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Giant Bomb Moderators' Top 10 Games of 2021

For the first time, we let the moderators out of the basement long enough to put together their own GOTY list.

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Hi! We're the moderators of this here video game web site. If you don't know us, that's probably a good thing. But, we've all been here for many years (some of us for over a decade). Now, for the first time in history of Giant Bomb, we've been given the opportunity to be a part of the time honored tradition known as GOTY Guest Lists.

So, how do we get thirteen moderators to agree on a GOTY. The short answer is... we don't. Hell, four of the moderators' #1 games did not crack our Top 10. (Note from Marino: Go play Kena you jackasses!) That's because we use math instead. Cold, hard math. We took each moderator's personal list, assigned weighted points, dumped it into a spreadsheet, and a list was made. We then included comments from some of the moderators that voted for each game on the list.

Let's get to it!

10. Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy

From @chaser324 (#5)

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While Avengers was largely a disaster, there were moments during its incredibly brief main campaign that you could see the tiniest glimmer of a good game. Kamala Khan and her super-fan interactions with the Avengers mainstays had some charm, but those moments were buried under a mountain of lackluster combat and awful live-service mission structure.

By dropping the live-service junk in favor of the more traditional AAA action game blueprint and focusing on characters and dialogue, Guardians of the Galaxy manages to be a fantastic game. From a narrative perspective, the story here is on par or better than most of what I've seen from the MCU movies, but it's the smaller character moments and banter that really make the game. This game also looks fantastic and features some very cool environments. The combat has a little jank, but it's still far better than the mess it was in the Avengers and doesn't detract from the overall experience.

From @marino (#6)

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Straight up. This game is way better than it has any right to be. The way it was presented ever since E3 has been kinda terrible, but it had some decent word-of-mouth, so I picked it up during Black Friday and I was not disappointed. Much like the Guardians themselves, this game is greater than the sum of its parts. It's a fun ride from beginning to end with incredible set pieces, and the story delves deeper into the characters than the MCU films do in some ways. By the end, I found myself liking these versions of the characters as much if not more than the movie versions. The combat is a bit shallow and repetitive, but most of the fights are relatively quick. One of the best compliments I can give a game is that it's "not a podcast game", and this is true here. These characters never stop talking, but not in that repetitive, quippy, annoying way. They constantly have contextual and interesting things to say, which makes the ragtag crew of the Milano even more captivating.

9. Valheim

From @finaldasa (#1)

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When Minecraft first came out there were no tutorials, no in-game guides, no role-playing Twitch channels. There was just this strange block game. Valheim is the closest I've ever come to that original Minecraft feeling. Very quickly a small group of friends and I banded together to beat every boss in the game. We unraveled the game together, sharing an experience I had only ever experienced on my own. It's an imperfect game that became the perfect excuse to be together with friends in a very strange world of social distancing. Now if only they'd update it again.

From @sweep (#4)

I didn't see this one coming, but the social aspect of this game was too powerful in a year when many people were living in some form of isolation. I think the best aspect of Valheim was the flexibility of its crafting, encouraging an impressive mix of form and function to every construction.

8. Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous

From @zombiepie (#1)

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Right, so, yes, this game is still a proud resident of "JANK CITY." That said, it might be one of the most "authentic" video game adaptations of a tabletop game. Besides handling major technical issues, Wrath of the Righteous addresses almost all primary complaints with 2018's Pathfinder: Kingmaker. It expands Kingmaker's ruleset by adding more character options and classes and, more importantly, introduces the Mythic Path mechanic. With the ten possible Mythic Paths, you finally have the ability to change your RPing experience leaps and bounds. For example, how a Trickster goes about the game's story will diverge massively from a Lich or Aeon. And for those that want to see the world burn, the game dares you to become the "Swarm-That-Walks." The ways you can fundamentally change your experience mechanically and narratively is simply outstanding.

I will warn you; this is NOT a game for CRPG newcomers. The interface and messy UI are bound to intimidate and confuse people. While the turn-based combat is far more fluid and interactive than Kingmaker's, those that lack that baseline will likely still view Path of the Righteous as "clunky." And when it comes to the character sheets, Path of the Righteous definitely does a better job of guiding you through the process of leveling up a character and allocating skill points. However, that process can still take a shocking amount of time, with the initial character creation process at the start easily clocking in at the one-hour mark. A single playthrough will also last you about 80 to 100 hours. And unless you are willing to dedicate that amount of time for multiple playthroughs, you will not notice the small touches that show the care that has been put into this game. But, should you put in the time, you will be rewarded with one of the most in-depth and comprehensive CRPG experiences made in the last ten years short of Original Sin 2 or Pillars of Eternity. And I know there are at least a few of you sickos, like me, where that is worth something.

7. Halo Infinite

From @marino (#2)

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I am by no means a super Halo fan. I didn't even have an original Xbox until a couple years after launch. I didn't like Halo 4 much and completely skipped Halo 5. So, when Halo Infinite was first shown and then delayed for over a year, I was quite skeptical. But, they fuckin' did it. Halo Infinite is great. The multiplayer is stellar and they did an excellent job making the open world campaign still feel like Halo.

Despite not being a sweaty FPS competitor, something about Halo multiplayer just clicks with me. While it is competitive obviously, it feels like everyone's just there to have a good time. Hardly anyone ever speaks, so there's no way I can prove this of course. Maybe I'm delusional. All I know is I'm having fun even when I'm losing. Yeah, the battle pass progression isn't great, but they've already made several improvements in the first few weeks. Personally, I don't think it's too slow. I've already hit level 100 and this season is supposed to go until May 2022? My main gripe was that the weekly goals often make people do things that don't necessarily contribute to the team, while the in-match medals and points system was meaningless. They've already fixed that a little bit with new types of goals that are based on performance, so that's a great step in the right direction.

While it's disappointing that campaign co-op isn't there yet, I had a blast ghosting, wasping, and grapple shotting my way around the shattered sections of Zeta Halo. I even found three skulls without help! That grapple shot is just so damn fun though. It feels like it's been part of the series forever. And when that classic music swells during big moments... damn. I look forward to coming back to Halo Infinite for a long time.

From @gamer_152:

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Forget Infinite's uninspiring campaign for a minute and just focus on its multiplayer. It's a newborn: inchoate, in want of rapid growth, and yet radically new and exciting. No Halo has done more to transform the series than this one, purging permutations on the same weapons and introducing imaginative new firearms that show an open-minded vision for what an FPS can be. A gun that keeps damaging the player even when they're not being shot? A repeater sniper rifle? All things are possible now. What's more, a new aiming model and a rationing of Spartans' shields makes combat a high-speed blur of munitions that challenges you like never before.

6. Forza Horizon 5

From @chaser324 (#3)

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Yo, they did the Forza Horizon thing again but with some better overall progression. You can still put anime liveries on your cars. A+. 10/10.

I do miss the larger variety in the seasons in Forza Horizon 4, but aside from that, I'm still really enjoying this game and continue to dip in weekly to do the seasonal challenges.

From @zombiepie (#3)

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Where's GTxForza when you need them? Forza Horizon 5 is the most fun I had with a video game all year. You can race around a beautiful rendition of Mexico at your own pace or with friends whizzing by you. The game also deserves credit for making a strong first impression and never letting up. I knew I was hooked from the moment I helped a bunch of goofball scientists explore a caldera. And when the game's customization options become available, you can dash around with whatever livery suits your fancy. Obviously, Forza Horizon 5 was always going to be a playground. Still, with the many multiplayer and solitaire options available to you, it's hard to imagine anyone not being able to make a racing game experience tailor-made in Forza Horizon 5 to their needs.

Speaking of which, no commendation to Forza Horizon 5 should go without mentioning its accessibility options. While some features, like the ASL interpreter, are unfortunately siloed as a separate download, the game still deserves praise for its efforts to engender more people into the gaming fold. Some features in the game, like a slo-mo toggle and alternate subtitle fonts, should be included in virtually every major release. As someone with severe myopia, I would add the lack of larger fonts for the HUD and GPS is still a bummer, and I think it is time for all racing games to allow players to toggle off camera shake. These nitpicks aside, it is a giant leap forward for the franchise and hopefully games in general. While some continue to beat the old war drum that games are meant to "pose a challenge," Forza Horizon 5 allows you to do exactly that with sliders and toggles that can be flicked within seconds. Hopefully, what Forza Horizon 5 accomplished will be echoed in future releases, especially AAA budget games.

5. Inscryption

From @thatpinguino (#1)

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I love deckbuilders. Once I saw the trailer for Inscryption I knew I had to give it a try. A horror themed Rogue-like deckbuilder with escape room elements seemed like my jam. Unfortunately, the actual deckbuilding in Inscryption is pretty straightforward and simple if you’ve played a lot of this style of game. Thankfully, the vibes and story carry Inscryption further than almost any other deckbuilder. Inscryption is the rare deckbuilder that I have no problem recommending to people who don’t ordinarily play card games. Give Inscryption a shot. Play to find out more, leave Google out of this.

From @sgtsphynx (#4)

I don't normally care for card-based games, but this one just hit perfectly for me, the combination of run-based gameplay, one might say rogue-like, and the way the plot unfolds. The ending was just perfect in my opinion.

4. Loop Hero

From @mracoon (#4)

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Whenever Loop Hero gets brought up in conversations on podcasts, usually the first thing people will say about it is it's really difficult to describe. Which is true, it doesn't neatly fit any X Game + Y Game description. Loop Hero is an inscrutable game by design. The joy of playing it comes from discovering it secrets run by run. What will happen if I put these two tiles next to each other? What effect will this elemental buff have on a particular enemy? Can I make it one more loop? Playing Loop Hero raises a lot of questions, and finding the answers is where the game is most satisfying.

From @sgtsphynx (#5)

Something about the smaller games this year. On paper, this game shouldn't work for me, but it is almost an idle game, and it did allow me to have it on while I was working when I was just trying to gather resources. Also, the plot is right in line with my likes and interests. I don't know, I can't really explain it, but this game has just stuck with me.

From @finaldasa (#6)

I feel that some games lay bare their design loop a bit too often. Loop Hero takes the basic loop and spices it up. I love that the game never explains itself. I love that the simplicity is deceptive. I love that I don’t need to pay total attention to it. Loop Hero is a great game when you want something to play without making it your entire hour. Engaging and casual all at the same time.

3. Unpacking

From @finaldasa (#2)

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Life ain’t easy. It’s an unpredictable ride that, at its worst, feels isolating and lonely. It can be all too easy to slip into the idea that our experiences and struggles are our own, alone. Unpacking showed me that it’s okay if life doesn’t always move upward because you aren’t the only one. We all make the best with what we have and keep moving forward because one day we’ll reach that nice home, with people we love.

From @rmanthorp (#5)

I didn't expect to feel so many things virtually doing chores. I moved this year so that probably helped. A meditation of a video game and a pleasure to play. I don’t have much else to say. I loved it.

From @marino (#5)

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Can you tell someone's life story with boxes? This game proves that you can. I'm that guy that still has shelves and shelves of games all neatly alphabetized. So, this game pushes a lot my organization buttons. In addition to that though, I found it fun to see what items she kept through the stages of her life, how the boxes became more organized, and how they were able to convey storytelling without hardly any voice or text.

There's this one level where she moves in with a boyfriend and it's immediately clear that he is not willing to move any of his stuff. It's nigh impossible to fit your stuff in there, but the final straw is that the devs specifically made sure that there is no wall space to put your college degree on the wall. Literally the only place you can put it is under the bed. I was like "well, this relationship just ain't gonna work" and, sure enough, it didn't. Unpacking is such a unique game that it easily left an indelible mark on this year for me.

2. Metroid Dread

From @chaser324 (#1)

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Samus is finally back, and Metroid Dread does in fact slap. It slaps hard.

I think in some ways this is the least Metroidvania-like of the Metroid games. Speedrunner sequence breaking aside, this game really pushes you forward through a bit more of a corridor than most the previous Metroid game. There is still some exploration to be had, but it's much more optional and the intended main path is typically laid bare.

The action and movement in Dread are arguably the best they've ever been. This game just feels great to play, and while the controls can be a bit to initially get to grips with, it's very satisfying getting to a point where you nail a boss fight without getting hit after many failed attempts.

From @rmanthorp (#1)

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The obvious choice. I replayed Metroid 1-4 in preparation for Dread. An amazing series. The legacy and build-up of a Metroid 5 was colossal. The very fact that they did it at all. I expected a box-ticking game that satisfied the ‘2D game enjoyers’ before they moved onto the ‘main’ game - Prime 4. Happy to report that they went further beyond. Dread is what I wanted. I poured over 100% of the map on normal and hard. Cut a speedrun down to around 2 hours. It's fantastic! Samus is SO cool. It sits with the other 4 games as complete gems. I'll return to it plenty. If this is the end of the mainline/2D Metroid series then what a way to end.

1. Psychonauts 2

From @riostarwind (#1)

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Playing the first game and then this one really showed me how much they improved on the original. It just does everything better. I love a good 3D platformer and this one just hit all the right notes. Silly story, solid gameplay and plenty of stuff to collect even if it isn't worth it. That's what makes it my Game Of The Year.

From @thatpinguino (#1)

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I am a die-hard Psychonauts fan, so the sequel to one of my favorite games of all time had to take my top spot. Double Fine managed to refine the gameplay and improve upon the storytelling of the original game. Pyschonauts 2 uses its mind-hopping conceit to explore a shared trauma from multiple perspectives, which was an unexpectedly nuanced direction for a fairly cartoony game to take. I frankly didn’t expect Psychonauts 2 to ever come out so I’m very happy to report it was as good as I hoped a sequel to Psychonauts would be.

Individual Lists

If you'd like to see what each moderator put in their own personal list, here they are.

And here's a look at how we compiled the data. This is just the top 24.

  • A total of 72 different games got votes.
  • 3 games got multiple first place votes.
  • 4 games got ONLY a first place vote.
  • Loop Hero got the most votes with 6.
  • The lowest game with multiple votes was New Pokémon Snap with 7 points.
  • chaser324 got 6 games into the Top 10.
  • All 13 mods who voted got at least 1 game onto the list.
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