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Friday, December 24, 2010

Looking Back at 2010: The Year in PC Games

PC Games seem to be the red-headed step child of the video game world. Some people (like me) love PC games, while others just think they're not of the same caliber as console games. But as it turns out, 2010 had some of the best PC exclusive releases ever, and two tiny Blizzard games set some incredible sales records.
I'm here to break down this year's highs and lows in PC gaming, but before I do I want to make one thing clear: This list is only going to include PC exclusive titles. I know that games like Mass Effect 2, Fallout: New Vegas, and Call of Duty: Black Ops are fantastic and maybe even more fun on the PC (allegedly), but they won't be making an appearance this time around. Now, with that little tidbit out of the way, get ready, crank up your APM, and let's start looking at some games.


Star Trek Online
The year's first big PC exclusive title was an MMO, and a relatively decent one at that. Set in 2409, Star Trek Online allowed trekkies and newcomers to the Star Trek universe a chance to command their own starship as either a Klingon or Federation Captain. While the space fighting in STO was pretty fun, the repetitive missions got the better of it. Overall though, the ability to customize not only your avatar, but your ship and its crew as well was fun.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat is the post apocalyptic sequel to 2007's S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl. In this scary yet suspenseful first person shooter you play as a Stalker named Degtyarev as he uncovers the secrets behind The Zone. The game was able to iron out a lot of the unfortunate bugs that Chernobyl was faced with and, ultimately, was met with success from both fans of the series and FPS lovers alike.


Command and Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight
A reinvention of the beloved series, Command and Conquer 4 thrives on replayability and innovation. Instead of trying to wipe out your opponent's base, this time around the game focuses entirely on holding and capturing bases and nodes instead. The game's single player was also pretty unique as it had two entirely different campaign paths. But, as is true with most RTS titles, the game truly thrived in the multiplayer area and fans of the series generally seemed to like the direction taken with the game.

The Settlers 7: Path to a Kingdom

One of the most difficult RTS titles out this year, Settlers 7 didn't offer very much innovation but it certainly was fun. In order to win, you had to achieve a military, science, or trade victory by using different tactics and units for each path. Along with the single player campaign, Settlers also offered an online multiplayer mode where you could play with or against other players. Aside from being an intense strategy game, Settlers didn't bring much of anything new to the table.
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - Chaos Rising
As the expansion to Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II, Chaos Rising introduced new units to the RTS/RPG hybrid series as well as a brand new race: Chaos Space Marines! Awesome. The best part of the expansion, while a bit buggy, was how when your units were stained with Corruption they got to use some of the most overpowered moves in the game, and that's always fun. Met with generally positive reviews by the diehard Warhammer 40K fans, this expansion was a success.

Age Of Conan: Rise Of The Godslayer
Rise of the Godslayer was a hit expansion for the MMO Age of Conan and was met with favorable reviews. It introduced both new low and high level content within the mythical zone of Khitai, as well as a new race called the Khitans. Fans of the game finally got what they were asking for with this expansion: end game content. But aside from that and a few other new implentations including the alternate advancement system, some fans were generally upset that the new zones were so fantastic while the level 40-79 experience remained exactly the same.

Heroes of Newerth
Based heavily on Warcraft 3's Defense of the Ancients custom map, HoN was the successful continuation of the series and the first game in what's now called the "DotA genre". With gorgeous graphics, hundreds of different items, over 70 different heroes to choose from between the Hellbourne and the Legion, each equip with their own sets of moves, strengths, and weaknesses, fans of DotA couldn't have asked for much more with this strategic title. My favorite hero? Arachna. She's so damn good. Bubbles is pretty fun too, and the things he says are hilarious.

APB: All Points Bulletin
Probably the biggest disappointment in recent MMO history and definitely in PC gaming this year, APB tried to be the MMO equivalent to Grand Theft Auto. Some of the best parts of the game revolved around the customization behind not only your character, but your car, clothing, and music as well. One amazingly innovative thing about APB was how if you sold items in game you could use that money to buy game time, thus alleviating the need to pay actual money for subscription costs. Good for the users, sure, but bad for the company, because as of September the servers shut down due to financial woes. The good news (kind of?) is that APB will be back as APB Reloaded in 2011 thanks to K2 Network as a free to play game. Yay?

StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty 
Voted the winner in our fan favorite Videogame Deathmatch competition, StarCraft 2 is an RTS of epic proportion. While the game did take ten years to make, the polish and craftmanship behind Blizzard's space epic is commendable. The game had a fun campaign and it also added a slew of brand new units and features to the series. Where the game excelled the most however, was with its online multiplayer. Offering various levels of ladder play, as well the ability for anyone to create custom maps, the title thrived on creativity and various strategies. Minus no LAN support (seriously, Blizzard??) and a few balance issues, the title was met with general praise on all fronts.


Elemental: War of Magic
While a promising premise, Elemental: War of Magic fell extremely flat in a year when other RTS games soared above our every expectation. To win in Elemental you had to achieve victory through conquering or allying with opponents or by rebuilding the Forge of the Overlord. The A.I. in the game is, to put it lightly, stupid, and the graphics are bad too. Most of the units look the same, the races are practically identical, and overall the game just feels incomplete. And while an interesting take on the RTS genre, trying to add elements of action amidst building your empire, it was a poorly executed attempt on innovation.

Sid Meier's Civilization 5

One of the best RTS titles to come out this year, Civ5 expanded on its well established gameplay elements in all the right ways. It added exciting new features like city-states to keep fans of the series wanting to come back all over again and again. Truly the epitome of "Just one more turn!" games, Civ5 was all about playing the leader of a civilization and expanding it through military, research, or diplomatic means in order to attain victory. With its countless tutorials, Civ5 welcomed both newcomers and veterans of RTS games to try their skills in either single player or multiplayer. This is the type of game I like to see, because not only is it intensely fun, but it's innovative and expands the genre to fantastic new heights.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent 
Good survival horror games are few and far between lately. Amnesia: The Dark Descent filled this gaping hole with enough terrifying puzzle-filled action to keep you coming back for more. You play as Daniel, a man with no memory of his past, who finds a note he wrote to himself instructing him what to do next. The game kept you on your toes in a couple of ways. First off, you didn't get weapons even though there were gruesome, scary beasts trying to eat you. Second, aside from a health bar you also got a sanity bar. The sanity bar depleted if your character was in darkness for too long, saw too many scary events, or stared at monsters for an extended period of time. As you lost sanity, you began to hallucinate more and more until monsters could find you more easily, forcing an element of strategy between being in darkness and light based on the limited amount of fuel available for your lantern.

Final Fantasy XIV Online
What could have been the start to a new, unique, and beautiful MMO came crashing to the ground with Final Fantasy XIV, the second Final Fantasy MMO by Square Enix. Initially, the game was trying to be so innovative that it honestly took a giant step back for the genre in terms of what current gen MMO players are looking for. With no player economy (aka an auction house), poor quest restrictions, a boring profession system, among a slew of other things, the game truly failed to deliver at release. Recently, the game has been through several patches that have taken measures to fix these problems and the future for the title is finally starting to see a glimmer of hope. One of the biggest disappointments of the year.

Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale

Once in a while a little indie gem of a game comes along that you can't help but fall in love with, and that's exactly what happened with Recettear. In this quirky JRPG title you play the owner of an item shop, and it's your task to stock the store with items in order to pay back your father's debt. You can hire different adventurers to take you through randomly generated dungeons ala Diablo style. You get all the loot and your adventure gets all the levels. It's such an original and cute little title that shouldn't be missed.


LEGO Universe
This game is aimed towards children, but sometimes grown ups just want to have fun too. Probably one of the most graphically innovative MMORPGs ever, LEGO Universe is exactly what you'd expect. In LEGO Universe, when you kill enemies they drop blocks just like every other LEGO video game. This time around, you can use the blocks to build whatever you can possibly imagine, and then other people can marvel at your awesome creations. That's about where the fun factor starts to wear off though. Riddled with bugs and lack of content, I think they're still trying to put this title together.


The Ball
If you loved Portal, and let's face it, everyone loved Portal, then you'll love The Ball. The objective of the game is to roll around a huge ball in order to solve complex puzzles and figure out the mystery behind this ancient round artifact. It doesn't sound that exciting at first, but in later levels your Ball turns into a spike Ball of death used to pulverize a bunch of evil mummies, and well, maybe you can start to see the appeal. The puzzles are fairly in depth, varied, and most of all: fun. It's a shame that games like The Ball, completely innovative and off the map, don't roll around more often.


World of Warcraft: Cataclysm
The third expansion to Blizzard's flagship MMO series gave WoW fans everything they wanted and more. Implementing a new guild advancement system, rated battlegrounds, increasing the level cap to 85, and overhauling all of their classic content, Blizzard definitely had their work cut out for them with Cataclysm. While most of the expansion was a success, new things like archaeology failed to impress in an otherwise fantastic addition to the series. Blizzard may not be the leader when it comes to innovative gameplay, but they know what works, what doesn't, and, for now, World of Warcraft will continue to rule as the king of the MMORPG hill.

Now, I am fully aware, beloved readers, that this list didn't include every single PC title that came out this year. I just tried to include the ones that were more or less the most interesting. So if I forgot your favorite indie Steam game, I'm sorry. But, I figured that even though I didn't include any other games in alpha or beta it would be crazy of me to not include the one PC game that had everyone and their mother talking this year, and that is, of course, Minecraft.

Minecraft, which went into beta only three days ago, already has 2.5 million registered users. Minecraft got so popular this year based on the fact that you could, with enough imagination, create whatever you wanted to in this sandbox style action game. The game has two modes: Beta and classic. Beta, which can be played in single or multiplayer mode, has players mine for their own blocks and use them to create all sorts of weapons and armor as a means to protect themselves against monsters. In Classic mode, players are given unlimited amounts of blocks and can place them anywhere they wish in order to create intricate and mind blowing structures, like the Star Trek Enterprise for instance.
As far as innovation goes, Minecraft certainly takes the cake in 2010. Allowing users of all skills to literally create whatever they want with a simple block and keep them entertained for hours with such a simple concept is commendable. It will be very exciting to see where this title takes us in 2011.
And with that, I think it's safe to say that 2010 was a pretty awesome year for PC exclusive games. Sure there were a few duds here and there, but overall, the amount of passion and creativity seen in some of these titles gives me hope that 2011 will be another great year for the few of us PC lovers out there. Personally, I'm most excited for Diablo 3, Portal 2, Guild Wars 2, and some small Star Wars MMO that might be coming out too. What about you guys? Any PC games you can't wait to play next year?