RPGamer’s RPGs of the Decade: Top 10
Welcome to RPGamer’s extravaganza of celebrating the games from the previous ten years. We have a week’s worth of posts to excite you all in what it is probably our biggest combined feature to date. More details and access to all of the other parts of the feature can be found on our introduction post.
This particular post is the final part for the results of the site-wide selection of our favourite games of the decade. To start this off, we undertook an initial nomination periods, which was determined by the winner of our awards from those past years, with that group supplemented by a number of wildcards that may have been missed out for any reason. As for our regular awards, ports, enhanced remasters, and the like were not included in the eligible list of games. This gave us a still impressively list of a little over 100 titles to decide between in staff-wide vote. The results have been tallied and placed into three groups: those falling in a group ranked 50 to 26, another group for 25 to 11, and our top ten.
Here we reach the culmination of our feature, the top 10 of our staff-wide favourite RPGs of the 2010-2019 decade!
You’d do well not to write off Horizon Zero Dawn as just another post-apocalyptic RPG. Sure, we’ve all taken on the role of a protagonist who’s somehow survived the end of the world and must find a way to make ends meet in new, hostile surroundings. But when have we seen Man regressed to a primitive tribal status, hunting with slings and sharp sticks, while the wildlife around him has evolved into robotic organisms? Mechanized woodland creatures, armor-plated metallic crocodiles, and robotic dinosaur-like behemoths packing fully-stocked missile launchers quickly turn the tables in the predator-prey dynamic around on you. Luckily, the game features a silky-smooth combat system that marries stealth, on-the-fly crafting, and strategic combat with pulse-pounding action at every turn.
As masterfully crafted as the combat is, it doesn’t even hold a candle to the incredible narrative, delivered little by little as Aloy, our heroine, pieces together what happened to humankind and why she, an outsider shunned from birth, seems to be special. It’s a deeply involving, heartbreaking, and fascinating dive that more than makes up for some repetitive open-world filler gameplay. Topped off with an amazing voice cast and eye candy that to this day stands strong as some of the prettiest I’ve ever seen in a game, Horizon Zero Dawn is easily a top-notch experience worthy of a high place in the decade’s best. — Pascal Tekaia
Fire Emblem has a long-standing tradition of being a challenging series to get through. Between difficult strategy and perma-death, the series wasn’t very friendly to newcomers. It was declining in sales, and the developers felt like they only had one more shot to keep Fire Emblem alive. When Fire Emblem: Awakening released in 2012, it was a monstrous success.
Awakening was a game changer for the series, offering quality-of-life changes for both veterans and newcomers alike. It introduced characters forging romantic relationships to improve their abilities, while also sporting a casual mode for those of us who can’t handle perma-death and easily get attached to characters. Awakening provided so many accessible features that it allowed the series to thrive and transform into something that all kinds of gamers could get excited for. The game succeeds at reviving a franchise that was trapped in a rut and giving it the breath of life it needed in order to stay relevant. — Sam Wachter
The seventh generation of consoles heralded a specific trend in game design. The indie movement was slowly gaining steam, but as smaller studios shuttered in the face of rising costs, publishers chased Call of Duty and motion control dollars, resulting in many lavishly-produced games that felt contracted in size or struggled to make a lasting impact with little more than unorthodox control schemes. It’s in this environment where Dark Souls is able to leave its mark.
It inverted many of the common tropes of the time: no map, no list of sidequests, and no checklist of rote milestones to give a small XP boost. Instead, players were presented with a tightly-connected world of meaningful exploration, tough-but-fair combat, and a variety of ways to build a character to suit any playstyle. To top it all off, its dark fantasy world is a beautiful rendition of a civilization in decline, a tragedy that unfolded years ago waiting to be discovered for those willing to seek it out. Dark Souls has earned its place alongside some of the best of the decade; not many games can claim to have inspired an entire subgenre. — Zack Webster
Final Fantasy XIV had the rockiest of beginnings. For one, not many could play it at its intended settings, given the inconsistent graphics between environment and players. Another common complaint was the lack of Auction Houses, while the large portion of players coming from Final Fantasy XI were used to having them. For those who stuck by it, and for those that came later, Final Fantasy XIV has become one of the top 10 RPGs of the decade after an incredible rebirth.
One of the things that makes FFXIV such a good MMORPG is how Square Enix transitioned from 1.0 to A Realm Reborn. Final Fantasy XIV 1.0 was not forgotten in A Realm Reborn, but it is consigned to history. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn and its subsequent expansions have been what Final Fantasy fans were longing for. As the second-most subscribed MMORPG today, FFXIV keeps its long record of amazing storytelling that really is a great escape from the world today. With slimming down the amount of spells that mages have to keep track of, it has really helped us hone our skills. Bringing some Final Fantasy XI jobs into FFXIV has also helped bridge the gap between the two MMORPGs, with some tweaks. This is an MMORPG that will definitely stand the test of time long into the next decade. — Sarah McGarr
Persona has come a long way since its humble roots as a Shin Megami Tensei spinoff. It went from an obscure PSOne title to a best-selling PlayStation 4 blockbuster, and is now a household name among RPGamers. Persona 5 takes the best aspects of its PS2 predecessors to make a fantastic sequel.
All of the things you love from Persona 3 and 4 are back: social links, Persona fusing, press-turn battles, and your day-to-day life as a student. Persona 5 also blends the random dungeon exploration of 3 with the fixed dungeons that made 4 feel like it had stakes. Everything from the menus to the text to the character portraits lend to the Phantom Thief aesthetic, while the disco-inspired music will stay bouncing in your head hours after you’ve turned off the game. Persona 5′s theme of changing the hearts of the wicked will certainly resonate with anyone who has felt injustice in their own lives. — Kelley Ryan
The Nintendo Wii was never a powerhouse when it came to RPGs. This is probably a big part of why Xenoblade Chronicles is considered one of the great swansongs of the console. Of course, I’d argue that even if that weren’t the case, that wouldn’t change the fact that Xenoblade is just an impressive achievement, especially considering the low technical specs of the system. The massive scale of the world, the art design, the memorable characters, a story with surprising twists and turns, and a fantastic soundtrack all contribute to what makes the game stand out from the pack, even amongst all the other gems of the decade. — Ryan McCarthy
Xenoblade Chronicles was a game changer for me. While I had very much enjoyed plenty of RPGs beforehand, this was the title that truly showcased all they could be. Its fascinating world and incredible story were joined by great characters, amazing music, and astounding design. My conversion to the genre had pretty much been completed by this time, but this ensured there would be no straying from it. — Alex Fuller
BioWare’s second installment in the Mass Effect series deserves a place on this list. It took everything that was great from the first game and adjusted the elements that really needed adjustments. One of those things was the combat, which is far more streamlined now.
While the first game focused on the big events that went on in the galaxy, in Mass Effect 2 we found ourselves in a story which is more spearheaded towards your crew, the relationships you have with them, and the conflicts affecting each party member. By going on loyalty missions with them, you start to really get to know them. This gives a great impact to your decisions and creates a level of immersion not a lot of games offer. There is just one thing: I wish Garrus would finally finish up his calibrations. — Erik van Asselt
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is one of the best narrative-driven games of all time. I say this as someone who just finished the game (and its subsequent DLCs) recently and was completely engrossed for weeks. It offers a variety of story genres within each of its quests, from folktales to ghastly horrors to cheeky romances, and does it all flawlessly. While the larger mystery as to why the Wild Hunt is after Geralt’s “daughter” Ciri is a main draw, each quest, sidequest, and smaller objective has been handled with such an intense amount of care that it’s easy to lose time trying to do everything within the game. The series’ lead, Geralt of Rivia, is no stranger to otherworldly complications, but he’s a lovable and memorable protagonist who is forced into difficult choices, no matter who tosses him a coin.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt makes our favourite RPGs of the decade list because there is no western RPG out there like it that offers genre-bending storylines with such a large, gripping world and unforgettable cast of characters. If you haven’t had the chance to play this game and are a lover of strong storytelling, you owe it to yourself to become lost in the Northern Realms. — Sam Wachter
Nintendo wanted, or perhaps needed, to come up with something new for one of its flagship series. With the launch of the new hybrid system came The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and it felt like a breath of fresh air for the franchise. This game is a perfect sandbox for players to play around with, and while some might get lost with the ability to freely roam Hyrule, the fact remains that it’s so much fun to explore. Once the glider is acquired and the lower realm is unlocked, this game lets players do as they please, be it following the story to save the kingdom, or exploring a world that’s been tormented for 100 years. The people responsible for creating this game took delight in making so many intricate minor details accessible, there’s usually multiple paths or options for players to tackle the puzzles and pitfalls that await them.
Breath of the Wild is a beautiful game that rewards players for thinking outside the box. If you can see it, you can reach it, with very little in the way of invisible walls or unreachable obstacles halting progression. The game substitutes large expansive dungeons for smaller one-shot trials that are filled with puzzles, with some being hidden behind overworld riddles that need to be solved before getting access. The addition of weapon durability might irk some, but it allows for more options in battle, thus removing the stale effect of constantly seeing the same sword mechanics throughout the game. There’s a reason it sold twice as well as Twilight Princess, the second-highest selling game in the series. It’s special and one of the must-own games for the Switch. — Ryan Radcliff
A common question asked by those unfamiliar to the series is, “What are Dragon Quest games like?” The answer is: this! This is what Dragon Quest games are like. There are distinct characters, each with their own backstory, reason for adventuring, and character arc, who undergo real growth as the story progresses. The cast of Dragon Quest XI is one of the series’ best, from not-so-sweet little Veronica to Sylvando the jester with a storied family history. You’ll laugh and cry with each and every one as they experience joy and sorrow throughout nearly one hundred hours of narrative.
Dragon Quest XI doesn’t just feature monsters solely for the sake of battle, nor NPCs simply to pass along important information. The world of DQXI includes hundreds of memorable monsters and NPCs colorfully designed and incorporated into the world, with their own personalities, mannerisms, and, often enough, storylines. While the battle system is slightly tweaked from the rest of the series, it’s decidedly Dragon Quest turn-based to the core. Crafting is a deeply customizable affair that’s masterfully done, yet easily accessible to all players. Taking all of these aspects, which have been staples of the Dragon Quest series, and executing them to near perfection, the latest Dragon Quest to release last decade proved to be our favorite RPG overall. — Matt Masem