2021 Quarterlies! Vote for Qt3’s Best Game of 2021: “All these worlds are yours. Except Europa. Attempt no landing there.”

All these games are really missing out on the chance to win the Qt3 Quarterlies by doing these long early release periods. Look what happened to Factorio!

  1. Nioh 2 - The most satisfying combat system ever with a great range of different weapons and tools that all feel great and distinct from one another.
  2. Returnal - I had some gripes about the pacing and structure, but the kinetic combat and sci-fi exploration atmosphere carried it, and it was great to see a true AAA-production roguelike.
  3. Unsighted - A game that wears its influences on its sleeve (NieR Automata’s sad existentialist automatons, Souls’ “going hollow” concept and stamina-based combat, Zelda-esque exploration), but executes them all with aplomb.
  4. Inscryption - Does its own thing (or many things), always keeping me guessing, but still rooted in a fun moment-to-moment card play.
  5. Curse of the Dead Gods - I feel a bit conflicted about my gaming tastes – this year there were a bunch of cool nonviolent indie games that explored interesting artistic territory (Unpacking, Sable, Artful Escape, Forgotten City, etc.). And for the most part my reaction was “Neat, glad games are doing this stuff, but I’m going to get back to whipping skeletons in the face now.” I dunno what that says about me, but CotDG sure does make it fun to whip skeletons in the face over and over again.

Honorable Mention

  • Metroid Dread
  • Final Fantasy VII Remake
  • Beast Breaker
  • Death’s Door
  • Shin Megami Tensei V
  • Dungeon Encounters
  • Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth
  • Wildermyth
  • Trials of Fire
  • Tainted Grail: Conquest
  • Gloomhaven
  • Unpacking
  • Scarlet Nexus
  • Old World
  1. Old World
  2. Diablo II: Resurrected

But in good news, Slay the Spire is eligible for the fourth year in a row.

That got a chuckle out of me.

  1. Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous I spent an unreasonable amount of time playing this game. In large part to the tool box mod, which has a feature that should be in every CRPG—speeding up traversal through the world. I am too old to wait for my characters to slooowly walk across a city. I got the solutions to the puzzles online, because really, who has time for this?

  2. Remnants of the Precursors is probably the game I’ve spent the second most time playing. MOO with a modern interface is what I needed in my life.

  3. Old World I enjoyed this one because I am too laid back to care about minmaxing everything and too much of a builder to get too upset about the AI (which is strong enough for me).

  4. Wildermyth is the first game with procedurally generated story that actually made me care about the characters.

  5. Solasta: Crown of the Magister was a fun implementation of 5e in a CRPG, but the story was too generic to grab me.

Wildermyth seems like it would almost certainly be my game of the year if I had gotten around to playing it. Oops. Maybe I’ll come back and edit this before next Friday. Pathfinder and Dungeon Encounters are also very up my alley if I ever get there, as are the Diablo 2 and Mass Effect remakes that I probably won’t ever play. I was not playing Disco Elysium again so soon after the first time, though I will get to the Final Cut at some point. I will play 100+ hours of Old World when it finally comes out next year.

I did play most of the other games I was interested in this year, at least enough to get a feel for them, and this is the most lukewarm I’ve been about one of these lists over the however many years of filling them out. First place is still worth the same five points, though.

  1. Tales of Arise - if you had asked me going into the year what my top ten most anticipated RPGs were, I don’t know if Arise would have made that list, never mind top ten overall. Tales is my least favorite of the various long-running JRPG series that are a tier below the AAAs in budget and ambition, but every now and then an entry clicks for me, and boy did this one click. I like how Schreier described it (paraphrasing): it’s a comfort, fast-food series, the last few entries have been McDonalds or Burger King, but Arise is Shake Shack. The underlying product is still pretty much the same, but the execution and quality is a different tier, and I found myself motivated to carve out 50+ hours of PS5 time for it in a routine where PC and Switch are infinitely more convenient for me to play on a regular basis.

  2. Metroid Dread - there are a lot of things I don’t love about Dread, but everything it does right is so right and so irreplaceable by the other Metroidvanias out there (however good they are in their own rights). I mean, I regularly died a couple dozen times inside of 10 minutes in the stupid EMMI sections and never considered dropping the game. It must have been pretty good!

  3. Trials of Fire - I would have sworn under oath that this was 2020, but nope, I have been waiting for 1.0 on Early Access games the last few years and it looks like I played it at release in April/May of 2021. This had a ton of elements I really loved but was maybe a little less than the sum of its parts. I would have preferred a more focused core experience, versus a bunch of different scenarios that can be played a bunch of different ways. It still all added up to a very good game.

  4. Gloomhaven - this seems unfair since I had already played most of a board game campaign before it came to a screeching COVID-halt, but I enjoyed [and am still enjoying] the digital adaptation more than I expected to when I added it as a toss-in to my Frosthaven pledge. Turns out that a dungeon crawler and campaign design that I like minus the fun of the coop party (but also minus a lot of setup fiddliness) turns out to be something I still like.

  5. Shin Megami Tensei V - I should have loved this, and I did end up liking it, but I bounced off it more than I have the past entries, and there’s pretty decent odds I don’t end up finishing it. Maybe Persona has ruined me for vanilla SMT? I liked it well enough to give it a vote, but I probably won’t remember it a year or two from now.

Looks like I only finished one game that came out last year.

  1. Warhammer 40,000: Battlesector.

Happy to have this at number 1 anyway since I really enjoyed it.

Honourable mentions to Decisive Campaigns: Ardennes, Warplan: Pacific and War in the East 2 which I played, but have only really dabbled in.

I own a grand total of two games released in 2021. And I’ve only played one - and still haven’t finished it.

  1. Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin

Edit: Make that three games! But I don’t think Patron is good enough and I’m not far enough along in Grow to have an opinion.

  1. Solasta: Crown of the Magister - This game should be seen as nothing less than a revolution in how DnD style games are adapted to a PC game. The interface choices simply embarrass contemporaries like Pathfinder and Baldur’s Gate III which cling to a design paradigm from the late 90s. It also demonstrates how to properly design encounters and dungeons to actually make things like short rests meaningful, and obviate the need to cheese rest mechanics. It’s use of lighting and height and jumping mechanics are all leagues beyond what anyone else is doing making for tremendously interesting fights and character decisions.

  2. Returnal - This is a game I will likely never finish, but I can’t help but love. It just feels so amazing to play and I have an enormous amount of admiration for what Housemarque has accomplished here.

  3. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy - One of the most beautiful and best written games of the year. Unmissable for it’s characters and incredible locations, plus that killer soundtrack. Mantis is bae.

  4. Trials of Fire - This game is just everything I want in a card-based rogue-like. Cool tactics, meaningful equipment and challenging fights.

  5. Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart - This game is just a delightful joyride from top to bottom, and a technical showpiece to boot.

  1. Remnants of the Precursors (ROTP)
  2. Old World
  3. Wildermyth
  1. Disco Elysium: The Final Cut
  2. A-Train: All Aboard! Tourism
  3. Life is Strange: True Colors
  4. Death’s Door
  5. Sunless Skies: Sovereign Edition

Not a lot of options for me this year. 2021 was mostly board games, and mostly older board games at that. Let’s see:

  1. Oath - A love-it-or-hate-it proposition. I mostly love it, but I completely understand why some folks really don’t.
  2. Imperial Steam - a really solid heavy eurogame
  3. Faiyum - a really solid mid-weight eurogame
  4. Ankh - a lot better than the overwrought miniatures would lead you to believe
  5. Shamans - I don’t normally like hidden role games, but this one is very clever and tense. I have docked it one imaginary point because the box cover says “Shamanz” but the actual name is the much lamer “Shamans”.

(on my initial list, but it’s not a 2021 release) Nevsky: Teutons and Rus in Collision - I hope you like mud

Honestly not an amazing selection. I played quite a few games better than these in 2021, but none were 2021 releases.

  1. Wildermyth

If Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous was an all-you-can east smorgasbord, a big old feast with a zillion classes and races, a ginormous campaign, and an entire light strategy game tossed on top, then Wildermyth was a tiny little experimental pop-up restaurant that only serves a handful of dishes each day.

In many respects, Wildermyth is minimalist. Art? Simple and cartoony. Animation? Basically paper dolls. Voiceover? There isn’t any. One race, three classes, random abilities on level-up and a bare minimum of items and armor. You can’t even trade items between characters in your party.

But this is a case where less is more. Not being able to swap items in Wildermyth felt like blissful freedom after spending literally (and yes I literally mean literally) hours shuffling items around in games like Pathfinder or Divinity 2. Having a choice of random abilities for my characters on level up did remove the ability to micromange my teams - but it also gave me a wider variety of teams than I would have made if left to my own devices (and, again, saved me a bunch of time.) Wrath of the Righteous was a more comprehensive game in terms of features, but Wildermyth was more fun because I spent my time playing the game instead of slogging through UI and looking up how things worked.

Wildermyth is also innovative: it is the first game I have ever seen that created a unified whole out of randomized roguelike elements, procedural storytelling, and (in the campaigns) traditional storytelling. It made me care about my characters, even when they were involved in randomized anecdotes. It had a legacy system that worked both in terms of game function and storytelling fiction, with you creating an extensive pantheon of heroes young, old, and passed into legend.

Wildermyth does have its flaws. It really could use a few more items and armor pieces, a few more map objective types, a couple more things to do on the overland map. And it does rely a bit too much on what might be termed “wistful indy poignancy” in the writing. But the first objections are me being left wanting more, a sure sign a game has done its job successfully. And the second is something I never even dreamed I’d get out of such a game. Who ever thought they’d be getting wistful poignancy in a rogue-like?

  1. Valheim

On the one hand it’s “just” a Minecraft/Terraria clone; on the other, it does so well what many other attempts have done so poorly. And it felt polished, balanced and fun even when just entering Early Access. Indeed, it felt more like a finished game than Minecraft has ever done. Edit: Yeah, OK, according to the rules it doesn’t technically qualify. But I’m still leaving it here, because I protest the rules - some Early Access games are more complete than some technically released games. (E.g. Valheim vs. Solasta.) And a bunch of games spend forever in Early Access, so by the time they’re technically finished the world has moved on.

  1. Hitman 3

Normally I hate repeating content in games - even in good games, like Outer Wilds. But repeating content in Hitman is a pleasure, as you invent multitudes of ways to do in your targets. A bunch of games have talked the “multiple ways to achieve your goals” talk over the years, but Hitman actually walks it (assuming your goals are to kill someone and escape, that is.)

  1. Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous

The fact I liked the little pop-up restaurant better doesn’t mean I don’t like tucking into a big old smorgasbord as well. To enjoy a smorgasbord, though, you need to accept that some of the vast number of dishes it offers will be much better than others, and that some are best skipped entirely. No need to even try the sushi station, er, I mean Crusade mode.

  1. Dorfromantik

This gets the Islanders award for a game where the number of hours played show I liked it far more than my subjective impressions do. My subjective impressions say it’s a pleasant landscape-building puzzler that, as someone says above, maybe needs a tweak or two. The number of hours played says its deeply engaging game that gets its hooks in you long-term (while at the same time being super chill and relaxing.)

  1. Inscryption
    The card game mechanics were enjoyable enough, adding in all the other layers - no spoilers. Wonderful. The only game I fully completed this year.
  2. Wildermyth
    A warm hug of a game. Enjoyable bite-sized tactical battles, and endearing procedural storytelling that is so, so well done.
  3. Old World
    A well received shot in the arm for a 4X genre I haven’t touched in years. Will likely take years for me to grok all the systems, but I can enjoy the stories it produces just as well without that knowledge.
  4. Trials of Fire
    Crunchier than Wildermyth, but still good.
  5. SNKRX
    Getting to the scrapings of the games I played that were released this year. Snake with added RPG elements.

Since I’m not good at keeping with the shiny - a quick mention to the game I’ve played most of this year - Elex. I’ve loved revisiting that Gothic feeling of being terrified to actually fight anything.

  1. Unpacking
    With a bullet, the best of many great indie experiences this year. This plays like a game that knows exactly what it is and dials every aspect of its design to perfectly match that. Lots of games are about accumulating stuff, but very few of those are not about using said stuff to min-max some stats or racking up some capitalist score. But Unpacking is really about the meaning behind the objects in our lives, how those things come and go, how we grow with and around them. And all of it is executed with such attention to detail and precise care. It’s a small masterpiece.

  2. Cloud Gardens
    I saw this and Unpacking both described as part of a burgeoning genre of “placement games.” If that’s a thing, then bring on more placement games! This game is so beautiful and so relaxing that it’s easy to overlook how technologically impressive it has to be under the hood to allow you to build these custom dioramas and, simultaneously, to let plants spread their way around them.

  3. Clap Hanz Golf
    I can’t deny my most-played game a spot in the top 5. This is Hot Shots Golf perfectly adapted iOS and spiced up with a string of unlocks and variant game modes so it never feels old.

  4. The Forgotten City
    I didn’t play all the time loop games from this year… Who could?? But of the ones I played, this was the best. As the mystery went deeper and deeper (surprisingly deep!), the game made it easier and easier to navigate and plan around. Great storytelling–a shame about the over-long combat interlude.

  5. SOLAS 128
    I respect a puzzle game that can go so far up its own ass that it establishes its own unique inevitable logic. I guess this is the “Jonathan Blow” style of puzzle game, but SOLAS exhibits none of the self-satisfaction that oozes from Blow’s games. It just slowly marches these shapes in laser-like reflectable lines around the screen to a thumping electronic beat as you try every possible combination of mirror and splitter placement until the shapes combine in just the right way to unlock the next screen. But what’s genius about SOLAS is how that one screen may just be a single step in a much longer multi-screen chain of cause and effect that results in you getting, like, the yellow laser-shape to bop its way into the yellow keyhole. By the end of the game, I was outclassed, but I still enjoyed following a walkthrough video and admiring the elaborate final puzzles.

The rest of my top 10:

  1. Fossil Corner
    Buy a box of fossils. Arrange the fossils into a family tree using their physical properties as clues (these are actually fun and interesting procedurally generated puzzles). Pick a fossil from the box to keep and put on a shelf. Photograph this or that set of fossils in your collection to fulfill a random request on your computer for money. Buy a new shelf and a new box of fossils. REPEAT FOREVER because procedurally generated puzzles. Brilliant!

  2. The Artful Escape
    Bob Dylan’s nephew decides instead to be style himself the Son of David Bowie and go on a cosmic adventure playing guitar for bizarro aliens. Colorful and enthusiastic and not very challenging, but whatever. The video game equivalent of a planetarium laser light show.

  3. If On a Winter’s Night, Four Travelers
    An atmospheric pixel art point-and-click anthology game with some of the most beautiful pixel art of the year and most evocative gameplay set pieces. If you think there’s even a chance you’ll like this, just play it because, absurdly, the talented people who made it are giving it away for free.

  4. Wolfstride
    This is a shaggy and silly mech battle game with way more story than I was expecting and an eclectic black-and-white anime art style. It keeps handing out new goodies and new minigames and new story twists, and all the while I just keep smiling, so I think it has just totally won me over with its goofball energy.

  5. SNKRX
    Hey, what if you took an extremely accessible arcade-style game and added a bunch of strategy and RPG progression on top? That’s what my friends and I at Vodeo Games aimed to do with Beast Breaker, and so did game designer “adn” with SNKRX. Next to Clap Hanz Golf and Mini Motorways, this was my iPhone obsession this year.

It was a really great year for games, I thought. Here are some other games I enjoyed:

  • Chicory
  • Exo One
  • Inscryption
  • Last Stop
  • The Legend of Tianding
  • Loop Hero
  • Slipways
  • Song of Farca
  • Wildermyth
  • Ynglet
  1. Old World
  2. Monster Hunter Stories 2
  3. Warhammer 40K Battlesector
  4. Demeo
  5. Fights in Tight Places

Oh, did Trials of Fire hit 1.0 this year? Hmm, now I have some thinking to do.

Holy bejesus, I swear Valheim was in EA and launched proper last year, but nope, still in EA and ineligble for votes. Amended my list.


Could you fellows please unbold your numbers? Only the game title should be bolded.