2009 is starting and the first official week of of the year ends today, so here's a short-list of some of the PC games scheduled for a 2009 release to which I'm most looking forward. Again, this short-list (note: it's not even a "list," it's a "short-list") is NOT supposed to be all-inclusive. If I don't include your favorite game in this post, it's not because I'm biased or hate that particular game, it's because your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries.
Here's the shortlist in no particular order:
This one is a pretty obvious addition to nearly any short-list of promising PC games for this year. The Total War series is known for its epic, era-spanning strategy based on various contentious periods in actual world history, such as the conquest of Rome, the unification of the Holy Roman Empire, and feudal Japan. However, the Total War series has often focused on historical wars between massive world superpowers, while Empire will include new campaigns based on the war between the royal armies of England and 13 scrappy, underdog colonies that came to be known as the United States of America. It's also going to have some of the best-looking real-time naval combat I've ever seen in a game on any platform, and the naval battles seem pretty satisfying so far, at least in my short time with them. The new Colonial America setting also gives the Total War development team a chance to play with new economic options, such as commodity trading (tobacco, sugar, and so on) and fur trading, as well as with new government options, some starring such American luminaries as Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock, as well as new land army types and new military officers, such as the steady veteran general George Washington. Empire looks like it could provide lots of really cool new content for Total War fans to sink their [collective] teeth into, and hopefully, it will.
Dragon Age: Origins
Projected Release Date: March 2009
Recent Preview Coverage: Interview on the Characters of Dragon Age: Origins
This may or may not be news to you, but the developer we know as BioWare started off making hardcore nerd role-playing games for the PC, and a few years later, the studio created some obscure outer-space game about aliens nobody has ever heard of. Then, from what I can tell, it decided the key to success would be to make outer-space games that went further and further into outer space each time. In 2009, BioWare finally seems ready to return to its roots with Dragon Age: Origins, which will be a fantasy RPG, minus the Dungeons & Dragons license used for the Baldur's Gate series, and minus the setting-free D20 ruleset used for Knights of the Old Republic. I first saw Dragon Age at the 2004 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) event and was excited by the prospect of BioWare returning to its fantasy RPG roots. Then about four years passed, and I saw the game again. Even though the developer seems to be putting a lot of emphasis on the new game's story, I'm personally hoping for another Baldur's Gate II-style hack-and-slash odyssey. Since it seems doubtful we'll ever get another Baldur's Gate game, I'm hoping Dragon Age: Origins ends up being the next best thing. (And yes, the game will eventually come to consoles as well, but it's debuting first on the PC.)
This is another obvious addition to add to the wishlist of most any PC game player (and if you don't happen to be a Sims 2 player, it's OK, there are more than 5 million other people out there who are). One of the most intriguing aspects of The Sims series is how it lends itself to be played in a bunch of different ways. It's either a quirky role-playing-game-like experience where you try to build up one individual "sim" (those funny little computer people who talk in gibberish); or a strategy game where you try to manage a group of sims and all their little needs and wants; or a hands-off ant-farm-like experience where you simply sit back and watch whatever zany hijinks these little computer people with differing little personalities get into (if any); or an out-of-game design exercise where you play as an interior decorator, laying out an outdoor "lot" area like a restaurant or a bowling alley, or designing the interior of a tricked-out home, usually with the help of the free money cheat code. Or it's some combination of them all, since, if you ever get bored of any one of these aspects, you can immediately switch to focus in on another. It sounds like The Sims 3 may not be as open-ended for home designers who want to do nothing but build, build, build, since the game will ship with only one town (not multiple towns to build up and tear down, like in the Sims 2, but the town itself is said to be enormous), and hopefully future expansion packs (another hallmark of The Sims series) will remedy this. The Sims 3 will also have streamlined "motive" needs (no more having to worry about whether the room you're standing in is pleasing enough to the eye), an enhanced life goal system with short-term "wish" quests, and longer career paths that even include moral choices. I haven't asked about this specifically, but my gut tells me you'll also still be able to have two little sims make "Woohoo." For those who aren't familiar with the term, but think they know what it might mean...it means exactly what you think it means.
Dawn of War II is one of the most promising strategy games of the new year, if not the most promising. If you're not familiar with the Warhammer 40,000 universe, here's a quick primer: It takes place a zillion years in the future, where squadrons of supercharged human Space Marines in gigantic suits of power armor go out and fight pretty much everybody else in the universe, which includes a bunch of different alien races like the Orks (yes, that's how it's spelled), techno-elf Eldar, insect-like Tyranids, and plenty of other races that are all basically a different shade of murderous crazy, and pretty much all hate each other. Because the Space Marines are genetically engineered for battle and fanatically devoted to fighting wars in the name of their crippled, god-like emperor, they actually win a good number of their battles, even against impossible odds...and this is, incidentally, the foundation of Dawn of War II's single-player game. I've had a chance to try out the single-player campaign and from what little time I've spent, it seems like it has every chance of turning out to be the kind of addictive, easy-access, hack-and-slash experience that the development team seems to be shooting for, and should hopefully bring in a lot of new players to the world of real-time strategy. I haven't had a chance to try out the multiplayer personally, but from the sound of it, it's much closer to a more-traditional real-time strategy experience, just highly streamlined (there aren't a bunch of different base structures to build) to minimize building and maximize combat. It's unfortunate that Dawn of War II will apparently ship with "only" four playable races (Space Marines, Orks, Tyranids, and Eldar)...which is actually a pretty substantial number on its own, but fewer than what the original Dawn of War and its expansion packs eventually offered in total (such as the Necron, the Imperial Guard, and Chaos). Even though lunch breaks don't actually exist in my world, Dawn of War II's quickie campaign mission structure should still come in handy for my schedule, and hopefully the multiplayer turns out well, too.
Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty and Diablo III
Projected release dates: 2009, maybe.
Genres: Strategy, Real-Time and Role-Playing, Action, respectively
Recent Preview Coverage: Starcraft II Hands-On Impressions and Blizzcon 2008 Diablo III Hands-On Impressions
Yeah, duh. I know. Not much to say except that these two games are probably the most no-brainer of the no-brainer additions to whatever list of upcoming games that every PC game player out there is keeping tabs on. Also, that last sentence was probably the ugliest sentence I've ever written in my entire life. Maybe there is one other thing to say: Hopefully one or both of these games actually does, in fact, get released this year. We'll see.
That's the short-list so far. Again, this isn't supposed to be a comprehensive list that has every single 2009 PC game on it, just some of (but not all of, I admit) the more interesting ones I think should be on your radar. One other thing: I purposely haven't included Star Wars: The Old Republic, BioWare's massively multiplayer game based on KOTOR, but only because this game's release date appears to be even more uncertain than the Blizzard games.
Did I miss any? (Just kidding, of course I did.) Let me know with a comment. And if you're upset that I didn't include your favorite game on this short-list...again, don't blame me, blame your heritage.