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The lamb protagonist of Cult of the Lamb floats in a red light, above a pentagram, in the middle of a group of animal followers Image: Massive Monster/Devolver Digital

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The best video games of 2022, so far

A running list of standout games from an already impressive year

It’s that time of the year again — a period of backlog-perusing indecision as to what game to cross off our list before the rush of fall releases. Gotham Knights is just around the corner. So are Bayonetta 3, Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope, and Resident Evil Village Winters’ Expansion. Before we know it, we’ll be staring down the barrel of God of War Ragnarok, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, and Warhammer 40,000: Darktide. If ever there was a time to try out that hidden gem we’ve kept on the back burner, this is probably it.

Even so: It’s weird to even be preparing for a busy release season. Whether because of shifting release calendars, less reliance on the retail sphere, or delays from the COVID-19 pandemic, 2022 has been an odd, albeit rewarding, procession of massive AAA games punctuated by wonderful indie projects. We wandered the Lands Between. We made excruciating decisions on a space station tainted by corporate tendrils. We explored the consequences of religion and the climate crisis in an alternate-reality New Orleans. We also returned to our favorite live-service games and combed through subscription services for the next hidden gem. And we found a whole bunch of them.

So, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to help you separate the wheat from the chaff — to recommend our favorite games from the slew of ambitious titles that come out as the months go by. We’ll be updating this page throughout the year, with the most recent releases toward the top, so you can stay up to date with all of the excitement (or at least as up to date as possible). We’ll also be doing the same for the best movies, the best anime, the best TV shows, and the best science fiction and fantasy books of 2022.

NBA 2K23

Michael Jordan in his NBA All-Star uniform from 1985 to 1990 Image: Visual Concepts/2K Sports

NBA 2K23 is a landmark work in sports video gaming, the culmination of a 20-year ideal that Visual Concepts’ veteran developers have long held: Let players go back in time, rewrite it, and play their favorite franchise in days long ago. It sets a new standard for other sports developers, who have offered their leagues’ histories only in very limited ways, and certainly none as immersive as the new MyNBA Eras mode. The control players have there — whether an expansion franchise enters the league in 1988 or Karl Malone wins the MVP in 1997, both can be wiped from memory — is something you’d expect to see in a PC management simulation, not a licensed console title. And for every memory you create anew in MyNBA Eras, there is one to be relived in the museum-quality Jordan Challenge mode. —Owen Good

NBA 2K23 is available on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, along with less feature-rich versions on Windows PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.

Tinykin

The astronaut protagonist of Tiny Kin leads a group of the titular creatures in a diorama-like area in the house’s bathroom Image: Splashteam/tinyBuild

Tinykin asks, “What if Pikmin was created by late-’90s Rare rather than early-2000s Nintendo?” It’s a collect-a-thon in the vein of Banjo-Kazooie, but with the gameplay of an army-controlling series like Overlord or, yes, Pikmin. Your goal — as a bug-sized person — is to explore a human house and collect household items to create a spaceship. Sound familiar?

Tinykin’s ideas aren’t original, but the execution and visual style make it an absolute delight. The little critters you control (the titular Tinykin) help you solve puzzles with their unique abilities. But the best part of Tinykin is that it’s completely free of combat; there are no enemies or bosses to fell. Your only goal is to explore this gigantic world and collect things. The result is the most peaceful and meditative video game I’ve played all year, and one I intend to revisit the next time I’m feeling overwhelmed. —Ryan Gilliam

Tinykin is available on Windows PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.

Disney Dreamlight Valley

The citizens of the titular valley in Disney Dreamlight Valley go about their day, with characters like Wall-E, Woody, Belle, and Goofy interacting in parks and on sidewalks Image: Gameloft

Does any game from 2022 have a more cynical elevator pitch than Disney Dreamlight Valley? “Blend Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley, replace all the townspeople with beloved animated characters, and hire a major mobile game publisher to incorporate microtransactions.” So why can’t we stop ourselves from mining, fishing, and farming in a feverish effort to keep Mickey and friends happy?

It’s simple: This game has been built with a surprisingly genuine degree of care. What could have succeeded as another disposable, idle mobile game is instead a full-fledged role-playing experience that fits comfortably on consoles. Where we expected the game to zig into predatory greed, it zags with clever design and generous updates. Dreamlight Valley makes a number of quality-of-life improvements to the Animal Crossing formula, and has a calendar of new characters, including Scar from The Lion King, as well as Buzz and Woody from Toy Story. The game is still in early access, and we still worry about its business model following its official launch (we’ve been burnt before!), but right now, there’s more than enough fun in this virtual theme park to justify grabbing a ticket. —Chris Plante

Disney Dreamlight Valley is available on Windows PC, Mac, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Nintendo Switch.

F1 Manager 22

A Ferrari drives down a straight in F1 Manager 22 Image: Frontier Developments

Management simulator games come in all shapes and sizes, but none have looked as breathlessly real as F1 Manager 22. It’s the first officially licensed F1 Manager game in more than two decades, and the tried-and-true developers of the Planet Coaster and Planet Zoo series made the wait worth it.

With intricate systems for data nerds, helpful guard rails for players new to the genre and sport, and stunning visual and audio immersion (down to real radio calls from real drivers and engineers), F1 Manager 22 is a shining example of the subtly propulsive power of management sims. The attention to detail in constructing the tracks, the teams, and the systems make it well worth sinking many hours into, and I hope you join me in my quest to win Nyck de Vries a championship. —Pete Volk

F1 Manager 22 is available on Windows PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.

Rollerdrome

A person in roller skates and a red boilersuit aiming a gun, while flying high in the air, all in a cel-shaded art style. Image: Roll7/Private Division, Take-Two Interactive

Set in a fascist police state, Rollerdrome can be billed as an arena shooter set on roller skates. Others have called it “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater with guns.” I’m here to tell you that firing off a grenade launcher while coming down from a 360-rotational backflip is fun as hell, no matter what you call it.

Our eight-wheeled protagonist, Kara Hassan, is the most recent focus of a blood-sport reality show, in which skaters are tossed into arenas full of ramps, towers, and gun-toting security guards. You do tricks to gain more bullets; you spend your bullets to kill more bad guys; you enjoy the newly vacated space by doing more tricks. It’s an exciting loop that, appropriately, is meant to distract you from the wider message of it all: that entertainment, deployed effectively, can distract us from just about anything. —Mike Mahardy

Rollerdrome is available on Windows PC, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.

Cult of the Lamb

The lamb cooks some meals in the compound in Cult of the Lamb Image: Massive Monster/Devolver Digital via Polygon

In a banner year for management sims, Cult of the Lamb stands out among the pack — with a blend of roguelite dungeon-crawling, religious ambiguity, and a puerile art style that gives way to monstrous acts. It’s one of those games that, on paper, shouldn’t work. But in practice, it’s entrancingly propulsive.

As a lamb sent back from death by a captive demon-spirit-thing, you’re tasked with building, improving, and leading a cult out in the woods, with the goal of exacting revenge on the four gods who ordered your execution. You sow fields of crops, cook meals for your followers, bless said followers to gain their undivided favor, and in some cases, sacrifice them in displays of glorious violence. Between it all, you head into the wilderness on combat runs that grant you new followers, abilities, and boons to augment your cult. The result is an ouroboros-like flow of roguelite excitement and zenlike village management, all aimed at showing you what kind of leader you might ostensibly become if granted absolute power. —Mike Mahardy

Cult of the Lamb is available on Windows PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Nintendo Switch.

Bear and Breakfast

A cartoon bear standing outside a building wearing a hat in bear and breakfast Image: Gummy Cat/Armor Games Studios

You’re a bear in an abandoned forest, and you stumble upon a series of dilapidated buildings. What other choice do you have? You start a bed and breakfast for human tourists. That’s the premise of Bear and Breakfast, developer Gummy Cat’s debut adventure-and-management-simulation game.

There’s more to the woods than initially expected, and that storyline unfolds alongside the expansion of the resort — something like Theme Hospital meets Stardew Valley. Sometimes you just want a game that’s low-stress and a delight to play, and Bear and Breakfast struck that sweet spot for me several times over. -—Nicole Carpenter

Bear and Breakfast is available on Windows PC and Nintendo Switch.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 heroes entering the Alfeto Valley Image: Monolith Soft/Nintendo via Polygon

Consider the many ways in which Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a towering achievement. First, it’s a terrific conclusion to an unlikely trilogy of RPGs mostly known for their ambition and heart, one that finally makes the gameplay as satisfying as its other aspects. For those worried about time commitments, it’s also a satisfying stand-alone adventure that’s a melancholy contemplation on finding meaning in the bleakest of times. And, perhaps most poignantly, it’s the moment where game designer Tetsuya Takahashi’s decades-long quest to craft a sprawling, philosophical science-fiction saga is finally realized, long after his first attempt in 1998’s Xenogears. How lucky we are to play it. —Joshua Rivera

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is available on Nintendo Switch.

Stray

A cat waits at a bar with three humanoid robots in a screenshot from Stray. Image: BlueTwelve Studio/Annapurna Interactive

That BlueTwelve Studio could successfully capture the essence of our most baffling family of pets is a towering achievement of its own. That the developer could also wrestle catness into a dystopian adventure in a vivid, forgotten city is another thing entirely. Stray could have worked with any protagonist. But with the year’s breakout tabby star, it soars.

On a mechanical level, Stray is a platformer with light exploratory and puzzle-solving elements. There are moments of danger, as when the city’s swarms of invasive Zurks chase the feline protagonist down narrow alleys or over treacherous rooftops. And yes, the cat can die, in a video-game-soon-to-respawn sense. But the main thrust of the game is that of simply being a cat and, despite what its rug-scratching, box-toppling, furniture-destroying mechanics might otherwise suggest, being a warm, helpful presence for the abandoned androids searching for escape from their neon purgatory. —Mike Mahardy

Stray is available on Windows PC, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.

F1 22

interior view of charles leclerc’s ferrari, mid-race, in f1 22. He is in third gear. Image: Codemasters/Electronic Arts

The second installment in the series since EA acquired publisher Codemasters, F1 22 combines the simple joys of simulation racing with deep career mode options for a variety of players. It’s an immersive experience with terrific visuals that bring to life racetracks from around the world.

While issues remain with the game’s AI, the groundbreaking two-player career mode first added in F1 21 remains one of the best experiences in all of sports video gaming. I’ll put it this way: F1 22 is the game that finally got me to buy a USB racing wheel and pedals, and I have no regrets. —Pete Volk

F1 22 is available on Windows PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.

Neon White

Jumping through one of Neon White’s levels. An illustrated demon is in the bottom left corner of the screen. The level is shown in 3D graphics. The floor looks like water, and the building in the foreground looks complex, with many pillars. Image: Angel Matrix/Annapurna Interactive

If you’re furious with a friend, colleague, or significant other, there’s a chance it’s because of this game. Neon White has reinvigorated the chase for top leaderboard spots, and reinforced the importance of milliseconds, because sometimes, a millisecond is all it takes to climb one spot higher than your friend.

Developer Ben Esposito of Angel Matrix has called Neon White a “smoothie” of inspirations, one that pulls as much from friction-defying Counter-Strike surf maps as it does from gravity-defying Half-Life and Quake jump maps. Neon White is also, in a small but important way, a deck-building card game. If this is a smoothie, then it is equal parts sweet, tangy, satisfying, and also dripping down your face, because in the time it took you to read this paragraph, your friend has just beaten your score again. That Neon White can be so elegant and simple, while also imparting such strong grudges and woefully cramped wrists, is quite the achievement for a game about jumping from one platform to another. Video games are dumb as hell. Let’s go get smoothies. —Mike Mahardy

Neon White is available on Windows PC and Nintendo Switch.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge

TMNT Shredder’s Revenge screenshot Vernon location in episode 6. Image: Tribute Games/Dotemu via Polygon

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is a game that’s always buzzing.

When Foot Clan soldiers aren’t barreling by on motorbikes or in cars, they’re manning the cash register at a pizza joint before flinging themselves into the action while wielding shopping bags as deadly weapons. Shredder’s Revenge is loud and chaotic, but never so much that it’s distracting, making it an absolute blast of an homage to a series of classic games. It’s relatively short, but with seven different characters — the four turtles plus April O’Neil, Splinter, and Casey Jones — there’s a lot of value in replaying the levels and mastering each character’s moves. And while it’s faithful to its predecessors, it’s decidedly modern, with more satisfying combat against hordes of enemy soldiers and character upgrades to boot. Nostalgia may be its vehicle, but pure fun is its fuel. —Nicole Carpenter

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is available on Windows PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Linux.

The Quarry

Key art for The Quarry, featuring the cast and logo Image: Supermassive Games/2K Games

Developer Supermassive Games has carved out a space for itself by trading on horror tropes — its breakout hit Until Dawn put a group of vacationing teenagers through the wringer in a remote mountain cabin, a decaying sanatorium, and an abandoned mine shaft, before the Dark Pictures anthology jumped from a boat at sea to a creepy Midwestern ghost town to a desert tomb. And now we have The Quarry, a terrifying wilderness romp that touches on all of the corny traditions of one of America’s original horror settings: the sleepaway camp.

In keeping with Supermassive’s previous games, The Quarry puts you in control of a group of characters — in this case, nine camp counselors who are stuck at the camp an extra night — as they explore the scenery and do their best to survive when things get hairy (read: potentially lethal).

While player input is limited almost entirely to walking, binary character choices, and basic quick-time events, it’s a testament to Supermassive’s craft that it can make a search for duffel bags as compelling as a horrifying encounter with otherworldly creatures, an innocent kiss as momentous a decision as pulling a trigger. The Quarry exists somewhere between the worlds of movies and video games, and it’s remarkable for how much it mines from both. —Mike Mahardy

The Quarry is available on Windows PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.

Sniper Elite 5

A Nazi soldier, back to the viewer, stands guard in a dark, wooded area of Sniper Elite 5 Image: Rebellion Developments

It’s easy, for the uninitiated, to write off the Sniper Elite franchise as a hyper-violent Nazi-killing X-ray gore fest. It is that, yes. But it’s also a paragon for excellent level design, and Sniper Elite 5 continues that trend — in fact, it features some of the best sandbox missions I’ve ever played. They sprawl across mine-riddled beaches, bucolic wineries, and coastal chateaus, capitalizing on every chance to give you a sightline, however narrow, to the next soon-to-be-shattered Nazi skull.

This was no easy task, considering that the newest outing brings the franchise to World War II-era France, quite possibly video games’ most rote destination. But developer Rebellion Developments has found new ways to make the beaches of Normandy exciting. There are elements of IO Interactive’s Hitman trilogy on display here, as the roguish Karl Fairburne is forced to sneak into bunkers and cobblestone alleys, trading his trusty sniper rifle for a silenced handgun and close-quarters know-how. There are also abundant reminders of Arkane’s Dishonored games, with multiple approaches to every objective, ranging from non-lethal to what I can only describe as very lethal. Sniper Elite 5 has elevated an already fantastic franchise to the pantheon of the immersive-sandbox greats. —Mike Mahardy

Sniper Elite 5 is available on Windows PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.

The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe

The new content in The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe Image: Crows Crows Crows

The Stanley Parable is the most 2013 video game. You play as an office drone who steps away from repetitive days of data entry to wander the hallways of a mysterious office complex that branches like the pages of a choose-your-own-adventure book. It’s a walking simulator. It’s a satire. It’s a cheeky lampoon of video game storytelling, the limitations of player agency, and its serious contemporaries fixated on “games as art.” This is to say that The Stanley Parable was a video game about video games, from a period when the medium was at its most self-conscious and navel-gazey.

The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe is the most 2022 video game. You play as an office drone who steps away from repetitive days of data entry to wander the hall of a mysterious office complex that branches like the pages of a choose-your-own-adventure book. But then you find New Content™. It’s a requel. It’s a postmortem. It’s a cheeky lampoon of video game monetization, the artistic limitations of mining intellectual property, and its audience-tested contemporaries fixated on “games as a service.” This is to say that The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe is a video game about the culture of video games from a period when the medium has never been more powerful and mercenary. —Chris Plante

The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe is available on Windows PC, Mac, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.

Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate - Daemonhunters

The Grey Knights in Chaos Gate — Daemonhunters Image: Complex Games/Frontier Developments plc

Like Gears Tactics before it, Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate - Daemonhunters (sigh, that name) boils the XCOM formula down to its bare essentials before building it back up into something wholly its own.

Daemonhunters puts you in command of a team of Grey Knights — basically Space Marines with a strong streak of religious zealotry — as you travel around a star system on a spacefaring cathedral. You customize the Knights, outfit them with ever improving gear, and upgrade their respective skill trees in an effort to synergize the perfect murder squad and stem a spreading Nurgle plague. It’s a testament to the skill of developer Complex Games that the turn-based combat is equal parts nuanced and bombastic, and for every explosion that rattles the screen, there’s also a quiet moment of triumph as a Justicar gets to a downed teammate just in time to extract the whole team. —Mike Mahardy

Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate - Daemonhunters is available on Windows PC.

Citizen Sleeper

A scene of Citizen Sleeper’s text-based conversation system Image: Jump Over The Age/Fellow Traveller

This text-heavy, tabletop-inspired RPG feels like a cerebral, melancholic answer to the broader cyberpunk canon. You awaken on the space station Erlin’s Eye in a body that is and isn’t yours; your consciousness exists inside a humanoid machine owned by the corporation Essen-Arp. To prevent you — and others like you — from running away, you were built with “planned obsolescence.” You have to take a supplement in order to survive, and your first goal is to figure out how to stay alive. From there, the Eye opens up, revealing stories of the people there and the power struggles that govern their lives.

Pulling heavily from dice-based tabletop games, Citizen Sleeper forces players to make daily trade-offs — Do I want to repair the Ambergris, help Feng hack through the Eye’s secrets, or supply mushrooms to street vendor Emphis? — all with a limited and daily randomized set of dice. In contrast to other decision-driven games, Citizen Sleeper never makes me feel as if I’ve been “punished” for making a wrong choice. Mostly, it demonstrates how scarcity impacts decision-making — how living in survival mode means having to hedge and scrounge. As you progress, and find ways to nourish yourself, your options expand, yielding to the ultimate question: Do you stay, or do you once again escape? —Nicole Clark

Citizen Sleeper is available on Windows PC, Mac, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X via Xbox Game Pass.

Rogue Legacy 2

The heir selection screen in Rogue Legacy 2 Image: Cellar Door Games via Polygon

Rogue Legacy 2 is a celebration of heroes and their differences. Every new heir brings a unique flavor to their roguelite run, ensuring that no two outings are ever the same: One Valkyrie might utilize a pizza boomerang to slice (lol) their way through enemies, while their Ranger descendant propels itself between platforms with flatulent intensity.

In this way, Rogue Legacy 2 is unusually fresh for a roguelite, putting it among the greats like Dead Cells, Slay the Spire, and Hades. In a genre that usually asks players to follow a discrete path or develop a consistent skill, Rogue Legacy 2 encourages you to find the joy in playing as unlikely heroes against uncertain odds. It’s just as good in short bursts as it is in marathon sessions, and it never stops surprising. —Ryan Gilliam

Rogue Legacy 2 is available on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.

The Iron Oath

The Iron Oath combat screen with player characters and enemies fighting in a cavern. Across the top are small portraits indicating the turn order for the round. Image: Curious Panda Games/Humble Games via Polygon

Tiny but mighty, The Iron Oath is an early access strategy RPG that nails the basics and, thus far, builds on them wonderfully.

The main storyline is about 10 to 15 hours so far, and the writing is functional, but the combat and management are rock solid. It all takes place in an unrelenting fantasy world on the constant brink of apocalypse, and the player runs a mercenary company. This entails keeping your troops both alive and happy as they work through dungeons, save lost souls, and fight back demons. The difficulty options are modular, and the game’s UI is clear enough to ensure that anyone can get off to a running start. This is a game to watch as it develops, but the starting foundation is strong enough to support hours upon hours of tactical challenges. —Cass Marshall

The Iron Oath is available on Windows PC.

Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga

all the characters of Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga Image: TT Games/Warner Bros. Games

Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga is as much about the evolution of the Lego video games as much as it is the story of the titular Star Wars family.

What started as a simple series about pantomiming through old movie franchises has become a fully voiced epic spanning nine movies. It features hundreds of characters, along with updated combat that brings depth to what was previously a hack-and-slash formula. It’s also a charming delight that remixes some of the most iconic moments in cinema history to make them feel fresh, while still giving players a chance to play the famous Death Star trench run for themselves. For children just getting into Star Wars or the Lego games, The Skywalker Saga is a smorgasbord of colors and magic, ensuring oohs, aahs, and giggles on every level. But for their parents who grew up during a different generation of Star Wars and Lego games, it’s a thrilling adventure nonetheless, and it does far more than simply leverage nostalgia. —Ryan Gilliam

Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga is available on Windows PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Nintendo Switch.

Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands

Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands class guide header Image: Gearbox Software/2K Games via Polygon

With Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, it feels as if Borderlands’ developers are finally comfortable letting go, and the results speak for themselves. Wonderlands is a joyful romp through tabletop-RPG-inspired worlds, with seemingly minor tweaks that create huge ripples in the series’ “Diablo meets guns” formula. You can combine two disparate character classes, traverse a board game-style overworld, and pour dozens of hours into the phenomenal “Chaos Chamber” endgame. Through it all, Gearbox is willing to acknowledge that we’re not here for a script, or even a coherent narrative, and it leans into that sentiment with an appropriately scattershot story — it doesn’t take itself so seriously that it sacrifices unpredictability, joy, or the satisfaction of mesmerizing, well-earned loot. —Mike Mahardy

Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Windows PC.

Norco

An industrial cityscape with an ethereal Gatsby-like face in Norco Image: Geography of Robots/Raw Fury

Norco stands out for a lot of reasons: It’s a beautiful, honest portrayal of southern Louisiana, an inventive and dystopian science fiction story, and a sharp criticism of the oil industry’s blight. Created by Geography of Robots, Norco is an interpretation of Norco, Louisiana — the real town whose name stands for the New Orleans Refining Company, home to Shell’s manufacturing complex. As a point-and-click adventure, Norco unravels slowly as the main character, Kay, returns to her childhood home following her mother’s death. It’s all at once a magical realism story with mystery elements, yet still firmly rooted in a sense of reality — not an easy blend of genres to balance. The writing and simple environmental puzzles, together with a unique mind-map mechanic that acts as a character list and mental notebook, lend to a fast-paced story that still leaves room to stop and take in all of the poignant weirdness. —Nicole Carpenter

Norco is available on Mac and Windows PC.

Tunic

Some games thrive on meaningful obfuscation. Tunic is one of them.

There are echoes of Myst, The Witness, and the original Legend of Zelda in developer Andrew Shouldice’s action-adventure outing. It has also drawn myriad comparison to 2012’s Fez, a game which also deployed its own unique written language to confuse, entice, and ultimately steer players toward its largest overarching secrets. Its combat can become cloying — especially during later boss fights — and its level design doesn’t always allow for the most leisurely backtracking. But its willingness to trust the player’s intelligence, patience, and most of all, thirst for discovery make it a masterful adventure in its own right. —Mike Mahardy

Tunic is available on Mac, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.

Elden Ring

Elden Ring guide: Rune farming locations Image: FromSoftware/Bandai Namco via Polygon

Numerous games have tried to emulate the explorative wonder of 2017’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but Elden Ring is the first game to truly succeed. With a landscape that will take years to fully decipher, it is every bit the kind of game we’ve come to expect from developer From Software: mysterious, impenetrable, and ultimately rewarding. But its open-world trappings reframe much of the brutality of those games, and don’t detract from their challenges, but rather, encourage incremental progress over brute force. It’s not uncommon to get lost in a far corner of the map for a dozen hours, only to return to a previous challenge as a completely new character, with stronger powers and newfound wisdom at your disposal. This game is a marvel. —Mike Mahardy

Elden Ring is available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.

Destiny 2: The Witch Queen

Destiny 2: The Witch Queen Legendary campaign image Image: Bungie

Destiny has been through a lot since 2014: rocky release days, a global pandemic, and a sale to PlayStation, to name a few of its many obstacles. So it’s almost a miracle that, eight years along, Destiny 2: The Witch Queen is the best thing to ever happen to the series. With a new campaign, a new location, new weapons, and new powers, it’s more Destiny, to be sure. But it’s also Destiny without the qualifiers, or the conversations that are spoken with not a small amount of yearning: “Imagine how good this would be if Bungie did X, Y or Z?” Bungie has spent the past few years building on the potential of its massive experiment, and with The Witch Queen, it’s finally paying off. —Ryan Gilliam

Destiny 2: The Witch Queen is available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Google Stadia.

Lost Ark

Four characters face off against a monster in Lost Ark Image: Smilegate RPG/Amazon Games

Lost Ark is an impressive feat. Its outstanding class design and excellent ARPG gameplay would already be enough to set it apart from many of this year’s games, but it’s also a content gold mine. Originally launched in Korea in 2019, then adapted for release in Europe and North America this year, the MMO launched with fantastic endgame content right out of the gate (a rarity for the genre). And while Lost Ark’s already extremely rewarding in its own right, developer Smilegate RPG is promising more endgame content and new classes in the near future. It seems as if there’s still an exciting road ahead. —Austen Goslin

Lost Ark is available on Windows PC.

Strange Horticulture

A note on the table in Strange Horticulture, outlining another potential clue Image: Bad Vikings/Iceberg Interactive

In Strange Horticulture, you sell plants. Though the plants may look ordinary, they’re anything but: There are plants that make people brave, and others that lure them to their death. Some are meant to increase focus or poison your enemies. It’s a simple game that’s executed with the utmost attention to detail. In running this plant shop, a strange, occult story unfolds through customer gossip and plants found via an in-game map. Strange Horticulture is short — it took just over five hours to complete — but it was one of the more impactful games I played this year. —Nicole Carpenter

Strange Horticulture is available on Windows PC.

Total War: Warhammer 3

The Tzarina wades into battle against the forces of Khorne in Total War: Warhammer 3 Image: Creative Assembly/Sega

There are ambitious games, and there are ambitious games. Total War: Warhammer 3 is the latter. Its map is bigger than those of its predecessors combined, and it launched with eight fantasy factions, each stranger and more grandiose than the last. It’s also exceedingly weird, and refuses to rest on its laurels as the strategy trilogy wraps up, instead pushing the envelope wherever it can.

And now, it’s also introduced us to one of the grandest, most ambitious projects in all of video games (I’m not joking) with Immortal Empires, an expansion that combines all three maps and every playable faction from the entire trilogy. It all but redefines what it means to be a “sandbox” video game, with emergent storytelling that sees nations clash, leaders betray one another, and a massive world unfold, even outside of the player’s gaze. —Mike Mahardy

Total War: Warhammer 3 is available on Windows PC, Mac, and Linux, and via PC Game Pass.

Horizon Forbidden West

Aloy perched on a wood beam high above a misty river valley in Horizon Forbidden West on PS5 Image: Guerrilla Games/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

The sequel to 2017’s excellent post-apocalyptic Horizon Zero Dawn is already one of the year’s best. Horizon Forbidden West takes so much of what made the first game great, and gives players more to work with: more settlements, weapons, and traversal options. It starts a bit slow, and can take a while to introduce some of its more creative gadgets — but it gets better and better as you unlock more tools for your arsenal. By the end, Aloy can glide off mountains, swim the deepest seas, and explore American landmarks along the west coast. This game’s gorgeous open world feels like a gift, and it’s easy to sink hours into exploring every gorgeous corner. Meanwhile, the character writing and world-building convey a civilization well worth saving. —Nicole Clark

Horizon Forbidden West is available on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.

OlliOlli World

a skate crew standing in an OlliOlli World level Image: Roll7/Private Division

OlliOlli World, by Roll7, is fast-paced, colorful, and a real challenge — a gorgeous celebration of skateboarding and its culture. It’s also goofy and perfectly earnest, too, with more similarities to Adventure Time than Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. In one moment, I’m doing a stalefish grab over aliens dancing in their underpants, and in the next, I’m racing a bear in a tube on a river. Though it’s fun and silly, it’s also very hard; to excel, you must master precision-based flicks and button pushes that test your limits. —Nicole Carpenter

OlliOlli World is available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Nintendo Switch.

Dying Light 2

Dying Light 2 beginner’s guide, tips, and tricks Image: Techland

The immersive payoff in Dying Light 2 Stay Human requires a rather stiff time investment. The plodding story pacing isn’t helped by some of the reversals and outright nullifications that can happen later, either. But the game’s first-person parkour and combat gameplay are stand-up delights. However much time you choose to spend in the vast, locked-down city of Villedor, you won’t be bored by any of it. And, as a role-playing game, Aiden Caldwell evolves into a fascinating and powerful character, thanks to multiple storyline branches, decisions that have irrevocable consequences, and two perk trees that make his athletic capabilities even more exciting to see, let alone do for yourself. —Owen S. Good

Dying Light 2 is available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.

Vampire Survivors

Enemies swarm the player character in Vampire Survivors Image: poncle

Vampire Survivors is a simple game, but it shouldn’t be dismissed. Hiding behind its retro graphics and cheap price is one of the most gripping games in years. There’s only one method of input in Vampire Survivors — movement — and it’s your goal to survive for 30 minutes while picking up weapons that automatically attack for you. My whip slashes nearby enemies every second or so, and my character lobs axes on a set timer. During each run, I choose new upgrades from randomized pools, combining them with other items to create the optimal build that’ll help me survive until the end. I’ve completed countless runs already this year, and I’ve unlocked all the new tools I can. But Vampire Survivors is one of the only games that keeps me playing just for the sheer fun of it, “wasting” 30 minutes every night as bigger and more sprawling games pass me by. —Ryan Gilliam

Vampire Survivors is available on Windows PC, Mac, and via web browser.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus

riding wyrdeer over a river Image: Game Freak/Nintendo, The Pokémon Company

To say that Pokémond Legends: Arceus was a long time coming would be an understatement. In fact, I’ve fully embraced the Dunkey joke that this is actually the second Pokémon game ever made. It gracefully streamlines so many of the series’ tedious aspects (the mere act of catching Pokémon in real time is now satisfying as hell) that it’s a wonder Game Freak hasn’t tried this before. It’s also the first game in which I actually care about filling out the Pokédex, complete with each creature’s challenges and research tasks. It feels less like a hamfisted series of turn-based battles, and more like a contemplative, sometimes terrifying adventure into the wilderness to sate my collector’s appetite. —Mike Mahardy

Pokémon Legends: Arceus is available on Nintendo Switch.

Nobody Saves the World

overworld combat in Nobody saves the world Image: Drinkbox Studios

Nobody Saves the World is a bizarre little video game, but it has left an indelible mark on my psyche. It’s a game all about shapeshifting — unlocking new powers to build yourself into the perfect weapon for the job, or a very specific tool needed to solve a single puzzle. It’s about exploration and experimentation. It’s funny and interesting, and, above all else, it’s deeply clever. In a year filled with so many big games, the size and grind of Nobody Saves the World seems small. But great things often come in small packages, and I won’t be forgetting Drinkbox Studios’ latest anytime soon. —Ryan Gilliam

Nobody Saves the World is available on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X through Game Pass.

Wordle

A photo of Wordle running on an iPhone Photo: Michael McWhertor/Polygon

Like Animal Crossing: New Horizons before it, Wordle’s biggest strength is its communal power. By offering a simple word-guessing puzzle that refreshes every 24 hours, it allows us to celebrate, complain, pontificate, and ultimately rejoice about one very specific and ultimately harmless thing per day, whether on social media or at the neighborhood bar. It has become a sort of lightning rod for heated discussions and considerate arguments alike. It has made me feel insufferably smart one day, only to remind me that I am, in fact, extremely dumb the next. It has also single handedly reignited my family’s text thread. Who among us will ever forget the day they encountered the word “vivid?” —Mike Mahardy

Wordle is available via web browser here.

Final Fantasy 14: Endwalker

A cast of characters in Final Fantasy 14: Endwalker stands side by side and gazes out across a blueish, ethereal abyss Image: Square Enix

The expectations for the first expansion after Shadowbringers were high, but Square Enix still managed to deliver. Endwalker was meant to wrap up Final Fantasy 14’s main story arc, but it does so much more than that. It expands on characters we already loved, provides context for things I didn’t realize we needed, and reminds us that, despite how bleak things may seem, there are reasons to stay hopeful.

Endwalker continues to make Final Fantasy 14 a perplexing game. I want to keep recommending it to people because the expansions (especially the recent ones) are so good and pay off so well, but nobody wants to be recommended a game that takes 100 hours to beat. However, if you are somebody who does have lots of time to spare, I can’t recommend Final Fantasy 14 enough, especially with Endwalker factoring in. —Julia Lee

Final Fantasy 14: Endwalker is available on Windows PC, Mac, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.

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