I have noticed that a number of people and gaming sites are taking a moment to celebrate the coming change in the tens column of the year to take a look back at the last decade, the teens, and to pick out high and lows and bests and worsts and whatever. As an end of year summary post is an easy pitch, so too must an end of decade summary pitch.
I didn’t do this back at the end of 2009. I know, I checked and back in December of 2009 my posts… all 38 of them… showed only a low level of reflection, and that involved reviewing my gaming goals and predictions. But the blog was just past the three year mark back then and I had yet to settle down and recognize how a recurring topic makes an excellent writing crutch.
With that in mind and some empty days to fill I thought I would join in on the retrospective action and pick out a list of what I consider to be my games of the last ten years. I do have a decade of blog posts to refresh my memory here.
How I picked them is vague mixture or memory, blog posts, and any measure of how much time I spent with a given title over the time frame. And, just to make this a bit more difficult, I am going to try to break these out into categories like some sort of award show, which will allow me not only to pick a winner, but then ramble on about other possible choices.
MMORPG – EVE Online
MMORPG is a special category in this list. First because MMORPGs are the main focus of this blog and, second, because MMORPGs constantly renew themselves with expansions and updates. So, unlike the other categories, I am not limiting this to games that launched this decade. I would be hard pressed to pick an MMORPG I cared about that launched since 2010. Maybe Rift? And Rift fell apart for me with the first expansion.
So, with that out of the way…
Based on hours spent playing, number of posts written, and amount of time continuously subscribed, it would be impossible to pick anything besides EVE Online. I’ve been playing EVE Online in a continuous arc since November 2011, when I came back to the game to see if the Crucible expansion would get the game back on course after Incarna. And then I got tied up in the tales of null sec, where the stories are all player created, and have stuck around as a player/tourist ever since. And, to loop back on how MMORPGs change, 2019 EVE Online is a lot different than 2011 EVE Online was. Better or worse is up for debate, but definitely different.
As for other choices, World of Warcraft would probably place second, but a distant second. I might even make it third behind WoW Classic if that wasn’t barely four months old. Three disappointing expansions (Cataclysm, Warlords of Draenor, and Battle for Azeroth) and an inability to make things better has left me flat on the game. They heyday of WoW was last decade, which is what WoW Classic is telling us.
And after that, what other choices could I justify? I spent stretches of time in LOTRO, EverQuest II, Rift, Neverwinter, SWTOR, and a few others, but not nearly as much as either EVE Online or WoW. So New Eden gets the nod, as nothing else comes close.
MMO – World of Tanks
I will make the definitional cut between MMORPG, where you can see or interact with hundreds or thousands of players in a virtual world, and MMOs, which are just online titles where a bunch of people can be in the same lobby, but actual game play is in limited arenas.
This was kind of a tough one, as I have pretty clearly spent more time playing War Thunder and I haven’t spent any time playing World of Tanks recently. But when I do play, I like the way World of Tanks looks and feels, even if I am bad at it. Also, I am way worse at War Thunder.
Other potential titles for me here included World of Warplanes (where I am even worse than War Thunder) or maybe World of Warships, though that never really clicked with me so my time with it is pretty minimal. I never did play Destiny or the sequel or anything else along those lines, so World of Tanks it is.
Action RPG – Diablo III
This could arguably fall under the MMO banner, but I have chosen to break it out because there was actually some competition here. The ARPG race this decade included Diablo III, Torchlight II, Path of Exile, Grim Dawn, and even Titan Quest Anniversary Edition, all of which I played.
In the end though, I have to give the nod to Diablo III. It started off badly, with the real money auction house yielding results predicted before launch and an itemization scheme that seemed designed to make that situation even worse. But somebody at Blizzard finally got the memo and, with the Reaper of Souls expansion, things were turned around. The good game play and simple story let me click away happily for many hours. I have spent as much time playing Diablo III as all of the competition combined.
On paper Torchlight II ought to have been the winner, with offline play and mods and such. But all the mechanics in the world couldn’t save it from simply feeling bland and aimless. And Path of Exile, while it felt closer to the Diablo II source of the ARPG genre, died for me under latency issues that they never fully solved and the desire to be something of an MMORPG which made going back later a pain as they had added so many additional bits and pieces to the game.
Grim Dawn probably gets short shrift in all of this. I feel like I should go back and play that some more, but I never quite get to it. If I were CCP, Grim Dawn would be my Faction Warfare updates… always on the list, but never high enough to get the attention it deserves.
While I do not go back with every new season, I have ended up playing and enjoying Diablo III more than any of its competition.
Strategy Game – Civilization V
For me, Civilization V is pretty much the culmination of the series. I have owned and played the whole run, plus the side paths like Alpha Centauri (good) and Beyond Earth (not good), and Civ V is it for the decade. And I write that having played Civ II, Civ III, Civ IV, Civ VI Alpha Centauri, and Beyond Earth this decade as well.
Civ V isn’t perfect. It has flaws, both unique to itself as well as the usual flaws of the series (slow and overweight at launch along with the whole mid-game drag), and it was controversial at the time, but it has weathered the decade for me. I was annoyed I had to make a new Steam account to play it, having rejected Steam after Valve screwed up my old account in the early HalfLife 2 era. But I got past that. I played it in 2010 and I was still playing it in 2019. Hard to argue with that.
Other possible picks were direct competitors like Stellaris, excellent war games like Vietnam 65 and Unity of Command, literally the rest of the Paradox strategic game catalog, which I own, as well as RTS titles like Age of Empires II HD and a good chunk of the Total War series, all of which played and enjoyed. But for my strategy title of the decade I cannot justify anything besides Civ V.
Builder Sim – RimWorld
I created this category pretty much to find a place for RimWorld. I mean, I guess it is something of a genre. The direct competitors for this on my list included Stardew Valley, Oxygen Not Included, Medieval Engineers, Space Engineers, and Kerbal Space Program. RimWorld was pretty much a lock here… and then I looked down the list of games and found Minecraft.
Minecraft isn’t an MMO or MMORPG and is a full on multi-player builder sim and holy cow I spent a lot of time playing it this decade.
But, technically, Minecraft became available to backers in 2009. So it is really a last decade game, no matter how much I played it. The early access thing muddies the water. And while it gets updates, it doesn’t get the MMORPG exemption in my book.
So RimWorld gets the nod, but with an asterisk for Minecraft.
First Person Perspective – Portal 2
Another force category. When I was looking down the list of shooters I had played over the decade, thinking that FPS could be a category. But then there were also a few outliers that were not really shooters but which had the first person perspective. That led me to expand the category, which then went from me trying to balance Sniper Elite III and Doom to just handing things over to Portal 2.
And I think that is the right answer. I played the game, I own the sound track, my daughter and I know the words to some of the songs, and it had enough cultural influence that, of the games I played, it has to be the winner. Also, it was a very good game. But I also own none of the Call of Duty or Battlefield titles from this decade either, so I am not much of a first person perspective fan.
Racing Game – Need for Speed World
I actually own a few racing games. More than I expected, such that I decided I had better make this a category. This is one area where console titles might fit in. But when reviewing what I played, the one game I miss is Need for Speed World.
It had a lot of problems, not the least of which was being published by EA, but its simplicity and bits of destructible terrain and shared world and excellent customization options made it something I spent a lot of time playing. And, honestly, there hasn’t been anything quite like it since.
Console Title – Pokemon SoulSilver
Proof that I am not much of a console gamer. Yes, we have still have a Wii and a PlayStation 3 still. The former is now in a box and out of sight and the latter has spent more time streaming or playing DVD or BluRay discs than actually acting as a game console. I did put in some time with both, most commonly with the LEGO Star Wars titles. But that was really a last decade thing. The Nintendo DS and 3DS series was really the console I played this decade, and for me that console is all about the Pokemon titles.
And if I have to pick one of the DS titles… and I’ve played them all… it has to be Pokemon SoulSilver, where I finally caught them all.
Mobile Game – Pokemon Go
As with console games, I don’t really play all that many mobile games. Stretching the definition to include things on the iPad I probably have a few options. I played Neko Atsume (in Japanese, back when it was cool) and Monument Valley and DragonVale and Words With Friends and Prose with Bros and some less memorable titles. Ticket to Ride got a lot of play time, though I’ve faded on it over the years. And let us not forget all the time I spent hate-playing Candy Crush Saga just to try to beat it without paying.
But the one mobile game I get out and play every day is Pokemon Go.
It helps that it is the one and only video game my wife plays, so we play together.
Crowdfunded Title – Defense Grid 2
This was a depressingly easy pick because almost every crowdfunded gaming title I have been involved with either hasn’t shipped (e.g. Camelot Unchained, Star Citizen) or was kind of shit (e.g. Shroud of the Avatar, Planetary Annihilation). Some I haven’t played (Project: Gorgon) and others fell apart (Hero’s Song). This decade saw the emergence of crowdfunding, along with early access, but it hasn’t really been a boon for my own game play.
But the one outlier was Defense Grid 2. I played that and enjoyed it quite a bit. Its only problem was that it wasn’t quite as good as the original Defense Grid: The Awakening.
Pirate Server – Nostalrius
I guess the polite term now is “emulator,” but they are still pirate servers. They still exist by stealing somebody’s IP and work, and the noblest intentions in the world won’t change that. These days every shut down online game that ever had half a dozen loyal customers seems to have an emulator project going for it.
That means there are lots of such servers out there to choose from. There are even competing projects for games like Star Wars Galaxies and City of Heroes, not to mention the actual server software from CoH out in the wild. I am still waiting for the legal shoe to drop on that one.
But Nostalrius, and the family of WoW emulators that preceded it, have racked up a special achievement. They got a company as conservative as Blizzard to roll out the version of the game they were trying to bring back. These servers were popular enough to get the company’s attention and had enough support that the idea managed to get past the obvious corporate reluctance to go there.
Basically, WoW Classic is a thing due to the work that went into pirate servers like Emerald Dream and Nostalrius. Bravo!
Best Hardware Purchase – Blue Microphones Snowball
Not really a game thing, though something that helped with gaming. Having gone through various headsets with good earphones but crap microphones I decided to opt out of the voice side of the headset thing by buying a decent desk mic. So during the 2018 Black Friday sales found the Blue Microphones Snowball on sale and bought it. And it has served me well ever since. I am now free to use whichever headphones I like and nobody complains that they cannot hear me anymore. I am fully ready to be a podcast or streaming guest! Of course, I have also reached a point of irrelevance such that people have stopped asking me to be guests on such things, but I am ready if my topics ever begin to trend again!
Worst Hardware Purchase – Mineserver
I almost skipped this as a section, being unable to think of any gaming related hardware I bought in the last decade that was worthy of scorn. And then I remembered the Mineserver.
Technically, I didn’t purchase this, I backed it as part of a Kickstarter campaign. The campaign, launched by tech columnist Robert X. Cringely in Fall 2015, it was supposed to be delivered by Christmas that year. The campaign funded successfully and we got rosy reports initially. This was going to be easy.
And then it wasn’t. This is what I get for trusting in the word of somebody who is not technical to assess the technical issues of a project. I should know by now that things that look easy to those on the sidelines are often not easy down in the code. Also, Cringely’s next successful business venture will be his first. I had forgotten about that.
This was also a bad example, amidst many bad examples, of how not to run a campaign post success. Communication was sporadic. The excuse was that he only wanted to report when there was good news, but apparently there hasn’t been any good news for a couple of years now.
Cringely was blowing smoke up our collective asses with some pie in the sky “maybe this will turn into a business and I’ll give you all shares” nonsense, but then his house burned down in the Santa Rosa fire and he has declined to update the Kickstarter campaign page or send anything directly to the supporters since. Instead he occasionally makes reference to the campaign, mostly to blame people who are angry about the whole thing for the lack of any progress. In his world, all of the problems are the fault of the backers. Money down the drain.
Best Game Purchase – Minecraft
This was a tough one. There have been a lot of games I have bought and gotten a ton of play out of, that ended up being great and bargains at the price I paid. Defense Grid: The Awakening was a candidate, as was the Mists of Pandaria expansion for WoW and even the first year of Rift.
In the end though, I am going to call Minecraft the winner, because the criteria here is purchase during the last decade, and while Minecraft became available in 2009, I didn’t buy it until 2015.
Even with renting a public server for a shared experience, the dollar per hour value of the game was pretty damn high.
Worst Game Purchase – Star Trek Online Lifetime Membership
There were a lot of competitors on this front, like every single game in my Steam library that I purchased and never played. But none of them could measure up to the cost and impact of Star Trek Online.
I pinned such hopes on Star Trek Online and it ended up being so not the game for me. While many will point to Warhammer Online as the end of hope for a MMORPG that would eclipse WoW or Star Wars: The Old Republic as the last gasp attempt at a big budget MMORPG, Star Trek Online was the boiling pot of hope that burned my hands and convinced me not to get invested in an MMO before it is live. And no more up front lifetime subscription purchases ever.
Disappointing at launch with mundane and repetitive game play (even for an MMO), I probably ended up paying the most per hour played for it since the time of CompuServe and GEnie and hourly connection charges. I tried to return to the game a couple of times, but Cryptic just piled on features to try and keep the game going, turning it into a confused jumble that still held no seed of attraction for me. It was so bad I was surprised when it went free to play mostly because I was sure it must have already gone that route.
So if you want to know why I am such the cynic now, occasionally mocking those who get excited and invested in games based on a vague feature list and a few artists concept drawings, Star Trek Online is a big factor. And yes, I know it is somebody’s favorite game. Everything, no matter how bad, is somebody’s favorite. If you enjoy it, carry on. But for me it is an example of the kind of garbage, half-assed MMORPG effort that tarnished the genre and sped up its decline. And none of that was helped by the game embracing things like lock boxes.
STO will be mentioned in the next few month in review posts as we get through its 10 year anniversary, but I doubt I will ever post about again until I write an obituary about it. I generally don’t waste my time on games I do not like. This post was an exception.
A New Decade
And so it goes. I made it through this post and only had to reach into the past decade twice.
Soon it will be 2020 and a new decade will be upon us. Not that an arbitrary changing in numbering means anything really, but we like to put things into nice neat categories even if we have to make them up. I certainly made up a couple above.
I do wonder what the video game industry will be ten years down the line. Mobile has become the big money maker while things like VR, hailed as the future, languish due to various technical and physiological reasons. (The puke factor is real.)
I especially wonder about games in my MMORPG category, the shared world online experience that seem to go on and on. Ultima Online and EverQuest are still going past the 20 year mark, while World of Warcraft and EVE Online are now past 15. Will we be celebrating 25 and 30 year anniversaries when 2029 is coming to a close? Will I still even care?