I was warned of how heated Kotaku’s GOTY arguments traditionally get when I first started here in November, so I was a little nervous when I was put in charge of organizing and tabulating our list of the best games of the year.
Would everyone vote? Would they get mad at me for ranking Destiny 2: The Witch Queen too high? Would Ethan Gach actually do what he was threatening and “hobgoblin” the voting process by adding negative points to the equation?
Turns out, however, that even though organizing this entire process was a pain in the ass, the team at Kotaku is exactly as opinionated, intelligent, and professional as you might expect, offering great insight and honest takes on the top games of 2022. Though we voted on over 20 titles (including ones that narrowly missed this list like Rollerdrome and Sifu) we narrowed it down to a top 10, and have ranked them in order below.
How does Kotaku’s top 10 games of 2022 stack up with your personal GOTY lists?
10. Xenoblade Chronicles 3
Reductively, Xenoblade Chronicles 3’s story is an amalgamation of Japanese RPGs whose emotional climax rests on the age-old theme of “war is bad.” Nevertheless, the fact that the trope has become a well-trodden cliché doesn’t dismiss how well developer Monolith Soft executes its anti-war theme throughout Xenoblade Chronicles 3’s 150 hours of playtime.
In Xenoblade Chronicles 3, you play as a troupe of child soldiers from warring nations locked in an endless battle where their limited lifespans fuel a giant mechanical clock once they meet their untimely demise. The kids are not alright. But despite the painful emotional journey its child soldiers must go on, which is portrayed with the emotional maturity and complexity it deserves, the game is not without some great moments of levity as well, courtesy of some lighthearted and silly sidequests. Meanwhile, Xenoblade’s more serious sidequests drip-feed players with rich character studies that flesh out each member of the party, along with the game’s expansive world and its deep cast of supporting characters.
Although Xenoblade Chronicles 3 was snubbed for the best roleplaying game and best soundtrack at Geoff Keighley’s Game Awards, it did give us an impassioned flutist performance from Pedro “Flute Guy” Eustache. This shows that even if Xenoblade loses at gaming’s glorified popularity contest, it still provides some of the best moments in gaming this year.
Isaiah Colbert, Staff Writer
Much like how I use Devil May Cry 5 as the measuring stick for how good a hack-and-slash game is, whenever I brave playing a survivor horror game I do so with the hope that its story measures up to Silent Hill 2. Big shoes to fill, I know. Signalis not only manages to fill those shoes, it damn near tore the seams off of them joints with how bloody good it was. I’d even argue that it’s better than Silent Hill 2.
Signalis has all the bells and whistles that make for a good sci-fi survival horror game. It’s got a brutal-but-fair limited inventory system, brain-teasing puzzles, and breadcrumb storytelling conveyed through codex entries scattered about its levels. However, where Signalis sings is with its gripping story about two lesbian androids desperately trying to find each other in a space hellscape.
Throughout the game, you play as an android named Elster who’s stranded on an alien planet rife with horrific monsters and derelict spaceships. Elster’s sole mission is to reunite with Anne, a fellow android unit she both literally and figuratively can’t live without. Signalis sticks its landing with the emotional climax of Elster’s perilous journey, regardless of which of the game’s multiple endings you arrive at. This feat is even more impressive considering Signalis is the first video game made by its two-person development team, rose-engine. Ay yo, 2023, can we get some more of those sapphic survivor horror vidya games, plz?
Isaiah Colbert, Staff Writer
Norco emerged this year and joined Kentucky Route Zero and a few others on the shortlist of games that speak deeply to the experience of living under late-stage capitalism in America at this precise moment in time. Like Cardboard Computer’s masterpiece, Norco also takes its cues from point-and-click adventures, using stunning pixel art to pull us into its industrialized Louisiana landscapes. And where KR0 lent its midwestern road trip a heaping helping of magical realism, Norco uses near-future sci-fi elements to cast the forces its poor, marginalized characters face in sharper relief.
But don’t let my easy comparison make you think Norco is a pale imitator of another game. It’s very much its own remarkable experience, one with its own visual identity, its own poetic voice, and its own noir-ish mystery. Everything about Norco rings painfully true, from its observant little environmental details like the electrified hum of a street light, to the much larger way that religion, cryptocurrency, and the oil industry all become woven together in the haunting texture of your character’s search for her missing brother. Norco, Louisiana is a real place. The Norco of this game is not quite that place, but it’s nevertheless one that feels very real in its own way, and that will leave you reeling from the piercing gaze it levels at the world we’ve made for ourselves.
Carolyn Petit, Managing Editor
7. Horizon Forbidden West
Poor Aloy. Twice now, her adventures have been somewhat overshadowed at the time of release by other games that more dramatically captured the world’s attention. Her first outing, Horizon Zero Dawn, launched just a few days before Breath of the Wild. This year, her second quest was followed a week later by Elden Ring.
But despite repeatedly serving as the opening act for games that go on to sweep the GOTYs of a hundred gaming sites, Guerrilla Games and Aloy can be proud of what they’ve accomplished. Arguably the most visually stunning game of the year, Guerrilla’s latest takes Aloy into the ruined American west for more of the thrilling, spectacular battles with hulking metallic beasts that helped make the first game an original in a sea of samey open-world blockbusters. And although the larger narrative may fly a bit off the rails in this outing, Forbidden West wisely stays focused on Aloy’s personal journey as someone who feels the weight of the world on her shoulders and doesn’t know how to let her guard down and allow her friends to carry that burden with her. It complicates her character and trusts us as players not to turn on her the moment she behaves in ways that are arrogant, cruel, or misguided. Oh, and you get a really sweet new travel option near the end of the game, too.
Yes, when all is said and done, Aloy and her escapades can stand tall alongside the Links and the myriad Tarnished of the world.
Carolyn Petit, Managing Editor
6. Neon White
It was about 3 in the morning. I had plans the next day. I really needed to go to bed. Yet, here I was hunched over my computer focused on shaving just one more second off a level in Neon White so I could beat a friend on my leaderboard. That’s the power of fast-paced, FPS platformer Neon White. It’s the kind of game that feels so good that you just can’t stop playing it. Once you get skilled enough to start finding shortcuts in levels, it’s over–the game has you at that point. You’ll end up going back to old levels you thought you mastered to shave off more time. And if you enjoy anime nonsense, angels, demons, and sick-ass music, too, then Neon White will dig its angelic claws deeply into you and never let go. “One more run…and then I’ll go to bed.” I didn’t get to sleep that night until nearly 4:30 am.
Zack Zwiezen, Staff Writer
5. Citizen Sleeper
The profane and sacred mingle with delicate grace in Jump Over The Age’s minimalist cyberpunk RPG about trying to earn your humanity from a world that can’t pay its debts. Every detail from the writing and art to the branching choices and tabletop-inspired dice rolls connect, overlap, and reinforce each other with precision and care so that no piece is weaker than the rest and no rough edge is left exposed. Few games manage to evoke universal feelings or personal truths, but Citizen Sleeper does both at the same time. The future never felt so hopeless and yet so comforting.
Ethan Gach, Senior Reporter
4. Marvel Snap
Going into 2022, I don’t know how many people expected a free-to-play Marvel card game designed for phones to end up being one of the best and most popular games of the year, yet, here we are. Second Dinner’s fantastic bite-sized card battler, Marvel Snap, really is one of the best digital card games out there right now thanks to its small decks, fast rounds, and random nature. Matches always feel different and even a loss doesn’t sting too bad because it’s over so fast. Sure, it’s still a free-to-play mobile game, so you can expect stuff like iffy over-priced bundles and having to grind for currency. But luckily Marvel Snap is so fun to play that it’s pretty easy to overlook those bits and enjoy one of 2022’s best games.
Zack Zwiezen, Staff Writer
3. Vampire Survivors
One more run. A sentence I’ve repeated countless times in 2022 either in my head or quietly aloud to justify playing Vampire Survivors for just a little while longer. The gothic roguelike shoot ‘em up became a surprise smash hit while spawning worthy spiritual siblings like 20 Minutes Till Dawn.
Since Valve started releasing the data in August, Vampire Survivors has been tops in total hours played on Steam Deck month in and month out. This is the same Steam Deck that can run frickin’ Elden Ring! But people want to play Vampire Survivors instead!
All those players are onto something, Vampire Survivors has a simple yet satisfying gameplay loop: your character (I’m partial to Peppino) must survive an ever-growing horde of ghoulies while choosing between randomly generated weapons. If you make it to 30 minutes, the reaper will come calling, which lets you spend coins on power-ups for future runs. You can be strategic in choosing weapons that complement each other or you can just try shit out! These elements of discovery, relentless isometric top down action, and Vampire’s lax attitude towards player death (it has zero impact) remind me a lot of Hades, another regular on that Steam Deck most-played list, and another GOTY contender from years past.
Vampire Survivors’ developer Luca Galante/poncle has regularly been updating the game since it left early access, adding modes, quality of life improvements, and settings to tweak for extra replayability. What’s more, the game recently got its first full-fledged DLC the other week with Legacy of the Moonspell. With the base game retailing at five dollars ($4 under the current Steam sale), Vampire Survivors makes for one of the better bang-for-your-buck propositions in gaming. Go ahead and treat yourself to some floor chicken.
Eric Schulkin, Video Lead
2. God of War Ragnarök
Sony Santa Monica’s God of War Ragnarök is more of everything. More abilities and weapons. More enemies and locations. More characters and plot details. Hell, even more loot. Though you could interpret this as a knock against the game, especially since more isn’t always better, Ragnarök takes the “more” and deftly applies it in tasteful ways while making room for a compelling narrative and gameplay experience that’s enjoyable and immersive. Combat is crunchy, exploration is intriguing, dialogue is captivating, and the themes are deep and engaging. But what stands out as the glisten on the diamond is the character development between daddy Kratos and adolescent Atreus, an element that sees the co-protagonists finding common understanding in the face of the end of the world. Sometimes, it takes things falling apart for empathy to be reached, and God of War Ragnarök is a glowing example of just that. It’s good shit.
Levi Winslow, Staff Writer
1. Elden Ring
Are you surprised? Elden Ring easily and inevitably took the top spot during our voting process, further proving that 2022 was the year of Elden Ring. Many Kotaku staff members ranked it as their number one game of the year, and for good reason. FromSoftware’s open-world epic feels like a giant leap forward for the Souls-like franchise, offering us a beautifully deformed and dangerous Lands Between to explore, rife with opportunities to discover oddities, collect goodies, and die over and over again.
Elden Ring opened up Hidetaka Miyazaki ’s sick, twisted world for the normies who haven’t enjoyed FromSoft games before it, while also making sure to still cater to the hardened vets looking to prove their worth in incredibly tough battles. It found a perfect balance between that punishing gameplay so many long for in a game from this studio and a newfound sense of agency, of a chance to get gud without having to run into the same noxious swamp over and over again.
Elden Ring is technically impressive, visually stunning, and satisfyingly challenging. It has humor, it has sadness, it has turtle popes. It dashes your hopes up against a jagged rock only to hand you hope back bit-by-bit as you strengthen your character and your resolve. It is everything that we hope for in a video game, and then some.