You’ve probably already seen Eurogamer’s top 50 games of 2023, but we didn’t leave our end of year thoughts there. Big lists can sometimes feel impersonal, and as you know, individual tastes in games are anything but. So, we wanted to cobble together our collected thoughts on the games we felt shaped 2023.
This brief series of articles will, then, collect the top fives of a handful of different Eurogamer writers each day, and run for four days. The top fives aren’t ordered because ordering is not what’s important here – it’s seeing which games were special to people this year, and hearing about why. And please, feel free to share yours.
Baldur’s Gate 3
Baldur’s Gate 3 is a phenomenon, and my nerdy RPG-loving heart is all the more fuller when I see just how passionately other people have taken to it – and how could they not? It feels like so many games have promised us deep choice consequences over the years, but then inevitably trick us with the illusion of choice, whereas Baldur’s Gate 3 is choice – it’s D&D. Romance, story, playstyle, personality, looks, morality – it’s all up to you. It’s also incredibly funny and charming, and just a complete delight to immerse yourself in. Baldur’s Gate 3 is a forever game.
Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty
I played Cyberpunk 2077 when it originally released and liked it despite the many technical issues trying their best to stop me. However, my biggest issue has always been its attitude. Everything seemed designed around this faux scale of ‘cool’, and boy did I hate V. Phantom Liberty is something completely different. Billed as a spy-thriller, it actually delivers on this Bond-like promise while telling a story without that ‘cool’ attitude ruining everything. Turning the focus to new characters – Songbird, Reed, and Alex – acts as a reset button, and although the story can be bleak at times, it’s one that slowly grows on you and might just be one of my favourites now. Finishing Phantom Liberty was bittersweet, but I’m now very excited for the future of Cyberpunk.
Cocoon’s remarkably clever design means some of the most mind-bending solutions in gaming can be described as just solving puzzles by using orbs to travel between worlds. It’s so simple to play, but when you stop to think about how far you’ve come since the beginning, and how many worlds within worlds you’ve travelled to, you begin to see just how intricate Cocoon really is. Despite how trippy some of the puzzles are, solutions never feel out-of-reach, and the fact you just learn everything naturally on your own with no tutorials shows just how sneakily smart Cocoon really is.
Honkai: Star Rail
At first, Honkai: Star Rail looked like a smaller scale sci-fi version of Genshin Impact with a mercifully simplified way to farm for gear and character materials. That would have been just fine, but Star Rail excels by differentiating itself from Genshin in lots of little ways. And in one big way: it’s goofy. It knows that its lore is complicated and silly so it plays on it, and it also sprinkles in the strangest interactions that still surprise me, even after all this time. Why of course I’ll help that depressed robot-mushroom, and yes I will search every bin in Belobog because my character has an obsession with rubbish. It also happens to have one of the best modern turn-based combat systems out there. Eight months after release and I still play Star Rail daily. It’s pretty good.
Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical
Its promise of roleplaying is a little misleading, but Stray Gods is certainly a musical, and goes one step further by letting you shape the tone of its soundtrack. Depending on what option you pick during key moments of a song – charming, kickass, or clever – you get a completely different performance, and often a different story outcome too. There’s a murder-mystery to solve, gods to romance, and a charming atmosphere held together by its incredible voice cast: Laura Bailey, Troy Baker, Janina Gavankar, Anthony Rapp, Ashley Johnson, and more! Although Stray Gods’ individual songs might not be standalone hits, its entire package is a commendable attempt at merging the worlds of video games, theatre, and Greek mythology.
As the famous meme goes: If I had a nickel for every time a game ostensibly about cooking south-Asian food made me cry in 2023, I’d have two nickels. Which isn’t a lot, but it’s weird that it happened twice. A funky, relatable, and heartbreaking elucidation of cultural, familial, and relationship-driven trauma, Thirsty Suitors had me salivating over the food it let me cook and weeping over how well it captures the complexities of human relationships. As someone with no interest in rhythm games (he says, with three games that incorporate rhythm elements on this list) or skateboarding, to wrap those in a short, sharp RPG that perfectly captures the joy and trauma of community and keeps me engaged is tremendous. Also, you can skateboard as the dog.
I don’t relate to many video game characters. Yet, in Dredge’s lighthouse keeper – who thinks maybe we shouldn’t poke the preternatural sea or the monsters that lurk therein – Dredge gives me a character to which I can only aspire. Paired with a dreary yet beautiful fishing simulator laced with cosmic horror that is equal parts Lovecraft (the few good parts) and the few good parts of Moby Dick (plus the grid inventory from Resident Evil 4 that’s just as fun as the actual game), Dredge – weighing in at around 9 hours – is a reminder that a game doesn’t need to be big to be fun.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
That said, Tears of the Kingdom is big. So big I’ll never finish it – not truly finish it, anyway; its scope is too grand. That’s okay, though. As someone who has spent years feeling guilty over the games I’m not playing, to the point of affecting how I feel about those I do, Tears of the Kingdom’s multiple definitions of completion taught me the value that can be found in what we leave unfinished (sorry Persona 3). In the process, it changed my relationship with my backlog forever. It’s a remarkable game for so many reasons, but in a year replete with amazing games I’ll never play, it became for me more of a public service.
“Ö ngo eka? / Me tuneka? / Tro’ni a tro Tuneka?” John Robert Matz’s remarkable soundscape has lived in my head all year. A musical style so patently Tchia’s and yet spectacularly evocative of the New Caledonia Awaceb creates in the game. Tchia may owe much to Breath of the Wild – though, that’s not a bad template to follow at all – but its beautiful rendition of childhood adventure wrapped in a story that makes me want to learn more about New Caledonia, and in a rare manageable open world (albeit with wickedly hard rhythm sections), was a much-needed reminder of how fun games are supposed to be.