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From Chill Jusant To Punishing Lies Of P: Levi Winslow’s Top 10 Games Of 2023

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Image: Don’t Nod

2023 is nearly over, finally, but at least there were some great games to get us through it, right? This year was full of great releases, but marred by myriad layoffs across sectors (including the games industry), and larger, global issues that made it hard to find the light in the dark. But video games, with their captivating worlds, moving stories, and nuanced characters, gave me a semblance of hope when I felt hopeless.

This year, games showed me how to find resilience in the face of adversity. They demonstrated how determination and perseverance can lead to change. And above all, they presented fun playgrounds to escape a harsh reality while holding up a mirror to some of humanity’s worst traits. So, without any further ado, here are my top 10 games of 2023.

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Image: Blizzard Team 3 / Blizzard Albany

Blizzard Entertainment dropped Diablo IV at the right time for me. June was a slow month, and I, consumed by a suffocating depression, found solace in the hellish world of Sanctuary. Life felt stagnant, maybe because the New York summer was too brutal to do anything other than hole up inside an air-conditioned room. And Diablo IV was my reprieve, a salve that let me escape the perils of my internal world and the disasters of our external one. I’ve sunk so many hours into this game, it’s almost unbelievable. (By my PS5’s estimate, it’s some 500 hours at the time of writing.) But all those hours, most of which were with my partner, were some of the most fun I’ve had despite the game’s flaws (like character growth and inventory management). Diablo IV can be occasionally monotonous. It can also be quite frustrating. However, regardless of my gripes, it was a consistently wonderful grind session to get me through the excruciating heat of the summer solstice.

Read More: Diablo IV Is The Perfect Head Empty, Kill Shit Game

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Image: Techland

Dying Light 2 is a 2022 game, one that I beat front and back at least twice. But Techland’s been dropping new content for it since launch, with the last one being a For Honor crossover event in November that added new activities, gear, and enemies. This deluge of new content prompted me to return to the city of Villedor earlier this year, and wow, what a game.

Dying Light 2’s environment is a puzzle in and of itself, forcing you to navigate its precarious rooftops for an optimal path, one that avoids frightening zombies like the agile Banshees and the tanky Volatiles. It required me to think creatively and extemporaneously about momentum and movement in a way I haven’t since Mirror’s Edge orTitanfall 2. I rarely feel mentally challenged by games, especially when the objective so often is to just kill anything and everything. While that’s true of Dying Light 2, I found a newer appreciation for locomotion and traversal during my third playthrough. There aren’t many parkour games around these days, but hopefully, as Dying Light 2 continues to get updates into 2024, more developers realize how fun they are.

Read More: Dying Light 2: The Kotaku Review

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Image: Strange Scaffold

Strange Scaffold’s El Paso, Elsewhere knocked me off my feet. I was expecting a straightforward story with crunchy, Max Payne-y shooting mechanics, and I got that and so much more, including a surprisingly weight narrative that stayed with me long after I rolled credits. The campaign, which follows two ex-lovers as they collide underneath a shower of blood and bullets, is gut-wrenching. El Paso, Elsewhere is about coping with trauma and finding the strength to let go of those who hurt us.

I lost a lot of friends in 2023, so El Paso, Elsewhere’s narrative hit very close to home. It showed me how to find the resolve to move forward despite the scars I carry. It demonstrated how capable I am of letting go despite how hard it feels to do so. It was a lesson in determination and perseverance even when the easiest option is giving up. And although on the surface it appears like a mindless shooting romp, what’s buried underneath is evocative and moody in ways I wasn’t quite expecting. El Paso, Elsewhere floored me, and I can’t wait to run through it again next year.

Read More: Max Payne + Creepy PS1 Vibes=One Of The Best Shooters Of 2023

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Image: Don’t Nod

Don’t Nod’s Jusant is a lowkey game about climbing, but there’s more to it than that. Its gorgeous visuals, wordless narrative, and minimalist score make it a far more contemplative game than you might otherwise assume. Throughout its gameplay, you can discover notes detailing the interiority of an abandoned civilization. Environmental details, such as wall scrapes and old carabiners left behind by past climbers, give its world an impressive depth despite there being no other characters or NPCs around. And the complexity of the climbing mechanics, like finding the appropriate protrusion to grasp onto before moving onwards and upwards, offer a creatively challenging puzzle that’s rewarding when solved.

Although simple, Jusant consistently puts new obstacles in your path—immovable boxes here, broken ledges there—and tasks you with figuring out how to reach the next objective in a variety of ways. Jusant’s brainteasers had me enraptured from the start, but its final moments were some of the most emotionally resonant I’ve experienced while playing a game.

Watch More: A Beautiful Indie Game Makes Climbing Feel Sublime

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Image: Neowiz Games / Round8 Studio

I love and hate Soulslikes. Like, a lot. I understand the feelings they conjure in diehard fans of the genre (like triumph after conquering the insurmountable), but these games give me an anxiety attack every time I think about picking a new one up or returning to one I’ve played. Lies of P was really the first Soulslike that clicked from the moment I started playing it, probably because its narrative is easily digestible and intimately familiar.

We all know the story of Pinocchio the Pathological Liar, but the way Neowiz Games and Round8 Studio reimagine that tale in a gothic-steampunk aesthetic is both inspired and intriguing. It’s an excellent example of transforming a beloved IP within a genre that the developers so clearly understand and revere. So often, Soulslikes misinterpret what makes FromSoftware’s games so iconic, but Lies of P gets it—it’s the world-building and level design, and Lies of P’s does both so very well. There aren’t a ton of branching paths here; it’s not as expansive asDark Souls orLords of the Fallen, but each corridor you walk through and shortcut you unlock is an opportunity to take in the beautiful sights and grotesque enemies. It’s a damn challenge, but it rewards you with characters and environments that respond to your actions. In that way, Lies of P is one of the most immersive Soulslikes out there.

Read More: Lies Of P: The Kotaku Review

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Image: Insomniac Games

Insomniac Games had me teary-eyed with Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. It may be a run-of-the-mill superhero story about great power and great responsibility, but layered on top of that is a much deeper narrative about change, jealousy, regret, and vengeance. As a New York transplant, it was cool swinging around a videogame interpretation of my neighborhood. I saw my street, the bodega I go to for cigs, my fave bridge (Hell Gate), and more sights I recognized, which was exciting considering Queens is so rarely depicted in New York-based games.

Aside from the familiarity, what really gripped me about Spider-Man 2 was the intimate moments you get with its characters through their side quests. There was one about a grandpa contemplating his life and his deceased love, another teaching Peter Parker how to be an assertive New Yorker (pointers I can use IRL), and yet another about a homeless man who dishes on his life’s downward spiral before its inevitable end. These vignettes were what shook me most about Spider-Man 2 because the writing was so emotionally sharp. Side quests in games frequently feel like ways to pad out the runtime, but Insomniac Games handles them with grace and verve—so much so that these optional objectives were more memorable than the game’s final moments.

Read More: Spider-Man 2: The Kotaku Review

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Image: Crea-ture Studios

No list of mine would be complete without a skateboarding game, and although Crea-ture Studios’ Session: Skate Sim is four years old now—it launched in Steam Early Access in September 2019—it’s still the one I play the most when I just wanna chill. A hardcore skateboarding simulator not unlike EA’sSkate series, Session is a difficult game to master but one that’s creatively rewarding when you understand its intricate mechanics. I’ve spent a lot of time in this game, building parks to set up the perfect line (a series of tricks performed consecutively along a planned route) and creating the drippiest skater possible. Sure, my lines and trick attempts don’t often turn out the way I anticipated, but they always lead to new paths I wouldn’t have considered skateable.

That’s the beauty of skateboarding: regularly challenging yourself to transform drab spots into exciting opportunities for shredding. It forced me to rethink what it means to skate, tapping into the dormant skateboarder within me to find inspiration in areas where skateboarding shouldn’t happen, and it worked. I’ve never felt so inspired to pick up my skateboard again. My deteriorating vision makes me nervous, but remembering that skateboarding isn’t always about the flashiest tricks and, instead, is about the freedom of expression and exploration, reminded me that the spirit of skateboarding can exist everywhere.

Read More: Session Is A Hardcore Skateboarding Sim With Cool, Weird Controls

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Image: Capcom

I’ve always loved fighting games but felt they were too esoteric to jump into. The genre has far too many nuances and terms that if you aren’t already familiar with them, can make any fighting game an exercise in frustration. Capcom sought to make the genre more approachable with Street Fighter 6 and did so with aplomb. It offers you a deep tutorial with explanations for things like frame data and punish counters, lingo that helps you better understand a character’s moveset. More than just merely detailing what various fighting game jargon means, though, Street Fighter 6 gives you situations in which to apply each of these terms so that they stick during tense, competitive settings. As I said in an October 2022 video about the game’s excellent training mode, it’s like a senpai teaching you the ropes while not giving you all the answers to the test. I’m still getting bodied, but I feel my skills are becoming sharper as I practice more with my kunoichi main Kimberly. And that’s what fighting games should ultimately be about: the growth you share with your character.

Read More: Street Fighter 6: The Kotaku Review

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Image: Soleil

Now, look. Wanted: Dead isn’t a perfect game. Far from it. It’s buggy and janky in both hilarious and irritating ways. But the way Soleil weaves inNinja Gaiden-esque melee combat withThe Division-like ranged mechanics is charming all the same. Wanted: Dead was just what I was looking for in the absence of Devil’s Third, something that mixes katana swipes and shooting galleries to create a thrilling romp through a futuristic dystopia about governments replacing humans with artificial intelligence. I don’t always need a thought-provoking narrative to get me to play a video game. Sometimes, I just want a solid foundation and world to mess around in, and Wanted: Dead delivers that—especially on repeated playthroughs after unlocking all the skills. It’s just a really good, really gory time.

Read More: Wanted: Dead Is 2023’s Jankiest Game, And I Love It

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Image: Team Ninja

Another Soulslike found a spot on my list this year and for good reason. Team Ninja’s Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty was one of my most-played Soulslikes before Lies of P released thanks to its deep mechanics and fascinating world. Ancient China isn’t a setting we see too often in video games, so it was refreshing to see historical figures like the general Sun Ce and the warlord Liu Bei outside of a Musou game. More specifically, it was enrapturing seeing these iconic luminaries contextualized in a narrative about obtaining ultimate power by only the darkest and most brutal of means. And as the gripping story progressed, becoming more macabre as its characters grew more desperate, the environment changed in response. This ratcheting up of stakes got me hooked, with its many plot twists leaving me absolutely shook as this character died and that character turned out to be evil. It was all so unpredictable, making for an engrossing story with characters who had intimate knowledge of each other’s past. That’s what I loved most about Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty; the interaction between the characters and the world they live in.

Read More: Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty: The Kotaku Review


And there you have it, my top 10 games of 2023. I played hella games throughout the year, and while many of them will stick with me for years to come, none have had as much of an impact as the above did. 2024 is shaping up to be an interesting year for games, though, so I’m stoked to see what the next 12 months have in store for us. Hopefully, the industry won’t recoil and consolidate any more than it already has, but I’m really not holding my breath.

What were your top games of 2023? Let me know in the comments.

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Publish date : 2023-12-29 14:35:36

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