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SQUAD’s favorite games of 2021

It’s GOTY time again! This week, we here at SQUAD took a moment to once again chat about our favorite games of the past year. After months of new IP reveals, surprise launches (Halo Infinite’s multiplayer and Ruined King shadow-dropped in the same week?!) and piles of DLCs and updates for our live service addictions, it was interesting to see what our team gravitated towards. Here are SQUAD’s favorite games of 2021!

Childhoods re-lived

Andrew: Resident Evil Village is not only a stellar installment in the popular franchise, it’s just an awesome game on its own. There are so many standout moments in Ethan’s journey to find his daughter. While Lady Dimitrescu was undoubtedly a selling point, the wolves, dollhouse – it still haunts my dreams – and some unique gameplay deviations make for an unforgettable experience in the Resident Evil universe. It’s also notable how definitively Capcom has proven that the franchise can exist in first and third-person perspectives.

Kevin: My favorite game released this year would have to be Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, hands down. I’ve been enjoying this franchise since my days on the PlayStation 2 and it was so exciting and refreshing to get an entry on the PS5. The visuals were incredible, the gameplay was smooth and familiar, and the game was honestly just such an enjoyable experience all around. If it helps to drive home how much I love it, I played the whole game through three times in a month, platinum’d it, and finished it again two more times a month later. Please ask me about this game, I could go on for hours.

Ophélie: I just love Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. It is a great action-adventure game with plenty of humor, and I could spend endless hours in the photo mode alone.

New Pokémon Snap was my binging game of this Spring. Being able to play a newer version of one of the very first games I ever played was both emotional, funny, and challenging. I will never get tired of throwing Fluffruit on Pokémon to make them mad and get a good photo.

Steve: Halo Infinite’s launch will forever be a moment in gaming I fondly look back on. I had my skepticisms on both the campaign and multiplayer but since sinking copious amounts of hours into both, I can safely say that this is my favorite gaming experience of 2021.

Derrick: My favorite release of 2021 was also Halo Infinite. The multiplayer is a masterpiece and the best feeling since Reach, in my opinion.

Image by 343 Industries

Steve: At its core, Halo Infinite respects the initial ‘30 seconds of fun’ loop Halo: Combat Evolved set out to achieve. The Master Chief-focused narrative is compelling and rewarding for players and the open Zeta Halo map is an enriched sandbox that keeps delivering memorable moments. By the time credits rolled, all I wanted was a new content drop to keep me in the game for hours upon hours.

More than anything, Halo Infinite is fun. I sometimes forget how important the fun aspect is in gaming and 343 Industries captured that feeling. Whether I’m queuing up solo in multiplayer or running with a squad of friends, I’m having a blast. The gameplay is fluid, the movement is fast, and pulling off a Grappleshot stunt hits harder than a Brute’s Gravity Hammer.

New (and old) worlds to explore with friends

Bárbara: It Takes Two is my absolute favorite game of 2021. There are countless co-op games out there to explore, but I feel this one has just the right amount of adventure, puzzles, and mystery. It Takes Two also somehow manages to be a relaxing game that you can play with a friend, so there is that too.

Another 2021 game worth mentioning is Biomutant. I love this post-apocalyptic Kung-Fu-style adventure, and I really enjoy the freedom I get to make my own choices. Plus, the side quests are pretty fun and I can just play for hours on end.

Derrick: A release that caught me by surprise was New World, which has been my first MMO experience. It isn’t the most polished game I’ve played, but it has been enjoyable with friends.

Ophélie: My favorite game of 2021 happens to be New World! While there were quite a few issues at launch, Amazon Games managed to provide a nice MMORPG with a good balance between PvE and PvP. The game is still far from being perfect, but New World has great potential to become one of the best MMORPGs that doesn’t require a monthly paying subscription.

mage spells New World
Image by Amazon Games.

Derrick: While we are on the topic of live service, I spent a hefty amount of time in 2021 in Destiny 2, as per usual. It was a slow year with no major expansions, but I look forward to February next year when Witch Queen drops. The 30th Anniversary has brought a lot of new weapons, so I have plenty of farming to do until then.

Rahul: Fortnite has rarely had slumps in the content it releases, but it definitely blew it out of the park with the new Chapter 3 update. Even though I didn’t find the end-of-season event to be as good as the one from Chapter 1, the Chapter 3 map has already been accepted by the community as the best Fortnite map yet. It’s well-designed, looks gorgeous, the time spent looting and traveling between encounters is actually fun, and you can now swing around as Spiderman. Oh, and did I mention Tilted Towers is coming back?

Bárbara: I can’t not mention Bannerlord. I know it came out in 2020, but only now are we getting to enjoy a smooth game with little to no bugs. The story is what you make of it, which makes it that much more thrilling in my mind.

Indie surprises

Rahul: A new game that I tried in 2021 was the sci-fi simulation game called Dyson Sphere Program. The game is all about building space factories – Dyson Spheres, to be specific – and it was surprising to see it come out super-polished and with developers responding regularly to community feedback. The gameplay happens on an epic scale and I found it super easy to sink hours at a time into this game on weekends, and while I wasn’t a big fan of Factorio – the game it’s most often compared with – I absolutely loved this one.

Kevin: Those of you who are on an indie kick have to check out Going Under! It’s a fun little game about an intern venturing through failed start-ups and beating the sh*t out of the employees. But like, not in a bad way. The humor is great, the in-jokes are great, the game is great. Play it. This isn’t a request.

Going Under
Image by Aggro Crab

Asen: Aliens Fireteam Elite caught me by surprise by being really good. I think I wasn’t alone in expecting an action game in the Aliens universe to suck across the board, but Fireteam Elite proved us all wrong. It not only singlehandedly ended my Vermintide addiction, but it also provided a truly engrossing and exciting romp back through a sci-fi world I hadn’t visited in earnest since I was a teen.

To be clear, Fireteam Elite would’ve been my favorite release of 2021 even if had nothing to do with Aliens. It’s an excellent co-op shooter mechanically and narratively, and underneath the thickly layered fan service there are characters and events plotted out with genuine care. Quite often games based on iconic franchises tend to lazily re-trod familiar territory and bank on the diehard fans to just take it in stride. Happily, Aliens Fireteam Elite did not do any of that and instead told its own story, wrapped in truly fantastic gameplay mechanics.

Aja: My 2021 GOTY pick isn’t about what was the best or most impressive new title, but about the memories and friends I made along the way. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that Valheim was my favorite game of 2021. It was a great mix of grinding, surviving, building, and collaborating with friends old and new. It had a unique charm from its janky look and feel and felt like a true harrowing adventure discovering new biomes. I also think that its early access release filled that sense of adventure I was craving in the pre-vaccine time of the pandemic.

My favorite memory of Valheim was connecting with fellow SQUAD writers Malik and Derrick for the first time. It’s mad corny, but it’s true. We’ve always had fun banter on Discord, but we were finally able to coordinate a time to play despite the fact we live in three different time zones. We did practically nothing productive. We wasted over an hour making a giant moat to keep those stupid little entry-level goblin things out of our camp. It was lots of terraforming, but we were having a huge laugh doing absolutely nothing but digging.

I also remember us dying in a biome we had no business in, and then losing the boat immediately after. Since I didn’t enjoy exploiting the game with save file workarounds, I made it my mission to get my stuff back. I returned to my corpse while skirting around all the skeletons, and then had to figure out sailing against the wind for a painfully long time on my way back to camp. I got to have my personal adventure while my fellow Vikings did whatever nonsense they did around camp. I think Malik domesticated some wild boars?

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