The 2019 Game of the Year
It's the most "end of the year" time of the year here at GameCrate, which means it's time to talk about the best games released over the past 12ish months and 365 days (give or take a week or two). Listen: year-end lists are not a hard science. They're much more of an art. Just like how Rembrandt is famous for doing year-end paintings that counted down his ten favorite paintings of the past year.
This is GameCrate's sixth-annual GOTY article, with previous winners including Dragon Age: Inquisition, Fallout 4, Overwatch, Breath of the Wild, and last year's God of War. We've seen game of the year winners that were nearly unanimous, and others that split the internet and our writers into bitter factions. Suffice it to say: this is not our first rodeo.
This year was one in which there has seemed to be little critical or audience consensus about an overall best game, but after rounding up our favorites and comparing notes, we're happy to recognize the following games as the best 2019 had to offer.
For more on good games, check out our look at the games that defined the decade.
In 2019 The Outer Worlds reminded us that Fallout: New Vegas was really good, and gave us a new sci-fi world to explore with familiar first-person talky/shooty RPG gameplay. The game wasn't quite as open or expansive as we've come to expect from Fallout-style games, but it made up for it with a complex story tackling interesting political issues, strong writing throughout, and some great companion characters.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses brought Persona-style relationship building to the tactical RPG series, and the result consumed hundreds of hours of gameplay time for several of our writers. It's a fantastic combination of strategic and character elements, balancing large-scale military battles with tea parties and school management in a way that might seem strange on paper, but that totally works once it gets its hooks into you.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a really good Star Wars game, and in 2019 that alone is noteworthy enough to get people's attention. Combat is exciting and relies on good timing, providing some surprising Souls-style challenge at the game's higher difficulty settings. It offers an entertaining adventure in the familiar Star Wars universe, and it does it all without weighing the game down with microtransactions. Apparently that's still possible! Who knew?
Finally, Slay the Spire is an early access success story that officially "released" in 2019, though people have been playing it since 2017. The developers have used community feedback to make a good game better and better, and the launch version is one of the most addictive games released this year. For fans of either digital card games or roguelikes there's a ton to love in Slay the Spire, and the addition of new content and characters keeps the replay value sky-high.
Runner-up: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is FromSoftware evolving the Souls-like genre they invented. It's far from a retread of what has worked before - instead it's a game where timing is more important than ever, and where streamlined action gameplay has replaced the RPG skills of Dark Souls. It's also one of the most challenging AAA games ever released.
Most of the conversation around Sekiro after its launch centered around its difficulty, and what that meant for the game's accessibility, and whether or not that was a problem, in game design terms. But the only reason that conversation got people so passionate was because Sekiro is such a fantastic game. Some felt that its difficulty was part of its greatness, while others felt that its unforgiving challenge prevented a wider audience from experiencing the quality it had to offer - but there never would have been such a deep discussion in the first place if not for the inarguable quality of Sekiro.
Sekiro's protagonist is faster and more agile than a typical Souls character, and there's more of an emphasis on mobility and gadget use. Because the game's enemies can be so, so, so punishing, the game offers euphoric satisfaction when you finally triumph, through a combination of trial-and-error and perfect timing. As our original review put it:
"Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice will challenge you, it will push you, and you can bet it will frustrate you. However, it also imparts the very same lesson which FromSoftware has been teaching gamers for years now: there’s nothing sweeter than a victory won over seemingly insurmountable odds. The setting and specific rules may have changed, but Sekiro once again proves that if there’s one thing From is good at it’s keeping players on their toes (when they’re not dead at least)."
Runner-up: Disco Elysium
Disco Elysium is already our 2019 RPG of the year, and it's just so darn good that we had to make it an official runner-up for overall game of the year, too. That's no surprise, since we called it a "Game of the Year contender" right there in the title of our initial review. Here's more of what we had to say:
"Disco Elysium’s mechanics play like a tribute to the tabletop role-playing game experience. Skill checks involve rolling two six sided dice and adding your skill rating. The game even plays a cute little die-rolling sound effect when you make a check. Unlike other games, which try to hide the resolution mechanics from you, the game shows you actual die faces, which, as a lifelong TTRPG gamer, I adore. Succeeding is one thing. Actually seeing your critical hits and misses is a whole different level of joy.
Failing a check also doesn’t stop the game in its tracks, forcing you to grind side quests until you can re-attempt it. The game keeps going, and you’re forced to make due with partial information or the consequences of failure.
There's no "combat" per se. However, you still have hit point tracks for health and morale. Lose all your health and you’re a dead man. Lose all your morale and you quit being a cop, live under a bridge, and the game ends. At one point, I looked at the wrong bit of graffiti, and it reminded my character that only he alone can rebuild communism!! He had a nervous breakdown, entered a fugue state, and quit the force."
Disco Elysium is a story-first RPG with outstanding characters and an engaging story, and deserves to be in the conversation when discussing the finest game writing of all time. It's also one of the very best games of 2019.
Runner-up: Outer Wilds
Minor spoilers for one of the basic mechanics of Outer Wilds follow.
It's just too easy to miss out on fantastic indie games these days. As was the case last year with Return of the Obra Dinn, Outer Wilds was one of the year's best games while also being a title that we've barely covered on GameCrate, and which many of our writers and editors haven't yet had a chance to play.
You can be forgiven for missing out on Outer Wilds at launch (or for confusing it with The Outer Worlds). Its developers, Mobius Games, came into this title without a previous smash hit. And even a quick look at a trailer or seeing someone play the game for ten minutes on YouTube doesn't sell it very well. You might think it's sort of like Kerbal Space Program, because of the space flight and simulated physics. Or you might think it's an adventure game aimed at younger players, because of the cartoony, Project Spark-style visuals.
But what Outer Wilds actually offers is an experience best summarized as Myst meets No Man's Sky with a Groundhog Day loop. That's the hook, and it's a fantastic one - but it's also one that's hard to talk about without spoiling some of the sense of discovery that makes the game so special. On a very basic level, Outer Wilds has you exploring fantastic sci-fi environments, piecing together the mysteries of existence as you die, over and over again. The only thing you can take from one loop into the next is the knowledge you've gained (helpfully recorded in your ship in the form of notes).
Your time in Outer Wilds will be spent following up on leads, returning to hard-to-reach locations, and learning the importance of timing. But the beautiful thing is that the entire expanse of the game is available to you, right from the start. You can technically go anywhere and see anything in the game's compact solar system the very first time you get into your ship. In fact, blasting off and heading for a totally new and unexplored location for no reason is one of the best ways to make progress. Figuring out the what, how, and why provides the game's true challenge. It's unorthodox and incredibly satisfying.
Outer Wilds is innovative and beautiful. It's sad and it's joyful. It can make you laugh and it can scare the heck out of you. Jumping into the game without knowing much about it was one of the best experiences in gaming to be had in 2019.
Control is the best title from Remedy Games since 2001's Max Payne. It's the best showcase yet for real-time ray-tracing visual flair in games. It's also our 2019 game of the year.
Control is a third-person action game with mechanics drawn from the "guns plus magical abilities" genre and a story heavily inspired by "new weird" fiction and the SCP Foundation. It unfolds like a mystery, driven by top-tier voice acting and highly detailed facial animations, as your character explores the Federal Bureau of Control, fights the sinister Hiss enemies, and learns more about herself and those closest to her.
But as intricate and mysterious as the game's plot can be, Control is also a game where you just wreck everyone and everything with the awesome power of your mind and your kickass shapeshifting gun. Its weapons deliver a satisfying punch and it offers insanely detailed environmental destruction effects.
Over and over again in Control you enter a pristine office hallway or lobby and proceed to tear the place to shreds, Matrix-style. While Remedy has been serving up bullet time-style slow-mo dodges for decades now, Control added the missing elements of broken glass, shredded papers, and exploded plaster flying everywhere. Your combat abilities will be tested with some tough-as-nails boss battles, and you'll need to master swapping gun modes and making the most of your limited ability upgrade slots to succeed. The sum of all this is some of the best videogame action combat of 2019.
Control's lore is richly detailed and suitably unsettling, and will likely only get more interesting as DLC expands the game throughout 2020. One of the big reasons Control stands above so many other titles released in 2019 is due to its ability to surprise you. As our review said, this is a game in which just about anything might be around the next corner, or through the next door, or hidden inside an extra-dimensional space within a common household object.
Congratulations to Control, winner of GameCrate's 2019 Game of the Year Award!