Best of 2019

Relevant platforms I have access to:

  • Android phone
  • Apple tablet
  • Nintendo 3DS
  • +Nintendo Switch
  • PC
  • PlayStation 4 Slim
  • PlayStation Vita?
  • Xbox One

Notable pre-released games and add-ons of 2019 I’ve played this year:

  • Borderlands 2’s Commander Lilith & the Fight for Sanctuary
  • Hitman 2’s Golden Handshake and The Last Resort

Games that didn’t make the cut:

  • Crackdown 3 - It was a decent podcast game at least.
  • Dragon Quest - There really wasn't much to it but grinding to make things easier.
  • Dragon Quest II: Luminaries of the Legendary Line - The map and objective designs are absolutely terrible. It must’ve been hell to play in its original form.

Games I meant to get to but couldn’t:

  • Anthem - In my time with the trial, I admit to enjoying it but found that the allotted ten hours was more than enough to get my fill.
  • Baba Is You - Baba is a stumper so I play it every once in a while and feel great when I manage to finish a few levels. I just couldn’t finish it in time.
  • Death Stranding - I regretted preordering this game so much that I didn’t want to play it.
  • Dragon Quest III: The Seeds of Salvation - Managed to play through the first two and the second one annoyed me enough to hold off for now.
  • Kingdom Hearts 3 - Bought the All-In-One package and probably won’t get to this until the decade after next.
  • My Time At Portia - Dragon Quest Builders 2 happened.
  • Outer Wilds - Base Xbox One performance did not do this game justice so I dropped it.
  • Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth - Bought the game very late into the year and simply didn’t get to it.
  • Ring Fit Adventure - Played it almost daily to the end of the year. Not sure when it would be appropriate to consider being “done” with it enough to write something up for it. Perhaps for next year’s “Best New Old of” list.
  • Slay the Spire - Greatly enjoyed my time with it but didn’t follow through to an end.
  • Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 - My short time with it during a free weekend was an enjoyable romp but the narrative didn’t convince me that it was going to get interesting.

“Oversights”:

  • (A Game Only On Nintendo Switch) - I got a Switch very, very late into the year and couldn't conceivably split my time with it and Final Fantasy XIV.
  • A Plague Tale: Innocence - Had a hunch I might want to play this and that’s reason enough to keep my eye on it.
  • Apex Legends - Despite never playing a battle royale game, I’m at my limit on even watching anymore battle royale being played.
  • Control - Waiting for it to get onto a preferred storefront on my platform of choice.
  • Disco Elysium - Heard great things and would like to play it someday.
  • Judgment - I played through three Yakuza games in the months leading up to this game’s release in June. I can wait.
  • Life Is Strange 2 - Impressions don’t seem as great as the other two series so I can wait.
  • Mortal Kombat 11 - While the series is unmatched when it comes to its story campaigns, they’re the only reason why I would even want to play these games before completely dropping them so waiting for a discount is preferred.
  • Resident Evil 2 - I have many other games from the same franchise to ponder playing.
  • Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice - I look at my copy of Bloodborne and think that one day I’ll play you if you weren't such an eyesore on a PS4.
  • Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order - Not much of a Star Wars fan but the generally positive impressions sound promising.
  • Untitled Goose Game - I appreciate its existence but wouldn’t want to play it myself.

List items

  • As a massive fan of the first Builders game, I didn’t think they would go as far and beyond my expectations as they did with the sequel. It feels like every criticism of the first was taken to heart to create the most accessible experience in an even more expanded and overwhelming playground to engage with. From not having to worry about the original materials set down to better formulate the rooms and layouts of the furniture within to easing the joy of exploration and creation by way of attaching a companion who’ll defend you as you’re checking off a list of materials to gain an infinite supply of wood, copper ore, or what have you, the improvements in efficiency made the game even easier to want to play without worries and simply build.

    Like with the first, the writing found ways to make me smile constantly, even in the post-game when you're left to your own devices and the citizens of your island who, for the most part up to that point, reacted mostly to the current goings-on in the main story and nothing else will change their tune and instead mention their day-to-day proceedings with guiding words on potentially undiscovered room formulae for you to shuffle together. Creating (almost) self-sufficient villages was an arduous task made easier to pave by way of goals listed on a colored tablet so the space given isn't as daunting as it appears. In the endgame, building wasn't used only to move the story forward anymore but to see the joy on your citizen's faces as they clapped vigorously on a job well done.

    5/5

  • It’s been an exhausting and almost fruitless journey being a Yakuza fan since the first I experienced with the fourth mainline entry. Once upon a time, the fifth entry almost passed over the western market when word of any localization effort was absent long after its Japanese release. My hopes to combat a bear in a snowy pass, drift along the highway, and serve others through song and dance were up in the air for a long and hopeless while. Soon came the promise to renew their commitment to bring them to the west completely intact, and eventually they’d even bring the series over to another platform, the PC.

    With Yakuza Kiwami 2 (YK2), I left the PlayStation ecosystem confident I’d play it again down the line. After playing through Yakuza 6, I revisited the other Yakuza games I played on PS3 and... they looked terrible, from the menus to the blurry graphics especially. The series’ trademark style and brutality not only crossed over well but returned in full form, and (supposedly) faithfully. With the debut of a new engine through the previous game came obvious limitations, limitations that have been rectified and more in its second outing.

    Much of these improvements lie in combat variance and miscellany like food menus tracking what was previously ordered, an annoyingly missing feature in the last go-around. Thankfully, what remains to be the same is the protagonist’s unbreakable determination and idealistic outlook on life he tries to pass onto others, despite the odds. However, most substories felt unusually brief and lacked much of the protagonist’s input but they were still exciting to experience all the same.

    Furthermore, some aspects of the game felt dated but they made sense considering this game is a full-on remake. Compared to other narratives in the series, YK2 stowed its hand of twists and turns to the very end and quite heavily at that. Refreshingly, the story is one of the more easier to parse through and lightly paced among the rest, of which can divulge information through too many viewpoints, ploddingly and exhaustively. To see this series reach much deserved exposure with 0 and remakes of its older titles, I hope they continue “Kiwami”-fying the rest.

    To finally not have other (read: easily accessible) Yakuza games in the pipeline was a regretful goal to begin with but among one of my favorite pastimes along the way. I hope the next protagonist is as likeable but not too idealistic as the last, just to vary it up a bit.

    4/5

  • Another Metroidvania game, another year I’ve ignored the inspirations of the moniker once again. It’s a trend I hope to rectify soon and possibly during the next year if the wind happens to blow their way. Anyway, every quality I expect and more (but less the performance problems) is within the heir apparent Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (RotN): encouraging and hindering movement across a world and littering it with a slew of demonic entities and bosses whose patterns can be handled by simply learning them, or by easily overcoming them with the surprisingly deep shard system.

    When I realized the depth behind the shards constantly stabbing into the main character, the existence of the loot and alchemy systems made more sense. At first, managing equipment and collecting traversal-related shards seemed like all there was, which was fine, but when my build felt unstoppable I realized the game wanted me to break it. Throwing homing arrows and surrounding myself with paintings seemed like the only way to go but upon seeing other builds I was humbled. By painstakingly reading over lists of ingredients and grinding for them, the only challenge left was figuring out where to go.

    Too many times after dispatching a boss, I felt lost so I consulted a guide that pointed me to the right way. Normally, my guide usage is restricted to the index to diminish any potential for spoilers, aside from locations, but RotN can ask for specific shards whose chances of dropping aren’t always guaranteed or out-of-the-way chests that can test anyone’s patience. Exploring the unknown wasn’t always enough but the future of Metroidvania looks bright.

    4/5

  • As someone who loves the Mass Effect and Fallout games of last generation, it shouldn’t be hard to imagine that their mismanaged existence have left many disappointed or baffled during this generation. It somehow took almost an entire console cycle to get one so competent and confident in what it’s doing that I couldn’t help feeling nostalgic and realizing I missed trotting around with a mishmashed group of like-minded characters and exploring a world rife with tongue-in-cheek dark humor. However, indulging in either comparable series this generation meant an overwhelming commitment of time for a very unsatisfying payoff.

    The Outer Worlds triggered my nostalgia effortlessly within a narrative that doesn’t demand too many logical hoops to jump through to satisfy differing factions across a corporate-run solar system. However, my good intentions can only bring me so far when money and efficiency is what keeps the blood flowing in the more established settlements throughout. While persuasive words were my main weapon, guns were the last thing I wanted to use, not only for role-playing purposes but because there wasn't really much to it despite the inclusion of mods and salvage that only made the violent route a little too easy to walk. Thankfully, that isn’t why I adore these types of games.

    Corralling party members didn’t take much effort but I gave them my all when they asked for help. Besides the Roomba that happens to kill on the side, the rest had their own through lines, nothing new admittedly, but prime among them was from the ever affable Parvati. The performance behind her really came off as genuinely bashful and humble making her quest for solidarity incredibly charming to follow and see through. Others had a longing for enlightenment, atonement, or simply knowing about something in their past that’s bothered them for too long. If they visit this universe again, I hope they make room for a character people can love to hate, recruitable or not.

    4/5

  • Combat in Devil May Cry 5 feels familiar yet exciting; expands upon already established playstyles behind two primary characters while maintaining trademark stylishness and encourages variety throughout. In a way, it feels like the culmination of almost everything the series has already achieved. I say “almost” due to how underutilized most of the female cast is when they’ve already figured out unique playstyles for them in the previous mainline game. Regardless, when the inevitable “Special Edition” comes out, I’m certain they’ll have figured out not only how to expand on their given playstyles but even one for Nico as well.

    Despite my brief praise for the combat, I’ve admittedly never felt confident or even competent with any of the Devil May Cry games. Not exactly an uncommon admission but the potential always left my imagination running. Onboarding may not be one of this game’s strengths when learning a new move may take additional menu navigation to see the necessary preamble to pull some of them off, that didn’t stop me from spending time between missions timing button inputs for basic combos just right and eagerly mixing up each respective character’s arsenal poorly.

    4/5

  • My experience with Gears anything up this point was at first filled with excitement then immense indifference as the series went on. With the previous entry (Gears of War 4), I somehow experienced the same track of feelings toward the series encapsulated in one game, one act at a time. By simply having robots as enemies and being a cover-based shooter, Binary Domain, an odd offshoot developed by the same team that does the Yakuza games, came to mind but their similarities, and my hopes, came to an end quickly when an extinguished threat kinda sorta rose again.

    While Gears 5 maintains the same threat along with my beloved robots, most encounters didn’t feel the same thanks to the expanded utility given to your own robot. Previously, Jack was merely used to open doors and hack computer terminals along the critical path but its usage in battle was non-existent. Depending on the enemies, its capabilities could neutralize specific engagements thus allowing me to experiment and simply not turtle my way to victory. For the most part, this newfound freedom reminded me of my time with Titanfall 2 in which no two encounters felt the same.

    Despite being much longer, I never felt the game overstayed its welcome. The inclusion of bigger hubs between missions isn’t the fresh air the series needed and traversing them wasn’t a chore fortunately but it’s obvious they’re getting more comfortable technically and it shows when they really spread their wings in the second area. All in all, I’m surprised with how taken I am with a Gears game at this stage, not narratively mind you, and despite my hesitance playing with keyboard and mouse, they felt natural and only strengthened my desire to see where they go next.

    4/5

  • While the timing of this writing is a bit premature, I can safely say at this point that the sequel to my co-GOTY of 2015 retains the spirit of the original in every regard with a few changes to negligible minutiae easily dealt with by simply playing the game. Proverbial money sinks come in the form of indiscriminate skill training at the fortunate expense of determinable lengths of contracts for staff members given differing proficiencies in addition to the car purchases and upgrade systems from before, of which regulates performance in increments. I’ve always found this particular aspect of the games odd, but they can provide the time needed to get familiar with each track, and cars in turn, by basically throttling their full potential.

    Tracks and cars have the same relationship as before: if you aren’t paying enough attention to your co-driver’s instructions, you’ll likely be thrown off the track and damage your car in the process. Maintaining the integrity of your vehicle while skidding through these tracks was a surprisingly difficult task to accomplish, at first, but it didn’t take long for me to become accustomed to the inelegance of gracefully losing control once again.

    Tracks from the previous game are on offer as additional content, which forsakes the “2.0” in the title a bit, but I suppose it’s too much to ask for a wholesale-inclusion of the previous game’s contents to be in the sequel; developers gotta eat. Nonetheless, the new tracks already included recall that same anxiety and adrenaline rush I felt years ago I didn’t know I missed.

    4/5

  • With my somewhat moderate experience with strategy-based games, the expected hardship that comes with deciding every action of my units in this game was near non-existent, however a very welcome one at that. In every mission, characters important to the story are the only unique one-of-a-kind units available on the battlefield. Everyone else, and their enemy counterparts, were mere mass-produced fodder. Useful fodder but losing one didn’t feel like the end of the world unlike in XCOM or Fire Emblem games, in which units gain their charm through unlikely heroics or their personality outside of harrowing fights and even develop bonds with others to become more effective.

    However, with how piecemeal different aspects of difficulty in Wargroove can be adjusted, I opted to create an incredibly lopsided force of nature to overwhelm the AI throughout the campaign. I can only imagine the frustration and tragedies behind the very low achievement completion rates as the acts went on (less than 3% after act 2 out of 7) and thus can’t truly speak to the strategy needed to overcome what seemed like appropriately overwhelming forces for a displaced band of royalty to meet on end.

    Anyhow, what impressed me most was the unique take on effective attack formations. Placing ranged units in the back and essentially meat shields in the front are the basic cornerstones in any medieval fantasy-based strategy, but Wargroove found ways to make similar units be more effective when specifically positioning them around an enemy or moving them a set amount of spaces to incur damage boosts. A little over halfway through the game, the battlefield expands into water and sort of muddled these newfound mainstays by emphasizing the movement game more but they are appreciated nonetheless.

    4/5

  • Like with Graveyard Keeper last year, my expectations were kept in check, in an effort to shield myself from the far more daunting and fully-realized (read: all-consuming) definitive predecessor of which originally tapped my interest. With Graveyard Keeper, it was Stardew Valley. In place of a farm, a graveyard was foisted into my care and so on and so forth. If my time spent with a graveyard is any indication, maintaining a farm would’ve made the rest of that year disappear, for better or worse.

    With Automachef, it was Factorio. My periphery experience with Factorio amounted to listening to others playing the game in the background, and not really taking in just how assumably logic-based and satisfying tying together so many machines could be. Instead of blasting off a planet, dominating the human race with machinery to get food into their mouth holes as quickly as possible is the goal.

    While the aesthetic defining the budding restaurants is rather simple, sterile even, it was easy to discern what’s what in the process of lining up the necessary machinery for specific food orders. From time to time, a new machine would be added without any fanfare so figuring out what they do came down to trial and error or it was just obvious. But sometimes, the text accompanying them in the ever-growing bloated machinery list and the sole robot responsible for these cramped kitchens would barely elaborate on their usefulness, if any. Suffice it to say, there was much to be desired but it tickled the left side of my brain quite nicely.

    4/5

  • Playing a Metro game comes with the expectation of sluggish movement and superfluous maintenance so even when bigger explorable areas were promised, I only questioned the validity of this claim narratively but neglected to take into account how pronounced the constructs of Metro’s harsh underground lifestyle wouldn’t fare well without concrete walls directing the player. As the game goes on however, movement is expedited in its own special way and eventually the world becomes smaller, more focused even (to a fault), and as a result more enjoyable and familiar.

    Like the other games in the series, there are multiple endings. Along the way, characters criticize your actions with specific factions and beat you over the head with their disappointment if they were met with violence. In hindsight, inelegant as the system may be, it was easier to identify where things went wrong and why I didn’t get the ideal ending but stealth has never been my preferred choice, especially when its mechanics have been relatively unchanged since the series’ inception.

    3/5