My favorite Xbox and PC games of the year don't include Baldur's Gate 3 (yet), but here are the best games I DID play

Baldur's Gate 3, Hi-Fi Rush, and Star Wars: Jedi Survivor compilation image with characters
(Image credit: Windows Central)

The end is nigh. Well, at least the end of 2023. It has been a long, complicated, bittersweet year full of extreme highs and lows in the video games industry and everywhere else. Right now, though, I just want to celebrate the victories; I want to celebrate the best games of 2023 that I personally played before moving on to the next calendar year of highly anticipated releases, surprise hits, and secret gems.

Full disclosure: I've not played Baldur's Gate 3, one of the most critically acclaimed and awarded games of the year — or in years, period. Baldur's Gate 3 won Game of the Year at The Game Awards, but it can't win my game of the year, obviously because I've not played it. I know what you're thinking, but I promise it's on my wishlist and my backlog. I will get to it, but it's a huge gaming commitment, and I had some other titles I wanted to visit first.

Without further ado, let's get into the five best games of 2023 (in my opinion and from what I've played).

The "We Can Only Go Up From Here" Award — Jusant

Jusant has you scale a towering mountain of rock and forgotten ruins, and it's beautiful and relaxing in equal measure. (Image credit: Windows Central)

My first award for the night is the "We Can Only Go Up From Here" Award, which, of course, goes to the coziest game of the year. A surprise for many people, Jusant is one of the latest releases from French developer/publisher DON'T NOD. I had the pleasure of reviewing Jusant when it was released, and my thoughts on it now are the same as they were then — Jusant looks and sounds gorgeous, is relaxing to a meditative degree, and will draw you into its vibrant world of lost histories and forgotten ruins.

The premise is simple: You are a person, and you just so happen to be the world's best rock climber. That's good because your mysterious mission is to escort a tiny blue creature to the top of a very, very tall tower of rock. The entire game is climbing and exploration, with intuitive controls and a mesmerizing world to keep you going. There may be some puzzling sections, you may find secrets, and the story may surprise you, but ultimately, Jusant is just a really relaxing, cozy game into the clouds.

Jusant is now available for Xbox Series X|S, Windows PC, and PlayStation 5. It's also included in Xbox Game Pass, PC Game Pass, and Xbox Cloud Gaming, so the cost of entry is incredibly low. You can expect Jusant to take approximately 6 hours to complete if you take your time, especially if you want to complete 100% of the Achievements. It's a very approachable and easy-to-understand game, but some of those with mobility disabilities may struggle with constantly needing to hold down controls.

Jusant — $24.99 at Microsoft (Xbox) | Steam (PC)

Jusant — $24.99 at Microsoft (Xbox) | Steam (PC)

The journey is more important than the destination in Jusant, a cozy and relaxing trek up a beautifully realized and detailed tower of stone and memories. It's an excellent gaming adventure that more than earns its place on this list.

The "I Thought I Was Stupid, But I'm Actually a Genius" Award — COCOON

COCOON's worlds are not without dangers, as you'll discover during your journey. (Image credit: Windows Central)

You probably figured this one out already. The "I Thought I was Stupid, But I'm Actually a Genius" Award goes to the best puzzle game of the year, and there's only one nominee in my eyes. COCOON is the latest from Jeppe Carlsen, the designer behind legendary indie games LIMBO and INSIDE, but COCOON is the best Carlsen has ever made. Stunning art and audio design, an enigmatic universe made of biomechanical alien worlds, and some of the most brilliant game and puzzle design I've ever seen make COCOON a must-play for... Well, anyone.

It's difficult to design a truly brilliant puzzle game because you have to ensure players can't accidentally break or exploit the game, that the solutions are logical within the confines of the in-game universe but still challenging, and that any valid solutions players may come up with are either addressed or accepted. It's a delicate balance between "that puzzle was so satisfying to solve" and "that was so frustrating, why was this designed like this?" and COCOON absolutely nails it. Navigate between worlds, carry those worlds into other worlds, and even create infinite loops to tear apart the fabric of space itself. When I reviewed COCOON, I knew immediately it was one of the best games I had ever played.

COCOON is available for Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Windows PC, PlayStation 4|5, and Nintendo Switch. Expect to spend around 5 hours completing this game, and possibly a little longer if you want to 100% the Achievements. COCOON is another very approachable game but is lacking in accessibility options like visual aids, puzzle difficulty tips for players that may need them, and more. COCOON is also available on Xbox Game Pass, PC Game Pass, and Xbox Cloud Gaming, so you have little excuse not to give it a try.

COCOON — $24.99 at Microsoft (Xbox & PC) | CDKeys (Steam) | Green Man Gaming (Steam)

COCOON — $24.99 at Microsoft (Xbox & PC) | CDKeys (Steam) | Green Man Gaming (Steam)

Brilliantly designed from every angle, COCOON is a masterpiece of a puzzle game that earned its place on this list within the first 15 minutes of playing. This is a game that will stick with me for a long time, and you should absolutely play it.

The "I Listened to a Man Talk About Fish for an Hour" Award — Star Wars Jedi: Survivor

After the end of the game, my Cal Kestis looked quite dashing (and was quite powerful, too). (Image credit: Windows Central)

Unless you've played the game yourself, you may not associate the "I Listened to a Man Talk About Fish for an Hour" Award with Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, but those who have will understand immediately. This award goes to the best open-world game of the year, and I think Respawn Entertainment's Star Wars Jedi sequel more than deserves it. This isn't just one of the best Star Wars games ever made; it's also one of the best Star Wars stories ever written. There's a good reason I 100% completed this game.

You play as Cal Kestis, a lost Padawan turned Jedi Knight, on a long and harrowing quest to survive the Empire and discover his purpose. Jedi: Survivor has you explore multiple diverse, massive regions across different planets, meeting new characters and learning new stories along the way. Varied traversal techniques give you complete freedom to explore (although I'm still not over Cal Kestis' weak ankles); the combat is challenging and interesting, with so many ways to use your lightsabers, Force powers, and even a new blaster pistol. I didn't review Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, but I agree with every word my colleague Samuel Tolbert wrote.

Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is now available for Xbox Series X|S, Windows PC, and PlayStation 5. It's not available through Xbox Game Pass (and it's not available through EA Play yet). It's also a full-priced AAA game, but it often goes on sale at this point, so be sure to check the links below. Being an open-world action-adventure game with lots of mechanics and in-depth traversal and combat, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor isn't the most approachable game, but it does feature a wide array of accessibility options to help players get set up.

Star Wars Jedi: Survivor — $69.99 at Microsoft (Xbox) | Amazon | Best Buy

Star Wars Jedi: Survivor — $69.99 at Microsoft (Xbox) | Amazon | Best Buy

Many have moved on from Star Wars Jedi: Survivor in favor of all the other great games that have been released in 2023, but for me, this is still a game of the year. Respawn has crafted one of my favorite Star Wars stories and delivered it in the form of an incredible video game, and that's worth celebrating.

The "Oh, I've Pooed My Pants" Award — Resident Evil 4 (2023)

I loved Resident Evil 4, and the Separate Ways DLC was a lot more of the same greatness (and lots more Ada). (Image credit: Windows Central)

Ah, yes, one of my favorite genres of entertainment meets one of my favorite mediums of entertainment: Horror games. The "Oh, I've Pooed My Pants" Award goes to the best horror game of 2023, which is, obviously, Alan Wake 2 Resident Evil 4 (2023)! I know there's a very good chance Alan Wake 2 would be here instead of RE4 had I played it in time, but... I didn't. I wanted to play Control and its DLC first, and I still intend to do that very soon.

That doesn't mean Resident Evil 4 doesn't deserve this award, though. It's an absolutely brilliant remake of a legendary horror masterpiece, and it's hands-down some of the most fun I've had with gaming this year. Continuing the stories of Leon and Ada, RE4 is a gorey, dramatic, campy, creepy, explosion-filled action-horror game so good it's not hard to see why this franchise is known all over the world. I didn't review Resident Evil 4 (2023), but my boss, Jez Corden, did and adored it (while rightfully admitting that RE4 isn't as terrifying as other more core horror titles). I did review the Separate Ways DLC, though, and it's a must-play for anyone who enjoyed the base game.

Resident Evil 4 (2023) is available on Xbox Series X|S, Windows PC, and PlayStation 5. It's not available through Xbox Game Pass, but it's often found on sale since it came out much earlier this year. RE4 isn't the most approachable game, but it is fairly easy to learn, and there are plenty of accessibility and difficulty options to ensure anyone can enjoy it.

Resident Evil 4 (2023) — $59.99 at Microsoft (Xbox) | Amazon | Best Buy

Resident Evil 4 (2023) — $59.99 at Microsoft (Xbox) | Amazon | Best Buy

Capcom continues its recent trend of excellency with the latest Resident Evil remake. The legendary Resident Evil 4 changed the horror genre, and this is the very best the game has ever been. It looks fantastic, plays wonderfully, and is guaranteed to rope you in.

Also see: Separate Ways for $9.99 at Microsoft (Xbox)

The "Came for the Music, Stayed for the Cat" Award — Hi-Fi RUSH

Even almost an entire year later, Hi-Fi RUSH is still fresh in my mind. What a game. (Image credit: Windows Central)

As the year progresses, it's inevitable that more recent releases will overshadow past launches as players move on to the latest and greatest video games. Because of this, game awards are often skewed toward those more recent hits... But one game this year persevered in my brain and remained one of my favorite games of the year for the entire year. The "Came for the Music, Stayed for the Cat" Award goes to Hi-Fi RUSH, my game of the year for 2023.

Hi-Fi RUSH gained notoriety when it suddenly shadow-dropped during Xbox's event at the beginning of the year, and it surprised even more when it turned out to be an unimaginably awesome rhythm-brawler with impeccable style, incredible music, and one of the best original cast of characters in any recent game. Every element of Hi-Fi RUSH is lovingly crafted to make this game the absolute best in the rhythm genre, and it's also the most accessible, too.

Tango Gameworks, part of the Bethesda and Xbox family, is most well-known for The Evil Within, a survival horror franchise that I also adore. Hi-Fi RUSH was a huge departure for the team and game director John Johanas, but the resulting product is nothing short of spectacular. Excellent investment in accessibility features makes this an incredibly inclusive and approachable rhythm game. The audio design is phenomenal, the art style oozes character, and the action is simply fun all the way through.

Hi-Fi RUSH is unlike any other game that has come out this year, and that's why it's at the top (er, bottom?) of this list. (Image credit: Windows Central)

You can read my Hi-Fi RUSH review for a more in-depth view of my thoughts on the game but suffice to say there's a reason Hi-Fi RUSH won my game of the year. Despite having played dozens of games since rolling the credits, this game was still the very first thought when I decided to make this list. There was no need for consideration or deliberation — Hi-Fi RUSH just won. Not only do I love this game, but I'm also very proud that I was able to interview Tango Gameworks' John Johanas on the development and success of Hi-Fi RUSH, a moment in my career I will undoubtedly look fondly upon for years to come.

Hi-Fi RUSH is available for Xbox Series X|S and Windows PC and also through Xbox Game Pass, PC Game Pass, and Xbox Cloud Gaming. Rhythm games don't tend to be the most approachable, but excellent game and audio design combined with very in-depth accessibility options makes Hi-Fi RUSH the exception (and also quite accessible to a very large variety of players).

Hi-Fi RUSH — $29.99 at Microsoft (Xbox & PC) | Amazon | Best Buy

Hi-Fi RUSH — $29.99 at Microsoft (Xbox & PC) | Amazon | Best Buy

A standout rhythm-brawler of 2023 with impeccable style, incredible music, and inclusive design, making it accessible across Xbox and Windows platforms. Tango Gameworks lands a decisive victory for my personal game of the year.

The "I Still Love These Games Please Don't Be Mad They Didn't Win an Award" Awards

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I completed 50 games this year, including several more excellent titles released during 2023. I had to narrow it down to the top five, but I still want to give a brief honorable mention to the five runner-ups, who are very subtly receiving the "I Still Love These Games Please Don't Be Mad They Didn't Win an Award" Awards.

Harmony: The Fall of Reverie

Harmony: The Fall of Reverie was gorgeous and enchanting but missed the top five because of its final act. (Image credit: Windows Central)

DON'T NOD released another amazing game this year with Harmony: The Fall of Reverie, a visual novel telling the story of an oracle pulled between the human world and the realm of gods. It's a grand and epic video game with gorgeous writing and visuals, but the rushed and lackluster final act killed the momentum that could've brought the game to my top five games of the year. Still, it's well worth playing! You can read my Harmony: The Fall of Reverie review for more info.

Planet of Lana

A relaxing, lovely adventure-platformer, Planet of Lana is short and sweet. (Image credit: Windows Central)

Next up is Planet of Lana, a highly anticipated indie game with endearing and bright visuals, soft and gentle controls, an adorable animal companion, an emotional narrative told without words... Need I go on? It's a beautiful, short and sweet adventure with relaxing gameplay and epic crescendos. I felt it was a little unfinished in my thoughts on Planet of Lana, but it has had plenty of time to be improved, and it was already a great game when I played it at launch.

Starfield

Starfield isn't a perfect game, but there's still something truly special about it. (Image credit: Windows Central)

Look, I know Starfield is swimming in controversy regarding whether or not it's a "good game." I don't care about that or what anyone else thinks — I loved Starfield and immensely enjoyed my 120-hour playthrough. I also recognize that Starfield is inherently an imperfect game; a lot of mechanics and systems either don't play a large enough role or don't talk enough to other mechanics and systems. Starfield wasn't nominated for Game of the Year at The Game Awards because other games this year were better, and it's not in my top five, either. But in my top 10? Easy.

This universe is incredible, and it's by far my favorite story in a Bethesda game ever. You can check out Jez Corden's Starfield review for a very comprehensive breakdown of this massive sci-fi RPG.

Bramble: The Mountain King

A giant friend! Your only friend! You're probably going to die! (Image credit: Windows Central)

I had decided to dedicate the last two weeks of the year to revisiting past games and completing their DLC (I hit The Evil Within, Nobody Saves the World, Outer Wilds, and Vampire Survivors), but I had enough time to make the 49 games I had completed so far an even 50. I decided to play one last 2023-released game before writing this last, and wow, I'm glad I made that choice. Bramble: The Mountain King is a fantastic horror game inspired by Swedish folklore that is equal parts beautiful and brutal. I wrote about why Bramble: The Mountain King is one of the best-kept Xbox Game Pass secrets of 2023 and how it snuck into my top 10 list for the year.

Diablo IV

Diablo IV's campaign is actually incredible... Too bad the live service content never won me over. (Image credit: Windows Central)

Last but not least, we come to the magnum opus of Blizzard Entertainment (which is now, actually, a part of the Xbox family). Diablo 4 is one of the more divisive games of the year, but people mostly agree on two things: this is the best Diablo campaign of all time, and the live service content isn't for a lot of people. I agree with both of those statements, as the former is why Diablo 4 is here, and the latter is why it isn't in the top five. I wrote more about how I loved Diablo 4 but am not going to engage in its live service content, and that's still true today. You can read Jez Corden's Diablo 4 review for even more insight.

To the games I've yet to play and beyond

Don't worry, Astarion, I'll meet you soon. (Image credit: Larian Studios)

For every game that I completed and loved, there were three more that joined the backlog. 2023 was one of the best, busiest, and bonkers years in video games since 2007, so it was impossible to play everything I wanted. I stand by this list, but I also want to experience other critically acclaimed, instant classics and/or beautifully unique games like Baldur's Gate 3, Alan Wake 2, Dead Space (2023), Sea of Stars, Dredge, Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty, Cookie Cutter, Thirsty Suitors, Spirittea... I could go on for a while.

Right now, though, I simply want to congratulate everyone who worked on any of the amazing video games released this year. I especially want to congratulate the talented people behind the ten games I've highlighted in this article because it's truly a killer list. The top five, especially, are going to go down in my gaming history as some of the best Xbox games of all time, with Hi-Fi RUSH standing supreme among them. And the 808 plush I have sitting behind me didn't force me to say that.

2024 is also shaping up to be an exciting year for video games, though. Activision-Blizzard is now a part of the Xbox family, hopefully sparking some much-needed change in the major publisher (and possibly reviving some long-dormant franchises). There are also plenty of games I'm excited for, like Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown, Senua's Saga: Hellblade II, Avowed, and a whole lot more that would require a whole separate article to list (ohmigosh would you look at that we actually do have a list of the best upcoming Xbox games).

That concludes my time here. I'll see you next year, same place and time? Sounds good.

Zachary Boddy
Staff Writer

Zachary Boddy (They / Them) is a Staff Writer for Windows Central, primarily focused on covering the latest news in tech and gaming, the best Xbox and PC games, and the most interesting Windows and Xbox hardware. They have been gaming and writing for most of their life starting with the original Xbox, and started out as a freelancer for Windows Central and its sister sites in 2019. Now a full-fledged Staff Writer, Zachary has expanded from only writing about all things Minecraft to covering practically everything on which Windows Central is an expert, especially when it comes to Microsoft. You can find Zachary on Twitter @BoddyZachary.