Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos courtesy the studios.
The first quarter of every year serves as a landing spot for holiday-season spillover. Games that were targeting the Christmas window inevitably get delayed further into winter, which means that early months are suddenly studded with major, triple-A milestones. 2023 is no different. By March, a brand-new Zelda game will be whirring in our Switches, to say nothing of the first major Bethesda RPG in nearly a decade and whatever Blizzard is cooking up with Diablo 4. So expect a jam-packed season of gaming after a slightly fallow 2022. Plan your vacation days accordingly.
It won’t be easy. Hogwarts Legacy is entering a world that has become increasingly unfriendly to anything that bares the J.K. Rowling name due to the author’s shameful, legacy-sullying transphobic sentiment. Rowling has retained her paramount control over the Harry Potter brand throughout the controversy, but Hogwarts Legacy found itself embroiled in its own behind-the-scenes turmoil when the pro-Gamergate YouTube channel of the project’s director, Troy Leavitt, resurfaced in 2021. (Leavitt has since left the studio.) All of this means that Hogwarts Legacy, releasing in February, will enter this world with a lot of baggage. That said, the culture has been waiting for a good Harry Potter game — not a wallet-mining mobile trap, not a mercenary movie tie-in — for decades. Hogwarts Legacy appears ready to fit the bill, with a fully rendered Hogwarts and a whole bevy of wizardry fantasy. At last, a chance to pound butterbeer in Hogsmeade, mix potions in the musty cellars, and secure the password to the Hufflepuff common room to prank the nerds. It’s an uphill battle, but hopefully Hogwarts Legacy can overcome its context. (One hopeful note: The game’s character creator allows for a ton of gender fluidity, which I’m sure annoys at least one über-wealthy license holder.) Out February 10.
The first Company of Heroes game, released during the real-time-strategy boom of the mid-aughts, totally reinvented the mechanics of combat management. You were no longer sending a horde of mindless drones into battle, hoping that they would grind the enemy down through pure attrition like, say, StarCraft or Total Annihilation. Instead, the troops under your mouse in this World War II story possessed a basic war-fighting acumen. They scurry into cover, engineer flanking positions, watch their blind sides, and never — never — stand around like sitting ducks. The series fell into obscurity in the 2010s, but the RTS magicians at Relic Entertainment are resurrecting Company of Heroes for (hopefully!) a renaissance in February. This time we’re conquering Italy and North Africa, and ideally, the multiplayer servers will be percolating once more. Out February 23.
The original Kerbal Space Program was one of those miraculous, left-field indie hits. The game was a hard-core space simulation with Pixar aesthetics; you headed a rocketeering program in a land populated by pale green gremlins, which means you experimented with a wide swathe of astroneering parts to find, once and for all, a spaceship design capable of taking you to the moon and back. Along the way, you’d condemn countless of those gremlins to their doom in various spacefaring accidents (explosions, free falls, and, worst of all, low-orbit incarceration), and the sequel promises even more of that hilarious panic. More parts, more planets, and most important, a totally revamped graphical pedigree. Yes, Kerbal Space Program 2 can actually look beautiful at times, which means that all of the money the first game made is paying off. See you on the dark side of the moon. Out February 24.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order did almost everything right. It was a spare, lonely Star Wars tale that expertly melded Dark Souls–ish bob-and-weave swordplay to the lightsaber in your holster. Some of its best flourishes — the AT-ST fight in particular — have been permanently imprinted on my brain. Unfortunately, the game was also completely sundered by huge, flagrant technical issues that could be either hilariously unhinged fun (the floor disappearing under an army of stormtroopers) or legitimately unforgivable (soft locks, corrupted save files, you know the deal). Ever since its release in 2019, the world has been waiting for developer Respawn Entertainment to take another shot with a sequel, and while we haven’t heard many details about Survivor yet, if the team can smooth over the bugs, they could have something genuinely special on their hands. This feels like a make-or-break moment for the fledgling series. Out March 15.
There is an argument to be made that Tears of the Kingdom isn’t just the most anticipated video game of 2022, but maybe the single most important Nintendo release since the Switch made landfall in 2017. Zelda games rarely go back to the well twice in a row — usually, when a new installment of the storied franchise comes around, Nintendo happily swaps out the grounding fiction and gameplay motifs for whatever they’re currently drawing inspiration from. That makes Tears of the Kingdom a once-in-a-generation outlier. This is a direct sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which itself radically switched up Nintendo’s tried-and-true Zelda formula, departing from a series of enticing (but linear) clockwork dungeons to one of the most unshackled open-world experiences ever laid to code. Tears of the Kingdom aims to elevate that experience even further, empowering more of those superb miracles of exploration that made Breath of the Wild such a joy. Can Nintendo pull it off? Who knows, but after five long years of development, I can’t wait. Out May 12.
It is high time for Capcom to come up with a modern fighting game, and it looks like it’s getting mighty close to that goal with Street Fighter 6. The control scheme, formerly reliant on complex joystick maneuvering, has been squared down to a system that is far friendlier to casuals. (Yes, even your mom can throw a Shoryuken now.) Capcom is also breaking ground on what can only be described as a Street Fighter metaverse. Your avatar will wander a gigantic fantasy arcade — the Chuck E. Cheese of your dreams — where you can challenge your friends over and over again without needing any supplementary quarters. If it all comes together, Street Fighter 6 should replicate the community warmth that is so crucial to any fighting game’s longevity. We’ll see you in the arena. Out June 2.
Blizzard’s venerable fire-and-brimstone dungeon crawler has been absent for nearly a decade, so those who have grown tired of traversing through Diablo 3 for the umpteenth time will finally earn deliverance on June 6. Diablo 4 is a decidedly uncompromising action RPG; players will be traversing an open, unbracketed world, delving into procedurally generated dungeons, and carving through a ridiculous phalanx of demons in pursuit of arms and armor that imperceptibly increase the numbers on their character sheet. This has been the core appeal of Diablo since the late 1990s, and visually, Blizzard has pitched the fourth entry as a back-to-basics homecoming. Expect blackened medieval citadels, oozing viscera, and a distinctly Christian liturgical take on high fantasy. You know, Diablo. I’d say it’s an acquired taste, but the franchise already seduced me, and millions of other players, long ago. Out June 6.
Bethesda RPGs — those mythic first-person adventures, laden with side quests and waypoints, usually set in the distant postapocalypse or the realm of Tamriel — take about a decade’s worth of development time to make. We first learned about Starfield in 2018, with the faint promise that the developer would be expanding its trusty Skyrim method to distant stars. In a few months, we’ll see if Bethesda sticks the landing. Starfield promises an overstuffed galaxy to explore; a modular, lived-in spaceship to customize; and, hopefully, the same sort of sublime world-building — rich with mystery — that encourages players to homestead within the code. Gamers have dumped thousands of hours into the rest of Bethesda’s portfolio, and when it arrives in early 2023, I hope that Starfield will be a worthy harbinger of that tradition. Out in the first half of 2023.
Many years ago, when the video-game industry was a lot smaller and simpler, we all played something called Jet Set Radio on the Sega Dreamcast. It was, essentially, a roller-skating game dripping ’tude. You’d roll around this gorgeous cel-shaded punk-rock dystopia, grinding rails, spraying graffiti, and staying one step ahead of the cops. Jet Set Radio disappeared around the turn of the millennium, but Bomb Rush Cyberfunk — yes, you read that right, Bomb Rush Cyberfunk — is the spiritual successor we’ve all been waiting for. Expect a ton of X-Treme Sports excess, a trap-heavy soundtrack, and a sense of irony-free balminess that’s been missing from the culture since roughly 1999. Bomb Rush Cyberfunk is scheduled for the summer. Perfect timing. Out summer 2023.
As much as I have enjoyed the more ponderous, RPG-tinged recent installments of Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed franchise, there is something to be said for the blood-soaked appeal of the first game. You never needed to worry about the level of your enemies back in 2007. Instead, our assassins could take down anyone on their hit list, regardless of prestige, with a single tap of a button. We never cowered in fear because the person in our crosshairs is an Elite, and our sword was only capable of dealing between 23 and 35 damage per swing. We never needed to socket our weapons with critical strike buffs before taking on a mini-boss. Ubisoft knows the appeal of a power-fantasy well, which is why the next Assassin’s Creed will celebrate those roots. Mirage is set at the height of the crusades, and it’s a single-player, linear adventure with no gear to collect or talent points to assign. If it all comes together. Mirage will recapture those ancient, Xbox 360 glory days. We’ll find out sometime this year. Out sometime in 2023.