You know when you’re at a party and, to ease the boredom before your friends arrive, you go to the food table to pick mindlessly at the assorted cheeses? There’s someone else already there, but you pay them no mind beyond a cursory, polite smile that doesn’t quite reach your eyes.
They say hi.
You say hi back.
You realize, too late, that this acknowledgement of their existence has inadvertently opened up those thoroughly rusted doors of conversation. There is no escape. You cannot run. You cannot hide.
Welcome to the snack table.
I’m your conversational hostage taker, Gemma, and these are my 5 games of the year for 2023.
Baldur’s Gate 3
SHOCKING, I KNOW! Baldur’s Gate 3 has taken over my heart, my soul, my internet history and my capacity to converse about anything that isn’t Baldur’s Gate 3. Larian’s Dungeons and Dragons-inspired fantasy RPG has literally everything I could ask for: action, intrigue, romance, and the ability to turn into a sentient wheel of cheese. What’s not to love?
My descent into the BG3 pit wasn’t a fast one, mind. I had to do a fair bit of mental readjusting to how I approached encounters and conversations outside of my rigid, black-and-white expectations to properly take advantage of the truly insane amount of ways chaos can be wrought. Once I did, it completely turned things around for me! It’s actually helped me to be a more enthusiastic DnD player in my regular games.
The narrative manages to weave in the many, many ways we, as players, can derail the story whilst still feeling rewarded in just about every outcome. This gorgeous world, filled with secrets and dangers…and traps I keep running into please I beg you use your eyeballs– is truly such a wonderful place to immerse yourself in. 9 campaigns running, 400 hours on the clock and no sign of stopping until I can literally recite the script word for word.
TLDR Baldur’s Gate 3 is great, and I’m a big fan.
As if I needed any more reasons to not set foot in the ocean, Dredge came along and said ‘that’s so funny you say there, here’s Cthulhu!’. Okay, well, maybe not Cthulhu, but it was a particularly cranky fish.
I’ve spent arguably too much time in the world of Dredge for someone who claims to hate the ocean so much. But there’s something so deeply intriguing and fascinating about the dark, murky waters of this accursed land that I still cannot help but belly flop into even having finished the game a few times. The gorgeous colour schemes, the variety in the fish you can find, the way no one seems to acknowledge the mortal peril I keep finding myself in. I love it!
There’s a deep, tangible love you can feel from the devs for not only the aesthetics of Dredge, but how every piece of the puzzle works together to further the vibe. The vibe in question being ‘shit your pants but in a subtle way’. Slotting things into your inventory Tetris style is a fun minigame in and of itself until you’re frantically trying to stow your hoards of fish while an eldritch beast is taking a run up behind you. There’s this awesome music sting that plays every time you catch something that’s…not quite right, that elicits the same mental response from me that the old PS2 starting screen does. It just all works SO well!
Women want me, Dredge fish also want me. I’m going to throw myself into the sea.
Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty
I’m not going to pretend I was one of the OG Cyberpunk 2077 supporters when it first came out in *checks notes* that year none of us remembers. But it’s 2023 now, baby, and 2077 is in…yeah let’s go with that line!
For real, though: the VICE GRIP this game had on me before the Phantom Liberty DLC released was already bordering on problematic where my ability to do or talk about anything else was concerned. Now you throw in a CIA-like, noir conspiracy with a race against time and the potential for V to finally get something that remotely resembles a happy ending? You’ve got me once again, Cyberpunk 2077, I pledge my undying allegiance to the emotional lashing you are sure to bestow upon me. And oh, what a lashing it was.
This was the Cyberpunk I wanted back in that year we don’t talk about. Not just thematically but visually. The world of Night City feels full and alive and entirely out of your control. V is the star of the show, sure, but that galaxy burns bright around them and doesn’t care who gets blinded in the process. Phantom Liberty was a beautifully acted, beautifully written and beautifully brutal way to conclude V’s journey and a harsh reminder that there truly are no happy endings in Night City.
Slay the Princess
“You are on a path in the woods. And at the end of that path is a cabin. And in the basement of that cabin is a princess. You are here to slay her.”
I have had that line read to me more times than I care to admit over my six or seven hours playing the cyclic visual novel/ experiment in existentialism that is Slay the Princess.
I love me a good cyclic story. I love the initial panic that fades to helplessness that fades to apathy that gives way to macabre curiosity as you learn to push the limits of your narrative confines and possibly moral standards. And Slay the Princess was with me every step of the way. The writing is superb, almost perfectly predicting my reactions as I got deeper and deeper into this time loop of what-the-fuckery. It’s hard to talk about the specifics of Slay the Princess without giving away spoilers, but also because context is so deeply important to the journey of our character and, really, the princess themselves.
Suffice it to say it is a deeply intriguing, funny, tragic, beautifully illustrated, beautifully told and truly special experience that I highly recommend to anyone looking for something a little bit different.
World of Horror
It truly has been a year for revelling in the joy of eldritch horrors, hey? World of Horror is a love letter to the works of Junji Ito and HP (wretch) Lovecraft in the same way my screams and screeches every full moon are a siren’s song. It’s unsettling, anxiety-inducing and a little concerning to any onlookers without context.
This charmingly terrifying RPG roguelite has just about everything I want in a horror game. Creepy town filled with entities hell-bent on ruining my day? Check. A perpetual sense of dread? Check. The knowledge that every choice I make has the chance to backfire on me spectacularly? Check, check and check. Aesthetically, it’s gorgeous, with 80s adventure game vibes. There’s a fantastic soundscape, and the pacing is phenomenal, with just enough breaks in tension that when shit does hit the fan, you’ll physically be hurled in much the same direction.
I don’t know, man. I just love a good scare. It’s nice to feel a sense of dread that isn’t related to…you know. Everything else for a change!
Okay, that’s it! It’s over. You are released, dear friends, from the snack table. These are my top 5 games of 2023, an incredibly difficult list to nail down and even as I’m writing this I’m wondering if David would notice if I just snuck in like 15 or so more…oh hey David! Nothing to see here!
Editor’s note: I see everything. — David.
I hope the inclusion of 3 big-budget games doesn’t come across as dismissive to all the incredible indies we’ve been blessed with this year. These are just the games I’m particularly passionate about. I am truly so in awe of anyone who manages to get even a semi functioning title off the ground. Game development is hard. And you are not given nearly enough credit or recognition for all the incredible work you do. It would’ve been nice to see a bit more of that this year, especially.
But that’s me! I now return to my hovel, where I shall peel off my skin and bask in the blue light of a computer monitor for the rest of the Christmas holidays. Honour run of BG3, anyone?
Thanks for having me!
Gemma Driscoll is a host at Good Game Spawn Point and ABC Gamer. She is an authority on RPG romance options. She likes Mass Effect a lot. Say hello on Twitter at @GeeofDee.
Image: Panstasz LLC, Larian Studios, Black Tabby Games, Kotaku Australia
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