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DualShockers’ Favorite Games of 2021 – Natalie’s Top 10

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December 21, 2021

2021 was a long ride filled with difficulty and a struggle to return to the norm. I found myself sticking to things that brought comfort or a refreshing change of pace to lockdown life, and my top 10 favorite games of 2021 are no exception.

Gaming in 2021 for me was largely about finding new adventures or new ways to connect with friends. Delving into stories together added vibrance and joy in these difficult times, allowing us to feel close even when separated by 6 feet.

Further, it was a year of escapism, of exploring expansive virtual worlds and grand stories and eccentric characters. I have to say that it was a bright year for games, with so many new releases and old favorites coming back.

Before we jump into a new year filled with new games, here is my Top 10 Favorite Games of 2021.

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10. FAR CRY 6

Though I’m still working my way through this game, Far Cry 6 has been an explosive experience. The graphics in this are nothing short of beautiful, with its environments feeling so very alive. Playing as Dani Rojas, an insider rather than the outsider character the series has tended to favor, is refreshing and makes the fight feel personal.

The voice acting too heightens the whole experience, with Giancarlo Esposito playing a killer villain. Hearing his intercom announcements throughout the game really solidifies his presence as an all-seeing ironclad leader, making the player feel that much more like a rebel.

Also, how do you not love a game with a little sausage dog named Chorizo? Read DualShockers’ review here!

9. MYSTERIUM

Mysterium, developed by Oleg Sidorenko et Oleksandr Nevskiy, is one of the coolest board games you will ever play. With a combination of individual and group play, Mysterium guides its players on a ghostly journey to solve a murder.

This game is asymmetrical, with one player being the ghost of the victim and everyone else taking their places as detectives. I really enjoyed breaking down the ghost’s clues with the other detectives, and the timed aspect adds an element of urgency that fits perfectly with the game’s tone. It’s a fun and unique take on the Cluedo-style of murder mysteries, and so easy to replay with your friends.

8. HITMAN 2

In games with a lot of combat, I tend to prefer the sneaky-stealthy route. Hitman 2 is built for players with that playstyle, with a heavy focus on planning and covert movements.

I bought this fully expecting to just complete it once and move on to 2021’s Hitman 3, but its sillier angle kept me coming back. Each mission has several paths to success, allowing players to get the full scope of the location and story with re-runs. It’s equal parts serious and goofy, adding real charm to Agent 47’s usually stoic countenance. I’ve loved being both the serious deadly assassin and the unexpected killer mascot (re: the “Pretty in Pink” arc), and it’s the flexibility and freedom of this game that landed it on this list.

You can see DualShockers’ review of the new Hitman 3 here.

7. FINAL FANTASY XIV: A REALM REBORN

To be honest, MMORPGs have always been difficult for me to get into, but few have captured my attention quite like FFXIV has. The character customization is on a completely different level, and the game has so much to discover. While such a platform can be overwhelming, FFXIV mitigates that by creating magical wonder at every turn.

Unfortunately, with massive queues times and player overload, I have yet to experience the newest expansion, Endwalker. I’ve been playing through the base game using the free trial, though, with Endwalker being so popular, Square Enix actually had to stop selling the game. It just goes to show how loved this game is, and how enthusiastic its community is. It’s been a real joy leveling up as a Dragoon and interacting with other players, and it’s a real treat to look at.

Look at DualShockers’ review of Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers here!

6. ANIMAL CROSSING: NEW HORIZONS 2.0 UPDATE

Animal Crossing is the kind of game I routinely drop and come back to, but it’s hard to imagine the past year without it. With the new 2.0 update out, it’s truly been a real joy to jump back into. The calming gameplay aided by a gentle soundtrack is what makes AC:NH feel like home – warm and soft.

Even better, it’s a great game to virtually play with friends. Not everyone can physically come together during the holidays; however, AC:NH gives us the opportunity to connect again. It’s a game full of heart that encourages wholesome moments, and for that, it deserves a spot on my top 10 favorite games.

You can read DualShockers’ breakdown of AC:NH here.

5. HADES

Though Hades came out in September 2020, I really got into it over the course of 2021. It’s a brilliant game – from the expansive dialogue script to the lore-supported changing dungeons, this was a game I truly got lost in.

Incorporating failed attempts into the story and the player’s progression is such a smart way of encouraging more runs. That, coupled with an ever-progressing series of relationships, makes Hades feel brand new every time I pick up my Switch. Additionally, the adaptations of Greek mythos in this game feel both fresh and recognizable, immortalized in a unique art style I could gaze at forever.

But don’t just take it from me – it’s currently the highest-rated 2021 Xbox game on Metacritic, even a full year after its release.

Check out our review of Hades here!

4. VALORANT

I’m not the best at FPS games, but something about VALORANT keeps me coming back. Maybe it’s the cool advanced pop-tech aesthetics, the team-based gameplay, or the range of fun agents. Maybe it’s the fascinating bits of lore hidden around the map or the stunning cinematics. Or maybe it’s the fine-tuned balance between abilities and gun mechanics.

In truth, it’s all of the above. I’ve enjoyed strengthening my basic FPS skills through the wide range of gun mechanics while also exploring different strategies for agent abilities. I love that the agents are categorized by specific roles, yet are flexible enough to be creatively used in just about any situation. I prefer to main Killjoy and take a more defensive role, but I have every opportunity to wield an Operator should I want to.

Though, it’s hard to ignore that the game still very much has an issue with player harassment, particularly towards non-male players. I stick to non-competitive modes for those reasons, and I’d recommend teaming up with friends rather than solo queuing.

3. THE OUTER WORLDS

At my number 3 spot is Obsidian’s The Outer Worlds, and for very good reasons. I picked this game up on the Switch, though I’d recommend playing it on a much bigger screen.

I haven’t played many games that feature a rotating party of NPCs, but this game handles it beautifully. The party members are all so distinct and so personable that I loved each and every one of them (though Parvati is my favorite). It was unbelievably fun to hear the companions chat with one another, and so fascinating to hear bark lines from other NPCs reveal key points of lore in passing. Though it isn’t an easy game, it’s an incredibly fun one to poke around in and play. I wish I had picked it up earlier!

All in all, The Outer Worlds is what happens when tight narrative design, creative quest mapping, and stunning art all collide in an exploding star of a game. Read our full review of The Outer Worlds here!

2. STARDEW VALLEY

I love Stardew Valley. I adore its charming characters, its bright color palette, and its freedom of play. Contrary to Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley‘s day cycle is not reliant on real-world time, making it incredibly easy to spend hours maintaining the farm. The best way I can describe Stardew is that it’s an ongoing casual life sim game that’ll welcome you with wide arms each time you return.

Although this game is so clearly up my alley, I actually hadn’t played it until this year. While I wish I’d gotten into it earlier, I have to say that it came at the perfect time. It was honestly the best game to escape into, and the combination of exploration and resource management made this my usual go-to. The game’s gorgeous soundtrack and cute art style make this a real package for me, and the game’s ongoing development shows that it can only go up from here. Not to mention, Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone is a one-of-kind designer, and I can’t wait to see what he does with Haunted Chocolatier.

1. DUNGEONS & DRAGONS

If there was one game that truly got me through 2021, it’s Dungeons & Dragons. It sounds like an especially nerdy choice, but as a game that relies heavily on player collaboration and interaction, it was the perfect choice for remote group gaming. Being able to connect with friends across the country and the world over truly impactful storytelling is makes TTRPGs like D&D so special, and why it deserves my number 1 spot.

In general, D&D is a solid and fairly accessible starting point for TTRPGs as a whole. With a manageable character sheet, tons of online tools, and books upon books of established lore, there is just so much to explore. Players encounter characters and monsters from a broad range of vibrant locations, all through a mix of luck-based dice rolling and skill bonuses. I love that every roll feels impactful and tangible, with the extra bit of reliance on luck to make actions exciting and risky. Honestly, the sheer range of available classes and subclasses spoils players with choice and ensures that every kind of player can tailor their character to their playstyle.

Truth be told, most of the D&D I played this year were actually homebrews created by my wonderful DM friends. Homebrews are the real beauty of D&D, which, at its core, is a transferrable system of rules. DMs are encouraged to spin their own tales and craft adventures along with their players in customized settings, mechanics, and characters. My most favorite moments have been those unique interactions, where we’ve found a story that resonated with us all in very personal ways.

Check out the rest of DualShocker’s staff Top 10 lists below and our Offical Game of the Year Awards winners:

December 20: Jo Craig (Staff Writer)

December 22: Dean James (Freelance Staff Writer)

December 23: Manisha Priyadarshini (Freelance Staff Writer)

December 24: Kyle Knight ( Staff Writer)

December 25: Shivam Gulati (Senior Staff Writer)

December 26: Mehrdad Khayyat (Senior Staff Writer)

December 27: Md Armughanuddin (Head of Content- India)

December 28: Iyane Agossah (Head of Japanese Content)

December 29: Rachael Fiddis (Deputy Editor & Head of Stakeholder Relations)

December 30: Sam Woods (Managing Editor and EIC)

December 31: Game of the Year Awards 2021 Official Winners Revealed

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Natalie Schmidt
@bynatalies

Natalie (She/Her) is a writer and game design enthusiast hailing from way-too-sunny Los Angeles. She loves to dissect game narrative and analyze mechanics, but she doesn’t even want to think about how many hours she’s spent playing D&D or The Witcher 3. Aside from triple-A adventures, she’s passionate about RPGs of all kinds and meaningful representation in games

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