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Deadly card games, groundbreaking immersion, and Nordic fantasy were just some of the games that shined on PC in 2021.
New gaming consoles come and go every few years, but PC gaming endures with some of the best hardware and software that's exclusive to that platform. This year was no exception, as PC gamers had access to imaginative and genre-bending titles, games that pushed the flexible nature of those systems in wild new directions.
While PC gaming shared many a hit game with its console brethren, for this list we're looking at the games that could only be found on this platform...with one exception. That means no Resident Evil Village and its incredibly tall ladies, no Deathloop and its masterful approach to Groundhog Day gunplay, and no Halo Infinite reviving the beloved FPS franchise. For a look at those, check out GameSpot's Top 10 Games of 2021.
In this list, it's the efforts of small studios and indie developers that took the top spots, bringing about an exciting selection of games in 2021.
Before Your Eyes
A mouse and keyboard are generally the go-to tools for playing any game on PC, but Before Your Eyes tosses that hardware aside and instead gives full control over its narrative to your eyeballs. An innovative approach to storytelling, that focus on full ocular control isn't just a gimmick, but a genuinely immersive method for experiencing a story about life, death, and seeing the impact that your character had on the people around them. There's more to Before Your Eyes than just an innovative control scheme though, as the immersive story and melancholic themes deliver one of the most distinct gameplay experiences of 2021, one that will stick with you long after the end credits have rolled.
In GameSpot's Before Your Eyes review, Andrew King gives it an 8/10, writing, "Before Your Eyes understands that experiencing our lives, of storing memories which become precious, is often tied to what we see: the people and the paths stretching out before us. Instead of feeling like a gimmick, Before Your Eyes feels refreshingly natural."
One of the biggest success stories of the year, Valheim's spin on a well-worn formula of scavenging, exploration, and attempting to improve your quality of life still managed to feel incredibly fresh this year. It's the small details that matter, and for a game built by an absolutely tiny studio, Valheim's focus on improving the core of the survival-crafting genre is nothing short of awe-inspiring. It's a game that's both a nail-biting odyssey into dangerous territory that could derail all of your progress and a scenic moment of pure calm thanks to its deliberate pixelated art direction, tension, and catharsis in a single package.
In GameSpot's Valheim feature, Richard Wakeling wrote, "Valheim is more fleshed-out than many finished games, and it's going to be exciting to see how it evolves over the next year as systems are improved and more content is added. The world of Valheim is already a wonderful one to inhabit, and I can't wait to see where it goes from here."
Wildermyth looks like the end result of what would happen if you smashed a turn-based tactical RPG into a children's bedtime storybook, but that's just too brief of a description of one of the best PC games of 2021. A game about the power of stories, Wildermyth put an impressive amount of narrative control into the hands of its players this year, tasking them with creating a team of adventurers who could go out and save the day from all manner of assorted monsters. While it sounds like a stock-standard RPG at first, Wildermyth builds on that foundation by adding incredible value to every action you take within its tabletop world.
Inscryption's eerie card battles rely on a unique tug-of-war system to declare a winner in every match, and every time the scales tip in either direction, there's a good chance you'll be sweating bullets as you watch the momentum constantly shift. Especially when you're sharing a table with a nightmarish creature that attacks your hand with cards that can create a perilous tipping point in their favor. Riveting and unnerving, Inscryption's combination of classic deck-building fun and dark web urban legends combine to form a unique slice of entertainment. It's also a game with some unexpected twists and turns, so if you haven't yet played it, do your best to avoid finding out any more before diving in.
In GameSpot's Inscryption review, David Wildgoose gives it an 8/10, writing, "Not only is the core card game at its best, but it's also where those mechanics are best served by the richly atmospheric trappings surrounding them."
What is Loop Hero exactly? It's a game that can't easily be slotted into any single genre, as this wild ride of fantasy and peril incorporates strategy, deck-building, and role-playing mechanics into a package of old-school visuals and auto-playing charm. Loop Hero is a game about being caught in an endless loop, always bringing you back to square one but making certain that you're in a better position than when you started on your latest cyclic journey through dark fantasy roguelike danger. Beneath its vintage visuals lie an incredibly deep and complex game, one with addictive properties that'll hook you in for the long run. Dead simple to get into, it's amazing how much fun a hands-off gaming experience can be when it's crafted with immaculate precision and care. Loop Hero is the sole game on this list currently available on another platform, but its mouse-centric control scheme makes it a game best played on PC.
In GameSpot's Loop Hero review, Alessandro Barbosa gives it an 8/10, writing, "The thrill of learning in Loop Hero is the driving force of its procedural gameplay, with each small discovery and minute change in approach producing outcomes you might not have imagined. Its opening hours are a punishing hurdle to overcome, but once you've found the rhythm of Loop Hero, you won't want to break from its beat."