Sean's favourite Xbox games of the decade

Sean Carey - January 17th 2020

Voting is currently open for the TrueAchievements Game of the Decade, and many of you have already picked your top contenders across several different categories. Looking back at the past ten years, many would consider the past decade as somewhat lacklustre. I disagree. The industry has changed in many different ways. We've had the birth of a revolutionary new genre with the likes of the Battle Royale, with its titles dominating the last few years in terms of player numbers and revenues made. The Soulsborne genre was firmly solidified in the gaming world and continues to grow, along with live-service gaming. Indie games have also exploded in popularity, with several excellent titles like Undertale, Axiom Verge and Stardew Valley all being made by lone developers. And probably the biggest change we've had is that of the notorious microtransaction/loot box. I think the microtransaction is probably the one thing that defines this decade when you think of gaming overall — which for some, is probably a sour note on an otherwise fantastic ten years.

It will be interesting to see what new trends and in which direction the gaming industry takes across the next decade, I'm sure we all have our own theories on this, but what I know for certain is that it's going to be a lot of fun – especially with the birth of a new console generation coming this year.

I am entering my thirties in a short number of months, and my time for video games has become somewhat limited. With the likes of Xbox Game Pass and exciting new titles being released all the time, my backlog has grown to such an unimaginable size; I don't think I'll ever get through it. I'm sure this is the same for many of you too. But this article isn't about the future or my woes; it's about my favourite games from the past decade! These are all titles that I have had the most fun with across the ten years.

10. PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds

PUBG offers up one of the most exciting gaming experiences out there and is a pioneer of the genre. I remember playing my first few games camping in a building, scared of the thundering footsteps from other players around me as I tried to hold out until the first circle. More often than not I would die either to the blue zone or around the 70 player mark, but after a while, I would start to see progress, making it to later stages in a match. And this progression is what makes PUBG a special game. Seeing yourself get better and making it to the final circle is a rewarding experience, but it's also intense. A round can last around 40 minutes and survive long enough to the final circle becomes a risk-all situation. Usually, you'll find yourself with a couple of other players, not knowing where one another is and expecting imminent death — nobody wants to lose at this stage after so much time invested, we all want that Chicken Dinner! I can't quite explain the adrenaline rush you get from those latter stages and the relief from winning.

Sure, PUBG is not well optimised, it's still full of bugs and did not have the best console launch, and my time with the game has somewhat dwindled, but I still revisit it now and then, choosing to play it over other Battle Royales such as Fortnite and Apex Legends.

9. Forza Horizon 4

A long time ago, back in my youth, I used to play nothing but Gran Turismo. As I got older my taste in games shifted, and with the exception of Test Drive Unlimited, I didn't pick up too many racing games. This all changed with Forza Horizon 4. I remember watching the E3 presentation back in 2018 and being blown away by the racing sim. Once I finally got my hands on the game (thanks Xbox Game Pass for PC), after just five minutes I knew this was something special. Playground has done such a good job with their representation of Britain — some parts of the vast map look almost identical to the village in which I live. Graphically, I don't think you'll find a better racing sim out there. Each car feels unique, whether you're tearing it up off-road, hitting that perfect line around a bend on a street racing circuit, or just driving around in free-roam taking in the game world, there is something for everyone to enjoy in Forza Horizon 4.

Oh, and that Battle Royale Eliminator Mode? GENIUS.

8. Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag

There have been so many Assassin's Creed titles released across this decade, and a good number of those could have made it onto this list, but for the sake of variety, I've whittled it down to one. My reasoning for picking Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag is probably not as nuanced as Sam's — I just love pirates.

The Golden Age of Piracy is one of my favourite time periods in history. Entering into a somewhat accurate representation of the time period, filled with real pirates like Blackbeard, Calico Jack and Charles Vane was an absolute joy. I had spent hours as a kid reading stories about these historical figures, and to finally get into a game where I could play alongside them was pretty special. Mix up the historical setting and characters with the tried and tested Assassin's Creed gameplay formula, and you're on to a winner. Ubisoft took it one step further by taking to the seas with excellent ship combat. There is nothing more satisfying than sinking a Man O' War, plundering its bounty and sailing off across the sea while your crew belts out the sea shanty Lowlands Away.

Also, you play as a pirate that's also an assassin. Does it get much cooler than that? I don't think it does.

7. Dead Cells

Dead Cells is one of those games that you can pick up and play for ten minutes or get sucked into a two or three-hour playthrough. The blending of the Metroidvania and roguelike genres has been pulled off exceptionally well by Motion Twin. Filled with intricacies, beautifully illustrated levels, secrets, a vast array of weapons, and one of the most satisfying gameplay loops that I have ever come across, Dead Cells is one of those titles that I've put too many hours into – I can't tell you the exact amount out of embarrassment. I still haven't discovered everything the game has to offer.

A playthrough will put you through a whirlwind of emotions. Each level can make you feel almost god-like, dispatching enemies swiftly with no issue. Then it suddenly turns on you, ramps up the difficulty and crushes you into permadeath for being so complacent and cocksure. Hopefully, you should have picked up some upgrades along the way that will make your next journey slightly easier. It's this loop of incremental advancement, maybe beating a boss that you've previously struggled with, before serving up a big ole slice of humble pie that I love. Dead Cells will bring you up to lofty heights, but it will certainly beat you back down again if you're not careful in your approach.

6. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

As a self-confessed Metal Gear Solid fanboy, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain had to make it onto my list. Sure, the plot is probably one of the most ridiculous in the series (and that's saying something), but if you've been following the story across the MGS saga, you're probably quite invested its characters. MGS V was supposed to bridge a gap and tie everything together neatly with the rest of the MGS games, but instead, we got something that didn't quite work out as was probably intended (I won't go into detail here for fear of spoilers). The ending felt rushed, and there was obviously going to be a lot more to the game as discovered by data miners. If it wasn't for the tense relationship between Konami and Kojima — that eventually ended in Kojima leaving the company — we might have had something truly epic.

Not to say that MGS V isn't a fantastic game – it's one of the greats. For the first time in an MGS game, we had open worlds that felt alive and where filled to the brim with detail. You could play them in whichever way you saw fit and carefully craft how you wanted to approach a situation. Especially when you have such an outrageous number of tools at your disposal, from weapons and gadgets to companions and vehicles. I opted with the stealth approach (most of the time), and more often than not, I'd accidentally find myself in some random un-scripted situation – which is probably why I spent so long with MGSV and had such a good time playing through it.

5. Grand Theft Auto V

I've included Grand Theft Auto V partly for its fantastic single-player, but primarily for its online multiplayer. Playing GTA V Online with a group of friends became a regular occurrence for me a few short years ago, and I don't think I've had as much fun playing online with mates since. More often than not, we would find some weird and wacky playlist filled with community-created races and death-matches that would end with me in hysterics for one reason or another. Usually, it was me being a troll and winding up my friends by planting a sticky bomb on a car in a race and blowing it before they crossed the finish line, with me ultimately taking the victory. I spent many nights — often until the early hours — exploring San Andreas with my friends, even more so when Heists were introduced. We occasionally go back and visit GTA V, and it's changed a lot since we were regulars, but it's still always a good laugh.

4. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

"Hey, you. You're finally awake" are words that I will never forget. Oblivion was my first introduction to the Elder Scrolls series, and I couldn't get enough of it, so when Skyrim was announced my levels of excitement shot through the roof. I love a good RPG, and although Skyrim didn't have the depth of Morrowind or Oblivion, it's still a game that I fell in love with. I actively avoided completing the main quest until I had completed nearly all the side quests first – apart from collecting all of those Crimson Nirnroots in Blackreach, because I hated that place). Sure, Skyrim is full of bugs, but even they add a special charm – part of the formula that makes Skyrim the game we all know and love.

3. The Long Dark

My top three is probably one that most of you will vehemently oppose, and that's great! We all have differing opinions; the world would be a boring place if we didn't.

It's hard to describe just why I love The Long Dark so much and how it ended up in the third spot on my list. It is the most atmospheric game I have ever played, and it provides one of the toughest gaming challenges I have come across to date. The Long Dark is a survival game that pits you against the harsh Canadian wilderness. Every decision you make can result in your death and must be weighed up carefully. Do you take that extra bit of firewood with you in case you get caught in a blizzard, or save the space in your backpack in case you find a tool or perhaps a weapon? The Long Dark captures the survival experience perfectly and makes you balance out your inventory, with energy, food and warmth needs. It's hard to get it right, but when you start finding a system that works for you, you can really start moving forward with the games interesting plotline. That is until your complacency costs you an injury or a damaged piece of clothing and results in your death and a lesson learned.

The Long Dark is a lonely game. There is only a handful of NPCs in the earlier episodes, and you will be spending most of it by yourself trudging through snowy forests and abandoned towns while battling the elements and the wildlife. At times, it can be almost a meditative experience. I've often found myself inside of my own thoughts while hunkered down, waiting for a blizzard to pass in a dreary old house with nothing but the howling wind and a small fire crackling away in the corner for company. The atmosphere created in The Long Dark is something that you need to experience yourself — I can't adequately put it into words.

2. Life is Strange

Probably the most controversial game on my list. I love Life is Strange, and I almost put it in my number one spot. Life is Strange gets a bad rap in some circles with people decrying that it's not a game or its just a walking simulator, but to me, it's more than that. I was hooked from the moment I played the first episode, and that song kicked in when Max was walking the halls of Blackwell Academy — not to mention one LiS has one of the best gaming soundtracks ever. The narrative is second to none. Did you know that Life is Strange beat The Witcher 3 for a BAFTA award for its story? I kindly like to remind Heidi of that every so often. The plot is filled with so many twists and turns; you never know what to expect. I was presented with so many hard decisions and would often sit there staring at the screen, weighing up my options, unsure of what to pick. That third episode and both of those ultimate endings, had me crying like a baby, I'm not ashamed to admit it. I've never experienced a visceral reaction quite like the one Life is Strange gave me.

Life is Strange is one of two games that I wish I could play through again for the first time; the other is coming up next.

1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Of course, it had to be The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, didn't it? I echo all of Heidi's sentiments about the game. It's a masterpiece, and that's before you even touch two of the best DLCs ever made, Heart of Stone and Blood and Wine — they could have easily been their own separate games.

The world of The Witcher 3 is a harsh and grim reality that is studded with beauty and filled to the brim with context and narrative. The world feels alive and is a lesson in world-building. From the smallest of villages to the city of Novigrad to the windswept isles of Skellige, there is always a new story to be found. It's hard to beat The Witcher 3 on lore and its narrative (Unless your game is Life is Strange. See above). I got so wrapped up in the world that I lost an entire summer during my time at university. I remember having to buy blackout curtains because the sun was was getting in the way of my precious gaming time.

Each quest was unique. One that stands out for me was Family Matters, the quest with the Baron's unwanted child and your first encounter with the Ladies of the Wood – filled with fascinating folklore and mythology. There are several standout moments for me. The more I look back on the different quests found in The Witcher 3, the more I remember just how great they all were. Nearly every main mission and some of the bigger side-missions all conjure up a happy gaming memory in some way or another. I even had fun with Gwent! I wasted hours playing that ridiculous card game and hunting down all the different cards from across the map — everyone else I know hated it.

That's it for my top ten games of the decade. Make sure you check out both Sam and Heidi's top picks too. We will also have a round-up of top games of the decade from our volunteer staff coming soon, plus, don't forget to vote for your favourites by checking out the Game of the Decade hub.