Game Of The Year 2023

Game Of The Year 2023

Some of the biggest games of this year didn’t interest me at all, games like Baulder’s Gate 3 or Harry Potter, so it’s kinda weird that this “Biggest year in games'' felt relatively small, and I guess, that is partially due to not really paying attention to many games that were lifted up and promoted on gaming websites. I did find myself being captivated a few times with wildly overblown mass love for some games, like Pizza Tower and Dave the Diver, that I ended up buying them and being very disappointed. I even said that this was going to seem like the “year to end all years' ' in terms of massive big game releases, and honestly, the majority of the year, I didn’t even feel compelled to play most of the games that were so hyped up by the gaming websites.

10. Hi-Fi Rush

They call it “Shadow Dropping” but I prefer my own term, Surprise Release, since 1. It’s a surprise, and 2. We aren’t releasing a rap album in 2002. Hi-Fi Rush came out on the same day it was announced, and it was also free on Gamepass. It was a win-win in my book from the beginning, and allowed January to already kick off “This’ll be in Game Of The Year” discussions.

A quaint game from Tango Gameworks, the same people responsible for the Evil Within horror series, and Tokyo Ghostwire, we get a bright colorful brawling platformer with rhythm based mechanics. I love Rhythm games, yet… even if you provided me with a bucket, I couldn’t carry a beat. I just have bad timing. So when it came to the pressing of buttons to keep the attacks coming, I was struggling a bit with the basic timing. Luckily the game’s options provide some assist that let me mash away like normal and still attack on beat.

What really made this game stand out above the rest, in a jam packed year of games, was how bright and colorful it was. We just don’t get that anymore. It also felt like a proper modern Dreamcast game, which was very hard to describe, but the colors, the bouncing enemies and objects inhabiting the world… it felt like a game that could have easily been on Sega’s final machine.

The artstyle keeps in line with the new trend of stepped animation and having a similar feel as the Spider-Verse movies. It’s an animation style that only has been imitated a couple times, so it still feels fresh, and I think it works real well within Hi-Fi Rush’s world. The soundtrack has to be an integral part of the game, since its main mechanic relies on the world’s sync with the beat of the background song. Like I said, the bobbing and bouncing of the world in time with the soundtrack really helps, and even the licensed songs from bands like Nine Inch Nails. Everything just flows together so well.

While Hi-Fi Rush might be harder to get into because of the Rhythm mechanics, it’s worth playing just to see something colorful and happy and fun in a sea of modern gaming blandness, where everything needs to be “Dark and Gritty”. It’s a game that didn’t take itself too seriously and allowed me to have fun and remember that video games can provide many different experiences.

9. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor

I’ve grown tired of Star Wars as a brand, with its oversaturation in pop culture. But I can not deny its coolness when it comes to well made and told Star Wars stories. Lightsabers will always be cool, and I still wish Force powers were real. I loved the first Star Wars Jedi game; Fallen Order, even if I didn’t like the main character’s face. Kal Kestes is a good Star Wars name, and it taking place after the new series and being hunted as a last Jedi type of thing seemed cool. The gameplay was solid and a new game finally coming out was just what I was looking for.

The gameplay itself, the acting, the story all of it was really good. However, the game launched at a staggering $70 which I refuse to pay. Instead, I opted to do what I did with the first game, grab EA’s version of Gamepass for $15 and get access to the game on PC for an entire month. I figured I’d easily be able to finish the game in a month and I basically got the game for 75% off.

However, with a few unforeseen circumstances, I had to stop playing the game in the middle of it. And I wasn’t able to pick it back up till after my access expired. But even then, that wasn’t the real issue. The PC port was notoriously botched and in extremely bad shape. I knew there was something funny as I played through the opening sequence and massive stuttering and frame drops were constant. Along with the game’s visuals that looked so muddy and blurred, only to find out that it was because of some of AMD’s faux-DLSS type rendering. Turning off that abomination of graphical extras did make the game look like a newer game, and not something from 2008. But it still didn’t help the performance.

Even with half a year of fixes and updates, the game still doesn’t run like it should and probably will never run perfectly, or until Technology really gets ahead of it and is able to brute force some performance gains. Technically the game is a mess, but thematically and as a game, the way it plays, the story, and the creative side of it. Jedi Survivor is a really enjoyable game with a bit of cosmetic customization that while pointless, was fun making Kal look like a Western hero in his poncho.

8. Assassin’s Creed Nexus: VR

And the winner for the stupidest game title goes to…

All kidding aside, I want to call out this game for being in VR. Assassin’s Creed is a gaming staple at this point, and getting a franchise game in VR is still very rare. Assassin’s Creed also is one of the series that I’ve always wanted in VR because of it being able to basically allow me to time travel. I talked about this while streaming the game a few times. The levels are designed with a fine detail that transports me to a time I wasn’t able to live in. It gives me a sense of what it would be like in that time that just playing a 3rd person game never can. If you think getting immersed into a flat pancake game is awesome, wait till you try it in VR.

I liked that it jumped around time periods enough to allow me to enjoy each setting for a bit before it got too old. It’s hard not to play it like a normal video game, and I think that’s the mistake a lot of people make. The point of VR is to be absorbed into the world, and just the small amount of time you spend going from mission marker to mission marker isn’t going to submerge people into the world properly. A lot of people like to say “Play the game however you want to, there is no wrong way to play”. But just like a Reese’s, there actually is a wrong way to play games, and if I would just bounce from moment to moment, I’d actually miss the real intent of the game.

Not to go off on too much of a tangent, but I believe it’s just something that needs to be stated with VR games at the moment. Assassin’s Creed Nexus VR is a phenomenal example of how VR can make time travel possible in a sense. Yes, it’s a video game, yes some of the models and textures look less impressive and break immersion a bit when viewed extremely close. There are blemishes all over the game, just like every other game. Suspension of Disbelief requires patients and practice in VR, but I don’t see how it’s not easily done when everything else is so impressive. I’ve been playing around with VR for nearly 10 years now. And I still can’t get over how rad it is. I’m still in awe of the design and concepts put into practice.

7. System Shock Remake

While I played PC games as a kid, and I played them just as much as consoles, I definitely drifted away from them around the mid 90’s. I loved FPS games, but I was never amazed at them; and never got into Doom or Duke Nukem 3D like others did (I still preferred Wolfenstein). System Shock was a game I never even heard of until way later, and only thanks to Bioshock and learning that that team, Looking Glass studio made other games. So I went on a trip to play them back in around 2008. I did not get far at all. I just wasn’t a Keyboard and Mouse player, and it wasn’t until around 2012 when controller support started being implemented by most games that I started playing on PC regularly.

The System Shock remake felt like it was in development hell, as I remember in 2015 hearing about it, and saying “I can’t wait!”. 8 years later the game came out and playing it, I can say it was worth it. It’s atmosphere of being trapped on a space station with monsters and killer robots and guards is just so cool. The updated controls really helped me get comfortable with both using a controller, and managing inventory with a mouse. Couch gaming still isn’t the best on PC thanks to the keyboard and mouse just being so universally needed in certain games, but this made it easier for me to have an armrest and mouse next to me to move fast between the interface when needed.

I actually really liked the updated hacking mini-game that feels like Decent. I’ll always love tunnel shooters like that, and again, the controls just feel natural in a way that most games just can’t get right. I really wish there was VR support, because I think it would be amazing.

6. Starfield

Oh boy, this is more of a minefield of a game at the moment, as the inevitable backlash of the game happened way earlier than ever. Starfield was hyped up to fail from the get go. Like No Man’s Sky before it, the “fans” were expecting way too much and got burned because the game didn't meet their own made up expectations. However, the game does have a few issues that seem valid to criticize.

So out with the bad stuff first. Starfield had the potential to go anywhere and do anything; yet it chose to stick to the tried and true formula of Bethesda games past. It really is Fallout in Space, even going so far as to use some of the same sound effects. But instead of a singular world to explore, the game decides to expand to be an entire universe with thousands of planets… but are all separated by loading screens. Effectively making them levels, and mostly procedurally generated ones at that. It is definitely not the route I'd thought it'd take when loading up the game.

However, past all the negativity people just seem to heap on this game because it’s not what they built up in their minds, the game is a very entertaining one. I ended up dumping over 35 hours in the first couple weeks of gameplay. I had the ending spoiled thanks to a streamer that finished the game before it was released to those of us who didn't want to pay for early access. But in a way it was nice, because I learned it's a game where you don't want to speed run and try to finish the main quest right away.

Taking my time allowed me to really have more fun just exploring and being a loner, a rebel more or less and doing what I want. I tend to play the good side in these games and I ended up kinda just seeing how far I could get without catering too much to others.

My wife also fell in love with the game and has gone through Unity twice and just plays it for hours on end. Seeing her enjoy it and having it be her new favorite game certainly allows me to let the bright spots outshine the issues. Letting me enjoy her enjoyment of the game.

5. Atomic Heart

I didn't believe this game was going to come out, and for most of its development cycle I forgot it existed. Luckily it was on GamePass because I highly doubt I would have purchased it. I ended up putting it down and forgetting about it around 85% complete. And returned to it months later to finish it up and really enjoy it once I dropped the difficulty a bit.

Atomic Heart is kinda like one of those times in Hollywood where the same story is made by different studios. Dante’s Peak and Volcano, Ants and A Bugs Life. It's kinda like that. This is clearly a Russian Bioshock. The beginning is nearly identical in atmosphere and theme to Bioshock Infinite. And at one point they even talk about an underwater city with models that look very similar to Rapture.

Even the powers, combat and robots feel very Bioshock-esque. However that's not a bad thing. We haven't gotten a Bioshock style game in around a decade and who knows if Ghost Story’s new game Judas will come out in the next few years? So Atomic Heart is kinda all we have, which allows me to look past some of the weird quirks and odd things and just chock it up to a Russian development studio.

The odd catchphrase “Crispy Critters” is so out of place and used at such inappropriate times it just got to be laughable at some point. Along with the super over-lustful talking fridge, there is some odd yet fun goofy storytelling. The level design threw me for a loop when large parts opened up and the path didn't feel very intuitive.I tried to stick with getting upgrades and clearing out sections but I always got lost or stuck. It was frustrating but once I made the decision to mainline the story, I finally felt comfortable with the game’s layout.

The art direction, and mostly the character designs (especially the robot ballerina twin bodyguards) stand out so vividly in my mind. I’d love for more games to take a stab at more memorable defined character designs. But the game also does go the generic monster route in places as well.

Atomic Heart could have been a great game if the tone was kept more in line with the human and robot battle and removed the monster aspect, which just felt out of place. I do hope they continue with a sequel, and the DLC might be interesting. And just because I haven't heard a single other person talk about this… what is the deal with the dream sequence levels?! They were cool but never made sense and not really explained. A bit of dialog or story to make them feel connected to the rest of the game would have really helped, because they feel so out of place otherwise.

4. RoboCop: Rogue City

I will always love RoboCop, and sadly the video games based on him aren't very good. Besides the Commodore 64 music, it has been rough for ol’ Robo in gaming. That changed with RoboCop: Rogue City. Building off the good will made with Terminator: Resistance, developers Teyon have come a long way from the Rambo travesty.

Teyon takes the love of the RoboCop series and faithfully recreates the dingy drug-infested streets of Detroit in the 80’s. Everything is oozing with authenticity, it's like playing a direct sequel to the movies. Similar to Alien: Isolation, the atmosphere and cohesive art direction melds the game into something that feels real.

The major issue with the game is mostly the lack of distinct different voice actors. Every “Torch-Head” including the leader is the same voice. This is a problem with a ton of games and let me take a moment to offer a viable solution. Since RoboCop is part machine, and AI is basically infused with modern tech right now, using AI as a proper tool to create hundreds of different voiced dialogues for background enemy fodder is something that should be embraced. I'm tired of every game having the same 5 voice actors portray an entire city or world or universe of people.

Along with AI voice acting for grunts, it could be used to create smaller NPC character dialog in the background. Again, not to replace the actual written script (although with modern game writing a machine could do much better than 99% of game writers right now) but to create small simple dialog with pedestrians who pass on the street or wandering a vendor stall in a village.

But back to RoboCop. The game itself is a first person shooter with a bit of skill tree leveling up. Even weapon bonuses (buffs and debuffs) thanks to a handy little weapon system. Allowing me to use collected computer chips I find lying around the levels, I can add bonus damage, or armor depending on the chips I insert. However, for the first quarter of the game, I didn't really understand it and it was only after I stopped streaming the game to actually learn the mechanic. It could have been explained a bit better. It doesn't hold its hand. That's for sure.

I loved the side quests in the game and while not everything wraps up nicely and some of the optional quests seem a bit like filler, it allowed me to inhabit RoboCop and even give the character some of his humanity back. At the end of each level, RoboCop is interviewed by a psychiatrist, who asks him various questions. Letting me answer questions the way I wanted to, I tried to keep Alex Murphy visible at the forefront of the RoboCop facade.

For a cheap $35 dollar game at launch, and based on a franchise from the 80’s I loved as a kid, I couldn't be happier for what the game I got was. The action is bloody and violent, with limbs being blown off and heads exploding into massive clouds of red mist. And a story progression that really feels like the developers cared for the characters and it comes through with the dialog and tone. RoboCop comes out on top as more man than machine… but still all cop.

3. Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name

I was not aware that this game was coming out. And while I do think Like A Dragon’s new main character Ichiban is good, I haven't finished that game. I ended up going through Yakuza 0-half of 5 back in 2021. But with 5, there were so many added playable characters and the story bloated out so much I just lost interest. But over the end of the summer, I was able to get back into gaming and finally finished 5. I knew when I played Yakuza 6, that was basically the end of Kiryu’s story arc and I think it ended well.

Until the day Like A Dragon Gaiden was featured on Gamepass the day it was released. I quickly learned that Kiryu’s story was still being told and I devoured the game. I got weirdly into Pocket Racing and loved seeing Kiryu’s life continue into utter Chaos. I’m glad they reined the bloat in, and focused more on the story and main characters. Side stories are just as great as the other games, the mini-games and emulation via Club Sega’s arcade store is phenomenal and even the new combat arena is cool. But I mostly cared about Kiryu and if he was ever going to see the kids at Morning Glory Orphanage again.

Everything about this game is basically the same as previous Yakuza games in terms of gameplay and mechanics. You know what you are getting with it at this point. It goes back to the Brawler style combat vs the RPG style of Like A Dragon. I’m glad it's reverted back, because I did not like the RPG mechanics at all. But the game really shines in the cutscenes.

So, I need to talk about two things really quickly. 1, the cutscenes do have an English voice acting option. I discovered this with 2020’s Like A Dragon and hated it so much, as everyone sounds so off character. Surfer dude and pretty boy model voices do not belong coming out of the mouth of Yakuza. And apparently with The Man Who Erased His Name, Kiryu’s English voice actor is some YouTuber. I don't know the YouTuber, but man, it's just awful voice acting (so bad that they actually delayed the English dub from final release and delayed it a couple months to release it as an “update” instead. Still sounds awful and please don't play it with English voice acting. Play it default original Japanese voice with English subtitles… it's really the only way a Yakuza game should be played.

I say all of that, because it does tie into number 2. The cutscenes are always a big deal in the Yakuza series. Its odd because I kinda hate long cutscenes that don't really provide much, like in Metal Gear or Death Stranding. Where a final cutscene can be an hour long. It's unnecessary and really a waste of the audience's time more often than not. But with Yakuza, the cutscenes are so frequent, move the story along and never feel like it's interrupting. It usually flows in and out of gameplay really well. It's only early on in the intro of the game or at the end when the final boss is beaten that the cutscenes become like a movie. And this final cutscene…

The final scene, when the game wraps up. And yes, I will state “THIS IS A SPOILER!!! SPOILER WARNING!!!!

Is pure, perfect acting. Not only is it heart wrenching in a blissful way, it deserves recognition and is now my top favorite cutscene in gaming. Kiryu’s emotions are so perfectly displayed that I will admit that I teared up watching it.

At the end of Yakuza 6, Kiryu gives up his life (in a way) to save his adopted daughter and her baby son. People will keep coming after him and his family, so he basically fakes his death to protect them. He’s indentured for the rest of his days and can't let his family know he's alive. He erased his name (where the title “The Man Who Erased His Name” comes from). He hasn't seen his daughter or any of the orphans he helped bring up in his orphanage for years now and at the end of the game he is finally given an update on them. He not only is told they are doing well.. he actually receives a video of a hidden camera at his (fake) grave site. The orphanage kids see the hidden camera and think Kiryu is still alive and watching. So they start telling the camera all the things that have been happening. As this is going on Kiryu starts to tear up, and full blown ugly cry all over the tablet as he finally has some catharsis after sacrificing his body and life for these kids for years.

It is such a powerful and emotional scene that I defy anyone to argue video games aren't art after seeing that. It is more effective than any movie as it has years and hundreds of hours of character development behind it. You can't get that even from the longest running movie franchise in the past 100 years. Nothing beats this moment in gaming if you follow the story from the start of Yakuza Zero through the entire length of Kiryu’s story arc. Hands down this game and series and writers and voice actor deserve something better than an Oscar because it's a perfect moment in gaming.

2. Alan Wake 2

When the first Alan Wake came out, I was beyond skeptical. I have always called myself a scaredy cat with scary video games. Alan Wake was an homage to both the Twin Peaks tv show and Steven King that on the surface it seemed goofy. Once the game came out I was actually living in a town called Twin Peaks, a small mountain town in California, and as I played a game about a man running through the woods at night being chased by monsters armed with a flashlight and 9mm gun, I was terrified. It took 13 years, but we finally got a sequel.

I fell in love with the first game so much and it being a Remedy game and all, I was on board with this game the moment it was announced. I went on a media blackout, not wanting to know a single thing about it. I was even surprised to find it to be a $50 game on Epic Game Store on PC launch day because there was no way, in my mind, that it would be a “budget title”. But I loaded it up at midnight, and started playing. I was thrown off by playing as someone other than Alan Wake, a new FBI character named Saga Anderson, and accompanied by Sam Lake as her partner… no wait, I’m sorry Agent “Alex Casey”. My mind swirled to try to make sense of it, I was sure I heard that name before. But as I remembered, Remedy said something funny years ago, I only remembered it as the glass of whiskey touched my lips. Alex Casey, yes, the name of a fictional cop in one of Mr. Wake’s stories. But that couldn’t have been him, not really anyways, as he was fake. Make believe, made up.

As the story continued on, I became confused more and more. Was this a dream? A glitch perhaps, as Mr. Wake was nowhere to be seen. Barely mentioned in hours of playtime. But then, at long last, I did end up seeing a glimmer of hope, as the end of the act decided to walk in the door, and grace me with its shining presence. Mr. Wake is alive and well, if not as confused as I was. Rambling incoherently about this and that. No one is able to make sense of it all. As I dived deeper, other vague recollections of the past started to appear. A familiar face here, a recognizable voice there. Yes, Ahti, the Finnish Janitor, reeking of booze, spouting what seems like nonsense. But only as I progressed, it started to make sense, like the fitting of jigsaw pieces in a 1000 piece puzzle, with all the edges color coded.

Ok, so here is the real low down of Alan Wake 2. A game I really couldn’t put down. I savored every single moment of the game I could. I also coined a new term for a game of its nature. A “Midnight Game”, one that can only be played after the stroke of Midnight. The atmosphere dripping so deeply in horror and suspense, just like its writer character, that it feels like a crime to play it at any other time. It would lose all sense of its entire existence just by playing it in broad daylight. That did hinder me a bit, as I saw others completing the game before I did, and I also did end up taking about a week off in the middle of it to have family stay over and help with a dog show. But all the while, I would find my mind wandering and thinking about the game nearly non-stop.

So, this game does have a couple downsides, one of the biggest offender’s being that Alan Wake, is in essence a secondary character, in his own game. This is due to the fact of the second main issue. Saga seems to be only a character, the “main” character now, thanks to Epic being the publisher, and due to Environmental, Social and Governance investments. Meaning that the developers get more money if they put in certain “approved” things, such as gay characters who just have to make it a point that they are gay and just shout it out loud in the middle of nowhere. Or characters of a certain skin type just because they are a certain skin color.  In other words, making it woke. Which I have a huge issue with. If Saga was planned back in with the original Alan Wake, or heck even back in 2021, but she was race swapped because of money. Sam Lake even teased Saga back in 2015, with him as Alex Casey and some blonde white chick as Saga, and her character is scandinavian. But again, this is all stuff people should already know and be sick and tired of the hypocritical race swapping and making things woke that don’t and shouldn’t be. Those are my big two issues.

As the game itself is concerned, Saga is an interesting character, and Alex Casey is a great character, allowing Sam Lake to take his Max Payne face into the “Remedy-verse” and let himself be a character in these games again just cool. Saga and Casey make great partners, however I wish I would have gotten more time to be a team. Casey splits off from Saga once Alan Wake shows up, and they very rarely are together for the rest of the game. Saga’s connection to Thor and Odin, the biker brothers and Saga’s Uncles seemed odd at first, and Saga being known in the small town but not knowing anyone around town was odd. However, as the story progressed, it started to be able to piece itself together and have it make some sense to me.

When games try to have so many twists and turns and have every single other scene be some mind bending discovery, I usually start checking out mentally. While I love a good twist every once in a while, I find that most aren’t that clever, and once you discover the big twist, it’s hard to ever go back and enjoy it again, as you know the main bullet point of the game. The writing throughout the game is phenomenal, especially when it comes to Alan’s part of the game, as it’s written in a way to emulate a suspense writer. One of the most unique and interesting parts of the game comes from Alan’s power to write changes to the locations he is in.

Alan bounces back and forth between the real world and “the dark place”, which is basically like the upside down in Stranger Things, or a limbo-esque type of other dimension. When Alan is in the dark place, he is able to transport his mind into a writer’s room in a cabin with a storyboard. Allowing to swap out scenarios with certain locations. It still is hard to explain, but basically if a subway train is blocking his path, he would come up with a storyline for his book to change it to the train that derailed and killed everyone by burning them alive, letting him pass through the burned out train car. Allowing him to change the scenery on the fly reminded me of the level in the first Psychonauts game that had a play as the backdrop, and depending on the scene, the level would change and allow you to get up higher to the backdrop or a different location.

Saga also possesses what she calls her “Mind Palace” which I didn’t understand at first, but I guess is a very similar thing to something Sherlock Holmes has, called his “Mind Place”. It’s an exercise that allows him to mentally create a room and look at clues in a certain way and focus. It’s an interesting technique and really does seem like a cool way to make a video game’s menu system make sense in terms of the game and not breaking immersion. I dug it, although it is a bit cumbersome and honestly unnecessary. As just playing the game will reveal everything itself, and I ended up only having to use the pictures and thread after I already solved a puzzle, just to get it out of the way.

The combat was tense and I did find myself dying on a few occasions, especially at the end when wave after wave of enemies swarmed me. I felt overwhelmed when there was more than a single character coming after me, and I never felt very confident in the flashlight mechanic. The flashlight basically acts as a armor breaker, opening up the enemies to actual gunfire. Dropping these semi-shadow monsters, who are technically real people I guess (again, the story is so convoluted in points I never feel very confident in most things) they should be dropping after a single headshot. But sometimes I would empty an entire magazine into a foe and they’d keep coming after me. It was frustrating at certain points, but nothing too dire.

The way the whole game is put together is on another level compared to what’s being released right now. Even if Epic did force some “diversity”/propaganda into the game, the sheer overwhelming majority of the game is just pure awesomeness. It’s very “Creative” in other words. It drips with style and original tone. The chapter end caps with an original song. Even the jump scare stuff felt authentic in a way that jump scares never do. I’ll take a game like Alan Wake 2 over any other modern type of re-hashed annual shooter any day. Alan Wake is special, and Remedy is a special developer, they care about the games they make, and even a few small stumbles don’t take away from the fine game they crafted. I can’t wait for the story to continue.

1.The Legend Of Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom

I’m still not sure exactly why Tears Of The Kingdom took so long to come out. Needless to say this was the end all be all of hyped Switch releases. Even I was caught up in the hopes and hype of the game finally coming to light. Like most things I look forward to, I liked to be fully surprised and experience everything myself instead of searching every frame of a trailer for little specks to assume over. Beyond the initial reveal of the game back in 2019, and the official first trailer back in 2022, I kinda just waited patiently for the game to come out.

Until one of the more exciting leaks I’ve been able to take part in. Just like Halo 2, Tears of the Kingdom leaked well ahead of the game's official launch date. Nearly twelve days earlier in fact and I for one was beyond happy. It’s no stranger that I despise modern gaming media, and this was another example of why. This time fans, true fans were able to play the game before the general public in a way gaming media has for decades, and the media threw a hissy fit over it. Claiming it wasn’t fair to the publisher or big corporate entities to have something spoiled. Which doesn’t make sense, either everyone gets it at the same time, or no one should. Select few, most of which don’t deserve to for one reason or another, shouldn't get preferential treatment, especially since those people barely know how to play a video game in the first place.

So when the game leaked, I jumped on the chance to sit down with my wife and go through the game just like we did back in 2017 when we were first married. It was a blast. Exploring Hyrule and talking to villagers, coming across random scenarios and devising strategies on how to best handle encounters with groups of enemies or solve puzzles. It was just like it was back in 2017, which is why a lot of people have an issue with it.

I personally don’t have an issue with it being what most claim is “More of the same”. And I will agree, that yes, it is more of what Breath of the Wild offered, but with many upgrades, quality of life improvements and differences. It’s so odd this “expectation disappointment whiplash” that modern society has, especially prevalent in the gaming culture. While it is the media that really pushes it, since they are basically just a PR and Marketing arm of publishers at this point. The general gaming enthusiast, the ones on Discord servers and commenting on YouTube videos have only themselves to blame. They buy into the hype and pushing of these products mostly because the majority of them are kids.

I try to manage my expectations fully into something that takes excitement while looking at the game as a product as well, and usually that turns out in my favor. There are those times that I make a bad purchase based mostly on my feelings and buying into that hype and I usually end up very disappointed and burned. It happened a couple times this year in fact. However, luckily that wasn’t the case with Tears Of The Kingdom.

Tears of the Kingdom continues the story of Link and Zelda as a direct sequel to Breath of the Wild, and we very rarely get a true Zelda sequel. Most of the time, Link is like a reincarnated spirit through the ages who battles a reincarnation of Gannon’s spirit, in a timeless battle through the ages. I’ve always wanted to have continuing adventures of Link and continue to grow and mature throughout a steady single timeline and story, and we finally got that. With Breath of the Wild, it finally broke a over decade old mold of the same exact game formula that got stale years ago. And this is the part that baffles me; I’ve seen so many people come out after the first few months of the games release and start saying “It’s exactly the same as Breath Of The Wild”, “It’s just boring exploring”, and the kicker “I want old Zelda gameplay back!”. These are the people I can’t stand. They just want the same exact thing for decades and never want change. No innovation, no outside the box thinking. Just the same exact 3D zelda formula, unchanged from Ocarina of Time.

Again, yes, we are in Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule Kingdom, we see and visit the same castle structure and villages, but all overgrown or broken down thanks to time and part of Hyrule lifting up into the sky and also falling back down. There is so much verticality to this game, and yes lots of it is vast open sky, but it is a new part to the game. It isn’t “exactly the same game” at all. And even calling it “DLC” is a huge stretch, as DLC is mostly contained to a small story with some upgrades at this point. It could be called an Expansion Pack if that even existed in this day and age, but it is vastly different and the new powers that replace the old ones from the previous game just defy the old game’s puzzle and traversal logic.

So I’ve prattled on a bit so far about why I think people are wrong for disliking the game, now I’d like to discuss why I think the game is a phenomenal game.

Giving a focus more on the story and giving real emphasis on the cutscenes were nice, as I always like a good story. It drives the gameplay forward. If I didn’t care about the story, I would have given up on the game long before seeing half of the story itself. But allowing the gameplay to uncover the story was a real driving force with me. I loved searching for the glowing massive “crop circles” and finding the magical tears that gave me cutscenes. It was like being a detective and scouring a scene, finally to uncover a vital piece that gave me more information.

Coming across small villages and camps and talking to random people and sometimes getting new side quests, or being a reporter for a newspaper trying to find a Zelda doppelganger, or spelunking the massive underground cave system under the kingdom and slowly lighting my way through the area. All of these are optional, as nearly everything is in the game. But exploration is the key to finding joy in the game, it truly is a prime example of “It not about the destination, but the journey.”

Since Breath Of The Wild was basically the first game we both played together as a married couple, it holds a special place in our heart. And with the sequel, we could only play it together. So the leak really allowed us to spend time together playing it every moment we could, because just at the real launch day, I had to travel to work, and after a week away, the day I got back, my wife had to leave on a trip for over a week. So we had to stop playing the game for over half a month. It’s always hard to pick back up an open world adventure game after that much time away, and our lives got so hectic over the course of the summer, and I ended up going through a gaming drought like I never have in my life before. I just didn’t want to play anything for over a month. When I finally did pick up a controller it was to play Video Pinball (Something I got way into at the end of the summer).

Just because I dropped Zelda for months on end doesn’t mean I stopped wanting to play it. I actually wanted to play it more than anything, but I found myself just saying “eh, not right now” whenever my wife asked me if I wanted to play Zelda for a couple hours after dinner. It was odd and strange, as I couldn’t stop thinking about it, but never actually wanting to continue physically controlling the character.