2019 GoTY Nominations

Our classifications for the 2019 Submissions

Honourable Mention nominations are not assigned a score; they are typically non-2019 games that were first played during 2019 and would’ve been a GotY contender with the right timing, or games which through post-launch content really hit their stride in 2019.

Pick #3: Bronze / Third Place

Pick #2: Silver / Second Place

Pick #1: Gold / First Place

Be sure to check back on January 2nd for the final reveal of who Scholarly Gamers has elected as the 2019 GAME OF THE YEAR!


Matt Ferguson – Editor-in-Chief

PREAMBLE

I had a really hard time picking my game(s) of the year for 2019. I tend to have a relatively hard time most years, but this year saw the return of some of my favorite franchises with some quality remakes and long-awaited sequels. 2018 saw some spectacular releases and I can recall thinking that there would be no way this year would top it, but we’re definitely close. I’ve always been one to have a hard time subjectively comparing games to one another, especially when we have such a plethora of different offerings at our fingertips.

I think if there’s one thing that 2019 has shown us, or at the very least has reinforced, it’s that gaming is for absolutely everyone. This year has given us offerings for every type of gamer, spread across numerous systems and offered through new and improving subscription plans which give access to people who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to play these games. With cloud-based processing giving power to those without $2,000 PC rigs, cross-play becoming a norm, increased portability allowing gaming on the go, and affordable subscriptions giving more access to a wider library, 2020 could be our most expansive year in gaming yet.

I for one am looking forward with an open-mind and substantial optimism. If 2019 has showed us one thing, it’s that we can all come together as gamers. I hope that 2020 will continue to tear down the walls that divide us, whether these are metaphorical walls that require dialogue to overcome, or the literal walls that act as barriers to accessibility in gaming.

HONOURABLE MENTION: Resident Evil 2

Resident Evil 2 is the perfect example of how to remake a game, and was a tight contender for my #3 spot this year. Capcom managed to perfectly tread a line that made RE2 something completely new, yet wholly nostalgic. While some remakes struggle to really define themselves in a new age, Resident Evil 2 did just that and felt like a new evolution of the series.

Serving up a decent amount of replayability between Leon and Claire’s stories — and their multiple runs — as well as the Survivor Stories updates, it’s a sizeable package of a game as well. The RE Engine made every scene feel so visceral, and really brought to life a game that helped to define the survival horror genre.

2019 PICK #3: Devil May Cry 5

Over a decade since the release of Devil May Cry 4, DMC5 continues to intertwine the stories of Nero and Dante as their histories unravel, as well as bringing back some old friends for the journey. It was a heartfelt culmination to a longstanding chapter of the story, and one that payed homage to our previous experiences Devil Hunting.

Apart from a stellar story, Devil May Cry 5 shows that the franchise still sits atop its throne in the Bloody Palace as the undisputed action game. Building off of the systems from DMC4 but brought to new heights using the RE Engine, there is nothing more satisfying then perfecting Stylish combat with Nero, Dante or V, and learning how to flawlessly execute the variety of combos offered for each character. And that’s exactly what Devil May Cry 5 is:

Smokin’ Sexy Style!!

2019 PICK #2: Jedi: Fallen Order

I went into Jedi: Fallen Order almost completely blind, and was expecting something similar to the Jedi Knight games. In a far divide from previous lightsaber-wielding games that we’ve experienced which allowed us to rain swaths of destruction down, Jedi: Fallen Order serves up a more measured gameplay, focusing on the dance that is lightsaber combat. And it works fantastically.

The weight of the combat is similarly felt in the narrative, which has become one of my favorite chapters of the new Star Wars saga. If you know the Star Wars timeline, you can clearly feel the impact of the story-line resonating through the events the original trilogy, filling in a gap between the events of Episodes III and IV and delving deeper into Order 66 and the theme of “Hope”, which is quintessential to the series. Not only this, but Jedi: Fallen Order has laid a solid foundation for what will hopefully turn into a new series with an already lovable cast of characters.

2019 PICK #1: Death Stranding

There is a lot that I could say about Death Stranding and why I chose it as my Game of the Year for 2019, but I can sum it up in a single word: impact.

Everything about the game was impactful, both within the actual game world itself and in how you as a person interacted with the narrative and even the greater network of players connected through strands.

Everything about Death Stranding is what I look for in my GOTY. It was so easy to lose myself in the world because it made me feel connected. Connected to other people working towards our similar goals. Connected to a deep narrative that played on all of my emotions. But most of all connected to a purpose that genuinely felt real. I know that Death Stranding is not a game for everyone, but re-connecting America has been my most memorable journey of 2019.

Markus Piil – Head of IT

PREAMBLE

2019 has proved to be the a challenging year for me with respect to gaming. A major career shift has taken up the lion’s share of my hobby time, and pressed me to be much more discerning with respect to which titles get my attention and investment. There were a handful of highly-anticipated new releases in 2019 that I simply couldn’t pass up; many of them would sit for weeks at a time, waiting for me to chip away at them when I could.

The whole situation forced me to reevaluate my perspective of game time when I was playing. Where I used to be able to spend hours digging around in The Division‘s Dark Zone for end-game loot in the 2016 release, I couldn’t give it the same attention in 2019. I beat the campaign, cleaned up a few collectibles I wanted under my belt, and moved on. I also had Borderlands 3 wrapped up relatively recently, but instead of diving back into the New Game+ modes, I sought out another title to try. There’s nothing stopping me from going back to these highly-replayable games (especially as more are gravitating towards the Games as a Service model), but they’re now going to be saved for rainy days where I wax nostalgic for the story and atmosphere; not for the end-tier loot that requires some kind of grind to attain.

The biggest thing that I look forward to in 2020 is seeing how our gaming world will continue to tighten connections between what used to be considered wholly independent environments. Gamers have wanted crossplay between console families ever since online multiplayer started to grow wings, and now it’s right within our grasp. The next Xbox (Series X) is also promising backwards compatibility as never seen in a console before, all while offering the forward-facing hardware to drive detail and complexity into the next generation of gaming alongside the PlayStation 5.

As a parting note, I have a few words of thanks to share. First, anyone that takes the time to read our small site’s nominations is very much appreciated and we love creating the content that some 75,000+ of you came to see this year. I would like to publicly thank all of the members of Scholarly Gamers for their continued efforts this year in building our little community of enthusiasts. Most of all, Matt Ferguson deserves one hell of a commendation for floating this boat of ours while I’ve been AFK attending to IRL and he continues to ROFLcopter all the way through the Discord channels. You da man.

On with the show.

NON-2019 HONOURABLE MENTION: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Witcher 3 Wild Hunt

Years ago, when The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was released, I was in the final weeks of my undergraduate studies and less than two months away from moving clear across the country in pursuit of a new career. I was scrimping and saving every penny, and despite a promising dozen hours spent in The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings, I couldn’t justify the day-one purchase of the third entry. It wasn’t until two years later that I finally bought Witcher 3, anticipating that I’d get an opportunity to dive in and finally see the game that captured the hearts of so many. I spent a half-dozen hours with the title, and again – found myself sidelined by some other game(s). Come in to Christmas 2019, and I’ve finally taken a few full days to begin exploring The Continent and unweaving the tales of Geralt, the White Wolf.

I can’t pretend to claim that I’ve seen even 10% of what the game has to offer, but after sampling the game so highly lauded, year after year, I will say: I get it. Wow.

2019 PICK #3: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

One of life’s certainties seems to be an annualized Call of Duty, with 2019 proving to be no exception. This year’s release gently reboots the Modern Warfare saga of Captain John Price and sets up a new arc that might get the old band back together. The visuals are often astounding (the night vision missions really felt photorealistic in 4K on the Xbox One X), the gunplay is punchy, and the return of a single-player campaign scratched the major itch left over after 2018’s Black Ops IIII focused on all things multiplayer.

Modern Warfare isn’t without its stumbles; I’m having difficulty coming to terms with an entire game mode (Spec Ops Survival) being locked away on the PlayStation version for a full year, and it’s taking a good long time for lots of multiplayer-centric issues to work their way out (spawn variety, map rotation, unbalanced weapons, etc.). Still, the base experience is better than recent Call of Duty titles have offered in several years (even considering 2017 GOTY contender CoD: WWII).

2019 PICK #2: Borderlands 3

Borderlands 3

My brother and I spent a ton of time in Borderlands 2, running couch co-op almost nightly for weeks and months on end. It was one of the best start-to-finish gaming experiences I’ve had in my adult years, and I often wondered what the obvious setup for a Borderlands 3 would mean in the next console generation. Come seven years (and a middling Pre-Sequel) later, Borderlands 3 is upon us and I’m living some 4,500km away from my brother. Without us owning the same console as each other, this one I had to run through without my co-pilot available; it was a different, albeit still excellent, experience.

Borderlands 3 is just more of what’s brought the series to fame. It’s got the same great art style, a billion bits of weaponry to point downrange, and loads of content to chew through. One would be hard-pressed to say that the game’s tone has matured much with many ‘edgy’ bit-gags of 2012 returning now, despite their shift into faux-pas territory with respect to political correctness. Some elements have ruffled feathers for longtime fans of the series, but as someone who loves dark humour of all shapes and sizes, the crassness of Borderlands still warms my heart as a game that never takes itself seriously.

The breadth of content available in the game and varied environments took me through several dozen hours of play time, but I’ll admit to rushing myself through it in pursuit of the ‘real’ gameplay found in the Mayhem and New Game+ modes available after clearing the campaign the first time. It’s an inescapable reality; Borderlands games are meant to be played again and again, with ever-rising rewards thrown at you for the efforts. I look forward to running through the real end-game in 2020 and seeing what further DLC awaits.

2019 PICK #1: Tom Clancy’s The Division 2

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Scholarly Gamers’ first Game of the Year nominations took place in 2017, and I was sure to include 2016’s The Division as my non-2017 honourable mention. The game was a fantastic concept right from launch in 2016, yet it didn’t truly hit its stride until a year later after countless systems received major (or minor) updated in observance of player feedback. I can’t help but feel like The Division 2 is on a similar course, which is exciting in light of just how damn good the 1.0 release was.

The environment is beautiful and made with stunning attention to detail; Ubisoft Massive and their partnered studios did another exceptional job in first building Washington DC, and then destroying it. The Division 2 is best played with squadmates, and the dynamic scaling of enemies per-player is helpful for when friends pushed ahead in their own story and later came back to help run through my own progression. The looting system made for more plentiful hunting than in the original game, but the addition of brand sets and initial omission of the more-powerful Gear Sets (that series veterans were used to) proved to be a bitter pill for some to swallow for those seeking build diversity and end-game power. This, coupled with shortcomings in the first raid (difficulty on console and lack of matchmaking anywhere) and a few other sticking points drove many players away.

Even though The Division 2 has shortcomings when compared to its own predecessor (there are some lessons that many The Division fans had hoped Massive would learn), I truly found it to be one of the more engaging worlds that I’ve spent my time in. Dozens of hours in, my friends and I kept uncovering new secrets, new bosses, and loot to push our characters’ builds further. It’s a game with loads of complexity buried under the surface, but still bearing enough simplicity that franchise newcomers wouldn’t be faulted for simply following a combination of increasing their stat numbers and overall feel of the weapons and abilities available.

We’ll see what the future has to hold for The Division 2; it’s very possible that the title will soar to elevated heights as their content schedule continues marching forward. Who knows – it may just be another Honourable Mention in next year’s GOTY voting with Scholarly Gamers.

AcuteJungle66 – Content Coordinator

PREAMBLE

This year I found myself (at least in terms of gaming) in a somewhat similar position to last year and found myself feeling that I had not spent much time playing video games. 2019 marked the beginning of my Honours year at University, as well as celebrating my 40th birthday; unfortunately it also marked the onset of Sciatic pain and the diagnosis of an intervertebral disc with signs of degeneration.

As far as nominating games for this year’s awards, there are so many fantastic games released this year that I did not play; so my list will likely be considerable different from the standard picks of others. Had I played those games as well, no doubt they would also be on my list. With that being said, I do know of at least one person that will likely share my sentiment in regards to one of my nominations.

NON-2019 HONOURABLE MENTION: Fishing Planet

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Whilst Fishing Planet was initially released in 2015, this year was considerably important for the Free-to-Play fishing ‘simulator’. 2019 is when the game was finally released for Xbox One and Windows 10, with cross-play and cross-save being a first for the franchise (the Steam and PS4 versions are completely separate). Additionally, a new premium (not Free-to-Play) version of the game was released this year on Steam/Xbox/PS4 which is called The FishermanFishing Planet; which is now the version I predominantly play.

This game is dear to my heart, not only due to it being a really good game (although I have been an angler since an early age), as it was significantly therapeutic for me when I first began to encounter severe sciatic pain this year. I was unable to easily sit at my PC for quite some time, so the ability to fish all over the world from the comfort of my couch was extremely helpful.

2019 PICK #3: Ace Combat 7

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The Ace Combat series has always been one of my personal favourites and this latest entry from Bandai Namco Studios does not disappoint. The last time I delved into an Air-combat Action game was almost two years ago, even then I was eagerly awaiting the release of Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown; but was it worth the wait? Featuring an average review score of around 8/10, winning best sound in a game at the 2019 CEDEC Awards, and picking up a Gold Prize and the VR Awards at the 2019 PlayStation Awards; it is fairly safe to say that yes it was.

Making use of Unreal Engine 4, the game looks and plays fantastic; whether you choose to use a controller or a joystick/HOTAS, the controls are silky smooth regardless. Whether you love the Ace Combat series or are interested in trying them, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is the best entry in the series.

2019 PICK #2: Observation

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One of my most-loved publishers is Devolver Digital, as everything they have a hand in always deviates slightly from the norm. I am also a huge fan of Jon McKellan and his studio No Code, which are based here in Scotland. No Code had previously released the amazing Stories Untold, which was my GOTY in 2017. Observation is an Adventure-puzzle game that is effectively an interactive Sci-fi Thriller, which has an exceptional plot that unfolds with the help of wonderful aesthetics and an immersive atmosphere. It is no wonder that Observation won a Scottish BAFTA this year and was nominated in three categories at the Golden Joystick Awards (best storytelling, best indie game, best audio).

Observation was a strong contender for my top pick this year, it truly is a fantastic experience. But I had to go with the title that I find myself continuing to come back to throughout the year:

2019 PICK #1: Tom Clancy’s The Division 2

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Fans of the original The Division had been eagerly anticipating the release of the sequel, myself included; but much like it’s predecessor, reception turned out to be mixed. I stand by our review of the game, which I believe was a balanced account of the state of the game at launch. Which is unfortunately when a lot of players moved on to play other titles; the remainder of 2019 however saw The Division 2 receive several updates and additional content, resulting in an already excellent game becoming even better.

Whilst there are no doubt other games that were released in 2019 which are objectively better than The Division 2, this is the best game of the year for me. The Division 2 is the game that I find myself continuing to come back to when I have some spare time for gaming; and with the post-launch content that continues to be released, there is no doubt in my mind that I will continue to play The Division 2 throughout 2020 as well.

In fact, I think I will go explore the streets of Washington D.C. right now!



Derrick Cochrane – Contributor

Honourable Mention: Tom Clancy’s The Division 2

While I enjoyed the time I spent with The Division 2, it didn’t quite click with me as a looter-shooter like Destiny 2 does. I made it to endgame but despite the new chapter releases I have felt very little pull to go back into it like I do with Destiny when it has new expansion drops.

PICK #3: Destiny 2

While Shadowkeep specifically was the major Destiny 2 release this year, I feel it’s important to also mention the Season of Opulence. Season of Opulence was a fantastic addition to Destiny 2, with varied loot and a fun new game mode in The Menagerie. While Shadowkeep was a massive expansion, bringing back the moon, revamping armor and bringing back some of the more RPG aspects of Destiny, it was held back by its shallow loot pools and reused assets.


PICK #2: Apex Legends

Apex Legends stumbled a bit initially during its first season with the lacklustre battle pass rewards and grindy levels, but it was a very solid surprise release with very tight gameplay and fun twist on the Battle Royale genre that had been previously dominated by PUBG and Fortnite.

PICK #1: The Outer Worlds

Though The Outer Worlds suffered a bit from its average combat gameplay and awkward balancing, it was a fun romp through a well-written RPG that reminded me of a neon [Fallout] New Vegas in space, with Obsidian’s signature storytelling and fleshed-out universe.

Nerd House – Streamer / Contributor

Honourable Mention: Romancing SaGa 3

2019 PICK #3: Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Three main story routes (with a sort of hidden fourth) totalling to over 250+ hours of intense strategic battles with gripping characters and story. Fire Emblem is back and with a vengeance!


2019 PICK #2: Dragon Quest Builders 2

This game took me by complete surprise and kept me away from Fire Emblem: Three Houses for nearly 300 hours. A joyous mix of Minecraft-esque crafting/survival and Dragon Quest charm, story, and combat. Wonderful, wonderful game, fully recommend to every one no matter what platform you choose to play it on.

2019 PICK #1: Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition

The single best RPG I have played in more than a decade. A joy to play, start to finish, with great story, characters, and lots of memorable moments. Recommend for every Nintendo Switch owner, period.


Michael Wahba – Contributor

Honourable Mention: Resident Evil 2 Remake

Resident Evil 7 showed off the gorgeous new RE Engine and Resident Evil 2 Remake would push it to its limit. Bringing a new generation of gamers into the terrifying, photorealistic playhouse that is the Raccoon City Police Department while having to manage inventory, zombies, and dodge the unyielding Mr. X. Resident Evil 2 packs an incredible amount of value into a single package, to keep any horror action fan happy until the inevitable Resident Evil 3 remake.

2019 PICK #3: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

From Software’s signature series typically have a charming clunkiness to them. Sekiro throws that out the window. A fluid grappling hook and robust stealth gameplay adds new depth to the Dark Souls formula we have seen so many times before. From Software gave us the ‘Soulslike’ genre, it is only fitting they innovate on it with one of 2019’s best action titles.

2019 PICK #2: Disco Elysium

Disco Elysium came out of nowhere to knock the socks out of anyone who plays it. The original setting for developer ZA/UM’s tremendous debut was originally designed as a tabletop RPG and it shows in every aspect of Disco Elysium‘s staggering amount of solid writing and world building. Disco Elysium shines as one of the best written RPGs to grace our screens.

2019 PICK #1: Control

Remedy has synthesized the fast, kinetic action that they are known for into a gorgeously unique aesthetic. All while telling a suitably weird story where each new area is eerier than the last. Expertly cutting gameplay with live-action video, Control takes you on an unforgettable journey through dimensions unseen that will stick with you long after you put down the controller.


Josh Crete – Public Relations

Honourable Mention: Apex Legends
Pick #3: Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers
Pick #2: Kingdom Hearts III
Pick #1: The Outer Worlds

Lithic Goose – Streamer

Honourable Mention: Death Stranding
Pick #3: Mario Kart Tour
Pick #2: The Outer Worlds
Pick #1: Untitled Goose Game

G-Nitro – Contributor

Honourable Mention: Battle Breakers
Pick #3: My Friend Pedro
Pick #2: Borderlands 3
Pick #1: The Outer Worlds

Sheldon Goodridge – Contributor

Pick #3: Apex Legends
Pick #2: Destiny 2: Shadowkeep
Pick #1: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Reuben Joosse – Contributor

Pick #2: Tom Clancy’s The Division 2
Pick #1: Apex Legends

Jacob McCourt – Contributor

Pick #3: Dicey Dungeon
Pick #2: Slay the Spire [Nintendo Switch]
Pick #1: Fire Emblem: Heroes

Jay Rankin – Contributor

Honourable Mention: Rimworld (2018)
Pick #3: Kingdom Hearts III
Pick #2: No Man’s Sky: Beyond
Pick #1: Destiny 2: Shadowkeep

SleeperWolf – Streamer

Honourable Mention: Death Stranding
Pick #3: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
Pick #2: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Pick #1: The Outer Worlds

Steel_Shin – Streamer

Honourable Mention: Anodyne 2
Pick #3: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
Pick #2: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Pick #1: Devil May Cry 5

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