Why is my list of TheGamer’s Games of the Year the only official and correct list? Well, for starters, I played more games this year than any other TG editor. I can say this with confidence because I tracked all of the games I played using the GG app. I played 92 games and my coworkers didn’t keep count, so I win by default.
I take pride in having an eclectic taste, so you’ll find what I consider to be a good mix of triple-A and indie – of well-known and underappreciated. These are the games I spent the most time with this year, the ones that made the biggest impact on me, and the ones I consider to be more impressive, innovative, and well-designed than the competition. It’s a list of the best games, you get it. This is a ranked list, with ten being the worst-best game and one being the best-best game. Again, this is definitive and accurate, feel free to share it around.
One caveat before we jump in: according to the GG app I did not actually play Prey (2017) this year. I only put games on this list that I played this year, obviously, so while Prey is still the best game of all time, it is, unfortunately, not on my list for 2021. I will make sure I play Prey again in 2022 so it can forever be at the top of every list I make, but for this year, just consider Prey an honorary mention.
10. Guardians of the Galaxy
I did not expect Guardians to make my list even as I was playing it, but by the end it had won me over thanks entirely to the story, writing, and performances. The characters might look like MCU stand-ins, but Eidos-Montreal’s takes the Guardians to places the movies could never dream of going. It’s story-forward approach is ambitious for triple-A, which often treats narrative as an afterthought to gameplay. And while I didn’t love the action and combat, the complex, comic book plot was enough to pull me along. I enjoyed the ride and found a lot of it to be emotionally resonant, particularly towards the end, which is uncommon outside of strictly narrative-focused games like Life is Strange. More games should focus on telling good stories, and it certainly paid off for Guardians of the Galaxy.
9. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
I almost forgot about Ratchet & Clank when I was making my list since it was the only PS5 game I played this year (sorry Returnal), but I have warm fuzzy feelings when I think about it now. I’ve been a Ratchet & Clank fan my entire life, and Rift Apart is certainly their best adventure yet. It’s also a true demonstration of what current-gen consoles have to offer and the game that sold me on the DualSense even more than Astro’s Playroom. Rivet and Kit are wonderful additions to the series and I hope they stick around. I was also thoroughly impressed by the planets that had a more open-world design. Rift Apart is a fairly safe game, but it may be the precursor to bigger, more ambitious Ratchet & Clank games in the future.
8. Ruined King: A League of Legends Story
The end of Arcane left a giant, League-shaped hole in my heart, but Ruined King was right there to fill it full of juicy Runeterra lore. It’s not nearly as thematically dense or politically charged as Arcane – in fact, it’s story of revenge on the high seas is rather pedestrian by RPG standards – but it nevertheless allowed me to scratch an itch for more League without actually having to play League (thank God). I also credit Ruined King for igniting my love for turn-based RPGs, a genre I thought had nothing to offer my ADHD-riddled brain. Its unique battle mechanics and flashy animations kept me engaged and entertained for over 30 hours, which is something I never thought I’d be able to say about a turn-based RPG. It’s also got a fantastic cast of fan-favorite League characters that all want to sleep with each other. Two thumbs up.
Deathloop made immersive-sims mainstream. As a purist, I feel like it lost some of the complexity and sense of discovery that made Dishonored and Prey so great. That said, I can’t deny that Deathloop’s approachability made it a more popular game than any of Arkane’s previous titles. The way Deathloop’s separate zones and phases of the day all fit together is a marvel, and the longer I played it the more interconnected details I found. So much of the mystery and brilliance of Deathloop happens after the credits, which I suspect a lot of people haven’t and will never see. It feels like we’ve barely scratched the surface on this game, and I think it’s likely our collective appreciation for it that will only improve with time.
Normally I don’t put early access games on the list, and I don’t like to pick games that didn’t come out this year, but it would be disingenuous not to include Satisfactory, the game that I played most and enjoyed the most this year. While it's essentially just 3D Factorio, Satisfactory has inspired me in ways that creative-driven games like Minecraft and Little Big Planet never could. I don't like the idea of having to make my own fun, but there’s something about the way that Satisfactory rewards efficient designs and clever problem-solving that has taken hold of my brain. I dream about automation now. It’s even more fun with friends because each person can take on their own little projects that all contribute to your one, true purpose: industrializing the planet. Problematic? Yes. A blast for designers and math nerds? Also yes.
5. Pokemon Unite
Finally, a MOBA I can be good at. I don’t care if I’m stomping on actual children, just let me have this one. I’ve always wanted to be good at League, or Dota 2, or even Heroes of the Storm, but there’s just too much to learn and I’ve never been willing to dedicate the time to them. Pokemon Unite is simplified to the point where anyone can learn the fundamentals in a few rounds, but sophisticated enough that you can continue improving for as long as you keep playing. I haven’t been thrilled with all the microtransaction options or the choices for new fighters, but I’m still playing Unite regularly because I love the competitive gameplay. As I look ahead to upcoming additions like Tsareena and Dragonite, I don’t see myself stopping any time soon.
If you don’t know Inscryption, I recommend you stop reading about it and play it immediately. It’s the kind of game that’s best if you don’t know anything about it before you start, and a game like that is always going to make my list at the end of the year. Inscryption terrified me more than any game I played this year, which is a surprising thing to say about a rogue-like card game. Don’t be fooled: this is an existential nightmare that uses cards as a narrative tool just as much as a gameplay mechanic. If you’ve played Daniel Mullin’s other games like Pony Island and The Hex, then you should have a good idea about the places Inscryption goes, and boy, does it go places. This is a must-play for creepy-pasta fans, even if the deckbuilding thing is a turn off. I promise you that it’s an experience you don’t want to miss.
3. Metroid Dread
My favorite game series of all time comes out with the first brand new entry in 17 years, and it's a bop. Like Deathloop, Dread does some clever things to modernize the Metroidvania genre and make it more approachable. Not all of those changes benefit a hardcore player like me, but I can still appreciate how clever the changes that streamlined exploration and progression are for newcomers. That’s not to say Dread is too simple: the boss fights here are the most difficult I faced all year, and some of the optional collectibles were so hard to get I nearly gave up. Those challengers create a nice balance with the more straight-forward level design. For nostalgia-motivated reasons it isn’t my favorite Metroid, but I have to admit it’s probably the best one.
2. New Pokemon Snap
I imagine it will be controversial to put New Pokemon Snap so high on my list considering how much people complained about the grind, but I put well over 100 hours in Snap and only stopped when there was nothing left for me to do. The way New Snap slowly unfolds over many hours was a treat, because I loved turning over every stone on each course to discover their secrets, especially the complex ones like Founja Jungle and Elsewhere Forest. New Pokemon Snap has been the perfect escape for both five minute breaks and long deep dives, where I can immerse myself in each course until I’ve unlocked every pose and secret path. I love seeing Pokemon come alive in Snap, and it's given me an appreciation for some many Pokemon I never paid much attention to before. I’m going to stop writing and go do a Ruins of Remembrance run right now just to snap a pic of Umbreon. What a game.
1. The Forgotten City
I’ve been advocating for The Forgotten City non-stop for months, and I won’t stop until the whole world realizes how incredible it is. If you’re not familiar with it, The Forgotten City is a first-person, story-driven game about an ancient Roman city where no one can commit a crime without dooming everyone. Your job is to find out who is planning to commit a crime and stop them. Fail, and you’ll need to escape the city as it's besieged by golden archers and activate a time loop. When you begin again, you’ll have all of the knowledge and items you previously earned. I can’t say anything more without ruining the experience, but if that sounds intriguing you can play it right now on Game Pass.
The Forgotten City is part detective game, part RPG, and part philosophy lesson. It has the most robust and complex dialogue trees ever conceived, its puzzles are smart and satisfying, and its exploration of morality is profound. The Forgotten City is the kind of game that should be taught in classes – and not just video game ones. There are many years where it is difficult to choose my number one, but The Forgotten City was the clear front runner from the second the credits rolled, and I’ve never doubted for a second that it deserved the top honors this year.
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