Top 10 New Video Game Characters of 2021
Each year, video games deliver more and more characters we grow to know and love. Whether it's their personality, cool character designs, or snarky remarks, every year, the list of video games most beloved characters keeps growing. 2021 was no exception, as many new characters became fan favorites, and will be capturing gamers' interests for years to come. These 10 characters are just some of 2021's great characters that stood out to me in the games I played and enjoyed. I picked them for a variety of reasons, but if your favorite new character didn't make the list, make sure to tell us your favorite in the comment section on social media!
RULES for our Top 10 List:
- December 1st 2020 - December 1st 2021 new characters eligible. (Halo Infinite and Solar Ash are examples as anticipated December 2021 titles eligible for 2022 lists) However, new characters added to existing/ongoing games are allowed. The character must have been released in the December - December Calendar year.
- Characters must be new to 2021 calendar, returning characters are ineligible.
- Characters can be NPC or Playable, Heros, Side Characters, or Villains.
10. Judy - Cyberpunk 2077
In my humble opinion, Cyberpunk 2077...is "beautiful garbage" as I called it. It is one of those games that is so ...hollow. Cyberpunk 2077 actually did something clever; the absolute dumpster fire that was its console launch, actually acted a great smoke screen for something worse. As I said in the review, as someone who was playing it on a higher end gaming PC with few bugs and decent (not perfect, but decent) performance, I was a little surprised by how much of the media narrative was focused on the performance. Yes, sure, the game ran like syrupy sludge on Xbox and Playstation, but no one else seemed to be talking about Cyberpunk's bigger problem. Once all the bugs and performance issues were to be fixed, what awaited console players was a boring, uninspired, snooze of a game with a bad story, mostly bad characters, and all around awful game. I got to experience the largely bug free version of the game at launch, and I tried to tell the masses not to listen to the "just wait until they fix it crowd" because it just wasn't worth it.
Cyberpunk 2077 may have had a snooze of a story, awful "samey" feeling guns, bad AI, ect...what about those characters? Surely Johnny Silverhand from none other Keanu Reeves himself or main character V were worth something? Nope. V is such a boring forgettable character, with no personality, meh voice acting, and ugly character modeling. I hate to hate on Keanu; he really did the best he could with this god-awful dialogue. Gosh I still remember the cringe I felt when they made Keanu say "c**k". Eww.
So, what about Judy, is she the saving grace that saves the entire game experience? Well no. In fact, I pointed out the fact that Judy and many other characters just feel like so hollow and false. Behind this incredibly crafted NPC's that looks jarringly 10x better than other characters in the game, seems to be nothing. While in some games, side characters can become forever beloved characters that we talk about for years. CD Project Red's previous Witcher 3 delivered side characters like Yen, Ciri, or Triss that are just unforgettable. Judy is not that. She is like everything else in the game, beautifully hollow. Cyberpunk 2077 delivers often times a stunning surface, that is empty once you peel back the layers.
So why is Judy on this list? It's not for her personality, story, or her voice, both of which are pretty "meh". She is on the list because her design itself is so surprisingly well executed and detailed. It's actually weird seeing her and Panam because they both just look so much more polished than the rest of the game it makes them actually feel out of place. They are like these next-gen character models in a game often times struggling to look better than a 360 title. Seeing her in game is just different. She looks incredibly lifelike. The photomode community went crazy just spending constant hours photographing her. Some of the most beautiful character shots taken this year are of this hollow NPC. Once she opens her mouth the illusion is broken, but if you stay in photomode, you might be tricked into thinking she is one of the most lifelike and detailed characters in gaming. This makes all the ugly NPC's and even how ugly V looks in the photo mode all the more jarring. In a ugly game with no heart and little fun factor, you can always just stand around and take pictures of Judy. She may have no soul or personality, but she looks better than almost most video game characters will ever look in cutscenes.
9. "Literal" Bots... - Aliens Fireteam Elite
Video Games have a lot of trope, game mechanics, and other things that connect them across genres and decades. It is common for games to have similar game mechanics that aid in playability, accessibility, narrative, fun factor that when you play enough of them, you almost start to no longer notice game mechanics that make less sense in real life. We all know to shoot the red barrels. We don't question how eating food heals wounds or how "respawning" works. One thing I really love is when a video game takes a common video game mechanic, acknowledges it, and makes it work in the lore of the universe of the game, like how Destiny made "respawning" part of the lore of Ghosts and Guardians. In Destiny, respawning isn't just a mechanic, but part of the lore of the universe. Aliens Fireteam Elite is a pretty fun if not average game. It feels like a Alien re-skin of World War Z, where instead of fighting zombie hoards, we are fighting Xenomorphs. The game is fun, if not a little broken and imbalanced. While pretty average, the game did do something really fun, and something I have never seen before.
In countless multiplayer games, if there aren't enough players to fill a squad, the game will fill the remainder with bots. These are typically just the same normals sets of characters, but they are just being controlled by the in game AI, no different than enemies. However, I have never seen a game do this in a "Destiny" way and integrated this seemlessly in the game lore. In the Aliens universe, Androids exist and we've seen them in various forms, such as in the films or in Alien Isolation having this grey automaton look. In Fire Team Elite, if a match doesn't have enough human players for a match, the game fills the spot not with other bot controlled human characters, but bots are literally bots. The AI controlled characters are Androids from the lore and universe of Aliens. I just think this is super clever, and way to disguise a game mechanic with lore. I've played many multiplayer games where bots were on my team, but I've never had actual robots helping my character. Aliens Fire Team Elite gets some bonus points for creativity here. It made playing alone have a fun little nod.
8. Matari - Naraka Bladepoint
Matari may be one on this list you never saw or played as, but she is super fun and a stand out for us. Naraka Blade Point was a surprise hit for me this year. It wasn't really on my radar much until I first learned about it shortly before release. What could have been a forgettable bland "another" battle Royale, turned out to be remarkably fresh take on the mega-popular genre. Multiplayer-hero based games often deliver characters who can stand out to fans even with little to no story or interaction. Hero games can succeed in delivering characters that we can enjoy and like, even when we know very little about them. Some games like Apex Legends and Overwatch have done this really well. While sometimes eventually down the road we get some lore or story in other mediums, sometimes the games deliver little to nothing about these characters and we love them anyways. This is similar for Matari. She is by far my favorite hero in the game. Her abilities and move set a blast to play. Her invisibility and dash moves can be great for dipping out of hectic engagements. Not to mention she has a hyper detailed and incredibly lifelike character model that could have been fit for a RPG Protagonist instead of just a hero in a multiplayer roster. She might be the most under the radar pick on this list, but if you get a chance to play Naraka, she is super fun to play as.
7. Rivet - Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart
Being new to the Ratchet and Clank franchise, I was absolutely blown away by this stunning technical showcase of what the PS5 was capable of. Instantly jumping around worlds and universes through portals and and rifts, really was just incredible. The moment that the player is taken to a new universe where we get to meet Rivet, a new Lombax in a new universe, this game just doesn't stop. Rivet is a fun likable new protagonist that manages to stand her own and successfully compete for the spotlight in a game named after her counterpart. I could see Rivet easily becoming a new favorite, and showing up in future games.
6. Fuse - Apex Legends
Fuse is an absolute blast to play in Apex Legends. He is the Legend to pick when you just had a rough day, turn off your brain and want to lob grenades at the enemy team. His passive ability to carry 2x grenades and launch them farther is just so rewarding. In addition to super dumb spammy fun gameplay, he also has a hilarious voice actor and lines that just make him a joy to pick. His addition to Apex Legends was a real nice change up for the more tactical and strategic Legends.
5. Kena - Kena: Bridge of Spirits
Kena Bridge of Spirits is a absolutely stunning game that looks more like a big budget Pixar/Disney film than a video game. They absolutely nailed the visuals in this game, with incredible vistas, good story, fun and challenging combat. Kena is front and center as a young spirit guide on her journey. Complete with a magic staff/bow she goes on a adventure. The game really impressed me and met the expectations I had for it. Kena is a really likable and fun new protagonist for this new IP and I really hope this game leads to sequels because we need more of this beautiful world. Special mention go to the little rot creatures because well their adorable.
4. Valkyrie- Apex Legends
You know how when you step out of a pool, and you feel like you have lead in your boots, and feel like you weigh 3x as much? Well that's how Valkyrie makes every other Legend and Protagonist. Her move-set is just so perfectly floating, and she has just unmatched mobility in the game. In addition to super fun jetpack gameplay, she has a very rewarding and enjoyable tactical ability to launch a flurry of rockets at your enemies. She can be super tactical, but also just a crazy fun joy to play as.
3. Shionne - Tales of Arise
Tales of Arise was a game I was looking forward to due to it's incredible visuals. I haven't played a lot of JRPG's in the past, but I have recently begun to enjoy more of them. Tales of Arise's switch to Unreal Engine really upgraded to some beautiful environments and character models. Arise has many great characters, but my favorite has got to be Shionne. She is the central partner to "Iron Mask" (name censored for story spoilers) the main character of the game. She comes us at first as a typical "Ice Queen" character trope, but slowly over time softens and becomes a very likable character. While at first she has walls up, her relationship with Iron Mask grows over the course of the game. In addition to a likable character arch, she also has an incredible design, with epic fantasy armor. Her rifle really contrasts nicely with the fantasy / sword setting, and her combat is super fun to play as when you need some range. I think Shionne is one of the more badass capable fighters on this list with magical and healing abilities, she could take anyone on this list in a fight as the more powerful new character this year.
2. Alex Chen - Life is Strange True Colors
Life is Strange had a important make it or break it with it's third installment. With the first one being amazing and the second being a major drift away from everything that made the first one good, True Colors was either going to stay on that course and deliver another awful sequel, or course-correct and return to the greatness of the first one. I am happy to say that True Colors delivered and surpassed my expectations, and made it's way onto our top 10 list. This was due in no small part to Alex Chen and Voice Actress Erica Mori's performance. Alex Chen is just an incredibly real person, and has more depth than the average game character. Her emotions are raw and feel very accessible due to her Empathy super powers, and her ability to connect with strangers just makes her very approachable. Also (major story spoilers) the death of her brother happens very soon in the game, so much so that the emotional impact of the loss of a character we barely knew could have been hollow and less if it weren't for the performance of Erica Mori. Alex Chen discovers a new town, and we really become invested in her journey. When it comes to the games big end game reveal and twist, we are thoroughly invested. This game is a character / narrative driven game, therefore it could have succeeded or and failed based entirely on the back Alex Chen as a character. Thankfully, she knocks it out of the park.
1. "Your Name Here" in Forza Horizon 5 - Best New Character 2021
This pick is a little different, and I'll admit kind of a weird cheat answer, but developer Playground Games did something that I have never seen before for the games protagonist, and it's so next gen; so well executed; it's possible you didn't even notice. Games are all about role playing, going on an adventure in a protagonists shoes, and Forza Horizon 5 let's you do that in a way unseen before.
How many games have you spent more time customizing your character, crafting their appearance, skills, and even given them a name, and when you play through the game you feel a little like much of that was irrelevant? Some games never actually show your custom character and remain in first person perspective the whole time. Some games let you name your character but you never ever actually see it used. You are called some generic title even by your close friends, or at most a shared last name. At most, your custom first name is only ever used in subtitles by silent NPC's in some RPG's. Even my favorite game of all time Mass Effect is guilty of this. In Mass Effect you are able to give Commander Shepard a first name, and it is just never again stated in the three games, even by Shepard's love interests. Imagine laying in bed with your loved one and they still call you by your last name. Depending on the ending and (SPOILER) Shepard's title on the memorial wall doesn't include your custom name.
We just accept that the custom first names our countless RPG characters have are meaningless. Forza Horizon 5 did something I have never seen, and honestly, I almost didn't even notice. Forza Horizon 5 not only knows your real name from your account, but automatically names your protagonist after you, AND uses it in the game. I honestly just played the game for a while and thought it was a fun coincidence that the protagonist had my name. They don't just have it listed in menus and stats, the game actually speaks the protagonists name frequently. You will be driving down the road, and your guide will say out loud, "Hey (Insert your name here), We have a new whatever mission for you over here.". It wasn't until I discovered this was a feature and found the menu for the countless names did I look this up and discover it. The voice also doesn't sound like a robot voice doing Text to Voice, it sounds really natural. I just thought that was the protagonists name and they used it for voice lines. Forza Horizon 5 forever raised the bar for what could be possible for character creation in the future. If this is used and improved upon in the future, we could see more games where the protagonist is noticeably named after you and increase emersion further in the future. Emersion in the future can be increased if future NPC's call out your actual name for help. 2021's Character of the Year is actually...just YOU.