The Best Games Of 2023 (So Far)

The Legend Of Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom

by Matt Kamen |
Posted on

It's safe to say that 2023 has been an unusual year for gaming so far, mainly down to publishers developing a habit of stealth-releasing incredibly odd or otherwise unexpected titles. Seriously, who'd have ever thought that The Murder Of Sonic The Hedgehog, essentially a joke, would come out of nowhere and prove to be one of the year's best games so far? Not us, for sure – and it's far from alone in the offbeat category.

Thankfully, players have also been treated to a host of gaming excellence, from high calibre remakes of beloved classics to the most impressive of big budget blockbusters, by way of quirky indies and unexpected delights. Read Empire's mid-year list of the best games 2023 has offered up so far.

20) The Murder Of Sonic The Hedgehog

Platform: PC

Released for April Fool's Day, this slowest of Sonic games also proved to be one of the best. Rather than a speedy platformer, this hybrid of point-and-click adventure and visual novel has players investigating the blue blur's murder – no, really – after he's found dead on board a train that was already hosting a murder mystery party for (pink hedgehog) Amy Rose's birthday. From the exceedingly meta set-up to a host of Agatha Christie-esque moments, it's a wild diversion from Sonic and his friends' typical adventures, but that's half the fun. Best of all, it's entirely free – April Fool's jokes are rarely so good.

19) Cassette Beasts

Cassette Beasts

Platforms: PC, Xbox, Switch

Sure, at a glance Cassette Beasts is another in the string of indie Pokémon-a-likes that have popped up in recent years, but you don't have to spend long on its strange island setting of New Wirral before you realise it's something special. Waking up on the beach, your customisable player character soon learns they've washed up on the otherworldly isle, where a mix of anachronistic tech, strange environments, and wandering creatures dominate daily life. Unlike its most obvious inspiration though, rather than capturing monsters, here you'll record their essence on cassettes, then transform into them. With deeper turn-based and elementally-charged combat mechanics, monster fusions, human party companions, and even multiplayer, it's a very different beast than Pokémon, and one of the year's biggest surprises to date.

18) Like A Dragon: Ishin!

Like A Dragon: Shin

Platforms: PC, Xbox, PS5 / PS4

A spin-off of the wider Like A Dragon series (formerly Yakuza), Ishin! takes its cast of noble criminals and transplants them to the Bakumatsu era for a tale at the end of Japan's Edo period. That's its actual in-game cast, mind – which means Yakuza's Kazuma Kiryu ‘starring’ as ronin Sakamoto Ryoma (both voiced by actual human Takaya Kuroda), and a host of other familiar faces cropping up in new roles for Ishin!'s 1860s setting. It's that sort of bonkers approach that has won fans’ admiration over the decades, but this doesn't rely on gimmicks – it packs in some of the series’ best action yet. Ryoma seamlessly switching between four combat styles – Swordsman, Gunman, Brawler, and the gun/sword dual wielding ‘Wild Dancer’ – makes for beautiful carnage, while a new ‘Virtue’ system unlocks more abilities. Factor in all the compulsive side-games the wider series is known for, and it's a good time in the (very) old town. It took almost a decade for Ishin! to make it out of Japan, but this modern remake was worth the wait.

17) Aliens: Dark Descent

Aliens: Dark Descent

Platforms: PC, Xbox, PS5 / PS4

It might have taken the better part of four decades, but this year we were finally presented with an Aliens adaptation worthy of the title. A real-time, squad-based tactical survival horror rather than the blazing shooter you might expect, this unbearably tense strategy game takes pages from the Xcom playbook, but gives them a unique and effective twist as you and your squad climb aboard an express elevator to hell. The interface is clunky and the launch version had more than a few (non-Xenomorph) bugs to stamp out but there’s no denying how lovingly developer Tindalos’ title captures the oppressive atmosphere and particular aesthetic of the 1986 sequel. From the whine of the motion tracker, to the crackle of the pulse rifles and even the James Horner-adjacent score, every thread of Dark Descent feels pulled from the movie, making the game an exhilarating ride and even allowing you to customise your marines to reflect their on-screen counterparts (almost mandatory). It’s almost impossibly hard at times, but even that plays to the game’s strengths — the sense of overwhelming horror when you realise that you’re boxed in with no way out and no chance of survival is as panic-inducing as James Cameron intended.

Read the Empire review

16) Tchia


Platforms: PC, PS4 / PS5

There's a touch of Super Mario Odyssey about Tchia. No, the titular young hero isn't an unusually bouncy plumber, but she does possess the ability to "soul jump" into animals and objects, using their abilities to explore and solve puzzles in much the same way Mario could possess creatures with a deft throw of Cappy. And, whisper it, this might even have a slight edge – set in a gorgeous open world inspired by New Caledonia, Tchia contrasts whimsical, joyous exploration against a story with unexpectedly mature beats. There's a real sense of freedom and experimentation to the game, going almost anywhere the eye can see and playing around with how Tchia's powers affect the world around you when you get there. One of the year's unexpected delights.

15) Dredge


Platorms: PC, PS4 / PS5, Xbox, Switch

Everyone loves a relaxing day on the water – it's the nights you have to worry about. As the new fisherman to the small island community of Greater Marrow, your job seems simple: catch plenty of fish to feed the islanders and boost the economy. But something's not right – the Mayor warns you not to stay out on the water past dark. The shipwright is repairing damage above vessels’ waterline. The fishmonger smells of fish, but in a weird way. Then, as your tiny tugboat trundles back to the dock just a bit too late, the fog and darkness creeping in, panic strikes – what was that under the surface?! Black Salt Games’ Dredge is far more than just an indie fishing game – it's a masterclass in subtle terror. Its Lovecraftian vibes – all isolated towns wary of outsiders, clinging wetness, and a palpable sense of something ancient and unknowable lurking in the briny deep – combine with an unsettling, impressionistic art style to make one of the most effectively chilling games of the year so far. Play it with the lights on.

14) Amnesia: The Bunker

Amnesia: The Bunker

Platforms: PC, PS4 / PS5, Xbox

The Amnesia series has long established itself as one of the best horror franchises around, and The Bunker is its scariest outing yet. Set in the middle of World War I, players inhabit French solder Henri Clement, trapped in the eponymous underground facility by cowardly superior officers, and hunted by a creature known only as 'The Beast'. With its monster vulnerable only to light, The Bunker is a masterclass in tension as Henri struggles to keep a lonely generator chugging along just for a measly dim glow. Staying put isn't an option though, and every step into the depths searching for a way out or even just fuel for your greatest ally – the generator – is a claustrophobic nightmare. It's how the game evolves on its predecessors that impresses though, with the catacombs a semi-open world to explore as you dare, and more opportunities for emergent gameplay thanks to the freedom to experiment with tools. With each attempt to escape offering its own dark delights, horror fans may never want to leave The Bunker.

13) System Shock

System Shock

Platform: PC

Few games have such legendary status as System Shock, with the 1994 classic shepherding in a new era of first-person adventures while helping entrench gaming as a medium for compelling stories. Remakes were mooted for years, but developer Nightdive Studios finally succeeded in May – but not quite how anyone expected. Rather than a highly detailed reimagining of System Shock’s cyberpunk world for the 21st century, this keeps the ‘90s aesthetic, delivering a glossier version of the original. It works better than it has any right to, keeping all the neon holograms, gribbly mutants, and (infuriating) hacking that helped define the traditional version, while its story has only become more relevant with time – trying to liberate Citadel Station from the malign AI SHODAN somehow feels a lot more urgent than it did three decades ago. An important moment in gaming history, now fit for modern displays.

12) Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty

Wo Long Fallen Dynasty

Platforms: PC, PS4 / PS5, Xbox

After Elden Ring redefined the ‘Soulsborne’ genre in 2022 with its glorious open world approach, any developer wanting to stick closer to the style’s roots had their work cut out for them. Thankfully, Team Ninja proved up to the challenge, with Wo Long building on the foundations of the studio's earlier Nioh games. While still largely linear and bearing all the hallmarks of the genre – exacting combat, enemies respawning whenever you rest, experience needing to be banked – this historically-inspired action outing took full advantage of its setting, a fantasy-horror take on the fall of China’s Han Dynasty, to freshen up the genre’s mechanics with a touch of wuxia. Each battle feels like a dance of swords, with a heavy emphasis on deflecting incoming attacks then flowing like water around your enemy to deliver a savage counter. Along with a morale system that lets you plan out encounters based on an enemy's rank, and a choice of five 'Divine Beasts' to aid your journey, this showed there's plenty of life left in traditional Soulsborne games.

11) Dead Space

Dead Space

Platforms: PC, PS4 / PS5, Xbox

2008's original Dead Space is rightly regarded as a classic, a blueprint for a generation of sci-fi horror games that followed in its wake. Remaking it 15 years later was a risk, especially when key original creators had moved on to spiritual successor The Callisto Protocol, but EA Motive's exemplary effort is a benchmark for how it should be done. While telling essentially the same story – planet-cracking mining ship the USG Ishimura has unearthed something it shouldn't have, and now the whole vessel is infested with mortifying aberrations of twisted flesh – mechanics are refined and the visceral nature of its combat is enhanced, with the terrifying Necromorphs now visibly sloughing off rotted flesh as you try to cut them down to size. There are some bigger changes in tone for 2023's Dead Space – not least that formerly silent protagonist Isaac Clarke now speaks, removing some of the chilling ambience of the original version – but this is a masterclass in how to bring a beloved classic back up to speed for modern players.

Read the Empire review

10) Hi-Fi Rush

Hi-Fi Rush

Platforms: PC, Xbox

Dropping out of nowhere like a hot new mix tape back in January, Hi-Fi Rush is the latest project from Tango Gameworks. It's a real oddity, though – rather than a chilling survival horror like the studio's The Evil Within series, or a supernaturally tinged action-adventure like Ghostline: Tokyo, it's a colourful, cartoonish rhythm-action game. While a massive departure from what players may expect of the developer, Hi-Fi Rush is an absolute blast, with its madcap plot – you play wannabe rock star Chai, whose futuristic iPod gets embedded in his chest in a cybernetic upgrade gone wrong, giving him the ability to fight in time with the beat of the world around him – gorgeous comic book-inspired visuals, and, of course, killer soundtrack making for one of the best surprises of the year.

9) Fire Emblem Engage

Fire Emblem Engage

Platform: Switch

The latest entry in Nintendo's turn-based strategy series was simultaneously a mix of fan service and forward thinking. With returning characters from past Fire Emblems serving as spirit partners to Emblem's new cast of heroes – led by Alear, the Divine Dragon, prophesised to save the world of Elyos from the forces of the Fell Dragon – its story was something of a tour of the franchise's past. It was in the combat itself that Emblem felt like an evolution though, keeping the specificity of the turn-based model but allowing a spectacular degree of customisation for each warrior. From weapon specialisations to skills inherited from training with those returning figures between battles, there's near-infinite potential for how you develop your army. While not quite as ambitious as 2019's Three Houses, Emblem serves up all the tactical and strategic planning fans of the series crave, while proving a great entry point for newcomers.

Read the Empire review

8) Diablo 4

Diablo IV

Platforms: PC, PS4 / PS5, Xbox

You're knee deep in mud and bones, surrounded by a ravenous legion from the pits of hell itself… and having the time of your life. Such is the bloody spectacle of Diablo IV, an 11-years-in-the-making return to form for Blizzard's action RPG series after the murky experiment of the mobile-focused Diablo Immortal. Chasing down Lilith, Daughter of Hatred, is the ostensible aim of the game, but this is a world so crammed with side quests, compelling supporting characters, and emergent storytelling that it's all too easy to find yourself straying for hours at a time. With bountiful potential for character builds and a giddying amount of loot dropping from every fell beast you slay to customise them with, there's no end to Diablo IV's dark delights.

Read the Empire review

7) Humanity


Platforms: PC, PS4 / PS5

God is a Shiba Inu. This may not be news to dog fanciers, but to everyone else, learning that all our actions are guided by an ethereal canine might be of theological importance. In this latter day Lemmings, said shibe has to lead our teeming masses through an increasingly challenging array of 3D maps, telling people when to turn, jump, and perform various other actions in order to reach and step into The Light (best not think about the implications of that too much). It sounds simple but the difficulty quickly ramps up, demanding increasingly innovative applications of its simple commands to reach each goal. Humanity is frequently as brain-melting as you'd expect from a game produced by Tetsuya Mizuguchi (Rez, Tetris Effect), but with its ability to serve up incredibly satisfying "aha!" moments as you crack each stage, it'll soon be all you can think of – and with 90 levels for the story mode and an endless supply of user-created maps, there's a lot to think about. Including why God is a Shiba Inu.

6) Final Fantasy XVI

Final Fantasy 16

Platform: PS5

The Phoenix plays an important role in Final Fantasy XVI – fitting, then, that this proved to be a rebirth for the decades-old series. While it all but abandons any lingering pretences of being an RPG, FFXVI still delivers all the weirdness and idiosyncrasies that mark it out as part of the series. Brooding swordsman? Check, in leading man Clive Rosfield. Inscrutable but high stakes politics with the fates of millions in the balance? Check, with the feudal nations of Valisthea, warring over territory using the series' familiar elemental summons as terrifying weapons of mass destruction. Unexpected emotional gut punches when you least expect them in the story? Check, for many spoileriffic reasons. It's all bolstered by one of the smoothest battle systems in years, fast and furious enough for action gamers but with just enough customisation and tactics to satiate the series' longer term fans. Square Enix risked everything with this wholesale reinvention of what a core, numbered, mainline Final Fantasy can be – and thankfully, that risk paid off.

Read the Empire review

5) Metroid Prime Remastered

Metroid Prime Remastered

Platform: Switch

The whims of Nintendo are inscrutable. Take Metroid Prime, for instance – one of the GameCube's most beloved titles and a high point in the interplanetary bounty hunting career of one Samus Aran, a modern remake had been rumoured for years. What did Nintendo do? Sneak it out immediately after a Nintendo Direct back in February, catching everyone unawares. Still, when you have a game that's still, decades later, a work of genius – and Samus' leap into first-person 3D as she explores the strange world of Tallon IV really is just that – you probably don't need much of a hype cycle. Remastered is essentially the same game as it was in 2002, with a coat of high def paint and improved dual-stick controls – and that's all it needs to rank as one of the best games in 2023, too.

Read the Empire review

4) Star Wars Jedi: Survivor

Jedi Survivor

Platforms: PC, PS4 / PS5, Xbox

Surely it's only a matter of time before Cal Kestis makes the leap from games to the big screen, right? After all, the young Jedi – one of scant few to escape Order 66 – now has two blockbuster action-adventures to his name, and both are almost on par with cinematic Star Wars. Building on 2019's Fallen Order, Survivor continues Cal's story in the years between the Prequel and Original Trilogies, now working from the shadows against the Empire. Rather than repeat all the tricks of the first game though, developer Respawn has refined everything to perfection: there's less planet hopping, but the environments you explore are better realised – bigger, more populated, and filled with meaningful side quests. Cal's Jedi skills have evolved too, with five lightsaber stances to tailor responses to every threat the galaxy throws at you, and a few new Force tricks such as animal taming. It's all wrapped up in what's a contender for 2023's best looking game, with a dazzlingly realised world that would hold up on the big screen. Maybe Cal doesn't need a movie, after all…

Read the Empire review

3) Street Fighter 6

Street Fighter 6

Platforms: PC, PS4 / PS5, Xbox

The best thing about Street Fighter 6 is just how gloriously weird it is. Sure, it's immediately a best-in-class brawler, with a beefy roster of 18 new and returning World Warriors to get to grips with. And yes, its combat is both reassuringly familiar to long-time fans but also deliciously tactical thanks to the new Drive gauge system, allowing you to counter or reverse opponents' attacks, or unleash ferocious Drive Impact assaults on your unfortunate victims. And sure, with classic controls, streamlined modern inputs, and even an AI-assisted 'Dynamic' mode, it's the most accessible Street Fighter ever. But what really sets it apart is World Tour – a Yakuza-lite, RPG-esque mode where your deliriously customisable fighter travels the globe, learning "the true meaning of strength" from key characters, all while getting into scraps with everyone from passing office workers to cardboard box-wearing delinquents. It's bonkers. We love it, and you will too.

Read the Empire review

2) Resident Evil 4

Resident Evil 4

Platforms: PC, PS4 / PS5, Xbox

2023 really is the year of the remake – but when they're as good as this reimagined Resi 4, we can't complain. Leon S Kennedy’s Spanish vacation, taking in the sights and sounds of dilapidated towns and meeting (not-so-)friendly parasite-infected villagers as he tries to rescue the US president’s daughter, was an immediate high point for the series back in 2005, and nearly two decades later, Capcom has made it even better. It all looks stunning, of course, but it’s small mechanical refinements that have outsized impacts, elevating the whole experience. The new ability to crouch, for instance, further heightens the fear factor as you try to sneak around undetected, while being able to parry attacks with your knife reduces the original's reliance on quick-time events. Along with some judicious tweaking of the plot, better explaining the origins of Las Plagas parasites and further establishing supporting characters, this is the definitive version of arguably the best Resi game.

Read the Empire review

1) The Legend Of Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom

The Legend Of Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom

Platform: Switch

Number one? As if there was any doubt. Nintendo's long-awaited follow-up to Breath of the Wild builds on the success of that landmark entry in the series with another adventure exploring the fallen kingdom of Hyrule. However, this time Link both takes to the skies and plumbs the depths of the world, uncovering ancient secrets amidst a time-twisting story that ranks as one of the best in the series. It's Link's suite of new powers that marks this out as an all-time great though, particularly Ultrahand – the ability to attach, combine, and build with almost any object in the world. Used in conjunction with technological gadgets from the ancient Zonai, Ultrahand has given creative builders the freedom to craft almost anything they can imagine – from enemy-hunting tanks, to giant robots, to aerial death machines. Long after peace has been restored to Hyrule, players will be experimenting and tinkering with Tears Of The Kingdom for years to come.

Read the Empire review

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