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Best PS5 exclusive games of the year 2021: Death Stranding is better than ever

Kena: Bridge of Spirits
(Image credit: Ember Labs)

The best PS5 exclusive games of the year 2021 were here for us when others weren’t. Although it’s been a tough year for most of us, Sony has done a decent job providing players with an assortment of console exclusives to make the most of their new PS5. Whether it’s by showing off the versatility of the DualSense controller, pushing the console’s SSD to its limits, or presenting a staggering amount of detail, Sony is at the forefront of technological prowess in video games.

Keep in mind, we are only counting PS5 console exclusives in this list, which means games that launched on both PC and PS5 will be present. If it was on an Xbox console, it doesn’t count (sorry not sorry). Without further ado, here are our favorite PS5 exclusives.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits 

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a breathtaking visual feast, combining a stunning attention to detail with lush and vivid environments. Commanding your little Rot friends to remove the corruption from a seedling, and witnessing how the environment shifts from a dreary lusterless plain into a field rife with life is immensely satisfying. Beyond that, the combat is fun. Players have to carefully time their parries and dodges to emerge from a battle victorious. Mixing up light attacks, heavy attacks, arrows, bombs, explosive dashes, and other special moves keeps combat fresh.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits

(Image credit: Ember Labs)

But Kena: Bridge of Spirit’s greatest asset is its heart. The warm smile that washes over Kena’s face as she gently greets the adorable creatures of the forest carries the weight of a mountain. With Ember Lab’s first game, the developer has built an emotionally potent experience that is sure to inspire, and I can’t wait to see what this team creates next. Kena: Bridge of Spirits is absolutely my favorite PS5 console exclusive this year.

See our full Kena: Bridge of Spirits review. 

Death Stranding Director’s Cut 

Death Stranding is a deceiving experience. When it received its first gameplay trailer, we saw Sam Porter Bridges walking casually through empty plains and rocky terrain with a bunch of crap on his back. Its most exciting moments see the protagonist balance himself on top of a ladder and sneak through an area while avoiding mysterious creatures. After this underwhelming reveal, all I could think was “where’s the gameplay?”

Death Stranding Director's Cut review

(Image credit: Kojima Productions)

I was an absolute idiot. Death Stranding taught me something: The method in which the player explores a world is important in translating the feeling of that world. The United States of America is overrun by cryptic monsters and ruthless scavengers who steal packages for sport. No one leaves the comfort of their cities and bases, meaning the player must fend for themselves when traveling from one point to another.

No other game has had me staring at a small river and wondering how I’m going to cross it. Plenty of horror games attempt to translate the terror of a dark cramped forest, but nothing beats the weight of knowing one wrong move could cause you to lose everything you packed on your back. During one moment in Death Stranding, I tried speeding my motorcycle through BT territory before becoming engulfed in black sludge. Unfortunately, I failed to fend the creature off and was consumed by it. And do you know what happened? My journey didn’t simply end with a “game over” screen. 

Sam Porter Bridges woke up, standing over a massive crater in place of where I was just consumed by this monster. This was not a scripted event. An enormous hole developed in this mountain organically, and as I opened my map, I saw a massive hand imprinted on the world, always there to remind me of the mistake I made. For a game that I initially mocked as a “walking simulator,” Death Stranding is one of the most intense experiences I’ve played in years. I should have never underestimated Hideo Kojima.

See our full Death Stranding Director's Cut review. 

Solar Ash

Solar Ash boasts some of the most potent visual moments of any game I've played this year. The sight of each colossal creature stomping or fluttering its wings around the spot you just explored creates an unforgettable sense of scale. A tremendous shift in the landscape occurs whenever one of these monsters breaks away from what bound it. Standing atop an elevated platform and looking up at these anomalies as they inch closer to you is breathtaking.

Solar Ash Screenshots

(Image credit: Heart Machine)

Not every moment is this powerful, but Solar Ash knocks it out of the park whenever the player is dealing with one of its many bosses. Grappling onto one of their appendages and beginning your sprint across their body, carefully slashing at each node while racing against a short timer, is both mechanically and visually exhilarating. 

See our full Solar Ash review.
 

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart 

Although I was disappointed by Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart’s narrative and art direction, it’s a ton of fun to play. Insomniac Games did a great job spicing up the franchise’s weapon arsenal with a collection of refreshing firepower. Blasting a bullet that continues to ricochet with every pull of a trigger is one of my favorites. And with the Topiary Sprinkler, you can turn your enemies into adorable leaf and flower sculptures.

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart review

(Image credit: Insomniac Games)

Programming the DualSense’s trigger buttons to perform different commands depending on how far I press it down is an impressive utilization of the PS5’s unique technology. I had a good time dashing through enemies and blasting them with an electric-infused shotgun, but I hope the next Ratchet & Clank title avoids nostalgia and makes sure every area is a new one. And please, continue where the story left off after A Crack in Time!

See our full Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart review. 

Returnal 

While we had our issues with Returnal, there’s no denying the potency of its dismal atmosphere. You will feel the weight of its desolate forests and crimson deserts as you hear the screeches of alien terrors and feel the feedback of Selene’s footsteps reverberating through the DualSense controller.

Returnal Review: Equal parts brilliant and exhausting

(Image credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment)

We were unimpressed with how its roguelite structure rarely resulted in a run that felt unique, and felt that its third act was a repetitive grind with no payoff. However, Returnal boasts one of the best narratives of this year, providing players with fragments of a grander narrative that they are tasked with piecing together. For the first time in a video game, I cared enough to listen to audio logs to try and figure out the mysteries behind Returnal. And while there are certainly not enough bosses, each one is a grand spectacle of vibrant effects, arresting sound design and novel mechanics.

See our full Returnal review.