2019 was a big year for video game releases and announcements. With games like Resident Evil 2, Sekiro, and Borderlands 3 all out this year, there was a lot we knew we would *probably* enjoy. However, there were also a bunch of surprises that caught us off guard, so we decided to round up the biggest stories that we weren’t expecting. Here are thirteen of the biggest video game surprises of 2019.
The Biggest Video Game Surprises of 2019
Apex Legends surprised everyone when it dropped into the battle royale scene on February 4, 2019. With no prior announcements or teasers and only a handful of leaks, Respawn released Apex to overwhelmingly positive reactions and amassed 25 million players by the end of its first week. Apex set itself apart from the other major battle royale games by focusing heavily on teamwork, with the only game mode grouping players into teams of three. Respawn also implemented an innovative “ping” system that revolutionized non-verbal team communication by allowing players to mark locations, enemies, weapons, equipment, and directions. This allowed for accurate callouts and more accessibility options that hadn’t existed in the battle royale genre before. Also, the ability to respawn a dead teammate was a dramatic change for the genre. Considering it still routinely has approximately eight to 10 million players a week, Apex Legends can be called a big success.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Set between Episodes III and IV, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order focuses on Jedi survivor Cal Kestis and his quest to revive the Jedi Order after the execution of Order 66. While we certainly hoped for a better game than the disappointing and controversial Star Wars Battlefront II, we weren’t expecting anything as impressive as this. The first few scenes throw you into the Star Wars universe with a vibrant display of varying creature and plant life while exploring unique planets’ environments, enhanced by gorgeous sound design that includes some charming NPC chatter in the background. We found that there were very few things more satisfying this year than using the Force to vanquish enemies and wield a lightsaber of any color you desired (except red) to bring justice to the Jedi Order – and that’s why it made our shortlist for 2019’s game of the year award.
Final Fantasy VII Remake Re-Reveal
Ever since the reveal of Final Fantasy VII Remake back in 2015, fans have been anxiously waiting to see more – especially any news of a release date. Finally, at PlayStation’s State of Play in May 2019, Sony and Square Enix re-revealed Final Fantasy VII Remake and showcased the updated trailer. A month later att E3 2019, even more light was shed on via a longer trailer, in-depth looks at gameplay (where it was announced that there would be a two combat options: classic turn-based and action-based), and confirmation that the Remake would still be episodic. The launch date for the first episode is set for March 3, 2020, and fans seem to be equal parts curious and excited to see the return of the classic RPG. It would seem that the anticipation among fans of the original has only grown in the four years since the Remake was announced.
Destiny 2: Bungie Goes Indie
After eight years of working together as publisher and developer, Activision transferred publishing rights for Destiny and Destiny 2 over to Bungie in January 2019. This gave Bungie full control of the franchise, which the community to speculated would improve future content updates for Destiny 2. After reassurance that Destiny 2 would continue down its existing content roadmap, Bungie released a timeline and content structure of the planned updates to come later that year. Between quality-of-life updates, new levels and power, going free-to-play, and launching on Steam after being confined to Battle.net, Destiny 2 was revived with fresh new content that brought more players in, proving that Bungie becoming an independent studio was a huge positive.
The studio that brought us Alan Wake and the Max Payne series, Remedy, released Control on August 27, 2019. This weird sci-fi action-adventure took us through other dimensions and universes, all the while playing off a sense of existential dread. Superstition is studied as a science in Control’s world and documentation of ghosts, demons, and werewolves are analyzed by office workers in the Federal Bureau of Control. While this game doesn’t have a storyline as straightforward as Alan Wake’s or Max Payne’s, Control delivers a different definition of a psychological adventure, all the while letting you run amok with some impressive otherwordly powers. It was also IGN’s Game of the Year 2019.
Banjo Kazooie in Smash
During the Nintendo Direct E3 2019 showcase this year, Nintendo surprised everybody by unveiling Banjo and Kazooie as the next fighters to step into the ring of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. The Direct showcase also introduced a new stage, Spiral Mountain (Banjo and Kazooie’s home starting area), and teased both Grunty the Witch’s presence and a Jinjo attack. Their appearance on a Nintendo platform was a surprise because Rare, which developed Banjo Kazooie, had been acquired by Microsoft in 2002, and aside from a Rare Replay collection that came out on the Xbox One back in August 2015, no one had seen anything of Banjo Kazooie since.
At GDC 2019, Google announced Stadia, a cloud-based gaming platform with no physical console. With Stadia, Google promised that high-quality gaming would be accessible over an internet connection on various devices ranging from computers to TVs, and even phones and tablets, all in 60fps with HDR and 4K resolution. The platform’s launch lineup featured the entire modern Tomb Raider trilogy, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Destiny 2: The Collection, and more. The reveal of Stadia highlighted the lack of downloads as well as allowing players to pick up right where they left off in a game from any device they wanted. However, Stadia has had a rough launch so far. Between delayed pre-order access codes, some games streaming below the advertised 4K resolution, significant connectivity problems, missing features, and an absence of must-have exclusive games, it hasn’t lived up to Google’s hype – yet.
No one was expecting any Half-Life news in 2019 – after all, the last Half-Life game came out 12 years ago and many had given up hope that the legendary first-person shooter would ever return – but on November 21, along came Valve with a trailer reveal for Half-Life: Alyx. The even bigger twist is that this Half-Life 2 prequel would in fact be a full-length VR game for all PC-based VR headsets, and it’s coming in March 2020. Played through the eyes of Alyx Vance as she and her father Eli work to organize a resistance against The Combine, Valve says Half-Life: Alyx will be a combination of world exploration, puzzles, and combat, similar to the previous games.
Ninja and Shroud Move to Mixer
Even though Twitch has held a near-monopoly over gaming live-streaming for the past few years, in 2019 other platforms like Mixer and Facebook Gaming have been stepping up their efforts to enter the playing field. On August 1, the world’s most popular Fortnite streamer, Ninja (also known as Tyler Blevins), announced that he would leave Twitch for Microsoft’s Mixer. This was a huge shift in live-stream dynamics: Ninja had cultivated a tremendous following on Twitch, which had even landed him opportunities to broadcast live from the New York Times Square on New Year’s Eve last year. Mixer acquiring Ninja was a significant move in attempts to compete directly with (or simply outright co-opt) Twitch’s viewership – and it wasn’t done yet. A few months later, on October 24, 2019, retired professional CS:GO player Shroud (also known as Michael Grzesiek) announced that he, too, would be moving to Mixer. According to a report from Business Insider, Shroud was the second-biggest streamer on Twitch, meaning Microsoft has now nabbed Twitch’s top two. These moves prompted an important discussion amongst other streamers about whether or not the other available platforms were viable enough for growth and success for those who might not be as popular or well-known.
On stage at E3 2019, CD Projekt Red revealed a new Cyberpunk 2077 trailer that ended with a shocking surprise: Keanu Reeves. His introduction to the game came at the very end of the trailer, with Reeves telling us, “Wake the f-ck up, samurai. We have a city to burn.” The trailer then cut off and the stage side door opened to reveal Keanu Reeves himself, stepping out to present himself to the unsuspecting crowd. The audience went wild, cheering loudly for the actor who then went on to tell the story of how he was approached to play a character in Cyberpunk 2077. Describing what he’d seen so far, Reeves said, “The feeling of being there, of walking the streets of the future, is really going to be breathtaking.” To which a fan in the crowd yelled, “You’re breathtaking!” In what was proclaimed to be the most wholesome and endearing moments of E3 2019 – and perhaps the history of the show – Reeves grinned and fired back with, “You’re breathtaking! You’re all breathtaking.”
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Sequel
A trailer for a second The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild game was unveiled during the E3 2019 Nintendo Direct. The trailer shows Link and Zelda traveling together through an underground area where they stumble upon a mummified corpse that seems to harbor an odd evil power. Fans began to speculate that the sequel may have co-op gameplay, potentially allowing us to finally play as Zelda. While the actual reveal itself didn’t feature a release date, the Zelda series producer Eiji Aonuma suggested that this sequel could receive DLC like the original did. Fans eagerly welcomed the announcement and began breaking down theories on what the next game could bring to the Zelda universe.
Sony Exec Shakeup
In the aftermath of the exciting PS5 announcements, Sony Interactive Entertainment seemed to undergo a massive internal reorganization. On October 1, the official PlayStation Twitter account announced that Worldwide Studios Chairman Shawn Layden was leaving Sony. Under Layden’s tenure, PlayStation released several critically acclaimed games from its first-party studios including God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man, and Horizon: Zero Dawn. Sony continued its leadership shakeup in November, when Shuhei Yoshida announced he would step down from his position as Worldwide Studios President, a move he stated was to allow him to focus more on indie ventures. Hermen Hulst, Guerrilla Games co-founder and managing director, took his place immediately. PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan explained the choices made in management by explaining Sony’s desire to “globalize” the organization, in hopes that the new structure would benefit leading a single marketing campaign. This comes at a crucial time before the launch of the PS5 in late 2020, which is rapidly approaching.
Sony Buys Insomniac
Along with the internal restructuring at Sony Interactive Entertainment, in August 2019 Sony announced it had acquired Insomniac Games, the developers behind Marvel’s Spider-Man and Ratchet and Clank, making it a first-party PlayStation studio. While Insomniac didn’t announce any new games with the acquisition, founder and CEO Ted Price said, “Our partnership amplifies our potential, and Marvel’s Spider-Man was a testament to this. We’re excited to take the next step in our growth alongside our longtime Worldwide Studios partners. Most of all, we look forward to delivering fresh, new experiences for our fans.” We eagerly await seeing what happens next with this partnership.