2019 was a weird year. Generally, I find that each year has a strong stable of blockbuster titles that clearly surge to the front of the pack, backended by a few indies that shine above the rest. This year, I find there are very few frontrunners in the overall consensus. Instead, there's more variety in terms of the games landing on the tops of people's personal lists, especially here within the USgamer team. Fewer perfect scores, and more flawed games that resonate with you. Your list says more about what you prize as a player.
It's the end of a generation too. That's usually where the ambition happens. When developers, after years with the same hardware, start to really play around with their capabilities. When players start to seek out more than the genres and game types that defined the past few years. I love the generational leap and seeing what devs can do with new tech, but I love the transitional years as well. 2012, the year prior to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4's launches, saw the release of games like Dragon's Dogma, Fez, Hotline Miami, FTL, Spec Ops: The Line, Gravity Rush, Spelunky, and Catherine.
For me, I started with a list of around 30 games that I needed to whittle down. There were so many games coming out that it became impossible to play them all and I know I missed some of the games that spoke to my colleagues. Outer Wilds, Wattam, Baba is You, Total War: Three Kingdoms, and Devotion all stand as games I simply didn't have enough time to play. With that out of the way, here are my top 10 games of 2019.
- Disco Elysium
- Final Fantasy 14: Shadowbringers
- Fire Emblem: Three Houses
- Dragon Quest Builders 2
- Death Stranding
- Katana Zero
- Jedi: Fallen Order
- Super Mario Maker 2
There's one game on that list that I never expected to land there, but somehow it grabbed me by the collar, opened up my soul, and rearranged things in its favor. So without further ado, let's dig into why, in reverse order.
- Look, Nintendo has categorically dropped the ball with regards to engaging the Super Mario Maker 2 community. Outside of the recent update, the support has been anemic. But outside of that problem, Super Mario Maker 2 itself is still a blast. I played the game for weeks to peep some of the best levels post-launch, but I still jump back into it occasionally to check out new levels. Once the rush ends, you're generally left with some talented course creators doing some amazing work, and that's currently the case on my daily check-ins.
- I constantly forget where the colon goes in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, but I didn't forget the game itself. Do I have issues with it? Sure, I think the bonfire system is a detriment here instead of a boon, but ultimately, this is a great Star Wars game. We've been waiting a long time and I've argued that Lucasfilm should let developers other than EA play with the license, but Respawn Entertainment nailed this. Making a lazy hyperspace trail through various planets and slicing up folks (that's not very Jedi) with your custom lightsaber is a blast.
- I've been waiting for Katana Zero since 2015 and the final game did not disappoint. The time-bending gimmick is still bad-ass, and I ended up being surprised that there was actually a story behind our samurai assassin. It's side-scrolling Hotline Miami, while doing enough to differentiate itself. Hell, I'm sure it's someone else's number one pick.
- I watch a lot of Japanese and Korean dramas—enough dramas that I have a Viki Rakuten subscription. Somewhere in the intersection between Sega's Yakuza and J-drama lies Judgment. Starring Japanese acting god Takuya Kimura (I honestly don't remember his character's name), you punch and sleuth your way across Kamurocho again. It's just different enough from Yakuza to still be so goddamn endearing.
- We come to the dark horse. I've made it quite clear that I do not like the storytelling of Hideo Kojima. I find he hits with all the narrative subtlety of an airstrike, and his work presents itself as more clever or meaningful than it actually is. But damn it if Death Stranding didn't absolutely hook me. I just love delivering packages to people in the middle of the undead apocalypse. So yeah, Death Stranding made it to my Game of the Year list. I don't even know who I am anymore.
- We've had wars over Dragon Quest Builders 2 within team USG. Look, this isn't the most revolutionary game ever made, but it's a well-done Minecraft-like that adds context and charm to the entire proceedings. I enjoyed helping villages on different islands, and all the quirky little items you can build to fill out your cities. This is probably the game I've championed the most over 2019. Honestly, my only issue with DQ Builders 2 is I don't think Square Enix will continue to support it as long as Minecraft, Terraria, or Starbound.
- Golden Deer for life! It's Fire Emblem: Three Houses, y'all. You knew this was going to be on my list. It's Fire Emblem. Despite a rough visual presentation, the play of it is still fantastic. Better than Intelligent Systems' last entry, Fire Emblem Fates.
- I've always been a big fan of weird fiction adventures like the SCP Foundation, Welcome to Night Vale, Warehouse 13, and The Laundry Files. Control is that genre married to the same formula that Remedy has been working on for years. And it works wonderfully. Control is one of the few games this year that I totally completed: every mission done and gone, and I still wanted more.
- Why aren't you playing Final Fantasy 14? Sure, there are around 400 odd quests to get to Shadowbringers, which is a big ask, but it's worth it. With Shadowbringers, Final Fantasy 14 cements itself as one of my favorite FF games. I can't wait to see what Yoshida and his team are making for next-gen.
- I've honestly written entirely too much about Disco Elysium at this point. I reviewed the game and wrote why I feel like it's going to be a force of change in the RPG genre. Just go play it.
That's my Top 10, but I do want to give a shout out to a couple of other games that landed outside of my list here. Age of Wonders: Planetfall and Planet Zoo are two PC titles that I really enjoyed this year, but didn't have enough fight to reach the top. Resident Evil 2, Devil May Cry 5, and The Outer Worlds are all great games, but the list above landed hard with me. Also, I enjoyed The Division 2. Ring Fit Adventure has been a cornerstone of my health lately, and if you want to get in a quick workout in your home, I urge you to try it.
And with that, I close out another year here at USgamer. Next year is a big one for the industry, but until then enjoy your friends, your family, and your games, folks.