It’s the end of August, which means that you are probably just now wrapping up your Tears of the Kingdom questlines, and you’ve finally gotten your Blanka in Street Fighter 6 into the Master rankings. That’s good because the busiest video-game release season is just around the corner. Triple-A studios are prepping its major statements for the holidays, and in 2023, that means we’ll all soon be playing long-gestating follow-ups to cult classics, elevated superhero sagas, and what might very well be the strangest video game Nintendo has ever released. Hell, even Cities: Skylines 2 looks thrilling. There’s some extra life in the video-game industry, which continues to surprise us.
Baldur’s Gate 3 (PC, macOS, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and Series S)
You could technically purchase a copy of Baldur’s Gate 3 back in 2020. The long-awaited sequel to one of the most storied PC franchises was initially released while the game was still in active development with Larian Studios slowly piecing together the design in plain view of all diehards. The journey has finally come to an end, which means the world at large will finally get up close and personal with Larian’s one-of-a-kind magic in its finished state. The studio has a way of devising genuinely interactive strategy games with a strong emphasis on player creativity. Is a bad guy standing in a puddle? Let your druid unleash a lightning bolt, and see what happens. Is the floor painted with blood after your latest clash? Freeze it with an ice spell, and force your enemies to fight on unstable ground. Grognards have been waiting for a Baldur’s Gate sequel since roughly 1998. Trust me when I say it’s in good hands. Out now for PC. Out September 6 for macOS and Playstation 5. Xbox release TBA.
Mortal Kombat I (PS5, Xbox Series X, PC, Nintendo Switch)
If you have not been keeping up with the Mortal Kombat lineage (and I can’t blame you for that), the last game, 2019’s Mortal Kombat 11, was positioned as the final chapter in an arc NetherRealm has been building on for over a decade. The multiverse collapsed in on itself, gods have become mortals, the entirety of the MK canon is reordered while the credits roll. But, of course, it wasn’t a “fatality” for the iconic fighting-game series, just a reboot. Mortal Kombat 1 features all of your favorites in slightly different flavors, kicking off another blood-soaked venture through time and space. (Kung Lao, Liu Kang, Raiden, and Scorpion are all ready to do battle. It’s 1998 all over again.) Mortal Kombat 1 is also adding “Kameo Fighters,” which players select before a match to later tag them in for devastating Marvel vs. Capcom–style assists. I greatly look forward to watching half my health bar disappear while enduring the wrath of Johnny Cage. Out September 14.
Payday 3 (PS5, Xbox Series X, PC, Linux)
Payday is the world’s foremost bank-robbery simulator. You and your friends are the disreputable members of a heist gang with questionable allegiances to one another. Your approach is up to your discretion. Go in loud with Heat–like bravado? Opt for a smoother, undercover Ocean’s 11 approach? Doesn’t matter because it’ll probably go horribly wrong either way. Payday 3 is arriving a decade after the previous game in the series, and it looks to be much prettier than its predecessor with gunplay polished to a mirror shine. Will it hold on to the daffy chaos of a stickup gone wrong? Will I laugh and scream when someone accidentally triggers the alarm and we’re cornered by a SWAT team? Here’s hoping. Out September 21.
Assassin’s Creed Mirage (PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, Xbox One, PC)
Since 2017, Ubisoft’s venerable Assassin’s Creed series has essentially functioned like an RPG. Our enemies have levels floating above their heads, which can only be destroyed with weapons of progressively more lethal damage tiers. These games, starting with Origins, were a rewarding reinvention of a franchise that needed a fresh infusion of juice, but for this year’s model, Ubisoft is going back to the Xbox 360 well. Mirage stars exactly one character, the beloved Basim, in a totally linear story. Players will go from story beat to story beat, exploring bespoke, self-contained arenas of bloodshed, harkening back to a more legible era of open-world design. (Remember “levels”? I miss levels.) Ubisoft is hard at work on other Assassin’s Creed follow-ups that will take cues from the series’ Witcher–esque vintage, but I expect Mirage to be a nice respite from all the min-maxing. Out October 5.
Forza Motorsport (Xbox Series X and Series S, PC)
Casuals like me tend to prefer Forza’s Horizon spinoffs to the main Motorsport racing series, games that switch out some of the gearhead fussiness — adjustable sliders for tire pressures and drag coefficients and whatnot — for a gorgeous realm of peaceful, open-world racing. However, this hard reboot of the core series has me intrigued. All of the wild customization options are still in place, you can still go to the user store and download a custom Sonic the Hedgehog decal for your 911 Carrera, and given how successful the Horizon games have been at expanding the Forza footprint, I expect a few of those casual-friendly instincts to bleed over into the mother series. Out October 10.
Spider-Man 2 (PS5)
If you need more evidence that it’s the Spider-Verse and we’re just living in it, Sony has put Miles Morales on the cover of its forthcoming Spider-Man 2 alongside Peter Parker. The first game played it fairly safe, sticking to the “classic” Spider-Man story we’re all familiar with. Peter was still a kid — early in his web-slinging career — and very much in love with Mary Jane. He dispatches a host of standard villains of the day across a 20-hour adventure, saving New York in the closing moments. (Dr. Octopus was positioned as the Big Bad, but you still found time to fight off Vulture, Rhino, and Electro.) Now, though, he’s sharing the spidey spotlight. The sequel is going to allow players to toggle between both Miles and Peter with the press of a button, and each of them will have their own unique tasks to complete. Personally, I’m incredibly curious to see how Sony adjusts to a generation that has chosen Miles as their No. 1 Spider-Man. Out October 20.
Super Mario Bros. Wonder (Nintendo Switch)
With the success of The Super Mario Bros. Movie, you’d think Nintendo would follow up with new a straight-down-the-middle 2-D Mario game to capitalize on the blockbuster. Instead, Nintendo’s delivering Super Mario Bros. Wonder, which looks to be one of the oddest games in the history of the company. We’ve seen exactly one trailer from the forthcoming Switch exclusive, and in it, Mario gets deliriously, oppressively high. No, seriously. He consumes some sort of blue magic flower, and all hell breaks loose. Green pipes wriggle around like worms. Glitter streaks through the sky. A herd of stampeding sheep knocks the level-ending flagpole out of the ground. It’s total chaos. Mario has always possessed a stoner-lite subtext. We are talking about an Italian plumber who stuffs his face with conspicuous mushrooms. But in 2023, Nintendo is finally leaning all the way in. Out October 20.
Cities: Skylines 2 (PS5, Xbox Series X, PC)
Cities: Skylines was one of those games that didn’t necessarily need a sequel. Paradox Interactive has released an ungodly amount of supplements for the marquee city-builder since its release in 2015 to go alongside a huge number of community-derived mods. So it’s not too surprising that the follow-up is drilling down to the very guts of the Skylines system in search of reinvention. All of us amateur urban planners will possess more agency in the way we fine-tune our residential, commercial, and industrial districts. At last, “mixed-use” has become part of our architectural vocabulary. I’ve got high hopes because, frankly, there is nothing more relaxing than a beatific Skylines campaign. Out October 24.
Alan Wake 2 (PS5, Xbox Series X, PC)
Remedy Entertainment never takes the easy way out with a bog-standard, pocketbook-lining first-person shooter. When it shows up with a new product, you know things are going to get weird. Four years after releasing Control — an outrageously meta send-up of clueless government bureaucracy — it is returning to Alan Wake, a video game that stars a haunted Stephen King facsimile whose reality is being infringed upon by all the malevolent beasties in his stories. The first Alan Wake functioned like a television serial, with cliffhangers and interstitials dotting the (admittedly underwhelming) third-person combat. Ideally, the sequel, which stars an FBI agent dispatched to investigate Wake’s disappearance, will retain all of that pulpiness while integrating some of the gameplay tricks that Remedy has picked up during his absence. Out October 27.
Persona 5 Tactica (PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch)
Persona 5 came out in 2016, and Atlus famously spends a decade — or more — in between entries of its beloved high-school soap. In the years between, fans wind up with a bounty of ephemera with the cast embroiled in a variety of inessential side stories. (There have been rhythm games, fighting games, visual novels, and so on.) However, I am excited for the potential of Persona 5 Tactica, which is adapting the Persona 5 troupe to an old-school, turn-based tactical RPG. Persona’s combat has long been its weakest link, and adding a dash of spatial organization to our screen-filling anime assaults is exactly what the doctor ordered. If Atlus keeps this format when it gets around to making Persona 6, I wouldn’t complain. Out November 17.
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