My Year in Video Gaming 2021

2021 has been a challenging year, for obvious reasons, but also in other personal aspects that are not part of this little essay. Despite all the trials and tribulations, I have probably never played so many games in just one year – some of them in Coop and others all on my lonesome. Many of them I finished, others I, or we, aborted. But not only that, I have also managed to transition from PC gaming to console gaming – a long-held goal of mine.

As always, I am pretty late to the party because I have trouble motivating myself to write stuff, despite having the ideas and mentally developing concepts for them. Much thinking, few doing. One of my 2021 issues.

(I am surprised I managed to get this huge Halo Infinite review out the door.)Here is how this will go. I am starting with a story about why I replaced my gaming PC with consoles and a laptop. Then I transition into my experience with said consoles, and I conclude this gaming year review with the list of games I have played in lonely-mode or Coop. Don’t worry. I didn’t go Halo Infinite on every game. I kept it short-ish because the list is astonishingly long.

No More PC Master Race

It sounds weird, but I like PC hardware, and I keep myself up-to-date on the latest and greatest. So, why was it a goal to get away from a PC? 

Ever since I started earning my own money, I have owned pretty good computers. It was a hobby. The older I got, the fewer games I played, and all that expensive hardware was standing around doing nothing most of the time. I strongly dislike it when I own things that I do not use to their potential.

I had attempted to switch to a console before. I tried my luck with a PS4 Pro and a MacBook Pro (former Mac user). It was a flawed combination for several reasons. I will not go into the details about the MacBook, but I think you might have an idea. It was not just the keyboard, though.

What soured the PlayStation for me was the controller. I have severe RSI issues if I am not careful, and longer playing sessions became more and more painful. At its worst state, I was unable to play for longer than about 30 minutes without pain. Holding the controller became literally unbearable. Unfortunately, 3rd party controllers were expensive, and I held off for a long time. I caved in the end and purchased a Nacon Revolution Pro 2 (everything Pro in my household 😅) for around 100€, but it was already too late. It helped a lot with comfort, but the quality of the product was not worth 100 bucks, as many Amazon reviews suggested. But I figured I either jump the gun or never play PlayStation again. I still have both the PS4 and the controller. Either way, the experiment failed.

That was around mid-2019. I sold the MacBook shortly after and reinvested the money into an affordable, small, mid-range PC. This is where the “Perfect Mini ITX Case” blog posts originated. Cost-effective was the goal, and I managed just that. No more expensive hardware, just enough to have a good enough experience. I kept that until the end of 2020 when the hardware was getting outpaced by modern games. My sister’s computer was in even worse shape with a measly GTX 970.

And this is where it started. At the end of 2020, I planned to upgrade to a then-revealed Ryzen 5000 CPU and RTX 3000 GPU.

(Yes, I know. This contradicts the “affordable” mantra. I am still a hardware enthusiast.)

As we all know, Zen 3 processors and graphics cards, in general, have been hard to come by for a long time. The situation around CPUs cooled off after a few months. However, graphics cards are still expensive as hell, and this is why I finally gave up last year. I may be an enthusiast, but I am not crazy (that’s what crazy people say) enough to pay ridiculous prices.

At the beginning of 2021, I experimented with an Xbox Series S, the only readily available new generation console – at MSRP, no less. And as I have so eloquently described in my blog post about it, I liked the experience. After about a month, I decided to go for a Series X because I am an enthusiast. I (manually) monitored price comparison sites for deals until I found one for roughly 20€ over MSRP. A known German retailer sold it, so, without any hesitation, I snatched one up. The Series S went to my sister to try it, and she also enjoyed the overall experience. That laid the foundation for the transition to consoles.

Life With a Console

At the end of 2021, I sold the last parts of my and my sister’s PC. I mention her because she is my Coop gaming partner in crime. Our gaming needs usually go in tandem. A brief final note on computing: I went with a MacBook again, but this time without any flaws. The MacBook Air M1 works so much better than the MacBook Pro I had before, and I am delighted with it. 

Now, to the consoles.

It has not been a whole year yet, but I think I have had enough time with the Xbox and the PS4 Pro to give a “One year later” review. The Series X is an excellent machine for its price, just like the PS5 could be. Unlike the PS5, the Xbox does not look disgusting (sorry, Sony), has a small footprint in any orientation, and is inaudible (like the PS5). I am still not the biggest fan of the Xbox dashboard, but it is miles better than dealing with Windows and the plethora of (crappy) game launchers. I do not regret having bought this machine. The simplicity of getting in and out of games is precisely what I want.

What about the PS4 Pro? It sat at my sister’s place for over a year, barely used. She wanted to play Horizon Zero Dawn but never really got around to it. The combat can be challenging as well. You have to react quickly to charging machines, select the proper weapon, aim in a split second after a dodge, and more. If you are used to mouse and keyboard, this can be overwhelming. So, she procrastinated gaming (what a weird thing to do 🤦🏻‍♀️).

I think it was in Fall 2021 when I retrieved the PS4 to put it under my TV (or now next to my gaming monitor). I immediately replaced the mechanical hard drive with an SSD since we no longer live in the stone age. First off, the design is definitely meant for a TV cabinet. The big square shape takes up so much space on a desk – like the PS5 in horizontal orientation. Secondly, the fan noise is annoying. I am lucky that I got one of the last revisions with an improved cooling solution. It still bothers me because the fans speed up and down continuously. It is never a constant hum that you can just blend out after a while. Sometimes it is very quiet, and other times it sounds like it wants to take off. From a hardware perspective, I much prefer the Xbox. It is always silent.

With regards to gaming, I now enjoy the PlayStation. I like the UI, although I’d much prefer the PS5 version, and I have access to many excellent Sony exclusive titles. Thanks to the investment in the Nacon controller, which mimics the Xbox controller shape, I can play for extended periods. After the bad initial experience, I think I had to take some time away to rekindle the excitement.

Will I get a PS5 once they become available at a regular price? I would like to. But I see one big problem: the controller. From a quick search, it seems that no PS5-native 3rd party controllers exist. I could use the Nacon, but PS4 controllers only work with PS4 games. Great work, Sony!

Let’s Play Games

Wherever I could, I linked to a review if I have written one. I tried to keep it concise and highlight the good or the bad for everything else. The lists are unsorted and unrated. If I finished a game, it means it was fun, and I can recommend it. 

Finished

  • Gears 1 – 5 (PC, Series S). I do not say it often, but I love the Gears series. It is a fantastic combination of approachable action with a good story and very likable characters. I played 1, 4, and 5 in Coop on PC, and 2 and 3 in lonely-mode on the Series S. Of the new “trilogy”, I played 4 twice (alone and Coop), and 5 even three times. I cannot recommend the Gears franchise enough.
  • The Ascent (Series X)I wrote a review on this one.
  • Outriders (Series S, X). This is a Gears-like game with a little spin on its combat. Your hero, rather anti-hero, has powers to support the many guns you will find. I like the storytelling aspect a lot. The gameplay is a bit weird because you fight large groups of enemies in big areas, and most of the time, enemies charge at you with all they got. This concentrates fights at the beginning of an area, and then the rest of it is traversal. It was fun in Coop, though, and I can sometimes forgive odd gameplay when a game focuses on the story. Despite that, shooting and using powers was a lot of fun.
  • Halo Infinite (Series X)I wrote a review on this one.
  • Halo Master Chief Collection (PC, Series X). As is the law, Halo must be played in Coop. Except for Halo 3 ODST, we played through all of it. Early Halo’s were great because they were short games that did not require much time. There have been frustrating moments, sure, like driving the Warthog through the Pillar of Autumn (never managed to finish in time) or the hordes and hordes of Flood. Other than that, very entertaining.
  • Halo 5 (Series X). We are still in the process of playing through it (about 40%, maybe). Combat is fun enough, although the aim assist drives me mad sometimes. The storytelling has not really clicked yet. They went for a Halo 2-style back and forth between two characters, but it seems very disjointed.
  • Horizon Zero Dawn (PS4 Pro). I am planning a review of this masterpiece. I adore the setting and the story. I have some complaints about combat, but it is an incredible game overall.
  • Dirt 5 (Series S) and Forza 5 (Series X). These are two outliers because I have not finished either game – if that is even possible. They are very entertaining, but only for about five hours – for me. Both are of high quality, and that is why I want to list them in the “Good” category.
  • Titanfall 2 (Series S)I wrote a review on this one.
  • Ryse Son of Rome (PC)I wrote a review on this one. This is one of the last few games that I played on PC.
  • Mafia Remake (PC). I think it was 2021, but I am not 100% sure. Regardless, the remake is fantastic. I have always liked the story, but the gameplay of the original Mafia does not hold up very well. The remake remedies that flaw and also looks terrific.
  • Streets of Rage 4 (Series X). I played it in couch-Coop with my sister in two sittings. John Linneman from Digital Foundry had high praise, and I always liked brawlers like this on Nintendo consoles when I was young. It is a challenging game, so we played on Easy  😅. It does not take long to finish, so it was perfect between more prominent titles.
  • Control (Series S, X). Remedy has a knack for weird but great game concepts. Control is one of them, and I bought the Ultimate Edition because the Game Pass version did not receive next-gen enhancements. I liked the main story, but the DLCs did not win me over, especially the Hartman one. I enjoyed the tie-in with Alan Wake but hated the levels and gameplay.

On Hold

  • Tomb Raider 2013 (Series X). I have finished the whole Tomb Raider trilogy on PC but wanted to start fresh, primarily for Shadow of the Tomb Raider, because I feel like I rushed through it. Anyway, I put that on hold while being delighted by Horizon. Once I got back to Tomb Raider, I was horrified about the camera’s inaccurate controls and constant auto-centering. I wondered how I managed to play about 60% so far. Not sure if I will see it through. Shadow of the Tomb Raider supports disabling the auto-centering of the camera.
  • It Takes Two. We focused on Halo first. It was fun the first time we tried it. I know it is a big game, and I feel that it could get long in the tooth, despite all the variety and constantly changing gameplay mechanics.
  • Minecraft Dungeons (PC). We started on PC, but our progress did not transfer to the console. Therefore, we have not yet continued – or started from scratch. Other than that, it is a Minecraft-themed Diablo clone, and we have enjoyed a lot of Diablo in the past.
  • The Outer Worlds (Series X). Skyrim in space. Right now, a bit too complex for me. I want more linear stuff or a more compelling story and characters (like Horizon).
  • Wasteland 3 (Series X). Wasteland might as well be in the aborted section. We have not “officially” decided yet, but at one point, I was so frustrated with all the radio chatter, fanatism, and craziness that I had to quit the game. We were playing in Coop. It is like Divinity Original Sin, only in a post-apocalyptic world, so I should like it. Sometimes, the game does not take itself seriously enough and is too much over the top for my liking.

Aborted

  • Nier Automata (Series X). It is supposed to be a masterpiece, but to me, the game just cannot decide what it wants to be. I would like to experience the story. I just do not like to play the game.
  • Yakuza 3 (Series S). I was absolutely thrilled about the intro to the game. It felt a lot like a movie. Unfortunately, the dialog system is so unwieldy. Either you sit patiently and watch the words slowly appear on screen as if someone were typing them in real-time. Or you do a lot of button pressing to make it all appear at once. Sadly, that put me off.
  • Battlefield 4 (Series S)I wrote a rant on this one.
  • Dungeons and Dragons Dark Alliance (Series X). My sister found this one, and the trailer was hilarious – the game too, but horribly. Watch this review of a person named SkillUp on YouTube. He does not mention how the lack of immersive audio worsens it. Stay away from this one.
  • Just Cause 4 (Series X). It is like a Ubisoft Open-World game, only with inaccurate aiming. It may not be a bad game, but I did not like how the controls felt.
  • Fable (Series S). I tend to try and go back as far as I can in a series – as I did with Yakuza. For Fable, this was not a good idea. The gameplay is antiquated, the controls are bad, and the hero is an unlikable cry-baby.
  • Deep Rock Galactic (Series X). I have heard many good things about this game from different outlets. I expected something different. I was bored with collecting materials and drilling through walls to find the way. Not even Coop could save this game for me.
  • Gears Tactics (PC). I love Gears, but not this game. I am not a good tactic game player, but that is what difficulty settings are for. The constant waves of enemies dropping out of the sky put me off. You think you cleared an area? Think again. I found that uninspired and gave up.
  • Hades (Series X). I liked the story focus, but I was frustrated failing at the first boss over and over and over. I do not like going through the same levels again and again. This type of game is not for me, unfortunately.
  • Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice (Series X). I enjoyed watching somebody on YouTube playing this game, but I did not like playing it myself. The slow traversal, the focus on environmental puzzles. Not my cup of tea.
  • Avengers (Series X). The single-player campaign was supposed to be good – and for about an hour or two, it was. Then the game fell into its MMO combat mechanics, not to mention the overwhelmingly complicated character menu screens. The story was nice, but the gameplay was just terrible.
  • Ori and the Will of the Wisps (Series S). Ori is a beautiful-looking game. However, it turns out that platformers like this are not for me.
  • Mass Effect Andromeda (Series X). You might be surprised, but I like this game. I have finished it on PC and wanted to try a different character. It was all good and nice until I reached the point of every Mass Effect game where you start scanning planets for resources. Then I remembered how often you did that throughout the campaign and gave up. As much as I like this franchise, those mini-games must go away in future titles. On a first playthrough, it is bearable; on a second attempt, it is nothing more than a waste of time. That is why I will not touch the Mass Effect remastered versions. I would like to, but the thought of scanning planets… Nope, not enticing.

Famous Last Words

There you have it, my game list of 2021. Of all the titles I have listed, only six were separate purchases. Everything else is available on Game Pass, and without it, I would not have been able to try out so many different games and genres. 

When I scroll through the pages of Game Pass titles, I sometimes wonder if it is worth paying for it. Only very few immediately resonate with me by name. But then I watch videos on YouTube by the likes of Digital Foundry, SkillUp mentioned above, or German magazines like Gamestar. One or all of them agree that a particular game is interesting, and if it is on Game Pass, I can try it without the risk of wasting money. I recently started The Gunk, and I am curious where it goes. Besides, I need to pay Microsoft something for multiplayer features.

Looking back, Game Pass was worth the money for the first year I subscribed to it, and I like my consoles. I sometimes wish for wider keyboard and mouse support to put the controller aside because of my RSI issues. I can play long, but I have to monitor how it feels and stop at the right moment. It would help overall accessibility by simply switching to a different input method in all games. In my case, regular old keyboard and mouse. After all, many titles are also released on PC, irrespective of the console platform.

Thank you for reading. Maybe there is something on my list that you might now want to try or possibly avoid 😉.

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