It’s the time to retro on the past year, and what we liked the most in the games that we played. Turns out there was a lot of good entries in 2023, some of it AAA, some of it indies. But mostly indies.
I played quite a few new games this year and my conclusion is that I have liked a lot of new indie titles! Here’s my pick for the year.
The first good surprise of the year, that I reviewed ahead of its release earlier in 2023. Mixing Lovecraftian horrors with a fishing/exploration game made for a very fun game from start to end. The recently released DLC, however, falls short from deserving a recommendation, as mentioned recently.
Dave the Diver
Yet another marine-theme game. Dave the Diver puts you in the shoes of Dave who’s a diver hunting fishes during the day, and helping out in a sushi bar at night (based on what he could fish during the day). There’s exploration, a lot of scripted events, an actual story, and numerous upgrades and a restaurant management mini-game. Excellent execution from end to end.
Another complete surprise: a town survival game where you play the seer who sees numerous calamities coming your way, making the survival of your community precarious on the long term. Brilliantly designed, funny and completely addictive. You can check our review for a lot more details about the title.
It has a native client, and works on the Steam Deck, but it’s probably easier to play on an actual computer.
I must admit I like playing Fall Guys once in a while, and Headbangers is just what would happen if you turned Fall Guys into a rhythm/music battle royale game. Very simple to grap, difficult to master, masterfully executed, and a lot of fun (if you can swallow the wait times in between games). Our review was just last month in November, and the game keeps evolving with new seasons.
Unusually I actually got on some AAA games from day one (or near enough). With, admitedly, mostly mixed results. And as usual my gaming habits jumped between little bits of various older games with the most steady play coming from ones I can play co-op with some friends. Looking at just new releases, here’s what I would recommend from ye olde 2023:
My mixed feelings on this mostly come from the corporate side, with Blizzard having been in the headlines for not great (to put it mildly) reasons. Whoever thought the acquisition by Microsoft could actually be a good thing? And with Kotick out, things are looking up. Anyway, Diablo IV is an all time great for me so D4 was bound to be played eventually.
The level scaling is brilliant simplicity for co-op with different level characters, art is more painterly and looks good, only 2 (but what a 2!) cinematics in the singleplayer with an okay story, but come for the fun skills and great moment-to-moment action. I have complaints for sure, but ARPG and Diablo fans will find a lot to like here. If you are more into only endgame and min/maxing, the rough spots show more, but more than enough to like before that.
I reviewed this recently, so do take a look there for more details. I haven’t had a chance to play more recently, but it will be in my rotation for deckbuilder/strategy games for sure.
I haven’t played too much of this, but in some co-op sessions with friends this game has never failed to make it memorable. It is janky in many ways (I think on purpose), unclear what or how to do things sometimes, but it is that fun combination of wacky, intense, and just plain different and weird.
I hope to return to it again soon, as we played before the full release, and see if we can escape certain death to make a name for ourselves in the depths.
To me the biggest revelation of this year is this sprawling space game made by a one-man team. It’s still early access but it already has so much going to it. It gets the scope of Starfield but with meaningful space travel: you land on planets, you have atmospheric battles, you spacewalk, you perform RPG quests, you dive underwater, you lead a faction and form an empire (or republic), you manage fleets and npcs, you pilot from a small fighter to a big carrier, there’s so much to this game I find it difficult to list.
And the gameplay is smooth and addictive. I’ve played a bit more than 30 hours and I had to force myself to stop because I want to start all over again when the content is finished. Note that I’ve also finished Starfield at 255h with all achievements, and even with that many hours in the game, I can’t recommend it.
The cancelled game of the year does not deserve it. It’s an incredible Witcher 3-like game with fun RPG mechanics, lots of collectables, plenty of content, incredibly beautiful graphics and a smart, if not memorable, plot. Due to some of author JK Rowling’s tweets, a cancel crowd has arisen and has been trying to prevent the game from being a success everywhere, and they failed so far, but it has taken its toll.
The game was not even nominated for the gaming awards, which is an enormous injustice. I can emphatically recommend it to anyone who likes action RPGs, specially of course Harry Potter fans. It happens in a different era than the Harry Potter movies (roughly one century earlier), but all the familiar elements are there, and it’s a blast to be able to walk inside the enormous Hogwarts castle. Finished the game at the 83 hour time.
Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty DLC
This one has to be mentioned because with this new DLC and the latest new patches, it’s practically a new game, so much that I started another playthrough to avoid missing anything – and I’m a completionist who’s not shy to spend hundreds of hours in a game.
This first person action RPG is one of a kind, and has stories that can touch as deep as previous CD Projekt Red’s famous games. The new ending they added is specially touching in a manner that I could not describe without going into spoiler territory. I’ve already finish the DLC content and I am now exploring Night City again at 264h of playtime.
X4: Foundations: Kingdom End DLC
Since I’ve allowed myself to talk about DLCs, let me make it clear that X4: Foundations is, and continues to be, my favorite game ever. This new DLC completes all the species of the X Universe by allowing the player to meet (and reunite) the Borons, long lost due to space gates shutdown. There is a lot of new mechanics in this game and the story is very creative and endearing.
It incentivized me to go much further in my playthrough and finish all storylines of X4 and even start terraforming planets, at 1359h of playtime.
There were some huge releases this year showing AAA games do not need to be made by a committee and that is fine to delay and delivery a proper product, like Hi-Fi Rush and Baldur’s Gate 3 respectively. I hope to show here some other games that might bring you joy during the end of the year sales, all of them I learned about after some “demo” fest, and the demos are still up for you to try.
Bread & Fred
It is one of the best games to play with those dear to you. It is not an easy game, and failure can set you back by a lot. But it was a great bonding experience working together in this tied up climb and laughing at our mistakes when the cute penguins fell down the mountain. Steam Store Page
Chants of Sennaar
Language decoding puzzles where you try to help different groups communicate with each other. One of those rare games that gameplay helps tell the story. I wrote about the demo a few months earlier. Steam Store Page.
Wrapping Up 2023
2023 is not completely over yet, and we still have a few more things to wrap up, such as the predictions our hosts and us made earlier in the year. We will talk about those in January 2024 but this will keep us busy over the holidays. We wish you all a great end of the year in the meantime!