Oct 30, 2023 - Technology

2023 has the best-reviewed slate of video games of the last 20 years

Data: Metacritic; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Metacritic; Chart: Axios Visuals

It's not just a feeling that 2023 is one of the best years ever for video game releases. Soaring game review scores back that up.

Why it matters: Many of the best-reviewed games benefited from long development cycles, a sign that giving game creators more time is worth it.

Driving the news: This year has seen 25 games pull an average score of 90 or more on at least one platform, according to review aggregator Metacritic.

  • For most of the last decade, the average count has been half of that.
  • Note: When checking this tally, we counted games that scored a 90 or better on at least one platform; some versions scored below that, in this year and in the past.

Details: Game studios' extraordinary output this year came from a mix of sequels that got lots of development time, plus a host of polished remakes and remasters.

  • Nintendo developed The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (96 Metacritic) for six years, delaying it for more than a year for polish.
  • Larian Studios incubated Baldur's Gate III (96 Metacritic) as a publicly available early access game since 2020, before its completion this year.
  • Capcom's Resident Evil 4 (93 Metacritic) was the remake of an already beloved game.
  • CD Projekt RED spent an eye-popping $63 million on its Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty expansion (90 Metacritic), a part of an expensive reputation rehab effort for its studio, following the initially disastrous launch of the base game in 2020.

Be smart: Review scores aren't the only or even the best arbiter of quality, and even many 2023 games rated in the 80s were plenty impressive.

  • Microsoft's Hi-Fi Rush (87), EA's Dead Space remake (89), FromSoftware's Armored Core VI (88) and indie upstart Pizza Tower (89) just missed the Metacritic 90 score this year.

What they're saying: "One of the reasons why it's such an incredible year is that some of these titles were supposed to release in previous years," Focus Entertainment's chief content officer Yves Le Yaouanq told Axios recently, as his company was releasing Chants of Sennaar, a translation game that's pulled an 85 on Metacritic.

  • Pandemic-induced delays extended some development cycles, allowing for further iteration and even polish in the most unusual and trying of times.
  • It helps that the so-called Gen 9 consoles, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S, are entrenched now, both wrapping up their third year, Le Yaouanq notes.
  • Developers have had time to get comfortable making games on the newer tech. Marvel's Spider-Man 2 (90 Metacritic) is development studio Insomniac Games' fourth PlayStation 5 game, including its second that didn't have to be designed to also work on the weaker PlayStation 4.

Yes, but: So many big, acclaimed games can make it hard for smaller games to find their audience, Le Yaouanq warns.

  • "The more big games you have and the more great games you have, the more the prices for user acquisition are going up and the more complex it gets for small games to get visibility."
  • The great run of games hasn't spared the industry from a brutal year of layoffs, indicating that even high-quality releases can't stave off bearish cost reductions.

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