It’s becoming increasingly difficult, as the years go by, to describe my favorite video games. Simple terms like “open world” and “first-person shooter” have lost much of their original meaning. “Turn-based strategy” isn’t doing all that much work anymore. Even “Metroidvania,” a portmanteau created specifically to denote a certain set of design tenets, often comes with a cascade of asterisks, caveats, and parentheticals.
But of course, video games’ stubborn refusal to be pinned down is part of what makes them so damn fun. Like any worthy art form, they require constant categorization, re-categorization, and re-re-categorization, just to keep track of every twist and turn in their labyrinthine evolution. And in 2023, more so than any other year, I threw up my hands and allowed myself to revel in the chaos.
Some of the best games of the last 12 months: a two-button roguelite about the meta strategy of character progression; a dungeon-crawler-meets-management-sim about organized religion and echo chambers; a dice-based paean to the power of community that’s also a visual-novel lament to the things we lose in pursuit of wealth.
For me, it’s this erasure, reinterpretation, and reinforcement of genres that defines the list below. Sure, a clear winner emerged as Otto Mankitap staffers’ votes began to trickle in — a surefire indication of the one game we collectively predict will, looking back from some point in the future, be the video game of 2023. But still: I’m amazed at how many other games have equally strong arguments for that top slot. As studios splinter, ideas disperse, and developer talent strides off toward new horizons, it’s undeniably apparent that the medium’s best work is still only a seed in some creator’s imagination — and if the pattern holds, it will take a fair number of asterisks, caveats, and parentheticals to describe it.
Until then, these 50 games will more than suffice. —Mike Mahardy, Senior Editor, Reviews
How the Otto Mankitap top 50 list works
Over the past month, the Otto Mankitap staff voted, debated, and resigned itself to the series of compromises that is our top 50 games of 2023. Any video games that were released in 2023, updated in 2023, or achieved renewed cultural relevance in 2023 are eligible for this list. Also, we treated Nov. 30 as the cutoff for consideration, meaning that Warhammer 40K: Darktide was eligible (and is indeed present on the list) but Marvel’s Midnight Suns, which we very much enjoyed, and Dwarf Fortress’ Steam version, which makes one of the most important video games more approachable, were not. They will be eligible for inclusion in our end-of-year rankings for 2023.
Immortality is best experienced with only a vague understanding of what you’re in for beyond its central mystery: What happened to the infamous actress Marissa Marcel?
Players unravel this mystery by watching movie clips, rehearsals, and other pieces of cinematic ephemera from her three fictional films. Scrolling back and forth through the footage is intentionally made to echo the feeling of working with film in an old flatbed editor (this is best experienced with a controller’s force feedback), which gives the superbly acted clips an even more tactile feel. Immortality’s truly impressive technical achievement is that players can hop between clips by quite literally clicking on just about anything in the camera’s focus to be almost instantly brought to another clip containing that object. It’s magical moving between clips this way, and you’ll immediately start using it to track down cast and crew and any props that give off a Chekhovian vibe.
What eventually becomes apparent is that Immortality is about more than just the fraught story of an enigmatic muse. While its semi-random method of storytelling can leave some of its deeper themes frustratingly difficult to piece together, discovering what’s really hiding in Immortality is an experience unrivaled this year. —Clayton Ashley
Immortality is available on Android, iOS, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X.
Created by Downwell developer Ojiro Fumoto, Poinpy is a non-serious action-platformer where you slingshot a little green bird upward in an effort to collect fruit for a hungry monster. A mobile game that’s free for Netflix subscribers, Poinpy comes from a long line of endless mobile platformers, like Papi Jump or Doodle Jump. It exudes a polish well beyond anything else I’ve played in the genre, and boasts some of the best platforming in a game this year. It’s a delightful and smooth experience and one of my go-to recommendations to people looking for an approachable but challenging game. —Ana Diaz
Poinpy is available on Android and iOS.
Tinykin asks, “What if Pikmin was created by late-’90s Rare rather than early-2000s Nintendo?” It’s a collect-a-thon in the vein of Banjo-Kazooie, but with the gameplay of an army-controlling series like Overlord or, yes, Pikmin. Your goal — as a bug-sized person — is to explore a human house and collect household items to create a spaceship. Sound familiar?
Tinykin’s ideas aren’t original, but the execution and visual style make it an absolute delight. The little critters you control (the titular Tinykin) help you solve puzzles with their unique abilities. But the best part of Tinykin is that it’s completely free of combat; there are no enemies or bosses to fell. Your only goal is to explore this gigantic world and collect things. The result is the most peaceful and meditative video game I’ve played all year, and one I intend to revisit the next time I’m feeling overwhelmed. —Ryan Gilliam
Tinykin is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
47. Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak
Last year’s Monster Hunter Rise was an excellent addition to the long-running franchise, and this summer’s expansion, Sunbreak, built upon its solid foundation to bring new, more varied monsters to the title, alongside some truly beautiful locations.
In our review, we criticized Sunbreak for hiding too much of its new stuff behind old, familiar monsters. But that flaw doesn’t take away from the incredible gameplay added with Sunbreak’s variety of new moves and bosses. Rise’s incredible Wirebug gets some major upgrades in the expansion, making mobility an even more important part of combat.
There are also some fun additions, like co-op hunts with AI, where some story-specific characters can occasionally join you on a hunt. For solo players, this helps bring the social aspect of the game out — even if you’re “socializing” with a computer. And it’s a real blast when your AI disappears for a moment only to return riding a giant beast to help you take down your target.
The ways that Sunbreak can be a slog are seriously outweighed by some of the spectacle seen while fighting the game’s cast of new monsters. Using my Wirebug to wrangle a giant rock orangutan so I could ride it into the Dracula dragon is a gameplay highlight for me, in a year packed with incredible gaming moments. —Ryan Gilliam
Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak is available on Nintendo Switch and Windows PC.
46. Serial Cleaners
Serial Cleaners hones in on my favorite aspect of stealth games: the gratification of moving unseen through a space in which you don’t belong, but nonetheless command power over. Players assume the role of a crew of misfit crime-scene cleaners celebrating the new year and reminiscing over their decade together disposing of bodies for the mob. Draw Distance’s sequel to its 2017 stealth-action game Serial Cleaner is an improvement on the original in every way, trading the simplified pop-art aesthetic and obtuse mechanics for a 3D third-person perspective and art style influenced by the works of Jean-Michel Basquiat and the counterculture of the ’90s.
Every level emphasizes a range of dynamic approaches and challenges, be it stealthily distracting police officers so you can quickly vacuum up a blood spill, hacking camera systems and lights so you can skulk undetected to scoop up a corpse, or even whipping out a chainsaw to dismember bodies and frighten onlookers into fainting before nonviolently disposing of them as well. The game’s music merits particular praise and recognition, channeling post-bop jazz, boom-bap hip-hop, post-punk grunge, and more to create a sound that not only feels period authentic but engrosses the player in the rhythms of each level and moment-to-moment challenge. Serial Cleaners plays and feels like a mashup of Untitled Goose Game and Manhunt, marrying the irreverence of the former with the brutality of the latter. For that comparison alone, it easily stands out as one of my most favorite gaming experiences of the year. —Toussaint Egan
Serial Cleaners is available on Windows PC.
45. Ghostwire: Tokyo
As a rare open-world first-person action game out of Japan, Ghostwire: Tokyo’s structure feels a bit familiar, but its combat and environmental design give it an identity few games can match.
Rarely has it been so fun to walk around Tokyo, looking at the world around you and pulling the cores out of enemies while flailing your hands around in unique poses. It’s been more than six months since I’ve played the game, and I can still feel the “snap” effect when grabbing a core. It was a bit worrying when the game’s director left partway through production, and a bit strange when the game ended up being released as a Microsoft-published PlayStation exclusive, but Ghostwire: Tokyo makes a strong case for distracting you from all that with a unique style and plenty of confidence. —Matt Leone
Ghostwire: Tokyo is available on PlayStation 5 and Windows PC.
44. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands
With Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, it feels as if Borderlands’ developers are finally comfortable letting go, and the results speak for themselves. Wonderlands is a joyful romp through tabletop-RPG-inspired worlds, with seemingly minor tweaks that create huge ripples in the series’ “Diablo meets guns” formula. You can combine two disparate character classes, traverse a board game-style overworld, and pour dozens of hours into the phenomenal “Chaos Chamber” endgame. Through it all, Gearbox is willing to acknowledge that we’re not here for a script, or even a coherent narrative, and it leans into that sentiment with an appropriately scattershot story — it doesn’t take itself so seriously that it sacrifices unpredictability, joy, or the satisfaction of mesmerizing, well-earned loot. —Mike Mahardy
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
43. I Was a Teenage Exocolonist
This coming-of-age game meshes excellent writing with responsive deck-builder gameplay and a stellar Groundhog Day mechanic. You play as a colonist on a foreign planet, growing up from age 10 to 20. Your choices — from what to focus on, whether it be studies or exploration, to who you befriend and romance — inexorably change the arc of the story. You’ll face harrowing challenges, like volatile wildlife and other existential threats. Each future playthrough gives you a chance to change outcomes big and small, like who you befriend, and even who lives and dies.
While the deck-building mechanic was fun, I was drawn in most of all by the game’s storytelling and wonderful cast of characters. Each playthrough brought me a little closer to cracking the mystery of why the planet was under the spell of a time loop. The game is also unabashedly queer, with numerous romance options, including a number of poly characters — and I imagine I’ll keep playing until I’ve romanced each and every one of them. —Nicole Clark
I Was a Teenage Exocolonist is available on Mac, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Windows PC.
Set in a fascist police state, Rollerdrome can be billed as an arena shooter set on roller skates. Others have called it “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater with guns.” I’m here to tell you that firing off a grenade launcher while coming down from a 360-rotational backflip is fun as hell, no matter what you call it.
Our eight-wheeled protagonist, Kara Hassan, is the most recent focus of a blood-sport reality show, in which skaters are tossed into arenas full of ramps, towers, and gun-toting security guards. You do tricks to gain more bullets; you spend your bullets to kill more bad guys; you enjoy the newly vacated space by doing more tricks. It’s an exciting loop that, appropriately, is meant to distract you from the wider message of it all: that entertainment, deployed effectively, can distract us from just about anything. —Mike Mahardy
Rollerdrome is available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Windows PC.
For decades, city-building games have generally been about replicating the art of urban planning, so it’s a breath of fresh air that Dorfromantik simply does not concern itself at all with the “planning” part. You’re given a stack of hexagonal tiles themed after various biomes: forests, rivers, plains, towns. You can only place the tile on the top of your stack, but if you successfully match biomes, you’ll earn more tiles, which allows you to remain in the zenlike state of settling not-Catan. You can do your damndest to sketch out a plan and stick to it. You will, eventually, fail. But therein lies Dorfromantik’s greatest lesson: Failure? Hey, it happens to all great cities. —Ari Notis
Dorfromantik is available on Nintendo Switch and Windows PC.
40. Horizon Forbidden West
The sequel to 2017’s excellent postapocalyptic Horizon Zero Dawn is already one of the year’s best. Horizon Forbidden West takes so much of what made the first game great and gives players more to work with: more settlements, weapons, and traversal options. It starts a bit slow, and can take a while to introduce some of its more creative gadgets — but it gets better and better as you unlock more tools for your arsenal. By the end, Aloy can glide off mountains, swim the deepest seas, and explore American landmarks along the west coast. This game’s gorgeous open world feels like a gift, and it’s easy to sink hours into exploring every gorgeous corner. Meanwhile, the character writing and world-building convey a civilization well worth saving. —Nicole Clark
Horizon Forbidden West is available on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.
39. Pokémon Scarlet and Violet
They’re buggy. They’re broken. They certainly didn’t do as much to evolve the franchise as that other Pokémon game that came out this year. And yet, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet have proven irresistible. The full open world — a first for the series — is a delight to get lost in. The array of available Pokémon is exquisitely curated, a mix of favorites from past games alongside some truly inspired newcomers. Leveling those Pokémon up is more of a breeze than ever, thanks to a slew of quality-of-life improvements that make it easy to shut off your brain and grind. For all their faults, Scarlet and Violet are ultimately emblematic of a truth as old as video games: Something can make you want to put your head through a wall and still be fun AF. —Ari Notis
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are available on Nintendo Switch.
38. Metal: Hellsinger
Come on, it’s Doom plus Guitar Hero! What’s not to like? The rhythm-based first-person shooter gives you a sword and a ton of loud guns, then tasks you with killing a bunch of demons. Fundamentally, it plays a lot like the recent Doom reboots, in that survival is contingent on constant movement. If you want to deal any meaningful damage to foes, though, you’ll need to line up your shots with the beat. Metal: Hellsinger only works thanks to a head-banging OST stacked with heavy metal royalty, including Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy), Matt Heafy (Trivium), Randy Blythe (Lamb of God), and Serj Tankian (System of a Down). —Ari Notis
Metal: Hellsinger is available on PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
37. Rogue Legacy 2
Rogue Legacy 2 is a celebration of heroes and their differences. Every new heir brings a unique flavor to their roguelite run, ensuring that no two outings are ever the same: One Valkyrie might utilize a pizza boomerang to slice (lol) their way through enemies, while their Ranger descendant propels itself between platforms with flatulent intensity.
In this way, Rogue Legacy 2 is unusually fresh for a roguelite, putting it among the greats like Dead Cells, Slay the Spire, and Hades. In a genre that usually asks players to follow a discrete path or develop a consistent skill, Rogue Legacy 2 encourages you to find the joy in playing as unlikely heroes against uncertain odds. It’s just as good in short bursts as it is in marathon sessions, and it never stops surprising. —Ryan Gilliam
Rogue Legacy 2 is available on Nintendo Switch, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
36. Perfect Tides
Perfect Tides is Meredith Gran’s first video game, but not even close to her first foray into storytelling. Known for her devastatingly honest webcomic Octopus Pie, Gran is a master at nailing the intimacy and awkwardness of her own life. Gran’s work ends up being a mirror for her audience — it feels like everyone can find a piece of themselves in her work. Perfect Tides is no different, capturing both the gangly limbs and wide-eyed loneliness of teens and preteens in the early 2000s. But Perfect Tides’ teen, Mara, is dealing with grief, living on an isolated island connected to the mainland only by a ferry.
Gran treats main character Mara’s unwieldy emotions, often dramatic, with humor and sincerity, even in Perfect Tides’ darkest moments. The point-and-click pixel game doesn’t necessarily have an end goal. It’s more a matter of inhabiting Mara’s shoes as she parses the physical world from her digital one — any teen in the 2000s will understand just how formative AIM or AOL chat rooms could be. —Nicole Carpenter
Perfect Tides is available on Windows PC.
35. League of Legends (Season 12)
The enduring appeal of League of Legends is one of the most impressive long-term storylines in gaming, and one that goes under-discussed just because of how reliable it is. But more than a decade on, League is still going strong as a competitive game to play by yourself or (even better) with friends, and Season 12 has been one of the strongest efforts yet.
The game has added five new champions — Zeri, Renata Glasc, Bel’Veth, Nilah, and K’Sante — and updated a whole host of others (including the long-awaited revamped Udyr). But what stood out to me about this season is how consistently flexible it was, at every position. More than in previous seasons, this year in League felt like just about every play style and champion was a viable path to victory, and that made it all the more fun.
There are now 162 playable champions in League. In many past seasons, the meta was so rigidly defined it felt like you had to play the right champion (or type of champion) or risk being at a disadvantage. But this year, it was different. The game was balanced in a way that made many play styles and champions viable, leading to an extremely fun season and arguably the best World Championship ever, shattering the record for the most unique champions played at the event and culminating in an outrageously fun final series. Also, Lil Nas X was made the president of League of Legends. What’s not to like about that? —Otto Tap
League of Legends is available on Mac and Windows PC.
34. Gran Turismo 7
If you aren’t, at the very least, open to loving cars, Gran Turismo 7 is not going to make any effort to love you back. There’s a peace in that, rare in video games this large and expensive, a sense of zen focus that paradoxically encourages players to engage with it both briefly and deeply. That’s the magic of Gran Turismo, a franchise that revels equally in the immediate pleasures of just getting a car on the road, as well as the long-term joy of just becoming a better driver, in tuning and appreciating every car you collect. Gran Turismo 7 is a hobbyist’s game, one that, more than most mainstream video games, remembers that the heart of any hobby is not what it brings to you, but what you bring to it. —Joshua Rivera
Gran Turismo 7 is available on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.
33. Splatoon 3
Splatoon 3 showed us that it’s still fun to drench our enemies in paint. The frenetic, ink-fueled shooter from Nintendo returned for its third installment this year, and came back to us as vivid as ever. With refreshes to the co-op horde mode Salmon Run, and the introduction of three-way Turf Wars in which each team fights to cover the course with their own color ink, Splatoon 3 proved that these squid kids still have a few tricks up their stylish sleeves. The game doesn’t venture too far from previous games, but instead introduces a new and rather extensive single-player campaign along with a slew of important quality-of-life changes. Take all these elements and throw in already fan-favorite characters like Deep Cut, and you get a game that feels fresh but familiar. —Ana Diaz
Splatoon 3 is available on Nintendo Switch.
32. A Plague Tale: Requiem
This sequel to cult hit A Plague Tale: Innocence puts the franchise in league with stealth heavy hitters like the Dishonored series. In Requiem, 15-year-old Amicia must once again sneak and fight her way past soldiers of the French Inquisition. She, her mother, and friend Lucas are searching for a cure for her brother Hugo, who carries a blood curse known as the Macula. When he is distressed, the Macula curse floods entire cities with hordes of rats that carry a deadly plague.
As promised, Requiem has more rats than ever, and Amicia must use her wits to solve the game’s environmental puzzles. Rather than a traditional perk tree, the game responds to the way you play, adding points toward “prudence,” “aggression,” or “opportunism,” which unlock relevant skills. Most of all, Requiem’s folk horror is terrifying and evocative — beyond the rats or the horrors of human suffering. This year I played Elden Ring, which pitted my character against terrifying monsters but allowed me to grow stronger, and God of War Ragnarök, which put me in the shoes of a god with a powerful ax. Amicia is just a girl with a sling and righteous rage facing down the violence of a militia. I was drawn to her fear and her cause through to the end. —Nicole Clark
A Plague Tale: Requiem is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X.
That BlueTwelve Studio could successfully capture the essence of our most baffling family of pets is a towering achievement of its own. That the developer could also wrestle catness into a dystopian adventure in a vivid, forgotten city is another thing entirely. Stray could have worked with any protagonist. But with the year’s breakout tabby star, it soars.
On a mechanical level, Stray is a platformer with light exploratory and puzzle-solving elements. There are moments of danger, as when the city’s swarms of invasive Zurks chase the feline protagonist down narrow alleys or over treacherous rooftops. And yes, the cat can die, in a video-game-soon-to-respawn sense. But the main thrust of the game is that of simply being a cat and, despite what its rug-scratching, box-toppling, furniture-destroying mechanics might otherwise suggest, being a warm, helpful presence for the abandoned androids searching for escape from their neon purgatory. —Mike Mahardy
Stray is available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Windows PC.
30. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is a game that’s always buzzing.
When Foot Clan soldiers aren’t barreling by on motorbikes or in cars, they’re manning the cash register at a pizza joint before flinging themselves into the action while wielding shopping bags as deadly weapons. Shredder’s Revenge is loud and chaotic, but never so much that it’s distracting, making it an absolute blast of an homage to a series of classic games. It’s relatively short, but with seven different characters — the four turtles plus April O’Neil, Splinter, and Casey Jones — there’s a lot of value in replaying the levels and mastering each character’s moves. And while it’s faithful to its predecessors, it’s decidedly modern, with more satisfying combat against hordes of enemy soldiers and character upgrades to boot. Nostalgia may be its vehicle, but pure fun is its fuel. —Nicole Carpenter
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is available on Linux, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox One.
29. Final Fantasy 14: Endwalker
The expectations for the first expansion after Shadowbringers were high, but Square Enix still managed to deliver. Endwalker was meant to wrap up Final Fantasy 14’s main story arc, but it does so much more than that. It expands on characters we already loved, provides context for things I didn’t realize we needed, and reminds us that, despite how bleak things may seem, there are reasons to stay hopeful.
Endwalker continues to make Final Fantasy 14 a perplexing game. I want to keep recommending it to people because the expansions (especially the recent ones) are so good and pay off so well, but nobody wants to be recommended a game that takes 100 hours to beat. However, if you are somebody who does have lots of time to spare, I can’t recommend Final Fantasy 14 enough, especially with Endwalker factoring in. —Julia Lee
Final Fantasy 14: Endwalker is available on Mac, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Windows PC.
In a world where I’m semi-regularly served videos about giant rigs that attempt to remove at least some of the endless trash from our oceans, Raft piqued my interest. In this survival sandbox game, you ride a rudimentary raft across the ocean and upgrade it. Instead of solely venturing out to get resources, you can fish the trash out of the ocean as you float by and turn it into useful items. The game strikes a pleasant balance between all sorts of gameplay beyond the core loop of hooking trash and crafting it. You can dock your raft on islands and explore them. There’s regular, non-trash-related fishing, and you can even unlock scuba diving. All the while, you have to fend off regular attacks from cartoonish sharks. It can be a lot to manage at times, so your journey will be well served by sharing it with friends, but it’s a naval journey well worth your time. —Ana Diaz
Raft is available on Windows PC.
27. The Quarry
Developer Supermassive Games has carved out a space for itself by trading on horror tropes — its breakout hit Until Dawn put a group of vacationing teenagers through the wringer in a remote mountain cabin, a decaying sanatorium, and an abandoned mine shaft, before the Dark Pictures anthology jumped from a boat at sea to a creepy Midwestern ghost town to a desert tomb. And now we have The Quarry, a terrifying wilderness romp that touches on all of the corny traditions of one of America’s original horror settings: the sleep-away camp.
In keeping with Supermassive’s previous games, The Quarry puts you in control of a group of characters — in this case, nine camp counselors who are stuck at the camp an extra night — as they explore the scenery and do their best to survive when things get hairy (read: potentially lethal).
While player input is limited almost entirely to walking, binary character choices, and basic quick-time events, it’s a testament to Supermassive’s craft that it can make a search for duffel bags as compelling as a horrifying encounter with otherworldly creatures, an innocent kiss as momentous a decision as pulling a trigger. The Quarry exists somewhere between the worlds of movies and video games, and it’s remarkable for how much gold it mines from both. —Mike Mahardy
The Quarry is available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
26. Warhammer 40,000: Darktide
Warhammer 40,000: Darktide pits players against the endless forces of Chaos in the hive city of Tertium. The heroes are a band of rejects — a Veteran, Ogryn, Psyker, and Zealot — who just barely escaped execution by the skin of their teeth, and now have to run through a series of Left 4 Dead-style missions to secure ammunition, restart smelters, or fix the God-Emperor’s Wi-Fi.
Darktide’s biggest strength is its frenetic combat, with waves of cultists and Chaos beasties swarming the squad while elite snipers and shooters apply additional pressure from afar. The levels are also blessed with the immense scale and world-building of the Warhammer 40,000 setting. It’s awe-inspiring to move through the hive city of Tertium, built to house billions of citizens. The Rejects start as minuscule cogs in a massive machine, but soon the power fantasy of popping heretic skulls and clearing waves of Chaos kicks in. Add in a soundtrack of absolute bangers, and Darktide is one of the most delightful surprises of the year. —Cass Marshall
Warhammer 40,000: Darktide is available on Windows PC.
25. NBA 2K23
NBA 2K23 is a landmark work in sports video gaming, the culmination of a 20-year ideal that Visual Concepts’ veteran developers have long held: Let players go back in time, rewrite it, and play their favorite franchise in days long ago. It sets a new standard for other sports developers, who have offered their leagues’ histories only in very limited ways, and certainly none as immersive as the new MyNBA Eras mode. The control players have there — whether an expansion franchise enters the league in 1988 or Karl Malone wins the MVP in 1997, both can be wiped from memory — is something you’d expect to see in a PC management simulation, not a licensed console title. And for every memory you create anew in MyNBA Eras, there is one to be relived in the museum-quality Jordan Challenge mode. —Owen Good
NBA 2K23 is available on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, along with less feature-rich versions on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One.
A co-op roguelite about running a restaurant is a home-run premise, and PlateUp! lives up to the pitch. The first dozen or so restaurants feel like absolute chaos as you fight actual fires and clean up after sloppy customers, all as you and your friends joyously shout orders and directions over one another.
But PlateUp!’s real obsessive joy comes from chasing the perfection of a self-run restaurant once you realize how many tasks can be automated with careful and expensive upgrades. After that, restaurants become temples to efficiency and high-end machines, and the best runs turn into hilarious hours-long affairs that few games can match. —Austen Goslin
PlateUp! is available on Windows PC.
Some games thrive on meaningful obfuscation. Tunic is one of them.
There are echoes of Myst, The Witness, and the original Legend of Zelda in developer Andrew Shouldice’s action-adventure outing. It has also drawn myriad comparisons to 2012’s Fez, a game that also deployed its own unique written language to confuse, entice, and ultimately steer players toward its largest overarching secrets. Its combat can become cloying — especially during later boss fights — and its level design doesn’t always allow for the most leisurely backtracking. But its willingness to trust the player’s intelligence, patience, and most of all, thirst for discovery make it a masterful adventure in its own right. —Mike Mahardy
Tunic is available on Mac, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
22. Total War: Warhammer 3
There are ambitious games, and there are ambitious games. Total War: Warhammer 3 is the latter. Its map is bigger than those of its predecessors combined, and it launched with eight fantasy factions, each stranger and more grandiose than the last. It’s also exceedingly weird, and refuses to rest on its laurels as the strategy trilogy wraps up, instead pushing the envelope wherever it can.
And now, it’s also introduced us to one of the grandest, most ambitious projects in all of video games (I’m not joking) with Immortal Empires, an expansion that combines all three maps and every playable faction from the entire trilogy. It all but redefines what it means to be a “sandbox” video game, with emergent storytelling that sees nations clash, leaders betray one another, and a massive world unfold, even outside of the player’s gaze. —Mike Mahardy
Total War: Warhammer 3 is available on Linux, Mac, and Windows PC.
21. Disney Dreamlight Valley
Does any game from 2023 have a more cynical elevator pitch than Disney Dreamlight Valley? “Blend Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley, replace all the townspeople with beloved animated characters, and hire a major mobile game publisher to incorporate microtransactions.” So why can’t we stop ourselves from mining, fishing, and farming in a feverish effort to keep Mickey and friends happy?
It’s simple: This game has been built with a surprisingly genuine degree of care. What could have succeeded as another disposable, idle mobile game is instead a full-fledged role-playing experience that fits comfortably on consoles. Where we expected the game to zig into predatory greed, it zags with clever design and generous updates. Dreamlight Valley makes a number of quality-of-life improvements to the Animal Crossing formula, and has a calendar of new characters, including Scar from The Lion King, as well as Buzz and Woody from Toy Story. The game is still in early access, and we still worry about its business model following its official launch (we’ve been burnt before!), but right now, there’s more than enough fun in this virtual theme park to justify grabbing a ticket. —Chris Plante
Disney Dreamlight Valley is available on Mac, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
20. Xenoblade Chronicles 3
Consider the many ways in which Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a towering achievement. First, it’s a terrific conclusion to an unlikely trilogy of RPGs mostly known for their ambition and heart, one that finally makes the gameplay as satisfying as its other aspects. For those worried about time commitments, it’s also a satisfying stand-alone adventure that’s a melancholy contemplation on finding meaning in the bleakest of times. And, perhaps most poignantly, it’s the moment where game designer Tetsuya Takahashi’s decades-long quest to craft a sprawling, philosophical science fiction saga is finally realized, long after his first attempt in 1998’s Xenogears. How lucky we are to play it. —Joshua Rivera
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is available on Nintendo Switch.
19. Nobody Saves the World
Nobody Saves the World is a bizarre little video game, but it has left an indelible mark on my psyche. It’s a game all about shapeshifting — unlocking new powers to build yourself into the perfect weapon for the job, or a very specific tool needed to solve a single puzzle. It’s about exploration and experimentation. It’s funny and interesting, and, above all else, it’s deeply clever. In a year filled with so many big games, the size and grind of Nobody Saves the World seems small. But great things often come in small packages, and I won’t be forgetting Drinkbox Studios’ latest anytime soon. —Ryan Gilliam
Nobody Saves the World is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
18. Cult of the Lamb
In a banner year for management sims, Cult of the Lamb stands out among the pack — with a blend of roguelite dungeon-crawling, religious ambiguity, and a puerile art style that gives way to monstrous acts. It’s one of those games that, on paper, shouldn’t work. But in practice, it’s entrancingly propulsive.
As a lamb sent back from death by a captive demon-spirit-thing, you’re tasked with building, improving, and leading a cult out in the woods, with the goal of exacting revenge on the four gods who ordered your execution. You sow fields of crops, cook meals for your followers, bless said followers to gain their undivided favor, and in some cases, sacrifice them in displays of glorious violence. Between it all, you head into the wilderness on combat runs that grant you new followers, abilities, and boons to augment your cult. The result is an ouroboros-like flow of roguelite excitement and zenlike village management, all aimed at showing you what kind of leader you might ostensibly become if granted absolute power. —Mike Mahardy
Cult of the Lamb is available on Mac, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
17. Kirby and the Forgotten Land
According to my Switch, I’ve devoted around 60 hours to the latest Kirby game. I spent roughly 10 of those hours actually playing. The other 50 hours have been spread across the past eight months by my 4-year-old, who found in this adorable apocalypse his first favorite game. I enjoyed Kirby well enough on my own playthrough, but watching my son gradually learn its world revealed that I had zipped past so much the game has to offer. The dozens of adorable, collectible knickknacks. Kirby’s home sanctuary, with its interactive cafe, boutiques, and movie theater. The lovingly crafted detail in every level, crucial when making a game for children who will play the same stage over and over and over again. As an adult, it’s too easy to overlook the artistry and handiwork that goes into designing games for children and families. Kirby and the Forgotten Land is a reminder that while Nintendo is best known for Animal Crossing and Zelda taking over grown-up popular culture, the publisher remains better than anybody else at making stuff for its original target audience: kids. —Chris Plante
Kirby and the Forgotten Land is available on Nintendo Switch.
16. Return to Monkey Island
Many video games attempt comedy, but few succeed. It’s a shame, too, since comedy is the perfect panacea for a tricky puzzle. The original Monkey Island series of point-and-click adventure games perfected this pairing, bolstering its puzzles with goofy puns, slapstick, and just plain silly situations. Return to Monkey Island picks up where the series left off years ago, revisiting the same characters — would-be pirate Guybrush Threepwood, his feisty paramour Elaine Marley, his ghost pirate nemesis LeChuck, and so on — except you don’t need to have played any previous games to giggle along with this one. Return is packed with squeaky-clean, family-friendly gags, and although transcribing any of those gags here would lessen the impact of the voice actors’ stellar performances, I’ll leave you with a tip anyway: If you need a mop, don’t try to borrow one. Make one from scratch, starting with a visit to the mop handle tree. Its branches are uniquely suited to creating mop handles, after all. —Maddy Myers
Return to Monkey Island is available on Linux, Mac, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X.
Norco stands out for a lot of reasons: It’s a beautiful, honest portrayal of southern Louisiana, an inventive and dystopian science fiction story, and a sharp criticism of the oil industry’s blight. Created by Geography of Robots, Norco is an interpretation of Norco, Louisiana — the real town whose name stands for the New Orleans Refining Company, home to Shell’s manufacturing complex. As a point-and-click adventure, Norco unravels slowly as the main character, Kay, returns to her childhood home following her mother’s death. It’s all at once a magical realism story with mystery elements, yet still firmly rooted in a sense of reality — not an easy blend of genres to balance. The writing and simple environmental puzzles, together with a unique mind-map mechanic that acts as a character list and mental notebook, lend themselves to a fast-paced story that still leaves room to stop and take in all of the poignant weirdness. —Nicole Carpenter
Norco is available on Mac and Windows PC.
14. Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope
The Mario + Rabbids series could’ve easily been a phoned-in cash grab. Instead, they’re tactical masterpieces that go toe-to-toe with XCOM, Fire Emblem, and other titans of the genre. This year’s Sparks of Hope — the sequel to 2017’s Kingdom Battle — proves it. Sparks of Hope’s core gimmick (“What if Mario but guns”) remains the same as its forebear, but it adds a number of improvements. Key here is the introduction of sentient accessories called Sparks, which bring an impressive level of depth to the game’s toolkit. Fluid movement options make it feel like you’re controlling legitimate Mario characters, rather than XCOM soldiers wearing Mushroom Kingdom cosmetics. Best of all, the script is genuinely funny. There’s really only one drawback: The Rabbids talk. And no, it never stops being weird. —Ari Notis
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is available on Nintendo Switch.
13. Neon White
If you’re furious with a friend, colleague, or significant other, there’s a chance it’s because of this game. Neon White has reinvigorated the chase for top leaderboard spots, and reinforced the importance of milliseconds, because sometimes, a millisecond is all it takes to climb one spot higher than your friend.
Developer Ben Esposito of Angel Matrix has called Neon White a “smoothie” of inspirations, one that pulls as much from friction-defying Counter-Strike surf maps as it does from gravity-defying Half-Life and Quake jump maps. Neon White is also, in a small but important way, a deck-building card game. If this is a smoothie, then it is equal parts sweet, tangy, satisfying, and also dripping down your face, because in the time it took you to read this paragraph, your friend has just beaten your score again. That Neon White can be so elegant and simple, while also imparting such strong grudges and woefully cramped wrists, is quite the achievement for a game about jumping from one platform to another. Video games are dumb as hell. Let’s go get smoothies. —Mike Mahardy
Neon White is available on Nintendo Switch and Windows PC.
Spiritual successors to the likes of Silent Hill and Resident Evil are a dime a dozen. It’s rare when one manages to not only hone in on the core principles of those lauded survival horror classics, but to ultimately transcend those comparisons altogether to tell a story all its own. Signalis is that all-too-rare outlier: a third-person cyberpunk survival horror game packed with challenging puzzles, terrifying enemies, and yet more terrifying revelations buried deep beneath its snow-laden surface.
As Otto Mankitap’s review noted, the game draws inspiration from the likes of classic survival games, acclaimed anime like Ghost in the Shell and Neon Genesis Evangelion, the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, and even the paintings of Arnold Böcklin and Eugen Bracht, synthesizing these reference points into an exquisite corpse of shambling horror and yawning existential dread. Elster’s downward journey into the bowels of an abandoned interplanetary mining facility in search of a lost friend is a perilous one, pitting the player against a macabre otherworld teeming with frightening creatures that occasionally refuse to die and questions that defy answers at every turn. Signalis proves itself, time and time again, to be more than the sum of its influences, and a survival horror masterpiece in its own right. —Toussaint Egan
Signalis is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
11. Strange Horticulture
In Strange Horticulture, you sell plants. Though the plants may look ordinary, they’re anything but: There are plants that make people brave, and others that lure them to their deaths. Some are meant to increase focus or poison your enemies. It’s a simple game that’s executed with the utmost attention to detail. In running this plant shop, a strange, occult story unfolds through customer gossip and plants found via an in-game map. Strange Horticulture is short — it took just over five hours to complete — but it was one of the more impactful games I played this year. —Nicole Carpenter
Strange Horticulture is available on Mac, Nintendo Switch, and Windows PC.
10. God of War Ragnarök
God of War Ragnarök had some tough shoes to fill. God of War (2018) reinvented one of the biggest meatheads in video games, turning him into an emotionally compelling character that helped propel the game to win Otto Mankitap’s Game of the Year four years ago. It catapulted over the bar of excellence, making it one of the best games of the decade, and indeed, of all time.
Ragnarök is, in many ways, just as good. And in some places, it’s even better. But because it tries to do so much, or perhaps because 2018’s quality was such a shock, Ragnarök is only able to scramble over the bar that its predecessor so easily blew past.
If 2018 was the journey of Kratos becoming a real, emotional human and father, Ragnarök is about an ensemble of characters attempting to hold each other together during the end of the world. The focus is no longer on Kratos this time around, but his newfound emotional growth is crucial to the story’s fabric. Watching him learn to express himself in small ways felt like a triumph four years ago, but in Ragnarök he’s a bona fide “good dad” — or, at the very least, he’s trying his best. And with the world crumbling around him, we see Kratos not only help counsel all of his allies, but prepare himself emotionally to give it all for his son’s future.
The game’s writing occasionally stumbles — especially with its humor — but it never botches the genuine moments between parent and child. It’s a dynamic that AAA games have been trying to capture for years now, and God of War (2018) has been the shining example since its release. In most ways it still is.
Still, Ragnarök takes on so much — including stories from the original game as well as brand-new adventures — that a lesser studio would easily choke on its ambition. And yet, Santa Monica Studio still created a worthy sequel to one of the best games ever made, and that’s a feat that’s worth celebrating on its own. —Ryan Gilliam
God of War Ragnarök is available on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.
9. PowerWash Simulator
For years, I obsessively watched satisfying internet clips of people power-washing cars, sidewalks, outdoor furniture — all the while certain I would never know such peace, as a power-wash-less apartment dweller. My life changed forever when PowerWash Simulator came on the scene. I immediately forced some of my friends to join me in scrubbing virtual environments with violently propulsive jets of water. My life has been better ever since.
Have you ever sought refuge from the horrible doomscrolling of everyday life? Have you wanted to smooth those pesky wrinkles in your brain? This game is for you, and also everyone you know. (Up to six people can play multiplayer, and who has more friends than that anyway?) Clean off dirty cars, backyards with sheds and swingsets, whole-ass houses, a helicopter, a monster truck, and so much more. Relax those shoulders. Let the pain leave your body with a good power-wash. —Nicole Clark
PowerWash Simulator is available on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
8. Pokémon Legends: Arceus
With a franchise history as grand and storied as Pokémon, it can be hard to make a big splash. The video games have been around for roughly 25 years, and the mainline RPGs have more or less stayed true to the standard formula of a turn-based game where we explore and catch a colorful cast of monsters. With Pokémon Legends: Arceus, Game Freak took the franchise in a bold and refreshing direction that changed up the way we battle and catch. It also questions what it means to be a Pokémon trainer.
At the beginning of any Pokémon game, or even in the movies, we always get to learn about the world of Pokémon. We’re told that these powerful creatures live alongside humans as partners, and compete against each other in battles that further hone the relationships between Pokémon and trainers. Legends: Arceus completely departs from this concept by taking place in an in-universe historical period where Pokémon have not yet integrated with the general population, and where the average person is scared of Pokémon. We, the player, have time traveled from the future, and it’s up to us to be one of the first bridges between the apprehensive townspeople and the monsters that lurk beyond their fences.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus isn’t just interesting; it also presents a fantastic template for an open-world game. In it, you can pick and choose various regions to explore. It blends exploration with rigorous monster catching by allowing us to sneak up and catch Pokémon with the toss of a single Poké Ball. Beyond that, the game is filled with flourishes that have their own way of prompting us to think about the Pokémon in different ways. Whether it was getting our asses kicked, seeing Pokémon live in their natural environments, or the simple act of crouching down to truly meet one of your partners eye-to-eye, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is one of the best Pokémon games ever, and that’s why it’s on this list today. —Ana Diaz
Pokémon Legends: Arceus is available on Nintendo Switch.
7. Marvel Snap
There’s a moment, maybe on your fifth round of Marvel Snap, when you figure out how the game works, where you can gaze into time and space and see a future where you are playing this game for a very long time. Maybe, at this point, you’ll swear to yourself and delete the app, for fear of yet another digital obsession. Or, you’ll grin at the elegant genius of Second Dinner’s mobile card battler, and dive right in. Marvel Snap has cracked the collectible card game code, crafting an accessible, fast, and bite-size game that solves for the length and complexity in most card games, offering something that fits in between swipes on TikTok. That it does so while celebrating its card game lineage is also remarkable: In its pared-back rules and brief playtime, it still gives players the greatest feeling that a good collectible card game can offer: showing them a new card that unlocks something in their brain, making them smile and say, “I have an idea for a deck.” —Joshua Rivera
Marvel Snap is available on Android, iOS, and Windows PC.
Pentiment is warmer, funnier, and more fulfilling than its intimidating elevator pitch suggests. I warn you in advance because I fear I might lose you. See, you play as traveling artist Andreas Maler in the 16th century. You establish shop in a Bavarian monastery and spend the next 10-15 hours (spread across 25 years in the story) making friends and enemies, along with a slew of decisions that will change the lives of everyone in your vicinity. There’s no voice acting, no combat, and no real way to “win.” You just talk.
Pentiment can sound a bit like homework, and fair warning, the first few hours are dense — one of the game’s few mechanics is the option to read footnotes. But whatever you give this game, it rewards you tenfold. The characters in its beautiful town, illustrated in the style of the time, are contradictory, just like real people. They can be compassionate and helpful, but in the same conversation, self-interested and malicious. Their allegiances and needs shift, and their behavior impacts those around them, most obviously their loved ones. Because the game stretches across generations, we get to see how the villagers’ lives become history, and how history so often gets distorted or outright forgotten.
Layered atop these people is a conversation of faith I’ve never seen in a game, and very rarely in any popular art. Religion is beautiful and prone to corruption, a service of the state and its most powerful cudgel. Or to put it simply: Faith is what we make of it. Fittingly, so is Pentiment. —Chris Plante
Pentiment is available on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
Did you know Goku is in this game? And he has a gun? Still the reigning champ of pop cultural non sequiturs, Fortnite is what happens when everything is content and fandom is the only form of self-expression that matters. But in 2023, it became a better video game than it has ever been, or at least one I can now win regularly, thanks to the addition of the Zero Build mode that lowered Fortnite’s skill ceiling by removing manic construction of obstacles from the battle royale game. Taken in conjunction with a truly absurd number of progression meters that constantly shower players with rewards, Fortnite has also cemented its place as one of the most compulsive free-to-play games out there. Why play a game that’s more Skinner box than shooter? The answer remains as simple as it has always been: It’s still one of the best digital spaces to log on with friends and hang out. —Joshua Rivera
Fortnite is available on Android, iOS, Mac, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
4. Vampire Survivors
Of all the games this year, big and small, Vampire Survivors defined my 2023.
In the early parts of the year, before it started nearing its final release date, Vampire Survivors updated almost every week with new content. Every Saturday or Sunday, I’d roll up to my PC, hoping there were a few more achievements to collect, a new secret to find, or a new weapon to evolve. In a year where normalcy is finally seeming to return — but not quite there yet — Vampire Survivors became a ritual to help mark the weeks.
But I didn’t manage to log 100 hours in the PC version of Vampire Survivors by only playing for achievements. Of all the games on this list, Vampire Survivors is one of the only ones I would turn on just to play for fun, to see what ridiculous builds I could create long after I’d exhausted all the content. In games like God of War, Elden Ring, and even Tinykin, all my playtime was goal-oriented. But the joy of Vampire Survivors is pure and infectious.
Over the year, I watched in delight as the game caught on by word of mouth between friends and co-workers. Seemingly each week, a new pal popped up on my Steam friends list showing that they’d finally jumped into Vampire Survivors. And over the following weeks, I’d watch their hour count skyrocket.
Vampire Survivors is comfort food. It requires the perfect amount of concentration to keep you engaged while also freeing you up to listen to a podcast or watch a video. And the way it evolved from a tiny $3 indie game with limited content in January to a $5 game packed with hours of content that exists across both Xbox and PC is astounding. It’s one of the greatest early-access stories of all time, even rivaling the greats like Slay the Spire and Hades.
In one of the best gaming years we’ve had in a very long time, packed with games people will remember for decades, it’s astounding that this tiny little project has proved to be my most memorable of all. —Ryan Gilliam
Vampire Survivors is available on Mac, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
3. The Case of the Golden Idol
It’s easy to compare The Case of the Golden Idol with Return of the Obra Dinn. Each mystery game is set in a sinister alternate history dominated by occult happenings. Their art styles are both inspired by retro games from the start of computing, and each uses a fill-in-the-blank system to unwrap a complex web of mysterious deaths.
But the comparisons, while made in praise, don’t let Golden Idol shine for its own merits. Its mysteries at first seem far less connected than Obra Dinn’s, playing out over 11 chapters with no shortage of brutal deaths. But there’s a lightbulb moment upon realizing how all the pieces fit that made me want to revisit every name and clue, just like in the best whodunit fiction. And while the game doesn’t hide that there’s a powerful ancient artifact at play, the revelations on how its myriad owners choose to use it are incredibly unnerving when it all finally falls into place.
And every piece of the game supports the constant feeling of unease. The pixelated GIFs of each scene leave just enough to the imagination, and each accompanying score set me on edge. And while simple, they all beautifully support your own guesswork, and no chapter — even the complex final act — feels out of reach from my own sleuthing skills. Golden Idol expertly supports you through the trial and error of detective work, even when I thought I had come upon a far-fetched idea that couldn’t possibly work. While the best mysteries make the observer feel smart for solving it themselves, Golden Idol’s payoff culminates in its excellent epilogue, which gives me a chance to finally lay out the whole thing, Poirot-style, even if the audience is just me. —Chelsea Stark
The Case of the Golden Idol is available on Windows PC.
2. Citizen Sleeper
You face the new day as a Sleeper, with your consciousness ported into a robotic body owned by a corporation called Essen-Arp. You’re low on the “medication” you require to survive, built as you were for “planned obsolescence.” This is how the corporation forces you into a life of indentured servitude — you can never truly outrun the body that is falling apart on you.
In Citizen Sleeper, you find a new life on Erlin’s Eye, meeting people, taking odd jobs, and finding ways to survive. Each morning kicks off with the roll of a handful of dice — these rolls dictate the probability of success for the actions you take. Spend your dice wisely.
As with so much masterful science fiction, Citizen Sleeper’s story is an elegant metaphor for contemporary life. Playing Citizen Sleeper reminded me of the obscene pricing of insulin. It made me think about working through the pandemic, as a matter of course, even as the people around me became sick while clocking in day in, day out. It made sense out of years living paycheck to paycheck. In Citizen Sleeper, as in life, scarcity affects choice. When you need to survive, can you really be picky about which offers you turn down? It’s also about finding a way to make a good life, no matter the challenge. Who will you invest in? Will you stay or leave?
It’s as much a game of chance as it is a game about simply how to be. And it is one of 2023’s very best. —Nicole Clark
Citizen Sleeper is available on Mac, Mac, Nintendo Switch, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
1. Elden Ring
Elden Ring is the rare game that feels perfectly fit for its moment. When it arrived in February 2023, it had been five years since the release of Breath of the Wild, six years since the last Dark Souls game seemed to position the series one step away from mainstream success, and what’s more, we were right in the middle of the biggest mainstream fantasy drought we may ever experience. And in that perfect cultural moment, with a mountain of hype behind it, FromSoftware managed to release a game that was worthy of every inch of it.
Elden Ring’s gameplay itself feels like the result of mysterious game development alchemy. FromSoftware took the base metals of other games (the freeform exploration of Breath of the Wild, the combat of Bloodborne and Dark Souls, the packed world of Skyrim) and refined them, before melting them down, mixing them with a pinch of magic, and turning the whole thing into gold.
But to limit Elden Ring to just comparisons would be a disservice to the game and its own merits. Its combat is excellent, precise, and demanding, all of which it maintains through each of its half-dozen weapon options and play styles. Its meticulously designed open world offers players almost no instruction, but succeeds by virtue of how enticing it is to explore. Whether it’s stunning and carefully created vistas to stumble across organically, unique rewards (and the bosses that guard them) tucked away in hidden cellars, or a far-too-tough enemy that serves as a preview of your future power, every moment in the Lands Between feels like it was placed with the utmost intention. And every new lesson or gift feels like the perfect excuse to spend another dozen hours exploring and fighting.
2023 was an unmistakably great year for games. But in a year of great games, Elden Ring still stands above its competition as something truly special. After all, what else could you call it when a game this bleak, massive, opaque, and challenging also happened to be one of the year’s biggest pop culture phenomena, and one of the best games released in recent memory? —Austen Goslin
Elden Ring is available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.