The 2022 video-game landscape is going to be ridiculous. The pandemic thoroughly rearranged every game publisher’s release schedule, and as studios realized they weren’t going to meet the deadline for a holiday-2021 release, they started targeting January and February of the New Year. We’re just now witnessing the end result of that deferral, and it’s downright intimidating. By next spring, we’ll have Elden Ring, Horizon Forbidden West, the Saints Row reboot, and a new Destiny expansion. The outlook for the rest of 2021 doesn’t possess nearly the same juice, which is apt for one of the strangest years on record.
I’ve written before about how the evacuation of triple-A releases has allowed some smaller indies to get their shine. That remains true here at the final quarter of the year, but monoliths like Microsoft, EA, and Nintendo are still getting their hits in. A beloved Blizzard classic will receive a sparkling remaster, the minds behind Left 4 Dead are prepping a comeback, and the first new Halo game in six years is about to come out, which seems like it should be a bigger deal than it currently is. For the first time in ages, we’re barreling toward the finish line without anything close to a consensus Game of the Year pick. These past four months will be crucial, and personally I’m very curious to see who comes out on top.
WarioWare: Get It Together!
Mario and Zelda blessed the world with the blueprint for modern video-game design, Metroid basically invented a genre, and the release dates for new Animal Crossing games are treated like national holidays, but in terms of pure fun, WarioWare might be the greatest franchise in the Nintendo catalogue. The premise is brutally simple: Wario has opened a development studio, and he’s unleashing millions of primitive, grotesque video games into the world. They’re called “microgames,” they usually take about five seconds to complete, and they require participants to assassinate their egos. I’ve spent many a weekend gathered around a TV, watching my friends and family flail with a Wiimote as they attempt to pick a giant nostril or balance on a beach ball. WarioWare seduces everyone, even the most novice of gamers. Get It Together!, the latest entry in the series, ups the ante with cooperative play, which should only amplify WarioWare’s genius silliness. It’s a surefire holiday-break classic. Make sure to pack it.
Available on Nintendo Switch on September 10.
Diablo II: Resurrected
Blizzard has had a gnarly couple of years, capped off by several botched projects, mass layoffs, and a shameful response to long-gestating sexual-harassment allegations. So there’s a lot riding on Diablo II: Resurrected, as it’s the first major release under the company’s name after, ideally, a long hard look in the mirror. Diablo II obviously needs no introduction. This is perhaps the most beloved game in the Blizzard catalogue, and it remains a primary color in RPG design to this day. The remastering brings in 4K textures, cross-progression, and hopefully a revitalized multiplayer scene. Blizzard famously bungled the release of Warcraft III: Reforged in 2020, but I’m holding out hope that there won’t be any additional murdered classics under the banner. You can’t do Deckard Cain like that, right?
Available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X on September 23.
Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania
There are video games that imagine vast fantasy worlds, nestled with countless sidequests and curiosities waiting to be discovered. There are video games that nurture intense tournament scenes that players compete in for millions of dollars. And there are video games about being a monkey in a clear plastic ball, collecting bananas, speeding through time-trial courses. Super Monkey Ball is deeply unambitious in the best way possible. Think of it as a pachinko machine you control — these capsuled monkeys ricocheting off the walls, holding on for dear life, careening across the finish line. Banana Mania is not bringing any revelatory new features to the formula — this is basically the same game we’ve been playing since the early 2000s — and we are all absolutely fine with that.
Available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X on October 5.
Nintendo announced Metroid Prime 4 four years ago, and it hasn’t resurfaced since then, sparking a revolt among the Samus diehards. Thankfully, the company has a mea culpa in the form of Metroid Dread, which returns the series to its original 2-D roots. Samus is once again alone on a carnivorous alien planet, and she will navigate a labyrinth of death traps to further investigate the nature of those omnipresent namesake parasites. The new gimmick in Dread are the hulking, nigh-invincible E.M.M.I. robots that stalk Samus through the catacombs. I like the idea of Metroid mixing in some horror elements, and, honestly, if you’re someone who has been weaned on exploration games like Hollow Knight, Axiom Verge, and SteamWorld Dig, you should check out the core source material. Metroid pioneered this format back in the ’80s. Everyone ought to pay their respect.
Available on Nintendo Switch on October 8.
Back 4 Blood
Left 4 Dead fans have waited more than a decade for a sequel, and they’re finally getting it under a pseudonym. The Left 4 Dead name still belongs to Valve, but Turtle Rock Studios has escaped the mother ship while retaining its core design sensibilities in Back 4 Blood. Four players take control of survivors lost in a zombie apocalypse; four more players step behind the braying undead trying to hunt them down. Turtle Rock is an expert at ratcheting up the tension. For example, you’re the first player to make it to the safe house as the horde threatens to overwhelm your best friend a few meters back. Do you slam the door or go back to help? There are people out there who have committed literally thousands of hours to the Left 4 Dead games, and we expect that will continue unabated with Back 4 Blood.
Available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X on October 12.
There are some horrific implications innate to Battlefield 2042. The venerable shooter is shipping off into the near future, where the world is actively falling apart due to uncontrolled climate catastrophe. Players step behind the guise of climate refugees who have been cast into a new world war, and we fight over the dwindling resources that remain as society circles the drain. Isn’t it time to set the weapons aside and broker some sort of new consciousness to survive the hell we’ve created on earth? No, because DICE sure knows how to build a pretty multiplayer map. There are warfronts in 2042 that feature skyscraper-size cyclones, monolithic dust storms, and bursting glaciers. The reveal trailer features someone driving an RV off a decrepit Dubai-style tower directly into a helicopter. The bedlam comes fast and furious, and maybe that’s enough to distract us from the foreboding setting. Maybe Armageddon can be kinda fun?
Available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X on October 22.
Age of Empires IV
Ladies and gentlemen, the king is back. Age of Empires is one of the most beloved real-time strategy franchises of all time, and it’s been effectively dormant for the past decade. But at long last, Microsoft roused the legendary RTS designer Relic Entertainment into action so it could finally construct an entry in the series fit for 2021. Age of Empires has always been a little more expressive compared to its strategy counterparts. It took a wide scope to history, asking players to accumulate a variety of different resources, cultivate bustling towns, and barter with foreign markets. Personally, I always found that a little more immersive than a game like StarCraft, which imagined a world that exclusively consisted of soldiers and fortune. Age of Empires IV seems to be a faithful adaptation of the formula, and like Re-Boot Camp, the multiplayer servers will be rocking and rolling from the start. Seriously, don’t cross a hard-core Age of Empires player. They’ll have you begging for mercy.
Available on Windows PC on October 28.
Forza Horizon 5
For years, the Forza series seemed exclusively reserved for the most unrepentant of gearheads — the sort of guys who might spend hours in a virtual garage adjusting tire suspension without ever taking the ride out for a spin. The Horizon spinoff was a godsend for people like me with only a passing interest in what makes cars go. Developer Playground Games retained all the geeky pit-stop action for the simulation crowd while also building a gorgeous open world laden with street races, stunt jumps, and drift courses, all designed to satiate the pure pleasure of driving. Some people want to fiddle with their anti-roll bars; the rest of us just want to slam the gas pedal and see what our graphics cards can do. Forza Horizon 5 takes the action to Mexico, which ought to be a delightful change of pace from Horizon 4’s England. I look forward to seeing you all on the asphalt.
Available on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X on November 5.
Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp
Fans have been begging for an Advance Wars sequel for almost two decades now, and in December, we’ll be getting the next best thing on Switch. The original pair of games was released back in the early 2000s for the Game Boy Advance, and the erstwhile franchise is getting a fresh coat of paint and some 21st-century sensibilities with Re-Boot Camp after far too long on the shelf. If you’ve never played Advance Wars, you can expect a stripped-down turn-based tactics game that seems specifically optimized for 30-minute subway commutes. Success is predicated on a blend of terrain modifiers, command strategy, and unit optimization. Like most Nintendo games, the mechanics are super-simple, and they guard a vexing depth resting just below the surface. Tread lightly into the new online multiplayer mode.
Available on Nintendo Switch on December 3.
The Halo name doesn’t carry the cachet it did in the early 2000s, and nobody seems to understand that better than Microsoft. Halo Infinite is the first mainline Halo game to not be punctuated by a number, which makes sense given the muted reception to 2015’s Halo 5. 343 Industries went back to the drawing board and returned with an open-world, waypoint-laden interpretation of the iconic console shooter — merging The Master Chief’s gunplay with a Far Cry–ish scope. Will it work? Who’s to say, but given the pedigree, and given that Infinite’s multiplayer is pivoting to a free-to-play model, we’re certainly eager to give it a shot.
Available on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X on December 8.