GOTY 2019

2019 was an interesting year for me and video games. Following some (positive) personal changes this year, I had substantially less time for games than ever before. That means I had to adapt, and really think about my gaming priorities. What’s interesting is that, despite playing noticeably fewer games, I don’t feel like I missed out on too much. As I was going through the exercise to make this list, I realized that I still spent roughly the same amount of time on games that really connected with me; only the time spent on games that didn't noticeably dipped. So while I may not have played everything, I still played most of the games that matter to me. It’s a trajectory I’ve been on for a couple years now, and in 2019 I managed to focus more on fewer games, and was happier for it.

Fortunately, 2019 had plenty of wonderful games worth focusing on; the consensus seems to be otherwise, but I personally think this was a very strong year for video games. I certainly played more than 10 games I would have liked to showcase on this list, and all of my picks are games I genuinely wanted to spend my valuable, limited time on. That’s always a good sign, and that’s especially true for the top half of this list. I think they represent five incredible and diverse games executed at the peak of their craft, and if we were to look solely at annual top five lists, this quintet would put 2019 in the conversation for my favorite year. While it trails off a little from there, the rest of this list is still a collection of varied, quality games that I highly enjoyed playing. I had fun stuff to play all year, which is all I can ask for.

And with that, here are my 10 favorite video games of 2019. Thanks for reading, and I hope you have an awesome day!

List items

  • Three Houses feels like the single biggest step towards fully realizing Fire Emblem’s potential since its western debut. At its core, the series has always been (to me) about its blend of exciting tactical battles with an ensemble cast of endearing characters. And by casting you as their instructor at a military academy, Three Houses connects those two sides more holistically than ever before. You have more space to get to know (and get attached to) the characters under your command, more freedom to choose how they train and grow on a daily basis, and more opportunities to see that growth directly on the battlefield. Simulating it all is an exciting process that has clear, rewarding implications on both mechanical and narrative fronts, and I found the whole process to be mesmerizing. Oh, and the tactics are still excellent too.

    And yet, even that broader design, as mesmerizing as it is, may not be worth it if Three Houses’ artistic side wasn’t so strong. Its fantastic characters are all highly fleshed out people, with all sorts of hopes and fears. Fodlan serves as a compelling backdrop, with a rich history of complex geopolitical drama. The writing is surprisingly sharp, the story has lots of memorable moments, and the music is absolutely killer; easily my favorite soundtrack of the year. If great art serves to mirror our own world back to us, flaws and all, then Three Houses’ biggest success is how it portrays the inevitability of conflict between diverse people trying to live together. It may not be the most well-made game of the year in every detail, but it’s the one I still can’t stop thinking about. And that's why it’s my favorite video game of 2019.

  • Sekiro’s final boss is my favorite gameplay sequence of the year. There are no tricks, no gimmicks, nothing unusual; you simply have to execute on everything you’ve spent dozens of hours practicing in one final, demanding test. That purity of focus is one of Sekiro’s biggest strengths, and it wouldn’t work if its combat wasn’t legitimately incredible. I don’t say this lightly, but Sekiro might have my favorite melee combat in any game I’ve played. It’s fast, it’s precise, it’s responsive, and it’s immensely fun. The world is also a joy to explore, the art and sound design are striking, and the story and characters are both thoughtful and memorable. From Software has now been making stellar, influential games for a decade, yet in its focus and execution, Sekiro may be their best, most competent title yet.

  • Who could have guessed that Supergiant Games, known primarily for story-driven adventures, would be the first studio to hook me on a roguelike? But that’s a big part of what makes Hades so great: despite its run-based nature, it still manages to boast a compelling throughline narrative. The writing is excellent, the characters are full of personality, and even your constant deaths are accounted for in clever ways. The art, music, and combat are all equally exceptional, and the thoughtful customization that positively rewards experimentation and variety is a Supergiant staple that works as well here as ever. Hades may still be in early access, but after a year of steady major updates, it already feels like a complete, high quality game. Hades has the makings of something special, and I can’t wait to see how it shapes up in 2020.

  • I hold no reverence for the 1998 original, but Resident Evil 2 presents a convincing case for remaking old and clunky games. It rebuilds everything from the ground up, from the controls to the visuals to the camera perspective, and the result feels like a brand new, modern, extremely polished game. I had an absolute blast mapping out the Raccoon City police station, scrounging for items while avoiding zombies, and soaking in the pure camp of it all. I also really enjoyed optimizing my route across a myriad of ways to play. Between two playable characters with separate arsenals, A and B routes, hardcore mode, and unlockable weapons via speedruns, I played through Resident Evil 2 five times this year. I almost never play a game more than once these days, which speaks volumes to how much this one grabbed me.

  • Outer Wilds crafts a wondrous universe replete with fascinating mysteries to unravel, and immediately gives you the freedom to set out in whatever direction your curiosity takes you. It all occurs within a cleverly implemented time loop too, and countless smart details around the edges bring the adventure to life in compelling ways. What follows is a story of immense cosmic struggle, touching moments of success and failure, and the absolutely wild scientific experiments of a species hellbent on preventing the utter collapse of the universe. The joy of Outer Wilds is in the meaningful knowledge you naturally gain from your discoveries, and the holistic picture it paints once you put it all together. It frequently surprised and delighted me in ways that only games can, and thinking about it now gets me a little wistful.

  • It’s been over a decade since Advance Wars suffered its unceremonious death, and while a few games have attempted its formula since, none have nailed it quite like Wargroove. It has a few new touches of its own too, my favorite among them being the critical hit system that rewards thoughtful unit positioning. But most of what I like about Wargroove is what made Advance Wars so special to begin with: the easy to learn, hard to master tactics. The fun and varied campaign. The engaging multiplayer. The incredibly robust map creator. The colorful cast of characters, catchy music, and playful personality. Wargroove may be a new version of an old game, but it’s executed so well that it’s really nice to just have it back.

  • One could be forgiven for thinking that good Star Wars games were a thing of the past, so it sure is nice to see one as solid as Jedi: Fallen Order again. Sure, you could argue its mechanics are all executed better elsewhere: its combat, platforming, and world design clearly pull from quality existing material. But those common parts still work, and they are also tied together with great pacing and a heartfelt story. I felt invested in these characters and their journey, which was punctuated with memorable, cinematic moments. It pulls on all the right strings to create a worthwhile Star Wars story, and made me feel like a badass Jedi too; deflecting blaster bolts back at stormtroopers never gets old.

  • Every time a new SteamWorld game comes out I debate if it’s something I should play… and then I play it anyway and wonder why I ever held any doubt. Quest is another highly polished entry that combines the strategic customization of a deck-builder with the character progression of an RPG, and the mashup works better than it should. I had a lot of fun constantly experimenting with my deck in search of powerful combos and cool interactions, and puzzling my way through its toughest bosses over the course of a lengthy, satisfying campaign. I love that every SteamWorld game takes a stab at a completely different genre, and Quest’s distinct blend turned out to be another winner.

  • As a mix of roguelike and deck-building elements, Dicey Dungeons feels like a game I should not like at all. But it drew me in with its playful aesthetic and simple-but-effective mechanics, and then kept me hooked as it expanded its scope in fun and interesting ways. I especially like how each class feels distinct from the others, and how the rules are constantly remixed across numerous episodes per class. Dicey Dungeons builds out a surprising amount of variability and depth that forced me to puzzle through a wide variety of scenarios, and the snappy pace of play made it easy to continuously jump back in for more. This was my “pick-up-and-play” game of the year, and one I could happily return to at any time.

  • Super Mario Maker 2 is, for better or worse, “more Super Mario Maker.” While a sequel could never be as magical or as impactful as the original, Super Mario Maker 2 is still a wonderful creation engine unlike anything else out there. It iterates in a few areas too, with a solid story mode and some worthwhile new tools enhancing an already robust package; the on/off switches in particular open up an amazingly deep well of potential. But the real joy here is what it always was: sculpting your own Mario levels remains a fun game unto itself, and seeing what the endlessly creative community cooks up is positively infectious. There’s magic here still, and I thoroughly enjoyed diving back in for seconds.