The Game of Not-This-Year: 2023

January 15, 2024

Written by Prospect

2023 has been an excellent year for gaming. Yes, that’s right –  I’m starting this whole article writing thing with nothing but the hottest takes (wait ‘till you get to the bit where I say Baldur’s Gate 3 is my game of the year!). This year gave us hit after hit with blessedly little gaming downtime through an amazing crop of releases. 

So why did I find it so hard to pick a game of the year?

It wasn’t because there were too many good games to choose from as you might suspect, but more so that in a year of games consistently hitting 8s & 9s, nothing really pulled ahead for a standout easy winner. Final Fantasy XVI had fantastic moments, but the overall package was lacking. Jedi Survivor was a great evolution of an already excellent game, but lacked the depth and staying power of a true GOTY. Baldur’s Gate 3 I barely need to hawk the virtues of, yet I found myself disengaging with it often, and being OK with that. And we even had some should-have-been-goods that flopped hard in Diablo IV and Forspoken.

So I think back to what game this year I did get the most out of. And honestly? The answer is Anno 1800. For the uninitiated, Anno 1800 is a popular city building and logistics management game…that was initially released in 2019. My most impactful gaming experience from 2023 was a game that was 4 years old that I just happened to pick up now.

This wasn’t the first time something like this has happened and I’m sure it’s not an experience that I’m alone in having. This threw into light for me that there really are some gaping holes in the Game of the Year idea. Anno is a good example of this. In the four years that Anno 1800 has been around, there have been roughly 12 major DLC updates and 4 season passes. This is a game structure that’s become common across a couple of genres – City Builders for one, but Fighting Games also spring to mind.

In both cases, DLCs can be a significant part of the overall game experience, and the “complete” version is often a whole other beast compared to the initial release. I only first played Anno this year and was completely drawn in, but had I played it in 2019 when it first came out? I would likely not view it as highly.

Then there’s something like Final Fantasy XIV (or whichever MMO you prefer). On hours alone that game likely beat out all other games for me this year (yet again), and my static and I are still exploring freshly released content and play experiences. Going from the casual experience of slowly and steadily levelling up your character’s classes and enjoying the well written story, to spending months learning the strategies and coordination needed to clear the game’s Savage content, it’s like discovering a whole new game. There’s a whole genre of MMOs and MMO-likes that offer a journey that can take years to fully experience, hardly something that you can foresee in their release year’s GOTY discussions.

Every year at NGP when we come to democratically choosing a game of the year, it’s never as cut and dry as sorting through the AAA releases and IGN 9/10s for the year and focusing on the ones that impressed us the most. Common messages during this period include “I didn’t play many games this year”, or “I don’t want to vote till I’ve played (that game that everyone says is great)”, or “You’re all plebs for not voting for Red Dead Redemption 2”. There always seems that there’s a reason or two where we might not feel completely legitimate in putting our votes on the ballot. We get over it, and vote anyway, because opinions, lifestyles, and gaming practices vary greatly and all are welcome in our GOTY discussions. But the frequency with which it happens does make me think that when it comes to game of the year, the game has changed.

I’m pro-GOTY and The Game Awards and all that because I like the capstone discussion and reflection it creates at the end of each year, celebrating or commiserating the year that was. But I think it’s worth also recognising that the discussion of the ‘year that was’ is not always defined exclusively by new releases. Sometimes it’s because of the pure happenstance of what and when you ‘get round’ to playing, sometimes games just need that extra time to mature, and sometimes you’re still getting an amazing experience out of something you’ve been playing for years. But whatever the case, it’s a crying shame that such impactful gaming experiences miss out on all the GOTY limelight. 

In light of this, I want to propose a new GOTY category – the Game of the Not-This-Year.

As alluded to above, my Game of the Not-This-Year for 2023 goes to Anno 1800. Satisfactory taught me that I am easily addicted to these kinds of logistic management games in the best possible way, and the depth, balance, attention to detail, and even the graphics in Anno 1800 just convince me that it is currently the best-in-class for the entire genre. Highly recommend to anyone with that city building itch.

But it’s not much of a category with just my nomination. So here’s some thoughts I managed to get from some of the other NGP cast and crew:

Frog Detective: The Entire Mystery – Jason

Quirky, well written, trendy without being tedious.

Logiart Grimoire – Jamie

So you know those Picross games on Nintendo platforms? What if the developers behind them made one for PC? It’s basically crack to me, and I love it. Cannot wait for the full release.

Cyberpunk 2077 – Don

I just finally found the time to play through the game. Despite everything that overshadowed this game, when it worked it was a fine enough junk-food game.

Digimon World  – Ina

Played it after digimon next order and found it to be a more condensed version with better focus on exploration and narrative. It’s impressive how straightforward gameplay is, but still maintains depth with fine-tuning what evolutions you get. The side quests and customization options made it very enjoyable.

Haven – Wolfie

It’s a great story with great dialogue that feels realistic.

Holocure: Save the Fans – Jamie

Holocure is a Vampire Survivors clone that is, in many ways, as good as Vampire Survivors despite being a one person effort. Loads of characters that are adapted well to the style of game, constantly being worked on, has a tonne of extra modes, and it’s just a delight.

I got two main takeaways (and lots of small takeaways) from the responses I got.

One was variety and exploration. I was more than a little sceptical about what I would get out of this whole idea, but honestly? This list of games alone makes the whole thing worthwhile. These were games that a significant impact this year from gamers whose opinion I trust*, and five out of six of them I’ve never even heard of. Exploration of quality games is always welcome, and even if Game of the Not-This-Year becomes just an over-complicated way to get some recommendations, then it will have been worth it. 

The other takeaway is tied to a follow-up question I had for this idea: Would this game replace your GOTY for its release year? Exactly 50% of the votes said a straight ‘No’. The other 50% admitted it would make the top 3. However not a single person said ‘yes – this the real GOTY for whatever year it was’, which was really interesting to me. Maybe this trend will change as games-as-a-service become more prolific, but for now, it would appear that while these out-of-sync gaming experiences are great, the stats would suggest that the true GOTY process is still the right choice.

Anyway, that’s my thousand-plus word justification for giving my GOTY to Anno 1800. Hopefully if you made it this far it’s because you got something out of this idea of really looking reflectively on the GOTY idea outside of exclusively new releases, and I’d be keen to hear your thoughts and own nominations. But if it’s still not enough to cheat the system, then sure, Baldur’s Gate 3 for GOTY I guess…

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