We were just putting up our feet with some mulled wine when we got jabbed in the ribs. Apparently actual bonafide games are being released in December 2023. And a GOTY contender no less! We had factored in a snooze, and our plans have gone to pot.
You might even like the look of a couple. There’s the very real chance that Baldur’s Gate 3 will launch on Xbox, while Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is looking unexpectedly sharp. Chuck in the ever-playable Steamworld series and you have a tidy little December.
But what are the best 8 new Xbox and Game Pass games you should be playing from December 2023. Here’s the list you need…
Sliding into December’s DMs is SteamWorld Build. Already receiving plaudits from cheeky critics who got it early (and yeah, our review is coming real soon), it’s an evolution of SteamWorld Dig into something much grander. Not only are you digging for ancient steampunk tech, but you’re building with it, expanding a steampunk township into the skies.
There’s less emphasis on you doing the digging this time round. Your steampunk bots will round up resources as long as you keep them maintained, while there’s a frontier town to manage. Varmints and ne’er-do-wells scuzzy up your saloons. This one keeps the trademark SteamWorld colour and humour while pushing the boundaries out a little farther.
One to watch, especially through Game Pass.
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora
The James Cameron Avatar franchise never ceases to amaze. It constantly gets written off, only to launch and break records. People were sniffy at the first film and even sniffier with the second, claiming people only watched the first film for the 3D. But then records were broken with each. The next film is delayed and the doubts are creeping in again, while virtually no one has had belief that Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora would be special. We’d bet that we’ve underestimated the series once again.
It’s Ubisoft, so that means a certain degree of quality. It also means an open-world action game, as the Far Cry template gets whipped out to see if a Na’vi fits through it. But all cynicism aside, this looks a step or thirty on from the old 360 game. It’s as slick and dynamic as the water Na’vi themselves. We’re getting ready to plug our hair-braids into it.
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader
Warhammer has had a mixed old year, at least in gaming terms. Darkside finally spluttered onto the big black box after almost a year of fumbling. Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin has single-handedly put its developer Frontier at risk. But on the positive side, Space Marine 2 is looking the absolute business, making us want to invest in some metal shoulder pads.
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader isn’t a reimagining of Nick Leeson’s life, but is instead a CRPG. Apparently they’re quite hot right now thanks to Baldur’s Gate 3 (more on that in a flick of a lamb’s tail). It’s made by the developers of Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous, so it’s got RPG clout, and 40K fans have been crying out for a pure CRPG in their universe.
Could be good.
Baldur’s Gate 3
Yeah, yeah, we know it hasn’t officially been announced, but we’re going to take a reasonably obvious punt: Baldur’s Gate 3 is coming out this month. The Game Awards Show is bound to be when the date is revealed, which gives barely any time for it to actually hit physical and digital. But Larian Studios have made their money already: who cares if they lose a few Christmas present sales?
The noise around this little CRPG-that-could is deafening. It’s already the People’s Champion for Game of the Year, in a year that’s been stacked with good games. People are speed-running the sex scenes, for Astarion’s sake. This one is going to be huge and there will be a bearpit to find out which of us gets to review it.
Disney Dreamlight Valley 1.0
From one of the most universally loved games to one that is seeing a share of controversy. The plan was always to make Disney Dreamlight Valley a free-to-play game off the back of a year in Early Access. It was Gameloft’s plan for Disney Speedstorm and they followed through with that. But then the announcement came: Disney Dreamlight Valley 1.0, the big moment when it shed its status as a Game Preview, was to remain a paid title. Happy 100th Anniversary, Disney!
Among the furore, it’s easy to forget what the 1.0 release brings. It comes with an Expansion Pass that unlocks ‘A Rift in Time’, featuring a new adventure and new characters. Players who bought the game as a Preview will retain all their progress and Moonstones. But people who haven’t bought it yet have the prospect of a paid game that also has microtransactions. The developers insist that the prices will be fair, but that’s a difficult proposition to swallow.
Born of Bread
Now we’re entering the ‘exciting-looking indies’ section of the Up Next. That’s a little earlier than usual, but this is an eight-game list, so what can you do.
First up is Born of Bread, which looks like the soft, fluffy and yeast-based alternative to Baldur’s Gate 3. It’s a party-based RPG and it’s about as colourful and adorable as any pre-Christmas game should be.
The press kit says that the dough-golem that you control in Born of Bread is the ‘hero that the world kneads’, which is just about the best pun we’ve encountered this year. For that reason alone we’re in, and we hope to progress our hero into a choice of different bread products.
If we’re not saving the world as a baguette then there’s no point.
Angry Mob Games, makers of Trinity Fusion, cut their cloth on Brawlout, a bit of a breakout brawler. They’re bringing their fighting nous to a hybrid fighter-shooter called Trinity Fusion, and it couldn’t be further from the pudgy, play-doh fights of Brawlout. Think more Strider or Dead Cells and you’re there.
Across procedurally generated levels, you’re playing an alternate, dark version of yourself. You don’t tip, and you never give up your seat on the tube. Your mission is to destroy the universe you are in, so that the multiverse can right itself. This takes the form of a stylish Metroidvania, which we’ve weirdly not played for a while.
Trinity Fusion has just about dodged our roguelite fatigue.
Chess is sexy again, if it was sexy before. Queen’s Gambit has made it into a tense thriller/drama, the cheating controversies (and supposed buttplugs) have made global news, and football’s Mo Salah has put out a request to play the world champion, Magnus Carlsen. It’s a chess golden age.
Onto the stage swaggers Chessarama. It’s a bulging compendium of chess-inspired games, and barely any of them resembles, you know, the normal chess that Mo Salah is playing between football matches.
We’re intrigued to see how far Chessarama goes with its chess-but-not premise. Karting game? CRPG? A game of Angry Birds Chess where you’re tossing bishops? We can but imagine.
But there’s more
As we reach the end of the twelfth Up Next of the year (you know we do these every month, yeah?), we get a little misty-eyed about the year’s that’s just gone. It’s been a good one, right? We’re a long way from the barren 2022, when the ‘Xbox Exclusive’ labels remained unused in Microsoft factories.
All that’s left to say is have a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and enjoy belittling our choices for best game of the year. That’s what the end of year is really about.
And we’ll be back soon with our most anticipated Xbox and Game Pass games for January 2024. That’s, 2024!