I am unable to wait to kick 2021 into its grave. It has been a rubbish yr throughout the board, together with the sport trade, the place the pandemic put builders below an excessive amount of stress and compelled numerous delays. Regardless of this, it has been a powerful yr on the subject of the video games themselves—an all-time nice yr, in truth.
With the frustration of Cyberpunk 2077 nonetheless recent, the tone in January was a bit extra cynical and downbeat than traditional. Straight away, a story rose that framed issues as fairly shitty, and 12 months later, it is a narrative that is nonetheless being pushed. However after our Sport of the 12 months discussions and a fast browse of my spreadsheet of accomplished video games (sure, I’m fairly boring), it is turn into clear that there is a giant gulf between 2021’s vibe and the video games that truly got here out.
Hitman 3 kicked the yr off, and admittedly it might have ended there and I might have nonetheless been fairly content material. It may not have the collection’ finest roster of missions, but it surely actually has a few of its best experiments, together with an Agatha Christie-style thriller that has been lodged in my mind since January. Greater than only a finale, Hitman 3 up to date the earlier video games, making it really feel like one steady homicide experiment. The World of Assassination is definitely IO’s finest work, and it bodes effectively for the James Bond sport the crew is now engaged on.
February may not have had many standouts—James did not dig Persona Strikers, although it was good to get one thing Persona 5-related on PC finally—however we did get pleasure from Nioh 2, a yr after our console friends performed it. Oh wait, I am certain I am forgetting one thing. Oh, sure—Valheim!
I do not assume anybody might have predicted Valheim’s impression when so many early entry survival video games come and go, however by the top of February, almost the complete PC Gamer crew was constructing longhouses and crusing across the mysterious archipelago. Outdoors it was chilly and bleak and a pandemic was raging, however in Valheim I used to be going off on all kinds of adventures and hanging out with my buds by the fireplace in our fantastic Viking homestead.
Valheim proved to be a fantastic lockdown sport, however I reckon it will have nonetheless finished effectively below regular circumstances. It is one of the vital welcoming, faff-free survival video games I’ve loved, however the complexity and problem that retains extra skilled gamers round remains to be there. I’ve died numerous instances, however by no means as a result of I wasn’t consuming each 5 minutes.
Two months into the yr and we already had two distinctive video games, each of which might go on to be included in our GotY choice and our high 100 video games checklist. Might 2021 maintain delivering? Sure! With the arrival of March, we acquired Loop Hero. The primary of a number of fascinating, experimental RPGs to look in 2021, Loop Hero made it clear that, regardless of everybody and their granny making an attempt to make a deckbuilder, there’s nonetheless loads of room for novelty. It appears fairly slight at first, and one of many causes I began taking part in was as a result of I anticipated having the ability to polish it off after a few evenings. 50 hours later, I used to be nonetheless hooked.
March additionally noticed the launch of It Takes Two, which not too long ago nabbed The Sport Awards’ Sport of the 12 months. A co-op journey that doubles as relationship remedy was a lot wanted in 2021, apparently. It is framed as a sport to play along with your associate, however do not let that put you off in the event you’re single or your associate is simply actually garbage.
Skip ahead a couple of months and issues look even higher. Genesis Noir, Crash Bandicoot 4, Nier Replicant, Resident Evil Village, Subnautica: Under Zero, Mass Impact: Legendary Version, Knockout Metropolis, Wildermyth, Griftlands, Chivalry 2—a parade of noteworthy remasters, sequels, creative RPGs and enjoyable multiplayer video games.
Midway via the yr, 2021 was already shaping as much as be a standout. Numerous these treats had been predictably good, however the very best of the bunch, Wildermyth, took me abruptly. An indie techniques RPG (of which there are fairly a couple of) didn’t pique my curiosity, however after enhancing Sin Vega’s Wildermyth review, I completely needed to play. And boy, what a sport.
I have been satisfied for a very long time that plucking concepts liberally from tabletop RPGs is essential to creating nice CRPGs, and Wildermyth actually runs with this concept, spinning yarn after yarn till you have acquired not only a social gathering stuffed with fascinating, richly developed adventurers, but in addition complete households and legacies that may stick with it in future campaigns. It has all of the narrative energy and unpredictability of a basic tabletop sport with the very best DM, however with very simple methods that allow you to become familiar with it very quickly in any respect, earlier than sprucing off your first marketing campaign in a matter of hours.
At no level did the yr decelerate. In July alone we had the wildly bizarre Cruelty Squad, Outdated World’s intelligent mashup of Civilization and Crusader Kings, one other sensible time loop journey in Forgotten Metropolis, the cyberpunk thrills of The Ascent and The Nice Ace Legal professional Chronicles, which gave us the fantastic Sherlock Holmes parody generally known as Herlock Sholmes. All this within the house of a mere 31 days.
2021 Half 2 ended up being almost as spectacular. Psychonauts 2, Life is Unusual: True Colours, Sable, Townscaper, Demise Loop (this yr’s third glorious time loop sport), Eastward, Again 4 Blood, Forza Horizons 5, Halo Infinite, Age of Empires 4, Guardians of the Galaxy, Gloomhaven, Ultimate Fantasy 14: Endwalker… I am getting bored with itemizing video games, however there are such a lot of extra. And plenty of these aren’t simply nice video games, they’re additionally necessary video games, too—issues we would been ready years for. Endwalker concluded Ultimate Fantasy 14’s decade-long story, setting issues up for a brand new one; Halo: Infinite survived dangerous first impressions—and a number of other delays—to be the very best shooter of the yr; there’s lastly a brand new Age of Empires! It virtually makes up for Bloodlines 2 not showing.
These final two years have seen me play extra video games than ever earlier than, however even being caught indoors all day lengthy, I have been always taking part in catch-up. I have been praying for the standard RTS to make a well-deserved comeback (I’ve excessive hopes for Firm of Heroes 3 subsequent yr), however I’ve not had time to even contact Age of Empires 4. Sable, in the meantime, was one in every of my most anticipated video games of 2021, and the demo acquired its hooks in me deep, however once more, I have not discovered the time to play it. A backlog of too many superb video games is an effective drawback to have.
It is astonishing that any video games had been completed and launched this yr, not to mention among the finest I’ve ever performed. 2021 has seen improvements and novelties come from all corners of the trade, and it is extremely encouraging to have gone via a complete yr the place almost each week I am taking part in one thing that makes me say “Rattling, that is intelligent,” or provides me a brand new appreciation for sport design tips. Being a critic is a continuing studying course of the place you are perpetually making an attempt to unravel these advanced experiences and work out what makes them work, and 2021 has been an actual schooling.
And these are simply the issues which were on my radar. Judging by how often my colleagues will level me within the course of one thing I would missed utterly, there are undoubtedly some unsung heroes that I can solely apologise for not mentioning—I am certain you are nice, thriller video games, however my mind can not include all of those wonders.
I believe that plenty of you have got a favorite yr for video games—mine is 1999—but it surely’s uncommon for a yr to go by the place there aren’t distinctive choices from an trade that is turning into more and more vibrant, with extra experiments in sport design and extra numerous teams of individuals making them. 2021 has completely showcased this, however we have additionally acquired to acknowledge that among the video games we have loved this yr have been produced by groups which can be overworked, underpaid and handled like shit.
In addition to having to be inventive throughout a pandemic, most of the folks working in video games have needed to cope with poisonous administration, systemic racism, sexism, pay inequality, and all kinds of petty bullshit—like their title not being within the credit as a result of they left earlier than launch. Revelations in regards to the likes of Activision-Blizzard and Bungie have loomed over 2021, echoing comparable points with Riot, Rockstar and Ubisoft that got here to gentle in earlier years. And it’s miles from simply the large firms. Tacoma and Gone House developer Fullbright Games misplaced 12 employees as a result of co-founder Steve Gaynor’s micromanagement of his crew, significantly ladies, and the poisonous tradition he was accused of fomenting. Gaynor stepped down as inventive lead, however he stays on the studio.
In order a lot as I need to rejoice the unbelievable video games that got here out this yr, I am additionally livid on the state of the trade—a fury that is solely elevated with the arrival of NFTs, which we all know will solely profit arseholes and never precise creators. My hope for 2022, then, just isn’t that we get an analogous cavalcade of nice video games, however that we get happier, more healthy groups the place creating these items would not include this unacceptable price. The nice video games will then comply with—as a result of no person is working to the very best of their means when they’re completely depressing.