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Games that will blow you away in 2021 and beyond

The next generation of consoles is coming, and with them, the next set of games that will push the boundaries of what the art form is capable of. Expect to see new entrants in stalwart franchises, like The Elder Scrolls and Metroid Prime. But developers also have a whole new opportunity to define what the next generation even stands for — and redefine themselves in the process.

From the team-up between FromSoftware and George R.R. Martin, to remakes of beloved but underrated classics, to titles long-promised (and long-silent), 2021 and beyond promise to bring us the best of what's worked before and the promise of what we haven't even thought of yet. Who knows: the next great franchise might be right in this list, next to all the big series it will soon come to eclipse. And as for those older franchises: well, who's to say that the best isn't still ahead.

Here are the biggest games we'll see in 2021, and beyond.

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum - 2021

Anyone who has read or seen The Lord of the Rings knows that Gollum is the story's real hero. Spoilers for the three of you who don't know the story: it's Gollum, not Frodo, who ends up dunking the One Ring in Mount Doom. Still, it's hard to guess what Daedalic Entertainment's upcoming spinoff, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, is going to be about. During the time period when the game takes place, after Gollum found the Ring but before the events of the books, he spends most of his time lurking under the Misty Mountains, gnawing on fish and the occasional goblin, talking to himself.

As a studio, Daedalic is best known for its narrative-driven point-and-click adventure games, so we're guessing that its writers have something a little more exciting in mind, and they have a lot of freedom. See, Daedalic has the rights to the Lord of the Rings books, not the movies. That means that you won't see a Shadow of Mordor-esque Andy Serkis impression in the game, but it also means that Daedalic can explore portions of Middle-earth history that go beyond what was referenced on the big screen.

Daedalic tells PC Gamer that Gollum will be an "action/adventure" game, and that the anti-hero's split personalities will play a big role in players' decision-making process. Otherwise, Gollum remains one big riddle. Historically, Lord of the Rings games have been pretty hit-or-miss. With any luck, Gollum will be one of the oh-so-precious good ones. We'll see.

Everspace 2 - 2021

Between No Man's Sky: Beyond and Rebel Galaxy Outlaw, casual-oriented space sims are finally having their moment — and the best may be yet to come. At Gamescom 2019, Rockfish Games revealed that Everspace 2, a sequel to 2017's indie hit, is on the way, with an early access launch planned for 2020 and a full release scheduled in 2021.

Everspace 2 isn't just a bigger, better version of Everspace, although visually it's just as good, if not better, than the original. Where Everspace was a roguelike-inspired race against time in which you'd gather as much loot as you could before getting blown to smithereens, Everspace 2 is more of an RPG. Its universe isn't procedurally generated anew with every run. It's a "hand-crafted" open world. Exploration is encouraged. There's more of an emphasis on upgrading your pilot's stats and hunting down secrets.

This isn't No Man's Sky or Outer Wilds, of course. In Everspace 2, making things explode real good is still your primary goal. It's just happening in a world that's bigger than a series of gorgeous dogfights. It's well past time for the space shooter to make a come back, and Everspace 2 looks like just the game to make it happen.

Homeworld 3 - Late 2022

Some series get a new installment every year. Not Homeworld. While the 1999 real time strategy game is considered one of the genre's very best, it's only gotten one full sequel, one stand-alone expansion, and one prequel — and the last one of those came out in 2003.

Homeworld deserves better. Now, Gearbox is giving fans the chance to show how much they care. At PAX West 2019, Gearbox revealed that work on Homeworld 3 is underway, and said that you can own a piece of the action. Blackbird Interactive, the same studio that handled the HD Homeworld remakes, is on development duties, but a large portion of Homeworld 3's budget will come from a crowdfunding campaign on Fig, which gives participants equity in the game.

Even if you don't want to help subsidize Homeworld 3, RTS fans should be excited about the upcoming sequel, which promises to fuse "a gripping continuation of the story, fully 3D combat, and the classic RTS elements you expect" with input from hardcore fans. Just be prepared to wait a while before playing. While Homeworld 3 has a late 2022 release date, crowdfunded projects often face delays. Hey, it's taken this long to get another Homeworld. Another year or two won't hurt, right?

The Elder Scrolls VI - TBD

When it comes to The Elder Scrolls VI, it's not a question of if. It's a question of when. Of course Bethesda Game Studios is going to release a new installment in its flagship franchise. Bethesda is a company, and companies like making money. There just aren't any reasons why Bethesda needs to release The Elder Scrolls VI now. In fact, it's got plenty of great reasons to wait.

Still, the game is coming. We know that because, while Bethesda usually uses its E3 showcase to highlight the projects that it's releasing in the near future, in 2018 executive producer Todd Howard broke with company tradition and revealed The Elder Scrolls VI early. Really, really early. In follow-up interviews, Howard admitted that The Elder Scrolls VI is still in pre-production. It's not even playable yet, much less nearing release-ready form.

That hasn't stopped fans from scouring The Elder Scrolls VI's sparse teaser trailer for hints regarding the game's location, of course, but try to keep that hype in check. Howard says that production won't truly begin on The Elder Scrolls VI until Fallout 76 and Starfield are finished, and it's not like a game the size of The Elder Scrolls can be cranked out in a matter of months. Howard claims that he knows The Elder Scrolls VI's release date, but he's not telling. With the game still many years away, that's probably the right call.

Dragon Age 4 - TBD

Anthem is poised to be BioWare's focus for a while, but if you're worried that the company is going to forget its roots with its move to a Destiny-like shooter, never fear. During The Game Awards' 2018 broadcast, the fan-favorite RPG maker dropped a bombshell: a brief teaser trailer featuring a line of dialogue, a provocative hashtag ("#TheDreadWolfRises"), and confirmation that a new Dragon Age game is on the way.

BioWare's Mark Darrah and Matthew Goldman followed up with a blog post that revealed a few other small details. The next Dragon Age project has been in development for a few years now, and is being made by many of the same people responsible for Baldur's Gate, Jade Empire, and previous Dragon Age titles. The game will continue the "rich legacy of colorful companions, romance, and epic choices" that BioWare and Dragon Age are known for, and the game's producers will "push BioWare's storytelling to the next level."

In other words, a lot of hype but not a ton of specifics. That catchphrase reveals one tidbit, though, and it's a juicy one: in Dragon Age lore, the Dread Wolf refers to Fen'Harel, the elven god of betrayal. He also revealed himself as Solas, Dragon Age: Inquisition's elvish mage, in Inquisition's cliffhanger ending. Fans have been waiting to find out what happens next ever since. At long last, it looks like they'll finally get some answers.

Metroid Prime 4 - TBD

At long last, Nintendo is going to give the people what they want: a brand new Metroid adventure. It's been a long time coming. The last real, original, mainline Metroid game — no, the multiplayer-centric Metroid Prime: Federation Force spin-off doesn't count — arrived way, way back in 2010 with Metroid: Other M (the 3DS exclusive Metroid: Samus Returns was a welcome treat, but that game is a remake of the Game Boy's Metroid 2).

So, even if you're not down with Samus, Mother Brain, the Chozo, and the Space Pirates, you can at least understand why fans greeted Metroid Prime 4's E3 2017 reveal with so much enthusiasm. Metroid is one of Nintendo's oldest and most beloved franchises, and the Prime titles rank among the series' all-time best entries. Reportedly, Bandai Namco, and not Metroid Prime creator Retro Studios, is developing the new title, but you can expect Prime 4 to deliver the same moody atmosphere, the same stunning level designs, and the same deep dives into Metroid lore that you're used to.

There's just one problem: we might have to wait even longer for Samus' grand return. Metroid Prime 4 missed E3 2018 because the game wasn't quite ready for public consumption, and with Pokémon on the Switch poised to be Nintendo's big fall release, we wouldn't be surprised to see it skip all of 2019, either. For now, all you've got is a logo to tide you over. But don't worry: Metroid Prime 4 should be worth the wait.

System Shock - TBD

There's a good chance that you haven't heard of System Shock. If not, you should change that. Looking Glass Technologies' first-person action adventure isn't just the inspiration behind mega hits like Deus Ex and BioShock. It was the first game to graft role-playing game mechanics onto a first-person shooter. It proved that action games could tell deep and nuanced stories years before Half-Life and Metal Gear Solid did the same. It also didn't sell all that well, which is why System Shock isn't as famous as it should be. Still, it's a big deal. You should play it.

At the very least, you should play the upcoming System Shock remake, which is due to hit PCs sometime in 2020. That's a later than originally expected. In June 2016, Night Dive Studios raised $1.3 million on Kickstarter to fund a complete remake of Looking Glass' original game. Along the way, things changed. Night Dive switched game engines. The project's scope grew. Money started running out, forcing the Looking Glass team had to take a step back and reevaluate the project.

It did. Looking Glass revived its earlier plans for the game, but the refocusing came at a cost: time. So, System Shock will take a little bit longer to arrive than we all originally anticipated. That's a bummer, but if System Shock arrives at all, that'll still make it more successful than two-thirds of the crowdfunded games out there. Yikes.

Star Citizen - TBD

Work on Star Citizen, the all-encompassing multiplayer space sim from Wing Commander creator Chris Roberts, started development in 2012. Since then, Cloud Imperium Games has gathered over $188 million from fans to make the game through a mixture of crowdfunding campaigns and in-game purchases and has been in development for years.

Most game makers would kill to have resources like that, and many excellent titles have been produced with far, far less. At the time of this writing, however, Star Citizen, is still in alpha. Not beta. Alpha. To be fair, Star Citizen is wildly ambitious: when it's done, it'll blend space combat with on-the-ground action, a galaxy full of explorable planets, trading, multi-person crews, a persistent world that's governed by players' decisions, an entirely separate single-player campaign, an entire fleet of ships to buy and pilot, and much, much more.

But all that assumes that Star Citizen comes out at all. The game has already been in development for far longer than expected — Star Citizen's original Kickstarter campaign cites a fall 2014 release date — and there's no end in sight. If Star Citizen ever arrives, it'll be well into the 2020s, if not later. Not that Cloud Imperium actually needs to finish the thing, of course. Either way, the company seems to be making money just fine.

Shin Megami Tensei 5 - TBD

If you're a casual fan of Japanese role-playing games, you may not recognize the name Shin Megami Tensei. You've probably heard of one of its most famous progeny, though: Persona — y'know, the teen-centric JRPG series that's quietly carving out a place alongside heavyweights like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Pokémon in the public eye — is little more than a Shin Megami Tensei spinoff.

If you enjoyed Persona, you'll probably enjoy Shin Megami Tensei, too. Both series put a big emphasis on recruiting demons (or personas, but same difference) and fusing them together to create new abilities. There are differences, though. While Persona games tend to feature modern-day settings, the Shin Megami Tensei titles have a more post-apocalyptic vibe. Mainline Shin Megami Tensei games also focus on individuals, not parties full of characters like Persona does. Still, like Persona, Shin Megami Tensei likes to push boundaries, and if you want a JRPG with an edge, Shin Megami Tensei will serve you well.

And what can veteran fans expect from Shin Megami Tensei 5? Well, so far, we know that the game is going to be a Nintendo Switch exclusive, and that it'll use the Unreal Engine 4. Other than that? Not much, although expect Shin Megami Tensei 5 to take a bit longer to arrive. Reportedly, it's taking Atlus a while to make all those demons in HD, and learning a new engine is slow going.

New World - TBD

Why wouldn't Amazon get into video games? It controls everything else. After a few years dabbling in mobile games, Jeff Bezos' all-consuming juggernaut is finally dipping its toes into the AAA gaming world with a couple of brand new properties. Crucible will be a 12-player class-based "last-man standing" game — so, Fortnite meets Overwatch, we guess? — but for our money, the more interesting project is New World, an open-world MMO that puts players in charge of everything.

New World borrows a lot from survival games like Ark and DayZ. You're on an island sometime in the late 17th century, and you need to craft supplies, build shelters, and fight off foes if you want to live. So far, pretty standard. But not only does New World feature creatures that are much weirder than your run-of-the-mill wolves and bears, but every structure in the game is player made. Amazon encourages players to team-up, too. In fact, banding together into small communities and trading (and fighting) with other settlements is a big, big part of New World's appeal.

It's all incredibly ambitious, but it's also got the full weight of Amazon behind it. New World will be powered by Amazon's AWS cloud, and its giant map is built to support 10,000 players at a time. That's a lot. If everything pans out, New World could be one of the biggest titles to come along, well, ever.

Elden Ring - TBD

Of course George R.R. Martin and FromSoftware are making a game together. The former likes to kill off all of his characters. The latter likes to you kill your characters. Elden Ring isn't set in the Game of Thrones universe, but Martin should be right at home among FromSoftware's signature dark fantasy aesthetics. After all, he quite literally wrote the book — five of 'em, even — set in a similar world.

According to director Hidetaka Miyazaki, Martin created Elden Ring's backstory, while he and From's other designers handled the game mechanics. As such, don't expect Elden Ring to veer too far from the formula established by Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. It's still a third-person RPG, and it still has exacting combat.

In a twist, however, Elden Ring is more of an open-world game than FromSoftware's previous efforts (yes, in From's other titles, the world is interconnected, but it's still more like a linked series of stages than one contiguous landscape). Miyazaki claims that the spacious environments will make combat feel different. Hopefully, we'll see if he's right soon. Mr. Martin has a few other things that he really should be working on.

Payday 3 - TBD

When Starbreeze Studios said that it'd be taking its time with Payday 3, it wasn't kidding. Starbreeze confirmed development on the next entry in Overkill Software's co-op heist-a-thon all the way back in 2016. Now, Starbreeze's financial reports imply that Payday 3 might not show up until sometime after 2020. It's like CEO Bo Andersson Klint says: "You simply don't rush Payday 3."

You probably won't be seeing many updates about how the game is progressing either, Klint says. Payday 3 is in full production, but the team would rather spend its time making the game as opposed to simply talking about it. Don't take the silence as a lack of respect, though. "This is our single most important brand today and the cornerstone of our business," Klint says. "We will treat it accordingly."

Given that Starbreeze's stable includes The Walking Dead, Psychonauts, and System Shock, that's a bold claim. Payday's earned it. Aside from a PR nightmare that erupted when Overkill decided to add microtransactions to the game  — one that Starbreeze quashed when it bought the franchise — Payday 2 delivered on the promise of bringing Hollywood-style capers to consoles and PC. Payday 2 isn't as technically impressive as Grand Theft Auto 5, but its heist missions blow Rockstar's out of the water, and we're excited to see what Overkill and Starbreeze can pull off with all of that extra time.

Dune — TBD

The upcoming Dune movie, which will be helmed by Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villeneuve, has already gobbled up almost every A-list star in Hollywood. Now, it's coming for video games, too. Norwegian developer and publisher Funcom recently announced that it has signed a deal to bring Frank Herbert's iconic sci-fi novel (and the film spinoff) to players around the world.

There are a few reasons to be excited. For one, Funcom already has a decent, if not stellar, record when it comes to bringing genre fiction to life. Conan Exiles, a DayZ-style survival game, is based on Robert E. Howard's classic stories, while Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden, which Funcom published, adapts the tabletop role-playing game of the same name. Dune's sandy world Arrakis is perfect for video games, too, with all of its political maneuvering, mysterious prophecies, and hulking monsters. It's basically, like Villeneuve says, Star Wars for adults.

Besides all of that, Dune has a pretty special place in video game history: Westwood Studios' Dune 2, which came out in 1992, laid the foundation that every real-time strategy game that's come out since has followed. Production on Funcom's games — yes, games plural — is set to begin later in 2019, so expect to learn more as the film's 2021 release date approaches.

Earthworm Jim - TBD

If you weren't around for gaming's mid-'90s heyday, take our word for it: Earthworm Jim, a run-and-gun shooter with absolutely gorgeous hand-drawn animation, is weird. It stars a worm in a super suit who uses his head like a grappling hook. His nemesis is Queen Pulsating, Bloated, Festering, Sweaty, Pus-filled, Malformed Slug-For-A-Butt. His would-be girlfriend is Princess Whats-Her-Name. Flying cows aren't just a throwaway gag, they're a major plot point.

Earthworm Jim's upcoming revival is weird too, although for a different reason: it's coming out on an Intellivision console. In 2020. Yes, seriously. The Intellivision Amico, which is scheduled for release on October 10, 2020, is a throwback machine that will play both revamped versions of old Intellivision classics and new video games designed to take advantage of the hardware's retro charms.

For better or worse, that includes a new Earthworm Jim, which will reunite all of the game's original creators, including the extremely controversial cartoonist Doug TenNapel and platformer mastermind David Perry. That means that Earthworm Jim will probably be full of the same zany, wonderfully immature energy that made the original so great. We just hope that we get to play it. At this point, the Amico feels like an iffy proposition, even if Earthworm Jim is more or less a sure thing.

Saint's Row 5 - TBD

After the critical misfire that was Agents of Mayhem, Volition Entertainment is back to doing what it does best: take the zany open world formula established by the early Grand Theft Auto games, and kick the crazy up to 11. According to THQ Nordic's latest earnings report, the fifth full installment of the Saint's Row franchise is in active development, with an eye towards release sometime between 2020 and 2021.

Neither Volition nor THQ Nordic have said what Saint's Row 5 (or whatever it ends up being called) will be about, but it's probably even wilder than you expect. Saint's Row: The Third saw the titular street gang become corporate icons and pitted them against a gang of criminal luchadors. Saint's Row 4 made your character president, introduced an alien invasion, and gave you superpowers. Its stand-alone expansion took the Saints to Hell (literally). 

Saint's Row 5 is going to have to go very, very big to top those — but going big is what the folks at Volition are all about. If anyone can do it, it's them.

Dead Island 2 - TBD

In 2011, a single Dead Island promotional video was enough to make Techland's survival RPG a household game. Never mind that the finished game had lackluster gameplay, unpolished graphics, and an unstoppable hoard of glitches and bugs. That video gave us a taste of what Dead Island could be. Even after the first Dead Island disappointed, we wanted more.

Unfortunately, we got it. Dead Island: Riptide, the first game's stand-alone expansion, was a mess. Escape Dead Island, the cell-shaded spin-off, was even worse. It's not that Techland doesn't know how to make a zombie game — after Riptide, the studio went on to make the parkour-zombie thriller Dying Light, which is legitimately good. It's just that something about Dead Island never seems to click. Despite the promising start, the franchise seems doomed.

So far, Dead Island 2 looks like it's in similar trouble, although it's not (un)dead yet. Announced all the way back in 2014, Dead Island 2 has gone through three separate developers and has been restarted from scratch at least once. Maybe the third time will be the charm. A game that lives up to Dead Island's initial promise would be fantastic — and if not? Hey, we'll always have that trailer.