Most popular game in 2023

Most Popular Game in 2023

In a year filled with major game launches such as Tears of the Kingdom, Baldur’s Gate 3, and Spider-Man 2, which games emerged as the top contenders?

As we’ve repeatedly heard over the past twelve months, 2023 unfolded as a captivating chapter in the gaming landscape. It witnessed an overwhelming surge of workforce layoffs, corporations devouring each other akin to a corporate Pac-Man, and an abundance of leaks. Despite the evident challenges unveiled within our industry throughout 2023, it emerged as a monumental year in terms of both the quantity and quality of available games.

When the time arrived to deliberate on Sixty Degree Game of the Year (GOTY) lineup, apprehension naturally crept in. The sheer multitude of games was staggering, and the mathematical intricacies required to narrow down the selection served as a stark reminder of my numerical inadequacies. I meticulously cross-referenced and verified everything, gently nudged Sixty Degree staff for their votes, and after a few weeks, the list came to fruition.

Is the lineup for this year surprising? Not particularly. Blockbuster games graced the scene consistently throughout the year, from the Resident Evil 4 Remake in March to Star Wars Jedi: Survivor in April, Tears of the Kingdom in May, and Baldur’s Gate 3 in August. Remarkably, even Cyberpunk 2077 met expectations with its Phantom Liberty expansion and substantial patch.  So, no, the content of this year’s list won’t catch you off guard—though the order might, especially considering the expansion to 10 titles from last year’s eight.

1. Alan Wake II One of the most popular game in 2023

Alan Wake II reignited a sentiment within me, a sensation I once frequently encountered but seldom find in recent big-budget games—the exhilaration of engaging with something genuinely, entirely original. This is not to imply that contemporary games are inferior, but rather to acknowledge that, as certain concepts and systems become more standardized, they often exude a sense of familiarity and comfort right from the outset. One open world might resemble another, and the progression systems or skill trees of one game may echo those we’ve seen numerous times. Yet, Remedy, a studio that has maintained its freshness and idiosyncrasy since leaving an indelible mark with 2001’s Max Payne, has once again immersed us in a game of unwavering originality.

It has been 13 years since the debut of the original Alan Wake. Centered around a crime novel writer grappling with writer’s block after abandoning his previous hard-boiled detective protagonist, Alex Casey, it seemed to stem from the creative struggles of Remedy’s creative director, Sam Lake, post-2003’s Max Payne 2. Alan Wake was intriguing—an atmospheric adventure that dared to present us with a prickly, sometimes unlikeable hero. However, for all its lofty ideas, it felt somehow restrained and safe, a horror-themed game that skirted the edges of true horror.

In contrast, Alan Wake II is exhilaratingly bold, unapologetically daring, as if bursting with 13 years’ worth of pent-up creative energy. With a daring narrative structure, a sense of unhinged storytelling, and thrilling incorporation of live-action elements that brilliantly enhance the feeling of Alan (and the player) slipping between different layers of consciousness and existence, it unfolds as a surreal odyssey. It playfully weaves Remedy’s entire history into a tale about how the creations we birth can either liberate us or ensnare us. In a year brimming with original games, Alan Wake II stands tall as the most audacious, invigorating testament to what games can achieve when steadfastly adhering to a singular artistic vision, rightfully earning the title of Sixty Degree’s 2023 Game of the Year.

2. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

Most popular game in 2023

Approaching the release of Tears of the Kingdom, I held reservations. Following years of stagnation in Nintendo’s iconic fantasy series, the rejuvenation brought by 2017’s Breath of the Wild was a breath of fresh air. It swept away the accumulated dust, breathing exhilarating new life into the franchise. However, the previews of Tears of the Kingdom prior to its launch left me concerned that we might be in for a safe sequel, a mere BotW 1.5, rather than a worthy continuation of the series’ adventurous spirit.

How mistaken I was to harbor such worries. Nintendo wisely kept Tears of the Kingdom’s most significant surprises concealed, allowing players to discover the unsettling vastness of Hyrule’s new subterranean depths and the transformative impact of its grand array of abilities firsthand. The introduction of ultrahand—a new power empowering hero Link to craft various useful contraptions from the world’s resources—opens up avenues for those with artistic flair to create truly remarkable things. Yet, Tears of the Kingdom’s brilliance lies in its design, enabling even players like me, who may feel daunted by engineering challenges, to stumble upon our own quirky solutions and, occasionally, even design something genuinely impressive.

Breath of the Wild’s extraordinariness stemmed from elevating Hyrule to the role of a central character. While Zelda may still grace the game’s title, the core relationship was between Link and the world—an immersive experience rarely felt in other games. Tears of the Kingdom deepens this connection further with abilities like ultrahand and ascend, providing new ways to relate to and interact with the world. This enriches the relationship with the terrain, allowing players to truly feel the rough terrain beneath their feet and the steep cliffs under their climbing hands. This relationship, coupled with the enhancing abilities, is not only deeply meaningful but also genuinely playful, fostering freedom, imagination, and creativity. Tears of the Kingdom exemplifies Nintendo’s artistry, building a masterpiece on top of a masterpiece. It reaffirms that fresh, innovative ideas can infuse familiar franchises with a thrilling sense of novelty once again.

3. Baldur’s Gate 3

Most popular game in 2023

Baldur’s Gate 3, the Dungeons & Dragons RPG from Larian Studios, boasts impeccable design, offering avenues for expression through character customization, battle tactics, and roleplaying that surpass the aspirations of most games within its scale. Its ensemble cast swiftly earned the admiration of RPG enthusiasts over the past decade.

While Baldur’s Gate 3 might not have secured Sixty Degree’s Game of the Year (no hard feelings, promise!), it undeniably holds a significant place on this list. It stands as a testament to the dedication and skill of its creators, serving as a poignant reminder that when games receive the time and resources to craft something daring and responsive, players are bestowed with an experience uniquely their own.

The video game industry finds itself at a critical juncture, with thousands of jobs lost in 2023 alone and more potential layoffs looming in the future. Baldur’s Gate 3, though released this year, feels like a relic from a bygone era where games were complete at launch, substantial post-launch updates were provided freely, and player feedback was not only acknowledged but actively incorporated. In just a few short months since its launch, Larian has amassed substantial goodwill. Even if updates for BG3 were to cease abruptly, it would endure as a symbol of the potential of games and a melancholic reminder that creations of this caliber are increasingly rare in the contemporary gaming landscape.

4. Street Fighter 6

Most popular game in 2023

Street Fighter 6 stands as a prime example of how iteration lies at the heart of fighting game design. Street Fighter V faced a rocky start, gradually improving until Capcom concluded support in 2022. However, Capcom learned from this experience with Street Fighter 6, which has burst onto the scene with undeniable vigor.

The brilliance of Street Fighter 6 lies in its skillful restoration of each fighter’s essence. It enriches their movesets with universal mechanics such as the Drive Gauge, ensuring a level playing field for offensive and defensive strategies. The World Tour mode further fleshes out the characters in charming ways, allowing players to experience moments like attempting to send a technologically illiterate Ryu a text or discovering that Dhalsim is barred from baseball due to his stretchy legs being deemed an unfair advantage.

Not too long ago, Street Fighter seemed to be drifting away from the essence that made fighting games a communal cultural phenomenon. Street Fighter 6 serves as a poignant reminder that, despite their complexity, fighting games are inclusive and meant for everyone.

5. Armored Core VI

Most popular game in 2023

From Software’s latest mech shooter immerses itself in the intricate details long championed by fans of the sci-fi series while streamlining the overall experience, incorporating lessons gleaned from a decade of critically acclaimed Soulsborne experimentation. The outcome is a high-octane action game set in a captivating future-scape, featuring profound customization options and unforgettable boss encounters. Armored Core VI adeptly smooths some of the notoriously opaque franchise’s rough edges without compromising its steely essence.

The game boldly discards many of the time-consuming elements often found in contemporary blockbusters, which often succumb to the weight of exorbitant budgets and unrealistic sales expectations, whether or not these elements benefit the gaming experience. There’s no need for XP grinding, no pursuit of randomized loot, and no exhaustive lists of items to collect and craft. Certainly, there’s no battle pass. Instead, players are presented with an array of unlockable gear, a loading bay for refining their mech’s build, and arcade-style bite-sized missions that transition from effortless demolition-fests to challenging showdowns. These demanding encounters reward experimentation and the patience required to master skills.

In a gaming landscape where many titles attempt to cater to every conceivable audience, Armored Core VI resists the temptation of extraneous features. Dialogues are sparse but impactful, and linear missions leverage this concise approach to guide players through a meticulously crafted tour of a corporate-sponsored apocalypse. While each of these elements may not be revolutionary on its own, the precision and polish with which they are executed in the year 2023 is noteworthy and undeniably exhilarating. Austerity proves liberating, and Armored Core VI stands as an exercise in cutting through the superfluous with a giant laser sword, exuding a cool-as-hell vibe in the process.

6. Super Mario Bros. Wonder

Most popular game in 2023

For enthusiasts of a certain vintage (read: old), memories undoubtedly linger on the iconic “boot level” from Super Mario Bros. 3. Mario’s power-ups, from the common Super Leaf to the elusive Tanooki and Frog Suits, are spread across various levels. However, the boot, officially known as Kuribo’s Shoe, makes a singular appearance in the entire game—World 5, Level 3.

Super Mario Bros. Wonder feels like the development team pondered, “What if every level was the boot level?” Each stage boasts a distinctive gimmick, often two, thanks to the game’s signature Wonder Seeds that open alternative routes. Glide through the sky in rivers of torrential rain, morph into a blob to effortlessly navigate through slime-filled bricks, or bounce along a rainbow of musical notes while Piranha Plants vibe to the beat. Playing this game is an absolute delight that’s bound to plaster a big goofy smile on your face. Remarkably, all five developers of the original Super Mario Bros. from 1985 (yes, there were only five of them) contributed to the creation of Super Mario Bros. Wonder. Experiencing their wildly inventive takes on the genre they pioneered nearly 40 years ago is truly an experience worth relishing.

7. Diablo IV

Most popular game in 2023

Blizzard’s latest installment in its enduring action-RPG franchise may not boast the perfect endgame or offer the anticipated seasonal updates, but for me, these aspects are secondary to the core game experience, which I thoroughly enjoyed, playing through it twice this year.

Diablo IV doesn’t deviate significantly from the franchise’s established formula, acknowledging that Diablo’s gameplay is already challenging to improve. Yet, following fan feedback on Diablo 3’s narrative and tone, Blizzard seized the opportunity to create a sequel that harks back to the gothic and dark atmosphere of the original games, evident in Diablo IV. The game features genuinely exceptional quests and memorable cutscenes that will linger in my memory for years.

Even in 2023, the thrill of running through a massive horde of monsters, unleashing powerful spells and abilities, and witnessing their demise in a spectacular explosion of particles remains enjoyable. The experience is heightened when the dust settles, revealing enticing loot amidst the carnage. Diablo IV consistently delivers this satisfying loop, tapping into a primal part of our brains that few games can reach.

While the journey with updates and endgame content has been a roller coaster of frustration, the core game stands out as fantastic, earning its place among the best of 2023. If Blizzard can successfully navigate future updates and expansions, Diablo IV has the potential to be a game that captures my time well into 2024 and beyond.

8. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor

Most popular game in 2023

In 2023, the abundance of Star Wars content is undeniable, perhaps even overwhelming. However, at the pinnacle of this year’s Star Wars offerings sits Respawn’s exceptional sequel, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor.

The prospect of blending Dark Souls-like gameplay with the expansive Star Wars universe is enticing, but the execution could have easily gone awry. The game might have been excessively challenging, overly fixated on mimicking the Soulslike formula, or overly immersed in obscure Star Wars lore, alienating non-fans. Yet, Respawn managed to strike the right balance, delivering an action-packed Star Wars adventure filled with heart and dramatic moments that rival recent films. It even won over individuals who had grown disillusioned with the franchise.

In an era where games seem to grow longer and larger each year, it’s a rarity for me to finish a game and feel a sense of melancholy due to the desire for more. Typically, I’m content to reach the credits and move on after investing countless hours. However, that wasn’t the case with Survivor. I yearned for another planet to explore, more puzzles to solve, additional Star Wars lore to delve into, and more enemies to dismantle with my array of lightsaber blades in their captivating array of colors.

While there may be an excess of Star Wars in our galaxy, the quality of offerings like Survivor makes me eager for another sequel from Respawn. After all, the best Star Wars stories often unfold in trilogies, don’t they?

9. Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty

Most popular game in 2023

Phantom Liberty serves as the conclusive chapter in the comeback narrative of Cyberpunk 2077. It’s remarkable how selling millions of copies of what initially resembled a problematic release provided the opportunity and resources to overhaul and redefine it into something far more than merely playable.

While discussions about Cyberpunk 2077’s intrinsic value beneath the launch bugs may have been exaggerated in my opinion, the sweeping systemic changes brought about by the Phantom Liberty expansion underscore the latent potential for greatness. The DLC’s spy thriller narrative distinguishes itself from the main story, and the 2.0 update injects substantial replayability into a title that was once deemed somewhat unplayable.

Although not precisely an underdog story, given the game’s staggering 25 million copies sold, Phantom Liberty stands out as a stellar illustration of what unfolds when a team of skilled developers is granted a second chance to rectify what was initially created under tight deadlines. Cyberpunk 2077 now emerges as a phoenix, rising from its self-created ashes, and nothing encapsulates the roller coaster ride we’ve experienced quite like Phantom Liberty.

10. Dave the Diver another most popular game in 2023

Most popular game in 2023

Indie or not, Dave the Diver deserves your attention as one of the year’s best games. This adventure offers an engrossing, surprising, and satisfying gameplay loop that can easily immerse you. With a million copies sold in its first month, it’s safe to say that the diving simulator made a real splash (sorry, that will be the only one) this year.

Developed by Mintrocket, this pixel-based adventure is a slippery moray eel to sum up in an elevator pitch, but let’s give it a shot. As Dave, you deep-sea dive for fish during the day, supplying ingredients for an ocean-front sushi restaurant that you operate when night falls. As the business expands, there are staff to hire, pints to pour, social media to manage, and new equipment to purchase for reaching greater depths. There’s more to Dave than can reasonably fit in this blurb, and I haven’t even delved into the seahorse-racing meta yet!

John Walker, in his write-up for the site, highlights what makes Dave special, calling it:

…a game that will not stop getting bigger, more interesting, and perhaps most importantly, more outright bonkers. Introducing new features like other games introduce loading screens, DTD evolves continuously.”

It’s precisely that ever-evolving loop that promises to keep me returning to hang with my Bancho Sushi squad well into 2024. What’s more, with a recent port to the Switch and the announcement of a free DLC collaboration with Dredge, another fishing sim that Sixty Degree scoped out this year, it’s a great time to dive into Dave.

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