2021 preview

24 Games We Can’t Wait to Play in 2021

Plenty of options as you look ahead to another year of staying in.

Photo-Illustration: Vulture and Photos by Nintendo, Capcom, Square Enix, IO Interactive
Photo-Illustration: Vulture and Photos by Nintendo, Capcom, Square Enix, IO Interactive

Generally, the year after a new wave of consoles is a year of slowly realized potential, as new games are released for said new consoles — while not leaving the prior generation of hardware entirely in the dust. Of course, 2021 has its own unique circumstances complicating the math of game development — like in every other entertainment industry, the global pandemic pushed back many planned 2020 releases and left the 2021 calendar in disarray.

As such, nothing here is set in stone — expect announced dates and platforms to change as the year goes on — but we did try to limit this list to games that are highly likely to come out this year. All told? It’ll be a promising year in video games.

Hitman 3 (Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4/5, Stadia, Xbox One/Series X/S)

Like Clue in reverse, the Hitman trilogy of games drops players in picturesque settings absolutely stuffed with ways things can go horribly wrong for a very bad person and asks you to find the most satisfying option and make a clean getaway. While its marketing emphasizes brutal efficiency, the joy is in farce: exotic locales that are playgrounds of cause and effect, where the wicked can be murdered with slapstick comedy. January 20

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury (Nintendo Switch)

The failure of Nintendo’s Wii U resulted in quite a few excellent games never quite finding the audience they would have otherwise. Super Mario 3D World is one of those games, a surprising and eclectic mix of imaginative levels to play alone or with friends, now expanded and featuring online multiplayer. February 12

Balan Wonderworld (Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One/Series X/S)

A Mario-esque game about children on an adventure through a world of imagination, Balan Wonderworld is mostly notable for its creators. Director Yuji Naka and art director Naoto Ohshima are creators of Sonic the Hedgehog and the cult classic Nights Into Dreams, and Balan Wonderworld appears to be an attempt to merge the accessibility of the former with the imaginative art of the latter. March 26

It Takes Two (PC, PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One/SeriesX/S)

Not to be mistaken for the Olsen twins film, nor the seminal Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock track, It Takes Two is the latest game from Hazelight, a studio that specializes in narrative games designed to be played with another person. In It Takes Two, a couple with their relationship on the rocks are transformed into dolls and trapped in a fantasy world, where the only way out is reconciling with one another. March 26

Disco Elysium: The Final Cut (PC, PlayStation 5, Stadia)

One of the most compelling role-playing games in recent memory is finally coming to consoles after nearly two years on computers. In Disco Elysium, you’re an amnesiac detective trying to solve a murder while also figuring out who you are. A terrific work of interactive storytelling, deserving of a wider audience. March

Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139 (PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One)

Yes, it’s really called that, and we’ll allow it because it’s a chance to revisit the start of the series that gave us 2017’s Nier: Automata, one of the best games of the last ten years. A remake of 2010’s Nier Replicant is a postapocalyptic work of science fiction that casts players as a boy on a journey to save his sister from a mysterious illness that causes mysterious writing to appear on her body. As with most games by director Yoko Taro, expect there to be far more to it than that. April 23

Deathloop (PC, PlayStation 5)

Developed by Arkane Studios, the team behind the excellent Dishonored games and Prey, Deathloop casts players as an assassin named Colt stuck in a time loop. Colt must find a way to take out his targets and escape the time loop, but there’s a twist: There’s another assassin stalking him. Even more delicious? That assassin is controlled by another player. May 21

Back 4 Blood (PC, PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One/Series X/S)

For years, the zombie survival game Left 4 Dead was the gold standard for first-person action games you can play with friends. Then it went dormant for over a decade. Its creators at Turtle Rock Studios, however, have finally released the game under a new name, in the hopes that players are still interested in gathering in groups of four and fighting off endless hordes of zombies. It’s a safe bet that we absolutely are. June 22

Mass Effect: Legendary Edition (PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One)

Perhaps the best sci-fi trilogy in video games, Mass Effect 1–3 cast players as Commander Shepard, the unlikely leader in what becomes a fight for the survival of the Milky Way. A smart fusion of pulp and Hollywood-inspired gloss, Mass Effect is an extraordinarily satisfying adventure, one worth visiting again or for the first time in 2021. Spring

Card Shark (Nintendo Switch, PC)

This is a beautifully animated game about cheating at cards and pissing people off in 18th-century Europe. I’m quite excited to play it. TBD 2021

Psychonauts 2 (PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One/Series X/S)

After a long and tumultuous journey, the sequel to a beloved action-adventure game may finally arrive this year. You’re Raz, a young psychic in a secret program called the Psychonauts, who go on missions to defeat evildoers in their own minds. A whimsical and weird adventure to save the world with a small but passionate fan base finally gets a conclusion 16 years in the making. TBD 2021

Resident Evil Village (PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S)

The first truly new Resident Evil game since the stunning reinvention of 2017’s Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, Village trades the former game’s claustrophobic “Texas Chainsaw by way of Saw” aesthetic in favor of gothic largesse. Players assume the role of returning protagonist Ethan Winters as former Resident Evil hero Chris Redfield traps him in a village full of werewolves and other horrors. TBD 2021

Shin Megami Tensei V (Nintendo Switch)

The Shin Megami Tensei games are often about demonic apocalypses wreaking havoc on modern-day Japan as demon hordes invade Earth via computers. (A bit on the nose, I know.) Little is known about the latest installment, but the series’s appeal — Pokémon but for adults, steeped in occult themes — makes every entry impossible to put down. TBD 2021

Vampire: The Masquerade — Bloodlines 2 (PC, PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One/Series X/S)

This surprise sequel to a cult-classic computer game — itself an adaptation of a cult-classic tabletop role-playing game — was initially due in 2020, but has since been pushed to this year. In it, players will learn of Vampire: The Masquerade’s urban horror setting, where secret societies of vampires are here, among us, making plays and staking out territory, making the wheels of history go round. In this one, you’re a new, relatively weak vampire trying to find your place in it all. TBD 2021

Warhammer 40,000: Darktide (PC, Xbox Series X/S)

Ignore the Warhammer branding. All you need to know is that developer Fatshark made a pair of dark fantasy games called Warhammer: Vermintide where you and up to three others fought hordes of rat-men for reasons impossible to remember, and they were great fun. In Darktide, Fatshark does the same thing, but in space. Count on this being a good way to while away an evening with some friends online. TBD 2021

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox (Nintendo Switch, PC, Playstation 4)

The Ys games frequently follow an adventurer named Adol Christin, dropping him in all sorts of anime-esque scenarios that are largely excuses for excellent stand-alone action games. In the very good Ys VIII, Adol was shipwrecked, this time, he’s taken prisoner upon arrival in an occupied city with a monster problem. Solving that problem doesn’t look like a half bad way to spend your time. February 2 (Playstation 4), Summer (Nintendo Switch, PC)

Hollow Knight: Silksong (PC, Nintendo Switch)

2017’s Hollow Knight is among the best games in recent memory, a Metroid-style adventure where you play as a little warrior-bug exploring the remains of a ruined bug-kingdom and piecing together what happened there. In the sequel, Silksong, you play as Hornet, a returning character from the original game, in a new land with its own mysteries to discover. A sequel to a uniquely beautiful and challenging game, Silksong is hard not to be excited for. TBD 2021

Maquette (PC, PlayStation 4)

A mind-boggling puzzle game of perspective, Maquette offers an ingenious premise where players manipulate scale models of their surroundings to change the world around them. A brain-bending and gorgeous application of an idea that looks like a pleasure to play through. TBD 2021

Season (PlayStation 5)

You’re a woman from a secluded community out to see the world for the first time — right before it’s all about to come to an end. With lovely art and a contemplative spirit, Season bodes well for next-generation consoles as a space for quieter, more deliberate experiences. TBD 2021

GhostWire: Tokyo (PC, PlayStation 5)

Ghostlike beings have overrun Tokyo, and you are the only one who can see — or fight — them. A psychedelic slice of supernatural horror-action, GhostWire: Tokyo is the latest from Tango Gameworks, the studio founded by Shinji Mikami, the director of the acclaimed Resident Evil 4, and the makers of the excellent The Evil Within 2. TBD 2021

Solar Ash (Playstation 5)

The second game from Heart Machine, the makers of the gorgeous and moody 2-D action game Hyper Light Drifter, brings the studio’s knack for evocative action games to the third dimension. Mysterious and colorful, Solar Ash seems to retain its predecessor’s spare storytelling and somber mood, making it a standout in a crowded year. TBD 2021

Stray (PlayStation 5)

A vibrant cyberpunk world is lovingly rendered — and then relegated to the background. Because in Stray, you’re not anyone of consequence in this future. You’re a cat. And cats see all sorts of things. TBD 2021

12 Minutes (PC, Xbox One/Series X/S)

A thriller about a man trapped in a 12-minute time loop, 12 Minutes is an interactive drama where you can manipulate dioramalike settings in an attempt to solve the mystery. With actors like James McAvoy, Daisy Ridley, and Willem Dafoe lending their talents, 12 Minutes promises to be a gripping thriller and a buzzy work of narrative gaming. TBD 2021

God of War: Ragnarok (PlayStation 5)

We haven’t seen anything from the sequel to 2018’s acclaimed God of War reboot in the three months since it was announced last September. While this is highly unusual for a game that will presumably arrive in time for the holiday season, the games industry is also notoriously secretive and adjusting to the effects of the pandemic — perhaps the game is on track; perhaps it will need more time. Either way, expectations are high. TBD 2021

Halo Infinite (PC, Xbox One/Series X/S)

Halo defined a generation of video-game shooters, but spent the following one largely out of the conversation. Its absence may become a boon, as its style of wide-open combat scenarios has largely gone out of style but may prove a hit once more — should Halo Infinite tread the difficult line between adapting to the times and preserving what made the franchise popular in the first place. Holiday 2021

Untitled The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Sequel (Nintendo Switch)

Last summer’s surprise announcement of a sequel to 2017’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild might still be the best bit of video-game news we’ve gotten in the last year, but it was also frustratingly vague. No release date was given, and nothing further has been said since. Rumors persist, however, and four years is a reasonable enough gap between releases for us to say that it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Breath of the Wild 2, whatever it ends up being called, might happen this year. TBD

24 Games We Can’t Wait to Play in 2021