Leah J. Williams’ Favourite Games of 2023

In a rough year for the games industry, an incredible number of blockbuster video games made a significant impression.
best video games leah j williams 2023

Phew, what a year! Getting to the end of it felt like a marathon, in so many ways. It’s been difficult, and inspiring, and heartbreaking all at once – particularly in the world of video games. There’s been countless blockbuster launches for incredible and breathtaking games this year, but equally, there’s also been devastating changes across the industry, as talented developers have faced layoffs at the whims of grossly well-paid studio executives.

We can’t celebrate the success of video games in 2023 without acknowledging just how awful recent layoffs and company restructures have been – and how much they’ve impacted the very people that brought us the games we loved in 2023. In the next year, the video games industry, as a whole, has much to reckon with.

In the meantime, it’s good to recognise the impact that video games have on all of us, to demonstrate why the industry is so important, and why games are so worth protecting as an artistic medium. Here’s all the video games I loved in 2023, and what they mean to me.

Honourable Mentions

best favourite video games 2023
Image: Nintendo

Before we kick off with the main event, I’d like to spend some time on the games that charmed me in 2023, but didn’t quite make my top ten list. First up, I’d like to mention Forspoken. This was a game that received a hostile reception on launch, despite being a very enjoyable fantasy adventure with gorgeous worlds to explore, and sleek combat mechanics. It deserves better than it got.

I’d also like to mention Redfall, a game I did actually enjoy – despite it having poor AI, and disappointing cutscenes, with little story to bridge the gap between combat sequences. While it didn’t quite realise its potential, I enjoyed its worldbuilding, theming, enemy designs, and overall ideas. It perhaps earned the criticism it received, but I’d still like to mention that I had fun with it.

Likewise, I enjoyed the warm, simple adventuring of Super Mario RPG, and the wholesomeness of Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe. Fae Farm also rates a mention for being fun and very pretty, and for pushing the life/farm simulator genre forward.

There are also a bunch of games I didn’t quite get time for this year – The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, and Super Mario Bros. Wonder amongst them – but I’d like to shout them out as titles I’m looking forward to playing thoroughly, when I get the time. They’re already winners in my heart, but just miss out on being included here.

Now, let’s dig into the rest of my favourite video games for 2023.

10. Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores DLC

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Image: Guerrilla Games

Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores was a gorgeous epilogue for Horizon Forbidden West, providing a brand new location to explore and new creatures to defeat, all while telling a beautiful tale of character growth and development. Since Horizon Zero Dawn, series protagonist Aloy has been standoffish and stubborn – but Burning Shores was a wonderful opportunity to explore how much she’s changed along her journey, and how a single person can open up a heart.

Read: Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores review – Roaring Flame

Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores is a love story. It’s a tale about human connection, in all its many forms: the bond of sisters, the impact of ostracism, and the kindness of strangers,” I wrote in my review. “It’s also about taking down giant robot frogs and a megalomaniac immortal – but its wilder notes don’t dilute the flavour and heart of this spin-off adventure …  By its closing curtain, Burning Shores proves definitively that even despotic future warlords are no match for the strength of human bonds.”

9. Varney Lake

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Image: LCB Game Studio

Varney Lake was a bright spot in my 2023 – a short, sweet, and narratively sharp adventure game that explores the world of three kids as it gets turned upside down by the arrival of a mysterious vampire. With flashes of Stephen King and Stranger Things, this retro-inspired game injects sinister notes into its every turn, as the game’s story gets darker and more intriguing, and a background mystery unravels with shocking impact. It’s a quirky little gem, but one with such a unique, lovely tone of voice.

Read: Varney Lake review – Stranger things are afoot

“Minimalism breeds great impact in this adventure, with a sparse narrative approach allowing the game’s inner mystery to grow deeply as the corners of its story darken,” I wrote in my review. “Its lack of interactivity renders players largely as passive observers of an unfolding tale, but this powerlessness arguably strengthens Varney Lake. As summer dies, you can only watch in horror as each story beat unfurls.”

8. Cassette Beasts

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Image: Bytten Studio

Cassette Beasts is a game that didn’t wind up in my review rotation this year, but I’m so glad I made time for it. Just briefly – being a video game reviewer means I’m often tasked with reviewing certain games to a timeline, and if I don’t review a particular game, I don’t really get time for it on release. Cassette Beasts was a rare exception, as I was drawn to its Pokemon-like gameplay and unique art style. It’s also on Xbox Game Pass, and I was able to play it while reviewing the Asus ROG Ally, which made it very convenient overall.

Folks, you need to play Cassette Beasts. This adventure RPG takes what makes Pokemon so compelling – the monster collecting and rearing journey – and injects it with a fresh sense of style and enthusiasm. What particularly stands out is this game’s devotion to absurdity, with light elements of horror elevating unique boss battles, and adding tougher stakes to the adventure. This is one gem I feel was overlooked in 2023, but there’s plenty of time to correct that.

7. Hello Kitty Island Adventure

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Screenshot: GamesHub

Hello Kitty Island Adventure is absolutely delightful. We are blessed to have this game. While its exclusivity to Apple Arcade is a bit of a bummer for those who don’t have an iOS device, or prefer to avoid subscription services, it’s still an excellent experience worth jumping into, if and when you can. Beyond allowing you to befriend a wholesome cast of characters, this game also boasts excellent puzzling and exploration, gorgeous world design, and moreish quests that’ll have you uncovering neat secrets along a rewarding journey.

Read: Hello Kitty Island Adventure review – Reach for the stars

“In Hello Kitty Island Adventure, life moves at this rapid clip – and there’s so much to do,” I wrote in my review. “Variety, as they say, is the spice of life. Island Adventure is certainly spicy …  it manages to defy expectations with fresh action, mystery, and adventure that elevates moreish gameplay.”

6. Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty

cyberpunk 2077 phantom liberty review best video games 2023
Screenshot: GamesHub

Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty landed at just the right time for me – swiftly after I’d developed a fascination with Mission: Impossible, to the chagrin of everyone who’s spoken to me in the last few months. (Please let me tell you about the prescience of Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning – Part One and its approach to world-killing artificial intelligence.) While I went into the game expecting an extension of the sci-fi-adventure themes of the base game, it turned out Phantom Liberty was actually a spy romp complete with an impossible mission, Bond-like set-pieces, and hearty, devastating action. It’s an essential slice of the Cyberpunk 2077 story, and one that near-completely rights the franchise ship.

Read: Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty review – The reborn identity

Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty is not what you’d expect, upon first glance. It’s a chameleonic expansion, of sorts. Where Cyberpunk 2077 leaned heavily into the futuristic sci-fi genre, treading ground paved by films like Blade Runner and The MatrixPhantom Liberty leans the opposite way, directly into the fertile ground of the spy thriller – most notably and surprisingly, into James Bond territory,” I wrote in my review. “It’s a refreshing switch, and one that allows Phantom Liberty to live on its own terms.”

5. Coral Island

humble games coral island
Image: Humble Games / Stairway Games

Coral Island is another game that didn’t quite fit into my review rotation – but after a brief dip into the game via Xbox Game Pass, I’m absolutely obsessed. This is a game that’s analysed and learned great lessons from Stardew Valley in its approach to farm/life simulation. Both games are incredibly similar, in that you start them as a young farmer entering a new village, looking to make friends and boost the economy of your town.

In Coral Island, this concept is taken further, as you’re in charge of town renewal after a devastating oil spill has changed life and tourism on the island, as well as beneath the waves, where mermaids reside. As the bridge between the land and sea, you must work towards clearing the waters, while also mining, farming, and rearing animals to gather good resources for town expansion. While familiar, Coral Island features a novel approach, and also includes plenty of unique, fascinating Indonesian culture that allows you to learn more about the country and its flora and fauna, as you travel.

4. Baldur’s Gate 3

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Image: Larian Studios

Baldur’s Gate 3 was a real standout for me in 2023 – particularly as a fan of Larian Studios’ Divinity: Original Sin 2. While some will argue it’s an apples-to-oranges comparisons, there’s a lot of DNA shared between these adventure RPGs, and I appreciate them both for their approach to branching storytelling, tense turn-based skirmishes, and high fantasy exploration. Baldur’s Gate 3 is an incredibly ambitious and compelling game, with such a wonderful narrative, and a degree of choice that makes every playthrough feel unique to you.

Read: Baldur’s Gate 3 Review – Glory, guts, and brain worms

“It’s pure magic to bring up a quest line or character, and realise that you, and you alone, have stumbled onto their path by chance,” I wrote in my review. “It’s magic to realise just how far the game’s plot can stretch, and how it can account for even the smallest choices made along your path. In the same way Dungeons & Dragons allows you to live out a self-guided fantasy, Larian Studios has managed to capture and bottle a slice of that magic, in rare video game form.”

3. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor

Star Wars Jedi: Survivor best video games of 2023
Image: Respawn Entertainment / EA

Another game that managed to deliver strong, impactful storytelling in 2023 is Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, sequel to Fallen Order. This game is just breathtaking – on every planet, with every character beat, and in every performance. Cameron Monaghan as Cal Kestis is a revelation in this chapter, and the story serves his character growth well. Survivor maintains the dark tone of its predecessor, while also providing new hope between great action sequences and a gripping, ever-twisting plot. This game is Star Wars storytelling at its finest.

Read: Star Wars Jedi Survivor Review – The Star Wars Game We Needed

“While the action remains reliant on puzzle mechanics that occasionally bog down the main story, improvements across the board – including stunningly deft writing, and a sharp narrative – contribute to a more confident, and wildly more engaging sequel,” I write in my review. “Star Wars Jedi: Survivor has not left its roots behind – but much like Cal Kestis, it has taken great leaps forward into a brighter and more ambitious future.”

2. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2

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Image: Insomniac Games / Sony

Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 was one of the games I was most looking forward to in 2023 – and it managed to eclipse all of my expectations. From its gorgeous open world and the freedom of its web-slinging, to its slick, Venom-infused plot that hauls you along a rapidly-paced narrative, there was so much to love about this sequel. It takes everything Insomniac pioneered in the first Spider-Man game, and expands these concepts in a multitude of satisfying ways, for an adventure that ranks as one of the all-time great superhero story.

Read: Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 Review – Swing, Swing

“The narrative twists, and keeps twisting, but the story never forgets to serve and respect its characters, to involve you in more relatable beats, and to keep the hooks in,” I wrote in my review. “As a sequel to one of the most impressive games of its era, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 was weighed down by expectations. But Insomniac Games has turned these expectations on their head, spinning a Spider-story that brims with confidence, style, and most importantly – an essential human touch.”

1. Alan Wake 2

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Image: Remedy Entertainment

Alan Wake was the game that got me hooked on playing video games as a young adult. It easily charmed me with incredibly clever storytelling, and a narrative that stayed with me for years. For that reason, Alan Wake 2 was a game I watched with great interest, from its initial announcement in 2021, all the way up to release in 2023.

I needed it to be good. I needed it to be excellent. It needed to absolutely blow my mind.

I shouldn’t have doubted the developers at Remedy Entertainment. Alan Wake 2 is an absolutely phenomenal game, with every narrative twist and character moment landing like a devastating punch. It’s not just my favourite game of 2023, it’s one of my all-time favourites. I’ve become obnoxious about this game. I can’t stop thinking about.

Alan Wake 2 is a multi-threaded monster,” I wrote in my review. ” A literature-minded horror adventure with sprawling plot threads that dangle and tease, inspiring questions, curiosity, and an ever-forward march as it spins a complex web of terrors. But while it weaves a tale that seems to dance out of reach with every strange chapter, as the interlocking stories of Saga Anderson and Alan Wake play out, deft writing and a strong plot means the answers eventually coalesce in gripping fashion.”

If you play any video game this year, make it Alan Wake 2. Hands down, it’s my favourite game of 2023.

Catch up with more of GameHub’s favourite games of 2023, including platform-specific lists and picks from special guests in our Best of 2023 roundup.

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Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.