Games of 2019: 10-6

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 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. I’ll have two articles exploring my favourite games of the year (The big top 10), as well as one that explores games I haven’t talked about for a while. There’s quite a few.

Anyway, let’s get down to it! Seriously, I’ve had a real challenge this year. I’m still not 100% convinced by the ordering of these.

 

Number 10: Outward

Let’s start with one of the most interesting RPG concepts in a long time.

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I had a real challenge with this game on where to stick it in my list. Do I mention it at all? Do I stick it in Honorable Mentions? Where the fuck do I put it?

I was torn between three games for my Number 10 spot, three very similar RPGs that suffered considerable gaps in one way or another. You know about two of them: Greedfall and The Outer Worlds. After a lot of debate with myself, I decided to go with Outward. Why?

Well, one, it’s my choice, so fuck it. Two, I felt more attached to this game than I did the other two games. Something really drew me to it. It’s a game made by a very small dev team. Being on one myself, I have the utmost respect to them, as they had the balls to make a lot of big risks and releasing this behemoth into the world. An indie studio launching a AAA esque title (with some pretty serious marketing I might add) out there, especially a game like Outward, which is a little out there itself, takes a lot of courage to do. It does a lot of things well, and a lot of things…not so well.

What can I say about Outward? One, the game doesn’t fuck around. It’s got a required taste, and that will put a lot of players off. It almost feels like a single player MMO in places. There are some pretty brutal survival mechanics: you need to eat, drink and sleep to stay alive. Food rots quickly, and eating spoiled food will make you sick, making a challenging game even more difficult. Oh, and there’s no fast travel or any clue where you’re going on the map. You need to plan things out. There’s a little tutorial to get you started, but apart from that you’re thrown right into it with zero handholding.

When the story begins, you start off with your house at risk of being repossessed, and you have a few days to stump up the cash. From there, the world is your oyster, though the game doesn’t end if you die. Instead, one of many events might happen. Oh, and you can’t save manually either. Everything you do stays on. No save scumming, no reloading bad choices. Have fun! There’s lots of different factions and playstyles, and you can only spec into a couple of each every playthrough, so there is a lot of replayability out there.

While the combat can be clunky, there is a sense of achievement in working things out, and while magic is extremely powerful, you need to unlock it, then invest a lot of your skills into it. There’s quite a lot of depth into the combat, and while it reminds me a little like Pirahna Bytes games at times, and not in a good way, it does get the job done. There’s also many different enemies in the game, all with their different attack styles. Fighting in this game can be pretty punishing.

The game also feels dated in many ways. The open world is fairly barren at times, but the exploration aspects are actually pretty well done. There’s a lot of cool things to discover on the map (and it’s a big map), but it does feel sparse in places. The graphics aren’t great, but they’re good enough for getting the job done, and for such a small dev team size, I think they did a pretty good job overall.

There’s a lot of ambition and love in this game, just I think the MMO-esque part of it shows up a bit too much with a general lack of wealth in terms of towns. The lack of voice acting overall doesn’t help it, and I’ve had my share of nasty bugs as well. Nothing too damaging, but with a game that you can’t reload, it can be pretty unrelenting. No fast travel also puts a lot of emphasis into walking, and with its rough survival mechanics playing, I found a lot of my gameplay was a walking simulator. I didn’t dislike it, but it could’ve been done better. At least give us some fast travel options, even if we need to work for it.

I think the 10 slot is the best place to put Outward. I overall rather enjoyed it, more than I liked Greedfall and The Outer Worlds anyway. With a little more work, Outward can be turned from a good game into an excellent one.

Final Score: 8/10

 

 

 

Number 9: Planet Zoo

After what I feel was the disaster of Jurassic World Evolution, I went into Planet Zoo with more than just my fingers crossed. I know they had to rush it because of movie thing etc etc, but it was still a mess.

So…What did I think of Planet Zoo?

Well, it’s better than Jurassic World Evolution. A lot better frankly, and thank fuck for that.

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Just look at that cute face!

Planet Zoo is a game that I think a lot of people have wanted for a long time. A new age zoo simulation game that’s not a decade old or crap, unlike some of the stupid attempts to reboot Zoo Tycoon from back in the day. And like many others, I wanted a fresh new take on the zoo management genre.

Overall, I think Frontier did a good job. If only they made JWE like this… Anyway.

If you’ve ever played Planet Coaster, you would notice the similarities between that and Planet Zoo. In fact, most of the features are the same. Except, instead of having rides, we have animal exhibits that are fully customisable. Like Zoo Tycoon, you create your exhibits so you can cater to your animals needs and welfare, which plays an important role in having an impressive zoo.

This game is freaking gorgeous in how they got the animal animation. They really went above their weight in making everything feel good, and despite a few glitches here and there, the game holds its own in this regard beautifully. The animals are truly a sight to see, and I can spend many hours just taking the camera and watching them.

Sadly I can’t do that all the time unless I want them to starve to death. The game has a lot of micromanagement when it comes to keeping your animals content, and while there’s no shortage of things to do, it can be a bit frustrating to get it all in balance. There’s some pretty nice tutorial parks to get your feet wet, but besides that, it can be a struggle to remember everything.

Once again, while Frontier loves making these really pretty games, they can leave something to be desired in performance. Like Planet Coaster, Planet Zoo starts to tank your system hard when parks reach a certain size. And there’s some wonkiness to the time scale. Time advances so quickly that animals do age and die out pretty fast, which is a real thorn in this games side. Makes matters worse when they breed on lightspeed too.

However, I feel strongly connected to Planet Zoo. It’s a solid performance all round, and potentially better than Planet Coaster. This is the game Frontier should have made from the beginning.

Final score: 8/10

 

Number 8: Unity of Command 2

 

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It took me a long time to decide on who gets this spot. What game belongs here? I’ve played a lot of titles this year, many games.

However, based on a late surge the past couple of weeks, I eventually decided upon Unity of Command 2. It’s nice playing a good strategy game again, and we don’t get that many anymore. Unity of Command 2 not only fits the bill, but it’s a pretty strong pick all round.

World War Two has so many games out there guzzling upon its corpse, but I’m happy to say that this game has done a good job. I’ve been enjoying it a lot, to be honest.

I only played a bit of the original, and while I enjoyed it, I found it was lacking. Fortunately, Unity of Command 2 is an excellent sequel that expands a lot on the original game. It’s base mechanics are there in force, but everything else including tactical use of force, maintenance and disruption of supply lines, etc. have been expanded and enhanced to add both complexity and depth to the game-play. There’s a good amount of content here, and the logistics in-game is quite compelling. Winning missions through cutting off supplies and weakening the enemy forces, watching them dwindle and weaken over turns until they were easily destroyed…

I may have a problem. There’s a lot to like in this game for certain. I haven’t played a great deal of it yet, hence the relatively short review, but I love strategy games with an emphasis on logistics, and UOC2 goes some way in allowing that. Pretty good so far, and it’s made an impact on me.

Final score: 8.1/10

 

 

Number 7: Lost Ember

 

This game really took me by surprise, and I wasn’t expecting to be affected in such a way. I’m not usually one to be drawn to these “art” style games, but Lost Ember did it for me, and that alone is a reason to rank it as highly as I did.

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Tasteful photo of wolf ass aside, you start off as the spirit of a woman who has died, and you’re helped by a spirit guide to find the City of Light to be allowed back into heaven. The story is quite compelling, and I found myself both drawn in and affected by the game as it played out. It starts off fairly happy, but it really ramps up in terms of emotions, and I really felt for both main characters. The story takes a really dark and sad turn, but it ends on a beautiful note.

Lost Ember gives you a bunch of chapters in big open spaces to explore, and while it’s fairly linear, you get some opportunities to run about. You can transform into several different animals to get around the map easier, and it’s these cute moments where the game really shines. It’s part walking simulator, part platformer in many ways, but I had so much fun in these segments. You can fly as a parrot or duck, swim as a fish, climb as a mountain goat, dig tunnels as a mole…there’s some depth into these mechanics, and you need them for some sections of the game.

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I mean, just look at how cute they are! Like I said, I’m not usually drawn to games like this, but Lost Ember made it a first time for everything. I really liked all the little mechanics, and the swimming segments of the game are perhaps the best part. It feels quite a lot like ABZU, and jumping about in the water as a fish and exploring the lakes feels very zen.

Zen is a good way to describe this game. I felt very peaceful when playing it and even when the story is over (It’s not a very long game), there’s lots of collectables to pick up. And I feel compelled to go back into the game and try to collect anything. No other game does that for me. I hardly ever want to try and 100% a video game. I want to with this, even if it means replaying the game from scratch.

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The game is also quite gorgeous in places. The art style is pretty good, and while there isn’t much voice acting apart from the spirit guide and the stop action cutscenes, it feels solid overall.

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The game isn’t perfect of course: I’ve seen a few visual glitches, a couple of crashes here and there, and I wish some of the cutscenes were animated. It’s also a little short for its pricetag: the game takes about 7 hours to complete if you take your time. However, I’m not going to count against it too badly. It’s a real surprise of the year for me, and I’m very happy I’m playing it. Overall, solid all around.

Final score: 8.2/10

 

 

Number 6: Wildermyth

Holy shit did this game come in at the right time. I’ve been debating putting this game higher up my list…but I think #6 is the best place. It could very much rise higher in the coming weeks, but like Lost Ember, it crept up on me during November.

Come to think of it, a few games did. Huh. Funny how things go, sometimes.

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I’ll make it sweet: I really think highly about Wildermyth. To describe it best: I’d say it’s a roleplaying fan’s dream. The game launched in early access just in November (and I feel it is the best early access title right now, hence why it takes the one EA spot on my list for 2019), and already I’m having a lot of fun.

At it’s heart, it’s designed for you to make your own characters and campaigns, and there’s already two base campaigns in the game for you to enjoy, with a ton of generated events, battles and content for you, as well as two randomized campaigns with a bit more variation. I’ve played one so far, and starting a second campaign.  I found it humerous, well written and enjoyable to play. There’s also a massive amount of variation, and every campaign feels different. Your characters age and change, form relationships depending on events, get wounded, get random buffs or even die.

There’s also a beautiful artistic style to the game that really grabs my attention. The art style in Wildermyth is a mixture of cartoons and paper, capturing 2D characters in a 3D enviroment during the battle mode. Their movements are basic, but it’s done well, and the fighting system has a wonderful, simple loop. There’s lots of different weapons and abilities to pick up, and the magic system is unique and well-made, giving mages cool ways to unleash their terror upon the battlefield. I really enjoy the combat system, one of the best I’ve seen in an RPG.

The nice thing about Wildermyth is again, the customization. This is designed so you can make your own characters, campaigns and scenarios. You can edit your characters appearance and write up their histories. Here’s a few of my own characters from a previous campaign:

Quinlynn GastBren WaxwoodKralanna

There is a serious amount of depth brewing in this gem of a game. It’s still fairly early in development, but has a lot of content already. I could see this game becoming a massive hit in 2020 if the devs continue the pace they have with it, with more campaigns to come. The artistic style is cute and fresh, the gameplay is extremely satisfying with a good range of in-game events, the enemies are diverse and there’s plenty of choices for difficulty. Want it to be a fun romp, or a Dark Souls murderfest? The choice is yours.

You can even read about the devs visions by clicking on the picture down below. I interviewed them!

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Final score: 8.5/10

 

Whew, that was a long one. Stay tuned, because there’s a lot more games where that came from.

What was your favourite games of 2019? Feel free to let me know!

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