Ian Preschel’s Top Ten Games of 2019
1. Resident Evil 2
Few games can come around and completely change my opinion on an entire genre of games and Resident Evil 2 managed to do that this year. I will be the first to admit that I am very stubborn when it comes to my own video game habits. So when I am introduced to games that challenge that paradigm I usually don’t enjoy myself and become easily frustrated. RE:2 manages this perfect balancing act between thrilling narrative, engaging game play, perilous situations and fun environmental based puzzle solving.
I would be remiss without mentioning RE:2’s stunning and life like visuals. Using the design building blocks and the graphical engine from RE:7, this game manages to create one of the most beautifully rendered video game worlds ever. Usually, when video games try to recreate the real world they manage to fall into the uncanny valley. RE:2 manages to rise above this problem and makes a beautiful, realistic looking world that managed to heighten the tense moments during gameplay.
My favorite thing that Resident Evil does is it’s pacing and how it focuses on teaching the player. Each environment that you enter is like a classroom preparing you for the next big challenge. You are brought through specific low risk situations, then at the end the world opens up to you and you are tasked with solving bigger problems with those same tools. As you progress through the game your tools expand and you are put into higher risk situations but RE:2 manages to acclimate the player in a way that makes the games challenges not overwhelming. RE:2 managed to take one of my biggest frustrations with the Metroid-vania genre and perfect it in such a way that I felt a new sense of love and appreciation for this style of game.
When Hollow Knight released I found myself frustrated with its traversal and puzzle solving. After that I was afraid that I was done with the Metroid-vania genre but RE:2 managed to completely change my mind. RE:2 manages to bring high fidelity visuals and pair them with amazing gameplay that constantly challenged both my brain and my nerve. RE:2 was a game that was able to challenge me as a fan of video games and still have me blown away with my experience and that is why it’s my game of the year.
2. Pokemon Sword and Shield
It should come as no surprise that Pokemon Sword and Shield is in my top 10 games this year. Pokemon, as a franchise, was met with some turmoil over this past year but despite its problems was able to create an amazing Pokemon game. From Dexit, to leakers and harsh critics the messaging behind Pokemon and the Pokemon community as a whole has been very negative in 2019. Thankfully, that narrative shifted the day that Pokemon was released. Yells of frustration were calmed and most of the fans rejoiced as a welcome addition to their favorite pocket monster franchise was released.
As a Pokemon fan for many years I am both tepid and curious about every generation that is released. Every year I ask myself, “How will the designs look? What new game mechanics will be introduced? How will the game feel?”. Pokemon Sword and Shield managed to calm my tepid outlook and gave me a Pokemon game that managed to enrapture me and intrigue me throughout my entire playthrough.
The designs of the Pokemon this generation definitely have a different overall inspiration and aesthetic but still feel like they mesh overall with the world that the Pokemon company has developed over the years. Gigantamaxing as a mechanic is fun, fresh, and combines aspects of all of its predecessors gimmicks before it. It takes the cinematic flare of Z-moves and fuses the competitive refresh that Mega Evolutions provided. The story is far and away the most deep that any Pokemon game has ever been however this might not be apparent to most people playing it.
This game’s narrative and the characters that inhabit it all serve the overall message of the story and that is growth and the fear that comes from change. This serves also as a meta-commentary on the series as a whole and feels especially poignant with how the fans have been reacting to the game. Overall, despite minor flaws this Pokemon game will go down as one of my favorite games in the series and I hope that everyone who owns a switch goes out and plays it.
3. Devil May Cry 5
Devil May Cry came from an era of very niche style and atmosphere and I was afraid that after its previous installment we would never see another Devil May Cry game again. I have never been happier to be wrong. Thankfully games that were inspired by it managed to live on and we still have hack and slash games coming out now. Games like God of War, Kingdom hearts, and Bayonetta are carrying the torch that was lit by Dante and his demon fighting adventures and as a long time fan, I am happy to say that DMC:V did not disappoint in any way. From it’s stylistic aesthetic, dramatic storyline and action packed, technical gameplay DMC:V is truly something special.
One of the best aspects of DMC: V is its stylistic design and its homage to its various inspirations. Devil May Cry fully embraces its stylistic inspiration in every aspect of its creation. DMC:V’s Director, Hideki Itsuno, is obviously heavily inspired by different types of metal and rock music. So character designs, gameplay features, even weapons are directly connected to this inspiration and is done so with loving care and effort.
Devil May Cry was the progenitor of the hack and slash genre so with this new installment its mechanical gameplay was paramount to its success. Having 3 distinct playable characters made the gameplay always feel fresh and fun to play no matter which character I played. Each character brought a completely different set of goals and objectives during combat scenarios and always had me thinking creatively. Our main character Nero’s abilities task the player with being very mobile and acrobatic while keeping a high tempo with his attacks while, in contrast, V is very slow and lumbering and uses summons to attack his foes, thus adding another layer of mechanical complexity. Each play session I was met with a fresh and fun experience that never got stale and it was some of the most fun I have had all year.
You can see the amount of raw passion and love the developers have for the Devil May Cry series and it made this game such a pleasure to play. As a fan of the series who was disappointed with the reboot I was nervous going into the release of DMC:V and what was released was nothing short of a perfect action game. It’s mechanically flawless and takes real skill to complete its most grueling challenges but is also simple enough for most players to have fun with. It’s story is evocative and is about family and change and fans of the story will be enamored with all the references to previous games that are peppered throughout the campaign. DMC:V is one of my favorite games in recent memory and I hope that you take the time to play it.
4. Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Fire Emblem 3 houses completely changed how I view the series as a whole.
I have always been a fan of fire emblem but I always saw it as a series that succeeded despite its limitations. Previous mainline versions being handheld exclusives prevented it from really being a successful mainstream series globally.
Core audiences loved the stories from each iteration but in some aspects it always felt shallow to me. The combat has been a staple of the series and has seen minor improvements after each release but there was always something missing from the series. With the jump to the Switch Fire Emblem has managed to create a game that perfects the Fire Emblem formula and brings it into the modern age of video games gracefully.
Fire Emblem 3 houses manages to take all of the previous shortcomings of the series and completely erase them. It’s story and characters are some of the best written characters this year and many of their conflicts are very mature in nature making it a much darker turn for the series. This combined with fresh gameplay mechanics made this one of my favorite RPG’s of all time and some of my favorite video game storytelling.
5. Astral Chain
Astral Chain is one of the most stylish games I have ever played. Usually when I mean style I mean the aesthetics behind a game and its visual design but with this game style is much more multifaceted. Astral Chain manages to take the concept of style and push its boundaries into every aspect of its creation. Not only does it manage to create its own unique style but it also manages to reference its inspirations in a tasteful way that also strengthen the games personal identity.
One of Astral Chain’s most stunning feats is its mission structure and gameplay loop. It manages to fuse together different gameplay styles seamlessly while also making each style brief and engaging. Astral Chain has two distinct gameplay styles; the first is a combo heavy action game inspired by previous Platinum games like Bayonetta and Nier Automata. The second is a detective game where you are tasked with solving a mystery while utilizing your other worldly powers. These two distinct gameplay loops play off one another perfectly and manage to give two unique styles of play that perfectly compliment one another.
Astral Chain also manages to make these two gameplay loops not only fun and engaging but Platinum games is able to infuse their own unique ideas into the games DNA. The fast paced combo driven gameplay has you controlling two separate characters in tandem which adds a unique layer of mechanical complexity to the gameplay that isn’t found in other action games. The combo system rewards you based on how well you can position your characters while also micro-managing the enemies attack patterns. Its a system that takes some time to get used to but over time is complex and challenging but never overwhelming.
One of my favorite aspects of the game is its chapter system. The game is separated into distinct chapters which prevents the game from dragging on and feeling bloated. Each chapter ends with a cinematic cutscene that pushes the story forward and also shows Platinums beautiful cutscenes. Even after a long time away from the game it was very easy to return to it and continue where I left off. As a fan of the action game genre it’s so nice to see new entries being made with so much care. Platinum managed to hone their techniques to deliver a truly amazing experience with their newest game and I cannot wait for their next project.
Teppen is a competitive card game released by Gungho in conjunction with Capcom. Admittedly I am not usually a fan of competitive games or card games so I was amazed when Teppen caught my eye. It features characters from favorite Capcom games and manages to also highlight core gameplay mechanics from various Capcom games. I immediately knew that Teppen was something special because it was able to shake my preconceived notions about these genres and find a new appreciation and love for competitive card games.
My favorite aspect of Teppen’s gameplay is it’s fast paced action packed gameplay. Teppen doesn’t follow the typical turn based gameplay of its contemporaries in the card game space. When a card is placed there is a set time limit before it actually does damage. This allows the opposing player to play defensive cards during this build up time. This creates an interactive gameplay loop that makes both players feel like they are actively influencing the game throughout an entire match. That combined with its 5 minute time limit clock make for fast paced brawls that are always interesting.
It’s fast paced nature allows individual games to be both fun and challenging. Since each match feels quick it feels like a perfect card game simulation of a fighting game where the moment to moment decision making is done at a slower pace. This gameplay framework allows the player at almost any level to take new information in at a slower pace and learn the game intuitively through active play. As someone who has trouble in competitive environments I was able to play both competitively and casually and after each session, I always felt like I was learning something along the way.
Not only does Teppen have polished and high calibur gameplay it feels awesome to see some of my favorite capcom characters in a completely new way. Assembling a deck of cards that includes characters from Megaman,Monster Hunter, Devil May Cry and Resident Evil make this game feel like a dream match between some of my favorite Capcom properties.
7. Team Fight Tactics
This year was an amazing year for new and emerging game types to thrive. The rise of Team Fight Tactics and DOTA Autochess are examples of these Auto battlers rising in popularity and becoming a major pillar of the MOBA space. Team Fight Tactics has been a game that has largely gone under the radar of those outside of the greater LoL and Dota community but its ripples can be felt throughout the greater gaming community.
Team Fight Tactics is an “autobattler”; during autobattlers players choose units that they place on a game grid. After players place these units AI takes control of combat and then a units various traits and positioning determine a players victory or defeat. As players buy more of the same unit those units can level up and change the tide of battle.
While Team Fight Tactics and DOTA Autochess have similar design principles they have very key differences that differentiate them. In its first year TFT has gone through major systemic changes that have completely shifted the meta and state of the game. In fact TFT managed to release one version of the game and then release a major update that completely retooled main aspects of the game.
Team Fight Tactics is a prime example of how quick updates and dev support can truly make an amazing live service game. Every week TFT changes the game to make its player base feel engaged and active. It has been an amazing sight to see TFT’s development over this past year and I am so excited to see how Riot handles it’s forays into new genres in the coming years.
8. Outer Worlds
If you have heard me speak about this game then it’s no surprise to hear that I had a complicated relationship with The Outer Worlds. But much like the game’s narrative things are not always as they seem and they are not always black and white. The Outer Worlds was one of my favorite experiences this year but it was an experience filled with amazing high points and very disappointing low points. Even though the game had various problems I still really enjoyed my time with the game and can’t wait for the next title from Obsidian.
The Outer Worlds features sarcastic and satirical worlds that you can explore and interact with. Each planet houses a diverse cast of characters that are all experiencing unique problems that are all connected to the hyper capitalist future they reside in. The characters are the strongest aspect of the game and had amazing writing that kept me intrigued throughout my playthrough of the game. The Outer Worlds also manages to make diversity a huge factor in its character design. The game features characters from various races, ages, genders, and sexualities and that was refreshing to see and made the stories feel more unique, realistic and heartfelt.
The Outer World also manages to weave great gameplay into its diverse narrative. The gameplay systems such as player statistics and abilities are grounded and understandable. While none of these basic western RPG features are new they seem streamlined and iterated on in a new way. The game also manages to introduce new mechanics to the genre that I think are very interesting as they act as a sort of bridge between the narrative and the gameplay.
When players are heavily injured during combat or traversing the open world there is a chance they will be given a flaw. Players can opt into taking this flaw which results in permanent negative traits but in exchange for very powerful abilities. The flaw system acts as a sort of microcosm for the games narrative as a whole. The Outer World poses the question “Will you harm yourself long term for a short term benefit?” and this question is pivotal to the game as a whole.
This question is very similar to some of the choices you are giving throughout the game. Not only is the player making this choice it seems like that conundrum is connected to the overall behaviors of the corporations as well. These mega-corporations are given the option to wield their power responsibility for monetary gain in the short term at the expense of the health of the galaxy and their workers in the long term. This dichotomy acts as the glue for the game as a whole and is a very interesting narrative and gameplay hook.
Overall, my favorite part of the game is this intangible feeling of comfort that washes over me as a play it. It feels like a warm blanket for fans of the Western RPG genre and those who have followed Obsidian since their last release. Despite its flaws it always feels good to come home after a long day of work and slip into this blanket and enjoy myself.
9. Death Stranding
It’s hard to argue that Death Stranding is a high quality game. Every aspect of this games development is laced with talent, passion and technical prowess. Hideo Kojima managed to use the resources given to him from Sony to create something that will be discussed for years to come and I am excited to see if over time the public opinion can reach a consensus.
Death Stranding is one of the most stunning games of all time. Hideo Kojima and his team manage to create gorgeous life like visuals that overcome the uncanny valley and act so real. After the release of RE2 and DMCV I didn’t think that we would see visuals of that caliber from any other studio outside of Capcom but Death Stranding manages to match and exceed the expectations for photographic realism left by its contemporaries. It’s human characters, biomes, effects, and everything in between are nothing short of extraordinary and have set the bar high for other games in the industry.
Admittedly, in the past I would scoff at Hideo Kojma and his love of Hollywood actors and directors. His obsession with movies and films felt strange and forced but now I understand that Kojima had a mission. It was his goal through these connections to show those in other fields the potential of video games as a medium and…he did it. The performances in Death Stranding are some of the best ever in video games. From voice acting to the motion capture it is some of the most painstakingly detailed performance ever in a video game.
The audio visual design are also top notch and work amazingly in conjunction with one another. Each object, area, enemy, and character all have an audio visual identity. This creates an amazing life like world that feels lived in and real unlike any other game that has come before it. Death Stranding is truly something unique in every sense and is a game that will forever be lauded by the general gaming audience as either a masterpiece or pedantic. I really enjoyed my time playing this game and its pursuit of the strange yet endearing and I think it deserves praise.
10. Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order
I have never been a Star Wars person. For some reason I have never connected with the series and even as an adult I have difficulty caring about any Star Wars property. This game manages to do the impossible. For the first time in my entire life I started to care about a Star Wars property and enjoy it. This game feels like this amazing happy medium between lovingly crafted Star Wars worlds for older fans mixed with a fresh and engaging story that even casual fans can have fun with. That alone made this game be one of my top 10 games of the year.
Even as someone who is not invested in the Star Wars universe I could tell that this game had the audio DNA of Star Wars. Key musical themes like an inquisitive pan flute during key story moments and distinct audio cues like the hum from a lightsaber really make this game feel like a real entry in the Star Wars series.
I may not be a Star Wars fan but I think everyone has wanted to be a Jedi at one point in their lives. Being able to use the force and fight with a lightsaber is something that is universally desired by everyone who knows Star Wars. Thankfully, this game manages to capture that feeling you had as a child and hone it into a tight gameplay loop that is always fun to play.
However, the most interesting aspect of the game is its dedication to Star Wars’ examination of philosophy. Philosophical quandaries have always been a huge component of the series as a whole. The fight between the dark side and the light side of the force has been a topic that has been talked about over generations of fans. And the core conceit of most Star Wars properties is that the force and the distinction between good and evil is not always so evenly defined.
Characters in this game are not one dimensional and are not always consistent and that makes the game narratively interesting. How Cal reacts to these changes and his arc as a character is by far the most interesting aspect of the game and has me interested in Star Wars for the first time ever. If this game can convert me into a Star Wars fan then it is sure to be an amazing experience for all and I highly recommend checking it out.