10 great games that you should pick up from the Steam Summer Sale
The 2021 edition of the Steam Summer Sale has begun, and a lot of games are included in it — too many for us to realistically talk about them all. There are many ways one could go about curating those games, so I decided to go with “personal experience.” That’s to say, I won’t be talking about games I haven’t yet played myself — even if they’re very big names. So you won’t find titles like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Horizon Zero Dawn, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, or Cyberpunk 2077 here, because those are all games that, frankly, can sell themselves. If you’re interested in those, you’re probably already aware that they’re on sale. If you weren’t, well, you are now — just click those links. You’re welcome!
Ahem. Instead, this article will focus on games that I have experienced myself, to varying degrees — whether they’re popular or obscure, AAA or indie, old or new — and that I can attach my own personal seal of recommendation to. These might be games you’ve heard of, or gems that flew under your radar. Whatever the case, I’d be remiss not to bring your attention to them now that their prices are slashed. So read on to find ten great games that I have dedicated a lot of my own personal time to — I’m sure you’ll be able to find something in there that will catch your fancy as well!
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
From the makers of the Castlevania series — including its original producer, Koji Igarashi — comes the spiritual successor to that franchise. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a Metroidvania that fine tunes everything that is good about the genre, while keeping the same gothic / mild horror vibes that Castlevania had. While Dracula isn’t here anymore, this game still features all sorts of monstrosities, undead and demonic alike.
The big draw of this type of game is getting to explore an enormous, fully-interconnected region, getting power-ups as you go, which allow you to keep accessing new areas — both by learning abilities which add to your exploration toolkit, and simply by getting stronger, which allows you to defeat monsters that were impossible to deal with before. Besides that, the story is also intriguing and full of twists, and will keep you wanting to know more. If that sounds like something you’d be interested into — or if you simply crave a more modern Castlevania experience — this game will be right up your alley.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is currently 50% off on Steam. Check out the trailer here.
I consider Dead Cells to be one of the most well-designed games I’ve ever played. It just seems to do everything right.
This is an action roguelike side-scroller with a very strong Metroidvania core to it. It’s the kind of game where you won’t be able to win at first — far from it. You’re supposed to die, several times. But you’ll still try to venture as far as you can, finding better equipment, and earning Cells as you kill enemies. You can spend those Cells in upgrades that make your character stronger — permanently, lasting even after you die and start a new run, which guarantees that this next run will be slightly easier than the previous, and you might be able to reach further places.
The gameplay is finely tuned, with a multitude of weapons that offer you many varied fighting styles; melee or ranged, slow and deliberate or hasty and frantic. You can also choose to evolve your character with three types of Mutations (Brutality, Tactics, and Survival), further tuning them to your favorite style. The enemies and bosses will be a big challenge at first, but learning their actions and patterns will allow you to eventually conquer them — as will simply replaying the game, while collecting those Cells and buying those permanent upgrades to increase your power.
All in all, Dead Cells is a rare game that never feels grating or overly punitive — it seems to reward you for exploring and conquering it at every turn. Once you start, it’s easy to get hooked, and keep coming back and craving more.
Hades was my favorite game of 2020 (and that’s saying a lot, since 2020 was a good year for games). I can say that I’ve never encountered such a well-crafted combination of — well, almost everything that’s good about playing videogames, in my opinion. Amazing gameplay? Story? Cast of characters? Soundtrack? Replayability? Simple fun factor, in general? Check, check, and check, and check; it has it all.
Hades is an action game presented from an isometric view — sort of similar to a Diablo game — that took the roguelike formula and modernized it, making it arguably more accessible than any other roguelike ever. Unlike most games in this genre, it’s not punitive, and doesn’t make you eventually hit a wall in your progression. Quite the opposite: the game eases you win, slowly teaching you how to play, and how to improve. You can keep playing it at a very casual, relaxed pace, uncovering the story elements and deepening your relationships with gods, Olympian and Chthonic alike. Or you can choose to dial up the difficulty as much as you want to, through the Heat System, in order to challenge yourself in a more traditional roguelike way.
The wide gamut of skills each individual Olympian god offers you, and their combinations, as well as the six weapons — each with several other Aspects that totally modify their skillsets — ensures that this game simply never seems to get old. The fact that you slowly uncover the story with each new piece of dialogue you have with one of its many characters (I’m certain this game has set a new record for amount of unique voiced lines in a videogame) certifies that fact even further. It’s like a finely-crafted drug, developed to take hold of you forever. Evil!
Do you crave that old, classic JRPG experience from the 16-bit era? And what if I told you that this game not only delivers that experience, but considerably improves upon it, with beautiful high-definition 2D graphics that have started a whole new paradigm, and an intricate combat system? One that takes the turn-based action we’re so used to and adds concepts like elemental weaknesses and the ability to bank and spend Skill Points (SP) at key moments in order to bolster your spells and skills when the challenge asks for it?
Octopath Traveler has all of that and more. It also features a majestic soundtrack that innovates by introducing seamless transitions between different themes, a very rich story featuring eight protagonists with completely distinct personalities and story themes, a job system that gives you a plethora of customization options… and more.
The world of Orsterra will draw you in with a combination of gorgeously-made graphics and music and its vivid characters, who are taken up in plot threads that, while distinct, might just end up connecting themselves in the end — if you’re prepared to deal with an optional, secret endboss after your main adventure is over! And speaking of secrets, there is a lot to find here — even four “advanced” jobs that completely change how your characters play, and that are extremely rewarding to unlock.
Suffice to say, Octopath Traveler has been considered a masterpiece by many. It pays homage to older JRPGs while simultaneously innovating in how it deals with story, graphics, music, and more. If you’re into story-driven games, or RPGs in general, you really can’t miss out on this one.
Persona 4 Golden
A coming-of-age story where you team up with your friends — and a few demons — to kill other demons. While investigating a murder mystery. Do I have your attention yet?!
The Persona series is one of my favorite videogame series in existence — and I can already say that with confidence despite still being a relative newcomer to it. These are huge JRPGs set in modern Japan, usually featuring a cast of normal high school students whose lives take a turn to the supernatural. Mysterious entities, and an entire universe made up from people’s cognitions, where their most twisted desires may come to life — bringing them unlimited power or eternal misery. But as you venture through this alternate reality, you must still take care of your regular life as a student in the real world, building up social stats like “Knowledge” and “Courage,” and maintaining your Social Links — that is, your relationships with real people. For the stronger the bonds you form in the real world, the more powerful your Persona — your “other self” — becomes.
The battle system is your classical turn-based venture, relying heavily on elemental strengths and weaknesses: exploiting weak points and “downing” enemies allows you to act again, further extending your turn with multiple actions. It’s a simple yet elegant system that will always keep you devising strategies and ensuring that gameplay is just complex enough to be engrossing while not getting in the way of the story — which is the strongest point of the series, for certain. Persona games will, most certainly, deliver you intricate plots and deep characters, whose actions will resonate with you, and keep you wanting to immerse yourself fully into their world.
Skullgirls 2nd Encore
This fighting game came out in 2013, but it’s still being updated with brand-new characters being added to it! It also features one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard in a videogame, period. Need proof? Check this, or this, or the game’s amazing ending theme for a small taste. (I actually purchased the OST for this game.) The animation is also superbly done in hand-drawn style by artist Mariel Kinuko Cartwright. The entire presentation of the game is a work of art, with the jazz music, the cinema-like aesthetic, the colorful and charismatic cast of characters, the exceptional voiceover work, and more.
But aside from the music or the art, Skullgirls is a very good fighting game at its core, and features the single most comprehensive tutorial I’ve ever encountered in one. If you want to learn how to play fighting games, from the very basics to more advanced techniques, this game is worth checking out for the tutorial alone. And beyond that, you have a super fun experience with some truly tragic characters trapped in an extremely zany world where an entity called the Skull Heart can grant wishes… for a price.
(Also, Squigly is my favorite undead character of all time.)
Skullgirls 2nd Encore is currently 80% off on Steam. Check out the trailer here.
Slay the Spire
I’ll open by saying that I’ve sunk over 400 hours in this game — on its Switch version, sure, but I do own it on PC as well (and it’s the same). If I have some downtime, if I’m just sitting around at home doing nothing, etc., I’ll play a quick game of Slay the Spire. It’s the ideal kind of game to pick up and play, and then forget about until the next play session.
Slay the Spire is a roguelike deckbuilder game. That means that it’s a card game where you start out with a small deck of cards, but as you progress, facing opponents, entering prize rooms, shops, etc., you keep adding more cards to your deck, making it stronger and adapting it to your preferred playstyle. If you’ve played the Dungeon Run mode in Hearthstone, you should have a pretty good idea of what I’m talking about.
The game features four different classes, each with their own unique spells (besides the “colorless” spells that all heroes can use), and each class has multiple possible playstyles within it. In addition to that, once you beat the game, you unlock Ascension Mode, which has 20 levels of increasing difficulty. As of the time of writing this, I’ve only managed to beat Ascension 15 with each class — and that’s after those 400 hours of playing! It’s a completely optional thing, where the entire purpose of the experience — besides having fun — is increasing your mastery of the game, as you tackle harder and harder levels, for as long as you wish. If that sounds like a good time to you, Slay the Spire absolutely won’t disappoint.
Streets of Rage 4
This is my current “stress relief” game. Do you know those times when you just want to punch stuff? Well, when I’m feeling that urge, I simply pick up Streets of Rage 4, and walk around the streets, displaying my rage in the form of fists and boots to the face (and other body parts) of gang member and corrupt cop alike. It could be said that this beat ’em up has a Diablo-like vibe to it: it’s quick and easy to jump into and just smash stuff for a while.
But beyond that, it’s also a beautiful game, with very fun gameplay, and a killer soundtrack too (featuring legendary names like Yoko Shimomura and Yuzo Koshiro among its many composers). There are five playable characters at first, and plenty more to unlock, each with a different moveset, fitting diverse styles: some are quick and bouncy, others are big and strong. The game features a classic story mode, which you can get through without much difficulty, but you can also play the individual stages at any point, over multiple difficulty levels.
For players seeking a challenge, Streets of Rage 4 can also catch you through its Ranking system, where, after finishing a stage, you’re ranked (from “D” to “A,” plus the top level, “S”) based on your score. You can keep trying to beat your own records in order to get a better Ranking, as well as comparing your scores with those of other players online. That’s when you discover the advanced concepts of the game, such as trying to maintain a huge combo string without getting hit, or beating levels as quickly as possible, in order to maximize the points you earn. Once you’re at that stage, well, it’s hopeless: you’re already hooked, and there’s no turning back. Streets of Rage 4 will become a game you devote hours and hours to — whenever you just feel that irrecusable urge to punch things, it’s right there.
Trials of Mana
It’s no exaggeration for me to say that this is one of my favorite games of all time, and has been hugely influential in what I enjoy about playing videogames, in general, for decades.
“But Red,” you’re saying, “this game came out in 2020! How can it have so much influence on you!?”
Well, dear reader: Trials of Mana is actually a remake of a 1995 SNES action RPG called Seiken Densetsu 3, which I spent many, many hours of my teenage years on. I already loved it to bits, and this remake manages to improve on, pretty much, every single aspect of the original.
Trials of Mana has one of the most satisfying combat systems I’ve ever encountered in a videogame. It features simple attacks that build up your meter, which you then spend on multiple levels of flashy special attacks. That’s in addition to the spells that you have access to, and to the many passive skills you can learn to add weight and color to your brawling and spellcasting. It’s such an enjoyable system that I must compare it to another Square Enix action RPG: Final Fantasy VII Remake.
I played through both of those games at the same time, and I could honestly say — despite FF7R having the larger budget by several orders of magnitude, and excelling in some areas that Trials of Mana can’t hope to compete with: when it comes to the simple moment-to-moment gameplay of combat, I was actually enjoying the battle system of Trials of Mana more. It felt like it was trying to do the exact same things as FF7R, but somehow it was doing them better.
The story in Trials of Mana features six playable characters, of which you can pick three for each playthrough — and each pair of characters has their own linked storyline, for a total of three story arcs. This high replayability factor also extends itself to the in-game systems: the game features class changes, leading each of your party members on one of four possible branches, each with their own distinct set of active and passive skills and attacks. Playing as Duran in one of his Light classes, such as Paladin, is a completely different experience from playing as Duran in one of his Dark classes, such as Berserker; they’re almost like two different characters. Suffice to say: this game has the potential to keep you re-playing it over and over, even after you’ve already experienced the story once.
And on a final note: make sure to give a listen to the main theme of the game, a piece called Meridian Child. It starts out hauntingly beautiful, but soon transitions into an epic piece that has more potential to get you pumped than Shia LaBeouf with a megaphone.
The most unique spin on the tactical RPG genre I’ve ever experienced comes from Valkyria Chronicles. It’s a turn-based strategy game, yes — but on each character’s turn, you have freedom of movement within the map, directly controlling them in a 3rd person view, and you need to actually aim your shots. Aim well enough, and you can score critical hits!
The aesthetic of this game could be considered to be what they call dieselpunk — a mix of World War I-era technology with fantastic elements, in an alternate world that is very similar to Earth. And the story does, in fact, develop itself during a major war between nations that shakes up a whole continent. The story is compelling enough — although it doesn’t exactly try to distance itself from common anime tropes, so you should have that firmly in mind. Still, bonding with the other members of your battalion and delving into their personal stories and relationships with one another adds a ton of color to this game. It can delve deep into complicated themes, and tug at your heartstrings at a moment or two or three.
However, the gameplay is what I enjoy the most about this game. It’s the very definition of “easy to learn, difficult to master.” There are just so many possible strategies you can use that you could play the same map ten times and complete it in ten different ways (and some of those maps can get tricky later on). You also have a lot of room to improve your characters: the game features a very nice system where you don’t level up individual characters; rather, any character’s actions earn experience points for your army as a whole. You can then spend those points to train an entire class at once — meaning that all characters of that class get stronger and learn new skills, together! But besides those infantry units, you also control a few tanks, and you can upgrade and customize those tanks to your liking, making them the central point your strategies are based around.
All in all, I would highly recommend Valkyria Chronicles for any fans of tactical RPGs, as well as those who want to enjoy a heartwarming story that takes place in a whimsical war setting.
Valkyria Chronicles is currently 66% off on Steam. Check out the trailer here.
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