That’s another year in the books, folks. 2023 has been quite something in general, but in games it’s easily one of the best in quite a while, with some fantastic releases, making this one of the biggest lists ever simply because I cannot leave any of them out. It’s also been absolutely awful 365 days, with lots of layoffs and catastrophic decisions in part from the folks running gaming companies to the ground.
Still, we’re all here to try and see the best side of things, and in that regard I’ve got quite a list of favorites for what is about to be ‘last year’. So without ado, let’s get this show on the road!
Here are my picks for top games of 2023!
Hitman: World of Assassination
If you were to ask me which game I played most in 2023, my answer would probably surprise you. Given my track record with Hitman 3, it wouldn’t ever figure on my list of bests since in all honesty, I was pretty lukewarm on it back when it was released.
But then came Freelancer mode and everything changed. Hitman 3 became Hitman: World of Assassination, it included all the levels from the previous two games combined and it added in random targets, the ability to furnish an entire house and deck out 47’s arsenal gun by gun, blade by blade.
What a ride it’s been. Freelancer is absolutely my favorite way to play Hitman now, and that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. Add to that the fun extra missions that IO Interactive has been releasing every now and then, and you’ve got me playing this on and off throughout the entirety of 2023!
Dredge has no business being as good as it is, but here we are, 30+ hours of gameplay, a platinum trophy – something I very rarely go for these days – and two reviews written as well as this very piece, with me gushing about the game on and on.
There’s nothing particularly noteworthy about the idea behind Dredge, but it’s executed so goddamn well that it kept me coming back from more after my review of the main content and then its DLC, The Pale Reach.
This is one hell of a game you would do a disservice to miss, let me tell you. Absolutely wonderful and surprisingly relaxing, I usually abhor fishing games, too.
The original Blasphemous wowed me with its visuals, but eventually pushed me way thanks to how difficult it is. Blasphemous 2 is amazing in how it takes all the best parts about the first game and makes it much more playable and enjoyable without killing all sense of challenge in the process.
While certainly not nearly as difficult but just as amazing to behold, Blasphemous 2 is The Game Kitchen’s magnum opus and I can’t wait to see what else they come packing. This is through and through an amazing time and I wish I hadn’t 100%ed it otherwise I would go back and keep playing it some more.
Alan Wake II
It’s been thirteen long years of waiting since the first Alan Wake, which was by far my favorite Xbox 360-era game hands down. No one had any hopes that we would see a conclusion to that story, which was left wide open, with us begging for more. Then came Control, a game that helped put Remedy where they rightfully deserve as one of gaming’s most creative AAA studios and that prompted the chance that Alan needed to make his comeback.
And what a game this turned out to be! I was floored with just how well it updated the core ideas from the first while adding in some of the best use of sanity effects I’ve ever seen in a game. My only gripe with Alan Wake II is the state the game was first released, riddled with bugs and crashes. Otherwise, it’s way more than I hoped for in a sequel!
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
Tears of the Kingdom takes everything that was great about Breath of the Wild and amps it up three-fold, adding in two brand new “maps” while reusing the same world. Only Nintendo can get away with such a thing and they absolutely do so here.
I’m 130 hours in and haven’t even gotten to the Ganondorf fight yet. Been busy exploring and uncovering everything else about the game and I’m not even near being done. There’s so much cool stuff to do that I’m dreading the moment when I see credits and my mind clicks, making me drop this one for good.
Until then, I have plenty to keep me busy still.
Out of all the ’99’ games released so far, F-Zero 99 feels the most chaotic. That’s saying something, considering how crazy things can get in Tetris 99! After the failure — at least from Nintendo’s perspective — of Super Mario Bros. 99, it was exciting to see another one of these do so well this past year.
There’s a simplicity to the proceedings that makes this one in particular all the more exciting, and adding in the subtle layers of strategy only make it more engrossing. It’s the sort of game you can’t help but want to go another round, match after match.
Even though it wasn’t the F-Zero revival that I wished for exactly, I was positively enraptured by F-Zero 99 in 2023. And I’m sure it’ll make its presence felt long into the new year. After all, I have to get those player card borders! Love ’em!
Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon
Before Demon’s Souls was a thing, there was Armored Core, FromSoftware’s over-the-top mech sim series. With its own dedicated fanbase, these games garnered a fair bit of success over the years, but were sadly put aside when the Souls proved to be much more profitable.
Luckily for us, though, they never truly quit and 2023 ushered a new entry in the form of the excellent Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon. Granted, I’m not nearly close to the end of it and probably won’t get there before 2024, but what I’ve played of it has more than proved that it deserves a spot in this list.
Fires of Rubicon is the sort of sandbox that offers incentives to be extremely creative when designing your own mech, and most importantly, it doesn’t shy away from hitting you over the head with rolled up newspaper when you are being a fool, at the same time it rewards you for thinking outside of its box.
Like the Souls games, but in its own way, Armored Core VI makes it so even the most out there ideas and approaches have a place where they have the potential to shine, and for that I absolutely adored it.
The Making of Karateka
Back when I was a kid, I had no idea who Jordan Mechner was, but I really dug his games. Chiefly, Karateka. Something about it just mesmerized 8-year old me, and even though I was awful at it, I kept coming back and trying it again. Thirty odd years later, having read his memoirs which talked about Prince of Persia, it came time to see how his first hit became a thing.
The Making of Karateka doesn’t have much going for it in terms of being a game ‘game’, but what it does have is a wealth of incredible archival material that’s a blast to skim through, and the little that there is to play in it, albeit repetitive for the nature of prototypes, is downright awesome. I’m excited to see what else Digital Eclipse is cooking up in the Gold Master Series; this one alone is proof that docu-games are definitely in my wheelhouse.
Who would’ve guessed that out of all Nintendo releases this year, Pikmin 4 of all things would be on this list? It’s been a good year for the Switch, and it’s a welcome surprise to see how well the game turned out. It’s hella cute, there’s plenty to see and do in it and there’s no freaking time limit whatsoever!
I have never been huge on Pikmin until this one and I’m so so glad it ended up being as big of a blast as it is. Same case as Zelda, though, I’m not done with it at all, there’s a whole bunch of stuff left to do in it, so it’s bound to be on next year’s list because it won’t be leaving my Switch’s SD card anytime soon…
Jagged Alliance 3
It’s a good thing that console ports aren’t day-and-date with some PC releases these days, otherwise I would’ve completely missed Jagged Alliance 3, since it was originally reviewed by Andy on PC. Having had the opportunity to play and talk about the PS5 version of the game, I can safely say that this is one of my favorite releases of the year.
Yeah, it’s a little cumbersome as releases like this usually tend to be, but even so, I’ve had an amazing time putting together my team of misfits and throwing them at just about every insane situation that the game puts in front of me. Surely enough, this is one of those save-scumming affairs much in the vein of X-COM – love them or hate them – which can be pretty addictive, which is the case here, most definitely.
Octopath Traveller 2
I should probably start this one out saying that I wasn’t a fan of the original Octopath Traveller. Something about it just didn’t sit well with me and it never clicked with me back when I tried to give it a shot via Game Pass on Xbox. But, for some reason, I decided to give its sequel a go, and after playing through its surprisingly substantial demo — congrats to Square Enix for their marvelous idea to release these and have their saves carry onto the final version of their big releases of the year!
Octopath Traveller 2 is an incredibly nostalgic game that has no qualms in displaying front and center its inspiration on old-school 16-bit RPGs, mainly the ones from Square itself, and at the same time reinventing the formula in order to feature a handful of protagonists. Somehow, it manages to tie them all together in a much better fashion than the previous one, or so I’ve read about the first game since I never got to that point in it.
As a fan of that specific period in RPGs, even though I admittedly never played them when they were new due to their prohibitedly high price tag and living where I live, their ressurgence thanks to re-releases and mostly emulation made me appreciate their existence, making Octopath Traveller 2 feel like a true victory lap for the company, masterfully updating it to today’s audiences. I’ll surely be playing much more of this in 2024 since I want to see how the story begins with the rest of the cast.
Final Fantasy XVI
“How dare put this under honorable mentions and not include it in the main list?” you’re probably demanding to know. Well, for one, I played very little of it but I did thoroughly enjoy every second; on the other side of things, it’s a Final Fantasy that goes into a route I don’t particular care for much in terms of gameplay. It’s an action movie in videogame form, and while it plays very smoothly, it’s not exactly what I’m looking for in one of these games.
“Then why include it at all? Isn’t your list big enough as it is, Eduardo?” you’re bound to rebute. Eh, this is MY list and I can do what I want with it! Just kidding! Regardless of my qualms with its gameplay, its setting, characters and overall presentation more than made up for any issues I had with it, and it’s a game that for as much of it that’s still left to be enjoyed, it managed to leave a mark on me.
Final Fantasy XVI is yet another game that will very likely figure into next year’s article, or at least land a spot in my finished list for 2024. It’s been sitting in my PS5’s hard drive for months now and it’ll most definitely be played to completion at some point in the coming twelve months. I just have to figure out when that will be.
Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew
It’s a bittersweet time when we get to play a game as good as this and it also happens to be the last one that a brilliant studio such as Mimimi Productions will ever put out. The team is closing down after this one due to low sales, but definitely not for lack of quality.
At the tail end of the year, however, it got two fantastic pieces of DLC, one even bringing back a character from one of their other games and introducing them in the context of this rather impressively. It’ll definitely be something I will be coming back to next year.
On the other hand, I can’t say I like this as much as I did Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun and especially Desperados III. That’s mostly due to its more constrained scope and overall team inconsistency, but there are some great ideas in it that I would’ve enjoyed to see further explored and developed in later games.
As it stands, Shadow Gambit is very good for what it is and for what it would’ve meant for future releases for the team in an alternate reality where the team would’ve kept doing what they do so damn well for as long as they wanted. So hats off to Mimimi for an amazing run. I will miss you all dearly.
Cyberpunk 2077 and Phantom Liberty
Cyberpunk 2077 had everything that I like in games on paper, but when it came down to play it, it was originally a mess. Now, a year and change later and after what I assume has been millions of dollars in extra development, it’s in a much better place. I can finally see what all the preview fuss was about, and it’s been great to see it come to fruition. I’m happy for CD Projekt Red, truly.
And with Phantom Liberty, it’s got a contained storyline that’s great and doesn’t really overstay its welcome in any way. What’s there not to like? Given the studio’s record with The Witcher 3 DLC, I can’t say I’m surprised the story is good, but everything else about it is also top notch. Someone get Idris Elba in more games, pronto!
Lies of P
This game has no business being as good as it is for a few reasons. First, the idea of playing a Soulslike with Pinocchio was originally bananas to me, but here we are, floored with how that turned out. And second, its developers, Neowiz and Round8, this is their first game in this style. They absolutely nailed it!
Sure, there are some gripes that Callum pointed out in his article, but even then I managed to have a whole lot of fun playing it regardless.I was glued to this game from start to finish and I can’t wait to jump back in when its DLC is finally out. The teases made during the ending to this give way to a lot of incredible speculation about what’s to come and I’m totally invested to play it day one.
Dave the Diver
Back when I reviewed Dave the Diver I said it for sure it would figure its way into this article, and here it is, as an honorary mention. I decided not to list it as a main category game because since the review hit, I ended up dropping it. It’s still on the back of my mind, though, so I’ll probably come back, but I haven’t so far.
Still, for what it is, it deserves a spot here for what I have played of it, which kept me coming back for more for a while. The variety of gameplay and sheer abundance of personality Dave the Diver has going for it is just nuts. Every time I thought it was done introducing new elements, it hit me over the head with more and more. Now that I’m prepared, I’ll probably stick with it til the end, scout’s promise! Hell, with the DREDGE crossover content that was just released, that’s a given!
Wu Long: Fallen Dynasty
I had high hopes for Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty given its pedigree. I am absolutely in love with the Nioh series and knowing that the same team was heading the game, it was all but certain that I would love it. And indeed I did like it a whole lot. It along with Lies of P were my go-to Souslikes throughout 2023.
As a contender in that genre, though, I think it leaves a bit to be desired. Although the dodging mechanic is easy enough to pull off, something I’ve certainly had trouble with in, say, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, it’s way too powerful in this game, making it a central technique to pull off in just about every fight. On the other hand, it’s pretty damn satisfying to land them.
I dug the themes of Wo Long a whole bunch and as a historical aficionado por Asian lore such as I am, it was a kick to see the Chinese side of things when we’ve gotten so used to being innundated with Japanese yoaki and whatnot. I can’t wait to dive into the rest of its DLC come 2024!
Street Fighter 6
Every time a new one of these drops, I make a promise to devote more time and dedication in order to get better at Street Fighter, and I always fall behind thanks to being busy with other games for coverage and life obligations, but man, is Street Fighter 6 GOOD. And I mean really really so.
In 2024 I’ll be meaning to make more time to play casually outside of work-related content, so hopefully I’ll come back to this and make a dent in it. The little that I have has been of top shelf quality thanks to the nearly endless list of improvements that Capcom has brought to the table, such as the game’s single player which is both fun and a great learning tool, which is saying a lot considering the so-so offering when the last game was initially released.
And if the last Evo was any indication, Street Fighter 6 is just starting and there’s going to be plenty of it to be enjoyed in the new year. This isn’t a promise per se, but I hope to include this as a main game in 2024’s piece. We’ll see how that goes!
Baldur’s Gate 3
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to Baldur’s Gate 3. After a long stretch as an early access title on Steam, its official release took place in August. However, I wasn’t instantly as into it as I was with Larian’s previous games like Divinity: Original Sin 2. I felt like the studio had more freedom and creativity when they were working with their own created world instead of Wizards of the Coast’s D&D.
Still, even if it’s not perfect to me as a CRPG fan, there’s much to laud Baldur’s Gate 3 for how out of the box it still manages to be as is, and recently I have in fact been giving it another shot, with far better results than my initial run. It’s still up in the air whether or not it’ll factor in my 2024 list of favorites, but as of this moment, it deserves a spot as an honorable mention at the very least!
Last Train Home
Coming in at the tail end of 2023 is Last Train Home, a game that really hit it as both an RTS and management sim set in a rarely seen moment in history, featuring people who are hardly ever seen in games, let alone in one as good as this.
There’s loads to love about Last Train Home, from its presentation to having the courage not to feature any English voice acting as the default choice, from its tense moment-to-moment gameplay to the quiet times, this is a game that had my attention back when it was announced in June and figured into this list at the last possible time.