As people familiar with my end of year blogs will know, my top video games list always features a mix of games from the year in question and the couple of years preceding it. My reasoning? No one can play every game the year its released – even if you had the money, you’d probably lack the time and vice versa. All gamers buy releases and don’t get round to them for a while, myself included. So I always highlight recent games that have had as large an impression on me as current ones this year.
Hope you enjoy my highlights of the best games I’ve been playing this year. Most are releases from the previous couple of years, but that’s mainly due to my sustained (if futile) attempts to get through my backlog of games.
6: The Council (2018): The Council is an odd one. Its a story led game which sees you interacting with famous historical figures such as George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte, all of whom are part of a mysterious ‘council’ secretly manipulating the direction of Western society in the late 18th century. Set on an isolated island owned by the mysterious Lord Mortimer, you’re tasked with not only navigating political intrigue, but also finding your missing mother and deducing the identity of a murderer at large. Playing main character as Louis de Richet, you gain experience which can help you unravel clues, decode ciphers, persuade others to assist you or enable you to retrieve items from hard to reach areas. You can develop Louis as an Occultist, Diplomat or Detective style character, each with their own benefits and drawbacks i.e. detectives will notice things other styles won’t, but might be unable to persuade important figures to reveal crucial information the way a diplomat can. You can mix and match talents, but this will often leave you struggling to maximise your abilities. The game is a mix of mystery, puzzles, diplomacy and, especially later on, supernatural elements which really turn things on their head in episode 4 of 5. While initially an episodic release, its all available as one now, and has considerable replay value. If you love story-driven games, I would whole-heartedly recommend this. Some puzzles can get frustrating, but persevere. And try not to screw up, lest Louis loses a hand. Or worse.
Rating: 4 out of 5
5: GreedFall (2019): GreedFall was a conspicuous attempt to fill in for the lack of Mass Effect/Dragon Age games at the moment. With Bioware’s star diminished after the mixed response to Andromeda, the critical mauling of Anthem and the seemingly never ending wait for Dragon Age 4, Spiders bravely stepped into the breach with this back to basics, pseudo-colonial fantasy RPG. Colonial era settings are somewhat rarer than medieval inspired ones in RPG’s, but Spiders did a good job here of imagining a plausible fantasy world where gun-wielding colonists come into conflict with magically skilled natives. You have complete freedom in how you approach things – you can side with the natives, the colonial powers or try to build some kind of accord between the various factions. While the game is geared towards finding diplomatic solutions to things, there’s no clear cut best way to handle things, with extremist factions amongst the natives and family ties to the colonists blurring the lines between where your loyalties should lie. Combat isn’t hugely in depth: you have choice about whether you play as a magic user, expert swordsman/woman, or gun-wielding trap expert, or indeed a combination, but there are only 6 or so abilities per style. Enemies do present a welcome challenge even on normal (I would not recommend Hard difficulty on first playthrough, that’s for sure) with a mix of humans, natives and creatures providing different problems to deal with. There are some limitations due to the small size of the company producing the game (invisible barriers, area exploration rather than open world environments etc.) but it has more to offer in terms of content than say the base version of fallout 4. Overall this is kind of a barebones Bioware game – you get 5 companions, 4 of which are romanceable – but it gets more right than wrong. You can craft and upgrade gear, choose between using stealth, diplomacy and combat and resolve missions in a variety of ways. A bit slow and talky for some people, but overall, a good first effort from a company with way, way less resources than the companies its trying to emulate.
Rating: 4 out of 5
4: F1 2019: F1 games have now made this list 4 years running, mainly because they have been slowly refining what was already a very good game in F1 2016. The 2019 version makes the interview mechanic more bearable, wet weather more challenging and enables AI driver swaps between teams to make it feel more immersive and ensure you aren’t constantly competing with the same 2 drivers over multiple seasons. Its main additions however, are a Formula 2 mode, where the cars feel slower but are much easier to control, and two invented drivers who serve as rivals to your one in campaign mode – both of which help make career mode feel like more of a journey rather than just a co-ordinated set of races. As usual, it isn’t worth a full price upgrade from 2018, but if its on sale, it adds enough that you should check it out.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
3: Modern Warfare Remastered (2016): It’s very rare for me to go 3 years back on this list, but since Modern Warfare Remastered came out free on PS PLUS in March, I checked it out. While the multiplayer has been slightly revamped with classes and new modes, the single-player and maps are all the same, just with better graphics. The campaign still ranks as one of the best in the Call of Duty Pantheon (and I’ve played through 4 this year with Black Ops 3, Infinite Warfare and the new Modern Warfare – none came close to this original) with famous highlights like the stealth mission in Pripyat, the AC-130 gunner sim, the cargo ship raid more vivid than ever in HD. But the main draw for downloading this was the multiplayer, which crushes games like COD:WW2 into the dirt. The maps, including classics like Shipment, Vacant and Showdown are very good and allow most playstyles to have a pretty even difficulty (snipers can’t dominate too easily, while campers are easy to flush out or outflank). The old-school killstreaks, limited to UAV, airstrike and helicopters, leave things way more balanced than in more recent COD games, and being on the worse team isn’t always a death sentence for strong players. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend getting this now, as the player base is likely to fall off a cliff with the rebooted Modern Warfare’s release, but its good enough to make my games of the year nonetheless.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
2: Total War: Warhammer II (2017): Now I finally have a PC capable of running it, I’ve put some serious hours into Warhammer 2, and I can safely say that its the best Total War game of the past decade – perhaps the first since Medieval 2 that I can see myself putting hundreds of hours into. With 4 main races you get to play as Elves, Dark Elves, Lizardmen and Skaven (sneaky, untrustworthy ratmen with a genius for artillery) while DLC adds the pirate factions of the Vampire Coast and the Egyptian inspired Undead hordes of the Tomb Kings. The sheer variety of units, artillery, magic users and monsters make this, like its predecessor, immensely fun during battles, while the campaign design has been greatly improved, making this both easier to get into that Warhammer 1, and more involving during the middle part of the game: whether you’re scouting ruins for treasure, performing rituals or fighting quest battles, you’ll rarely just be spamming the end turn button. The Mortal Empires campaign, available for people who own both Warhammer 1 and 2, is a great addition, as many of the original factions have been revamped in the sequel and play better than ever. Overall, its still perhaps not the best TW game for newcomers, but for series veterans its a must have. Be sure to get the Tomb Kings DLC – they are one of the coolest factions I can remember playing as!
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
1: Spyro: Reignited Trilogy (2018): The Spyro trilogy was originally released on PS1, hence remastering it to play and look as good as modern games was a Herculean task. Fortunately, the developers proved equal to it – all three games are brilliantly recreated. Whether you’ve played the originals or not, this will be entertaining – every level and enemy has been lovingly remade, with a host of collectables to find, and platforming and combat challenges aplenty. Difficulty varies from level to level and boss fight to boss fight – you might initially think its a cakewalk geared at kids – halfway through you won’t think that – getting to 100% completion will take serious work, as will earning all the skill points and trophies – these games really reward full exploration. All 3 games bring something different to the table too, with different mini-games, enemies and mechanics – it’s hard to pick which ones best to be honest – 2 was the hardest to get into but had a superb 2nd half. As someone who never played the originals, I was pleasantly surprised by how well this remaster works and the trilogy – sold as one item (which is a great deal as you’re getting tons of hours for not much money) – was very high quality. Overall, while some elements are a bit frustrating or simple, its easy the most fun I’ve had gaming this year, so tops my list.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Feel free to comment your own lists – there’s plenty that could have been here – I’ve elaborated on some glaring omissions below for those who are curious.
There are plenty of games I’ve played from this year (Man of Medan, The Outer Worlds, Catherine Full Body) that I felt weren’t quite good enough to get on this list.
There were also some I’ve started playing but haven’t put enough hours into to recommend yet, such as Control, Borderlands 3, Modern Warfare and Rage 2 – expect to see some of them on next years list (particularly Control and Rage 2).
There’s also plenty I still haven’t got round to, like Devil May Cry V, Red Dead Redemption 2 and Jedi Fallen Order – again, you’ll probably see them on a future list if they live up to their reputation.
If you enjoyed this, keep an eye out for my upcoming post: My Top 20 games of the decade – featuring my favourite games from 2010-2019 on PS3, PS4 and PC, which i’ll upload in the next few days, along with similar lists for Film and TV.
But before that: tomorrow will see my Top 10 TV shows of 2019 – which features some shows I’ve never put on that list before – see you all then.