With new consoles looming, there was a lot of talk about 2019 being a middling year for games, but for me personally, I found myself playing and enjoying a lot more games this year than I have in quite a while. Maybe that speaks to just my own head space more than the state of the industry, but I just know that I liked quite a lot.
10. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
In spite of the flood of "Metroidvania" games in recent years, Bloodstained still stands out as one of the best. It turns out that Iga might actually know a thing or two about building a good Castlevania game because Bloodstained feels like it picks up right where Symphony of the Night left off. Even if other games might be bringing newer and fresher ideas to this genre, sometimes the old familiar thing just works.
9. Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers
OK, I haven't actually gotten far enough to play any content from Shadowbringers, but I feel like I need to include this simply as recognition of the fact that FFXIV is the first MMO that's actually pulled me in to any significant extent. The soundtrack for Shadowbringers (and all of FFXIV for that matter) is excellent and the Final Fantasy flair is in full effect from the beginning.
8. Demon's Tilt
I've been a fan of pinball video games ever since I played Revenge of the Gator. In recent years though, the only real option for original video game pinball has been the often lackluster Pinball FX. So, I was thrilled when I found out Demon's Tilt, a spiritual successor to Devil's Crush for the PC Engine/TG-16, was exiting early access and releasing directly to Game Pass.
This game hits you with exactly the sort of fantastical sensory overload that video game pinball should strive to deliver. The entire presentation here, soundtrack in particular, is extremely on point and hits hard.
7. Dota Underlords
Dota Underlords is 2019's Podcast Listening Game of the Year.
I have absolutely zero affinity for Dota. If I've ever expressed any feelings towards Dota at all, it was somewhere on the spectrum between indifference and actively disliking it. So, the fact that I could now name a few dozen Dota heroes and tell you some of my favorites is a pretty big turnaround. God, please grant me the strength to not give into temptation and install Dota 2.
Building an effective deck in a CCG can be a very satisfying experience, but it can also cost a lot, both in terms of time and money. These "auto-battlers" compress a similar feeling of satisfaction into a much smaller time-frame where the worst outcome is that you wasted 45 minutes instead of weeks/months and tens/hundreds of dollars.
It's also worth noting that Valve has really been putting in work on this game with a constant stream of content updates, gameplay changes, and balance patches.
6. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
I'm hesitant to engage in any online commentary about anything Star Wars related, but this was a very good journey from start to finish. After multiple failed projects and EA's overall mishandling of the license, it was nice to see Respawn bring their magic touch and finally release a character/story driven experience in the Star Wars universe that mostly works pretty well. The Souls-inspired combat is serviceable, even if at times feeling far too loose and sloppy, but it's the solid original Star Wars story that really helps to elevate this game - especially in a world where the reception to the latest film is mixed at best.
5. Slay the Spire
I struggled for a while about whether I should include Dicey Dungeons or Slay the Spire as the representative on this list for the emerging "deck-building roguelike" genre. Dicey Dungeons is the more complete package and feels better crafted than Slay the Spire - by comparison, the music and art in Slay the Spire are forgettable at best. So, it speaks volumes about how addictive and engaging Slay the Spire's gameplay is that I chose it anyway. There's nothing more satisfying than when everything comes together and you manage to craft an extremely powerful deck that just steamrolls through enemy encounters.
It says a lot about Control and its expertly crafted world that this is perhaps the only game I've played where I actually read every single collectible document and was still left wanting to read more. Control feels like the ultimate convergence of all the good ideas from Remedy's efforts with Alan Wake and Quantum Break. Very few games come to mind where all of the design elements manage to come together as cohesively as they do here.
3. Disco Elysium
This game stands as a massive triumph for writing in games. I certainly do think there's room for critiquing the writing's tone and the seemingly nihilistic outlook, but I think the fact that this tightly constructed combat-less RPG manages to keep you fully engaged just through its writing alone is worth celebrating.
2. Resident Evil 2
I never got on board with RE until RE4 and the RE Remake on GameCube. So, I didn't bring any particular nostalgia into playing RE2, but this stands up entirely on its own as a great modern game. It sounds and looks fantastic (aside from broken screenspace reflections). RE2's gameplay has also managed to find a nice middle ground between the original brand of slow and deliberate survival horror and the modern shooter feel that kicked off in RE4. Definitely looking forward to seeing how the development team chose to move forward with RE3 with all of the lessons learned with Mr. X in this game.
1. Fire Emblem: Three Houses
The initial trailers had me very concerned that this might be a disaster. The end product still looks incredibly ugly (environments and cutscene background in particular), but thankfully the actual content here is engaging and well done. The characters and their interpersonal relationships are the biggest highlight, and the overarching plot hits harder than most due to the unexpectedly different directions it can take depending on your chosen allegiance. The strategic gameplay is a nice evolution of previous games, and the increased amount of flexibility in shaping the characters' proficiencies works very well in the context of you being a professor.
Put simply, it's quite possibly the best Fire Emblem game, and that's more than enough to put it at the top of this list.