would have thought of going to. And it affected people from all age groups from the young to the much older.
Pokémon GO managed to solve the age-old problem of making gamers go outside and giving the mainstream audience a reason to try out video games. But of course, it wasn’t without its fair share of hiccups. For example, there was a time where players kept on trespassing into other people’s properties and getting hurt in the process, among other things. But to this day, players are still travelling all across the globe just to play Pokémon GO.
While the game may never be as big as when it first released in 2016, its impact in the gaming industry and how it serves as proof that developers shouldn’t be afraid to think outside of the box will reverberate throughout the next decade.
Fortnite by Epic Games (2017)
It’s surprising that Fortnite has become this big. This is especially true since it probably shouldn’t have existed in the first place. Epic Games’ original pitch was Fortnite: Save the World. It was more of a cross between Minecraft and Left 4 Dead. However, the game went largely unnoticed. Perhaps seeing the popularity of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Epic Games released Fortnite: Battle Royale just a month later, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Love it or hate it, Fortnite has created a ripple whose effects both in and out of the gaming industry have yet to be fully felt. That’s scary considering how huge of an impact the game has already had.
Fortnite: Battle Royale, which we’ll refer to as just Fortnite from here on out, did not give birth nor popularize the Battle Royale genre. The credit largely goes to its main competition, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. But, as far as cultural impact goes, there’s really just no topping Fortnite, and it hasn’t even peaked yet. You can only count the number of times a game’s impact was largely outside of its core game. Also, you can thank them for the number of young children you can see doing those dances.
Telltale Games (2018)
Telltale Studios began back in 2005 as an adventure game studio but after its numerous successes in comedy, the studio chose to partner up with many notable franchises. Including Jurassic Park, Borderlands, Batman, Minecraft, The Walking Dead and more. The Telltale Games‘ core gameplay works as an episodic choose your own adventure game format. With elements such as quick-time events and time-limited choices included.
Technically, Telltale Games isn’t a game, they’re a video game developer. But we’re including them in our list simply because of the impact that their story-driven games made. Their success at making game spin-offs from TV and movies. And, their unfortunate closure in 2018 when all seemed to be going well for them. For much of the decade, the word “Telltale treatment” became a verb and throughout the last 10 years we’ve gotten to enjoy many notable franchise names going through the “Telltale treatment”.
Telltale Games’ while making some headline games has also done its fair share of inspiring. 2015’s Life is Strange and 2016’s Hitman owes much of the success of its episodic format to Telltale Games. Even the Final Fantasy VII remake will have the now-defunct company to thank for how more positively today’s gamers will receive its studio’s decision to release the game in an episodic format. Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, which is the first video game to win an Emmy Award, would have also likely not been released if not for Telltale Games’ successfully proving that a choose-your-own-adventure style of game could work.
Telltale Games, unfortunately, closed in the later part of 2018 when one of their key investors pulled out. The company was already in financial trouble before and executives had to make the decision to end all production as soon as possible without this investment. There’s hope on the horizon however because as of early 2019 LCG Entertainment acquired several key Telltale assets and re-launched the studio. We’re looking forward to enjoying our Telltale games long into the next decade.
The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild by Nintendo (2017)
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is doubly iconic to the decade, because it first came out on the Nintendo Switch and it re-introduced the Legend of Zelda franchise in a way that we’ve never seen before.
Nintendo has had its ups and downs with its handheld line, most notably poor being the Wii U and the high point being the 3DS. But the Nintendo Switch is something that has really raised the bar for any upcoming console. If you told me 10 years ago that I would be able to play a gorgeous open-world game on a handheld I wouldn’t have believed you but The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is here to prove you wrong.
More than just another entry in the Legend of Zelda franchise, Breath of the Wild moved forward the video game medium. Through meticulous game design that demanded more from players, Nintendo once again demonstrated its uncanny ability to redefine foundational aspects of gaming.
In Breath of the Wild, players are given the keys to a massive open world without limitations. A major derivation from the kind of guided experiences games are known for. It’s the kind of game that changes player expectations: What they expect of themselves and what they expect from games.
God of War by SIE Santa Monica Studio (2018)
If you’re as old as I am then you’ll remember Kratos – God of War, ravager of cities, killer of Gods and well basically the killer of anyone that stood in his way. We brutally burned a path across all of Greece to get the revenge he deserved. But suddenly in 2018 we meet a different Kratos, he’s older, a bit more empathetic and a tiny bit less violent.
The reason being that Kratos now has someone he cares about. Adding Atreus to the game basically made it impossible for Kratos to be the man he was before. He couldn’t be unendingly self-serving. He couldn’t be recklessly violent. Now he had to be empathetic. Now he had to try and emotionally connect with his son.
With this one step, everything that Kratos stood for had suddenly been cast in a negative light. Kratos now regretted his wanton murder, because he wanted to be a good example for his son. His inability to trust or make emotional connections made it impossible to comfort his son, even when they were both emotionally vulnerable. While Kratos still knew how to split a troll’s face in half, he constantly tells Atreus to not rush into battle. He stresses control and clear-headedness, something he rarely showed in his early adventures.
This new adventure with Kratos put the butthurt in a lot of lifelong God of War fans but once you started playing, it was impossible not to dive deep into the emotions of this new God of War and get sucked into the story it was telling. Don’t worry you’ll still get to brutally murder a bunch of Gods.