Golly. What a year of games releases it’s been—one of the all-timers to rival 1998 and 2007, or perhaps even surpass them.
Which makes things difficult for a guy like me. I’m someone who’s drawn to games that score 8/10, and not just because there’s something intriguing about the almost-great, but also because—crucially—they make me seem more interesting for the purposes of an exercise such as this end-of-year list. Leave it to other critics to pick the obvious 10/10 releases. Hark at me with my demonstrative, questionable support for 8/10s.
But in a year of wall-to-wall 10/10s, who am I kidding? The choices almost make themselves. What follows—boringly—is a top ten composed of ten very excellent games.
In order of release date…
Fire Emblem Engage (Nintendo Switch)
It’s been a wonderful year for fans of the tactics genre, those games that have you moving your little soldiers across dioramic, boardgame-esque landscapes. Not only have there been a number of standout releases, including Persona 5 Tactica and the remade version of Advance Wars 1+2, the mechanics of tactics games have also seeped into other releases that are (mostly) outside of the genre, including the great Baldur’s Gate 3. The highlight, though, has been this, the latest in the longstanding Fire Emblem series. Engage didn’t seem to be celebrated as it should have been—with cheers and cartwheels—at the time of its release, perhaps because it dialled back the popular character-work and soap opera of its more recent predecessors, especially Fire Emblem: Three Houses (2019), in favour of a more streamlined, old-school approach. But that’s precisely why I like it so much. This is a tactics game that really tries to be a good tactics game—and succeeds.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor (PlayStation, Xbox, PC)
Bigger and better sequels are a leitmotif of the year (see: Tears of the Kingdom and Spider-Man 2, below—but also Alan Wake 2, etc.). Here’s another. Its predecessor, Jedi: Fallen Order (2019), was a fine game that, with its die-and-keep-trying swordplay, was a little too clearly indebted to the Dark Souls series. But Survivor is a different beast entirely. Yes, the Dark Souls lineage is still present, but everything around it—from the time-spanning story in a galaxy far, far away to the new blaster options afforded to the fledging Jedi Cal Kestis—is so much more self-confident that we’re now looking a series that will go on to inspire others in turn. Oh, and the planet of Koboh—where Cal gets to hang out with the locals and test out all of his burgeoning skills, time and again—is one of the great gaming locations.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (Switch)
How do you follow one of the greatest games of all time, 2017’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild? With a sequel that is—as cliché would have it—bigger and better. And Tears of the Kingdom truly is bigger: to the expansive plains, mountains and forests of Hyrule it adds an entire civilisation in the clouds, as well as the dark of an underworld. And it truly is better, or at least I think it is. It’s certainly different. By stacking new forms of gameplay on top of Breath of the Wild’s already-stuffed selection of things to do—in particular, giving hero Link the ability to make objects, including gliders and rocket-powered carts, from assorted bric-a-brac—Tears of the Kingdom feels like a true expansion of what came before, even if it can be a little fiddly at times, more geared towards the veterans. In practically any other year—a year without Baldur’s Gate 3—this would have been my absolute favourite.
F1 23 (PlayStation, Xbox, PC)
I admit, my impression of this game might be coloured by my particular experience of it. A far-flung friend and I have got in the habit of meeting up online, about once a week, putting on headsets like a pair of saddos, and playacting an entire Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend, from practice sessions to the actual race, as drivers in the same team. If you’re into F1, it’s a great way of spending time with someone—but I also suspect it’s a good time regardless, whether you’re racing with close buddies, with random folk on the internet, or just by yourself. Because F1 23 gets it all right; from the glitz surrounding the sport to the feel of each bump on the lovingly recreated tracks. Its simulation is so all-encompassing that I’ve even bought a fancy steering-wheel setup for my computer, to help me clock even faster times in 2024. Eat my dust, Jonathan.
Baldur’s Gate 3 (PlayStation, Xbox, PC)
Of course. Baldur’s Gate 3 isn’t just in my top ten for the year—it’s in my top ten of all time, perhaps even my top five or three. Rarely has a game come along and so immediately and thoroughly ticked all my boxes, scratched all my itches and tickled all my fancies, though I do say this as someone who grew up on the original Baldur’s Gate (1998) and its tremendous sequel Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn (2000). But you don’t need to take my word for it: check out the numbers and all the online delirium surrounding this game of dungeons and dragons. Turns out, millions have fallen for Baldur’s Gate 3 as I have, and no wonder. Few games, if any, have ever married such breadth—there are miles of forest and hill and medieval city through which to go adventurin’—with such depth—everything, every side character and trinket, appears to have been crafted individually and with great care. A monumental achievement by its creators, Larian Studios.
Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew (PlayStation, Xbox, PC)
Mourn Mimimi. Working in a genre that is best described as “stealth tactics”—clicking operatives around overhead landscapes to silently (and creatively) dispatch the enemy—this German studio has made some of my favourite games of recent years, such as Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun (2016) and Desperados III (2020). Then, in 2023, came the news that it was closing down; Mimimi is no more. The consolation, if you can call it that, is that 2023 also saw the release of their finest game, Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew. Weirdly, given my admiration for their other work, and not knowing that this one would be the last, I wasn’t too desperate for it in advance. I slightly suspected that they’d done the stealth tactics genre to death. And the move to undead pirates, away from samurai (in Shadow Tactics) and cowboys (in Desperados), didn’t really float my—ahem—galleon. But how wrong I was. The Cursed Crew is the perfection of everything that Mimimi has been doing for years. And the supernatural shenanigans meant that they could get far more imaginative with what they offered players. In fact, part of me now wishes it were called Shadow Gambit: The Greatest Swansong.
Super Mario Bros. Wonder (Switch)
Shock! Nintendo is good at making video games. Of course, I’m kidding—it’s not a shock at all. But, in the case of Super Mario Bros. Wonder, it is at least a mild surprise. This is the first mainline, side-scrolling 2D Mario game—which is to say, one basically in the style of the original Super Mario Bros. (1985)—for 11 years, during which time a consensus opinion has taken hold: that the 2D Mario games are rather old hat compared to their more recent, super-innovative 3D brethren. And yet… Wonder, which arrived to shake up all formulae and expectations. It’s got a new setting, the swirly-whirly place known as the Flower Kingdom. A more pastel-coloured palette. And fun idea after fun idea after fun idea hurled at the screen, with practically all of them sticking. Run with psychedelic bison! Race a caterpillar! Allow yourself to tumble down this wonderful rabbit hole!
Spider-Man 2 (PlayStation)
Wheeee! Honestly, I think it might be my favourite feeling in all gaming; just swinging through the beautiful rendition of New York City—from skyscraper to skyscraper, from deli to dockside—in these Spider-Man games by Insomniac. It’s just so easy, so freeing. And it remains perhaps the best part of this Spidey sequel, though this time I’ve had to add that “perhaps” because everything around the web-swinging is much better than it was in either Insomniac’s first Spider-Man (2018) or their interstitial Spider-Man: Miles Morales (2020). The grand comic-book storyline; the camaraderie between the two Spider-Men; even the boss battles against some of the nastier members of Marvel’s villain roster… yes, the destination is very almost as good as the webtastic journey.
Gaming is going through a climbing phase. Perhaps it was inspired by Breath of the Wild on its release in 2017, perhaps there’s some other cause, but—whatever—we’re now being served up plenty of games that involve clambering from rock to rock, including this year’s VR spectacular Horizon Call of the Mountain; another game on this list, A Highland Song; and this one, Jusant, from the French developers Don’t Nod. Jusant is perhaps the purest of them all, as it sets you—a monkish wanderer with a blue froggy pet—the task of simply going up, up, up a seemingly endless spire. The climbing mechanics themselves are immensely satisfying, with different buttons assigned to each of your character’s hands, such that you can grab, let go, grab, let go. But so too are the views as you ascend—over a wistfully beautiful world from which all the waters appear to have… receded.
A Highland Song
A late entry—not just because it came out in December, but also because I only played through it a few days ago in anticipation of this list. Though, in truth, I always had a tenth spot set aside for A Highland Song, ever since I learned of its impending release. It is, after all, the new game from Inkle, the small band of British developers who made such marvellous games as 80 Days (2014) and Overboard! (2021). This one is very much a Scottish-set Inkle release, infatuated, as it is, with that land’s stories, myths and byways as it tells its own story of a girl hiking from home to her uncle’s lighthouse on the coast. But it’s also more action-oriented than their previous titles, with much of your time spent figuring out—and executing—routes through the towering mountains. You’ll even, on occasion, get to run with deer. Magic.
- Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp
- Alan Wake 2
- Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon
- Dave the Diver
- Hogwarts Legacy
- One Piece Odyssey
- Pikmin 4
- Street Fighter 6
- Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader