2019 was an important year for the gaming industry. Not only did 2019 usher in some fantastic new experiences on consoles and PC but it also marked the last full year of the current generation of platforms. By the end of 2020, we’ll have both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 in our hands, as well as the fully launched Google Stadia, meaning that the next generation of video games will be finally upon us. Did this current generation, which began in 2012 with the release of the Nintendo Wii U, go out with a bang?
Our favorite games of the year suggest that it did. From fast-paced online shooters and amazing role-playing games to zombie-filled terrors and surreal action-adventures, the 10 best games of 2019 represent a plethora of fresh ideas as well as titles that have perfected the formulas of their respective genres. The games coming in 2020 will certainly have a lot of live up to.
While not all games could make our top 10, honorable mention must be given to the following titles: Destiny 2: Shadowkeep, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, Luigi’s Mansion 3, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Mortal Kombat 11, Devil May Cry 5, Kingdom Hearts 3, Metro Exodus, Super Mario Maker 2, and Untitled Goose Game.
Now, here are the best video games of 2019 in alphabetical order:
February 4 | Respawn | PS4, XBO, PC
Few titles this year have surprised us as much as Apex Legends, a battle royale spinoff set in Respawn’s Titanfall universe. Released on the same day it was announced, this free-to-play multiplayer shooter gave us a new way to experience the popular battle royale genre just as it was starting to feel like there was nowhere left for the genre to go. Indeed, Fortnite and PUBG might be responsible for popularizing battle royale games but Apex Legends perfected the formula with its mix of colorful characters, fast-paced traversal, and creative abilities.
Unlike its predecessors, Apex Legends incorporates elements of hero shooters like Overwatch to give the game its unique personality as well as an emphasis on teamwork and strategy. Picking your favorite character and running-and-gunning isn’t always the best way to win a round of Apex Legends, just like it’s not entirely smart to charge into Overwatch without at least one tank or support character. Instead, you need to work alongside your three-player team, mixing and matching the different Legends and their abilities, to survive the game’s intense firefights and down-to-the-wire showdowns for first place. There’s rarely a dull round of Apex Legends.
It helps that the characters themselves are dripping with personality and with just enough backstory to make them more interesting than your average skin swap. There’s the fast-talking, quick-witted Mirage, whose special ability allows him to create duplicates of himself to lure enemies; the always-positive Pathfinder, who creates ziplines for faster travel around the map; Caustic, a scientist who really loves poison gas (his gas traps can be deadly in confined spaces); and Gibraltar, a tank worthy of his class thanks to his bombardment ultimate and plethora of shields. And there are plenty more to choose from, catering to most kinds of playstyles. The key is to learn all of the characters and what they do, and learning each new Legend always feels rewarding as opposed to a task.
The game also benefits greatly from the Titanfall-style traversal. While there’s not much parkour to be had here (a missed opportunity if you ask us), moving around on the game’s two giant maps still feels fluid, as you run, slide, and zipline across Kings Canyon and World’s Edge. Players who find building their way across Fortnite‘s map too slow and clunky or moving through PUBG too tedious will feel right at home with Apex Legends‘ more fast-paced approach.
We never thought we’d fall in love with another battle royale game after all of the great experiences that have already been offered, but Apex Legends proves that there’s still a lot you can do with the budding genre. We hope and expect that this game will continue to innovate through its long lifecycle ahead. – JS
August 27 | Remedy Entertainment | PS4, XBO, PC
Control is the game we’ve wanted from Remedy Entertainment since Alan Wake‘s metafictional take on survival horror. While 2016’s Quantum Break was full of time-traveling shooter goodness, it’s Control that marks the studio’s return as one of the industry’s most exciting creative forces.
Inspired by Jeff VanderMeer novel Annihilation and the New Weird literary movement, Control is set in the Oldest House, the shape-shifting headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Control, which is in charge of investigating paranormal phenomena. You play as the FBC’s new Director, Jesse Faden, who is looking for her brother and must reckon with her own dark past to find him. Along the way, she also has to contain an invasion by the Hiss, a paranormal threat that infects the Oldest House and everyone inside it. As the game progresses, Control becomes a mesmerizing trip down a Brutalist rabbithole that twists and turns in unexpected, exciting, and slightly creepy ways.
Not only does Remedy’s latest give players one of 2019’s most original games but also one of its most visually impressive. Its big sterile offices and hallways give way to surreal, kaleidoscopic visions that are disarmining and memorable, which are complemented perfectly by the weird chanting of the floating Hiss and the Board’s strange instructions whispered into your ear.
Like most Remedy games, Control has a preoccupation with twisting physics and weird science, allowing Jesse to telekinetically launch objects at enemies as well as disregard gravity completely by using her mind to levitate. This emphasis on strange physics, as well as the puzzles and level challenges that come with these advanced forms of traversal, allow Control to be more than just another linear shooter. – JS
November 8 | Kojima Productions | PS4
At times, video game auteur Hideo Kojima’s latest title really does feel like a walking simulator, as you travel from point A to B to C delivering heavy parcels (and pizzas) while avoiding obstacles across a postapocalyptic United States. But Death Stranding‘s sometimes painfully mundane delivery missions — walk here, climb this, wade across this river, don’t fall over, deliver package, and repeat — are more than just fetch quests. At its best, the game is a veiled commentary on how far apart we’ve been driven by the internet and social media in particular. Kojima’s strange, slightly incomprehensible game is about reconnecting an isolated society.
You play as Sam Porter Bridges (Norman Reedus), a freelance deliveryman tasked with reconnecting the United Cities of America after an event known as the Death Stranding has caused human society to scatter. To do this, Sam must deliver important supplies to way stations and cities across continental America. Along the way, players are treated to stunning vistas, intense stealth sections, and challenging terrain puzzles, as well as spooky encounters with the undead.
And we’ve not even mentioned the baby strapped to Sam’s chest, which detects the death stranding and gives the game its weird science, Lone Wolf and Cub-like charm. All of this put together makes for one of the most unique games of 2019. – JS
Fire Emblem: Three Houses
July 26 | Nintendo | Switch
Super Mario Maker 2, Astral Chain, Luigi’s Mansion 3, Pokemon Sword and Shield — the Nintendo Switch enjoyed a somewhat underrated 2019 that lacked the famous 1-2 punch of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey but was otherwise loaded with worthwhile experiences. However, it was Fire Emblem: Three Houses that managed to stand apart from the pack.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses is, at its heart, a traditional Fire Emblem game. That means grid-based combat, battles based on countering your opponent, and the constant threat of losing a character that you’ve built and grown to care about. It’s a formula that has served the Fire Emblem franchise well over many generations, and you get most of it here (plus or minus a few welcome alterations).
Yet, Three Houses distinguishes itself by incorporating a fascinating school system that not only enhances your emotional investment in your army’s soldiers but adds a new layer of strategy that forces you to think about what you do in-between battles as much as what you do during them. Fire Emblem: Three Houses is one of the best examples yet of how to evolve an aging franchise while maintaining the core experience that has kept fans coming back for years. – MB
May 29 | Mobius Digital | PS4, XBO, PC
Picture this: You’ve landed on a new planet just in time to learn that the nearby sun will go supernova in just 22 minutes. You have exactly that long to find out where you are, what is happening, and how to escape. Sound impossible? It would be, but you have one advantage: you’re stuck in a time loop that affords you an infinite number of 22 minute lifetimes to figure out what is happening and how to get back home.
We’ve seen this idea before in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (and, of course, Groundhog Day), but no variation of this concept encourages you to maximize your time quite like Outer Wilds. Because the information in this world never changes, it’s entirely possible to find a way out of your predicament fairly quickly. However, only the most patient (and clever) of players will discover all the wonderful secrets contained within this doomsday scenario.
If Outer Wilds were just its characters and universe, it would still be one of the best games of the year. It’s the fact that it inspires you to appreciate and maximize whatever minutes of life you are given that makes it even more meaningful than that. – MB
The Outer Worlds
October 25 | Obsidian Entertainment | PS4, XBO, PC
The legacy of Fallout: New Vegas is as much about the quality of the game itself as it is an acknowledgement that tragically few games released since New Vegas have replicated what made that title special. New Vegas nearly perfected the Fallout formula with its emphasis on choices, consequences, characters, and player freedom. Even subsequent Fallout games have struggled to recreate its brilliance.
Tired of watching everyone else struggle to build something meaningful out of the foundation they laid, Obsidian (and some of Fallout’s original creators) decided to stop waiting on the Fallout licence and just make their own (unofficial) sequel to New Vegas. At least that’s the elevator pitch for The Outer Worlds.
In reality, The Outer Worlds is much more than that. It thrusts you into a thematically complex universe where corporations have settled the furthest reaches of space and converted planets into company towns. It forgoes modern open-world design in favor of a level-based structure on a large scale that encourages you to truly explore each area for all the wonderful secrets they hold. It is very much its own adventure.
Even if it wasn’t, The Outer Worlds would still be a glorious throwback to a time when player agency, clever writing, and incredible world and character design defined the RPG genre. – MB
Resident Evil 2
Capcom’s remake of Resident Evil 2 is proof that you can’t argue with the classics. This survival horror fan-favorite rises from the grave with revamped graphics and gameplay mechanics, a way more terrifying Mr. X, and an over-the-shoulder camera that puts you closer to the zombie-killing action. This remake isn’t just about reviving what worked in the ’90s but making it new again.
Resident Evil 2 is a masterclass in horror atmosphere. Making your way through the creepy RCPD headquarters is unnerving in its best moments, as the undead claw at window panes and groan from the other side of long, dark hallways. The music swells as Mr. X’s booming footsteps grow louder as he gets closer to his prey. Rooms covered in shadow reveal flesh-hungry predators waiting around the corner. Like the best survival horror games, Resident Evil 2 makes you feel like a gruesome death is waiting behind every door. – JS
Slay the Spire
January 23 | Mega Crit Games | PC, PS4, Switch
Digital CCGs seem to be on the decline, and the roguelike genre has been complacent for some time now. So, it only makes sense that Slay the Spire, a CCG roguelike, was one of the most creative, enjoyable, and addictive games of 2019.
In Slay the Spire, you fight your way through various dungeons armed only with a deck of cards that activate certain abilities when played. In order to win, you’ve got to navigate an FTL-like “choose your own adventure” map and build the most powerful deck possible.
This CCG roguelike may be easily comparable to other titles and genres, but it distinguishes itself thanks to a brilliant deck drafting system that ensures nearly every strategy is possible and that few games play out the same way. At a time when difficult games often punish you into “doing it right,” Slay the Spire encourages you to find your own way through its world and experiment without fear of losing it all.
Like Civilization and other addictive strategy experiences before it, Slay the Spire masters the art of encouraging you to say “one more try” until the peeking rays of the morning sun make you realize that you’ve just lost hours to something truly incredible. – MB
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
March 22 | FromSoftware | PS4, XBO, PC
As we near the end of a gaming decade that was at least partially defined by the innovations of Dark Souls, it’s natural to wonder if we’ve reached the end of the glory days of the Souls genre. After all, how much gas can possibly be left in that tank? If Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is any indication, the glory days may have only just begun.
The truth is that Sekiro does distinguish itself from the Dark Souls formula in several notable ways. It allows you to move around your surroundings much more easily, its story is slightly more deliberate than the narratives in the series that inspired it, and it places more of an emphasis on upgrades and items. It also plays with the classic Dark Souls respawn mechanic by giving you a second chance to make things right.
At the heart of it all, Sekiro is a glorious testament to the lasting legacy of Dark Souls. It’s a challenging game with incredible levels, smart world design that enhances and reveals a compelling plot, and some of the best boss battles of its generation. In other words, it’s that same brilliant blend of old-school sensibilities and new concepts that reminds us that gaming is sometimes at its best when it presents us with a beautiful adventure to overcome. – MB
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
November 15 | Respawn | PS4, XBO, PC
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order was a chance for Electronic Arts to right past wrongs with its handling of the Star Wars license, and thanks to Respawn’s expert adaptation of the galaxy far, far away, the game delivers the single-player story-based experience fans have been looking for. This latest Star Wars title harkens back to the best action-adventure games from the LucasArts era while adding combat reminiscent of the Dark Souls series, Metroidvania exploration, and parkour platforming inspired by Respawn’s very own Titanfall. The result is a title that celebrates both the old and the new, wrapped up in a fun-filled story that won’t completely shatter the Star Wars universe but features a few unexpected twists and turns along the way.
The game stars Cal Kestis, a former padawan forced into hiding after Order 66, the purge that marked the end of the Jedi Order, with only a few Jedi left alive in the entire galaxy. While he tries to remain anonymous at first, Cal is soon thrust into a struggle against the Empire at a time when even the Rebel Alliance is only beginning to take shape. The Empire is at the height of its power and the dark side reigns supreme, but Cal and his friends are the glimmer of hope that could restore the light side of the Force. Admittedly light on stakes but big on character, Jedi: Fallen Order covers all the story beats you’d expect while also featuring a surprisingly deep dive into the mythology of the Jedi, with hidden tombs to explore and secrets to uncover.
But the real stars are the combat and platforming, which add a new layer of depth to the classic Star Wars formula. This isn’t your average hack-and-slash combat system. Mastering the art of the lightsaber takes patience, timing, and strategy. Stormtroopers and other Imperial agents strike without mercy while the Inquisitors are masters of the Force, and taking down each enemy requires a thoughtful approach. Meanwhile, the parkour platforming keeps the game from ever feeling too monotonous, as you climb, swing, slide, and leap over obstacles while exploring the hidden corners of the galaxy. This all makes for a delightful package that is now the bar for future Star Wars games to come from EA. – JS
Matthew Byrd is a staff writer for Den of Geek. He spends most of his days trying to pitch deep-dive analytical pieces about Killer Klowns From Outer Space to an increasingly perturbed series of editors.