PC Gamer’s Big 10 of 2011

Posted on January 22, 2011

A good year brings a handful of bold, even revolutionary games to the PC. A great year, as 2011 is shaping up to be, brings so many that we spend weeks trying to whittle the list down to just 10. In the following pages we report on those 10 games, what makes them so special, and why 2011 is going to be a spectacular year for PC gamers.

Dragon Age 2

  • Release Date: March 8, 2011 – Developer: BioWare – Publisher: EA
    URL: http://dragonage.bioware.com/da2

Combat’s got the same depth, with a lot more excitement.

Why it’s a winner? An epic tale gets personal

I’ve put more hours into Dragon Age: Origins than anyone I know. I’ve played every origin at least twice, absorbed the majority of the story on 10-plus characters and completed it fully on three separate occasions. To say that I was skeptical of BioWare’s plans to change the gameplay in the sequel to the all-consuming RPG that won my heart (and our 2009 Game of the Year award) is an understatement. I was legitimately terrified.

But that was before I played it. Now that I’ve had my mitts on Dragon Age 2, it’s clear that the improvements BioWare is making are just that—improvements. The key mechanics that made DA:O great, like pausing combat to micro-manage your party members’ skills for a tactical advantage and the engaging storytelling, are returning intact—and almost always with noticeable improvements. Abilities in DA2 combine across classes for much better results. For example, a Rogue’s Backstab does bonus damage against an enemy that’s knocked off balance by a Warrior’s Shield Bash.

Although we can’t see quite as much of the battlefield (zooming out has been reined in slightly), what we can see looks much better—filled with fast action and gorgeous visuals. Instead of watching a Rogue clunkily waddle behind a target to deliver a Backstab, in DA2 they ninja-teleport into position, and casually drop-kick smoking clay pots around the battlefield to stun groups of enemies. The tested concepts of DA:O’s class designs (Warriors control the battle and stand firm on the front lines while Mages blast large groups of enemies and Rogues shred single targets mercilessly) are realized with these flashy and fun new abilities, like Backflip, which lets Rogues avoid spells and swinging axes with the grace of a trapeze artist.

The storytelling is also changing in both its style and sweep. Lead designer Mike Laidlaw explained the shift to me this way: “What Origins was, at it’s heart, was an introduction. It’s very big, it’s very deep…It brought together a world that was seethingly rich and let you get perspective on [the different societies of that world] very quickly, very early.” He continued, “Moving to DA2 lets us say, ’OK, all that lore you know is important—it’s crucial to what’s happening—but this is a world that can be about more than the Grey Wardens, about saving the world.’ It can be about an age of time: the events that shaped the world in this 100-year period.” This explanation echoes the reason so many of us loved Origins—the open process of discovering its world bit-by-bit—while suggesting a more intimate, personal narrative approach. I’m sure we’ll return to the Grey Wardens’ story someday, but for now, I’m looking forward to finding out all about the other key figures in Dragon Age’s dazzling fantasy world, beginning with Hawke. JA

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

  • Release Date: April 2011 – Developer: Square Enix – Publisher: Square Enix
    URL: www.deusex.com

They can’t see Adam Jenson coming – but we do.

Why it’s a winner? Cyber noir!

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is like Blade Runner, in that it’s a dark, gritty science fiction mystery set in the not-too-distant future—except that it has actual blades that extend from your wrists to impale shadowy conspirators. Square Enix promises loyalty to the blend of action, stealth and deep intrigue that won our cyber-augmented hearts and minds in Ion Storm’s 2000 original, and what cinematic glimpses of DXHR’s story we’ve caught make it our most-anticipated mystery. DS

Dawn of War II: Retribution

  • Release Date: March 1, 2011 – Developer: Relic Entertainment – Publisher: THQ
    URL: www.dawnofwar2.com

I wonder what this was?

Why it’s a winner? Six flavors of blood

More than a simple standalone expansion, Retribution (see our full hands-on preview on page 36) is gearing up to reinvent the entire Dawn of War II experience next year. The blood-soaked battlefields of Sub-Sector Aurelia are about to become more crowded with the addition of the armor-heavy Imperial Guard, raising the total number of over-the-top armies to six (including the Space Marines, Orks, Chaos, Eldar and Tyranids), and each side gets a super-unit on the scale of the Eldar Avatar. Combined with the option to massively increase the number of troops on the field in single-player by leaving some of your heroes at home, this PC-exclusive RTS will be the biggest, bloodiest version yet. DS

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The Future of Strategy Games; Looking Forward At Game of Thrones: Genesis, Stronghold 3, And More

Posted on January 03, 2011

The Future of Strategy Games; Looking Forward At Age of Empires Online, Kings and Castles, Dungeons And More

We looked to the future as part of Epictober back in, er … October, but suffice it to say, we’re still looking forward to 2011. We’ve updated these posts with the games that were announced since then, and here’s what you can start looking forward to in 2011 and beyond. Just as a friendly reminder, 2011 starts in less than a week. So start your anticipating right now.

Strategy games might seem like they’ve been slowly fading into the background as console shooters and MMOs dominate the hardcore market, but the strategy gaming market hasn’t gone anywhere. In fact, there’s a lot on the horizon to be excited about, coming hard on the heels of the successful launches of games like StarCraft 2 and Civilization V

A lot of people say that the strategy market needs to expand on the consoles to really be successful, and we’re beginning to see small steps in that direction. Last year’s Halo Wars proved that strategy games can indeed work on a console, a concept that R.U.S.E. followed up on, but the double whammy of StarCraft and Civilization proved that the PC market can still churn out strategy titles that cause waves throughout the industry.

But what’s coming in the future? What should you be planning for that’s already on the horizon?


A Game of Thrones: Genesis

Release Date: TBA 2011

Adapted from the extremely successful George R.R. Martin’s “Song of  Ice and Fire” novels, A Game of Thrones: Genesis will let you take control of the kingdoms of Westeros. While very few details have been released about the game, developer Cyanide Studios has given us a tiny glimmer of what to expect.

The game will allow the player to use different types strategies, kind of like in Civilization 5. So you can win via a military, economic, or diplomatic victory. However, as in any good story, there is always treachery afoot, and in Genesis you’ll always have to be on your toes as to who’s doing what.

Defining Feature: As details on the game are still few and far between, we can’t exactly determine one overarching defining feature. That said, if the game is an engrossing as the novels on which it’s based, and the backstabbing mechanic is implemented well, then this could bring a very interesting new twist to the RTS genre.

The Future of Strategy Games; Looking Forward At Game of Thrones: Genesis, Stronghold 3, And More

Stronghold 3

Release Date: April 2011

With gorgeous new graphics, new physics, an updated building system, the new night-time mechanic, and of course, the ability to yet again fling cows from catapults, Stronghold 3 is looking to be exactly what fans of the castle town building RTS have been waiting for.

The best part about Stronghold has always been about being able to bring your very own castle village to life all the way down to the smallest detail. But this time around, there’s also a sense of morality. Your choices will have an effect on units depending on what you choose; place things like gardens and you’ll become a good lord, place things like gallows and your subjects will see you as an evil lord, changing how they react in battle.

Defining Feature: The most interesting new addition to Stronghold 3 is its fog of war system. Other games have used it in the past, but from a medieval strategy perspective, the idea of having to hold off an attack until dawn because there’s no light is fascinating. It will be really fun to see how all of the different types of missions incorporate this new feature, and if it will lead to any innovative gameplay.

Kingdom Under Fire 2

Release Date: TBA 2011

Kingdom Under Fire II is one of the few medieval strategy games slated for PC as well as consoles in 2011. The game, featuring a single player campaign mode as well as an online MMO mode, combines elements of both the RTS and RPG genres into a single title. KUF 2 will also introduce a new faction to the series: The Encablossians.

What’s great about Kingdom Under Fire is that you get to play amongst the units you’re controlling. Not only do you get to control your favorite character, but you control hundreds of troops as well. The game will also offer a new war system where you can expand your territory via other players until you become the ruler of the continent.

Defining Feature: Not only is there a new faction for players to mess around with, but now, there is the whole added MMORPG element too. You can make guilds, advance your territory, declare war on other territories, and so much more. For a title that’s being released on the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC it’s great to see a game try to step outside the box and bring more gamers into the realm of strategy games.

Dawn of War 2: Retribution

Release Date: March 2011

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War has been around since 2004, and it eventually had three expansion, Winter Assault, Dark Crusade, and Soulstorm through 2008. Then 2009 brought us Dawn of War 2, which has already had two expansions of its own: Chaos Rising and the horde mode-ish The Last Stand. So what is Retribution all about? First of all, it’s a standalone, just like Chaos Rising was, meaning you won’t need Dawn of War 2 to run it.

Secondly, it trades in the Space Marines for the Orks, giving you a chance to beat in some Eldar head while you quest for loot. Or you can play as the Eldar and kick Ork butt. There’s also a third, unrevealed playable race coming to the game, most likely the Imperial Guard or the Inquisition.

Defining Feature: New playable race(s) will give us something to chew on until Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III comes out in 2012 or beyond. Of course, we’ll also have the third person action/RPG shooter Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine and the MMO Warhammer 40,000: Dark Millennium Online by then as well, giving us lots of Warhammer immersion options.

Warhammer 40 000

Release Date: TBA 2011

End of Nations is a new IP developed by Petroglyph Games and will be published by Trion Worlds sometime in 2011. They’re calling it an “mmorts” and it seeks to separate itself from the RTS pack by dropping players into a gigantic, persistent world that has you battling together to try and take down the main NPC baddie in the game, the Order of Nations.

The game is set on our very own Earth in a “ruined future,” where post-apocalyptic war is the order of the day. There’s a high amount of customization in the game as well, letting you tweak the look of your own units. Which you’ll definitely need to do in a world this big with thousands of other players. You play as a revolutionary who is trying to take down the behemoth that has become the totalitarian regime, and you can do that alone, or with the help of others.
Defining Feature: A persistent world that has you teaming up with tons of other players, or going lone wolf, in order to take down the main foe is a novel approach, and it means that there are “no losers” according to Petroglyph’s Michael Legg. We like that idea, although why does it sound like the Order of Nations is going to pulverize us again and again? Especially with the Nuclear Strike.

Age of Empires Online

Release Date: TBA 2011

Microsoft surprised audiences at gamescom by announcing that the 13 year-old franchise Age of Empires was going online. The entire series has seen the release of seven main games such us The Rise of RomeThe Age of Kings, The Conquerors, The WarChiefs, and The Asian Dynasties, as well as the direct sequels Age of Empires 2 and Age of Empires 3. Then there were the spinoffs like Age of Mythology, Age of Mythology: The Titans, and the DS titles Age of Empires: The Age of Kings and Age of Empires: Mythologies. Suffice it to say, it’s a popular series.

People thought that when Ensemble Studios shut down after shipping Halo Wars, that it would be the end of Age of Empires as well. Not so. The game has a brand-new look and feel to it, bordering on the cartoonish, and will introduce tons of new units to the co-op and PvP gameplay. Like everyone else, we were afraid that Age of Empires had vanished, and now it’s going online as a digitally distributed game, which is good news. We wish Microsoft would embrace Steam, but AoEO is going to be Games for Windows: LIVE enabled, which is a step in the right direction.

Defining Feature: You have a persistent capital city that continues to expand and grow, even when you aren’t online and playing the game. It’ll even continue to gather resources and build units for you,which is definitely a nifty feature to have. Especially for things like “sleep” and “a social life.”

Might and Magic: Heroes VI

Release Date: March 2011

It’s been four years since we’ve had an entry in the Might and Magic series, but that will all change in 2011 when Might and Magic Heroes VI appears. It’s a prequel of sorts to Heroes of Might and Magic V, and is being developed by Black Hole Entertainment in Budapest, who had previously worked on EA’s Armies of Exigo and Warhammer: Mark of Chaos as well as its Battle March expansion. The prequel part comes in the form of this game occurring 500 years before the main campaigns in Might and Magic V. The game will still feature resource gathering, but only in the form of crystals, and the screen will shift to a grid as you move into combat to hurl magic at your opponents.

The game will be made up of roughly 50% brand new units, with the other half being a mixture of the familiar. The campaigns will be led by five different members of the Griffin dynasty, and can be played in any order. We’ve seen a necromancer named Svetlana as one of the heroes, doing battle with an army of vampires, skeletons, and specters featured in the screenshots so far. Good stuff.

Defining Feature: Might and Magic is finally coming back. Do we need more of a reason to be excited? New innovations coming to old school sorcery. We like the sound of that.

Might and Magic Heroes 6

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Shogun 2: Total War

Release Date: TBA 2011

The original Shogun: Total War came out ten years ago, so it’s more than ripe enough for a sequel. Shogun 2 follows the path laid down by the original, and sets the game in 1545 with over 30 units that are based on actual historical units. There isn’t a lot of complexity to the combat as units do battle in what the developers call a “very obvious rock-paper-scissors” mechanic where one unit trumps another, and that unit trumps another, and so on. But it’s these very simple mechanics that give the game a great element of strategy. Consider chess where there aren’t that many different pieces, but there’s an infinite variety of ways to play the game. That’s what Shogun 2 is aiming for.

The game also has a siege system, where attackers lay siege to a castle (of which there are three types, and each one can be upgraded five times) and literally have to hack and slash there way through multiple passageways in order to work their way deep inside the structure. There are also naval units in the game, although of course without gunpowder. Since it hadn’t yet made its from from China to Japan yet.

Defining Feature: Departing from the normal routes of fantasy or modern warfare, Shogun 2 gives you historic Japanese combat with deep strategy. And ninjas! All wrapped in a gorgeous graphic package.

Dungeons

Release Date: TBA 2011

At last year’s Board Game Geek Convention in Dallas, Texas, one of the most popular games by far was Dungeon Lords from Vlaada Chvatil. In it, you try to be the best possible dungeon owner in the land by building traps and hiring monsters. In Dungeons, you … do pretty much the same thing. Not that it’s an entirely new idea, as Dungeon Keeper from EA back in 1997, and designed by Peter Molyneux himself, was basically the same thing. But who says it’s not a terrific idea?

Kalypso Media definitely agrees, so in Dungeons, you’re playing a Dungeon Lord who tries to lure heroes into his lair so he can toy with them … and then later harvest their souls for energy. It’s a family game, right? I mean, a Dungeon Lord’s gotta earn a living, just like anyone else. In fact, in Dungeons, you’re not only trying to build the best dungeon, but you’re plotting against your evil ex-girlfriend, who put you in your current predicament. Dungeons? Evil exes? We love this game already.

You have goblin minions at your disposal to do your bidding and construct your chamber of ultimate torture, but you’ll also have to slog yourself through other dungeons and face bosses so you can pull yourself to the top (bottom?) of the dungeon racket.

Defining Feature: With more than 50 different objects to use in your dungeon, you’ll find a lot of different options throughout the 20 single-player campaign missions. Building your own custom dungeon and catching good guys? Heck, yes.

dungeons

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Rock of Ages

Release Date: Spring 2011

Of all the strategy games on this list, it’s nearly impossible not to be the most excited about Rock of Ages, and that is due in no small part to the fact that it is entirely off the wall. In this game, you use a giant boulder to blow through 30 different unit types in an effort to destroy your enemy. But, these unit types are meant to stop your big, giant, rolling, round rock. It’s just that simple. You set up your ball and try to squash your opponent and pound his castle into splinters, while he sets up obstacles in your bath to throw your ball off course.

Yet this game goes beyond its own simple mechanics and sets itself in the middle of art history. The look and feel of the game is based on the art era that you’re currently playing in. From Renaissance to Rococo to Gothic and more, the art style of the game will morph to match wherever you happen to be. So, it’s both educational and bizarrely fun! We always enjoy that combination. ACE Team, creators of the wacky Zeno Clash, are developing this and it will be published by Atlus through “digital distribution.” Which actually means XBLA, PSN, and PC, because this game needs to be seen by a lot of people. Even if just to prove, “Yes, it really does exist.”

Defining Feature: While the boulder-rolling gameplay isn’t anything new, having the game set through evolving time periods set in art history is a stroke of brilliance. Those two-dimensional units are simply hilarious.

rock

Watch Larger Version | Watch HD Version

Kings and Castles

Release Date: TBA

Chris Taylor had been involved with games long before he founded Gas Powered Games, having worked on Total Annihilation while he was at Cavedog. He then moved on and founded Gas Powered Games, which put out Dungeon Siege and Dungeon Siege 2. Then he developed the RTS title Supreme Commander, a sort of spiritual successor to Total Annihilation, since Atari wouldn’t let go of the name rights, and it went on to to be a big success. We say big because your base is a gigantic mech suit.

Kings and Castles is a return to the fantasy realm, and they are offering up a lot of transparency as they develop the game and chart its progress with video blogs, their Twitterfeed, and their Facebook page (which needs a big shot in the arm right now). They haven’t offered many details right now, but they do promise the ability to zoom to any level, and have eye-popping visuals and incredible maps. The gameplay trailer below sheds a bit more light on the subject, offering up massive battles, airships, and destrucible environments. Oh, and dragons. Always with the dragons.

Defining Feature: Chris Taylor’s pedigree alone makes this a game worth paying attention to. While we don’t know too much about the title yet, we do love the fact that Taylor is dutifully putting up a lot of video blogs for it.

Kings and Castles

Honorable Mention: There are a lot more games coming down the strategy pipeline to be excited about. With games like Stronghold 3 which allows you to catapult cows at your opponents, to Jagged Alliance 2 Reloaded which brings back the classic Jagged Alliance, you’ll have your hands and index fingers full. There’s also a lot of strategy invading the indie games space, and at Indiecade last weekend we checked out 1066: The Game, which puts medieval combat (and taunting) in your browsers for free, and the extremely fun and addictive Castle Vox, which takes you through different eras of military conflicts. Looks like Axis & Allies, without all the actual plastic bits, and plays like Risk. Download their demo and try it out for yourself.


For more Future of… Content, check out: Shooters | Action/Adventure | Platformers | FightersRPGs
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Dawn of War II: Retribution shows off Eldar campaign

Posted on September 29, 2010

The new single player campaign for the next expansion to Dawn of War II, Retribution, will let you play as multiple races, including the Eldar. THQ have released a trailer showing the futuristic space elves slashing and blasting their way through a host of chaos. The trailer below includes twelve foot tall Wraithlords crushing chaos warriors with giant swords, and bucketloads of vomit.

If there’s one thing that this trailer can teach us, it’s that self destructing Greater Daemons of Corruption always have the last laugh. Retribution is due out early 2011 and will add new multiplayer units and a new race.

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