There have been a lot of great games this year, but two titles stand out above the crowd.
2022 might have been a year for increased delays on some big titles, like Starfield, Hogwarts Legacy, and The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, but this doesn't mean that it didn't produce some great games as well. In fact, it's almost good that some heavy hitters set for next year didn't come out in 2022, as the competition may have been too stiff for them to shine.
Enough about 2023, though, we're looking at the year just gone, and it was a great one for video gaming. From surprise breakout hits like Stray, to the sequels that managed to match the great expectation gamers had for them like A Plague Tale: Requiem.
Sadly, I haven't had time yet to play all the great games that released in 2022, but in reality, a lot of the Game of the Year discussion has become centred around two titles only, with them being Elden Ring and God of War: Ragnarok. From the start of the year, these are the two games that everyone thought would be battling it out to take home the most awards, and unsurprisingly, they have ended up doing just that.
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Before we get into which title takes home the Game of the Year, there are a few honourable mentions in order. Firstly, Stray has to be recognised for its worldbuilding, interesting gameplay, cute cat, and for proving you don't have to pay upwards of £70 to have a great game nowadays. Then, there's Sifu, which reeled me in with its unique aging concept and kept me playing for hours as I eventually worked my way up to fighting corridors of enemies without taking a hit.
Right, with those out of the way, let's take a look at Elden Ring and God of War: Ragnarok. By now, you've probably read everything there is to read on these two games, so I won't dive deep into how they work and what makes them great, but I have to say choosing between the two of them is quite difficult, as their goals are entirely different.
Elden Ring, on the one hand, is a fantastic game in the traditional sense of what a game is. From the moment you step into Limgrave, you see the castle you'll have to approach and the eventual goal of that big shining tree in the distance. The fun is all in how you take on that journey, the weapons you use, and the gear you equip yourself with to survive the Lands Between.
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God of War: Ragnarok, on the other hand, does allow for some gear and weapon changes, but it instead does not rely on the player to make as much of the game as possible. Instead, there is a decent amount of what some might call "hand-holding" in Kratos' latest outing, but this doesn't necessarily detract from the experience. I found that there were one or two times where Atreus or Mimir may point out the answer to a puzzle before I'd stumbled upon it, but in most cases their dialogue was often helpful in finding things I was just about to sprint away from.
God of War: Ragnarok also shows you its story. It wants you to be engaged in the fight against Odin, whereas Elden Ring doesn't need you to really know why you must become Elden Lord, only it's something that must be done. Again, this isn't saying which is better, only that the two do have significantly different approaches in being a game.
So, the question then becomes how do we decide which is better? Well, it seems best to see how well each of them succeeds at doing what they set out to do. Elden Ring is a simple triumph of the open-world genre, and it has managed to bring FromSoftware's extremely rewarding style of gameplay to its largest audience yet. It gives players an almost endless amount of build options and ways to play, with a world that is gorgeous even when it's trying to kill you.
However, even with all this, Elden Ring is still a great point of debate on two major fronts: its late-game, and its difficulty. Tackling the latter of these options is like walking on thin ice with eggshells on top, as one wrong move and I'm mocked for thinking the game is too tough to beat. Elden Ring is not too hard, even with ridiculous fights like Malenia and the Fire Giant, its difficulty can be adjusted through Spirit Ashes, but therein lies the problem.
There are now purists who believe using spirit ashes is a great blasphemy, and those who just want to enjoy the game. For those who do want to solo every boss, this created somewhat of an unfair experience, as it seemed the late-game enemies were almost designed to be fought two-on-one.
Elden Ring's late game is also an issue, as it grants a huge power spike to enemies out of nowhere, making what should have been the final sprint a lengthy slog. This makes Elden Ring a fantastic game that somewhat burns itself out over time.
God of War: Ragnarok does not suffer these issues, however, and has earned the title of Game of the Year for me. Until I finished the game, I was certain I would name Elden Ring as the winner, but Kratos' final Norse adventure just does not miss a beat throughout. Its story remains consistent and excellently paced, its visuals are breath-taking, and its gameplay loop is extremely solid, with Sony Santa Monica improving on the combat from 2018's God of War with additions like the Draupnir Spear.
Elden Ring is a game for the ages, but the same can certainly be said for God of War: Ragnarok, which manages to exceed the great expectations players had for it while giving a great blend of the cinematic style AAA games are known for nowadays without sacrificing visceral and sometimes satisfyingly difficult gameplay. Both games are stacked with memorable experiences, and deserve their spots among the highest-rated games of the year, but God of War: Ragnarok just has that edge in not only keeping you engaged with a fantastic world and combat, but it also creates those emotional storytelling moments that prove video game narratives are a special thing.