As many have said, 2023 will go down as one of the greatest years in the history of video games. There were plenty of stinkers, some surprises, numerous remakes and remasters, new entries into beloved long-lived franchises, and plenty of new adventures waiting to be discovered. 2023 saw the start of the fighting game renaissance, decades-in-the-making sequels, and games we’ve been anticipating for years.
While making this list was tough, as there are far more than ten games I’d have wanted to talk about, these ten games represent what I believe to be the best of what 2023 had to offer. For some added fun, I’ll be awarding each game a Mini Award. On with the list!
10. Starfield (Xbox Series X/S, PC)
As a die-hard Bethesda fan, when Starfield was first announced, my expectations were through the roof. I’ve spent literally hundreds of hours in Fallout 3 and New Vegas, and likely double that in Oblivion and Skyrim. Firing up my starship’s engines for the first time to explore the final frontier was an experience unlike any other (albeit a little bit disappointing). The sheer size and scale of Starfield’s explorable universe is undeniably impressive, and being able to fly to any planet at any time was hard to wrap my tiny brain around at first, but I do wish there were more to do in the game overall. Aside from this, the story, character building, and RPG elements are standard Bethesda fare, but unfortunately don’t live up to the quality of its fantasy and post-apocalyptic cousins.
The Mini Award for Best Robot Pal of 2023 goes to: Vasco. Sorry, BD-1.
9. Super Mario RPG (Switch)
The first remake on this list, Super Mario RPG is a very special game to many of us. I first played the original after finding the SNES cartridge in a bin at Hollywood Video for $20 in 2008. I rushed home, blew on the cartridge, and got lost in its vibrant world, hilarious characters, and satisfying real-time turn-based combat. The announcement of a remake for the Nintendo Switch brought a single tear to my eye as nostalgia took over, knowing that so many people who missed out on the original were about to experience what I did when I was 15. And while Super Mario RPG is the quintessential “baby’s first JRPG”, its charm and personality hit like no other.
The Mini Award for Cutest Mashed-Potato-Cloud-Tadpole Boi goes to: Mallow. Just look at him.
8. Diablo IV (PC, PlayStation, Xbox)
This game had a bit of a rocky launch. Constant bugs, crashes, and connection issues plagued its opening hours. Fast-forward to Season 1, and it was relatively playable. Season 2, however, is where Diablo IV actually got good. Rebalancing, adjusted drop rates and making the grind feel more rewarding than chore-like was a recipe for success. The vampiric powers added a whole new layer to your character build, and running Blood Harvests was addicting as all hell. Aside from the seasonal content, the main campaign of Diablo IV presented players with a great narrative, full of twists and turns that, at the end, left me wanting more.
The Mini Award for Mommy of the Year goes to: Lilith, obviously.
7. Super Mario Bros. Wonder (Switch)
Super Mario Bros. Wonder is the best modern take on the 2D Mario formula, full stop. Nintendo hit it out of the park with this one, and it certainly set the standard for the franchise going forward. Multiple playable characters, whimsical levels and music, and of course the Wonder Flower effect make this game one of the best the Switch has to offer. There’s something for everyone; from the easy-going early levels to the ridiculously challenging Special World. Also, playing as a goomba had no right being that fun.
The Mini Award for Best Interpretation of What it’s Like to Trip on Shrooms goes to: The Wonder Flowers. Best enjoyed with milk.
6. Final Fantasy XVI (PlayStation 5)
While I’m generally in the camp of “this game isn’t a full-fledged RPG” like its predecessors, Final Fantasy XVI is still one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve had in a very long time. The combat flows so smoothly, is never too difficult, and encourages you to constantly switch out and try different Eikon abilities. Speaking of Eikons, the kaiju-like battles have the most beautiful animations and set pieces in any game in years. The voice acting is top-notch, and the Game of Thrones-esque story takes players on an epic journey throughout protagonist Clive’s life.
The Mini Award for Best Ralph Ineson Character This Year goes to: Cid. Sorry Lorath. Small world, though.
5. Resident Evil 4 (PC, PlayStation, Xbox)
What can I say about the Resident Evil 4 remake that hasn’t already been said ad nauseum? The 2005 original is still a pillar of its genre and holds up to this day, but the remake improves upon it tenfold. Significant quality of life improvements, more fleshed-out characters, updated story beats and tighter gunplay (seriously, not being able to walk and aim at the same time was a nightmare) make this year’s entry one of the best. Even the Separate Ways expansion holds its own as a quality gaming experience.
The Mini Award for Most Annoying Mechanic in the Original Finally Getting Fixed goes to: Ashley getting the fuck out of the way when you aim. Yay!
4. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (Switch)
I’ll level with you; I thought Breath of the Wild was just fine. While I enjoyed the open-world concept, I’m one of the few who genuinely prefer the classic Zelda formula. And then came Tears of the Kingdom. It filled the traditional Zelda void in my heart with unique dungeons, epic boss fights, and a much wider enemy variety than its predecessor, while giving fans triple the size of the map from BOTW. Add this to the game’s intuitive, revolutionary new building mechanic, and you have a fresher breath of air than the game literally named after it. Tears of the Kingdom sets an even greater standard than Breath of the Wild did, and will likely serve as a benchmark for the series going forward.
This game gets the Mini Award for Most Epic Final Boss Battle of 2023. Seriously, experience this fight if you haven’t yet.
3. Sea of Stars (Multiplatform)
I cut my JRPG teeth on titans of the genre like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI growing up. Top-down, 2D pixel art and turn-based combat have always been near and dear to my heart, and Sea of Stars is an expertly crafted love-letter to said genre, checking all the boxes of an outstanding retro-like experience. The colorful cast of characters, music, art, and exploration would be right at home on the SNES. Luckily, it’s a modern title with modern quality of life features, and is one the year’s best games. Playing this game on the Nintendo Switch on the go is one of the best experiences I’ve had on the system. Sabotage Studio doesn’t miss.
The Mini Award for Friend I Wish I Had in Real Life goes to: Garl. We don’t deserve Garl.
2. Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty (PC, PlayStation, Switch)
The Phantom Liberty expansion (and 2.0 update as a whole) is what Cyberpunk 2077 should have been at launch. The game we got back in 2020 needed significantly more time in the oven, and had one of the most infamous, disastrous launches in video game history. Three years later, and it’s now a strong contender for my game of the year. CDProjekt Red did the impossible and changed the hearts and minds of thousands of players through constant fixes and updates. The 2.0 update revamped the game’s cyberware systems, character build progression, and combat features, among countless other things, and added one of the best story expansions in any video game ever: Phantom Liberty. A spy thriller through and through, the expansion takes V on a wild ride through Night City’s Dogtown, facing chromed-out psychos and making new chooms along the way. With multiple emotional endings and brilliant voice acting, Phantom Liberty would have taken the number one spot if it weren’t for a certain game from Remedy.
The Mini Award for Why Aren’t You a Romance Option goes to: Songbird. I love you, Songbird.
1. Alan Wake 2
A sequel thirteen years in the making, Alan Wake 2 is my Game of the Year. As an avid survival horror and true crime fan, this game blends the genres together seamlessly, creating one of the most tense experiences in any game. FBI agent Saga Anderson joins the fray alongside series protagonist and titular horror novelist Alan Wake. Their stories weave together throughout the game as Saga investigates a series of gruesome murders while Alan tries to escape the Dark Place, culminating in an epic conclusion (and cliffhanger) worthy of a Stephen King tale. You would never guess that this is Remedy’s first true take on the survival horror genre – survival being the key phrase. Limited ammo, claustrophobic spaces, and relentless spectral enemies create a haunting atmosphere that will stick with you long after you finish. Alan Wake 2 is my Game of the Year for a few reasons. First, the story, voice acting, and facial animations create the most immersive experience of any game this year (despite Melanie Liburd’s Saga going in and out of British and American accents). Second, the gameplay and combat are extremely well designed; ample options for weapons, upgrades that truly reward exploration, and puzzles that really force you to think outside the box. Finally, the game presents these in an esoteric, arthouse-inspired way only auteur creative director Sam Lake can. Alan Wake 2 is the best game of 2023.
The Mini Award for Best Playable Chapter of Any Video Game Ever goes to: “We Sing”. Play it.
So there you have it, my top ten games of 2023! I wanted to shoutout some honorable mentions that didn’t quite make the cut; Street Fighter 6, Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon and Octopath Traveler II are all games that I thoroughly enjoyed this year. 2023 saw the release of some of the most anticipated games ever, encompassing a wide array of genres and styles; there was truly something for everyone. Hopefully 2024 comes through with the bangers.