Early 2021 is going to be a slow one for PC gaming, at least in terms of high profile new releases. That doesn't mean endless stream new PC games aren't on the horizon, of course. We're mapping out the 2021 release schedule, and while it's not exactly light, the real problem is that we just don't know much about some of the biggest games supposedly on the horizon.
Let's revisit some of the games we're most excited about but know the least about to get a better grip on what to expect—and to temper our enthusiasm. Keeping the fire lit is draining, and we'd rather allocate that energy for the WASD reserve.
What we do know: Everything we know about Elden Ring we learned in the first week of its announcement nearly two years ago. After Sekiro, FromSoftware's dipping back into the Dark Souls action RPG toolbox, and making more of an open world of it this time. Along with some writing assistance from Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin, Elden Ring sounds like it'll be the most ambitious game FromSoftware has ever made.
Unanswered question: Until recently it was "Does Elden Ring exist?" but now we just want to know what it looks like.
When we expect it: FromSoftware knows how to keep its lips sealed. Since the debut trailer, we've heard next to nothing about it. The sense that the project was cancelled slowly crept in, and the same dread dissolved when Xbox head Phil Spencer recently told Gamespot that he's played "quite a bit" of Elden Ring. Huzzah! Elden Ring exists. It's apparently well along and looking nice in a playable state. But for perfectionists like FromSoftware sitting on that Dark Souls money, I'd wager we have a 'when it's ready' situation on our hands. Previous FromSoftware games were clearly rushed despite their quality as a whole, with areas like Dark Souls' Lost Izalith left unfinished. This is a chance for the studio to take its time. 2021 is a little too hopeful for my taste, but a nice Spring 2022 release? Oooooh, sure.
What to expect: Atomic Heart's first trailer came out of nowhere back in 2018, showing off a disturbing, gorgeous alt-reality Soviet-era FPS featuring strange robots and science experiments gone wrong. And nowhere is essentially where Atomic Heart has remained. We've seen a few gameplay trailers alongside its ever-shifting release date, but what Atomic Heart actually is and how much of it is done beyond the clearly siloed demos is unclear. It still looks weird as hell and extremely pretty, but until we see the demos in context, we're not sure what to make of Atomic Heart. At a glance, it's looking like an immersive sim in the vein of Bioshock or Prey, but again, let's not let our imaginations run too wild with scope here.
Unanswered question: Atomic Heart looks nice in trailer and carefully curated demo form, but what's the bigger picture?
When we expect it: As of publication, the release date is simply listed as TBA. A beta was due in 2019, according to the game's website, but that deadline has long since passed. There's no way to know how far along Atomic Heart is, so we'll give the release window a big five-year buffer.
Rainbow Six Quarantine
What to expect: Expect a cooperative tactical shooter built on the bones of Rainbow Six Siege, set a few years into the future of the universe where the operatives are facing off with a mutated alien parasite. We haven't learned much else except that it's been delayed into 2021. Given the whole pandemic thing, we'd wager whatever's there is going under some changes—to the name at the very least. Whatever's cooking, we're here for it. PCG is full of co-op shooter fans, and building a game around classic R6 modes like Terrorist Hunt will bring less competitive players like me back into the fold. Given the viral outbreak connotations, we're guessing the spinoff will share similarities to Siege's temporary 2018 co-op Outbreak mode, which we liked quite a bit. We just haven't seen Quarantine itself in action yet. Wild.
Unanswered question: How much crossover will there be between Siege and Outbreak? Ubisoft could take a note from Blizzard and grant bonus items and characters to longtime Siege players, or even roll the games together like Warzone and Call of Duty: Black Ops - Cold War. (Also, will the name change?)
When we expect it: 2021, for sure. Summer or fall. Quarantine was originally slated for release in early 2020, but it's been kicked down delay street for a while now. Whatever's there is probably pretty far along. Here's some extra optimism for you: I bet we hear about a beta in the next couple months.
What to expect: Expect a Bethesda RPG set in space with systems new and familiar. But that's about all we have. The facts: It's an original Bethesda RPG, it's set in space, and that it will treat spaceflight as a fantastic, dangerous new technology. Expect it to hit more like a close Kerbal run than a routine Star Trek mission. Starfield will be Bethesda's prettiest RPG yet, too, with Todd Howard saying the game engine's gone through a significant rewrite. More exciting is the idea that it might not release for the PS4/Xbox One console generation, giving devs more RAM and processing power to play with. That's always a good sign for the PC version.
Unanswered question: We can vaguely imagine what Starfield looks like based on previous Bethesda RPGs, but when we think of space, scale comes to mind. How big will Starfield be? Are we travelling between multiple planets? If so, how big will each area be? How will Bethesda's open world design work spread out across an entire galaxy?
When we expect it: Starfield's been in active development since Fallout 4's release in 2015 and entered a playable state years ago, but open world games are unwieldy things. Playable state in game development terms is like saying, "Yes, I can drive this car' as I climb onto a rotting piece of driftwood. There's no official word on when Starfield's coming out, just expect it to hit before The Elder Scrolls 6. That's a big window, I know, but if you want my most optimistic guess, I'm feeling good about Fall 2022.
What to expect: In Stalker 2 we will, once again, be stalking. It's back to The Zone, a radioactive nightmare realm surrounding the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Expect the Stalker staples to return, albeit expanded with the aid of new technologies. It's a true open world this time—no load screens chunking up the environments. A-Life, the name for the simulation of the world and its inhabitants, has been improved, though we don't know how. It's exciting to think about though, especially because A-Life simulates the interaction of anomalies, scavengers, wolves, monsters, and whatever else lives in The Zone even when you're not around. Any and all improvements welcome.
Just before 2020 wrapped, GSC showed off a snippet of in-engine footage that didn't reveal any new information about the world, but reassured us that it's going to look nice. Ruined buildings, dingy gear, and strange anomalies return, and assuming the teaser is truly representative of what gameplay could look like, Stalker 2 is going to put our PCs to work.
Unanswered question: We don't know much about Stalker 2, but we know enough to know it's shaping up to play like a Stalker game. I think we just want to know what it looks like in action. Will this be a classically janky FPS or something with a bit more shine on the chassis?
When we expect it: GSC Game World hinted at a 2021 release date way back in 2018, but an offhand comment is far from a guarantee. Implicit development complications from the pandemic and the inherent volatility of game development, especially for a complex open world like Stalker's have me thinking we'll see it late 2022 at the earliest.
What to expect: If Bethesda won't do Elder Scrolls, someone else will. Avowed is Obsidian's stab at a first-person open world fantasy RPG, set in the same universe as the Pillars of Eternity CRPGs. The reveal trailer doesn't tell us much besides the perspective and that, big surprise, we'll use melee weapon and magic for murder. The tone is far less whimsical than anything Elder Scrolls, too, and given how bleak the PoE games can get, I'm expecting fewer NPCs to call me a hero in Avowed.
As for scope, I'd wager Avowed follows the more risk-averse, pan reduction of The Outer Worlds, a neat first-person RPG with a smaller world and extremely simple combat wrapped around some classic Obsidian quest writing. Then again, maybe new parent company Microsoft will give Obsidian more time and money to expand the scale a touch, make it a real prestige project.
Unanswered question: What's the scale of the thing? Is this going to be a nice RPG diversion or a massive world we spend the next decade revisiting?
When we expect it: No clue. Obsidian is continuing work on Grounded and wrapping The Outer Worlds' final expansion, but it stands to reason the bulk of the studio is focused on Avowed.
What to expect: Since our first word of Witchbrook (then Project Spellbound) in January 2017, we've been pretty curious about Chucklefish's proposed Harry Potter meets Stardew Valley life sim. Our 2017 interview with Chucklefish showed off a game fairly far along, with the world and characters mostly built out, suggesting a deep social and school systems. But Chucklefish went quiet for a while, only to emerge in April of 2020 with a totally new look for Witchbrook. The classic JRPG camera spun 45-degrees and zoomed in a touch for a totally new isometric angle, creating a much more detailed three-dimensional new style. It looks nice, though it doesn't suggest much has changed beneath the surface of the pleasant social wizardry simulation.
Unanswered question: We can guess what to expect from the social aspects of Witchbrook, but how will magic factor in?
When we expect it: There's no confirmed release window, and with the updated look it stands to reason that Witchbrook's scope is still in flux. It sure looks nice, but we don't know what's actually finished. Chucklefish says it's a 'zero-crunch" studio, so we'll get Witchbrook when it's done. A year or two sounds about right, before some big new Stardew Valley thing and just after the 1.5 update excitement settles down.