SIGINT’s Top 10 Games of 2019

A rare year where almost every game in my top 10 is a true 5/5 to me, including a few all-time favorites. So many of these games were either free or in Xbox’s Game Pass subscription, which is a fun perk. Give these a shot if you haven’t!

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Honorable Mention:

List items

  • (PC) Not that they can’t be great fun, but a lot of RPGs right now are boiled down to good guy vs. bad guy decisions, simple dialogue options, brainless leveling to pass skill checks, and often obligatory-feeling gameplay. By scaling down the world’s size and stakes, offering a super dense and deep narrative covering murder mystery, politics, history, addiction, personal trauma, and the supernatural, and introducing some truly novel character-building mechanics such as a thought-management system, Disco Elysium realizes the true potential of role-playing as seen in tabletop games and old-school CRPGs. With tense dice rolls and input from the game’s dozens of “skills” which are each given a personality of their own, the game’s setpiece conversations can be as exciting as some of gaming’s biggest boss fights, and smaller story threads feel important as you’ll actually care about how your character acts and is received by others. The game is a stage and you can act out your character pretty much however you want—the fact that the game actually responds to it with great detail can make this game engaging like few others.

  • (PC/PS4/XBOX) Sekiro streamlines FROM’s RPG game design, focusing on one of gaming’s all-time most exciting, frenetic combat systems that puts the player’s reflexes, composure, and patience to the test with extremely satisfying results. Its boss fights are all memorable, well-designed thrills culminating in a 4-phase adrenaline-pumping marathon that I’d count among gaming’s greatest final bosses. The 3 encounters with your rival Genichiro in the game’s main path get easier and easier, revealing the power of this game and its gauntlet of challenges’ ability to teach you how to play itself the right way. My NG+ playthrough felt like a wild power trip of burning through bosses on the first try that had previously taken me over an hour to beat. It’s all wrapped in fascinating backstory, cool historical fantasy setting, the studio’s most engaging plot to date, and some super fun grappling movement that really opens this game and its areas up for stealth or fast and furious action. This is a masterpiece of the action-adventure genre.

  • (PC/PS4/XBOX) Over dozens of loops of the last 22 minutes before the sun explodes, Outer Wilds begs you to unravel each thread of its big story one-by-one to uncover why you’re in this loop, and what connects all the little pieces of information you gather across the varied planets and moons you’ll explore. The time loop mechanic is used to great effect, allowing the planets’ real-time changes to reveal different secrets at different times, and giving structure to your exploration to encourage you to set small, attainable goals without holding your hand. A huge tapestry of fascinating backstories is revealed as you explore exciting areas, solve puzzles that might have you wracking your brain and consulting notes, and watch these dynamic, uniquely designed planets come to their demise again and again. Outer Wilds creates a sense of mystery, discovery, and just the right amount of legitimate tension and thrills, that almost no other game can match.

  • (PC/PS4/XBOX/Switch/Mobile) A creative on-rails audiovisual experience that feels almost like a more interactive Rez, Sayonara Wild Hearts defines the kind of “short but sweet,” memorable game that I love to spend an afternoon on from time to time. Its accessible, easy gameplay keeps the focus on immersion in its gorgeous visuals, music, and dreamlike, abstract storytelling. There are several memorable gameplay sequences that really made me smile as they put an unexpected twist on the game’s mechanics. The bubbly electronic pop original soundtrack stayed in my rotation for months.

  • (PC/PS4/XBOX/Switch) With unique themes and visuals inspired by Catholicism, a cryptic story and world, and a perfect sense of pace, Blasphemous offers a "Souls-lite" take on a Castlevania-like formula that I couldn't put down until it was all over. Action is front-and-center, with simple but fun dodge and parry based combat that peaks in its big, memorable boss battles. For my tastes, this is a game with a completely perfect difficulty level, offering a challenge but never seeming like it wants to screw me over and waste my time on redundant retries after I've gotten the point of an area or encounter. I have very few complaints about my time with the game, and even watching it back as others play is a joy.

  • (PC/Mobile) This strategy battler, one of the tentpoles in the emerging “autochess”/“autobattler” genre, was by far my most-played game of the year. Complex short- and long-term decision making around build composition, money and XP management, item usage, and unit positioning, plus an ever-evolving meta, kept things interesting into the hundreds of hours of play/watch time. What appeared to be a game of luck and “unfair RNG” eventually revealed itself as a game I could win consistently with enough knowledge and smart decisions over the course of one of its 30-45 minute, 8-player free-for-all matches. Dev support in early access has been relentless, unafraid to make huge changes and revert what’s not working, and it’s been a fun experience following the game’s evolution and climbing up the ranked ladder.

  • (Switch) This game makes a really poor first impression, with a cheap look, a total lack of tutorial, and a high difficulty for casual Tetris fans. I came back to it later after seeing it played at a high level and explained online and started having much more fun. Very tense, strategic, and exciting, it is an addictive battle royale that proves not everything has to be about shooting.

  • (Switch) I have struggled to get into the Fire Emblem series in the past for various reasons, but I always kept trying because I knew there was something there for me. Finally, this entry brought it all together, with accessible gameplay, lots to do outside of battle, a mostly great cast of characters, and

  • (PC/PS4/XBOX) I struggled to get into the PlayStation original due to some dated, clunky mechanics, but this masterful remake positions all the great things about the classic original in a modern framework, probably better than any other remake has done. Some really fun old-school exploration and puzzle-solving is mixed with tense fights against deadly zombies in a world that looks as good as any 2019 game. The first big area especially is an incredible level that nails its horror atmosphere and level design, throwing some surprise hooks at you at key moments to make every step feel like a risk. There is probably no better entry point to the survival horror genre, but old-school fans should be just as happy!

  • (PC/PS4/XBOX/Switch) Another great story mode, the series’ best yet, got me started on the right foot with MK’s latest entry, and though I didn’t stick with it as long as the previous game, I enjoyed every minute. I love this game’s tutorials, which are some of the only fighting game tutorials to actually go deep into how to improve with a character and how they should be used. I quickly settled on Skarlet, a character I hadn’t even considered playing before the tutorials, and had a blast online as I practiced her unique long-ranged zoning playstyle. Presentation and roster are top-notch, and the action feels great. I can’t ask for much more from a legendary series that remains good in its 11th core entry.