While we won't know the best games of 2021 definitively until the year is out, the first half of the year has already furnished some incredible titles. Whether it was Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart showing what the PS5 can really do, or Scarlet Nexus demonstrating that there's still a lot of life left in the JRPG genre, 2021 has already been a great year for gaming.
We've polled the Tom's Guide staff to see which games have really stood out between January 2021 and the present. There's a healthy mix of genres and styles here, from medieval multiplayer warfare, to remasters of beloved last-gen games, to brand-new entries in long-running series. If you want the best of what 2021 has to offer in the gaming space, look no further than the list below. Now, let's see what the second half of the year brings.
10. Chivalry 2
Playing Chivalry 2 is some of the most fun I’ve ever had in a multiplayer game. Shooters and battle royale games typically focus on winner-takes-all competition. But Chivalry 2 is so bonkers that even when I’m getting my head cleaved off by a knight wielding a monstrous axe, I’m still grinning away.
There are leaderboards and kill/death ratios in Chivalry 2, but what makes this sequel to 2012’s Chivalry: Medieval Warfare so delightful is that it prioritizes fun over everything else. Its brand of medieval carnage can be extremely brutal, and the game offers a surprising amount of tactical depth. But you’ll spend more time laughing at your own demise than cursing your opponent for getting the drop on you.
What other multiplayer game lets you beat your enemies to death with a chicken, or throw your teammate’s decapitated head at a charging foe? Chivalry 2 is uncomplicated fun, and I love it for that. - Rory Mellon
9. The Nioh Collection
Of the entire "like Dark Souls, but" subgenre of games, the Nioh series has arguably fared the best. Rather than try to recreate the aesthetics of the inimitable Souls franchise, Nioh keeps the difficult, demanding combat and nuanced character building, but transports the action to a fantasy version of medieval Japan. There, you take control of a samurai as you explore the gorgeous countryside and fight off both mundane and demonic foes. The Nioh Collection gathers both Nioh and its sequel, then ups the performance to take full advantage of the PS5. There's even a 120 Hz mode, if your TV can support it. You may have played the games before, but they hold up remarkably well. - Marshall Honorof
8. Nier Replicant
Nier Replicant is one of the strangest games of the year — and if you're into that sort of thing, it's also one of the best. In this remaster of the 2010 cult classic action/RPG, you take control of Nier: a young man who sets out on a quest to save his sister from a mysterious plague. Along the way, he teams up with a standoffish book, a skeletal sorcerer and a foul-mouthed swordswoman, all of whom have some seriously odd interpersonal issues to work out. The action-packed gameplay works well enough, but it's the unusual cast of characters and melancholic story that make Nier Replicant worth checking out. - Marshall Honorof
7. Scarlet Nexus
Scarlet Nexus is a JRPG with an excellent story, awesome combat and excellent characters. You play as either Kasane Randall or Yuito Sumeragi, and experience a gripping, branching story that should keep you engaged for the whole play time. Throughout the game, you’ll have access to psychokinetic powers, as well as other abilities from your teammates. Scarlet Nexus has a lot going on and the plot thickens drastically after the first few hours. And, if you haven’t enjoyed JRPGs in the past, I'd still encourage you to check out this one. It features a lot of the genre’s hallmarks, while being a lot more straightforward than others of its kind. - Jordan Palmer
6. Resident Evil Village
Resident Evil Village became something of a meme, thanks to the instantly magnetic vampiress, Lady Dimitrescu. However, Lady D and her unusual daughters are only part of the reason why Resident Evil Village works so well. The game is also filled with intense combat and a large, detailed world to explore. Some moments from the game represent the scariest the series has been in years — or, failing that, at least the goriest. Essentially, Resident Evil Village builds on the strengths of Resident Evil 7, while incorporating some beloved features from earlier games in the franchise. It's a satisfying adventure, with lots of reasons to replay it once you're done. - Marshall Honorof
5. Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade
Final Fantasy VII Remake was one of the best games of 2020, so it’s no surprise that its PS5 expansion should be similarly excellent. There are two parts to Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade: the PS5-specific enhancements, and the Intermission DLC episode. From a technical perspective, Intergrade improves FF7R’s graphics, frame rate and load times. But it’s in the Intermission episode where the upgrade really shines. Here, you take control of fan-favorite party member Yuffie Kisaragi in two brand-new chapters. Between Yuffie’s unique battle style and the deep-cut characters she encounters along the way, FF7R Intergrade is sure to please longtime series fans. - Marshall Honorof
4. Hitman 3
Hitman 3 is a welcome reminder of how skilled developer IO Interactive has become at building complex levels that run like clockwork. Players have so many compelling opportunities to slip in as the well-shaved assassin Agent 47, and throw a wrench into the gears.
In addition to bringing the conspiracy-laden narrative in the “World of Assassination” Hitman trilogy to a satisfying close, Hitman 3 delivers some of the best missions in the series. From the Bond-esque opening of the Dubai level, to the murder mystery homage that is the Dartmoor mission, each offers a master class in level design. The open-ended nature of the Berlin level is especially welcome, and it hints at where the next generation of Hitman games could go. - Alex Wawro
3. Mass Effect Legendary Edition
BioWare remastered the legendary Mass Effect trilogy for a new generation, welcoming old fans back with some visual and quality-of-life enhancements. But Mass Effect Legendary Edition is also the best way to play the games overall, making it perfect for people who have never played the trilogy before. Playing through Commander Shepard’s journey is an amazing and emotional experience. The characters are why people love this space opera, but the setting and lore are also huge draws. - Jordan Palmer
2. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is perhaps the best game on the PS5 so far — and with competition like Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Demon’s Souls, that’s saying something. This action/platformer finally picks up where Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus left off way back in 2013, delivering a satisfying sci-fi story about dimension-hopping heroes and villains. The gameplay is top-notch, with a large arsenal of bizarre, customizable weapons and 10 inventive, secret-filled levels to explore. But what’s really impressive about Rift Apart is how well it showcases the PS5’s unique features, from its almost-instantaneous loading times, to its subtle DualSense feedback for every different weapon. - Marshall Honorof
Returnal is the first game I played on PS5 that felt genuinely next-gen. The combination of lightning-fast load times, remarkable artistic direction, and its still-unmatched implementation of DualSense haptics created an experience that almost entirely justified the console’s sizable entry fee. Developer Housemarque has always been an underappreciated studio in my eyes, but Returnal solidified just how talented the team is.
The game’s punishing roguelike structure makes every encounter feel intense, and laser-sharp focus at all times is a necessity. Returnal frequently requires you to make tough decisions when it comes to item management, creating an engaging risk/reward dynamic. The fist-pumping moments of victory that come from surviving a brutal encounter with just a sliver of health have stayed with me even months after I (reluctantly) completed the game. - Rory Mellon