Most Influential Games of 2010’s
The 2010’s produced so many excellent games. Like Horizon Zero Dawn and Breath of the Wild, some were platform defining. Others, like Witcher 3 and God of War, were generation defining. They live long in the memory because of their quality. However, some remain relevant because their release resulted in a seismic shift in the industry. This article takes a trip down memory lane to discuss the three games whose legacy continues to drive the industry forward today.
Dark Souls: Most Influential Game of the Decade
I seem to recall DS releasing around the time where there were a lot of questions regarding the overall gaming difficulty. People were clamouring for a challenge and Miyazaki answered. It walked the line of punishing but rewarding in a way not many games had in the previous decade. It has also done that in a way that very few games have achieved since. In doing so, it created a new genre which continues to influence games development to this day.
Besides difficulty, Dark Souls’ approach to world building and storytelling continues to influence games released today. Rather than providing answers to questions and closure to every plot thread, Miyazaki decided to let players piece together snippets of story and lore. There is an overarching story which everyone can determine. However, you can go further into the lore and story to try and piece together the lore to try and define the pre-story antecedents.
Both the rewarding and punishing difficulty, and the piecemeal storytelling method, of Dark Souls has influenced gaming in a way that few other games have. Every month, a new released is described as “the Dark Souls of”. I think, really, the easiest way to exemplify this, is that (arguably) Nintendo’s premier IP, Zelda, was built with Dark Souls ideology in mind. There was no hand holding. The story was piecemeal and told through the environment. You could probably complete the game without having the faintest idea of the events that transpired prior to Link’s awakening.
Dark Souls has pervaded gaming discourse. We now discuss whether games balance reward and punishment as well as Souls. Likewise, if a game outside the Souls-like genre is difficult, it’s now “the Dark Souls of” that genre. Other games have had a massive impact on the industry, but none claim to have created a genre. That’s why I think Dark Souls is the most influential game of the 2010’s.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice: Kickstarted the “Independent AAA” Industry
This is one I really want to do justice. Built by 20 people on a small budget, this title exceeds so, so many AAA games this generation. In doing so, lifted the bar for the entire industry. Hellblade is also evidence, should it be needed, than gaming is in a unique position to create a unique and immersive experience.
Hellblade tells the story of Senua’s pilgrimage to save her husband’s soul from Hela. As she goes through this journey, she has to overcome several real and imagined obstacles. The latter is conjured by her psychosis. Supplementing research with a combination of game mechanics and binaural audio, Ninja Theory created a representation of psychosis that ultimately gained the approval of a leading psychosis professor at Cambridge University. With Hellblade, Ninja theory demonstrated the capacity of videogames to provide an experience not possible in other mediums.
Firstly, if you haven’t played Hellblade, I encourage you to do so. With the caveat that you only play it with immersive headphones. The sound in this game is next-level. It also ties into the gameplay and the representation of psychosis. You will constantly hear self-doubting voices, questioning your ability to overcome a challenge. They will also lie to you, by telling you to dodge when no enemies are attacking and making you break a combo. It is an auditory onslaught you wish would stop. That’s the brilliance of the game. It makes you long for silence in the same way those with auditory hallucinations would. Because this affects your actions, such as dodging at incorrect times, it impacts your agency as well. It’s truly brilliant.
The gameplay mechanics also tie into the portrayal of psychosis. For example, you can’t move on to the next segment/level until you have completed a puzzle. This can be pattern matching, which represents the tendency of psychosis to manifest in the perception of patterns which do not exist. Similarly, you need to perform actions in a certain order before you can move on. This characterises the compulsions which are often present in psychosis. What’s more, is that these can also be somewhat frustrating.
I found myself constantly questioning what was real. What is a part of the game’s reality? What has Senua’s mind had confabulated? Almost certainly the enemies were not as large as they appeared, but were they present? The enduring quality of having the player constantly questioning the reality of the protagonist is a major strength of the game. It’s a testament to their research and their dedication to representing the experience of psychosis.
This can be done to a degree in movies and books. However, gaming is a unique position to immerse players. Hellblade is one of the best examples of this; and it was made by 20 people. It’s a game without compromise – a AAA game with an independent budget. This achievement simply can’t be overstated.
Witcher 3: Changed Expectations of Quality
Witcher 2 was well-received technical marvel, but nowhere near generation defining. So, CD Projekt Red’s generation defining masterpiece kind of come out of nowhere.
One of the most notable things that the game does, is create a world that feels lived-in. It feels real. This is extended by the fact that your actions and decision have observable consequences on the landscape. Characters may cease to exist. Villages become habited again. Likewise, NPC’s inhabiting the world have regional prejudices, and characteristics which separate them from the last place you visited. The quality of the quests and the characterisation of characters involved in those quests, however, is where expectations have redefined.
Personally, Witcher 3 killed my enjoyment of workaday side quests in almost every game. There seems to be an industry-wide acceptance that side quests now need to be of a higher standard. Most notably in Horizon Zero Dawn. The dialogue and story behind these quests were above most other contemporaries. Guerrilla Games’ cited Witcher 3 as a major influence on their development. Likewise, you can even see this in Assassin’s Creed, as Ubisoft continues to reboot the franchise.
All of those strengths would feel much less impressive if the game didn’t have exceptional characters driving, and reacting to, the plot. However, this is where the game absolutely excels. From the Bloody Baron to Gaunter O’Dimm, CDPR created some of the best characters seen in video games. Their reactions felt authentic, their motivations complex and real, and the dialogue was wonderful. This helped drive the plot and give the player something to care about – even if the characters were utter bastards. You often chose how the story ends for these characters as well. As mentioned earlier, this has an observable impact on the villages.
Some games, like God of War and Red Dead Redemption 2, have managed to excel in some of these. Mostly in creating likeable characters, or fun and engaging side quests. None, however, have managed to create a world as authentic as Witcher 3. Perhaps Death Stranding comes closest?
As developers continue to be influenced by this, I think we will continue to see the full legacy of Witcher 3 unfold. Likewise, it will be interesting to see whether even CDPR can match or exceed their own achievements. Cyberpunk 2077 is only a few months away now. I wonder if it can emerge from the shadow cast by Geralt and Co, or whether Witcher 3 will remain their crowning achievement.
Pokemon Go is the culmination of Nintendo trying to get you off your arse while playing Pokemon. Remember the Pokewalker? That was Nintendo telling you to go for a walk. Not really. It was Nintendo trying to augment your reality with Pokemon to simulate their games in the real world. It feels like they have achieved that now.
As much as I like the idea of different AR games, nothing quite beats catching your first Mewtwo in PoGo. I think that’s why I no longer play. Maybe it’s because of social shielding. Probably the Mewtwo thing though.
Much like Pokemon Go followed Ingress, Fortnite succeeded Playerunknown Battlegrounds to become an absolute phenomenon. People have been waiting for the battle royal craze to subside, but it appears as though it is here for the long haul. There’s not really much more to say about this. Fortnite is a cultural phenomenon.
The longevity of Skyrim is testament to the creativity of its community. The game is, itself, very mediocre. Reee all you want that doesn’t make it any less true. You haven’t been playing Skyrim for ten years because of the deep mechanics, brilliant characters and complex storytelling, have you?
No, you’ve been playing because you can turn the dragons into Thomas the Tank Engine.
Personally, I wasn’t very familiar with modding prior to Skyrim. This seems to have been the gateway drug for a lot of modders. This was also the game which catalysed the realisation that, if you provide modders with the tools to creatively modify your game, it can live well beyond its sell by date. While games like Rimworld thrive on mods, I think the biggest example is GTA V.
Take Two seemed to conflate the longevity of GTA V solely with the success of the online mode. When they tried to remove the freedom to modify the single player experience, they found out that the modding community was very much involved in the enduring popularity of their premier IP.
There, I’ve committed over 1,500 words to some important games from the last decade – and Skyrim. What do you think; are there any games I’ve missed that I should have mentioned?
This is likely to cause some disagreement at CC, so look forward to our Countr Points on this one.
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