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Shacknews Best RPG of 2023 – Baldur’s Gate 3

Baldur’s Gate 3 is the purest definition of a role-playing game. From the opening moments of the game, BG3 lets you tell the story with every decision you make, large and small. It’s a miracle how malleable the narrative is. That the game is constantly bursting at the seams with the sheer amount of player input, especially when playing co-op. The story is supported by an amazing cast of supporting characters including Astarion, Shadowheart, Karlach, and Wyll, among others.

As a tactical RPG, Baldur’s Gate 3 presents brutally challenging encounters with a range of enemy types that you’ll come across on your adventure. Finding the right party composition that fits your playstyle, determining a class build, selecting ability score improvements, and making the most of your turns all factor into the turn-based combat system.

Baldur’s Gate 3 is the closest video games have ever gotten to replicating the experience of playing D&D at a table with friends. The “yes, and” nature of the story, the unpredictable twists and turns, the diverse range of playstyles, the unforgettable characters, it all comes together to form not only one of the year’s best games, but one of the best RPGs we’ve ever seen.

Be sure to read over the rest of the Shacknews Awards in our Year of the Games: 2023 feature.

Shacknews Best Racing Game of 2023 – F-Zero 99

F-Zero 99 was shadow dropped during the September 14 Nintendo Direct and the game continues to receive updates. It flawlessly adapts the classic SNES racing game to the battle royale formula creating a brand new way for racing game fans to play. On a platform dominated by Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, F-Zero 99 is a breath of fresh air to players who yearned for a Nintendo racing game that was dripping with unfair rubberbanding and weapons-based gameplay. After nearly two decades of waiting, F-Zero fans are finally back on ther winner’s podium.

F-Zero 99 stood above the rest of racing games released in 2023 by surprising, delighting, and reinvigorating a dormant fanbase and delivering an excellent online gaming experience for a whole new generation of players. The game is also tough as nails, creating one of the finest video game challenges of the year. F-Zero 99 is a true race of the 21st century with excellent online play and a thoughtlully designed player progression system.

Congratulations to the F-Zero 99 dev team on winning another Shacknews Award!

Be sure to read over the rest of the Shacknews Awards in our Year of the Games: 2023 feature.

Shacknews Best Open World Game of 2023 – The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

Last year, Shacknews introduced the Best Open World Game category for our Year of the Games awards. This year, we are proud to present the award to The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. Nintendo has managed to deliver on multiple fronts with this latest entry. Not only is it a fantastic continuation of the story and gameplay of Breath of the Wild, it also manages to add to the open world experience in new and meaningful ways.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom continues on from 2017’s monolithic Breath of the Wild. Being set in the same version of Hyrule as its predecessor, players would have been forgiven for thinking it would be a 1:1 recreation, but Nintendo shirked expectations. While a lot of the geometry remains consistent, the land has been devastated by the events of the first game and what has taken place in Tears of the Kingdom.

This desolation of Hyrule has created a map with an incredible amount of things to see and do. No longer is Link limited to traveling along the ground, Tears of the Kingdom introduces two dramatically different elevations in the form of the Sky Islands and The Depths. Where the Sky Islands are freeing in their spacious construction, the Depths are claustrophobic with an oppressive darkness. And yet both realms offer untold riches to players willing to map out their route, tackle challenging foes, and solve some puzzles.

Like Elden Ring (last year’s winner for this award), Tears of the Kingdom ups the ante when it comes to traversing this almost overwhelming world. Players can saddle up and ride a horse across Hyrule, but they can also glide great distances, and even construct other means of transportation using the game’s greatest tool: the Ultrahand.

What makes an open world game great is more than just the places you can go and how you get there, it’s the things you do along the way. Every part of the world in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom has something for players to do. There are caves to go spelunking in for collectibles, more than 150 shrines with rich and unique puzzles, random NPC encounters and tantalizing side quests, treasure maps to solve, and so much more. Players are rewarded for following their nose across the great land of Hyrule.

There are so many elements at play in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and all of them coalesce to create one of the best open world games ever released. Nintendo has yet again revolutionized the style of game, elevating what players can expect from an open world title. Congratulations to the team at Nintendo for winning the Shacknews Best Open World Game of 2023 award for The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom.

Be sure to read over the rest of the Shacknews Awards in our Year of the Games: 2023 feature.

Shack Chat: What is your personal game of the year?

The year is quickly approaching its end, and that means it’s almost time for Shacknews to list its Game of the Year. Before we do that, though, we each sat down and wrote about our personal Game of the Year for 2023. Check out our picks below, then leave your own choice in the Chatty comments.

What is your Game of the Year for 2023?

Without further delay, here are our choices for Game of the Year 2023. Now, give us your picks in the Chatty comments below.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom – Ozzie Mejia, Senior Editor

For as whimsical as I found Super Mario Bros. Wonder and as much of a rush as I got out of the action and story of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom stood out as one of Nintendo’s most impressive titles. It’s a game that takes everything from Breath of the Wild and not only expands on it (to the point where the world almost feels too big) but also gives players a new way to experience it.

It can’t be stated enough what Ultrahand and Fuse do for this game and for this series. There are games that people pick up and play and that dominate the internet conversation for weeks at a time. We saw it last year with Elden Ring and we saw it in 2020 with Animal Crossing: New Horizons, just to name some examples. Tears of the Kingdom had that buzz and it earned it. Whether I was dominating bosses with a giant contraption or having it explode in my face as I fell down a sky island like Wile E. Coyote, I don’t think I experienced a better game this year and it might be one of my favorite Zelda games ever.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom – TJ Denzer, King of the Lynels

There generally seems to be two types of people in the world of Tears of the Kingdom players: People who liked the Depths and those who didn’t. I didn’t just like the Depths. It was my favorite part of the game. In truth, I love the synergy of all three overarching layers of Tears of the Kingdom: The surface of Hyrule, the Sky Islands, and the Depths. But I absolutely loved the sheer challenge and exploratory spelunking nature of the depths (as an aside I love Spelunkey for a few of the same reasons).

The idea of this place that is shrouded in darkness and mystery and will slay you quickly if you don’t bring the right tools and stay on your toes was fascinating to me. I loved making discoveries down there and bringing back a wealth of weapons and treasure I could then use to power my adventures through the main quest. Because of my affinity for the Depths, I never felt under-armed (it is the best source of uncorrupted weapons and bomb flowers).

More than that, I loved the quests that took me to all three layers of Tears of the Kingdom. Solving a puzzle on the surface, rising to a new puzzle in the sky, and then diving straight into the Depths below was a blast, and I always felt in awe of the discoveries I found, the means I created to keep exploring deeper, and the treasures I brought back from down there. It truly made Tears of the Kingdom a game I was excited to go back and explore more and more throughout the year.

F-Zero 99 – Asif Khan, Shacknews CEO/EIC/EIEIO

F-Zero 99 is not just my favorite game to be released in 2023, it’s my favorite game. I still can’t really believe that it exists. I have had to play a lot of other games this year, but the one that I keep coming back to each day is F-Zero 99. It’s the definition of one more game: the game with a gameplay loop that is only a couple of minutes long but usually yields multi-hour play sessions. F-Zero 99 is my game of the year, and it’s existence proves that anything is possible.

Baldur’s Gate 3 – Bill Lavoy, Resident of Great Bear Island

My favorite game this year is Remnant 2, and it’s not particularly close. That being said, I think it’s important to be able to differentiate between your favorite and the best. It’s hard to argue against Baldur’s Gate 3 being the best game of the year given what Larian Studios was able to pull off. The fact that the game doesn’t fall apart 15 times every play session as it tries to adjust to your decisions and the quests branching all over the place is a miracle.

During our deliberations, every time we’d talk about Baldur’s Gate 3, someone who has sunk a great deal of time into that game would learn something they didn’t know. It’s hard to imagine that everything has been found, and I suspect we’ll be learning more about it over the next several years.

Baldur’s Gate 3 is mindblowing on so many different levels and there was no way I could pass it up as my Game of the Year for 2023.

Baldur’s Gate 3 – Sam Chandler, Paladin at Heart

Larian Studios bet on itself and won. Baldur’s Gate 3 has been a triumphant success, smashing expectations and appealing to a wider audience than what many likely believed was possible. I myself am astonished by how much I enjoyed BG3. I went in, completely unenthused about turn-based combat, and after an hour, I was hooked.

I was hooked not just because of the chess-like strategy required of me when facing down foes, but also because of the rich and interwoven narrative. I adore the story that Larian Studios has crafted within the Dungeons & Dragons universe. Each hour I advanced along the plot brought me new and exciting revelations as well as newfound emotional impact from my traveling companions.

To make the experience even better, I was able to play it entirely cooperatively with my wife. We deliberated over combat tactics, discussed and considered the outcomes of conversations, and worked together to reach a conclusion we both were happy to achieve.

Not many developers have managed to do what Larion Studios has done with Baldur’s Gate 3 this year. I played a ton of excellent titles in 2023, but BG3 stands tall as the best one.

Resident Evil 4 – Dennis White Jr., Community Manager

Baldur’s Gate 3 – Donovan Erskine, Has Illithid Powers

I put about twenty hours into Baldur’s Gate 3 when it launched in early access back in 2021. I thought it was fine. Never could I have imagined how astonishingly brilliant the final product would be. Larian Studios took audience feedback to heart in a way I never have, delivering one of the greatest gaming experiences I’ve had in recent years.

From a combat perspective, Baldur’s Gate 3 is everything I want from a turn-based RPG. There’s deep strategy in character building and party construction, with a wide range of enemies that pack their own surprises. It feels like there’s a million parts moving at once, and every round of combat felt like a puzzle to be unraveled, but there were always an infinite number of solutions.

Narratively, Baldur’s Gate 3 has revolutionized the concept of branching storylines. There are countless decisions, both direct and indirect, that strongly influence the trajectory of the story. Everything you do matters. Everything you say to people matters. Even the seemingly insignificant decisions manage to pay off 15 hours later. I’d argue it’s nigh impossible for two different people to have identical playthroughs from the opening to the credits.

Baldur’s Gate 3 is simply a triumph, and it’s hard to overstate what Larian Studios has achieved here. They’ve managed to adapt Dungeons & Dragons into a video game in a way that many have tried and failed. In what has to be the greatest year in gaming that I’ve witnessed, BG3 confidently stands atop the hill.

Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom – Steve Tyminski, I’m Stevetendo

What is my game of the year? There were so many great games that came out this year so this is going to be a difficult question to answer. The Super Mario RPG remake came out this year and that was something I never thought we would ever see because of the relationship between Nintendo and Square. Since they buried the hatchet, this improbable project could be made. Super Mario Bros. Wonder was another game that came out this year and it changed what we all expect from 2D platforming Super Mario games. New sounds, new music, and new power-ups are just a few of the new inclusions in this great game. There was a dungeon explorer RPG, Silent Hope, that I loved. Customize seven playable characters with different weapons, items, and skills. Then jump into the Abyss and fight monsters and complete different challenges.

That being said, my game of the year has to be the Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. This game just checks all the right boxes for me. When the game first came out, my brother and I were playing our copies together and it was fun to see what we would do differently. For example, there is a shrine where you have a baseball bat like machine and hit a ball into a target. It was fascinating to see how we both achieved the same goal by different means. Also, he found a secret and mentioned it to me, I had no idea what he was talking about. The massive world of Hyrule is so big that even if you think you found everything, you didn’t’. Breath of the Wild was a great game but I feel like I had a better time playing through Tears of the Kingdom. One of my main issues with Breath of the Wild was the so called dungeons and Tears fixed that by giving you temples, caves, the sky, and the depths to explore. There were so many great games that came out in 2023 but the winner has to be the Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom!

Those are our picks for Game of the Year 2023. One last time, don’t forget to let us know your pick in the Chatty comments below.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom review

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom builds on the Breath of the Wild formula while delivering a timeless story of sacrifice, faith, and courage. The expanded gameplay loop in this latest version of Hyrule creates one of the best open world video game sandboxes of all time. The game perfectly bookends the Nintendo Switch console era with a Zelda game that is overflowing with things to do.

This review contains major spoilers including the ending of the game. Please do not read or watch the review if you are trying to avoid spoilers.

Stupid sexy Ganondorf is back

Tears of the Kingdom begins with Zelda and Link investigating a “gloom” seeping upwards from beneath Hyrule Castle. After descending into the depths, Link and Zelda discover a decayed body of The Demon King with a robotic-looking arm stuck in his chest. The arm falls out of the corpse-like body dropping a tear-shaped Secret Stone that Zelda picks up.

Link jumps in front of Zelda to defend her from The Demon King’s attack wielding the Master Sword in front. The sword shatters to the dismay of Zelda, Link’s arm sustains serious damage, and he loses all but three heart containers. As the Demon King causes the world to open up, Zelda falls into a chasm and disappears as Link fails to grab her hand.

The opening of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom sets a very somber tone as a voice explains to Link that he almost died and has lost his arm. Luckily, the new mysterious voice was able to attach that robot arm to Link’s body.

Link awakens on a Sky Island with none of his powers from Breath of the Wild, three hearts, and some rags for clothing. Tears of the Kingdom introduces players to the new gameplay mechanics in a similar fashion to its predecessor with Link learning Fuse, Ultrahand, Ascend, and Recall. Autobuild is one more ability that can be learned once players leave the Sky Island, but the game certainly doesn’t point you to that place. It’s quite strange to not include all of the abilities in the introductory part of the game, and some players may not discover Autobuild until later in their playthrough. It’s me. I am the player who didn’t discover Autobuild for weeks.

Before diving down to Hyrule from the Sky Island, Link encounters a yellow ball of energy at the Temple of Time for a brief moment. The Master Sword is no stranger to time travel, and this is no different in Tears of the Kingdom as Link hands the damaged legendary blade over to flowing yellow orb only to see The Master Sword disappear into thin air.

Capitalism, democracy, and journalism undermining Hyrule’s monarchy?

Hylians began rebuilding with Princess Zelda seemingly out of the picture, and the world of Hyrule changed by the Upheaval caused by the return of The Demon King. Sure, much work needed to be done with giant rocks falling from the sky and massive chasms appearing in the ground, but it was shocking to see just how fast many citizens in the Kingdom of Hyrule attempted to get back to a new normal.

Players will encounter a worker holding up signs early on in their journey through Hyrule. The guy really seems to love this President Hudson fellow. There are dozens of Hudson signs strewn across Hyrule that task players with helping the weary construction worker figure out a way to hold the sign up long enough to secure it. Ultrahand puzzles like these are one of the more divisive parts of Tears of the Kingdom. Some players are turned off by the controls, and others struggle to solve puzzles, but I personally enjoyed the evolved take on Zelda gameplay that is featured in Shrines, side quests, and Temples.

Hateno Village has really changed since the Upheaval. Fashion designer Cece is making waves with her stylish mushroom clothing. After gaining so much clout, she tasks Link with bribing citizens to vote for her in the Mayoral election with free mushrooms. Since when was Hyrule a democracy and why is Link (a royal knight) being tasked with rigging an election? This is one fine example of the distracting nature of Hyrule in Tears of the Kingdom. Cece should be ashamed of herself, but we know most politicians have no soul.

With filthy capitalists and scheming politicians seemingly undermining the Kingdom of Hyrule, it may come as a relief that there are journalists working to report facts, but the Lucky Clover Gazette certainly highlights the dangers of believing everything you read in the newspaper. The news outlet enlists Link to help get to the bottom of several stories about sightings of Princess Zelda all throughout the kingdom. Fake news? In Hyrule? In this economy? The Lucky Clover Gazette may have unintentionally spread misinformation with wild alleged claims about Princess Zelda’s behavior.

There are a lot of side quests in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom that are true distractions from the main campaign quest line. Not all of the side quests are blatant affronts to the Hyrule monarchy like the ones mentioned already, with some fun wells and caves to explore and the occasional Shrine Crystal quest that will test your puzzle solving skills. Some side quests will be pretty involved with a deflating payoff of some Rupees, though.

The Hyrule Weather Report

The familiar locations of Rito Village, Goron City, Zora’s Domain, and Gerudo Town are all faced with challenging regional phenomena in Tears of the Kingdom. Link is once again asked to aid the people of Hyrule in a series of quests that lead players all over the Kingdom’s skies, land, and underworld.

Tears of the Kingdom introduces a brand new underworld called the Depths. Early on in the game, the Depths are a dark, scary place where players’ resources go to die. The Depths are another divisive aspect of the game where some players will entirely check out, but I found the contrast of light and dark driven by unlocking Lightroots to be extremely enjoyable despite feeling frustrated early on. The Depths tend to be the inverse of the Hylian overworld above with giant walls of rock appearing underneath bodies of water. It’s fun to dive down a chasm into the Depths and use your glider to scope out Lightroot locations as you descend further into the darkness.

Things get easier as players progress through the game, unlocking the powers of each Sage. It’s a shame that many players will never make it to the game’s ultimate payoff because of the overwhelming feeling of having too much to do, so many gameplay mechanics to learn, and the inherent distracting nature of the open world’s design.

The fun is in the journey

Tears of the Kingdom attempts to build upon the Divine Beasts formula of Breath of the Wild with new Temples that were marketed by Nintendo as dungeons. Without going into too much detail, it is safe to say that I enjoyed getting to the Temples more than completing them. The path packed with sweet jumps off of floating sailboats on the way to the Wind Temple’s entrance was a personal highlight of the game. The massive waterfall pathway that leads players to the Water Temple is astonishing, but the puzzles and quests that lead up to that grandiose moment were honestly more enjoyable than completing the temple itself.

While the scene atop Death Mountain that leads players to the Fire Temple is also amazing in its scale, that temple was one of the more enjoyable ones to complete with some fun minecart gameplay. The most dungeon-like part of the game is certainly the Lightning Temple which was actually as fun to complete as it was to find.

None of the temples are teeming with challenging enemies, and the design certainly is full of echoes of the Divine Beasts of Breath of the Wild, but the boss battles are where Tears of the Kingdom shines. The game’s scale allows for some very impressive boss battles at the end of each temple, and even down in the Depths where players can fight the same bosses again alongside a slew of other very difficult enemies.

I had more fun playing Breath of the Wild, but Tears of the Kingdom is undoubtedly a better video game. Some of that sentiment comes from the fact that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild felt like a brand new experience when it launched alongside the Nintendo Switch console in 2017, but there are aspects of how Tears of the Kingdom’s predecessor handles Link’s abilities, the Champion’s powers, and the overall control scheme that truly felt better than some of the design choices made in this 2023 release.

While the Fuse ability is awesome and unlocks a world of experimentation with attaching sticks to rocks and hitting other rocks, it also removed some of the chaotic fun that Breath of the Wild players could get into by chaining together bombs and Stasis to create all sorts of emergent gameplay moments. Tears of the Kingdom is not devoid of opportunities for similar gameplay situations to arise, but there are times when the game feels like it is putting you to work as opposed to letting you play it.

The way that Sage powers work in Tears of the Kingdom are downright wonky at times. It was probably not the best idea to use the same button that players use to pick up items to be the way to trigger these powers. Things can get really messy with all the Sages on screen at once in a tight area, and the implementation of the controls made me long for Breath of the Wild’s simple and easier to use inputs.

A leap to the past

Tears of the Kingdom improves on the Breath of the Wild formula in several ways that really stood out to me during my extended time playing the game for review. The scale of the post-Upheaval Hyrule can’t be understated. While the Depths and Sky Islands more than double the playable area from the 2017 Zelda game, there are even more detailed additions like the exquisitely designed cave systems, countless wells, and sometimes amusing Korok challenges. Shrines are still a key part of progression with some existing in the sky and others appearing in the newly minted caves. Most Lightroots are located directly under Shrines, creating a new back and forth gameplay loop when searching for either.

Tears of the Kingdom is possibly the greatest Zelda story ever told, and it’s not just the narrative structure that wows players, but the truly unique delivery system. Breath of the Wild’s memories were literally just laying around on the ground for players to stumble upon. Tears of the Kingdom creates a truly unique and fun way of discovering story segments with the introduction of geoglyphs. Each luminescent drawing on the Hyrule landscape contains several images of tears with one solid tear.

The easiest way to find these tears is to engage in a series of sweet jumps with the aid of Skyview Towers and Sky Islands. While Link’s main quest is to find Princess Zelda, I wish the game stressed just how important these geoglyphs are to the player earlier on. The moment when Link retrieves the Master Sword on top of the Light Dragon certainly makes a lot more sense if players have watched all of the memories captured in those tears.

Wisdom takes time

The story of Tears of the Kingdom showcases why it’s Zelda that is the legend. As players view the series of memories, the source of the literal tears becomes apparent. When Zelda disappeared at the beginning of the game, she was transported back in time to the era in which the Kingdom of Hyrule was founded. She encounters the first King and Queen of Hyrule and is taken under their wings as she tries to figure out a way back to her time.

The memories show Zelda’s struggles with trying to help King Rauru and Queen Sonia in their time while also trying to get back home. In a poignant conversation with Rauru’s sister Mineru, Zelda learns that sages who hold a Secret Stone like the one that unlocked her ability to travel back in time are able to transform into immortal dragons. There is also another touching discussion during which Queen Sonia reveals to Zelda that she possesses both a power over time and a sacred power that can dispel evil.

Zelda witnesses the sheer evil of Ganondorf as the villain uses her image as a disguise in a plot to murder Queen Sonia, stealing her Secret Stone and using it to become the Demon King. She later warns Rauru that she believes that the Demon King will defeat all of the sages as he was still alive 1,000 years in the future. She is concerned that Rauru will likely die. It’s at this moment that King Rauru teaches Zelda a very important leadership lesson. “I remain the king of Hyrule. As with any leader it is my duty to safeguard and protect my people. Even if I must risk my life.”

Zelda was right, and Rauru did pass away in The Imprisoning War with one last act of tremendous courage sealing the Demon King away for a thousand years. That robotic-looking arm that Zelda encountered underneath Hyrule Castle at the beginning of the game was indeed that of King Rauru, and Link did prove to be their final hope.

With the lessons she learned from Rauru, Sonia, and Mineru while in the past, Zelda faces what would be a difficult decision for most people with a sense of bravery, determination, and faith that is extremely admirable. I don’t think I know anyone who would become an immortal dragon to heal my sword that seals darkness for a thousand years so I could defeat evil once and for all. Do you? Zelda’s faith and belief in Link is a beautiful sight to behold in Tears of the Kingdom.

The scene in which Zelda realizes why she was sent back to ancient Hyrule builds her character in a way that hasn’t really been achieved in past entries. The Master Sword truly shines in this moment, and it was extremely cheeky how Nintendo was able to use a clip from that scene in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom Official Trailer #3 without spoiling the story at all.

In her final conversation with Zelda, Spirit Sage Mineru exclaims that it would be “throwing yourself away” but Zelda’s decision had been made. Mineru vows to support Link in support of her decision to become an immortal dragon. “Even if my body should perish, I will be with you in spirit,” said Mineru. Zelda’s transformation into the Light Dragon culminates with literal tears falling across the kingdom of Hyrule.

Heroes of time

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is not a story of one hero. Ancient Hyrule had its great heroes that fought the Demon King at The Imprisoning War, with King Rauru putting his faith in Zelda and Link. Some Shrines in Tears of the Kingdom are called Rauru’s Blessing, and they usually appear or are located around some sort of cool thing for players to do. Jumping from a Sky Island into the whirlpool in Lake Hylia, for example. Shrines with the Rauru’s Blessing subtitles also contain treasure chests with sweet loot. Rauru 2024!

Another hero of the story has to be The Master Sword. Nintendo’s use of the weapon as a key for time travel and defeating evil in Tears of the Kingdom is excellent. The moment when players retrieve The Master Sword after its thousand years of bathing in the Light Dragon’s sacred energy is one of the most exciting video game moments in the franchise’s history. The final dragon tear titled Zelda’s Wish cements the beauty of that moment.

After clearing all of the regions from their various phenomena and acquiring the energy infused sword, I was ready to kick the Demon King’s ass right? Nope. It’s a nice head fake moment in Hyrule Castle where you face off with several Phantom Ganons. The Demon King appears at the end of the battle and laughs at you for not even having the fifth sage. This sets off a new quest to find Mineru, another legendary hero of this wonderful tale.

Mineru carried out her vow to Zelda, and had created a robot body to house her spirit. That’s right. The final sage is a robot mech. The game throws a robot mech into the gameplay mix many hours into the playthrough. Then they let players attach cannons to both hands of the robot. Mineru is the best sage, and makes navigating the Gloom-infested Depths an order of magnitude easier when compared to the days of using an Autobuild of a Hoverbike that’s two fans and a control stick stuck together.

The path to finding Mineru is a beautiful use of so many systems and environments in the game. Tears of the Kingdom challenges players to find Lightning Armor down by the river, then unlock a new Sky Island to find a door that you need a certain amount of hearts to open, to then build a plane to fly down into the Depths where Mineru is waiting to be assembled.

The entire late game experience really kicks it up a notch with Thunderhead Isles Sky Island and the Spirit Temple. Mineru makes the next task of ridding the Depths of Kohga’s Yiga Clan a lot easier. Finally, I get to beat the Demon King. Right?

Flight of Dragons

The final boss battle of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is the best ending sequence to a Nintendo video game. Players must descend to the deepest part of the Depths underneath Hyrule Castle to defeat the Demon King. The path to the final battle is full of enemies with Gloom all over the terrain. After fighting another Phantom Ganon, a Lynel, and a bunch more enemies along the way, players get to the final battle.

But first the Sages and I had to defeat the Demon King’s Army. After that, we had to fight a reinvigorated Demon King Ganondorf. After knocking out his health bar entirely, Demon King Ganondorf enters a second phase with a much larger health bar. Comically larger.

Demon King Ganondorf fights unlike any other enemy players have encountered in the game, introducing a number of attack patterns tied to his ability to switch weapons mid-battle. Link can do some damage with a Flurry Rush attack, but it requires dodging two hits before being able to strike. Demon King Ganondorf can literally break your depleted heart containers during the battle, decreasing your max health. It is really cool to see the game introduce multiple brand new gameplay mechanics at such a pivotal moment.

With his massive health bar nearly half depleted, Demon King Ganondorf incapacitates the Sages, leaving it up to Link to defeat him. Matt Mercer’s excellent voice acting performance elevates the epic final battle. After a few more rounds of varied attacks, I was able to defeat Demon King Ganondorf once and for all, but he did the unthinkable, tearing his Secret Stone from his head and eating it.The draconified Demon King emerges from the Depths of Hyrule as the Demon Dragon with Link clenched in his teeth for one last battle.It should come as no surprise that the Light Dragon shows up to knock Link from the Demon Dragon’s clutches to kick off a final showdown featuring two dragons and a series of sweet jumps. At the end of the battle Link stabs the Demon Dragon in the center of its Secret Stone setting off the largest explosion ever witnessed in the kingdom of Hyrule.

With the evil defeated, Link and the Light Dragon are transported to another realm. Link’s robotic arm begins to glow as King Rauru and Queen Sonia appear behind him. With their powers combined, the Light Dragon is transformed back to her human form. Zelda appears asleep, and as Link nods off they both reappear back in the real world. Plummeting to their deaths! This gameplay sequence is just one last cherry on top for the masterpiece that culminates in both Link and Zelda landing safely in a nice pond.

Very Nintendo

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is a celebration of an era of development at Nintendo. It truly felt like producer Eiji Aonuma and his team dumped every cool idea they ever had on the table and made it a reality on Nintendo Switch. Long-time fans of the series will absolutely love the conclusion to this story of Zelda and Link of Hyrule, and completionists will have hundreds of hours of gameplay with so very many things to do.

Players all over the world continue to share ideas for wacky Ultrahand builds while speedrunners continue to shave off seconds trying to perfect their runs. The game is truly what the player makes of it.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is not a perfect game, but it gets so many things right in ways that outshine its blemishes. Nintendo has built its most expansive open world and eloquently paired it with a wonderful narrative that concludes in tremendous fashion.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom has lived up to the high expectations created by the success of Breath of the Wild with its exquisitely intertwined gameplay systems, outstanding music, and a legendary story culminating in a magnificent denouement. It’s not every day that such a special video game like this comes around. Truly the stuff of legend.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is available exclusively on the Nintendo Switch platform.

Shacknews Most Improved Game of 2023 – Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed

Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed blasted onto consoles back in 2022, and since its release, the team at IllFonic has taken what was already a great experience and made it even better. From multiple bug fixes and new cosmetics to new story and ghosts, a lot of love has been poured into the game over the past year.

A whole lot of excellent games have won the Shacknews award for Most Improved Game. Titles like Destiny 2, Sea of Thieves, and Cyberpunk 2077 are some that have gone from stormy waters to smooth sailing, and though Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed hasn’t had the same type of woes, the game has nonetheless managed to go from strength to strength over the course of 2023.

Back when Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed first launched, Shacknews’ Greg Burke praised the game in his review, noting that fans of asymmetrical games will have a great time. He also applauded IllFonic and the whole team, “This is IllFonic’s best game they’ve ever made.” But Burke looked to the future and imagined a world where Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed would receive ongoing updates: and that vision came true.

IllFonic has provided continued and ongoing support for Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed in the form of numerous patches to fix bugs as well as comprehensive DLC releases. All the fun kicked off in early 2023 with the release of the first piece of DLC that added a new map for players in the form of The Facility as well as a new ghost: Muncher.

What came after were three more DLCs that added maps S.C.Y. County Courthouse, Venue, and Galway Station; new ghost variants in the form of Watcher, Possessor, and Overlord; as well as a slew of cosmetic options, collectibles, ghost bounties, loadouts, a Nintendo Switch port, minion types, and so much more. The real kicker is that all of this content has been completely free.

IllFonic has given the playerbase so much to enjoy over the past year. The team has been building upon the solid foundation of the base game and has delivered one of the best Ghostbuster experiences ever. With all of these improvements and new additions, it’s clear why Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed has won the Shacknews Most Improved Game of 2023 award. Congratulations, IllFonic.

Be sure to read over the rest of the Shacknews Awards in our Year of the Games: 2023 feature.

Shacknews Best Co-Op Game of 2023 – Baldur’s Gate 3

Ask anyone that’s played a session of Dungeons & Dragons to tell you about their favorite moments and they’ll regale you of the epic adventure they went on with some of their closest pals. They’ll talk about intense battles, hilarious stuff-ups, and the difficult decisions they had to make. Somehow, the team at Larian Studios managed to replicate this sense of adventure and camaraderie with Baldur’s Gate 3. We’re proud to say it has earned the Shacknews award for Best Co-Op Game of 2023.

Baldur’s Gate 3 is essentially Dungeons & Dragons the video game. Players can either use one of the pre-made characters or create their own. This is where the fun really kicks off as you and your pals craft your individual hero, deciding their background, what sort of class they’ll be, what proficiencies they might have, and so much more. From this point on, your band of merry adventurers will be doing everything they can to survive, thrive, and hopefully save the world.

As an RPG game, Baldur’s Gate 3 gives players multiple choices when dealing with NPCs with different outcomes depending on how you handle the situation. While the player that instigates the conversation has the final say, all the others can cast their vote on what they hope will be said. This is where the allure of co-operative play comes in: being able to either listen to the pleading of your teammates or ignore them in favor of taking a path you want.

When it comes to dealing with monsters and rapscallions, you and your buds will need to engage with the game’s turn-based combat. Players and enemies will take turns to move a certain distance and perform a certain number of actions. You’ll be working together to protect one another’s weakness and enhance everyone’s strengths – which is why the character creation process is so important. There’s this fantastic push and pull as you try to keep yourself alive, defeat a tough enemy, while also ensuring your friends make it out unscathed.

What Baldur’s Gate 3 continually gets right during the adventure is giving the co-op group moments where important decisions must be made. Much like a D&D campaign, your group will naturally pause to think and discuss, to talk through these big decisions and weigh the outcomes. The game fosters an environment of honest discussion as you gather together to dictate the fate of Faerun.

Though the game has a serious narrative with a rich tapestry of characters and emotional stories, it’s also just wildly funny and enjoyable. It’s never afraid to dip into the surreal and bizarre, and oftentimes the hilarious co-op moments happen when everything goes sideways.

There were so many fantastic co-op games released this year, but Baldur’s Gate 3 stood head-and-shoulders above the rest. If you haven’t already, gather a group of friends and embark upon the unforgettable adventure found within the winner of Shacknews’ Best Co-Op Game of 2023 award.

Be sure to read over the rest of the Shacknews Awards in our Year of the Games: 2023 feature.

Shacknews Most Overlooked Game of 2023 – Octopath Traveler 2

Octopath Traveler 2 is not only one of the best RPGs of the year, it’s one of the best games overall. The JRPG sequel follows a new group of eight protagonists, once again letting the player choose from eight different starting points. Unlike its predecessor, Octopath Traveler 2 finds clever ways to weave together the stories of its protagonists, creating memorable narrative moments and bonding them in a way that actually makes them feel like a party of adventurers, not just a group of individuals.

In a year where Square Enix also released a very action-heavy installation in the Final Fantasy series, Octopath Traveler 2 shows that the studio still has all the chops when it comes to tradition, turn-based JRPG experiences. The combat in Octopath 2 is simply superb, with each character having unique weapons, spells, and abilities that provide advantages of certain enemy types.

There’s a deep level of strategy to composing your party, managing items, and juggling everything that your enemies throw at you. Octopath Traveler 2 sneakily has some of the best boss fights in a year full of great ones, and the 2D-HD art style continues to enhance the experience at every turn. In any other year, Octopath Traveler 2 would be receiving way more flowers, but alas, 2023 is an unprecedented year for video games.

Be sure to read over the rest of the Shacknews Awards in our Year of the Games: 2023 feature.

Shacknews Best Art Style of 2023 – Lies of P

We’ll be honest. Many of us here at Shacknews are still reeling over the fact that there is a Soulsborne-style game with the classic fable of Pinocchio as its foundation. We’re also amazed it was so freaking good and beautiful from head to toe. Lies of P may have struck us bizarre at first, but it quickly won our hearts, and a notable portion of that lies in the incredible world Pinocchio traverses as he attempts to save his humans and put down a robot frenzy.

Lies of P’s city of Krat looks like it could have been yanked right out of the sketchbooks and concepts at FromSoftware. It’s a moody city bathed in Victorian steampunk and alternate universe technology. It’s actually quite incredible to see it for what it is by the time Pinocchio arrives. It was the apex of robot technology, mass-producing “puppets” that served mankind… up until they went into a frenzy and started killing their masters. In every nook and cranny of the city, that technological prowess was on display, and bathed in the blood and death of the Puppet Frenzy.

Lies of P is a game that bleeds cool when it’s not being fascinating. NEOWIZ did an incredible job with its weather effects and how they boost the scenery. Case in point, there’s a spot early in the game where you break out of downtown Krat to a cliffside pass that leads up to Krat Hotel. From the cliffside you can see a vista that leads up to where the hotel overlooks its own cliff, with clouds swirling, rain falling, and lightning striking behind it. It was a scene that stuck with us as an early point of breathtaking beauty in the game.

In dead cities beneath Krat, in the cathedral of the old city, and in the Krat Puppet Factory, there is a wealth of further beautiful scenery that belies the dark secrets of the city. The grave sins the city committed to be the bastion of technology seep out of its dark corridors and give it such an incredible tone of mystery that we couldn’t help but be entranced.

There are plenty of reasons to love Lies of P. Its combat is incredible, as is its weapon combination system, and its bosses are punishing, yet awesome. Even so, the sheer beauty of its moody world can’t be denied. If you get nothing else out of Lies of P, take heart in the fact that you’ll be in for at least a beautiful stroll as you dig through its story. That’s why it gets our Shacknews Best Art Style of 2023 award.

Be sure to read over the rest of the Shacknews Awards in our Year of the Games: 2023 feature.

Shacknews Best Remake of 2023 – Resident Evil 4

When it comes to Capcom, the team developing Resident Evil remakes simply do not miss. Resident Evil 4 is a titanic achievement, securing Shacknews’ first ever 10. There were so many incredible remakes released in 2023, but as part of our deliberations for this award, we could not stop circling back to Resident Evil 4.

Originally released in 2005, Resident Evil 4 changed the landscape of what players would come to expect from a Resident Evil title. It fused together the creepy threat of the Umbrella Corporation and high-octane action with a main story and plenty of side quests. Cut to 2023, and Capcom has delivered a perfected game that captures the essence of the original while lifting the experience.

Visually, the Resident Evil 4 remake is a treat. It stands leaps and bounds ahead of the 2005 release and sits on par with the recent remakes from Capcom’s catalogue. But advancements to the game are more than just in the visual realm, the developers have enhanced nearly all areas and even added in some new treats for fans.

Take, for instance, the president’s own daughter, Ashley. In the original, dealing with Ashley was somewhat of a chore, but in the remake she grows as a person, becomes more resilient, and can actually aid Leon on his adventure. Leon is no slouch either, now able to parry attacks and even repair his trusty knife as well as use a host of new weapons.

As mentioned in the opener, the Resident Evil 4 remake was the first 10 given to a game here at Shacknews and TJ Denzer had nothing but high praise. “The story is not only refreshed, but improved, and the shifts and added details will likely delight fans of this series as much as they delighted me,” Denzer wrote in his review. “Moreover, New Game+ and all sorts of other unlockables after the credits mean we’ll all be likely playing through this one over and over again.”

Capcom somehow managed to take the perfect experience of the 2005 title and elevate the experience. The developers stripped away the archaic things that no longer worked and added in new and exciting twists for fans and newcomers alike. There could be no other option this year as Resident Evil 4 stood out as the most deserving of the Shacknews Best Remake of 2023 award.

Be sure to read over the rest of the Shacknews Awards in our Year of the Games: 2023 feature.