Slay the Spire cleverly mixes the roguelite and card game genres, bringing with it a deep and satisfying strategy layer that encourages you to experiment over the course of a multitude of runs to the top of the tower. I can only hope that it continues to see regular updates, because it's already one of my favorite games of 2019.
Elder Scrolls Online heads to Elsweyr, the homeland of the Khajiit. While the environment isn't as impressive as Morrowind or Summerset, Zenimax Online's storytelling is still impressive and entertaining. Unfortunately, the combat mechanics need a little more punch and the addition of dragons ends up be less impactful than advertised. It's a good expansion, but feels like a step down from the previous few.
Dauntless is Monster Hunter for those that don't have the time or money to devote to Capcom's Monster Hunter: World. Dauntless falters in certain areas, but provides the feel of hunting and gear progression in a more streamlined manner. the world can feel a bit lifeless and gamey at time, but this is definitely good enough to carve out it's own space alongside Capcom's flagship series. And being free-to-play with full cross-platform play helps a great deal.
The roguelike nature of Darkest Dungeon combine with more substantial narrative and exploration, and a Korean manhwa aesthetic. Unfortunately, the mechanics of Vambrace need work. Your squad of mercenaries is largely disposable, there's too much randomization in terms of progress, and there are several issues with the user interface. Perhaps a sequel can bring the gameplay closer to the excellent aesthetics, but Vambrace: Cold Soul doesn't come together completely.
Observation has no trouble grabbing you from the go, with gripping central mysteries and questions that demand answers. Painstaking progress through even the simplest commands and instructions counteract any sense of progress in Observation, and ultimately dilutes and cheapens the experience.
Sumo Digital is back to hit you with that fantastic Sonic Racing action. Team Sonic Racing has a new focus on team-based mechanics, but it ultimately feels like a step back from the excellent Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. The tracks are great, there's a whole of new customization options, and Team Adventure's challenge courses do well to differentiate the game from its peers, but it's a rebuilding year.
In Rage 2, you move fast and kill faster. It's the synthesis between id Software's 2016 reboot of Doom and Avalanche Studios' Mad Max, bringing together some of the best ideas from both. Moment-to-moment play on foot is fantastic with each weapon and ability just opening up your options for destruction. Driving could be improved and it's a little on the shorter side, but Rage 2 is a damned good time.
The newly introduced cooperative puzzles and some of the new concepts are where BoxBoy + BoxGirl shine the brightest, like a yellow laser striking down pain. Even with a bit too much of a samey feel now four games in, and some performance issues when the levels and abilities get complex, BoxBoy + BoxGirl is a swell puzzle outing for the Switch.
The zombie apocalypse is well-trodden territory and the open-world spin of Days Gone can only differentiate it so much. There's a strong narrative focus, but Deacon St. John doesn't carry that weight as deftly as he could. There are highlights and fun tools available within, but the game doesn't push those forward first, leaving the players to deal with some tedium first. Days Gone is a great foundation for something better though, so hopefully Bend gets the chance to improve upon it.
SteamWorld Quest is a diet RPG, but it still contains plentiful portions of Image & Form's unique charm and humor. Its card-based battle system is engaging, and you might find yourself enjoying it a lot even if you're not a big fan of digital card games. Expect a straightforward journey that ends much sooner than most RPGs, but maybe a 15-hour quest isn't such a bad thing in a genre that keeps piling on 100-hour epics.
There's a lot to love in Mortal Kombat 11. It's a fantastic fighter with a roster of 25 varied characters, tons of customization options, beautiful graphics, and one of the best story modes in a fighting game. It's a shame that modes like the Krypt and Towers of Time inject annoyance and tedium into what was an excellent experience. The progression is complex and obtuse, when it should be easy and straightforward. MK 11 could been an all-time best, but it's just a contender.
Be the ultimate badass and kill your enemies in slow-motion. There are a lot of games that try to be like Hotline Miami, moving from area-to-area murdering with sheer ruthlessness, but few games match the execution and style like Katana Zero. Great pixel art, a wonderful use of color, and fantastic synthwave soundtrack. From start to finish, it's a fever dream worth having.
Anno 1800 is a city-builder that caters to new players. It's gorgeous, has a campaign that's a huge tutorial, and players don't have to worry about sim aspects like traffic and power distribution. While there have been improvements to the Anno formula, some mechanics are simply not explained and the user interface is lacking for a game built so heavily around trade and economics. It's a good game for sure, but it needs some tweaks to make it fantastic.
Heaven's Vault may have one of the most well-realized video game worlds ever, with your curiosity and personality molding your story through the Nebula. Whether you're fascinated by history or just by a personal sense of duty, there's a lot to love about Heaven's Vault, even if the clunky movement and frustrating sailing sour the overall experience.
Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain plays around with the concepts players have gotten used to with previous EDFs. Classes are open, and the new Prowl Rider offers a new flavor of play that hasn't been seen in the franchise before. Weapons are open, giving more player freedom in terms of character loadouts. But Iron Rain loses some things from the main series, notably the huge swarms of enemies in favor of larger, more meaningful enemies. It's a fine entry in the EDF franchise, but it doesn't step far beyond its predecessors sadly.
There's no denying that breaking down an arrogant witness, and ultimately winning a case in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney feel fantastic. Fitting in the right pieces of evidence to find contradictions is extremely satisfying, I just wish there was more depth, and a little more nuance, to both the witnesses you're breaking down, and the game at large.
Sony San Diego overhauls almost every single aspect of MLB The Show with this update, with the outstanding March to October and Moments modes leading the way. At least for right now, it seems destined to go down as the best baseball sim of the generation, and maybe as one of the best sports sims as well.
Apex Legends spices up the battle royale formula with hero-based shooter pizazz and its revolutionary pinging system, which helps everyone feel welcome to the team. Though its Season One rollout has been disappointing content-wise and its visual flair remains bland, Apex Legends still has the solid foundation necessary for a free-to-play shooter to survive in the long run. And with 50 million players reached in its first month, it's not like it's slowing down anytime soon. We're all jumpmasters now.