What a year for gaming. While 2022 may not have enjoyed as many AAA releases as in past years, the ones that weren’t delayed into 2023 were stellar and the indie development scene more than made up for the lack of big-budget titles. Some of our favorite releases this year came from small, ambitious teams that delivered fresh ideas. As is tradition, the Engadget team came together to extol the virtues of our favorite releases from the past 12 months.
Bayonetta 3 is a delicious amplification of the series’ most ridiculous themes. It indulges in absurdity without disrupting the rapid-fire combat or Bayonetta’s unrivaled sense of fashion and wit. Bayonetta 3 is joyful, mechanically rich and full of action, plus it allows players to transform into a literal hell train in order to take down massive beasts bent on destroying the multiverse. Bayonetta elegantly dances her way through battles, dropping one-liners and shooting enemies with her gun shoes in one moment, and turning into a giant spider creature the next.
The Bayonetta series just keeps getting weirder, but that doesn’t mean it’s losing its sense of satisfying gameplay along the way. In the franchise’s third installment, Bayonetta is powerful, confident and funny; she’s a drag queen in a universe loosely held together by witchcraft, and the chaos of this combination is truly magical. – Jessica Conditt, Senior Reporter
Sure, you’ve played Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley, Hades and The Binding of Isaac – but what if you could play all of them at once, in a single adorable demonic package? That’s Cult of the Lamb, baby.
Cult of the Lamb is part social and farming simulator, part dungeon-crawling roguelike and all-around fantastic. After being sacrificed and resurrected, you’re instructed by a grand, dark deity to start your own cult, managing worship services, agriculture, cooking, marriages, deaths and much more. You must also venture into the wilderness to battle demons and recruit more followers. Keep in mind that you’re a lamb, which makes all of this exceptionally cute.
Cult of the Lamb is a brilliant balance of satanic dungeon crawling and cult simulation, offering more action than Animal Crossing and more casual farming mechanics than Hades. Cult of the Lamb is incredibly satisfying, and it’s rich in gameplay, story and environments. Most of all, it’s cute as hell. – J.C.
There was never going to be a version of this post that did not include Elden Ring, FromSoftware's big push into open-world Berserk-inspired sword and sorcery.
Yes, there's something to be said about the earlier, more linear Souls games forcing players down a path of increasing gloom and difficulty (cue the hallmark rasping laugh of an NPC who seems to know precisely how screwed you are), how the inevitability of that experience allowed the devs to craft a bespoke gameplay loop of apprehension, frustration, discovery and the eventual reward of mastery. I love that stuff! But Elden Ring tried something new, effectively playing a shell game with those four player states, and making discovery the new initial draw.
My big "aha!" moments in Dark Souls 3 or Bloodborne arrived when I'd finally spotted a shortcut or sussed out a boss's hidden weakness. Elden Ring retained that. But what really made the good brain chemicals flow was just… roaming around. Reaching the top of some lava-ridden mesa. Or finding a way onto some seemingly inaccessible islet. The grandeur of the settings and knowledge FromSoft wouldn't make me work for a slice of geography devoid of treasures to loot and dudes to hack apart made the effort worthwhile.
Some fans adore the limited palate of Sekiro which essentially tells players, "git gud or quit." Call me a bad gamer (accurate) but I prefer the maximalism and flexibility that Elden Ring brought to the table. Want to grind until every boss is trivial? How about a hitless all-remembrances run? Either, and anything in between, is valid. Allowing for challenge and accessibility makes Elden Ring a beautifully executed twist on the formula FromSoft has been honing for nearly 30 years. – Avery Ellis, Senior News Editor
Sometimes, games you were once really looking forward to playing just sneak past you at launch. That’s totally true of Ghostwire: Tokyo, a game from Tango Gameworks, which also created the underrated horror game The Evil Within and its sequel.
Ghostwire: Tokyo is different to those, though. It’s often… funny. Sure, there are grotesque Japanese folklore monsters and creepy faceless men-in-suits to hurl magic at, but there are also ghosts trapped in toilet cubicles that need a few extra rolls of toilet paper, or park trees that need to be magically cleansed for nearby spirits to feel at ease. You play through a first-person perspective, using elemental attacks, charms and a spiritual bow and arrow set to take down an array of spirits that have invaded a substantial patch of central Tokyo. If you’ve heard the game described as Yakuza, but with ghosts, well, it’s a completely different kind of game. But the beautifully rendered buildings, interiors and streets definitely hit similar notes. Due to a supernatural attack on the city, you won’t bump into any other humans, pretty much through the entire campaign, which adds an eerie air to the entire game. It’s either ghouls trying to kill you, or spirits that need your help to move on.
The main game is short but punchy enough. It feels like a game that was banking on DLC to round out a lot of the more ambiguous plot questions players might have, but it’s uncertain whether that will ever happen. It’s still a fun supernatural game that takes a different approach to horror, with some mind-bending set pieces that bring some of the more imaginative parts of games like Control into the neon-lit streets of Tokyo. And who doesn’t want to be stalked by hundreds of paper eyeballs? – Mat Smith, UK Bureau Chief
When I was first introduced to Kratos, the God of War, he was on my PS2, taking a stroll along a Cretan wharf, casually tearing a few Minotaurs in half. Things only went downhill from there. For a full three mythos-crushing game installments, things only went downhill from there. I mean, by the end of GoW III you had to dig pretty far down the Pantheon talent list to find a surviving deity.
But when we were reintroduced to Kratos on the PS4, we were not given back the pale ball of vengeful fury and barely-contained ultraviolence that we had grown to know and love. This new one was, well, not softer but at least not quite so hard-edged as before. This was a Kratos with bad knees who old-man grunted when he stood; a Kratos with a son he struggled to connect with but still reared in a dangerous and unforgiving world, demi-god or not. This was a more relatable Kratos, one that had aged alongside the gamers that inhabit his form in the intervening console years, with concerns and motivation beyond most efficiently chain slashing his way through enemy hordes.
I think a big part of what made God of War the Game of the Year in 2018 was that progression away from thinly-veiled plot points serving as excuses for more blood, boobs and button smashing; and towards a more mature, measured examination, not just of Kratos’ relationship with Atreus, but the larger theme of how to process familial loss, its accompanying grief, and to move forward from the pain.
Ragnarok is both an affirmation of Kratos’ reformation and a lodestar for the future of the God of War franchise. I’m not going to spoil the rich and nuanced multi-arc-with-just-a-hint-of-time-travel storyline for those who have not yet played but it, in my opinion at least, is the best written of the series. This is a game with cutscenes you’ll want to sit through. Combine that with well-paced skill-adjustable action, huge maps packed with treasures and secrets, an expansive supporting cast and star-studded voice acting – not to mention a menagerie-worth of mystical wildlife just begging to be torn limb from limb – and you’ve got yourself one of the best games of 2022. — Andrew Tarantola, Senior Reporter
Sony’s first-party studios have generally done sequels right, and Horizon Forbidden West is no exception. The first game had one of my favorite narratives, as protagonist Aloy learned what happened a thousand years prior to bring about the mysterious world she (and the player) inhabit – one where mankind lives in relatively primitive tribes trying to stay safe from giant animal-like machines run amok.
Forbidden West delivers even more of what worked in Horizon Zero Dawn. Aloy remains a steadfast, righteous and occasionally stubborn protagonist who continues to grow as she uncovers more secrets about the world around her while fighting a totally unexpected force bent on destroying Earth as she knows it. The twists of Forbidden West don’t quite match the first game’s reveal of how the world we know evolved into the world Aloy inhabits. But the narrative is still rich and complex, and the new parts of what was once the American southwest that you get to explore are rendered in stunning detail. It’s one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played.
As with any good sequel, combat and traversal around the world have been refined – there are more weapons than ever, and you can customize them to match your play style or the particular enemies you’re facing. Melee combat against humans and machines alike has also been significantly upgraded, and new items like a grappling hook and hang glider make getting around quicker and more fun. And nearly all the machines from the first game return, along with some colossal new enemies that present a massive challenge, but also a massive bit of satisfaction as you figure out their weak spots and systematically take them down.
I think my favorite new thing of Forbidden West, though, is the relationships you build with your friends. In the first game, Aloy is mostly a lone wolf, occasionally partnering with people here and there but mostly doing things on her own. In Forbidden West, though, you establish a posse of capable and likable companions, some old and some new, all of whom bring something different to the table in your massive quest. Trying to fend off the end of the world feels just a little bit easier when you have friends by your side. – Nathan Ingraham, Deputy Editor
With Immortality, indie game director Sam Barlow has delivered a tribute to the surreal films of David Lynch, with a dose of Hitchcock for good measure. Similar to Her Story, it's also entirely about scrubbing through video clips, except this time it involves footage from three unreleased genre films spanning several decades. Your job? To figure out what happened to the actress Marissa Marcel.
Geared more towards cinephiles than mainstream gamers, Immortality can be frustrating if you're not operating on Barlow's wavelength. But if you're a fan of surreal cinema, and you enjoy diving into behind-the-scenes footage, it's a game with endless rewards. The mystery will get you started, but the spooky atmosphere and excellent performances will keep you hooked. – Devindra Hardawar, Senior Editor
After getting burnt out on Hearthstone a few years ago, and superhero movies more recently, the last thing I expected to hook me in 2022 was a comic book-themed collectible card game. But then the fine folks at Second Dinner released Marvel Snap and it quickly became my favorite time waster. Because a match lasts less than five minutes, you can easily play a round during commercials, while waiting for the train, or in the bathroom (I’m not judging). And while decks cap out at just 12 cards, there’s a surprising amount of depth with a huge variety of effects and counters. Meanwhile, thanks to appearances from lesser-known characters like Hell Cow, Devil Dinosaur and the Infinaut, the game has prompted me to learn more about Marvel lore than any of the movies ever did. So even though the game is a little barebones at the moment (the only mode is a basic ranked ladder but more features are on the way), Marvel Snap is sure to be a game I continue playing long after I’ve forgotten about whatever happened in the latest Spider-man movie. – Sam Rutherford, Senior Reporter
What do you do when you love speed running and score chasing, but you're generally not very good at it? You play Neon White.
Like all good games, Neon White is simple to learn, and difficult to master. The basic ask is that you vanquish every demon from a level and head to a finish marker. It plays like a fast-paced first-person shooter, with the complexity coming from your weapons, which are cards that can either fire or be spent for a special movement or attack ability. The real challenge comes from the scoring system, which grades you based on the time you took to complete a level.
There are just shy of 100 levels, all begging to be learned, repeated and perfected. Despite its first-person shooter visuals, it plays out more like a cross between Trackmania and a platformer. You'll quickly turn that bronze medal into a gold, and then an "ace" that is supposedly your ultimate target. Then you'll see the online leaderboards and realize you've left some seconds on the table. Then you'll randomly achieve the secret red medal on a level, say "oh jesus" and realize that there's a whole hidden tier of perfection for you to attain.
The trick is that everything feels smooth, and fast. From my first gold medal time up to the top-ten-in-the-world run I showed my pretending-to-be-interested friends, every time I turned on the game I felt like a master, inches away from perfection. There are multiple paths through each level, ridiculous shortcuts to discover, and near-infinite degrees of satisfaction waiting after every good run.
The main negative point, for me, is the story, which plays out like a visual novel. I love the genre, and had heard good things about the game's characters, but found the narrative overly slow and just generally dull. There is mercifully a "fast forward" button, and once you've played through everything, a level select screen that lets you jump right into the action.
Despite its storytelling, and a couple of overly long levels that had me gnashing my teeth, Neon White was easily the most fun I had with a game this year. I played on Switch and PC, but a couple of weeks ago it landed on PlayStation as well, and I imagine I'll be starting up a new campaign and playing it all over again soon.– Aaron Souppouris, Executive Editor
Most of the time, single-player narrative-driven games are where I spend most of my gaming time. But once a year, I come across a game like OlliOlli World that I can play for minutes or hours at a time because the gameplay is just so satisfying. The goal in OlliOlli World is simple: become a skateboarding god. You do that by progressing through five worlds, each of which has a dozen or more individual stages, each with a wildly unique course to traverse.
Unlike the earlier games in the OlliOlli series, World is a bit more forgiving at first. It’s much easier to pick up and start pulling off wild moves and combos than ever before. But it’s still fiendishly challenging – if you want to beat every challenge, you’ll need lightning-fast reflexes and the mental stamina to change up your tricks and moves constantly. But once you get fluent in the game’s mechanics, you can enter a flow state where you’re just making moves purely on instinct.
The level and character design in OlliOlli World only enhances this effect. Like the earlier games, each of the five biomes has its own unique characteristics, but in all cases the levels are extremely colorful and interactive, with tons of eye candy and bizarre creatures hanging out in the background. And you can customize your character with clothing and items you pick up for completing challenges, letting you express your personal style in a huge variety of ways. There are also competitive aspects, like the daily challenge where you compete against nine other skaters to post the top score in your group. And every time you visit a level, you’ll see a “rival” score to try and beat. There’s always something pushing you to skate even better in OlliOlli World. – N.I.
Overwatch is my second favorite game of all time. Despite sharper, faster-paced gameplay, some much-needed quality-of-life improvements and the free-to-play shift I've wanted for years, Overwatch 2 isn't quite at that level yet. It's too rough around the edges.
The monetization changes felt like a gut punch. In fairness, many of the high-end skins cost around the same as what you'd pay for outfits in other major free-to-play titles. But newcomers now need to pay up if they want cosmetics that have been in the game for six years – items that veteran players were able to earn for free only a few months ago. Players also need to pay for the premium battle pass, grind through the free tier or wait until it's easier to unlock new heroes in later seasons before getting access to the latest characters.
And yet, Overwatch 2 has a hold over me like no other game. It's still the best multiplayer title around, with a rich lore, a wonderful cast of characters and a colorful aesthetic that helps it stand out from many other games on the market. The ping system is an excellent addition for accessibility, and the four new heroes that have joined the lineup since launch are all a blast. Some of the major hero reworks, especially the Orisa one, have been a resounding success.
As much as I enjoy the game as it is now, Blizzard has laid the foundations for an even more exciting future. Next year will bring long-awaited, story-driven co-op missions to the franchise – until now, we've only had a taste of those during seasonal events. After getting a sneak peek at some of the stuff that's on the way to the PvP side in the next few seasons, including a new core game mode and the season four hero, I can't see myself putting this game down anytime soon. – Kris Holt, Contributing Reporter
Rollerdrome is lush. It’s incredibly stylish, taking cues from 1970s Hollywood sci-fi but with an attractive cel-shaded filter over every scene. Even better than its stunning visuals, Rollerdrome has smooth, precise mechanics that allow players to fall into a flow in every level. The game is all about gliding through the environments on rollerblades, picking up speed and doing tricks while dodging and shooting enemies, managing weapons and controlling time – and it all comes together in a thrilling dystopian bloodsport.
It’s a joy to dodge, dodge, dodge and then leap into the air, slow down time and take out the people shooting at you, refilling ammo and collecting health in the process. Meanwhile, an unsettling story of corporate greed unfolds naturally beneath the rollerblading bloodshed, keeping the stakes high. Rollerdrome was a sleeper hit of 2022, so if you’ve been napping on this one, now’s the time to wake up and play. – J.C.
When I fall in love with a game, it’s the setting that gets me, which maybe explains why I wandered around Fallout 76’s Appalachian wasteland long after most people had left – I wanted to live there. I want to live in the futuristic city where Stray takes place too, but since I’m neither cat nor robot, I wouldn’t be allowed. In the game, you play a standard orange tabby with no special abilities, apart from those given to most felines like agility and jumping prowess. Through a mishap, you find yourself trapped in a domed city populated exclusively by amiable humanoid robots, and you eventually team up with a small drone that lets you “talk” with those androids.
To find your way back to your cat family outside the city, you solve puzzles, fight mutant bacterial blobs and generally follow your curiosity. The cityscape is a gorgeous, multi-level cyberpunk playground that feels a little less hardcore than Cyberpunk 2077’s Night City, with plenty of woven rugs to scratch and pillows to nap on. In fact, scratching, napping and otherwise doing cat stuff not only unlocks achievements (I was particularly proud to earn the one for getting a paper bag stuck on my head) they’re also integral to the game.
As my colleague Jessica Conditt said in her review, Stray is “downright joyful.” By leaning into the cat premise, it creates a whole new gaming perspective – you can’t do stuff humans can do, but you can do stuff cats do, like shimmying through small holes and jumping on pipes and bookcases. Living 12 inches off the ground for the cumulative eight hours or so it took me to play the game, I finally understood why cats want to jump on top of everything. The view is just better up there. – Amy Skorheim, Commerce Writer
A ton has been said about how The Last of Us Part I is a remake of a game that was originally released for the PS3 and then remastered a year later for the PS4. (Oh, and it’s coming to PC in early 2023, too.) So, it’s not exactly an essential release if you’ve played it before. But for people who may have heard about the upcoming HBO show and want to know what all the fuss is about – or anyone who loved Joel and Ellie’s journey the first time – this PS5 version is the definitive way to experience this story.
The game has been entirely rebuilt from scratch, and it shows in everything from the ruined post-pandemic cities and surprisingly tranquil forests and mountains to the detail found in collectibles around the world. Most crucially, though, the facial animations are simply stunning. Everyone you encounter, whether a lead character or an NPC you only see once, looks amazingly detailed and realistic. Of course, that means the hordes of infected humans hunting you are even more disturbingly detailed than ever, as well.
The updates aren’t just skin deep, either. Enemies are smarter and more cunning than ever, thanks to developer Naughty Dog using the upgraded AI system they implemented in 2020’s The Last of Us Part II. Humans are more aggressive about flanking you and a lot easier to lose once they find you, while the Infected are even better at hearing you trying to sneak by. There are a host of other updates, big and small, perhaps the most important of which is a massive suite of accessibility features so that almost anyone can give this game a shot.
What hasn’t changed is the story and script – but that isn’t a problem, given that The Last of Us was already well-known for its outstanding performances and plotting. The debate on whether or not The Last of Us Part I was really “necessary” will likely continue, but don’t spend too much time thinking about it. If you’ve never played the game before, this is the way to do it. And if you’re like me and play it every year or two, this is the best way to do so. – N.I.
How do you write about a game that’s best experienced without expectations? That’s the challenge of saying something meaningful about Tunic. You can speak to its influences – primarily The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, with a dash of Soulslike combat – but that doesn’t do the game justice. Worse yet, it fails to capture its appeal. I could also mention its haunting soundtrack by Lifeformed and Janice Kwan or the austere beauty of its art style. But again that’s not quite what makes Tunic so special.
I’m being purposefully vague because to say more would be to rob the game of its magic. So I’ll leave you with this: It’s fitting Tunic casts you as a cutesy fox because the game has a knack of making you feel so clever anytime you work through one of its many mysteries. Do yourself a favor and try to play this one without turning to the internet if you run into a roadblock. On the other end is one of the most rewarding gaming experiences in recent memory. – Igor Bonifacic, Weekend Editor
As a longtime fan of the SRPG genre, no game in the last decade has managed to evoke classics like Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre more than Triangle Strategy. I admit it’s a bit of a slow burn and it gets a bit text-heavy, but with multiple endings (including a New Game+ mode), a deep roster of characters and rewarding turn-based combat, this game has it all. And thanks to its art style, which masterfully blends old-school sprites with a modern 2.5D approach, this game looks and feels like a love letter to those all-time greats of the late 90s. If you’re a fan of tactics games, Triangle Strategy is a must-play. – S.R.
I had such good intentions for my Steam Deck. I swore I'd use it to get through my Steam backlog and stream a bunch of games from Xbox Cloud Gaming and Stadia (RIP). Sure, I do those things, but only on the rare occasion I can rip my attention away from Vampire Survivors.
It is a rudimentary-looking game with very basic controls. You'll face hordes of monsters, but because your weapons autofire, the only real control you have is using the thumbstick or touch controls to move your character. You'll need to carefully juke away from some enemies while getting close enough to kill others and pick up the experience gems they drop. After you collect enough gems and level up, you’re able to select another weapon or powerup.
This is where many of the game's intricacies come in. You'll get a random selection of weapons and power-ups to choose from at every level, as well as the ability to make your items more powerful. If you find the right pairings, you can evolve weapons into ultra-powerful forms. Vampire Survivors is the perfect distillation of the power fantasy. Flesh out the right build and you'll carve through bosses that once seemed unbeatable like a lightsaber through ice cream.
This game begs you to keep coming back. Since it debuted in early access last December, developer Poncle has frequently updated the game with more characters, weapons, items and levels. Part of the joy is in building different loadouts that can demolish enemies with ease. Vampire Survivors also shares some DNA with casinos. There's an explosion of color and some upbeat, tension-filled music whenever you open a treasure chest, along with a delightful chime whenever you grab a gem – you will hear that a lot. These aspects don't exactly make it easy to put the game down.
I love my Steam Deck. I love Vampire Survivors. Together, they have a toxic hold over my desire to play other games. I could simply uninstall Vampire Survivors from my Deck, but, really, what's the point when I can just play it on my phone now? – K.H.
For a while in 2022, a word game brought the world together. Because it’s the same puzzle for every single player each day, Wordle was a giant inside joke amongst solvers across international boundaries. At Engadget, for example, London-based Mat Smith could give me hints or laugh at my inability to guess a word he got.
I also loved sharing and seeing the little blocks that showed how many tries it took us to solve the word. It was a chance to both bond and brag – the perfect gaming experience. Plus, whenever a word was controversial, whether it was spelled in US or UK English, for example, I loved the inevitable debate that would result. In 2022, Wordle gave us an elevated form of watercooler conversation fodder, but for the entire world.
Although technically launched in 2021, Wordle found widespread popularity in 2022. It was born from software engineer Josh Wardle’s desire to make a word game for him and his partner Palak Shah to play together. But it was when the user base expanded beyond his family to encompass the entire globe that Wordle took on a life of its own.
Countless iterations were spawned, building on the format and name… which itself was based on Wardle’s last name. You may have seen examples like Heardle, Worldle, Squirdle, Absurdle and more, using the puzzle’s format for us to guess songs, countries and other subjects. As always happens with anything popular, hundreds of websites published guides to beating the game, while scores of clones popped up in the Android and iOS app stores, hoping to cash in on the fever. Wardle later sold the game to the New York Times for an undisclosed sum that was reported to be in the low seven digits, and soon, just as quickly as the fever started, the game’s popularity subsided. Thanks to Wordle, we all may be leaving 2022 just a little bit savvier about the most common letters and words in the English language. – Cherlynn Low, Deputy Editor
Getting into a new role-playing game series can be hard sometimes. This is especially true when you’ve allied yourself with a certain studio or series – and we are into double digits in the Trails series, not to mention the juggernaut that is Final Fantasy. It’s trickier to reorient yourself to completely new gameplay dynamics, series in-jokes that fly over your head and just, well, things being different.
That means I’m late to playing critically acclaimed RPGs – I have to be in the right mindset. So how did Xenoblade Chronicles 3 weasel its way into my heart? I think it’s because I was told by several people, both gaming critics and friends, that it was a perfect entry into the series, regardless of whether you’d played its predecessors. They weren’t wrong.
It’s a nice game to approach with a blank slate because it goes through around three different tonal gear shifts before you entirely know exactly what the heck is going on. While I don’t want to ruin the anime-nodding plot twists, several of which you will see coming from a mile away, the game starts with a sci-fi, steam-punk high-concept scenario. Teen warriors on two factions are pitted against each other, waging wars with mechs, but also close-range weapons. It turns out direct kills are the only way to leech their enemy’s life force, building up a store in their base’s “flame clock” and ensuring a squad’s survival. They have to fight, to live.
Noah and two of his allies clash against Mio and her retinue, and after the battle ends in a draw – and I get to enjoy a slick, anime-styled battle movie between all six – the fates conspire to ensure this is your group of warriors, and only they can save the world.
With a wide range of classes to wield and master, as well as the ability to add a guest warrior to your squad pretty much any time throughout the game, battles initially seem chaotic, but I soon got attuned to the rhythm. Defenders will coax enemies into targeting them, allowing your heavy-hitting attackers to wail on them from the side or back – positioning is crucial. Meanwhile, your healers will ensure your defender doesn’t fall and amp up damage either with area-specific skills or targeted attacks on enemies. Also, your epic, charge-them-up-in-battle Interlink attacks are accompanied by such a high-energy soundtrack, it’s hard not to feel like a hero.
There are some big pacing problems in places, and when you get the ability to combine with your allies and form powerful Evangelion-esque avatars, you wonder exactly what can stop them at times. But it’s a vast adventure with several compelling side quests to fill out your time in Aionios. Annoyingly, it’s won me over – and I have since downloaded the original Xenoblade Chronicles (and its sequel) to play in 2023. – M.S.