Just like the year itself, the video games of 2021 seemed to come and go in a flash.
Finding focus was hard after a seemingly endless 2020. But the video games kept on coming, and our days were enriched by the best of them. Now, with 2022 firmly in our sights and a year's worth of COVID-inflicted delays promising an incredible calendar ahead, fans of video games are preparing to indulge in a wealth of riches.
There are so many games we're looking forward to in the new year that it's impossible to assemble a comprehensive list. The mythic Norse adventures of Kratos will continue in God of War: Ragnarok. Harry Potter lovers will finally get to see if and how Hogwarts Legacy can captivate fandom in the face of the Wizarding World creator's vile transphobia. And fans of the Arkham series will behold what it's like when Rocksteady Studios targets superheroes for termination in Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League.
It's a jam-packed calendar is what I'm saying. But these are the releases that stand out the most to our games-loving team at Mashable.
Being excited for the next installment in a favored game franchise is one thing, but there’s a different kind of hype that comes with anticipating something new. No one in the audience knows exactly what to expect from Square Enix’s upcoming new title Forspoken, but the few glimpses Square has shown of its Black heroine, Frey, and the magical world of Athia have been enough to pique some serious interest.
One of Forspoken’s most promising innovations in the "open world" is its flying parkour system. This freshens up the genre mainstay of easy, satisfying movement by combining super-fast running-and-tumbling acrobatics with zippy powers of flight. Another highlight is its magic combat, which appeared in previews to be thrillingly fluid. Finally — and this seems like a small thing but totally isn’t — Frey will be the first video game protagonist to use the power of a good manicure to defeat her enemies; fingernail art is just one of the ways players will customize the star of Forspoken's magical talents. That's just objectively awesome. —Alexis Nedd, Senior Entertainment Reporter
2. Trek to Yomi
If the cinematic samurai flair in Ghost of Tsushima felt like your shit, just wait until you see Trek to Yomi. This Devolver Digital-published indie action game springs to life with an eye-catching black-and-white aesthetic, delivering visually arresting landscapes that feel ripped from the frames of an Akira Kurosawa classic.
At this point, we actually don't know much about how it plays, but Trek to Yomi serves up what sounds like a genre-appropriate samurai adventure: A young samurai named Hiroki is forced to step up and defend his people after his master is killed. Trailers have shown that story playing out in the context of two-dimensional sword combat game, which is set in a vividly detailed 3D world. It's a promising start that leaves us hungry to learn more. —Adam Rosenberg, Senior Entertainment Reporter
Where and when you can play: Coming to PlayStation, Xbox, and Windows sometime in 2022.
3. Horizon: Forbidden West
In a medium often overrun with recycled ideas and huge franchises, games like Horizon Zero Dawn (2017) stand out. The PlayStation exclusive action/adventure stars Aloy, a gifted warrior and huntswoman in a fascinating setting that incorporates elements of pre-industrial civilizations and futuristic technology in the form of mechanical fauna (aka robot dinosaurs). Aloy’s compellingly original journey made Zero Dawn a hit, and after a handful of understandable delays the next part of her story is finally coming.
Horizon Forbidden West promises to improve on Zero Dawn’s shortcomings. Melee combat, which amounted to swinging a stick and hoping for the best in Zero Dawn, is now a core part of Aloy’s action repertoire with special attacks and a more in-depth set of tactics to employ. The sequel is also overhauling the first game’s limited array of options for getting around the world by making the entire map explorable instead of relying on set climbing paths. Throw in the huge upgrade of an entire underwater world to explore on the Pacific Coast and the possibility of visiting post-apocalyptic San Francisco, and Horizon Forbidden West should be at the top of every open-world game fan's hype list for early 2022. —A.N.
Where and when you can play: Coming to PlayStation on Feb. 18.
4. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2
If you’ve spent any time around video games in the past five years, you’ve noticed the mountains of praise that have been heaped upon The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild since its March 2017 launch. You know all about its open-ended structure that lets players rush to the final boss straight after the tutorial, a bold inversion of what Zelda had been for decades prior. You also know about the intricate physics systems that still produce goofy trick videos on a regular basis. And you might be wondering: How the hell will Nintendo follow up a game that tons of people (yours truly included) declared to be one of the greatest games ever made?
Nintendo’s been working hard in the lab on an answer to that question and we’re supposed to see what they’ve come up with by the end of 2022. In typical Zelda fashion, we hardly know anything about the game that’s officially called Sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. We know some dark business has gone down in the catacombs beneath Hyrule, putting Princess Zelda in danger, suspending Hyrule Castle creepily in the sky, and giving Link a creepy demon arm with time-bending powers. Oh, and if the first one wasn’t Studio Ghibli enough for you, the sequel takes place among gorgeous-looking floating sky islands situated high above the first game’s map.
Whether the new Breath of the Wild simply iterates upon the first or totally subverts our expectations a la Majora’s Mask after Ocarina of Time, it’s tough to think of any game more hotly anticipated in 2022 than this one. —Alex Perry, Tech Reporter
Where and when you can play: Coming to Nintendo Switch sometime in 2022.
For the gaming diehards in the audience, here's what you need to know: Somerville is the work of Jumpship, a studio founded by Playdead co-founder Dino Patti. Playdead, of course, is the studio behind the brilliant and beautiful indie games Limbo and Inside (both of which are still very much worth playing).
What we've seen of Somerville so far suggests that it treads a path similar to the one Patti's been on since the Playdead days. But that isn't the case. Game director Chris Olsen, also a Jumpship co-founder, warned over the summer against pinning too much speculation to the visual similarities between Somerville and Playdead's hits. The idea for this game started with the film industry veteran, and while he's been quick to stress that it's a team effort, the pushback on Playdead comparisons suggests that defining Somerville won't be possible until we can actually play it. —A.R.
After too many delays, we have to believe that 2022 is the year for Stray's dystopian future adventure where you play as a cat. This one actually graced our "most anticipated" list for 2021 before getting bumped out of the year. So let's let the words of Mashable pal Kellen Beck speak for why we're excited:
"If you came out of 2020 wishing for a better cyberpunk game, Stray might be the answer. Set in a futuristic, neon-lit city seemingly populated entirely by spindly robots, you play as a cat looking to find a way home. Honestly, not a ton is known about this one at the moment. But with Annapurna Interactive publishing and the basic premise summing up as 'cyberpunk cat simulator,' there's already an awful lot to like."
It's been so long since we got a proper sprawling fantasy landscape to explore from Bethesda Softworks, the studio and (now Microsoft-owned) publisher behind Skyrim and the rest of the Elder Scrolls series. Starfield appears to follow a similar path, but with one notable exception: It's set in outer space.
This is a new setting for Bethesda's traditionally high fantasy-oriented creative endeavors, but one that's been rumored and buzzed about for years. We still haven't gotten the kind of long and detailed look at Starfield that would speak to what the game actually is, but Bethesda's pedigree as the studio behind the Elder Scrolls games and post-2008 Fallout series tells us all we need to know to get our hype levels set to maximum. —A.R.
8. Dying Light 2
Dying Light was a real surprise in 2015. The zombie apocalypse action game, which is played from a first-person perspective, sets players loose in a vast world overrun by the walking dead. With nightfall bringing out the more dangerous threats in the mix and an impressive arsenal of zombie-obliterating tools, as well as a free-flowing sense of movement rooted in parkour, this seemingly formulaic undead outing managed to stand out.
Dying Light 2 promises more of the same, but better: The world is said to be four times larger than its predecessor. The story is more malleable to the decisions you make, and a renewed focus on crafting promises a more customizable and play style-specific array of weapons and tools on which to lean. Techland, the game's developer, has faced reports of toxic workplace struggles in recent times. But appearances suggest that sincere efforts have been made to improve behind the scenes. Here's hoping, because Dying Light is a great time and this sequel could stand out as an early 2022 favorite, if a happier workplace is reflected in a polished final release. —A.R.
9. Gotham Knights
Batman is dead and his friends want answers.
Gotham Knights picks up after the apparent death of the Caped Crusader, with a foursome of familiar vigilantes — Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, and Red Hood — teaming up to take on a mysterious criminal syndicate known as the Court of Owls. Fans of WB Games Montreal's 2013 hit Batman: Arkham Origins will see similarities in Gotham's approach to crimefighting action. But this one appears to diverge from previous Batman adventures.
Trailers have shown the heroic foursome as complementary fighters, who each bring a different array of skills and abilities to the mix. That's important because Gotham Knights is built for cooperative play, giving two players a chance to team up and take on the Court of Owls together. There are also loot drops with Diablo-style color-coding, meaning you get to gear up with more potent tools as the fight against Gotham's criminal underworld intensifies. It looks like a refreshing new direction for Batman fans raised entirely on a diet of Arkhamverse games, and we can't wait to see how it all comes together. —A.R.
10. Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga
Lego games are a known quantity at this point, right? You get a retelling of whatever franchise saga, punctuated by a cheeky but decidedly wholesome and family-friendly sense of humor.
If nothing else, we're expecting the humor to carry through in Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga. But teases so far suggest an evolved Lego game for series steward TT Games. The Skywalker Saga ropes together the story from all nine mainline Star Wars movies. But don't make the mistake of assuming it's a collection of the older games based on each of the three trilogies.
This is a wholly new creation with a stretch of levels devoted to each movie and a vast Lego-fied galaxy far, far away for players to explore in between. Combat with both a blaster and lightsaber is more complex than it's been before. Outer space is a vast untamed frontier for new exploration. Plus, multiple familiar planetary locales promise to do similar for on-the-ground wandering. We won't know for sure until we can play it, but this sure sounds like a Lego game, leveled up. —A.R.
Where and when you can play: Coming to PlayStation, Switch, Xbox, and Windows/Mac in spring 2022.
Fans of games that put a front-and-center focus on hand-to-hand combat should definitely add Sifu to their list. This one comes from the French studio Sloclap, the developer of the martial arts game Absolver. So there's plenty of familiarity on that team already with building enjoyable and approachable action that depends entirely on hands and fists.
Sifu also brings aspirations for a compelling revenge story as a kung fu student sets out on a quest to avenge the murder of his family at the hands of five deadly assassins. A game like this is always going to live and die by how well it plays. But Sloclap's experience with the genre and promising looks at Sifu so far suggest there are plenty of reasons to be confident. —A.R.
12. Elden Ring
What would you say to brutally masochistic Dark Souls-style gameplay in a world with the historic depth of Game of Thrones? You don't have to imagine the possibilities here; it's already happening.
Elden Ring marks an unlikely-but-nonetheless awesome collaboration between Thrones creator George R.R. Martin and From Software, the studio behind the Souls series. By all appearances so far, it's shaping up to be exactly what it sounds like: An engrossing fantasy story that unfolds around the hacking and slashing of exceptionally deadly foes. The real question with this game will be whether or not it can strike a balance between the extreme difficulty of From games and Martin's widely beloved writing.
Some people will love Elden Ring no matter what. But we'll have to wait and see if this becomes the first From game that anyone can pick up, play, and enjoy. —A.R.