I’ve always been of the mind that there’s never been a “bad” year for games. I’ve seen folks online concur with the idea that 2014 or a few other years in the past weren’t worthwhile. While I vehemently disagree with this, I recognize that the most common meaning behind it is “there weren’t any mega-blockbusters!”.
That sort of thought process is a bit alien to me because I don’t measure a year’s worth through blockbusters only. With that said, 2019 was a very interesting year for me. There was nothing that instantly rose to the top, but there were a ton of great quality games where the argument of ‘Game of the Year’ could be made. After giving it thought, I’ve nailed down my favorite games of 2019! But before getting into that, I wanted to take a moment to give a shout out to a game that didn’t quite make my list, but deserving of recognition all the same.
Honorable Mention: Greedfall
Take The Witcher 3 and toss it in a lower budget blender with Dragon Age: Inquisition. You’ve got Greedfall. I had kept an eye on Greedfall for a while before launch. Spiders, the developers behind the game, had dabbled in releasing AA quality action RPGs for years and there were always moments of brilliance here and there mired by less appealing aspects. Greedfall marked a huge step forward for the studio. It had a large world with interesting lore, a genuinely charming cast of characters and quests that were both fun and full of difficult choices. I really enjoyed my time with and I can’t wait to see what the team does next.
10. Life is Strange 2
I became a humongous fan of developer Dontnod after experiencing the original Life is Strange. While not quite hitting the high notes of the first game, Life is Strange 2 was a really emotional journey. As someone who lost their brother suddenly years ago, there were so many things that resonated with me here, and I was super invested in seeing the story through for the Diaz brothers. Dontnod keeps proving they’ve really got some great writing chops.
9. Days Gone
Though there was the occasional jank to be had (especially at launch), I grew to really enjoy my time in the world of Days Gone. It was until hours in that the gameplay loop really clicked, but the world, its characters and nature of the
zombies freakers felt unique despite what many claimed was a generic game. Deacon St. John, played celebrity Sam Witwer, grated on me in the beginning, but I took to liking his gruff and somewhat clumsy personality. Fighting freaker hordes was a blast. Sony Bend created a world I definitely want to see more of next gen.
8. The Outer Worlds
Fallout+Mass Effect on+Bioshock on a budget. I loved it. Obsidian’s writers are on another level and that completely shined through. The different worlds were incredibly diverse and beautiful, the quests were often unique and twisty, and companions (especially Parvati) were full of charisma. The combat was serviceable but it’s the moment to moment character interactions and sense of exploration that landed it on this list.
7. Metro Exodus
I’ve been a fan of 4A Games since playing Metro 2033 almost a decade ago. I’ve always rooted for them and they seemingly improve tenfold with every new release. Exodus is no exception. While the general move from the tight, claustrophobic metro systems of prior games to a more open design was felt, the team still managed to capture that creepiness here. Those linear areas were still in the game, but I also had a great exploring the wider environments and I found myself still caring deeply for Artyom and Anna’s relationship.
6. Gears 5
Gears 5 evolved the standard stop and pop formula we’ve come to expect from Gears of War since 2006, and I loved what The Coalition did. I always enjoying exploring in my games. Even though most of the open world was devoid of significant areas of interest, there was still a decent number of side missions off the beaten path that I felt compelled to complete, both for the experience itself and additional narrative rewards. I think the team did an awesome job meshing the scripted, linear design of Gears past with a wider open world. Bring on Gears 6 baby!
5. Death Stranding
This took me completely by surprise. I was put off by a multitude of things prior and post launch, but I’m glad I took the plunge. The world of Death Stranding is absolutely bizarre, yet simultaneously endearing. From its incredible cinematography and unique cast of characters to the design of environmental navigation and technical prowess, I was always having a great time. The loneliness of the world is its strength, and it was supremely confident in the game it wanted to be. What a weird and wonderful time. Nice one Kojima-san.
4. A Plague Tale: Innocence
A Plague Tale was another one that took me completely by surprise in the best way. I was so engaged with its story and characters that it was all I could think about for days after completion. Amicia and Hugo have one of the strongest bonds between two characters I’ve ever seen in a game. Performances all around were impeccably well done. The world was genuinely brutal and the innocence and vulnerability of the children within it was at the forefront of every scene and decision made. It was a AAA quality experience in a AA package it was one truly unforgettable ride.
3. Resident Evil 2
Having never played the original game on PlayStation, Resident Evil 2 (remake) blew me away. I think the freshness of being unfamiliar with the original only amplified my experience, but goddamn, Capcom hit it out of the park. The story was still fairly typical Resident Evil cheese, but everything from the mechanics to level design and performance were almost perfect. Mr.X terrified the hell out of me and I loved probing around the mansion and surrounding areas. If it weren’t for the next two games, this would have easily been my Game of the Year.
Weird. Enigmatic. Confusing. Creepy. Gorgeous.
These are all words I would equally use to describe Control from the team at Remedy. In what felt like Quantum Break and Max Payne mixed in with The Matrix, Control was a fascinating time. I’ve always held that Remedy are masters at creating hauntingly beautiful worlds with uniquely strange premises. The brutalist architecture of The Oldest House was alluring and genuinely fun to run around in and explore. The weapon design was ingenious and Jesse’s powers made me feel like a menacingly powerful superhero. What turned out to be the best gaming moment of the year shocked and delighted me. It was such a kooky world and I adored every minute of it.
1. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
I’ll admit – I was close to rage quitting a few times while playing Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. I was frustrated at a lack of fast travel. There were moments when traversal clumsiness got in my way and framerate annoyed me. But even with all of that, the whole package of Fallen Order was still supremely well made. The Souls’esque combat worked. You had to be smart in the manner of which you took on enemies. The different worlds were diverse and level design was so damn good, with hidden areas off the beaten path and pathways that looped and twisted and opened up into each other.
The cast of characters was great (especially the standouts Greez and Merrin). The story was actually compelling and something I felt fit right into the Star Wars universe. Cinematics and setpieces were great to watch and interact in. The musical score and audio design was pure Star Wars. And that ending sequence? It was the first time in a long time I squealed. I never knew I’d wanted a Metroidvania Star Wars until Respawn delivered this beauty to me on a golden platter. Thanks for an incredible journey team.