GOTY 2019

Despite a lot of big games coming out in 2019, I felt rather apathetic about the year in general. Many of the bigger games--Fire Emblem, Devil May Cry 5, Apex Legends--were okay experiences but nowhere near being important enough to me to land on my end-of-the-year list. I actually struggled to pick ten games from this year that felt impactful enough to be here, just managing to fill those final spots near the end of the year. Even with a full list, I don’t feel quite as strongly about some of them as I did about games on my past years’ lists. Again, none of them are bad games, but many of them lack them the same emotional oomph or resonate with me gameplay-wise like some of my favorite games from the years before. Nonetheless, all ten of these games bring something impressive to the table and are worth checking out.

List items

  • Final Fantasy XIV might just be the best Final Fantasy game ever made, and Shadowbringers might just be the best story the franchise has ever told. It’s a remarkable journey that has several powerful emotional moments and throws the entire nature of the world and your character’s place in it into question. Despite the aging engine’s limitations, the developer does a fantastic job with facial expressions and the top-notch vocal performances sell every emotion perfectly. Most of all, the story just resonates with me strongly because I have an attachment to my character like I never have in a game before. All of the callbacks and knowledge of my journey thus far, paired with an MMO character I’ve spent literally hundreds of hours with, made for an immersive experience like no other. The conclusion sent actual chills down my spine and left me breathless in my chair, amazed at what I just saw. Of course, the rest of the expansion’s additions are fantastic too. There’s tons of great encounter design in the new dungeons. All of the new areas are beautiful and packed with detail. The new jobs, Dancer and Gunbreaker, are a ton of fun and slot nicely into their respective roles. Best of all is the array of new music for the already killer soundtrack. If you haven’t heard XIV’s amazing soundtrack, you NEED to check it out NOW--it one of the best soundtracks in all of gaming, no question. While it’s hard to recommend sinking so much time into a game just to experience Shadowbringers, I can’t help but think it’s all worth it in the end.

  • Resident Evil 2 (Remake) and I have a weird love/hate relationship. As a HUGE fan of the original, I come down on its flaws a lot harder than most people. It changes too many aspects of the plot from the original and completely ruins the ending. The tone and atmosphere don’t come close to the simple perfection of OG RE2. I think most of the soundtrack is vastly inferior to the original, and I turned on the far superior classic soundtrack after my first playthroughs. Most egregious is the butchering of the A/B playthroughs, as they feel like a tossed-off afterthought in this game. However, I can’t deny that there’s also a lot to like about the game. It plays really well, especially on PC with a mouse and keyboard (which I wouldn’t have expected). The voice cast is solid, especially Claire, and they give memorable performances. Just like the original, it’s fun to play through again and again for faster times and new unlocks. I spent a lot of time with this game and will probably go back to it many times in the future. It’s still not the remake I truly wanted for RE2, but I can admit it’s likely the best we could have gotten from Capcom in 2019.

  • Doom: Sigil is the fifth episode for the original Doom, released this year by John Carmack himself. Seeing Brad play it on the site inspired me to fire up the original game and finally play through it to completion, leading to a brief obsession with the game as I marathoned every episode, ending with Sigil. It’s still a remarkably fun game for being over 25 years old and I had a blast seeing the game to its end. The new levels are a great deal of fun and a nice challenge, throwing some intense mixes of enemies and surprising level design that had me hooked. I also have to mention the killer soundtrack by Buckethead, which you can hear either in its original full quality or in glorious MIDI just like the old games, both of which are fantastic.

  • Remnant: From the Ashes is a solid twist on the Dark Souls format by focusing on a more arcadey feel complete with guns and faster movement. It feels so good to play in both movement and aiming, especially with a mouse and keyboard. There’s an intriguing story and fascinating worldbuilding that is sadly underutilized and doesn’t really build to anything. A variety of very different weapons and perks allow for many different builds, but there’s not quite enough armor for my tastes. I also appreciate the continued support from the developer since release, adding new modes and dungeons to the game for free. My only big concern with the game is it’s a bit overtuned for solo play, leading to some frustrating moments during boss fights and too many adds to easily handle on my own.

  • The Outer Worlds is a fantastic, tight, Fallout-esque experience that doesn’t overstay its welcome. I can’t overstate how much I enjoyed the smaller scope of the game, allowing me the same experience but on a scale that didn’t feel time-consuming or overwhelming. As such, I had a hard time putting it down, blazing through it in just a few short days and feeling entirely satisfied. My favorite part of the game was the writing and voice acting, both of which play it just a touch too safe but still propelled me hungrily through the various quests to see more. Best of all was Parvati, an interesting party member voiced by Ashly Burch (which I didn’t even realize until the end of my playthrough--yet another killer performance under her belt). She is the first asexual character I’ve encountered in a game, and her main questline revolving around her awkward attempts at romance with another character are unbearably cute and endeared her to me forever.

  • Outer Wilds is the only game to ever make me feel like an actual archaeologist. The way it sets you up to just explore and figure things out on your own is incredible and feels entirely natural and dynamic to your own pace. I personally found it a bit hard to figure out what to do at times, to the point of slight frustration, but I can’t deny enjoying myself most of the time. There are some remarkably creative puzzles involving quantum mechanics that again make you feel like you can understand them at your own pace and trick you into feeling super clever. The small galaxy is an impressive microcosm of a real galaxy, with just enough scale and scope to feel big without being too big. Finally, everything about the game’s look and sound is just perfect, a natural fit for the overall style of the game.

  • Control didn’t grab me as hard as it grabbed a lot of people. I loved the incredible world-building and how they fully realized this bizarre other world full of mysterious objects and a bureaucratic agency doing what it can to keep things under wraps while not dying horribly. At the same time, I thought the main story was pretty plain, especially the main voice actor’s performance which came off as a bit too aloof for my tastes. I enjoyed the freneticism of the combat and the fantastic sound effects that accompany all the various powers. Unfortunately, I found the loop of throwing objects and firing your quickly-emptied gun at enemies to be quite tedious by the end. Every positive aspect, such as the fantastic use of live-action footage (featuring some old Remedy alums), was met with another negative, like the very unforgiving checkpointing in some sections. All in all, the positives just manage to edge out the negatives.

  • Anodyne 2 was one of those games I kept hearing praised everywhere after it came out. I was familiar with the original but never finished it, so I wondered what exactly made the sequel impressive enough to resonate with so many people. Finally, I had to see it for myself. What I discovered was a unique game with an odd melding of gameplay styles, visual aesthetics, and emotionally evocative stories that left me enthralled by its end. It’s a fun game, if a bit frustrating at points, with a mix of 3D and 2D gameplay filled with exploration and minor puzzle-solving. The visual style evokes the PS1 era with a blurry pixelated look that I really love; there’s also some traditional pixel 2D art too. Most arresting, however, was the story, a remarkably personal and touching story of self-discovery with an odd yet compelling tone and feel that stuck with me in a powerful way.

  • Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is one of those games that just feels good. Everything about the movement and combat is smooth and fluid and rarely makes you feel like you aren’t in complete control of your character. The shift to parry-focused combat makes this game a much harder one than any of the Souls games, forcing you to master the technique by the end of the game in order to stand a chance. This can make certain fights incredibly frustrating but also very rewarding to finally overcome. Sekiro also has the hardest boss fights in the entire “series” by far, including several (too many, in my opinion) multi-phase fights. I actually gave up on the game before finishing it for the reason, too frustrated to keep going. Despite this, I can’t help but praise such a tightly-designed game.

  • Life is Strange 2 hooked me with its intro episode, as the main characters are forced on the run and the older brother, Sean, is forced to take care of his younger brother, Daniel, out in the wild with very little resources. It’s a harrowing beginning to the story, forcing you to make hard decisions between remaining a moral role model and feeding a hungry, scared child. Sadly, the middle parts of the game aren’t quite as compelling, featuring a lot of on-the-nose political commentary and drawn-out sections where you can easily guess what’s coming next. The one intriguing throughline is the relationship between Sean and Daniel; watching it build and grow over the course of five episodes is one of the strongest parts of the game. Also, if not for the resonating ending, I probably wouldn’t have put this on my list. There are multiple potential endings, with none of them feeling like the “good” ending. Picking one is a hard choice, as each features some severe consequences. The one I ended up with left me a little fucked up, knowing it was the right thing doing little to assuage my horror of what actually followed.