Why 2019 Has Thus Far Been an Underwhelming Year for Games

After being spoiled for two solid years, we've hit a major lull. Will it get better in the second half?

It's hard to believe, but we're nearing the halfway mark of 2019. Normally at this time of year we'd be taking stock of a busy spring and looking ahead to a stacked fall. But 2019 has thus far been a bit of a weird one for games.

This year's release schedule has thus far been a steady drone of mid-level games coming and going, with few of this year's big releases sticking in any meaningful way. The biggest game by far has been Resident Evil 2—a well-received remake that was played for a week or two, discussed, and then set aside. It will make its way into the Best of 2019 lists, and may even have an outside shot at getting a few Game of the Year awards, but it's hard to imagine it having the lasting impact of God of War.

The rest of 2019's games have mostly been met with shrugs. Diehard Kingdom Hearts fans were thrilled by the trilogy's chapter, but it didn't make much of an impact outside of enthusiast circles. Rage 2 and Days Gone were mostly been met with yawns and middling review scores. Anthem was a total bust.

Outside of Resident Evil 2, most of 2019's success stories have either been fairly modest (Devil May Cry 5), or have largely fizzled out (Apex Legends). Sekiro got strong reviews, but was generally characterized as weaker than either Dark Souls and Bloodborne. Division 2 was quickly forgotten. Mortal Kombat 11 has had some staying power, but it's been dogged by controversy over its microtransactions and reportedly toxic workplace.

Resident Evil 2 has been this year's best game so far. | Capcom

So what gives? Why has the first half of 2019 been so weirdly underwhelming?

The first and perhaps easiest answer is that the current generation of consoles is winding to a close. With PS5 and the next Xbox reportedly set for 2020, it's widely believed that publishers are curtailing development on the current consoles. Major games like Cyberpunk, Ghost of Tsushima, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, and Death Stranding have all been rumored to be cross-gen releases. Sony itself is seemingly so out on the current generation that it's skipping E3, traditionally the best place to showcase new games for the fall.

That's not the whole story though. The Switch should theoretically be in the prime of its life, but its most notable game since January has been Yoshi's Crafted World—a game I characterized as a reliable bench player for Nintendo and not much else. Fire Emblem: Three Houses was rumored to have been set for spring before being delayed into the summer, which if true would have left a rather large gap in Nintendo's first-half release schedule.

That's been the story of 2019 in general, actually. Games are getting pushed back behind the scenes. Resources are getting reshuffled in preparation for the next generation of consoles. Stalwarts like Fortnite are falling off, and newcomers like Anthem, Fallout 76, and Apex Legends are failing to take their place. This has left gamers to pick through a wave of middling blockbusters, older ports, and updates to long-established games like Warframe, with only the odd gem like Katana Zero to break things up.

To be fair, we've been kind of spoiled over the past couple years. In 2017, Breath of the Wild and Horizon Zero Dawn alone were enough to keep most people busy. In the first half 2018, we had Celeste, Monster Hunter: World, God of War and the explosion of Fortnite. By most measures, both years were historically good, benefiting from the launch of a new console and the meteoric rise of a whole new genre. 2019 hasn't had anything at nearly that level yet.

For what its worth, that may change when E3 2019 rolls around next month. Microsoft is set to make its big next-gen reveal at E3, and there figure to be plenty of exciting announcements besides. June is also when Nintendo will be launching Super Mario Maker 2, which is coming off a very strong Nintendo Direct. Fire Emblem, Luigi's Mansion 3, and of course, Pokemon, will round out what looks like a strong year for Nintendo. Elsewhere, Borderlands 3 and Jedi: Fallen Order are getting pushed hard by Gearbox and EA respectivelly, and The Outer Worlds is getting buzz as a sleeper hit.

When all is said and done, there will be plenty to play in 2019. But with new consoles on the horizon, it's clear that the heyday of the PS4 and Xbox One is pretty much finished, and 2019's lineup is suffering for it. So sit tight and dive into your backlog, because it might be a bit before games get back to the highs of the past couple years.

Dauntless challenges Monster Hunter on console this week. | Phoenix Labs

Major Game Releases: May 20 to May 24

Here are the major releases for the week of May 20 to May 24. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2019.

  • Assassin's Creed 3 Remastered [May 21, Switch]: Assassin's Creed 3 has been remastered for Nintendo Switch! ... Yay? In all honesty, Assassin's Creed 3 is one of the weakest games in the series, so it's hard to get hugely excited about this entry. But hey, if it leads to the infinitely superior Black Flag getting a port as well, it's all good. Otherwise Assassin's Creed 3 is just another forgettable last-gen port for the Switch's burgeoning library.
  • Dauntless [May 21, PC, PS4, Xbox One]: Phoenix Labs wants Dauntless to be a thing so badly. Created by developers out of BioWare, Blizzard, and Capcom, and backed by major investment, Dauntless has been angling to be the Fortnite to Monster Hunter's PUBG for a while now. It hasn't happened yet, but with a free-to-play console release this week, it has a better chance than ever to finally break out and win over newly-minted Monster Hunter fans. My prediction: It will eventually hit, but only if it's a free-to-play launch title on PS5. Right now it's just one more free-to-play game among many.
  • Various Resident Evil Ports [May 21, Switch]: Resident Evil joins the extended conga line of Switch ports this week with Resident Evil, Resident Evil Zero, and most notably of all, Resident Evil 4. Resident Evil 4 has of course been ported to virtually everything at this point, even mobile, so a Switch version is hardly what you would call "momentous." But if you haven't played one of the best action games of the past 20 years, then this is a great opportunity.
  • Team Sonic Racing [May 21, PC, Switch, PS4, Xbox One]: Team Sonic Racing will be one of two mascot kart racers out this year, the other being the update of Crash Team Racing. Sonic fans will be happy, but according to reviewer Mike Williams, "it ultimately feels like a step back from the excellent Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed." Dang.
  • Total War: Three Kingdoms [May 23, PC]: Total War tackles the Romance of the Three Kingdoms setting in this much-antipated sequel. We don't cover Total War all that heavily in these parts, mostly because it's not really in our wheelhouse, but it's been remarkable to see how well the series has been able to continue cranking along over the years. I have no doubt that Total War: Three Kingdoms will once again hit the level of quality to which fans are accustomed.

This Week's News and Notes

  • I watched the series finale of Game of Thrones last night, which is good because I would have been spoiled by an ad for "Dragon Snacks" that found its way into my inbox this morning. Part of me is sad that it's over, and another part of me is annoyed that it never lived up to the amazing potential of the first couple seasons. Mostly, all I can do is think, "That happened." I wonder if I'll ever see its like again.
  • Alright, bear with me on this (someone vague) spoiler. As someone who was just in Spain and read up on the War of Spanish Succession, I'm more than a little annoyed by the way that Game of Thrones ended. This show really left behind the whole "realism" angle after Season 5.
  • I played Tetris Attack for the first time ever over the weekend. Yes, seriously! I never owned a SNES and I'm not predisposed to buying random puzzle games. But Tetris Attack is a genuine delight: a match 3 game that feels like a nice twist on the Puyo Puyo formula. I played it with my friends pretty much all weekend, then grabbed a copy for myself so I could practice and get better. Competitive puzzle games are just the best for parties.
  • I've also been slowly making my way through the original Final Fantasy 7, and I had forgotten how... uh... graphic... the Don Corneo stuff gets. Seriously, just look at this scene.
  • On that note, I'm kind of floored by the love and detail put into Final Fantasy 7's first hours in Midgar. The grainy backdrops feel alive in ways I never really noticed before, with tons of sight gags, little animations, and other flourishes. In fact, Midgar might be one of the most distinct settings I've ever seen in an RPG... or any game, really. No wonder Final Fantasy 7 continues to stick so firmly in the collective memory after all these years.
  • Are we witnessing the end of consoles as we know them? Headlines like this one seem to suggest that the next generation will see Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo cooperating much more than competing. It'll be a strange new frontier for games, but potentially a really great one for players.
  • The launch of Rage 2 last week gave rise to this piece by Alyse Stanley, who explores the popularity of the "technicolor dystopia" in games. As Stanley writes, it's "[a]lmost as if a world increasingly defined by its daily chaos—terrorist activity, climate change, political insanity—has pushed our culture's apocalypse fetishism to the extreme." But by making it so colorful, we're able to forget the brutal realities of the setting, and of what might await us in the near future. Anyway, it's worth a read.
  • Axe of the Blood God: We covered the early days of Atari and Intellivision, but console RPGs were really born on the NES. Join Kat and Nadia for Part 2 of the Console RPG Quest as they remember the console that gave us some of our greatest RPG franchises: Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, Megami Tensei, and more. Why was the NES such fertile ground for RPGs? And do its greatest RPGs still hold up? We answer all of these questions as our epic Console RPG Quest continues. Subscribe here!

Tagged with Action, Action Adventure, Microsoft, Nintendo, Opinions, PC, PlayStation 4, Role Playing Games, Sony, Starting Screen, Xbox One.

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