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From Dave the Diver to Dredge to Baldur's Gate 3, these are the Games community editorial coordinator Holly Green couldn't put down this year.
December 28, 2023
5 Min Read
Background image via Focus Entertainment.
The enduring tragedy of working in games media: never having time to play games. These end-of-year lists are becoming, at least for me, less of a celebration of games and more of a coming-to-terms. I don’t have enough time to both play games and live a full adult life, and if I were to keep up in a way that satisfies me, I’d have no life at all. Writing the news about these games, editing the deep dives about their contents, approving and monitoring the blogs their creators write about them: it’s not a suitable stand-in for the real thing. At best, you can merely use the information as some sort of filter of what you might find the time for later.
I suppose that makes these games a little special. They’re the ones I found time for despite it all: my growing fatigue with AAA conventions, my heartache and disillusionment with games media, the shrinking pupil that is the rest of my life, and the foreboding sense that time is so finite and that I have none left to spare. Amid acquisitions, layoffs, AI, and climate change, is the heyday of video games over? Are there better, more productive ways we could all be spending our time? What will the future look like? More importantly, have I been overindulging in the leftover Christmas wine?
Here are five games I enjoyed in 2023.
Dave the Diver
This humble but definitely not indie game is the ultimate restaurant sim, really. Not only do you catch the fish for the daily supply of ingredients at the local sushi bar, you also serve drinks, bus tables, hire and manage additional workers, maintain a social media presence, and upgrade the decor and features of the building—a micromanagement game, if you will. Me, I like to collect things, and the fish and foe of the stunning tropical waters of the game are a calming anecdote to the fun but stressful shenanigans of running the business above. Come for the cool island vibes, stay for the high-paced task-balancing that will make you feel as though you’re really running a restaurant.
Chants of Sennaar
Elegantly minimalistic, with a bold palette that provocatively evokes the searing glare of the desert sun, Chants of Sennaar is a puzzle game in the style of Heaven’s Vault and Sethian that uses incremental context and conversational cues to help players decipher an unfamiliar language. This one was especially fun with a backseat second player; figuring out what each symbol means and the riddle of each scenario is satisfying as a collaborative experience. While based on the developer’s own set of rules, as opposed to any real-world dialects or linguistic structures, there’s an element of deduction that almost makes you feel like an archaeologist. I also enjoyed the relationship of that language deduction with the puzzle solving, and how they depend on each other to progress the game physically but also add depth to the player’s understanding of the language and history surrounding them. The visuals are also a part of what seems to be a seemingly Mœbius-inspired bande dessinée-style renaissance in games, following Sable and Rollerdrome before it, a trend I deeply welcome.
“Spooky Stardew Valley fishing mini-game” is a hell of a premise, and this year, I fell for that hard. Dredge is a near-perfect marriage between narrative and mechanics, built on a charming interpretation of seafaring tropes and Lovecraftian storytelling that feels like playing an old pirate ghost story. I love this game for its use of traveling distance as an interpretation of time and how fatigue acts as a harbinger of visual hallucinations; it’s smart and thematically on-point, and the game’s modest completion time keeps its novelties from running into the ground. While fishing is never quite a relaxing experience in Dredge, it’s nonetheless enjoyable, from picking out specimens unique to the game’s different ecosystems, or hauling another loathsome Abberation onboard.
Baldur’s Gate 3
There’s literally nothing I could say that hasn’t been said about Baldur’s Gate 3 already, but nonetheless: it’s nice to see a game with such a strong personality, or rather, so many strongly written characters. No doubt there are thousands of hours of spoken dialogue and unique interactions between party members and NPCs, so many you could never organically experience them all. In that sense, I appreciate that Baldur’s Gate 3 is so well-supported in its complexity: it’s a game that values your time by making nearly every second count. For such a combat and conflict-driven experience, it’s refreshing that it’s the narrative that keeps you guessing playthrough after playthrough, speaking to the effort that when into its crafting. Thank you, Baldur’s Gate 3, for being one of the few games whose dialogue I didn’t spam the space bar through this year.
World of Horror
After all these years, it’s great to see World of Horror finally get its full release; I first played the game, sort of a cosmic horror roguelite RPG, in Early Access seven years ago, and since then, it’s gone through so many changes I’m not sure 2016 me would recognize it now. A masterpiece in 1-bit monochromatic minimalism, the game is worth playing for the pixel art alone, but what it does with its vintage, 80s Japanese PC format is refreshing—camp, even—with pulpy supernatural elements that feel like classic horror storytelling at its best. I like to think this is what a game designed by Junji Ito would be like.
About the Author(s)
Community Editorial Coordinator, GameDeveloper.com
Holly Green has been in games media for fifteen years, having previously worked as a reporter and critic at a variety of outlets. As community editorial coordinator, she handles written materials submitted by our audience of game developers and is responsible for overseeing the growth of iconic columns and features that have been educating industry professionals under the Game Developer brand for decades. When she isn't playing about or writing video games, she can be found cooking, gardening and brewing beer with her husband in Seattle, WA.
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