New year, new me writing a list of indie games I am excited to see more of and play. If there’s something that helped me get through all the hardships of 2020, it’s the many video games I loved — over half of which were indie games.
It’s getting increasingly difficult to precisely define indie games and our expectations of them. Games that have dominated Game Of The Year lists like last year’s Hades, the League of Legends spin-off RPG in this list, titles made by one person like Lucas Pope’s Return of the Obra Dinn — these all constitute indie games. It’s a perpetually growing and exciting space that is a joy to follow.
It’s hard to tell which games on this list will ultimately come out this year, as we’re still dealing with the ever-worsening COVID-19 pandemic. But, for now, here’s a list of 20 wonderful-looking indie games that you should anticipate playing in 2021.
This list is not ranked by order of excitement. Still, it feels wrong to start it with anything other than Season, a gorgeous game in which you “experience the final moments of different cultures before they disappear” due to a mysterious cataclysm. You’re simply an observer, able to capture those fleeting moments but not intervene; to bear witness, “make recordings and attempt to understand what is being lost before it’s gone.” It’s set to be a touching story across a beautiful fantasy world that you’ll get to navigate on your bicycle, meeting various kinds of people and learning about different societies along the way.
Season is being developed by Scavengers Studio. While it’s likely to come out later this year, it is the only game on this list without a confirmation. It is “coming soon” to PlayStation 5 and PC.
Know by heart
Know by heart is an approximately five-hour game about accepting loss — especially the loss of time, the kind we all face as we grow up and change. You’ll play as Misha, who lives in a quiet provincial Russian town in which one can still feel the traces and echoes of the Soviet era. His mundane routine is shattered when his school crush visits the town, leading to a reunion among childhood friends that is ruined by “something beyond their control.”
Know by heart is being developed by Ice-Pick Lodge, the developer of Pathologic and Pathologic 2. It is planned to be released in the second quarter of 2021.
She Dreams Elsewhere
She Dreams Elsewhere has gotten lots of love for its eye-captivating art and hypnotizing style. You play as Thalia, a woman struggling with anxiety and depression who has become comatose. You’ll wander through surreal locations in her mind in hopes of waking her from her deep slumber. Its sole developer, Davionne Gooden, told Fanbyte he didn’t want to create a game about a chosen hero. Instead, Thalia is “an average millennial sadgirl who’s just trying her best.” As he says, this is definitely pretty relevant during these times. (Hi Thalia, I’m also an average millennial sadgirl who’s just trying her best). Drawing inspiration from JRPGs like Persona and Final Fantasy, it’s a surreal hip-hop-infused RPG that focuses on self-identity and mental health and is led by an entirely Black cast.
She Dreams Elsewhere is being developed by Studio Zevere, whose sole employee is Davionne Gooden. It is coming out for PC, Mac, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Game Pass in 2021.
Venba is a narrative cooking game in which you play as an Indian mom who immigrates to Canada in the 1980s with her family. In this story about family, loss, and love, you’ll cook various dishes and restore lost recipes in between branching conversations. As the daughter of an immigrant who has used food to make sure assimilation has not broken my connection to my Latin roots, I can’t wait for this one. I’m especially excited considering this is one of several games that have made me hopeful we’re going to get a mom game wave.
Venba is being developed by Visai Games. It is coming out for PC in November 2021.
Speaking of that hopeful mom game wave, Open Roads is also definitely a stunning-looking Mom Game. You already love to see it. It focuses on 16-year-old Tess Devine, whose relationship with her mother, Opal, has never been easy. But it’s together that they set out to learn about their family’s dark secrets and mysteries after they discover a cache of old documents hidden in their house’s attic. Their road trip will have them discovering not just the truth, but also themselves and each other.
Open Roads is being developed by Fullbright, known for creating hits like Gone Home and Tacoma. It is coming to consoles and PC in 2021.
Confession: when I first saw Dustborn at the Future Games Show, I teared up with excitement. In this upcoming game, you follow a band of misfits and social outcasts who must cross a divided America to transport a mysterious package in 2030. You’ll play Pax, a pregnant ex-con and a con-artist with superhuman powers fuelled by disinformation. (Again: mom game). It’s a story-driven, third-person story about hope, love, friendship, migration, and robots. Basically: the stuff I love. And just look at that incredible graphic novel-inspired art style. It’s complementary to the game’s core as a story about how words have power — and we’re talking about literal power since you’ll be able to weaponize words in and out of battle.
Dustborn is being developed by Red Thread Games, best known for developing Dreamfall Chapters and Draugen. While it has no release date on Steam, the team has stated on Twitter that it plans to release it in 2021. It will be on PC and next-gen consoles.
The Medium is a horror indie game that’s generated lots of excitement, especially since its music is composed by Akira Yamaoka, the composer of several Silent Hill games, and Arkadiusz Reikowski, the composer of the Blair Witch game and Layers of Fear. Its main gameplay feature is the fascinating dual-reality system, which will have protagonist Marianne inhabit the real world and the spirit world — often simultaneously. “It all starts with a dead girl,” Marianne narrates. “Every story has two sides. A regular, rational one. But also a darker and deeper truth. Not unlike a nightmare. I can see both. Worse… I can live them.” It looks poised to be a bit of a mom game, too.
And to take it home with what feels like the beginning of the mom game wave, we have a mom fox game! In Endling, you play as a fox who has to care for her cubs in a world in which humanity has brought even the most adaptable life forms to the brink of extinction. You are the last adult fox on Earth, determined to reach the one place on the planet where humans cannot harm you or your children. You’re also trying to find your cub who was lured away in the middle of the night — a tragedy that has broken your heart but not your sense of hope. Your adorable cubs will grow over time and help you with your group’s survival. I don’t know how I missed this one until I started writing this article — so I don’t want you to miss it, either. This beautiful trailer tugged at my heartstrings from its first moments. Indie games are just so great, y’all.
Endling is in development at Herobeat Studios and is coming out in 2021.
I saw Dordogne’s first trailer a good while ago. Like with many games that capture my interest in the middle of a hectic school semester, I forgot to add it to my wishlist. And, if I don’t add something to my wishlist, chances are I’ll also forget its name. However, I immediately recognized its mesmerizing watercolor art style when I came across the game again a few weeks ago. It’s so unbelievably lovely. It’s thanks to such unique art that I was able to add this game to my wishlist afterward. Dordogne is a narrative adventure game that has you play as Mimi, a young woman who visits the house of her recently deceased grandmother. Her grandmother has left her letters and puzzles to solve, which will require Mimi to revisit her childhood memories. It’s a wholesome family story set in both the present and the past.
Dordogne is being developed by Un Je Ne Sais Quoi and Umanimation. It’s coming to PC and Nintendo Switch in 2021.
Little Nightmares II
In the sequel to the much-loved Little Nightmares, you’ll be a young boy named Mono who is trapped in a world distorted by an evil transmission. With a new friend, he decides to find out what is causing the transmission. I can’t help but adore the juxtaposition between the cute art style and the menacing atmosphere. The trailers seem unsettling enough to tell me I’d have actual nightmares if I played this, though. The hand crawling towards you in this trailer? No thank you, love. I’m very excited to watch other people play this creepy as heck lookin’ indie because I’m a total baby when it comes to single-player horror games.
Little Nightmares II is being developed by Tarsier Studios. It is coming out on February 10, 2021, for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
Call Me Under
I’ve already written about how Call Me Under ticks all of my boxes and how badly I need it. I’m a simple gal. I see a dark underwater mystery with captivating lore and a super attractive, super queer cast, and I preemptively fall in love. After playing its relatively short demo, though, I think it’s likely this love will be justified in the end. In Call Me Under, you play as a faceless protagonist from The Surface who has traveled to the underwater city of Styx to start anew. You’ll find yourself in the middle of “a brewing fight between the Shadows and the Light; two ancient, otherworldly entities embroiled in a centuries-long battle for power.” It has an impressive roster of voice actors lined up for it, too, like Allegra Clark (Apex Legends and Dragon Age: Inquisition) and Robbie Daymond (Final Fantasy XV and Persona 5). Having surpassed its Kickstarter goal by over £14,000, it’s only a matter of time before we see more of this visual novel.
Lunaris Games, known for developing games like When The Night Comes and Errant Kingdom, is developing Call Me Under. The team is aiming for release in the last quarter of 2021 on Steam, itch.io, and Nintendo Switch.
A Long Journey to an Uncertain End
As a student who only writes about games part-time, I’m truthfully awful at checking my emails. A Long Journey to an Uncertain End was a rare exception in immediately catching my interest when I first saw it in my inbox. It was pitched to me as a colorful LGBTQ+ space opera written by former Obsidian and Telltale Games developers — and, as I said, I’m a simple gal. The narrative management sim will have you play as a ship (not just pilot it, like you are the ship). Gradually, you’ll assemble an unruly and diverse crew as you do anything you can to stay out of your abusive ex-partner’s reach. Every character has their own story, every planet its own history, and your own adventure its own unfinished and uncertain end.
A Long Journey to an Uncertain End is being developed by Crispy Creative. It is coming to PC (with other platforms to be confirmed) in 2021.
Crawling through dungeons with high-quality weapons is something we’re all familiar with. But how do we define high-quality? Is it stats? No. Obviously, it’s the level of attractiveness of your weapons. Boyfriend Dungeon is an intellectual game that knows you can’t fight crime if you ain’t cute. I genuinely think perhaps my favorite game descriptor ever is “shack-and-slash.” And in this “shack-and-slash,” you get to date up to nine weapons who transform into total babes. You can take them on romantic outings while also experiencing the thrills of battling together. It’s got an inclusive approach to gender and sexuality plus gorgeous art to boot. I can’t wait for this one.
Sable has such a beautiful art style, with environments and an atmosphere that remind me of Journey. In Sable, you play as Sable, a girl who comes from a family of nomads living in a great desert. It’s time for her to embark on her gliding, a rite of passage that will take her across different landscapes filled with mysterious ancient ruins and huge fallen spaceships. It’s an open-world game that you can explore at your own pace, which feels ideal considering how zen it looks and feels from trailers alone. This journey will culminate in Sable learning more about this world and her place in it. You love to see more games focusing on the coming of age stories of girls and women.
Sable is being developed by Shedworks and is slated for a 2021 release on last-generation consoles, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.
It’s hard not to be hooked by this game’s pastel colors and adorable aesthetics. In Garden Story, you’ll play as the youngest grape in The Grove who has become a Guardian, tasked with helping restore the island. The Rot threatens to destroy your home and it’s with the help of your friends and fellow residents that you’ll get to fend it off. You’ll “protect your friends, gather precious materials, and repair social ties and structures by bringing the fruits, fungi, and frogs of each village together.” It’s endearingly wholesome, as is the game’s focus on community-building. From the sound of its features, you’ll work to become a role model for the island’s inhabitants and provide everyone the confidence to support each other and rebuild. If you like farming simulators and/or really cute games, this seems like an ideal one to keep your eyes on.
Garden Story is coming out for PC and Mac in 2021.
Sons of the Forest
The sequel to one of my favorite multiplayer experiences (playing The Forest with friends) is on its way. Sons of the Forest is the much-anticipated follow-up to the beloved 2018 survival-horror game. In The Forest, you were stranded on an island filled with cannibalistic mutants following an airplane crash. You had so much freedom in deciding how to survive, with in-depth crafting for shelter, resources, and weapons at your disposal. While little is known about the narrative of Sons of the Forest, you can expect much of the same (which is good) while having some new features. Like shoveling. I am so genuinely excited to shovel, y’all. And to return to one of the scariest universes I’ve played in.
Sons of the Forest is being developed by Endnight Games (no Steam link for this one since it isn’t available for wishlisting yet). It will come out in 2021.
A Juggler’s Tale
I love the concept of A Juggler’s Tale, and its colors and art style are beautiful to boot, so consider me interested since I first saw its announcement trailer. You, the narrator — a puppet master named Jack — will control Abby. As a string puppet, Abby has existed to entertain audiences, causing her to yearn for freedom. One day, she escapes the circus she’s trapped in and gets to explore a mystical world filled with riddles, traps, and threats. It remains to be seen whether she’ll be able to truly achieve freedom and autonomy in the end, for the strings holding her up are also the ones holding her back.
Ruined King: A League of Legends Story
League of Legends is going indie, baby. As “the first indie game from Riot Forge,” Ruined King: A League of Legends Story is a single-player, turn-based RPG that will allow players to dive deeper than ever before into the world of Runeterra. In it, you’ll play as Miss Fortune, Illaoi, Braum, Yasuo, Ahri, or Pyke and journey bravely into the ever-creeping Black Mist and uncover its secrets. Fake gamer confession: I haven’t played a moment of League of Legends. I get way too invested in characters with so much lore, effort, and time dedicated to them only for that characterization to mostly be expressed in minimal side material. This looks perfectly poised to solve that issue and my general barrier of entry to the world of League of Legends. It’s exactly what I’d love to see from another character-based MOBA I used to love.
Ruined King: A League of Legends Story is being developed by Airship Syndicate. It is planned for release on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch in early 2021. It will also be released afterward on the PlayStation 5 and Xbox One Series X|S, and owners of the previous generation versions will be able to upgrade to the current-gen versions for free.
Lake takes place in 1986 when Meredith Weiss takes a break from the city to deliver mail in her tranquil hometown of Providence Oaks, Oregon. During her two weeks filling in for her dad, a local mail carrier, you’ll decide with whom she’ll talk, befriend, and maybe even develop a romantic relationship. And she’ll do this and more without cellphones and the internet… which sounds ideal on some days, honestly. I am happy for Meredith not being Online for two weeks and finding love, platonic and otherwise. I wish that was me. This looks like a quaint and relaxing game that I need in my life, especially after 2020. I really like its concept, which has stood out to me through its normality. Also, I really love that logo. Pretty logos are so nice.
Lake is being developed by Gamious. It is planned to be released in the first quarter of 2021 for PC and consoles.
Twelve Minutes had received some attention since its first reveal. But, after its star-studded cast composed of Daisy Ridley, James McAvoy, and Willem Dafoe was announced, that excitement definitely amped up. McAvoy, who voices the lead protagonist, says the thriller is “about the danger of truly examining within, and really looking deep and trying to unpick your actions.” The protagonist is having a romantic evening at home with his wife when an intruder, said to be a police detective, breaks into his apartment, accuses his wife of murder, and beats him to death. Except the protagonist doesn’t die, for he’s taken back to when he opened the door. He realizes he’s stuck in a twelve-minute loop, reliving the same traumatic experience until he finds a way to break out.
Twelve Minutes is being developed by Luis Antonio. In November 2020, publisher Annapurna Interactive confirmed the game, originally set to be released in 2020, was delayed to 2021. It will be on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC.
Disclaimer: I, Natalie Flores, the writer of this article, will begin an internship with Player Two PR — which is working on three games on this list: Dordogne, Dustborn, and A Long Journey To An Uncertain End — later this month. I have been excited about those games since before I got the opportunity. I wrote this article purely to a) gain serotonin by highlighting indie games I’m anticipating and b) fulfill my weekly Fanbyte responsibilities!