The best PC games of 2013

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STRATEGY

Total War: Rome 2


Publisher: Sega
Release: September 3
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Total War games have been consistently providing astonishing, epic-scale battles for over a decade, and to many, the original Rome: Total War was the pinnacle of the series. Now series' commanders Creative Assembly are returning, bringing with them everything they've learned from the likes of Shogun 2 and Napoleon: Total War. There'll be revamped naval combat (with ships able to interact with land battles), and, well, war elephants. Check our Total War: Rome 2 review to learn more.

Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm


Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Release: March 12
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Heart of the Swarm has been in beta for months now, so we've had plenty of time to hop on and try out the changes to StarCraft 2's multiplayer ourselves. The current thinking? Not much has changed, as each proposed new unit has found itself excised for upsetting the game's delicate balance. But! The singleplayer campaign remains something of an unknown. Will it be a tender romance between two lovestruck zerg larvae? One can hope - and we'll find out early next year.

Well, we found out - and thankfully, Heart of the Swarm was pretty damned great, as you'll discover if you read our review.

Command & Conquer


Publisher: EA
Release: Late 2013
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Command & Conquer has struggled to find its place in today's gaming landscape, but there's some hope this new multiplayer-only effort might reverse the trend. Developed by a new studio established under the BioWare name and led by Jon Van Caneghem, the creator of Might & Magic, it'll return to the Generals spin-off universe. That means modern military instead of distant future, traditional terrorists instead of aliens, and no Kane. Also, it'll be free-to-play, which either means it'll be the most popular game ever made, or simply really annoying.

Company Of Heroes 2


Publisher: THQ
Release: June 25
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Company Of Heroes 2 puts players in charge of the Soviet army, battling both the invading German forces and the bitter Russian winter. Despite the change in setting, it's remaining true to what made the first game great: tight, tactical battles, with an emphasis on using the environment to flank and overcome your bitter enemies. Is there a barn in your way? Burn it down. Have a tank behind a wall? Smash it through. See a frozen lake? Trudge dangerously across, or break it apart with grenades it to prevent your enemies from passing.

With THQ's rather public financial woes doing the rounds, Company Of Heroes 2 could be a more important release for the publisher than anyone would have imagined back when it was announced. Their coffers may be helped by a multiplayer component with microtransaction, employing what Relic learned from the short-lived Company of Heroes Online.

Company of Heroes 2 eventually saw release courtesy of new publishers Sega - here's what we thought of the frosty WW2 sequel.

Europa Universalis 4


Publisher: Paradox Development Studio
Release: August 13
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Taking place in a time of muskets, pikes and natty helmets, Europa Universalis 4 brings grand strategy ideals to the fore: nation building, diplomacy, war and exploration. Given strategy gamer's long-lasting love for EU3 and its many mods and expansions, expect EU4 to have a similarly long tail, and a similarly expansive scale.

Indeed it does, as revealed in our review of this particularly grand grand strategy game.

End of Nations


Publisher:Trion Worlds
Release:TBC 2013
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Developed by Petroglyph, who were founded by former Command and Conquer developers. Published by Rift, who brought considerable tech and online expertise to their MMO, Rift. End of Nations combines the two company's disciplines: a massively multiplayer real-time strategy game, set in a near-future world where three factions are vying for total control of earth and its resources. With up to 64 players on any particular map, each directing an army of dozens of units, you'll work together to capture territory from enemy factions and conquer a global campaign map.

Scrolls


Publisher: Mojang
Release: TBC 2013
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Scrolls is a collectible card game set in a traditional fantasy world, of which there are many. What sets it apart from the likes of Magic: The Gathering is its 3D battlefield, which impacts the effectiveness of your cards. It's a card game that could only ever exist digitally. Right now it's available in its early alpha stages, and can only be played against other human opponents. By the time it's finished - sometime in late 2013, we reckon - there'll be a full overworld, where you'll be able to fight the computer and conquer territory. Oh, and it's made by Mojang, the Swedish developer founded on a base of Minecraft's millions. For that alone, it's worth keeping an eye on.

Impire


Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Release: February 14
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Peter Molyneux picked Populous for his first nostalgic Kickstarter campaign, leaving Dungeon Keeper fans to look elsewhere for their devilish strategy games. Thankfully they don't have to look far, with Impire more than happy to pick up the mantle. As in its admitted inspiration, you tend to your underground dungeon, recruit and train up minions, and generally make a nuisance of yourself to the heroes of the world. It's being published by Paradox, who have a good line in compact, throwback strategy. (See also: 2012's A Game of Dwarves).

Read our review for our verdict on this adorably diminutive strategy game.

Medieval Mayor


Publisher: Tilted Mill Entertainment
Release: TBC 2013
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From the developers of Caesar 4, Children Of The Nile, SimCity Societies and Pharaoh, Medieval Mayor puts you in charge of a medieval city. From placing the buildings to hiring the local executioner to perhaps implementing the old world equivalent of Boris Bikes, it's a simple enough idea presented by a developer with at least some pedigree.

Eador: Masters Of The Broken World


Publisher: Snowblind Studios
Release: April 19
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Hexes and fantasy and turn-based strategy are common bedfellows, but Eador: Masters Of The Broken World introduces a karma system to mix things up a bit. As the developers say - you are the leader of a people, and your choices will have an effect on the world and its people. Beyond just making them all slaughter each other, that is.

Omerta: City Of Gangsters


Publisher: Kalypso Media
Release: February 5
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For ten years now Tropico has developed its own small niche, delivering light-hearted strategy japes as the leader of a banana republic. From the same folks, Omerta: City of Gangers may do the same thing for 1920s organised crime. A management game of criminal empire building and turn-based fighting, it's a nice change from more traditional strategy settings.

Read our review to find out if Omerta makes you an offer you can't refuse.

Expeditions: Conquistador


Publisher: Logic Artists
Release: May 30
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A successful Kickstarter campaign has helped launch the expedition of this strategy/RPG, in which players take on the role of a Spanish explorer in the 1500s. Featuring actual topological maps of regions in South America, you're looking at exploration, conversation, management and strategic combat. And brilliant conquistador helmets.

Divinity: Dragon Commander


Publisher: Larian Studios
Release: August 6
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How to improve dragons: strap time-slowing jetpacks to them. From the developers of trad-fantasy hack-and-slasher Divinity, Dragon Commander is a mad and brilliant sounding spin-off. As the captain of a fleet of armoured dirigibles, you form your armies (and find a wife) via Mass Effect-style conversations, then switch to a combination of real-time dragon action and mid-battle turn-based strategy to win sky battles.

Dragon Commander's disparate elements mesh surprisingly well, as explained in our divine review.

Prime World


Publisher: Nival
Release: TBC 2013
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The minds behind Heroes of Might & Magic 5, Blitzkrieg, and Etherlords come together to make this online strategy title, trying to appeal to the MOBA crowd. They even have a page on their site explaining why you'll love it if you're a Dota 2 or League of Legends player, which is a bold tactic.

Godus


Publisher: 22 Cans
Release: 2013
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Peter Molyneux and his team at 22 Cans want to rebirth the god game genre. I have no problem with that, what with Molyneux and chums practically inventing it in the first place. With the shackles of big publishing houses removed, this could well be 22 Cans' magnum opus. Or it could be a confused mess of ambition over coherent design.

Chaos Reborn


Publisher: Julian Gollop
Release: TBC 2013
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Chaos is one of the best - and earliest - turn-based strategy games of all time, designed by Julian Gollop in the years before he created his most famous game, X-Com: UFO Defense. Having since lost the rights to both XCOM and Laser Squad, he's now making a sequel to Chaos. It's very early along in the development process, as you can probably see from the screen, but Gollop's recent handheld work proves he hasn't lost his touch.

Maia


Publisher: Machine Studios
Release: TBC 2013
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Maia just barely scraped its way to crowdfunding success in late 2012, but it should have had a far easier time. A procedurally-generated strategy game that combines throwback elements from Dungeon Keeper with forward-leaning ideas from Dwarf Fortress, it sounds great in theory and looks great in screenshots. One to watch.

We made first contact with Maia back in 2012, before returning to check up on our colony earlier this year.

The Banner Saga: Factions


Publisher: Stoic Studio
Release: TBC 2013
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An absolutely gorgeous turn-based strategy-cum-RPG title featuring everybody's favourite pillagers, the Vikings. The Banner Saga: Factions stands out with its very pretty hand-animated art style.

Head here to read our Banner Saga review.

March Of The Eagles


Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Release: February 19
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The above screen may make it look like a bunch of bored-looking men in pyjamas standing on an oversized floating model of Europe (probably in order to tell you the weather), but March Of The Eagles is actually a deep strategy title taking in the era of the Napoleonic Wars. With a slight chance of rain.

Plants Vs Zombies 2


Publisher: EA
Release: TBC 2013
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We know next to nothing about it - hence the screenshot above being from the first game - but there's a good bet that it'll contain zombies, plants and their never-ending war. This is also PopCap's first big game since being bought by EA and laying off a chunk of their staff early in 2012. Amongst those lay-offs? Original Plants vs. Zombies creator George Fan.

Legends Of War: Patton's Campaign


Publisher: PQube
Release: TBC 2013
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If you've ever wanted to be General Patton, or if you're a fan of high level strategy and turn-based combat, then Legends Of War: Patton's Campaign could be the game for you. No word yet on whether there'll there be a 'rousing speech' mini-game.

Dreadline


Publisher: Eerie Canal
Release: 2013
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Not only does Dreadline have an interesting concept - real-time strategy that sees players (as monsters) killing people off just before they would die in otherwise calamitous real life events - but it has a team with credits like SWAT 4, Bioshock, System Shock 2, Freedom Force, Titan Quest and Rock Band behind it.

Wargame: AirLand Battle


Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Release: May 29
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Continuing the theme of Cold War-based wargames, Wargame: Airland Battle is an RTS set around a series of 'what if' skirmishes - as in 'what if the world had been that dumb and actually broken out into all-out war in that period?' It's also developed by Eugen, they of the excellent and overlooked poker-style strategy game RUSE and last year's just-as-excellent and even-more-overlooked Wargame: European Escalation.

Starlight Inception


Publisher: Escape Hatch Entertainment
Release: Late 2013
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Starlight Inception is pegged as "the rebellious stepchild of Wing Commander, X-Wing and Freespace 2". That sounds like a dream game, and references enough beloved memories that the game reached its funding target during a recent Kickstarter campaign. Some skepticism is warranted, though: its developers are unproven, we've seen nothing more than concept art so far, and creating vast space games is hard, content-intensive work.

Northstar


Publisher: Kerberos Productions
Release: TBC 2013
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Only last year it seemed like everyone was jonesing for an Elite-alike - this year there are almost too many to choose from, thanks to Kickstarter’s nostalgia-fuelled boom. But while most are thrashing around wildly to gain the public’s attention, Kerberos have opted to drop space-trading game Northstar off the radar entirely. It’d be easy to write the game off entirely were it not for the creators’ development pedigree with Sword Of The Stars.

Planetary Annihilation


Publisher: Uber Entertainment
Release: TBC 2013
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Another dream project funded via Kickstarter. Planetary Annihilation is about massive real-time battles spread across entire planets, in which its even possible to build rockets on a moon and use it as a projectile missile against your planet-bound enemies.

While it sounds too good to be true, the game has established developers behind it. Jon Mavor was a programmer on Total Annihilation and Supreme Commander, and has an artillery unit named after him in the latter. He founded PA developer's Uber Entertainment and they made the underrated Monday Night Combat. Now, he's returning to his roots with Planetary Annihilation. It's a throwback to the games that made Mavor's name, but also unlike anything you've ever seen. It was crowdfunded to the tune of $2.2 million, and is one of PC Gamer's most anticipated games of 2013.

X Rebirth


Publisher: Deep Silver
Release: November 15
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The X series has often proved a difficult proposition even for committed fans of space-trading games. With this reboot, Egosoft is hoping to make it easier for newcomers while not compromising its hardcore following.

Drifter


Publisher: Celsius Game Studios
Release: 2013
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An original creation backed by a successful Kickstarter campaign, Drifter is another space-trading game looking to take on Elite. A galaxy 100,000 light years across and 10,000 stars means there'll be a fair bit of exploring and adventuring to do - but can a single-man dev studio take on the big budget Elite-alikes?

Defense Grid 2


Publisher: Hidden Path Entertainment
Release: TBC 2013
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Everyone who played the original Defense Grid loved it, pretty much, because it was a fantastic, fun and funny tower defence game. This Kickstarter-funded sequel looks like it will end up being more of the same, but with added bells and whistles. That's might not a bad thing.

Kinetic Void


Publisher: Badland Studio
Release: 2013
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Freedom, openness, the ability to choose: it's all I really want from my space-faring Elite-alikes. So with a procedurally generated universe, customisable ships and the ability to forge your own path, I'd say Kinetic Void is making all the right noises. Plus it asked for 20 times less than Elite: Dangerous did. Thrifty.

Clockwork Empires


Publisher: Gaslamp Games
Release: TBC 2013
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Dwarf Fortress meets SimCity in a Lovecraftian steampunk world from the creator's of Dungeons of Dredmor. It's absurdly ambitious, but we're happy they're trying.

War Of Nations


Publisher: Chris_Entropy
Release: January
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An ambitious turn-based strategy title from a one-man developer, War Of Nations also takes gold for having the least inspiring name of all time. Still, it has AI opponents, multiplayer, management elements and most of the other things you'd expect from a bigger, commercial release.

Xenonauts


Publisher: Goldhawk Interactive
Release: Late 2013
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Oh, Xenonauts, I still love you. It's just the romance has worn off a bit. Back when you were announced, we both lived in a world where the only XCOM remake in development was a first-person shooter, and the idea of a turn-based strategy game about defending the earth against alien invaders was a novelty. Now it's something I've become used to. But I do still love you. I do still want you. I do still care.

Castle Story


Publisher: Sauropod Studio
Release: TBC 2013
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The three-man team at Sauropod Studio asked for a modest $80k to make Castle Story - a Minecraft-inspired strategic game in which players build and defend their own castle from enemy attacks. They got over $700,000. Seems a fair few people are interested in this idea.

Folk Tale


Publisher: Games Foundry
Release: TBC 2013
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Fantasy city-building with adventure and questing elements in a world of goblins, blacksmiths and cows. Folk Tale has some interesting ideas and a sense of humour.

Skyward Collapse


Publisher: Arcen Games
Release: May 23
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Skyward Collapse, from the ever-interesting Arcen Games, is a god game with a twist: rather than trying to impose your immortality on a bunch of puny humans, you're simply trying to maintain the status quo. Influencing two warring nations rather than your typical one, your goal is to maintain the balance of power, without tipping it too heavily to one side. It's a fascinating approach, adding a bit of Jenga-like tension to this whole deity business.

Sanctum 2


Publisher: Coffee Stain Studios
Release: May 15
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After fusing the tower defence game with the FPS with the original Sanctum, Coffee Stain wisely stuck with the formula for their embiggened sequel, rather than chucking in a text adventure or anything mad like that. New features include four character classes, new customisation options and even an in-game visual novel, which – dammit, they added that third genre after all.

Age of Empires II: HD Edition


Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Release: April 9
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'HD Edition' is a curious term when it comes to the PC, and it's one that here means 'you can play it at a higher resolution'. £15 might be a tough sell for a 14-year-old game given a light buffing and Steam Workshop support, but if you've never played Ensemble Studios' defining real-time strategy title, consider this your way in.

Brutal Legend


Publisher: Double Fine
Release: February 26
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Double Fine's heavy metal-obsessed strategy/action game took its sweet time arriving on PC – in the meantime its star Jack Black has been withdrawn from the spotlight, and all actual music has been replaced by siren-addled dubstep. Nevertheless, there was much to enjoy about this ode to classic heavy metal album covers, which turns out to be much more of an RTS than you may have thought.

Skulls of the Shogun


Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Release: January 30
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It took a while for it to escape from the confines of its Microsoft/Windows 8 exclusivity agreement, but when Skulls of the Shogun finally climbed over that particular walled garden it was revealed to be one of the most novel, witty turn-based tactics games of recent years. The Bone-A-Fide edition of the skull-gobbling undead samurai title added a bunch of new levels, among other stuff, to make up for the delay.

XCOM: Enemy Within


Publisher: 2K Games
Release: November 15
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This very orange expansion adds mechs, bio-augmentation and more to the excellent Enemy Unknown, giving you the power to genetically alter your soldiers, in order to turn them into far more effective killing machines. For instance, you can 'enhance' your troops with the processed flesh of aliens, while jumping into mech suits will require drilling your poor teammates full of holes.

We recently went hands-on with Enemy Within here, before going back for more a couple of weeks later.

Civilization V: Brave New World


Publisher: 2K Games
Release: July 9
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Brave New World adds a ton of new content to Firaxis' hexy strategy game, including trade routes, tourism and a whopping nine new civilizations. It's the missing ingredient to Civ 5's mostly tasty 4X broth, making huge changes to trade, diplomacy and culture, all with the aim of stealing another few hundred hours of your free time.