Rhys Elliott’s Top 10 Games of the Year 2019

While 2019 certainly won’t go down as one of the best years in gaming history, its releases were some of the most diverse this generation. What 2019 lacked in quality (compared to previous years), it makes up for in pure inventiveness.

That’s not to say 2019 was a bad year for games. In fact, picking a top 10 was pretty damn hard. So before I even get into it, here’s a few honourable mentions: Untitled Goose Game, Pokémon Sword/Shield, Baba Is You, Blood and Truth, and Mortal Kombat 11.

Without further ado, here’s the list!

10 Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

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There was The Mandalorian, a singleplayer Star Wars game from the studio behind Titanfall, and the divisive bookend on the Skywalker Saga—2019 was a banger of a year to be a Star Wars fan. While Jedi Fallen Order brings little new to the table, it acts as a highlights reel for the past decade of games, successfully mixing a cocktail of gameplay elements from the likes of Dark Souls, Uncharted, Tomb Raider’s reboot, and a few others.

Sadly, the game has something of an identity crisis: one minute it’s feigning an open world and limitless exploration, and the next it’s force-pushing you down a linear path. It’s a bit messy to say the least. At launch, it was a bit of a technical mess, too. It definitely could’ve done with an extra six months in the bacta tank. Still, carving through Stormtroopers hasn’t felt this good since Jedi Academy.

Played on: PS4 Pro


9 Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Switch)

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Harry Potter meets a B-tier anime meets a competent turn-based strategy game—that’s Three Houses in a nutshell. As a massive fan of the franchise growing up, this game ticked all the right boxes for me: complex character relationships to manage, a fun-to-mess-with levelling and skills system, and a deep story that rewards you the more you put in. And the Academy hub world—letting you talk to your team and play shite minigames at your leisure—was a nice addition, albeit a bit of a barren one. Think an MMO world without any players.


8 The Outer Worlds (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

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I’m on about the Obsidian RPG now—not the time loop space exploration one.

Don’t get me wrong: I love Fallout. But fuck me, it can be a bit of a slog. Wandering around a vast, sparsely populated open world was rad back in 2007 with Fallout 3, but I feel like I’ve been there and done that, and by the time Fallout 4 rolled around earlier this generation, it was a was déjà vu, dull, and downright dreary. Diminishing returns embodied.

The Outer Worlds, developed by the legends behind New Vegas, takes the Fallout experience, launches it into space, and applies it to a handful of smaller locations (in the form of planets). The game is better for it. Every nook and cranny is crammed with something interesting to discover. And as you’d expect from an Obsidian game, the writing is superb. Unlike Fallout games, The Outer Worlds ends at the 20-hour mark, before it overstays its welcome.

Yes, I accidentally typed ‘’The Outer Wilds’’ once before my edit of this section. Spoilers: more on that one later.

Played on: PC and PS4 Pro


7 Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (PS4, Xbox One, Switch PC)

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When the mind behind Castlevania Symphony of the Night, Koji Igarashi, launched a Kickstarter for the spiritual successor to the game, it was going to go one of two ways. It was either going to live up to the franchise it was looking to revive (hey there, Pillars of Eternity) or it was gonna be a steamin’ pile of shite (Yo yo, Yooka-Laylee). Luckily, it was the former. There’s honestly not much else to say. Bloodstained is the Castlevania game fans have been craving for more than a decade and a massive middle finger to Konami, who are currently squandering the IP.


6 Outer Wilds (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

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Now I’m talking about the time loop one.

Outer Wilds is hands down one of the most unique games of the year. It’s hard to talk about it without spoiling the experience, but the game’s sense of wonder is like no other. The aim is to explore a solar system to try to stop the sun from going supernova (it’s a time loop game, so every time it blows, you start over).

This game does not hold your hand. You’re given a short tutorial, a spaceship, a handful of tools, and you’re sent on your way. Most games these days are obsessed with loot, inventory management, and making your character stronger. You’ll finish Outer Wilds with the same gear as when you began. The only new tool that’ll help you progress is discovery and knowledge. And in the trend-chasing games market we’re currently in, that’s fucking refreshing.

Played on: PC


5 Apex Legends (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

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Speaking of trend-chasing, here’s a battle royale game for you. Following the success of PUBG in the East and Fortnite in the West, the games industry—as it so often does—has been scrambling to emulate the success of others. A wave of rubbish copycat games have come and gone: Realm Royale, Ring of Elysium, The Culling—the list goes on. Even bloody Tetris and Forza have battle royale variants these days.

One diamond in the trend-chasing rough is Apex Legends, which takes the battle royale formula, adds Overwatch-style heroes, as well as a dash of Respawn’s renowned in-game mobility. The result is my favourite online shooter since Overwatch and the best battle royale game yet—for me, at least.

Played on: PC and PS4 Pro


4 Resident Evil 2 (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

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Remaking a game from 20 years ago is a pain in the arse, or so I’ve heard. Most game mechanics from the 90s have aged like milk in the Sahara, yet purists will snidely scoff at every little change through their rose-tinted glasses. With Resident Evil 2’s remake, like with most of its recent endeavours, Capcom delivers.

The foundation of the game is the same: you’re a rookie cop on his first day, which also happens to be the start of a zombie apocalypse. Gutted. Luckily, the tank controls and and grusomely dated graphics of the 1998 survival horror classic have been replaced with fluid over-the-shoulder shooting and dazzling visuals (I still reckon Capcom’s RE Engine is one of this gen’s miracles).

Did I mention it’s basically a Metroidvania game now as well, backtracking and all? The meticulously crafted maps have your reflexes manoeuvring corridors filled with undead and your brain tackling some early-Resi-style head-scratchers. And the level design is such that you’ll never quite have enough bullets to take down every zombie, so rationing is a must. It’s survival horror at its finest. Oh, and Mr. X is the character of the year.

Bring on Resident Evil 3’s remake in March.

Played on: PS4 Pro


3 Disco Elysium (PC)

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This noire-esque gritty cop tale sees you poking around a fictional post-communist city block to solve a grisly hanging. The victim’s not the only one hanging though, as the protagonist wakes up after a blackout-drunk night with no memory of who or where he is. This means you can sculpt him into whomever you like as he uncovers his identity and tries to solve the case.

As you might expect, Estonian developer ZA/UM Studio draws from its country’s Soviet past and delivers a word that’s as bleak as it is gritty—a welcome tone in a year oversaturated with the usual space and apocalyptic settings. Needless to say, Disco’s politics presses on some issues that are more than relevant in today’s political wasteland, as well. Unlike AAA publishers these days, ZA/UM gleefully embraces its game’s politically charged setting.

I’d thought I’d seen it all with top-down CRPGs. Then Disco Elysium came along with some mechanics that have truly revolutionized the genre. Your stats are tied to your personality, making for some truly hilarious situations. Unlike other RPGs, having skills too high can be bad; for example, your character can end up breaking down and crying over other’s woes if his empathy stat is too high.

Certain dialogue options can also lead your character to certain thoughts, which you can internalize. These thoughts include everything from feminism and communism to ‘Superstar Cop’, which has your overweight middle-aged alcoholic protagonist convincing himself he’s some kind of rockstar cop and acting like a bellend. Like the majority of the game’s writing, it’s both clever and funny.

It’s hard to talk about Disco Elysium without ruining it, so if you’ve ever enjoyed an RPG, do yourself a favour and check this one out.


2 Control (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

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Remedy are the masters of worldbuilding and environmental storytelling, and their latest release is their best yet. Control sees you becoming the director of a fictional governmental agency, the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC), whose task is to investigate and document all things paranormal and parapsychological. Following your ‘hiring’, the FBC HQ gets overrun by a mysterious enemy called the Hiss, which you must wipe out to save the bureau and its surviving employees.

The third-person action game mostly involves you using telekinetic powers to traverse the world and subdue the Hiss. In true Remedy fashion, the abilities and traversal are bonkers. By the end, you can telepathically toss objects, command enemy’s minds, and zip around like a ninja. Honestly, it makes you feel more like a Jedi than Jedi Fallen Order, if it had lightsabers, that is.

Where Control really shines, though, is in its story. The main plot is great, but the smaller stories you find littered around the bureau (via notes, projector films, VHS tapes, and experiment logs) are phenomenal, making the world feel believable and lived-in. I had a great giggle at the notes written by the disgruntled governmental employees amid all the carnage, which really helps ground this paranormal adventure. I went out of my way to find every single collectable in the game just to experience every morsel of the game’s remarkable writing.

Played on: PS4 Pro


1 Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

 

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You die a lot more than twice, that’s for fucking sure. I spent hundreds of tries on the last boss alone…

Sekiro is FromSoftware’s magnum opus. The samurai romp is more linear than From’s other titles, as it features no levelling (and therefore no ‘cheating’ via grinding), fewer weapon types, and only one—or sometimes two—clear paths through the game. This more-tailored experience makes for the most difficult and rewarding From game yet, and that’s really saying something.

Dodging and rolling takes a backseat in Sekiro, so parrying is the way to progress, which makes sense given the samurai-filled Feudal Japan setting. Another big change from the Soulsborne formula is that you’re fast, like really fast. You can even jump and grapple across the map, all ninja-like, so the pace is vastly different from other Soulsborne titles. Owing to this, even veteran players had their asses handed to them at the start of Sekiro.

Sure, Sekiro is frustrating at times, but your deaths never feel cheap or like the game’s fault. The movement and skillset are fluid enough that you always could have parried or blocked that killing blow, had you learned the enemy’s attack patterns. Nothing’s more rewarding than finally beating a boss that’s killed you countless times.

This challenging experience is underpinned by scrupulous level design, a characteristic—if predictable—From plot that’s as deep as you want it to be, and gorgeous and grotesque visuals. The only drawback is that enemy types and even bosses get recycled toward the end of the game.

Nevertheless, Sekiro is not only my game of the year for 2019 but also one of the best this generation.

Played on: PS4 Pro


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