My Favorite Games of 2021

2021 is done and dusted. In many ways, it was a terrible year, especially in Boulder, CO, where I live. I did have a few video games to keep me distracted when it was unbearable.

7. Valheim

One thing you can count on is there will always be another survival crafting game. The better games in this genre usually have at least one gimmick that sets them apart from the crowd. What initially drew me to Valheim was the aesthetic and world. The graphics are very simplistic, but when viewed at a distance, they can be quite lovely. I do think there’s some work to be done on some of the character and enemy models and textures.

The Nordic-style buildings are fun to build and interact with the dynamic smoke system from fires. I spent way too much time building a-frame buildings.

The core gameplay is similar to other survival games, but what Valheim offers is MMO-style boss battles. Each biome has a boss that will take a coordinated effort to defeat. Once a boss is defeated, you will then need to search for the next boss, while building strong defenses and upgrading all of your equipment.

The other gameplay twist is the sections where you need to defend your base from an onslaught of enemies. There’s a lot of interesting mechanics in Valheim, but it’s still pretty rough and would need a lot more polish before I’d fully recommend it for everyone to play.

We had many technical issues with lag on the boss battles and the base defense modes. The game is still in early access so I’m excited to spin up my own server and play it with a group of friends once it’s more polished.

6. Solasta: Crown of the Magister

Xbox Game Pass on PC has been a gold mine for great co-op games, but also for hidden gems like Solasta. I hadn’t heard a word about this game before I saw it in the new section on Game Pass. If you’re familiar with the Divinity Original Sin series or Baldur’s Gate 3, you’ll be right at home with Solasta. Currently, there’s only a single-player campaign, but you can bet that the sequel will have co-op support.

The story is interesting enough to keep you playing, but it’s not the main draw. The Dungeons and Dragons-inspired gameplay are engaging. There’s a genuine quirkiness and charm to the writing in the game that always made me smile.

I’d also like to draw attention to the fact that the game lets you choose preferred pronouns specific to each character, including they/them options. It also lets you choose whatever voice you want to do, regardless of what gender is chosen. My one critique of how this works is you still need to select a gender for the character at the start of the character creation. A non-binary option would be great. What it would probably require is a non-binary and then masculine or feminine option for the various character models. There are also only two feminine voices and one masculine voice so there’s a lot more they could do with character customization and representation.

The combat ends up feeling like a cross between Divinity and Baldur’s Gate 3, which is great. It’s a solid and rewarding experience.

5. Wildermyth

I’ve always liked the idea of “choose your own adventure” books and games, but that game mechanic by itself can be a bit boring after a while. Wildermyth incorporates this mechanic into a game about legacy, strategy-lite combat, and conquest. While all of these mechanics blending together is great, the bow that ties it all together is the writing. There are so many genuinely funny, somber, and joyous moments throughout your unique story.

One moment you could be laughing at rivalries in your crew and the next you’re trying to convince an old friend to not give up on life after losing their spouse. It’s sort of amazing how deftly it can shift gears and feel so real, even when the art style is webcomic at best.

It’s great to see games like this that represent gay characters as just who they are. No need to show other characters being predacious towards them. It’s refreshing.

The game is split into different segments. There is the choose your own adventure-type panels where you decide on character actions and see the consequences. Next, you’ll be presented with a world map where you can decide what areas to defend or attack to reclaim from the monsters. Once you’re in combat, it’s turn-based combat similar to Divinity Original Sin, but much more simplistic.

The game balances the flow between these segments nicely where you don’t feel like you’re doing too much of the same thing over and over again. Too much story or too much combat would have made it frustrating.

If you’re looking for a great story-building game, Wildermyth is for you.

4. Inscryption

Creepy vibes. Check. Rouge-like deck building. Check. Escape room puzzles. Check. Sometimes there are games that feel like they were designed for me specifically.

I don’t want to spoil too much because half the fun of this game is the surprises and new mechanics. The actual deck-building part of the game is unique and fun to play so the fact that there are also puzzles outside the card game is so fun.

All I’m going to say is if the concept is at all interesting to you, don’t look up anything, buy the game, and play it now.

3. Resident Evil Village

For someone who loves horror movies, I don’t actually play that many horror games. There’s something so much more terrifying about needing to keep the character away from the monsters myself that heightens the horror to extreme levels.

I played Resident Evil 7 for a while, but the game never clicked with me. The environment and enemies didn’t engage my imagination. I found it to be a little dull. When Resident Evil Village was announced, I knew this was clearly a nod to the masterpiece, Resident Evil 4, and I knew I had to play it.

I was immediately intrigued by the world of Village. The different locals were so varied and decedent. The characters were exactly as bizarre enough to make me read every napkin scrawl and weirdly stained notebook.

I still find the first-person combat borrowed from RE7 to be a bit clunky. It feels sluggish and unrefined, but still serviceable enough on the standard difficulty. When I tried the higher difficulty, it felt like more of a struggle against the controls than a proper skill challenge.

The characters, tone, and combination of crafting, shopping, and terrifying enemies meant I was always engaged and on my toes. This was exactly what I was looking for in Resident Evil after not liking any entries since Resident Evil 4. Part of me still wonders if would have been better with a modernized third-person camera though.

2. It Takes Two

The developer behind It Takes Two, Hazelight Studios has had such an interesting journey. Their first game was Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, which had you controlling two brothers, one with each thumbstick. It was a surprising game and had me sobbing tears of joy by the end.

Their next game, A Way Out was a great co-op game with a generic and uninteresting story and characters. When I heard they were working on a new co-op game, my expectations were low because of the experience with A Way Out.

What my friend Ryan and I experienced playing through It Takes Two was honestly a shockingly amazing co-op experience with an exceptional story and characters. It’s not going to be up for an Oscar for best screenwriting, but it was a substantial step up from their previous storytelling attempts.

You play as a husband and wife who are struggling to keep the marriage together. Their daughter is traumatized by the prospect of divorce and accidentally turns both of you into dolls. The rest of the game you spend working together to try to communicate with your daughter and turn yourself back to humans. This sounds pretty spoilery, but this is all within the first thirty minutes of the game. There’s still plenty of surprises in store. It’s a substantial game, but it is pretty rare in the co-op game space.

A hilariously annoying book of love is constantly pushing your characters to work together and remember what brought you together in the first place. It’s an emotional rollercoaster that goes pretty dark in places, while still keeping things light enough with great humor and bizarre twists and locations to visit.

I’ve played just about every co-op game ever made and I would say this without a doubt, the best co-op game ever made. Some co-op games simply drop a second player into a single-player game. It Takes Two fully utilizes two players who need each other to finish puzzles and defeat bosses. It wouldn’t be possible to play this game solo, and that’s the whole point.

1. Psychonauts 2

To say that I loved the original Psychonauts would be a massive understatement. I even attended the 10th-anniversary event in LA. Naturally, I backed Psychonauts 2 on Fig, but my expectations were pretty low given some of the recent games that Double Fine had released. I wasn’t sure that they still had what it took to create a platformer of this scope.

What we ended up with is the best game to come out in a very long time.

The platforming gameplay is tight, responsive, and varied with all of the powers you unlock throughout the game.

The story is full of mystery, love, sadness, grief, loss, redemption, and joy. It’s seriously deep for a game that looks and plays like a late 2000s 3D platformer. The creativity is unrelenting. You will be constantly surprised.

They were able to perfectly bring the original art style into a 4K era of gaming. The art direction is pitch-perfect and complements the story and characters.

Double Fine should be applauded for their extensive accessibility features included in Psychonauts 2. There is, unfortunately, a lot of ableism in certain gaming circles so it’s encouraging to see some developers taking this problem seriously. I was worried when Microsoft bought Double Fine, but the extra time and money paid huge dividends for Psychonauts 2.

It may seem like the 3D Platformer has no place in 2021 and beyond, but this game proves that wrong.

Psychonauts 2 is a masterpiece and it should not be missed by anyone with a pulse.

2021 Games I will Play in 2022

It was a busy year and I wasn’t able to get to these games yet. I have a feeling that at least three of these would have been on my favorite list for the year.

  • Road 96
  • Deathloop
  • Returnal
  • The Forgotten City
  • Unsighted

Was there anything I missed that I should add to my list for games to play in 2022?

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