Eric Van Allen's Top 10 Games of 2019: The Head and the Heart

Eric Van Allen's Top 10 Games of 2019: The Head and the Heart

Murder Hogwarts, class of 2019.

The USG Team's Top 10 GOTY Lists

Hello, U.S. gamers. This is my first time hosting a Game of the Year list on USgamer, and y'all, it's a wild one.

This was my first year here as News Editor. Translation: I didn't get the time to play a lot of games outside of work. And of the ones I did play for USG, they uh... didn't quite make the cut. All things told, I spent the majority of this year with one rock-solid game of the year and a sheer indifference to everything else until last month, when I found the time to finally tear into some of the year's best.

Otherwise, I spent a not-inconsiderable amount of time in 2019 playing old games. My penchant for competitive games is probably noticeable to y'all by now, but I found myself drifting to old haunts. Among my list is a mod for one of my favorite games of all time; a sequel that's essentially the same game, but in a new dimension; and in a personal first, a game that wasn't released in 2019, but found me at just the right time this year to make an impact.

But let's get the formalities out of the way. Here are my 10 favorite games of 2019:

  1. Fire Emblem: Three Houses
  2. Disco Elysium
  3. Outer Wilds
  4. Dota Auto Chess
  5. Slay the Spire
  6. Control
  7. Risk of Rain 2
  8. Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late[st]
  9. Death Stranding
  10. Dragon Quest Builders 2
Golden Deer Forever. | Nintendo

My number one game feels like something that was tailored to everything I love in video games. Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a turn-based strategy game, but also a role-playing game, a visual novel, and a management sim. It's basically my dream Nintendo Switch game, with so many missions and multiple routes to play through. It captures Fire Emblem on a scale so much grander than any other before it, makes really smart decisions about what to keep and what to lose (goodbye weapon triangle, little love lost there), and its cast is simply Fire Emblem's best. Claude is my king.

If it weren't for Three Houses, Disco Elysium would have locked down my number one spot. Fire Emblem is the game tailored to my heart, but Disco Elysium is the one wired to my brain. My amnesiac sorry-cop is a bumbling fool, adept at Visual Calculus and strong in his Volition, haunted by his Inland Empire, struggling to keep down the vices of his organic Electrochemistry. He is a mess, but so is everyone else in Martinaise. Disco Elysium is about humans careening through the void, creating booming ripples when they collide. By its end, no one is spared and no one is pristine, but the beauty is how little that matters in the grand scheme of things—so let's just solve some crimes, help some folks, and blast Sad FM on a coast somewhere.

The gulf between those two games and the rest of my list is fairly sizeable. Outer Wilds' structure and design is absolutely impeccable, even if the bramble maze cooled my fire for it. Discovery drives Outer Wilds, and I had so many genuine "a-ha" moments that will stick with me. I spent entirely too much time playing Dota Auto Chess, as well as Teamfight Tactics, and I imagine I'll spend many more hours doing so—you can read more of my Auto Chess thoughts here. My Slay the Spire binge tailed off halfway through the year, but it's still one of the best roguelikes around. 2019 was a year spent enjoying the art of deckbuilding, and Slay the Spire is easy to learn and a joy to master.

Risk of Rain 2 is the flipside of Slay the Spire's steady build-up; it's a randmomized power fantasy about staying afloat on rising tides. Risk of Rain's transition into 3D worked out magnificently well, and I've got high hopes for its future. Control is excellent, though I'm not as far in as I'd like to be. It holds a spot because I already love what I've seen so far of it. Blending House of Leaves, SCP, and campy FMV into a game is pretty much a surefire way to make my end-of-year list, especially when it meshes so well.

UNIST was never the kind of fighting game I'd get into, and yet here we are. | French Bread/Arc System Works

For most of the back half of this year, I've been on a specific kind of fighting game kick. I've been hungering for a certain kind of game, and Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[st] is it. I started playing after it got a main stage spot at Evo 2019, and it's been the one fighting game I can't stop thinking about all year. Under Night has such an incredible cast and a surprisingly low barrier in terms of actual buttons to learn, but the skill ceiling skyrockets from there. It feels so rewarding to master a character's playstyle, and the system mechanics and individual fighting styles make each match-up feel distinct. Under Night simply clicks for me in a way few fighting games can match up to, and I'm really looking forward to its next installment in 2020.

Death Stranding slides in at a comfortable ninth place, delivering some pretty standout moments amid the many pleasant treks through wilderness and barren ruins. Both Death Stranding and my number 10, Dragon Quest Builders 2, were very chill experiences that I appreciated as a means for kicking back and relaxing. They were comfort food in different ways—Death Stranding gave me planned-and-prepared package delivery, while Dragon Quest gave me mindless repetition and beautiful blueprints to construct.

A few games didn't make my list that I'd regret not mentioning: Untitled Goose Game is an absolute delight. AI Dungeon 2 is a marvelous achievement, and Judgment is the game I'll finish three months from now and kick myself for not including on this list. Also, Tales of Vesperia is just as good the second time around with the Definitive Edition.

2020 is going to be one heck of a year. It's like a final hurrah for the generation with a recitation of video games' greatest hits: Doom, Final Fantasy, Animal Crossing, The Last of Us, Halo, and my personal favorite, Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines. I appreciate that this year, it's felt like I've sunk into my creature comforts and embraced the weirder side of my tastes. I'll hash it out in the mosh pit of GOTY 2020, but for 2019, I'm content to enjoy the offbeat games rather than a pack of blockbusters; my year has been 12 months of surprises.

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Eric Van Allen

News Editor

Eric is a writer and Texan. He's a former contributor to sites including Compete, Polygon, Waypoint, and the Washington Post. He loves competitive games, live music, and travel.

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