So here’s something I thought would be fun to try (and not something that would keep me up for hours constantly thinking about and re-evaluating); Finding out which game I’ve reviewed here from January 1st to December 31st of 2021 is worthy of being my personal game of the year. To find out, I shall be ranking the games from worst to best based on how much fun I had playing them. By no means is this an attempt at an objective ranking; many of these games are from different times and genres within the industry that makes them very hard to objectively rank at all. It’s also been a while since I’ve played a number of them, so please take this list in the lighthearted, celebratory manner in which it is intended. I have reviewed 23 games this year (discounting my parody Skyrim Anniversary review and a mention of Oblivion in my April Fools post) and the number one game on this list is going to be my personal game of the year.
23: Life is Strange 2
For it’s contrived story, condescending preaching of political messages that go nowhere and raising the stakes of a franchise whose games have been at their best when the stakes are low and/or personal, this one gets the lowest ranking. I’m sure I had some fun playing this game, or I wouldn’t have completed and reviewed it, but the fact I can’t remember any of it except a fat man telling a Hispanic kid that he’s the reason they need Donald Trump’s wall is why it’s so low on this list.
22: Serious Sam 2
An older shooter that took a lot of influence from DOOM and Halo, Serious Sam 2 is incredibly fast paced, violent and enjoys spawning enemies on top of you for the sole purpose of having you blow them up. It’s fun in an arcadey sort of way, and full of variety. Hell, on paper it’s probably my ideal FPS… But for one reason or another – mainly the jokes that, while charming, don’t land at all – I just couldn’t get into it. Part of me wishes I could rank this higher, but the truth is that I got bored of it too fast to do that.
21: Fallout 3
Otherwise known as the one I was probably too harsh on in my original review of it, but also another game I could never get into. Something about the goofy writing and voice acting meant I could never immerse myself in this game. The gameplay is a problem too, but not to the same extent as the dialogue and story so bloody weird and rejected that the devs changed the ending with a DLC. I find myself wishing it’s one day remastered in a state that I might be able to enjoy. But the truth is, for now, I don’t enjoy it. I haven’t completed the game, or got out of the opening, for bloody ages on account of being unmotivated to ever revisit it. So here it sits.
20: Total War: Rome Remastered
It’s honestly not the worst remaster in the world. It came with options to keep the game as close to the original as possible, and other options that added a variety of changes that made the experience relatively customisable. Alas, it was still worse than the original Rome Total War and thus it’s low ranking comes from the fact that there’s no real reason to play it when the original game is right there in all it’s glory. It’s not like the graphics here are a huge step up and, in some areas, the game even feels slower or less responsive than what it is trying to improve upon. So, sadly, here amongst the outcasts of the list lies Total War: Rome Remastered.
19: Halo 2
I always find it hard to articulate what turns me off about Halo 2; Something about the floaty shooting, needless length and difficulty settings that are frustrating rather than challenging make me really dislike a game so many enjoy. I can’t, in good conscience, rank it any higher than this on my own list. Truth is, I’d rather listen to the whole soundtrack than play a minute more of the gameplay. Even so, I can’t deny it’s worth at least one play for the story and whacky sandbox when certain skulls are enabled.
18: Halo Combat Evolved
A fun game for sure, with mechanics that influenced the whole FPS genre. But it gets repetitive real quick and a lot of the game truthfully hasn’t aged that well; I recall waiting for enemies to spawn on a wave defence section of the second level to be almost painful. By no means a bad game, just one that I think is past it’s prime. But older games than this are higher ranked on this list, so it’s mainly just one I have no desire to ever revisit… Unless it’s with a friend on co-op!
17: Marvel Ultimate Alliance
Despite having a lot of elements that should make it very repetitive, like a reliance on quick-time events and heroes that play too similarly to others, this is a neat action RPG that is both casual and offers a lot of variety. No punches are pulled as it makes you go from one familiar Marvel location to the most obscure one thereafter to fight world famous villains and those who are on the Z list. I could play this game with a beer in hand, spamming Captain America’s shield throw and have a blast. The thing is though, fun as it is, it’s never quite as fun as any other game ranked higher, mostly because it does feel a little dated.
16: Back 4 Blood
A true shame this game has to be so low. A lot of effort went into it, that much I can tell… I guess I’m just disappointed that the effort went towards a game that ultimately ended up being so bland and generic, despite it being derived from a very fun and influential one. I did have fun in it for a good while as I initially progressed through the game, and especially so in the Swarm game mode, but it launched with more problems than it should have and that definitely made me stop playing this game quicker than I should have.
15: The Outer Worlds
A sad fact that I can’t rate it higher, but the truth is that I have not had any desire to even touch this game after completing it twice. You might think twice is quite the investment, but for a game of the action RPG genre, The Outer Worlds is actually quite short. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, but that when I did try to play it again I was just going through the motions. Everything felt a little samey and I got turned off by the game before reaching the halfway point. Good for sure, but only as a one-off experience which I don’t think is what Obsidian had intended with this title.
14: Fallout New Vegas
A staple of the RPG genre meshing the best parts of the classic games and of Fallout 3 together. It manages to keep the odd humour and dark tone of those older titles while maintaining an exaggerated world with a fun sandbox that Fallout 3 offered. Shallow (and probably controversial) as it may sound, the main reason I have not ranked it higher than Fallout 2 is that the gameplay is incredibly unengaging for me outside of conversation and the more challenging DLC’s that intentionally limited your capabilities. Aside from that, I’ve never felt any playthrough of New Vegas was better than my first one years ago, even with my improved knowledge of the game, it’s systems and the sandbox. That’s not to say I haven’t had fun in it since then, because the truth is that this game can be a blast, just never as much as I would have liked to.
13: Life is Strange Before the Storm
A bit of an odd one; Before the Storm raised a couple of red flags about what was to come in the second game, but maintained the tone and charm of the first game to a good enough extent that allowed it to still stand on its own two feet. The removal of superpowers was controversial in this title, but I feel the game gets by with it’s tighter focus on various characters’ relationships. This one’s a bit up in the air, because even then it does struggle to balance it’s subplots. And yet… Playing it always gives me the same warm and fuzzy feeling of the first game. I’d say somewhere right in the middle of the list is a good spot for it.
12: Fallout 4
Perhaps a controversial placement, being above New Vegas… But the truth is, despite my comparatively bad review of this game, I do have more fun in the short time I occasionally play it than I do in a long run of New Vegas. There’s something non-committal about playing Fallout 4 that makes the more casual aspects of its gameplay more appealing to me. Games like New Vegas are more fun and enjoyable if you’re in the correct mood and mindset to play through it, but you can turn Fallout 4 on and enjoy it for an hour or so whenever you like. I like experimenting with new builds, settlement building and locating crucial gear at the start of the game. Something about it is oddly alluring and, in very specific areas, I believe parts of the game like the Far Harbour DLC come close to replicating what we all love from the games before it. Though I’d like to think I steer more towards RPG’s with more depth than this, I can’t deny the fun a casual experience can provide when you just want to relax for a bit instead of carefully balance the politics of six warring factions in a fictional world trying to simultaneously be gritty and realistic, while also having big radioactive lizards in it.
11: Mount and Blade Warband
A fascinating game that upon first glance seems like the simplest little RPG in the world, but one which then quickly spirals down into a dynamic world of war and political decent. I’ve enjoyed playing this game on and off throughout 2021 just amassing my huge army, burning down villages and then murdering anyone else’s huge army that happens by. In long sessions, the gameplay can begin to feel stale, but the progression and unpredictable open-world keep the game as the whole feeling fresh. There’s nothing like forming lifelong friends and alliances, who stand with you side-by-side for hundreds of in-game hours, only to backstab them the very instant it becomes beneficial to you.
10: Fallout 2
What a bizarre game; An excellent RPG for sure, but one that is bogged down in misplaced, now outdated humour and references that were often frustratingly immersion breaking. Still an enjoyable game with challenging but fun progression, taking the structure similar to an old TV serial where you go from town to town either helping out or wreaking havoc. Neither best or worst of it’s own franchise, Fallout 2 squeezes it’s way into the top ten. Problematic as it is, it has a lot of charm and a willingness to let the player learn and make mistakes. I appreciate the lack of handholding in this one, even compared to Fallout 1, and the fun offered through the variety of builds you can make with your character. With such fun moments and memorable characters, the game is easy to forgive and persuades me to play it again more often than the newer titles do. Not a playthrough goes by when I’m not the boxing champion of New Reno, or when Vic decides to open fire on a gang of homeless people and start a battle that will go on for ten minutes longer than it needs to, much to my amusement.
9: Totally Accurate Battle Simulator
It might seem odd to put TABS so high on this list, but it would be unjust not to given how much time I’ve spent being addicted to it. And it’s not just because it’s something I recently got into, but because it’s something I’ve been playing consistently this whole year. I’ve had so much fun with the community content in this game that, for myself, the replayability might be frighteningly infinite as I am yet to slow down. For knowing exactly what it wants to accomplish and doing it simplistically well, TABS gets the respectable ninth placement on this list.
8: DOOM 2016
DOOM 2016 is the most unapologetic game I have ever played; it’s unafraid of being subversive, a little retro and knows its audience better than any FPS I’ve ever had my hands on. In truth it’s only major flaw isn’t really a flaw of it’s own; That it’s successor, Eternal, outshines it. And the fact that is my main reason for not replaying it just shows how good this game was at it’s prime. For that, it gets a proud eight place position.
7: Life is Strange
As I said in my review; it is a comfort game. At any time of day, in any type of mood, for any given reason, I know I could turn this game on, kick back and just get absorbed in it despite knowing everything that is going to unfold and what choices I’m going to make. It’s a great story game that respects it’s players and isn’t afraid to tackle difficult subjects while maintaining a charming tongue-in-cheek tone. I will always have a soft spot for Life is Strange and thus I am giving it the seventh position.
6: DOOM Eternal
For being the most intense, engaging and addicting FPS I’ve played in years, it’s only fair to give DOOM Eternal a high rating. Although it’s story fell flat, that was never the reason anyone hopped into this title which otherwise took everything about DOOM 2016, dialled it to eleven and fine-tuned it. Not only that, but it added a lot of new features that worked well too. Still receiving updates today since my review of it, it now also has a fun horde mode to play through. For being so unafraid to amp it up, I generously give DOOM Eternal my number six spot.
5: Rome Total War
Not only for being the funnest game in it’s franchise, but also one of the best in it’s genre, Rome Total War is more than deserving of the number 5 spot on the list. It’s family members and traits mechanics can lead to some hilarious scenarios – like when the AI took control of my spare army, led by Publius the Mad, who (maddeningly) charged headfirst into a line of spears 25 seconds into a battle and died before his model even touched the pointed ends of them. I had to pause the game due to my laughing, and didn’t regret losing him at all. Publius the Mad, who somehow, someway, crawled his way into political significance and carved a border for Rome through southern Gaul, died by the hand of an underpaid Spaniard with a pointy stick. It’s got a lot of hidden depth and challenge outside of the three base Roman campaigns, and it is the high bar by which I compare other RTS games.
4: Age of Empires II
Specifically the Definitive Edition, but I have been playing the various incarnations of this game since I was a child and the core has always remained the same; a fact it’s new developers appreciate and respect. AoE2 is a game you can play both casually and competitively as most factions share units and upgrades that means basic, underlined strategies can carry over from one to the other, but deeper differences between them can often determine life or death in a game against seasoned opponents who know what they’re doing. For it’s versatility, I give it a slightly higher rating than Rome Total War because of how the game is able to see to the needs of casual and competitive players alike.
3: Heroes of Might and Magic 3
A game so unapologetically unbalanced that experimentality and intentionally breaking the norm of the game with ludicrous strategies is what makes it so engaging. Knowledge is power here and the more you play the game, the more you can break the sandbox. The result is a turned based strategy game that is not only very fun, but also as intriguing as it is addicting. Not only is it overflowing with content in the form of scenarios and interlinking campaigns, but also includes a map editor so you can make both your own maps and stories. The number three spot is a more than suitable placement for this game.
2: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
For being such an alien experience that is equally as happy to spawn you in as the weakest person in the game as it is to have you leave as the most ridiculously overpowered, Morrowind gets a very favourable second place ranking. The reason the world is so immersive isn’t because of fancy graphics or realism, but because of the developer’s willingness to throw all their ideas at the wall and let them stick. It’s a highly replayable experience because of it’s surprisingly wide sandbox and vast amount of high quality, well written content. With it’s DLC only offering more diversity, allowing the already alien world it is set in to feel more real than most conventional RPG settings, Morrowind has more than enough to offer to fans of the action RPG genre. Although often held back by dated mechanics, it is overcoming them through exploitable wit, creativity and knowledge of how the game’s systems interact with each other that keeps bringing me back.
1: Life is Strange True Colours
Yes, this is my personal game of the year. While I enjoy these types of games, admittedly I didn’t think I’d ever be ranking this one so highly, let alone as my game of the year! But, upon reflection, I genuinely don’t think I had more of an immediate response and desire to review game I’ve played as much as I have with this one.
It put in a lot of legwork to redeem the franchise that paid off, allowed itself to tell a new self-contained story with a simplistic premise and never set out to deliver anything more or less than it had promised. You might be one to condemn it for a lack of ambition, but I’d praise it for being aware of its limits. It’s not just that I enjoy the story and characters (that I talked about at length in my review), but that it is such a sincere game. You’re never pressured to get on with it, never told to take it slow, you’re just encouraged to play the game at your own pace and in your own time. Want to speed through the story? Go ahead! Want to spend thirty minutes examining every minute thing? Do it. Because the Chapters weren’t released monthly, as they usually are with these sorts of titles, I never felt to rush to install and play the next part the second it was released. I just did one chapter a day and took my time.
It was a nice change of pace for me, in all honesty, as someone who normally invests time in RTS games that require timing and foresight, RPG’s and turn based games that require planning, or FPS games that set a high tempo. It was just so relaxing to sit back and have a game tell me it was time to take it easy, all the while delivering on fronts that made me enjoy the previous entries so much.
Lastly, it’s not very often I play new releases the year they come out – This year I got lucky landing a few on my birthday like Back 4 Blood and this game. It was just so refreshing to play a game close to release that I felt was not only complete but content with what it was. And that I respect.
This was a fun post to write, and a good chance to reflect on a lot of the writing I’ve done in the past year for gaming. I still stand by all my expressed opinions on these games although there are some I’ve alluded to – such as Fallout 3 – that I may have been a bit too harsh on in my delivery of those thoughts. Then there are games I didn’t enjoy but wish had been better, like Back 4 Blood.
I was honestly surprised I only reviewed 23 games this year. I guess I forgot that my weekly schedule and other content I post here prevented that number from skyrocketing as high as I thought it could have. Ultimately I am glad that the number was smaller as it allowed me to focus my thoughts a little more. However, I’d still like to honourably mention some games I reviewed very early in Alex’s Review Corner’s history just so nothing gets left out.
First and foremost I’d like to give Fallout 1 a VERY honourable mention since the rest of the franchise it spawned is on this list. Since I first played it in 2018, it has become one of my favourite RPG’s and would have likely made it to the number four spot on this list if it had been included. Alas, it merely sits here among equally honourable brothers.
The second game I’d like to honourably mention is Red Dead Redemption 2; I called it a modern gaming classic in my review and stand by it. Like most classic things it does a great many things incredibly well and falls flat in several other areas. Of all AAA games that released in 2018, it’s the only one I still occasionally play today just to mess around and, y’know, kill folks in. If I had to rank it, I may have placed it either above or below New Vegas. I admit I find it much less fun than I did when I initially reviewed it, and may point out one or two more flaws in it now than I previously had, but it’s still a solid game overall.
Finally I think Stellaris deserves a mention too; It was the second game I reviewed on this blog and one of my highest played games on Steam. It’s truly a brilliant game that, from update to update, can seem like a whole different experience entirely and what surprises me most about this is how often it is for the better – Stellaris is so very different now to what it had been when I reviewed it that if I were to write the review again I’d probably write something else entirely. A great game deserving of attention from anyone remotely interested in grand strategy, as I believe it is one of Paradox’s most accessible titles.
So, that wraps up our 2021 game of the year ranking list, and the honourable mentions from the year that got left behind. I hope that you enjoyed the ranking and had a very good 2021. Here’s to an even better 2022!