As we head into 2022, quivering with anticipation about what new variant of concern will appear next to ruin everyone’s plans, it is sometimes nice to reflect on the things that have gone before. Not all the things, obviously, or we’d be here until doomsday, but things from the last 12 months or so. Now, regular readers of my ramblings on TheXboxHub will know that I am a fan of an RPG, and have been fortunate enough to review and play a good few of them over the course of 2021.

What I would like to do, with your indulgence of course, is to look back over the last year and check out the best RPGs of 2021. It won’t be in any particular order, it will just be all the games that I think you should play, should you have an RPG shaped hole in your life. 

Grim Dawn: Definitive Edition

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Grim Dawn: Definitive Edition

Ah, Grim Dawn: Definitive Edition – the super duper complete edition, no less! Having kicked around on Steam for a while and gathered quite a following, it was finally the turn of the shiny Microsoft consoles to have a bite of the cherry. And, I have to say, for a game that wasn’t even on my radar until it landed on my desk, I was very impressed by Grim Dawn. 

Yes, there were a few graphical gremlins (now addressed in a patch) that marred the launch, but as a good, old fashioned ARPG, Grim Dawn was a very solid offering. In fact, I think you can probably infer from this game’s inclusion over the daddy of them all, Diablo II, just how good it was. 

The combat was satisfying and meaty, the story was a lot of fun to play through, and while it didn’t do anything we haven’t seen in other ARPG titles, like Path of Exile, for example, what it did do, it did very well indeed. If you only have room for one ARPG in your schedule, do yourself a favour and make it Grim Dawn. Hell, even my son, who has always turned his nose up at Diablo 3 got involved and loved it – if there’s a better recommendation than a nod from a 10-year old, I’m not sure what it would be. 

Cris Tales

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Cris Tales

Cris Tales was a beautiful looking game, there’s no two ways about it. The style of the characters, in fact the way the entire game was designed was brilliant, and the animation as the characters you controlled ran about the place and got into various scrapes was fantastic. 

Then there was the big twist, the new gameplay mechanic that Cris Tales introduced: time travel!

As you ran around, following the entertaining story to its climax, the screen that you looked at was divided into three triangles. It’s quite hard to explain in words (a testament to the game design that when you look at the screen, it’s immediately self explanatory what is going on) but basically, the triangle of screen on the left of the viewpoint is the past, the triangle in the middle is the present, and the triangle on the right of the screen was the future. Trust me, it’s simpler than it sounds. 

Anyway, by looking at the screen and utilising the time travelling abilities of a frog, Cris can interact with different times, which then go on to affect things in the present say, or change things in the present that will affect the future. Some difficult choices have to be made as well, as an early choice lets you see that in the future, two houses will fall down, but you can only source enough stuff to save one of them. How do you choose? Well, you have to or both houses will be lost. 

There are many more judgement calls like that and so if you like a stylish RPG with an exciting new mechanic, then Cris Tales is the one for you. And with it being released on Game Pass, it’s even more of a reason to give it a whirl. 

Astria Ascending

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Astria Ascending

Astria Ascending is probably the most traditional kind of RPG on this list of best RPGs from 2021. 

Starring a cast of DemiGods, people who put their lives on hold and agree to have their existence cut short in order to obtain powers and use them to keep the world safe, Astria Ascending features a very strong story and a likeable cast of characters. 

As in all good RPGs, you end up with more people than you can control at once, but in a nice move, if someone is defeated and can’t be revived, they can be swapped out for one of the benched characters to enable the fight to continue. In this way, the game almost forces you to play with all the characters equally, and not only gear them up appropriately, but also to level them up and obtain new skills. 

With an in-depth job system in place, finding the right blend of classes to work well together is a fun challenge, and in a nod to the Final Fantasy games, as you go through the story, you can obtain new summon creatures to take control of; bringing these powerful allies in at the right moment can turn the tide of battle in your favour. 

A fine looking game, with a pleasing hand drawn look to it, Astria Ascending is not only a worthy title in its own right, but it’s another which launched onto Game Pass. It really is a no-brainer as to whether you should play it or not.

Tales of Arise

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Tales of Arise

Whenever a new game in the Tales series of RPGs is released it is always big news, and so it was with 2021’s release, Tales of Arise

As always, the visuals of the game are a standout feature, with a beautiful anime inspired look that wouldn’t look out of place as a movie, never mind a game. And with new battle systems to get to grips with, building on the classic Tales gameplay, such as the Boost Strike system that allows you to chain attacks with your party members, the action and fighting barely seems to stop! 

And yet when it does, you are left in a beautiful looking, almost natural world, where you can sit around a campfire, go for a swim, and then press on, following the thrilling story to its climax. This is the first of two entities on this list from Bandai Namco, and while the games are both different, their places are equally well deserved. 

Basically, if you liked the previous Tales games – and who didn’t? –  then you’ll like this one. 

Scarlet Nexus

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Scarlet Nexus

The second entry from Bandai Namco, and while it is also an anime looking affair, the execution is somewhat different to that of Tales. 

When I played Scarlet Nexus for review, I was blown away – not only by the sheer stylishness of the graphics and quality of the voice acting, but by the breadth of the story and the exciting combat that it brought. Utilising the psychic powers that the two protagonists have (you can only play one at once, but as soon as you finish one story, you’ll want to start again with the other character) in combat is great fun, and smacking a creature with a car before dashing in and unleashing havoc with a sword or a stick is never anything less than fun. 

I thoroughly enjoyed Scarlet Nexus, and it’s even better news now for people who like a bargain, as it was released onto Game Pass just recently and can currently be downloaded from the Xbox Store for the sum of free. 

If you want fast paced combat and a strong story for little to no outlay, Scarlet Nexus is the one for you. 

So, after a new RPG? These really are the best RPGs to have launched in 2021. But as always the purpose of articles like these is to start the conversation, not end it. What do you guys out there on the other side of the screen think? Am I talking out of my hat? Should one of the many KEMCO games have made it onto the list? Is Diablo II better than Grim Dawn? Let us know in the comments!

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