Video Game Studios To Be Thankful For in 2019

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The video game community is a fascinating society. When new games are announced, everyone rallies together in excitement for that brand new IP or extension and yearns for it, for quite some time after. In 2019, however, that excitement hasn’t been as prevalent. Perhaps I’ve been paying too much attention to twitter this year, but it seems like fans have been pickier than usual and left somewhat dissatisfied with games that studio teams have worked a ton of painstaking hours to complete. Thus, it’s resulted in head-scratching lower-than-usual metacritic scores and unnecessary boycotting.

The reality is, 2019 has been an exceptional year for gaming. We experienced a metric ton of memorable gameplay, stories, and unimaginable advancements in technology. With it being the season of thanks and reflection, I’m looking back at the incredible works and give thanks to the uber-talented teams behind some of the best games of 2019.

Respawn Entertainment

Respawn Entertainment has been on a hell of a run, since last year. After Titanfall 2 failed to receive the acclaim it rightfully deserved, Respawn went back to the drawing board and found success in their battle royale game, Apex Legends. In 2019, they continued to expand and improve on Apex Legends with the ushering in of a 3rd season, which introduced new characters, a broader story, and a fancy new map.

While that’s something to be thankful for, the biggest reason we have to thank Respawn is for Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order. For what has felt like decades, gamers and Star Wars fans have been pleading for Electronic Arts to release a quality Star Wars experience, specifically a single-player story. After fellow EA-owned studio, DICE failed to live up to those expectations with both Battlefront titles, Respawn took the baton and absolutely delivered with their linear Star Wars story, Jedi Fallen Order.

With a mix of Uncharted-type roaming, Dark Souls-like difficulty, and a compelling story that expands the ever-growing lore. What makes this even better is that Respawn seemingly developed Jedi Fallen Order their own way. 

After initial success of the Frostbite game engine, EA made it mandatory for studios to use the very complex engine for all their games. It resulted in excellent quality graphics for games like Dragon Age Inquisition, the Battlefield series, and their various sports titles. However, it’s also been considered one of the backbreakers for Mass Effect Andromeda and, more notably, Anthem.

Instead of going through the headache of figuring out the Frostbite engine, Respawn opted to go with Unreal Engine 4 and the result was an uber-smooth, fun experience. If the success of Jedi Fallen Order can convince EA to calm down on the use of Frostbite, we’ll have even more reasons to be thankful for Respawn.

Obsidian Entertainment

Obsidian Entertainment absolutely knocked it out of the park in 2019. After years quietly working with the original creators of the Fallout series, Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky, Obsidian announced that they were releasing a new Fallout-type game, late last year. It was called The Outer Worlds and they proceeded to spend all of 2019 hyping up their original IP, before releasing it to critical and commercial success.

The Outer Worlds was everything Fallout fans have yearned for, for years. It included a unique galaxy to explore, fantastic first person shooting gameplay, morality questioning decisions, a fascinating, well-balanced story, and NPCs you’d give your life for (Parvati forever). 

For us, The Outer Worlds was one of the best games of 2019. Obsidian and the directing duo of Cain and Boyarsky should be proud of what they accomplished. It’s an incredible ride and one we should all be thankful exists in this timeline.

Kojima Productions

Among all the ones on this list, this is probably the most divisive. Three years ago, renowned video game director and storyteller Hideo Kojima set off on his own, after a tumultuous exit from Konami. He put together Kojima Productions, and shortly after announced his first game under his own banner, Death Stranding. 

The next three years, Kojima proceeded to confound viewers with strange, almost random trailers and footage of a naked Norman Reedus on a beach ripe with dead sea life, Mads Mikkelson hanging out in World War II with skeletons, Guillermo del Toro scared out of his mind and holding a baby in a jar, and Troy Baker summoning a giant tar-like lion, just to name a few. Then, out of nowhere, it’s revealed that Death Stranding gameplay consisted of being a mailman. Crazy, right?

Well, the result was an absolutely unmatched gaming experience. While some criticized the gameplay as being boring, many others found the beauty and fear that Kojima and his team were working to convey. The overwhelming theme of the game was about connecting a broken society. That’s easy to show in cinematics, but it’s another to do it with other players. The beauty of Death Stranding is building roads and structures to be used by other players to make their gameplay experience easier. I found myself caring more about building roads and delivering packages more than proceeding to the next chapter, which is not a slight in any form or fashion to the campaign, as it is INTENSE and extremely gratifying.

While some may knock the early parts of the game, you can’t deny that what Kojima created was an exceptional work of art that allowed players to connect with each other to create, rather than destroy. Moreover, it’s an encapsulating story that features some of the best acting and writing in a game not developed by Naughty Dog. Hats off and a big thanks to Kojima Productions for this one.

Game Freak

I’m a huge Pokemon fan and have been since I was like 7 or 8 years old. I played all the games, watched the show for a while, and at one point even collected Pokemon cards. So, when I say that Pokemon Sword and Shield is probably my favorite Pokemon game, you have to understand it’s not said lightly.

Game Freak developed Pokemon Sword and Shield to take place in the Galar Region, a region inspired by the UK. That inspiration is riddled throughout the game from the landscape to the way people talk to even the region’s unique Pokemon. It’s so cool to see how much attention to detail and love Game Freak put into this game to make it feel accurate to the UK.

Moreover, this is one of the first times that Game Freak has expanded and tinkered with the normal Pokemon routine. For instance, your rival is your best friend and every encounter is about making each other better. Plus, you have an actual relationship with the overall champion and the other trainers you meet along the way. Also, you can customize your trainer and camp/cook with your Pokemon. Furthermore, there is tons of lore and the Wild Area will absolutely destroy you at early levels.

Now, it does have its issues, primarily with the raids, but Sword and Shield shows that Game Freak is trying to update and improve the Pokemon experience. They absolutely needed to do it to keep the Pokemon franchise fresh and they definitely succeeded, as Sword and Shield sold over 6 million copies. While Game Freak has that to be thankful for, we have an entire region, story, and new crop of Pokemon to thank them for.

ZA/UM

Role-Playing Games come in many shapes and forms, but none of them accomplished what ZA/UM’s Disco Elysium accomplish in 2019. In this game, you play as an unnamed alcoholic detective in the city of Revachol, trying to solve a murder. The manner in which you do so and interact with others is entirely up to you, based on the advice and conversations had internally with the many personality traits we all possess.

In a lot of ways, Disco Elysium plays like a DnD game in that you roll dice to perform certain actions. Depending on how you progress the very unique skill tree will often dictate your chances of being successful. The interesting thing about this game is the world and the many dialogues had. It’s so good, in fact, out of all the games on this list, Disco Elysium is the best written. I often get tired of reading too much in games, because I’m an impatient 30 year old, but that wasn’t the case with Disco Elysium. It’s that compelling.

The revolutionary way ZA/UM developed Disco Elysium set the bar for all RPGs that will come after it. I mean, the game hardly has any combat mechanics and it’s still that damn good. That’s something we can all be thankful for.

FromSoftware

So far, most of this list has been cramped with games that released later in 2019. However, there was one game that released much earlier and kicked off what would become an incredible year for games. That game was FromSoftware’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.

Sekiro told the story of a one-armed shinobi on a mission to retrieve his young lord, who was kidnapped on the fated day he lost his arm. While the story is quite good, it’s the combat mechanics that really made this game a must-play for fans of FromSoftware games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne

Utilizing a wide variety of real-life combat styles and intertwining it with the ethereal, fictional feudal Japan, FromSoftware was able to create unique, uphill battles for our one-armed wolf to conquer. It made for some of the most terrifying, intense gameplay experiences ever, with the only gratification coming after the sigh of relief when you defeated the suped-up boss you were facing after 88 tries.

Another reason to be thankful for FromSoftware, the studio partnered up with Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin to develop an original game, called Elden Ring. Only one trailer has been released so far, but it’s already one of the top games on people’s 2020 wishlist. For Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Elden Ring, FromSoftware gets our sincerest thanks.

Intelligent Systems

The Nintendo Switch had some great titles released this year. However, there was only one that could really be in contention for game of the year and that’s Fire Emblem: Three Houses. For years now, Intelligent Systems has been developing Fire Emblem games for Nintendo. However, Three Houses was the first on an in-home console since 2007’s Radiant Dawn. Moreover, it was a fresh take on the well-established series. 

In the game, you play as a mercenary-turned teacher. As you might expect, you actually hold lectures and form bonds with the students of one of the three houses you choose, The Black Eagles, Blue Lions, and Golden Deer. Even better, the members of the house you choose become part of the squad you send into battle, with members from other houses able to be recruited.

The reason why this game is one of the best of the series and really one of the best games of 2019 is how it’s able to suck you into this world. In Three Houses, you plan lectures, fish, run errands for students, recruit, get married, experience a really intriguing story that’s able to be told from three different points of views, and face off in strategic, life-threatening battles. For such an excellent debut on Nintendo Switch, Intelligent Systems and the studio that helped them, Koei Tecmo deserve a round of applause.

Remedy Entertainment

Remedy Entertainment has been behind some of the most incredible gunplay, supernatural games in video game history. Games like Alan Wake, Max Payne, and Quantum Break immersed gamers in unbelievable worlds and gameplay experiences. This year, Remedy Entertainment released another stellar game to join those vaunted ranks with Control.

What made Control so damn good was a healthy balance of incredibly fun/easy-to-learn combat and a tense, fascinating original story. It’s very linear in how it tells the story, but unlike some of their previous titles Remedy brought more exploration by allowing players to return and explore massive complexes to take on even tougher enemies.

On the fighting side, Remedy incorporated a ton of telekinesis to allow players to fly and move things with their mind. I often felt like a Jedi, in that respect. Although, the most awesome part of the whole experience was the aftermath of each firefight. The entire landscape was ruined, as bullet holes and rubble littered the area. It was a very satisfying result to an overall excellent game. Remedy outdid themselves and deserves all the thanks for Control.

Capcom

Of all these studios, Capcom probably had the biggest year, as they released two amazing AAA titles, Devil May Cry 5 and the Resident Evil 2 remake. One was an incredible blast from the past and the other was a sequel that more than made up for the 11 years it took to release, but both were the cream of the video game crop.

In Devil May Cry 5, we experienced the undeniable fun of slaughtering demons, but with the twist of choosing which characters we did it with, Dante, Nero, or newcomer V. Each had their own skill set, making each encounter feel fresh and strategic, based on who you used. The frenetic, over-the-top action and the gorgeous visuals were what made Devil May Cry 5 one of the best games of 2019. It had us hoping Capcom wouldn’t take another 11 years to release Devil May Cry 6.

As for Resident Evil 2, I didn’t know that Capcom was capable of making one of the most intense games I’ve ever played into an anxiety attack-inducing thriller. Yet, that’s exactly what they did when they remade Resident Evil 2. Re-living this nightmare with modern technology was one of the highlights of 2019 and is why we should all be thankful for what Capcom is getting done.

Bungie

Admittedly, I’m a Destiny fanboy. I’ve been one ever since Peter Dinklage’s ghost revived my guardian in the Cosmodrome. Bungie has had a lot of highs and a few lows with Destiny and Destiny 2, since they released. They’ve had their fair share of drama with lack of content to unbalanced class abilities and weapons to their split from Activision.

However, what Bungie showed this year was undeniable resilience and what they could do with the freedom of being an independent studio. The result was an incredible launch of Destiny 2 Shadowkeep. The expansion infused Destiny 2 with a ridiculous amount of new content for Guardians to play each and every day. Moreover, it provided a direction for where Destiny 2 is ultimately headed and finally introduced us to the ultimate evil, The Darkness.

Thanks to Bungie’s determination and a creative team with direction and excitement, there’s a lot to be thankful for. One thing in particular is the future of the Destiny series. Be it in Destiny 2 or eventually in Destiny 3.

The Coalition

A lot has been said about the lack of quality exclusive titles on Xbox One. Most of it has been negative and lacking, but those are two words you cannot describe Gears 5 as. This year marked the latest chapter in the beloved Gears franchise and it was one of the best.

Gears 5 is a sequel to the Gears 4 game that was released a few years back. Gears 4 was fine, but The Coalition played it safe and thus didn’t really deliver on character work or overall story. It was actually the weakest of the Gears main series. With Gears 5, The Coalition pushed the envelope a lot further and the result was an excellent game with characters that we all got to actually care about.

Moreover, The Coalition worked hard to create a much bigger world for Gears fans to explore. It resulted in a lot more of an open-world feel and gave fans a broader look at this hellacious world. As an added bonus, Gears 5 also included Horde and Escape modes, which served to make the Gears experience even more fun. For doing all this and really taking some chances, The Coalition deserves a lot of thanks and credit. Here’s hoping they do even more for Gears 6.

This holiday season, send your favorite studio a Thank You. They may not reply back, but there are tons of hard-working individuals that work an immeasurable amount of hours to bring us amazing content and stories. They deserve all the thanks and credit they can get, because the gaming industry can be a thankless place sometimes. Let’s try to change that. Thanks for reading. 

What studios are you thankful for this year? Let us know by tweeting us @Cinelinx or commenting below.