DDNet Game of the Year Awards 2021! Blockbuster of the Year

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It’s that time of year again, everyone, where we celebrate the best games of the year. Despite being a heavily disrupted year thanks to the ongoing impact of COVID-19, 2021 produced some incredible games, almost from day one, and as a result, our awards this year has the most variety of games ever – almost 50 different titles got at least one award, and as you’ll see as we announce each category, it really is an endless stream of incredible experiences.

This year we had a special, expanded judging panel, with the entire DDNet team participating, but we also invited some prominent people from independent game publications outside the Website to participate, so we could get a broader range of insights and thoughts into the winners from each category. Our additional judges this year included Pete Davison from Rice Digital, Thomas Knight of Nook Gaming, Robert Allen of Tech-Gaming, Matt Ryan from Shindig, and academic and freelancer, @TsuChanJohnson on Twitter. The total judging pool for the awards was ten people this year around, and there was some heated discussion about the worthiest titles in each category indeed!

As much as we love our indie, arthouse, niche and different games, we also very much enjoy a good blockbuster. The scale and intensity of these games, combined with their high levels of refinement make a blockbuster a good, reliable way to spend a few hours of time. The very best blockbusters will also make us think on some level… or will at least have us thinking about them when we’re not actually able to play them. This year we get to celebrate a staggering range of different blockbuster experiences.


Forza Horizon 5
Forza has always been a heavily marketed franchise from Microsoft, it is one of the main pillars of the Xbox ecosystem. The series also famously produced spin such as “turning gamers into car fans and car fans into gamers”. Forza Horizon 5 certainly lived up to that this year. Horizon as a franchise is one that throws out traditional tracks to place gamers into a semi-realistic replication of a real-world location… and then allow them to drive like maniacs around it. It mashes together key locations to create a map that highlights some of the most interesting parts of the world to visit. It’s digital tourism, and Horizon 5 does it better than most.

As the fifth iteration of the series, Forza Horizon 5 takes players away from the western countries of previous entries such as the United Kingdom, and Australia to give players a way to experience Mexico. There is no yellow filter here, but instead the beating heart of the many biomes the country has to offer. The series continues to expand upon how it presents the festival as a living breathing character, by incorporating more activities for the players to do and increasing the wildness of the Horizon events. These games are always good, but here again, Playground Games has crafted a world worthy of exploring.
Monster Hunter Rise

A new Monster Hunter is always an event, and this year’s Monster Hunter Rise is no different. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the game is the way that it explicitly taps into Japanese folklore for the first time. Though Monster Hunter has always been a series that has been explicitly Japanese, Capcom has resisted the temptation to locate it in a Japanese setting, but with the yokai night parade theme, Rise embraces that in all its majesty to give the aesthetics, setting and design of the game a refreshing facelift.

Couple that with more dynamic combat than ever, a hugely explorable (and interesting) world to explore, and the challenging grind that fans have always loved about Monster Hunter, and it’s clear that Rise has a solid future ahead of it. Already the second best-selling game in the series, the game leaves Nintendo Switch exclusivity for a PC port early next year, and we’d bet a couple of zenny that the game is going to ride an all-new wave of attention then. 

Tales Of Arise
For years now, Bandai Namco’s Tales series has sat at the very cusp of having the same broad prestige and adoption as the “big two” in the world of JRPGs (i.e. Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy). The series has always had a legion of super-faithful fans, of course, but that breakout success that takes it truly mainstream in terms of attention and what it does to bring new fans into the JRPG fold has always eluded it. Tales of Arise is the fastest-selling game the series has had to date, and you’d have to say it might just be the game that hits the tipping point for the publisher. 
Tales of Arise is a deeply intelligent game, with a core theme of revolution, but rather than just content itself with depicting the heroics of freedom fighters, it delves deeply into their motivations and, also, asks the question “what happens next?” Those qualities are significantly less common, across the entire gaming medium. Arise then backs that up with the series’ signature ability to give you characters that you can’t help but love (and Rinwell, who is lovable from about the second she first appears on the screen). Finally, Arise has a combat system that hits all the right notes – it’s the most accessible and enjoyable combat system for people that are more casual fans, while simultaneously offering plenty to the Tales veterans. Whether this is a one-off or the start of a glorious new chapter for the entire Tales series, Bandai Namco delivered something really special here.

Lost Judgment
The original Judgment was a bold attempt to take the “Yakuza universe” in new directions, casting you in the role of a detective that is (nominally) on the right side of the law, as opposed to the noble criminals of the Japanese underworld that we saw with the series previously. The game was exceptional, though designed to be something of a hidden gem within the overall work of the development team. Thankfully the team did get a second shot at it, because Lost Judgment is even more exceptional.

Lost Judgment shows that the development team had much greater confidence in what they were doing this time around. There’s greater nuance and exploration of the subtle differences in the way that you play when you’re a detective rather than a gangster, and there’s greater comfort with the rhythms and personalities of the cast. Each character has really grown into their roles in this title, and the newcomers show plenty more potential for the future of the series (if there will be a future). There’s also a greater balance between the serious, noirish main story and the surrealistic, humorous side stories, which have always been a hallmark of this series. In Lost Judgment, Ryu Ga Gotoku delivers its most refined and consistent experience to date… and that’s no small feat given that these were already the best in open-world action that gaming has to offer.

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