Wccftech’s Best Action Games of the Decade – Great Combat, Better Characters
Note: As with our GOTY lists, Wccftech isn’t doing a “Best Action-Adventure Games of the Decade” list. Games that might fall under that umbrella will be split between the Action and Adventure categories. Action encompasses any title where combat (other than first-person shooting) is a core element you need to master to progress.
The 2010s were a pretty solid decade for action games. Of course, action experts like Platinum Games continued to ply their trade throughout the decade, putting out great games like Bayonetta and Vanquish, but we also started to see big story-driven games begin to test players more. It’s that combination of action and storytelling that really defines the best action titles of the decade, with games like God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild being challenging and moving in equal measure. Steel yourself, because it’s time to battle through the best action games of the 2010s.
God of War (2018)
The latest God of War took Kratos, previously as one-note as it gets, and brilliantly transformed him into a real, three-dimensional character. Best of all, God of War did this without sacrificing the challenging action gameplay that's always been the franchise’s bread and butter. Wccftech’s Kai Powell couldn’t praise the game enough in his perfect 10 review…
God of War is one of those rare titles that define the console generation. Kratos’ fighting has been refined to its very best and the lands of Midgard are filled with wonders of all manner to explore and defeat. It’s been nearly the entire lifespan of the PlayStation 4 console since Kratos has seen new adventure but the wait has been absolutely worth it. Santa Monica Studio’s journey is still far from over, but they’ve once again shown why Kratos is one of gaming’s greatest anti-heroes.
It’s hard to pin The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild down to any single genre, but it certainly earns its action stripes. BOTW is one of the most demanding games in the franchise’s long history, serving up an almost Dark-Souls-like array of intimidating enemies. Of course, BOTW’s real selling point is its wonderfully-realized open world. True to the game’s name, Hyrule really feels alive and lived in – this isn’t your typical open-world game where you just run blindly to your next map marker. You’ll truly get to know the game’s many landmarks as you explore its every nook and cranny and overcome its many challenges. Relaxing, beautiful, challenging, intense, frustrating, moving, weird – Breath of the Wild is a game that won’t soon be forgotten.
Batman: Arkham City (2011)
Nearly a decade on, Batman: Arkham City is still the best superhero game ever made (Marvel’s Spider-Man will have to make due with the runner’s up trophy). Arkham City truly puts you in Batman’s cape and cowl, as you effortlessly scramble over rooftops and divebomb thugs. The game’s action is accessible and satisfying as it gets, allowing anybody to feel like a bone-crunching badass. Sure, the game’s overall plot is a little sketchy, but every inch of the game’s Gotham City is infused with loving detail and many individual missions feel directly ripped from the original DC comics or the 90s animated series. Licensed games don’t get any better than this.
Horizon Zero Dawn (2017)
From a technical standpoint, Horizon Zero Dawn is one of the best games of its generation. The things developer Guerrilla Games manage to do with the PlayStation 4 are astounding. Horizon Zero Dawn is absolutely gorgeous, but it’s not all about looks – the game also features a fantastic lead character in Aloy, an engaging story, and some of the deepest, most satisfying combat ever seen in an open-world game. Wccftech’s Chris Wray was just as taken with the game…
Horizon Zero Dawn is a pure example of what can be achieved with an exceptionally-designed open world. It delivers a sincere story that doesn't shoehorn elements, allowing for the organic growth of characters. This is a game that I can barely find any faults with, except borrowing some elements from other open world games. Even so, it made each and every element its own in one of the best games to date.
Bayonetta 2 (2014)
Few developers do pure action as well as Platinum Games, and the Bayonetta games represent the developer at the top of their game. They deliver the intense, sweaty-palmed combat, and yet remain at least somewhat accessible to regular players not willing to devote their entire lives to mastering combos. Of course, Bayonetta herself is a great character, offering over-the-top raunchiness balanced with just enough irony so you don’t have to be embarrassed playing her games with somebody else in the room.
While the first Bayonetta is more iconic, Bayonetta 2 improves on the original in a variety of ways, including a much better hairdo for our leading lady. Yeah, sorry if you like the weird pointy hair, I’m more about the sexy soccer mom look. Er, it’s not all about the hair though – the game further refines the already-great action, and just generally turns the craziness up another notch or two.
Bayonetta may be Platinum Games’ flagship franchise, but the underappreciated Vanquish is every bit Bayo’s equal in terms of pure, unfiltered action. Vanquish sprung from the mind of Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami, but it isn’t exactly hung up on establishing atmosphere – everything about the game, from it’s hulking bullet-spewing robot enemies to the way you boost around stages on your butt, is over-the-top and vaguely ridiculous, but that’s okay. Vanquish is all about fast, fluid combat, and a decade after its release, the game is still an absolute blast to play.
Dying Light (2015)
Dying Light didn’t necessarily make a biggest splash when it was first released, but then developer Techland just… kept working on it. Over the past four years the open-world zombie game has received countless free updates and meaty paid add-ons like The Following expansion, which have transformed the game into one of the deepest and most satisfying sandbox experiences currently available. Yeah, there are a lot of zombie games out there, but Dying Light might be the best of the bunch. A lot of devs and publishers like to boast about the long-tail support they plan to provide for their games, but this is how you do a “live service” right.
Grand Theft Auto V (2013)
Grand Theft Auto V is probably the most successful game ever made. Sure, some games like Tetris and Minecraft have sold more copies, but have they generated the kind of cash GTA V has? Doubtful. So what has made GTA V such an enduring hit? It all comes down to the game’s world, which is arguably the best sandbox of all time. Los Santos is a place packed with detail you can immerse yourself in, and yet, it’s also a great playground if you just want to mess around. The brilliant addition of GTA Online and embrace of modding on both PC and console just sweeten the overall package. Of course, GTA V has attracted its share of criticism, as any game this popular will, but 115 million mostly-happy buyers can’t be wrong.
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (2017)
With the Uncharted games, Naughty Dog created pretty much the perfect action roller coaster blueprint. All the Uncharted games are well worth playing, but of the three released this past decade (Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy) I actually think the most recent is the best. Drake’s Deception is a touch unfocused, and A Thief’s End buckles a bit as it tries to properly wrap up Nathan Drake’s story.
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy may have started as DLC before turning into a full spinoff game, but that actually benefits it. It’s hearkens back to the more lighthearted earlier entries in the series, and cuts all the unnecessary fat. Chloe Frazer taking over as protagonist is also refreshing. Simply put, The Lost Legacy is the most polished take on the Uncharted blueprint to date and not to be missed, even if Nathan Drake sits this particular adventure out.
The Last of Us (2013)
What more is there to say about The Last of Us? Naughty Dog’s magnum opus is probably the most written about game of the past decade, and for good reason. I’m not saying The Last of Us is definitely the best game of all time, but it’s certainly in the running, particularly when it comes to writing and characterization. The Last of Us is cinematic, scary, and soul-crushing, while still being mechanically sound and fun to play -- that’s no easy feat, but Naughty Dog pulls the balancing act off with aplomb. There’s no filler here – every scene and action sequence is seared into my mind. This game pushed the whole industry forward a quantum leap when it came out, and a lot of imitators are still living in its shadow.
Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018)
If The Last of Us is a finely-polished gem, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a big heaping pile of gravel and silt you have to pan through. At first, RDR2 is, honestly, kind of a chore, but once when you finally finish the game’s massive 50-hour campaign, you’re left with nothing but gold. The frustrations melt away and you’re left with fond memories of the fantastic characters, action set pieces, and sprawling, gorgeous world Rockstar created. Wccftech’s Alessio Palumbo certainly enjoyed panning for gold…
Red Dead Redemption 2 may not be perfect, but its shortcomings are small blemishes on a stunningly beautiful face. In a way, they only serve as a reminder of how this world isn't made for perfection. It's an epic, memorable and engrossing tale which also elevates the open world genre to new heights with the brand new interaction system, a cast of unforgettable characters and a ton of high-quality content.
Whittling the best action games of the past decade to only 10 was no easy task, and the list of honorable mentions is long. Entire franchises like Assassin’s Creed, Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, Devil May Cry, Dishonored, Deus Ex, and Watch Dogs didn’t quite make the list. Major sellers like Grand Theft Auto V, Marvel’s Spider-Man, and Metal Gear Solid V fell short as well.
Also, I didn’t want to overload the list with Platinum Games titles, so deserving games like Astral Chain, The Wonderful 101, and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance had to take a back seat. And how about indies? I would have loved to include games like Mark of the Ninja, Nex Machina, Dead Cells, TowerFall Ascension, and Dragon’s Crown, but again – only 10 spots. And let’s not forget Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Control from this very year! Needless to say, if you’re into action, this past decade provided plenty of options.
So there you are, the best action games of the decade. A decade is a long time and action is a very broad category, so I don’t doubt there are some games I’ve overlooked. What were some of your favorite action games of the 2010s?