2019 – Simply a very good year for Xbox gamers

Xbox One

2019 has not been a 2018 or 2017 in gaming. By that I mean it hasn’t been an extraordinary year for the games industry, because both of those years were extraordinary. That being said, 2019 has been a good year for Xbox. I think most of us can agree that the last 12 months have been slightly more specific in their games, but those that have launched have been met with good, if not great, critical and commercial praise. In other words, most of them found an audience.

On a more specific note, 2019 has been a good year for Xbox One owners, though that is mainly due to a few last-minute announcements of next-generation hardware and an exclusive which was considerably better than many thought it would be. But without further delay, let us remind ourselves of some of the games that were released on the Xbox platform in 2019, both exclusive and third-party, in order to take in a retrospective of how the year went for Xbox.

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In January we had Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown which seemed to be a solid entry for the franchise. Though its story is rather absurd, this is a great example of a game that is made for a certain audience, i.e. Ace Combat fans. And for those fans, I think it was a good game, if not great. Onimusha: Warlords arrived early in the year as the most shocking remaster that nobody was expecting, but one which appeals to those dedicated to the franchise. Hopefully it indicates to these people that there is more to come.

We also got in January the indie darling Guacamelee! 2 and Resident Evil 2 – the latter of which proved to be brilliant. A complete remake from the original, this quickly became everyone’s favourite Resident Evil game and in many cases their favourite horror experience. The atmosphere, the puzzles, the resource management, the graphics, the lighting and the attention to detail all make this game exceptional. And for many, the best game of the year.

Kingdom Hearts 3 finally arrived and was the first Kingdom Hearts game to hit the Xbox platform – it’s strange that none of the previous games have released on the system. But the game nevertheless became one of the biggest games of the year and received good critical praise despite the awkward dialogue and convoluted storyline.

Respawn surprised us with Apex Legends – a first-person Battle Royale arena shooter competing against the likes of PUBG and Fortnite. It did well, managing to hold its own financially and culturally against these other two gaming giants, with Fortnite being the obvious phenomenon out of the two. It had some controversy with its micro-transactions but I’ve only heard good things about this game in the months since it launched.

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The full version of ASTRONEER arrived on Xbox One – an indie game which has overcome difficult challenges throughout its development. And that’s a huge understatement to say the least. Moving slightly forward in the year, February 15th was marked as one of the busiest gaming release days ever as three AAA games were released on this day: Crackdown 3, Far Cry: New Dawn and Metro: Exodus.

While Crackdown 3 is the only Xbox exclusive on this list, it was also the worst game to release on February 15th. Far Cry: New Dawn was a glorified DLC made into a retail release but did the job required well, whilst Metro: Exodus was the best in the franchise thus far and proved that 4A Games are a developer worth keeping an eye on for making atmospheric and consequential Russian post-apocalyptic FPSs. Yet Crackdown 3 did nothing but deliver on a very basic Crackdown single-player experience, throw in a multiplayer mode that felt like it was in alpha, and seed doubt for Xbox Game Studios games.

Bioware released Anthem on February 22nd and, to many people’s surprise (though not my own), it failed to deliver on its promise. There are rumours that the game is being rebooted sometime in 2020 to reinvigorate the player-base, but I worry that it is too late, especially as the game is now sold for £5.00 or less in most retail outlets. That fact says it all about the story of Anthem.

Dead or Alive 6 is another Dead or Alive game. Black Desert came to Xbox with good acclaim – an MMORPG on a console to watch perhaps in the coming months and years. All the while Capcom was busy cementing their place as the best publisher in 2019 by releasing the highly-anticipated Devil May Cry 5 – one of the best action-games this generation and, again, one of the best games of the year.

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Ubisoft released The Division 2 in the middle of March which improved on the first game’s formula to a significant extent, though I’m unsure of its ability to retain a solid player-base in early 2020. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice launched at the end of March and became one of the best souls-like games to ever hit the Xbox. It’s been credited with faster movement, cinematic story elements and other compliments which I’m sure exist but I don’t know about because I don’t have the patience for these types of games, so Sekiro seems like a brilliant game if you enjoy that genre.

Generation Zero was developed by Avalanche Studios and is probably their worst game to date. Nothing more we need to say about that. Gang Beasts came to consoles and is still one of the most fun couch games to play with others. Assassin’s Creed III Remastered was released and it is slightly surprising how popular this remaster was considering many players disliked this entry back when it first released in 2012. Speaking of remasters, Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition was a remaster of the first game created to build up hype for Borderlands 3. It proved to be a great remaster with quality of life improvements.

Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster was the first of many Final Fantasy games to come to Xbox for the very first time, marking a remarkable milestone in third-party relations for Xbox. World War Z surprised many when it was released in the middle of April as being a surprisingly good multiplayer zombie survival game, in a similar vein to Left 4 Dead. Mortal Kombat 11 continues NetherRealm’s streak of fantastic fighting games, becoming another great game of 2019.

RAGE 2 was released with about as much impact as the first RAGE – fun and time-consuming but forgettable and unimpactful. A Plague Tale: Innocence, on the other hand, tried to expand the small AA market with its third-person stealth-adventure journey set in medieval times. It is my game of the year though and without question one of the best titles to release in 2019. Team Sonic Racing released and is a poor man’s Crash Team Racing, while Layers of Fear 2 seems to deliver with more Layers of Fear.

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Void Bastards was an interesting FPS Rogue-like which has a unique art and gameplay style, with enough differentiation to make the short experience feel fresh. It is worth checking out if you haven’t already. Outer Wilds released in full after existing in game preview for a year or two. It’s a game which slowly spread through word of mouth, eventually making the GoTY discussions by the end of the year. Not a game for me, but again it’s probably worth at least checking out for a game that is different from a lot of others.

The Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr released early June, building the popular MMORPG to an even greater degree. This game only seems to be getting bigger and better. Forza Horizon 4: LEGO Speed Champions DLC came out as the most surprising expansion of the year; LEGO cars in the reality-based world of Forza Horizon 4. Later in June, we saw the Kickstarter game Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night release to fairly favourable reviews from critics and players alike. A beat-for-beat copy of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, this game delivered on that exact promise of being just like Symphony, with some game-breaking bugs preventing it from being a GoTY contender.

Activision continued their remake streak of Crash and Spyro games with the next high-in-demand kart-racer Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled. Crash once again delivered on gamer’s dreams by allowing them to play through a complete remake of the best kart racer of all-time (yes, I’m including Mario Kart 8 in that judgement). Activision was also clever enough to use this game as an online platform – continuously updating the game with free new maps and characters, meaning that you there’s more than enough content here for fans old and new.

EA’s newest ‘Original’ was Sea of Solitude: a third-person action-adventure around the topic of depression. I, as well as many others, kept their eye on this game nearing its release but unfortunately it received mixed to favourable reactions instead of widespread buzz. At the end of July, Bethesda surprised us all by releasing all three of the classic DOOM games to all platforms, and they pretty much received critical acclaim because they’re classics. Bethesda also dropped one of the smaller Wolfenstein titles released in-between main entries in the rebooted franchise, Wolfenstein: Youngblood. It was met with terrible reviews from, well, everyone. This was a massive disappointment to say the least following on from Wolfenstein II, one of my FPSs of this generation.

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Control launched at the end of August and was a divisive game from launch. While everybody praised its telekinetic gameplay and atmosphere, the story seemed to be met with either love or disdain. All that being said, it was still one of the best games of the year according to most GoTY articles and lists, and at least tried to do new things in an old genre.

Blair Witch is a timed Xbox exclusive that also launched straight to Game Pass at the end of August. What we have here is a slightly better than expected horror game which seems to have grown a bit of a cult following, similar to the original film, the universe of which it exists within. We then get one of the best games of the year, and likely the best Xbox game of the year, Gears 5. Gears 5 manages to keep faithful to the franchise whilst also trying many new bold things. The shooting has never felt better and the story has never been more intimate. On the same day, Capcom released its huge expansion for Monster Hunter World: Iceborne. A great expansion for a great game – Iceborne is another example of a developer being able to carve out their longitudinal audience.

Spiders have a history of developing good RPGs which don’t quite hit that top tier mark. Over the years they’ve developed their skillset with various titles to eventually make Greedfall – an accomplished RPG which most fans of the genre should give a go because of its interesting world and lengthy quality. Speaking of quality, The Walking Dead: The Final Season is not something which fans of the series should play considering it re-writes the first season’s possibilities to a frustrating extent, and doesn’t particularly deliver on the promise of execution that it should.

One of my favourite games of the year, and one which has been desired since 2013, is Borderlands 3. The compilation of years of character-building, mechanic-perfecting, and hype delivers on a great game which poses a satisfying story and arc for its characters. There’s no denying that there are some glaring issues with the game, but that doesn’t stop it being one of the most fun games to play this year – with friends especially.

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A couple of games influenced heavily by the Dark Souls franchise that released this year (as well as Sekiro) are The Surge 2, a post-apocalyptic robot game, and Code Vein, a dark anime-style Dark Souls. Both are good if you enjoy that genre – though it begs the question of how many there can be before some give away their market share. Destiny 2 released its latest large expansion post-Bungie separating from Activision as their publisher: Shadowkeep. A return to form pleasing fans of the game, this expansion tips in the favour of the future potential of the franchise.

Ubisoft released a spiritual sequel to Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands, Ghost Recon Breakpoint. As a game which didn’t meet or improve on anything which made Wildlands enjoyable, Breakpoint didn’t quite live up to the hype. And yet, it still sold very well, but not as well as Ubisoft had hoped apparently. The Ghostbusters game from 2009 got a remaster… which is strange. Baldur’s Gate I and II: Enhanced Edition released on consoles with all DLC included and reminded gamers of why Bioware made their name with these games and why the excitement for Baldur’s Gate III is palpable.

Ex-rare developers created a sequel to Yooka-Laylee but set it in 2.5D instead of 3D. Funnily enough, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair was met with greater acclaim than the original game. WWE 2K20 was a broken mess when it came out at the end of October and that’s all I’ll say about that. Call of Duty made a small but impactful renaissance by rebooting one of its most beloved sub-franchises with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and by taking risks with the multiplayer and the campaign. Though it still didn’t reach the high expectations that the first few Modern Warfare entries set.

A game that came out on the same day is The Outer Worlds, Obsidian’s new IP and an attempt to deliver on a Fallout: New Vegas-style RPG which is also their first release under the ownership of Microsoft. This one proved to be a very good game that does exactly what it should. Night School Studio, following their successful game Oxenfree, released Afterparty at the end of October – receiving good reviews all around and acting as another great addition to Xbox Game Pass.

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A game of the year for many, and a great game for everybody else, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order states Respawn’s importance in the industry. It’s the best Star Wars game we’ve got since EA took the franchise (and yet it’s only the third game to release under their banner) and it’s another reminder of why Respawn is a top-quality studio who will be dominating in the years to come. Sid Meier’s Civilization VI came to consoles towards the end of November and unsurprisingly it’s a great game about managing civilizations.

343 Industries made the leap to PC in the form of releasing Halo: Reach remastered (for The Master Chief Collection) helping gamers have nostalgic multiplayer for any wanting to relive the Halo glory days. The game reached 150K concurrent players the day after it launched which is a good sign that 343 are making the right decision. The same can’t be said for Dontnod who finished their episodic title Life is Strange 2 at the beginning of December. Though the gameplay has improved in a way which the Telltale games never did, the story suffers from unlikable characters and heavily political commentary.

Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey was inspiring in terms of seeing such a unique concept being made to an AA, if not AAA, quality. Sadly the game seems a bit tedious for many of us, though I hear there are some great elements to enjoy if it does strike your fancy. And then there are a couple of shout-outs: Untitled Goose Game is the year’s meme game for providing many laughs for gamers everywhere, and My Friend Pedro must be mentioned for being an awesome 2D action experience with the challenge to boot.

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Now we’ve looked back at 2019, let’s look forward to 2020. This is where we have generation-defining games releasing, including but not limited to Cyberpunk 2077, DOOM Eternal, Halo: Infinite, a new Assassin’s Creed and a new Watch_Dogs. New exclusives such as the Cuphead DLC – The Delicious Last Course – and remakes of classics like Destroy All Humans also headline the list. Oh, and there is, of course, one other small thing.

Games that we were planning to play in 2019 but got delayed include the reboot of Battletoads which looks good if you’re a Battletoads fan. And Psychonauts 2 looks excellent even if you didn’t play the first game nor understand anything of what’s going on with the sequel’s trailer – I find it hard not to be impressed by what’s been shown thus far.

Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag spiritual successor and evolutionary sequel Skull and Bones got delayed to after March 2020, with it looking more impressive each time Ubisoft shows it off. Indie star Spelunky has a sequel which is due to arrive in 2020 to the excitement of many fans of the original. DOOM Eternal is to be the big game release for Bethesda this year, aside from the fact that it got a considerable delay to March 2020 from its original release window of November. I’m confident this will only benefit the game and players who are extremely excited to carve their way through some demon fodder.

The launch of the most powerful console and a brand new Xbox generation is ready to commence with Xbox Series X. I speculate it will bring with it the best launch line-up of games (and games which are backwards compatible) we’ve ever seen.

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