Xbox Tavern’s Games of the Year 2021

This year has been utterly excellent for video games (though sadly not much else). While there are bigger worries to concern ourselves with, for just a few moments we wanted to forget all the real world rubbish and focus on the fun!

And so, our team have compiled their personal picks for Game of the Year below! Read on, and let us know your thoughts and YOUR picks in the comments 🙂

Jamie – Owner/EIC

Looking at my list, I’ve completed and reviewed at least forty games, with many more started but not finished. They haven’t all been GOTY worthy – far from it – but there have more than my fair share of absolute gems within that list. While the Honourable Mentions list is about as long as my arm (Halo Infinite, Resident Evil Village, Little Nightmares 2…I could go on), when I sat down and really thought about it there was only one title that kept popping back up over and over: Lake.

Sure, it’s not exactly a technical showcase, and I could see why some might find it far less enjoyable thanks to its slow pace and niche subject matter, but I can’t think of a single game that I genuinely enjoyed from start to finish more. The sleepy lakeside town of Providence Oaks captures the time setting of the mid-80’s perfectly, the beginning march of film, rock music, and popular culture just starting to creep into the resident’s lives. Playing as Meredith Weiss as she readjusts to life outside of the big city, she’s the perfect catalyst for us to enjoy getting to know the town and it’s folk. Taking over her father’s job as local postie, what begins as a 2 week favour turns into a journey of discovery, joy, and recapturing what it’s like to live without the constant pressure of Big City living.

Each day we deliver the mail to the residents, which is both super simple but also incredibly joyous to behold. What could have been a boring slog from house to house turns into exposition filled encounters, introducing us to such lovely people as Robert the lumberjack, Lori the film shop owner, Mrs. Jenkins (the crazy cat lady) and more. Despite the fact we only meet less than a dozen people in our time here, the town feels alive and connected thanks to the interactions with these people. Then, once the day is done, we get to hang out with one or more of them for yet more character filled moments. Elements of choice allow us to shape the narrative somewhat, with one final choice at the end determining where we leave Meredith in her life’s journey. I was genuinely gutted to have finished it when I did, and even several months on I can picture the layout of Providence Oaks like the back of my hand, and find myself humming the wonderfully chill music that accompanies the postal deliveries to this day. It won’t be for everyone, but those that allow themselves to soak in the atmosphere of Lake will find a supremely rewarding experience.

Pete – Contributor/Question Giver Extraordinaire

It’s that time of year where people in the gaming industry start to name their personal game of the year, and of course we here at Xbox Tavern are no different. When asked to name ONE thing for a list, it’s pretty much tradition here to name at least 4 or 5 before ultimately narrowing it down to one, but don’t worry I won’t dwell on the “almost but not quite my GOTY” games. Right, enough padding? Here we go.

So the first games I’m going to give a shoutout to are Football Manager 2022 and Age Of Empires IV. Both games may well have reached my number one but they just haven’t been out long enough to justify either being top of the list. The next shoutout goes to Far Cry 5; I know it wasn’t released this year but I had so much fun playing through FC5, New Dawn, FC4 and Primal this year I had to put it on this list. The last shoutout goes to the Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes. The more I speak/think about it, the more it’s now my favourite in the series.

Right then, onto the main event! My pick for GOTY 2021 is…Mass Effect Legendary Edition. If you want a blueprint on how to get a remaster spot on then look no further than Bioware’s work on the Mass Effect trilogy (take note Rockstar), especially the work they did on the original ME. They’ve managed to make a game that was starting to feel outdated into a game that felt completely fresh whilst still managing to capture that nostalgia feel, as well as load of quality-of-life improvements including Shepard being able to sprint out of combat and skipping the dialogue in the lifts (though why you would is beyond me…). They’ve also fixed Femshep so her default appearance is the same in all 3 games. I’ll finish by saying that If you’ve never played the original trilogy, this is the perfect chance for you to jump in and see why it’s regarded as one of the best ever franchises.

Daniel – Head of Social and YouTube/Completer of ALL the Games

Where has the year gone this time?

2021’s Game of the Year is going to be a very hard call. I’ve had so much fun with Resident Evil Village, Song of Iron and Last Stop to name just a few of the awesome titles I’ve played this year. Halo Infinite is launching in a few days (at time of writing) but I won’t be able to consider that as I’ll never get the campaign done in two weeks!

However, the game which stood out the most for me was Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. When the announcement/trailer dropped I felt the mood for this game was pretty flat. The Marvel Avengers game no doubt helped with this lack of excitement for myself and I would say many others.

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy has an awesome story with very clever writing which immersed me into the game even more. The way the team interact makes you feel like you’re part of this dysfunctional crew. You play as Peter Quill AKA Star Lord and have some control over your team mates Groot, Rocket, Drax and Gramora using tactical abilities to help you defeat Nova Corps, or asking Groot to make a bridge so you can traverse the map.

There is so much to do, like find new costumes for each of your heroes or read data pods to give you more Marvel and Guardians lore, to upgrading Star Lord and his anti-heroes abilities like a simple RPG. If you’re a Marvel or Guardians fan, this is a must play. A rocking soundtrack just like the movies and humour you expect from the Guardians makes this such a great experience.

Carlos – Contributor/VR Purchasing Arm Twister

Whilst there are many games that have arrived in 2021 and provided some truly incredible and original ideas, the pure atmosphere and tension building scenes and environments from Little Nightmares II are second to none. With some of the best art design we’ve seen in some time, and some truly horrifying enemies that stick with you long after the credits have finished rolling, Little Nightmares II is a game that manages to remain accessible to players of all skill levels, whilst creating and then maintaining a truly unique, engaging and spine-chilling experience throughout.

For those not yet in the know, Little Nightmares II pits players into the role of Mono, a young boy trapped in a dark and hideous world that is forever being distorted by the emanating hum of a transmission from a distant tower. After joining forces with Six, the protagonist from the equally impressive first game, Mono sets off to discover the secrets of The Signal Tower and in the process, saving Six from a horrible fate.

With numerous threats, all of which come bearing horrible disfigurements, and a thirst for the death of our young protagonist, Mono and Six must make their way through some truly horrifying areas, putting together each piece of the puzzle and surviving long enough to make a difference.

It’s platforming at its finest and whilst it may not come promising all the bells and whistles of some of the years most anticipated titles, it certainly provides everything you could ask for should you be wanting a complete, well-rounded and near perfect game to get lost in. Not to mention it now boasts Series X|S upgrades to make the experience even more stunning. 

Jake – Contributor/Review Machine

I played a ton of great games this year, many of which were entirely due to me being a part of the team here at Xbox Tavern, but I just can’t decide which one of them is the “best” game. So you could say my 2021 game of the year pick is a cop-out. Instead, I’m going to pick the game that I had the most fun playing this year. Using that metric makes the decision much easier because there is a clear-cut winner: Riders Republic. Playing Ubisoft Annecy’s extreme sports smorgasbord is insanely fun. They built a huge outdoor wilderness playground to bike, ski, snowboard, and fly across.

The game features a robust collection of events, and an easy-to-use event creation tool kit, which many people have taken advantage of so the content keeps flowing. The multiplayer elements are also a blast, especially the hectic Mass Races. One extra thing I love about Riders is the blazing fast loading times (even on my regular old Xbox One). Events start within seconds and fast travel is almost instant. The only negative element about the game is that it has a “games as a service” vibe going on, which shouldn’t be surprising since it is a Ubisoft game, but it feels a little crummy since it’s a premium-priced game at $60 USD. The season one DLC content should start rolling in the next few months, and I’m very interested to see what they add to the game. I feel like it could make or break the long-term success of the game. I know there are plenty of other games vying for your attention, but out of all the GOTY picks in this article I have no doubt that Riders is the most fun (hopefully my editor will skim over that part). Riders Republic should definitely be on your radar, and an insta-buy if it’s on sale. 

Bubba – Contributor/Best Team Mate Carrier Online

For a game that I have put in well over 600+ hours into, Phantasy Star New Genesis is definitely my game of the year choice. As someone who finds it extremely hard to get into MMOs, Phantasy Star Online has one of the most welcoming communities and most immersive and upbeat gameplay to follow up with it. Not only that but I have also met a bunch of other players which I had the pleasure to even call my friends. With the release of Phantasy Star New Genesis, it completely re-worked PSO 2 making the environment more vibrant and giving it more of an open-world aspect to it. While I don’t play as much as I would like to, New Genesis still holds a special place in my heart and has definitely impacted my gaming experience in 2021.

Ian – Contributor/Quizmaster

My game of the year 2021 was close to being Hitman 3 as I am a massive fan of the franchise and gutted the journey is over. IOI did a brilliant job with the last instalment but I also felt they could have done more. In the end, another title completely stole the show and deserves the crown of my game of the year.

For me it has to be, without question…. 12 Minutes.

From the moment I started playing until I finished the story I had so much fun working out what to do and trying loads of different options out, and when you make some progress you get that sense of satisfaction. They added so much extra dialogue and little gems like annoying your wife by eating two cakes – totally optional, but something you’d think the developer might not have accounted for!

The narrative and storyline was brilliant and the voice acting was flawless. I found myself not wanting to put this down and complete it in one go, but I had to go back to it with a fresh head (having slept on it and having crazy dreams about it haha) to figure out my next move!

Thank you to Luis Antonio and Annapurna Interactive for bringing this to Xbox Game Pass (best deal in gaming) so everyone who has a subscription can play it.

Please go ahead and play it and have fun, and why not reach out to me (@nuttywray on Twitter) and tell me what you think of it?

James – Contributor

This year it’s come down to two games that I consider the best Xbox game of 2021. On the one hand you have It Takes Two, a gloriously whimsical co-op exclusive adventure game that constantly throws new inventive ideas at the player- a fully loaded heavyweight of hurrahs and a cracker to experience with the people you love. On the opposite hand is Psychonauts 2, a sequel that never forgets what made its predecessor so rich, whilst enabling an onslaught of inventive level designs, boss battles and a refreshingly compelling story and cast of characters.

It’s a tough one but after careful consideration it had to go to Psychonauts 2 as it’s an astonishing reminder that stepping out of convention is what makes videogames so special. In every way Psychonauts 2 pushes forward with an unbridled imagination and showcases a plethora of stonkingly cool and unforgettable levels. 2021 might be considered the year of the platformers and Psychonauts 2 is the quintessential and exemplary example of that. Moreover Psychonauts 2 is quite possibly the most outstanding Xbox game of 2021 and it deserves all Xbox players’ attention, stat.   

Xpod Tavern ep.59th – The Game of the Year Show

Below you can find our podcast episode where the crew chat more in depth about their picks as well as an expanded Top 5 list from each.

So, those are some of the teams picks for GOTY 2021; are there any that you agree or disagree with? Let us know below!

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Written by
I've been gaming since Spy vs Spy on the Master System, growing up as a Sega kid before realising the joy of multi-platform gaming. These days I can mostly be found on smaller indie titles, the occasional big RPG and doing poorly at Rainbow Six: Siege. Gamertag: Enaksan

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