Photo Credit: Xbox Game Studios. Design: Akhil Arora/Gadgets 360
What are the best video games of 2021? Picking the top games is quite a challenge especially since this year saw the release of several excellent titles. Thanks to them, staying indoors during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic didn't feel like too much of a challenge. You know what we mean. Gamers had a lot of options to pick from this year, no matter what platform they were on. Even Netflix got in on the act, though the less said the better about its forays as yet. Between a number of titles that were given away on the Epic Games Store, or the steep discounts during Xbox, PlayStation and Steam sales (including the ongoing Winter Sale that ends on January 5), 2021 was a good year to be a gamer, whether you prefer gaming on your PC, console, or smartphone.
As with everyone else, we've been busy this year. Some of the titles you find below are new, while some of these did a fantastic job of keeping us entertained throughout the year despite releasing years ago. Here are our favourite picks and why we think these are the best games of 2021.
Battle royale games came into the picture ever since PUBG and Fortnite popularised it. Since then, we've seen multiple game studios try their hands at it with thousands of variations. Amongst them, Apex Legends stood out for its unique and fast-paced style of play. The game is developed by Respawn Entertainment and published by Electronic Arts. Knowing EA, it came as a surprise that the game was free-to-play. Apex Legends has grown in popularity since its initial launch, with more than 2 million players downloading it. Ever since its launch back in February 2019, it has brought in a lot of changes to the gameplay with the introduction of new legends, new maps, different modes, and adding new guns to the arsenal.
Apex Legends is my game of the year partly because of how it sustained itself in 2021 while most of the other battle royale games are losing their roots. Respawn has launched four new legends this year namely — Fuse, Valkyrie, Seer, and Ash. It also brought in a new map that goes by the name of Storm Point. The total tally of legends in the game goes up to 19 and the total number of maps goes up to 4. Each of these legends has three unique abilities only available to them. I personally enjoy using Octane, the adrenaline-filled maniac with robotic legs. His special ability is being crazy — I'm kidding (or am I?). This guy is the fastest legend on the planet. His ability to get out of an awkward fight, especially when you have his jump pad, is something that makes me pick him again and again. Not to mention his funny voice lines. Whooooh, what a rush!
The end goal of the game remains the same, that is survival. However, with so many legends you can definitely try and experience multiple variations and experiment with them each. The best part about the game is that your fate is not decided by the abilities of your legend, but only by your skills and aim. Apex Legends is available on PC, PlayStation, Xbox and the game was also recently launched on Nintendo Switch. And yes, Apex Legends also supports crossplay—this allows you to squad up with your friends who play on different platforms.
Respawn also introduced a new game mode for people tired of entering huge lobbies— Arenas. This game mode has a total of four maps in rotation. These maps are different from the battle royale ones. You can pair up with two of your friends (or strangers) and fight in an all-out 3v3 deathmatch mode. The winner is the first team to win at least 3 rounds, but you must also win by at least 2 points. This is by far the most chaotic game mode I have ever experienced even though there are only six players in total. Despite the cut-down version of the map, it's tough to figure out whether the enemy will ambush you from the left, right, or even from above. Besides this, the developers keep the game fresh with events such as Winter Express available during the end of the year. This is another mode that keeps you on the edge of your seat, literally. In this mode, three teams have to fight each other to capture the ever-moving train. The team to capture the train the most wins. Kind of reminds me of Mumbai's local trains. Recently they have also introduced Ranked Arenas which ups the ante a little bit and adds to the madness. — Robin John
Download: Apex Legends
Deathloop is a trip. Building on the stealth-and-superpowers-based gameplay popularised by the Dishonored series (Dishonored 2 review), Arkane Studios' Deathloop adds in elements of Groundhog Day-esque time loop, making the first-person shooter a unique experience. You play as Colt, a no-nonsense assassin who gets stuck on an island where he must take out eight targets before midnight, when the time loop resets again, undoing all his work and making Colt start again from square one. While this may sound tedious, it's not.
The game allows you full freedom of how you approach the targets, and its best to take your time and soak in all the information you can gather from unsuspecting henchmen as they drop hints on how to best approach a certain target at a certain time (before you sneak up behind them and take them out, obviously). In Deathloop, a day is divided into four periods, from Morning to Evening, with each bringing its own set of unique challenges as well as new opportunities. For example, a frozen lake in the Evening may offer a quiet way to infiltrate, whereas early mornings could offer you ample time to scout your target's stronghold.
Oh, Colt will be hunted throughout the game by the menacing assassin Juliana, who can pop up at any given time, throwing a spanner into your well-laid plans. This kept me on my feet constantly, making me keep a handy Plan B ready should things go south. A PS5 and PC exclusive still, Deathloop is expected to arrive on other platforms soon. — Shayak Majumder
Fortnite has been around for a while now, and the developers at Epic Games have been rolling out season after season of fantastic content to the game without it feeling repetitive or tiresome. Fortnite offers you a consistent experience across platforms, and I've tested the game on a friend's console, on a gaming laptop (that was in for review) and on an Android smartphone (still hurts that it's completely off the Apple ecosystem), and you get the same, colourful battle royale survival shooter on all platforms.
Thanks to the ongoing pandemic, I haven't been to a concert in nearly two years now. With the Omicron variant causing countries to shut borders again, no one knows when we'll get a chance to do that again. Fortnite has you covered, though. The game lets you tune into concerts in the game, and I attended Ariana Grande's Rift Tour and Egyptian artist Mohamed Hamaki this year. Epic is also expected to bring more “live” shows with artists like Aya Nakamura, Tones and I, and Brazilian rapper Emicida.
Sure, some might argue that watching a concert on a small screen isn't the same as attending a live concert. But the way I see it, Epic Games could one day host these concerts with AR and VR. That could be a completely different experience, and lots of companies, including Meta and Microsoft, are exploring similar ideas for things like telecommuting. Attending a virtual concert with a good set of earphones where I can control the volume myself? Sold!
Another reason I continue to play Fortnite on a daily basis is the Battle Pass and the constant stream of special content that it brings to the game. Spider-Man: No Way Home was released recently, and this season's battle pass already has around three Spider-Man skins with more apparently on the way. I've tried the skins on other games like Garena Free Fire (like the Venom skin), and there's simply no comparison. As a free-to-play game, Fortnite is easily one of the best games I've played in a while and it has only gotten better in 2021. — David Delima
The fifth instalment in the Forza Horizon franchise may also be the best yet. Driving around in Mexico in Forza Horizon 5 is utter fun and has made me forget how good Forza Horizon 4 was, despite its many flaws. The huge map is a sight for sore eyes since Playground Games made a mistake by shrinking the map in UK in favour of the changing seasons. Did I mention you can now drive up an active volcano or through a dust storm? Forza Horizon 5 has also improved the car sounds and ask any automotive enthusiast, the sound of the vehicle can actually make you fall in love with it. Improving on it has really improved the gameplay experience. I have a playtime of almost 3 days in the game since it launched last month, and still I haven't been able to discover all the roads, finish all stories, participate in all the events, and smashed records at every PR stunt. Goes to show how much of an effort the developers put in to Forza Horizon 5.
One of the best things about the Forza Horizon franchise that always enticed me has been its extensive car list. The latest game is no different and has actually improved on the experience of owning cars. There are better vehicle modifications available now and these modifications have been implemented in a good way. Remember how I said the car sounds make a ton of difference? Playground Games has finally implemented how certain engine modifications change the way a car sounds. I'm not going to talk about how other modifications or game physics are in the game, because honestly, they have improved on something which was already their forte.
Oh, and yes, having your character speak and converse with other non-player character makes you feel that you indeed are the superstar of the game. I wish there was a way for you to decide what you want to speak instead of following a script. All in all, having played all previous titles of Forza Horizon franchise, I can safely say that Forza Horizon 5 may be the best game Playground Games and Turn 10 Studios have churned out. And this is before taking into account that most of this game was developed during COVID-19 pandemic-induced lockdowns. — Satvik Khare
Buy: Forza Horizon 5
Right after Red Dead Redemption 2, Ghost of Tsushima (Review) sits at the top of my all-time favourite games that I have experienced on PlayStation 4. It brings back the unbridled joy of open world games such as the Ezio Auditore-Assassin's Creed trilogy and Horizon Zero Dawn (Review). While the game was originally launched in 2020, this year fans were treated to the Iki Island Expansion, which not only brings in a whole new map to explore, but also adds handy combat elements and a whole lot of new side activities.
If you haven't played Ghost of Tsushima yet, it is advised to finish the original campaign first before moving on to Iki Island. Not only are the enemies way stronger on Iki Island, but the story too flows better if you know what all went down in the original. Speaking of enemies, Iki Island brings in a new class of Shamans, who chant eerie mantras to empower other enemies to start attacking relentlessly. Also, almost all the enemies I encountered constantly changed weapons in the middle of a fight, keeping me on my toes as I repeatedly switched between sword stances to take on menacing Mongol warriors. As a fun new element, Jin's horse can now charge through a group of enemies, knocking them down for a quick assassination. Among new activities, the Archery Challenges dotted around the map were the most fun and challenging.
While expansion packs usually introduce new skills, enemies, and maps, the Iki Island expansion also introduced a memorable antagonist in Anshar Khatoun, and tied her character quite well with the main story campaign, especially the death of Jin's father, Lord Kazumasa Sakai. I won't reveal much here, but rest assured it will offer you a satisfying conclusion especially if you have played through the main campaign first. — Shayak Majumder
So far, Marvel has had a rollercoaster ride in terms of its video games. While Marvel's Spider-Man set new standards for open-world superhero games with its unbelievably fun web-swinging mechanics, Marvel's Avengers was an absolute letdown with its irksome microtransactions and games-for-service treatment. Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy, on the other hand, simply showed just how well an old school liner-narrative action-adventure game works without any superficialities.
While some might complain that Guardians of the Galaxy only lets you play as Star-Lord and not as others, I did have a lot of fun hovering above a battle arena with Star-Lord's jet boots, shouting orders to Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot to strike specific targets exactly how I'd want them to. Each character has their own abilities and skillset, like Drax being the tank or Rocket being the explosives expert and so on. The game feels (and plays) like a sweet amalgamation of turn-based combat and real-time laser-blasting action. And you can't really go in all buttons smashing. You need to have a strategy in place on how best to put your teammates to use, otherwise all your fights will be over way sooner than you expect.
Like me, if you're a fan of classic rock and pop hits, don't miss out on Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy. After all, not all games will let you take on Lady Hellbender's minions while grooving to Starship's “We Built This City on Rock and Roll.” — Shayak Majumder
Halo Infinite's campaign has been a long time coming and since 343 Industries' takeover of the franchise in 2011, there's been very little for the original Halo fans to get excited about. For many, including me, Halo had run its course, but this time, it's different — campaign of the year level different, at least for me.
In a nutshell, 343 did everything right by the foundation Bungie had laid for the game with Halo: Combat Evolved, while picking up right where the story had ended with Halo 5 in terms of chronology. Halo's biggest nostalgia driver has always been the relationship between Master Chief and his AI partner Cortana and with Halo Infinite, we see this bond rekindle, this time with a new AI, simply named "the Weapon". The campaign's narrative is linear for the sake of clarity to new players, but has more than enough bite in it to grip nostalgia seekers.
The gameplay is incredible too, just as good as you would expect from a Halo game. With the new Banished inclusions, gunfights feel intense but also encouraging enough of experimentation. You may not want to drop that iconic MA40 assault rifle for the most part but when you do, there are more weapons to try out based on your preferred style of play. Then, there's the grapple hook - a new addition since the game moves to an open-world setting for the first time. All this tied together with a soundtrack that certainly gave me goosebumps.
Whether you're new to the franchise or not, Halo Infinite is undoubtedly one of the best campaigns of the year and a worthy return to form for a franchise that appears to have taken a fair bit of time, but has reinvented itself moving forward. — Shomik Sen Bhattacharjee
Buy: Halo Infinite
On the surface, It Takes Two might look like one game. And well, technically, it is. But it really isn't. Over the dozen hours or so you spend with it, It Takes Two constantly reinvents itself. Every new arena you unlock comes with its own set of mechanics, its own set of gameplay choices. There's platforming, puzzle-solving, and bits that require you to deal with vehicles. As I said, it's not one game but rather several genres of games smashed together in one. It Takes Two never allows itself to get stale or repetitive, and constantly keeps you on your toes.
Moreover, It Takes Two isn't just a game that's greatly enjoyable to play through — at its heart, it harbours some wonderful messaging that's conveyed in a rollicking light-hearted fashion. Kicking off with how divorce can take a toll on kids, It Takes Two thrusts players into the roles of a young girl's parents who find themselves trapped in play-acting dolls. Now they must figure out a way to get back into their human bodies, all while the anthropomorphic version of their therapy book (yeah, I know, it's weird) forces them to work with each other to fix their relationship.
The storytelling and the gimmick are all tied to It Takes Two director Josef Fares, who only believes in co-op gaming. That means It Takes Two — like his previous effort, A Way Out — can only be played with someone else. Two players or nothing, there is no other way. (Thankfully, if one player owns the game, a friend can play for free.) It Takes Two is an excellent co-op game that makes you work together in all manners of ways. Co-op games have always been a great sibling bonding experience for me — and it helps that It Takes Two is a brilliant game. — Akhil Arora
Buy: It Takes Two