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2023 Is The Best Year For Games In A While (And Maybe Ever)

From Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom to Alan Wake 2, the hits won’t stop coming

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Spider-Man, Alan Wake, and Zelda debate the best year in games.
Image: Insomniac Games / Remedy Entertainment / Nintendo / Kotaku

When Hi-Fi Rush shadow-dropped on January 25, it was a shockingly pleasant surprise. Beautiful, vibrant, playful, the rhythm action platformer quickly won players over. A day later, Hitman World of Assassination appeared, deploying clever roguelike mechanics to reinvent the best stealth game of 2021. A day after that, Dead Space arrived, a faithful but impressive remake of a 2008 classic. The year was off to a great start. Somehow it only got better from there. Nine months later, it’s hard to deny: 2023 feels like one of the best years for game releases in a long time. Possibly ever?

Some worried The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom would turn out to be more of the same. It was, in fact, a certified banger that turned the Zelda formula upside down once again. Baldur’s Gate 3 came out of nowhere and was all anyone could talk about for an entire month. Just a week after Spider-Man 2 and Super Mario Bros. Wonder, David Lynchian survival horror sequel Alan Wake 2 is finally out. I’ve only played the first couple hours but I’m already in love. Initial reviews have called it a triumph in storytelling. The game of the year race just got a lot more interesting.


It’s been a great year for remakes (Resident Evil 4, Metroid Prime). It’s been a great year for fighting games (Street Fighter VI, Mortal Kombat 1). It’s been a great year for old-school RPGs (Octopath Traveler II, Sea of Stars), surprise indie hits (Dave the Diver, Pizza Tower), and story-driven action games (Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, Final Fantasy XVI). 2023 is the year we got Diablo IV and Starfield. It’s the year that Phantom Liberty saved Cyberpunk 2077. It’s the year an incredible playable documentary called The Making of Karateka spawned an entire new genre. Cocoon!


People started buzzing about 2023 being one hell of a year for games in the spring and early summer, after an unusually exciting first few months of the year. The constant flood of new games after some truly anemic years following the pandemic was overwhelming. The dozens of games with an 85 or higher on Metacritic were hard to deny. The long-awaited arrival of so many expensive blockbusters was impossible to ignore. Most unusual of all, there have been no major disappointments and even plenty of nice surprises. Steampunk Soulslike Lies of P has some of the best moments of any game this year. Remnant II is an engrossing shooter that rewards you every time you come back. Even major releases that stumbled, like Lords of the Fallen, seem more than capable of finding their footing again.

The last time the deck felt this stacked was 2017. We got The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey. We got Dishonored: Death of the Outsider and Uncharted: Lost Legacy, Divinity Original Sin 2 and Persona 5, Cuphead and Pyre, Hollow Knight and Dead Cells, Night in the Woods and What Remains of Edith Finch, Fortnite and PUBG. The list goes on: Horizon Zero Dawn, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Destiny 2, Resident Evil 7, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, and Nier Automata. Just an incredible year top to bottom.

2B stands in the woods.
Image: Platinum Games / Square Enix

That was the midway point for the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One—and it showed. Sony’s first-party machine was beginning to fire on all cylinders and developers were delivering on the big “next-gen” games they’d been promising. Nintendo, meanwhile, jump-started its new Switch hardware with two of the best games it’s ever made, an incredible coup for a new console launch. The rest was equally serendipitous. It’s not every year that two games go head-to-head in a new genre that redefines industry trends moving forward.


It reminds me of when Dota 2 and League of Legends both came out in 2013. That was arguably the next high-water mark prior to 2017. It also delivered Grand Theft Auto V, The Last of Us, Super Mario 3D World, Crusader Kings II, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Gone Home, The Stanley Parable, Metro: Last Light, and a bunch more. Still, 2023 comfortably beats 2013. There might not be entirely new genres that will recalibrate the market for years to come, but I would take this year’s top 10 over 2013’s any day.

Read More: What Was Your Best-Ever Year For Gaming?

Start going farther back and the comparisons get much dicier. When it comes to rankings of rankings, the years that most often get thrown around are 2011, 2010, 2007, 2004, 2001, 1998, 1997, 1994, and 1993. Of these, I’d argue the frontrunners have to be 2007, 2004, 1998, and 2001, in that order. The farther back in time these comparisons go, the bigger a role played by nostalgia and rose-colored glasses. People’s picks will vary wildly based as much on legacy as anything else.


Still, my god, 2007: Super Mario Galaxy, Halo 3, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Guitar Hero 3, Rock Band, BioShock, Assassin’s Creed, Mass Effect, Uncharted, Portal, Team Fortress 2, Crysis, and STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl. Does 2023 stand a chance? Maybe.

Mario flies through the galaxy.
Image: Nintendo

How do you even begin to compare one year’s release slate against another? There’s no objective method, obviously. It’s more art than science, with history, personal taste, and general vibes all swirling around in a vat until the subjective winners bubble up to the surface. What does it mean for it to be the best year in video games? Is it just about having the most best games? The most long-lasting and important ones? The most eclectic mix of outstanding games across multiple genres? Some years are full of great games that don’t stand the test of time. Some have deep benches but few standouts.

To render any kind of verdict, these considerations and others must necessarily be boiled down into a general gut feeling, like a baseball scout weighing player stats against experience and instinct. It’s especially difficult to put value on all the games that might not quite make every top-ten list, but are still crucial to rounding out the prolific feeling of an exceptional year. 2023 might not have a few games that dominated Steam or multiple breakout hits that define the console generation, but it has plenty of dark-horse candidates to round-out any Game of the Year conversation.


A small sample: Blasphemous 2, Oxenfree II, Venba, Shadow Gambit, Chants of Sennaar, Dredge, A Space for the Unbound, World of Horror, El Paso, Elsewhere, Everspace 2, Planet of Lana, Season: A Letter to the Future, Humanity, Terra Nil, and Bomb Rush Cyberfunk. You know it’s been a good year for games when I’ve listed this many and haven’t even gotten to FromSoftware’s Armored Core VI yet, the cult-classic mech shooter series at its most grand and refined. The sheer number of new games released every year is always going up. Most of them are far from terrible. A scary number of them are quite good. 2023 is no exception.

Taken all together, is this enough to make this year better than 2017 and the historic milestones that came before it? I’m not entirely convinced. Hindsight is 20/20, and it might take another year or two to bring 2023’s merits clearer into focus. But there’s no doubt, in my mind at least, that it’s the best year for game releases since 2017, and as worthy of being debated as 2007 and all the rest. Bounties like this don’t come around often. Enjoy it while it lasts.