Some would say that 2019 was a slower year for gaming. Fans are already anticipating next year's PS5 and Xbox Series X, and there wasn't a clear, conversation-stealing tentpole like there was with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or God of War in years prior.
But when you look back at 2019 in games, you'll find a consistent drip of excellent titles, including surprise multiplayer hits like Apex Legends and refreshing AAA experiences like Control and The Outer Worlds. We saw Capcom return to glory with some of the best Resident Evil and Devil May Cry games to date, witnessed Tetris join the battle royale craze and watched as a nefarious goose stole the hearts of gamers everywhere.
After days of spirited debate, we've settled on our picks for the 15 best video games of 2019.
15. Apex Legends
Many studios tried to capitalize on the 2018 explosion of Fortnite Battle Royale, but few succeeded. Then again, few studios are Respawn Entertainment. These shooter veterans crafted the first game to truly take Fortnite down a few pegs in the battle royale war, thanks to a unique team-based approach to the genre and the same silky-smooth shooting and movement made famous by Respawn’s previous game, Titanfall.
Packed with distinct, memorable characters such as Lifeline, Bloodhound and Bangalore, whose unique abilities must be mastered and synergized à la Overwatch, Apex Legends was the breath of fresh air the battle royale space needed when it exploded at the beginning of 2019. And it's an even better game headed into 2020, thanks to new heroes, new modes and new features for competitive and casual players alike. — Mike Andronico
14. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a Kickstarter-funded game based on a classic franchise, which went massively over budget and took four years to produce. In other words, every single thing about its development should have been a red flag. But rather than ending up a nostalgic disaster, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night delivered exactly what Castlevania fans wanted: a huge, sprawling castle to explore with plenty of secrets, a gorgeous art style, a campy B-movie story, and tight, varied gameplay with plenty of weapons to try.
Everything about Bloodstained simply works, from the perfect pacing, to the interesting mythos, to the bevy of side quests, to the tough-but-fair gameplay. You take control of Miriam as she side-scrolls her way through a huge, winding castle, replete with cathedrals, swamps, libraries and hanging gardens. And if that alone doesn't pique your interest, you can always deck out Miriam with a variety of jaunty hairstyles and hats. — Marshall Honorof
13. Tetris 99
I'll level with you — when I first heard about Tetris 99, I had my suspicions. The whole thing initially felt like a shameless cash grab on the battle royale boom, shilling a franchise that deserved better than to be disposed for a passing fad. But then I played Tetris 99, and I continued to play it for upward of an hour, even though all the while I was never entirely sure what was happening in front of me.
Given away to Nintendo Switch Online subscribers for free, Tetris 99 is the kind of game that sneaks its way into your life and rudely and selfishly hijacks it. If Tetris Effect unlocked the metronomic spirituality that was always beating inside the timeless puzzler, Tetris 99 does exactly the opposite: It weaponizes Tetris. You don't sink further into your own psyche while playing this game; you fling garbage on some rando's board in a frenzied, line-clearing dash to the finish line.
And though there's surprising depth to the strategies with which you can interact with your opponents, you're not necessarily forced to bother with targeting your rivals if you'd rather mind your own business, and you're good enough to win on pure tetromino-stacking skill alone. There's no single path to glory in Tetris 99 — just a whole lot of chaos, and feverish glee every second of the way. — Adam Ismail
12. Pokémon Sword and Shield
Pokémon Sword and Shield is a delicious piece of comfort food with just enough new flavor to keep things exciting. The usual pursuits of catching and battling Pokémon and taking down gym leaders are as fun and streamlined as ever, but there are plenty of exciting new wrinkles to discover in the vibrant, London-inspired Galar region.
The new Dynamax feature makes Pokémon battles literally bigger than ever, with Pokémon that can turn gigantic and use ridiculously powerful moves in adorable Kaiju-esque battles. But what really makes Sword and Shield stand out is the games' new Wild Area. When you step into this semiopen world teeming with huge, powerful Pokémon for you to catch, you'll realize that this is the closest the core games have come to capturing that same feeling of wonder and adventure you probably felt when first watching the anime series. — Mike Andronico
11. The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening
The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening was an incredible game when it debuted on the Game Boy in 1993. And it's still an incredible game now that it's received a top-to-bottom overhaul on the Nintendo Switch. Instead of employing black-and-white sprites, the Link's Awakening remake brings its characters to life with a full-color, cartoony art style that makes the whole cast look like wooden dolls in the world's most elaborate play set.
But the game's visuals aren't its biggest selling point. What's remarkable about this top-down action/adventure title is just how well the game has held up over the last two and a half decades. The original game is almost completely intact, including the striking enemy designs, the clever dungeon puzzles and the snappy dialogue. Link's Awakening on Switch is a beautiful, faithful re-creation of an underrated classic, and it's still a nearly perfect handheld adventure. — Marshall Honorof
10. Untitled Goose Game
To have existed online in 2019 is to know the power of the "HONK!" The most surprising game of the year packaged stealth gameplay inside an adorably drawn adventure of a mischievous goose. Panic and House House's Untitled Goose Game managed to be one of the few things this year that everyone could agree on — at least if they were daring enough to fill the webbed feet of this dastardly animal.
In Untitled Goose Game, you're given a list of ever-growing assignments, all of which pit you as the terror that honks in a small, idyllic town. Lock a child in a phone booth. Trick the gardener into falling over. Steal valuable and precious items. The world's your oyster to terrorize, all with elegant, picture-book-like visuals and a wide set of amusing characters to torment. — Henry T. Casey
9. Death Stranding
Death Stranding is the walking simulator you didn't know you wanted — one that pits you against spooky ghosts with ravenous appetites, bloodthirsty goons who want to steal your crap and unpredictable rain that can accelerate the fabric of time of anything that it comes into contact with. And it's all combined with a bonkers Kojima storyline and an amazing cast, including biker boy Norman Reedus and the excellent Mads Mikkelsen.
Death Stranding is one of the most profound and emotional journeys I've ever been on, and as silly as that sounds, if you've climbed up that ridiculously long ladder in Metal Gear Solid 3 to the Snake Eater soundtrack, then you know exactly how that's possible. Death Stranding starts off a little slow, but as soon as you play up to a certain point, you'll go from zero to 100 to jump on that addict train. — Rami Tabari
8. Mortal Kombat 11
Mortal Kombat 11 has an epic single-player story mode, a ton of engaging offline content and superb online netcode, which is hardly surprising for a NetherRealm Studios game at this point. But the latest installment in the iconically brutal brawler series still manages to up the ante. You've got a bonkers time-traveling narrative that celebrates the series' past and present and a deep custom variation system that lets you truly make your own version of fighters such as Scorpion, Cassie Cage, Raiden and — because why the hell not — the Terminator.
All of that complements the most balanced, mechanically refined fighting ever to grace a Mortal Kombat game, not to mention a stellar tutorial mode that gracefully helps new players understand competitive fundamentals. Sprinkle in the most striking visuals and eye-ripping gore the series has seen yet, and you have what is easily the biggest, bloodiest and best Mortal Kombat game to date. — Mike Andronico
7. Gears 5
I didn't have very much enthusiasm for Gears 5, because it just felt like more Gears at first. But hot damn, was I so pleasantly wrong. One, you've got Laura Bailey's amazing acting skills taking center stage as Kait Diaz. Two, screw grays to hell, Gears 5 features the most colorful and detailed environments of the entire series; it's the first game that truly brought visual life to the franchise. And three, there's more Gears story — and arguably the best-written one — following Kait and Del as they ask the unanswered questions we've had from the original trilogy.
I can't count past three, but I can count how many fools I nuked to hell with my Lancer's grenade launcher (yes, that's now a thing). Gears 5 also introduced open-world environments to the franchise, which it executed wonderfully. I can vividly remember traveling on my skiff through the snow, nabbing all of the collectibles throughout the map and finding myself in the most cleverly and dangerously designed environments. Gears 5 is, hands down, one of the best cover-based shooters around right now, and I cannot wait to see what The Coalition does with the sequel. — Rami Tabari
6. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
The Dark Souls series ended in 2016, but fans knew it was only a matter of time until From Software came up with a new idea. This year, they got Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Like Dark Souls, it's an atmospheric, ultradifficult game with an opaque, minimalist story. But unlike Dark Souls, it's an action/adventure game rather than an RPG, focusing on fast and furious katana combat. As fallen samurai Sekiro faces off against undead soldiers, towering ogres and immortal demons, he'll learn a variety of sword techniques, from whirlwind attacks to jump slashes. He'll also acquire parts for his "shinobi prosthetic" left arm that allow him to tear away enemy shields, swing over huge gaps and more.
While Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is perhaps the most difficult From Software title yet, it's also one of the most beautiful, set in an eerie world inspired by medieval Japanese folklore. It also develops its central cast in a way that the Souls game never did. If you can get the hang of the fluid, demanding combat, Sekiro will reward your patience with an unforgettable samurai experience. — Marshall Honorof
5. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Not every Star Wars story has to be about a Skywalker. All you need is a Force user, a ragtag bunch of freedom fighters (it helps if one of them is a wise-cracking pilot with shady tendencies) and an adorable droid. You get all of this and more with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Players become Cal Kestis, a Jedi padawan hiding out on planet Bracca five years after the infamous Order 66 was executed, wiping out most of the Jedi order.
Cal and crew travel to many familiar places in the galaxy far, far away to track down the means to restore the Jedi Order. Along the way, Cal flashes back to his time as a padawan and reflects on past mistakes and misgivings, once again becoming strong in the Force. As you progress in the game, you can unlock new Force skills, making you a true force to be reckoned with.
I can't tell you how powerful I felt while simultaneously slowing down an enemy, deflecting blaster fire into an unfortunate Stormtrooper and Force-pulling another into range for a vicious lightsaber strike. And while it's tempting to just go in hacking, slashing and Force-pushing, Fallen Order rewards players who take the time to master parrying, blocking and striking strategically with satisfying finishing move scenes. Taking a page out of Dark Souls' book, Fallen Order forces you to face the foe who landed the killing blow after dying to get all that XP you were saving to unlock a new skill.
All in all, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a great third-person action-adventure game with a dark and engrossing story. — Sherri L. Smith
4. The Outer Worlds
The Fallout series is not what it once was; BioWare's latest games leave a lot to be desired. It was a bad time to be a single-player sci-fi RPG aficionado — until The Outer Worlds came along. The game casts you as a settler in the futuristic Halcyon solar system, where greedy megacorporations control every aspect of life. You can break the corporate hegemony, reinforce it or just make a quick buck any way you like; how you play the game is up to you.
You can design a character who excels in melee combat, ranged weapons, conversations, engineering, medicine or any combination of the above. Or, in a particularly creative move, you can even make a character who leans heavily on his or her companions, leveraging their skills whenever they're in the party. With robust gameplay and a variety of ways to solve each quest, The Outer Worlds is a worthy spiritual successor to games like Fallout and Mass Effect. — Marshall Honorof
The Tom's Guide review was wrong.
Control is the result of Remedy accomplishing its goals of the past two decades. Take the action from the Max Payne series, sprinkle in some superpowers and mix that with the mystique and intrigue of Alan Wake, and you get Control. But Control is also a game all its own, putting you in the shoes of Jesse Faden, who follows a mystery to the Oldest House and suddenly finds herself thrust in the role of director of the Bureau of Control.
The game is unafraid to mix superheroics, weird science, family drama, gunplay and lots of lore, should you be willing to dig through it all. And while the game occasionally suffers from massive difficulty spikes, they're always worth overcoming to get to the next mystery, the next superpower or the next sequence that looks like it was ripped from Doctor Strange while an original metal song plays.
There's little hand-holding. Control believes you're smart enough to figure out how to use the heroine's powers. While the game is inherently linear, a number of obstacles have no clear answer. And Remedy also trusts you to follow, and interpret, one of the oddest stories in years but also to reap the rewards of understanding it when it all comes together. — Andrew E. Freedman (Tom’s Hardware)
2. Devil May Cry 5
Capcom's hack-and-slash series Devil May Cry had been quiet since 2013, or 2008 if you're going only by the original story rather than the divisive reboot. But this year, it returned with such force and with such critical and audience acclaim that we're unlikely to have a DMC drought that long again.
Thanks to a well-designed story, long-term fans get to continue following the lives of Dante, Nero and their friends, while newcomers aren't left too lost by references to the previous games. But the real attraction in Devil May Cry 5 is the action, of course. Each of the nightmarish enemies you face poses a unique challenge that only gets complicated as encounters feature larger groups. Fortunately, all three playable characters have long lists of unlockable techniques that you'll still be expanding by the end of the campaign, meaning you'll probably want to dive straight back in at a higher difficulty to show the demons your new favorite way of slicing or shooting them to pieces.
The hard-hitting rock-and-electronic soundtrack plus the loud, particle-filled visuals make for spectacular fights every time, so you'll have fun whether you're smashing through levels on the easiest difficulty or retrying encounters over and over again to get a perfect score. No matter how much time you spend with DMC5, you'll put down the controller still feeling amped up. — Richard Priday
1. Resident Evil 2
It's rare that a remake rises to the level of being the best game of the year, but this one is special. Resident Evil 2 fully reinvents the 1998 survival horror classic from top to bottom, trading the pixelated fixed-camera adventuring of the original for an immersive, atmospheric, third-person action game that looks better, plays better and is more terrifying than any Resident Evil game to date.
The modern-day Resident Evil 2 truly encapsulates everything great about the series: There's the haunting atmosphere and eerily, lifelike visuals made possible by Resident Evil 7's RE Engine, the over-the-shoulder shooting of Resident Evil 4, and the puzzle solving and exploration that made the original RE2 so special. And then there's the unforgettable, persistent dread of iconic villain Mr. X, whose pounding footsteps still make my hair raise multiple play-throughs in. Resident Evil 2 isn't just a lovingly crafted remake; it's one of the best survival horror games of all time in its own right, and it's birthed a formula that I can't wait to see evolve in 2020's Resident Evil 3. — Mike Andronico