If you are a fan of RPGs, this game is an absolute “must experience.” It completely rewrites the possibilities of what a role-playing game can be mechanically, and does so while also providing a fascinating and twisty narrative and characters who will test your resolve and allegiances. Combine all this with a revolutionary skill system, and you are faced with the best game of the year so far—and one of the greatest RPGs ever made. So get up, detective—it’s time to dance.
Kingdom Hearts III is an incredible game, and a worthy successor to its last numbered installment, the series’ best Kingdom Hearts II. Newcomers will be lost in its story but in love with its realized, exciting worlds and riveting combat. Veterans will find strategies to master new gameplay elements and hang on every word and plot beat as almost two decades of storytelling draws to a close while also laying an exciting groundwork for the future of the series. Kingdom Hearts III is in many ways a triumph, and the sheer number of things it does so right outnumber what it does wrong.
Spider-Man Miles Morales makes good on the first game’s tagline to “be greater.” It features a snappy, emotionally fulfilling story occupied by characters that feel real and is anchored by a perfect protagonist, has perfectly refined combat complete with new abilities, and makes the little things meaningful. It perfectly toes the line between fan-service and fulfilling storytelling, and it’s one of my favorite gaming experiences of the year. It’s also a game that’s unapologetically itself. It doesn’t fix what isn’t broken while streamlining and adding other elements to create a near-perfect gaming experience. From its young and diverse cast to its hip-hop inspired soundtrack, this game carves its own path and cements itself as one of the best launch titles in recent memory. Leave some space for the new guy, indeed.
OlliOlli World is a complete revitalization of the franchise. Packed with personality, methodically designed levels, and tight gameplay, it establishes itself as a premiere sports series and one of the very best skateboarding games ever made. It invites you to be yourself and glide on your board to the beat of whatever you feel—and results in an ascendant skating experience that is not to be missed.
The Witch Queen expansion brings an incredible amount of new content and lore to Destiny 2, all wrapped in an engaging and often awe-inspiring experience. The campaign missions are more robust than ever, the Throne World is full of secrets to uncover, and it implements game-changing mechanics that will define the experience for years to come. There is no doubt in my mind that The Witch Queen is the best expansion in the series, finally surpassing The Taken King, and ushering the series into a new era. Long live the Queen.
Astro’s Playroom may not be a killer app at launch, but to have such a surprisingly enjoyable and well-rounded experience bundled in with the PS5 should be commended. It’s an experience that everyone can have as soon as you plug the console in, and that is a wonderful thing. Its standard platforming may not push the genre forward in any ways, but the portions where it utilizes the DualSense’s new features are truly exciting and feel groundbreaking in their own sense. Top it all off with some rewarding nostalgia trips and excitement for the future of the console and you’ve got one killer launch title.
While newcomers to the series will frequently find themselves lost if they choose to pick up Persona 5 Strikers, those familiar with Persona 5 will find this game to be an unexpectedly near-perfect sequel, making a strong case for more Persona games as action RPGs. Though its story may retread some familiar territory and combat can get a little predictable, this another stylish, emotional, exciting, and fun outing with the Phantom Thieves. With layered combat, outstanding characters (both new and old), and multiple systems to help customize your playstyle, Strikers is a triumphant return for the Trickster and his team. By the time the credits rolled, I was sad to say goodbye to these characters again—but I was so, so grateful to get one more ride with them.
A somewhat lacking roster and some technical limitations keep it from reaching the highs of Naruto Storm 4, but the foundation is strong. In time, The Hinokami Chronicles can reach or even surpass those heights
NieR Replicant can feel too slow at parts, but it’s a journey well worth taking (over and over and over). Its story is moving and asks big questions about the nature of humanity, and playing it in 2021 really opened my eyes to how ahead of its time this game must have been in 2010. Combine that story with some kinetic combat, absorbing atmosphere and characters, and a haunting score and you have one of the year’s strongest experiences. It’s held back somewhat by its overly-simplistic mission structure and reliance on backtracking, but the good easily outweighs the bad. NieR Replicant, like its sequel, is a game that makes you think, feel, and dream—all while giving players a very enjoyable gaming experience. It’s the textbook definition of a flawed masterpiece, overcoming its weaknesses to deliver something compelling and affirming.
The Last of Us Part II is not for everyone. Sometimes, it wasn’t even a game for me, a huge fan of the original. It’s often an emotionally punishing experience, and even borders on sadism at times. But no matter how much hatred these characters feel, no matter what form of revenge they take, the game never loses sight of the importance of compassion and love. It’s a message that the world could use right now.
With some patches and tweaks, this could be a strong shooter experience, but it has fundamental issues that will not be fixed so easily. Let’s see if DICE gets the support to do so; otherwise, this entry will simply be another casualty for a franchise in desperate need of a win.
Outbreak: Endless Nightmares is not only an insultingly bad roguelike; it’s an insulting and borderline plagiarized emulation of games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill. The idea of a survival horror roguelike is very solid, but this game exists as an example of what happens when good ideas fall into the wrong hands. I understand that Dead Drop Studios are a small team, and their love for the genre is clear. But Endless Nightmares is the kind of game that gives small-budget indie horror/survival titles a bad rap in the gaming community. With shoddy controls, uninspired environments, frustrating gameplay design, and tedious systems, the only scary thing about Outbreak: Endless Nightmares is the act of playing the game itself.