2006 was kind of a different year for pc gaming, mainly because of the hyped up release of the PS3 and Nintendo’s Wii, plus the fact that Microsoft’s Xbox 360 was making a strong stride after its release at the end of last year. Although there were quite a few pc game releases in 2006, much the same as any year, choosing the top ten was quite a bit harder in the sense of only finding the tenth choice. Most of the top ten is comprised of sure-fire selections while there were a few that really had to be thought about to be picked others. Remember, this is only my top, not based upon sales of games, or other top ten lists across other gaming sites such as Gamespot, Gamespy, or IGN. As with any of my top ten lists to date, the order in which their given has no meaning. Hope you enjoy!
Neverwinter Nights 2 - Following the success of Bioware’s prequel and expansions, Obsidian Entertainment decided to try their hands in this new installment. Improving on every aspect from the first, NWN 2 has a deep enriching storyline, decent enough graphics for today’s standards, and a great soundtrack that will give any player hours upon hours of enjoyment no matter how many times they play through it. With the selection of the races, classes, and feats within the game, the replay value through character creation alone is quite amazing. Not to mention the fact that also like its prequel, NWN 2 gives players the ability to create their own modules and adventures for their friends to play. Most of the big time mod makers from the first installment have already divulged plans for some pretty epic modules already. And add the fact that you’re still able to have a live DM preside over his own adventure in the game, and this game could be the pc game that takes over your weekly Dungeons and Dragons tabletop get together.
Company of Heroes - Coming out of nowhere is Company of Heroes, a very strategic real-time strategy games that puts the strategy back in RTS. Giving the player a deeper feel for the action that they’re involved in, Relic delivers a masterpiece in pretty much all respects of the game including some stunning visuals, amazing sound, and a deep enough storyline to not only keep the player interested, but also keep them invested in their troops. Although there have been quite a few World War II RTS games released in the past few years, Company of Heroes really sets itself apart with its intensity involved in every mission whether you’re trying to rush the enemy or build a strong command center to work your operations out of. Add an engaging multiplayer component where strategy is the key and you have yourself one of the best games of the year. Unlike most RTS games, rushing isn’t always the best course of action, so long time RTS fans will have to hone their skills and think of a new strategic way to accomplish their goal of taking out their enemies.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion – Bethesda’s newest installment in the Elder Scrolls was a sure fire hit with long time fans and also newcomers to the series. With its amazing graphics, interesting story, radically changed artificial intelligence, and a great soundtrack from longtime musician Jeremy Soule, Oblivion practically succeeds in every department. Letting the player live another life in the fantasy world of the Elder Scrolls, whether they want to be a mage, warrior, thief, or something from their own concoction, Bethesda lets the player do just that. With a graphics engine that succeeds in everything it’s meant to do, players are placed into a whole other world to complete loads of side-quests along with a deep main storyline that will keep them engaged along the hours and hours of game time you’ll get from this game. Players are also given the ability to make their own mods for the game and players have done just that with creating their own quests, weapons, and improved graphics since the release of the game back in the first quarter of the year. With everything that’s in Oblivion, players can only dream what Bethesda has in store for their next release in the Elder Scrolls series.
1701 A.D. – Coming out at the end of the year, this game has sparked quite a bit of interest from gamers across different genres. Following along the same lines as the two previous installments of 1503 and 1602 A.D., Related Designs brings players to the Caribbean-like environment to start a colony and complete different objectives throughout different scenarios and such. Featuring some of the greatest graphics for its genre, 1701 A.D. shines when zooming in to look at your population from any angle. The soundtrack is also quite nice and will keep you interested as you build your settlement into a large scale city consisting of settlers, citizens, and aristocrats. This time around, Related designs didn’t give the game’s missions an overall storyline that connects everything together, but the scenarios follow each other quite nicely and having the ability to start from scratch and continuously play for however long you want is always something well liked from any players. Coming from a small time developer in German, most people might overlook this for just a small upgrade from the previous installments, but be warned, you’ll be missing out if you do.
Titan Quest – Coming from new developers Iron Lore, comprised of developers from other long time game companies, Titan Quest takes the players through a long intriguing story across the ancient world consisting of locals like Greece, Eqypt, and China as they try to smother the uprising of the Titans recently released from their prisons below. With great visuals and some great level design differentiating the different areas of the world, Iron Lore put their best foot forward with their first release. Featuring some great music to accompany you along your historical journey, players will be happy with their many hours of game time they’ll spend traveling through the ancient locales battling mythical beasts like minotaurs, centaurs, Cyclops, and chimeras. Lovers of mythology and action role-playing games, no to mention all those Diablo fans waiting for Blizzard’s next installment will be pleased with Titan Quest. With some superb and detailed equipment to pick up and great character class customization, not to mention the modding that’s available to players, Titan Quest is one of the best overall games of the year.
Hitman: Blood Money – Eidos latest installment into this creative series where you play as Agent 47 comes alive again. With an updated graphics engine that brings the characters and environments around you to life, and some great music and voice acting, Blood Money is easily the best of the series to date. Giving players the ability to complete the mission objectives in a multitude of way allows for that non-linear freedom that fans of the series have been looking forward to for quite awhile. With loads of weapons to use, not to mention the different costumes that be stolen from npcs throughout the different missions, Blood Money offers an extreme amount of fun and replay value as players try to achieve game goal objectives such as not getting noticed by anyone, not killing any innocent people, and also completing mission objectives on time. An interesting storyline progresses you through the game’s missions, keeping you intrigued in the storyline all the way to the very end where you’ll come across one of the best endings in gaming history. Interested in seeing that? Check the game out.
Medieval 2: Total War – Following the success of the Rome: Total War, M2TW tkaes everything that was great about the first one and simply improves upon it in all respects. Having an immense campaign screen to conquer and wage war through from the perspective of a multitude of countries makes this game’s replay value just skyrocket. Rome was a fun time period, but many were waiting for the release of this game to battle through the Dark Ages to conquer different civilizations and infiltrate their societies through force, politics, or even through espionage. Visuals have been updated from Rome, along with the environments seeming more lifelike with more foliage and buildings throughout the entire field of battle and strategy has never been more important with attacking and waging immense wars against castles, but there’s always using the ability to lay siege to a castle, but who wants to wait right? That’s why they call it Total War. The depth of gameplay is only extended from what Rome was, so you’ll be able to spend quite a bit of time between turns just trying to set up your government just the way you want. It seems like the developers have given all the choices to make, so if anything is wrong with your culture, it’d be your fault.
Lego Star Wars 2: The Original Trilogy – Coming off a fun and successful release of the first installment which chronicled episodes one, two, and three of the Star War Saga, The Original Trilogy follows episodes four, five, and six where you’ll be able to relive the great moments of Han Solo, Luke and Leia Skywalker, and the all hairy Chewbacca. Much like the first game, you’ll start out with the basic characters that appear throughout the storyline from which you’ll be able to unlock other characters to have fun with throughout the game’s trilogy plotline. If you loved the original game, you’ll really enjoy The Original Trilogy because it’s more of the same fun, but you’ll be loving the trilogy that older fans grew up with and that more fans actually liked overall. Of course, much like the prequel, playing through the game multiple times is a necessity if you want to unlock everything, but don’t worry, playing through the game multiply times is quite fun because of the ability to play as any of your unlocked characters if you choose the right play mode. Although this game may not seem like a top contender for the top ten list, it easily achieves the fun factor and the replay value that everyone looks for, but it also capitalizes of the greatness of the prequel and goes one step further in both fun, content, and overall gameplay.
Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords – Making a massive space strategy turn-based strategy game can be quite difficult, but it seems like Stardock knows everything there is to know about the space strategy genre. In this game, you have the ability to either pick from a host of races, or customize your own, and then go on from there to build an empire, either through one of the game’s many scenarios/storylines or just go into open gameplay. One awesome feature in this game is the ability for the player to create their own ship with tons of different customizations that actual matter if you care how fast your ship can go, how much cargo it can carry, or how many people it can transport. With a decent graphics engine, and a good soundtrack to keep you awake through the hours and hours of gameplay, Dread Lords is a worthy successor to the prequel. Even if you play through the game a couple times, you probably won’t even touch the depth that can be had in this game, but players don’t be afraid to tackle a turn-based strategy like this, because even for new players to the series, Stardock has made it possible to have a great gameplay experience even if you don’t want to concentrate that much on all of the details.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter – Releasing in the beginning of summer where kids should be starting to get outside and enjoy the weather, Advanced Warfighter upset parents by giving the kids a reason to spend hours inside with this squad-based strategy action first person shooter. Taking place in Mexico City, Mexico, you’re part of an elite task force that comes in to save the life of not only the American President, but the Mexican one as well. When an all-out war erupts in the streets of Mexico City because of a rebel terrorist group wanting to wreck havoc not only Mexico, but the United States as well, you and your squad are sent in to clean everything up and take care of business. There are a multitude of features that are given to the player which they my never use but are good for those times you have a few extra seconds to spare, such as the ability to see through the head cam of your squad mates or through the camera of your mechanical flying helper throughout the different levels. These little touches, along with a host of great weapons, decent level design, and an interesting story, provide the player with a great gameplay experience. Add a decent multiplayer component to the game’s gameplay and you have yourself an overall great game that makes its way in the top ten of 2006.
Some notable entries that nearly made the above list of ten were…
Gothic III – Riding off the cult following of both Gothic I and II, plus the expansion that took forever to translate from German to English, Gothic III puts the player in an extremely large streaming world that will never make you watch a loading screen after load up. Piranha Bytes took everything great about the previous two installments and threw it into Gothic III, but there are drawbacks that take away from the greatness of this game, taking it off the top ten and those drawbacks basically have to do with the general performance of the game. The games was released in the United States a month after its initial release in Germany, but the U.S. got patches already included, but they weren’t enough. Not only are there bugs that hinder the performance of the game, but also bugs that hinder the completion of some quests. If you’re able to look past some of the bugs, turn down some graphic options and make some small adjustments to the .ini file, you’ll be in for a great experience and you’ll be safe in the fact that Piranha Bytes are working on updates and patches to perfect their huge endeavor in their third installment.
Flatout 2 – Coming off the popular prequel that gave another look at offroad and street racing, Flatout 2 comes back to give the player everything they could want in an all out fun racing game where wreaking is racing. Having a multitude of vehicles to pick from, a ton of options buyable to upgrade your vehicles, and a lot of great tracks to race through gives this game a lot of gameplay value in general. The graphics have definitely been updated since the first release and the soundtrack has also been updated with more noticeable musicians such as Nickelback, Rob Zombie, and Megadeth to name a few. With totally destructible environments to race through, destructible cars to wreak up, and a large variety of different games to play such as bowling, and the ski jump with your driver as you try to fling him as far as you can, Flatout 2 can provide a ton of laughs with you and your friends online. One of the main drawbacks that hinder this game much like the first one are the lack of difference in the races throughout the game. You’ll find yourself going through the same track a lot just to complete different goals within the game.
Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends – From Big Huge Games, Rise of Legends gives a fantasy edge to the Rise of Nations series with three distinct and unique cultures to play through and to play as when progressing through the single player campaign. Having a great storyline and some extremely artistic environment and troop design to match, Rise of Legends is a different branch off your regular RTS tree. With an engrossing soundtrack that only complements the overall game and some different style of multiplayer power gaming, Rise of Legends throws a couple new things into the mix in the real-time strategy genre. I can’t compliment this game enough for the artistic designs of everything in the game, with the different types of troops of the three different cultures, but also the different environments that you’ll travel through throughout your travels across this great game.
The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle-Earth 2 – Much like its predecessor in design, LOTR:BFME2 gives the player the side of the War of the Ring not experienced in the movies. A closer look at the different civilizations and races not described in the movies, but detailed more throughout the original books. Giving the player a decent storyline with graphics that have been given a little bit of an update, the developers took a little more time with the sequel to give the player a bigger game with a better strategic map layout when completing their goals. With more freedom for creativity to work with when not having to deal with Frodo and his friends, EA Games did a decent job in giving the player a more unique game that’s fun.
Star Wars: Empire at War – The last real-time strategy game set in the Star War universe was Galactic Battlegrounds and I remember putting in quite a few hours with my friend taking out as many wookies as we could, but does this new RTS game live up to the greatness in GB? In some ways it does, and others it doesn’t. The developers built a great engine for the game and with it, they created some awesome space fighting between you and your friends, or by yourself when dealing with the single player campaign. And the campaign can be quite fun whether you’re playing the Light or Dark side. While the space battles are great, the land battles lack depth and strategy and you might find yourself doing more in space for the amount of fun to be had. I’m not saying that land battles are terrible, just not as good as most real-time strategy games that you could compare Empire at War to. There is a great feature known as cinematic camera where you push a button and the camera follows the battle around just like it would in a movie. A fun game to be played if you’re a Star Wars buff or if you want a different style of real-time strategy following a decent storyline.
Top Ten PC Game Expansions of 2006
Age of Empires III: The Warchiefs
Fear: Extraction Point
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - The Knights of the Nine
Star Wars: Empires at War: Forces of Corruption
Civilization IV: Warlords
Guild Wars: Factions
Guild Wars: Nightfall
Half-Life 2: Episode One
The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle-Earth 2- The Rise of the Witch-King
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War - Dark Crusade