Redefining Open World Adventures: The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild
Despite being one of a long list of amazing Zelda games, Breath of the Wild is set apart by its unique method of story-telling and its risky gameplay choices that definitely payed off. Breath of the Wild is unlike other Zelda games, or games in general, in that it lets you do whatever you want, whenever you want. If you were so inclined (as many speed-runners are) you can go immediately from the starting area straight to the final boss and beat the game. Of course, this is extremely difficult, but the very fact that you have that option, and that the difficulty of the game is self-imposed, makes for a brilliant game that no 2 people will play the same. However, everyone who does play Breath of the Wild can still bond over the beautiful story of the 4 heroes, the incredible scenery of a post-apocalyptic Hyrule and the plethora of shrines that really get your brain working. Even the somewhat questionable choices such as weapon durability can be praised for the way it makes you adapt to every new situation, such that the game always feels fresh – whether you’re 2 hours in or 200.
Honourable mentions: The Witcher 3 and Mass Effect 2 both also contributed to the explosion of open-world games, and pushed the boundary in terms of immersion and scale of video game worlds.
Shaping the Industry with Indie Genius: Minecraft
What is there to say about Minecraft? It effectively took LEGO and made a game out of it. Minecraft introduced gaming to an entire generation, while also introducing so many staple aspects of games to the industry. The ability to craft a plethora of items, explore the almost endless (randomly generated) map and build complex architecture were all huge innovations that pushed the entire industry to think differently about how they made games. It was also an indie game – one that shifted the perspective on how wildly successful they could be. Not only this, but the constant support both from Mojang, in the form of updates, and from the fan base, in the form of mods, created a rich and ever growing game that had never been seen before and will likely not be seen in the same way for a very long time. Minecraft is the biggest selling game ever, selling over 176 million copies worldwide. I would challenge you to find anybody that does not know of the game, let alone played it… whether on phone, Xbox, Switch, PC… the list goes on!
Honourable mentions: Rocket League, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Undertale, and Celeste all also had a massive impact on the indie scene and helped to redefine what indie – and really, all – games could achieve, whether by breaking into the esports scene, addressing mental health competently, reaching AAA-quality high-fidelity graphics, or innovating gameplay mechanics.
Genre-creator and Difficulty-definer: Dark Souls
Dark Souls is one of those games that does not come around often. It basically created an entire genre (or at least popularised it… sorry demon souls). Souls-like games are massive at the moment and it’s all thanks to this gem. Putting aside the convention of modern games – being too easy – Dark Souls was BRUTALLY difficult. It honestly did require players to (sorry) Git Gud. Obviously, there is progression in the game story wise, but the real progression of the game does not come from your character becoming more powerful, but instead you, the player, becoming more powerful. As you play through Dark Souls you learn the ins and outs of the gameplay. Repetition is your best friends as you familiarise yourself with various boss’ patterns and finally get that final blow. Even though the sequels are arguably better games, the original must be appreciated for the impact it had on people, the games industry and, of course, memes. Dark Souls is truly the Dark Souls of Dark Souls games.
Honourable mentions: Super Meat Boy, Bloodborne, and Cuphead all also contributed to reintroducing the concept of highly-challenging, single-player games to the gaming sphere.
Big $$$: Fortnite
Look, I’m sorry, I don’t like Fortnite either. But its impact on the gaming industry cannot be understated. Firstly, it has popularised the Battle Royale genre leagues beyond what PUBG ever did. Secondly, it (similarly to Minecraft) encapsulated an entire generation to such an extent that simply uttering the word “Fortnite” will have 10 year olds flocking around you like an army of angry seagulls. It was influential not just for having millions of concurrent players, but also for the way it changed game monetisation. It popularised the use of a ‘Battle-pass’ system, where the game is free, but to get all the cosmetics you need to pay for a seasonal battle pass that can be levelled up, and as you level it up you gain rewards. This gives a sense of progression present in normal games, whilst also continually raking in cash. This is not a great thing for anyone but its influence on the industry is very noticeable, with games like Call of Duty, Destiny 2 and Apex Legends all using a very similar monetisation technique.
Honourable mentions: EA’s Star Wars Battlefront, Candy Crush Saga, GTA V, and services such as Humble Bundle or the Xbox Game Pass have all – for better or for worse – drastically impacted discussions around and methods of monetising games in the last decade.
Video Games as a Storytelling Medium: Portal 2
How could a game be better than one of my favourite games of the 2000s? Well, being the sequel to one of my favourite games of the 2000s is a good start! Portal 2 exceeds in all ways, not only as a puzzle game, or a platformer game, but also as a narrative masterpiece. A key element of Portal 2’s narrative success is in its premise. With the help of Wheatly, one of the funniest characters in gaming, you try to navigate yourself out of the clutches of GLaDOS and out of Apeture laboratories. It is one of the most sharply written games ever, which is not commonplace for puzzle platformers. It was so influential that there are many, many games which take clear inspiration from Portal 2, so much so that it could now even be seen as its own genre. Games such as The Talos Principle and The Turing Test would not exist if it weren’t for Portal, and I think that that is truly amazing. Even putting all of this aside the gameplay is so unique and addictive that I completed the whole thing in one day, then again, the next day in multiplayer with my brother! Unlike many other games, Portal 2 is such a unique gem in its genre that you really can’t play anything else like it.
Honourable mentions: too many to count. Video game narratives and themes have so wildly changed in scope, and prioritisation, in the last decade that it is impossible to isolate just a few examples of exemplary writing. Personal favourites include The Talos Principle, The Turing Test, The Last of Us, and Spec Ops: The Line.
Defining Esports, Video Games’ ‘Secondary Industry’: League of Legends
It is hard to understate how massive League of Legends is and has been for the past decade, with player numbers and hours played maintaining industry-leading heights for longer than most games are even remembered. It single-handedly turned the MOBA genre into one of the most popular worldwide, and managed to appeal to players from every continent in a way that most prior games had abjectly failed to do. It’s biggest impact, however, has been in driving the explosion of esports as an industry – one that has begun to emulate traditional sports leagues, with regulations, thousands of employees, high paychecks, franchising, and companies fighting for broadcast rights. None of it would have been possible without the fever-pitch of excitement that organically grew around League in its early years. League did not birth a genre, it birthed an industry.
Honourable mentions: Overwatch and DotA 2 also significantly contributed to the current shape of the esports market, in popularising a franchising system and venture capitalism investment, and in driving up prize pools respectively.