If critical thinking and strategic planning to achieve a victory over your opponent is your bag, 2021 had you absolutely covered.
Here are our picks for the best strategy games of 2021.
The Best Strategy Games of 2021
Inscryption is part card game and part puzzler, so it’s tricky to drop it neatly into a single genre category – but its evolving card-battling mechanics are the brightest aspect of it for a majority of the playtime. The basics of playing creatures, tipping a scale, and proceeding to the next fight rarely change, but the way Inscryption constantly reinvents all of the systems around those fundamentals is truly incredible. It teaches you how to master one iteration of itself in a way that’s challenging but never frustrating, and just as you get comfortable it will change its art style, its resource system, and even the genre of the metagame around it to start fresh. It’s unrivaled at intentionally keeping you off balance, but it never stops being rewarding either. – Tom Marks
For more, check out IGN’s Inscryption review.
The unexpected legacy of XCOM: Enemy Unknown is that it didn’t just popularise squad-strategy games, it added an unexpected narrative element by making you feel bonded to soldiers you could name, upgrade, and lose forever. Wildermyth takes that idea to its logical extreme and beyond, turning crews of squadmates into the heroes of procedurally generated fantasy stories. As you fight back world-ending threats, you’ll learn about your team’s lives and histories, and even see them through life-changing transformations. They can fall in love, have children, and even retire through old age. Best of all, they can live to become legends, their tales whispered about in entirely new campaigns down the line. Ultimately, part of your strategy in Wildermyth isn’t just about winning battles with minimal losses – it’s about telling the best possible stories, too. – Joe Skrebels
For more, check out IGN’s Wildermyth review.
After Slay the Spire’s runaway success a few years ago, the card battling roguelike is certainly starting to feel like an overcrowded genre, but Griftlands more than manages to distinguish itself from the pack. Its card fights are a ton of fun, split across two different decks for whether you decide to approach a situation diplomatically or go in guns blazing. But what’s especially clever here is how it weaves those fights into some genuinely compelling stories too – each of which will randomly mix up the missions you take on, the people you can befriend (or enrage) along the way, and the loot you’ll find to upgrade yourself. Hades did an incredible job of elevating its roguelike structure with a persistent story, but Griftlands manages to do the same with one that will never be quite the same twice. – Tom Marks
For more, check out IGN’s Griftlands review.
Loop Hero is unquestionably a strategy game, but it’s also a delightful test of the limits of what strategy games ought to look like. There are cards and maps, terrain and enemies and stats and all the trappings you’d expect, but Loop Hero asks the player to arrange them in a, well, loop, reminiscent of roguelites, and then lets you play it almost like an idle game. The combined result is a slowly building cycle that is incredibly hard to step away from, and so easy to take for “just one more loop” as you guide the hero around the circular, ruined world he’s trying to rebuild. – Rebekah Valentine
For more, check out IGN’s Loop Hero review.
We had to wait more than 15 years for a new main entry in the Age of Empires franchise, but for old school, RTS fans, Relic’s Age of Empires 4 was practically made to order. Bringing an updated, highly readable look and an effective modern interface to the classic Age formula, the medieval sieges and skirmishes stuck close to their roots and proved that the RTS is far from dead. Choosing to focus on a smaller number of civilizations but making them play wildly differently was the right call – from the nomadic Mongols to the stalwart English, each has so many small nuances to master that each new match is full of exciting tactics to try. And to top it all off, we got four full-fledged single-player campaigns, in a world where many competitive multiplayer games treat those like an afterthought. Truly, we live in a golden Age. – Leana Hafer
For more, check out IGN’s Age of Empires IV review.
All IGN Best Of 2021 Gaming Categories
IGN’s Best of 2021 Awards were designed by:
Lead Design + Art Direction: Julia Rago
Motion Graphics: Will Batchelor