2023 is likely to go down in history as one of gaming’s greats, and at times it’s been challenging just to keep up. Baldur’s Gate 3 brought the 20-year-old PC franchise back with a bang, and smaller releases like Slay the Princess were a reminder of the important role PCs still hold for indie games.
Given how cross-platform the vast majority of games are these days, we’re not going to primarily focus on PC exclusives. Instead, the aim is to highlight a great selection of games that show off PC gaming at its best in 2023. So alongside games like Slay the Princess, which are only available on computer platforms, there are also titles that work particularly well with a mouse and keyboard (Baldur’s Gate 3) or which offer interesting PC-exclusive graphics options (like Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty or Alan Wake 2’s ray tracing).
Regardless of your definition, the following ten games are a fantastic place to start if you’re looking to add this year’s best releases to your PC library. Whether you’re looking for a game to idly play on a laptop or something that’ll truly push your desktop gaming PC to its limits, you should find something to enjoy in the list below.
Basing video games around the expansive world of Dungeons & Dragons is a tall order. Not only does the beloved tabletop roleplaying game encompass decades’ worth of rules and lore, but its players have also come to expect that the only limit to the experience is their own imagination. Larian Studios hasn’t just managed to create a faithful D&D experience with Baldur’s Gate 3 — it’s come damn close to offering as much freedom as the tabletop game itself.
In Baldur’s Gate 3, if you can think it, you can probably do it. Want to fling a gnome across a village? Sure thing. Befriend a nest of ravenous giant spiders? You betcha. Take down imposing foes via the power of pure rizz and fart jokes? Hell yeah. And I haven’t even mentioned the bear scene yet. But this isn’t just the turn-based RPG that D&D nerds have spent years dreaming about — it’s also approachable enough to have sucked in folks who have never rolled a 20-sided die before.
Practically every inch of the game is explorable, and while you can make a fully customizable player character to explore the Sword Coast with, you can unlock oodles more unique content by playing as one of the game’s many romanceable companion characters. It’ll likely take completionists several run-throughs to experience everything that it has to offer. I’m still discovering new locations, items, characters, and secrets with 350-plus hours of gameplay, and I still expect to be playing Baldur’s Gate 3 well into the new year. If Larian ever releases a DLC, I fear my family will never see me in person again. — Jess Weatherbed
At its core Alan Wake 2 is a survival horror game, but it’s a survival horror game wrapped in a police procedural that integrates live-action elements so seamlessly that more than once I found myself staring at footage of a real actor and marveling at how good video game graphics have gotten in 2023.
If you played the original game, the core conceit of its sequel is the same. You point your flashlight at enemies to weaken them and follow up with more traditional weapons to take them down. But Alan Wake 2 builds on this premise in numerous ways. This time around, you’re not just playing as the titular Wake, you also play as FBI agent Saga Anderson investigating the disappearance of the Stephen King-esque writer after the events of the previous game trap him in a horror story of seemingly his own creation. Then, when you are playing as Wake, you’re now able to rewrite the story itself, changing the fabric of the world around you.
The whole game is an audiovisual delight on PC, where Remedy has pulled out all the stops with support for the latest and greatest ray-tracing technologies. Play it with headphones or surround sound speakers if it’s an option — hearing shadows quietly whisper Alan’s name as I passed by them sent shivers up my spine. — Jon Porter
There were a couple of different reasons to revisit Cyberpunk 2077 this year. First, the culmination of three years’ worth of updates and patches polished up the core game to what it arguably should have been at launch with its 2.0 update. On top of that, CD Projekt Red has also been remarkably proactive at bringing Nvidia’s latest graphical bells and whistles to the game, whether that’s support for path tracing, frame generation, or Ray Reconstruction.
But it was Phantom Liberty that I thought represented the best of the new additions to the game, adding a meaty side quest complete with new characters and locations to explore. Idris Elba steals the show as Solomon Reed, a sleeper agent whose allegiances and backstory remain in constant flux. But performances are stellar across the board, and there’s a fantastic spread of different mission types contained within its runtime.
The expansion is by no means short, but it feels tight and focused next to the sprawling ambition of the original Cyberpunk 2077. If you’re at all tempted to dip your toe back into the neon lights of Night City, Phantom Liberty is a great way to experience the best it has to offer. — Jon Porter
Dave the Diver
Dave the Diver is such a weird mishmash of different genres that it has no right working as well as it does.
Fundamentally, it’s best described as a roguelike spearfishing exploration game, where you hunt fish and search for treasures underwater. That’s a lot of fun on its own, but there’s a whole other layer to the game where you make use of your finds in a sushi restaurant, which adds a Diner Dash-style time management experience on top of the roguelike.
The resulting loop is incredibly fun to dive into — helped by the game’s charming art style and character designs. — Jay Peters
Chants of Sennaar
Thinking about language and culture is a lot like wondering whether the chicken or the egg came first. The two are tightly wound together: the way we talk heavily informs the concepts we can talk about or understand. Translation, as such, isn’t just about being able to match words 1:1 across two languages; it’s about forming cultural connections and understanding how, and why, people using different languages might succeed or fail in connecting with one another.
That, then, is the core premise of Chants of Sennaar. You move through a tower, meeting the different peoples who make it their home, learning their languages, and understanding what makes their culture tick. Of course it seems inspired by games that came before it, and how not? If you look at individual pieces you’ll see bits of Heaven’s Vault, Tunic, the Myst series, Journey, and half a dozen others.
Not all of those pieces work perfectly on their own, admittedly; for example, I could have done without some protracted stealth sections and one very frustratingly hidden door. And yet when you put them all together, they make something wholly beautiful and new — which, honestly, is much the same way language itself works. We have a finite number of letters and words at hand to use, and yet we can make infinitely new combinations of language and communication. And as Chants of Sennaar will remind you, communication is what it’s really all about. — Kate Cox
I am incensed that people are not talking about Viewfinder at all times. The trippy, forced-perspective puzzle game was one of the best short-form gaming experiences I’ve had all year.
I felt my mind goo-ify and leak from my ears when I saw a demo on X, and I immediately subscribed to the game’s X account (back in the halcyon days of when it was still Twitter) to be notified when Viewfinder would be out in full — a thing I have never done before or since. The game revolves around such a simple yet quickly brain-melting premise: take a photo with a polaroid camera, hold that photo up, and the environment behind it will transform to match its contents.
Throughout the game, that simple premise gets increasingly complicated but never unwieldy. Sometimes the exit will be at unreachable angles, requiring clever positioning of a picture to build an escape route. You can make copies of pictures to duplicate necessary resources. Certain objects in the real world are immune to the effects of a picture imposed upon it. Other objects, when a picture is overlaid, will break, preventing progress by ruining critical machinery or allowing you to reach walled-off areas. Viewfinder is much like Portal, the building complexity of the game’s puzzles are augmented by an overarching narrative that makes the world more complex than what it seems. — Ash Parrish
Slay the Princess
In all of video game history, princesses are the ultimate prize, the ultimate object to obtain and covet. But in this game from the makers of Scarlet Hollow, you’ll be presented with an enticing flip of the script: slay the princess, and don’t save her unless you want to risk the end of the world. And though this game purports to violate one of video games’ most sacred tenets, nothing can prepare you for what you’ll actually encounter.
Slay the Princess is a visual novel of sorts where the action lies in making decisions, seeing their consequences, and teasing out all the different paths there are for you to walk. And there are a lot of paths. They unwind seemingly infinitely, and even when you think you’re treading a familiar road, the game twists on you, presenting new options and new events to see. That’s what I enjoyed most: the finding of all the little differences and unraveling the mystery at the heart of the game. Who are you? Why are you? And why is the voice in your head so hellbent on slaying this princess?
It’s a short game. I was able to complete one full playthrough in about three hours. Since there are so many choices offered, each with its own consequence, I suspect, much like Nier Automata, that it’ll take a few rolls of the credits to fully understand what this game is. Thankfully the writing, the art, the sound design, and, most importantly, the voice acting keep each new journey fresh and engaging. — Ash Parrish
The System Shock remake is an impressive, long-delayed achievement. It’s a faithful yet idiosyncratic reimagining of a nearly 30-year-old survival horror classic, capturing the feeling of being stuck in a maze overseen by a not-quite-omnipotent god-machine. Whether or not you’ve played the original, the result is a weird and winning shooter that’s more than worth some frustrating early sections.
The plot of System Shock is a familiar one: you’re on a space station where a megalomaniacal being (in this case the artificial intelligence SHODAN) has gone rogue. The remake brings back original SHODAN voice actor Terri Brosius, who will taunt you delightfully through Citadel Station. It preserves its source material’s complex level design and quirky weapons — you’ll end up fighting your way from elevator to elevator using everything from a lead pipe and pistol to a laser sword and slow-motion drugs. But it revamps the frustrating ‘90s keyboard controls and takes advantage of modern graphics to give Citadel Station a lush, eerie glow that’s neither fully contemporary nor lo-fi retro. And since a planned console launch was delayed, for now it’s an experience you can only have on PC. — Adi Robertson
World of Horror
World of Horror’s most obvious draw is its monochrome art style, inspired by manga legend Junji Ito. The roleplaying game touches on numerous Ito themes alongside various Japanese urban legends, putting you in the shoes of a young person whose small town is going mad thanks to a supernatural force. But its biggest triumph is a clever fusion of compelling worldbuilding and semi-random gameplay elements. It can suck you into the same set of short mysteries over and over in hopes of discovering new endings, characters, and strategies, slowly filling out its spooky setting while delivering a real sense of achievement.
World of Horror’s tiny development team launched it in early access over three years ago, but its recent final release includes far more features and encounters than the original 2020 iteration. While it’s available on PlayStation and Nintendo Switch, its point-and-click design feels quintessentially suited for computers — and unlike some titles on this list, it definitely won’t stress your graphics card. — Adi Robertson
Not since Portal 2 has a puzzle game made me feel as smart as Cocoon, the new release from ex-Limbo and Inside director Jeppe Carlsen. You play as an unnamed… insect… thing, as you feel your way through isometric environments with a control scheme that consists almost entirely of a single button and analog stick.
The game’s greatest strength is in the way it gradually reveals the rules of its world and teaches you to interact with its increasing layers of complexity. It is masterful in its simplicity. Many of the game’s puzzles revolve around a series of orbs, which not only imbue you with different abilities as you carry them around, but also contain entirely new levels within them. It isn’t long before you find yourself taking orbs inside other orbs, nesting their abilities in ever-new and creative ways.
It sounds fiendishly complex, but the game is so measured in how it doles out these abilities that they quickly click when you encounter them. You’re left with all the satisfaction of having navigated an ostensibly labyrinthine puzzle game, but with near zero of the frustration. — Jon Porter