As people celebrate the end of 2018, and the great year for gaming it was, the specter of 2019 is only days away. With another twelve months in front of us, the face of gaming could change within a month, or the whole year could serve as a waiting period for the next generation of consoles to make their debut. Though there are still games that get announced and delayed for years on end, it’s becoming more common to see game companies getting savvier, putting their game out within a year, sometimes a mere few months. What the general public knows is increasingly selective, and as such there’s a chance we’re not even aware of the games we’ll be calling the best of the year when next December rolls around. We know some, but not a whole lot of what’s coming out after the end of March.

I’ve decided to create a top five list of my most anticipated games of next year to create a timestamp of what we know right now; I don’t think it’s fair to make a list of ten when we know so little. Four of the five games here have definitive release dates, which is great, but a lot of what’s announced right now has a nebulous “2019” date attached to it, like my last entry. I thought about not including it for that reason, but I’d be lying if I pretended I wasn’t actually looking forward to it.

Which brings me to one last note. There’s a difference between the games I’m excited about for work, and the games I’m excited for on a personal level. As interested as I am in Nintendo’s continued support of the 3DS, I just think keeping track of those games is important to the industry as a whole. Meanwhile, certain games on this list might appear out of left field, given what I’ve written about in the past, but they’re the ones I seriously want to play right now. The point is that this is purely me talking about what I think is most exciting. No work requirements, no obligations, nothing. I’m looking forward to all five of these games about equally, so I didn’t see a point in ranking them. They’re presented alphabetically to keep them on an even keel.

It’s Colin Farrell, but not.

Days Gone (April 26)
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Sony Bend

During E3 2016, when I watched Sony’s debut of Days Gone, I couldn’t have been less interested. It came off like a generic open world game with zombies and bikers – the “Walking Dead meets Sons of Anarchy comparison has been made a million times already. This seemed like a strange move to me, since Sony has a zombie franchise with The Last of Us, while other franchises, like Uncharted, have touched on those tropes in their own way. As information continued to trickle out and a release date remained elusive, my question of “why this game” was never really answered. So, I started looking into it.

I began learning more about Sony Bend, the developer. They were once known for the Syphon Filter series, but haven’t put out a game in over six years – their last project was a pair of Uncharted games that came out early in the Playstation Vita’s life. Their last console game was a port of the PSP’s Syphon Filter: Logan’s Shadow on PS2 in 2010, while their last original console game was Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain for the PS2 in 2004. Having skipped the PS3 entirely, this effectively means that the team has so far missed out on HD gaming as a whole.

I find this exciting, as it gives the development of Days Gone a sort of underdog feel. The title has a lot to prove, and some features, like a roving horde of zombies (or “Freakers”) that has a mind of its own, sound really cool, but remain an unknown quantity. I’d like to think that Sony has found ways to assist their team in joining the current generation of gaming, given all the other great games (Uncharted, God of War, etc.) they’ve put recently. However, in the end, it’s up to Sony Bend to get the game across the finish line this April. If their work on the Uncharted series is indicative of current talent, I have every reason to remain positive, but comparing them feels mushy. They’re two different experiences that appeal to different groups of people. I don’t think a strict 1:1 comparison is fair.

Moving on…

Life is Strange 2 (Episode 2: January 24)
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment

It’s almost impossible to talk about Life is Strange 2 without also talking about the closure of Telltale Games, and the ripple effects it’s had on episodic games as a whole. I think one key idea to take away from this is that just because a game is episodic, doesn’t mean it has to release just like a television show. Sticking to a strict schedule, as Telltale series like The Walking Dead did, was unrealistic, and actively hurt the games they were making. Numerous bugs and technical issues often hid how good the Telltale engine looked and marred the experience, but could have been avoided if each episode had more time.

So far, Life is Strange 2 seems to take this to heart. Including The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, the series has released on a three month schedule since last June, and the messaging from Dontnot Entertainment on their Tumblr page has indicated that they want to take the time necessary to make each episode what it needs to be. The publisher, Square Enix, seems to be supportive of this, and I think the results are evident. If you haven’t read my blog before, I really, really enjoyed the first episode of Life is Strange 2 and look forward to seeing how Sean and Daniel’s story crosses paths with Chris from Captain Spirit in the next chapter.

However, there is also another Dontnod episodic game on the horizon: Twin Mirror. Published by Bandai Namco, this game presents a real test of Dontnod’s resolve. Working on two different episodic games from two different publishers seems hard enough, but what if one imposes stricter deadlines than the other? Dontnod’s solution feels so developer focused, I’m not sure every publisher would understand. With Life is Strange 2 and Twin Mirror, Dontnod has the opportunity to shape episodic games in their image – they just need to do it right. That includes learning from Telltale’s mistakes and, ideally, continuing on the path they’ve already laid out for themselves.

The journey…continues.

Shenmue III (August 27)
Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: Neilo / Ys Net

In the interest of full disclosure, I donated to the Shenmue III Kickstarter back when in launched in 2015. As a result, I won’t be reviewing it professionally – but it’s still a game I need to talk about somewhere. As excited as I am, I have some concerns I need to express.

I’m just not sure that Shenmue III will never live up to the hype. Shenmue changed the industry when it came out on Dreamcast. Going on an adventure, exploring an open 3D world, interacting with minute objects – the tech behind Shenmue made it come alive in ways no one had ever seen before, and Shenmue II only went bigger and grander. Shenmue III has to find a way to up the ante in order to succeed. Given the mediocre reaction to the recent Shenmue HD port, and the criticisms leveled at the Kickstarter campaign since it launched, it feels like this is the make it or break it point for Yu Suzuki and his team.

What makes things even harder for Neilo and Ys Net, the developers of the game, is that other games have taken inspiration from Shenmue and gone beyond. Take Red Dead Redemption 2 as the latest example. While I’ve argued before that Shenmue is better compared to an open-world adventure than a Rockstar game, Red Dead blurs the line by offering a similar immersive experience. Most of the buildings in that game have built interiors with unique designs, and players can go and interact with these places as they wish. Any NPC can be talked to, and any animal can be hunted. It’s very Shenmue – and very evident that a game like this needs that AAA Rockstar budget to create such an in-depth world. It’s as true as it’s ever been, but Shenmue III isn’t being worked on by Sega, and it doesn’t have that kind of money. Even if it remains technically flawed but ambitious in other ways, it might not be enough.

Two up, two down.

The Walking Dead: The Final Season (Episode 3: January 15)

Given all that’s happened since the release of Episode 2 of The Walking Dead: The Final Season, it feels like a miracle that this game is getting finished at all. With primary developer Telltale Games no longer in the picture, and production shifted to a very similar team under Skybound Games (the company of Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead), this is the best we could hope for. It’s not the best period, as that would involve Telltale not even being in this situation. But, given the reality we have, it should be the best we can hope for that team going forward.

I want to believe that, anyway. I want to believe it’ll be as simple as picking back up where the team left off and finishing the last two episodes as intended. But is that even possible? Should that even be the goal? I loved the direction Episode 2 was headed, but with this second chance to finish the series the right way, I almost want them to take a step back, assess what can be done with a bit more time, and work toward that goal. I know that’s a lot for me to ask – I’m not a game developer, after all – but I just want the team to finish the game they wanted to make, and not worry about strict deadlines.

Maybe this won’t happen with Episode 3, as that was reported by Joshua Duckworth at Game Rant to be almost done when Telltale closed. But even if they could just smooth out the bugs, I think everyone involved would benefit. As I said, I think it’s a miracle Clementine’s story gets an ending at all. Games cancelled in the middle of production rarely get a second chance. As excited as I am though, I’d rather it end right, than just end.

Old blood, new blood, cyber blood, young blood.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood (2019)
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: MachineGames

Really, there are two Wolfenstein titles announced for 2019: Youngblood, a co-op game, and Cyberpilot, a VR game. Now, I love what MachineGames has done with the Wolfenstein license under Bethesda’s tutelage, and I also like that they’re trying experimental ideas to expand the lore. But, I don’t play a lot of co-op games, and I play even less VR stuff. If I want to stay on top of this series now, I’m presented with an opportunity to either broaden my horizons and try new things for a series I love, or bury my head in the sand in hopes a true Wolfenstein III will emerge. I guess it’s time to try new things again – hopefully Cyberpilot comes to PSVR.

Of the two games, I’m most looking forward to Youngblood because of the possibilities it presents. Starring the twin daughters of BJ Blaskowicz, the game takes place in Nazi-occupied Paris, France in 1980. Whether you decide to play co-op with another person or rely on an AI in single player is up to you, but the presence of two female protagonists creates a new dynamic for this franchise. The world MachineGames has created is about coming together and working as a team to fight the good fight – getting a new set of eyes or two not only makes sense, it’ll help elevate this world even further.

MachineGames has an iffy track record, I’ll admit, with their side projects. I did not love The Old Blood prequel campaign they put out for Wolfenstein: The New Order, and their Freedom Chronicles DLC for Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus did not get stellar press. So there is some trepidation there, but it all depends on how they treat these projects. If they treat Youngblood (and Cyberpilot, too) on the level of The New Order or The New Colossus, everything will probably be fine. If it’s seen as an expansion, or an addition to what they’ve currently made already, then I’d start to worry.

Praying for a finale.

Do you have a bunch of games you’re looking forward to this year? If you’d like you can let me know your list on Twitter, or by emailing me at dcichocki(at)tiltingwindmillstudios.com.