NEW GAME PLUS’ GAME OF THE YEAR 2023
January 18, 2024
Written by New Game Plus Staff
Talking about 2023 is very complicated. On one hand, it had some of the best and most memorable gaming experiences in recent years. The worst of the pandemic years are behind us, so all that time spent making those games paid off dividends. Coming up with any form of ranked list for the sheer quantity of high quality games was an especially difficult task.
On the other, we can’t ignore the utter decimation experienced by the gaming industry. Thousands upon thousands of people lost their jobs this year across discipline and countries in what felt like a weekly occurrence. Then there were the studio closures brought upon by bad financial decisions and bets made by parent companies. We’re still gutted by the closure of Volition back in August and Free Radical right before Christmas. To describe it as a ghoulish move would be understating the destruction of these storied studios.
Having said that, there are still video games that are worth celebrating. Without further ado, here’s New Game Plus’ Top 3 Games of 2023.
3. THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: TEARS OF THE KINGDOM
It’s still mind boggling that the Switch launched with one of the best games of the decade with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Nintendo’s turning Zelda into an open world game? It shouldn’t have worked! We loved it so much we gave it our Game of the Year for 2017. When a sequel was announced back in 2019, it seemed like such a tall order: How do you follow up on one of the most widely regarded video games ever made? Nintendo did it with Tears of the Kingdom.
The trick ultimately had to do with two things. The first was Link’s new suite of powers. Ultrahand and Fuse gave players the ability to craft new weapons and ways to get around the world, while Recall offered new ways to solve puzzles and Ascend gave us the power of a literal dev tool to rethink navigation. The second, of all things, was the story. Jason, who reviewed Breath of the Wild back in 2017, loved the game but felt its story was amongst its weakest elements. Needless to say, he loved Tears of the Kingdom’s story, particularly how it utilised Zelda.
It’s almost impossible to predict what Nintendo are going to do next. At the time of writing, rumours of a Switch successor have fired up again, but this time it genuinely feels like it could be real. If Breath of the Wild kicked off the Switch era with the biggest bang Nintendo’s had in years, Tears of the Kingdom is a fitting conclusion to the Switch era. We cannot wait to see what’s next.
2. HI-FI RUSH / FINAL FANTASY XVI
Two of the year’s best action games couldn’t be any different from one another. On the one hand, you’ve got the latest in one of gaming’s longest running and most radically evolving series, helmed by arguably its most successful and heralded development team in years. On the other, you’ve got a game that literally came right out of nowhere from a studio that has been making horror games since their inception, marking a complete 180 in terms of not only the type of game, but also the general vibe and aesthetic. Both games represent such great takes on the action genre, that we couldn’t break a tie and instead, we want to highlight both.
Hi-Fi Rush was announced and shadow dropped all the way back in January. Its unique mashup of character action based combat and rhythm game shouldn’t have worked as well as it did, but the game presented enough depth and surprising needle drops to create a game that really stuck with you. On top of that, it had style for days, effortlessly switching between gameplay and cinematic while still looking great. If anything else, it’s a game with easily one of the strongest aesthetics in years.
It also says a lot about the kinds of games Xbox Game Studios (and in fairness, most major studios too) should be releasing more. In a year where every major Xbox release came and went without any real impact, Hi-Fi Rush was the one that stuck around. It was small enough to easily get through in between big releases. A lot of major publishers have forgotten this – not everything needs to be the biggest and most important video game!
However, if you are going to make the biggest and most important video game, one only has to look at Square Enix and Final Fantasy XVI. Even for a series that reinvents itself with every mainline entry, Final Fantasy XVI broke a lot of the series conventions in interesting ways. For one, the game is more or less focused around its protagonist Clive Rosfield, with no real set party or anyone else to control. It’s also the most direct attempt for maturity the series has made, and not just in the cutscenes, sex and swear words. It tries to go for the most complex political intrigue offered in the series to date, made easier to parse thanks to features like Active Time Lore.
Then there’s the game itself, which eschews Final Fantasy XV’s open world for larger zones, with plenty of combat and side quests to be had. If you think of it as an MMO but without any online capabilities, it tracks better. Given it was made by core members of the Final Fantasy XIV team, it’s not a stretch to believe they made what they knew, but without an ongoing subscription.
If you’re after a great action game released last year, you can’t go wrong with either Hi-Fi Rush or Final Fantasy XVI.
1. BALDUR’S GATE III
The most cynical thing you can say about Baldur’s Gate III is that it’s effectively an improved and refined Divinity: Original Sin II, with added D&D rules and a horny vibe to appease the always online crowd. That in itself would still be a great video game, but I don’t think it does justice to the level of quality Baldur’s Gate III offers.
A lot of it has to do with the way publisher/developer Larian Studios have been making their games since Divinity Original Sin II. By releasing their games into Early Access for years at a time, they work with the community to take on the best possible feedback while working out the final product. It’s a process that’s shown to work very well, given the way their games tend to merge open endedness with turn based combat.
For instance, you could cast Magic Missile on your enemies – but that’s boring. But what if instead you pushed them off a nearby cliff or cast a fire spell on an oil pool. Of course, this can all easily be done to you if you’re not careful. Add in co-op and the game more or less provides the freedom to tackle most situations how you want to, and it makes for a great time.
Larian seemingly accounts for every situation you can think of thanks to an unfathomable amount of polish and attention to detail. Pretty much every bit of dialogue in this game is not only voiced, but also given its own unique cutscene. Even if you or another character has got nothing to say, every line of dialogue is treated like it’s part of the most important cutscene. And there’s hundreds of NPCs to do this with. It’s mind boggling stuff.
Speaking of character, Baldur’s Gate III has arguably the most memorable companions in any game released in 2023. No matter who you thought was the coolest or the one you focussed on romancing there were an endless amount of memes and fan art related to them. You can thank the exemplary writing and performances for each companion for really making them stand out. They make you want the approval of every character on every choice, something that’s way harder than you’d think. We don’t have the statistics to prove it, but Jamie may have save-scummed on every choice to win Shadowheart over. That’s the power this game has over people.
All of this combined to make a game that not only resonated with the RPG vets, but also the mainstream audience that D&D has cultivated in recent years. We could go on, but the results speak for themselves. We’re proud to say that Baldur’s Gate III is the New Game Plus Game of The Year for 2023!