Gamescom 2021: the best games of the show

Gamescom 2021: Best games
(Image credit: Future)

Gamescom 2021 is now over, and we've got a ton of great trailers and reveals to mull over. Microsoft kicked off the week of gaming announcements with its Xbox stream, and while it was a ho-hum showing, it wasn't without its highlights. Geoff Keighley seriously brought the goods the following day, though, as Opening Night Live treated us to a smorgasbord of fantastic announcements including several world premieres.

Just like last year’s Gamescom, this year presented an all-digital event, but there were some in-person interviews sprinkled in this time. The Geoff Keighley-led Opening Night Live, which ran for about two hours and featured a healthy mix of indie and AAA announcements, ended up being Gamescom 2021's centerpiece.

Had to miss out on parts of the show? Fret not, as we've collected the best bits from each major showing, including the Xbox stream, Opening Night Live and the Future Games Show.

Gamescom 2021: cut to the chase

  • What is it? The world’s largest gaming event
  • When was it? August 25 to August 27, 2021
  • Who attended? Confirmed publishers include Xbox, EA and Ubisoft

Gamescom 2021: our picks of the best games

Gamescom Opening Night Live

Opening Night Live

(Image credit: Gamescom)

Where can I re-watch it?
YouTube, Twitter, Twitch and Facebook.

What was shown?
Credit where it’s due. Gamescom Opening Night Live, hosted by the face of gaming Geoff Keighley, was a corker. The two hour long show was full of world premiere announcements, some genuinely unexpected surprises, and was delivered at a pleasing cadence that ensured we never felt bored or bemused by what was on screen. 

In fact, the only criticism we’d have were the weird Gamescom awards that were sprinkled through the show, which saw Elden Ring snag the prize as the ‘Best Sony PlayStation Game’. Elden Ring is a multiplatform game for starters, and hasn’t even been released yet. Weird.

Apart from that, though, Gamescom Opening Night Live exceeded our expectations. But if you missed all the gaming goodness from Cologne, Germany (delivered virtually, of course), you can catch up with the biggest announcements below.

TechRadar's take: Opening Night Live did a great job of introducing us to a slew of new trailers for some of the most anticipated games coming soon, as well as some surprise announcements we're very much looking forward to. Host Geoff Keighley put a big emphasis on "holiday" releases, and he wasn't wrong. We received release dates for games coming out around the November/December time period including Halo Infinite, as well as slew of titles slated for early next year.

Saints Row
Saints Row is returning to (hopefully) shake up the open-world subgenre once more. Doing away with the shark jumping insanity found in the series’ latter games, this rebooted Saints Row looks like it maintains the silliness that made it so special, while being grounded in a way that’s more true to the original two games.

The Saints Row coverage at Opening Night Live was almost wholly focused on the CG reveal trailer, but Volition had also prepared a short gameplay snippet of what we can expect when it launches on February 25, 2022.

Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker
Say what you want about the last few Star Wars films, but if anything can make George Lucas’s expansive universe fun and exciting again, it’s a Lego makeover. Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga received a new gameplay trailer at Gamescom Opening Night Live, and it featured the comical quips, slapstick moments and surprisingly gorgeous visuals that we’ve come to expect from the Lego video game series.

Unfortunately, the release date for Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga is still far, far away. The game is due to arrive in ‘Spring 2022’, which falls between March and June. Let’s just hope it doesn’t slip again.

Death Stranding Director’s Cut
Death Stranding: Director’s Cut was shown in detail at the end of Gamescom Opening Night Live. The PS4 release, now updated for PS5, includes a number of pleasing updates like a 60fps performance mode, 4K visuals and some completely unexpected additions. 

Delivering your cargo – which is still weirdly the core mechanic of Hideo Kojima’s latest creation – should be a lot more seamless and streamlined in Death Stranding: Director’s Cut. You’ll have new equipment and means of transport to help you take the strain off Sam Bridge’s aching back, as well as new activities to take part in – a new racing mode is included that probably no one saw coming, and there’s also a Metal Gear Solid VR Missions-esque mode that looks pretty promising. 

It’s still Death Stranding, though, so if you didn’t riff with the game when you first played it, or still have no idea what’s going on, the Director’s Cut is unlikely to change your opinion when it releases on September 24, 2021. 

Call of Duty: Vanguard
Another year, another Call of Duty? When it comes to Vanguard, that lack of enthusiasm might be misplaced. While another entry in Activision’s long running series won’t interest everyone, what we saw of the game at Gamescom Opening Night Live told us one thing: Call of Duty: Vanguard looks spectacular – from a graphical perspective at least. 

Whether it’s the game’s realistic lighting or the impeccable, almost tangible textures, this is undoubtedly the most convincing recreation of World War 2 we’ve seen to date. Like it or loathe it, Call of Duty: Vanguard is sure to be one of the biggest games of the year.

One of the more eye-catching announcements at Opening Night Live had to be DokeV. Coming from Black Desert Online developer Pearl Abyss, DokeV is an upcoming open-world action adventure that’s part Pokémon, part Jet Set Radio, with a bit of K-Pop sprinkled in for good measure.

Players take control of a kid who has access to dreamlike monsters known as ‘Dokebi.’ These creatures can aid you in battle against robotic-looking enemies. Their designs are equal parts adorable and bonkers, so we’re looking forward to seeing just how wacky Dokebi can get in the full release.

Halo Infinite
Halo Infinite was surprisingly absent from Microsoft’s Xbox stream at Gamescom, but developer 343 Industries more than made up for it at Gamescom Opening Night Live. Not only did we finally get a release date for the game, December 8, but Microsoft also revealed a Halo Infinite limited edition Xbox Series X and a Halo Infinite limited edition Xbox Elite Wireless Series 2 controller would go on sale, which have since promptly sold out. 

But that’s not all. A new cinematic trailer for the game’s multiplayer mode, which will be free-to-play for the first time in the series, was shown off in all its glory. The wait for Halo Infinite is going to be a long one.

Marvel’s Midnight Suns
Firaxis Games, creators of the beloved XCOM reboot series, is back with a new tactical RPG, this time taking on the vast and unpredictable world of Marvel. While we’ve only got a (lovely) CG trailer to go off for now, Marvel’s Midnight Suns won’t just feature the heroes we’re familiar with in the MCU, but several X-Men like Wolverine are also joining the fray.

Marvel’s Midnight Suns is releasing on all platforms in March, 2022, and will feature loads of iconic heroes as well as a player-created avatar. Check out the trailer below to see if your favorite superhero made the cut.

Gamescom 2021 Xbox stream

Xbox stream announcement

(Image credit: Xbox)

Where can I re-watch it?
YouTube, Twitter, Twitch and Facebook.

What was shown?
Microsoft’s Gamescom 2021 presence was something of a snoozefest, devoid of any updates on anticipated titles like Halo Infinite and Fable. But that doesn’t mean it was completely lacking when it came to  interesting announcements. 

From more Dying Light 2 footage to a deep dive on a rather peculiar Age of Empires 4 mode, the Xbox stream had its highlights. But its thunder was largely stolen by the following day’s Opening Night Live showcase.

That said, we got a good deal more gameplay footage for Forza Horizon 5, which continues to look utterly incredible. While it closed out the show, we’d say the Xbox stream was still worth tuning into for Forza alone.

TechRadar's take:
No Starfield, no Halo, no Elder Scrolls... the list goes on. It would have been expecting quite a lot for Microsoft to go all-in on Gamescom after it delivered such a stellar E3 2021 showing, but it was hard to not feel a bit disappointed by the lack of new footage of the most-wanted games, nor mic-drop reveals of new games. Still, it remains a good time to be an Xbox gamer, with a busy release schedule for the console family on the way. So we'll give Microsoft a pass here.

Dying Light 2
Zombies. Parkour. On their own, neither are that exciting. But when combined, you’ve got the foundations for some truly satisfying gameplay mechanics. 

That’s where Dying Light 2 shines, as the latest trailer from the game shows off how you can use your body’s momentum to springboard off enemies, dropkick foes in the face, and generally cause havoc like some sort of violent circus act. Keep your eye on this one as it’s releasing soon on December 7, 2021.

Age of Empires 4
While we only saw a snippet of gameplay for Age of Empires 4 during the Xbox stream, the good news is that we did learn some things about medieval warfare. The focus of this Age of Empires 4 showing wasn’t really gameplay-oriented, then, but if you really wanted the rundown on how a trebuchet operates, then this may have just been the best gaming presentation of all time.

All joking aside, Age of Empires 4 is catering to history buffs with its new ‘Hands-On History’ feature. Less of a mode and more of a collection of documentary snippets, the feature will provide video deep dives into many of the units and buildings you’ve been using across Age of Empires’s various releases. Could be something to fall back on whenever you’re salty that an enemy monk converted your entire cavalry.

Forza Horizon 5
We already got a good look at Forza Horizon 5 during its E3 2021 reveal, but who are we to say no to seeing more of the follow-up to one of the greatest racing games ever made? This time, we got a look at Forza Horizon 5’s introductory sequence, which in typical fashion previewed the game’s flagship vehicles bombing it through the lush and varied locales of Mexico.

The nine-minute showcase went by in a blink of an eye, and was complemented by non-intrusive developer talk that gave a bit of insight into improvements made over previous Horizon entries. If it wasn’t clear enough already, we can’t wait to get back behind the wheel and return to the Horizon Festival on November 5, 2021. Oh, and there's also a custom Forza Horizon 5 controller coming out on the same day.

The Gunk
While we’re sure The Gunk won’t be the first game on everyone’s mind after the Xbox stream, it nonetheless looks like an utterly gorgeous title. Coming from SteamWorld creator Image & Form Games, The Gunk throws you onto a beautiful planet infested with the titular substance, and it’s your job to clean it up while finding out what’s happened on the planet.

We genuinely can’t wait to try out The Gunk for ourselves, and the premise alone has us wondering what kind of game it will ultimately turn out to be. We’ll find out when it launches in December, 2021, and it’ll be available from day one on Xbox Game Pass.

Microsoft Flight Simulator expansions
Microsoft Flight Simulator is more often than not a truly calming experience. Flying over the Sahara Desert or the Palace of Versailles is a real treat, especially after you’ve learned to properly keep your altitude under control. But if you’re looking for something a bit more high-octane, it turns out that Microsoft Flight Simulator will soon have something in store for you.

During the Gamescom 2021 Xbox stream, it was revealed that Microsoft Flight Simulator is partnering with RARA (Reno Air Racing Association) to bring STIHL National Championship Air Races to the game. These will be playable in an online multiplayer environment, exceeding speeds of 500mph.

The game’s free Top Gun DLC is also on the way later this year, as well as another free world update that improves locations like Germany, Austria and Switzerland. World Update 6 is coming to Microsoft Flight Simulator on September 7, 2021.

Humble Games coming to Xbox Game Pass
Fancy a trailer that packs in ten announcements in one? Humble Games had us covered there, revealing that 10 games it’s publishing will be coming to Xbox Game Pass on day one. Among the selection of promising indie titles was Dodgeball Academia, which is already available to download.

Elsewhere, we have Midnight Fight Express, the solo dev venture that made another appearance during Opening Night Live. Other much-anticipated indie games arriving on Xbox Game Pass include Unsighted, Bushiden and Chinatown Detective Agency. After this, you can never say Xbox has no games to play ever again.

Future Games Show at Gamescom

Future Games Show at Gamescom

(Image credit: Future)

Where can I re-watch it?

What was shown?
Expertly presented by Resident Evil Village's Maggie Robertson, who plays Lady Dimitrescu, and Aaron LePlante (the voice of the Duke), the Future Games Show was loaded with world premieres and announcements for games we already know about.

The show got off to an explosive start with a world premiere trailer for Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate - Daemonhunters. We also saw some world-exclusive gameplay of the highly anticipated Life is Strange: True Colors. Oculus Quest 2 players also have something to look forward to in the form of Jurassic World Aftermath Part 2, which also debuted during Future Games Show.

We also saw updates on some delightful indie titles we can't wait to get our hands on, including Moonglow Bay, Salt and Sacrifice and Dolmen among many others.

In addition, the Future Games Show featured an expanded ‘Virtual Show Floor Booths’, which let gamers access a wide array of demos that can be played from the comfort of your own home.

TechRadar's take:
Our friends at GamesRadar always put on a cracking show when it comes to the Future Games Show, and this year's may have been the best one yet. There was very little downtime between announcements, which were very carefully handpicked.

The one-two punch of Maggie Robertson and Aaron LePlante kept the show entertaining, as the two were privy to the odd joke at Ethan Winters' expense. Poor guy.

Life is Strange: True Colors
Life is Strange: True Colors continues to look like it could be the best game in the series yet. Developer Deck Nine's take on the series presents a unique power for protagonist Alex Chen, as she can analyze a person's emotions.

This new trailer delves into how Alex can discover why a person feels a certain way, and the results are equal parts atmospheric and intriguing, if a little terrifying, too. In any case, we're very excited to check out Life is Strange: True Colors when it launches on September 10.

Moonglow Bay
This delightfully whimsical voxel-based adventure looks like something we can't wait to chill out with, exploring the world in our tugboat and catching a fish or two while we're at it.

Thankfully, we won't have to wait long before we finally get to play this charming indie game, as it's releasing on October 7, 2021. And best of all? It's coming to Xbox Game Pass on day one of release.

Trading Time
One of the more eye-catching world premieres of the show was Trading Time. After you wash up on an island after a storm, you're greeted by a colony of adorable frog people. The premise of the game appears to be exploring the world, and trading items with the frogs to fulfil objectives.

It's coming to basically every platform, and while there's no release date as of yet, we're definitely keeping an eye on Trading Time.

Let's switch things up with something a bit spookier, as Madison could be yet another incredible first-person psychological horror game when it releases on PC later this year (with console versions arriving in 2022).

You'll use an instant camera to capture evidence of demons in terrifyingly run-down locales. Naturally, said demons won't let you get away scot-free. Madison looks to be equal parts Outlast and Fatal Frame, a combination that's definitely got us interested, if not a little petrified.

DokeV showed up during the Opening Night Live presentation, and while we loved what we saw, we came away from that trailer more than a little puzzled. Thankfully, the Future Games Show somewhat saved the day with a trailer featuring a more in-depth explanation as to what we can expect from DokeV when it releases sometime in 2022.

Nine Years of Shadows
If you're after a game with gorgeous pixel art, Metroidvania-style progression and a soundtrack scored by the composers of Mega Man, Castlevania and Metal Gear Solid, then you should absolutely Wishlist Nine Years of Shadows on Steam right now.

There's no word on a release date as of yet, but as lovers of titles like Hollow Knight and Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, Nine Years of Shadows is certainly on our list as one to keep a close eye on.

Adam Vjestica

Adam was formerly TRG's Hardware Editor. A law graduate with an exceptional track record in content creation and online engagement, Adam has penned scintillating copy for various technology sites and also established his very own award-nominated video games website. He’s previously worked at Nintendo of Europe as a Content Marketing Editor and once played Halo 5: Guardians for over 51 hours for charity. He is now an editor at The Shortcut.