My Top 5 games will be revealed very soon. In the meantime, I thought about some of my own awards. No celebrity stuff taking up valuable time, just my rambles about video games. On that note, hope you enjoy!
I wasn’t sure how to do this article. So far, I have covered twenty games for this year’s GOTY event. While this year is not as large as my GOTY event in 2022, it is still a massive undertaking. It’s been one of those times, you know?
I’m going to spend today talking about this year as a whole for me. What it meant for me as a gamer and reviewer, as well as covering some games that otherwise would be missed. I’ll also hand out some funny little awards. Think the Game Awards, only with a slightly foul-mouthed British guy doing them. Should be fun, right?
So, before I officially announce my Top 5 games of 2023, sit back with some snacks and enjoy today’s episode. This will be a long one. I wish I could cover more games, but I am only one person and this is already a massive series! However, I’ll use January to cover more games from this year.
Alrighty — let us begin!
The Worst of 2023: The Industry Layoffs
I don’t really do those ‘worst games of the year’ because the world has enough negativity. Except The Day After, because…. well. Look at it! But I won’t be covering a game in this one, but the industry sacrifice. While 2023 has been a strong year overall for video games, it came at a huge price for the creators behind them.
I have to mention this because 2023 has been volatile for the gaming industry. That’s putting it politely, as it’s been brutal. Thousands of job losses, several closures such as Volatile and Mimimi Games, and this cascade will unlikely stop anytime soon. This certainly isn’t helped by the mass acquisitions in the last few years. Most notably with Embracer, who bought up a ton of studios through the Covid pandemic’s peak, but with the loss of their £2 billion grant by Saudi Arabia, they are desperately contracting. That’s been a big problem overall: during all the lockdowns, our industry boomed. When more people returned to workplaces, that demand dropped, and publishers were making sacrifices.
It’s shit. I’ve only been in this industry a few years myself, and while I haven’t suffered from layoffs — it has been a constant struggle trying to find work. I hope everyone affected can get back on their feet soon, and hopefully, we can find more protection in this industry to reduce the damage from events like this.
My Hidden Gems of the Year — Moonring and Total Conflict: Resistance
I decided against a Hidden Gem article this year largely due to time constraints, but I wanted to cover some stuff regardless! I couldn’t just leave it to one game, so I’ve found two ‘hidden’ gems released in 2023 that really drew me in.
The first is Moonring, a surprise launch by one of the godfathers of the Fable series — Dene Carter. I love what these guys did with the Fable series overall, and Moonring is Dene’s latest title. Shocking us all with a shadow drop, Moonring is a fascinating turn-based RPG with some awesome mechanics. The biggest surprise for us all? It is free.
Yep. Absolutely free!
My jaw dropped. Seriously, this should cost money, but nope. There are no strings attached — this is a full, high-quality RPG that does not cost a penny. Fortunately, Carter released the OST for a small price if people want to donate something that way. In a time where the cost of living is growing, as well as AAA titles increasing in price alongside the ‘games as a service’ model, seeing a game like this is incredible.
Inspired by the Ultima games of old, Moonring takes on the retro nostalgia of the past, while using modern technology. The hand-crafted open world is enormous, with diverse enemy types and infinite dungeons. This is a huge game that takes a while to get used to, and you will die a lot. There are no excuses. Give Moonring a go. It also plays great on the Steam Deck.
The second hidden gem of the year for me is Total Conflict: Resistance, one of the most intriguing titles I’ve ever played. While it is in early access, the developer has done a splendid job with it. Unfortunately, it did not make my Best of Early Access list — largely due to me not playing it as much as others on my list. It is a bizarre mix of strategy and sandbox that feels like a hybrid of Mount and Blade/Arma 3. That is an amazing combination, and it largely pulls it off.
There was one game a few years ago that nearly managed that combination: Freeman Guerrilla Warfare. Sadly as it often goes in this industry, the game fell into development hell. While a full redesign is in the works, that looks a long way away seeing as the developers are based in Ukraine. Hopefully, they can make it through. Total Conflict launched in Early Access earlier this year and has been frequently updated ever since. It’s quite an impressive project by a solo developer. I love playing games that push the boundaries of what should be possible, even if it ends up with some jank. While Total Conflict has issues with bugs and performance, it’s a damn enjoyable game.
It’s quite astonishing how much the developers packed into it. While I’m not far in, I appreciate the ambition and scope. Expect a more in-depth review of this in the future.
The Game that Surprised Me Most: Jusant
When I first saw Jusant during the big game announcements, it intrigued me. A game about climbing a gigantic cliff sounds… interesting, right? Perhaps a little boring if there’s little else, but many games have created entire games out of a simple mechanic. Just look at Death Stranding, it made walking into a game by itself. I need to return to Death Stranding someday.
Jusant launched on Halloween — a strange time for such a calm, meditative game. I’ve been playing Jusant slowly over the past few weeks and while the climbing mechanics sometimes make me want to punch something with a brick, it’s blown me away. Honestly? The only reason it is not a Top 10 feature is because I picked up the game too late. Sorry, DON’T NOD! That is an amazing name for a game dev team, I may add. I wanted to finish the game before the end of this year, but I had to give Jusant a mention.
Jusant breathes beauty in every step. There’s no voice acting. All the narrative is told in cutscenes and environmental storytelling. The goal is to reach the top of a gigantic cliff. It’s challenging, to say the least, and some areas take a while to transverse. I cannot think of a climbing game that does it better than Jusant. I feel like a climber in reality — Jusant captures the immersion incredibly well. While some of the climbing puzzles are tough, the game provides several accessibility options such as enabling infinite stamina.
I’ve run into a couple of bugs with the camera — sometimes when ascending some of the larger buildings, the camera will swap automatically and bug out, but otherwise, I am having so much fun with Jusant. The subtle way it tells the story in this captivating world, coupled with the intuitive climbing mechanics and gorgeous visuals makes this a delight.
Best Early Access Game of 2023: Cyber Knights Flashpoint
This was a difficult choice to make. While many early-access games have caught my eye over the past year, three titles really drew me in. As the title goes, Cyber Knights Flashpoint caught my attention the most. Trese Brothers are dedicated developers, and with how well they managed Star Traders: Frontiers, I knew they would give the same love and care to their latest project. Cyber Knights: Flashpoint has received frequent big updates since its launch, and it keeps improving with every update. Furthermore, the communication between the creator and fans remains as solid as ever.
I wanted Cyber Knights: Flashpoint ever since I first learned about it, and if 2023’s progress is anything to go by, expect this game to get even better as we move into 2024.
The other Early Access contenders for the ‘Best’ category are Spacebourne 2 and USC: Counterforce. I cannot believe how ambitious Spacebourne 2 is. This full-blown space RPG might be incredibly janky, but it’s a miracle how he’s pulled it off. Especially with all the real-time space mechanics. You can fly anywhere in real-time! Unlike a certain Starfield…
I was going to mention Starfield directly in today’s episode in an ‘Elephant in the Room’ thing, but I’m not going to bother. For the record, I enjoy Starfield, more than I expected going in. I don’t blame anyone for being disappointed. It has some huge design flaws. Anyway, Spacebourne 2 is pretty damn cool.
As for USC: Counterforce, it is an excellent tactical RPG in the making — great character customization and squad gameplay. I won’t go too much into it here, so check out my ‘Best of Early Access’ episodes for more. Like Flashpoint, it plays great and has a passionate team behind it.
Bravo to all three games, but if I had to pick a single winner, Cyber Knights: Flashpoint gets my vote.
My Favourite 1.0 Release of 2023: Against the Storm
My word. I’ve mentioned it previously, but so many games have been fully released this year that were in Early Access that it’s overwhelming. Just off the top of my head, we’ve seen Wartales, Everspace 2, My Time at Sandrock, Baldurs Gate 3, Against the Storm, Ancient Cities, Space Wreck, Contraband Police and Colony Ship to name a few. Whew, that was a long sentence. Try saying that five times fast.
I know people struggle with Early Access as a marketing decision, and I understand why. Regardless, seeing games come through the development cycle is wonderful. I love playing these games, and supporting the developers as they work on their projects.
Picking a single winner in this category is hard, my friends. Baldurs Gate 3 is an obvious choice, but you’ll be reading my thoughts on that very soon… So, we must choose another candidate. I’ve enjoyed every game on this shortlist immensely. Seeing My Time at Sandrock leave Early Access was a delight, and it is a major improvement over My Time at Portia. Everspace 2 is an excellent space looter shooter with some grand design, and Wartales makes for a great tactical RPG in a big, grimdark sandbox. As much as I love Colony Ship, I have yet to find the time this year to invest in it. That’s on the Christmas holiday schedule.
Out of all of these, I have to give the nod to Against the Storm. The joint winner of my Best Early Access game of 2022 alongside Deadeye Deepfake Siraclum, Against the Storm saw a torrent of patches and content updates throughout 2023. Created by Eremite Games and published by Hooded Horse, this brilliant city-builder blends roguelike mechanics together to form a moreish twist on the typical building game. With additional hard modes and an enormous number of modifiers to unlock, I haven’t gotten bored with this game once. If you haven’t played Against the Storm yet, please give it a try.
That is all for today! Join me next week for the big one, the one I’ve been waiting for a long time — my top five games of 2023.