Best Design 2021: Loop Hero

Game of the Year 2021
(Image credit: Future)

We think Loop Hero is the best designed game of the year—that's why many of our editors put 50+ hours into it. For more of the year's best games, visit our GOTY 2021 hub.

Evan Lahti, Global Editor-in-Chief: This mighty little RPG got 50 hours out of me over the course of reviewing it. It's remarkably distilled. If Diablo is a 10-gallon tank of pleasant ARPG liquid, Loop Hero is a thimble of hyperconcentrated essence. The loop: Build level. Fight enemies (automatically). Equip loot. Repeat. How does combat feel this engaging when you have essentially zero control over it? The retro sound design has a lot to do with it, steeping the whole game in a Halloweenish vibe and making weapon impacts, harpy claws, and shattered shields feel sharp. 

Like the sprawling deckbuilder genre that Slay the Spire spawned, I hope we'll see more of this sort of thing across different themes. I can easily imagine a multiplayer version of this where you're building a board for an opponent, not unlike Legion TD 2.

Graeme Meredith, Video Producer: You see a lot of games on the indie side trying to replicate or re-establish retrovisuals. More often than not, it’s a practical means to an end, but the best really exemplify that the early years of gaming only scratched the surface of the potential of pixel art graphics.

Not only does Loop Hero provide a lavish visual experience with that aesthetic, it’s one of the very best 'non-specific CRT era'-style games I’ve seen, and this is a key part of why it’s so addictive. The vibrating scan lines, grimy sprite work, and rattly sound effects suck you in and keep you there for hours.

That, and the rumour mill it creates for itself—something typical in pre-internet gaming. Get talking with a friend or two about your experiences, and each of you might have noticed or discovered something different or unusual while running the loop. It fills you with an eagerness to share information. So it’s not just the gameplay or the visuals that transfixes you, it’s the time and place Loop Hero creates around you that makes it such a stand out this year.

Fraser Brown, Online Editor: Loop Hero seemed like a game I could plough through pretty quickly, and these days I love a brisk game, so I jumped in. Fifty hours later I came out the other side entranced by this clever bastard of a game. I'm a bit tired of deckbuilders now, since they're very much the flavour of the moment and absolutely everywhere, but Loop Hero finds plenty of space for novelty in this crowded genre. Using the deck to build a world, not with just things that will help you but things that might kill you, is inspired, and it makes me more optimistic about the genre.

(Image credit: Four Quarters)

Harry Shepherd, Guides Editor: Loop Hero is exactly the kind of game I wouldn't normally play. Deckbuilder, roguelike, CRT-aesthetic—these are the kinds of things that tend to put me off, I'm ashamed to say. I'm not sure why I gave it a go, really, but I'm glad I did. So if you're a philistine like me, clinging to modern graphics and familiar design, I urge you to try the game that surprised me most in 2021.

Yes, Four Quarters' endless RPG looks unapproachable, with its retro sensibilities and complex-looking mechanics, but its appearance belies its true accessibility. As your amnesia-addled hero trudges around their loop, all you're really doing is swapping in new gear for them and setting obstacles to generate more. It's more of a management game to me, and I appreciated being left to decide how perilous I wanted my adventures to be.

It really is as simple as that to get going, but Loop Hero rewards you for being creative. Placing cards next to each other or in certain patterns on the map can make new ones, often with benefits and drawbacks. Then the longer your run, the more cards you place, your once-blank world becomes a strangely beautiful pixel-art portrait. Rivers, bridges, villages, mountains, and forests line your nameless hero's path by your hand, curiously changing and shifting, making this grid of cards feel alive. I urge you to try it, even if you wait to do so on its perfect future home, the Steam Deck.

Evan Lahti
Global Editor-in-Chief

Evan's a hardcore FPS enthusiast who joined PC Gamer in 2008. After an era spent publishing reviews, news, and cover features, he now oversees editorial operations for PC Gamer worldwide, including setting policy, training, and editing stories written by the wider team. His most-played FPSes are CS:GO, Team Fortress 2, Team Fortress Classic, Rainbow Six Siege, and Arma 2. His first multiplayer FPS was Quake 2, played on serial LAN in his uncle's basement, the ideal conditions for instilling a lifelong fondness for fragging. Evan also leads production of the PC Gaming Show, the annual E3 showcase event dedicated to PC gaming.