5 Best Video Game Surprises of 2023… So Far
As perpetually hopeful gamers, we’ve all ridden the hype train, hoping a long-anticipated game would fulfill its promises. In general — and this is probably not surprising — we’re disappointed. Few things in life match our fantasy of perfection. Every once in a while, though, we’re pleasantly surprised. Ecstatic, even. Maybe a game comes out of nowhere and is amazing, or a game we crossed all of our fingers and toes would be good actually is. Here are a few of 2023’s best video game surprises so far. Oh, and a couple of disappointments, just for balance.
Armored Core VI Fires of Rubicon
Armored Core fans have been waiting for nearly a decade for FromSoftware to return to its mecha roots. But after all the success the developer has had with the Soulsborne games, they were worried, too. Would the new Armored Core just be Dark Souls with mechs? Another concern was accessibility. After new-player friendly (well, that’s relative, I guess) Elden Ring sold a bajillion copies, AC acolytes fretted that the new game wouldn’t be hardcore enough. As it seems to do lately, FromSoft managed to make everyone happy. Armored Core VI was fast, furious, and a respectful new bearer of the tradition. It was both challenging and not overwhelming for new players. Was any of this a total surprise? Maybe not, but it could have been disappointing.
For most fans of the Diablo franchise, the series peaked at the second game. Everything after that was the subject of various amounts of derision, scorn, and internet disdain, fair or not, and disregarding that some people liked Diablo 3. Not to mention, Blizzard has not been exactly drama-free. Given those factors, it was a relief that Diablo IV was released to generally positive reviews from critics and fans. It feels like Diablo 2 updated for a new generation of tech and players raised on MMORPGs. And just recently, the Season 2 update (Season of Blood) has been released and the news is positive. Things move faster, the XP grind is more satisfying and experimenting with new builds is less expensive.
Starfield was on the best surprises. When Starfield finally hit the digital shelves, there was an interesting sound: the immense collective sigh of relief that, not only did Starfield exist, but it was pretty darn good. After all, it was first announced in 2018. That’s a long time for something to go astray. Maybe the best surprise was how relatively bug free it was, at least compared to other Bethesda games. Unfortunately, the hype for Starfield fell off pretty quickly. A great many fantasy fans were just not into the sci-fi setting. It might not be the next Skyrim, but at least it wasn’t another Fallout 76.
Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty
We don’t need to revisit the debacle that was Cyberpunk 2077’s launch. It singlehandedly torpedoed CD Projekt Red’s sterling, Witcher-based reputation. However, thanks to a steady stream of fixes, updates, and patches, Cyberpunk 2077 continued to improve. With the Phantom Liberty DLC, the game finally assumed must-play status. Well, maybe not must play, but can play, and enjoy. The DLC added all sorts of improvements to various systems, a new area and lots of quality-of-life features. Gamers who have angrily set aside Cyberpunk 2077 should dust it off and dive in again. They’d be surprised as it is one of the best surprises of 2023