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2023 was a year of extremes.
Extremely great games and extremely hard times for game makers. As someone who works in video games myself, I've been incredibly lucky to have not been affected by the frankly obscene number of layoffs this year (knock on wood). I'm grateful and humbled by my fortunate position, as I've had too many hard conversations with friends and colleagues that had their careers and lives ripped out from under them, many with no warning at all.
It's sad to see an industry of wealth discard its creators with such much ease and disdain, while the ones at the top continue reaping as much profit as possible.
Let's hope the next years bear better fruit. With all that said, this was such a knockout year when it came to amazing games. I felt like I was being smacked left and right by bangers every month, a testament to all the incredible teams out there. It was so packed that I, unfortunately, was unable to get to them all in time (Alan Wake 2 and Baldur's Gate 3 to name a couple). But I did play a bunch - on Xbox, PS5, and Switch. Now I don't usually break games down into their individual parts. I don't think about what had the best combat or the best graphics or how many hours I spent playing. As I looked back, there was one simple way I went about creating this list:
What were the games stuck with me after I was done?
It's really the easiest gauge for me. The level of "Damn, that was a good time" varies wildly for me per game. But that's how I know I loved something. So without further adieu...these are my top 10 Damn That Was a Good Time.
Normally, a brand new RPG from Bethesda Game Studios, one of my favorite developers, in my all-time favorite genre (sci-fi), should be near the top of my list, but there was just enough to keep me from adoring the game. There was still a lot to love here. The universe Bethesda built does feel suitably vast. The various faction quests, especially UC Vanguard and Crimson Fleet, were top-tier. I loved running around the different cities, exploring every nook and cranny, picking up a wide variety of side quests and just getting into all sorts of trouble with the law. The music is expectedly epic, and the shooting is easily Bethesda's best attempt yet. Though various aspects like excessive loading screens, barren planets with repeat structures, and dialogue systems that felt stuck in the past kept Starfield from reaching that golden Bethesda status.
9. Sea of Stars
This was a lovely experience through and through. While I never got into Chrono Trigger and the RPGs of yore on SNES, I did become obsessed with a little GBA series called Golden Sun back in my day, and this brought me back to those years in the best way possible. I loved so many of the characters, and the worlds were utterly gorgeous to run around in and explore, replicating a perfect balance of modern and 16-bit art. While it doesn't really do anything revolutionary in the genre, it was by far the coziest experience I had this year. At the same time, damn did it make me miss Golden Sun all over again!
8. Diablo IV
Seems to be a running theme with this list, but believe it or not, I'm not generally huge into Diablo either! I tried playing Diablo 2 way back on my brother's laptop 20 years ago and did not get along with that game at all. Fast forward 15 years, and after giving Diablo 3 a shot, I was hooked. I really enjoyed my time with that, so naturally, I was pretty onboard with another. Diablo IV is addictively good in a way that's rare for me. It's the "one more" game. One more quest. One more dungeon. One more world event before I slam my head down on a pillow at 2 AM. The story was just as fantastic and a massive step up over Diablo 3. The world was gorgeous, oppressive, and filled with lots of different towns to explore, NPCs to talk to, and unique quests to take part in. Sprinkle in the dopamine high I got from picking up gold and loot and all that good stuff, and we had ourselves a nice stew going. Loved my time with this one.
Like Zelda, I wouldn't consider myself a huge Final Fantasy lover. I've dabbled in the series before, very much enjoying FFX and lamenting my time in FF13 and 15 (sorry). However, Final Fantasy 7 Remake reignited my passion and I found myself pretty stoked for FF16. I'm glad I gave it a chance. While many of the side quests were rote in design and left a lot to be desired, the main plot, characters and story beats were a treat, with the massive Eikon battles being an easy highlight. There was some seriously stunning scenes in these fights. The combat system felt engaging, snappy and fun to use. The voice acting, visuals and soundtrack complemented the whole package. I just wish we were able to really customize Clive and the other party members. Alas. It wasn't perfect, but I gelled with Final Fantasy: Game of Thrones edition pretty nicely overall I'd say.
It's hard to know where to even begin when you talk about Tears of the Kingdom. Is it insane level of interactivity of the world's various systems? The seemingly endless possibility of its building and crafting mechanics? Or is it the refined combat, incredible musical score and gorgeous art style? There's so much to praise here. This world was a joy to explore. Getting lost in my own adventures, happening upon some uber powerful enemies in the middle of nowhere and using everything at my disposal to take them down in hectic battles of cat and mouse were among some of my best highlights. Like Breath of the Wild before it, I loved my time in the game, even though I'm not generally the biggest diehard fan of the series.
Every year comes with its unexpected surprises, and damn did RoboCop: Rogue City fit the bill to a tee. I liked Teyon's last go around in Terminator: Resistance much more than those reviews led on, so I was already interested in their take on RoboCop. They nailed it. The power I felt embodying the character of RoboCop was spot on, from the heavy *thud* of each footstep to the explosive power of his Auto-9, it's a pure RoboCop fantasy. With some genuinely stunning visuals, the oppressive and forgotten ambience of Detroit from the original films was faithfully recreated, alongside the recognizable humor that came with it. I found myself placing tickets on illegally parked cars, saving cats from burning buildings and defending helpless shop keeps from nefarious thugs and I loved every second of it. I'd definitely buy this one for a dollar.
While this launched with some very unfortunate technical problems, I waited until the last performance patch to finally give it a real shot, and I'm so happy I did. The substance of game itself was utterly fantastic. I loved reuniting with Greez and seeing the expanded relationship between Cal and Merrin. I wanted more planets in the game, but I can't *really* complain as each one was expansive and packed to the gills with secrets and hidden areas. The Metroidvania design was really shining through this time, and the combat was smartly expanded and iterated on. I just love the way Respawn has inserted the lore of its Jedi series within the wider world of Star Wars, be it through recognizable characters, locations, and conflicts, and I'm stoked to see where the story goes next.
One of my biggest gaming sins is never playing the original Resident Evil 4. I know, I know. I was an uncultured gamer ok!? But really, I was busy with school and so many other games that it just happened to slip my radar. I didn't make that mistake twice. Having played every Resident Evil game at this point, I can safely say Resident Evil 4 remake is the best of them all. It marries a perfect blend of horror and action with some of the best level and enemy design in the series. I soaked up every piece of lore, explored every cave, shack and crevice I could, and took my sweet time savoring every minute. Boss fights were also an easy highlight. Now I got to find time to go back and finish Separate Ways when I get the chance...
2. Hi-Fi Rush
I actually played this one pretty late in the year and it took me completely by surprise. I knew it was good based on all the great word of mouth but hoo boy...I did not anticipate that amount of *awesome*. It really brought me back to my days playing kickass games like Jet Set Radio and Sonic Adventure 2 on Dreamcast. With charming and sharply written characters, a novel idea of music based combat, and some of the most refreshing eye candy visuals I've seen in a game in a long time (you're basically playing a comic book), this was almost my favorite overall game of the year.
As a huge fan of the webslinger, I had been waiting with a ton of anticipation for what's next for Peter and Miles. Insomniac did not disappoint. The game was a rollercoaster ride from start to finish. Between the perfectly paced buildup of the narrative to the many memorable side stories that were woven into the plot, there really wasn't a moment where I felt bored, and that's a very rare thing for me. The final hour of the game was some of the best I've experienced in a while, culminating in a truly unforgettable showdown. I felt like I was in a movie in all the best ways.
This is not even mentioning the finely tuned combat over the first game, the inclusion of the web wings which are an absolute game changer in the speed and manner in which you zip around New York, and fantastic visuals and musical score. I can't wait to see where Insomniac goes after this because they planted a ton of seeds in those side quests!