The Best Games Of 2023 (So Far) [Updated]

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The Spider-Men, Alan Wake, Saga, and Mario as an Elephant are shown against a dark backdrop.

It’s almost the end of the year of our lord 2023, and every time we’ve updated this compilation of the best games we played, we’ve reflected on just how many good games came out this year. This final update before we start our Game of the Year discussions at Kotaku has some real bangers, big and small. As great as 2023 has been for the people who play games, it’s also been one of the most fraught years for people who make them. Hundreds of game developers have been put out of jobs due to a never-ending wave of layoffs, and at the very least, we want to recognize some of the best games these talented people have been working on.

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That said, let’s delve into more of the very best games of 2023.

13 years ago, prickly writer Alan Wake vanished into a nightmare realm called the Dark Place at the end of the game that bears his name. One of the quietly thrilling things to me about its excellent new sequel, Alan Wake II, is that it actually recognizes the weight of those years, mirroring that real-life passage of time in its narrative. It echoes the audacity and magic of Laura Palmer telling Agent Dale Cooper, at the end of Twin Peaks in 1991, “I’ll see you again in 25 years,” and then creator David Lynch actually making it happen in 2017’s sequel series, Twin Peaks: The Return.

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Read More: Alan Wake 2: The Kotaku Review

With The Return, Lynch created a follow-up to his cult-classic TV series that felt far stranger, grander, and more thematically assured than its predecessor. The relationship between Alan Wake and Alan Wake II is not so different. The first game was a moody, atmospheric narrative triumph in 2010, one that bucked genre trends with its heady story and its bookish, sometimes arrogant protagonist. But that game now feels like a modest proof-of-concept in comparison to the sequel’s ambitious, balls-to-the-wall approach, which leaps between playable characters in different realms and slowly sees their stories converge, all while making innovative, outstanding use of live-action. Alan Wake II bristles with genuine originality and distinct creative vision, a remarkable and invigorating rarity in the modern big-budget space. — Carolyn Petit

Star Ocean: The Second Story had big “but we already have Final Fantasy at home” energy when it first came to PlayStation back in 1998. It was the game your friend would try to get you into if you loved Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy VII but weren’t super well acquainted with the wider world of hardcore RPGs. Second Story embodied the excesses of the genre, for better and for worse, like no other, and became a cult classic as a result. Second Story R is the rare retro remake that does the original justice and makes up for many of its bigger shortcomings.

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Classic pixel art sprites join gorgeous HD-2D environments for a presentation that’s as good as anything else that came out this year. An all-timer soundtrack and meaty battle system make for a compulsive globetrotting adventure that, even when weighed down by a bloated script and some overly worn tropes, still takes you somewhere magical. Second Story R is the rare RPG that feels chock-full of secrets and side content without ever feeling too overwhelming or inscrutable. Plus, now there’s a minimap that will always tell you where you need to go. — Ethan Gach

Thanks to Souls-series pioneers FromSoftware, Soulslikes are everywhere these days. From big-budget releases like the Nioh franchise to small-scale indies such as the Blasphemous games, copies of the Japanese studio’s punishing formula are aplenty. However, while many attempt to carve out their own path to escape the studio’s shadow, it’s rare for a developer to ape the FromSoft die-try-die recipe, wearing its influence openly on its sleeve, while also applying a unique spin that differentiates it from the rest. Neowiz Games and Round8 Studio’s Lies of P is just that: a game that’s so very FromSoftware yet does its own thing.

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Lies of P takes what FromSoft does best—brutal combat encounters, captivating environmental details, excellent weapon variety, and intricate level design—and amplifies it a few notches. The best part about the game, though, is its storytelling, which is front and center of the experience. You play as P, an animatronic interpretation of the wooden marionette Pinocchio, as you look for mastermaker Geppetto while uncovering the harrowing and terrifying secrets of Krat, a lavishly macabre location beset by murderous puppets and a deadly disease that’s killing everyone. And there’s much more happening behind the scenes, particularly relating to the game’s themes of deceit and humanity.

In this way, Lies of P is essentially a FromSoftware game with an actual narrative you can follow from beginning to end. Sure, it’s a little Bloodborne. And yeah, it’s got some Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice elements, too. But underneath these influences lies an original game that’s greater than the sum of its parts. — Levi Winslow

The Yakuza sidequel The Man Who Erased His Name is a lousy place to jump into the series, but if you’ve been along for the ride since the beat-’em-up RPG series exploded in popularity, you’re in for a treat here. Like a Dragon Gaiden is a love letter to the gruff, shit-kicking gangster with a heart of gold, longtime series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu. The mobs of goons you’ll have to dispatch are bigger than ever, but the experience is (relatively) compact compared to the usual 60+ hour runtime of a mainline Yakuza game.

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Surprise: It’s also got one of the most memorable and emotional endings in a game this year. I’m talking that Final Fantasy XV, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Spider-Man PS4 level of emotional suckerpunch. At the same time, it’s the perfect curtain-raiser for 2024’s Hawaiian-style sequel, Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth. — Jen Glennon

Cyberpunk 2077 as it exists now would have seemed unfathomable when the original game launched in 2020. The 2.0 update and Phantom Liberty expansion feel like actualizations of the game we wanted, and while it’s still missing stuff from that original gameplay reveal, CD Projekt Red has finally managed to get past the fixing stage of its once-busted open-world RPG and has turned it into an actually great game.

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The Phantom Liberty expansion highlights the best parts of Cyberpunk 2077, and also reflects heavily on all the strife it took to get to this point. V and Songbird’s story feels like a reexamination of everything Cyberpunk 2077 wanted to say when it was launched in a broken state, and acknowledging that while it can’t entirely make up for all its mistakes, it can at least try to do right by its original vision. It is a perfect coda to Cyberpunk 2077, and makes me wish there was more V and Johnny Silverhand to look forward to. — Kenneth Shepard

Cocoon is one of the most elegant, approachable, and carefully constructed puzzle adventures you will ever play. You control a strange creature navigating a mysterious environment who quickly realizes they can carry entire worlds around on their back, and hop in and out of them to unlock new paths forward. Lots of puzzle games set up complex problems for you to solve, but few are as rewarding and beautiful in the resolution as they are in the build-up.

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Just when you think you’ve got Cocoon figured out it finds a way to tie your brain up in knots only to subsequently unravel it and unlock new ways of understanding the game in the process. Its moody atmosphere, abstract narrative, and maze-like progression always know how far to push you before gently pulling back and letting you enjoy the discoveries you’ve made. — Ethan Gach

Over the last few years, Assassin’s Creed games have gotten bigger and bigger. And while these massive open worlds are fun to run around and offer 100+ hours worth of stuff to do, many fans have longed for the series to return to its roots with a smaller map and a bigger focus on stealth. In 2023, Ubisoft finally provided fans with what they wanted: Assassin’s Creed: Mirage.

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A lot of the open-world action-RPG elements from the most recent games are gone, replaced with long-underutilized parkour and stealth mechanics. You are no longer fighting off 20 soldiers with a big shield and fiery axe, instead sneaking around guards and donning disguises to quietly pull off missions and take out targets. It’s so nice to finally have an Assassin’s Creed game in which you are an actual assassin doing sneaky shit, and hopefully Ubisoft continues to provide fans with smaller, sneakier installments in the franchise between the bigger, Valhalla-like entries. — Zack Zwiezen

Like its predecessor and the live-action movie before it, Detective Pikachu Returns shines less as a complex mystery game than it does as one of the most refreshing explorations of the Pokémon universe. When you take out the competitive sport, the Pokémon world is full of new ways for people and the titular critters to relate to one another, and Detective Pikachu Returns is all about exploring new kinds of relationships.

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The sequel finally wraps up the story the original left on a cliffhanger, though if you’ve seen the movie you’ll likely see some developments coming. But Detective Pikachu Returns manages to pull them off in far more compelling ways than the movie did in 2019, which makes it worth experiencing even if you’ve seen the film. Pokémon has been reaching its narrative potential lately, and Detective Pikachu Returns is another example of The Pokémon Company finding the sweet spot between the collectathon and really exploring why we love these little guys we shove into Poké Balls. — Kenneth Shepard

It’s easy to write off Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 as just another sequel. It wears the “2” proudly on its latex Spidey suit, letting you know that you’re in for a continuation of our webheads duos’ wild journey. But while Insomniac Games’ latest open-world action game is definitely a capital-S sequel, it’s one that doesn’t fall into the ideological trap that assumes “more is better.” While yeah, “more is better” is true here, especially since what was so good about Marvel’s Spider-Man returns in this sequel, Spider-Man 2 tells an even more heartwarming and gut-wrenching story, centered around the sacrifices we make to become “heroes.” It’s beautiful and thought-provoking all in one breath.

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You’re still zipping through New York at breakneck speeds, stopping thugs from kidnapping people and robbing stores, collecting this thing and that thing. You’re still fighting hordes of bad guys while unlocking skills and suits. You’re still taking pictures of the city and listening to JJJ scream his head off. You know, normal Spidey stuff. However, Spider-Man 2 not only gives you two webheads to switch between, both of whom have their own unique abilities, it also introduces some frightening villains that add new and surprising wrinkles to the story and gameplay. It’s thrilling, edge-of-your-seat kind of stuff that’s satisfying to play through and captivating to watch. The game is like a playable rollercoaster, making it an exciting superhero ‘em up worth checking out. — Levi Winslow

I’m going to just sidestep the “What is an indie game” debate that Dave the Diver set off last week and just talk about how great this game is. Playing as a portly and happy underwater explorer who also runs a sushi shop is a blast, thanks in large part to how great every part of the game feels.

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Fishing is fun. Running the restaurant is hectic, but feels good. And all the other things you do (which I won’t spoil here) are just as well-made as anything else in Dave the Diver. It ends up offering a vast, colorful experience that never feels boring or overstuffed. An impressive feat, indie game or not. — Zack Zwiezen

Thirsty Suitors oozes style and personality, and is also viciously funny. Outerloop Games frames the Scott Pilgrim evil exes conflict within a South Asian cultural lens. It follows Jala as she returns home after having left a lot of bad relationships, both romantic and familial, behind. What follows is a lot of everyday interactions portrayed in an over-the-top, stylized way. Reconciling with an ex takes the form of a turn-based battle. Cooking with your mother to try and clear the air is a cooking minigame where the smallest action is scrutinized and made into a resource to manage. Thirsty Suitors excels in how well it captures the subtleties of human interaction, in and of themselves, like a game. You can’t make a small gesture without someone reading it one way, and even as it revels in its own excess, it’s all meant to capture the subtle nuances of how we talk to each other. Also, its soundtrack is full of bangers. — Kenneth Shepard

If you’ve ever played Super Mario Bros. 3, you’ll be familiar with “the boot level,” where you can hop into a green Goomba Shoe that appears to have some sort of wind-up key on the back. This power-up only appears in one level of the game, 5-3, and allows Mario to walk across spikes or jump on enemies like piranha plants. It’s wildly memorable precisely because you only get to do it once.

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More than three decades later, the team behind Super Mario Bros. Wonder—several of whom actually worked on the original NES games—decided to make a Mario game in which every level is “the boot level.” From singing piranha plants to roller-skating squirrels and farty hippos, every level in Super Mario Bros. Wonder has a truly unique gimmick. To go into more detail risks spoiling the fun, but you’ll want to keep playing just to see what weird, adorable ideas Nintendo will toss your way next. Mario’s latest 2D outing is an approachable, newbie-friendly experience that is just pure, unadulterated video game fun. — Jen Glennon

It’s always a delight to see the Phantom Thieves again, and Persona 5 Tactica is one of the freshest takes on their adventures we’ve gotten since the original P5 launched in 2017. Its tactical combat starts off simple, but by the time you get through its slow first chapter, Tactica manages to expand upon and riff on the series’ classic turn-based formula.

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On top of an interesting take on Persona 5’s mechanics, Tactica also offers an honest take on Persona 5’s themes of rebellion, the cost of fighting for what’s right, and why it’s still ultimately worth doing. Persona has always been the Power of Friendship game, and Tactica reasserts that all of the pain is worth it as long as we fight for change together. As Persona 5 tends to be, it’s uplifting even when exploring heavy subject matter. Even if it sometimes feels like the Phantom Thieves are running out of steam, Tactica proves there are still stories to tell and themes to explore. — Kenneth Shepard

Video game preservation is vitally important, but it requires so much more than just keeping old files around so that enthusiasts can experience the games of years gone by. It requires efforts to keep the stories alive, too—stories of the people who made them, and the historical context in which they were made. This year Digital Eclipse, a studio known for its emulation chops, launched its new Gold Master series of re-releases, and the first entry, The Making of Karateka, sets a new standard for how classics should be handled.

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Read More: This ‘Playable Documentary’ About A 1984 Classic Is One Of The Year’s Best Games

Karateka is a 1984 side-scrolling action game that was a huge success upon release. Today, however, it might be tough to see just what a monumental achievement it was—the technical challenges it overcame, the remarkable craftsmanship that went into its animations. The Making of Karateka, however, makes all this apparent, offering up a kind of “playable documentary” that brings the game’s creation to vivid life with archival footage, new interviews, journal entries by Karateka creator Jordan Mechner, and more. I’ve long yearned for classic games to get the same kind of treatment that companies like Criterion give to classic films. Now, Digital Eclipse is doing just that, and in doing so, opening up the beauty and excitement of these games to a whole new generation of enthusiasts. — Carolyn Petit

Rockstar Games isn’t going to make a new Max Payne game anytime soon. (And no, I don’t count that remake from Remedy.) So, someone needed to step up and fill that very specific gap of action-packed neo-noir third-person shooter with hardboiled narration. And El Paso, Elsewhere showed up, found its niche, and delivered one of the best games of 2023 in the process.

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Calling this shooter a Max Payne clone isn’t doing it justice. El Paso, Elsewhere goes in its own direction, featuring a story about vampires, the end of the world, and a terrible elevator that will keep you gunning and jumping until you reach the end just to see how it all wraps up. And lucky for all of us, it’s a damn good shooter, too. — Zack Zwiezen

Lots of modern blockbusters pride themselves on how effortless they make open-world traversal. Hold a button, start running, and a new Assassin’s Creed will let you parkour over any obstacle and scale any building. Jusant flips that power trip on its head, asking you to climb an impossibly huge tower using just your hands, some rope, and the nearest foothold you can find. Its subtle but effective approach to climbing makes for an engaging and rewarding journey, while the colorful but desolate world around you tells the story of a past abandoned for brighter horizons.

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Jusant is incredibly brief but worth every minute, needling you through dark tunnels, across giant chasms, and up sheer rock faces as you uncover what others tried to leave behind. It’s beautiful to look at and melancholic to experience, with climbing puzzles that tug you along without ever making you feel completely lost or frustrated. It’s also the rare adventure game where I actually enjoyed reading every single one of the dozens of notes I found along the way. — Ethan Gach

The scariest part of Black Tabby Games’ Slay the Princess isn’t all the monsters you’ll face or the fear of a world-ending cataclysm, it’s the horrifying ordeal of being known.

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This time-loop horror game presents you with one challenge: Slay the princess waiting in an abandoned cabin who will supposedly destroy the world if she escapes. What seems straightforward quickly unravels into a repetitious battle as each loop ends with either you or the princess dying at each other’s hands, and each time she appears in a different, monstrous form. But how many times can you see the most violent, primal versions of each other before you know the other better than you know yourself? Slay the Princess is all about our perceptions of one another, and the more times you die, the more you learn about someone who may not be everything you’ve been told. Its overarching mystery is compelling, but getting to know someone at the end of a blade is the draw that keeps me walking down the cabin’s stairs. — Kenneth Shepard

Larian Studios truly outdid itself with Baldur’s Gate 3. The Dungeons & Dragons RPG is a stellar marriage of roleplaying, tactical combat, and immersive sim design, complete with one of the most memorable RPG casts we’ve gotten in a hot minute. The game shows that exploration in an RPG doesn’t have to be about searching every nook and cranny of an open world, but can instead be found in seeing how your spells react to each other, how using an ability can help you circumvent a seemingly impossible challenge, and talking to others and finding out all the cool ways they handled a situation you didn’t even think of.

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Read more: The Baldur’s Gate 3 Sex Scenes, Ranked From Worst To Best

Video games can only account for so many ideas and verbs we as players have, and even as expansive as it feels, Baldur’s Gate 3 is no exception to the limitations of lines of code. But it does one hell of a job of emulating the freedom of a tabletop game. — Kenneth Shepard

Playable on: PC, PlayStation 5

Rough average playtime: 47.5 hours

Final Fantasy XVI has a lot of problems. For starters, its cast is weirdly white-washed, its treatment of slavery is a mess, and the game really does its female characters dirty. Even its equipment system and side quests, things that should be the bread and butter of a massive RPG, are weirdly lacking. But with all of those flaws, Square Enix’s latest entry in the long-running series about magic crystals and fallen worlds soars to greatness thanks to an impeccable combat system and dazzling boss fights.

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Read more: Final Fantasy XVI Shouldn’t Be This Divisive

Modern blockbusters are tasked with too much. They often blur genres and go on way too long in order to justify ballooning budgets and reach as large an audience as possible. Final Fantasy XVI is a reminder that sometimes a game only needs to do a couple things very well to be excellent. Cinematic storytelling and a strong central cast make for some unforgettable scenes, while action in the vein of Devil May Cry makes Final Fantasy XVI hard to put down despite some third-act rug pulls and tedious backtracking. — Ethan Gach

Playable on: PlayStation 5

Rough average playtime: 35 hours

Too Kyo Games and Spike Chunsoft’s latest detective game from the makers of Danganronpa feels as close to making a new one of those as its creators can without stepping on an already-finishedstory. Though Master Detective Archives: Rain Code’s mysteries and drama might not be as compelling as its predecessor, its supernatural twist on the team’s previous mystery-solving mechanics does lend itself to some great twists, turns, and drama.

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Read more: Review: The Makers Of Danganronpa Are Back With Another Mystery Banger

As was the case in Danganronpa, writer Kazutaka Kodaka excels in Rain Code’s bursts of emotion, mind bending mysteries, and unbending optimism in the face of hardship. Rain Code is a worthy successor to a long-finished story that should be allowed to rest, and hopefully, it’s not the last we’ve seen of its world. — Kenneth Shepard

Playable on: Switch

Rough average playtime: 31 hours

Viewfinder is the type of game that can be tough to describe, but is easily understood in motion. The puzzle game by Sad Owl Studios has you hold photos in a 3D space, and use the image to create new paths forward. A photo of a bridge can be made into a bridge you can walk across to cross an empty chasm, or a drawing of a road in the desert can give you a path to walk over to reach the other side. It plays with perspective and encourages you to experiment with a seemingly single-minded tool to fascinating results.

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When John Walker covered it for Kotaku, he remarked about how its complexities brought about frustration, but those same frustrations spoke to its mind-bending strengths.

“I really hope the constant seesawing of these impressions conveys just how I experienced the game, alternately astonished by its creativity, and disheartened by its rough edges,” Walker wrote. “Viewfinder intrigues me, and I want to keep playing, except I keep staring at a complex level and all its variables and wondering if I have the willpower.”

— Kenneth Shepard

Playable on: PC, PlayStation 5

Rough average playtime: 3.5 hours

For a lot of people, the Metroidvania genre can be daunting. It’s known for its challenge and for how disorienting it can be if you’re not paying attention to the side scrolling map you’re traveling through. Disney Illusion Island is one of the more inviting examples of the genre, and much of that comes from its decentralizing combat in favor of exploration, cooperation, and all-around good vibes.

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Read more: They’re Making A Mickey Mouse Metroidvania, And It Looks Grand

Yes, the game is likely best enjoyed if you’re the kind of person who visits Disney World twice a year, but its bones are still great and transcend any fandom you may or may not feel toward the House of Mouse. It’s especially accessible as a family game that you can play with kids or with a big group of friends, as it supports four-player co-op. As we wrote about it in July, Disney Illusion Island is one of the rare games that manages to balance fanservice for the hardcore Disney heads and strong mechanics for everyone else.

“Even non-Disney adults will enjoy the snappy action, low-stakes gameplay, gorgeous visuals and co-op shenanigans,” Zack Zweizen wrote.
And if you are a Disney adult, well, you probably already bought this game and have it installed on your Switch. Good news: You are in for a treat.”

— Kenneth Shepard

Playable on: Switch

Rough average playtime: Six hours

Cooking games rarely touch on tough subjects like generational diasporas, but not all cooking games are like Visai Studios’ Venba. Interwoven between multiple South Indian cuisine-based puzzle games is a deep story about an immigrant family wrestlings with how to maintain their cultural identity. While the outside world of Canada beckons them to assimilate into Western culture, the family of three finds refuge in their kitchen where they recreate dishes from their beaten-up family cookbook.

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Read more: Don’t Miss This Moving, Mouthwatering Cooking Game Now On Game Pass

Venba’s dishes—which are mouthwateringly appetizing to prepare, aren’t the main dishes ; it’s the stories behind them. Throughout the game, characters will call upon formative memories from their childhood to help fill the gaps of the water-damaged cookbook’s faded instructions. These moments serve as a way to solve the Venba’s tricky puzzles and as a means of understanding the family’s innate desire to cherish the meals that brought their family together. —Isaiah Colbert

Playable on: Steam, Switch, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One

Rough average playtime: 1.5 hours

Bringing back an unwieldy legacy mech franchise, polishing it up, and launching it in the year 2023 between Diablo IV and Starfield seemed like an impossible task, but FromSoftware managed to do precisely that. Armored Core VI delivers one of the year’s best action games of the year full of thrilling monster mechs and overwhelming customization options. That the Dark Souls studio’s latest game toggles between those extremes so elegantly is part of its magic.

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Read more: Armored Core VI’s New Game Plus Mode Is A Must-Play

Taking place on a distant planet in a grim future where corporate thugs and faceless militaries battle for resources, Armored Core VI tells the story of a mercenary who earns their freedom by learning to master tools at their disposal: countless guns, rocket launchers, thruster packs, and robot limbs. Combat is snappy and arcadey, while some iconic boss fights anchor the journey and insert an eerie mechanical horror into Armored Core VI’s world that leaves a lasting mark on those who manage to survive it. — Ethan Gach

Playable on: PC, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One

Rough average playtime: 20 hours

Starfield sure is a Bethesda game. That might tell you all you need to know about this epic space RPG. But following all the hype, does it live up to expectations? Well if you were expecting a radical reinvention of the Bethesda formula, probably not. But if you’re looking for that reliable, seemingly endless set of quests and epically large locales, Starfield is more than certain to deliver. It’s a game that will easily pull you in for hours at a time, keeping you entertained with beautiful space vistas and more than a few intriguing narrative twists and turns, including a New Game Plus mode that’s sure to throw more than a few surprises at you. The game also features the best-feeling gunplay in a Bethesda game to date, in addition to the serene joy of simply wandering around a planet’s surface to scout for resources or just be alone in your thoughts.

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Read more: All Of Our Starfield Tips, Guides, News, And Reviews

Violent space shootouts, contemplative trips through the stars, side quests at every turn, and some clever narrative intrigue, Starfield is a dense experience whose familiarity is an all-you-can-eat buffet of digital comfort food. — Claire Jackson

Playable on: PC, Xbox Series X/S

Rough average playtime: 17.5 hours

If there’s any one game that stole my heart in the year of 2023, that game would be Sprawl. A violent, fast-paced neo-retro shooter set in a brooding and oppressive cyberpunk setting where wall-running and bullet time grant you balletic means of eviscerating your foes. Sprawl forces you to use your movement skills and time-slowing powers along with a leashed ammo supply that demands intention and focus amidst overwhelming odds. It’s a challenge of reflexes that I find simply electrifying. It’s hard not to reflexively launch this game every time I fire up Steam. — Claire Jackson

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Read more: I Can’t Stop Playing This Titanfall-F.E.A.R.-Killzone-Doom-Like

Playable on: PC

Rough average playtime: Six hours

Videoverse takes place almost entirely in the fictional, early-2000s online social space of the same name, a place where owners of the Kinmoku Shark gather to discuss their favorite games, as well as share tips and fan art and sometimes talk about their lives. It feels something like an amalgamation of the message boards that dominated online discourse of the era—places like the forums you’d find at GameSpot and IGN—and Nintendo’s Miiverse, the now-defunct social space that was built into the Wii U.

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Read more: This New Game Is A Great Tribute To Early Online Gaming Communities

You engage with this space and the people who inhabit it as Emmett, a young Shark owner with aspirations of being a game artist someday. Videoverse takes place in the final days of the service, as console-maker Kinmoku is shutting down the boards to focus its efforts on its brand new console, and the spiffier, more profitable online service it offers, and the impending end of this era casts your interactions in a poignant light. What’s remarkable about Videoverse is how it gets the human details of these spaces just right, keenly observing the patterns of human behavior and interaction that became so familiar to so many of us who frequented such spaces back then, and how it recognizes that these online connections can and do have real meaning in our lives. The internet, and how we interact with others on it, is always evolving, and not always for the better. Videoverse is a great game about the way we once were, what we’ve lost, and how games can make real meaning in our lives. —Carolyn Petit

Playable on: PC

Rough average playtime: Five hours

The first Octopath Traveler stunned players with Square Enix’s new-look “HD-2D” graphics. The turn-based combat and pixel art hit many right in the nostalgia, spurring memories of SNES classics. However, it was held back by a pretty weak story, repetitive combat, and a lack of cohesion between party members.

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Square Enix heard all these complaints and perfected its Octopath formula with the sequel. All eight travelers have stellar stories that slowly begin to intertwine. The voice acting took a huge jump in quality, particularly with Alejandro Saab as the tortured Osvald. The combat retains the turn-based random encounters, but with added flare and power-ups to make strategies far more unique. Side-quests are rewarding, detailed, and provide some of the most pleasing moments in the game.

Read more: 15 Hours With Octopath Traveler II: Good But Disjointed Stories (So Far)

Octopath Traveler II improves on every shortcoming of its predecessor, while adding new dynamics that make the game shine from front to back. Pair that with its still-gorgeous graphics and you’ve got yourself an instant JRPG classic. Yet another example of sequels running away as the best games of 2023. — Jeb Biggart

Playable On: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Switch

Rough Average Playtime: 61 hours

The Resident Evil 4 remake was not only a beautiful example of what a remake should be—that is, a thoughtful consideration of its audience balanced with dedication to the original game, aided by the gorgeous graphics that passing years allow—but also a reminder of how timeless Resident Evil 4 itself is.

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Endearingly goofy dialogue and entertaining but complex relationships between protagonist Leon S. Kennedy and the lucky ladies in his life still resonate after nearly two decades. Who can forget the highly capable Ada Wong, or the (against all odds) hopeful Ashley Graham? The unbridled strength of the game’s mutant enemies, who encapsulate how grotesquely selfish human greed can be when left unchecked, continue to terrify, too. Not many games feel so fresh after 20 years, but Resident Evil 4 does, and so it’s a rare classic that continues to work for its widespread respect. — Ashley Bardhan

Playable On: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Windows

Rough Average Playtime: 16 hours

Diablo IV has a stellar gameplay loop that’s both engrossing and rewarding. Sure, it’s simple: Load into Sanctuary, kill Hellspawn, get loot, and repeat. But the cycle is so effortless and structured that you can’t help but lose time slaying hordes of demons on your quest to stop Succubus Queen Lilith from overthrowing the game’s world. Diablo IV also serves up a compelling narrative about generational destinies and control as a form of healing that makes the elementary cycle all the more captivating. Diablo IV is a must-play for action-RPG fans this summer, the perfect podcast game to check out while dodging the heat outside. — Levi Winslow

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Read more: Diablo IV’s Best Class Just Got Even Better

Playable On: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Windows

Rough Average Playtime: 18 hours

For as niche a genre as fighting games tend to be, Street Fighter 6 has a lot of people by the throat right now. It’s one of the best iterations of Capcom’s long-running fighting series. With stylish aesthetics, meaningful reworks of old fighters, and impactful new additions, Street Fighter 6 is a shot in the arm for a series that stumbled onto several rakes throughout the troubled lifespan of Street Fighter V.

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Read more: Street Fighter 6: The Kotaku Review

On top of a pitch-perfect fighting game experience, Street Fighter 6 has a silly and fun RPG mode in the form of World Tour mode, which includes a ridiculously deep character-creation suite, letting you customize your own fighter’s appearance and fighting style. Street Fighter 6 is filled to the brim with depth, one of the most all-around robust fighting games in recent memory. — Kenneth Shepard

Playable On: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Windows

Rough Average Playtime: 16.5 hours

2019’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order was an excellent, if occasionally awkward, fusing of design sensibilities lifted from games ranging from Uncharted to Dark Souls, all wrapped up in a compelling, distinctly Star Wars-y story of found family and political persecution.

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But boy, does its sequel, Jedi: Survivor, take the series to impressive new heights. The combat’s been significantly improved and expanded with all kinds of new lightsaber stances and Force powers. The world feels much more alive and responsive to your progress, thanks in part to a cantina that serves as your home base and becomes increasingly filled with galactic outcasts over the course of your adventure. Hero Cal Kestis’ appearance can be customized in all kinds of ways, enabling you to make him a solemn Jedi, a dashing rogue, or all manner of other Star Wars archetypes, each distinguished by your own personal flair.

Read more: I’m A Certified Star Wars Hater, But Jedi: Survivor Whips

Best of all, though, playing Survivor just feels fantastic. Cal’s agility makes him as responsive as the best platformer protagonists, and your steady acquisition of new abilities gives exploring the world a level of satisfaction that rivals Super Metroid. Like its predecessor, this may be a game that wears its influences on its sleeve, but it combines them to create something fresh, stirring, and exceptional. — Carolyn Petit

Playable On: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Windows

Rough Average Playtime: 19 hours

Humanity is a simple concept with unexpected consequences. You play as a dog-shaped ray of light guiding hordes of faceless people toward a tube of light that will help them ascend to the next level. It sounds simple, and it is indeed easy enough at first. But eventually, the Lemmings-like conceit of corralling bodies with directional arrows and prompts to jump across chasms leads to deceptively more complex patterns, teaching you a series of hidden rules you didn’t even know you were learning. The puzzles are meditative and the soundtrack is mesmerizing. Humanity is heady and almost spiritual without ever trying too hard. — Ethan Gach

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Playable On: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows

Rough Average Playtime: 11.5 hours

Planet of Lana takes some of my favorite games—Out of this World, Ico, Inside—and elegantly reconfigures them into something that feels familiar but fresh. You play as a young kid whose planet gets invaded by strange robotic aliens. Solving puzzles and searching for answers with the help of a small dark cat-like companion, Planet of Lana’s short four-hour runtime is just enough to fall in love with its evocative, hand-crafted world. It’s not quite as revelatory as its clear influences, but does a brilliant job of keeping you engaged through a mix of wonder and dread as you explore its mysterious world and uncover its unusual secrets. — Ethan Gach

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Playable On: Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Windows

Rough Average Playtime: 4.5 hours

Honkai Star Rail rides the line of being a perfect introduction to Hoyoverse games with easy-to-follow and oh-so-stylish turned-based action, while also delivering an infectious gremlin anime protagonist energy with its colorful cast of characters. As a former Kotaku writer (and current writer for Genshin Impact) once told me, “Hoyo’s strength is that they are weebs who understand what other weebs like.”

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Like seriously, if you can conjure up a specific anime character archetype, HSR likely has a character that fits the bill with flying colors. Do you like the doting relationship between the Fate/Stay Night anime’s Illya and Berserker? Here, have HSR’s adorable daughter-robo-father duo, Clara and Svarog. Enjoy mysterious characters like Chainsaw Man’s Makima (that’re probably detrimental to your health)? Look no further than HSR’s Kafka. And so it goes on.

By far my favorite feature in Honkai is that it lets me send and receive texts with the characters. Aside from adding an extra layer of characterization to personalities I might otherwise not choose to include in my party, HSR’s texting feature also breaks RPG conventions of protags being dry and one dimensional by letting me send brutally honest messages back and forth with characters about how mundane a fetch quest mission feels to play or how I find characters’ hobbies, like Welt’s affinity for tokusatsu shows, to be rad as fuck. — Isaiah Colbert

Playable On: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows, Mobile

Rough Average Playtime: 18.5 hours

The original Company of Heroes, with its World War II setting and gritty, grounded RTS gameplay, felt like a revelation when it landed in 2006. Its sequel, though, left some wondering if the series could ever reclaim its former glory. Thankfully, Company of Heroes 3 preserves what worked so well about the first game, elevating it not with tweaks to its excellent fundamentals but with inspired changes like a shift to a wonderful new setting.

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Read More: Company Of Heroes 3: The Kotaku Review

Your skirmishes in Italy emphasize what always made CoH so great, presenting you with complex and immensely satisfying tactical challenges in which every decision matters, as you often have to overcome an enemy who both easily outdoes you in sheer firepower and who is dug into an extremely advantageous position. It may not be the most innovative RTS of all time, but it doesn’t need to be. As Luke Plunkett put it in his review, “On the battlefield itself this is still Company of Heroes, as good as it ever was and in some ways, even better.” — Carolyn Petit

Playable On: Playstation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Windows

Rough Average Playtime: 15.5 hours

Most city-builder or strategy games ask you to create big urban cities or task you with fighting a destructive war. That’s not the case with Terra Nil. Instead, you have to clean up the Earth after humanity screwed it all up. It’s a unique concept that hooked me hard.

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Not only is this satisfying as hell, but it also feels hopeful. Watching a huge field of green trees pop up out of a dead wasteland—after mixing the right amount of water, dirt, ash, and sun—always made me feel good. It also made me hope that one day, probably far from now, humanity will be able to clean up the planet as well as I have in Terra Nil. Also, I hope they are better at creating beaches than I am in this game. — Zack Zweizen

Read more: Terra Nil: The Kotaku Review

Playable On: Windows, Mobile

Rough Average Playtime: 4.5 hours

Looking Glass’s 1994 System Shock is a wonderful, massively influential game that is unfortunately challenging for some of today’s players to engage with. Enter Nightdive Studios’ uh… Well, first it was pitched as a remaster. Then a remake. Then a reboot. But after years of development hell, what finally popped out was a slick modern reimagining of the game that helped spark the immersive sim genre. And against all odds, it was actually worth the wait.

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The new System Shock is a study in contrasts. It’s both reverent to its unusual source material but unafraid to innovate when 1994-era design no longer cuts it. It looks great and exceedingly modern, but with vibrant retro colors and thoughtfully intentional pixelation. It brings almost all of what made System Shock memorable into the present, but adds its own spin in the process. Nightdive performed an incredible balancing act here, and the positive reviews speak for themselves.

Sure, I miss the original’s iconic music too, but that everything else is so on point here is just unbelievable. Has there ever been a more troubled remake that turned out so great? — Alexandra Hall

Playable On: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Windows, macOS, Linux

Rough Average Playtime: 14 hours

It’s been a minute since players got to step into the stomping shoes of Isaac Clarke, but Motive Studio’s Dead Space remake is hopefully a sign that the series will be coming back in a meaningful way. While much of the game is faithful to the 2008 original, there’s some significant changes made to the story’s structure to make decent use of the once-silent and unseenIsaac’s voice and face, as well as alterations to mechanics like zero gravity movement to be more in line with the sequels, and a top-to-bottom visual overhaul to really make the most of its claustrophobic derelict-spaceship setting. While the future of the series is unclear at the moment, the Dead Space remake is a sign that there’s still life in the franchise long after original developer Visceral Games’ closure.

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Playable On: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Windows

Rough Average Playtime: 12 hours

Knowing A Space for the Unbound was developed under some tenuous circumstances at the hands of former publisher PQube makes the fact that the game is as good as it is all the more bittersweet, as the publisher’s alleged withholding of funds put the game in limbo for five months. Mojiken Studio’s adventure game follows teenagers Atma and Raya, the latter of whom can manipulate reality at the expense of her health. The supernatural is juxtaposed with the game’s decidedly small town vibe, which carries touchstones of the studio’s Indonesian culture throughout its runtime. It’s cozy, unapologetic in its depiction of Indonesian culture, and unravels a supernatural mystery grounded in human connection.

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Playable On: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Switch, Windows

Rough Average Playtime: 11 hours

The latest entry in the Fire Emblem series has been a little divisive compared to other entries in Nintendo’s tactical RPG franchise. Though Fire Emblem Engage is a solid game of anime chess, the writing and character design don’t hit quite as hard as they did in 2019’s landmark entry Three Houses. It’s a litmus test for what you want most out of the series in a post-Three Houses world. If you want the series’ tactical combat at its most streamlined and efficient, Engage is here for you. But if you’re looking for a story with the same meaningful intricacies and character development as Three Houses, it’s just not here. All that being said, it’s still one of the better games we’ve gotten in these first few weeks of 2023, but we’ll see how people feel about it ten months from now when the GOTY ballots are rolling out.

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Playable On: Switch

Rough Average Playtime: 40 hours

Tango Gameworks surprised everyone by breaking away from its horror roots and releasing Hi-Fi Rush, a rhythm-based action game that combines the vibes of Scott Pilgrim and the structure of Devil May Cry. Hi-Fi Rush is a stellar example of how you should never put a developer in a box, because I can’t think of something more diametrically opposed to The Evil Within than a bopping, tongue-in-cheek hack n’ slash with a banger soundtrack and some genuinely lovable characters. It’s joy distilled into your Game Pass subscription.

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Playable On: Xbox Series X/S, Windows

Rough Average Playtime: 11 hours

Scavengers Studio’s take on the apocalypse is a little different from other games, as it’s less about the survival of people than it is about survival of culture. Season: A Letter to the Future follows a young woman named Estelle as she leaves her village to document people’s lived experiences before a cataclysmic event comes to wipe it all away. Its depiction of memories of what came before as both a blessing and a burden is introspective and earnest. Though it doesn’t resonate with everyone, you may find yourself among those who love this gorgeous and distinctive narrative adventure game.

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Playable On: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows

Rough Average Playtime: 5 hours

Fans are still enduring the painful wait for Metroid Prime 4, but Nintendo and Retro did provide a small morsel to tide them over in the form of a remaster of the original GameCube game on Switch. While the updated port includes some notable quality-of-life changes like alternate control schemes and accessibility options, the remaster ultimately proves just how timeless the original game was when it launched over 20 years ago. Hopefully this means remasters of Metroid Prime 2: Echoes and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption are in the works, too, because it would be great to see Samus’ first-person adventure subseries make its way to a modern platform.

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Playable On: Switch

Rough Average Playtime: 13 hours

Speaking of old classics making their way to modern video game hardware, Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4 Golden are on pretty much everything now, having launched on Switch, PS4, PC, and Xbox in January. While Persona 5 has blown up in a big way, Persona 3 and 4 are the framework for the series’ shift into dungeon crawling and social links. Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4 Golden are the definitive (or, the closest thing to one, in Persona 3’s case) versions of the RPGs that helped elevate Persona to a household name. If you’ve only played Persona 5, it may take some adjustments to go back, but these are still two really captivating RPGs and social sims, with incredible soundtracks, complex but approachable battle systems, and two of the best JRPG casts of the time. Just know there’s some extremely clumsy and dated writing surrounding some social issues that the series is still struggling with to this day.

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Playable On: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Switch, Windows

Rough Average Playtime: 65 hours / 68 hours

Lone Ruin is a great encapsulation of “short, sweet, and to the point.” The roguelike takes clear inspiration from games like Hades, and delivers an action-packed isometric experience drenched in a gorgeous neon blue and pink color palette. The tight, refined action is just as much a joy to watch as it is to play, and the game doesn’t overstay its welcome. However, given the immense replayability of the genre, Lone Ruin inherently gives you plenty to do, and its pitch-perfect execution of its fast-paced action gives you plenty of reason to come back again and again.

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Playable On: Switch, Windows

Rough Average Playtime: 2 hours

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