Multiplayer games are a peculiar sort. When they launch, they are often at their lowest, requiring patches and expansions to become what they were always meant to be. Even when that's not the case, successful multiplayer games are literally transformed year after year to keep the formula fresh and interesting.
That's why this list isn't strictly limited to multiplayer games released this year. Instead, given that we don't have a dedicated 'best ongoing game' category, we'll also include the best multiplayer titles that have been updated throughout 2021, regardless of the launch year. Similarly, we have to shed the usual early access limitation, as countless soft launches have proven to be enormously popular within the multiplayer games community regardless of the version number.
Plenty of multiplayer-focused titles either debuted or distinguished themselves through updates and expansions in 2021, but these were our choices. Don't forget to cast your vote in the poll below, too.
Valheim was one of 2021's biggest surprises, taking Steam literally by storm in the first half of the year. The survival title already featured prominently in our best indie games list, but it also definitely belongs to this list. While Valheim can be played solo, it truly shines when playing cooperatively with friends. After all, braving the hardships of this fictional tenth Norse realm is much easier when done in someone's company. Enterprising modders have also attempted to transform into an MMO of sorts, vastly expanding the default maximum player size of ten players. There are even plenty of RPG mods that include hero-like classes, each featuring different abilities to foster teamwork between the various players.
Halo Infinite (8.0)
Following the various launch issues encountered by Call of Duty Vanguard and Battlefield 2042, 343 Industries jumped the proverbial gun to release Halo Infinite's multiplayer ahead of the scheduled December 8th launch date. The gamble paid off, as plenty of non-Battle Royale shooter fans flocked to the free-to-play game. While the brief journey hasn't been without issues, there's no denying that Halo Infinite is one of the multiplayer games' highlights of 2021.
The Battle Royale genre might be slightly less popular than it was at its apex, but Respawn's Apex Legends is still going strong. The game surpassed 100 million players in April 2021 and marked a new concurrent player record in July 2021 with 330K Steam users online to play Season 9's launch. Throughout the past year, the developers introduced four new Legends (Fuse, Valkyrie, Seer, and Ash from Titanfall 2), four new guns (the 30-30 Repeater lever-action rifle, the Bocek Bow, the Rampage LMG, and the C.A.R. SMG from Titanfall 2), and a new tropical Battle Royale map called Storm Point.
Respawn has big plans going forward, too. Some of them were outlined today, as the developers unveiled the first event of the year, Dark Depths.
Ready or Not
The very last noteworthy game to be released last year on Steam Early Access, Ready or Not finally debuted after many years of long wait for all those who had been yearning for something akin to the old SWAT games. The tactical first-person shooter game has been a runaway success in its first three weeks, managing to stay at the very top of Steam's best-selling charts even during the Holiday sale. Perhaps more importantly, the developers at VOID Interactive have clearly found their niche, given the current 94% positive ratio of the nearly 22K user reviews submitted to date.
For now, Ready or Not is strictly focused on cooperative action, even though the developers have promised a PvP mode (alongside other additions) for the 1.0 release, roughly estimated to happen before the end of 2022.
Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker
The latest Final Fantasy XIV expansion, Endwalker, launched at the tail end of 2021. It was so popular that huge queues formed on the servers for days on end, prompting Naoki Yoshida to formally apologize to fans and Square Enix to provide them with seven days of free game time.
Regardless of this side effect, though, the developers of Final Fantasy XIV masterfully brought the Hydaelyn–Zodiark story arc to a conclusion. Moreover, they concluded Final Fantasy XIV's spectacular comeback from the disastrous launch of 2010, cementing its position as a top MMORPG.
Back 4 Blood (8.0)
The spiritual successor to Left 4 Dead finally launched a few months ago, becoming quite popular among cooperative multiplayer games in a short amount of time. Turtle Rock Studios proudly boasted over six million players less than ten days after launch, though that was likely due to its availability on the Game Pass platform.
In his review of the game, Francesco wrote:
Back 4 Blood isn't Left 4 Dead, and it doesn't even try to be it, doing away with the classics' straightforward campaign in favor of a more modern experience that rewards progression and offers plenty of replayability. The excellent map and mission design, the huge variety of builds made possible by the card system, and satisfying gameplay make the game by Turtle Rock Studios the one to get for those who have a team of friends ready to take on hordes of undead, but those who are looking to play the game solo would do better to look elsewhere, as Back 4 Blood doesn't offer much for those not too keen on teamwork.
- Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood
- Chivalry 2
- New World
- Monster Hunter Rise
- No Man's Sky
Vote for your favorite Multiplayer Game in 2021!
- Halo Infinite 34%, 51 vote51 vote 34%51 vote - 34% of all votes
- Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker 26%, 40 votes40 votes 26%40 votes - 26% of all votes
- Valheim 17%, 26 votes26 votes 17%26 votes - 17% of all votes
- Back 4 Blood 12%, 18 votes18 votes 12%18 votes - 12% of all votes
- Apex Legends 8%, 12 votes12 votes 8%12 votes - 8% of all votes
- Ready or Not 3%, 4 votes4 votes 3%4 votes - 3% of all votes