The five best video games of 2021 selected by the NPR staff

In a world that remains anything but normal, play has become a source of camaraderie and catharsis. The gaming industry has struggled to keep up as major releases like Horizon forbidden to the west and God of War Ragnarök were once again delayed by the pandemic. But you would be hard pressed to find a more extended year. Over 11,000 unique titles have been released to the Steam online marketplace, thousands more than any other year. Consoles like the Xbox Series X, PS5 and Nintendo Switch have each deepened their catalogs with new franchises and remasters of old classics, and indie games have enjoyed increased visibility on The rewards of the game and on platforms like YouTube and Twitch.

We’ve polled staff and backers for their favorite games this year and here are the top five. They range from humor to ghastly (sometimes both at the same time!), From single player stories to vast online sandboxes. The collection of games that has emerged is as diverse as the people who create NPR, and provided a lot of fun and reason in a time when both were scarce.

It takes two

It takes two is the perfect cooperative game. As the title suggests, you can only play it with another person. The main characters Cody and May divorce and fight constantly. Their devastated daughter accidentally performs magic that turns them into insect-sized dolls, forcing Cody and May to work together to get back to normal. Each chapter is in a different location around their house (the first one causes you to escape their shed, the other has you in the middle of a turf war between wasps and squirrels in a tree), and you are constantly acquiring new powers that let you solve puzzles (like flying with a fidget spinner). With each gorgeous card filled with creative details, fun bites, mini-games, and delightful detours, there’s never a moment that isn’t fun.

Kaity kline, contributor, NPR Join the game


Encryption is an ode to the mastery of genres: part roguelike deckbuilder, part escape room, part psychological horror. In this metafictional game-in-a-game, you and your pack of rambling woodland creatures are trapped in a cabin and forced to play a series of card games in exchange for your freedom. The spooky cabin is full of its own set of puzzles, imbuing indie play with dark, cottage-like surrealism. Let’s be clear: I’m not a horror fan. But I easily became obsessed with the atmosphere, gameplay, and velvety black narrative of Daniel Mullins’ creation. This game is best entered cold – your character doesn’t know anything at first, and neither do you.

Marguerite Cirino, internal, Shortwave, TED Radio Hour, how I built this


Valheim is a great blend of well-established survival craft sandbox tropes with unique innovations that set it apart from its competition. As a deceased Viking warrior brought to the realm of purgatory of Valheim, you’ll be tasked with killing Odin’s enemies, improving your skills in combat and around your base, navigating to explore a vast world, and of course just surviving. Iron Gate is a small development team, and game development has been slow but steady. Recently, ValheimThe Hearth and Home update has revamped the food and stamina systems while adding content. Play with up to 10 friends at a time on a single server, go it alone or import your character (with or without their items) and take them to your friend’s world.

– Nina Fill, Executive Assistant, Digital Media

Resident Evil 8

Resident Evil Village, the eighth main title in the franchise, is the first one I’ve played. Don’t get me wrong, I sat in silent acknowledgment of YouTube plot compilations from previous games in the franchise that were just too scary for me. This game, however, was my perfect fluency in the series! Sneaking around Dimitrescu Castle, hunting down Angie in the horrific Beneviento house, and the final fight with Mother Miranda herself were highlights of the game for me and really fueled some nightmares for a while. I’m happy to report that I’m a stupid man who’s completely sold on the franchise and can’t wait for the next DLC.

– Louie Micheli, Accounts Receivable Manager, NPM Finance

Life is Strange: True Colors

Life is Strange: True Colors is an appropriate name. It’s the culmination of everything the emotionally charged series has worked to accomplish in the past, but it’s also a beautiful, heart-wrenching adventure that wears its heart on its sleeve.

Alex Chen moves to Haven Springs, Colorado, where she grapples with the death of her brother Gabe and the unfortunate circumstances surrounding him. Empathy is her super power, and with it, she can manipulate the emotions of others, which appear to her as colored auras.

From its captivating history to its realistic representations of trauma and human relationships, True colors is a masterful storytelling exercise that you won’t soon forget.

Brittany Vincent, contributor, NPR Join the game

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