This was a best-of-times, worst-of-times type of year for video games. The aftereffects of post-pandemic contraction and a wave of acquisition and consolidation cost thousands of designers their jobs, even as the industry reckoned with AI’s potentially transformative (and terrifying) impact on game development and voice acting. The games, though? They were great—possibly better than ever. As Microsoft and Sony finally left the last gen behind, console releases took technological leaps, though Nintendo’s relatively low-powered Switch, which struggled to run many multi-platform titles, had a hell of a last hurrah. The latter half of the year brought blockbuster after blockbuster, interspersed with indie gems, in a deluge of content that will keep players occupied well into 2024. Even video game adaptations had a huge year, finally earning the audiences, award nods, and box office figures that had long eluded them.
Later this month, we’ll be breaking down exactly how 2023 stacks up to the medium’s best years ever, but today, we’re agonizingly narrowing down the field to a mere top 10—and, because we can’t help ourselves in a year this stacked, a lengthy list of honorable mentions. Our greatest regret about the games of this year is that no one human had time to play every GOTY contender. (One caveat: With apologies to the likes of Resident Evil 4, Dead Space, System Shock, Metroid Prime Remastered, Super Mario RPG, and Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty, we’re excluding remakes, remasters, and DLC from consideration and limiting the list to originals only.) —Ben Lindbergh
10. Diablo IV
The term “dungeon-crawler” has been synonymous with the Diablo franchise for more than 25 years. In the same way that a “Metroidvania” game dependably blends the tried-and-true tenets of Metroid and Castlevania, a new Diablo game gives you exactly what you want and expect. You’re going to navigate a dark, gloomy world threatened by evil forces straight from hell. You’re going to view that world from an overhead, isometric perspective. And you’re going to use weapons and magic to dispel hordes of monsters, score rare loot, and upgrade your gear. The fundamentals of Diablo haven’t changed since the original game’s release in 1997, because it’s still a winning formula. Diablo IV is more a modern refinement of Diablo than a reinvention. But the refinements are excellent.
The combat system is deeper than ever, encouraging and rewarding experimentation. Moments of exuberant discovery abound. Constantly tinkering with your skill/spell loadout feels like slowly whittling a great work of art from a humble block of wood. And all of the time and effort you’ve put into your build goes out the window the moment you find an incredible new weapon or piece of armor powerful enough to make you reconsider your entire playing style.
Diablo IV is an always-online game, and the best way to play it is with other people. Whether you’re working through the campaign with a friend or serendipitously stumbling upon a helpful stranger, the joy of Diablo IV is exponentially amplified as a shared experience. There’s always something to accomplish next, and with new content coming out every three months or so, it’s a game you can plan on sharing with friends for a long time. —Matt James
9. Hi-Fi Rush
No, the way in which the world was introduced to a game shouldn’t factor too heavily into its placement on a list like this. But although we’re dozens of great games removed from its January release, we shouldn’t forget how Hi-Fi Rush set the tone for a year packed with pleasant surprises. Most games get revealed, officially or otherwise, years before we get our grubby hands on them, with a delay or three almost inevitably lengthening the time between the first teaser, report, or press release and the actual launch. But Hi-Fi Rush was a true rarity: a game announced and released on the same day, like an album dropped without warning. And not just any game; a great game. In that sense, it was sort of the Pentiment of 2023: a Microsoft-acquired, nontraditional title with a refreshing, distinctive style that made it a gift to Game Pass subscribers. Plus, unlike most of this year’s greatest games, it was new IP, arriving at a time when, per one recent report, investors’ “interest in original work, as opposed to sequels, is near nil.”
Put all of those special circumstances aside, though, and Hi-Fi Rush would still be a standout. Like Sayonara Wild Hearts or Metal: Hellsinger, the rhythm-action game tasks players with performing actions in sync with its soundtrack, which consists of propulsive beats and licensed songs (albeit with a fairly limited set list). Its combat mechanics reward skilled, practiced players, but its stages can be beaten without flawless timing, which makes the game forgiving and accessible enough to pick up and play. Thanks to its fluid animations and cel-shaded art, reminiscent of cult classic Jet Set Radio, Hi-Fi Rush looks as good as it sounds, and few games induce a flow state so reliably. The only downside is that Hi-Fi got our hopes up. You never know: Maybe today’s the day another great game that nobody knows about will appear and rock our worlds. —Lindbergh
8. Final Fantasy XVI
It would have been easy for Square Enix to copy and paste the combat system from Final Fantasy VII Remake into Final Fantasy XVI. That system is a fair compromise between the demands of Final Fantasy oldhead purists and the tastes of today’s gamers, who are accustomed to a more modern, active combat experience. Instead, Square Enix enlisted the combat director of the Devil May Cry series and went full-on single-character action. The internet seethed with rage. (Outrage isn’t uncommon within the Final Fantasy fan base.) How could Square Enix make a mainline single-player Final Fantasy game without offering the ability to assemble a party of characters?
Actually, it turned out quite well: The action combat system of Final Fantasy XVI is compelling and extremely customizable. Your Clive Rosfield probably plays a lot differently from my Clive Rosfield. Fighting feels satisfying, and cycling quickly through various skills takes a cue from Final Fantasy XIV’s highly regarded action combat.
But the real heart of any Final Fantasy game doesn’t lie in the combat system. The greatest games in the series are the ones in which the characters, setting, and original score combine in an unforgettable, breathtakingly epic package. And in that sense, FFXVI absolutely passes the Final Fantasy test.
The game world is ambitiously vast, divided into numerous kingdoms and featuring an almost unreasonable number of characters. Luckily, FFXVI incorporates an in-game encyclopedia of sorts called “Active Time Lore,” which at any moment lets the player instantly obtain a quick refresher on characters, locations, or terms that are relevant to what’s happening on screen. I wish I’d had Active Time Lore while watching Game of Thrones. The interactive crib sheet allows FFXVI to tell a rewarding, complex, and sprawling story that would otherwise be unwieldy.
A lot of the criticism of FFXVI centers on what it’s not. No, it’s not a turn-based RPG; this isn’t the Final Fantasy many of us were raised on. That’s a difficult pill to swallow for fans of a franchise that draws so heavily on nostalgia. But focus on what Final Fantasy XVI actually is: a phenomenal action RPG that feels every bit as momentous as any entry in the long-running series, set in a captivating, detailed world. In adopting more action-focused gameplay and presenting an unusually elaborate story, Final Fantasy XVI embraces the same ambition as its protagonist, Clive—to blaze its own trail and not be defined by the expectations of others. —James
7. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor
Only one of the authors of this ranking is a Star Wars obsessive, but both of us included Jedi: Survivor on or near our personal top 10s. Jedi: Survivor does almost all one would want from a sequel. Its lightsaber combat is more complex and customizable, permitting more ways to play. Its levels are larger, richer, and mercifully free of the backtracking that plagued its predecessor, thanks to a fast-travel option. Its hub world of Koboh encourages and rewards exploration and side questing. Critics could dismiss Jedi: Survivor as a jack-of-all-trades, (Jedi) master of none, but it doesn’t do anything badly, and I value its variety, despite the performance problems some versions initially suffered from.
Put it all together, and Jedi: Survivor has a strong case to claim the title of “best Star Wars game since Knights of the Old Republic.” Its franchise affiliation may not matter much to some, but if you are a Star Wars superfan, then Jedi: Survivor is a special treat. Respawn’s follow-up to Jedi: Fallen Order boasts one of the best narratives in a long line of celebrated Star Wars games, paired with one of the medium’s most authentic and absorbing portrayals of the look and feel of the galaxy far, far away. The fabled hideout of Tanalorr smacks of old Expanded Universe stories, and the continuing tale of Cal, Greez, Cere, Merrin, and more desperate enemies of the Empire seems to have rubbed off on Disney’s recent streaming series. And lest we leave formidable boss “Rick the Door Technician” off our recounting of the game’s selling points, consider that Jedi: Survivor also supplied one of this year in gaming’s most memorable moments of comic relief. —Lindbergh
6. Dave the Diver
Catch fish, sell sushi. That’s the core gameplay loop of one of the best games of the year. But there’s so much more to Dave the Diver: developing new weapon technology, competing in reality TV cooking competitions, assisting an ancient underwater civilization, racing seahorses, flexing your photography skills, and growing your social media presence, among other activities. And, of course, there’s some farming to do.
Dave the Diver is a delightfully silly game packed with unforgettable characters, excellent music, a charming art style, and dangerously addictive gameplay. Sometimes, when a game is divided into two primary gameplay types, one is much more gripping than the other. This was an issue I had with last year’s Cult of the Lamb, a game that was half dungeon-crawler and half town-building sim. Dave the Diver’s diving/fishing/exploration mechanics are probably the star of the show, but managing your sushi restaurant at the end of each day is equally enjoyable; I never found myself bored by the restaurant gameplay and aching to hop back in the water. Almost all of the ludicrous number of activities in Dave the Diver are successful game-design endeavors, and all of those seemingly discrete systems interact in ways that make each other more fun.
“Fun” is at the heart of Dave the Diver. If you visit developer Mintrocket’s website, one of the first things you’ll see is this statement: “There are hundreds of things to consider when creating a game. However, the single most important thing is the fun.”
Well, Dave the Diver’s designers found all the fun. —James
5. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2
There’s so much excellent Spider-stuff these days, on screens both big and small, that it’s a tall order for Insomniac to differentiate its own strain of stories about Peter Parker and Miles Morales from the other strands of the culture-spanning spiderweb. Yet the Sony-owned studio has managed to make its Spider-Man series as acclaimed in its medium as the latest MCU Spidey films in live action, or the Spider-Verse movies in animation. On a narrative level, the games have a hard time escaping the shadow of their cinematic cousins: Their tales are well told, but their beats can’t help but feel familiar. But Marvel’s Spider-Man has a strength that the other franchises don’t: It puts players inside Spidey’s suits, letting them live the Spider-experience in a way no passive, scripted, big-screen experience can replicate.
As I wrote in October, Marvel’s Spider-Man games are unsurpassed Spider-Man simulators that rival Rocksteady’s Arkham trilogy for the title of best superhero series. And Spider-Man 2 is the best of the former franchise, an improvement on its predecessors in almost every way. Could the game feature Miles more? Yes. Could its combat be less repetitive, and its boss battles less drawn out? Absolutely. Are some of its stealth and side missions slogs? Sure. But the game grabs you from the get-go with a classic Sandman set piece and, with sporadic exceptions, web ties you to the controller for the rest of its roughly 20-hour campaign. The next-gen-only title is a persuasive advertisement for the PS5’s power. The web wings sound gimmicky but control like a dream, leveling up an already best-in-class traversal system. And as dazzling as the explosive moments can be, the quieter, more intimate scenes sell the essence of Spider-Man as effectively as any film or comic.
After Spider-Man 2 lived up to the humongous hype, Insomniac must be asking the same question as the makers of Across the Spider-Verse: How can we hope to top that? —Lindbergh
4. Super Mario Bros. Wonder
From Spider-Man to Mario—another New York hero who wears red and blue and loves to leave the ground. How do you make two-dimensional Mario feel fresh and vital almost 40 years after Super Mario Bros. debuted, almost 30 years after Mario hopped, dropped, and rolled into the third dimension, and 11 years after the most recent full-fledged, mainline Mario confined to 2D?
Answer: You make Mario weird. (Well, weirder.) You let him turn into an elephant. You outfit him with selectable badges that activate extra-quirky powers. And you let him trip balls by stashing Wonder Flowers within each level—which, when found, alter Mario’s surroundings in psychedelic ways that include a piranha-plant symphony.
Nintendo threw all sorts of absurdity at the wall for this one, and fortunately for us, much of it stuck. For the probable swan song of Super Mario Bros. on the Switch, Nintendo drew on its brain trust’s unique continuity to dig deep for ideas that had never made it beyond the drawing board. Consistently silly, endlessly inventive, and remarkably replayable, Wonder makes good on its title and proves that there’s still a lot of life left in Mario’s non-3D endeavors. The mascot may be over 40, but the middle-aged guy’s still got it, as do the mostly middle-aged (or older) people who make Mario games. —Lindbergh
3. Alan Wake 2
It takes a lot for me to want to play a scary game, let alone finish one. Alan Wake 2 is one of the scariest, most unnerving games I have ever played, and by the time I was done with it I found myself with a platinum PlayStation trophy and possibly a few more gray hairs.
Alan Wake 2 is, more often than not, deeply unsettling and disorienting. You spend a lot of time shining a flashlight through dark, complex spaces, scanning for threats as you try to get a sense of your surroundings. It’s often difficult to know if the strange phenomena you encounter are “real” or not. Sounds play tricks on you. Visions flash before your eyes. The sensory experience of Alan Wake 2 leaves the player feeling as unmoored as protagonists Alan Wake and Saga Anderson as they try to figure out how fiction is invading reality and reality is altering fiction.
The way the story of Alan Wake 2 unfolds is every bit as captivating as the story itself. Live-action footage fuses with in-game action to further blur the narrative lines. Sections of the game seemingly occur out of order or repeat with subtle but often key differences. The plot raises so many questions that I was shocked when I got to the end and felt that developer Remedy Entertainment had actually answered the right number of them. Alan Wake 2 is a triumph of storytelling.
Alan Wake 2 is part of the same universe as Remedy’s previous games Alan Wake (duh) and Control—both of which feature fascinating stories, recurring characters, expansive lore, and clever Easter eggs and references. (The English translation of a Finnish song sung by a character in Control, which came out in 2019, spoils the ending of Alan Wake 2.) You can definitely enjoy Alan Wake 2 without having played those previous titles. But I recommend that you play them too and then put your tinfoil hat on as you post your elaborate Remedy Connected Universe theories online. —James
2. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
If you’d asked me in May—or, for that matter, June or July—I would’ve said Tears of the Kingdom had the top spot sewn up. How many years boast a game this great that doesn’t get the GOTY nod? That Tears was surpassed is a testament to two other masterpieces: the next entry on this list, and TOTK’s widely revered predecessor and the consensus best title of 2017, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It’s tough for both a game and its sequel to go GOTY, given that innovation is one potentially important criterion for judging award worthiness. How can a company innovate enough to be the envy of the industry and then do it again the next time out?
Granted, Nintendo has repeatedly reinvented and raised the bar for this series dating back to the ’80s, and it’s not as if the company rested on its laurels with Link’s latest adventure. Tears of the Kingdom is longer and far larger than Breath of the Wild, though the former’s square footage is padded by the drab Depths. It includes several welcome quality-of-life upgrades, such as streamlined menus and a recipe system to track ingredients and meals. Its story is superior and far better resolved than Breath of the Wild’s, which barely had an ending. And it does take real risks and make major advances via Link’s new abilities (most notably Ultrahand, Fuse, and the underrated Ascend) and the Zonai devices.
Despite the complexities introduced by those systems and the restrictions of the aged Switch hardware, Tears even runs better than Breath of the Wild. The game’s most amazing attribute may be how well it works. Gamers have grown to tolerate some amount of jank, crashes, and game-breaking bugs, but the incredibly detailed Tears, which boasts ridiculously lifelike physics, is almost unfailingly polished and stable, which has astounded other developers.
And yet, it’s not no. 1. It may seem unfair or inconsistent to say that Tears is both better than 2017’s consensus award winner and not the 2023 champ, but we’re holding the game to the Sky Island–high standard that the series has set for itself. Tears was blessed with building on the firmest of foundations, so we’ve gotta give the nod to a game that revived and perfected a franchise that had lain dormant for decades. —Lindbergh
1. Baldur’s Gate 3
In most video games, if you see a dead body, you walk up to it and grab whatever loot you can, because that’s how video games work. In Baldur’s Gate 3, if you try to loot the body of a fallen soldier while his friends are standing nearby, they will rightly become very upset with you and throw you in jail. This is how a “role-playing game” should work. Larian Studios, the developer of Baldur’s Gate 3, demands that you leave your preconceptions about video games behind and instead spend your time in a painstakingly well-crafted world as if you really live there. Baldur’s Gate 3 provides an unprecedented level of freedom by shaping its characters and narratives around even the smallest of its players’ actions or words. The care taken in creating every single branch of BG3’s tree of potential outcomes is staggering.
Perhaps the only significant criticism that can be levied against BG3 is that it can be a bit overwhelming at first for players unfamiliar with the structure of its Dungeons & Dragons roots. It’s otherwise a nearly flawless game. Its memorable characters and their journeys are extraordinarily well written, and its combat system provides endless opportunities for creative solutions.
Baldur’s Gate 3 has set a new standard for how we expect video games to adapt to the ways we play them. A surprising but indisputable runaway success by an independently owned developer that’s still sizable enough to operate on a triple-A scale, Baldur’s Gate 3 is the game of the year in what may be the greatest year of gaming. Almost 50 years after the first publication date of Dungeons & Dragons, BG3 has, in a broad cultural sense, brought D&D out of the basement and into the living room. —James
Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon
The mech-filled world of Armored Core VI’s Rubicon 3 bears little resemblance to Elden Ring’s The Lands Between, but they’re both inhospitable places. FromSoftware’s first release since Elden Ring is just as challenging as you’d expect: Armored Core VI constantly demands that the player experiment, assess, and tinker. But each encounter can be partly won before you set foot on the battlefield. —James
An absolute must-play for Metroidvania fans, Blasphemous 2 does the genre right. A gorgeous and unsettling art style, a tight weapon system, and a litany of smartly hidden secrets make for one of the best side-scrollers of the year. Be warned: Some of the boss fights are brutally difficult, although they never feel unfair. —James
Chants of Sennaar
If you’re a puzzle gamer, Chants of Sennaar is not to be missed. On your journey to the peak of a mysterious tower, you’ll decipher the languages of several different civilizations, translating common words in an effort to unite the tower’s inhabitants. —James
Cocoon’s recursive puzzles break your brain and put it back together again, more capable and accomplished than before. Mesmerizing music and visuals ease you into its insectile sci-fi setting, but the game’s arresting aesthetics are the backdrop for its calling card: riveting tests of your capacity to manipulate and traverse worlds within worlds. Cocoon is nothing but puzzles broken up by occasional boss battles, and you won’t want much more. —Lindbergh
Deliver Us Mars
Much like its predecessor, 2018’s Deliver Us the Moon (which you should definitely play first), Deliver Us Mars shows how engaging a video game can be without any form of combat. It might not be for you if you’re not interested in what might fairly be called a puzzle-solving walking simulator, but the story is excellent, and if you’re willing to look past a little bit of jankiness, there’s a lot to love. —James
I suppose Dave the Diver has stolen the title of Fishing Game of the Year from Dredge, but the latter is still absolutely worth your time. You’ll love upgrading your boat, exploring perilous, uncharted waters, and slowly discovering the dark secret at the core of the mysterious story. —James
Avalanche Software recreated Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry with stunning faithfulness. Sure, there’s plenty of game to be played outside Hogwarts, but the amazing array of engaging puzzles and mysteries within its walls implores you to stay in school. —James
George Mallory may have answered “Because it’s there” when asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, but Jusant offers better reasons to summit its lofty tower. For one thing, its climbing mechanic is among the medium’s most satisfying because developer Don’t Nod understands that ascending a vertical surface is a challenge—or, in climbing lingo, a “problem”—for both the body and the brain. For another, if you want to discover the secrets of Jusant’s starkly beautiful world—and you will—the only way is up. —Lindbergh
Lies of P
I don’t know whether the Soulslike approach would suit, say, Bambi, but this Pinocchio-inspired Soulslike game is a blast. Nuanced weapon customization and inventive enemy design make it worth pushing through some challenging sections. —James
Mortal Kombat 1
This was a great year to be bad at fighting games, as both of the genre’s most famous franchises released sequels that welcomed button-mashing noobs without alienating longtime players. MK1 rebooted the franchise’s universe (not for the first time), and its eye-catching, escalating story mode stoked anticipation for the in-production sequel to 2021’s big-screen reboot. —Lindbergh
Pikmin seems forever destined to be overshadowed by Nintendo’s flagship franchises, as the latest and best-balanced installment in the cutesy, colorful, RTS-adjacent series was by Wonder and Tears. But the fourth entry in the long-running but rarely released franchise is the apotheosis of Pikmin, incorporating the most appealing aspects of its predecessors with few of the frustrating ones. This is the ideal title for Pikmin neophytes to try and a thrill for longtime fans, whose 10-year wait for a Pikmin 3 sequel was worth it. —Lindbergh
My pick for most underrated game of the year, Remnant II is an engrossing third-person shooter with a dark FromSoftware feel. Outstanding co-op play will keep you coming back again and again to search for clever secrets and play style–altering upgrades. —James
Sea of Stars
Do you have a healthy amount of nostalgia for 16-bit-era RPGs? If so, Sea of Stars is for you. Beautiful graphics, spirited original music, and an inventive, modern take on turn-based combat are the highlights. —James
If you can set aside your visions of what Starfield was supposed to be—a liberating, groundbreaking “Han Solo simulator”—perhaps you can appreciate what it was: a familiar, mostly functional Bethesda experience in space. It’s hard to imagine myself playing Starfield in a decade, given that I’ve long since stopped playing it now, but even if mods and DLC don’t bring me back, I’ll never forget the countless spinning hoops the game made me float through between more rewarding expeditions. —Lindbergh
Street Fighter 6
The latest installment of the fighting-game institution pushes the series forward in fantastic ways. Classic and Modern control schemes ensure that even novices can join in the fun, and World Tour mode lets you roam around a city, challenging strangers on the street while learning the fundamentals of the game and gaining experience. —James