games / Columns

The Top 8 Games of 2021

December 28, 2021 | Posted by Marc Morrison
Resident Evil Village

Welcome all to another edition of The 8 Ball! With it being the end of the year, it’s time for my traditional Game of the Year roundup column. As you might’ve guessed from last week’s column, I haven’t played every game in 2021, frankly, no one has. So this is more a list of the best games I played in 2021 and why. Enjoy:

#8: Shin Megami Tensei: V

The biggest problem with SMT: 5 is the performance on the Switch. Once objects get outside of 30 feet in front of you they become low-res, low-framerate things that barely animate. The fact that this game also asks you to run around quickly is kind of hilarious, to be honest. This issue aside, SMT: V is kind of an amazing RPG. It’s very reminiscent of SMT: Nocturne (3, for those keeping score), however it is a largely open-world game. You can explore the ruins of Tokyo largely to your hearts content, doing side missions, recruiting demons, finding Mimans and looking for demon essences to improve your own character. The fact that you can really customize your main character is kind of overwhelming because you have a lot of options in how you want to build them out. And while the actual overworld graphics can look fairly janky, the actual in-battle graphics look great and most of the demons/Personas are the best they’ve ever looked.

#7: Mass Effect Legendary Edition

Sure it’s a remaster, but who cares? It’s at least two great games and also Mass Effect 3. Actually Mass Effect 3 isn’t bad, it just has a really weird kind of setup, with the characters. Still, almost all of Mass Effect 1, all of Mass Effect 2 and all of Mass Effect 3 (minus the bad multiplayer) is a nice package. It’s also nice that the game has a proper PC release with gamepad controls and the like. The best thing though is that you can finally feel good again about being a Mass Effect fan. EA has made it hard over the years but hopefully the franchise is back on the right track.

#6: Deathloop

Aside from the reboot of Prey, I haven’t been a huge fan of Arkane’s prior games. Their Wolfenstein game felt punishingly hard and while Dishonored had a cool weird/premise, its gameplay systems also felt unfair, especially the restrictive magic system. Deathloop does have a lot in common with some of Arkane’s past games but there is a much greater emphasis on actually having fun than before. So if you get into a bad situation, you’ll have the tools to get out of it, or even if you do die, it’s honestly no big deal since the game is predicated upon you looping and playing the levels over and over again. Deathloop is pretty hard to get into first but once the game opens up and you unlock the ability to keep your weapons/gear from loop to loop, then it really becomes a much easier and more approachable game.

#5: Metroid Dread

I was pretty shocked they were actually able to pull this game off correctly. The reception for MercurySteam’s Metroid: Samus Returns was pretty mixed and there’s almost nothing in their other games history that is worth a damn. So it was startling to see this game come out and actually be good! Samus is nimble and controls well, there are some fun tweaked upgrades to her move set and the bosses are memorable as well. The E.M.M.I. sections are frustrating but they do offer something different from past Metroid games. My biggest knock against the game, overall, is that the hidden upgrades really aren’t very important. It would’ve been nice if you could find parts for some uber-weapon, or some side stuff that isn’t crucial but could give you more benefits.

#4: Persona 5 Strikers

Finally a good Dynasty Warriors game! Persona 5 Strikers is a Dynasty Warriors/Musou game in everything but name only. Well name, and it doesn’t have the Yellow Turban Rebellion in it, at least that I’ve found. The real beauty of Strikers is that it has the typical hack-and-slash gameplay of games of that ilk but most of the actual environments and levels are pretty constrained. You’re also not killing hundreds of enemies at a time, outside of a few really large areas, you typically face between 5 and 20 enemies and that’s about it. Strikers has most of the hallmarks of a Persona game, minus demon conversations, but has been adapted to fit an action gameplay system, so combat is a lot more fluid and dynamic than the traditional turn-based system. It still has a great story as well, ditching the day to day stuff of regular Persona games but letting you more easily take on side missions and explore towns that you visit.

#3: Returnal

The only real problem with Returnal is that it’s a roguelite and if you’re not into that, you’ll be deeply annoyed by this game. Frankly, I thought it was fine and the actual mechanics of Returnal are rock solid. The shooting feels great, the weapons are all very distinct, there are a lot of secrets to find which is a good motivator for playing levels over and over. After a certain point you’ll begin to really pick apart the game and then it feels second nature to blast through the levels and finding your favorite weapon or pieces of gear. I didn’t get a platinum trophy in this game or anything but I finished it, got the secret ending and had a good time doing so.

#2: Resident Evil Village

From a gameplay perspective, Resident Evil Village might be the best playing in the franchise. Everything feels responsive, combat is visceral and fun, and there are plenty of bad guys for you to eventually murder. While I can’t comment on how close it mirrors Resident Evil 7, I really appreciated how open-world this game truly is. It’s actually almost a bit of a Metroidvania because after every main castle or story bit, you’ll be left with a key or item that lets you further explore the town and unlock more secrets for you to find.

#1: Tales of Arise

I’ve honestly never been a huge fan of the “Tales” games. I would tend to like the stories in them but the combat always grew overly complicated and weird feeling, due to the 2D/3D stuff. Arise really fixes that by having an accessible but deep battle system that gets more fun the longer you play. Along with that, the story is involved but never gets overburdened or convoluted, it has memorable characters and good cast interactions. Plus, Tales of Arise has one of the best all-time intro movie songs ever, as you can see above.

For comments, list your favorite games of the year and why.

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Top 8 Disappointments of 2021