With the end of the decade days away, I’ve not just been thinking about the games I’ve played but my connection to Alaska, which began in the early morning of a July 2011 day when I pulled onto an empty Airport Way into the city that I would call home for most of the 2010s.
I had no idea what ups and downs there would be in store for me in the 49th state, but as I look back on those years, I can’t help but feel grateful. Grateful for the opportunities to work as a reporter for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, grateful to be in this wild and beautiful land, grateful to game and share games with friends and grateful to be writing this column.
Today’s column is about the games that were the most important to me during the last decade. They’re not necessarily the best games of the decade, but they’re the games that left a lasting impression.
Diablo 3 – Bandwidth problems
I’ve never been quite as excited for a game as Blizzard’s “Diablo 3” — it was the modernization of the “Diablo” series that I had poured so many hours into as a kid, bringing over some really stunning new animations and an intriguing ability system. I’ve also never been quite so disappointed as the night I spent staring at loading screens and error messages.
You see, the original version of “Diablo 3” required a constant high-speed internet connection, which wasn’t exactly affordable in the spring of 2012. It was a surprise moving up from the cushy Lower 48.
The sourness of launch night extended into weeks and months. When it worked, “Diablo 3” at launch was a thin offering with a lot of hooks intended to spend real money. “Diablo 3” was a disappointment that I quickly gave up on.
But, in the long-term, it turned out to be for the best. Blizzard made a ton of updates to “Diablo 3” since its launch that radically overhauled how the game worked and by the time I was ready to sit down with it a few years after launch, it was everything I had been hoping for and more. Since then, I’ve spent hundreds of hours with the game on several platforms.
Far Cry 3 – The lonely year
The summer of 2012 marked an event that many young people in Fairbanks will inevitably experience: All your friends moving away in a matter of months. I moved into a little one-room, mother-in-law-style apartment with a massive amount of free time on my hands.
It was there that I learned to cook better, started reading more and, of course, playing video games. It was where I really rekindled my interest in games and started thinking about them as more than just games. “Far Cry 3” is a first-person shooter mixed with role-playing elements in a big, luscious open world filled with things to poke about and explore.
The later entries in the series were certainly technically better than “Far Cry 3,” but many of those ideas got their start in the tropical paradise of “Far Cry 3,” where you can hang glide into an enemy outpost, release a tiger and then steal their cars.
Hotline Miami – Learning to love Alaska
In many ways, 2013 was a crossroads for me. Unsure about Alaska and unsure about signing a lease, I bounced between six different addresses that year and spent the bulk of my time living in a friend’s yurt out in Goldstream Valley. Gone was my anxiety about the lack of internet — you just had to plan ahead and portable consoles like the Playstation Vita were a must.
In between heady afternoons out playing axes, grilling or just lounging in the sun, I was pouring tons of time into the brutally hard “Hotline Miami.” It’s a top-down action game where you are challenged with taking out levels filled with mobsters in a frenetic and hyperviolent action movie-like game.
Looking back now, I’m not sure why it felt like the best game for yurt life, but I can probably credit its heart-racing action scenes for keeping me warm that fall (I’m still just OK at keeping a fire alive).
Destiny – Better with friends
It’s honestly hard to believe that “Destiny” came out in 2014, but here we are. Bungie, the makers of the legendary “Halo” series, launched their innovative always-online shooter just in time for me to make some new friends and go in together on a decent internet connection.
We put a ton of time into this one. It mixed the satisfying shooter mechanics with the addicting grind of getting bigger and better loot that drove so many massively multiplayer online games like “World of Warcraft.” The end-game raids and weekly challenges provided plenty of content to look forward to, sometimes to the detriment of our own personal lives.
While the newer “Destiny 2” is an upgrade over the original in just about every way, I find that I don’t have the time or energy anymore to spend on a game like this. “Destiny” came out at just the right time for me. I might have no time to go back to the nightly grind, but those were unforgettable times.
Jackbox Party Pack – Best with friends
Now more used to the revolving door of friends, I’ve spent countless evenings laughing with friends both new and old over a game of the many editions of “The Jackbox Party Pack.” The “Party Pack” series are sets of five or six games that are played by having people log on with their cellphones. The games range from drawing to trivia to word games with the prompts and results displayed on the TV.
The drawing games, like “Drawful” and “Civic Doodle,” are the main attractions and drawing on a cellphone levels the playing field and makes for some hilarious moments. Newer editions can even be played online, which is perfect for reconnecting with your distant friends.
Star Wars: Battlefront – Staying power
If you could chart my playing times for every game this decade, “Star Wars: Battlefront” has to be right up near the top and that’s in no small part because it’s the first game that my partner and I really got into. It’s not the most complex shooter out there but the “Star Wars” setting goes a long way.
“Star Wars: Battlefront” brings over all the sounds and visuals of the “Star Wars” universe into large-scale battles set across a ton of iconic locations, ranging from Tatooine to the Moon of Endor and more. We’ve played this one together a ton, frequently breaking out an extra monitor so we can play together (split screen online is, unfortunately, not an option).
The sequel, “Star Wars: Battlefront II” was a major disappointment out of the gate — one of the biggest blows is that couldn’t consistently play with your teammates — but a recent round of updates have seriously improved the game—enough for me to start thinking about breaking out the second screen.
The 2010s brought some seriously great games. While not everyone of them fit into my time in Alaska, there have been plenty that have made a mark and warrant a quick mention. “Horizon: Zero Dawn” told an amazing story in a robo-Dinosaur-filled future; Never has there been a more perfect game for fans of “X-Files” and the paranormal than this year’s “Control;” The only game that ever left me speechless was “The Last of Us;” I played the entirety of the quirky, plucky and heart-filled “Undertale” in a single night; and “Beat Saber” is the virtual reality game I never knew I needed, mixing lightsabers with a rhythm game that continues to put out excellent new songs and levels.
Thanks for reading and I look forward to gaming more in 2020!
Matt Buxton is a freelance writer and gamer. He can be reached at email@example.com.