A couple of years ago I came to a realization that every healthy gamer should eventually come to—you can't play everything. More than that though, you don't have to play everything, as your interest in gaming, like with any hobby, is subject to wax and wane as time goes by. 2019 has been a year where gaming has struggled to compete with my other passions, namely music, and as a result I genuinely struggled to put together a top 10 list. That's not to say there weren't great games to play however—one even managed to crack my top 5 of all-time list after all—but I definitely played a mere fraction of what I played in 2018. And even though I missed a bunch of big games this year, I enjoyed my time with each and every one listed below. Here are my top 10 games of 2019.
- Outer Wilds
- No Man's Sky Beyond
- Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
- Luigi's Mansion 3
- The Division 2
- Resident Evil 2
- Death Stranding
- Super Mario Maker 2
- Pokemon Masters
Outer Wilds managed to elude me right up until the day of its launch earlier this year. My managing editor plonked a Game Pass free trial down on my desk and told me to check it out, which was the moment that I realized that up until that point I'd actually confused it with other wacky space game The Outer Worlds. What followed was easily one of the most memorable gaming experiences of my life, as I slowly unraveled the mystery at the center of Outer Wilds' carefully curated universe. I absolutely adore the ramshackled spacecraft you potter around in, the DIY gauges and dials that make up the bulk of its interior. Each world you visit is a puzzle box begging to be bested—though one isn't afraid to chew up and spit out any adventurer deemed unworthy. Outer Wilds is tragic, dangerous, difficult, but ultimately beautiful and transcendent. If you have even a passing interest in adventure games, it is an absolute must-play.
In September, the folks over at Hello Games added yet another substantial update to No Man's Sky, once again recontextualizing the now three-year-old game. Alongside the flagship addition of VR functionality, the Beyond update made smart tweaks to the way players interact with each other. No Man's Sky is now a genuine multiplayer game, as players can team up aboard a reworked version of the Death Star-esque anomaly ship. You can even take on missions together, ranging from daring dogfights to careful archaeological expeditions. It's become somewhat of a running joke that No Man's Sky continues to make my top 10 list every year since launch but with updates like these, who could blame me?
Next up on my list, and I can't quite believe I'm saying this—I finally love a FromSoftware game. While I had fun with Bloodborne, Sekiro is the first time the Souls-style blend of action and masochism has really clicked for me. I think there's a very good reason for that too, and it's that Sekiro isn't really a Souls game at all. Sure, enemies respawn when you rest at bonfires, and there's a learning curve as steep as the many cliff faces you'll be tasked with grappling your way up, but Sekiro is much more about stealth and the minutiae of combat than any of its brothers and sisters. There's very little in the way of customization, as this is a carefully curated story through and through, and I think it helps set the titular character above many other protagonists we saw this year. It's hard to argue that Sekiro's combat isn't some of the best in the business, even if the harsh difficulty does make it inaccessible to many who'd like to play it.
Luigi's Mansion 3 is perhaps 2019's biggest sleeper hit, having finally managed to perfect the series' unique blend of action and family-friendly spooks. Personally, I think it's easily one of the Nintendo Switch's best games, featuring some of the best jokes and the most engaging boss fights Nintendo has ever offered up. Then there's The Division 2, which finally managed to combat the notion that games-as-a-service games are doomed to be terrible at launch. Interest may have dwindled somewhat, but The Division 2 offers at least 80 hours of great cover-shooter action to set you off, followed by a meticulously refined loot loop to keep you coming back for more. Resident Evil 2 managed to make zombies scarier than ever, and I'm glad to see it's still on people's minds after having launched so early in the year. That's probably because it's pretty bloody brilliant, with gore so realistic it'll make you wince in gleeful horror. There's also the joy of seeing everyone’s favorite pretty boy cop Leon realized in glorious HD. Those arms.
The most surprising addition on this list for me is easily Death Stranding. I'll be the first to admit I don't tend to worship at the altar of Kojima like some of my peers, but I gotta give the guy credit for creating something so fresh. Death Stranding is also weirdly restrained for Kojima (I know, I know, hear me out), thanks largely to the fully-realized world that's established from the outset. You tell me that I need to throw poop grenades at ghosts? Sure. If I don't eat this giant writhing maggot I'll die from blood loss? Of course. Despite all odds, the oddities of Death Stranding just makes sense in the world set up by Kojima, and that alone is worthy of note.
I've never really been one for 2D Mario, but even I can't resist a package as expertly designed as Super Mario Maker 2. Nintendo crafted 100 new Mario levels using the game's creation tools, and they're easily some of the best it's ever made. I do think that SMM2 has been somewhat neglected post-launch, though I think it's easily worth the price of admission based on the story mode alone. Nintendo released the latest set of big budget Pokemon games this year with Pokemon Sword and Shield, though I was much more enamored with Pokemon Masters, the oh-so anime swipe and touch battler from mobile developer DeNA. Masters is simple, you play through 3v3 battles in which a trainer and Pokemon work in sync, unleashing powerful Sync Moves once you've built up a big glowing meter. You earn EXP, head back to a hub world and use your money to buy new pairs of Pokemon and trainers. It's this collectathon element that makes the game so addictive, perfectly suited to playing on mobile. There's heart there too, as you venture out on bespoke story chapters designed to flesh out each trainer in ways you rarely see with Pokemon.
Finally, we have another mobile game. Alt-Frequencies perfectly encapsulates the post-Brexit paranoia currently manifesting in the U.K.. The game's characters are set to vote on an important piece of government legislation which, if passed, will impose a time-loop on the nation's citizens. Unfortunately there's meddling on both sides of the argument and it's up to you to find the truth. You do so by listening to, recording, and playing back audio clips, hoping to trigger the next clue or chapter. It's a short and simple experience, though one that makes great use of the platform it's on and the time loop at its core.
2019 may not have been the jam-packed bumper-to-bumper lineup that 2018 was, but there was still plenty to love. I'd wager that there will be more variation in GOTY lists than in recent memory, which is infinitely more interesting in my book. By the looks of it, 2020 seems to be an absolute monster, so I'm happy to have spent this year putting more time into fewer games rather than unsuccessfully endeavoring to devour everything on offer. And hey, at least I'll always have Outer Wilds.