2019 has brought in all sorts.
This has been an interesting year for gaming, and I’ve managed to play quite a lot this year as well! This should be a fun series for the end of 2019 that gives a bit of insight into what I’ve been doing when I should be writing my books.
This is about video gaming, and the immense juggernaut of entertainment which shows no signs of slowing down. Problems in gaming still remain of course, but I’ve rather enjoyed the new games this year.
This year my annual gaming awards in December will come in several parts. First up is this one, where I’ll discuss the games that I played and enjoyed, but didn’t quite make it. (With the exception of a couple). Then I’ll announce my Top 10 in two articles.
So, here’s my rules for this year:
- They have to be complete, and released in 2019. Early Access that launched this year in 1.0 do count, just like last year.
- Early Access titles ARE allowed, but only in a complete state, or enough content to support my view. Only one game from this criteria is allowed in Top 10.
- No Remasters or Remakes of any kind are allowed in the Top 10, although I can add them to my list of Honorable Mentions.
- No Ports either. Sorry Divinity Original Sin 2 and Witcher 3 for the Switch, because while you are both excellent quality ports, I want to keep my Top 10 a bit more open. Same goes for Red Dead Redemption 2. Good game, but a port.
- I need to be fair. You’ll see why. In other words, No games I worked on can be in my Top 10, even if I may think they deserve to be in my Top 10.
So, to kick off the first step, the Honorable Mentions! This is going to be a fairly long article, so kick back, make a snack, and enjoy.
Why not kick off with one of the most interesting releases of 2019?
I admit, when I first saw Greedfall, I was…sceptical. Spiders likes their ambition, but it’s been hit and miss. Technomancer had good ideas, but plagued with technical and design problems. So, when I saw Greedfall, I went in with more than a grain of salt. They really put effort into the marketing campaign, so I was very interested.
It’s pretty interesting. Not perfect, the lip sync is pretty bad, but it’s not too distracting. The world design is okay, and I found the characters…Passable. Not bad, not great. The dialogue and voice acting was suprisingly decent, better than I expected from these guys.
The saving grace of Greedfall was it’s quest design, which was stellar. Lots of quests, lots of different ways to complete them. I liked that, it gives you options. Now, it doesn’t do anything different from other games I found, and because of the small dev size, things were sometimes rough. I found my fair share of bugs and crashes, but nothing breaking. The combat felt a bit iffy to me, enough to put me off at first. I improved over time, and I rather liked the levelling system. While the world design was a bit of a mixed bag. The environments were overall excellent with diverse biomes, but the cities were…sloppy. Everything felt a bit copy and paste, which was a real shame in my mind.
Despite these problems, Greedfall is by far the best game Spider’s has put out, and that’s good. It has its shortcomings, and could do with some polish, but they took some risks and it paid off in my mind. It’s overall flakiness and inconsistency drove it away from my top games this year, but I still recommend it.
Keep it up, Spiders. This was a huge improvement over The Technomancer. Just keep plugging away.
Final score: 7/10
The Outer Worlds
Yeah. I really tried with this game. Sorry Obsidian fans.
Now, let’s get this out of the way. The Outer Worlds is a pretty decent game. No denying that. In fact, it’s better than I expected it to be. After all the Epic Games controversy this year with exclusives (I’m not going down that shit-encrusted rabbit hole), I wasn’t expecting The Outer Worlds to work out.
And it did. Kudos to them for actually pulling it off. And I do like it. It’s streamlined, focused, and doesnt feel bloated like so many open world RPGs out there. There’s no “100 hour” experience in this. This is both a good thing, and a bad thing. I’ll explain why a bit later. And for once, Obsidian didn’t launch a game that was broken to all hell. That was the biggest take for me. Now, please get back to fixing the appalling mess that is Pillars of Eternity on the Switch, thanks.
Now, to my issues with it. The game received quite a lot of critical praise…And I’m scratching my head a little. I mean, it’s good. But GOTY worthy? Really? No… It’s not Fallout New Vegas, that’s for sure. I feel a lot of the hype around it is partly due to a lot of consumer exhaustion to Bethesda Bullshhit, and the desire for a really good Fallout game. Fallout 4 is a very competent open world shooter with good shooting mechanics, but it is a terrible Fallout game. That, with how shit FO76 has been lately, is driving a lot of the gushing for The Outer Worlds.
And I just don’t get it. The visuals look good, but dated. It does feel like it was made a few years ago, and it really shows in both good and bad. The dialogue is good and a solid part of the game, but nothing revolutionary. It’s not as good as Fallout New Vegas, nor Vampire the Masquerade Bloodlines. And it’s nowhere near Planescape Torment.
Honestly, The Outer Worlds lacks originality in most areas, almost as if they were scared to branch out. Gameplay-wise, it feels like a streamlined, stripped version of Fallout. They even dumbed down things like lockpicking, so it doesn’t take any effort more than a skill of a button. The game choices in dialogue also feel a little too easy, with very little skill requirements. The characters are okay with some really cute moments, but again, nothing revolutionary nor special.
The loot options and enemy variety…is pretty pitiful. I could count the number of them on one hand.
Visuals look okay, I like the dialogue. The writing is okay – not the best I’ve seen, but it really highlights how a lot of bigger games in recent years have fucked up.
And finally…yeah. Game length. I appreciate shorter games now, but it’s about 20-25 hours for pretty much everything. It almost feels like the game is too short, and it’s too underdeveloped. I can understand why, but it feels a bit of a shame.
For these reasons, The Outer Worlds missed the cut, but it is fun. There’s good options, there’s some decent replayability and you can complete quests in different ways. Just…a bit too undercooked. Hopefully Obsidian can use the excellent sales to really improve their next title.
Final score: 7.5/10
Ah, Wargroove. You know, back when I started playing this game in Feburary on launch, I really liked it, to the point where I wondered how far in my Top 10 it would go. There’s a lot to like about this game for certain. A spiritual successor to Advance Wars in many ways, Wargroove hit the ground running, and I did rather like it.
There’s a substantial campaign to enjoy, lots of different characters and a diverse cast, an excellent map and campaign editor, nice and cute art, and I feel it plays nicely as a little turn based strategy RPG.
The story…is nothing special. There’s no real voice acting apart from one liners here and there, and the characters are just there overall. A little cliche about a kingdom under peril and a spunky teenage daughter trying to come into her throne, it plays out like a YA novel. Not bad, but a little uninspired at times. I didn’t feel invested in the story, though I did like some of the characters, especially Ceasar. Such a good dog!
I wish there were more differences in the factions. There’s a lot of them, but there’s no bonuses or differences apart from the Commander/Hero and their different abilities. I would have liked to see some variety on that regard.
The same goes for the balancing. The units while varied don’t do a whole lot different, and the campaign gets pretty tough at times, almost to an unfair degree. I got frustrated more than engrossed during the campaign more than once. You get graded only on the speed in which you finish the missions, and you need good grades to unlock certain features and options later on in the game.
However, let’s not take too much away from Wargroove. It’s overall a solid experience with oodles of content for its very reasonable price tag. (£15/$20) Visually charming with a lot to enjoy, it has a lot of replayability, and with the custom editors coupled with new content all the time, I have a lot of good to say about this game. It just fell short of my Top 10.
Final score: 7.5/10
Now we really come to near-misses. I’ll say this upfront. The next two games deserve to be on my Top 10, but aren’t for one of my rules. I’ll explain a bit more as I go into them.
Spellforce 3: Soul Harvest
Okay. I know how this one is going to look.
So, to all those who are living under a rock, I made huge improvements to myself in 2019, including landing my first big freelance gig in the gaming industry. Ironically, here at Grimlore Games. I’ll say upfront now, I had very little to zero to do with Soul Harvest’s development, other than playtesting, text-fixing and a couple in-game documents. 98-99% of the work and honors needs to go to these guys 🙂
This is also why I couldn’t add this game to my Top 10 games this year: Because I am affiliated with Grimlore, I felt it a bit unfair to add. Doesn’t mean I can’t talk about it, and I will, as I think more people should know about the game.
This doesn’t take anything away from how I personally find the game though. I go into everything seperated on how I view the game, and it’s how I treated this game as well. What I will say is it would have been in my Top 10 otherwise. No questions asked.
What lies here is a solid and very competent RPG from beginning to end. A standalone to Spellforce 3, Soul Harvest had me gripped from beginning to end. It is damn hard to get a blend of RPG and RTS out there, and Spellforce does a cracking good job at it. SpellForce 3: Soul Harvest is certainly one of the best mixtures of cRPG/RTS currently available on the market, and does a good job in both ends.
There’s varied factions and units, excellent voice acting across the board (I felt invested from pretty much the getgo), a rather nice resource management system that favours macro over micro, and it just overall solid to play. It’s also very reasonably priced at £19.99/$25, with a big discount to anyone who owns Spellforce 3. For a game with a main quest that’s around 20 hours, with total gameplay totalling at least 30 (I cracked 35-40 hours in two different playthroughs while testing), I was very impressed with its value. As someone who hates spending money on anything, that’s testament.
So people won’t say I’ve been gushing and shilling, I’ll say that while it’s a very capable RPG, the RTS side can have a couple of balancing issues. I feel it’s a stronger RPG than RTS, though the latter is still competent, and I would’ve liked to see better pathfinding in the unit movement. AOE2 and Starcraft are massive to this day because of that.
Overall, I find the game a very solid experience with good lore and gameplay across the board. I recommend it, but try it out for yourself. It’s not the absolute best RPG out there, nor the best RTS game, but it does both very well and holds its own against the high-end, big titles for me this year.
Final score: 8/10
Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition
This remaster really took me by surprise. In fact, I was tempted to break all my rules for this game, as it really does feel more than just an ordinary remaster or remake. It’s the same game, but…different, prettier, and in many ways superior.
AOEII is one of the best games ever made. It’s just a beautiful strategy game, with a suprisingly big professional scene that’s just a joy to watch. This remaster went a long way to fix old problems, add new toys and includes everything from the last six years in one affordable package.
In this game, you get:
Age of Empires 2
The Conquerors Expansion
The African Kingdoms
Rise of the Rajas
All in one little giftbox, along with upgraded graphics and sounds, new soundtracks, four new civilisations and three new campaigns. That’s twenty six campaigns in total, thirty five different civilisations, a slew of historical scenarios of flexible depth and there’s even a bunch of new tutorials if you want to improve competitive gameplay.
I have to say honestly: this is the best version of AoE2 so far. It has all of the content that has come out for AoE2 HD since 2013 as well as new content. It runs smoother than the HD version and has better graphics as well. For 20$, it’s a solid price point for hundreds of hours of content. It’s not perfect: Multiplayer has a few bugs, the new civilisations are a little unbalanced and there’s been some controversy over the new voice acting (Personally, I take better quality over nostaliga any day, but that’s just me) but overall, an incredibly solid experience.
I toyed for several days whether to scrap my rule and move this into my Top 10. However, I do feel it belongs in this spot. Not to bring down its quality like Soul Harvest, but out of respect to my rules. Don’t let my weird ruling get you down though. This is an excellent game.
Final score: 8.5/10
The Top 10 will go up in a week from now. I still need…to decide who wins my top spot. It’s gonna get wild.