This year has been a tough one, hasn't it? We're still in the thick of it when it comes to the COVID-19 Pandemic and - even without a lockdown in place - a lot of people haven't seen their loved ones, their family and friends, in fear of further restrictions.
Much like 2020, Video Games have provided an important lifeline for a lot of people in 2021. It's a fantastic way of staying in contact and spending time with someone even though you're physically apart and an important factor in maintaining friendships in a year of hardships and loss. With this in mind, picking a Game of the Year for 2021 is a pretty easy task - 2021's Game of the Year is whichever game you chose to play with your friends.
Battle Royale games with buddies...
We know that titles like Warzone and Apex Legends aren't 2021 releases, but we shouldn't ignore the impact they've had over the last 12 months. Both games were an important part of staying connected and only continued to improve and grow - for the most part - over the last year.
The release of Warzone in 2020 was undoubtedly one of the biggest moments in Call of Duty's history - it removed the price point of Call of Duty games and opened up the industry-leading first-person shooter experience to everyone with a device that could support it. Of course, this hasn't been a flawless experience - Warzone has had its fair share of issues - but that doesn't negate the positive impact it's continued to have on a lot of us over the last year. Getting your squad together for an evening of Call of Duty has quite literally never been easier and Warzone provided an important platform for all of us to enjoy playing Call of Duty together again.
Warzone isn't the only battle royale game to play, though, and Apex Legends' continual growth throughout 2021 - and the addition of Arenas in the first half of the year - places it firmly as a favourite alternative to Warzone for those of you with a squad looking for somewhere to settle. This brought another triple-A first-person-shooter experience to players for free and its revolutionary Ping System made communication a breeze - you didn't even really need to be talking to your friends to enjoy playing with them!
There's a reason you hear so much about these free-to-play Battle Royale games - and it's not just because of the money they make - they're titles that everyone has access too and that's made them a vital part of staying connected in 2021. Although, we can't talk about Battle Royale games without mentioning Epic Games' behemoth.
Fortnite's Live Events and shared experiences...
Fortnite, like Warzone and Apex Legends, was a fantastic game to jump into during 2021. It provides so much more than both of these games though. Fortnite's Creative mode opens up the game to near-endless possibilities. There are so many experiences you can jump into and share with your friends that it's hard to imagine that there isn't something in there for everyone.
Fortnite's shared experiences and live events - the big ones that usually take place at the end of a season - are the real reason why this should be considered a Game of the Year. Fortnite isn't just a game that you can play with your friends, it's a game that creates shared experiences for more than just your squad. As soon as you play through one of these events, you're a part of a global community that has gone through the same exciting experience.
This wasn't limited to narrative events, either. For example, Epic Games hosted Ariana Grande's Rift Tour - a musical experience shared by over 27 million players! We know logging into Fortnite isn't the same as going to a concert with your friends but in the wake of so many cancellations... It was a pretty good substitute.
It Takes Two and the return of couch co-op...
We didn't just play Battle Royale games in 2021, though and some of this year's new releases were fantastic multiplayer experiences. It goes without saying that The Game Awards' GOTY - It Takes Two - is one of those games.
We know the narrative explored through It Takes Two wasn't to everyone's tastes, but Hazelight Studios' 2021 release was arguably the perfect couch co-op game and it feels like a triumphant return of split-screen gaming - something that feels as though it has been overlooked in recent years.
It Takes Two was built with cooperative split-screen gameplay in mind and - although some parts might put your relationship to the test - it's a game that anyone can pick up and play. It's a title that's easy to learn but difficult to master. This made it perfect for a lot of people - especially if they were trying to spend some time with someone who isn't too big on gaming!
It Takes Two was also released with a Buddy Pass feature - this meant that only one person needed to own the game. If you were having a hard time convincing your friend to pick up a new game to play, this eliminated that and opened the experience up to so many more people. Even if you don't think it should have won The Game Awards' Game of the Year award this year, it's hard to deny that was one of the best multiplayer experiences to come out of 2021 and it rightfully deserves a place on the list.
Nostalgic experiences of playing with pals...
It Takes Two isn't the only 2021 release to have online multiplayer - several games stand out as experiences that bring back the nostalgic bliss of playing older games with your school friends, without a care in the world.
Turtle Rock Studios' Back 4 Blood is a spiritual successor to the Left 4 Dead series and - despite its faults - provided the perfect platform for players to jump back into zombie-slaying en masse. It wasn't perfect, but it's the perfect game to throw a few hours at with your friends when you're looking to have some fun killing the undead.
We know we had to wait until the end of the year for Halo Infinite, but it's hard to deny that this multiplayer experience is second to none. It doesn't have Forge (yet) but the multiplayer experience created by 343 Industries is truly incredible. Halo Infinite has seemingly recaptured the magic of playing Halo 3 and Halo Reach with your pals and the fact that it's free on both Xbox consoles and PC helps to open this experience to so many more players. When Forge drops and people start putting together Duck Hunt and Monster Trucks, you know this is going to be an unmissable experience.
Much like Monopoly, Mario Party is one of those family games that can make or break friendships. Although Mario Party Superstars doesn't revolutionise the series, it feels like the first title in the series that really puts an emphasis on the online multiplayer mechanics available. It's never been easier to jump into a Mario Party game with your friends and it's a perfect way to spend an afternoon if you're apart from those you want to spend time with - it also helps that it's the best Mario Party game we've seen in quite a while.
For all the pandemic-related delays, 2021 was a huge year for gaming and the titles we've mentioned above are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to online multiplayer experiences. Staying connected has never been easier, but sometimes a text message isn't enough. Creating shared experiences through gaming has been important this year and we think having fun with your friends is just as important as having 4K graphics and a smooth framerate.
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