Let's be honest: 2021 was a pretty dismal year in many respects, but it did produce a lot of good games, especially in the indie space — arguably more than any one person could play firsthand.
Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the biggest names in the industry, which mostly served up broken titles, embarrassing headlines, and truly execrable scandals that gave a seemingly never ending series of black eyes to the world of gaming.
Since there were so many hot messes this year, you can't expect to remember them all. For your convenience, we've created the following list to remind you of just how many ways the gaming industry managed to disappoint us in just a 12-month span. It's quite an achievement in itself — and remember, it's an honor just to be named.
1. Ubisoft (and others) follows the bros into NFT hell
Of all the many irritating trends to sweep our pandemic-ravaged world this year, the blight of NFTs (non-fungible tokens) probably triggered the most headaches per capita. The fact that most of us still can't explain what "non-fungible" means (and the fact that owning one of those awful ape pictures makes you smell like Ayn Rand's corpse, though this may just be coincidental) didn't stop big gaming companies from throwing money at the Earth-devouring crypto totems.
Though dozens of studios have gambled on the crypto trend, Assassin's Creed publisher Ubisoft is by far the biggest name to delve into this particular catacomb. Unfortunately for Ubi, players balked at the introduction of free NFT "digits" to the publisher's tactical shooter Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, and the market for the so-called "Ubisoft Quartz" experience has failed to develop. Still, Ubisoft has continued to back the doomed initiative despite loud and frequent consumer feedback, perhaps opining that some money is better than no money.
2. S.T.A.L.K.E.R 2 devs return from NFT hell, but not unscathed
Not every NFT-grubbing publisher has ridden out the wave of consumer discontent, however. When S.T.A.L.K.E.R 2: Heart of Chernobyl dev GSC Game World announced that the long-awaited sequel would include several NFT programs — including one that would allow you to be cast in the game as an NPC — fans bucked so hard that the company abandoned the initiative just days later.
Let this be a lesson to aspiring game developers out there: when building a game about a post-Soviet apocalyptic hellscape, make sure to not include too many relics from our current hellscape. That'll hit a little too close to home.
3. Activision Blizzard melts down in every way imaginable
It's only slight hyperbole to say that Activision Blizzard has weathered one of the worst years that any video game publisher has seen in decades. While other mega-corps struggled with the usual problems — as you'll see later in this list — 2021 made it abundantly clear that Activision Blizzard is a toxic workplace of the first order. Even months after a lawsuit from a California state agency revealed that the company has long fostered a culture of harassment and discrimination against women, the publisher continues to make headlines for its abominable conduct.
The situation has gotten so bad that prominent figures at other companies like Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony have spoken out about the company's litany of harassment allegations, and many have called for the resignation of Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick. Most recently, employees at the company walked out after management unexpectedly laid off dozens of QA workers. It's unclear what will happen next, but if Activision Blizzard somehow manages to have a worse 2022 than it did a 2021, there probably won't be much of a company come 2023.
4. Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy — Definitive Edition is even more garbled than its title…
I'm not going to lie — this one hits close to home. The original trilogy of GTA3, Vice City, and San Andreas were three of the most important games of my adolescence, and these remasters were a convenient excuse to plow through them one more time over the holiday break. However, instead of the so-called "definitive edition" of these classics, we got one of the most broken game launches of the year.
Not only did GTA Trilogy faithfully replicate some of the most irritating bugs of the PS2 generation, it also managed to introduce its own bizarre issues, such as indoor rain and deformed character models. Making matters worse, Rockstar even removed the original versions of these games for sale, which made it impossible to utilize the thousands of mods that fans have authored over the years.
Since release, Rockstar has restored the original games for sale, as well as offering refunds and free gifts to angry buyers. Though the company insists that these games will be fixed, fans are understandably skeptical that it will ever be as "definitive" as they would want, and that's a shame. At least we'll always have the PS2 versions.
5. …and Battlefield 2042 is on fire from the start.
Battlefield games are notorious for messy launches, but 2042 manages to fall well short of the low expectations that fans have borne for the series over its past few installments. Not only did 2042 suffer from significant crashes and load times, especially on consoles, it lacked basic features that fans expect from first-person shooters, like voice chat. (Yes, really.)
While it seems that the game's performance has been fixed to some degree, franchise fans are still underwhelmed by some of its most fundamental design decisions. Replacing Battlefield's tried-and-true class system with loadouts that erase the distinctions between engineers, medics, and foot soldiers wasn't a popular move, unfortunately. While 2042 has certainly made EA quite a bit of money, it will go down in the record books as one of the lowest ebbs for the shooter franchise.
6. Cyberpunk 2077 turns the corner, but the damage is done
Cyberpunk 2077 recently made headlines for achieving a "very positive" user rating on Steam for the first time, and the game was recently named one of Steam's top-selling games of 2021, albeit in the "silver" tier. While that might seem like a positive update, the unfortunate truth is that the hottest mess of 2020 was still arguably smoldering well into 2021.
After all, let's not forget that the game wasn't re-listed on the PlayStation Store until June of this year, and that hackers stole Cyberpunk and Witcher 3 source code from developer CD Projekt Red and tried to hold it for ransom. The Cyberpunk 2077 class-action lawsuit continues apace, though it may soon be resolved, and the game still lacks significant features that fans have requested, such as police chases. All-in-all, we should give CD Projekt credit for turning the page on one of the worst game launches of all time, but 2021 was still a messy year for the would-be GTA replacement.
7. Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack is actually a joke
Still, while Sony was nice enough to remove the non-functioning version of Cyberpunk from its storefront, Nintendo was asking its devoted fans to pay $50 for the right to play WinBack: Covert Operations at 15fps. The Mario maestro has never quite offered the best deal for its online services compared to the free games you get from Xbox and PlayStation, but paying double the price of a year of Nintendo Switch Online just for half-baked emulators is a bad deal no matter how you slice it.
It's not only that Nintendo is asking you to fork over the price of a new game in order to play old ones, it's the fact that the Switch simply can't deliver a consistent quality of emulation, especially with taxing N64 games. Nintendo certainly has the right to monetize its mammoth backlog, but this isn't the right way to do it.
8. And you still can't find a PS5.
We're now well past the one-year anniversary of the launch of the current console generation, but if you aren't feeling the hype, you're not alone. Getting your hands on a next-gen console is far easier than it was back when holiday bells were ringing in 2020, but it's still not easy, especially if you aren't willing to drive two towns over to pick up the last box at the Best Buy.
The ongoing parts shortage isn't just the domain of console gamers — if you're anything like us, you spent the whole year waiting for the perfect moment to finally invest in a much-needed upgrade for your gaming rig, only to find that the "right time" probably isn't going to happen anytime soon. The prices of even DIY projects like the MiSTer have increased due to supply chain issues, so double-check the price tag before you pull the trigger on anything right now.