This week ends a year that has seen some delays, but above all many quality releases. Elden Ring, Horizon, God of War, Xenoblade, Bayonetta, Monkey Island, Neon White, Norco, Tunic... The pandemic had quite a negative impact on the industry -like everything else, come on-, but it slowly seems that our hobby is starting to regain its prime. And if 2022 has already been one of the strongest years in the recent history of the field (since perhaps 2017), 2023 is shaping up to be as good or better, at least on paper.
So it's time to look ahead, see what awaits us, and choose our favorites. Put the hype thermometer to measure our expectations in the new year, which are the games we trust the most. Statistically, it is possible that some of them will end up disappointing us, life is like that. Or that it will slip away to 2024, although most of them have a close date and we are counting on it not happening beyond one or two specific cases. So let's be optimistic and look at the list of where we will probably find Elden Ring's replacement as the next game of the year.
10. Hades II
Every rule deserves an exception, so after succeeding with one new license after another (Bastion, Transistor, Pyre, Hades) Supergiant Games has decided it was time to make a direct sequel. And the fact is that the first Hades was their biggest success to date and one of the best-rated roguelike games ever. Such an accomplishment was well worth an encore, and although an expansion would probably also have been very welcome by the fans, the studio wanted to go further and prepare a new game with the same or even greater packaging: in 2023, Hades II will begin its journey through Early Access as its predecessor did years before.
It's too early to know the details, but we already know that the sequel will star Melinoe, a sister of Zagreo (hero of the previous game), and that it will continue exploring Greek mythology. It's called Hades for a reason, not Pluto. With Melínoe will also come a new villain, Cronos, as well as other enemies, weapons, abilities, environments, and more variables to add to its procedural salad. Few titles can boast such a good mixture of ingredients as the first Hades, so we can't wait to see if Supergiant is able to outdo itself and reach an even higher level in the roguelike pantheon.
9. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty
It didn't take long for us to look back at Elden Ring out of the corner of our eye, as we have another of the heirs to the Souls essence popularized by From Software. To consider Team Ninja as a simple imitator would be unfair, as this Tecmo studio was established long before the appearance of Hidetaka Miyazaki thanks to Ninja Gaiden. It was precisely this expertise with action that allowed them to offer a brilliant alternative, in some respects superior to Dark Souls and company: both the original Nioh and its sequel are, without a doubt, two of the best action RPGs of recent years.
Although the biggest shake-up to the formula will probably come in 2024 with Rise of the Ronin (where we will move from closed levels to an interconnected world), Wo Long promises to break out of the Nioh mold by changing Japanese to Chinese mythology, something that will impact both the environment and creature design as well as our character's martial arts. Combat will be speeded up, the equipment lotting will have less weight, and magics and parries will be part of a new system where risks, the skill to expose and counterattack will be rewarded.
8. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chornobyl
A year ago, everything was scheduled for S.T.A.L.L.K.E.R. 2 to arrive in 2022. At that time, its release was planned for December, but after the outbreak of war in Ukraine the studio was forced to stop development and move to Czechia, where they have taken it back and changed the Chernobyl of the title (the Russian name for that region) to Chornobyl (Ukrainian equivalent). A vindictive action in response to a regrettable incident which, of course, does not change the fact that we are still waiting to see if GSC's journey finds a happy ending on the creative level.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. has never been a mainstream saga, or an FPS that could appeal to the Call of Duty or Halo audience; but that's where its charm lies, in its commitment to a demanding exploration and survival experience. Able to isolate us in an area devastated by radioactive pollution not only through its atmosphere -excellent since the first installment-, but by the immersion derived from mechanics such as the need to feed ourselves, monitor the status of weapons, avoid combat to save ammunition or avoid anomalies with devastating effects. All this without forgetting the excursions into the creature's dwellings ready to tear up mercenaries in search of fortune.
7. Diablo IV
The year that is coming to an end has also been a busy one for Blizzard: internal controversies, the Microsoft acquisition, and criticism of the Diablo Immortal business model... But none of this prevents the fourth installment of the great benchmark of computer hack-and-slash games from becoming one of the most anticipated games of 2023. Especially, because the studio seems to have taken notes after Diablo III (a good game, although not the sequel that all fans wanted) to recover the more sinister and violent tone that characterized the saga in its origins, before the jump to three dimensions.
Diablo IV, however, is far from being a step backward. Quite the contrary: one of the main claims that Blizzard insists on is that it will adopt an open-world structure, with the possibility of exploring and accepting missions in practically any direction, although there will still be a linear main plot for those who prefer to focus on it before delving into the endgame. This freedom will also be accompanied by more dynamic combat, with a new quick evasion command, and more options to customize our character aesthetically and in gameplay.
6. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2
Time flies faster than Spider-Man himself. It's been just over two years since Miles Morales, the "expansion-sequel" with enough content to be released separately, took it upon itself to become one of the initial PS5 releases (although it also appeared on PS4). Despite - or thanks to - the concentrated format, the game delighted fans and left them wanting more. Not long after, Insomniac listened to the fans and announced that there would be Marvel's Spider-Man 2 with Peter Parker and Miles Morales collaborating on a joint adventure.
Unfortunately, we still don't have an exact date for its arrival, although the brief "Fall" assured a while ago at least places it in 2023. Insomniac has not yet specified any new gameplay features, but they have made clear that the story will have a somewhat darker tone (even citing The Empire Strikes Back as an example of the type of sequel they want to create), so the protagonist duo will not have an easier time simply by cooperating. Will Venom be able to put them in so much trouble or will be still big surprises to be revealed in the field of villains?
5. Street Fighter 6
With a plan to keep up the tradition of the success of the paired installments (Street Fighter II laid many foundations of the genre and Street Fighter IV stood as one of the most popular modern exponents), Capcom has once again entrusted Takayuki Nakayama, the director of Street Fighter V, to lead a much more promising project from the very beginning. The goal is to reclaim the crown, to avoid the slips of a release tainted by the lack of initial content and a poor online service, which time and patches eventually fixed.
And it is an objective that comprises looking after different but complementary aspects. The excellent design and animation work; the reintroduction or reimagining of mechanics (Drive Impact, Drive Parry) that add depth without involving complex controls for newcomers; or the addition of a single-player mode with an amusing touch where you can create, modify and improve your avatar by traveling the world, overcoming mini-games and learning from the masters. And then, of course, there's the online competitive mode, where special events and a full lobby await, where you can reconnect and enjoy yourself with other players. New king in sight? Quite possibly.
Another title on the list that should have appeared in 2022, but fate led to its delay. After two decades of alternating between The Elder Scrolls and Fallout, Todd Howard's team is about to take off into space to offer us an action RPG with hundreds of planets to explore. Needless to say, the use of procedural technology will be part of the experience; emulating the dizzying immensity of space is impossible if we limit ourselves to worlds with established civilizations. Although the studio also promises to take better care of the role-playing aspect of decisions and factions.
Coming from Fallout 4, one of the top priorities seems to have been to improve the dialogues, returning to the mute protagonist to allow more options and introducing a new system of persuasion through points. The wider range of features to customize our character, the importance of attributes not only oriented to combat, and alliances with group objectives found should serve to embody freedom that goes beyond the scale. Time will tell if this Bethesda game will end up reminding us more of Morrowind or Skyrim; but in either case, Starfield should be one of the great releases of the year.
3. Final Fantasy XVI
We open the podium with a franchise that just turned 35 years old, but seeks to reclaim itself after a tumultuous period. Following the merger of Square with Enix, and the departure of Hironobu Sakaguchi, the resulting company has struggled trying not to weaken its essence among sequels, prequels, spin-offs, and main installments with turbulent development. In the midst of this panorama, Final Fantasy XVI stands as a more adult reimagining, with creative talent devoted until recently to the online branch, which now takes over while Final Fantasy VII remains a parallel franchise.
Naoki Yoshida, the architect of the Final Fantasy XIV's revival, oversees a project directed by Hiroshi Takai (The Last Remnant), written by Kazutoyo Maehiro (Yasumi Matsuno's collaborator in the Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story days) and with combat by Ryota Suzuki ( former Capcom with Dragon's Dogma and Devil May Cry V in his resume). All of them team up to develop a return to medieval fantasy with political dramas, summons, and even magic crystals. Will the new proposal live up to its name? We'll find out in June.
2. Resident Evil 4
With its potential side of doubts, but of a completely different kind, there is the remake of one of the most celebrated and influential names in history. By now we all know that Capcom is capable of making good action/horror games even if they don't have their best day (for example, the recent Village or the remake of Resident Evil 3, remarkable even if they didn't reach Resident Evil 2's standards). But here they must go all out: reimagining a sacred cow -still very enjoyable today via its multiple remasters- like Resident Evil 4 is only justified if the result is brilliant in its own way, without limiting itself to recreate every sequence and combat with better graphics.
Finding a balance sounds complicated. On the one hand, there are those who enjoyed every second of gunplay, dealing with waves of Ganados with precision shooting, careful positioning, and strategic use of knives, grenades or situational kicks, so they'll want a refined, more agile version of that. And on the other hand, there are those who regret that the original abandoned the horror paths, the moments of more leisurely exploration that this remake seems to want to reincorporate in some sections. Will Capcom manage to satisfy both groups of fans? It won't be easy; but if it does, we could be in for a real bombshell. Again,
1. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
We finish with a title that we have been waiting for for many years. Without the fear of an Elden Ring to overshadow it, and finally with an official subtitle to stop calling it Breath of the Wild 2, the new Zelda has been a long time coming. It already has a concrete date and will soon try to answer the question that has haunted Switch users for much of its lifecycle: why the hell did it take almost six years to make a direct sequel if there is no change of console, engine or graphic style? Is there a new revolution coming despite sharing foundations and a love of freedom?
Your guess is as good as ours, especially since Nintendo has shown more footage in dribs and drabs. But one thing’s for sure, this installment will focus on sky exploration, with lots of floating islets and a new aerial vehicle to complement (or replace?) the equestrian mounts. It’s not an entirely new idea, Skyward Sword already built part of its world among the clouds; but by embracing the truly open-ended nature of this installment, the studio is likely to get much, much more out of it. After all, what was Breath of the Wild if not a The Wind Waker with meadows and mountains instead of an ocean?