With self-publishing and countless distribution platforms, there are thousands of games released each year. Most of them fall by the wayside, either because they’re unfinished or simply unfun. There are a few, however, that stand the test of time. From AAA successes to indie hits, here are the best games you should be playing in 2021.
To make navigating the list a little easier, we organized the entries into genres. You can jump to your favorite genre using the links below.
Grand Theft Auto V
It’s difficult to overstate just how big of a hit Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V remains even today, six years after its launch. Grand Theft Auto V routinely finds itself in the top-10 monthly software sales all these years later. GTA V has sold well over 100 million copies, which places it behind only Minecraft and Tetris in total game sales. It’s the premier Grand Theft Auto experience, featuring a lavishly realized open world filled with interesting characters and dynamic missions and activities. The gunplay is superb and the driving feels as great as dedicated racing games.
Millions of players still regularly visit Los Santos thanks to GTA Online, the packed-in online version where you can complete missions with friends and make your own fun. Rockstar continues to update GTA Online weekly, adding new events, vehicles, and buildings such as the remarkable Diamond Casino, complete with a variety of mini-games.
Grand Theft Auto V is on the PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
Read our full Grand Theft Auto V review
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
We have a few decades’ worth of Star Wars games, though none of them capture the feeling of being a Jedi quite like Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Developer Respawn Entertainment made a name for itself with first-person shooters like Titanfall 2 and Apex Legends, but Fallen Order is something different entirely. It’s a third-person action game that respects Star Wars as a franchise, all while bringing a modern polish to it.
Gameplay-wise, Fallen Order shares a lot of DNA with Dark Souls. However, crushing difficulty isn’t at the center of the experience. Instead, Respawn balances challenging and rewarding combat with a clear narrative and more digestible character progression. The result is a game that feels difficult without ever being unfair.
Read our Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order review
Red Dead Redemption 2
While GTA V is by far Rockstar’s most profitable game, Red Dead Redemption 2 is the studio’s magnum opus. A prequel to the original RDR, Red Dead Redemption 2 follows Arthur Morgan and the Van der Linde gang. It’s an outlaw story for the ages, with fantastic photo-realistic visuals and unparalleled attention to detail.
The story shines, with a seamless transition between the third-person gameplay and the many wonderfully directed cutscenes. The lengthy 50-plus hour main campaign is full of dynamic events and missions that always feel different than the last. The gorgeous set pieces and delightful story beats are accompanied by one of the greatest soundtracks in modern gaming.
Like GTA V, there’s also an online mode in Red Dead Redemption 2. Red Dead Online is still in its relative infancy, but it already has some great multiplayer modes and engaging co-op missions. Buy it for the main campaign, stick around for the online fun that will continue to evolve in the years to come.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is available on PS4 and Xbox One.
Read our full Red Dead Redemption 2 review
The Last of Us Part IINaughty Dog
The Last of Us Part II continues the excellent story set up in the original game. Dark and gritty, The Last of Us leans into themes that other mainstream games ignore. What’s so impressive, though, is that developer Naughty Dog is able to balance these themes against wonderfully developed characters, leading to an experience that’s emotionally impactful without going into cringe territory.
The second entry is much more accessible than the first one, too. As a story-driven title, Naughty Dog packed plenty of accessibility options into the game, allowing anyone to experience one of the most profound narratives in all of video games. The Last of Us Part II has a lot of hype around it, and thankfully, that hype is well earned.
Read our The Last of Us Part II review
God of War
The 2018 game God of War redefined the franchise, and that’s clear the moment you boot it up. Instead of lengthy backstory or a big set piece, the camera pans back from the title screen to begin the journey. From there, the camera never cuts, giving the experience a sheen of cinematic polish that propels you forward. Many games require some sort of effort to get started, but God of War feels effortless. It takes you on a journey that you can’t stop, and all you need to do is watch it unfold.
Although it redefined the franchise, God of War is still an action game. The cinematic story is underscored by a rewarding combat system that goes beyond hacking and slashing. The story is excellent, too, expanding from a somber central conflict at the start of the game to an epic involving gods, giants, and dragons.
Read our God of War review
A lot has happened to Destiny 2 launched in 2017. Four expansions have arrived, with a fifth coming this Fall. Bungie and Activision’s publishing partnership ended earlier than expected, leaving Bungie as the sole owner and publisher of the intergalactic shooter. And through it all, Destiny 2 has evolved to become a better version of itself. It hasn’t always been an easy road for Destiny 2, much like its predecessor, but today it stands as one of the best live service games around.
Destiny 2 accommodates all types of players. You can solo through the missions for the story, grind for gear and complete challenging raids with friends, or dedicate your attention to always fun Crucible multiplayer mode. Bungie is always tinkering with the formula, and the result is one of the most polished and endlessly interesting games available now on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
Read our full Destiny 2 review
Before Fortnite took over the collective consciousness of gaming, Overwatch was king. The class-based first-person shooter from Blizzard features some of the best strategic shooter gameplay around. An ever-evolving list of heroes and frequent adjustments to the meta keeps the team-based gameplay fresh. Seasonal events such as the Summer Games, Halloween Terror, Winter Wonderland, and Lunar New Year have kept the community engaged with the hero shooter for more than three years.
While Overwatch has lost some of its thunder in the past year or so, it’s still one of the most popular esports games to watch today, and that’ll only continue once Overwatch 2 releases. You can dive in on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Be careful, though, you’ll log 1,000 hours before you know it.
Read our full Overwatch review
There’s not much more to say about Fortnite that hasn’t already been said. Chances are your grandfather who can’t use a mouse has heard of Fortnite. Fortnite has become synonymous with video games to the point where whenever I tell someone I write about games they say, “Oh yeah, my [son, daughter, whatever] loves Fortnite.” To be clear, though, the adoration is warranted. We’ve never seen a game quite like Fortnite, particularly when it comes to the ever-changing map and modes.
As a free-to-play game, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t try Fortnite. It’s available on every current-generation console, PC, and mobile device. The cartoonish visuals are inviting and it never takes itself too seriously. While the shooting mechanics aren’t top-notch, the on-the-fly building feature is a marvel. Plus, it’s fun to see what changes will come next to the map, as Epic continues to tell a long-running story of sorts with each major change.
Read our full Fortnite review
Created by the team behind Titanfall 2, it’s no surprise that Apex Legends has the best gunplay of any of the major battle royale games available today. Apex Legends drops teams of three on a large map to duke it out to the death while the playable area gradually shrinks. Standard stuff, right? Well, Apex Legends also has a class-based system similar to Overwatch which spices things up in much-appreciated ways.
An interesting roster of heroes with unique abilities, fast and satisfying gunplay, and a map that is littered with cool details make Apex Legends a free-to-play game that feels like it should be full-priced. With new characters and game modes, Apex Legends is only just beginning its quest to battle royale dominance. It’ll never outshine Fortnite, but it’s a different kind of battle royale experience. There’s room for more than one excellent battle royale game. Apex Legends is available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
Read our full Apex Legends review
Call of Duty: Warzone/Modern Warfare
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is a great game on its own, and definitely a welcome return to form for the series. Warzone is why it makes our list, though. The Call of Duty franchise has tried battle royale in the past, but always as part of a full $60 release. Now, the game mode is free-to-play, ready to take on the likes of Apex Legends and Fortnite.
Thankfully, Warzone isn’t just a big map with a lot of players. With a near endless amount of weapons, plenty of secrets hidden throughout the map, and a unique respawn mechanic, Warzone is battle royale at its finest. Best of all, though, Warzone is cross-platform, so you can suit up with your friends no matter what platform you’re on.
Read our Call of Duty: Warzone review
Who said gamers hated sunlight? 2016’s Pokémon Go captivated the entire world, compelling wannabe Pokémon trainers to go on long walks to catch Pocket Monsters using augmented reality technology. Pokémon Go‘s loop was and still is so satisfying because it’s largely a passive game that is best enjoyed in the company of friends and family. People have gone on cross-country road trips to catch Pokémon, met lifelong friends on the hunt, and we’re sure some romantic relationships have developed from a mutual love of filling out the Pokédex.
Since launch, Pokémon Go has added a number of features, most notably trainer battles. You can also trade Pokémon with friends. In many ways, Pokémon Go is a game that connects gamers and those who wouldn’t consider themselves to be gamers. It’s that universal and that influential of an experience. Pokémon Go is one of the most popular free-to-play games on mobile.
Valve likes making multiplayer games with steep learning curves. Case in point: Dota 2. The MOBA features the most complex gameplay available in the genre. At the same time, complexity means if you stick with it, you’ll be rewarded immensely for those growing pains. What’s great about Dota 2 is that all of its 100-plus heroes are accessible without spending a dime.
Dota 2 is also one of the premier eSports. To get good enough to compete on the big stage, you’ll probably have to log thousands of hours in the game. Even then, you never know. Dota 2 isn’t the best for casual play, but if you want something to sink your teeth into for the long haul, it’s one of the most engaging and popular free-to-play games ever made.
Super Mario Maker 2
Create-your-own-Mario-levels, what a concept! Super Mario Maker 2 for Nintendo Switch improves on the Wii U original in every way, offering more tools, styles, and themes to choose from when designing your diabolical sidescrolling levels. Designing levels with a controller or touchscreen is an intuitive process that, for some, may be more enjoyable than actually playing the community creations in Course World. The thing about Super Mario Maker 2 is that it really is an endless amount of content. New levels are added to the vast library of community creation all the time. Whether you run through them solo, cooperatively, or competitively, there’s a staggering amount of fun to be had. There are so many unbelievable user creations that push the boundaries of what you think a Mario game can be.
The story mode is the icing on the cake. Nintendo included a robust campaign with 100 levels designed in Super Mario Maker 2. We cannot stress this enough: Nintendo’s levels are bonkers cool. In some ways, Super Mario Maker 2 is the most impressive Mario sidescroller ever made. Even cooler: Much of that impressiveness can be attributed to fans. Super Mario Maker 2 is one of the best Switch games you can play your friends to date.
Read our full Super Mario Maker 2 review
One of the greatest platformers of all time, Celeste is a masterclass in design and the joys of minimalistic mechanics. You play as Madeline, a young woman struggling with anxiety and depression, on her quest to climb to the summit of the snow-capped Celeste Mountain. The journey has many obstacles, all of which you must avoid and conquer by jumping, climbing, and dashing. Celeste‘s chapters are broken up into small levels, each of which seamlessly flows into the last.
While Celeste starts simple enough, the minimalistic mechanics gradually become deeper as areas become more dangerous. Celeste has no traditional enemies to speak of. It’s all purely platforming, reminiscent of Super Meat Boy. On top of the superb platforming gameplay, Celeste‘s story about persevering through mental illness is deftly written and incredibly important. Celeste is one of the best indie games and is available on PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC.
Read our full Celeste review
An unlikely entrant in the battle royale genre, Tetris 99 for Nintendo Switch is pure chaos. It’s the Tetris you know and love, but you face off against 98 other players at once. While there are command options that let you designate where to send your Garbage blocks, it’s largely just Tetris with a much higher player count. But until you try it, you have no idea what that actually means. Tetris 99 is one of the tensest, most exhilarating games we’ve ever played. Winning a round in Tetris 99 feels like winning the video game lottery.
Tetris 99 is exclusively available to Nintendo Switch Online subscribers as a free-to-play game. It’s one of the numerous spins on the greatest puzzle game of all time to launch in recent years. For a polar opposite Tetris experience, check out Tetris Effect, the most chill way to experience Tetris in VR on the PlayStation and PC, thanks to soothing animations and a catchy electronic soundtrack.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
The Mario Kart franchise is the greatest arcade racing series ever made, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe sits at the top of the Mario Kart rankings. An enhanced port of the Wii U original, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has more racers, battle modes, and unlockables on Switch. Like other Mario Kart games, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe combines old with new. Tracks from the series’ illustrious history are included, as are many new courses. In terms of feel, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is unrivaled in the arcade racing department.
While we cannot promise that you won’t get into huge arguments with family and friends while playing (those blue shells), Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is one of the greatest multiplayer games on Switch and one of the most delightful racing games of all time.
Read our full Mario Kart 8 Deluxe review
Rocket League is already five years old, but it’s still one of the most popular games ever made. It’s basically a soccer game, but instead of kicking a ball around with your feet, you bounce it around with a car. The premise may be simple, but it’s endlessly addicting. Rocket League is a must-play for any video game fan, no matter if you favor sandbox titles like Minecraft or epic RPGs on the scale of Monster Hunter: World.
The barrier for entry is extremely low, too. Rocket League is available on all major consoles, as well as PC, and supports crossplay between all of them.
Persona 5 Royal
Persona 5 is easily one of the best JRPGs ever made, but it’s also one of the best games ever made. It follows the same formula as previous games: you’re a high school student and, after a series of strange events, you’re sucked into an alternate world where you can release a Persona, a reflection of your inner desires. If this is your first introduction to the series, fret not. Each Persona game has an isolated story, and although there are themes that run throughout the series, you don’t need any prior knowledge to play the fifth entry.
You should, however, buy Persona 5 Royal instead of vanilla Persona 5. This definitive edition comes with a long list of quality of life improvements. More than that, though, it has nearly 30 hours of additional content. In addition to a new semester, new characters, and new weapons, Persona 5 Royal also includes the Thieves Den — a place you can customize and play mini-games — as well as some brand new zones. Royal feels like an entirely new game, despite the fact that the narrative is mostly the same. Be warned, though, Persona 5 Royal requires a big commitment. You’re looking at over 100 hours of gameplay even if you just rush through the main story.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
While the first two Witcher games were good, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is exceptional. CD Projekt Red refined the combat mechanics to make it a much more pleasant experience, filled with tons of RPG customization. The stars of the show are the world and story, though. The vast, detailed fantasy world is full of interesting characters and side stories. The main storyline itself, which is the conclusion to Geralt of Rivia’s tale, delivers in every way.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt remarkably got even better post-launch, due to some of the best expansions we’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. The Witcher 3 is an epic western RPG that shines every step of the way. If you haven’t played it yet, you’re in for a real treat. It’s available now on PS4, Xbox One, PC and arrives on Switch later this year. A TV show based on The Witcher novels is available on Netflix, starring Superman himself, Henry Cavill.
Read our full The Witcher 3 review
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
A once in a generation game, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild redefined what open-world games could be when it launched on Switch and Wii U in 2017. Nintendo had never made an open-world game before. Somehow, the iconic studio outmatched all of its competitors. Breath of the Wild captured the indescribable magic of the series while significantly altering the formula. It’s a feat that’s truly astonishing to think about.
Breath of the Wild‘s open world of Hyrule is filled with empty space. Rather than cluttering the world with needless tasks, Breath of the Wild gives players the freedom to explore at their own pace, to create their own adventures. Featuring breakable weapons and combat that is by far the most strategic and dynamic in series history, playing Breath of the Wild feels like discovering the timeless series for the first time. Breath of the Wild even replaced the traditional dungeons with 120 small-scale dungeons called Shrines, each of which had its own unique puzzle.
Breath of the Wild is one of the best Switch games and is in the running for the greatest Zelda game of all time. Buying a Switch or Switch Lite solely for Breath of the Wild is a worthwhile investment.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
Final Fantasy XIV wasn’t good. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, which arrived three years later, is one of the greatest MMOs of all time. It also happens to be one of the most inviting MMOs for newcomers thanks to its fairly easy to pick up play style and wonderful community.
A Realm Reborn has seen three major expansions, including the excellent Shadowbringers, that have helped tell its epic story that rivals any game in the franchise. That’s particularly impressive since MMOs are known more for the grind for better and better gear than their stories.
A Realm Reborn has tons of engaging story content, as well as challenging raids, PvP battles, and yes, a myriad of awesome loot. A Realm Reborn is available now on PS4, PC, and Mac. It’s best played with friends, so convince your buddies to dive in with you. Fair warning: FFXIV can be addictive.
Read our full Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers review
Monster Hunter: World
The Monster Hunter series has had a dedicated cult following for many years, but it wasn’t until Monster Hunter: World that it became a huge mainstream hit. Monster Hunter: World is Capcom’s best-selling game…ever. Monster Hunter: World features far better combat mechanics than previous entries, which certainly makes it easier to get into than its predecessors.
But Monster Hunter: World is all about the thrill of the hunt. The power of current generation consoles allows the larger-than-life beasts to really stand out. After all, Monster Hunter really is the only franchise to make you feel that you are actually outmatched. In this regard, World offers a constantly enjoyable and epic experience.
World has a ton of depth, too. If you dive really deep into builds and the robust item system, you can remain enthralled with the loop for hundreds of hours. There’s so much in World that reveals slowly, which makes it all the more rewarding when things really start to click. Capcom has supported World since launch with limited-time events and crossovers.
Monster Hunter: World is available now on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. A major expansion, titled Iceborne, is available on all platforms, too.
Read our full Monster Hunter: World review
Mass Effect Legendary Collection
The Mass Effect Legendary Collection includes the all three games in the trilogy, fit with various graphical and gameplay improvements as well as enhanced loading times. This collection is the definitive way to play the Mass Effect games in 2021, fixing many of the dated mechanics present in the original releases while overhauling the visuals for 4K systems.
If you haven’t experienced the Mass Effect trilogy, you’re missing out on a cornerstone of video games. From the opening moments of Mass Effect, you’re thrown into a saga where you’ll have to make difficult decisions that fracture the world around you. Just like the original trilogy, your choices carry between games in the Legendary Collection, too.
Even if you’re tried Mass Effect before, it’s worth giving the Legendary Collection a shot. It’s a game that sneaks up on you and immerses you in the world without you knowing. At the start of Mass Effect, you’re worried swapping new attachments to your weapons. By the end, you’ll be complaining about how stuck-up the Salarians are, how the Turians can’t be trusted, and how the Krogans are just misunderstood. Or maybe you’ll be complaining about the opposite, and that’s why Mass Effect is so special.
No game has sold more copies than Minecraft. Like Fortnite, the sandbox game really doesn’t need an introduction at this point. Minecraft has given players across the world the tools to create and play in their own worlds since 2011. Minecraft is what you make of it.
The limit to its depth is your imagination. Games become popular and then drift away. Minecraft isn’t an ordinary game, though. Like Tetris, the second best-selling game of all time, Minecraft feels like it will be around for generations to come. That very rarely happens with games.
Minecraft is available on every modern console,, PC, and mobile device and features cross-play support (but not for PS4). It’s especially great for creative-minded kids. Minecraft is a phenomenon worthy of its immense adoration. It continues to evolve because the community remains dedicated to building it up, one block at a time.
Animal Crossing: New HorizonsScreenshot | Jon Bitner
Animal Crossing: New Horizons might be the most wholesome game ever created. It’s adorable and addicting, offering dozens, if not hundreds, of hours of island-getaway gameplay. As the first game in the series in almost eight years, New Horizons comes with plenty of quality of life improvements. The core gameplay is the same, though.
New Horizons is a huge hit, thanks in no small part to its release on the Switch. Now, you can manage your island and visit others no matter if you’re on the couch or on the go. Animal Crossing’s pick-up-and-play style works wonderfully on Nintendo’s handheld, rewarding players who want to play for a few minutes, as well as those who want to play for a few hours.
Read our Animal Crossing: New Horizons review
The story behind Stardew Valley is great. A rabid Harvest Moon fan, discontent with the direction of the series, decided to make his own Harvest Moon-like game. Instead of copying the formula, though, developer ConcernedApe decided to expand it. Stardew Valley is a farming simulator at its core, but it takes a lot of notes from games like Minecraft and beyond.
Stardew Valley is anything you want it to be. You can stick around the farm, becoming a part of the local community and even courting a partner. On the other hand, you can spend your time exploring a nearby cave, uncovering new monsters, weapons, and materials. Stardew Valley’s breadth of gameplay types promises hundreds of hours of fun, and with a dirt-cheap price tag, there’s no reason not to pick it up.
Read our Stardew Valley backlog review
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 is everything you loved about the original games, just with a modern coat of paint. Unlike previous attempts to revitalize the franchise, this remake stays true to the arcade-like sensibilities of the original. In fact, it’s built on the code of the original games, so lapsed players can jump right back in.
Outside of the clear visual upgrade, the collection introduces fan-favorite tricks from later games into the first two, as well as adds skaters like Riley Hawk and Leo Baker.
Still, it’s the same Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater you know and love. All the skaters from the original roster are present in the remake, much of soundtrack remains unchanged, and iconic maps like Hangar and Mall are available with an expanded list of challenges. The collection supports local and online multiplayer, too, so you can take on your friends.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Fire Emblem: Three Houses combines the excellent turn-based strategy gameplay the series is known for with visual novel elements seen in games like Persona 5. Three Houses winds up being the deepest game in franchise history thanks to how well everything gels together. In Three Houses, you pledge your allegiance to one of three houses. From there, you teach students and partake in relationship building exercises such as everyone’s favorite “Tea Time.”
Three Houses was definitely a risky play, considering fans were used to hopping from battle to battle. This time around, it builds much slower. And it’s better for it. Three Houses still has superb gameplay; it’s just dressed up with a ton of welcome additions that make it one of the best games and exclusives on Switch. In terms of turn-based strategy games, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is one of the best we’ve ever played.
The Civilization games have long stood as the face of grand strategy, and Civilization VI only furthers the association. Littered with complexity, Civilization VI demands your full attention. However, with a clean UI and plenty of tips to guide your path, it’s still an enjoyable experience for newcomers.
Despite being a few years old, now is the perfect time to play Civ VI. With the excellent Rise & Fall and Gathering Storm expansions, the game is bigger than ever. Unlike previous games, it’s available on consoles, too, including the Nintendo Switch.
Read our Civilization VI review
A shining example of how VR can really change the game, Beat Saber is one of the best rhythm games ever made. Your job is to slash blocks as they zip by you with two Lightsaber-esque swords. It’s a simple premise that quickly turns into pure, thrilling chaos. Beat Saber is propelled by a wonderful soundtrack that will keep you bobbing your head to the beat as your hands move frantically to keep your combo going. You’ll get a good workout while playing. Best of all: You’ll have a ton of fun even as sweat is dripping down your face.
Beat Saber is available now on PSVR, Oculus Rift, Oculus Quest, and HTC Vive. A 360-degree mode is coming to Oculus Quest, which will only heighten the pandemonium.
Although it’s not Half-Life 3, Half-Life Alyx is the next best thing. It’s a VR-exclusive side story that takes place in the Half-Life universe. “Side story” is really the best way to describe Alyx, not “spin-off.” Developed and released by Valve, Half-Life: Alyx is a full, fat Half-Life game. It just, unfortunately, doesn’t continue the story from Half-Life 2: Episode 2.
It’s set between the events of Half-Life and Half-Life 2, and instead of suiting up as Gordon Freeman, you play as Alyx Vance. The game itself is excellent, but experiencing it in VR takes the affair to a new level. Valve’s meticulous design shines in virtual reality, so much so that you’ll oftentimes find yourself standing still just to look at the environment.Editors' Recommendations