2022 has not wasted any time.
Whether because of shifting release calendars, less reliance on the retail sphere, or delays from the COVID-19 pandemic, the first quarter of 2022 has become a perfect storm of video game release mayhem. We’ve caught Pokémon. We’ve led demon armies. We’ve parkour’ed our asses off. And there’s no end in sight — the rest of March is just as varied in its genre trappings, from developers big and small, on just as many platforms, as the preceding months.
Even so, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to help you start separating the wheat from the chaff — to recommend our favorite games from the slew of ambitious titles that release as the months go by. We’ll be updating this page throughout the year, with the most recent releases toward the top, so you can stay up to date with all of the excitement (or at least, as up to date as possible). We’ll also be doing the same for the best movies, the best anime, the best TV shows, and the best science fiction and fantasy books of 2022.
Image: FromSoftware/Bandai Namco via Polygon
Numerous games have tried to emulate the explorative wonder of 2017’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but Elden Ring is the first game to truly succeed. With a landscape that will take years to fully decipher, it is every bit the kind of game we’ve come to expect from developer From Software: mysterious, impenetrable, and ultimately rewarding. But its open-world trappings reframe much of the brutality of those games, and don’t detract from their challenges, but rather, encourage incremental progress over brute force. It’s not uncommon to get lost in a far corner of the map for a dozen hours, only to return to a previous challenge as a completely new character, with stronger powers and newfound wisdom at your disposal. This game is a marvel. —Mike Mahardy
Elden Ring is From Software’s best, most approachable, and difficult game yet
Elden Ring is available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
Destiny 2: The Witch Queen
Destiny has been through a lot since 2014: rocky release days, a global pandemic, and a sale to PlayStation, to name a few of its many obstacles. So it’s almost a miracle that, eight years along, Destiny 2: The Witch Queen is the best thing to ever happen to the series. With a new campaign, a new location, new weapons, and new powers, it’s more Destiny, to be sure. But it’s also Destiny without the qualifiers, or the conversations that are spoken with not a small amount of yearning: “Imagine how good this would be if Bungie did X, Y or Z?” Bungie has spent the past few years building on the potential of its massive experiment, and with The Witch Queen, it’s finally paying off. —Ryan Gilliam
Destiny 2: The Witch Queen is available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Google Stadia.
Image: Smilegate RPG/Amazon Games
Lost Ark is an impressive feat. Its outstanding class design and excellent ARPG gameplay would already be enough to set it apart from many of this year’s games, but it’s also a content gold mine. Originally launched in Korea in 2019, then adapted for release in Europe and North America this year, the MMO launched with fantastic endgame content right out of the gate (a rarity for the genre). And while Lost Ark’s already extremely rewarding in its own right, developer Smilegate RPG is promising more endgame content and new classes in the near future. It seems as if there’s still an exciting road ahead. —Austen Goslin
Lost Ark’s class design is outstanding, and it can’t wait to prove it
Lost Ark is available on Windows PC.
Image: Bad Vikings/Iceberg Interactive
In Strange Horticulture, you sell plants. Though the plants may look ordinary, they’re anything but: There are plants that make people brave, and others that lure them to their death. Some are meant to increase focus or poison your enemies. It’s a simple game that’s executed with the utmost attention to detail. In running this plant shop, a strange, occult story unfolds through customer gossip and plants found via an in-game map. Strange Horticulture is short — it took just over five hours to complete — but it was one of the more impactful games I played this year. —Nicole Carpenter
Strange Horticulture, a game about selling plants, is one of the best games of the year
Strange Horticulture is available on Windows PC.
Total War: Warhammer 3
Image: Creative Assembly/Sega
There are ambitious games, and there are ambitious games. Total War: Warhammer 3 is the latter. Its map is bigger than those of its predecessors combined, and it launched with eight fantasy factions, each stranger and more grandiose than the last. It’s also exceedingly weird, and refuses to rest on its laurels as the strategy trilogy wraps up, instead pushing the envelope wherever it can. It transports players to ethereal Chaos Realms before warping them back to their homelands to battle diseased goliaths and shapeshifting demon lords. It is as far from a safe third installment as we’ve seen since Hitman 3. And if the DLC road map for Total War: Warhammer 2 was any indication, the next few years will get even weirder. —Mike Mahardy
Total War: Warhammer 3 is a decisive victory
Total War: Warhammer 3 is available on Windows PC, Mac, and Linux, and via PC Game Pass.
Horizon Forbidden West
Image: Guerrilla Games/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon
The sequel to 2017’s excellent post-apocalyptic Horizon Zero Dawn is already one of the year’s best. Horizon Forbidden West takes so much of what made the first game great, and gives players more to work with: more settlements, weapons, and traversal options. It starts a bit slow, and can take a while to introduce some of its more creative gadgets — but it gets better and better as you unlock more tools for your arsenal. By the end, Aloy can glide off mountains, swim the deepest seas, and explore American landmarks along the west coast. This game’s gorgeous open world feels like a gift, and it’s easy to sink hours into exploring every gorgeous corner. Meanwhile, the character writing and world-building convey a civilization well worth saving. —Nicole Clark
Horizon Forbidden West is endlessly obsessed with the ethos of more
Horizon Forbidden West is available on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.
Image: Roll7/Private Division
OlliOlli World, by Roll7, is fast-paced, colorful, and a real challenge — a gorgeous celebration of skateboarding and its culture. It’s also goofy and perfectly earnest, too, with more similarities to Adventure Time than Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. In one moment, I’m doing a stalefish grab over aliens dancing in their underpants, and in the next, I’m racing a bear in a tube on a river. Though it’s fun and silly, it’s also very hard; to excel, you must master precision-based flicks and button pushes that test your limits. —Nicole Carpenter
OlliOlli World is a challenging but joyous celebration of skateboarding
OlliOlli World is available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Nintendo Switch.
Dying Light 2
The immersive payoff in Dying Light 2 Stay Human requires a rather stiff time investment. The plodding story pacing isn’t helped by some of the reversals and outright nullifications that can happen later, either. But the game’s first-person parkour and combat gameplay are stand-up delights. However much time you choose to spend in the vast, locked-down city of Villedor, you won’t be bored by any of it. And, as a role-playing game, Aiden Caldwell evolves into a fascinating and powerful character, thanks to multiple storyline branches, decisions that have irrevocable consequences, and two perk trees that make his athletic capabilities even more exciting to see, let alone do for yourself. —Owen S. Good
Dying Light 2: Story or gameplay, which would you save?
Dying Light 2 is available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
Vampire Survivors is a simple game, but it shouldn’t be dismissed. Hiding behind its retro graphics and cheap price is one of the most gripping games in years. There’s only one method of input in Vampire Survivors — movement — and it’s your goal to survive for 30 minutes while picking up weapons that automatically attack for you. My whip slashes nearby enemies every second or so, and my character lobs axes on a set timer. During each run, I choose new upgrades from randomized pools, combining them with other items to create the optimal build that’ll help me survive until the end. I’ve completed countless runs already this year, and I’ve unlocked all the new tools I can. But Vampire Survivors is one of the only games that keeps me playing just for the sheer fun of it, “wasting” 30 minutes every night as bigger and more sprawling games pass me by. —Ryan Gilliam
Vampire Survivors might one day stand alongside Hades and the rogue like greats
Vampire Survivors is available on Windows PC, Mac, and via web browser.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus
Image: Game Freak/Nintendo, The Pokémon Company
To say that Pokémond Legends: Arceus was a long time coming would be an understatement. In fact, I’ve fully embraced the Dunkey joke that this is actually the second Pokémon game ever made. It gracefully streamlines so many of the series’ tedious aspects (the mere act of catching Pokémon in real time is now satisfying as hell) that it’s a wonder Game Freak hasn’t tried this before. It’s also the first game in which I actually care about filling out the Pokédex, complete with each creature’s challenges and research tasks. It feels less like a hamfisted series of turn-based battles, and more like a contemplative, sometimes terrifying adventure into the wilderness to sate my collector’s appetite. —Mike Mahardy
Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a messy, worthwhile experiment
Pokémon Legends: Arceus is available on Nintendo Switch.
Nobody Saves the World
Image: Drinkbox Studios
Nobody Saves the World is a bizarre little video game, but it has left an indelible mark on my psyche. It’s a game all about shapeshifting — unlocking new powers to build yourself into the perfect weapon for the job, or a very specific tool needed to solve a single puzzle. It’s about exploration and experimentation. It’s funny and interesting, and, above all else, it’s deeply clever. In a year filled with so many big games, the size and grind of Nobody Saves the World seems small. But great things often come in small packages, and I won’t be forgetting Drinkbox Studios’ latest anytime soon. —Ryan Gilliam
Nobody Saves the World is the RPG that gets grind right
Nobody Saves the World is available on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X through Game Pass.
Photo: Michael McWhertor/Polygon
Like Animal Crossing: New Horizons before it, Wordle’s biggest strength is its communal power. By offering a simple word-guessing puzzle that refreshes every 24 hours, it allows us to celebrate, complain, pontificate, and ultimately rejoice about one very specific and ultimately harmless thing per day, whether on social media or at the neighborhood bar. It has become a sort of lightning rod for heated discussions and considerate arguments alike. It has made me feel insufferably smart one day, only to remind me that I am, in fact, extremely dumb the next. It has also single handedly reignited my family’s text thread. Who among us will ever forget the day they encountered the word “vivid?” —Mike Mahardy
What is Wordle? The viral word game everyone is playing
Wordle is available via web browser here.
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