2019 is nearly over and it is time to look back at all the games that released during the year. It was an interesting year with the usual big releases, but also interesting lesser known releases and many remakes. It was also a big year for modding as so many interesting mods of all kinds were released. Our 2019 awards have one significant change from previous years, with the Best Technical Graphics award now being replaced by a more general “Most Technologically Impressive” award, as we also want to include things like optimization, AI programming, or who knows what other kind of technology that can impact the game beyond just visuals since technological innovation is rare nowadays anyway.
Without further ado, let’s have a look at our 2019 game of the year awards!
Overhaul mods are large scale “enhancement” mods designed to seriously make a game better, without clearly changing what it is. Such as a mod that adds new gameplay mechanics and improves graphics as well, while not changing the story. 2019 had some of the best overhaul mods I have ever seen, so this was a hard choice. At the end of the day we went with OGSR (Old Good Stalker Remastered) for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl. This mod is huge in scale and so well made, improving upon every aspect of the original game without changing its core identity.
It is built on a custom 64-bit version of X-Ray engine with a DX11 engine, improving graphics substantially and also increasing performance/optimization. Its best feature is how it adds dozens of hours of side quests to the game, filling in lots of empty space in the original, and these side quests demonstrate some of the best lore and most interesting quest design in the series, easily surpassing the side quest design of the original games. It also overhauls gameplay mechanics to such a substantial degree, adding new weapon functionality like 3D dual render scopes with backup iron sights when applicable, the English verison of the mod has over 160 guns in total (so that’s around 130 more than the original game), anomaly/artifact detectors, masks, night vision goggles, making the Exoskeleton an addon for armor instead of its own armor, vehicles, artifact transmutation, and so much more. It has A-Life and AI improvements too, it really does everything and does it all so well. Its Dead City map makes for one of the most memorable experiences in the franchise.
Most of what we just mentioned comes from the OGSE 0693 mod. OGSR is basically the next version of it, with the new 64-bit engine, new quests and other content. While it doesn’t change the story or core identity of the game (hence why it won this award), it does expand on the story a bit, mostly stretching out content towards the end of the game with a few new additions. This mod is also completely standalone so anyone can play it without owning any of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games.
- RealRTCW 3.0 (Return to Castle Wolfenstein)
- MMod 1.3 (Half-Life 2)
- Morrowind Rebirth 5.0 (The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind)
Total conversion mods change the core identity of the game. It doesn’t have to be equal to a brand new genre, but it’s basically a mod that amounts to its own game with its own completely different artistic goal. Again, 2019 had some impressive ones, but we had to go with NLC 7 Build 3.0 for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl. This mod is basically a re-imagining of the game in such a way that actually makes it an absolute masterpiece. Its quest design has more in common with the first two Fallout games and Pathologic 2 than it does to the original game. This results in quests being more unforgiving as there is no hand holding, but there are more ways to approach and finish most of its main quests than what most RPGs provide, with much more significant impact on future events.
NLC 7 is about a 100 hour story mod, with attention to detail that is only found in smaller scale masterpieces like the aforementioned Pathologic 2. Just about every game mechanic is totally different than the original game, with the new goal being to make a hardcore survival game that achieves difficulty through intelligent, logical design opposed to artificial difficulty. Meanwhile the original game is just meant to be an immersive FPS, no emphasis on “hardcore survival.” And when it comes to a story driven FPS with emphasis on survival mechanics, NLC 7 Build 3.0 does it better than the rest. See for yourself, it is a totally free, standalone mod.
- S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Vector of Alienation (S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl)
- S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Back to the Roots (S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat)
- S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Chernobyl by stason174 (S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat)
The soundtrack of Pathologic 2 is as special as the rest of the game. It is a uniquely coherent piece of art as far as video games go, and the soundtrack was not left ignored. It is composed of in-house tracks along with 14 tracks from Russian neofolk band Theodor Bastard. This is a game about building atmosphere and evoking different emotions, such that the soundtrack absolutely has to be on point, and it certainly is the entire time.
- Red Dead Redemption 2
The Metro games have always had outstanding sound effects, and Metro: Exodus is no exception. Granted, the most impressive sound effects of any game related thing to come out this year is probably truly the JSRS and Enhanced Soundscape mods applied to Arma 3, but this award is for games, not mods… for now. Exodus has very high quality sound effects and decent HRTF, so it sounds immersive on a surround sound system. It has good, but pretty simple environmental effects that affect sounds when indoors compared to outdoors. It doesn’t break any records but it does succeed at bringing an immersive soundscape.
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
How funny is it that Quake II: RTX deserves this award? Quake II deserved it back in 1997 as well. This game is entirely ray traced using NVIDIA’s RTX technology made on the Vulkan renderer. The end result is by far the most realistic lighting/reflections in gaming. Playing this will spoil you. Yes, the models and shaders and textures are still outdated compared to modern games, but ray tracing via Vulkan and DX12 is the biggest leap in 3D graphics technology for gaming since… since 3D graphics perhaps.
With everything being ray traced, light and shadows just behave so much more realistically, and it’s all entirely dynamic. You’ve probably seen comparisons of Metro: Exodus with RTX on and off, that’ll give you an idea of what the tech can do on a smaller scale, but it is so much more dynamic and impressive in Quake II: RTX. While Quake II isn’t the game that was in most need of this technology, we really hope to see more classic remasters with it. Maybe Half-Life next? Followed by Return to Castle Wolfenstein, then DOOM 3 (BFG), and perhaps Dishonored after that? One can dream…
- Red Dead Redemption 2
- Metro: Exodus
Most years don’t even produce a video game worthy of such an award, as writing tends to be such an afterthought in games as it is for mainstream movies these days (but even more so). However, with Pathologic 2 we have a real spectacle. This game is set in a one of a kind setting that seems to resemble an early 20th century Russian town, but there is so much attention to detail in just its setting, let alone its literary references and influences, that hours of quality video have been made just to study this masterpiece.
Pathologic 2 might have the most dynamic narrative of any game. It is an open world game that puts you on the clock: it takes place over the span of twelve in-game days, during which you must find a cure for a plague that devastates the town. After the twelth day, the military levels the down with artillery. The game is as relentless as this sounds, which in itself violates traditional game design rules. Just about every major character can die at any time to the plague, and we’re talking developed, unique characters here (more so than most games), not nobodies like in a game such as Banished.
Different quests pop up based on when and where you are, some are also up to chance. It is impossible to do everything on one playthrough, there is simply not enough time in those 12 days for this. You must accept failure every time you play this game, as some failure is inevitable. This design is the source of most peoples’ criticisms of the game, which are generally invalid and nonsensical.
So every playthrough is different, with different characters succumbing to the plague, different events transpiring, and different outcomes producing different consequences. Now that’s all nice to hear, but most of this doesn’t even speak for the game’s writing quality. It is a game that morally pulls you apart, forcing you to choose who to save and why, forcing you to question your own judgement, and the town itself and the plague itself each tell its own story with hefty thematic weight and rich literary influences that won’t even be fully understandable for a western audience.
But even then, the core story of the game revolving around its characters and themes such as progression vs tradition, industrialism vs environmentalism, and the Steppe culture, all make every minute of this game fascinating. Very, very few games succeed at not wasting a minute, and this is one of them.
- Disco Elysium
Many of us here at GND-Tech love RPGs, but we often have to omit this award because the RPG genre has been crippled throughout the 2010s. These days we have RPGs being sold purely on nostalgia with no effort being made into actually making an original game, let alone a great game, and we have RPGs that are afraid of role-playing and just don’t even try. We were quite hyped about The Outer Worlds; despite Obsidian being guilty of not trying to make great RPGs throughout the decade, we were hoping The Outer Worlds would be their rebirth. We were wrong. Very wrong.
You may have also heard of Disco Elysium. That is our winner. Throughout the last 5 years, several of these indie “cRPGs” have received the same glowing praise as this one. But so far, this is the only one we’ve found that deserves even a sliver of it. Disco Elysium is not afraid of role-playing. Sure, neither is The Outer Worlds, but Disco Elysium has more world building in its first hour than The Outer Worlds does in its entire 25 hour length. The Outer Worlds lore/world building barely concerns itself with anything outside of the main plot, its writing just ranges from mediocre to terrible.
Disco Elysium is the real deal. One RPG last year did try to be the real deal, Pathfinder: Kingmaker, so it too deserves a lot of praise, but it just doesn’t have good enough writing quality to make it reach excellence (not for a lack of effort, the Kingmaker module is epic and expansive but not outstanding). Disco Elysium has a unique approach by not having any combat whatsoever, it is purely a dialogue focused journey. It is the densest RPG we have ever found, having more content per square meter than any other RPG we know of, dethroning the great Planescape: Torment in this regard. This is merely a quantitative aspect, but thankfully the quality is there too.
This game essentially is a comedy and it has satire in it, making light of modern day social “issues”, ones that reach out to gamers and internet dwellers alike. But it actually tackles this in a distinct way and does all the right things. The quest design is investigative in nature, as you play as a cop, but this is a nice change from the usual “Go here and kill everything and then come back for your reward” quest design in games such as The Outer Worlds and BioWare games.
It’s about damn time we got a proper video game RPG again. Thank you, ZA/UM. Too bad no other video game RPG studio will learn from you, just like they seemingly never learned from Interplay/Black Isle Studios, Troika, or Obsidian back when they actually cared and tried.
Pathologic 2 is our winner, and it would win if put up against this award for nearly every other year in the history of gaming. A truly innovative masterpiece, as was the original of course (note: Pathologic 2 is a re-imagining, NOT a sequel), but Ice Pick Lodge did an incredible job improving Pathologic 2 and making it so much more presentable. It’s like the budget increased tenfold and it all exclusively went into improving the game. It is truly the greatest artistic achievement in gaming in 2019, therefore it easily claims this award. And every playthrough is different, it might be the most reactive and dynamic story driven game ever made.
In a world where battle royale games are the most popular and shallow cinematic “games” (that instead would rather be movies) are some of the most loved, Pathologic 2 is the masterpiece we need to show that gaming truly can be an art form. Now if only cinema can get such a masterpiece to wash away the comic book movie addiction plaguing society! Until then, we will other award articles coming up soon, so be prepared for that.
- Red Dead Redemption 2
- Disco Elysium