Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Best Games of 2012 (Part 1)

Time for my annual run-down of the best-looking games that are expected to ship in 2012.  As always these are in no particular order, so no emails about "how could you put game X under game Y".

Getting us up and running...


Developer: 38 Studios / Big Huge Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Expected: 7th February 2012 (NA), 10th February 2012 (EU)

The first game from former pro baseball player Curt Schilling's 38 Studios, Reckoning has been getting a lot of good press recently, as well as putting out some action-packed teaser videos on their site.


Described as "a mix-up between God of War and Skyrim", Reckoning has strong graphics, as well as the involvement of two heavy-hitters in the game's development.  Noted fantasy author R.A. Salvatore is helping to craft the world's lore and story, and Spawn creator Todd McFarlane is assisting with the game's visual style and artwork.


Players are free to specialise in whatever skills they choose, and (for a fee) can have their talents reset by certain world NPCs should they wish to try out something new.  On the face of it this seems like the game that Dragon Age II promised but did not deliver, leaving Bethesda free to show BioWare how it was done with the hugely successful Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim as the breakout RPG of 2011.

A couple of the best trailers for Reckoning are embedded below, and you can of course find more of them and more information on the official site, linked above.



Known initially as Project Mercury at 38 Studios, it was also announced that an MMO was under development which would be set in the same universe as the single-player game that eventually became Reckoning.  For now, this MMO is still known as Project Copernicus and there is next-to-no information about it publicly available.  If Reckoning is a success then no doubt further details about Copernicus will be forthcoming.



Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Expected: 2H 2012

The sequel to 2009's superb Borderlands, Borderlands 2 seeks to amp up the action with four new playable characters (but don't worry if you liked the four from the original game, they will still be appearing in the sequel as NPCs) as well as new locations, better enemy AI and more loot.

So far the two announced playable characters are Salvador "the Gunzerker", a man able to dual-wield any two guns in the game.  Dual rocket launchers?  Dual SMGs?  This is the guy for you.


The second announced character is Maya the Siren.  Her abilities are not yet known, although in the first game Lilith said that she was "one of six" Sirens in the galaxy, and Maya appears to likewise be another of those six.

The final two characters will likely be announced by Gearbox in early 2012, ramping-up to an anticipated release date of mid-to-late 2012.


I was a big fan of the first game and am glad to see Gearbox stepping up and making improvements for the second.  Other details are quite thin on the ground so we'll have to wait until the trade shows start up again in early 2012 for more information, but Borderlands 2 promises to be a game worth watching for in the coming year.




Guild Wars 2

Developer: ArenaNet
Publisher: NCsoft
Expected: "2012"

Promising to be one of, if not the biggest MMORPG launch of 2012, Guild Wars 2 is a sequel to the original Guild Wars released back in 2005.  Whereas the original was more of a proof-of-concept than anything else, in that it had limited appeal but excelled in certain specific areas (namely from a technological standpoint of having only one heavily-instanced server, and no monthly fee), the second game seems to be more traditional MMORPG fare, along with less instancing and still no monthly fee.


Hot off the presses yesterday was the announcement of the eighth and final class, the Mesmer, so hopefully the beta is right around the corner (we may learn more on Wednesday when the Mesmer is "officially" announced).


The fact that Guild Wars 2, like Star Wars: The Old Republic before it, is focusing so much on story, is one of the unique elements to this MMO.  Typically story falls by the wayside when you venture into MMO territory, and you have to go back to single-player games to get storylines of any worth (Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Skyrim, Fallout, etc.).  If TOR and then GW2 can turn this around then perhaps an interesting and well-written story can return to the MMO scene once more.




Dota 2

Developer: Valve Software
Publisher: Valve Software
Expected: "2012"

Dota 2 is a tricky one.  Technically not a direct sequel to DotA (Defense of the Ancients), since that was a player-made mod for Blizzard's Warcraft III, Valve turned around and hired Icefrog, one of the developers who had been working on DotA with updates and bugfixes, and tasked him to make a spiritual successor to the original mod, this time using Valve's Source engine.

The result seems to be an almost total conversion of the original, with added Valve secret sauce like voice communications and enhanced network support thrown into the mix.  DotA has a very enthusiastic fanbase who seem to mostly be on-board with Valve's plans.  Other games which draw heavily from the original DotA, such as Riot's League of Legends and S2's Heroes of Newerth, have seen critical and commercial success (especially the former, with HoN trailing LoL somewhat), so clearly what has now been termed the MOBA genre (multiplayer online battle arena) has potential for growth.

More interesting is the fact that both LoL and HoN are free to play; LoL by design and HoN as a later conversion.  Valve have said previously that they have a free-to-play game in development, so will that turn out to actually be Dota 2?  If not it seems they will have a tough sell to current HoN and LoL players who are already getting a MOBA game for free, although the Valve brand name carries considerable weight still these days, so perhaps it's something they could pull off.

The beta is currently well underway and Valve will likely announce a release date early in the new year.




Diablo III

Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Expected: Q1 2012

Originally planned for 2011's holiday season but pushed back by Blizzard a couple of months ago to early next year, Diablo III has seemingly ascended from being a simple game to an experience.  You either played Diablo and Diablo II / let them rule your life or you didn't, and those were apparently the only two choices.

Freshly revamped for today's top-end graphics cards, Diablo III will be the first game in the series in over ten years (the Diablo II expansion pack Lords of Destruction was released in 2001) and the masses have clearly been waiting with some anticipation, as D3 chatter reaches fever pitch around certain Internet message boards and websites.


Unfortunately, the one thing people recall most often of the original games, alongside their popularity, is the amount of hacks and cheats that were available.  Map hacks, item cloning, duping, as well as a myriad of other exploits, were frequently employed since security in the former games was close to non-existent.  Blizzard's bold yet controversial decision on how to counter that in Diablo III is to require a permanent connection to Blizzard's Battle.net matchmaking service in the background of the game.  This will allow Blizzard to see exactly what you are doing at all times and where and how you are doing it.  In short, cheating will be virtually eliminated overnight.

The downside of this system is requiring you to be online at all times when you may only be playing a single-player game.  Various DRM systems (such as the one used by Ubisoft in Assassin's Creed 2 that I have previously mentioned) have started to require this, but my anger for it is somewhat abated by the fact that you will, of course, require an Internet connection in order to play the game online in the first place.  In fact, the amount of time you actually play Diablo III by yourself will likely be minimal or non-existent, so for me this is a minor issue.  The only big ding that Blizzard have set themselves up for with Diablo III is the fact that there will be an in-game auction house that you will be able to buy items at with real money.  This goes directly to the heart of the "pay-to-win" issue and is the biggest problem that I and many others have with the game.  Whether it will be enough to stop me buying I'm not sure, but I think it represents the first step down a path that I am not sure will be good for gamers, and certainly not good for games.


Either way, there is no denying that the hype for D3 is off the charts, and the game itself is probably only a couple of months away.


That's all for part one of my roundup; stay tuned in the coming days for part two.

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