Here’s a list of the top ten games I played in 2019, ranked in approximate order of enjoyment (from least to most).

Note that none of these games were actually released in 2019. But all of them are games I spent anywhere from a few hours to tens or 100+ hours playing during the year of 2019.

Without further ado, here are the games:

#10 Hollow Knight

After watching the first few Let’s Play videos of Hollow Knight on PlayFrame’s channel, the thing that got me to pull the trigger on the purchase was the soundtrack. I knew I’d enjoy the gameplay as well, since I have been known to thoroughly enjoy games in the “Metroidvania” genre. But the first three or so areas of the game I’d seen in the Let’s Play had such beautiful music that I didn’t want to wait for the rest of the videos to release before hearing more of it.

Besides, it was on sale and I justified the purchase as being about as much as a regular music album would cost me.

In regard to the soundtrack, I was slightly disappointed, because most of the soundtrack is made up of the more energetic and intense battle tracks that play during the many boss fights, whereas I really liked the soothing and beautiful, if not somewhat morose and melancholy, background music from the various regions in the game. Nonetheless, it’s still a good soundtrack.

As for the game itself, it seems pretty enjoyable. Unfortunately, my first impressions were tainted by input lag that I kept encountering, such as pressing a button and the game not registering the action immediately (if at all), or releasing a button and the game acting as if I were still holding it. In a game with so much precision required during platforming and combat, this meant a lot of stupid, unfair deaths. For example, I might be walking in a direction and making a series of jumps, then I’d let go of the direction button to wait for an optimal time to make the next jump (or avoid an enemy, whatever) and the game would act as though I was still holding the direction button down and walk me straight into a spike pit. Or sometimes I’d tap the direction button momentarily to re-position myself slightly closer to the edge of a spike pit and I’d just keep walking straight off the edge. Similarly, sometimes I’d press the jump button or the attack button and nothing would happen, or at least it wouldn’t happen immediately and I’d either fall from lack of jumping, or miss the enemy I was trying to attack, or even worse, take damage because the enemy hit me.

At first I just thought the game was hard, and that I wasn’t playing well. Often times the input lag was small enough that I blamed these misses on myself and my unfamiliarity with the game. But I’m generally pretty good at these kind of games and I felt I was making too many rookie mistakes–the kind of mistakes typical of a person who has to keep looking down at their gamepad for up to two seconds almost every time they want to push a different button. I’m not that kind of person. And as it happened more and more often I began paying closer attention to it and noticed more egregious cases where, for example, I’d let go of the direction button a full half second before the edge of a cliff and my little bug knight would just keep walking straight into the pit. Eventually my initial self-doubts almost completely reversed into absolute confidence that I did everything right but the game was cheating me. Instead of feeling like the game was fair and I was at fault for my mistakes, I began to see the game as unfairly causing me to make mistakes I wasn’t actually making. And even if perhaps something really was my fault, I could never be sure anymore.

I put the game down for a few months and then came back to it for one reason or another. I don’t know if I changed some settings or if there had been an update to the game or what, but the input lag was much improved. It was still there sometimes, but it wasn’t nearly as obnoxious as the first time I played.

And so I played for a few hours and explored and generally enjoyed myself. But I think I’d already mentally moved on from Hollow Knight, because I didn’t feel compelled to keep playing and eventually finish the game. I think if I had had a better initial experience with it I probably would have seen it through to the end.

Even though I didn’t personally get very far into it, I know that the game has a lot of good stuff to offer because I finished watching the Let’s Play of it, and enjoyed it vicariously.

#9 Borderlands GOTY

I spent about 20 hours playing Borderlands GOTY back in 2011-2012. I enjoyed it, but I don’t think I progressed very far in the story. I was playing through it in multiplayer with a friend. And we kind of randomly just stopped playing it together. It wasn’t really a conscious decision that was made. It was just… life, I guess. I didn’t want to progress through the story/game without my friend so I stopped playing it and didn’t really touch it again until last year when Borderlands GOTY Enhanced was released (for free!) to everyone who owned Borderlands GOTY.

I happened to have an old gift copy of Borderlands GOTY in my Steam Inventory that I never gave out to anyone, so when Borderlands GOTY Enhanced was released in 2019 and it was included with the copy I had in my Steam Inventory, I decided to send the gift copy to a different friend, with the intention of the two of us playing Borderlands GOTY Enhanced together. Unfortunately his computer (a laptop) couldn’t handle the graphical requirements of the Enhanced edition, so we just started playing through the old Borderlands GOTY edition instead.

We played for about 10 hours over multiple game sessions, and we hadn’t even gotten as far as I had originally all those years ago before he and I stopped playing that game together. But it was fun and it reminded me of why I liked the game so much originally. So this time I played a bit on my own and I think I almost got caught up to where I was when I played in 2012 before I put it down and moved on to other things.

#8 FTL: Faster Than Light

FTL: Faster Than Light is a game that originally released in 2012 that I’m not actually very good at but I really enjoy so I keep coming back to it from time to time. It’s a spaceship roguelike-like with permadeath, meant to be played through in relatively short bursts. It does save the game at the beginning of each sector so you can play for an even shorter amount of time and continue where you left off later. But once you die, your save file is deleted and you have to start again. (But progress towards unlocking achievements or other ships persists even when you die.)

Cumulatively I think I’ve spent about 60 hours playing the game (some on Steam, some on GOG), and I don’t think I’ve ever once legitimately won. One time I thought I got close to winning, but lost against the final boss. It turned out to be a boss fight with multiple stages to it and I was totally unprepared for that because nothing like it had ever happened in the game leading up to that moment. In retrospect it’s a pretty cool surprise that makes the final battle so much more daunting and the hopeless struggle of the minimalist plot so much more real. But at the time that was the best I had ever done and I barely managed to win the first stage of that final battle. So when I made the final shot that removed the final point of health from the enemy ship and started to see the explosions I was exultant. But that feeling was immediately ripped away from me and replaced with shock and horror when the boss activated their jump drive and escaped to another region in the sector. I pursued, but my ship and crew were already in bad shape, and the boss was basically restored to full health, with new weapons to attack me with, and different kinds of defenses to prevent my attacks, so I was annihilated pretty quickly. I felt cheated, and I was mad. So the next time I reached the final sector I alt-tabbed out of the game and made a backup of my save. I only had to restore it two or three times before I came out on top and won.

After that, I never attempted a “straight” game again. I’d either always back up my save when I reached the final sector or engage in even more explicit cheats. I use a memory editor such as Cheat Engine to find the memory values for fuel, missiles, drone parts, scrap (money) and sometimes even ship hull health. Sadly, even cheating so blatantly, I’ve still lost the game multiple times by having my entire crew killed off due to fires, lack of oxygen, or intruders beaming themselves onto my ship and wreaking havoc! (I can’t seem to find my crew members’ health values in Cheat Engine…)

Normally I don’t cheat in games, because I feel doing so ruins the fun of it. But I’m not sure I’d even play FTL anymore if I didn’t use cheats to keep myself in the game long enough to at least get close to the end of a run.

It’s really fun trying out the various ships, trying to staff them with the right crew with their special abilities in the right room, etc., to make things go in your favor. Unfortunately the difficulty feels largely up to chance, and you can be having a perfect run where you’ve been virtually untouched by enemy fire and then suddenly be totally destroyed in a single battle because one thing went wrong so perfectly (i.e., bad luck) that it leads to a death spiral.

I should also mention that I really like the soundtrack. In the years since buying the game, I have looked up the FTL OST artist on Bandcamp and have purchased a few of his albums.

#7 Alien Swarm: Reactive Drop

Alien Swarm originally released in 2010 on Steam as a free multiplayer top-down action shooter. (Those in the know will know that Alien Swarm actually released long before that as mod for Unreal Tournament 2004.)

I had a great time playing it together with many of the folks at DonationCoder back in the day.

Reactive Drop is a re-release of the Steam game but adds support for more players, more co-op campaigns, more weapons, more game modes (e.g., PvP), and basically more everything. Although I would have liked to play it again with my old crowd, I didn’t get much interest from the folks at DonationCoder when I mentioned it there.

But last year my friend and I were trying to find a game we could play together and I brought up Alien Swarm: Reactive Drop as something we could try. We played through the original campaign in an evening or two and had a good time, but he didn’t seem interested in playing it anymore after that.

It’s still something I really enjoy. But while Reactive Drop did improve the AI to make the single-player experience better, this is still a game that I only play multiplayer. And since I generally don’t like playing online with strangers, and none of the people I know seem to be interested in this game anymore, it’s not something I play as much as I’d like. But I really enjoy it when I do.

#6 Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate

Monster Hunter Generations originally released on the Nintendo 3DS in 2015, and I played it for something like 170 hours and still didn’t do everything I wanted to do in the game. It’s another one of those games that is best enjoyed in multiplayer, and so I thoroughly enjoyed playing it with friends before they moved on to other things. But I was still interested in playing it so I played the game solo a lot more than I had in previous Monster Hunter games.

Then Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate released for the Nintendo Switch in 2018 with the ability to import your save data from MHG on the 3DS. So I bought it, expecting that the usual people I played previous Monster Hunter games with would also buy it and we could all get together to play. Unfortunately for me, none of those people bought the game, so I was left once again to play solo. I played through a lot of the single-player stuff, but the “real” game and all the best equipment is found through the multiplayer section of the game which is designed for up to 4 players to be hunting, and thus somewhat on the difficult side for a single person to get through alone.

I finally bit the bullet in the summer of 2019 and started playing online with random strangers. Sometimes we’d come across someone who really sucked and brought the whole team down (and sometimes I’m sure others felt that I was that person who really sucked). Occasionally I’d join a group and help them with their quests only to have them bail out and quit when it was my turn to choose the quest, or I’d have similar but equally infuriating bad experiences. But for the most part it was a pretty good experience. And sometimes I’d luck out and join a group of 2-3 others who seemed to be masters at the game and could get me through quests in mere minutes that I had been struggling to complete on my own (or with other, less experienced groups), and it would be awesome!

Eventually, and probably because I was really into the game at the time and kept bringing it up in conversations, one of the friends I had regularly played Monster Hunter games with in the past did buy the game, but wanted to start a new character rather than import their progress from the 3DS. They also told me they wanted to go through a few single player quests to get back up to speed on how to play the game before we played together, but that in a few days we’d get together and play. So I decided to put the game down and wait until we could play together and bide my time with something else in the meantime. After all, there wasn’t much point in making further progress in my own game only to play those same quests again with my friend.

Unfortunately for me, that friend and I never really played the game together after that. By the time I’d realized my friend and I weren’t really going to be playing it, I’d already gotten fairly obsessed/distracted with the next game on my list. I haven’t really picked up MHGU much since then, but I think I have put in about 150-200 hours on MHGU (on top of the ~170 hours on MHG for 3DS) since purchasing it.

Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate is one of, if not the most content-rich games in the Monster Hunter series. It’s a lot of fun. I just wish I knew more people who I could play it with.

#5 Disgaea 5 Complete

Disgaea is a tactics/strategy RPG game that doesn’t take itself seriously. And in fact it is intentionally ludicrous. You can play through the entire story and beat the campaign missions with characters who are “only” level 100-150. But the real draw to the game that causes me to obsess over it is that the game allows you to massively over-level your characters and skills and weapons and other equipment. The max level is 9999. You can do literally billions of points of damage. And there are tons of characters and classes to unlock in various ways.

Also, once you finish the main story, there’s a much bigger “post-game” that challenges, encourages, and even helps you to max out your character levels. There are all kinds of systems in the game designed to be exploited to enhance leveling/powering up your characters, skills, and equipment. In fact, in the first game there was a bug in the XP calculation formula that made it so a level 99 enemy gave just as much XP as a level 300 enemy, and instead of patching it or removing it, it became a standard feature for the rest of the series! Since then, every game has a stage set up with a few enemies which are (or can be, through in-game tweaks) level 99 and are standing in a relatively convenient position to be killed in one shot (once you’re powerful enough), allowing for fairly easy grinding just a few chapters into the main story.

That’s what a lot of the (post) game is: grinding. If you’re not into that, you can still enjoy the main campaign without much grinding. But for people who enjoy maxing out their characters and getting the best skills/weapons/equipment in the game, Disgaea delivers all that and more in the post-game!

#4 The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (OpenMW + TES3MP)

A friend and I were lamenting last summer about how there didn’t seem to be any good RPGs like Morrowind these days, but with multiplayer. The conversation reminded me that in the past I had heard of various mods to the Elder Scrolls games that attempted to hack some semblance of multiplayer into them, but at the time my understanding was that they were pretty terrible experiences and not really worth it. So after that discussion with my friend, I decided on a whim to do another search to see what, if anything, had changed on that front.

I discovered that OpenMW, a free and open-source recreation of the Morrowind engine, has a fork or companion project called TES3MP that is attempting to add networked multiplayer to the mix. Not only that, but it is in a pretty good and playable state. So I downloaded and set up all the server files and helped my friend get his copy of OpenMW set up and configured to connect to me, and we played Morrowind together.

It brought back a lot of wonderful memories from years ago when he would play Morrowind on his Xbox and I would play it on my PC, in the same room at the same time. We’d watch each other and comment on each other’s games and make jokes and just generally hang out and “play together, separately” on our single-player copies of the game.

So it was amazing to finally be actually playing together in the same game world and progress through the quests and story lines together! Granted, Morrowind hasn’t really aged that well, and there are certain things about starting a new game that can be annoying, such as some classes being almost completely unable to even strike the weakest enemies in the game, much less kill them, until the attribute that affects attack accuracy is leveled up. Or certain classes’ running speed feeling slower than a snail (and objectively slower than other classes’ walking speed) until the attribute that affects speed is properly leveled up.

But I “fixed” that by opening up the Construction Set (the tool the developers used to make the game, which they included to allow for modding) and created a few items that had permanent buffs on them which would make us move at a decent speed and able to at least hit the things we were trying to attack. And actually that’s an understatement. We’d both played the game to death in decades past, and neither of us felt like slogging around the huge world for hundreds of hours, so the equipment I made in the Construction Set was pretty cheat-like, making it virtually impossible for us to die while we had it equipped.

As we played together through the story, we’d occasionally (or frequently) goof off. One of us (usually my friend) would try to surreptitiously attack the other, and unfailingly the other would notice and respond in-kind, and then there’d be all-out war for 20-30 minutes with us jumping around firing off spells or bolts/arrows or swinging our weapons at each other.

Then one day I got a sneaky idea. You see, the game allows you to create your own spells. So one day I created a spell that increases the jump skill by 100 (the max) for 1 second on target. Meaning I could shoot a magic projectile and if it hit a living creature, that creature had only 1 second before the spell wore off in which they could jump dangerously high. And when I say dangerously high, I mean so high that under normal circumstances they would die from the impact when landing.

This isn’t something a player would normally think to do, because none of the creatures or NPCs ever jump in the game, so such a spell would be useless to cast on others. And players probably wouldn’t make such a spell to cast on themselves because just outside of the starting town someone falls to their death from the sky and if you read his journal on his corpse you will learn that he created some Scrolls of Icarian Flight that temporarily increased his acrobatics skill (which affects jump height) so much that a single leap would be like flying, and that he was about to try it out. Unfortunately, the effect wore off after only a few seconds; it didn’t last long enough to account for the landing. Your witnessing of his final moments should act as a warning not to artificially increase your jump skill too drastically. But if you chose to ignore that warning, he also had on his person a few more scrolls you could use and likely kill yourself with.

But anyway, my friend is a competitive kind of person who tends to value physical strength in his video game characters. He often chooses the Warrior or Barbarian archetype. Whereas I generally choose the wimpy Mage archetype. Despite this, he often wants to compare our characters’ physical strength or prowess with two-handed swords or whatever in games we play together and boast (in good fun) about how much stronger his character is than mine. So he didn’t find it at all out of the ordinary when I suggested to him, “Hey, come over here and see which of us can jump higher.” We stood a few meters apart, facing each other, jumping up and down repeatedly like idiots. Then I cast my jump spell, it hit him, and… he was gone! I looked up at the sky to see a small dot getting even smaller as he continued to gain altitude. This continued until he became no bigger than a few pixels squared. A good 15-20 seconds later he finally came crashing down to the ground and collapsed.

Despite the fact that it was his character who had likely broken his ribs, as well as every other bone in his body, it was I who was having trouble breathing. It took me a couple minutes to stop laughing, and for the rest of the night I couldn’t contain the laughter each time I thought of that prank.

Luckily for him, the cheater-like custom equipment I created for us to wear helped him survive the impact. We engaged in various other shenanigans during our time playing Morrowind together. But that was probably the highlight of the playthrough for me.

As for TES3MP, it did work pretty well most of the time. But the further we got into the story, the more bugs we encountered where quests got stuck or something happened for one of us but not the other, etc. We had to resort to using console commands a few times to “unstick” a few quests, but we played through the entire main story quests of the campaign and the expansions.

#3 Slime Rancher

Slime Rancher is a game that I had my eye on for a while but never purchased because I was waiting for the price to be right. I didn’t expect the price to be right last year because I had set a New Year’s resolution for myself in 2019 to not buy any games that year, in an effort to slow the ever-expanding “backlog” of games I own but have not played. But then the Epic Games Store launched and they started giving away a different game every fortnight (see what they did there?) and Slime Rancher was one of them. Since the price was free, the price was definitely right.

I played it and I really enjoyed it. I don’t know if any other game has given me such a feeling of playful, wondrous exploration since the days of the Nintendo 64 (Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie, etc.) or perhaps on a smaller scale the Nintendo GameCube (Pikmin).

I loved reaching new areas and seeing what I could find and what new types of slimes I would discover. I enjoyed grabbing a few slimes to bring home to the ranch and start feeding for their, uh… crystals? I forget what they were called in-game, but they were essentially slime crystals.

I liked the progression of the game. There were big doors that couldn’t be unlocked without finding some kind of item or solving some kind of puzzle. While my progress was gated, I couldn’t wait to see what was on the other side of the door. Unlocking them sometimes just opened up a shortcut between two areas I already had access to, and sometimes led to a new area with a bunch of new stuff I’d never seen before. It seemed like there was always a goal to pursue. Whether it was expanding the ranch to allow for additional slimes, animals, or plants, or unlocking a new area to discover new and different types of slimes, animals, or plants, or collecting enough resources to buy upgrades or new technology to make things easier or more interesting, there was always a reason to keep playing.

Until I reached the end. Once I’d explored all the areas there were to discover, the game didn’t quite satisfy me the same way it had before. There was still additional technology to buy, and the way to get the money to buy it was through selling slime crystals. But the game features a simulated economy where if you sell a lot of the same kind of crystal in a short period of time, it will flood the market and the value of that type of crystal will crash and it will be nearly worthless for a while until it slowly climbs back up again. But when the last upgrades are really, really expensive, and you’ve sold a ton of crystals of every type the game has to offer until they’re all nearly worthless, and there’s no new areas to see or explore, then there’s not really a lot to do while waiting for the market prices to recover. In the earlier portions of the game the market wasn’t really a problem because I was spending so much time running around new areas, seeing the sights, discovering and solving puzzles, grabbing new types of slimes and plants and animals I’d never seen before. By the time I got back from all that fun and thought about selling stuff again, the market had pretty much already recovered.

Once I no longer had the distraction of going out and doing stuff, I set about, running back and forth on my ranch trying to micromanage everything to grow as quickly as possible to get more crystals faster. And then when the crystals themselves became nearly worthless, it made me wonder what the point was to collect the slime crystals as efficiently as I was trying to, and things felt like a chore. Eventually I just kind of lost the motivation to keep pursuing it.

But overall, I loved the game. Unlike Disgaea 5, the grinding in the “post-game” of Slime Rancher got a bit tedious for me, but aside from that, I loved the colorful, playful, whimsical world of Slime Rancher. I’d love to see more games evoke similar feelings of whimsy.

#2 Factorio

Oh Factorio! I love you so! Factorio is one of, if not the best Early Access/In Development games I’ve purchased. When Steam Early Access first launched (and Kickstarter for that matter), I bought/backed a bunch of stuff. Then I got burned by too many disappointing Early Access games that either never really launched, or just weren’t very good when they did launch. So I pretty much swore off buying any game that wasn’t officially released yet.

I had been seeing trailers for Factorio for a year or so but they never really caught my interest enough for me to really look into it, especially because it was still in Early Access. Eventually they released a trailer which showed more of the game in a way that somehow got me interested enough to start looking into it. I saw they had a free demo, so I tried it out.

I spent a couple hours with the demo and really liked it, and wanted more. I decided to buy the game despite it still being in development.

Since then, I’ve played through the game (from humble beginnings to launching a satellite into space) several times. I generally like to turn off the biters (enemies) so I can just take things at my own pace and build the factory, which usually means I play somewhere around 40-70 hours on any given save file before I put the game down for a while or just start a new map. GOG says I’ve played Factorio for about 300 hours since I got it in late 2016, but I’m pretty sure I’ve done more than that.

And even though the game is still in Early Access years later, I have never felt like there was something missing in my various playthroughs. It has always felt like a complete game to me. They just keep adding more stuff and making it better over the years. Even if the game got canceled today, I feel I have certainly gotten my money’s worth with the time I’ve spent in the game.

It’s hard to explain how easy it is to lose track of time while playing this game so much, but I made an attempt in those early days on the DonationCoder forum. It’s also hard to explain to people why they might like building a factory and dealing with logistics. After all, I wasn’t sure that I would like it until I tried it. And it seems I’m not the only one who felt this way. I just found this video from someone who had similar initial reticence to play Factorio, but ended up loving the game. He provides a kind of mini-review of the game and tells you why you might want to give it a try:

The music is generally pretty good, too. I could see myself listening to the soundtrack outside of the game. But the music is kind of a soft/ambient style that’s easy to ignore. So it may not be for everyone.

I really like this game, and I suspect that in a few years it may surpass my #1 choice in this list.

#1 Terraria

Terraria launched in May 2011 and a week later I had written a positive review for it on Steam. In the not-quite decade since then, it is not only the game I have spent the most hours playing, but it is the game I have played the most consistently. I don’t think a year goes by that I haven’t played this game.

A large part of that is probably the fact that the developers keep adding more to the game in free updates. In fact, the “final” big update to Terraria is in the works and for all I know is due to be released at any moment. It was supposed to launch before the end of 2019 but it seems it was delayed.

Terraria just has so much to offer. If you’re a creative type you can just design and build interesting things. If you’re a completionist you can try to get all the rare gear in the game. If you like exploring and seeing new things, a new world is just a random generation away. If you like the action of combat, there’s a lot of variety there, as well. And if you like to do any or all of that with friends, Terraria has you covered!

I tend to dedicate significant amounts of time on a single video game for a relatively short period of time (perhaps a few weeks), playing it “to completion” (or until I’ve done all I want to do in the game) and then move on and never play the game again. I also usually hate starting a game over from the beginning when I’ve spent so many hours making progress in it. And honestly I don’t really like starting over with a new character in Terraria when I’ve got an awesome, fully decked out character, but generally the people I play it with want to start over with noobs so I sigh in displeasure and do it anyway and then I’m over it and enjoying the game again.

(In fact, Factorio is the only game I can think of where I’d happily spend 40-80 hours making progress in the game and then just as happily start a new game from scratch with as much excitement and anticipation as before.)

The fact that I just keep coming back to Terraria is a testament to its fun and lasting power. I couldn’t remember how much I paid for it when it launched, but I just found this thread on DonationCoder where I talked about the Terraria launch and asked if anyone wanted to go in on a 4-pack at $7.50 each. I also re-purchased the game on GOG at $2.50 a few years later. Steam says that I’ve played Terraria for over 800 hours. GOG says I’ve played it for about 75 hours. That works out to about one penny per hour I’ve spent playing the game. And when the new big update comes out sometime this year, I imagine I’ll give it many more hours of play. Talk about getting your money’s worth!

Oh, and I really like most of the music, too. That said, I don’t really listen to the soundtrack very often because it’s just not quite the same outside the context of the game.

Terraria gets my vote for best game of the last decade.