Welcome once more to the The Official Goonhammer Video Game of the Year Discussion for 2023, the celebrated and always consistently named OGHVGOTY!
TheChirurgeon: 2023 was an amazing year for video games. Possibly top five all-time – so good that it’s caused me to think about whether we could make an article out of the best years for gaming. Stay tuned for that.
Anyways this started as a discussion of the one game of the year for 2023 but frankly, I find those discussions legitimately kind of lame. Almost nobody has played all of the contenders, and so too often those boil down to “I played game X but not Y, so game X is my game of the year.” Or they’re based as much on genre preference as anything else – if you prefer CRPGs to any other genre, how is Baldur’s Gate 3 not going to be your game of the year?
So rather than do a convoluted vote for a single game, we decided to sit down and talk about the Games of the Year for 2023. Here you’ll find a list of games that captivated us in 2023, and the case for each one as the game of the year. They’re all worth a look.
GOTY: Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty (September 2023)
Magos Sockbert: Cyberpunk: 2077 hurt me. First when it was new, and I forced myself to play through the abomination of technical failures that it was at launch, and once more through Phantom Liberty. This game, once a broken morass of betrayed hopes and dreams set in one of the most interesting and timely genres of fiction (yes I’m still bitter about launch), is one of the most interesting, tense, and well written pieces of media I’ve yet experienced. Yes, I know how over the top that sounds. No, I haven’t played Baldur’s Gate 3 yet.
Diving into an expansion pack that is similar-to-but-legally-distinct-from 1981’s Escape from New York, you’re pulled in so many directions as to who to trust, who to believe, who can save your life. Early on you meet a couple dudes just trying to get by who stumble into your hideout. Do you trust them? Do you kill them to keep yourself and the person you’re protecting safe? What’s the right thing, and even if you do that right thing, do the other characters you’re with? What matters to you, the player and character, isn’t always what matters to everyone around you. The base game had some horrific choices for you to make, and the developers have done such an excellent job extending this shades-of-grey morality to Phantom Liberty. Sometimes, you’re forced to pick between two balanced choices, each with pros and cons, and it’s hard to tell what the “correct” one might be. Other times, it looks like there might not be a good choice at all; morality here isn’t “burn the orphanage vs subscribe to Goonhammer’s Patreon” levels of evil vs good, there’s real world subtlety here. I had to take multiple breaks over the course of playing this game, and I can’t tell you why. You have to play this game for yourself, lose yourself in Dogtown and Night City. It may be dark, but you have a chance to make a real difference here, and that makes it indisputably my GOTY.
I want to take a moment here to make brief point about the wider game here, setting apart Phantom Liberty: this is the first year this game has been complete. Major, major content and changes were released in 2023, from light balance changes, to fixing the wanted system where gangs now chase you if you’ve been enough of a pain, to a complete overhaul of the skill system and thus core gameplay loop. 2.0 dropped in September, then 2.02 in October, and 2.1 in December, and, and, and… We’re apparently in a “games as a service” system now, except you’ve already fully paid for the game and now the devs are just adding new content for free because they care about their product. If this game had released today, even without Phantom Liberty, I don’t think Zelda or Baldur’s Gate would’ve had the easy runs they had to various GOTY awards. They’ve had three years to polish this thing to perfection, and they have.
Cyberpunk shouldn’t have been launched. Everyone knew that, including the studio that made it and the executives that pushed it out the door. The game is a testament the destructive power of capitalism forcing products out the door without thought of the harm they cause to those making them or the end consumer, and then that force of nature losing to what happens when you give artists the time and resources to make something beautiful. Sometimes, life imitates art.
GOTY: Baldur’s Gate 3 (August 2023)
Dan “Swiftblade” Richardson: At this point in 2023, saying “Baldur’s Gate 3 was my game of the year” is the least interesting take possible. The game is getting showered with awards from every angle like it’s going out of style. Months after the games release, I’m still seeing new Astarion fancam edits on my Twitter timeline. The game had wild concurrent player numbers on release and still is putting up impressive numbers on all three platforms it’s available on as of this writing. For any game genre, BG3’s popularity with critics and fans is incredible. For a cRPG, it’s downright unprecedented.
Baldur’s Gate 3 is getting so much love right now after it’s run at the Game Awards that I feel compelled to point out it’s flaws just to prove that I’m normal about how much I love this game. And the game does have plenty of flaws. The game performance suffers in the third act. Managing the party inventory is often a chore, especially late game when you have so much crap it feels nearly unmanageable. And I hate the long rest system of restoring health, abilities, and spell slots form Dungeons and Dragons used in the Baldur’s Gate 3, as long resting robs the central narrative of urgency when your party needs to go to sleep every time there’s two hard fights in a row.
These are nitpicks at Baldur’s Gate 3 in the grand scheme of the game. In almost every other area, the game is a generational triumph. Baldur’s Gate 3 is the promise of adventure from playing in a tabletop roleplaying game made manifest on a computer screen. Baldur’s Gate 3’s biggest success in translating that TTRPG feeling to the digital space is the freedom it offers it’s players in almost all areas.
Even in games that reward exploration and creativity, there often feels like “correct” ways to interact with the game. I can kill a troll in Skyrim by pushing it off a cliff with a shout, but I can’t kill a dragon by using a shout on a troll to send the troll flying at max speed directly into the dragon’s face. I can’t beat Calamity Gannon by teleporting him into some lava because it’s funny. I can’t save Blaidd in Elden Ring by transforming him into a sheep and carrying him with me into the next zone, where he will be safe.
Baldur’s Gate 3 lets you do all of these things. Rather than trying to prevent the harebrained schemes of the player, Baldur’s Gate 3 raises an eyebrow, smirks, and says “Give it a shot, see what happens”. This is my favorite part of Baldur’s Gate 3, more than the excellent writing and narrative choice and compelling companions with fantastic voice acting. I love going into a tough fight, where all odds are against me, and then pulling through because of an off the wall plan, and no other game this year provides this kind of experience quite as well as Baldur’s Gate 3.
GOTY: (Singleplayer) Pikmin 4 (July 2023)
Marcy: So, up front, I have two GOTY contenders, so I’m going to state that Pikmin 4 is my single-player GOTY. Yes, it has some multiplayer stuff and that stuff is super fun, but I didn’t come to Pikmin 4 for that, and I certainly don’t have my memories tied to it. Couching aside, Pikmin 4 is absolutely a GOTY contender that is sadly just a little too niche and maybe a little too unusual to garner the attention it rightly deserves. Pikmin has always been a bit of an odd franchise from Nintendo’s catalog (And, spoilers, I plan to do a little write-up about the whole series and why you should play them soon) that has always garnered success, but never been a true blockbuster that snapped out of the small niche it occupies to wider acclaim. In that regard, I think Pikmin 4 is the best Pikmin game you can play, because it is also the most user friendly and beginner friendly in the entire series.
There’s no onerous time limit to your overall gametime, and instead Pikmin 4 has an oddly relaxed flow to the game’s structure that wants you to focus on efficiency and organization over anything else. In fact, the game’s defining philosophy–Dandori, which means ‘plan’ or ‘arrangement’ in Japanese–is what makes Pikmin 4 shine. Figuring out and executing your plan, especially in the underground dungeons, brings an amazing sense of satisfaction. After it’s release, Pikmin 4 inspired me to re-organize my entire desk, resolving my “Dandori Issues” IRL in between sessions of guiding my picked men to their (usually) non-fatal success. Also, Pikmin 4 has graced us with the creation of Pikmin yuri fanart, so I mean, what’s not to love?
GOTY: Sea of Stars (August 2023)
TheChirurgeon: I’ll admit I didn’t think much of Sea of Stars when I saw its initial trailer. The pixel art was very nice and it was clearly going for heavy Chrono Trigger vibes, but I’d also just finished Chained Echoes and wasn’t quite ready to pick up another retro JRPG. I ended up finally playing the game and finishing it on Christmas Eve, getting this review in just under the wire.
If there’s a word I’d use to describe Sea of Stars, it’s charming. The game is absolutely charming from beginning to end, packed with a wonderful cast of memorable characters, headlined by the game’s absolute ace, Garl. The game provides a sprawling fantasy/sci-fi epic that goes to some very cool places and legitimately has some of the best difficulty customization I’ve ever seen in an RPG – custom, purchasable relics let you customize everything from how much damage you take and deal to whether you heal after each battle. On top of that the combat system is really great, with a timed button press mechanic that keeps you invested in what’s going on and a way to interrupt enemy attacks that requires a lot of thought and planning.
I thoroughly enjoyed the game and while it didn’t quite hit Chrono Trigger’s level – an impossible bar to hit given that’s a perfect game – it did appropriately deliver on its promise of CT vibes and likely the best Indie game of the year.
GOTY (Multiplayer): Lethal Company (October 2023)
Marcy: Lethal Company is the greatest multiplayer game I have played in months, if not years, because it perfectly captures exactly what I want in a game I can play with my friends. If you haven’t seen much about Lethal Company yet, the game is about you and up to 3* (without mods, more on that in a minute) friends trying to discover junk in randomly generated facilities to sell in order to meet a continually increasing quota. On paper, describing Lethal Company makes it sound far less electric and compelling than it actually is, because it does not allow me to describe the pure, unadulterated chaos that this game creates. Some snippets of what has occurred in my games of Lethal Company include:
- A room with a jumpable gap that also spawned a turret between the jumpable areas, the reward of surviving being 3 completely empty rooms, which we found out only be sacrificing 3 people to this death trap
- A Bracken sneaking up on my partner and and causing us both to scream so loud someone thought we were being killed IRL
- Telling someone ‘don’t use that airhorn’ as we tried to leave a moon, with them replying ‘why, what’s the worst that could happen?’ only for a blind dog to spawn and maul 4 people to death
- A building filled with nothing but land mines
- A single player (myself) managing to survive after 5 other people died, saving the run at the last minute
Even describing this does a poor job. Here’s what you really need to know: Lethal Company costs 10 dollars, is easy to mod to allow more than 4 players, and is the most chaotic fun you will have with your friends in a video game. Every time I play Lethal Company I have an amazing time, and when I’m not playing Lethal Company, I’m thinking about playing Lethal Company. Losing doesn’t matter. Winning doesn’t matter. The game itself and the hilarity and horror of what you’ll encounter is what matters, and for ten dollars, no other game even comes close to providing what Lethal Company will give you.
GOTY: The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (May 2023)
TheChirurgeon: I was absolutely pumped to go back to the Hyrule established in Breath of the Wild back in 2017 and Tears of the Kingdom absolutely delivered on that, giving us a Hyrule three times the size and in many ways more vibrant and active than that Hyrule. Tears of the Kingdom fixes a number of issues its predecessor had, giving us real dungeons with a greater variety of enemies and much more innovative boss battles and adding a building mechanic that is just incredibly fun to play with and offers much more emergent gameplay than the Sheikah Slate abilities of its predecessor. There are also few moments as cool or simultaneously dread-and-awe-inducing as the first time you drop into the Hyrule underworld and the sheer scale of those caverns begins to dawn on you.
The game isn’t without its warts – the story in the game is pretty bad and once again the game could really benefit from some kind of postgame content – but ultimately it takes nearly everything its predecessor does and improves on it, creating an experience so good that I don’t think I’ll want to go back to Breath of the Wild. Tears of the Kingdom came into 2023 as the most anticpated game of the year and managed to knock it out of the park despite those weighty expectations. And any game that can expand on and improve BotW deserves to be in consideration for game of the year.
GOTY: Starfield (September 2023)
Rocco Gest: 2023 was an amazing year for video games. From Street Fighter 6 to Alan Wake 2 there was something for everyone to feast upon. I wish I had gotten to play Baldur’s Gate 3, but my time is being taken up preparing for holiday cheer. I’ll never be able to play Baldur’s Gate 3 before it goes away on December 31, 2023. At least I got to play my personal game of the year, Starfield.
Bethesda announced Starfield back at E3 2018 and everyone was excited to see the prolific game studio develop a new IP. That hype train kept rolling until this year when it was finally released to the masses. Starfield had reached over 10 million players two weeks after launch. I was one of those players, and I jumped on the bandwagon.
I genuinely enjoy Starfield’s minute-to-minute gameplay. The gunplay is good, however some of the environments make sniping difficult. The space combat was frustrating until I learned about the auto-targeting system. The main story took too many missions to get me interested in it, but the side missions and faction quests kept me playing. I have my gripes with crafting systems in my RPGs, but Starfield has mostly gotten around that by having plenty of vendors in the game that can sell you whatever resources you need. My biggest issue with the game is the leveling system. It’s easy to ignore once you get into the swing of things, but there are a lot of skills that you have to level into that feel like they should just be baked into the level 1 character, i.e. jump pack boosts, stealth meter, and combat slides.
I think all of the backlash the game has received is a lot of overreacting and the game isn’t worse than Skyrim. In fact, I like it better than Skyrim. You couldn’t pay me to play Skyrim. No, I didn’t play any other video games this year. That shouldn’t be relevant.
GOTY: Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 (October 2023)
Magos Sockbert: Following the proud tradition of a shocking number of Marvel properties, Spider-Man 2 is the third game in the Spiders-Men franchise by Insomniac Games. It’s also the most spidery, starring both Miles Morales and Peter Parker as the titular Mans and the largest New York City for you to swing around in the most oh my god this is therapy way possible. Seriously, the continual thwip-swoooosh, thwip-swoooosh, thwip-swoooosh is like ASMR for my soul. Venom? Criminal syndicates? JJJ? Never heard of ’em, I’ll get back to you after I’ve dived down from the top of the Avenger’s Tower just to see how many spins I can perform on the way down. Oh, and you can fly now, just in case you were some kind of animal who didn’t get giddy at how honestly organic the web-swinging is in this game.
And really, that’s what you want; the Batman Arkham series perfected both the flow of melee combat and detective/spider vision, and many awesome games have amazing stories, but Spider-Man is about two things: fluid, natural movement at high speed and high altitude, and the narrative relentlessly beating the shit out of Peter Parker. The first Spider-Man game broke my heart seeing the collapse of his friendship with his research supervisor Doctor Otto Octavius and the deaths of people he cared about, and Spider-Man 2 continues to punish the character, reintroducing his best bud Harry Osborne. The moment you see him back, especially after his brief appearance in the first Spider-Man, you know how awful this is going to get, and it goes bad. Spidey 2: the Spidening is way, way darker than the other two games, and you’re shunted between Miles and Pete (while bouncing between the two in free play) as they experience this trauma and hope.
Insomniac does a wonderful job at making you excited, and joyous, and then truly horrified. At moments this game makes Spider-Man, a dude who can take a car to the face and still make a bad pun, utterly scary, really showing off how horrifying that kind of power can be. Seriously, Yuri Lowenthal and Nadja Jeter do incredible jobs as voice actors here, particularly as Spidey becomes more deranged as his foes gain power and he becomes one himself.
I’ve been fairly opaque about the details of why this is a GOTY, but you really need to play this. It isn’t a long game, and the journey you take is really what you want to be playing this for. The gameplay is great the story is solid (even as the weakest game of the three, it’s still top tier), the soundscape is superb, but this is kinda everything you expect from a big AAA title backed by both Marvel (and thus Disney) and Sony. The world and the characters are why you’re really here, and there is yet to be a superhero game as immersive, emotional, and powerful as Spider-man 2.
GOTY: Super Mario Bros. Wonder (October 2023)
TheChirurgeon: Games have too much shit going on now, to the point where making a true “all ages” game seems to be beyond the grasp of most developers – even supposedly simple games are often too hard, too complex, or require too much reading to be legitimately playable for children who can’t read fast enough to track cutscenes or dialogue. Where Mario Bros. Wonder triumphs is that it’s both a fun, colorful game and also truly accessible to the whole family. That starts with a simple play premise – move right and jump over obstacles – and continues into accessibility options like the Yoshi and Nabbit characters (who cannot take damage from enemies) and engaging co-op that allows one player to carry the team and continually save their teammate. This is perfect for helping avoid situations where a struggling teammate might hold you back.
On top of that, Super Mario Bros. Wonder is just a very fun game, and while it’s not reinventing the classic formula, it’s also a formula which continues to hold up very well. Levels are fun and well designed, each introducing a new mechanic unique to that level and then dropping it before it has a chance to become stale or repetitive. Super Mario Bros. Wonder is the best iteration yet of the classic Mario 2d platformer and that makes it a contender for game of the year in any year.
Credit: Modiphius / Bethesda
GOTY: Cities: Skylines 2 (October 2023)
Greg: Cities: Skylines 2 is the game I keep Xbox Game Pass around for. CS2 takes the winning formula from CS1 – building a bunch of stuff too close together and causing huge traffic snarls and train crashes, then forcing you to spend an entire day reading about highway infrastructure on Wikipedia so you can go fix the problems your dumb ass created in the first place – and makes it even harder to deal with. The buildings are bigger, there’s more types of them, the simulation is much more detailed, and it takes a more expensive computer to run it. For a very specific type of person, this is genuinely the perfect game. For everyone else it probably seems baffling that anyone would want to play a game where their only progress after three hours is a bulldozed neighborhood and a slightly more efficient junction.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a gaming PC, just three different Macbooks Pro, and the console release of Cities: Skylines 2 has been pushed to 2k24, so I haven’t actually gotten to play it. As a result, my actual GotY is the earth-shattering 2014 hit that redefined gaming and perhaps the entire concept of entertainment, forcing all of us to confront the hollow wasted years we lived before it came out: The Elder Scrolls Online.
Have any questions or feedback? Want to stump for a game of your own in the comments? Drop us a note in the comments below.