Last year is going to be a hard one to top for video games, but that doesn't mean the studios won't be trying. In a year that started off hot and went on to see record-breaking sales across both software and hardware, 2020 gave us a remarkable procession of instant gaming classics.
Sony's PlayStation 4 hit hyperdrive for its swan-song final year, with titanic exclusives like Ghost of Tsushima, Final Fantasy VII Remake, and the game that ended up topping a lot of GOTY lists: The Last of Us Part II. Nintendo served up endlessly addictive comfort food with Animal Crossing: New Horizons, switched up genres with Paper Mario: The Origami King, and even delivered a stealth hit with the Switch-exclusive Hades (another game that ended up on more than one game-of-the-year list).
Microsoft had fewer exclusives, a function of its cross-platform ecosystem that, for Xbox fans, has long been a feature rather than a bug. But even the Xbox got a couple of sleeper exclusives that deserve more attention than they've gotten, including a reboot of Rare's classic Battletoads franchise, as well as a genuinely awesome (if eight-year delayed) U.S. release for SEGA's wild RPG Phantasy Star Online 2. More importantly, there's a lot more unique gaming goodness on the horizon for the Xbox Series X/S.
That brings us to why we're really here: to take stock at the start of 2021 of the most anticipated exclusive games set to come out this year on each of the major consoles. For now, we're focusing on games with confirmed 2021 release dates, which means some big-name titles are conspicuously absent in the list that follows (we're looking at you, God of War, Starfield, Final Fantasy XVI, the next installment in the FFVII Remake series, Breath of the Wild 2, Elden Ring, and so on).
In the days to come, we'll definitely be peering ahead to see what the more distant future holds. And we're also planning an upcoming preview of the huge lineup of cross-platform titles; blockbusters-in-waiting like Hitman 3, Hogwarts Legacy, Resident Evil Village and more that'll arrive on multiple consoles in the year ahead. But as 2021 kicks off, we're starting out here, with a look at the exclusive games we'll be getting our hands on the soonest.
PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, and Switch — here's a curated list of the games we're most excited about as the next 12 months unfold. They're all just some of the gaming reasons to look forward to what 2021 has in store.
Returnal — PS5 exclusive / Release Date: March 19, 2021
A sci-fi alien mystery wrapped in procedurally-generated roguelike trappings, Returnal is Finnish developer Housemarque's first foray into big AAA gaming. Laced with elements of survival horror and isolation within a futuristic world that changes every time you respawn, the third-person shooter makes an early arrival on the PS5 on March 19.
Deathloop — Timed PS5 exclusive / Release Date: May 21, 2021
Dishonored developer Arkane Studios lights up the PS5 with a dueling-assassin adventure that traps Colt, its protagonist, in a Groundhog Day-style time loop that, at least at first, deprives him of his memories. His goal is to take out eight targets on the mysterious island of Blackreef before the clock strikes midnight…if he can shake his amnesia without dying first. Deathloop is the last guaranteed game heading to Sony before publisher Bethesda's new role as a Microsoft studio kicks in, but we don't need that as a reason to pick it up: it looks super-cool, and it's coming to the PS5 on May 21.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart — PS5 exclusive / Release Date: TBD 2021
While they've recently been busy making Spider-Man look as awesome on gaming consoles as he looks on the big screen, Insomniac Games has also been hard at work getting an old PlayStation favorite ready to make the jump into the current console generation. The glimpses we've already gotten at Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart show off what may be the best look yet at the PS5's lightning-fast gameplay possibilities — probably because it's tailor-made to run on the PS5 and nowhere else. There's not a fixed release date set, but Sony has confirmed Rift Apart is coming sometime this year.
Horizon Forbidden West — PlayStation exclusive / Release Date: TBD 2021
One of the most original sci-fi stories of the last console generation gets a second act this year, when Guerrilla Games' Horizon Forbidden West takes Aloy to the coast to stave off a new extinction-level threat. Thanks to the huge success of the PS4's Horizon Zero Dawn, there's so much buzz surrounding the sequel that it's likely to be a system seller when it arrives this year for the PS5. But just in case there're players out there still waiting for a chance to pick up the new hardware, a PS4 version is also in the works. For now, all we know for sure is that Horizon Forbidden West is coming to both consoles sometime before year's end.
Xbox Series X/S
The Medium — Xbox Series X/S exclusive / Release Date: Jan. 28, 2021
Microsoft's surprisingly long list of upcoming Xbox exclusives sets out later this month with The Medium, a psychological horror game from Polish developer Bloober Team. Framed inside a cool gameplay mechanic that lets protagonist Marianne experience both the real world and the spirit world in alternate takes, The Medium's third-person puzzle-solving vibe starts haunting the Xbox Series X/S (as well as Windows PCs) beginning Jan. 28.
Bright Memory: Infinite — Xbox exclusive / Release Date: TBD 2021
The year 2036 looks nothing like we expected — in fact, it looks way more futuristic. A scaled-up, new-gen version of Bright Memory, Chinese developer FYQD Personal Studio's 2019 first-person shooter, Bright Memory: Infinite unfolds in a giant metropolis as scientists scurry to explain a series of disturbing phenomena that're altering the skies. "It's soon discovered that these strange occurrences are connected to an archaic mystery — an as-of-yet unknown history of two worlds, about to come to light," teases Microsoft, which pretty much has us sold. Bright Memory: Infinite is currently slated to arrive for both the Xbox Series X/S and the Xbox One sometime before the end of this year.
Halo Infinite — Xbox exclusive / Release Date: Fall 2021
This is this year's big one. Microsoft's coolest gaming mascot makes his return in one of the new console generation's most hugely anticipated titles, as Master Chief sets out on a new open-world mission that, from what we've seen so far, harkens to the early visual leanings of Halo: Combat Evolved — the game that started it all. Developer 343 Industries originally wanted Halo Infinite to be a launch-day release for the new Series X/S, but fan reaction to the game's initial trailer (shown above) sent the studio back to the drawing board, postponing the launch to make some significant tweaks. For what it's worth, we thought the trailer looked pretty amazing — but in any event, Halo Infinite is set to arrive sometime this fall for both the Xbox Series X/S and Xbox One.
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury — Switch exclusive / Release Date: Feb. 12, 2021
So far, there aren't a ton of confirmed Switch exclusives with release dates set for this year — but that doesn't mean Nintendo's 2021 cupboard is bare. The Big N just approaches things a little differently when it comes to announcing the imminent arrival of some of its biggest in-house games, and in the meantime, there's already a couple of early-year exclusives to look forward to. As part of Nintendo's ongoing 35th Anniversary celebration of all things Mario, a Switch-boosted port of the Wii U's Super Mario 3D World is heading our way next month, complete with a new expansion titled Bowser's Fury — a mysterious "action-packed addition" that Nintendo pledges will get more details soon. They'd better hurry: Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury is set to hit the Switch on Feb. 12.
Bravely Default II — Switch exclusive / Release Date: Feb. 26, 2021
The Switch-exclusive sequel to Square Enix's 2012 Bravely Deafult for the 3DS, Bravely Default II was originally expected to come out sometime last year. Instead, the classic turn-based JRPG battler with Final Fantasy DNA is heading to the Switch on Feb. 26. To get an early taste, check out Nintendo's game demo, which is ready to install from the Bravely Default II landing page.
Monster Hunter Rise — Switch exclusive / Release Date: March 26
Capcom's Monster Hunter franchise is definitely having a moment, having spawned a recent big-budget movie as it heads toward the upcoming Monster Hunter Rise, the 6th proper entry in the game series. Fans went nuts this week when Nintendo made a surprise game demo available online, giving players their first hands-on sneak peek at the Switch-exclusive action-RPG. "Set in the ninja-inspired land of Kamura Village, explore lush ecosystems and battle fearsome monsters to become the ultimate hunter," Nintendo teases, along with "a terrifying new monster" that "threatens to plunge the land into chaos once again."
Capcom held a digital event this week that showed off a ton of gameplay, though you'll need to scroll just past the 30-minute mark in the trailer above to get to the good stuff. Rise will come with support for both a single-player story campaign as well as 4-player co-op, and it's headed to the Switch on March 26.