This year has been pretty massive for gaming – and not always in a good way.
From the recent Unity debacle to widespread layoffs and closures, those of us who follow gaming news have seen no shortage of controversy.
At the same time, this year also gave us titles like Baldur’s Gate 3, Atomic Heart, Remnant 2, and Marvel’s Spider-Man 2.
Even with such an impressive roster of major releases, live-service games still had a huge impact, with some of the most popular being over a decade old. It just goes to show that with the right development team and a passionate community, even an older game can easily withstand the test of time.
With that in mind and with the year nearing its end, here are twelve live-service games that truly stood out in 2023.
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Platforms: PC(Windows), Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Android, iOS
Equal parts hero shooter and battle royale, Apex Legends is a free-to-play title that marries the best aspects of both genres with all the trappings you’d expect. The game features a roster of 23 characters divided across five classes with specializations ranging from direct combat to support to battlefield control. Each character has four skills – an active ability, an ultimate, a passive, and a perk they share with other characters of the same class.
Content drops for Apex Legends are divided into three- to four-month seasons. In addition to refreshing the game’s meta, a new season might introduce new Legends, maps, and cosmetics. Currently, Apex Legends features a total of eleven maps and eight permanent game modes, including Battle Royale, Arenas (team deathmatch), and Mixtape, a rotating mode that includes the king-of-the-hill style Control. Respawn also runs regular time-limited events with special rewards and unique game modes.
Call of Duty: Warzone 2.0
Developer: Infinity Ward/Raven Software
Platforms: PC (Windows), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
Warzone 2.0 is characterized by the same style of gameplay as the original, being a first-person battle royale shooter with a unique twist. As in the original Warzone, when players are killed on the main map, they’re spawned into a secondary arena where they can fight for an opportunity to respawn.
The title also introduces several new features and game modes, such as Circle Collapse, which spawns multiple safe zones that eventually converge into one, and the extraction-style DMZ mode.
Platforms: PC (Windows), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
Set in the same postapocalyptic future as the original, Destiny 2 puts players into the shoes of a Guardian, a superhuman warrior empowered by a mysterious entity known only as The Traveler. Featuring multiple PvP and PvE game modes – including challenging and mechanically demanding raids – Destiny 2 allows players to choose between one of three classes, each with a different playstyle and multiple sub-classes.
Destiny 2 has undergone multiple changes since release. First, Bungie has gradually retired the RPG elements of the title, removing level-based stats and reducing the number of available perks. The developer also completely overhauled Destiny 2 in 2020, retiring nearly half of the game’s content at the time with the launch of the Beyond Light expansion.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
Developer: Square Enix
Platforms: PC(Windows, Mac), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
If you were ever a fan of Final Fantasy, A Realm Reborn is honestly a must-play. Regarded as one of the best MMORPGs on the market, much of the game’s content draws on some of the most memorable encounters from past Final Fantasy titles and features some absolutely incredible remixes of some of the best music from the series. Of course, nostalgia isn’t the only thing ARR brings to the table – it also features a compelling story, beautiful graphics and top-notch dungeon and encounter design.
Since the title’s 2013 re-launch, Square Enix has released four full-length story expansions for ARR, with multiple free content drops between releases – the latest sees players clashing against FFIV’s Golbez and Zeromus. A fifth expansion, Dawntrail, is scheduled for release sometime in 2024.
Developer: Epic Games
Platforms: PC (Windows, macOS), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Android, iOS, Nintendo Switch
Fortnite needs no introduction – it’s probably one of the most popular free-to-play games ever released. If you somehow haven’t heard of the wildly popular title, it’s essentially the lovechild of Minecraft and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. The base game drops up to 100 players into a perpetually shrinking arena filled with weapons, resources, and vehicles.
Where Fortnite sets itself apart is in the fact that the environment is fully destructible. Breaking objects with a pickaxe nets you resources that can then be used to construct various fortifications. Developer Epic Games has introduced a ton of features to Fortnite since its release, including new weapons, new vehicles, new maps, a zero build mode, and even a standalone sandbox mode, Fortnite Creative.
If premium cosmetics are your thing, there’s also a veritable mountain of those up for purchase.
Platforms: PC (Wind0ws), Android, iOS, PS4, PS5
It would be easy to dismiss Genshin Impact as just another mobile gacha game – but that would be a mistake. Featuring an immersive open world, a massive cast of characters, and intriguing element-based action combat, Genshin Impact is arguably one of the best action RPGs ever released on Android and iOS. Its art direction is also absolutely stunning, with anime-inspired graphics backed by an award-winning soundtrack.
Genshin Impact isn’t perfect, mind you. It could do without so much late-game grind, and some have criticized its monetization as predatory. New playable characters are available primarily via Wishes – lootboxes that can be purchased with one of several in-game currencies.
Developer: Rockstar Games
Platforms: PC (Windows), PS3, PS4, PS5, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
Originally conceived as the multiplayer component of Grand Theft Auto V, GTA Online has long since outgrown its roots. Set in San Andreas, the game allows up to 30 players to explore a shared open world and embark on cooperative missions known as Heists.
The title has evolved considerably over the years, with free content updates that introduced customizable housing, new vehicles, new minigames, and new cooperative and competitive game modes such as Stunt Racing and Last Team Standing. An upcoming expansion planned for later this month will introduce new vehicle modifications, new missions, and animals.
Path of Exile
Developer: Grinding Gear Games
Platforms: PC (Windows, macOS), Xbox One, PS4
Path of Exile is a love letter to old-school isometric action RPGs – but it’s also a great deal more. Limited microtransactions aside, the game’s real claim to fame is its character customization. It has arguably the deepest and most complex build system ever seen in the genre, with a colossal skill tree and a near-overwhelming variety of gems that unlock and augment various active and passive skills.
Want to build a character that exists exclusively to avoid and mitigate damage? How about a minionmancer who heals when they detonate their summons? Or maybe an AFK healer built around reflecting damage? These are all viable builds shared on the Path of Exile subreddit – if theorycrafting is your thing, you’ll love it there.
Developer: Roblox Corporation
Platforms: PC (Windows, macOS), Android, iOS, Xbox One, Meta, Quest 2, Meta Quest Pro, PS4
It can be a bit challenging to explain Roblox. Is it a game creation engine? A platform for sharing and experiencing virtual worlds? An online community that’s driven and defined by user-generated content?
All of the above, actually. Roblox allows players to create, share, and even monetize games while also experiencing content created by other users. It’s one of the most popular gaming apps in the world, with over 70 million daily active users. Originally aimed primarily at children under 16, Roblox’s fastest-growing demographic in 2023 is users aged 17-to-24.
Sea of Thieves
Though commercially successful, Sea of Thieves was a critical failure when it first launched in 2018. Rare could have easily abandoned the game and moved to something new – but instead, the developer stuck with it. Flash-forward to today, and the action-adventure game is one of the most successful Xbox titles ever.
The premise of Sea of Thieves is simple: you’re a pirate, you have a ship, and there’s a vast ocean filled with both rival crews and supernatural creatures for you to explore. Played in the first-person, the title features a shared world, customizable ships, and cooperative sailing mechanics – one player might steer the ship while another mans the cannons, for example. PvP is a given in Sea of Thieves, which also features a competitive multiplayer mode.
Rare plans to release a PvE mode sometime this month.
Developer: Digital Extremes
Platforms: PC (Windows), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch
A mix of third-person shooter, action RPG, and MMO, Warframe is another title that seamlessly blends multiple genres. Similarly, it also mixes gameplay elements that really shouldn’t work together, such as procedurally-generated missions and a persistent open world. As with most free-to-play games, Warframe takes place in the distant future, amongst the splintered remnants of a fallen empire.
Players navigate this hostile, post-collapse world by donning a Warframe – biomechanical armor that functions simultaneously as a weapons platform, a life support system and a second skin for the wearer. The game features more than fifty of these suits, along with a wide range of equipment and cosmetic gear. Warframe supports itself via microtransactions, though all purchasable items can be earned through gameplay; players can also create and sell their cosmetics through the TennoGen Program.
Earlier this year, Digital Extremes also introduced a new rogue-lite game mode with the launch of its latest expansion, The Duviri Paradox.
World of Warcraft Classic: Hardcore
Anyone familiar with Blizzard games will immediately recognize the meaning of the Hardcore moniker – and it’s exactly what you think it is. Characters who die on a Classic Hardcore server cannot be resurrected on death, though they can be transferred to a different Classic server. Permadeath isn’t the only change you’ll encounter playing Classic Hardcore, though.
The biggest change involves PvP – battlegrounds are completely disabled, and players are no longer automatically flagged for PvP. They’ve also introduced a new activity known as Duel to the Death. When a character wins a Duel to the Death, they’ll earn a permanent stacking cosmetic buff known as String of Ears.
Other updates involve a 24-hour dungeon lockout, tweaks to mob leashing and aggro, and a strict, no-tolerance policy against griefing.