The games I played in 2021
Every year I do a writeup of my thoughts on some or all the games I played throughout the year. At least the ones I have some actual thoughts on. This list is in roughly chronological order of when I played them.
Played it multiplayer with a group of friends and had a lot of fun with it actually. Quite a fresh take on the survival/crafting genre. Especially enjoyed having decent combat and actual goals to work towards (the bosses to defeat), which gave a purpose to exploration and made planning expeditions fun and interesting. The building mechanics were also really interesting to me, in the way that they enforced a “style” on you with a couple of simple mechanics (“pieces that aren’t supported break”, “pieces without a roof above them degrade when it rains”, and “the only roof pieces available are angled, not flat”). Every building you make that fits those restrictions ends up looking naturally “vikingy”, and does a great job pulling you into the world.
The ore gathering SUCKED though. It felt like resources were balanced for single player, and in multiplayer you ended up just spending 80% of your time in a murky iron mine so everyone could gear up properly. Which is horrible considering how beautiful and fun to explore everything else is. Why you making me sit in a dungeon whacking piles of mud for so long?
Definitely interested in playing it again once its out of early access, as it currently is we stopped playing like immediately after killing the current final boss.
Loop Hero / Luck Be A Landlord / Roll
Lumping these 3 together because they all are kind of occupying the same headspace for me, of “deconstructed roguelike, with incremental game mechanics”. Loop hero was the most interesting and fully realized of the 3, and I enjoyed it quite a bit until I was able to get infinite resources from an infinite loop and break the entire game apart. I find it interesting the ways that games are figuring out how to take concepts from the “idle/incremental game” genre and integrate them into games that like, actually have some actual strategy or gameplay to them, and it should be interesting to see what else pops up in this genre in the future.
Resident Evil Village
I played RE4 and RE5 and skipped the rest of them until now. And I enjoyed it a lot. It reminded me a lot of RE4, which is great cause I loved RE4. I’m not gonna claim that the game is special or groundbreaking in anyway, at best its just a competent resident evil game, with all the cheesiness and campiness you’d expect from that. A solid 8/10.
Subnautica Below Zero
I enjoyed the original Subnautica quite a lot, but for some reason Below Zero didn’t quite land for me. Maybe its that a game who’s entire mood is based around “fear of the unknown” just doesn’t as hit hard once you already know what to expect. Maybe the smaller map just makes exploration less interesting, or maybe the fact that 1/3rd of it is land instead of water just doesn’t really feel great. Whatever the reason, it just feels like it missed the mark a bit.
Marked as a “Souls-Like” on steam, no it isn’t. Its just got a dark fantasy setting, but its influence is entirely Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Like nearly every mechanic in the game is clearly and obviously inspired by SOTN. Apparently “Souls-Like” just means “dark fantasy” now, and nothing about anything else.
I’m a sucker for metroidvanias though, and this game is one. And its fun enough. It’s a little bit worse than its influences on every axis, but still enjoyable enough.
It’s marked as a “Souls-Like” and a Metroidvania on steam, and it actually is both. Clear influences from the Souls series in regards to its combat and levelup/weapon mechanics, and clear influence from metroidvanias (especially hollow knight) as well.
The thing is, the game feels like they mashed a bunch of mechanics together from various other games without regard for how well those mechanics *actually* fit together. Fall damage (from dark souls) just doesn’t fit in with a platformer. And the dark-souls-style stamina system also just kind of hinders the enjoyability of the hollow-knight-style boss fights. The mechanics don’t mix well. Feels like a really amateur game with high production value.
Pokemon Dota. Enough said? I like dota, and I like pokemon, and this game is that, and it works decently enough. Played with friends and had a ton of fun. Everything about the game was really fun. Everything that was not the game… like the free-to-play economy and battle pass stuff… really hampered the experience a lot. They eased up on the more bullshit aspects of it once they realized that they didn’t need to lean on bullshit to sell shit since its pokemon and its popular, but the necessity to play every day to grind out the battle pass really wore me off of it quickly.
Psychonauts 2 is good. I’ll get that out of the way right now. My personal taste in games leans heavily towards gameplay-focused games instead of story-focused games, so Psychonauts has always been in a weird position for me, since its gameplay was never great, but it made up for that with an interesting setting, charming story, and hilarious dialog.
Psychonauts 2, for the most part, is Psychonauts 1 but better. Most of the jankier mechanics of the first game were cut to make platforming the core of what you do in Psychonauts 2, and the platforming was improved quite a bit as well. All of the levels are at least good, there’s no duds (the first game had a couple of dud levels). However, there’s also no levels quite as good as The Milkman Conspiracy from the original either. The game is also still full of uninteresting combat which tends to make it drag a lot, and feels unnecessary most of the time. There’s an option to trivialize or disable the combat, but that isn’t a good solution IMO. If it’s unnecessary, cut it. If not, improve it.
Also look, it’s got a great story with some great settings. I particularly like the use of impossible locations and interesting transitions that make the minds feel twisted and confusing. It’s all done very well. The story takes itself more seriously than the original does, which is a mixed bag for me, because it’s definitely more interesting and handles subjects with more maturity than the original did, but I liked the goofiness and humor of the original, and that aspect is lacking a bit in the sequel.
Outer Wilds: Echoes of the Eye
Outer Wilds was an amazing game and its DLC is also great. I’ll admit I would have preferred a DLC that still had a focus on space travel and planets, since its one of the things that was so cool about the original game, and its kind of odd that the DLC decided to be mostly not about that, but what they did instead was still great.
Back 4 Blood
The entire time I was playing, I wished I was just playing Left 4 Dead 2 instead. L4D took itself less seriously and was more fun as a result, and the “new” stuff that Back 4 Blood added (the… cards? and supply line junk) just felt like cruft to me. Pointless unnecessarily complicated additions that don’t make the game better. I wanna shoot zombies, not build a deck of zombie shooting cards. Also, as a direct result of the weirdly complicated deck building aspect of the game, the game has an incredibly toxic community. I peeked at the subreddit for it once or twice and just saw hundreds of topics of people complaining that their teammates don’t know how to play because they didn’t build the right decks. Its weird. They could save the game if they simplify it and allow for mods & modded campaigns (which were the best parts of L4D), but they’ve also said they do not plan to allow for mods, so 🤷♂️
Super Auto Pets
It’s a newer take on the auto-battler genre that was popular last year. Simplified a *ton* from the its auto-chess predecessors, yet far more strategically interesting and fun as a result. And 100% of the graphics are open source google emojis. A great example of how to be resourceful when designing a game on a limited budget, and absolutely worth a play. You piece.
Its a 3D sokoban-style puzzle game about blocks. I don’t think there’s that much to say about it, the puzzles are well designed and pretty brutal at times, but towards the end they started being more about pedantic implementation details of the mechanics instead of like, interesting logical puzzles, and that’s where I fell off a bit.
It’s a block pushing puzzle game. You have an undo button, but also some blocks that don’t respect the undo button. So you have a second undo button that undoes those blocks as well. But then there’s blocks that don’t respect that undo button either. So you have a 3rd undo button that undoes those as well. But then there’s blocks that don’t respect *that* undo button either. I laughed and then quit as soon as that got introduced. Genuinely hilarious, but I ain’t want to deal with that shit. Good luck if you want to.
Yeah I fucking learned how to solve a rubik’s cube in 2021. what of it? It definitely got more interesting when I moved past the beginner method, and started doing “intuitive first 2 layers”, since that stopped being about memorizing patterns and more about internalizing how pieces move. I can solve it in about 50 seconds.
Metroid Dread (co-GOTY)
Metroid Dread was the game I had the most fun playing through all year. Was it perfect? No, but it was so fun it didn’t matter. The movement was great, the atmosphere was great, the bosses were great, and its an actual real new Metroid game.
Like, it has the best action in the series, by a pretty wide margin. They took what they tried to do in Samus Returns, and fixed it up so it actually worked this time, and the result is a delight. I know there’s some complaints about the game guiding and pushing you forward a bit too much (you never get lost while playing normally), but unlike Metroid Fusion it does allow for a significant amount of sequence breaking and remains fairly open throughout the whole game if you choose to not take the obvious paths forward. And, given the series push towards more action-focused titles over time, its nice that the *action* is actually great this time. Like if that’s what the series is about now, it better at least be great.
Also the bosses were excellent, the final boss in particular is a favorite. They mostly all struct that perfect balance of feeling impossible at first, but easy after a couple attempts. You couldn’t just tank your way through most of them while ignoring their attacks, you were forced to engage, and (except for one miniboss) all the attacks were well telegraphed and easy to learn how to react to. Just great overall.
I can’t pick between it and Inscryption for GOTY, so they’re co-GOTYs together. Speaking of…
Inscryption is everything I want a game to be. It’s got an interesting mechanical core that it uses to tell an interesting story, with an interesting theme and unique vibe that just all fits so well together. It’s smart enough to know the limits of its own mechanics and push you forward right before you start to get bored of what you’re currently doing, so it constantly feels fresh and interesting for its entire experience, beginning to end.
I don’t even like, want to talk about it anymore, because I don’t want to spoil it for people. Play it, and go in as blind as possible.