Top 10 Upcoming Action Games
You might be thinking that “action” is a hard genre to narrow down when it comes to any form of interactive media, and you’d be right. At the very least, most video games – from first-person shooters to real-time RPGs – fall under the action banner in some shape or form. That's why putting together this list was hard; there are a select few games that made the honorable mentions section at the bottom of the page and many others that aren’t even referenced – a side effect of the immensity of the genre itself. Even so, these are the top 10 action titles that I’m excited to get my hands on in 2021.
Nier Replicant ver. 1.22474487139
Last year, Nier: Automata joined the ever-growing list of my favorite video games of all time. Replicant is the long-awaited remaster and remake of the first Nier that launched exclusively in Japan over a decade ago. The central narrative chronicles a young boy’s journey to find his kidnapped sister in a world brimming with autonomous machines and supernatural entities. What makes the Nier series so different is its intrusive game design (e.g. Automata’s true ending is a real doozy!). If you’re looking for a unique confluence of various gameplay mechanics with existential dread vibes haphazardly sprinkled on top, Replicant looks like it will deliver.
Sons of the Forest
I’ve been playing a ton of The Forest recently – yes, I know, I’m late by three years. The survival game’s freeform narrative is a welcome break from the structured chapters in most contemporary titles. I mean, I spent almost 15 hours building a heavily fortified base with my girlfriend before we began venturing into the serpentine cave system beneath us. Sons of the Forest looks to bolster its predecessor's solid gameplay by introducing an interactive NPC alongside new, horrifying variants of mutants. Of course, the cannibals will be there too, but, based off of trailer footage, tribal warfare will play a large role in the sequel’s mysterious story.
Ghostwire Tokyo made it on my Five Next Gen Worlds To Be Excited About feature a few months ago. Ever since it was revealed at E3 2019, I’ve been excited to run amok in a modern-day Japan vanquishing hideous monstrosities that go bump in the night. I still have a lot of questions and reservations about the short, montage-like snippets of combat and story beats shown in the trailers, but the art design is particularly unique and exhibits an interesting blend of contemporary and traditional supernatural lore.
Back 4 Blood
Remember booting up Left 4 Dead back in the day and mowing down hordes of sprinting zombies across a devastated America with your three closest friends? I do, fondly. There was nothing quite as exhilarating as encountering the witch in the sequel for the first time, screeching at the top of your lungs when she rushed the team, and wildly spraying bullets in every direction. We’ve seen the classic Left 4 Dead formula in other games (I’m still salty about how Evolve turned out), yet the sheer terror that comes with journeying across dangerous arenas to reach dinky safe rooms continues to be a rare experience not easily replicated. Back 4 Blood is a nostalgic gut-punch that looks to satisfy Left 4 Dead’s most ardent fans. We loved what we played of it so far, and I can't wait to see more.
Like many Xbox owners, I love Halo. I was too young to hop into Combat Evolved, but Halo 2 and 3 shaped most of my childhood and served as my first true competitive shooters. Halo 4, however, is my favorite of the bunch as its story proved to be the most coherent in the classic franchise (as you can probably tell, I think 343 is a suitable successor to Bungie). The outrage that surged following Halo Infinite’s gameplay footage during 2020’s Microsoft Showcase was lost on me. Sure, "Craig the Brute" has a face only a mother can love, but let’s not just forget about how incredible everything else looked – the landscape, the action with its classic Halo-feel, and a potentially interesting villain.
Horizon Forbidden West
I was one of the few who missed out on Guerrilla Games’ Horizon Zero Dawn when it was first released and set a new standard for awe-inspiring sandbox graphics. Perhaps it was too hard for me to suspend my disbelief when pondering the original game’s odd combination of robot dinosaurs wandering a primitive Earth. In any case, I’m going to give Horizon Forbidden West the benefit of the doubt. This time around I’ll be more open-minded. Who knows, maybe I’ll actually end up falling in love with its characters and world. Or maybe my original reservations will be confirmed. Either way, the second chapter in Aloy’s journey piques my interest and I can’t wait to see what the dev team has in store.
Okay, so here’s the thing: I didn’t like Black Desert Online. Between the unnecessarily dense UI/menus and the indecipherable plotline(s), the grind was dull and monotonous. And before you tell me that all MMORPGs are like that, try playing Final Fantasy XIV, a game that continues to impress even after its notoriously disastrous launch. On an aesthetic level, Black Desert was drop-dead gorgeous and the character creator kept me hooked for at least an hour. These great features could easily carry over to Crimson Desert. Better yet, I think that Crimson Desert’s single-player world could avoid all of the disappointments that came packaged into the previous title’s gameplay loop and give the developers a chance to hone in on expounding the story. There’s definitely a lot to unpack, and an MMO experience like Black Desert might not have been the right approach.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits
I’ve been obsessed with this under-the-radar gem since our in-depth coverage from last fall. Kena is a spirit guide that helps lost souls find their way to the next life. If that sounds familiar, then you’re probably thinking of Spiritfarer, another game about death and the hereafter. Kena: Bridge of Spirits, however, isn’t a management game. In fact, the game looks more like the 3D entries in the Legend of Zelda series, which is probably a good sign, right? The Rot (you can see one of them pictured above on Kena's shoulder) help players fight their enemies and navigate the game’s myriad hubs. If nothing else, the visuals alone are what make me excited for this game; it’s like a well-balanced mix of Studio Ghibli and Nintendo’s beloved art styles.
God of War: Ragnarok
Want to know what made God of War (2018) so great? Kratos changed. Santa Monica Studios left the series' rage-fueled, hyper-masculine identity behind. Instead, the team took a more personal and mature direction, focusing on Kratos’ weaknesses as a god, and more importantly, as a parent. Atreus was his father’s perfect foil, and their growing bond led to some of 2018’s most heartfelt gaming moments. Ragnarok continues the reboot’s epic story and blatantly references the doomsday that awaits the familial pair. I’m excited to see the unexplored realms, the latest deities and creatures of lore that we’ll likely have to slay, and finally get extra details on the tragic revelation revealed at the end of the first game.
Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II
That’s right, we’ve got two of the best Norse-inspired video games out there slated for 2021 sequels. Look at the photo above and tell me that Hellblade II doesn’t look intense as hell (pun intended). Senua’s Sacrifice was a dark meditation on love, sacrifice, insecurity, and psychosis, among many other heavy themes. I loved the titular character’s stellar internal monologues as well as the nightmarish environments of Ninja Theory’s depiction of Helheim. Now, I honestly can’t tell you what Hellblade II is going to be about, but it’s obvious that Senua’s journey into the depths of the underworld and her own tortured soul are far from over. I'm mainly excited to see how Ninja Theory ramps up the simple-but-gritty battle sequences from the first game. Hellblade II hasn't been confirmed for 2021, but I feel pretty confident about an end-of-the-year release. A guy can dream, right?