What's Been Your Favourite Game Of 2021 So Far?

We’ve gotten through a solid chunk of the year. And even though it wasn’t shaping up to 2020 standards, the last several months have been consistently good.

2021 was always going to be a bit weird in that we weren’t 100 percent sure how many games would actually ship this year. Many have been pushed back or out of the calendar entirely,; many more might still.

And even though we won’t finish things with the same kind of Game of the Year, $US100 million-plus contenders that are almost assured critical and popular acclaim — think Ghost of Tsushima, Animal Crossing etc. — the sheer variety of what this year has offered has been worth it.

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Chicory: A Colorful Tale is a great example, and probably one of the indies that will undoubtedly end up on a lot of GOTY lists. It’s not just the distinctive, approachable art style. It’s also how well it uses that as an inlet for covering depression, mental health and other topics without being preachy, tokenistic or superficial. Much like Psychonauts 2, it understands and appreciates the complexities of what damage can be done — not only to ourselves, but the damage often inflicted to others too.

But there’s been a lot of groundbreaking hits in other places. Valheim is still the sort of double digit success whose effects we’ll probably be seeing for years. Sandbox games in general are this untapped art that continues to do super well, despite being ignored by massive publishers. Consider how well games like Dyson Sphere Program or the ongoing success of the still-in-early-access Satisfactory. And there’s been a lot of other killer early access titles, some of which have really enjoyed some huge content updates or releases this year.

EVERSPACE 2 looks great so far. GTFO isn’t that far from a full release, and it’s one of the best co-op experiences you can get on PC right now. Craftopia, which launched on Game Pass for PC and consoles this year, is one of the most bonkers — and broken — sandbox experiences. Barotrauma is legitimately one of the most brilliant, chaotic adventures I’ve played in years. Jupiter Hell slaps. Death’s Door was a superb follow-up from the Titan Souls devs. Cruelty Squad has to be seen to be believed. Splitgate might be the best chance we have of the arena shooter making a comeback, outside of Halo. And can we just remind ourselves how damn good Prodeus was?

A lot of the games that had “troubled” launches are in excellent states right now, too. I’ll still argue that Returnal, save quirks aside, is worthy of a ton of nominations. Paying over $100 for it certainly hurts, but by the time sales come around later this year, people are going to get an astonishingly good game for a much better price — and anyone playing it on PC will have an absolute blast. (Especially given how much people will be able to crank it on their high-end rigs by 2022 or 2023.)

The Ascent is another good example. Much of its troubled launched was really more of a Game Pass problem with the time it takes Microsoft to certify patches. Everything was ship-shape on Steam within a week of launch, but that same patch took a fortnight to arrive for those playing on PC. For many, they’d put the game then.

That’s a shame, because its core gameplay loop — in solo or co-op — is still superb. It’s not a narrative masterpiece, and plenty of games this year certainly have battle designs or narrative settings that will make you think harder. But as a purely cathartic mechanical experience, The Ascent was a blast.

It’s been a good year for JRPGs too — Scarlet Nexus and Tales of Arise were both solid, all things considered, and the upcoming Astria Ascending [redacted]. Australian servers for Final Fantasy XIV will fundamentally make that experience a billion times more enjoyable for everyone, and it’s already one of the best MMOs you can play today. (Our local Final Fantasy wizard, Scree, also has one of the best guides you’ll read anywhere if you want to get started.)

Aussie games are having a standout year, whether they’re from Queensland or not, and we don’t even have some of the country’s biggest hitters — Hollow Knight: Silksong, the sequel to Golf Story, whatever AAA shooter that’s being co-developed out of Wargaming Sydney, and that secretive IP that League of Geeks signed a major publishing deal for.

On the opposite side of that, big-budget AAA titles like Battlefield 2042 and Halo Infinite look like they’ll really deliver. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart was nigh-on perfect. Deathloop is fantastic, even if it misses a couple of notes and has some weird issues on PC. Resident Evil Village was an excellent return to form for Capcom, who also completely smashed it out of the park with Monster Hunter Rise, a game whose PC port I will be immediately buying on day one. Age of Empires 4 is hitting all the right notes from what I’ve seen from the beta tests.

Diablo 2: Resurrected has played great all year too; it’s a real shame that the excellent work done by Vicarious Visions cannot, and shouldn’t, be separated from the systemic, institutional problems within the wider company. (To their credit, however, the studio are openly supporting those who feel the boycott is the right move.)

All in all, I feel like 2021 has been pretty solid. But what about yourselves — how’s the year in video games been for you and what are your favourites?

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