2023 was, like any year, full of challenges and opportunities and wonderful memories, and it so happened to be an exciting year for gaming. The long-awaited sequel to Breath of the Wild was released to a resounding success, Baldur’s Gate 3 made it out of Steam Early Access after three years and an overall six in development, and Blizzard released its next installment in the Diablo series, to just name a few. There were so many games that I couldn’t possibly have played them all, so below is a shortlist of my personal highlights from the year.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
Like every other Zelda fan, I had been waiting impatiently to play this game ever since the sequel to 2017’s Breath of the Wild was announced at E3 2019. Aside from my excitement over a direct sequel and a new storyline, I had no idea what the game would actually be about. Nintendo was holding the cards close to their chest, and fed the fanbase story crumbs as the game inched closer to release. There was also a popular concern about the game feeling stale and boring, since it was to take place in Breath of the Wild’s same established world. By the time that the game was released in May, all of these concerns were forgotten. From then on I had far greater concerns, like how many things I could strap a rocket to.
Tears of the Kingdom was an incredible game and was an improvement over Breath of the Wild in almost every single way. Where Breath of the Wild excelled in making the player feel as though Link was a lone adventurer, left to his own devices to explore a landscape he had been absent from for the past hundred years, Tears of the Kingdom somehow felt like the opposite despite taking place in the same setting. Years pass after Calamity Ganon’s defeat and Link, Zelda, and the denizens of Hyrule are free to begin rebuilding. As a result, the game feels less lonely as Link is able to rely on allies and players can see evidence of rebuilding as they travel the land.
I could ramble on and on about this game, and I already did in a previous post after completing the game’s main story. The bottom line is that Nintendo has done a fantastic job making the game feel new with new areas of the world of explore, interesting and quirky abilities, and a nice overarching story. While Eiji Aonuma, Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda Producer, has stated that they will move on from this current version of the Hyrule setting, I am excited to see the culmination of everything they’ve learned so far about open-world Zelda games in their next title.
Baldur’s Gate (1-3)
As a lifelong fan of RPGs, Baldur’s Gate is a classic series that’s been on my Need-To-Play list for far too long. I discovered my love of CRPGs thanks to Larian Studios’ Divinity: Original Sin series, so it was fitting that Larian developed Baldur’s Gate 3, and ultimately motivated me to finally play the first two games. While I’ve already written about my great experience with Baldur’s Gate, parts of it bear repeating here, like every game on this list.
Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2 tell a complete story about the journey of self-discovery, and the friends (and enemies) made along the way. It may not sound like much, but bear in mind that I’m glossing over specifics in order to avoid spoiling or hyping these games to impossible levels. Instead I’ll say that the world felt alive and lived in to me, especially for games made over twenty years ago, and it served as my introduction to DnD’s classic Forgotten Realms fantasy setting. As a player of DnD, Baldur’s Gate gave me even more to love about the tabletop game, and, as a lore fan, gave my brain a suitable excuse to absorb the details of another fantastic world. Yes, the first two entries in the series are old with outdated graphics, clunky controls, and the use of 2nd edition may seem foreign to new players like myself, but they remain a great experience.
Baldur’s Gate 3, on the other hand, takes place roughly 120 years after its predecessor’s conclusion and is a great entry point game. While there are references and some returning characters from the first two games, the player character in BG3 is entirely different than the one in BG1 and 2, and as such the game does not treat the returning character like someone you should know. Where BG1 and 2 are stories of self-discovery, BG3 tells a story of survival and bonding with unlikely allies. The game has Larian’s signature charm, and it’s clear that they took everything they learned from Divinity: Original Sin and applied it here. It’s taught me more about the intricacies of DnD 5th edition and it’s one of the best games I’ve played this year. Plus the soundtrack is fantastic.
Like a Dragon/Yakuza (Ishin & The Man Who Erased His Name)
Ishin is a Yakuza spin-off game, disconnected from the main games, released in 2014 only in Japan. The game was never given a localization and English translation for North America until last year where, at the 2022 RGG Summit, it was announced that Ishin would receive a remake and finally be released in North America. The games events are heavily inspired by a period of turmoil in Japan’s history, and take place during 1860s feudal Japan. Characters from throughout the main Yakuza games make an appearance here, and the main character of Sakamoto Ryoma is basically Kiryu with longer hair and a katana. Speaking of katanas, there’s lots of really cool samurai gameplay and as well as pieces of their history. While ultimately not one of my favorite Yakuza games, learning about a part of Japan’s history I previously knew nothing about was fascinating and I enjoyed the experience.
The full title of the second Like a Dragon title I played this year is “Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Main Who Erased His Name” and tells the story of Kazama Kiryu after the events of Yakuza 6 and up to about halfway through Yakuza 7/Like a Dragon. This game has a very somber and solitary feel, as Kiryu has made an arrangement with a mysterious organization called the Daidoji. At the end of Yakuza 6, when Kiryu discovers the secret of Onomichi, he’s severely hurt and assumed dead by mostly everyone. The Daidoji’s involvement in Onomichi’s secret force them to reveal themselves to Kiryu, who then makes a deal with them that he will keep their secret as long as they help fake his death. The deal Kiryu accepts also forces him into Daidoji servitude, while keeping his family as Morning Glory Orphanage as assurance. It’s a terrible deal, as Kiryu sought to fake his own death to keep his children safe… however, the Daidoji now have cause to threaten them if Kiryu ever steps out of line. Kiryu has always been one for charging in without thinking first, but this time he doesn’t even know what he’s up against. The game does a good job at introducing the Daidoji while keeping them carefully obscured, and I think we won’t see the full picture until Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth in January.
I believe I’ve said several times now that Kiryu is my favorite character in Yakuza as well as one of my all-time favorite game protagonists. He has a strong sense of honor and truly wants to be good and do good for others, but he’s also a classic tragic hero. Kiryu has seen so many friends die, and Gaiden does a great job at showing the journey he’s been on. I have lots of thoughts on where I think that journey’s heading, but I’ll save that for another post. As much as I love Ichiban – and I really do – going back to Kiryu and his beat ’em up gameplay felt like visiting a friend I’ve become acquainted with through beating up many, many street thugs together. It was nice to play a game focused solely on him, and it was nice that there were some references to some of the most important people in Kiryu’s life. It was sad that this was the first game with Kiryu as a protagonist where he can’t visit Kamurocho, but it makes sense seeing as Kiryu’s supposed to be undercover and everyone would instantly recognize him there. It was a good game, and the ending was heartbreaking to see Kiryu display the emotion he must have felt throughout every game since Yakuza 0. As impatient as I am for Infinite Wealth, I am uncertain about what will happen next for Kiryu.
Like Diablo 3 before it, I had a lot of fun playing Diablo 4. While Diablo 3 had a story that I enjoyed, Diablo 4 took that to the next level by including story cinematics and a more detailed story campaign in general. Diablo 4 has since had a few new seasons, but what I’m really excited for is the first story expansion, Vessel of Hatred, coming sometime next year. The expansion will presumably pick up after the events of Lilith’s defeat and give more details on Neyrelle’s disappearance and plan she seems to have disembarked on. A huge plot point of the story also showed the Church of Light’s corruption, and I hope the expansion adds some new chapters to that storyline as well.
Honorable Mentions & Year-End Remarks
I enjoyed playing many games this year and, like I mentioned above, I can’t possibly go into detail for all of them. In particular, though, I’d like to briefly mention a few multiplayer games I had a blast playing with friends this year, as the games above – with the exception of Diablo 4 – were all played single-player.
I learned how to play Risk of Rain 2, a game with so much stuff constantly happening and never a lack of things to shoot at. This is a really fun one to play with friends and especially if one friend knows what to do since I get distracted very easily in this game. There’s tons of loadouts to try, and I haven’t even scratched the surface. I’ve written about Sons of the Forest previously, and since then I’ve played a bit more. This is another good one to try with friends, since working together to build structures or fight off enemies really pays off. I haven’t tried out some of the latest updated content, including additions to the story, but I hope to see the new story soon. Finally, this post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Lethal Company, a game that has just recently blown up in popularity. It seems a simple game with simple objectives: collect scrap from abandoned mining facilities on various moons, and reach your designated quota. That simplicity does not account for the myriad of shenanigans that can befall you and your poor crew while out collecting scrap. I haven’t played very much of the game yet, and I am admittedly a pretty bad employee, but I can’t wait to play more.
Well, that’s it for 2023 I guess. Another year of incredible memories, game-related or otherwise, in the books. I look forward to what 2024 brings. Until next year…