2023 was another great year in gaming, packed with stellar titles. By now, you already know what game was named Game of the Year (and if you don’t, it’s Baldur’s Gate 3). But what about the rest? Which of the year’s releases stand out from the rest?
Every game on this list (and some that aren’t) is awesome in its own way, but if we had to pick a few, we’d say these games are the best video games of 2023 based on their category. We’ve judged these games based on how original they are and what they bring to the table in their respective category, so if we missed a few of your favorites, chances are it was executed well but just wasn’t unique enough in its class to make the cut.
The Best RPG of 2023: Baldur’s Gate 3
We may as well just get it out of our system. Baldur’s Gate 3 belongs in a league of its own as one of those rare games that can make even people who dislike its genre love it. And if that doesn’t make for fresh and good, we don’t know what does. We’ve seen this in a handful of games before such as Hades, Disco Elysium, and The Witcher 3. When a game is good, it’s good. Doesn’t matter what you personally like.
Some members of our team had a few reservations about Baldur’s Gate 3 at first due to its turn-based gameplay, but that turned out to be an unfounded fear. The game does such a fine job of sticking to its source material – Dungeons & Dragons (D&D)’ 5E ruleset – yet cures the one flaw that D&D has: having to remember rule interactions and do damage math yourself. Everything else, from the emotional swings between party shenanigans and somber scenes to letting you come up with odd ways to solve a problem, is kept perfectly intact in this digital adaptation.
If there’s one thing we do want Larian Studios to do, it’s to make a Curse of Strahd DLC. Look, we were already there with the Shadow Cursed lands.
Since going up against Baldur’s Gate 3 isn’t exactly a fair match, here are some games we give an honorable mention to:
The Best Mobile Game of 2023: Honkai: Star Rail
Well folks, what can we say? HoYoverse, the developer of Genshin Impact, managed to do it again this year with the release of Honkai: Star Rail (HSR). The game puts us back in the universe of the Shanghai-based company’s favorite project, the Honkai Impact series. This time, we’re a group of interstellar travelers riding the universe’s fastest train and following in the footsteps of a dead god. All while playing gacha.
Sure, the gacha element of the game is enough to turn some people off, but as a game, Honkai: Star Rail stands in a league of its own within the mobile gaming scene. And like Baldur’s Gate 3, it’s doing something special: making turn-based games more mainstream. Yes, we know Danganronpa exists, but with a game that is this accessible (being on mobile and easy to learn), we wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing more HSR-alikes.
Heck, a few years ago everyone called Genshin Impact a ripoff. But these days? Every mobile game studio trying to make it big is releasing a Genshin ripoff. Expect announcements for games that suspiciously look like HSR-but-a-little-to-the-left next year.
The Best Horror Game of 2023: Alan Wake 2 and Sons of the Forest
There were tons of amazing horror games this year which made it much, much harder to pick a single game to go with. As we mentioned above, we’re not just selecting games based on how good they are but what new thing they’re doing. While a lot of horror games can fit the bill for good, these two came out on top.
Sons of the Forest is a survival horror meets Minecraft type of game where players have to star in their own version of Naked and Afraid while trying not to get slaughtered by the mutants that inhabit the island. What makes this game a winner is how realistic it feels due to the enemy AI and the new interactions with in-game objects. It really goes a long way in selling the survival aspect of the game.
Moving on, we have Alan Wake 2, a sequel to the highly acclaimed Alan Wake. Unlike this year’s Amnesia which moved from more atmospheric, psychological horror to an action-oriented approach, Alan Wake has done the opposite and is all the more terrifying for it. In this game, we play the titular Alan and his horror novel character, Saga Anderson. The game takes place not just in our physical world, but also in Alan’s mental world, which makes you feel empowered without making you feel badass – a balance that a lot of action horror games struggle to find.
The Best Cozy Game of 2023: Fae Farm
Cozy games got big between 2022 and 2023 so we can’t just ignore how influential they’ve been this year. Many people were introduced to cozy gaming back in the pandemic thanks to Animal Crossing: New Horizons (ACNH) and the demand for similar games has only grown. Fae Farm follows in the footsteps of ACNH and Stardew Valley but with the addition of MMO elements. You can invite your friends and family to work on a farm with you and share resources. It’s kind of like the FarmVille-but-better experience and if you were around for FarmVille, you know that’s a stellar recommendation.
The Best Action Game of 2023: Star Wars Jedi: Survivor
Telekinesis isn’t rare in games, but darn it, it’s not every day we’re a Jedi. The framing of Star Wars Jedi’s story is touching. From the very first game, we’ve been playing a half-baked Padawan who never finished his training and has been beaten down by an enemy we all know: life. While Cal Kestis is a survivor in this sequel, he’s certainly doing more than surviving now.
Cal isn’t the only star here. The planets we visit are gorgeous and well-thought-out. They’re not just endless expanses of space like we see in many games that have an exploration element. The level design is much much better than the first game. And the lightsabers? Varied and full of enough references to keep your nerdy heart skipping a beat.
The Best DLC of 2023: Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty
The best DLC of the year was Cyberpunk 2077’s Phantom Liberty, but frankly, it doesn’t have much by way of competition either. Though Cyberpunk 2077 was met with disappointment during its release, the game polished up and has now delivered an amazing expansion. It’s intense and intensely beautiful thanks to its new enemy AI and additions to Night City. and while it’s very linear in its story-telling, it tells that story so well that you’re just captivated by being taken along for the ride.
The Best Strategy Game of 2023: King of the Castle
Anyone else feel like strategy games are starting to look a little too alike? It’s like every game we come across in this genre had art direction decided by the same person. But not King of the Castle. We’d describe the vibe of this game as Reign meets Cultist Simulator. The art is bright and beautiful, the tone of the game is whimsical, and best of all, you can get into real-life fights with your friends if you invite them to join your game. If your friends love board games or Jackbox games, this is a great game to play together.
The Best Walking Simulator of 2023: Exit 8
Honestly, there have been so many P.T.-inspired games in the past years that it may as well have its own genre. Share some of the prestige we’ve granted to roguelikes (which are Rogue-likes)!
Anyway, the winning P.T.-alike of this year is Exit 8, a game released so late into this year that if we had done this list earlier, it wouldn’t have made it in time. That said, Exit 8’s drop is a welcome surprise. It’s an amalgamation of the internet horror tradition that features Backrooms-style liminal spaces and eerie encounters with beings that, while not outwardly violent, simply give off malevolence. This is a game that managed to make the Tokyo Metro subway system and salary men into dread-inducing enemies.
And speaking of late releases…
The Best Late Releases of 2023
Just in case you’re reading this later in the year, but before we get around to updating this list, here are some of our favorite releases for November 2023 – December 2023. Only (in-game) time will tell if they still hold up by the time January 2024 rolls around, but if you want to play games over the holidays like us, here are some to check out:
- RoboCop Rogue City
That’s it for now. Bookmark this so you can check back for more at the start of 2024. Or subscribe to our newsletter, The Weekly Rewind, where we recap everything you missed on the site and in gaming news on Mondays and Fridays.