What a year, what a year, but I still managed to scrape together a list of five PC games that I played in 2021 that were actually good. I suppose I could add an interesting bad game into the mix. But I already wrote a review and two guides for Chorus, so let’s not waste words.
Here are my top five PC games of 2021.
Warhammer 40,000: Battlesector
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War was released in 2004, and it has all been downhill from there. I jest, I jest! I’m sure we all loved the Dark Crusade expansion, and some people really liked Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 2 (multiplayer, IIRC). But when it comes to AAA titles, we were left adrift, and then even weighted down by the coprolite that was Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 3 (yes, I was happy when they announced that continued work on it was cancelled).
Enter Warhammer 40,000: Battlesector, published by Slitherine and developed by Black Lab Games, the madlads behind the excellent Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock. Not only did it create the superior space game (the visuals are the only place where Battlefleet Gothic wins out), it somehow managed to shift its skillset completely to make a turn-based tactics game.
I was skeptical, at first, but boy was I proven wrong. Battlesector looks great, sounds amazing, and is a blast to play. Of the few downsides that it has (ranged Marine units are trash in melee, and no unit takes to the field with a mix of weapons), most it shares with the earlier Warhammer 40,000: Sanctus Reach and the general turn-based tactics genre. Sanctus Reach wins out by having unit persistency matter, but, well, that’s nothing that can’t be fixed by sequels or, if we’re lucky, massive free DLCs. Hopefully, the upcoming Necron DLC is but a welcome portent of things to come.
I don’t even remember how I got the code for Encased two years ago. Might have been magic, might have been one of the editors around here. Point is, I’ve been low-key tracking this game’s development for some time now. And you know what? It did not disappoint when it came out.
In Encased, you’re sent on a one-way trip under the Dome, a weird alien relic discovered in the alternate 1970s. The whole world is united in the effort to explore and exploit the place. And you are but the newest recruit, taking the elevator into the lands covered by the Dome. Things go sideways pretty fast, and you’re off to save the world, maybe.
There’s a lot of freedom in Encased, even if plot progression does keep you out of certain zones until you do enough of it. If you just blitz the main story, the game would not seem that long. However, the prime directive of any RPG player is to ignore the main plot as long as possible (wonder if game devs will ever solve that), and there are quite a paths less trodden that you can go on. All in all, a great CRPG with a unique setting.
HighFleet is best described as as a very tactile rumination of dieselpunk airfleet command set in a mix of the Russian Civil War and Soviet War in Afghanistan. You’re a prince in command of fleet held aloft by engines that burn millions of tons of liquid methane. The rebellious nobles in an eastern province have nuked the capital. You are now to use your cunning, your fleet, and the allies you gather along the way to make a dash for the rebel capital, capture the nuclear rector there, and make them sit down at the bargaining table.
HightFleet is both hard and weird. You can design your own ships, and each bit you weld to another bit can be shot off — but it can also be used as ablative armor. You can make ships that can barely dodge the ground and rely on their bulk for survival or construct small interceptors that make their pilots black out three times per battle. You can manually mark radar returns on the map and then measure them to get an idea of the contact’s speed. You can decipher radio calls and raid convoys. You can open up assaults on towns with cruise missiles. What you can’t do is use nukes, because once the sunshine is un-canned, the enemy will use it as well.
Oh, and the audio is amazing.
Unity of Command II DLCs
Now, I’m just a country bumpkin who doesn’t know whether dee-el-cees fall under them there umbrella of ‘games,’ but the editor isn’t in the same room as me at the time of writing, so I’ll assume I can get away with it.
Over 2021, the absolute ledges at Croteam and 2×2 Games pushed out three DLCs for 2019’s Unity of Command II. And boy, where those DLCs all experiences. While the main game put us in the control of Allied forces in Europe, and 2020’s Blitzkrieg let us command the Nazis in the early invasions of Poland and France et al (a period grogs overlook in favor salivating over Panthers and other late-war nonsense), Barbarossa finally took us to the Eastern Front.
And commanding Nazi forces at the height of their power looks easily, it wasn’t. You soon ran into the issue that the real generals did. Namely, the USSR is huge and your forces aren’t endless, while the Soviet reinforcements seemingly are. Your advance would eventually ground with domes of Kremlin already within view. Moscow 41 let us strike back as the Soviets, taking away from us elite forces that you desperately needed to preserve and giving in exchange pools of troops no more stronger than the mewling Axis allies you loathed to use before.
The last DLC, Stalingrad, put us back into the goose-stepping jack boots for the summer race to Stalingrad. And a swift kick in the teeth once the weather went cold, and your overstretched forces were once again ground up by the Soviet assault.
Some people like to say that Unity of Command II is more of a puzzle game, but hell, this ‘puzzle game’ makes you feel like you yourself are in the field, slowly realizing that maybe invading the USSR was a mistake.
Tails of Iron
Now, I haven’t thought about Tails of Iron much after I finished it, but I have to say it, it is a small, excellent game. It was a surprise to me, since it is, if you squint real heard, a Souls-like. However, the soulsiness is in combat, not in the game world or the gameplay implications of dying.
In fact, as the rat prince Redgi, you really do not want to die. But your kingdom is overrun by the ruthless frogs, so you take the sword and the fight the horde. You also collect a variety of other weapons and gear to also combat giant bugs, the undead, and a few other creatures.
Tails of Iron isn’t a very long game, and Iron Pineapple rightfully slags it for grind and backtracking, but it is, as a like to repeat, relentlessly charming. The art is full of beautiful details that will steal your heart, the writing is fun even if the main story is kinda weak. The audio is great, and of the two games I tried this year, this one did actually pull off having Geralt’s voice actor in the game. In fact, he’s the only voice in the game, and it works perfectly.
Honorable Mention: Halo Infinite
I now know why people like Halo multiplayer: it’s not a twitch shooter, but neither is it bonkers-crazy like Unreal Tournament/Quake/Doom/etc. And it’s monetized the only ethical way: by making you lust for more customization items.