2023 Community Game of the Year

This year had the best game I've ever played... And then that happened again. Quite
a year!

1. Baldur's Gate 3 - I've never played a game remotely like this before. It's the first time I've made a character in a game and liked that I could. It's the first time I've played a game with such detailed turn-based tactical combat. It's the first time I've played a game with real narrative choices that impact dozens of hours later, and let you take any choice, and it works. It's the first time I've romanced in a game. Holds together astoundingly well, individual tiny stories within it range from funny to moving.

2. Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom - This game shocked from the start. A mainstream game with a full CAD package in it for making complex machinery. An expansion of content not just above but also deep below, AND they added caves and wells too just to be sure. Then all the questlines, and the main story, drew me in. I had to be a journalist at every stable, I had to photograph every archaeological ruin. No other game has made me feel at all completionist until this.

3. Soul Searching - Beautiful sea and rain and birds flying past, and fish in lovely flocks, and wind and patterns leading to restful islands. In the far seas to the west I save a grey square, it says some words, I dissolve, it draws me to peaceful, melancholic, happy tears. This game, bare pixel art yet somehow so real so joined into me. So alive, so infinitely this.

4. Immortality - A few of us played this online together, and it drew me in. Unpicking the plots of the films, and the meta-plot of the main actress, was compelling and creative. The main twist horrified us just as it should. Its flaw - the exploring is a bit too random for me, and we lost patience to work it all out. All year it often came to mind, I'd remember the quality of the acting, the fresh feel of this game.

5. Beat Saber - Thumping tracks, repeating again and again to beat my score. The only thing worth getting a virtual reality for. The only thing that got me addicted to movement, to being alive in my *body*. Ironic!

6. Jusant - My favourite soundtrack of the year, it fills me with connection, love of the natural world, calm. The climbing was fresh and new, I'd like to see it in a more fleshed out game. The world building was a bit stretched out, and some of the level layouts had unclear progression. The ending was a fulfilling joy.

7. Viewfinder - So satisfying! Magically placing pictures into the real world, shifting to their style in a chain of fun. With a promising start and great mood, unfortunately the overall story wasn't quite crunchy enough. The last level was a blast and a mechanically great ending.

8. Storyteller - I had a good time with this, and it didn't overstay its welcome. Making cartoons and them completing themselves feels like nothing else. The puzzles and the art well made. It didn't feel like more content would work, by the end I was finding the mechanically necessary stereotyping exhausting. Looking forward to future games that develop this.

9. Coffee Talk - Sweet company on my Switch in bed last thing at night, when I'd only used it docked for years. Peaceful to play an evening in the coffee shop, and when barista went to sleep, I'd doze off. The urban fantasy setting is just parallel enough to ours it really works.

10. Venba - Delicious cooking puzzles in an emotionally engaging multi-generational family story. Short, and worth playing, if only to learn how to make Idli.

Thanks for a great podcast and being a great community. Have a beautiful New Year, everyone!

That's a nice diverse list. Unfamiliar with many of the games you choose and that's cool.

frabcus wrote:

8. Storyteller - I had a good time with this, and it didn't overstay its welcome. Making cartoons and them completing themselves feels like nothing else. The puzzles and the art well made. It didn't feel like more content would work, by the end I was finding the mechanically necessary stereotyping exhausting. Looking forward to future games that develop this.

Demo was good. Glad to hear the full game was worth it. I intend to get to it one day.

Here's my 2023 list. Pretty much a theme (heavy on gamepass and survival city builders!)

Shortlist for tabulation:

Spoiler:

1) Ixion
2) Everspace 2
3) Star Trek Resurgence
4) Dyson Sphere Project
5) Star Field
6) Icarus
7) Stranded: Alien Dawn
8) Floodlands
9) Star Traders: Frontiers
10) Exoprimal (PC GamePass)

1) Ixion (Steam) – This was on a few lists last year. A spaceship city builder that is running from one crisis to another with an amazing soundtrack. There was just enough push to make you feel rushed but not overly so, it seemed perfectly balanced, though I did run into a few times when I was unable to progress because of a bad decision (these have been patched since I played).

2) Everspace 2 (PC GamePass) – A refreshing space fighter game that gave me the freelancer vibes (less so Rebel Galaxy Outlaw) but with improved mechanics and fantastic dogfighting. The story was interesting and collecting a squad or friends along the way was an unexpected twist. I didn’t play the endgame content, but the playing through to completion and some additional exploring was great.

3) Star Trek Resurgence (EPIC) – Best Star Trek story in quite some time and a tell-tale like gameplay style was a great vehicle for it. It did have a number of bugs and isn’t as polished visually as I would have hoped, but the story was what really drove this one. Hope to see someone make another one in this universe.

4) Dyson Sphere Project (PC GamePass) – I never played factorio, so I didn’t quite know what I was getting into here. But the allure of getting to the stars after being stuck on your starter planet was a really a great way to motivate through the intricate production line optimization. I just wish I had caught on sooner.

5) Star Field (PC GamePass) – A very nice space RPG. It has plenty of interesting systems and things to do beyond the main story and quests, but they don’t all come to together to be something more. The most fun was finding those out of the ways spots that held little bits of story that seemed to be there just for me, as it didn’t seem possible that most people would have come to an unlikely destination.

6) Icarus (Steam) – A more recent purchase after a free weekend, this is a gorgeous game. I’ve only played in the open-world, so I know there’s a lot more to do. This really made the list because I finally found a game beyond Minecraft that I can enjoy playing with my youngest kid.

7) Stranded: Alien Dawn (Steam) – Another survival city builder, but more like the sims. Out of all the scenarios, the best one isn’t the survival ones, but where you are trying to earn enough cash to buy your own planet. Some DLC has come out and I figure to check back into it in the new year.

8) Floodlands (Steam) – Another survival city builder. The idea was fantastic as well as the look of the world. Unfortunately this game marred in a lot of game breaking bugs. It didn’t stop my enjoyment of it, but it probably ended all hopes of additional content or a follow-up.

9) Star Traders: Frontiers (Steam) – This was a fun throw back with turn based RPG elements, quests, and trading. Was deeper than I expected, and I ultimately didn’t finish it, but would love to go back if time allows.

10) Exoprimal (PC GamePass) – This was just dumb fun. A little coop with my oldest kid and friends. Not too deep and didn’t need to be. I have no idea what the story was about.

The rest:

Chants of Sennar, Dead Island 2, Invisible Inc, The Old World, Stray, Grounded, Terra Nil, Deliver us Mars, Star Wars Jedi Outcast

Here we are, starting with the shortlist for convenience:

Spoiler:

1- Final Fantasy XVI
2- Spider-Man 2
3- Baldur's Gate 3
4- Octopath Traveler II
5- Gloomhaven
6- Tactics Ogre Reborn
7- Marvel Champions
8- Forespoken

And now, the Not-Quite-Letterman List, as Harvey would have it:

IMAGE(https://i.ibb.co/K5LHfSk/8-Forespoken.png)8 - Forespoken - A game that feels very much like a marketed-at-girls 80s fantasy movie became the punchline and punching bag of the internet. I did not care for how this game got treated. Now, I’m not going to come out swinging for it as some secret masterpiece, I’m not gearing up to release a 3 hour video essay entitled “Forspoken Is Good Actually,” I didn’t come close to finishing it. But the reception bothered me when I got my hands on this pleasantly mid game that was pretty clearly spun out of a concept for a full Final Fantasy. “Unbearably cringe,” the internet had declared, the nadir of “Marvel Humor,” a catastrophic event that prompted multiple thinkpieces explicating why “snarky dialogue” is “wrong.” I reached some of the more infamous moments, and thought “...that’s it? This is ‘unbearably cringe?’ This is ‘too far?’ Why?” Well, I’ve noticed an answer, one I’ve seen not be well-received, but it needs to be said: the protagonist is a young woman of color. Not the sole factor, but a telling one that absolutely needs to be highlighted, even though I can name a writer of color I very much respect who crafted one of those thinkpieces. People are sort of fed up with snarky, lightly-meta quips? Understandable, but it’s still worth asking why this case became the line. Beyond the Dreaded Discourse, like I said, the game is pleasantly mid, and I’d say undeniably unique in the game space. This is a game where your magic casting equip gear are not hefty rods or staves, but distinctly painted nails, a flourish I feel only bolsters my raised eyebrow at the reaction to this game.

IMAGE(https://i.ibb.co/cYqV09T/7-Marvel-Champions.png)7 - Marvel Champions - Look, I’m well aware that I’m a huge mark for certain things. I’m not made of stone, when I see a video entitled “Previewing Magik and Bishop in the newly announced Age of Apocalypse Expansion,” I’m going to click on it, and probably also raid every local game shop I can find because I won’t be able to sleep until I have a proper Kitty deck, goddammit, and you’re telling me Stryfe is a final boss!? I haven’t worked up to Stryfe yet (f*cken Stryfe! For Real!), I’m still learning the ropes, and I’m not the best at following all the steps each turn on my lonesome, but thanks to the neat mechanics, I have twice had the delightfully bonkers situation of Scott and Jean fighting ultimate jobber mook Rhino, only to have the Dark Phoenix suddenly manifest and try to destroy existence. I get the sense that given more time, confidence in moving past the “tutorial” encounters, and maybe even some experience with the weekly game at a local store, this game may have moved significantly up the rankings.

IMAGE(https://i.ibb.co/dm3BGvT/6-Tactics-Ogre-Reborn.png)6- Tactics Ogre Reborn - Final Fantasy Tactics is a game I’ve returned to time and again since 1997, so I knew of Matsuno’s legendary earlier tactics series that was supposed to be hard as hell. And holy hell is this hard! I actually have gotten quite stuck. But, I can also see why it has its legendary reputation, and so much of it is directly up my alley, even some of the things I think most people would consider a detriment. The mannered, quasi-archaic dialogue, the impenetrably dense political lore, the crushingly huge cast. “Am I supposed to care about these invented ethnicities?” I can hear one of the internet’s myriad quack script doctors ask, and I’d say “No, I don’t think you are, that feels very much like a satire of European history.” Even though I’m stuck fairly early in the branching story (it has a branching story by the way), I still think it’s a fascinating, wonderful experience.

IMAGE(https://i.ibb.co/Hn3h6ZH/5-Gloomhaven.png)5- Gloomhaven - One of my tabletop friends wanted to play Gloomhaven, so, now we do. As a game, I find it often frustrating, but as an excuse to get together and crush some fancy brews, it’s great.

IMAGE(https://i.ibb.co/MRVGHyw/4-Octopath-Traveler-II.png)4- Octopath Traveler II - Someone who isn’t me called this “JRPG Comfort Food,” and really, that is the best description of this game, though I think that undersells how powerful this game can be. You have 8 party members following their own quests that converge (some more directly than others), a veritable octo-path, if you will, each a readily recognizable archetype if you’re familiar with JRPGs or anime, it can admittedly be hard to keep track of who various NPCs are over the hours and hours, and the Break system starts off as pretty compelling, but can be a real grind by the end. But, there’s a wonderfully earnest heart, and a delightful variety in the stories, which will have you gathering allies to retake a throne, plunging into a bleak tale of revenge, stolen families, and necromancy, or readying for a big dance performance. When one of these little sprites steps forward to face the boss at the end of their quest, declaring their overriding philosophy as their banger OST theme roars, it’s hard not to cheer. I’m going to give special shout-outs to Apothecary Casti’s moody pursuit of her lost memories, Thief Throné’s bloody trail to liberation, and meat-loving Hunter Ochette’s wanderings to gather legendary animal allies, who never turn out to be quite what she expects.

IMAGE(https://i.ibb.co/dLTknwP/3-Baldur-s-Gate-3.png)3- Baldur’s Gate 3 - BG3 deserves all the accolades it’s been getting, and I fully expect it to crush this year’s tally in possibly a record breaking rout.

So lemme talk about how my weird issues kept it from topping my own list.

I think the D&D license made it nearly impossible for me not to nitpick this game. It’s entirely possible, I’d say even likely, that I don’t know the D&D rules as well as I think, but I think I know them quite well, and deviations from my expectations frustrated me greatly, to the point that I think the biggest addition I’d suggest is a button that makes the DM explain to me exactly how what just happened actually happened per the rules. Given the full roster of D&D 5E races and classes, I recreated a family line I’ve been tracing in actual D&D games for quite a long time, but obviously, none of them are quite right—as much possibility as BG3 packs in, it still can’t replicate the subtle nuances that let our tabletop versions so distinctive, and it’s not fair to expect that, this is something I absolutely did to myself, but it was an impediment none-the-less. Far too often, I feel like I was compelled to play a fight the way they wanted, rather than apply my knowledge and abilities to find clever work-arounds. What do you mean I can’t cast Dimension Door on someone who is “restrained?” Asshole can run, can’t he! A lot of the fights in Act 3 are, frankly, straight up bad—especially the Avatar of Bhaal, but especially the House of Grief. And there needs to be a way to change gear’s appearance beyond just changing colors. Now, despite all this, I spent a good deal of time in this game. However, I have to concede that when I talk about the game, I tend to focus on my gripes, and thus, even as I say it’s a great game that I frankly hopes has a profound impact, I can’t rank my enjoyment higher than this. At the end of the day, it just made me miss real D&D.

IMAGE(https://i.ibb.co/wzn6C5V/2-Spider-Man-2.png)2- Spider-Man 2 - They made Kraven the Hunter seem credible. I’m sure there’s a Spider-Fan out there that will push back on that–that Kraven was always credible, haven’t I read “Kraven’s Last Hunt,” from which I gather much of this game was based!? Nope, I have not, I am at best a casual Spider-Fan, but c’mon. Kraven? Lion-face vest, leopard tights, ballet flats Kraven? C’mon. To this casual Spider-Fan, Kraven was a bit of a joke. And yet, in this game, they made him more than credible. They made him frightening. And they did it without changing all that much, at least as I understand him–Russian big game hunter with an askew sense of honor. It was just a matter of executing writing, direction, performance, and tone.

And that’s how I feel about the game in general–it’s all a matter of execution, which is, across the board, amazing. Spectacular, even! Superior, I daresay! I’m too deep into whiskey time to work in “friendly neighborhood.” Anyway, frankly, between 2018 Spider-Man and the Miles Morales follow-up, they sort of perfected how the Spiders-Men should feel to play, there isn’t much change here because there doesn’t need to be much, and it’s a given that part is great, and it’s also a given that it looks f*cking incredible, so I’m just going to move on. What got me, really got me, was how it takes a bunch of specific Spider-Man tales (Kraven, the Symbiote Suit, Venom, Harry’s fall from grace) and some more elemental Spider-Man tales (life balance, school issues, financial problems, I’ve messed up this relationship), and remixes them all into something that feels fresh and modern, in no small part by adding Miles into the mix. I figured we were leading up to it, obviously we were leading up to it,

Spoiler:

but having Miles involved with the removal of the Symbiote Suit was really f*cking cool. I guess I’m spoilering this anyway, so I can say Harry as Venom and how that changes the dynamic is really f*cking cool.

This game doesn’t just get the appeal of these characters, it gets what makes them great, which is to say, everything around them, and now just their power set, but the characters around them. Not just the baddies, but Jonah, Black Cat, Yuriko, Ganke, Rio, Prowler, Danika, what makes the Spiders-Men great characters is the cast around them, and this game gets that, which may lead to my hot take: I like the MJ sequences, MJ is f*cking important, MJ has been a character since 1965, her duct taping attachments to stun guns and CQCing goons because apparently Silver Sable taught her some martial arts overseas, hilarious, more of that please, and both sides of the symbiote sequences with her were amazing, and really sold a lot of the concepts going on. Additionally, her having to traverse a Naughty Dog-esque tunnel, and sticking her smartphone in her front pocket to replicate the iconic ND chest harness flashlight aesthetic is my favorite joke in the game. f*ck the haters who think she’s “insufferable” for pointing out the exact point of the symbiote suit storyline and the weirdos comparing her ass to some Starfield manequin’s ass, I say, double down on MJ, give me the DLC where the has a dialogue confrontation with JJJ. Jesus Jumping Christ, Stan, that’s a lot of Js.

IMAGE(https://i.ibb.co/2g1WV0B/1-Final-Fantasy-XVI.png)1- Final Fantasy XVI - If the Mouse had any sort of sense or flair, they’d get Soken to score the X-Men.

The thing I admire the most about Final Fantasy is that it changes into something different with each iteration, and yet remains comfortingly familiar–it’s a series defined, more than anything, by a feel, a vibe, expressed in aesthetic tropes and recurring concepts rather than any particular gameplay element. Not everyone agrees with this, obviously, there are plenty for whom unless what they’re playing is exactly like a turn-based RPG circa 1991 and also doesn’t create the exact same sensation they felt as an 8 year old, it isn’t a Final Fantasy, and some will make the ridiculous and poor-taste claim that they are being “gaslit into accepting” a Final Fantasy that hasn’t been dipped in amber a delivered straight from their prelapsarian youth. For me: are there moogles? Are there chocobos? Do I get Save the Queen, Ragnarok, or Ultima Blade? Is there some manner of oppressive empire that must be defied? Then it’s a Final Fantasy, ya crybabies.

XVI ranks among the darker entries of the series, making the influence of A Song of Ice and Fire much more apparent than the sly refs and in-jokes of My Boy Yoshi-P and Team’s previous and ongoing work, Final Fantasy XIV, turning in something more grim and violent, but also more interested in political dynamics, plots, and schemes than many others in the series. Very cool! There’s a wonderful Suikoden-esque flourish where you, for one thing, get a main base of operations, and gradually see it become busier and busier with very fun and lively support NPCs, often with their own stories to track. And this entry features the most amazing, compelling take on the concept of “Summoning” yet seen in the series, as this world doesn’t have Summoners, but “Dominants,” people who essentially are their summons, channeling their powers and manifesting as their forms, but also being unavoidably shaped by those figures, and also also falling into a variety of strata in various cultures, whether that’s as enslaved tools, well-kept or not, or in effect a second monarch who must be appeased. I loved every second of finding new facets and features of this world, as I played through the rare game narrative that had the stones to actually unfold over a great span of time. I’m a mark, I’ll always keep coming back, but when they’re this good, I don’t mind. Hail My Boy Yoshi-P, our true savior.

Quick list from me before I run out of time

1. Yakuza LAD - Apparently because I didn't play Badlurs Gate 3 this year.

2. Immortals Fenyx Rising - A rare open world game that I was sorry to finish

3. Humanity - My faithful companion throughout the year, always satisfying to dip back into

4. Final Fantasy X-2 - Is this a real game, or did I just make it up? It seems so unlikely.

5. Lost Judgment - A step up from Judgment in every way, except possibly the main plot.

6. Scarlet Nexus - Mainly here for the combat, supported by a suitably absurd story and setting

7. Nier Replicant - Best RPG party ever, but I'm probably only saying that because I didn't play BG3

8. Tinykin - Takes me back to the better, simpler days of the N64

9. Ghostwire Tokyo - Another open world I was sorry to leave

10. Paradise Killer - Unlike anything I played before, initially jarring but once I was on the case there was no stopping me

Honourable mention: Sea of Stars
Full of charm and class, but not my nostalgia

Also Unpacking which I played while living out of a shopping bag (not as bad as it sounds). It's been a year, hope 2024 is a better one for everyone!

ComfortZone wrote:

10. Paradise Killer - Unlike anything I played before, initially jarring but once I was on the case there was no stopping me

These words will probably be what drives me to finally pick up Paradise Killer when it goes on one of its usual eShop sales some time next year, once I have The Case of the Golden Idol out of my Mysteries queue.

Might be worth popping a spoiler warning above your Spider-Man 2 write up SpacePProtean (although it might throw off the way lists are tallied if there are too many lists after yours.) You didn’t spoil me as I’m past the points that you mentioned.

I agree with you on MJ ( I only dipped into that part of what you wrote for fear of reading too much.) The MJ sequences in the first game didn’t bother me as much as others but they didn’t feel at all inspired. In this game MJ had more agency with her gadgets and her sequences were genuinely great, tense stealth sequences. I also really like the dynamic of a regular human navigating through and trying to survive in a world containing very powerful and dangerous superhumans.

Shadout wrote:

12. A Summer's End - Hong Kong 1986 (PC)
A short story about love, identity, independence, clashing with a conservative cultural background. I especially enjoyed the setting at an interesting time in Hong Kong, after it had been decided China would take over. Only more chilling now that we know it went exactly as one might have feared.

Really happy to see someone else who played A Summer's End. It was my number 10 in 2021, and had me tearing up at one point.

Still ordering my list (and making a hard push to finish one more title this year). ...and then the writeup begins.

Higgledy wrote:

Might be worth popping a spoiler warning above your Spider-Man 2 write up SpacePProtean (although it might throw off the way lists are tallied if there are too many lists after yours.) You didn’t spoil me as I’m past the points that you mentioned.

I agree with you on MJ ( I only dipped into that part of what you wrote for fear of reading too much.) The MJ sequences in the first game didn’t bother me as much as others but they didn’t feel at all inspired. In this game MJ had more agency with her gadgets and her sequences were genuinely great, tense stealth sequences. I also really like the dynamic of a regular human navigating through and trying to survive in a world containing very powerful and dangerous superhumans.

In one of the pre-release reviews that I saw it just said "This may be the best version of the Venom story that any Spider-Man media has ever done". And I have to agree after playing it. The changes they made give it so much more emotional impact. I love it. I can't wait to see what they do with Green Goblin in SM3 to finish the trilogy.

They mix the old story lines and new so seamlessly and it’s all better and more impactful as a result.

I love Pete and Miles together. Pete is my Spider-Man. Miles is the young and inexperienced Spider-Man Pete used to be. It’s a perfect combination. Ganke and MJ being in on everything makes the four of them feel like a group of friends working things out together.

Oh, uh, I even put a bit about how I was spoilering that in the write-up and then forgot to do it. I guess that's what happens when you do half of it during Holiday Whiskey Time.

zeroKFE wrote:

The Short List and Preamble

Here’s the short version of my list for tabulation purposes:

Spoiler:

1. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
2. Baldur’s Gate 3
3. Cyberpunk v2.0 / Phantom Liberty
4. Horizon: Forbidden West
5. Alan Wake 2
6. Chained Echoes
7. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor
8. Final Fantasy 16
9. Octopath Traveler 2
10. Starfield

11. Battletech
12. Everspace 2
13. Fire Emblem Engage
14. Viewfinder
15. Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut /Iki Island DLC

Well holy hell, that sure was a year, huh?

My top three are absolute game of the decade candidates, and any number of other entries lower on my list could have been top contenders in weaker years. Hell, even my five near miss entries could have been top contenders in weaker years, and that’s before even considering the stack of games from late summer and fall that I haven’t had enough time to play yet. Like, a Forza and a Mario game? Oh, and by all accounts the glorious and triumphant return of Armored Core? What the hell even was this year?!

So strap in folks -- with deepest apologies (I know what I am), this is going to be a long one.


My 2023 Game of the Year


IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/j76kAvh.jpg)

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
Despite how strong the competition was this year, nothing was ever going to top Zelda this year. Tears of the Kingdom takes the basic structure, formula, and assets of one of the greatest achievements in video game design ever, one my top five favorite games of last decade, then builds and expands and refines and polishes it into something so perfectly crafted, so beautiful and vast and enthralling and so unceasingly fun, that it makes the original game look like a shaky, pre-alpha prototype.

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/KzPUsJs.jpg)

I have no idea how many hours I played this game, but I know it was an unfathomable amount over two and half months where I had no interest in doing anything else. From the very start of the game, stepping out of that cave and taking that first leap of faith through the opening title card, to the very end, making the last one into the final credits (if you know, you know) the consummate, peerless artistry and craftsmanship on display in every aspect of creating this game defies what we should reasonably expect any developer to achieve. And yet, this team has now done it twice in a row, with the second time making the first seem laughable in comparison.

So, a bit more miscellaneous gushing, in the form of and unordered list of four amazing achievements in design found in Tears of the Kingdom:

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/e61Dhxl.jpg)

First, agency in exploration.

One of the most brilliant things about Breath of the Wild is the way it rejected modern open world game design conventions about how exploration is managed and assisted through UI. It recognized that while convenient, modern trends in UI design (marker strewn maps populated automatically, golden crumb trails, etc) either rob the player of the joy of exploration or cover up for weaknesses in the design of the open world. Instead, it gave you tools to find and track relevant landmarks driven by your own curiosity, and a world so perfectly designed that you never needed anything more. Every moment of exploration is driven by the player’s curiosity and every discovery is that much more rewarding because the game made it happen via your agency.

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/fRn0fxK.jpg)

Tears of the Kingdom takes that idea an expands on it in a way that’s like a magic trick. I want to be very careful about how I talk about this because there’s a lot of joy in the process of discovering the new ways the world design helps you, well, discover things. So, the world in TotK is significantly larger than in BotW, and that expansion of explorable space comes in several unique forms that each bring their own special challenges for discovery and navigation. Each requires new approaches to solving the puzzle of how to find — and indeed, reach — new places, which are satisfying to grapple with on their own. But, there are novel ways in which the different kinds of spaces you explore interact which further add to the brilliance of how the game empowers the user to feel the joy of discovery as a result of their own ingenuity, rather than as something the game just hands them.

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/KO43alQ.jpg)

Second, the design balance of the ultrahand ability (and its related tools)

Probably the biggest area where Breath of the Wild feels like a rough prototype for Tears of the Kingdom is in the powers that link is given to let him interact with the world. Many paragraphs could be written about the specifics, but let’s just talk for a minute about the central ability to manipulate and construct objects in the world. There are entire genres of games just built around playing with a subset of the things Link can do with the ultrahand ability, and, well, those kinds of games can be very fun and exciting but also very overwhelming. The brilliance here is the balancing act found by the developers refining the ideas possible with such a system into something that was so wildly powerful, so wildly open to experimentation and creativity, but that also put so little demand on the player to engage with the system any more than they actually find enjoyable.

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/Mk0WTy3.jpg)

If you’re interested, here’s a few posts from the months I was playing the game that touch on just how the delightful new sandbox mechanics inspire just as much curiosity, exploration, and discovery as the immaculate, massive world design does.
https://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/...
https://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/...

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/NtjF8xT.jpg)

Third, the story is actually… good? (Maybe use the Japanese voices though.)

Okay, Zelda games have never really been about telling a compelling story (in a traditional narrative sense, at least). They’re more about atmospheric vibes wrapped around very basic hero’s journey stuff, with some fun/silly/goofy side stories and character moments wrapped in for good measure; essentially, set dressing as you enjoy the adventure. And to be clear, Tears of the Kingdom is more or less just that at its heart. However, I think it actually managed something kind of special this time within that framework. Like, Breath of the Wild clearly wanted to do something, but for me at least, it mostly failed. But (recurring theme here) TotK takes the novel narrative mechanic experimented with in BotW — that is, finding pieces of a story that’s already transpired in non-linear order as you explore the world in self guided way — and, for me at least, put in the effort to refine that rough idea into something that really worked.

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/PmuTqgq.jpg)

To begin with, the story that you’re discovering is more compelling, the characters within have more interesting journeys, and there is more narrative resonance with the general themes expressed throughout the rest of the game. But also, there is another magic trick here in the way the choices you will have made exploring the world to find the story fragments create a story of finding the story, where each resonates with the other despite the fact that the player is free to find the pieces in whatever sequence they like. Or, it did for me, and it felt very intentionally crafted to do so. And as a result, when you hit the various big climatic moment both in the story of the past you are finding and in the journey Link is taking in the present, they hit so much harder than I’ve ever found to be the case in a Zelda game.

Spoiler: Really, really big spoilers

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And then it all comes together with that ending. Wow. Again, I never have been terribly impressed with the ending of a Zelda game before, but this one? Just wow.

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Fourth, and finally (although there is plenty more I could gush about if I didn’t want to have even the tiniest amount of restraint here), the music. I don’t even know where I would start, other than that the music (and sound design in general) is even more superb and perfect and beautiful than you could expect, and you could expect a whole lot in that realm from this series. Thankfully, though, I don’t need to figure out where to start, because someone smarter and more qualified to talk about it has already done the job. Kirk Hamilton, who you may know from his years as a reporter for Kotaku or as one of the hosts of the “Triple Click” podcast, has a spectacular podcast about music and music theory called “Strong Songs,” and he made an entire episode about the brilliance of the music in this game that you can listen to here:
https://strongsongspodcast.com/episo...

Anyway, that’s probably more than enough for now — but yeah, this being number one for the year was definitely the easiest choice on this list.

Spoiler rich album of additional screenshots: https://imgur.com/a/r5wvGOg

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The Runners Up


2. Baldur’s Gate 3

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In any other year, this would have been such an easy lock as my game of the year. BioWare style RPGs (and their close cousins, character/story heavy action RPGs like the Witcher series) always have an express ticket to the center of my heart. And, has there ever been a more BioWare ass BioWare style RPG than Baldur’s Gate 3? And, I mean that both qualitatively AND quantitatively — there is just so damn much in this game, and it’s all so impossibly good. While it fell slightly short of unseating my all time favorite in this broad family of games (the Mass Effect trilogy, that is) Baldur’s Gate 3 certainly grabs the reigns of the genre and defines a new gold standard of what can be possible in the space.

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Honestly, I struggle to imagine how any team other than Larian (possibly CD Project Red?) could even begin to approach making a game that achieves the scope and scale of what this game accomplished. Ironically, with apologies to the people I’m sure are currently pouring their hearts and souls into creating the next Dragon Age and Mass Effect games, I sure don’t see BioWare themselves managing anything this audaciously ambitious any time soon.

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Oh, and not only did Larian achieve nearly the highest level of triple A ambition in nearly every aspect other than technical presentation (although even there, the game is wildly impressive for the kind of indie developer Larian is), they did it while being steadfast and iron willed in defiance of every nasty trend and compromise that we commonly accept as necessary for a game this big to be made. No abusive monetization schemes, no sanding away of rough edges, no compromise of artistic vision to satisfy market trends. Just passionate, talented people getting the make exactly the game they and their players want to exist in the world to the greatest extent possible.

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And, can we take a minute to marvel at the fact that the game they wanted to exist wasn’t just an impossibly scoped, impeccably crafted BioWare style RPG, but somehow also an amazing approximation of the experience of playing table top collaborative story telling games? One that also somehow works equally well as a focused single player experience AND as a multiplayer one? One that somehow manages to provide a deep richness of branching narrative aggressively responsive to player choice, while still having every possible branch feel like it got the loving hand crafted care you’d expect from a game that railroads you a single, set story?

How does that even… I…. I don’t understand how it happened.

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And then there’s the cast of characters, every one so brilliantly conceived, written, developed, and performed. And not just the core characters you meet in the opening hours, or even just the more extended cast of characters you can potentially recruit to be playable along the way — including some you may never even realize are recruitable or even present in the game depending on the wild tree of choices you’ve made. Every single person — hell, every single creature — you encounter is just so fun and interesting and well realized.

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Like, there are numerous small, incidental side characters you could easily never meet that have longer, richer, more interesting, better developed character and narrative arcs than the core stories in many other games. If you DO encounter them, they weave in and out of numerous other ongoing stories and have important effects on other people and events you encounter. Like, what the hell? You literally can murder one such person by launching him off an out of control spinning windmill as a joke, without ever talking to him once. What even is this game?!

Spoiler rich album of additional screenshots: https://imgur.com/a/leER55Q

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3. Cyberpunk 2077 2.0 patch and Phantom Liberty expansion

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So in 2020 when Cyberpunk 2077 was first released, I think I was quite a bit more fond of it than many other people were. While it didn’t quite deliver what I hoped for after how much I loved Witcher 3, it presented an intriguing, spectacularly realized world world full of interesting stories, spectacular character work, and engaging ideas.

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But even I was massively bummed out by what a mess it was in many ways, both in terms of not being ready to launch (by a LONG shot) in technical terms, and with respect to how CD Project RED management and marketing teams couldn’t seem to go 24 hours without doing something else to sour everything about trying to enjoy the game. (Including, but not limited to, a number of actions and statements that made it hard to give the benefit of the doubt around some of the more questionable decisions that were made about how to portray the dystopian future of their game.)

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Anyway, I played about half way through the game, enjoying my time with it well enough, but ultimately decided to set it aside and wait to see if CD Project Red would do what they have done with every other game they’ve made — that is, fix it and make it significantly better over a year or so of patches, and then drop DLC that’s as good or better than anything that was part of the original release. So I put it on my list as number 11 for 2020 and set it aside to wait. Granted, given how badly mismanaged the release was and how lousy studio leadership seemed to be, there was certainly a chance this would be the first game they made where that would not come to pass.

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Glad to say, it was not. Of course, with respect to the company culture issues that were part of what bummed me out the first time, to some degree we can only hope that real action genuinely followed the lip service we heard about improving. But in terms of fixing the core game, making it almost an entirely new game in terms of combat and progression mechanics over the series of patches that collimated with the 2.0 patch, gigantic checkmark there — CD Project Red did exactly what they’ve done ever since the Witcher 1 and just kept working until the game met every promise and expectation from the original launch and more.

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And more to the point of this 2023 GOTY list, Phantom Liberty repeats the pattern seen in the Witcher 3 expansions and is basically is an entirely new game (albeit a slightly shorter one) couched within the perfected final state of game design for Cyberpunk, including three more years worth of pushing the limits of what’s possible in terms of technical presentation. (Really, if you have a high end graphics card, this game is somehow an even bigger graphical marvel now than it was three years ago.)

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Do I love it as much as I loved Blood and Wine? Maybe not. But did Phantom Liberty leave a lasting impression easily on par with everything else I played this year, barring the above two games? God yes. The heartbreaking story of abused power, misplaced and unearned loyalty, and the messy business of trying to make the right choices when all the options are sh*t was powerful. And, maybe, a bit uncomfortably resonant with life in 2023? Maybe. Plus, I’m friends with Idris Elba now, which is pretty cool.

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And that’s to say nothing of playing the entire rest of the game in its final, gloriously refined state, which was more than compelling enough to keep me from returning to wrap up the final act of Baldur’s Gate 3 until I had done every last bit of story in Cyberpunk, expansion or not. (And given how much I was just ranting about how great BG3 is above, hopefully you understand the impact of what I’m saying here.)

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Certainly, there are still some moments where the stories being told make questionable choices. But by and large, V’s struggles to find meaning in her life in Night City are deeply relatable, and have interesting thoughts to share about the state of the world and the nature of being human — many of which feel even more worth considering in 2023 than they were in 2020. Plus, I’m also friends with Keanu Reeves now, which is also pretty cool.

Spoiler rich album of additional screenshots: https://imgur.com/a/I5LIjUh

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4. Horizon: Forbidden West

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I only just managed to get ahold of a PS5 a year ago for God of War Ragnarok, and I was waiting to play Horizon: Forbidden West on better hardware than my old PS4. But even though it took over a year to get around to playing it, I f*cking loved every minute of it. I enjoyed the first game for sure, but this one was so much better, more focused, more organized, and more purposeful engaging in its open world design that there’s hardly a comparison to be made.

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Really, I was not lying at the top of this post when I said that in other years many of these games lower on the list would have been contenders for the top spot. Last year, of course, it would have had a hard time competing with Elden Ring and Pentiment, but it would have been a tough call. I was so taken with the game that I did basically every activity I could — completed every quest I could find, cleared every camp and outpost, found every tracked collectible — and never felt the slightest bit of open world fatigue. (The only thing I passed on was were a few ancillary mini games, and the very last arena challenge fight because that sh*t was stupid.)

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Part of that, I think, is maybe attributable to the fact that there’s just a lot more maturity to how the game works with narrative and character development than the first time around — it really succeeds at giving you reasons to care about the world you’re exploring and the activities you are doing by injecting living, breathing, human stories throughout (and not just relying on finding audio logs from the distant past to do it — even if those are still there too).

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Also, adding Mass Effect style base and companion mechanics really, really worked for me, and I felt so much more connected to the characters I met along the way (whether they were explicitly part of the base mechanic or not) because of the structures that system added to how the game worked with story and character in general. (Basically, they dropped a bit more BioWare RPG mechanics in there, and as established earlier, I’m a sucker for that.)

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I guess my only really complaint (as someone who has lived the vast majority of my life in Northern California) is that I wish the game had given me more reasons to spend time in the areas inspired by Yosemite, the redwoods, San Francisco, and Los Angeles (in the expansion content). Especially the redwood forests and San Francisco — so beautiful, so cool, but barely anything really happened there, and the things that did happen were in interiors where I couldn’t really enjoy the surroundings.

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Not that I didn’t enjoy the parts of the game that were more heavily in the Utah and Nevada inspired parts of the world; the art direction of the Utaru areas is amazing, and what they did with Las Vegas is cool beyond words. Oh, and the idea of the Mojave desert and surrounding areas becoming a beautifully realized jungle environment is very cool as well, but still, the parts of the world I’m most familiar with in real life with felt under utilized, and a bit of a missed opportunity. (Granted, they were spectacular in terms of visual design!)

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And can we just take a bit more time to appreciate the cast of characters in this game too? (A commonality across most of my list this year, actually.) The wild thing is that a good chunk of the cast was present in Horizon: Zero Dawn, but I don’t remember myself ever really caring much about any of them there. This time around, however, the writers and performers crafting these people really outdid themselves. As noted above, for me they really seemed to be channeling the spirit of what I love about Mass Effect as they created this second game, and I found myself quickly and deeply attached to each new member of Aloy’s crew as they joined her cause.

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And, while certainly not to the degree that is the case in Baldur’s Gate 3, the same definitely extended beyond the core cast and into the supporting characters. (Pour one out once again for Lance Reddick.) Even half a year later, thinking back on how richly populated this world was with interesting people gets me excited all over again — and eager and hopeful to see more whenever the inevitable third entry in the series comes about. (They better let Aloy keep her new girlfriend, though — the poor kid deserves to have a little bit of teenage normalcy in and amongst saving the world from certain destruction.)

Spoiler rich album of additional screenshots: https://imgur.com/a/eNxvopc

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5. Alan Wake 2

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I’m actually a little torn about having this so high on my list. To be frank, Control was MUCH closer to my personal ideal version of the wild things Remedy does with their games. I mean, Alan Wake 2 was unquestionably great, don’t get me wrong, but the genre approach of Control worked a lot better for me, and the basic act of playing the game (mechanically speaking) was actually fun, rather than being something that passed the time acceptably and added some at times welcome variety in between the things this game actually does well. (Mood, tone, weird Lynchian noir story vibes, etc.)

But, two things elevated the game beyond where I think I would otherwise put it.

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First, I’m a sucker for a game that pushes the bounds of technical presentation, especially paired with an artistic vision that’s so powerful, cohesive, and evocative as is found here. To be frank, it’s only the second game I’ve played since Cyberpunk’s original release in 2020 that’s even got close to impressing me in this realm. And the other game that impressed me in terms of marrying technical and artistic boundary pushing since then was, well, Cyberpunk patch 2.0 and it’s expansion content, soooo… Hopefully now that we’ve finally put the previous generation of consoles to bed I can actually get more games I want to play that will impress me with bleeding edge reinvention of what games can look like, but for this year, at least I got to constantly pick my jaw off the floor while playing Alan Wake 2.

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Second, though, and probably more importantly, is that I got to enjoy playing this game with my partner. They’re a lot less interested in games than they once were, so any game that can pique their interest (and at least mostly hold it all the way to the end) gets my thanks for creating an opportunity to share an experience with them.

Spoiler rich album of additional screenshots: https://imgur.com/a/nxilEBG

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6. Chained Echoes

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Chained Echoes is a perfect love letter to one of my nostalgic sweet spots — basically, a marriage of the game design of Chrono Trigger with significant thematic elements from Xenogears, with a dusting of Suikoden mechanics thrown in for good measure. If you are a person of similar age and similar interests to me you will immediately know from the previous sentence how potent a combination that has the potential to be. And while there are certainly places where the small team, small budget nature of the game holds it back, this game succeeds at capturing what was so special about games of that era so much better than nearly any of the other (often much bigger team/budget) games that have tried the same thing in recent years.

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It just so perfectly captures the look, the feel, the atmosphere, the attitude, the sound (my god, the sound!), and everything else that made the late SNES/PS1 era of RPG design from Japan so unique and engaging and special — while also tactfully leaving behind some of the frustrating bits, and adding sensible modern quality of life changes to make the game easy to get lost in in the way you remember but might struggle to achieve if you returned to many of those marquee titles now.

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If you’re curious, you can find me talking much more extensively about how much I loved this game as I was playing through it starting here:
https://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/...

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7. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor

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While it certainly wasn’t nearly as big a disaster as the original Cyberpunk release, the impact was nearly the same for me — I came very close to setting Star Wars Jedi: Survivor aside because of what a technical mess it was initially. I desperately, desperately hope Respawn is actually given the time they need with the inevitable third entry in this series to avoid a similar situation, because everything else about this game was so excellent that it doesn’t deserve to have its experience marred the way it was.

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I mean, the first game in the series was no slouch, but the sequel really crystalizes and expands the formula into something very special. The particular mashup of Metroidvania and Soulslike gameplay (with a healthy dose of BioWare RPG style storytelling and character development) that Respawn has found here in the sequel really, really works, and is a spectacular way to play with the fantasy of being a Jedi and inhabiting the world of Star Wars. And, in a world full of Star Wars content that more often than not misses the things that are (or should be) special about it, this game thankfully gets it right and delivers it in spades.

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It’s actually kind of weird how much more reliable Star Wars games are at that than TV and movies, right? Like, Andor and the first season of Mandolorian are excellent, but I’d take this game or Knights of the Old Republican any day of the week over just about anything else made with the Star Wars name on it in the last few decades. Cal, Merrin, Greez, Cere, BD-1 and company are just so well realized as characters, you know? They feel like real people who belong in this universe, who have unique lives and meaningful connections with each other and the world around around them, and there are stakes to the things they do that matter in a way that feels genuine and earned.

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As with Horizon, looking back on my experience with the game I find myself overwhelmed by just how good it was in so many respects, and eager to see the next installation in the story. Again though, maybe given the time they need to put the finishing touches on it rather than rushing to meet some annoying marketing opportunity? Much appreciated, thanks.

Spoiler rich album of additional screenshots: https://imgur.com/a/rKLEuvs

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8. Final Fantasy 16

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I struggle with this one a bit. I was very, very high on Final Fantasy 16 while I was playing it and just after I finished it, but I do find myself thinking back on it more in terms of the opportunities it missed and the places it fell short rather than the many, many ways in which it absolutely delivered. Maybe that’s partly due to the fact that the discourse around it was very turbulent, and I probably let that color my feelings more than I usually like to.

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So let’s start with the one part of the discourse I categorically reject — that is, arguments about whether this meets expectations about what makes a Final Fantasy game. As long as there are chocobos, bombastic anime melodrama, and unexpected mechanical experiments within the traditionally conservative genre space of Japanese developed RPGs, that’s a Final Fantasy to me, and oh boy, does Final Fantasy 16 have all of that.

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The other big point of conversation, however, is much more worthy of thought. That is, the ways in which the storytelling and quest structure (particularly in the back half of the game) dropped the ball in how it handles some of the very heavy subject material it played with, and the ways it underserved some of the key characters in the supporting cast. And, that’s all quite true, and those are super valid reasons to be cool on the game. Buuuut… goddamn did I love my time playing the game.

Like, this kind of nonsense:

is ALL over the place, and it’s f*cking great.

The wild experiments with gameplay systems worked well for me, combat was exciting and cinematic and creative and fun, the bombastic anime melodrama was so bombastic and so melodramatic, the world building was rich and interesting, and the characters were warm and charming and likable.

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And actually, maybe more than anything else, that last point deserves an extra word or two — even when the story might have let the characters down a bit, the people writing and performing them did such a superb job that it was impossible for me not to love them, and by extension the rest of the experience around them. (If Ben Starr doesn’t become the next Nolan North/Troy Baker style breakout voice acting superstar, something is terribly wrong in the world.)

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More of my thoughts from just after finishing the game are here, for those who might be interested:
https://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/...

And my spoiler rich album of additional screenshots: https://imgur.com/a/08e2DHE

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9. Octopath Traveler 2

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It’s interesting thinking about this game and Chained Echoes at the same time, because there’s a lot shared in their core premise — find a modern way of recapturing what was special about SNES/PS1 era RPGs, and do something special and new with it. And, both achieved that goal admirably, and made me very happy. But, I think there was just something about the dirty, scrappy, indie feeling of Chained Echoes, or maybe just the specifics that it chose to reference, that spoke to me a bit more loudly.

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But, Octopath Traveler 2 is still a delight worthy of praise and attention, and if you ever enjoyed any console RPG in the 90s, make time for it. Even if, like me, you might have bounced off the first game in the series. For my taste, what I played of the first game had the right list of ingredients, but the proportions were all off and the structure was too rigid and some key bit of warmth or spirt I was looking for just wasn’t there. The sequel (which in the tradition of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games is a sequel only in style and themes, rather than story) however, addresses all that, and feels warm and loose and welcoming in all the ways it should.

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And, a bonus list within a list, since apparently being a fan of classic console RPGs is also being a fan of listing and ranking — the eight travelers ranked, weighing both story and mechanics:
1. Hikari
2. Castti
3. Agnes
4. Ochette
5. Partitio
6. Throné
7. Temenos
8. Osvald

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10. Starfield

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Oh, Starfield. Starfield was exactly what I expected it to be. And, that is simultaneously why I think I enjoyed it more than most people did, and of course, the core problem with it.

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I think anyone who has played more than one of Bethesda’s games over the two decades since Morrowind’s release in 2002 (and especially folks like myself who have played them all, except maybe Fallout 76) probably had (or should have had) a good idea of what Starfield was going to be. I sure as hell did. They make the same game, using the same game engine, with all the same strengths and weaknesses and quirks and foibles, every single time. They change the set dressing, sure, and update the systems to the degree that’s possible, but it’s still fundamentally the same. And you know what? That same game on the same game engine is always pretty damn fun! They wouldn’t be as unfathomably successful if they weren’t.

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But, two problems.

First, Bethesda also is vey good — probably too good for their own good — at selling the idea of what their games could be, and the idea of what Starfield in particularly could have been was wildly exciting in a way that another Elder Scrolls or Fallout game wouldn’t inherently be. The marriage of their style of open world, exploration and experimentation focused RPG with a richly featured space sim? f*cking hell, yes please.

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But, as enthralling as their marketing materials might have been, it was never going to be the version of that that I (or most other people) REALLY wanted. It was going to be exactly the same game they always make, with a neat ship building interface and fun but forgettable lightweight space combat mini game.

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Second, I think it’s finally past time for Bethesda to bite the bullet and more fully rethink their core game engine. Their impressive attachment to it been the reason they’ve been able to deliver the impossibly scoped games they have over the past two decades — less time reinventing the wheel means more time designing the car that rides on it. But, eventually the ways it’s been holding them back were going to become too pronounced and too impactful for people to not notice.

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/QE7YSwY.jpg)

Arguably, maybe that was already the case the last time out, but certainly it’s impossible to ignore with Starfield. The game just feels held back in more and more ways, and it’s a bummer, and it’s especially troublesome when paired with the first problem — having marketing that is impossibly good at overselling a product that feels so noticeably trapped in the past is a recipe for exactly the kind of perception nightmare that this game encountered on release.

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But, did I have a hell of a good time doing those same old Bethesda RPG things with the same weird janky issues and the same stilted presentation of conversations and everything else, but in a fun new setting? Hell yeah I did. And was it cool as hell to be able to design my own spaceship with the f*cking sweet ass practical futurism aesthetics that were dripping off every piece of art in the game? Hell yeah it was! And will I probably come back a year or so from now when patches and mods have made the same significantly more complete and functional and good and have another round of silly stupid fun with it while marveling at what a strange thing the concept of a Bethesda game is?

Hell yeah, I will.

Spoiler rich album of additional screenshots: https://imgur.com/a/AOrIhkK

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Near Misses


Battletech

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Oh, what a heartbreak that it took me five years to make time for this game. If I had played it when it was released in 2018, it absolutely would have made my top five for the year, at the very least. And indeed, at the point when I wrapped up the game early this year (and then just kept playing despite having planned to move on briskly) I was sure it was going to be a top five contender this year. It just so perfectly does the damn thing it says on the tin, and if you have any interest in giant robots, tactical combat, or especially the intersection thereof, it’s undeniable.

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/cCO3vHA.jpg)

I dunno, maybe this should have been higher on the list and booted Starfield off? But, I guess in this case I decided to give precedence to games that were actually released this year. Just a shame that it seems the team may never get a chance to do more with franchise given their turn in fortunes this year. I can’t help but dream about what they could have done with a legit triple A production budget, given the absurdly good thing they managed to make with the high end indie/crowd funded approach.

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/flFmINq.jpg)

Microsoft: You own the license. You had 70 billion dollars available to buy Activison for god knows what reason. Do the right thing: find a way to help the folks responsible for this game make another one.

Anyway, my thoughts on the game from just after I put it to bed (including my final mech loadouts) can be found here for anyone who may be curious to read more:
https://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/...

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Everspace 2

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/tmiSyos.png)

I can’t believe there’s not space for this game on my top 10. This game is an absolute delight, and gave me exactly the lower investment, less simmy version of Elite Dangerous that I needed to satisfy my desires for a solid space sim experience without consuming my life for three years running.

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/jywAFmn.jpg)

As with Battletech, I find myself wondering if I should have let this one boot Starfield down into the honorable mentions here. Certainly, Everspace 2 is MUCH more like what I WANTED the space combat and exploration of Starfield to be. But on the otherhand, Starfield had that sweet as ship building tool, and I think its aesthetics are much cooler. Oh, and there’s also the part where there’s a whole standard Bethesda RPG experience in there too. So, here we are.

Apologies Everspace 2, but for what it’s worth you were spectacular.

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/JGnyLdh.jpg)


Fire Emblem Engage

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/z4uXAQg.jpg)

This was a lot of fun, but the Saturday morning cartoon feeling to the story didn’t really grab me the way Three Houses did. It DID have really compelling tactical combat though, which for, you know, a tactical combat game is pretty important! In other years it definitely would have made the list, but there’s just not quite enough juice here to compete with the above this year.

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/CRPhJKD.jpg)

Maybe if I had a stronger historical connection to the series rather than being a Johnny Come Lately, and all the delightful connections, references, and fan service related to the history of the series had done more for me? Anyway, a delight nonetheless and highly recommendable for fans of either the series or the genre.

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/CRCssau.jpg)


Viewfinder

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/QLd6rVQ.jpg)

Such a cool collection of puzzle mechanics! The attempts to wrap them into cohesive package didn’t really work very well for me, but I had a blast twisting my brain around and seeing all the fun variety of ideas they had to play with.


Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut /Iki Island DLC

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/tAYD3Bw.jpg)

Similar to Horizon Forbidden West, this was a game where I had been waiting to pick up a PS5 to come back to it. In this case I had played a bit more than half of the game previously on the PS4 (and included it as number 10 on my list for 2020) but then I set it aside for various reasons and decided to wait until I could play the PS5 version before returning to it.

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/eR4nn5b.jpg)

And man, what a wonderful game to come back to an enhanced version of (and to have a really great expansion waiting for too). I already was deeply in love with the aesthetics of the game, and the upgrade in technical presentation was everything I was hoping for. I’m hard pressed to think of another open world game that’s as pleasant and relaxing to just wander aimlessness and soak in the scenery.

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/uLEAe9Z.jpg)


The Year’s Premium Pile


A new special category for this jumbo sized year — games I played a tiny bit of that I very much enjoyed and wanted to make special note of, but which will otherwise probably be appearing on next year’s list once I have time to play them to the extent I would like to.

Forza Motorsport
Played for a weekend, and I’m excited to play more. But, it’s a bit of a production to set up the wheel and there’s SO much else to play.

Super Mario Wonder
Brought the Switch over to an old high school friend’s house for a weekend just after this came out, and we had an absolutely blast playing through the first two or three zones of the game in multiplayer. But, haven’t really made time for it since, partly because it just feels like a thing to play with friends.

Norco
Finally made some time to play the first act or so of this game, and the hipsters are right — it’s very cool. But, got caught up with *gestures broadly at everything above* and never went further than that, sadly.


This Year’s Pile


And, here’s all the games I would have played (or played more of) with more time, that I expect I would have very much enjoyed from what I’ve seen and heard. As ever, it’s a big list this year — hope I’ll have time for at least a few of them before I find myself writing another one of these posts.

Spoiler:

Sea of Stars
This one is sitting installed and ready on my computer and likely will be the next thing I play. Hard to pass on a game that plays so deeply in the spirit of the greatest hits of my youth.

Armored Core 6
As much as I love the series and was excited for a modern interpretation of a nostalgic favorite, it got sandwiched between Baldur’s Gate and Starfield, and choices were made. I’ll probably get to it eventually?

Cocoon
Sounds like a game I’d love, but I think I might save it for a time when my partner is interested to play another puzzle game with me.

Phantom Brigade
Sounded cool so I bought it, then decided to play Battletech instead since it had been sitting on the pile for half a decade.

Spiderman 2
Still haven’t got around to playing the first of the new Sony Spiderman games, and I’m sure I’d enjoy all three of them at this point — but, maybe I should just start here if I have time?


Previous Years’ Pile


And, mostly for my own record keeping, here’s the games that remain on my radar from before this year.

Spoiler:

Spiritfarer
Really don’t know how this one keeps falling through the cracks. I nearly made a go of it early this year while on vacation, but then *gestures broadly* the rest of the year happened, and here we are again.

Spiderman and Spiderman: Miles Morales
As often happens with Sony exclusives, I skipped these when they first came out with mild intent to come back to them at some point in the future. Or maybe now I’ll just play Spiderman 2?

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim
I bought it on the strength of recommendations when it was new, but still haven’t made time for it.

Umarangi Generation
The hipsters loved this so much that I couldn’t resist buying it, but I also still haven’t made time for it either.

Wildermyth
Sounds like more hipster sh*t I would totally enjoy. Just, never made time for it.

Persona 4 Golden
Given how much I loved Persona 3 and 5, I should really play this one past the first month or two in the story – and now that it’s on PC, I have no good excuse.

Lone Echo (1 and 2)
The VR games that have got away (so far). Hopefully I’ll remedy that soon.

Ori 1 and 2
Why haven’t I played these yet?

Hollow Knight
Why haven’t I played this yet either?


Previous Lists


Spoiler:

2006
https://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/...
Lumines Live, Final Fantasy 12, Shadow of the Colossus, Okami, Zelda: Twilight Princess, Oblivion, Gears of War, Chromehounds, Viva Pinata, Dead Rising, Saint’s Row

2007
https://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/...
Mass Effect, Rock Band, Halo 3, Bioshock, Persona 3, Portal, Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Forza 2, Super Mario Galaxy, Crackdown

2008
Missing link!
WoW: Wrath of the Lich King, Rock Band 2, Fallout 3, The Witcher Enhanced Edition, Far Cry 2, Burnout Paradise, Fable 2, Left for Dead, Gears of War 2, Saints Row 2, Persona 4, GTA4

2009
Missing link!
Borderlands, Assassin’s Creed 2, Dragon Age, Forza 3, Shadow Complex, Batman Arkham Asylum, Uncharted 2, Flower, Red Faction Guerrilla, Left for Dead 2

2010
https://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/...
Mass Effect 2, Assassin’s Creed 2 Brotherhood, Red Dead Redemption, WoW: Cataclysm, Halo Reach, Just Cause 2, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Fallout New Vegas, Dragon Quest 9, Heavy Rain

2011
https://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/...
Skyrim, Forza 4, Xenoblade Chronicles, Portal 2, Witcher 2, Dead Space 2, Batman Arkham City, Bastion, Dragon Age 2, Saints Row 3

2012
Missing link!
Mass Effect 3, Forza Horizon, Journey, Dishonored, Borderlands 2, Dragon’s Dogma, Xcom, Guild Wars 2, FTL, Mark of the Ninja, 1000000

2013
https://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/...
Forza 5, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Assassin’s Creed 4, Mass Effect 3 DLC, Bioshock Infinite, Rogue Legacy, Gone Home, Tomb Raider, GTA5, Forza Horizon Rally Expansion

2014
https://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/...
Dragon Age Inquisition, Forza Horizon 2, Elite Dangerous, Transistor, Far Cry 3, Zelda: Link Between Worlds, South Park Stick of Truth, Shadow of Mordor, Threes, A Story About My Uncle

2015
https://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/...
Elite Dangerous, Witcher 3, Xenoblade Chronicles X, Fallout 4, Metal Gear Solid 5, Forza 6, The Beginner’s Guide, Halo 5, You Must Build A Boat, Ori and the Blind Forest

2016
https://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/...
Elite Dangerous, Forza Horizon 3, Witcher 3 DLC, Abzu, Final Fantasy XV, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Firewatch, The Witness, Inside, No Man’s Sky

2017
https://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/...
Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Destiny 2, Nier: Automata, Mass Effect Andromeda, Persona 5, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Mario Odyssey, Forza 7, Dishonored 2

2018
https://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/...
Red Dead Redemption 2, Destiny 2: Forsaken, Tetris Effect, God of War, Forza Horizon 4, Into the Breach, Assassin’s Creed, Pyre, Gravity Rush Remastered and Gravity Rush 2, Rez Infinite

2019
https://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/...
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Control, The Outer Wilds, Destiny 2: Shadowkeep, Death Stranding, Valve Index, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, The Outer Worlds, Keep Talking and No One Explodes

Game of the Decade 2010 - 2019
https://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/...
Mass Effect 3, Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Elite: Dangerous, Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Destiny 2, Red Dead Redemption 2, Nier: Automata, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Assassin’s Creed 2: Brotherhood, Forza Motorsport 4

2020
https://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/...
Final Fantasy 14, Hades, Pistol Whip, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Sayonara Wild Hearts, Genshin Impact, The Pathless, Gris, Half Life: Alyx, Ghost of Tsushima, Cyberpunk 2077

2021
https://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/...
Final Fantasy 14: Shadowbringers, Inscryption, Outer Wilds: Echos of the Eye, Metroid Dread, Forza Horizon 5, Death Loop, Persona 5: Strikers, Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order, Dragon Quest 11, Loop Hero, Genshin Impact (Inazuma content patches), Honkai Impact, Mass Effect Legendary Edition

2022
https://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/...
Elden Ring, Pentiment, Final Fantasy 14: Endwalker, Xenoblade Chronicles 3, God of War: Ragnarok, Citizen Sleeper, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, The Stanley Parable Ultra Deluxe Edition, Vampire Survivors, Stray, Genshin Impact (Sumeru Content Patches), V Rising, Tunic

2023
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, Baldur’s Gate 3, Cyberpunk v2.0 / Phantom Liberty, Horizon: Forbidden West, Alan Wake 2, Chained Echoes, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, Final Fantasy 16, Octopath Traveler 2, Starfield, Battletech, Everspace 2, Fire Emblem Engage, Viewfinder, Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut /Iki Island DLC

Zero, for Ghost of Tsushima. Did you restart when you picked it up again? I did the same as you, I played half way on PS4 when it came out. Have the PS5 version now, but haven't dived in. Been years now. I can barely remember the main character's name.

Dang that's a really long post to quote all of

Zero, for Ghost of Tsushima. Did you restart when you picked it up again? I did the same as you, I played half way on PS4 when it came out. Have the PS5 version now, but haven't dived in. Been years now. I can barely remember the main character's name.

I waffled about that choice a bit for similar reasons, but ultimately I ended up picking up from my PS4 save. I had gotten maybe a handful of quests into the second island, and that seemed like a LOT to replay, you know?

Ultimately, whenever I picked up a questline where my memory had fogged over a bit I used youtube to remind myself, but actually once I got rolling again I found that most of it started to come back pretty easily on its own.

Definitely recommend going back if you can make time though! The high level combat is really fun, the DLC is very interesting, and the late game story (both for the main and the various side quest lines) has some really engaging moments worth experiencing if you had been enjoying the story up to whatever point where you put it down.

I have a lot of reading to do as I am still back on page 3 on this thread, but wanted to drop my list before the end of the year.

1. Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
Picked up the game when it came out, spent the next nine months just soaking up every moment in the world. I enjoyed exploring Hyrule once again and seeing what had changed. The sky realm was a fun twist to explore, and for the most part I enjoyed the depths. While they do a really good job of making an open world Zelda game, I hope future games go back to their roots with the open world but intended path progression. But most importantly, I want the longer, more involved dungeons/temples back and piocking up new tools as I complete each one rather than having every tool at the beginning of the game. That's not what TotK or BotW set out to be, so I am not holding that against them, but after two of these types of Zeldas, I come to realize what I truly enjoy about the series.
One of my other nitpicks is how the world leveling/scaling works. The big monsters are actually quite a joy to fight, but they are worth like 10 times the experience the regular mobs are, so killing them causes the world level to accelerate quickly. I also tend to kill everything in my way when doing a first pass rather than avoiding enemies, so with exploring a bunch and the way I play, I ended up maxing the world level by the time I completed the second temple. Which made the set enemies in Hyrule Castle when I finally went there feel really underwhelming.
My last nitpick requires a bit of a spoiler about The Depths:

Spoiler:

The Depths being an inverse of the overworld is really cool thematically, and when I first realized it, blew my mind. As I kept exploring, it impressed me that mechanically it creates a really elegant solution for creating an entire extra area to explore (from a tech perspective, inverting an existing map would be far easier than generating a completely new one). However, with just how big the overworld is, having an entire second one to explore (and is covered in fog of war until you find the light roots), just felt a little much. I wanted to find every light root and shrine before running the end game, so my last 15-20 hours was just running around picking up the light roots under Hebra, and was not super enjoyable.
The other problem the inversion created, is the chasms felts way harder to climb out of than mountains felt to climb. Maybe I just did not find the right geography to scale in the depths, but it led to me trying to stay on the high ground and avoid any kinds of pits as much as possible.

2. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim
I was really not expecting to like this game as much as I did. The combat sections are kind of everything I hate, but they somehow made them interesting enough to draw me through those sections without too much friction and the right amount of difficulty to not be boring.
The real prize of this game is the story, and how it is delivered. I really do not want to say too much about it, since the less you know going in, the better it is. The fact that this is coming out ahead of Baldur's Gate 3 (and is the game I played instead of Baldur's Gate 3) should really tell you how special this game is. Vanillaware made something really special with this game and I am excited to see what they do with Unicorn Overlord in March, and I really want to check out their other highly praised game, Odin Sphere now.

3. Baldur's Gate 3
If I had more time to play this game, it might have been able to surpass Zelda or 13 Sentinels, but as much as I enjoyed 27 hours I put into it that first two weeks after it came out, it fell behind both of those games in games I wanted to sink more time into in the last quarter of the year. I intend to play more of it and finish it in 2024, but since I am probably close to the end of Act 1 already, it has to show up on this year's GotY list. The companions are all super interesting and I want to know more about them, except Astarion. He's on my team because I don't want to respec people and he's the rogue, so I need him for lockpicking and trap disarming, especially with Larian's love of traps. So far, that is my only complaint is walking around and tripping across traps that I need to either reload because they dealt so much damage, or accept it and take a short or long rest to recover from. The traps are a little too deadly for being able to trigger while just roaming the overworld.

4. Wartales
My friend showed me the Steam page for this about a year ago and I said I would be interested in playing it once it left early access. Well, it left early access this year and I have not only sunk a ton of time into it solo, but two friends and I have also been playing a campaign since it came out. I absolutely love this game. You get to managed a mercancy company, taking bounties, explore a world, and the fights are tight tactical battles where positioning, turn order, and planning matters. I am hoping it has some good DLC support from the developers in the future, and that either good mod tools are released by the developers or the mod community cracks it on their own to really expand this game. It is so ripe for expansion and modification.

5. Tales of Arise
I really enjoyed the story and characters in this one. That is what kept me interested and coming back to finish the game, as the combat started interesting eventually devolved into something that I did not enjoy as enemies got far too sturdy.

6. Fire Emblem Engage
Picked this up when it came out and dropped off after about a month in the midgame. Story was not great for holding my attention even though the characters were all interesting (except Alcryst). I came back later in the year and finished it and quite enjoyed it when I disengaged as much as possible from the Somniel stuff and just played the story missions. Mechanically, one of the better Fire Emblems.

7. Monster Hunter Stories 2
A mechanical improvement over MHS1 in every way. I do not remember anything about the story in MHS1 to compare there, but this one was not anything to write home about either. It is yout typical childhood story of friendship overcoming all odds and being true power. I would love to see this series go for a more mature tone, targeting teens or adults instead of children. Go after the demographic Pokemon is ignoring, instead of fighting them on their own turf.

8. Age of Wonders 4
I dipped into Planetfall and bounced off it hard. I liked the idea they had with cities and provinces, but the sci-fi setting and micro unit customization did not hit right for me. But AoW4 goes back to the fantasy setting and the unit enchantment and race transformation systems take that unit customization fiddliness and packages into an understanding and interesting package. In a different year, this would be a GotY contender, but there are just so many good games that came out this year, not to mention ones that I got around to this year.

9. Doki Doki Literature Club
I somehow managed to avoid knowing much of anything about this game other than to not expect a typical visual novel experience. While I do enjoy visual novels normally, it was a pleasure to see how this game played with this expectations and delivered an interesting narrative in that framework. I should not have chased all the achievements as it kind of ended up spoiling my final experience with the game trying to get the last few completionist ones. The DLC stories were really sweet and touching.

10. Cosmic Star Heroine
A homage to the classic SNES RPGs in the vein of Chrono Trigger, and one that understands what made those games interesting and fun. It was a really well done game and very enjoyable. It only ends up this low on my list because of the sci-fi setting. A fantasy setting with these chops probably would have placed above MHS2, but that is purely personal preference on settings.

Honorable Mention: Tactics Ogre Reborn
While a competent and interesting tactical game, the job system is really just class system in disguise. There is no customization available here. If you are a Knight, you are a Knight. You cannot level up in Priest as well and use healing spells as a Knight to make a pseudo-paladin character. I only made it to chapter 2 before getting distracted by other games, so I am not sure where the story is going or will end up. I do want to play more of it, and I enjoyed what I played enough to want to mention it, even though it was not strong enough to make my top 10 this year.

Malkroth wrote:

4. Wartales
My friend showed me the Steam page for this about a year ago and I said I would be interested in playing it once it left early access. Well, it left early access this year and I have not only sunk a ton of time into it solo, but two friends and I have also been playing a campaign since it came out. I absolutely love this game. You get to managed a mercancy company, taking bounties, explore a world, and the fights are tight tactical battles where positioning, turn order, and planning matters. I am hoping it has some good DLC support from the developers in the future, and that either good mod tools are released by the developers or the mod community cracks it on their own to really expand this game. It is so ripe for expansion and modification.

First DLC, with a new zone, released very recently.

Malkroth wrote:

Honorable Mention: Tactics Ogre Reborn
While a competent and interesting tactical game, the job system is really just class system in disguise. There is no customization available here. If you are a Knight, you are a Knight. You cannot level up in Priest as well and use healing spells as a Knight to make a pseudo-paladin character.

Definitely also one of the reasons I didn't enjoy it more. Compared to something like Fell Seal. I love a good job system.

Ok, so I ran out of time on the write ups so I didn't go back and edit them, but here's my list:
Finishing Lies of P right at the wire messed up the entire top half of my list. I even had a hard time choosing between Zelda and Hi-Fi Rush, but I think I would have to revisit Rush again to give it a chance of moving up. It definitely delivered the highest enjoyment to time ratio, though. I feel like Zelda just gave a much bigger well rounded package.

The short list:

Spoiler:

1. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
2. Hi-Fi Rush
3. Nier Automata
4. Lies of P
6. En Garde!
7. Tinykin
8. F.I.S.T.: Forged In Shadow Torch
9. 9 Years of Shadows
10. Spiderman Remastered

1. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom - For any complaint I have with this game, there are a whole host of good things right there along with it. Was this game a bit too much for me? At 175hrs to beat, and I didn't finish all the shrines, very much yes. But all of that lent it to massive variety and a game that was even more open than Breath of the Wild, which did not seem possible before this. The addition of the sky islands, the obvious addition of caves, and other areas gave the game so much more room to take the same Hyrule terrain and mess with things so the familiar still had a chance to be worth returning to. Well done, Nintendo!
2. Hi-Fi Rush - Surprise of the year. This game was such a joy to play and I keep thinking about going back to it. Even though I don’t have the best sense of rhythm, I managed this game quite well.
My write up from earlier this year: Hi-Fi Rush came screaming to the end with just the right timing to hit me upside the head and make me want more. Fantastic visual style, nailing the cel-shaded look throughout the whole package as opposed to many games where they make the characters cel-shaded and the backgrounds end up looking drab and stuck in this weird in-between realistic and cartoony place. This game nailed the visuals, pacing, delivery, ramp-up to the end, combat, and integration of it all with the music. But if you payed attention when it released, you already knew all of that, or most. The one thing I was not impressed with was the navigation. It was generally ok, but could have used more elements that played to the game's strong suit including changing stationary quick time events to something more dynamic and in-motion. Still a great game and released with expert timing to land a smash hit.
3. Nier Automata - I loved how this game started and for the most part it was good, but I felt let down by the limited number of flight sections. I feel like they could have put them in so many more places, or even zone transitions or something. I wanted more of that. The story was a nice ride, all the way through multiple endings. I didn’t really care for the later reveals and such, though.
4. Lies of P - Rolled credits around 3 AM New Years Eve. It just kept getting better. I enjoyed not feeling like I was going to lose an NPC at any moment, and I was oblivious of any chance of permanently missed items and quests. One thing that is telling of this game is I kept thinking it would be good to run through again and a run to the first spawn point in NG+ sure did make me feel like taking another run.
5. Sea of Stars - I just loved the way this game kept getting more interesting as it went on. The story and characters were all great to experience, even if the main characters did not have much in the way of stand out characteristics. The music was fantastic despite feeling like they chose to make things sound a bit too synthetic in many cases, until that one tech area where it felt spot on. I agree with LastSurpirse in that there are just so many great retro tracks.
6. En Garde! - A short, 5 hour experience and so worth it. The cartoony, bright, and color graphics and personalities were a constant joy while running around getting creative with crowd management while dodging and parrying everything. The relaxed timing removed some frustration while the real challenge came from managing your environment and the crowd of enemies. What a breath of fresh air coming off of a couple of the bigger games I played this year.
7. Tinykin - A Pikmin style combat-free exploration puzzle game with some platforming elements to it. It's fairly short and easy to get 100% achievements in, too. You don't even have to complete any of the optional race challenges for achievements. The game has a fun little story and the concept of exploring a house in the state it is in was fun. Especially the 2020 toilet paper hoarder style bathroom area. The music was surprisingly much better than expected and even would fade in and out as you transitioned from large open spaces to small compressed spaces, and approached different set pieces. Highly recommended to anyone remotely interested. This may be the reason I didn't feel the need to pick up Pikmin 4 yet since it was a good stand-in.
8. F.I.S.T.: Forged In Shadow Torch - Criminally underrated metroidvania with a lot of unique abilities and a combat system. The story delivers a more than expected and abilities that allow more access really give that feeling of opening up more opportunities. I feel like the mechanics rise above many of basic ones you get from other games of this genre and really shine. The environment is surprisingly detailed and well modeled for an indie game.
9. 9 Years of Shadows - A metroidvania that is the perfect length for its systems and story. You get new abilities for traversal and combat at a great rate and one final upgrade that comes just far enough off from the end to feel well used and not feel like that that last second addition.
10. Spiderman Remastered - I enjoyed swinging around using all sorts of traversal techniques and the combat along with a fun story. Being set in regular old New York is a major deterrent. I’m so sick of that specific setting that I gave up on trying to collect everything, but I still loved the rest of the game.

Honorable Mentions:

Spoiler:

Supraland Crash - A self contained game wrapped in the guise of DLC in that it requires the base game to launch, and is labeled DLC, but that is about where the similarities end. Most abilities are new and the map is 100% all new.
Roboquest - An amazing roguelike game that would be better rated if were just for the combat mechanics. But the random bonuses and weapon availability and repeating content runs are what keep me from loving these games, and while I am able to enjoy the game, this game is no exception.
Everspace 2 - A space flight combat game that I loaded up right when Starfield came out and found myself enjoying it despite the random loot drops.
Forza Motorsport - A great circuit racing game. I just prefer rallying for my racing games.
Wild Hearts - Just a bit too janky and otaku-serving (English voices will use at least 1 Japanese word every conversation like you already know its meaning) to elevate into greatness. That kind of ‘don’t you already understand this’ thought process permeates the game, to its detriment. It just didn't land with me to make me want to keep going back.
Picross S7 - Picross is Picross and it is always a joy to play a new one of these.

On tap for 2024:

Spoiler:

EA Sports WRC - Not ready to put in a verdict on this one, and it honestly needs another couple months of development time, despite being released 2 months ago.
Evil West
Pikmin 4 - I can't believe I didn't pick this up closer to launch. I've loved all 3 previous entries.
Super Mario Bros. Wonder - Played world 1 and really looking forward to the rest
Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition - I watched an LP by ChuggaConroy back in the day of this which got me into the series. Finally picked it up and looking forward to experiencing this myself.
Rogue Legacy 2 - continued - already have 30 hrs in it but still not ready to render a verdict.

Thanks Eleima and Staygold!

2023 had a lot of great games and I haven't played many of them yet. After finishing over 30 games in 2022, I just barely had enough for a top 10 this year. There's more 2023 games on my list than I expected before typing this up, but most of them are short ones on Game Pass I fit in before the year ended. That said, my number one is a "strong" number one and may end up as one of my favorite games of all time.

10. Venba (2023)
9. Cocoon (2023)
8. Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales (2020)
7. Hi-Fi Rush (2023)
6. Return of the Obra Dinn (2018)
5. Judgment (2019)
4. Final Fantasy VII Remake (2020)
3. Jusant (2023)
2. Super Mario Wonder (2023)
1. Disco Elysium (2019)

Oh man, I completely forgot that I played that weird Final Fantasy 7 by chapter remake on Android. What a weird year.

Might finally be ready for this post although I've got a couple unfinished games on the list. Actually played more than 10 games this year, by a lot. And I had to make a really tough decision to cut off the list at 10. So my first honorable mention is really 10A. Such is life.

This year I doubled last year and bought 6 new games at launch. Spider-Man and TotK were a given, but a few others were based on early reviews and I purchased day of or a couple days before when I found cheap PC prices (Starfield, Everspace 2). Mario Wonder became my 2nd Nintendo Voucher game to pair with TotK, so that was an easy choice too.

Quick list for tabulating:

Spoiler:

1. Spider-Man 2
2. Super Mario Wonder
3. Tears of the Kingdom
4. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim
5. Life is Strange
6. Star Traders Frontiers
7. Everspace 2
8. Starfield
9. Fire Emblem Engage
10. Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate - Daemonhunters

And the full thing:

1. Spider-Man 2
It's brilliant! It's everything from SM1 and MM and more. Streamlined, improved, expanded combat and travel, and probably an even better story. The changes they made to Venom probably make this my favorite version of the story ever told. It's incredible how they upped the emotional stakes. Sure Spidey is my favorite comic book character, so that gives it a little extra weight. But there's a spectacular game here too. I got a platinum trophy on the first Arkham Asylum game back when on PS3. But never bothered with City or Knights. Beating the game was fun, but the rest was tedious. Yet I have platinum trophies on all 3 of these Spider-Man games, and it was a blast to get them all. Even though this game is 100% complete for me now, I will probably go back and play it, or some DLC for it, before SM3 releases in a few years. Can't wait to see how they conclude things, with the Green Goblin breadcrumbs in this one.

2. Super Mario Wonder
What, Mario over Zelda? Yeah I know, never would have guessed. But my goodness this game is incredibly fun. Best Mario since Galaxy 2 for sure. Not a lot of challenge in finishing the main game, and even collecting the purple coins for the most part. But oh boy the Special World is a whole extra level of platforming. I lost 44 lives on one single stage over 2 days before completing it. And I'm pretty sure I lost 10-15 when I stumbled on it the week before and decided to skip it, but I wasn't really counting then. I've only got 2 more of those stages left, but I'm going to keep pushing to 100% this game.

3. Tears of the Kingdom
Hard to say more than hasn't already been said. Somehow they made BotW but better. Didn't think it was possible. Sky islands and vehicles alone would have been enough, but no they did the whole underground with a bunch of thief story to go along with it. Wow. I still haven't rolled credits after 130 hours, but I'll get there at some point. Possibly the ending of the story could bump this above Mario but it is what it is right now.

4. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim
Visual novel plus tower defense, sure, why not? The best game not from 2023 that I played this year. I've loved everything from Vanillaware so not sure why I waited so long on this one. But once the JRPG club played it I was happy that I joined in to finally do it. As some of you know, I devoured this game, and raced ahead of most of the club grinding it down to completion. But I couldn't wait to get more and more tidbits of the story.

5. Life is Strange
My January 2023 game. I thought it would be higher but it's been a hell of a year for games. Still I loved this game, and bought one of the sequels already, which might be my Jan 2024 game. This also kicked off a year of a few VNs for me, which is a pretty new genre. I've played Persona 3, 4, 5 and had some of their VN-lite relationship stuff. But never dove into pure VNs. Dabbled in a couple of Telltale games but those have always felt like they put more stuff in there. Anyway... this game blew me away. A couple pages in the catch-all thread of my reactions, and people enjoying my reactions, chapter by chapter. I loved it. I still want to play it again, and make a few different choices. But also, what an experience, and I just want to treasure it. If you haven't ever tried, it was a free PS+ game on PS4 a while back, and still runs on PS5. Or watch for it on sale. Not on sale on Steam right now but it's been under $5 a few times. Totally worth it.

6. Star Traders Frontiers
Dice, in space. I know it sounds crazy but it's a ton of fun once you get it. Trese Bros have released 333 updates for this game they released in 2018. 1 or 2 every month for 5 years. And they just released a brand new game in Oct but still keep putting out updates for this. It's mostly about ground combat, space combat, and building up contacts in between. But there's some cool over-arching storylines happening in the galaxy that you can get as much or as little involved in as you want. There's also a ton of in-game achievements that unlock new ships, captain types, etc. for starting multiple games. So it's not really a play one captain/ship forever type thing. It invites you to experiment with different starting difficulties and galaxy layouts, and play a whole new experience, as much as you want. 117 hours, and I've only got about 60% of the achievements. So much more to do whenever I decide to go back.

7. Everspace 2
Improved combat from the first game, and no more roguelike. Just a kickass story based space game, where you can upgrade ships and tinker with layouts and have as much combat as you want. I'm definitely going back to this for some pew pew space fix whenever I need to blow off some steam. Seems there was a lot of cool postgame things, but I just finished the story and called it a day at the time. Steam says 99 hours but my save file says 69 hours. Not sure if I left a lot idling or something. Howlongtobeat main+extra is 46... but I don't think I did all the extra. Still I played on hard, and only a couple times got into big trouble. It was fun and challenging this summer.

8. Starfield: My first Bethesda game. I mean I own Fallout 3 and New Vegas from giveaways but never got around to playing them. This was mostly fun for me over 140 hours. If there hadn't been mods I would have quit probably. But once I got the UI mod and the hide useless junk mod, the whole game flowed a lot better for me. I spent way too much time on a base that doesn't do much, and not enough time building cool spaceships. But whatever I still had a lot of fun. I really enjoyed space combat. And ground combat was apparently much better than any other Bethesda game, and seemed fine for me, who doesn't play many FPS games anymore. The sidequests were incredible and everyone tells me that's what Bethesda is best at. I didn't finish the story because I didn't want to NG+ and lose my bases and ships. Weird design decisions like that abound. But maybe someday I'll jump back in with more patches and mods and have more fun. There's a ton of game here.

9. Fire Emblem Engage
2nd game of the year, and it was a blast. The combat has never been better in any Fire Emblem. Mostly the UI improvements for movement, attack previews, enemy movement, etc. You have every single piece of data at your fingertips. Tactically you have everything you could want. But my gosh the base between missions, the weapons, the rings, the multiple upgrades... there is so much... stuff... in this game. It's tedious. It makes it hard to focus and finish the story. For instance one material the game gifts you like 10. And you can use those to upgrade 1 weapon 1 time. But there's 3 levels of upgrade on every weapon. And to get more of those materials you have to play some strange asynchronous multiplayer combat mode.

10. Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate - Daemonhunters
40k XCOM! Yeah! This spot could have went to another game or two. But this one just edges them out. This one came out of nowhere and I couldn't put it down for 60 hours until I finished the story and saved my ship. It's very different from the cautious combat of XCOM where you turtle, overwatch, creep forward. Instead you want to teleport/charge into a group, and if you can take them all out (mostly with melee) before you run out of action points, you get a whole new turn before the enemy does. Then you can charge into the next group and do the same. It's glorious combat!

So that's the list. But oh yeah I played a lot more than 10 new to me games this year...

Honorable Mention:

Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order
Played this for free on PC. Prime giveaway maybe? I liked it a lot. Souls-like Star Wars game. I didn't finish it. Starfield released or something and I never looked back. I will eventually. I'll probably play the sequel eventually too. It's good, not great, but that's better than most Star Wars media lately. So I'll take it.

Rise of the Tomb Raider
Had a bunch of fun with this. Tomb Raider (2013) was a 2022 game for me. And I guess at this rate, Shadow... to finish the trilogy will be a 2024 game for me. Most years this would have made the list, but I bought too many new shiny things. Still this one was great. Combat much improved from the previous, and I look forward to closing out the series soon.

F-Zero 99
I need to have this on a list. I need more than 10 games, argh. This was so much freakin fun. It's basically SNES F-Zero but with multiplayer and new super-boost paths. It's incredibly fun and addictive and I could just keep playing it for hours on end if I didn't have life responsibilities.

Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor - Martyr
40k Diablo! Yeah yeah that's really all it is, but damn is it well done. I rolled a shotgun something-or-other and just blasted cones of death for a dozen levels or so and had a blast. I'll jump back in at some point, and maybe I'll play the DLC campaign too for next year's list. I don't even like 40K that much I just heard it was a good game and dang right it is.

NSFW?

Spoiler:

Being a D.I.K
Since this was my year of VNs, I had to try one of the "sexy" ones. I searched the forums and didn't see any mention, so either no one is playing it or no one wants to talk about it. This is a game about a guy who goes to college, joins a fraternity, drinks a lot... and then by your choice has a lot or a little sex, fights (with a fun minigame), and gets into other shenanigans. There's a character alignment system, like a lot of games the last 15-20 years... you can go full DIK, full Chick, or Neutral. And those paths and your own stats lock you out of certain relationship opportunities. And then like a lot of VNs, eventually you choose one of 5 paths... 4 different girls, or one Others path if you still want to screw around. So anyway if you play the full DIK others path... yeah it's basically a porn game. But if you play the Chick/Neutral and stick to one of the main relationships... there's a lot of interesting story here. And even if you date a couple and then choose one, there's some heartbreaking relationship talks in there. And one blowup if you choose to date one of 2 very good friends and the other finds out... makes you feel like a real, jerk, as you should. So yeah I spent a few hours trying out different branches from GoG, and someday would like to see how Season 3 of this thing ends, since it's still in development, one chapter at a time. If you're a little VN-curious, check it out. Steam, GoG, or Patreon, if you want the full chapter by chapter game.

Dishonorable Mention
Kenshi
I voted on and played this for LEGION in the crpg club. What the hell? I've never seen anything so obtuse and difficult just for the sake of being obtuse and difficult. There's barely a game here. If you really hate yourself, you should try this. But for most people's sanity, avoid.

NBA 2K23
It was a free PS+ game. I played some pick up games, and collected some cards and challenge things. It's fine. The basketball itself is good. The My Player and other parts have been monetized to hell and back and there's just no way I could ever recommend spending any money on this series, ever again. I love basketball but this is just a skinner box with a price tag. Avoid.

Previous year lists
2017
2018
2019
2020
2021
2022

Also... tentative 2024 playlist. Let's see what actually ends up on the list from things I already have in the pile ready to play:

Spoiler:

Nier: Automata
Citizen Sleeper
Divinity: Original Sin 2
God of War: Ragnarök
Horizon: Forbidden West
Life is Strange: True Colors
Chained Echoes
Octopath Traveller 2
Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Deathloop
Ghostwire Tokyo
Death Stranding
Mutant Year Zero
F.I.S.T

Stele wrote:

2024 playlist

Nier, Citizen Sleeper, and Horizon!

Stele wrote:

Dishonorable Mention
Kenshi
I voted on and played this for LEGION in the crpg club. What the hell? I've never seen anything so obtuse and difficult just for the sake of being obtuse and difficult. There's barely a game here. If you really hate yourself, you should try this. But for most people's sanity, avoid.

Hah, had a similar reaction. Even forgot it on my list of games I played. Though I guess the time I spent with it barely counts as having played it.

Also, what a 2024 playlist.

Yeah half the 2024 list is Epic/Prime free. And half of it is stuff that went on sale for under $20/30 the first time in Dec. So I just grabbed GoW, Horizon, Octo, etc last week or two. Big pile waiting.

Dang I also forgot Nioh 2. Picked it up at the end of 22 for $10 after playing the first. And I have AfterImage, a well reviewed Metroidvania I just got on sale last month too. Also Valkyria Chronicles 4 and Tales of Vesperia were cheapest prices ever on Switch in '23... good grief, I'm going to need a few dice rolls just to figure out what to play.

Stele wrote:

5. Life is Strange

IMAGE(https://i.gifer.com/7Fyv.gif)

Stele wrote:

4. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim
Visual novel plus tower defense, sure, why not? The best game not from 2023 that I played this year. I've loved everything from Vanillaware so not sure why I waited so long on this one. But once the JRPG club played it I was happy that I joined in to finally do it. As some of you know, I devoured this game, and raced ahead of most of the club grinding it down to completion. But I couldn't wait to get more and more tidbits of the story.

Good good...more 13 Sentinels Love

Dang I left out Star Renegades from my honorable mention list. Only got 3-4 hours into it, but apparently it's only 10 or so hours long? It was a fun diversion for the few days I played it. Isometric map roguelike, with turn-based RPG combat with an attack bar. You could knock others off or slow down/speed up and get extra turns. The powers are crazy and the animations were fabulous. I really did have fun with it but something new and shiny distracted me from finishing. There's some interesting relationship stuff that happens between your characters at campfires and eventually maybe carries over into other runs, but I never got that deep into it to see if it works or not.

I was working on this prior to going away on vacation and just finished the ordering today. My list ONLY features games that I FINISHED/ROLLED CREDITS on in 2023, which is why Baldur's Gate 3 is not on there (hopefully next year). Yes I finished 3 Legends of Heroes games - and yes, I am very tired:

1. Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty - The base game was my GOTY the year it released despite the jank

2. Death Stranding - much like 13 Sentinels, I love a game that makes no sense, but then finds a way to not only make sense, but also make a great game out of something that no one would play on paper

3. The Legend of Heroes: Cold Steel IV - The culmination of the Cold Steel arc - says a lot when a series spans like 20 years and still manages to keep you interested in their ONE story (with multiple arcs, but still)

4. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 - Really didn't want to like this game after XC2 and it's fake gacha system, but this one improved on everything

5. Tactics Ogre Reborn - Would have been higher, but it does the Final Fantasy thing of taking a great game and dragging you through the end with annoying/useless puzzles or boss battles with arbitrary add-ins (the boss area at the end of this was extra rough since you can't out-level it)

6. Spiderman 2 - you all know the deal

7. Final Fantasy Type-0 - Great lead into playing FF16 with how brutal this game is. It's also much more interesting than FF16 was for how short it is. I think if they decided to remake this or make another similar, they could really knock it out of the park. Crazy going from like 14 playable characters down to 1 in FF16 (which i started right after this)

8. The Legend of Heroes: Cold Steel III - I took a break after finishing Cold Steel 2 last year and it felt like a reunion when I met up with old friends (slight spoiler?) - I also think one of the earlier chapters was called "Reunion" and it was fitting. The lead up to the climactic ending (cold steel 4) had some intense moments and a lot of "how are we gonna get through this"

9. The Legend of Heroes: Trails into Reverie - Maybe would have been higher if I wasn't speeding through it to have it done before 12/31, but it basically ties up the arcs for Trails in the Sky, Zero, and Cold Steel and it just amazes me how they not only build ever so slightly on each game with QoL updates, but they manage to keep the story and characters tied together. I'd like to see thoughts from folks who have been playing since 2004 on how they felt these arcs were closed up and seeing their favorite characters grow from teens learning how to fight to adults leading the charge - I love a series that ages their characters. It was also nice to play a Legend of Heroes game w/o a guide and just run through it. I don't think I'll do that again with the new major arc starting because I want to really know what's going on. Reverie has like 40 playable characters and I knew them all - that's an amazing triumph in JRPGs where I can play 1 game with a cast of like 8 and get names confused. That series shows you how to make (some) memorable characters that people actually like. I'd like to see Persona take a page out of their book and keep some characters and age them across a few games (I'm currently playing Atelier Ryza 3 and they are doing this) because i'm honestly over playing as highschoolers in my JRPGS or worse....(the next game on my list)

10. FUGA: Melodies of Steel - This game would have gotten beat out by Wild Hearts, but I REALLY enjoyed the combat and such. Dammit, they didn't have to be children!! And I mean CHILDREN, the oldest one is 11 or 12 and they are murdering waves of other dogs/cats and dealing with the emotional trauma that comes with it. By the end, I was hoping that something explained why they needed to be kids, but it didn't. This could have been adults trying to save their friends + families, it didn't need to be children to get the point across or to functionally do something that the adults couldn't do. There's also this...feature, that makes the fact that they are children even worse. It's optional, and I didn't have to use it but...it's disturbing, and it's meant to make you feel bad (don't worry, nothing sexual, but still). Outside of that GLARING issue, the game was really fun and I would have played the second game immediately after, but they didn't age the children and I didn't want to do that again...with the kids

Completed Games of 2023 in order of completion:

Spoiler:

1. Final Fantasy VIII Remastered
2. Xenoblade Chronicles 3
3. Death Stranding
4. Destiny 2: Lightfall
5. Tactics Ogre: Reborn
6. Soul Calibur 6 campaign
7. Horizon Burning Shores
8. Division 2 warlords of ny
9. Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen
10. Fishing Paradiso
11. Gotham Knights
12. The Legend of Heroes: Cold Steel 3
13. Scarlet Nexus
14. FUGA: Melodies of Steel
15. Saints Row Reboot
16. Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty
17. The Legend of Heroes: Cold Steel 4
18. Spiderman 2
19. Final Fantasy Type-0
20. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
21. Wild Hearts
22. Final Fantasy XVI
23. The Legend of Heroes: Trails into Reverie

Games That I plan on playing in 2024 that I already have or preordered
Baldur's Gate 3 (started)
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora (started)
Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key (Started)
Destiny 2 Final Shape
Grandblue Fantasy Relink (my most anticipated)
Tekken 8

Unicorn Overlord - not up for preorder yet but after 13 sentinels I can't say no to this

Thanks everyone for posting your reviews - this is one of the joys of the new year for me. My picks:

List for compiling:

Spoiler:

1. Baldur's Gate 3
2. Warhammer 40K: Darktide
3. Warhammer 40K: Gladius
4. Old World
5. The Quarry
6. Diablo IV
7. Super Mario Bros. Wonder
8. Mortal Kombat 1
9. Monster Hunter Now
10. Warcraft: Rumble

10. Warcraft Rumble: A “guilty pleasure” choice but a game with plenty of personality and just enough depth to make my Top 10 list. It nails the zaniness of old-style Blizzard which makes it the perfect dose of methadone for my WOW addiction.

9. Monster Hunter Now: The first game I’ve ever played in the Monster Hunter series and a decent successor to Pokémon Go. The fighting mechanics and crafting are both fun, though I wish that the game gave me more rewards for walking further like other Niantic titles.

8. Mortal Kombat 1: The game my teen son loves to trounce me at. While it’s not the best Mortal Kombat of all time, it’s still stylish great fun to play even when you’re close to rage quitting. The storyline is well done, at least compared to other cheesy martial arts movies/shows.

7. Super Mario Bros – Wonder: I first played Wonder at the Nintendo Live festival in Seattle and had an amazing time, and since then it has become a regular rotation at family gatherings and holiday parties. I appreciate that it’s easy enough for old me to dip in and out of but has complexity for hardcore fans. As I approach my 50th birthday, it’s nice to see I can still adventure alongside Mario albeit on easier levels.

6. Diablo IV: The campaign was excellent and I had a wonderful time rampaging through dungeons as a Druid or summoning undead minions as a necro. But after I finished the main story, I couldn’t bring myself to continue to grind out pointless levels for the next Battle Pass. The game has a good foundation and will hopefully find its footing when the expansion drops next year.

5. The Quarry: My Halloween game and the second-best horror story I consumed this year after Fall of the House of Usher. The game kept me guessing about who would live and die as a group of teens try to survive their last night at camp. Great acting and writing, terrifying jump scares and tough puzzles.

5. Grand Theft Auto V:
Yes, it took the announcement of GTA VI to finally prompt me to buy V on sale and play it. While I never finish Rockstar games, I love how they create this perfect universe to just go explore and make mischief. The fam was sick over New Years, so I celebrated with some friends online by robbing a bank and hitting the in-game casino.

4. Old World: I picked up Old World as a GWJ Strategy Club game and immediately had a love/hate relationship with it. On one hand, it’s an intriguing mashup of Crusader Kings 3 and Civilization where your character interactions matter as much as your economy and military. On the other, it’s an incredibly hard strategy game that took me several tries to master. In the end, the art and attention to historical detail won me over.

3. Warhammer 40K Gladius: Another great game the Strategy Club turned me onto. Since I don’t have time to play tabletop 40K anymore, Gladius is a great replacement. Whereas Old World is a Civ clone that leans heavily into extra diplomatic options, Gladius does away with diplomacy entirely. The only thing you need to worry about when discovering another civ is whether you have enough units on overwatch to win the initial matchup. Also, the units and personalities from the game are all lovingly recreated and fun to command.

2. Warhammer 40K Darktide: PC Gamer voted Darktide the most improved multiplayer game so I had to check it out. I’ve only been playing since December but I’m having a romp purging monsters and heretics in the hellscape of a ruined hive world. The combat and weapons feel great, there is a great deal of build variety, and I appreciate the in-game banter between characters and motivational quotes like “a suspicious mind is a healthy mind” or “happiness is a delusion of the weak.”

1. Baldur’s Gate 3: Not much more to say than BG 3 is the perfect combination of art, story, and gameplay. What I’ve appreciated most about BG 3 is the community commentary seeing all the wonderful variety and originality that people have brought into their campaigns. My military buddy raves to me about his min maxed Dragonkin battle master, and I’m amazed at how he’s able to win impossible battles in Honor mode. Meanwhile, I love hearing my nonbinary writing group friend gush about playing a queer halfling druid who looks like her. (Something no other game has ever offered). I’m still working my way towards the ending but so far I love my redemption story of a Tiefling warlock who starts the game as a shifty criminal but becomes a strong champion of the poor and downtrodden as a sworn paladin. The fact the game rewards me for both good roleplay and good tactical decisions is something to celebrate. This is D&D at its best and most inclusive.

Short version:

Spoiler:

1. Pentiment
2. The Case of the Golden Idol
3. Ixion
4. Elden Ring
5. Tunic
6. Lucifer Within Us
7. A Plague Tale: Requiem
8. Dredge
9. Hi-Fi Rush
10. Darkest Dungeon 2

Long version:

Honorable Mentions

God of War: Ragnarok

Despite some muddled writing, I mostly really enjoyed my time with this. The combat and exploration were just as satisfying as the first game, and the secret extra bosses were especially memorable. I ended up platinuming it, which is quite unusual for me, so it deserves a mention.

The Last Spell

A really great indie turn-based strategy slash tower defense game. It might be higher on this list if it weren’t quite so brutally difficult.

10. Darkest Dungeon 2

A very different game to the first one. I really liked the way it exists in a kind of dialogue with its predecessor. The developers reveal their personal growth, choosing to tell a story about triumph over darkness rather than one that wallows in despair. They also made a conscious decision to respect the players’ time more, meaning that I finished this one in a mere three months instead of the four years it took me for Darkest Dungeon 1.

9. Hi-Fi Rush

As soon as I heard on the podcast that this was a rhythm-based action game with a boss fight set to Nine Inch Nail’s ‘The Perfect Drug’, it went straight to the top of the pile. The game has a light-hearted, charming anime style and is just a breezy, joyous way to spend ten hours.

8. Dredge

It’s the most satanic fishing simulator of the year! At first, you’re just taking your little boat out in the early morning sun, playing simple minigames to pull in the day’s catch. But at some point, you become intrigued by the strange lights flickering in the deep ocean at night. Gradually, you forget about fishing altogether, replacing your fishing lines with dredging equipment designed to unearth the sea’s unholy secrets. An occultic descent into madness and horror has never been so relaxing!

7. A Plague Tale: Requiem

I’ll bet you thought the Amici siblings had seen their last giant tidal wave of rats after the first game ended tidily and happily, but no. The plague is back, bigger, nastier and with more impressive rat-based physics than ever. A story this bleak is constantly in danger of descending into misery porn, but credit to the developers, and especially to the writers, that it all holds together and builds to a devastating gut punch of an ending.

6. Lucifer Within Us

This is a nice little puzzle game that came out a few years ago. The central mechanic is, at its heart, an expanded version of the cross-examination sections of the Ace Attorney games. You can explore the scene to collect physical evidence, cross-reference the testimonies of different suspects to catch them out and, naturally, psychically enter the minds of your suspects in order to force them to reveal their motivations.

Combined with an original setting and compelling plot, this game is a hidden gem. One caveat: it’s super short. According to Steam, I finished it within 3.5 hours. It is a bit overpriced for that amount of time, but it is definitely worth grabbing on sale.

5. Tunic

This is a really fun Zelda-ish action adventure. It has a bunch of clever puzzles and meta-puzzles that elevate it above other games in its genre. But the neat gimmick that pushes it up the list for me is that the pages of the user manual are scattered around the world (and are written in a foreign language). You must discover and decipher them to figure out all the abilities available to you, along with maps and tricks that can help you out. I love this hidden information mechanic, where you realise that you could have skipped a bunch of the game if you had this knowledge from the beginning. And, of course, who can resist playing as a cute little fox?

4. Elden Ring

I’m late to the party with this one, because I was a bit burned out on Souls-like games after the grueling challenge of Sekiro. I needn’t have worried though, because Elden Ring is completely different and a lot easier. Because of the open world, if you’re having trouble in one area, you can just go and do something else for a bit.

To begin with, I cruised impatiently around the game, trying to find the most straightforward path to get to the ending. But little by little, the beauty of the world and the contemplative atmosphere sucked me in, and I started taking my time exploring all the weird corners and hidden dungeons. While some areas are less interesting than others, the spectacular scene when you first arrive in the Capital and see the Erdtree towering over you, you will no doubt find its place amongst gaming’s most iconic moments.

3. Ixion

I don’t normally care for RTS’s. I find them too stressful, and I’m no good at them. Ixion is a non-combat, story-oriented RTS focused more on resource and technology management. Together with Frostpunk, it seems like the beginning of a nice little micro-genre that I’m really digging. I still find them incredibly stressful, but somehow much more fun.

Ixion, in particular, is very effective at creating a claustrophobic sense of panic as you try to preserve the surviving remnant of humanity on a damaged, failing starship. No matter how often the ungrateful little bastards grew dissatisfied with my leadership and shoved me out of the airlock, I kept coming back for more.

2. The Case of the Golden Idol

Yes, it looks like sh*t, but this is a fantastic puzzle game. In each chapter, you are presented with one or more still scenes from a scenario and must fill out a set of logic puzzle-style forms to move the story forward. It may sound basic, and it’s not a difficult game at all, but it has a very satisfying gameplay loop. Also, the story is quite original and utterly bonkers.

1. Pentiment

Pentiment stands out due to its original art style and setting alone. The entire game is presented as an illuminated manuscript, and the conceit is tied into the themes of the game itself. It’s refreshing to play a game based in an authentic historical setting (in this case, Bavaria in the Middle Ages) without a single wizard, zombie or cyborg making an appearance. Sci-fi and fantasy are great, but it does sometimes seem limiting that video games exist almost entirely within these genres alone.

More than this though, Pentiment’s real strength is the writing. It tells a story with real depth and resonance, displays a level of artistic ambition that no other game on this list comes close to matching.

Late to the Party Section:

I still haven’t played Baldur’s Gate 3 or Alan Wake 2, which are sitting right at the top of the pile for me to get to in 2024.