It’s impossible to write a list of the best video games in any given year without leaving something out, simply because there’s not enough time to play everything or even a fraction of everything. That’s especially true nowadays, with dozens and dozens of smaller, indie titles releasing each month.
Similarly, I have my own tastes and I tend to play the types of games I enjoy most, so I miss a lot of good stuff that appeals to gamers whose tastes differ from my own. That’s fine, but worth noting before we move on to the list. We are bound to disagree, and bound to quibble over the order. I know I’ve missed some great titles this year—I miss great games every year.
There are certainly objective qualifiers when assessing a game—is it playable or riddled with bugs? Are there long load times or other hindrances? Are there egregious micro-transactions or pay-to-win schemes involved? That sort of thing.
But mostly it all comes down to taste. Some people love competitive multiplayer games. Some people only like third-person action titles. Some gamers are here for the story, others are here for the challenge. Some find “walking-simulators” engaging because they have powerful narratives while others don’t even consider them video games.
That’s the wonderful thing about this hobby. Almost without fail, there’s something for everyone—and new stuff coming out all the time. We can argue over it until our faces turn blue, but it doesn’t really matter in the end. What matters is that we find games we love to play either on our own or with our friends and family, or even with perfect strangers.
I missed many games in 2019 that I hope to play later, but we all know how the backlog works. It grows endlessly no matter how we chip at it. This year, I’m going to call out games that I missed or only played a bit of alongside my favorites and honorable mentions. I’m also going to talk about some of the events that took place in 2019, that helped shape this year in video games.
Let’s take a walk down memory lane, shall we?
Q1: January – March
January’s big notable video game news item was news that Bungie was hopping off the Activision ship and taking Destiny 2’s publishing on as an indie studio. It was big news, and probably the best possible news for the game and the future of the franchise. There were some interesting video games released, but nothing that really sparked my interest.
By far the best game released in January was Resident Evil 2 Remake. What a tremendous game, taking a classic and making it even better for modern day consoles.
Frightening, challenging, at times pretty silly, filled with ridiculous puzzles and tense encounters with zombies, this was the first sign that Capcom was on the rise in 2019 following a resurgent 2018 and the wildly popular Monster Hunter World. Resident Evil 2 deserves every bit of praise heaped on it, and if you didn’t find time to play it—if it’s sitting there in your backlog as we speak—make time.
In February, Activision-Blizzard announced the layoff of 8% of its workforce, or about 775 positions, despite a record quarter.
My favorite games in February were:
Apex Legends from Titanfall 2 developer Respawn Entertainment. The game was surprise-released on February 4th with no warning, but thanks to a savvy streamer-based marketing campaign where EA just paid a bunch of top streamers to play the game for a few days, it caught on quickly.
It’s also just a really terrific video game. Unlike Titanfall there are no mechs. It’s also a battle royale first-person hero shooter, blending elements of a whole bunch of different games, from Fortnite to Overwatch, that’s a genuine blast to play. And it’s free. This was just the first of two times Respawn struck gold in 2019.
I also really enjoyed Far Cry: New Dawn though it’s more of a Far Cry 5 rehash than anything, and I don’t think I can really say it’s one of my favorite games of the year despite having a lot of fun with it.
Tetris 99 was a great, unique battle royale title also, but while I can appreciate its quality I just didn’t play it that much.
Metro Exodus was also quite good—a bit janky, as one would expect, but full of interesting characters, terrifying monsters and plenty of challenge. Again, not one of my favorite games of the year, but one I would certainly recommend.
In March, Google unveiled Stadia, its game-streaming platform that released later the same year, and probably a half-year or more too early.
We also got one of my very favorite games of 2019: Devil May Cry 5.
This was a terrific third-person action game that at once brought the series back to its roots (after DmC’s controversial release) after a decade. What a slick action game, too. You play as Dante, Nero and V, and each has his own unique playstyle. V, in particular, really shakes up the formula with his magical attacks and two spirit animal companions.
Over-the-top, bombastic demon-slaughtering action that emphasizes style over all, Devil May Cry 5 remains one of the best gaming experiences I had all year. It was also the second big critical and financial success stories for its publisher, Capcom.
Two weeks after the March 8th release of Devil May Cry 5, my very favorite game of 2019 released.
On March 22nd, From Software released its brand new ninja action game Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. What a magnificent video game!
Sekiro is definitely in the same vein of action games that From Software is known for—a very specific type of action game we now call “Souls-likes.” Sekiro ditches the multiplayer and many of the other trappings of the Dark Souls titles and takes a different approach. Parrying is tantamount, and thanks to Sekiro’s various prosthetic tools, you can mix up combat and level traversal in truly awesome ways.
It’s tough, though, and you can’t summon help. That makes you hone your skill through a crucible of increasingly insane boss fights as you traverse From’s fantastical feudal Japan. Brilliant level design and world-building make this one of 2019’s best games, and certainly my favorite. It won Game of the Year at The Game Awards, and very much deserved the honor.
Q2: April – June
In April, Reggie Fils-Aimé retired as president and CEO of Nintendo of America. He was replaced by Doug Bowser, a man who was pretty much born for the job.
Mortal Kombat 11 and Days Gone were my favorite games of the month, though neither really qualifies as top of the year. I wanted to play Anno 1800 but never got around to it. Onto ye olde backlog she goes . . . .
The month also saw some very good Nintendo Switch ports like Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen and Cuphead.
In May, Epic Games purchased Rocket League dev Pysonix, Sega acquired Two Point Studios, the developer behind the clever, and very popular, Two Point Hospital. Microsoft also released its “All-Digital” Xbox One S which doesn’t include an optical drive and costs less than the regular Xbox One S.
Shakedown Hawaii released on May 7th and was a pretty cool GTA meets Hotline Miami topdown ultra-violent beat-em-up style game. I didn’t play through the whole thing but I found it amusing if derivative.
A Plague Tale: Innocence was definitely one of the more intriguing games of 2019, and very different from anything else I played all year.
It’s about two French children running from the Inquisition after it murdered their parents. The story is set during a mysterious and fantastical rat plague. Gameplay is mostly walking and sneaking about while solving puzzles, trying to avoid capture, and finding new and improved ways to take out enemies since you’re much, much weaker than the knights and soldiers trying to hunt you down.
A fascinating story, beautiful graphics and really unique gameplay all conspire to make this one of the best games of the year. It’s also one of the best user-reviewed games of the year on Steam, with an Overwhelmingly Positive response from gamers
Rage 2 also released in May and while it was decent fun, it left me mostly feeling a bit letdown. Earlier previews and trailers of the game just made it look a lot more fun than it ended up being.
I wanted to get into Slay The Spire and Total War: Three Kingdoms but . . . time wasn’t on my side. Ye Olde Backlog grows and grows. Void Bastards and Outer Wilds also, but no such luck.
In June Xbox Game Studios acquired Double Fine, the renowned indie studio helmed by veteran game designer Tim Schafer. Microsoft also announced ‘Project Scarlett’, the next-gen Xbox that is now being called Xbox Series X, or just Xbox.
Kaz Hirai retired from Sony in June, stepping down as CEO and Chairman after 6 years in those positions and 35 years at the company.
Bloodstained: Ritual Of The Night was probably my favorite game of June (I couldn’t get into Harry Potter Wizards Unite, surprise surprise). It’s a great modern take on the classic Castlevania games that helped shape the “Metroidvania” genre. Tough fights and platforming, a great aesthetic and score, and some top-notch level design managed to keep the game fresh in a sea of 2D side-scrollers.
This one’s another “Overwhelmingly Positive” game on Steam.
Q3: July – September
As summer kicked into swing, July saw the first ever Fortnite World Cup. The solo champion was sixteen-year-old Kyle ‘Bugha’ Giersdorf, who won the competition with style—and by a wide margin.
Throughout 2019, Fortnite remained one of my go-to video games, in no small part because I play it with my kids.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses was by far my favorite game of July. Nintendo’s classic tactical, turn-based fantasy game finally arrived on Switch after years on the 3DS (and previous systems) and man was it worth the wait. The game has a bit of a Harry Potter vibe as you take on the role as professor at a school for fighters, mages and the like separated into three Houses.
The story will change drastically based on which of these Houses you join, and honestly each of the three options will lead in such a drastically different direction that you can expect plenty of replay value. Great battles, great characters and a great story all make this one of my favorite games of 2019.
August was a busy month for video games and eSports. The International 2019—the Dota 2 tournament—was held in Shanghai and boasted the largest ever prize pool in the history of eSports with a $34 million pot.
Sony acquired Insomniac Games, the makers of Marvel’s Spider-Man, the Ratchet & Clank series, the Spyro series and a bunch of other popular games including Xbox One exclusive Sunset Overdrive.
The recently bankrupt Telltale Games was relaunched after LCG Entertainment acquired the company’s remaining assets.
Control was my favorite game in August. A stellar, graphically jaw-dropping single-player game in an era where the trend is increasingly toward “live service”, Control leads players through one trippy area after another in the Federal Bureau of Control’s Oldest House. You play as Jesse Faden who, for somewhat bizarre reasons, takes on the role of the Bureau’s new Director as she searches for answers to her past. The gameplay involves a lot of special telekinetic powers and a really innovative arsenal of living guns that remind me a bit of the trick weapons in Bloodborne.
Control isn’t just a cool new single-player game, it’s 2019’s poster-child for Nvidia’s new ray-tracing technology. Best played on PC, the game pushes the boundaries of modern graphics despite its mostly rigid, minimalist setting. It’s a weird game, but fans of Remedy’s past work should enjoy this one, and I also think fans of games like Half-Life and Prey will as well (though there are far, far too many logs to read that you find scattered all across the levels and I found myself just skipping these entirely).
Games I missed in August or only played a little of: the Nintendo Switch action game Astral Chain from one of my favorite action devs, Platinum Games. I meant to play this on some travels but it didn’t end up happening.
I played just a bit of Remnant: From The Ashes when it first launched to quite a bit of buzz, mostly because people said it was kind of like Dark Souls. I need to play some more. I’m also curious to try out Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey.
The busy season started heating up in earnest in September. Apple launched its impressive new Apple Arcade subscription service, filled with high quality mobile games that aren’t bogged down by microtransactions.
PAX West, the Tokyo Game Show and TwitchCon all ran during September. And Shawn Layden announced that he would be leaving his role as CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios.
September was a weird month for games. I think I was playing Control for a good chunk of the month, and then I flirted with a bunch of other titles but didn’t find myself loving any of them.
Children of Morta was a cool rogue-lite pixel art game that plays a bit like a Diablo ARPG and centers around a family of heroes fighting against a world full of demons and monsters. It’s a good game that I recommend, but not one of my favorites of the year.
Gears 5 was another solid title and a pretty engaging entry in the Gears franchise, both in its solo and MP modes, but I guess I’m just a bit bored of the Gears formula at this point. I could say the same thing for Borderlands 3 which is a fine game that plays to all the strengths of Borderlands 2 but just doesn’t interest me all that much in the end. I guess I’d rather play Destiny 2.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, The Surge 2, and Code Vein all released in September and I only played enough of each of them to get an impression. Zelda was brilliant, of course, and a wonderful remake of a wonderful classic. This is one I plan on finishing up while traveling. The perfect little Switch game to play on a plane.
The Surge 2 is very much like the first Surge. It’s a capable ‘Souls-like’ that gets many things mechanically correct while never quite tapping into the actual soul of FromSoftware’s games. Code Vein is a game I just need to spend more time with.
Untitled Goose Game and Catherine Full Body are two games from September that I missed entirely—yes, I know, I am missing out on the cultural phenomenon of the former and honestly, when it comes to Catherine that game has been on my backlog long before the “Full Body” edition came out. It will remain there a while longer.
Surprisingly, then, it was GreedFall that most impressed me during the month of September. It’s not that the game is perfect—not by a long shot. But it’s a really interesting roleplaying game with a unique setting, lots of different ways to approach each quest and some surprisingly good acting and graphics. You basically play in a fantasy version of the New World—a magical America with its own native people, colonists and plenty of monsters. There’s magic and black powder guns and surprisingly capable combat.
You have to remember, this is a game from the small French studio Spiders (previously independent before being acquired by Bigben Interactive in July of this year). This is a company with only a couple dozen employees who have put together an RPG that feels like something BioWare ought to be making. I’ve been playing Spiders games over the years, and it’s great to see the company evolve and keep putting out better and better titles. GreedFall is their best game yet.
Q4: October – December
Some of the biggest games of the year started rolling out in October as Christmas and the holiday season (aka shopping season) barrelled forth. We also saw one of the year’s biggest controversies unfold.
When Blizzard suspended Hearthstone player and Hong Kong native Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai and denied him his prize money for vocally supporting the Hong Kong protests during a stream, pretty much the entire internet and 99% of the gaming community rallied in support of Blitzchung. For one brief moment in the history of gaming, we were all on the same side—and Blizzard was on the other. The #BoycottBlizzard hashtag/movement is still going on to this day, with many gamers refusing to support any of Blizzard’s games until they change their stance on the issue.
EA also announced that it would be publishing games on Steam as well as its own Origin service going forward. For one brief moment in the history of gaming, EA was more popular than Blizzard. That might still be true, actually. What a strange world we live in.
Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare was the biggest release of October (and 2019) and my favorite game of the month as well. What can I say? I’m a huge sucker for Call of Duty games, and I really enjoyed this one. The campaign, short and sweet as ever, was top-notch, with plenty of nods to the original Modern Warfare trilogy. (And at least this game had a campaign unlike Black Ops 4.)
Meanwhile, the multiplayer—despite the usual legion of complaints on forums and social media—is actually really great. There’s way more variety in map design than what we’ve become accustomed to, with many maps abandoning the three-lane design. All the hero shooter elements of Black Ops are gone (and good riddance).
Finally, there are no paid map packs and no loot boxes. Instead, players can purchase seasonal battle passes. Everyone is playing on the same maps, with new free content released regularly. It’s a far, far better system than previous Call of Duty games. Combine the revenue model with the excellent gameplay, and this is easily one of my top games of the year. (I also enjoyed Call of Duty: Mobile which released earlier in the month, but I rarely find myself saying “I’d rather play Call of Duty on my phone than on my TV or PC.”)
The Outer Worlds is my other October pick. The comedic space RPG is from Obsidian Games, one of the best RPG studios in the world, and has a distinctly Fallout vibe in both its presentation and humor. (Obsidian developed Fallout: New Vegas, after all). Set on a corporation-owned planet, players will need to choose who to help and who to hinder and your choices shape what happens in the story and with the colorful cast of NPCs you encounter.
It’s really good! Even better, it isn’t terribly long. Too many RPGs these days need to be huge—the biggest map, a thousand times the size of Skyrim! The longest game, hundreds of hours long! Hundreds of side-quests and busy work!—but The Outer Worlds manages to tell an engaging story without all the filler and its economy is one of its greatest strengths.
Disco Elysium has made it onto many a best games of 2019 list but I have yet to play it. It’s there in my Steam Library. I admit, I’m a little intimidated to fire it up. The thing is, I love to read books and I love to play video games but I’ve never been very good at reading video games. This is why many classic RPGs like Planescape Torment were never my jam. Too much reading I just tune out. Maybe it’s my ADHD. Maybe I’m too lazy. But there’s a reason my favorite games are Dark Souls and other action titles. Still, I want to play this simply because of all the high praise its gotten. I will.
Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince is another one I really need to pick up. I’ve enjoyed other games in this lovely side-scrolling series. I just love the presentation and the puzzling. I hear this one is pretty good, too.
Finally, Luigi’s Mansion 3 is another one I passed over altogether but would like to take out for a spin someday.
BlizzCon debuted in November in an instance of very, very bad timing given the prevalence of #BoycottBlizzard sentiment. That put a damper on the big reveal of Diablo IV which honestly looks terrific.
Hermen Hulst was named new Head of SIE Worldwide Studios in November and Shuhei Yoshida became Head of Independent Developer Initiative at PlayStation.
Human Head Studios, the dev behind the original Prey and cancelled Prey 2, was shuttered and its employees transferred to the new developer Roundhouse Studios, a subsidiary of Bethesda.
Red Dead Redemption 2 launched on PC with many bugs and other issues, but it sure does look pretty.
Valve announced a new Half-Life game in November as well. Half-Life Alyx is a prequel to the main series and, in a pretty major twist, is a VR exclusive. Despite that depressing revelation, it does look quite good.
Finally, Google launched Stadia, its game-streaming service that allows you to use one controller and the app to play games like RDR2, Destiny 2 and many others on just about any screen, whether it’s your phone, PC or TV. The service worked pretty well for me, but has been a total disaster for many others and doesn’t seem to be catching on.
Death Stranding was one of the biggest releases of November and of the entire year and I honestly still don’t know what to think about the game. Some bits were brilliant but mostly it was just tedious and strange. Every time I go to play it again I find myself at once enthralled with its presentation and the emptiness and bleakness of the world, and frustrated beyond measure by its basic mechanics and gameplay. It is decidedly not one of my favorite games of the year, but it is one of the most unique fetch quest games ever made.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order was my favorite game of November and one of my favorite games of the year. It’s one of my favorite Star Wars games of all time. It’s just . . . so, so great. It’s also the best “Souls-like” game not made by From Software. In many ways it’s a Jedi version of Sekiro, which is kind of incredible. I mean, I photoshopped the below image when Sekiro came out and then a few months later basically got what I was asking for (though I hope Respawn can refine its gameplay and level design for a sequel—it can be a little rough around the edges at times).
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order takes the basic gameplay of a Souls game and then adds in a bunch of Jedi powers and some Metroidvania level design. As young padawan Cal Kestis, you find yourself several years after the fall of the Jedi Order, hunted by Imperial Inquisitors on a quest to protect the identities of Force sensitive children across the galaxy. You’ll planet-hop and explore vast, maze-like worlds battling Imperial troops and alien monsters. Boss fights can be grueling tests of skill depending on the difficulty level you choose. And you can customize your lightsaber!
It’s a really great game for Star Wars and Dark Souls fans alike, and one of the games I recommend most highly for all of 2019.
Well we’re finally all caught up. The month, year and decade are all about to end, and a fresh version of all three is about to kick off.
Quite a bit actually happened this month already. The Game Awards 2019 took place at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on December 12th and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice rather miraculously won Game of the Year (which it deserved).
Microsoft unveiled its next-gen console, previously referred to as Project Scarlett. The Xbox Series X has a unique, boxy form factor and is set for a holiday 2020 release, competing once again with Sony’s system, the PS5.
Halo Reach launched on Steam, many years after its original Xbox 360 release and is now part of The Master Chief Collection.
I didn’t really have any favorite games in December. I enjoyed Phoenix Point quite a bit, but it’s basically so much like XCOM it may as well be an entry in that series, only with some small tweaks like being able to shoot at individual body parts. It’s good, though! If you’re hankering for more turn-based tactical gameplay like XCOM this should scratch that itch.
Darksiders Genesis (which I played on PC and Stadia) is also a pretty cool game that plays somewhat like a top-down ARPG like Diablo but with some classic God of War tossed in for good measure. It’s nothing at all like the rest of the Darksiders games and that’s actually a good thing. I’m just happy this franchise even still exists.
Okay, so I formatted this “Best Of 2019” list differently than I usually do, commenting on games I only played a little of or ones I missed entirely and want to go back and play. I just feel like that’s all part of the experience. There are the games I played and didn’t like and the games I played and loved and the games I bought on Steam and then never opened . . . it’s just how it goes. It’s more than just a list. It’s an experience.
There are always more video games than we can possibly find time for, especially since we’re all still playing games from 2018, 2017, 2016 and beyond (and each year has its pile of unplayed games, heaped onto the backlog like unused toys).
So here’s the list of my favorite games of 2019 in roughly the order I enjoyed them most. As you can see they’re mostly action games or RPGs because, well, I’m predictable like that.
- Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
- Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
- Resident Evil 2 Remake
- Devil May Cry 5
- Fire Emblem: Three Houses
- The Outer Worlds
- Apex Legends
- A Plague Tale: Innocence
- Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
I’m not arguing that these were the best games of the year. They’re just the ones I enjoyed spending time with the most. Some are truly great games that will stand the test of time. Others are, well, just good fun. I’m the type of game reviewer who places a great deal of value on fun, however subjective that may be. Maybe that’s why Death Stranding isn’t on this list despite its bold direction and design.
I rank Modern Warfare really high not because it’s a better game than Resident Evil 2 or The Outer Worlds, but because it’s my guilty pleasure. I love competitive first-person-shooters and always have, since the days of Counter-Strike: Source and even earlier. Apex Legends ranks lower not because it isn’t as good, but because I have to play in squads of three and because it’s battle royale only, whereas Modern Warfare has many different modes and options. (Apex Legends should release more game modes, honestly).
What is the point of ranking these games to begin with? It’s an abstraction. It’s my attempt not to necessarily quantify the “best” or which is “better” than another game, but rather to simply think about which games gave me the most joy (and sometimes the most frustration) over the year. I should include Fortnite in this list since I played it so much. But I played other older games also—so where does one draw the line?
And the games I missed or only scratched the surface of are just as important. There’s no way to craft an objective list of any kind when you can’t play everything, and you just can’t play everything! These were my favorite games, but I may finally crack open Disco Elysium and discover that I liked it more than any of these.
Such is life.
That’s all folks!
Please let me know what your favorite games of 2019 were on Twitter or Facebook. I’d love to hear your recommendations as well. What did I miss that I should go play? What did I leave out of this post entirely?
As always, I appreciate you taking the time to read my musings on games (and TV and movies!) for yet another year. 2019 has been a blast and I can’t wait to see what 2020 has in store. New consoles, for one thing.