It’s that time of the year again. Time to look back at a full year of gaming and appreciate the biggest hits. Gamers ate well this year, between juggling updates to ongoing titles like Genshin and Honkai Star Rail to feasting on blockbusters nearly a decade in the making. Major publishers from Nintendo and Square Enix to Insomniac and Bethesda delivered on highly anticipated hits, and small indies didn’t disappoint, either. This may very well go down as one of the best years in video game history — at least if it wasn’t for seemingly endless layoffs and controversies that plagued the $200 billion industry.
We know it’s almost impossible to decide what to play these days and even more improbable to play everything, so we’ve curated a special list of the 10 games you can’t miss from 2023. Inverse reviewed these over the course of a year and lived the lives of these iconic characters so that we could come back to you with the best of the best.
10. Final Fantasy XVI
Final Fantasy XVI is a massive shift for the prolific series that still manages to preserve the heart of what makes it special. Taking a much darker and more mature Game of Thrones-style tone, FFXVI completes the franchise’s transition to full-on action game with a heavy focus on combos and swappable movesets. And yet, it still feels inherently Final Fantasy, with flashy effects and jaw-dropping boss battles that easily rank among some of the series' best.
Of course, where FFXVI really shines is in its narrative and characters, weaving a complex tale about duty, fate, and breaking free of bonds. This entry is filled with lovable characters, from the strapping main hero Clive to the lovable scamp Gav. Despite the darker story, there’s still a sense of playfulness and whimsy that’s so integral to stories in the series. FFXVI isn’t afraid to break from tradition and try new things, but it still manages to honor its legacy in that process. - Hayes Madsen
Why was Starfield snubbed at the Game Awards? Could it be that gamers only had time for one massive RPG in 2023? In that case, it’s tough to compete with the bustling fantasy world of Baldur’s Gate 3, especially when Starfield is a game that demands your patience and devotion.
I like quiet games, ones that force you to take it slow and ponder your mortality. Starfield is the epitome of that type of game, a vast galaxy full of empty planets designed to make you contemplate your status as a speck of dust in the cosmos. Of course, there’s plenty to do in Starfield too, with a sprawling main story and enough side quests to keep you busy for hundreds of hours.
This is a game that grows richer with every playthrough, and I wish more people would give it a chance. Starfield pushes the envelope of what this medium can be, and its themes of alien religion, human possibility, corporate espionage, and media malfeasance (among others) are more relevant than ever in 2023. - Shannon Liao
8. Dead Space
The Dead Space remake is a phenomenal reimagining of one of the greatest horror games ever made, adding more tension, atmosphere, and terror than ever before. While the visual update for the game is stunning, this version of Dead Space is more than just a straight remake, adding in meaningful new changes that enhance the entire experience.
Protagonist Isaac Clarke is now fully voiced, giving the story a greater sense of investment and gravitas. Certain elements of the story have also been tweaked or expanded, with a few additional side quests added in to help flesh things out. Combat also feels more visceral thanks to enhanced gore and Necromorph dismemberment. Dead Space is still the same game at its core, but EA Motive refined nearly every aspect of the original to make one of the unequivocally defining experiences of the horror genre. - Hayes Madsen
7. Street Fighter 6
Street Fighter 6 feels like a revelation for fighting games, a title that’s as much for newcomers as it is for longtime fans. Digging right into the heart of what made fighting games blow up in the first place, Street Fighter 6 is a delight that refines the franchise’s mechanics while adding new layers.
World Tour is a brilliant new story mode that slyly teaches you the basics of Street Fighter, while integrating more complex storytelling and RPG mechanics. It is a supremely approachable way of learning the basics, which is emphasized across all of Street Fighter 6. A new control scheme also simplifies things for those not well-versed in fighting games without dumbing down the core gameplay. And new Drive and Parry systems help provide more depth for longtime fans, while each character’s array of moves received painstaking attention to adjust to these new changes.
Street Fighter 6 honors decades of history for the franchise, but more importantly it feels like a step toward the future for fighting games. It effortlessly manages to be the most approachable fighting game ever made and sets a new benchmark for others to follow. - Hayes Madsen
6. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2
Spider-Man 2 shouts a love letter to New York City from the rooftops. You get to web-sling across Harlem, Queens, and Brooklyn while completing quests as Peter Parker, Miles Morales, and several other beloved characters. If you’re a Marvel fan, you’ll automatically love this game, as you get to embody your favorite heroes and punch your way to a blockbuster finale.
Aside from playing as your favorite web-slinger of choice, Spider-Man 2 is chock full of side quests that range from spray-painting beautiful murals as Miles’ friend Hailey to testing out a faulty DJ simulator as Morales himself. The game also brings back those pesky Mary Jane missions, but this time New York’s best journalist is equipped with a powerful taser.
My personal highlight, however, is any time I got to play as Venom. There is no sicker feeling than getting to smash up a whole row of underlings while the symbiote growls through your PS5 controller. Hopefully Insomniac gets the message and makes a standalone Venom game soon. - Shannon Liao
5. Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon
Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon proves, once and for all, that no one knows how to design an action game like FromSoftware. Undoubtedly the best mech game ever made, ACVI gives you an almost overwhelming amount of options for crafting and fine-tuning your ideal combat robot.
Every part of ACVI is finely tuned to give you a superb adrenaline-packed experience, one that takes the best elements of Armored Core and perfectly meshes them with the best parts of Dark Souls design. Battles are all about learning patterns and perfecting your moveset, but the game simultaneously gives you another option to overcome challenges by tinkering with your build.
While ACVI is one of the most superb gameplay experiences of the year, FromSoftware also managed to craft a compelling narrative told in a fascinatingly minimalistic way. Delivered mostly through briefings, dialogue, and flavor text on items, the story of ACVI has ambitious themes of colonialism, subjugation, and freedom. It’s a high standard to meet, but ACVI is deserving of one of the top spots in FromSoftware’s pantheon. - Hayes Madsen
4. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
Nintendo made magic happen with 2017’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and six years later, it repeated the impossible with Tears of the Kingdom, a hotly anticipated sequel that takes the previous game and expands it in every direction possible.
Clearly inspired by the viral success of games like Fortnite and Minecraft, Nintendo’s biggest innovation in Tears of the Kingdom is a crafting system that can compete with those games even with one Ultrahand tied behind its back. If the idea of using Link’s new powers to build cars and houses appeals to you, it’s easy to sink hundreds of hours into his latest adventure. If not, it’s easy to understand why not everyone managed to finish the game’s relatively short main adventure.
Tears of the Kingdom also hits many of the other high-notes that made Breath of the Wild an instant hit, from its charmed soundtrack to Nintendo’s beautiful cel-shading animation. Nostalgia alone is enough to fill the Hyrule-shaped hole in our hearts. Thankfully, the game more than delivered. - Shannon Liao
3. Hi-Fi Rush
Hi-Fi Rush is absolutely overflowing with personality, and nearly a year after its January release, it’s still one of 2023’s standout titles. There have been a lot of games that combine action and music, but nothing that does it like this.
The entire world moves and vibrates to the beat in Hi-Fi Rush, and the combo-based combat seamlessly ties into the groove. Tango Gameworks did an impeccable job creating an approachable experience that can be loved by anyone and everyone, no matter how familiar you are with rhythm games. Hi-Fi Rush makes everything feel rewarding, and ensures you feel like a rock star in combat.
As if all that wasn’t enough, there’s a heartfelt story underneath all the music filled with realistic and lovable characters. For a studio that only made horror until now, Hi-Fi Rush is a slam dunk, and it’s impossible to imagine we won’t see a sequel before too long. - Hayes Madsen
2. Alan Wake 2
Alan Wake 2 is the kind of visionary experience that only comes along once in a blue moon. It’s a game created by a team possessed of a singular vision that cuts right to the heart of what makes video games an art form.
A sequel 13 years in the making, Alan Wake 2 uses a dual protagonist system that gives players two seamlessly interlocking stories. But the real brilliance of Alan Wake 2 lies in how much it trusts the players, providing all the pieces you need to put its story and puzzles together. Narrative is at the heart of everything in Alan Wake 2, and every one of the game’s systems feeds into that, including its superb psychological horror and survival elements.
Alan Wake 2 is a story that could only be done in an interactive medium. It gives liberal thought to how the building blocks of video games — like combat and collectibles — should be used in tandem with its themes, and it wildly succeeds. This is the kind of game we’ll be talking about for decades to come. - Hayes Madsen
1. Baldur’s Gate 3
Even in a year with too many 10-out-of-10 game reviews to keep track of, there was never any doubt that Baldur’s Gate 3 would claim Game of the Year. After all, what other game has made rival developers green with envy while also giving players the option to get romantic with a bear?
There are countless reasons to love BG3, from the incredible freedom it gives the player to fan-favorite characters like Astarion and Shadowheart. No playthrough of this Dungeons & Dragons adventure is ever quite the same, making this the perfect game to return to on your own or with friends this holiday season. - Shannon Liao