Well it’s certainly been a long year, hasn’t it? It doesn’t feel like it’s still the same year that gave us Kingdom Hearts 3 and Resident Evil 2 Remake. There have been so. Many. Games. And a lot of them were excellent! Not all of them, but quite a large percentage of them. We’ve really been spoiled this year.
And speaking of which, it’s that time of the year again. Time to tally up which games were our favorites of 2019, which ones left the best impression on us here at TNW.
As with last year, only games that were released for the first time this year (barring remakes) were eligible for the list, and even with all our efforts we couldn’t play every game that came out this year. So if you want to make an argument for your favorite game that didn’t make the cut, by all means do — just know that there’s a chance the reason it wasn’t included was because we didn’t get to it.
Devil May Cry V
Okay, anyone who knows me knows I was in love with this game practically from the moment I booted it up. I’m a longtime DMC fan and I won’t even attempt to pretend that didn’t factor into my love for this game. But DMC V has so much charm, charisma, and raw gratification that nothing else this year even came close to challenging it.
The game’s story is a little dense, lacking a little in the irreverent humor of DMC3. If you haven’t followed the series’s lore, some major plot points probably won’t mean much to you. That said, if you have, this is the ultimate fan service game this year — and I don’t just mean because all three protagonists are such hot messes.
That said, you don’t have to be a longtime fan to appreciate DMC V’s complex, infinitely replayable combat. There’s space for a basic hacky-slashy-button-mashy newbie, but there’s also plenty of strategy for more methodical players. It’s the best an action fan could have asked for, and the most fun I’ve had with a game this year.
Runners-up: Astral Chain, Gears 5
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
With so many contenders in the “Action-ish” category, it felt wrong to confine it to one category — in part because we had so many games that were more “action” than “action-adventure” (see above). But even selecting the winner from this category was hard. And I just want to say that I loved Death Stranding for being such a strange blend of lonely exploration and unusual story.
But when it came down to it, when I considered which game actually felt like a proper adventure and came with the best gameplay mechanics, I had to give it to Sekiro. This game both honors and builds from its Soulsborne ancestry, combining it with some Tenchu-esque stealth to create gameplay that’s tricky to master, but a blast to pull off.
Like all Soulsborne games, it’s a bit of a challenge, though nothing I’d consider insurmountable. Its fascinating setting of Sengoku-era Japan and its story of a lone shinobi out to protect his precious charge is great window dressing for the gameplay, and the addition of a grappling hook put it above even the other From games I’ve played.
Runners-up: Death Stranding, The Outer Wilds
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
This is yet another category where there were an embarrassment of riches. All three of the primary winners in this category were great fun to play, and unlike other categories where there was a tie, these three were practically deadlocked for a longtime while I was drafting this list.
But, for all its flaws, I had the most fun sinking back into the comfortable arms of good ol’ Call of Duty. Between the hectic multiplayer and the meaty story campaign, I spent more time just indulging in this game than I did on any other shooter. And yes, I’m aware that this game isn’t the most technically perfect — but then, none of these three games are what I’d call flawless. Modern Warfare did what Call of Duty always does, and managed to make me feel like a badass.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
Before Bloodstained came out, I had the chance to interview director Koji Igarashi. When I asked him why return to the Castlevania-style of gameplay he’d perfected, his answer was essentially, “Because the fans asked me to.” And his expertise definitely shows in the finished version of this crowdfunded platformer.
Bloodstained is wonderfully colorful and weird, and I delighted every time I unlocked a new costume or weapon for main character Miriam. The game opens with you fighting off a monster on a storm-battered ship, and it just goes up from there. If you’ve been hurting for a traditional Castlevania-style game, Bloodstained distills the best elements of those. If you just want to play a platformer with some fun combat, then this will also scratch your itch.
Runners-up: My Friend Pedro, Super Mario Maker 2
Sometimes starting up an RPG is a mess of over-long cutscenes, world-building, and exposition (looking at you, Kingdom Hearts 3). Other times the game just drops you into the center of things like a babe in the woods and lets you figure it out for yourself. Outer Worlds is the latter, and what a time it is.
This is one of those games that I can (and did) lose myself in for hours at a stretch. The world building, combat, and exploration are all done to perfection, and I was thrilled to have the chance to actually play a role in this RPG. After the opening, I found myself wanting to test the game’s limits and see how much leeway it would allow me with regards to choice. Spoiler alert: it’s a lot.
Yeah, the message — which basically boils down to “Corporations: bad” isn’t exactly a complex one, but the game had enough good humor and self-awareness that I only rolled my eyes a half-dozen times or so. If you’re a fan of the likes of Fallout: New Vegas or any other first-person RPG, then this will probably be right up your street.
Runners-up: Greedfall, Pokémon Sword & Shield
Fire Emblem: Three Houses
You won’t be able to get the entire story of Three Houses in a single playthrough, or even two. The dense, complicated lore and messy interpersonal relationships can only be fully explored once you’ve gone through the routes of all the titular three houses. I think that ability to tell a mostly complete story but still make it part of a bigger picture that requires replaying the game is what put Three Houses above any other game I’ve played this year.
The Fire Emblem series has always been strong in stories of war, royalty, magic, battles against deities, and other such epic things. But the last entry, Fates, was a bit of a dud. The characters weren’t as sharply drawn and the lore was sloppily written, but it focused on the romantic elements players seemed to love in Awakening — to its detriment, in my opinion.
Three Houses gets back to what the series is actually good at: sagas of heartbreak and friendship against the backdrop of embittered political and religious conflict. The characters in each house are so wonderfully realized that it’s almost impossible to not get attached to them, and seeing how their lives play out in their wartorn world was the single most affecting story I’ve experienced in a game this year.
Baba Is You
Another close race, this time between this and Untitled Goose Game. But while the latter was good anarchic fun, Baba Is You was so different and so interesting that I have to give it the gold. It’s one of those games that looks like so typically indie and low-budget that you might be tempted to overlook it, but I urge you not to.
If you haven’t played it, Baba Is You is a puzzle game in which you solve your dilemmas by literally rewriting the rules of the game, within the bounds of a mostly black-and-white game world. It’s like Limbo meets The Stanley Parable, and even that’s not really capturing it fully.
As with all good puzzle games, it’s very easy to slip into and out of, and makes a great game for playing in your downtime. It’s also a game that starts very simply and quickly becomes a real brainteaser. I do love Untitled Goose Game, but Baba Is You required a few more of my little gray cells to play.
Runners-up: Untitled Goose Game, A Plague Tale: Innocence
Here is where I concede to the expertise of my colleague Tristan, who couldn’t stop raving about this game and how it was the best RPG he’d ever played. The amount of content in 2K20 is startling, as he puts it: “Experience-based character progression? Check. Multiple game modes to support both offline and online play styles? Check. Unique character classes, an engine that makes the game enjoyable for every build, robust action mechanics, a deep engaging story, and decisions that matter? Check, check, check, check, and check.”
He does mention that sports games do have a bit of a reputation of… not changing much, shall we say? I was pretty impressed to hear the release contained this much game, moreso than I would have expected from the annual 2K release.
I do have to give a small shout-out to Trials Rising here, too. It’s a bit of a mix of racing game and platformer, but it was the single most frustrating experience I’ve had so far this year. It’s not racing in the traditional sense, but it does still offer the kind of speed challenge I could really sink my teeth into.
Runners-up: Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled, Trials Rising
Resident Evil 2 Remake
Last year’s horror roster was so sparse that I had to dig deep to find a game that actually made me feel horrified. But this year, we were so flush with horror games that I had to whittle it down to get a solid top three. That said, I don’t think I had any doubt about what would be the winner. REmake 2 legitimately scared me in a way no game has since Alien Isolation.
The remake builds upon the original to make something that will have even the veterans on their toes. The zombies are tougher, the sound design more intense, and Mr. X is intimidating in a way he wasn’t even in the original game. What it loses by giving up the fixed camera angles it more than makes up for in gloomy, desolate atmosphere.
Whereas Resident Evil games of recent years have been either thinly veiled action games, like RE6, or reminiscent of the first-person Outlast craze like RE7, REmake 2 brings the series back to its roots of third-person survival horror in which every bullet has to count, and even the story’s campiest moments don’t detract from the scares.
Runners-up: The Sinking City, Days Gone
Mortal Kombat 11
If you had told me a few years ago that Mortal Kombat would still be relevant to the fighting game genre in 2019, with its spectacle gore and its flashy combos, I’d have said you should leave the nineties behind you. But here it is, Mortal Kombat 11, a grandiose time-traveling adventure wrapped up in the most viscerally disgusting visuals we’re ever likely to see in a game.
I remember thinking I was alone in enjoying the heck out of Mortal Kombat X’s campy story, but it seems NetherRealm knew enough to lean into it, because it’s even more so this time. I was worried when I first heard about the time travel aspect that it was just a way to undo character development, which… yeah, kind of, but it’s still amusing to watch.
The game isn’t perfect, obviously. There are some wonky animations, and some of the towers are definitely not worth your time. But even with these flaws, I still had fun beating the crap out of everything in my way and reducing it to bloody chunks.
Runners-up: Dead or Alive 6, Samurai Shodown
What game was your favorite this year? Drop us a line on Twitter and let us know!