USG's Top 20 Games of 2019

USG's Top 20 Games of 2019

From post-apocalyptic melodramatic deliveries to rude geese, these were our favorite games of 2019.

2019 was a transition year. The next console generation loomed large, as triple-A developers announced and pushed out its final releases for this gen, while others busily work on projects for 2020 releases and beyond. Because of that, we had a fascinating year in terms of what actually came out.

Kingdom Hearts 3 and Shenmue 3 finally released. Respawn developed not one, but two games. Capcom continued its slew of hits with Resident Evil 2, Devil May Cry 5, and Monster Hunter World: Iceborne. Dozens of indie games that were barely on our radar released and blew us away.

As many before have stated, it's the sort of year where you can ask 50 people what their favorite game of the year is, and everyone will have a different answer. As for us, the following are what we believe are the best 20 games to release all year, ranked by the team here at USgamer after much careful deliberation. So here they are, USG's Top 20 Games of 2019.

Dota Auto Chess, when it was just a mod. | Eric Van Allen/USG, Drodo Studio

20. Dota Auto Chess

Modded games often end up being Frankenstein amalgamations of their source material. Designers have to work within the limitations of not just an engine, but the confines of the game itself—whatever assets and, generally, format it's presented in has to frame what the mod is doing. Dota Auto Chess is, like its source material Dota, something made from a heap of existing scraps.

In retooling what already exists, Auto Chess found something entirely new and exciting. It played like a blend of poker, tower defense, and real-time strategy. Zoom in on the action, and you can finesse your formation to create the perfect lineup. Pull back, and you're looking at what synergies you've developed, or the types of damage you're doing. Even further back, now you're playing an economic game of chicken, while also eyeing what other players are building and adjusting accordingly.

When Auto Chess takes control of your board and throws it into an A.l. driven scrum with another player's, you're thrust from commander to spectator. It's one of the tensest moments in gaming this year. Dota Auto Chess smartly identified the most effective components of card games and turned Dota into that, developing an entire genre in the process. While it's now a husk of its former self, with its successors living on and developing in their own directions, it's only fair to pay homage to the mod that started it all. —Eric Van Allen

Sayonara Wild Hearts was surprisingly narrated by Queen Latifah. | Simogo/Annapurna Interactive

19. Sayonara Wild Hearts

A funny thing about Sayonara Wild Hearts is how it's been in development for quite a long time, but it only entered my personal orbit at PAX West last summer. That's a bit strange, as I typically keep tabs on rhythm games. Well, I learned about the game with enough time to grab it at launch. All's well that ends well.

Sayonara Wild Hearts' arrival was well-timed; it happened to show its funky face around the exact time I kind of needed a neon-soaked motorcycle ride in my life. Wild Hearts' fast, frantic visuals combine perfectly with its energetic soundtrack, which is a mish-mash of pop, electronic, techno, and dubstep. Add a dollop of narration by Queen Latifah, and you've got one of the best games of the year. I was surprised to see how well Wild Hearts' strange components melded together, but hey, sometimes you throw a mess of ingredients into a blender and wind up with something delicious after you've smacked "pulse" a few times. —Nadia Oxford

Shadowbringers is arguably the best Final Fantasy 14 expansion yet. | Square Enix

18. Final Fantasy 14: Shadowbringers

Many people don't count the two MMOs—Final Fantasy 11 and Final Fantasy 14—as "real" Final Fantasy games. They lack in the focused narrative of their single-player counterparts, having to split their time between telling a story and giving online players something to do. Ever since A Realm Reborn released though, the team behind Final Fantasy 14 has been making a strong case for not only being a real Final Fantasy, but also one of the best in the series. With the Shadowbringers expansion, it's reached that benchmark.

Over the course of A Realm Reborn, Heavensward, and Stormblood, Final Fantasy 14 has told three grand, sweeping tales and built up a strong supporting cast for the player. In Shadowbringers, you head to another world to save your friends and end up embarking on a journey that will save reality itself. What's more Final Fantasy than your crew standing together against the end, the ancient history of the world, angelic and demonic final bosses, and vast summon attacks? And standing in your way is one of the best villains in Final Fantasy history, who I shall not name for spoilers' sake.

With Shadowbringers, Final Fantasy 14 hits its firm stride. It knows how to mix majestic vistas, fantastic characters, memorable bosses, and a damn near perfect soundtrack. Final Fantasy 14 director Naoki Yoshida's team is working on a brand-new game for next generation consoles, and I'm looking forward to those who can't stomach an MMO being able to see how amazing their work truly is. —Mike Williams

Link woke up from his long nap in 2019 again. | Nintendo

17. Link's Awakening

This was my first time experiencing Link's Awakening (yeah, I know), and only my third Legend of Zelda game (yeah, I know!). I love this cartoonish whimsical adventure through the mysterious Koholint Island—as someone who hasn't played the original, there's tons to uncover and puzzle around, without ever getting really stuck and frustrated.

Link's Awakening feels (and looks, I guess) like a perfect kids cartoon on a Saturday morning. There's a charming nature to Link's adventure to awaken the enigmatic Wind Fish in its egg, stemming from the enemies and characters looking like quality action figures battling it out with swords and shields.

I love the dungeon design in Link's Awakening. They're the perfect size: not big enough for you to get truly lost in, but big enough that taking a key item from one end of the dungeon to another feels like a quest itself, but not a chore. There's some heart-racing boss battles at the end of the excellent dungeons, themselves a testament to Nintendo's creativity with 2D layouts. —Hirun Cryer

Squad's all here. | Square Enix

16. Dragon Quest Builders 2

I think all I wanted out of 2019 aside from world peace was for Dragon Quest Builders 2 to show me a good time. Thankfully, it delivered—which is good, because world peace sure didn't.

I had a couple of big problems with Dragon Quest Builders that are addressed in Builders 2, and then some. Whereas Dragon Quest Builders feels like a game separated into chapters that never really intersect with each other, Builders 2 takes place in a large, interconnected world where three kingdoms need your help. In turn, the people you meet and the materials and skills you gather in those kingdoms go toward building your own empire on a sandbox island that you can mold in any way you like. Builders 2 offers a feedback loop that feels satisfying and constructive. It's powerfully addictive, too: when you're not playing, you think about playing. There's no escape.

I'm a fan of Minecraft, but I'm a much bigger fan of Minecraft-like experiences that offer structure and real adventure. Dragon Quest Builders 2 satisfies that exact itch. If you liked the first game in any capacity, I can't recommend the second one enough. Its self-contained story makes it easy to pick up if you haven't tried the first one, too. —Nadia Oxford

Baba Is Frustrated. | Hempuli Oy

15. Baba Is You

Rose is red, violet is blue. Flag is win, Baba is you. Perhaps that's all you need to know about Baba Is You, the most clever puzzle game of the year. In Baba Is You, you play as the round Baba, a character that can move around, push blocks, and nothing else. Your goal is to finish a screen by enacting a win state. You can push the Baba block, for instance into the "Is Win" sequence, or you can Push "Flag Is" into the word block for Baba to make a dual combination: then presto, Baba wins. (It's never quite that easy though.) Sometimes, a screen may even have more than one solution to it if you think hard enough about the rules that are in play.

It gets an awful lot more complicated as it goes on. It's definitely the hardest puzzle game I've played all year, but it's also the most satisfying. Figuring out a puzzle by sheer accident—or just in trying out a ruleset I didn't think would work—gave me some of my most triumphant feelings of relief this year. We can all be Baba Is Win, if we just think logically for a a moment. Or several hours. It depends. —Caty McCarthy

Just blending in! | Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio/Sega

14. Judgment

Judgment answers the question you've always wanted answered: What if Yakuza, but J-Drama?

In Judgment, you play as a disgraced lawyer gone private detective, whose partner is an ex-yakuza member. They operate out of a familiar stomping ground: Kamurocho, the setting for the majority of the Yakuza games. Its hero, played by famous J-Drama actor Takuya Kimura, is easy to love. He's a bit brash, but relatable. He can't afford an apartment, so he lives in his office, skating by mostly on small-scale cases like finding lost cats. It's when a murder mystery drops in his lap that things get dicey. And thus, Judgment's long, twisty journey begins.

What makes Judgment one of the very best games of the year isn't that it's a retread of the Yakuza formula we know and love, but that it manages to break out of that structure in interesting ways. The rich cast of characters are all captivating. Best of all, the side stories all feel tied together by one thread: that the people of Kamurocho need help, and a lot of the time, there's no one there to listen. But you are, with fists at the ready. —Caty McCarthy

Just in time for Star Wars season, an actually good single-player Star Wars game graced us with its presence. | Respawn Entertainment/EA

13. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Star Wars games have had a rough time of it this past decade. With the closure of LucasArts, the disappointment of EA's Star Wars Battlefront, and cancellation of multiple blockbuster projects, fans of games set in George Lucas' galaxy far, far away have been like a Tauntaun on Hoth. It's a relief then to play Jedi: Fallen Order—perhaps the first game to capture the pure, unfettered joy of swinging a lightsaber.

In my review of Fallen Order, I argued that it doesn't quite reach its full potential, and I still believe that. Still, when Fallen Order is clicking, it's a hell of a game. Its duels are some of the best to ever appear in a Star Wars game, beautifully drawing on principals established in God of War and the Soulsborne games to create fun, energetic, and crushingly hard fights. Its scale is often incredible, and its story travels into some dark territory that feels fresh and interesting in the Star Wars universe.

Ultimately, Fallen Order could have benefited from a little extra time to polish up its best ideas, but what's there makes me incredibly excited for a sequel. For the first time in ages, Star Wars games feel primed to jump to lightspeed. —Kat Bailey

It can't be a game of the year list without at least one Tetris game on it. | Arika/Nintendo

12. Tetris 99

What would happen if you mashed together Tetris 99 and Fortnite? From this weird germ of an idea came one of the most enjoyable multiplayer games of the year—and perhaps the only highlight for Nintendo Switch Online this side of finally getting Super Metroid. It was an instant hit with fans of the series, and has only grown since.

A simple multiplayer game to start, Tetris 99 has since added single-player challenges, the ability to squad up with friends, and Nintendo-themed skins, among a host of other content. It continues to enjoy a robust online community, though be warned—you're apt to be whipped if you're going in fresh. The Tetris community is unforgiving.

Tetris 99 is yet more evidence of the beauty and flexiblity of the Tetris concept. Last year we lauded Tetris Effect for its gorgeous take on the VR music genre, and this year we're getting something entirely different, but still recognizably "Tetris." What will we get next year? Tetris Auto Chess? We can only dream. —Kat Bailey

Who you gonna call? | Next Level Games/Nintendo

11. Luigi's Mansion 3

It's pretty hard being a Luigi fan sometimes. Despite having much more personality than his brother, he's never really had his time in the sun. At best, he's offered up as light comic relief in Super Smash Bros. and the Mario and Luigi RPGs; at worst he's a full on laughing stock. Even his flagship series, Luigi's Mansion, has had mixed results. The first two games of the series were charming, sure, but never really amassed more than a cult following. With Luigi's Mansion 3, Nintendo proves that the green-clad hero deserves much more credit than we give him, finally nailing the wacky mix of family-friendly scares and ghost-slamming action that devoted fans have been preaching about for well over a decade.

Luigi's Mansion 3 is a much grander affair than its predecessors. While it still tasks you with scaling a sprawling mansion floor by floor, the environments you come across are as large as any 3D Mario level. The hotel theme gives off shades of The Shining, and the horror homages don't stop there. Throughout my time playing I spotted nods to Blair Witch, Rosemary's Baby, and even IT. It's all framed within that trademark Nintendo charm, though I must admit it definitely got me with a couple of jump scares. There's a boss to beat on each floor too, and almost every single one is a treat to take on. You'll do so with your trusty Poltergust G-00, a spectre-sucking vacuum cleaner that's sure to appeal to Ghostbusters fans out there.

Luigi's Mansion 3 can be played with another player in tow, even in its main story mode. The other player takes control of Gooigi, a sort of sentient gummy bear version of Luigi. This added multiplayer component really takes the game to the next level, making it one of the best family games on Nintendo Switch and absolutely the best in the series so far. —Jake Green

Katana Zero has more than just slick action and visuals | Askiisoft/Devolver Digital

10. Katana Zero

I'm usually not the biggest fan of games that require blade-sharp reflexes, but once in a while I fall hard for a challenging title that sinks its claws into me and won't let go. Katana Zero is one such game, and if you likewise fell for it this year, you probably understand where I'm coming from.

Katana Zero's blistering action is accented by a compelling story that involves false memories, time travel, and mean, neon-lit city streets where assassins are unafraid of wearing whatever they want. (And why should they be?) It also features some of the best pixel art you'll see in a modern 2D game; I never got tired of seeing the titular Zero blow the steam off his tea before drinking it in the solitude of his filthy apartment. If you're a fan of uniquely challenging platformers, make Katana Zero a priority. —Nadia Oxford

Apex Legends showed that there was still room for innovation in the battle royale genre. | Respawn Entertainment/EA

9. Apex Legends

People had good reason to raise an eyebrow at Apex Legends upon its release. The idea of Respawn Entertainment releasing a Titanfall-based battle royale without mechs was baffling, and attempts to carve out an audience in the shadow of Fortnite already seemed incredibly risky. Within days (for some, within moments of their first touchdown in Kings Canyon) both concerns melted away.

Though the gunplay, movement, and Overwatch-esque heroes constitute the core of Apex's identity, its genius is still most evident in the contextual ping system. Pinging alone proved to be so vital to improving the battle royale experience, especially for those who struggle to use voice or text chat, that Fortnite and PUBG both copied it in short order. Instead of trying to impress with Titans and other shiny bells and whistles, Respawn made the smart decision to prioritize top-class communication and stellar presentation. Pinging a drop zone and hearing the theme tune kick in as your squad divebombs toward the arena still feels a bit like magic, even close to a year after launch.

It hasn't all been rosy: Apex's first battle pass was a little thin and some of its approaches to cosmetics have rankled the community. Still, Respawn's updates have mostly helped cement Apex's place. EA's certainly confident about Apex Legends being here to stay, and even if that means it'll be a long while before we see another Titanfall, the battle royale genre is better off with Apex in it. —Mathew Olson

This is nice. | Kojima Productions/Sony

8. Death Stranding

Death Stranding is a game I didn't think I would like. Fetch quests and apparently clumsy controls—I prepared for the worst. But what I actually got was a touching, mechanically fascinating game that I loved with every fiber of its being, warts and all.

Death Stranding is a game about the most embarrassingly named man in the world: Sam Porter Bridges. Sam delivers packages for people across a devastated America where ghosts can cause craters and civilization lives in underground bunkers. Walking feels like you're playing QWOP, with it being a constant act of pressing buttons so you don't tumble down a cliff, drop and damage all your cargo, and make the baby strapped to your chest cry.

Games are often easy to describe to people, but Death Stranding refuses to be easy to choke down. There is no denying that it's a polarizing game—for some, its Breath of the Wild-like traversal is the worst thing about it; for others, it's the on-the-nose story. The one thing we can all agree on is that all the acting in it, even if the script doesn't always rise to their level, is quite impressive.

But what makes Death Stranding truly great is its asynchronous multiplayer system, where everything you build, every ladder you drop down to climb up a steep cliff, every vehicle you abandon—it all shows up in someone else's game. It's a system that urged me to act altruistically. I'd go out of my way to build a bridge, or deliver ceramics to a post to rebuild a road. I did these things not just to make it easier on myself, but to make it easier on others. Death Stranding doesn't outright reward these actions—the likes you get from other players are really just for ego-stroking—but building things made me feel good because I was helping other players, and when I would stumble upon, say, a zipline that would make a trek easier, I was extremely grateful to whoever built it too. Death Stranding's an overlong, grueling trek at times, but if you work together with your fellow players, you can make the world not just one that's easier to navigate, but one that feels a lot less lonely. —Caty McCarthy

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is full of unforgettable bosses. | FromSoftware/Activision

7. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Stay with me here, but I have a theory: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a game that orbits around a single moment. It's not an important moment in the plot—in fact it's barely a footnote in the game's narrative—but it's probably the most important moment for the player. It's the thing that stays with people; that dominates conversations and recollections and screenshots and memes. Hell, you've probably already guessed what it is: the Guardian Ape.

More specifically, it's that moment where you leap forward, twisting the big chimp's own weapon around and severing its head off its body in a spray of blood. It's a rush of supreme, victorious elation, outmatched only by the complete shock when it picks up its own head and leaps at you with a ten-foot sword. The tables have been turned, and now you're the one fighting a resurrecting enemy—their brutish, flailing attacks swapped out for a posture and attack pattern that's twisted and coiling and looks wrong on every level. It fills the player with a mixture of confusion, frustration, fascination, and fear, all elicited by a boss who's barely more important to the story than the drunken rifle-wielding monkeys a little further up the valley.

When Game Informer asked about his favourite boss in Sekiro, director Hidetaka Miyazaki mentioned the Guardian Ape first, and it's easy to see why. Everything that's good about Sekiro—the gorgeous visuals, the flowing movement, the relentless challenge, the endless creativity, the warped horror underlying it all—it all suddenly comes together right here and becomes one of FromSoftware's greatest moments. And all this from a big, bleached Donkey Kong who throws his poo at you. It really makes you think. —Joel Franey

Control has excellent art direction. | Remedy Entertainment/505 Games

6. Control

It's amazing how far Remedy Entertainment has come. You can trace the journey that led the Finnish studio to Control. 2001's Max Payne was an action game starring a drug-addled detective trying to get revenge for the death of his family. Then there was Alan Wake, an homage to Twin Peaks and Stephen King novels, with a lone writer in the Pacific Northwest coming to terms with his novel coming to life and the disappearance of his wife. Finally came Quantum Break, which focused heavier on its combat, with hero Jack Joyce using his time powers to take on soldiers on the monolithic Monarch corporation.

Control feels like a last ditch effort, throwing all of Remedy's ideas into a single game. The loss of family, the metaphysical mystery of a single location, and the predisposition to super-powered combat, combined with grand oddities of the SCP Foundation. It's the most Remedy of any Remedy game. And it's fantastic.

More than anything, what makes Control work is its location: the Oldest House. Despite it's unerring unreality—the twisted corridors, the endlessly reconfigured rooms, and deceptive scale of some spaces—the Oldest House feels real. Hidden within its harsh, brutish architecture is a vast organization of office workers. As you wander the halls, you'll see their desks crammed with knick-knacks and their offices full of errant notes and memos. It feels like a group of people who have made the unreal into their mundane.

This juxtaposition of the all-too-real and the unreal is Control's biggest strength. Your worry about the boss moving your desk to a bad part of the office is mirrored in an agent's worry that their desk might get shunted off into another dimension. It anchors you in humanity, as you unlock more of the Oldest House. What Objects of Power have freed themselves in the Containment Sector? What happened to the basement of the Research Sector? What reality threshold allows the night sky of the quarry to exist underground? Control continues to surprise and delight all the way until the end.

I'm glad the game ended, but I found myself wanting to explore more of the Oldest House at the same time. It is by far one of the more memorable game locations of the past few years, and I can't wait for Remedy to revisit it and the world of the Federal Bureau of Control in the future. —Mike Williams

Don't mind the goose. | House House/Panic

5. Untitled Goose Game

For many, Untitled Goose Game's status as a megaton meme preceded the game itself. There were a few weeks where it felt like no space online was safe from The Goose. Thanks to the simplicity of the gag—there's a goose that's up to no good, that's it—it feels like Untitled Goose Game's star will live on in internet culture for quite some time. At the very least, the goose has earned a place as a custom emoji in USG's Slack channel.

Untitled Goose Game is more than a meme, though. As a video game, its design is pretty straightforward and unfussy: the world is divided up into discrete environments, each with a list of objectives that you must complete to proceed. Even if you're not the type of player who would repeatedly tap on the dedicated honk button to piss off villagers, Untitled Goose Game wants you to perform the role of an annoying goose. It's not an open-ended goose "experience." There is no fail state, but Untitled Goose Game also won't open itself up to you more unless you get with the program.

As a video game that's actively being played though, Untitled Goose Game lends itself extraordinarily well to pure, aimless amusement. When you're controlling the goose, the way it moves and the manner in which the world reacts to your actions makes goofing off practically irresistible. Pluck those carrots out of the soil, spread your wings with abandon, and honk even if nobody will hear you; Untitled Goose Game's objectives may ask you to be a nuisance, but its brilliance is in how being a nuisance feels joyful and thoroughly natural. Untitled Goose Game isn't so open-ended that it feels like you can do whatever you want, but it's so well-crafted and delightful that whatever you end up doing feels right for a naughty goose.—Mathew Olson

Dimitri is the leader of the Blue Lions. | Intelligent Systems/Nintendo

4. Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Fire Emblem was in a strange place going into 2019. Despite the surge of life Awakening shot into the series, the Fates trio seemed to mute excitement and Fire Emblem fell back into the periphery of Nintendo's franchises.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses was no Fates. It was somehow both a return-to-form and a massive step forward for the series. Its strategy and difficulty returned, but it kept its character-focused drama and cheery side stories. The "Murder Hogwarts" theme became a shining success, and the way it looked back to old classics like Genealogy of the Holy War resulted in a game with several compelling routes.

Three Houses' biggest success is its cast. Each house has its own overarching identity, but within each one there are conflicts and relationships. Characters like Hilda, Dorothea, and Ashe start out unassuming, but quickly become some of the most compelling characters in the game alongside the house leaders. It's a crowning achievement for the series, and a resounding reminder that Fire Emblem is here to stay. —Eric Van Allen

A situation you don't want to find yourself in. |

3. Resident Evil 2

Resident Evil 2 does what every remake should do: it takes the original material, and makes it feel new again. It's an intricately designed remake, from the maze that is Raccoon City Police Department to the grimy sewers with zit zombies waiting to burst. The great thing about its distinct areas is that they all, slowly but surely, fold onto themselves. I still recall being shocked when I was knee deep in the sewers, only to find a secret entrance back into the Police Department where it all began. It's an economical game in this way. It reuses its spaces to great effect as you find keys to unlock doors, discover new passages, and so on. The more I played, the more I remembered the building's general layout, including the fastest route to every safe room, of course.

And then your second playthrough turns that upside down. You're playing a condensed version of the same story, only this time, you're the character you didn't play as the first time around. And now the safe rooms are in different places, and now Mr. X, the menacing hunk of meat that wants nothing more than to stop you, is pretty much always there from the start of your trek across the police station. Your weapons are totally different too, making the language of all the action completely different than the last. It makes the second playthrough twice as tense, but it also delivers a much-needed shot of adrenaline.

That isn't even touching its zombie physics, where you can shoot the limbs off any flesh-hungry monster that crosses your path. The zombies never have a set number of times they need to be shot to go down, making every encounter tense as heck. Since a headshot isn't even a guarantee, I would have to get clever. So I found a solution: I would shoot off their legs so they could only crawl, and sometimes arms too, until there was nothing but a torso. I torso'd many, many zombies, and scooted by casually as they snapped at my feet. All in all, Resident Evil 2's excellent action and level design helps make it not just one of the best remakes ever made, but maybe the best Resident Evil. Period. —Caty McCarthy

Outer Wilds is a game we won't be forgetting anytime soon. | Mobius Digital/Annapurna Interactive

2. Outer Wilds

Outer Wilds will no doubt be a strange entry on this list for some of you. Despite being a critical darling, it gained little attention when compared to its big budget peers (especially the similarly named The Outer Worlds). It was snubbed at The Game Awards in the Game of the Year category in my opinion, and received a stunted initial release exclusive to Xbox and the Epic Games Store. In my mind though, it is absolutely the best game of the year, having moved me in a way that few games ever have. Outer Wilds is all about unravelling the mystery of the Quantum Moon and the Eye of the Universe. As you play, you’ll learn a handful of fundamental rules to which the world around you conforms, allowing you to exploit reality itself to achieve your goals.

If this all sounds a built nebulous, that’s intentional. So much of what makes Outer Wilds great simply must be experienced for yourself, and it’s best to go in as blind as possible. What I will say is that during your time in Outer Wilds’ bite-sized galaxy, you’ll visit a handful of beautifully designed planets and celestial bodies. Each holds a different mechanic at its core, which you’ll need to master in order to get what you need to trigger the next step. You’ll do this by stepping into the shoes of a would-be astronaut, cut from a long line of space-faring explorers. Instead of high-tech gadgets and a flashy spacecraft, you’ll instead have access to janky, homemade looking tools. Your ship is made mostly of wood, and the Signalscope you use to seek out distant beacons seems held together with duct tape and good intentions.

While trying to reach each planet you’ll die often, sometimes bouncing off of a rocky surface or careening into sun. You’ll learn something new each time, and eventually you’ll be flying through space with the best of them. It’s sci-fi at its best, with a final sequence to rival that of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I implore you, play Outer Wilds. —Jake Green

Disco Elysium is a detective RPG, where the murder mystery at the center is really the least of your problems. | ZA/UM

1. Disco Elysium

Disco Elysium is the banner title of the weird year that was 2019. Most people didn't know this game existed a year ago, yet here it stands at the top of our list of the Top 20 Games. While past years have been headed up by massive triple-A titles like God of War, Red Dead Redemption 2, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, or Overwatch, Disco Elysium is distinctly not the same. It's the work of a small team of Estonian developers, wearing their love of tabletop RPGs and communism proudly on their sleeves.

Disco Elysium harkens back to the era of the Infinity Engine RPGs, like Planescape: Torment. But on that foundation it builds something new and weird, where your very personality traits are supporting characters, egging you on to fame or folly. You haven't truly died until your Volition has led you to an accident while trying to retrieve a tie, or you simply give up living after one too many self-deprecating jokes.

Where it works the most is that all your decisions are truly a part of your character. You're forging a personality after a particularly bad bender gives you amnesia, so you have the freedom to establish who you are. Your attributes reinforce your skills, which change how you can interact with the world. Random questions and comments will lead to ideas that you can put in your "Thought Cabinet," forming the bedrock of your nascent personality. Other RPGs have made your choices matter, but none have gone as in-depth as Disco Elysium.

And that's reflected in the world as well, which reacts to you in fun and novel ways. Whether that's dealing with your taciturn partner Kim Kitsuragi—an absolutely wonderful character—the batshit child Cuno, or the elite labor negotiator Joyce Messier, the dialogue is sharp and goes in interesting directions. Its fantastic writing, combined with a painted visual aesthetic and a great soundtrack, make it the best RPG experience of 2019, which is a feat for such a small team. Hopefully more people can enjoy this masterpiece when it comes to consoles in 2020. —Mike Williams

For more on why Disco Elysium is USG's Game of the Year, check out our GOTY essay.

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