🎮 Overkill's gaming picks for the year
2023 has been a whole-ass year. It's really hard to feel optimistic about the state of the games industry when you're barraged with constant layoffs caused by greedy CEOs, and the continuous over-extension of companies that embrace picking up games companies like most of us grab loaves of bread.
In times like these, it's good to celebrate the games that make us happy because escapism is essential at this point.
With that in mind, here are the best games the core overkill team enjoyed playing this year. They stand above all others for us in the year 2023.
Did they all come out this year? No! But it's our list, so we will do what we want with it. 😅
Let's get to it!
Kevin's Games of the Year
Baldur's Gate 3
Spoiler, but it will likely come as no big surprise that this year's TGA Game of the Year winner is on this list twice. Deservedly so, as Baldur's Gate 3 is an absolute masterpiece which you can replay over and over and over again.
So far, I still only have one playthrough, but the amount of hours I have in this game trumps any other game I played this year, including my go-to indie, The Binding of Isaac. It is my first foray into Dungeons & Dragons, though, since I also got into Magic: The Gathering, it certainly won't be my last.
Also, do yourself a favour and watch the Baldur's Gate 3 cast play a game of DnD.
Alan Wake 2
There's no way around it: Alan Wake 2 is a fantastic game. It might even be my favourite game of the year — and this is coming from someone who usually doesn't consume anything horror (admittedly, I'm playing the game with ALL the lights turned on).
I find the story, but especially the atmosphere in Alan Wake 2 perfect. It hits the right spots between anticipation and oppressiveness in a way that no other game made me feel before. I'm also playing the game through GeForce Now on my ROG Ally hooked to my 65" OLED TV, and wow! It looks stunning.
Assassin's Creed Mirage
I have always been a fan of the Assassin's Creed series (I miss Ezio!), but I became bored since Ubisoft switched to RPG-like gameplay. I haven't even finished Assassin's Creed: Valhalla because I couldn't be bothered to do the same thing yet again.
But with Mirage, Ubisoft went back to the original, stealth-based gameplay, and it made for a better game. It is also much smaller in scope, as the game mostly takes place in Baghdad and not on a vast map spanning a whole country. It takes around 15ish hours to finish the entire main story, which is the perfect length for a game.
I'm looking forward to seeing how Ubisoft's new strategy (one larger game like Valhalla, one smaller game like Mirage) will evolve the series. But I'm definitely here for it.
Have a Nice Death
I've previously reviewed Have a Nice Death for the overkill spotlight newsletter, and I had this to say:
The game is beautifully designed, full of dark workplace humour, with intriguing characters that remind me of some of the more charming personalities from Hades.
After that review, I kept playing the game and further progressed the story. And there were some twists I didn't expect, but that made me like Have a Nice Death even more. It's an excellent indie game I can still wholeheartedly recommend to anyone into roguelikes.
God of War: Ragnarök – Valhalla
What is there to say about a DLC for my game of the year 2022? Especially when it's free? And a roguelite with (theoretically) infinite replayability? While I still hope we get a spinoff with Atreus in the lead role (think Spider-Man Miles Morales), Valhalla is the next best thing, especially at that price.
It's a fun way to get more play time out of God of War, seeing that every run through Valhalla plays differently than the one before. And while I still haven't finished it all – some of the challenges are insanely hard – it continues Kratos' journey quite nicely.
Jason's Top 5
Baldur's Gate 3
Look, this isn't a surprising entry, is it? Baldur's Gate 3 is sublime. It's so good that I'm sort of struggling with what to say about it because I'm confident it's been said before. So, I'll say that I actually managed to get through this game with another friend who also has no spare time.
We got through it two hours at a time over three months, and the first thing we did upon finishing this titanic quest was to plan our subsequent two playthroughs. Do you have any idea how hard it is to replay games when you write guides on them? I'm doing it anyway, and I can't wait to get through it again and again, and then probably mess around with mods.
Remnant: From the Ashes was a very good game, and one that I've put a lot of hours into. Naturally, then, I was pretty excited about Remnant 2, but boy, oh boy were my expectations too low. Remnant 2 builds on literally everything from the first game and just turns the dial up until the crowd is screaming and throwing up.
Bosses are bigger and more menacing, weapons are even more absurd, there are proper classes to mix and match now, there are load-outs, absurd modifiers, and some of the coolest set pieces I've seen this year. The final boss alone might be the coolest moment in gaming for me in the last decade or so, and when you throw in the co-op gameplay and the mild roguelike nature of it, you've got a game that was basically built for me specifically.
Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince
I think it's really important for everyone to understand that not every game you like has to be a masterpiece. Plenty of games I play are deeply flawed, but they're specifically my kind of thing, and that's what I want in games... obviously.
Dragon Quest Monsters is a series that's extraordinarily special to me because it's a series I accidentally found in a weird little shop all the way back when the Game Boy Colour was the latest hotness, and I've tried to play every entry that I can since. The Dark Prince is just more Dragon Quest Monsters, and the new systems are a much-needed improvement to the whole process. You can smush together so many monsters in this bad boy, and that's literally all I want sometimes.
Genshin Impact didn't release this year, but plenty of its story did. In fact, the majority of the Sumeru story and literally all of the Fontaine story so far came around thanks to 2023, and good gravy is it good. Spoilers for the story so far, because that's the reason the game is so good for me.
Sumeru saw us messing around with reality itself, deleting a version of a character out of existence, and learning that we might be caught in some weird time loop thing. Fontaine saw us putting on our Ace Attorney hats to persecute a literal god, only to find out that even that god was a puppet, and then see the actual god smitten by their own designs willingly to save their people. It's just incredible.
I'm fully aware that Sonic Frontiers didn't come out this year, but I did play it this year, and I absolutely love it. Sonic Frontiers is the first take on a 3D open world with the world's most famous hedgehog as your avatar. For me, traversal is one of the most important aspects of an open-world game because it doesn't matter how beautiful your game is or how thoughtfully put together it is if I'm not having fun moving around it.
Traversal is where Sonic Frontiers shines. You're Sonic, so you can zip around, only getting faster as the game progresses, and you can do things like zip through rings, home in on bumpers to propel yourself into the sky, and run around in circles to get items. It's just pure fun, and when you throw in the surprisingly satisfying combat, and the absolutely immense boss music (featuring Kellin Quinn from Sleeping With Sirens), and you've got this sandbox of constant dopamine.
Chris' Gaming Picks for 2023
I'm admittedly not great at rhythm games, but I've always appreciated them. Be it Guitar Hero, Beat Saber, or even Wario Ware's occasional musical moment — I've always been keen to give them a go. Therefore, my curiosity was immediately ignited on seeing this vibrant action game from Tango Gameworks.
The rhythm-based action game launched in late January, and offered up something of a departure from the norm for the studio, putting forward a bold, bright and stylish adventure that's bursting with both colour and energy. The game evoked vibes of superb Dreamcast or GameCube era hits — something which again drew me to the experience on offer.
Hi-Fi Rush doesn't take itself too seriously, and that's something I can just vibe with — I'm here to kick back and have fun. A real breath of fresh air to play from start to finish. I had a blast playing it on the Steam Deck.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
Nintendo didn't have an easy job on their hands here. Breath of the Wild is undoubtedly one of the greatest games of all time, so I was rather uneasy about this much-anticipated follow-up — I felt it had a real 'second-album syndrome' problem to overcome.
For the most part, I needn't have worried. Tears offers everything that made the landmark Switch launch title great, and builds upon it in mostly meaningful ways.
The story of Tears of the Kingdom feels considerably more fleshed out over Breath of the Wild. The already vast, impressive game world of Hyrule is expanded upon in ways which not only gave players a huge, vibrant and living place to explore, but the additions here feel relevant and weighty to the narrative.
Above all else, the gameplay is revolutionised by bewildering new mechanics. It's a technical marvel, that is filled to the brim with detail, and it unleashed countless creative ways to approach its open-ended problems.
At times, Tears felt like something of an indulgence from Nintendo — making the world of Hyrule a massive toy box and giving Link fancy new tools to play with. But any shortcomings folks may have with this 'plaything' approach should be quelled by the sheer freedom and trust that Nintendo have placed in their players here. Yes, there's a linear story of sorts to play through and plenty of lore to indulge with, but the real game lies in just experimenting in the world and enjoying where such experimentations take you.
My love of Breath of the Wild was found in just exploring and seeing what was around the next corner — a joyous exercise in intrigue. I still think BotW is the better game, but revisiting that world in Tears and tinkering with the toys on offer was, without doubt, one of my gaming highlights this year.
Super Mario Bros. Wonder
A long overdue shake-up of the 2D Mario platformer. I grew up playing the likes of Super Mario Bros. 3, and Super Mario World, but was left rather nonplussed by the tame 'New' era on the Wii and DS.
As such, it was a real joy to see the series given some vitality and life with this Switch entry — adding a slew of neat new ideas. Yes, the Elephant power-up was a complete gimmick, and the badge system didn't really land for me, but the sheer variety here had me smiling throughout. Singing piranhas, a genuinely interesting take on good guy online interaction, along with actual late-game platforming challenge? Good stuff.
Sea of Stars
I didn't really play a lot of the classic 90s SNES-era RPGs, but having now played Sea of Stars, I'm compelled to see just what the classics this game is a clear homage to offer.
Sea of Stars surprised me, really. It's a real pixel-perfect treat, where the game world is meticulously detailed and realised, resulting in an adventure that had a real draw over me. When you find yourself thinking about a game when you're not playing it, you know you're on to a winner.
Looks great, sounds great, and for what I felt it lacked in narrative punch, it more than made up for with an interesting combat system. A triumph for Sabotage Studio.
Yes, this is a 2022 release, but I played this chill puzzler a ton this year when I first got my Steam Deck. It's perfectly suited to a handheld (and it's also on the Switch, too if you fancy it).
You have to place tiles on an expanding grid and make your own little village. You only have a limited number of tiles to place, but making smart moves (such as expanding your forest, or linking up a railway track) will gain you more tiles so you can continue. The aim? Just build for as long as you can. It's very peaceful, and it is a game that I keep coming back to when I crave a quieter, relaxing play session.
Timo's 2023 Favourites
On the surface, Black Salt Games' fishing and exploration game DREDGE comes with a nice amount of survival mechanics that both manage to keep you on edge but don't frustrate you too much. For starters, your boat's storage capacity is limited by design, but inhibits crucial stuff like the engine, and is prone to environmental effects and damage. You hit one of those damn rocks that appear out of nothing because you thought you could check the bird app while peacefully shipping back to the port? Well, there goes a slot or two of your ship's storage.
Under the surface (I know, I know,…), the game is a survival horror experience that does not fear throwing sea monsters, cursed wrecks, and potential PTSD at you. The way the superbly written world-building unfolds before your eyes and how big of a contrast the soundtrack hits certain notes throughout the daytime adds to that tension even further.
DREDGE is a nice proof that it's always worth keeping an eye on upcoming indie games, especially if you're playing on a gaming handheld. Especially on Steam Deck, the game hits the 60 or 90 FPS target.
My Friendly Neighborhood
I really enjoy Capcom's iconic Resident Evil series because their mix of exploration and survival resonates with me. However, zombies have become somewhat overdone in recent years, and it's rare to find games in this genre that don't rely on this familiar setting. That's why 'My Friendly Neighborhood' by John and Evan Szymanski was such a delightful surprise.
In the game, you play a technician called to an old movie studio that has been inactive for years. The studio's channel has mysteriously started broadcasting again, and upon arrival, you discover that the studio's iconic animatronics are far from inactive, contrary to what one might expect.
'My Friendly Neighborhood' demonstrates that horror and survival can be effectively achieved without resorting to monsters, zombies, or gore. Players explore a large, multi-layered map featuring various locations within the film studio, uncovering the truth in a manner reminiscent of classic Resident Evil games, complete with door-opening animations and more. It's an incredibly refreshing experience.
Cyberpunk 2077: Patch 2.0 & Phantom Liberty
From day one, I've thoroughly enjoyed exploring Night City – the sprawling yet deadly metropolis in CD Projekt Red's iconic RPG. The main campaign and various side gigs were so captivating that I easily overlooked most of the initial technical flaws. In fact, I was so engrossed that I completed the campaign during the launch week on the Series X.
After completing the campaign and experiencing various endings, Night City transformed into a playground for random exploration and headhunting sessions, enhanced by some impressive mods on PC. However, Patch 2.0 and the Phantom Liberty expansion reignited my interest. Let me tell you: the game deserves more of your time than ever.
Phantom Liberty features a captivating spy thriller set in a new district called Dog Town, with amazing actors like Idris Elba contributing to its allure. This expansion, alongside Patch 2.0, which reworked the entire game, its economy, loot handling, and every skill tree, makes the content of 2077 stand out. While Cyberpunk 2077 has primarily focused on ballistic combat, combining katana and throwing daggers with various skills and buffs is now more satisfying than ever.
The new environment is more challenging and boasts a wealth of new content and stunning vistas, especially impressive with Path Tracing enabled. Since handheld devices can't support all graphical features, I've opted to play games like 2077 on the PS5 and GeForce Now. Cross-platform progression is also a significant advantage.
There's no doubt about the success of Epic Games' phenomenon, Fortnite. With its various live events, the free-to-play Battle Royale shooter can be considered the closest thing to what one might call a metaverse. Adding a 'Zero Build' mode drew me back to the game, and I genuinely enjoy the craftsmanship of Epic's designers and animators on display.
With the introduction of LEGO Fortnite, they recently unveiled a whole new game mode, which feels like the LEGO game of my childhood dreams: Imagine a vast Unreal Engine 5-powered game world, brimming with lootable locations like ruins and caves, all set in a LEGO-themed environment. Over time, you build a settlement, gradually gathering new NPCs as residents who can either gather resources independently or accompany you on your adventures.
The addition of LEGO Fortnite marks yet another new chapter for Fortnite as a platform, alongside other new game modes – including a Rocket League-themed racer and an original take on Guitar Hero, even developed by the Guitar Hero developers, Harmonix. While I'm not particularly interested in these two modes, LEGO Fortnite and Zero Build will keep me entertained for months.
It was inevitable, but here we are: I really enjoy Bethesda Game Studios' controversial, massive new RPG, Starfield, though it's more of a love/hate relationship for me. The game is riddled with flaws, yet it offers captivating quest lines for various factions and a plethora of locations to explore. Of course, when I mention the thousands of fully explorable planets, I'm not referring to the handcrafted ones, as only a fraction of these are uniquely designed and not randomly filled with prefab locations.
However, there's something uniquely appealing about every BGS game world, regardless of the state in which they are released. Despite their imperfections, their distinctive characters, unexpected twists, and endless possibilities for exploration really resonate with me. Indeed, I wish the base building was better, the consequences of faction quest lines more impactful (or existing at all), and the overall performance smoother.
But, as with every Bethesda RPG, the initial release serves as a massive playground and lays the foundation for endless possibilities – for both Bethesda's developers and the modding community. Let's hope Todd Howard keeps some of his promises this time around. If not, at least we'll continue to get a steady stream of memes.
That's it for our 2023 picks — which games did you enjoy playing this year? Let us know in the comments, and maybe share a hidden gem or two too!