The best games on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC and mobile
New games of 2021 (and beyond) to get excited about

Why wait until the end of the year to hear about its best games?

Knowing which games are helping to define the year in entertainment, or pushing the state of the art forward in some capacity, is a great way to get a sense of where the industry may be headed. It’s early in the year, so this list is a little thin. It’s almost like there are other factors that may be slowing down development on top of the launch of a new console generation. Still, it’s never too soon to cast a spotlight on the best work of the year.

You may notice the inclusion of games that were either fully released or made available in early access prior to 2021. Because many games change from patch to patch, let alone year to year, we may include previously available games that receive a significant update within the year or become available on a platform that substantially impacts how that game is experienced.

VALHEIM

Valheim is also mechanically forgiving, without any of the usual survival game obstacles like prohibitive repair and expansion costs or expiring food. There are terrain manipulation tools and a construction system that lets players build elaborate structures and sprawling settlements. Building can be a bit fiddly, but players can either free-place wood or snap pieces together depending on their preference, which leads to something that is mostly easy and flexible. PvP is a toggle; unless I opt in, I don’t have to worry about another player wrecking my house or sinking an ax into my back while I farm.
Games like Rust and Fallout 76 have built huge communities around their survival gameplay loops, but they’ve also left other players in the cold, either with tough design decisions meant to increase difficulty or technical issues. Valheim doesn’t do anything new or out-there, but it doesn’t need to. Iron Gate Studio has created a simple but deep game that works on every level, and that’s enough to blow up on Steam.
SUPER MARIO 3D WORLD AND BOWSER’S FURY

I won’t go so far as to say Super Mario 3D World is my favorite entry in the storied franchise. I will say it’s the entry I am most likely to recommend to both newcomers and lapsed fans returning to video games in adulthood. The four-player online multiplayer feature helps. And there’s a genuine comfort to the reliability and consistency of the adventure, like listening to Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits.
To stretch out that comparison to its snapping point: While most folks prefer the Greatest Hits album, the most obsessive Fleetwood Mac fans (read: me) will prefer listening to Tusk, the band’s experimental album that’s not 100% bangers, but radiates personality from its ambitious and sometimes misguided intent. I accept that I can’t spend this whole review talking about Tusk, Fleetwood Mac’s best and most underappreciated album, but, patient reader, I can tell you about Bowser’s Fury: the Tusk of Mario games.
THE CLIMB 2

The Climb 2 on Oculus Quest 2 is Crytek’s second pass at bringing solo climbing to virtual reality, and it’s a doozy. The first game focused on natural features located in a mostly static environment, but the sequel introduces cityscapes and livens up the experience with interactive animals and other distractions, surprises, or delights. During one particularly surprising moment, I found myself face to face with a rattlesnake, which promptly bit me, causing me to lose my grip and fall to my virtual death.
That calm from being so far up, and so far away from other people and the distractions of modern life, combined with the sweat-inducing fear of falling, creates an appealing escape if you have the stomach for it.
Climbing in VR is mostly a simple process of looking around for handholds — which are usually marked by the difference in color from their immediate surroundings — and then moving from one to the next, always making sure you have at least one hand keeping you from falling.
HITMAN 3

In another sense that’s just as valid, it’s a bold evolution of the Hitman franchise’s narrative elements. In fact, the story that IO Interactive wanted to tell in concluding its World of Assassination trilogy in Hitman 3 occasionally takes precedence over the series’ sandbox gameplay ethos. As 47 starts to assert his own free will, the player occasionally loses some control — and the trade-off, which results in a more directed campaign-esque experience, is well worth it. IO makes good on three games’ worth of character building for 47 and his teammates, delivering a level of narrative payoff that I never expected from a series that is known for interspersing goofy hijinks between moments of operatic spy drama.
Hitman 3 also offers new kinds of thrills in its sprawling assassination playgrounds, and many of them are informed by the story. Through setups like the engrossing murder mystery at an English country manor or the hunter/hunted dynamic in the Berlin mission, the game feels like a more unified, cohesive, and inventive experience than its predecessors. It’s a brilliant capstone for this trilogy and the entire Hitman franchise, and that’s even before you consider the ability to import levels from Hitman and Hitman 2 and play them all with Hitman 3’s technical upgrades. This may be the last we see of 47 for a while, but it’s a fond farewell.
LOOP HERO

Loop Hero is a strategy game that’s also a fascinating meditation on parenting. The game takes the focus away from controlling the hero directly; instead, it’s your job to craft their environment, weapons, and abilities to get them ready for the road ahead. You can’t do it for them, but you can improve their chances of success.
The game drops you into a confounding setup. The world has ended, and no one quite knows or remembers what happened, or why. A lone hero is stuck traveling in a loop, but you don’t play as them; they operate completely on autopilot, fighting each monster they encounter, until either they die or you direct them to retreat to camp to preserve their collected resources. Each loop they complete will heal a percentage of the damage they’ve taken, and the power of their enemies and the loot they drop also increases with every loop.
WILD RIFT

I’m a long-time League of Legends player on PC, dating back to the game’s earliest days. I remember when the lane designations were decided on by players, then formalized by Riot. I saw the evolution of runes, survived release Xin Zhao, and played literally thousands of games. I’ve seen some shit.
I’ve also logged on less and less over the years. I still like League of Legends, at least theoretically. I just don’t have the time to invest in 40-minute games, I’m intimidated by the new champions and their learning curve, or I feel a little slow and stiff physically for a game with such a high skill ceiling.
But Wild Rift captures about 90% of what I enjoy about the PC version. I’m not pulling off high-intensity jukes and scraping out kills with fancy keyboard combos … but I do get the satisfaction of landing a powerful laser beam on a bunch of enemies, frying them, or charging into the other team with a perfect rush and stun. The skill ceiling may be lower, and so the highs aren’t quite as high as the base game, but the positive side of that is that Wild Rift is much more accessible than League of Legends.
MONSTER HUNTER RISE

Monster Hunter Rise takes the accessible foundation that Capcom built in World and expands on it without breaking what makes Monster Hunter fun, including the deep combat and the feeling of progression as you defeat, skin, and wear one monster to fight the next. If World was the first step forward into a new era of Monster Hunter, Rise takes it even further.
Monster Hunter: World was a game I would recommend to friends, with some caveats. But Rise’s gameplay variety and mobility — all fueled by that little Wirebug — make it a must-try game for Monster Hunter skeptics and hardcore fans alike.
The Monster Hunter series is known for being unfriendly to newcomers, with deliberate combat and loads of complex menus to navigate. Players gather resources, take on lengthy boss fights with energetic monsters, and skin their prey to make better gear for the next hunt. The series is slow-moving, a trait that offers finesse to players who master its timing, but can throw off newbies trying to survive their first hunt.
HADES

Supergiant Games has made a name for itself thanks to the great reception that Pyre, Transistor, and, most recently, Bastion has received. Fans of the studio have a new entry to add to the studio’s pantheon of great games: Hades. Hades uses the same isometric view of the other games and tells the story of Hades’ son, Zagreus, trying to escape the underworld.
This roguelike dungeon crawler has a few new features up its sleeve. Not only can you romance some characters for extra bonuses, but dying in the game doesn’t start you at the last checkpoint. When you die, you might start at the beginning but you’re not starting over. You’re able to upgrade your character and weapons to improve your chances of escaping with each subsequent death. This leads to a sense of progression that makes for a very addictive game.
CONTROL

It’s not hard to see why Control has taken the gaming world by storm. The creative team at Remedy Entertainment made sure to pack this title with plenty to love, paying very close attention to the intricate details. A deeply cinematic game, this action-adventure offers its players staggering visuals, inspired environment design and brilliant performances – not to mention, a deeply satisfying combat experience.
Control places you in the capable shoes of fiery-haired Jesse Faden. You’re tasked to seek out The Oldest House, a building in New York City that’s in a constant state of architectural flux and only appears to those who desire to find it, and locate your missing brother, all while heading the Federal Bureau of Control as its director and overseeing the containment of paranatural entities.
There’s nothing quite like Control on the market, and it makes it one of the best PC games to play right now.
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