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Stack Up's Top Games of 2023

2023 brought a slew of fantastic games across many genres and among AAA and Indie titles alike. The Stack Up writers have spent 2023 playing these games for fun and writing up reviews. We wanted to close up the year by talking about our top 3-5 games and why we enjoyed them.

L. Sahara McGirt | Stack Up Blog Editor-in-Chief | Socials

First up: I'm on my second playthrough of Baldur's Gate 3 and taking my time and I cannot believe how much I missed during my first playthrough. It's really fleshing out my experience. I've played a Bard, and now I'm playing a Sorceror, thinking Paladin next. The options are near-endless, I can see myself playing it for years to come. Game of the Year was a no-brainer.

Another game I enjoyed this year was Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical. There are a ton of combinations for the songs based on your choices, and every time you play, you can listen to different versions of the same song. The characters are fantastic, and the game is innovative. I am a musical nerd, and even then, I cannot believe how much I love this game. It's got a visual novel, musical, and RPG combined into a pretty great experience. I'd love to see more games like it.

I've recently been enjoying Coral Island. It kind of feels like a love letter to other open-world, farming, and life sim games with some references to games like Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley, and more. The characters are wonderfully diverse and interesting, and the art is just lush and beautiful.

Other games I would put into my top 5 are My Time at Sandrock and Cyberpunk 2077 DLC: Phantom Liberty. My Time At Sandrock is full of story and is more focused on crafting. The crafting is utilized in the plot, and there are plenty of characters to love. Cyberpunk 2077 has made a huge turnaround since its launch, and I hope people give it a chance. Honorable mention: Starfield. Frankly, though, there were so many great games put out this year that I still have yet to play, and I look forward to them.

Ad_Twindad | Reviews & Military Life Writer | Socials

Although much of my gaming experience in 2023 involved playing older releases and rediscovering classics, I enjoyed some great games in a year filled with hit after hit. Starfield, of course, hit my buttons as a Fallout fanboy and former Elite Dangerous commander. Sometimes, it’s nice just to sit back, explore, and let the hours melt away with a good single-player game. An ever-evolving landscape of side quests and a main story that still keeps you hooked—I can't wait for the eventual DLCs in the years to come.

A surprise hit came for me from watching one of my favorite streamers play the indie hit Battle Bit: Remastered while it was in early access. The quirky Minecraft-inspired FPS game quickly generated a ton of buzz. In a year of colossal games with enormous budgets, it was great to see a passion project catch fire and see a little guy get a piece of the pie, providing a ton of fun for its player base.

Personally, it always seemed like sports games were more of a console product. I didn’t expect to get back into many sports games since I went solely PC several years back, but Wildcard Football was a nice surprise. Reminding me of my earlier playing days with elements from NFL Blitz and Street, it was great to play something that didn’t take itself as seriously as other game franchises.

Fernando Da Costa | Review Writer | Socials

2023 was not only a busy year for gaming, but it made my wallet weep. Today, I’m here to share all of the bad decisions that led to that. Full disclosure: I actually didn’t play much in my leisure time. I threw myself into my writing, but on the bright side, a deep dive into my thoughts is just a Google search away. Obvious nudges to go look aside, let’s get into my top 3 list.

Dead Island 2 has absolutely no right being as fun as it is, but it is. Maybe I’m just sociopathic, but I relished murdering zombies. I played it on my PS5, and man, it looked gorgeous. The animations are so smooth, and the dialogue got many chuckles from me. I highly recommend checking it out yesterday. My only actual gripe is that ending. Let’s be real; it’s one of the worst ones I’ve seen in 2023. Luckily, smashing heads with a sledgehammer more than makes up for that snafu.

Sea of Stars takes the 2nd spot, without question. As an old man, it’s a love letter to a bygone era. My youth was full of pixelated JRPGs, from Final Fantasy to Chrono Trigger, so this is a blast from the past. It also boggles my mind that this masterpiece comes from the same developers of The Messenger. Their genres couldn’t be more polar opposite, and yet, somehow, the mad lads, lasses, and non-binary folk of Sabotage did it spectacularly. I’m not sure what blood ritual they had to pull out, but it evidently paid off.

It’s difficult to nail down a 3rd choice. I loved Rune Factory 3. The characters are the best, and that especially goes for the marriage candidates. I felt myself resonating with most. It’s hard to properly explain, but I found their personalities quirky. Hell, it’s the first time I genuinely had a tough go choosing the girl I wanted to marry. In my humble opinion, Rune Factory 3 is a great balance of great writing and relaxing farming, with a side of killing.

Robert "Bob" Bagby | Reviews & Game Guide Writer | Socials

This past year has been a bit all over the place for my gaming side of life. There were hits and misses, but today is about the former and not the latter. I played a wonderful retro-styled RPG by the name of Sea of Stars. Made by the same company as The Messenger, Sabotage Studios, it takes classic turn-based RPG mechanics and slowly introduces more and more depth without it ever becoming overwhelming to learn. It has a good story where whenever a trope is used, it's always done to ground the story by treating the trope seriously while relying on character humor and not humor at the expense of the characters.

Capcom has an almost literal one-two punch with the Resident Evil 4 remake, followed by Street Fighter 6. I spent hours grinding on the Ranked Matches just to get to Silver with Ken after completing one of the better single-player modes for a fighting game I have encountered in years. The World Tour mode was a fascinating look into the Street Fighter Universe that you usually only get a look at through comics or some other media than the games themselves. The Resident Evil 4 remake was a bit controversial to some when it was released due to some of the changes that were made to the game. The overall tone change did elevate the story. The RE4 classic was campy, and while I do enjoy camp, it isn't everyone's cup of tea, and the remake brings the mood of the story more in line with the rest of the modern universe.

Lastly, the game that flew under my radar till it was shown to me by a friend, Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun. This game is just dripping with its inspirations on its sleeve. A tough-as-nails Doom-like boomer-shooter where you actually do have a Z axis, and there are advantages in verticality as the game plays a lot like classic Quake at times. You play as a Space Marine fighting daemons of Chaos and the traitorous Chaos Space Marines. This was a game I put so many hours into, and even months later, go back to when I just want to have some mindless fun.

Laura Collins | Review Writer | Socials

Everyone knows that change in life is inevitable, but this year has been a whirlwind of both change and insecurity. Anyone who knows me knows that gaming is both a passion and a temporary escape. Throughout the year, I found a few gems that really kept me grounded and mostly sane.

First up but late to the party, as it was released last year, is Persona 5 Royal. Having been a long-time fan of the series, I found comfort in the familiar characters and relationships. Between the updated gameplay and battle mechanics, engaging storyline, and slew of activities to choose from, I’m not sure I could have found a much more appealing escape.

Dave the Diver also came in at the top of my list. I found harpooning fish to be almost relaxing, especially once I had learned weaknesses and how best to catch what. This fed into the dopamine producer that involved using everything I caught during the day to keep the sushi restaurant afloat and thriving in the evening.

Last but not least, there was Fae Farm. This was my dream farming sim, and it implemented improvements to fix flaws I’d found in many of the same genres, like seamless tool switching and increased inventory. There was always plenty to do, everything from breeding animals and flowers to running the farm or fighting monsters. It gave the feel of a merge between old-school Harvest Moon, Rune Factory, and Animal Crossing.

One Lonely Outpost and, surprisingly, Harvest Moon: Winds of Anthos were other favorites but didn’t quite make the top three for the year.

Junoh Seo | Review Writer

As a big fan of roleplaying games in general, Baldur's Gate 3 simply had to be on the list - easily one of the best RPGs out there with incredible levels of freedom and player interaction, excellent writing, and an immense amount of content. It was the best Western CRPG I have played since Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous.

Although it’s been less than a month since I started playing, Lethal Company offered a great mix of terrifying gameplay and the inherent goofiness of playing with other people and watching everything go wrong. The graphics of the game aren’t pretty, but they work well with the atmosphere and add to that PS1-esque horror aesthetics. It's also still in early access, so I look forward to how the game will further develop.

While I enjoyed every FromSoftware title I've played, I haven’t had any previous experience with the Armored Core series before Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon - in fact, I haven’t played a lot of games featuring mechs in general. However, the game did an incredible job of making you feel like an unstoppable weapon of destruction while also offering plenty of customization and variety to wreak havoc just the way you want. The story is also standalone and doesn’t require knowledge of previous games, making the game a great point of entry.

Doxology | Review Writer | Socials

Fashionably late should be my motto for games this year. Two of my top 5 for the year are games that were released before 2023. First up is Elden Ring. Yes, I know I am late to the party on this one. My timidity with Elden Ring existed because of my inexperience with souls-like games. However, after a year of waiting, I finally decided to dive in, and I was more than blown away. The immersion, character progression, story, difficulty, and community are what games should strive for. The other "late to the party" game for me this year was Warframe. As a recent Destiny 2 refugee, I scrambled to Warframe, and I could not believe I had not been involved with the game sooner.

Warframe, in my opinion, is the best in the looter shooter genre. The amazing devs, community, free updates, and content of Warframe make it a musty try for anyone who enjoys the looter shooter genre. Remnant 2, Diablo 4, and Hogwarts Legacy round out my top 5. Remnant 2 was attractive because of its seemingly co-existing mechanics from a souls-like game and Destiny. Remnant 2 more than delivered. Satisfying character builds, and classes tacked on with infuriating boss fights. Diablo 4 was great at launch. A worthy successor to Diablo 3. While the launch and pre-season 1 time for the game was wonderful, it quickly fizzled and is now grasping at straws. Despite its current state, Diablo 4's launch and initial game experience was amazing.

Hogwarts Legacy was surprisingly great. I was convinced the extravagant world and immersion would overshadow any story, but I was wrong. The story and narration of Hogwarts Legacy ended up being, for me, the best part of the game. This isn't even limited to the main story, but the side stories as well! Hogwarts Legacy most definitely scratched my RPG itch in a world I had not previously taken part in via a video game.

Roberto Nieves | Review Writer | Socials

Aliens: Dark Descent. After the calamity of Aliens: Colonial Marines, the franchise returned to its horror roots with Alien Isolation. The stellar reception led to the recently released Aliens Fire team Elite, which also took things back to a simple but strong formula. Taking Aliens and putting it into an RTS is daunting, but they pulled it off. It's challenging, horrifying, and despite some technical blemishes and a little too much juggling with the base operations, this game soars and nails the ebb and flow of Aliens. The controls feel great. The horror is excellent. There's a constant sensation of being tracked and hunted. When they come out of the walls, that's when all hell breaks loose.

This is a must-play for the aliens fans and fans of the genre.

Warhammer Boltgun: Warhammer, especially Warhammer 40,000, has made a remarkable splash in video games. Going back to the PSOne, Warhammer has steadily established a strong presence, from action games like Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine to Diablo-likes like Warhammer 40,000 Inquisitor Martyr. Boltgun dials it back to the boomer shooters of the mid-90s, and it's one of the best shooting experiences around today. As a mighty space marine attached to a special mission, players rip and tear through heresy. The aforementioned Boltgun is the mightiest of all weapons, perforating aliens and chaos Marines. But the enemies of the imperium are mighty and dangerous. Like the old-school shooters of the past, players need to be fast, aggressive, and resourceful. There is no auto-healing. There are health packs to carefully acquire. Warhammer 40,000 Boltgun is excellent for both the Warhammer fan and the FPS enthusiast.

Wanted: Dead takes some getting used to with its controls, but it's a love letter to old-school action games and 90s sci-fi. Anime cutscenes tell of a story straight out of Demolition Man and Judge Dredd. And while the cross between close and ranged action can become a little clunky, the strong single-player campaign and gameplay are incredibly engrossing.

Strayed Lights was one of my favorite games when I played it at PAX East earlier in 2023. I greatly appreciated the focus on visual storytelling and visual combat designs, along with a simple story of belonging and identity. The final game is breathtaking. Battles become larger than life, and the world is unashamedly artistic. The story feels so tremendous without saying a single word. There's a lot to interpret with Strayed Lights, but it is ultimately an adventure well worth taking.

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