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The Best Steam Games Of 2021

Steam isn't the only player in the online games market these days, but it's still one of the biggest and most recognizable PC storefronts. During the coronavirus pandemic, gamers turned to online multiplayer titles, especially through Steam, and created new records in the process. At one point in March 2020, over 20 million gamers logged onto Steam at once. Though Steam has been accused of abusing its privilege in the gaming market, it continues to thrive. In fact, many titles release exclusively on Steam, making it a must-have platform for certain gamers.

Some of the best games released in 2021 have been independently created and marketed by their developers. Indie games have long enjoyed success on Steam, where players can search for hidden gems. 2021's Steam exclusives cover a range of genres, but many of them share a certain indie charm. Though some of these titles may eventually appear on other consoles, they launched on Steam first — another reminder that it's on the cutting edge of what's hot in games, especially in terms of smaller developers.

Sunlight

The world is often a stressful place. While some well-meaning individuals would suggest going for a walk outside, Sunlight offers a beautiful alternative. This relaxing game from Krillbite Studios transports players inside an impressionist landscape based on Monet. Players explore a wooded world, full of trees that whisper and harmonize. Each tree has "different voices, genders and dialects," though they speak as one. The overall experience is haunting, but beautiful.

Sunlight only takes about 30 minutes to finish, but it still leaves a lasting impression. The Steam description for Sunlight focuses specifically on "the hauntingly beautiful music, composed by Tchaikovsky, [that] was recorded in the Archbishops palace in Trondheim, Norway, and sung by the award winning choir Kammerkoret Aurum." The attention to detail in Sunlight, from the soundtrack to the hand drawn landscapes, provides a memorable experience, making it one of the most breathtaking releases of the year. With an 83 on Metacritic and a $3.99 price tag, Sunlight is an appealing option for anyone looking to escape the stressors of everyday life.

Skul the Hero Slayer

Skul the Hero Slayer is one of the best indie games of 2021, but it's also one of the best Steam exclusives. In Skul the Hero Slayer, it's up to a lone skeleton, Skul, to save the entirety of Demonkind. Skul can change out his head to acquire different abilities as he fights against heroes and adventurers to save his home. Skul the Hero Slayer may look like a typical platformer, but its story provides a fresh take on the sword and sorcery genre.

Though Skul the Hero Slayer is a "an action-platformer that boasts rogue-like features such as everchanging and challenging maps," it works to defy all genre conventions by giving players choice in how they navigate the game. With so many different abilities and heads to wear, Skul can be tailor made to players' preferences, changing the feel of the title in the process. Skul the Hero Slayer earned an 82 from Metacritic, solidifying its spot as one of the best Steam exclusives of the year.

The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante

Sir Brante is having a very bad day. Actually, he's had a very bad few years and will tell you all about it in his journal. 

The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante is a narrative-driven RPG that focuses on life in an unforgiving, imperialist world. Each playthrough feels different thanks to the complex choice system. Every chapter records individual decisions, which influence the life (and suffering) of Sir Brante as he tries to rise to fame and glory. The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante might feel more like a pen and paper RPG than a video game, but that's part of its charm. Every choice matters in a way that many games don't indulge. 

The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante's experimentation ultimately paid off. It earned an 82 on Metacritic, making it one of the higher ranked Steam exclusives out there.

Before Your Eyes

Before Your Eyes is a critical darling that made its way to the Steam exclusive club in April 2021. According to the official Steam pageBefore Your Eyes is "a first person narrative adventure which tells the story of a soul's journey into the afterlife using a new and innovative form of interaction—your real-life blinks." For gamers who might feel suspicious of the whole "real-life blinks” part, it's true. Before Your Eyes uses your PC's webcam to track the your blinks. Not only does this mechanic create a sense of immersion, but it also fits narratively with the story, which emphasizes the passage of time and the fleeting nature of life itself. 

Before Your Eyes isn't the first time GoodByeWorld Games has played with webcam controls. It's previous game, Close Your, also used the blinking mechanic to progress its story. While some critics expressed frustration with the blinking controls, Before Your Eyes takes artistic leaps many games would be afraid to try, making it worth a play. With a 79 on Metacritic, it's a solid bet that Before Your Eyes will be narratively interesting, even if the controls are difficult to master.

Ocean's Heart

Ocean's Heart harks back to a simpler time, when The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was the height of gaming. In fact, Ocean's Heart draws heavy inspiration from Zelda games and proudly wears that influence on its sleeve.

After Tilia ventures out in search of her missing father, she discovers a world that reaches far beyond her seaside town. Ocean's Heart focuses on the joy of exploration, asking players to find their own way. A classically-styled RPG with "modern trimmings," Ocean's Heart attempts to combine a sense of overwhelming nostalgia with the conveniences of gaming in 2021.

Ocean's Heart also has the benefit of years of RPG humor under its belt. Drawing from other titles, Ocean's Heart pokes fun at tropes of the RPG genre. Its humor keeps the game light when it could be overwhelmingly dark, creating a more balanced experience overall. Ocean's Heart earned a 79 on Metacritic for its inventiveness and easy playstyle, making it a must-play Steam exclusive.