Riana Manuel’s Top Five Games of 2019


My pile of shame is just as tall as the next enthusiast’s, but I do manage to play a handful of new releases each year. TBH I struggled to make this list – I played other titles here and there, but I only truly loved a few of my gaming experiences. Here’s my top 5 games of 2019.

Honorable Mentions

I spent an unreasonable amount of time in Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 for how much I didn’t enjoy playing it. I often suffer from a crippling case of FOMO, and my Destiny clan pulled me into this game with the allure of party chats and all-night raiding. The shooty parts felt great, and some of the missions were pretty fun, but the minutiae of min-maxing and overabundance of gear drops were huge turn-offs for me. As soon as my friends stopped playing, I never gave it another thought.

I didn’t really know what to expect from Harry Potter: Wizards Unite aside from a battery-intensive timewaster while I was out shopping or running errands or whatever. It had more story than I thought it would, which was a nice surprise. But the nature of location-based AR games means people who don’t live in a major metropolitan area (like myself) don’t have much to do while playing at home. I liked HPWU well enough, but it didn’t stick with me once the novelty wore off.

Top 5

5. Borderlands 3

I don’t make it a secret that Borderlands 2 is my favorite game of all time. The co-op gameplay, zany (and often gay) characters, astounding writing, and ridiculous lootsplosions just hooked me in a way that no other game ever had before, and none have come close since. Even some of the DLCs are leaps and bounds above entire new games coming out now. With that context you can imagine how high my hopes were for Borderlands 3. Despite knowing Anthony Burch (lead writer on BL2) wasn’t involved with this direct sequel, I expected to love this game… But I didn’t.

The release falling in mid-September provided a short window for me to really dig into the game, and I found myself playing just to get to the next story checkpoint or Typhon chest (high-value loot dead drops). Don’t get me wrong – the gunplay and skill trees felt fresh and made for interesting loadout experimentation, and I thoroughly enjoyed running around the galaxy with new characters and old friends. It just didn’t really get me going like the series’ second outing had, and that was genuinely disappointing. All-in-all I had a good time with Borderlands 3, and I put it at #5 because it holds a great deal of nostalgia for me – but I didn’t finish it and I probably won’t for awhile. It was too easily overshadowed by #4…

4. Destiny 2: Shadowkeep

Dad jokes aside, Shadowkeep sincerely cast Destiny 2 in a whole new light (ok sorry, last one I promise!). I was a day 1 vanilla Destiny player and caught every DLC release, but my enthusiasm for D2 was on the decline pre-October. Then Eris Morn let us know the Moon’s haunted, and I was SUCKED BACK IN.

Shadowkeep gave us faster leveling mechanics, a fantastic spooky storyline, tons of content updates, awesome new loot and I was hooked. My clan played damn near every night for weeks straight and anytime I wasn’t running nightmare strikes or fighting off Vex offensives, I was thinking about my next gear piece or tinkering with my Crucible loadouts on my phone. I still haven’t even finished the raid yet and I’ve not been bored once in the 30-40 hours I’ve spent beating back the darkness. Shadowkeep breathed new life into a franchise right when my interest was waning, much like #3 on this list.

3. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

For me, Call of Duty has been a lot like an old high school friend. When I first came across Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare I played it nonstop. I met some of my best friends through it, and still fondly recall the frenzied cries of my enemies when I’d shotty camp in the downed helicopter on Crash. CoD MW2 was incredible, and the Black Ops games were fun, but over time I fell off from the series. We lost touch entirely when I skipped the last 4 or 5 titles. So I’d resigned myself to the idea that CoD was something I enjoyed in my past, and that’s where it would stay.

Enter Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. I know how corny it sounds, but this game was legitimately a blast from the past. I DEVOURED the campaign in 2 sittings. I played every multiplayer mode by myself for hours before ever teaming up with friends. I even started partying up again with some of my old 2007 CoD4MW gang! When I’m screaming obscenities into my headset while watching bullshit killcams, my inner tryhard is smiling from ear-to-ear. This is what I loved and missed about my old friend. The surprisingly poignant stories it tells, the characters it makes me feel connected to, the adrenaline rush it gives me, and how accomplished I feel when I finally call in that support helo. I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised with this game, and now I can’t wait for our next adventure.

2. Apex Legends

Until I made this list, I thought Apex Legends was my game of the year. One of my best friends (this kid named Blessing, he sorta know about games) made a case for it, and I was immediately on board. I remember jumping in the day it released (February 4th, 2019) with no announcement and zero marketing. From zero to hero. Who’da thunk?

I fooled around with other battle royales and liked them well enough, but Apex hit that sweet spot between loot scarcity and power fantasy unlike any other. Not only did the game launch damn near issue-free, it also had interesting character abilities, tied-in it’s lore with Titanfall, played super well, and oh yea – costed absolutely nothing. Wrap all of that gun game goodness in a few first year seasonal content releases and a non-predatory cosmetics-only lootbox system and Respawn gave us a best-in-class free to play shooter. There’s really nothing not to like here – I mean you can even do backflips in the air for goodness sake. Apex Legends was the perfect go-to game for a few friends to exchange some heated gaming moments while waiting for other major titles, and the industry is better for it.

1. Pokemon Shield

Full disclosure: Pokemon Shield is my first mainline Pokemon game. I played Pokemon Go for a bit when it came out, but it had little impact on me and didn’t really get me excited about the series. This summer I bought a Switch Lite (my first true Nintendo consoled in nearly 20 years) fully intending for it to be my puzzle game machine, and then my partner bought us the Sword and Shield double pack. What I was expecting: a handful of hours spent bopping around a colorful world and trading stuff with my boo. What I got: every waking moment spent playing, thinking about, DREAMING about mother f*cking Pokemon.

I rolled credits about a week in. I obsessed over making the perfect curry. I played catch with Toxicroak until he loved me enough to earn both the Best Friends and Effort ribbons. I memorized match types tables. Nights in our household were (and still are) spent lying in bed running Dynamax raids. I caught the legendary Pokemon, and I STILL have storyline content left to play. I’ve heard folks say this installment in the series pales in comparison to others, but Pokemon Shield has me wanting to play any RPG I can get my hands on. Maybe my expectations were too low, but I’m honestly blown away by this game.

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