2019 was an unusual year for gaming. It didn’t have the assorted AAA titles like last year. Because we are nearing the end of a console generation, the major titles of the year error on the side of the weird.
Death Stranding. The Outer Wilds. Disco Elysium. Three critically acclaimed titles that buck tradition and carve their own path. On the other side of the coin, you have Nintendo. They stayed the course and produced some absolute gems. Here are my 5 favorite games of 2019. Not the best, though many of them belong on that list as well.
Before I dive in, I wanted to talk about a few games that I didn’t have a chance to play. After all, I’m only one man and I only have so many hours in a day. Missing out on Disco Elysium is my biggest regret. It looks dark and hilarious in all the right ways. It’s supposed to have a Switch release sometime in 2020, so I will catch it then. Sunless Skies is a text heavy horror RPG put out by Failbetter Games. It’s PC only, but just like Disco Elysium, I’m going to hold out for the Switch release. Finally, I’m currently playing Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. I’m only about an hour in, but so far it seems like a component Star Wars game. Considering Star Wars‘ history in gaming, component is a win.
That wraps up the intro. Let’s dig into the list proper…
5. Days Gone
Starting off my list is the open world zombie title, Days Gone. This game centers around ex-biker Deacon St. John and his quest to find his wife in zombified Oregon. It’s a pretty standard open-world action game: it has light stealth and crafting systems. You’ll play through the story, meeting interesting characters and battling all the normal baddies that this kind of video game apocalypse has to offer. I’ll say this: it’s a little stupid, but a lot of fun.
The traversal is a big part of why this game is great. In between combat sections and story bits, you travel through the zombie infested map on a customizable motorcycle. Charging through/by hordes of Freakers (zombies are called Freakers in Days Gone) is tense and ultimately thrilling. Speaking of hordes, let’s talk about the real reason this game is on my list: The Horde system. Most of the game is centered around sneaking through patches of Freakers and fighting hostile human factions. But as you get a little later into the story, you are forced to battle hundreds of zombies at once. They howl and charge, threatening to tear you to shreds at every moment. Even with traps and heavy artillery, the battles are tense and well worth the price of admission.
Control is a power fantasy for the aggressively weird. You aren’t a battle hardened soldier or an unstoppable Joe Hero. You are in over your head from the start.
The Bureau of Control is a government agency that battles the supernatural. When your character enters their creepy headquarters, you pick up a transforming gun and are thrust up against a hostile enemy force known as The Hiss. Over the plot of Control, you gain the ability to throw things with your mind and create a floating shield of rubble. You will learn to also fly and invade the minds of the enemy. These gameplay elements alone are enough to earn this game a spot on this list. Thankfully, the plot matches the gameplay in quality. Your character jumps between dimensions and battles haunted household objects on her way to solve a sinister mystery.
There’s a reason that Control won IGN’s Game of the Year. It’s expertly crafted and a blast to play.
3. Death Stranding
I’ve already talked in depth about Death Stranding in my review here at Signal Horizon. But now that I’ve seen this game through it’s conclusion, I have to say this: the slow pace and tedious nature of Death Stranding is in fact it’s strongest component. It’s training you to cherish the small gestures: a spare zipline, a well-placed ladder, or a timely Generator. Every connection and effort you make builds up the world around you. It’s a incredible bit of game design, and must be played to be experienced.
Also: this story goes some places. Every time I thought I had a handle on it, it would juke into bizarre country. Death Stranding is a brazen middle finger to the accepted school of game design. For some (and I will not blame you for feeling this way) it will be a bridge too far. For others, it may be the chilly antidote that you need.
2. Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Fantasy melodrama. Finely tuned strategy gameplay. Fire Emblem is back and it has moved onto Nintendo’s flagship console. Fire Emblem: Awakening for the 3DS is one of my favorite games of the generation, so I was beyond pumped to get a new entry. Thankfully, Three Houses is incredible.
Fire Emblem has two strong suits: characters and gameplay. On the character side, we are introduced to three houses of deep new characters. Choosing a house to lead was one of the biggest gaming challenges of 2019 for me. You’ll grow to love these characters as you battle and hang out throughout your playthrough(s). The gameplay follows suit. It’s grid-based combat, but with enough unique enemies and improvements to make everything feel fresh.
I cherished my time with this game. It’s equal parts Harry Potter and Game of Thrones, filtered through Nintendo. If you own a Switch, it is a must play.
1. Pokemon Sword & Shield
The fact that a Pokemon game takes the top spot for me speaks to Game Freak’s success with their newest entry. It arrived with a Wailord-level of controversy. While I also got caught up in the intial wave of anger, my 80 hours with this game has shown me where my intial feelings were just plain wrong.
Pokemon is behind on the modern game trends. It’s true. They cut new features from entry to entry, never holding on to anything for long. For this installment, The Pokedex has been basically halved. In spite of everything, Pokemon Sword & Shield is a testament to how perfectly paced and addictive this gameplay continues to be. The Galar region (based on the UK) is one of the strongest maps in ages. The new Pokemon are instantly iconic, and the old ones are once again exciting to catch. My friends and I have been trading and battling for weeks now, and I don’t think we have any plans to stop any time soon.
Pokemon’s portable play and masterful loop have endured for 23 years. I’ll be playing my copy of Shield well into the New Year. That’s why it’s earned my top spot.
That closes up my 5 five favorite games of 2019! Were you able to catch any of these? Is there any 2019 games that I desperately need to play? Let me know in the comments below.
Logan Noble is a horror and science fiction writer who lives in Ohio with his wife and his two dogs. His short stories have appeared in a number of anthologies and magazines, including Pickman’s Gallery, Miskatonic Dreams, Déraciné Magazine, and Sanitarium Magazine. More of his work can be found at his website: logannobleauthor.com.