Games

Alyssa Mercante’s Top 8 Games Of 2023

You’ve heard it time and time again—2023 was a huge year for game releases, which made the battle for game of the year (GOTY) at sites and award shows across the globe hard-fought and difficult. Baldur’s Gate 3 won at this year’s Game Awards, other publications have handed the crown to Tears of the Kingdom, and Kotaku’s site-wide list may do something completely different. But what about our staff’s personal GOTY lists, the games that delighted us that maybe weren’t all brand-new titles or big-budget blockbusters, but also were fun little mobile games or shooters that got a second life?

For me, 2023 was a year of branching out. Despite still plunging hundreds of hours into Overwatch 2 comp, I forced myself to try and get better at The New York Times’ Connections word game, and challenged myself to give turn-based RPGs a go for the first time ever. I dabbled in horror, in humor, in learning some hubris. Some of these games are expected, some may surprise, but they are all my top games of 2023—in no particular order.


New York Times’ Connections

Image: New York Times / Kotaku / Vladimir Gjorgiev (Shutterstock)

A few months ago, the daily New York Times’ Connections puzzle was a consistent hit to my self-esteem. Back then, I constantly wasted my finite chances to arrange the sixteen words into four different buckets based on their linguistic connections, and it irked me to a point where I seriously questioned my own intelligence. Was I, actually, a dumb-dumb? But after a week or so of struggling, I started to make important connections (eh? eh?) in my head, and the daily puzzle became a fun way for me to wake my brain up every morning. Now, I look forward to sending my sister a text featuring beautifully organized, colorful squares, and noting how often we figure out the groups in the same order. It took some time, but I’m proud to say I’m a Connections girly now.


Overwatch 2

A collection of Overwatch heroes stand against a colorful collage of some of its maps.

Image: Vicky Leta / Blizzard

Despite everything I’ve been through as an open-queuing Overwatch 2 competitive player (who is also a healer main), I could not quit Blizzard’s hero shooter in 2023. Just call me Jack Twist. Blizzard gave us some pretty solid in-game events and collaborations this year, and the new heroes added more spice to the game, which made it easy to consistently return to it again and again and again, even when my rank never made any sense. No matter how much I hate on Overwatch 2 and the powers-that-be at ActiBlizz, it’s still my most-played game of the year by a country mile


Alan Wake 2

Saga Anderson stands in the middle of a rain-soaked street.

Image: Remedy

Once in a while, a game comes along that is so vibey, so incredibly curated, that it’s apt to call its creator an “auteur.” Sam Lake, Alan Wake 2’s writer and director, gave us a horror game imbued with the anxieties of a creative, dripping with blood from occult rituals, and bathed in the eerie neon glow of an alternate-reality Manhattan. From the opening sequence to the pitch-perfect ending and the surprise musical number in-between, Alan Wake 2 is perfection. It’s a game that will be remembered for decades to come, a beacon of beauty in what can too-often be a sea of sameness. Or more simply, as the kids say, this game fucking whips.


Halo Infinite

Opposing squads face off on a Halo Infinite map.

Image: 343 Industries

Halo Infinite had massive Spartan boots to fill, and it struggled to do so at launch. But two years later, the FPS has earned its flowers, offering a full-fledged Forge builder, new maps and modes, and consistent upgrades that keep it fresh. Halo Infinite is my go-to “brain off” shooter, a frustration-free FPS that lets me feel, briefly, like I’m in college again. The silly physics, the absurd weapons, the over-the-top announcers—it all offers up a low-stakes, high-fun experience that’s like snacking on a bag of Sour Patch kids (watermelon, of course). Kudos to 343 Industries for providing so much communication and support to a game that we were all so hard on—now I just wish we’d get some more campaign content…


Diablo IV

An armored attacker covered in a red glow points their weapon at an enemy.

Image: Blizzard

This year was a really big one for me when it came to branching outside of my genre comfort zone, and it started with Diablo IV. I’ve never really played top-down RPGs, but the moment I saw the hellish, moody landscape of Blizzard’s latest game in the franchise, I was hooked. The hack-and-slash combat, the sexy devil lady, the endless quest for better loot, it all scratched an itch I never really knew I had. Sure, I eventually stopped playing as other games released and drew my attention, but the future promise of more content for an already-great game means I will inevitably return to Sanctuary.


Marvel’s Spider-Man 2

Miles Morales glows with lightning-based power.

Image: Insomniac

No, Spider-Man 2 never wowed me, but it did keep me pleasantly, blissfully entertained for a couple dozen hours. Maybe it’s because I wanted to find every New York City landmark with ease, swinging from Rockefeller Center to Madison Square Garden so fast I’m almost angry at the memory of how many times I’ve schlepped through the city on foot. Maybe it’s because Insomniac has perfected how their Spider-Man world looks and feels, making for a virtually unimpeded gaming experience that goes down like a well-chilled shot of mezcal. Whatever the reason, whenever I needed a break from the highs and lows of first-person-shooting, I turned to Spider-Man 2 for a palate cleanser.


Viewfinder

A screenshot of an in-game landscape featuring different art styles.

Screenshot: Kotaku / Thunderful

I first tried out Viewfinder at this year’s Summer Game Fest, and I was floored by its beautiful approach to puzzles. As a very impatient person, I often shun puzzle games, as I can’t brute-force my way through them, but the brilliant visual tricks Viewfinder plays were like a balm for my jittery nerves. Its forgiving rewind feature let me fix my mistakes without punishing me for them, which only gave me more runway when it comes to my dwindling patience, as I felt like every fuck up was a gently teachable moment (despite what you may think, I was a pleasure to have in class). Viewfinder is a work of art as much as it’s a game, with each frame feeling like it could be hung on a wall. I adored this game.


Starfield

An explorer approaches glowing, floating rings.

Image: Bethesda

Starfield isn’t the future of video games. It doesn’t reinvent the Bethesda wheel, nor does it offer something that feels so demonstrably novel that it was worth all the incredible hype it was getting in the years leading to its release. It is, however, a solid-ass game to get lost in for hours at a time, and I’m incredibly grateful for that. In a year where I lost my grandfather and my dog and where the world felt more cruel than usual, I find solace in mindlessly completing silly little side-quests or trudging across distant, barren planets. Starfield allowed me to get lost when I most needed it, to disconnect from the noise of social media or my own grief for a little bit so I could return to both semi-refreshed, ready to take on another day. Like Skyrim, it’ll always be there when I’m looking for a little free serotonin, and that’s worth a place on this list.


Baldur’s Gate 3

A Baldur's Gate 3 character frowns while summoning magic in their hand.

Image: Larian Studios

It took me a few months to get onto the Baldur’s Gate 3 bandwagon, and it only happened because I was violently sidelined by a winter cold that whooped my ass. But once I booted up Larian Studios’ award-winning RPG, I was immediately lost to it, spending 25 hours’ worth of time scouring Faerûn within just a few days. By now you’ve undoubtedly heard the reasons why BG3 is a once-in-decade kind of game—it has a fantastic cast of characters that rivals Mass Effect’s, it offers incredible immersion that makes combat and traversal a delightful playground, its world envelops you like a hand-woven tapestry pulled from the stone wall of a castle. It’s been years since I’ve felt so wholly taken by a game and its universe, but Baldur’s Gate 3 has done it.


There you have it, my personal list of the best games of 2023. What do you think?


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