Best Video Games of 2019: Part One
Another year, another list. 2019 has been an interesting year for the video game industry but it was also far from the best. That’s not to say we didn’t get any great games over the past twelve months — because we did — but as we look forward to next year’s lineup, we can’t wait for 2019 to be done with.
Nintendo has been quiet with their 2020 plans, but we expect big things (maybe another Mario title or Breath of the Wild 2), and while the next-gen consoles will only arrive during the holiday season, we still have games like Ori and the Will of the Wisps, The Last of Us 2, Watch Dogs Legion, Animal Crossing New Horizons, System Shock, Final Fantasy VII Remake, Trials of Mana, Cyberpunk 2077, Marvel’s Avengers, Halo Infinite, Psychonauts 2, Ghost of Tsushima, and Beyond Good & Evil 2 to look forward to playing — and that’s just scratching the surface.
Yes folks, 2020 is going to be an incredibly busy year for gamers across the globe, but before we start celebrating the future, let’s look back at the past twelve months and the best games 2019 offered. What follows is a list of our staff’s twenty favourite games of 2019.
20) Star Wars: Jedi: Fallen Order
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is one of the more propulsive and joyous games released this year. The latest from Respawn Entertainment (the creators of Titanfall and Apex Legends) is sure to satisfy fans who have impatiently waited almost a decade for a single-player action-adventure Star Wars game, and one that is actually good. In fact, Fallen Order is better than good — it’s great, and worthy of standing side by side with the best Star Wars games ever made.
We’ve been waiting a long time for a good single-player Star Wars game, and thankfully Respawn has come through with a narrative-driven adventure that calls to mind the best of Uncharted, Tomb Raider, Dark Souls, and even God of War, while also embedding itself in official universe canon. If that isn’t enough, Jedi: Fallen Order drops you into Metroidvania-style environments, features incredibly tough boss battles, and boasts a skill tree that lets you unlock tons of new abilities by accumulating experience and skill points. Jedi: Fallen Order is an ambitious game, to say the least. It features the fast-paced action the developers have become famous for, and while the result isn’t groundbreaking (nor original), it’s a solid space opera spectacle with enough nostalgia to overpower even the most jaded gamer. (Ricky D)
19) Apex Legends
Apex Legends is the hero that EA needed, but not the hero they deserved. Released just over two weeks before another EA game, Anthem, Respawn Entertainment’s title received almost no fanfare, no marketing and no hype or build-up — especially in comparison to the aforementioned Bioware effort. Anthem was plastered all over online stores and E3 presentations, and ended up being a miserable pile of unfinished, dull, employee-draining gubbins, while Apex Legends quietly went about its business on the way to becoming arguably (and correctly) considered the best game in the battle royale genre.
Combining Titanfall-style movement with Hero Shooter character classes, Apex Legends is an incredibly polished and unique battle royale title. It isn’t perfect, but (astonishingly) the game launched in a very impressive state, especially for a game released not only in 2019, not only by EA, but for free. It’s fast and fluid, has an interesting array of weapons and character abilities, and it just worked. It works, and it is bloody brilliant — a mishmash of genres that culminates in a shooter that is riotous fun without any caveats.
There were things that needed work in the aftermath of the game’s launch, and Respawn has admirably addressed their missteps in acceptable timeframes — both for the end-user and for the people making it to avoid killing themselves through exhaustion and stress. Since launch, the game has received its obligatory Battle Pass and Season modes, and both were decidedly lacking in their initial state. As recently as last week, both have been significantly improved for Season 2. Learning curves are wholly understandable when the price of entry is absolutely nothing for the player.
We’ve also seen new characters, challenges, weapons and some, unfortunately, ‘meh’ skins released since launch, but it’s obvious that Respawn is committed to keeping the service alive with improvements and additions. A game as good as Apex deserves to be a mainstay in the genre, and it definitely deserved more attention from its own publisher at launch. Regardless, the cream has risen to the top, and Apex is here to stay. (Alex Aldridge)
18) Baba is You
Baba Is You is a wonderful little puzzle game where the physical rules of the game are the puzzle pieces themselves. In a graphically-simple little world, you push and pull words into phrases, like a miniature programming language, but you’re a weird bunny creature doing the heavy lifting. It’s sort of like The Adventures of Lolo meets Scribblenauts, if you’ll mind the deep-nerd references.
The conceit and gameplay are novel, well-executed, and well worth a look for any fan of puzzle games. The mechanic gets a bit less satisfying when the puzzles become more unforgiving about 3/4 into the game, but Baba remains fun and interesting for long enough to be one of the highlights of 2019 thus far. (Marty Allen)
17) Kingdom Hearts III
There are few game franchises with histories as storied — or convoluted — as Kingdom Hearts. At seventeen years old, the series spans across no less than eight games, and has appeared on almost as many consoles. The fact that each and every one of those games relate in varying degrees of importance to Sora’s vaunted fight against darkness is equal parts impressive and absurd. The story has been the butt of jokes and internet memes as creative as the story itself is labyrinthine. It’s because it’s been so long that it makes the sheer existence of Kingdom Hearts III feel like a miracle, and we have actually made it to the end.
Kingdom Hearts III is the very definition of a beautifully flawed game. On one hand, we have the stupendous combat that feels like a fairy-tale pop-up book in game format, with stunningly realized Disney worlds (except Frozen’s) and Yoko Shimomura’s spellbinding songs that continue to be simply enrapturing. On the other hand, the story is incredibly lopsided, magic spells break the game in two — even on the most difficult setting — and Sora still has all the likability of a piece of cardboard.
Despite those flaws, this spaz of game manages to succeed in becoming the grand culmination to this nearly two-decade-long saga. Plot threads that had been left hanging for years finally have their closure. As characters are reunited and heavy consciences are finally relieved, it feels as much a victory to the player as the characters experiencing them, and that’s something incredibly emotional.
Where this series goes from here is anyone’s guess, as Nomura has repeatedly demonstrated just how zany he’s willing to go with the franchise. Either way, Kingdom Hearts III will be fondly remembered by fans as the title that finally brought this first book to a close. (Matthew Ponthier)
16) The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
When The Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening was released on the Game Boy in 1994, Shigeru Miyamoto stated that it was the Zelda title that allowed the development team to be the most unbridled in their creativity. The story of a boy who finds himself stranded on the mysterious island where he befriends the islanders, becomes a noble hero and saves the world, is by far the most whimsical and experimental entry in the series to date.
While Link’s Awakening (2019) doesn’t reinvent the wheel or break convention, it also never loses the magic of what made the original so beloved. And despite a few shortcomings (mostly the frame rate issues), Link’s Awakening is everything a remake should be. In all honesty, I wouldn’t recommend any other way to experience this timeless classic. Here is a remake that will delight both longtime fans of the original and those visiting Koholint Island for the first time. It excels in its story, its playability, its level design, and its soundtrack. It is a must-have for any owner of the Nintendo Switch. (Ricky D)
15) Slay the Spire
Slay the Spire is not only one of the best Indies of the year, but it is also one of the best games of this generation. Don’t let the seemingly run-of-the-mill visuals turn you off — Slay the Spire is as addictive as it is satisfying, and belongs on every self-respecting Switch in the realm.
Slay the Spire is, at its core, a deck-building dungeon crawler with some rogue-like tendencies. You choose from one of three character classes, all of whom boast unique card sets and techniques to accumulate (and obsess over). You do your best to climb up three floors of a merciless tower, and you often die trying. The floors are essentially an assemblage of enemies and other small status-changing rooms, and while no two runs are the same, each floor contains similar monsters and bosses with each run. Within the battles, every move of every enemy is telegraphed completely — from the type of attack and how many hit points it will remove, to the type of buff it has on deck. But rather than yielding boredom, this mechanic brings joy at the potential calculations and strategies that unfold.
Like any rogue-like worth its salt, you do need a bit of luck to reach the top of the titular spire, but as you play more, you get better. Each battle yields the potential to add one of three new cards to your arsenal, all of which unfurl endless and deeper strategies. You will occasionally agonize over these decisions, you will sometimes be filled with regrets, and you will start again immediately, greeted by a sassy giant whale. Add on the accumulation of a litany of stat-altering artifacts, and what rises up is a game that is perfectly tuned for addictive fun. As that addiction sets in, even the seemingly humdrum visuals start to feel more and more charming.
Slay the Spire is clearly a game that was crafted by people who love games, for people who love games, and they nailed it. You will get better, you will make it to the top, and you will want to play again. (Marty Allen)
14) Life is Strange 2
When a sequel to the critically acclaimed Life is Strange was announced back in 2016, it was unclear as to where Dontnod Entertainment was going to go for the next chapter of their game. No matter what choice the player opts for at the end of the first game, it is a fitting conclusion to Max and Chloe’s story. Even though fans were hoping for more from the characters in the original, it was announced that the main characters and the story would be new. It was hard to see how players would be able to connect with the game as much as we did with the first installment, but Life is Strange 2 has managed to be just as compelling as the original.
This time around, the focus is on two brothers — Sean and Daniel — as they embark on a road trip whilst on the run after a tragic event triggers Daniel’s strange powers. Whilst Max was able to control the flow of time, Daniel’s powers are more telekinesis-based, as he is able to move objects with his mind and create powerful energy blasts. This time we don’t play as the character with supernatural abilities, but instead play as Sean — Daniel’s older brother, who must guide and advise him. It’s an interesting take in terms of story, as your decisions directly impact Daniel and how he uses his powers.
Choices are again crucial within the game, as they can change how certain characters (most importantly Daniel) react and behave towards you, as well as alter the flow of story events (even if it all ends to the same or a similar conclusion). I found myself trying to be the best guardian and big brother that I could be towards Daniel, opting for the choices that felt the most responsible and wise. In the same way that Dontnod was able to create a compelling relationship that the player rooted for with Max and Chloe in the first game, their depiction of the two brothers is equally convincing, despite the bizarre circumstances that they find themselves in. (Antonia Haynes)
13) Disco Elysium
RPGs are a tried and true genre, one that appeals to almost every type of gamer you can imagine, and covers a myriad of formats from old-school, top-down isometric games to full-on 3D action-adventure titles. It’s a genre that runs the gamut and has become so entrenched that everyone knows exactly what to expect from an RPG these days. Using an absolutely uncanny combination of classical continental existential ennui and horrific Lovecraftian absurdity, Disco Elysium is a game that takes those expectations and dashes them quite expertly.
It features the kind of game world that rarely, if ever, comes to the fore in the modern market. Thanks to a narrative crafted by Estonian novelist Robert Kurvitz, this is a title that presents players with a world that is simultaneously utterly fantastical and immediately recognizable. There’s a brutalist realism to its total aesthetic that is both off-putting and alluring. Players can never be certain whether they’re supposed to be charmed or offended by the game’s unflinchingly honest presentation of the human experience. The spectacularly grim art, courtesy of Aleksander Rostov, and the down-tempo score from British Sea Power result in a deft combination of savage nihilism and playful romanticism that exudes from every aspect of the game.
More than likely this is not a game that one plays for fun. Rather, it’s a game you play for the sheer experience of having engaged with it. I wouldn’t suggest you play it if you’re looking for simple casual distraction, but if you’re looking for something to leave you changed as a gamer — and perhaps as a person — then I can recommend nothing over Disco Elysium. (Christopher Underwood)
12) Outer Wilds
Outer Wilds is a very special game. It’s the sort of game that you want to tell all of your friends to go and play, but you don’t want to tell them anything about it, because figuring it out is half the fun. Let’s start here: you are a rookie pilot of a rickety spaceship trying to solve a grand mystery. There is no combat — only survival — and survival is not exactly easy. The story unfolds organically, as you discover its pieces; the game is, in essence, an open-world 3D adventure with platforming elements. It is also witty and strange, and if you can sort of lean into the awkwardness that feels intentionally cooked into piloting and planet traversal, it’s fun. As you dig in, it is also deeply intriguing and emotionally rewarding, even if vague on purpose.
If that is enough to pique your interest, stop reading and go launch yourself into space. The key spoiler that is revealed pretty quickly into the experience is that Outer Wilds is essentially Groundhog Day in space. The universe you are investigating is about to explode, and you pilot through a smattering of odd and charming locations trying to uncover evidence as to how and why. Every time you die (often not even making it until the final bell of the universe tolls), you come back moments before your first launch and try to discover just a little more. Your ship is rickety, and so are your chances, but you get better at piloting, surviving, and discovery, and the gameplay loop that reveals itself feels like one of the freshest games to be made in years. I implore you: go to space. (Marty Allen)
11) Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
Former Castlevania veteran Koji Igarashi returned to his gothic roots this year in order to put the ‘vania’ back into Metroidvania with round two of his phantasmagoric spiritual successor Kickstarter franchise developed by ArtPlay and published by 505 Games, Bloodstained. Rather than following in the vein of classic linear Castlevania like the retro throwback prequel Curse of the Moon from last year, the focus of Ritual of the Night spotlights the exploration and backtracking aspects that the legendary Castlevania: Symphony of the Night had revolutionized during the era of the original PlayStation — only this time in a 2.5-dimensional art style reminiscent of the two Castlevania handheld games developed by Igarashi: The Dracula X Chronicles and Mirror of Fate.
Ritual of the Night takes everything audiences loved about the most critically acclaimed Castlevania games and unearths them in a haunting fantasy interpretation of Victorian England during the Industrial Revolution. From a story packed to the brim with vampires, alchemy, and horror, to gameplay focused on short-range defensive and offensive positions mixed into room-hopping around a massive labyrinth, there is no denying that Ritual of the Night is undoubtedly the definitive successor to both Symphony of the Night and Order of Ecclesia.
With the slew of fantastic modern-day Metroidvania type games available on the market that seemingly has no production end in sight, Ritual of the Night is a needed addition to a lineup that never seems to give up on originality, and is easily one of the most worthwhile games to play right now in the genre on current hardware. The Shardbinder Miriam may not be a member of the Belmont clan or a descendant of Vlad Dracula Ţepeş, but she is without a doubt a hunter worthy of the namesakes. It is definitely the closest thing we will get to Castlevania at this point in time. (Marc Kaliroff)