Friday, January 5, 2024

2023 In Review - Video Games

So as many of you know, I play games at my own pace. That usually means that A) I acquire games and don't play them, and B) I neither acquire nor play big time releases until they've been out for a while. This year was an exception in both regards, to an extent. I didn't acquire nearly as many games as I have in the past, and those I did acquire, I was more likely to play. And, I ended up picking up three different games right around their full release date: Diablo IV, Baldur's Gate 3, and Starfield.

I also spent more time on my Steam Deck this year, trying out some of the many random games I've accumulated through my love of a gaming bundle. In the end, my best guess is that I played 20 new games in 2023. What did I think of these games?

Well, let's rank them and find out!

#1 - Baldur's Gate 3

I've played a ton of role-playing games over the years. I've played hundreds of hours of D&D over the years as well. Baldur's Gate 3 arguably does both of those experiences as well as anybody could hope. Decades after playing games like Curse of the Azure Bonds and Dark Sun: Shattered Lands (both legends in their own rights), BG3 captures that same beautiful combination of exploration, adventure, growth, and challenge. This was deservedly my most played game in 2023, and I expect it'll be right up there in 2024 as well. Now, who wants to play coop?

#2 - Raft

Raft is an interesting game. I really enjoy a lot of the experience; there's a certain satisfaction from collecting goods, putting them to work, researching new technology to do a more effective job at collecting goods, and so on and so on with that cycle. But I'm not totally sure that the gaming experience is like, meaningful. Still, it's a low-stress way to hang out with friends, and that's worth something on its own, even if I'm being tricked into chasing dopamine bursts every time I kill a pufferfish.

#3 - Risk of Rain 2

I'm only like 90% sure that I started playing this game in 2023, but I've decided to include it regardless. I was a huge fan of the first Risk of Rain game, played the hell out of it, never got amazing but still enjoyed it from start to finish. It was always good for a quick cooperative multiplayer game too, the sort of thing you could jump in and out of on a whim. RoR 2 goes from 2D to 3D, but actually does a good job of keeping the same essence of the original game, which is no small task. The last fight is a little more chaotic, and a bit less forgiving, but it's still very fun. And I dare say the different characters feel more unique and interesting for the most part. An excellent follow-up to an excellent original.

#4 - Diablo IV

The story in Diablo IV was absolutely tremendous. I haven't finished it yet, but everything about Lilith is compelling, much more so than the primary villains in previous games. And Diablo IV felt truly fresh, whereas Diablo III felt awfully similar to Diablo II. And bonus points to Blizzard for avoiding a disastrous repeat of Diablo III's launch.

#5 - Starfield

I was so hyped for this game that I blogged for the first time in like, years. I wanted so desperately to have a whole Mandalorian/Firefly type experience, and I convinced myself with the pre-release materials that that was what I was going to get. But it wasn't that at all. We got the same mild-mannered NPCs that previous Bethesda games have offered, space travel is essentially just fast travel, and space combat feels incredibly clunky. Plus I can't even figure out how to become a megacorporation. I enjoy the non-ship combat, and I'm open to finding expansions and mods that improve the experience, but so far it's been a big disappointment.

#6 - Alien: Isolation

Still early in my gameplay, but so far the game has a lot of potential. I'm not usually one for horror-style games, but I'm a sucker for established IP, and famous monsters draw me in even more. I can only rate this on what I've played so far though, which has been pretty simple and straightforward.

#7 - 80s Overdrive

There are a lot of pixel-graphic games out there that lean on old tropes and established nostalgia, but this one hit me just the right way at just the right time. The gameplay is fun, the music is great, and progression feels earned. One of the most pleasant surprises among my many "I'll try this random game on the Steam Deck" choices from 2023.

#8 - Moonlighter

I grew up on Recettear. I've played and replayed Recettear (and am currently doing so again). You, Moonlighter, are no Recettear. It's actually still pretty fun, but adding meticulous inventory management to the hybrid adventurer/shopkeeper base is not an improvement.

#9 - Red Dead Redemption

I bought the original RDR something like 10 years ago. I got a whole Game of the Year edition, including something called Undead Nightmare, which I have yet to play. But I played the base game a bit, and it definitely has the feel of GTA in the wild west, which is what they were going for, no doubt. The game didn't feel particularly dated, which was a plus for a ten year old AAA game. But I didn't feel drawn in by the story, and the few sandbox opportunities I came across didn't suck me in either. I may go back to it at some point, but I got RDR 2 for Christmas; I'm much more interested in the broader, newer, fancier option.

#10 - Suriving the Aftermath

I played this game exactly one time in 2023, for 2-3 hours. Chip and I both acquired the game for free from Epic, and we were both feeling kind of low energy, so we decided to play solo games independently. It was pretty relaxing, mildly interesting. I could see playing it some more, but the fact that I haven't played it since that night might be telling.

#11 - Out There Somewhere

This is a quirky little game, and it was very hard to rank. At its core, it's got the guts of something cool: limited but interesting mechanics, with the potential for a lot of different ways to deploy them. But the game was so short that it was a bit of a letdown to finish it. If a sequel comes out, one that promises to expand on the premise and have a more robust and extensive experience, I'd be interested.

#12 - Dead Island 2

I can't tell if the game is kind of boring, or if I'm just supremely bad at it. There is, of course, the potential that both are true. I'm hopeful to get a chance to try out the cooperative mode this year, maybe that'll add some fun to the experience.

#13 - Splendor

This is simply the video game version of a board game I enjoy. It's an effective representation of the board game, and it translates pretty well to the digital medium.

#14 - Little Racers STREET

Little Racers STREET is essentially a modern twist on RC Pro-Am, the old Nintendo game, but it's got none of the charm. It's perfectly fine, but I found it very forgettable.

#15 - Turbo Golf Racing

I only played the tutorial and a couple of single-player levels. It seems like it could be a fun game to play with other people, but that opportunity hasn't presented itself as of yet. So for now, it's just kind of a weird little driving game that I'm pretty bad at.

#16 - Marvel's Avengers

I've been interested in this game since it came out, so when it dipped to $5 this year, it was an easy pickup. But a long tutorial and ungodly load times kept me from spending much time actually playing the game. I might play it again sometime, but the motivation isn't there.

#17 - The Political Machine 2016

I played a couple games of this, and I feel like I got everything I was going to get out of it. It was fun enough for a quick dip, but I was hoping for a little more of a simulation experience, and not quite so much of a board game experience.

#18 - I, Zombie

It's an interesting little puzzle game, but as the difficulty increases, it becomes less rewarding and just more frustrating. I'd compare it to herding cats professionally.

#19 - Hero of the Kingdom

I can't say for sure that it's a game. So far, it seems to be basically just follow the directions and click where you're instructed to click. I didn't get terribly far in the game, and I don't expect to.

#20 - Ultionus: A Tale of Petty Revenge

You remember how there were some old NES games where you walked pretty slowly, and jumped pretty slowly, and just everything went really slowly? This game is kind of like that. I'm sure that people who've gotten good at the game find it more compelling, but the gameplay was just a non-starter for me.

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