We’ll probably change things up for next time but for this first year, That Nerdy Site selected this week’s awards by an open ballot. Trevor, Logan, Cameron, and Frank were selected as the “games side” of the website and each of them was asked to rank their top three picks for the year in our various genre awards, the design awards, and the platform-specific awards. Everyone’s first choice was scored with 3 points, 2nd choice 2 points, and 3rd choice 1 point. The highest scoring game with all four scores combined won the category and every other game nominated by any of those members was listed in the honorable mentions.
For the listing of the following Best Games of 2019, we used a similar scoring metric but by looking at the Top Games of 2019 for each of those four members. This time, somebody’s number one game earned 10 points, number two earned 9, and so on. The scores were totaled and the top games were selected. Due to the limited ballot pool, there were a lot of ties on our list so instead of celebrating our top ten, we will actually be highlighting twelve games. But first, here is the list of honorable mentions (in alphabetical order) that were nominated by someone but missed the cutoff.
Honorable Mentions: Afterparty, Code Vein, Concrete Genie, Control, Days Gone, Far Cry New Dawn, Katana Zero, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, Pokemon Sword and Shield, Shovel Knight: King of Cards, Super Mario Maker 2, The Division 2, Trials Rising
10. Kingdom Hearts 3, Life is Strange 2, Death Stranding (3-way tie)
Adding a second layer to the results based on how many people nominated the game would eke Death Stranding slightly ahead of Kingdom Hearts 3 and Life is Strange 2, as Hideo Kojima’s title appeared on two separate lists, compared to the highly-ranked sole outings for Kingdom Hearts and Life is Strange.
Cameron ranked Kingdom Hearts as his #2 game of 2019, saying “it engorges itself on its melodramatic storytelling and characterization harder than ever before, going full tilt as the game utilizes the majority of its ensemble roster over the series.” Trevor said of his #2, “…Life is Strange 2 is a series of punches to the gut that shine a light on something I’ve never had to experience first-hand…In the few instances where I might have been able to make a choice to fight back, I never wanted to because I didn’t want to be the monster [other characters] saw me as. They didn’t get that victory. But neither did I.”
Death Stranding was an ambitious project from Hideo Kojima. At its core gameplay elements, it is a third-person action game that, while occasionally featuring gunplay or stealth, is more often than not focused on the much simpler task of getting from point A to point B in an efficient manner. The story’s episodic nature focused on concentrated looks at the game’s fascinating characters of the world moreso than the overall, somewhat simple plot of “travel West and reunite the country,” and the performances themselves are engrossing and wonderful.
9. Resident Evil 2
While it only appeared on Logan’s list, it’s position as his Game of the Year earns Resident Evil 2 a spot on the site’s Best of list. The Resident Evil 2 remake featured an impressive amount of redesign from Capcom as they strove to re-imagine the classic title for a modern audience, successfully managing to update the gameplay and graphics while still maintaining the story, tension, and ever-present threat that fans loved of the original. One of the most beautiful games of 2019 (if you find the detail with which your zombie foes fall apart around you “beautiful”), Capcom have created an incredible case study for the design and creativity needed to re-invent games for a new generation to enjoy.
5. Ape Out, Apex Legends, Sayonara Wild Hearts, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (4-way tie)
The craziest tie on our lists sees these four games all scoring different combinations of points across two ballots each so let’s take them one by one.
Ape Out was a wonderful indie title that took the Hotline Miami-type of “clear a room of bad guys without dying while and awesome soundtrack plays” time of game and swapped out a genocidal maniac protagonist and electronic music for a giant ape and jazz. Grabbing scientists and security guards and throwing them against walls or each other as the drum and cymbal crashes tied to your actions dynamically changed the soundscape was always entertaining.
When Apex Legends more or less came out of nowhere this year as a first-person 3v3 competitor to Fortnite from the team behind the incredible Titanfall gameplay, they shocked the industry. Perhaps the most groundbreaking aspect of the game was its innovative Ping system that allowed players to identify virtually every interact-able object for their teammates. Doing so would trigger the characters to call out the gun, ammo, door, enemy, etc. for the team in a way that broke down the barrier between those who want to play these types of games with microphones and those who don’t. The fact that it was essentially the first really big-budget first-person shooter battle royale to launch with the free-to-play model also helped it standout against the prior year’s $60 Call of Duty: Blackout game mode and the less polished PUBG.
Frank’s Game of the Year, Sayonara Wild Hearts is a beautiful on-rails rhythm game with one of the best soundtracks and art styles of 2019. With the story of the game serving as a metaphor for overcoming heartbreak, there is a powerful emotional undercurrent throughout beautifully and powerfully manifesting in the visual and auditory storytelling as you progress through the game’s twenty-three levels. The arcade-y nature of chasing high scores in each level, as well as trying to discover hidden secrets add to the game’s replayability and appeal.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is, as Tim Gettys eloquently put it, “a jack of all trades, master of Star Wars.” It draws inspiration from a lot of games like Uncharted, Dark Souls, and an archetypal Metroid-vania design model and while it doesn’t reach the heights of the best of those series, it brings them all together in the much-beloved Star Wars universe and manages to thrive. The lightsaber combat, combined with a growing arsenal of Jedi abilities throughout the game, make taking down a squad or Stormtroopers or other alien creatures fun and rewarding time and time again and the characters and story, set in the years between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, are all welcome additions to the grander lore.
3. The Outer Worlds and Devil May Cry 5 (2-way tie)
Our last tie on the list sees a pair of Cameron’s top games sharing the number three spot.
Trevor allied with Cameron on The Outer Worlds, with the two sharing a love for it’s engaging RPG story and satirical story about an overly corporate space colony. The team at Obsidian created their own spiritual successor to the much-beloved Fallout: New Vegas. A smaller-scale RPG allowed Obsidian to focus on a tighter series of locations and quests and a wonderful cast of memorable characters, with Ashly Burch’s Parvati a notable standout. Perhaps, the most exciting aspect is that Microsoft acquired the studio shortly before they published which will hopefully provide the team with more resources to expand and polish a potential sequel.
In Devil May Cry 5, Cameron’s favorite game of the year combined with a high ranking from Frank with the two loving the bonkers action (and That Narrative). Frank was much newer to the series, having only recently played through the rest of games in the lead up to Devil May Cry 5 but noted the latest game features “some of the slickest combat yet, that classic over-the-top action, and the fantastic demon design the series is known for.” Meanwhile Cameron, declaring it his game of the year said, “the game is audacious, ambitious, and jam-packed with brilliant gameplay mechanics,” and, “Devil May Cry 5 is the best the franchise has ever been.”
2. Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Missing the top spot by only one point, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is our runner-up for 2019. Probably fitting since Trevor identified it as the primary cause for not launching That Nerdy Site a month sooner. Another game that ranks highly on the list with the blessing from Cameron and Trevor, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a brilliant execution of the Fire Emblem formula: great turn-based strategy plus an engaging story and a deep cast of interesting characters. Cameron referred to it as “the meme game of [his] meme dreams,” while Trevor awarded it his Game of the Year, saying, “Fire Emblem came out and [he] did nothing but play that game for a good month or so. After nearly three full playthroughs [he] was still being surprised by the characters and their relationships with one another and hopelessly addicted to the gameplay.”
1. Borderlands 3
It’s a little fitting that this just barely beat out Fire Emblem: Three Houses for our top spot as it is also the only game to have appeared on three of the four panelists lists. Trevor, Cameron, and Logan all played the beginning of the campaign together but scheduling issues led to Trevor and Logan continuing on through the rest of the campaign without Cam. Meanwhile, Frank played as well and highlighted his appreciation for “a lot of great quality of life improvements: mantling, sliding, NPCs that can revive you, [and] loot instancing.”
While we all recognize and agree the game is not without its issues and none of us went so far as to rank it as our top game, it earned enough points in the lower spots on our lists to take the victory in a year where there simply wasn’t a clear standout and we all had a diverse list of personal favorites. Across the four of us, we had eight different games in our top twos. Trevor favored the strategy gameplay of Fire Emblem and the moving story of Life is Strange 2, Logan loved the survival horror action in Resident Evil 2 and fast-paced action of Ape Out. Cameron’s long-time love of Devil May Cry and Kingdom Hearts paid off for him in their latest installments. Frank rated the game the highest among us as his number two behind his love for the arcade-y art piece Sayonara Wild Hearts. But we all played and enjoyed Borderlands 3 and its “just shoot everything, get a bunch of fun and cool guns, shoot more stuff, and maybe hang out online with your friends” approach.
So with that, Borderlands 3 is the first ever That Nerdy Site Game of the Year.