The best PC games of 2014

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STRATEGY

Welcome to the strategy section, the home of real-time and turn-based takes on conquest. The RTS bounced back in 2013 with StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm, Company of Heroes 2 and Total War: Rome 2, and thanks to Kickstarter, the trend is set to continue. We want nothing more than for Planetary Annihilation to blossom into the epic SupCom sequel strategy fans deserve, but should that fail to pass, we can take comfort in the 64-bit embrace of a new GalCiv. Look out, though, for Prison Architect, Endless Legend and Defence Grid 2 - games built by small teams with huge potential.

Galactic Civilizations 3


Developer: Stardock
Publisher: In-house
Release date: 2014
Link: Galactic Civilizations 3 site

One of the greatest 4X games of all time finally gets a follow-up, and this one comes with a 64-bit OS requirement. Hopefully that extra memory will go towards enhancing GalCiv 2’s extraordinary and slightly scary AI, which operated on a complexity such that you could write books about it, as former PC Gamer writer Tom Francis discovered when he wrote an entire goddamn book about it. Even if Stardock simply bring some extra eye-candy to the complex galactic politics of the second game, that’s reason enough to build some new spacecraft take over the universe again.

Starcraft 2: Legacy of the Void


Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: In-house
Release: 2015
Link:Starcraft 2 site

Do you remember the past? When Blizzard announced they were splitting Starcraft 2 into three games and the internet went ballistic, claiming they were 'gouging' gamers and we should all put off buying SC2 to spite those money-hungry beggars? Then Starcraft 2 came out, was rather good, and all was forgotten. The second and last of the announced expansions, Legacy of the Void, focuses on the Protoss for its single-player campaign, it features Zeratul as its protagonist, and it will of course include additional units - and that's about all that’s known at this point in time. While the story and cinematic sequences are apparently finished, Blizzard have said that the campaign needs more work, so who knows when this belated expansion pack will finally arrive?

Planetary Annihilation


Developer: Uber Entertainment
Publisher: In-house
Release date: TBA
Link:Planetary Annihilation site

A spectacular proof-of-concept trailer secured this RTS a massive Kickstarter windfall, now all Uber Entertainment want to do is make it. The band is made up of some former Supreme Commander developers, and you can see that powerfully in the art style and the concept, which has giant commander robots building robot armies with nano-bots. In Supreme Commander you couldn’t colonise a planet, build a huge cannon and then shoot another planet, however, or attach rocket thrusters to a moon and crash it into the enemy. It’s that ridiculous but brilliant dream that has motivated PA’s thousands of backers. Early builds were released to backers in 2013, and development continues in earnest.

Heroes of the Storm


Developer: Blizzard
Publisher: In-house
Release date: TBA
Link:Heroes of the Storm site

With Dota 2, Valve successfully released a sequel to a mod of Blizzard’s Warcraft, and have since been treading an interesting legal line with its hero design ever since. Both companies have successfully avoided being drawn into a disastrous copyright showdown, and at Blizzcon in 2013, Blizzard finally revealed the revamped vision for their long-awaited lane pusher. Unsurprisingly, it seems very keen to distinguish itself from its rivals. Heroes of the Storm places emphasis on speed and accessibility. Staple DotA technique, last-hitting, is gone, and there will be multiple map layouts with varying objectives. The cast is pulled from all corners of Blizzard’s catalogue, which means you get to be Jim Raynor and shoot Diablo in the face. For those intrigued by that idea, beta signups are now live on the Heroes of the Storm site.

Prison Architect


Developer: Introversion
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: TBC
Link:Official website

When you think about it, it's strange that there haven't been many prison management games up until now. It's like a hotel sim, except every so often one of your guests draws a shiv and starts a fight in the showers. In Prison Architect you have to account for violent inmates, stop the smuggling of illicit materials and, perhaps, rehabilitate and release those that have behaved well, all by sketching out buildings, placing facilities and managing your guards. Prison Architect is now in early access, and has easily some of the most entertaining patch notes of all time. “Prisoners who were on the toilet when they got released would stay on the toilet forever. This is now fixed.” Dark.

Read Andy’s Prison Architect diary.

Kingdom Under Fire 2


Developer: Blueside, Phantagram
Publisher: In-house
Release date: Mid to late 2014
Link:Kingdom Under Fire 2 site

An intriguing hybrid of action RPG and RTS with MMO elements, Kingdom Under Fire 2 lets you fight enemy heroes on large battlefields while simultaneously commanding units. There’s a metagame in which players can form guilds to battle for territory and besiege each others’ strongholds, and there are three factions commanding over a hundred types of unit. It’s been in development since 2008, and is destined for Korean release early in 2014, and wider release later that year. It’s an ambitious project but MMOSITE have reported on some of the difficulties the developing studios have faced so far, which doesn’t bode so well for the finished article.

Door Kickers


Developer: Killhouse Games
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: 2014
Link:Door Kickers site

What did doors ever do to Killhouse Games? Regardless of their hostility towards domicile entry points, you have to admire them for keeping the strategic SWAT simulator genre alive, which has been woefully ignored for too many years. Door Kickers is a little like a real-time Frozen Synapse, Jagged Alliance or, yes, the early SWAT games; if you've grown tired of the lack of complexity in modern tactical combat titles, the game's freeform, choice-riddled missions should do quite nicely.

Worlds of Magic


Developer: Wastelands
Publisher: In-house
Release date: TBA 2014
Link:Worlds of Magic site

Worlds of Magic promises a 3D modern take on the turn-based 4X strategy game, Master of Magic, and has secured $34,000 of funding from Kickstarter backers based on that pitch. Players will explore and expand across procedurally generated terrain across multiple planes of existence, including raw elemental planes that will play host to different monsters. Staying true to Master of Magic, combat will be powered by a D20 OGL system and there will be 12 schools of magic to master. Worlds of Magic has now been Greenlit on Steam, and has released a demo to show off the game’s progress so far.

Strife


Developer: S2 Games
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: TBA
Link:Strife's site

Is there room in the overcrowded MOBA marketplace for another Multiplayer Online Battle Arena? Heroes of Newerth developers S2 Games reckon so, which is why they're developing another one. With Strife they're aiming to provide a friendlier, more social game, which will hopefully develop a far more welcoming community than HoN's often famously prickly players. S2 are calling Strife a “second generation MOBA”, meaning it will be narrative-heavy and community-focused, rewarding collaboration and embedding social systems into the core of the game. It sounds like a step in the right direction for a genre that can be offputting to new players – whether it can hope to compete with the mighty LoL and DOTA 2, however, remains to be seen.

S2's newest MOBA was revealed back in August of last year. We covered the announcement here.

Smite


Developer: Hi-Rez Studios
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: 25th March
Link:Smite site

I may as well repeat the above question: is there room in the overcrowded MOBA marketplace for another Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, one with another conveniently monosyllabic title? Perhaps. Smite ditches heroes for Gods, and lots of them, including deities from all your favourite mythologies and religions and pitting them against one another in a sort of blasphemous battle royale. While it's not officially out until March, you can of course sign up and play the beta right now.

Smite is now in open beta. We were on hand to chronicle the release.

Hearthstone


Developer: Blizzard
Publisher: In-house
Release date: TBA 2014, currently in closed beta
Link:Hearthstone site

There’s a consensus among players in the Hearthstone beta that this online collectible card game from Blizzard will take over the world in 2014. It’s a card duelling game in which two players deploy abilities and creatures from their hands by expending a reserve of mana that grows with each turn. The format is similar to the perennial Magic: The Gathering, but is quicker and, predictably, quite a lot flashier. But what’s a traditional CCG like Magic to do? Ordinary cards made of ordinary paper and ink can’t lift from the table to hammer into enemy monsters. Ordinary players sitting at ordinary tables can't magically set fire to the entire playing surface, as Hearthstone’s spells often do. It’s an addictive and complex CCG infused with the tactile joy of a PopCap game. We’re doomed.

East vs. West: A Hearts of Iron Game


Developer: BL-Logic
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Release: Early 2014
Link:East vs West site

Real-time strategy in the Second World War period has been done to death, so it's always a relief when a game move on to that horrible post-war period of mass paranoia and nuclear tension. Huzzah then for East vs West: A Hearts Of Iron Game, which covers the Cold War period in Paradox's traditional strategic fashion.

Steam Marines


Developer: Worthless Bums
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: 2014
Link:The official site

Roguelikes don't normally give us access to a whole squad – one life is quite enough pressure, thank you very much – so Steam Marines' focus on a team of, er, steampunk marines can seem a little daunting. Luckily you have guns on your side, so you don't have to get too close to the various horrors of this turn-based, spaceship-set game if you still have a few rounds at your disposal. Positioning and teamwork are both key, giving this brutally difficult game a tactical, strategy RPG feel. If you've ever wondered what X-COM or Space Hulk would be like with more roguelike elements, you're going to want to give Steam Marines a second glance.

We first noticed Steam Marines back in 2012. The game, now on Steam Early Access, appears to have come on a fair bit since then.

Xenonauts


Developer: Goldhawk Interactive
Publisher: In-house
Release: TBA 2014
Link:Steam early access

Goldhawk Interactive have spent the last four years working to bring their vision of a spiritual sequel to XCOM into reality, so they must have been knocked for a loop when an actual sequel arrived last year. Nevertheless Xenonauts has a very different approach from new XCOM, slavishly recreating the original game with a minimum of changes, rather than redesigning it wholeheartedly with more modern ideas. They’re currently in early access, but the big question remains unanswered, are the old ones really the best? Or is it time we moved on?

To find out more check out our most recent Xenonauts preview.

Star Lords


Developer: Arkavi Studios
Publisher: Iceberg Interactive
Release: Late 2014
Link:Star Lords site

Galactic Civilizations 3 is a big hope for 4X space game fans, but if that fails to recapture the glory of its predecessors, there’s always Star Lords. Like Gal Civ, you’ll be able to take control of one of the game’s races and expand across the stars, designing and building your own ships and conducting trade and diplomacy where necessary. Combat involves is turn-based and takes place on hex-tiled boards. Star Lords invaded Steam Early access in December ‘13.

Stonehearth


Developer: Radiant Entertainment
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: September
Link:Stonehearth site

Stonehearth is essentially Minecraft for project managers, giving you control over a team of builders and settlers rather than making you do all the hard work for yourself. You'll build, secure resources, expand and defend your settlements – this is starting to sound a lot like Civilization, too. It's a little more zoomed in than that strategy epic, however, offering up a blocky procedurally generated world for you to colonise with similarly blocky people. Mod tools and co-op should extend the life of the game somewhat – we can't wait to see the sort of ambitious projects dedicated players will come up with.

Godus


Developer: 22 Cans
Publisher: In-house
Release date: TBA
Link:Godus

As a god in Godus, you must sculpt the land below you to encourage settlers to lay down towns and blossom into advanced civilisations, in theory at least. Right now, in Godus’ alpha version on Steam Early Access, being a deity is mostly a matter of pointlessly clicking on things. The underwhelming alpha version may yet improve, however, and it’ll be interesting to see if Peter Molyneux can recapture some of the magic of Populus with further development. The alpha release was preceded by Curiosity, a social game in which participants chipped away at blocks in a giant cube for approximately a million years to reach the centre, whereupon the lucky soul who made it became Godus’ god-king. It’s not yet clear how the lucky winner will precisely influence the final product, but as long as his first commandment is “THOU SHALT NO LONGER ENDLESSLY CLICK ON RESOURCE BLOBS” we’ll be happy.

Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf


Developer: HeroCraft
Publisher: In-house
Release date: TBA 2014
Link:Space Wolf site

HeroCraft have a tricky task on their hands. Can they siphon the rage and violence of the 40k universe into a turn based card game? A focus on the barbarous Space Wolves gives them a bit of a head start. Unlike their overused brethren, the Ultramarines, this ferocious chapter is based on a frozen world close to the troublesome Eye of Terror, which puts them in a good place to come into conflict with the forces of Chaos. Combat will unfold on a grid system, and the abilities of your squad will be tied to action cards, so don’t expect a fast-paced brawler.

Super Roman Conquest


Developer: SeaCliff Interactive
Publisher: In-house
Release date: TBA 2014
Link:Super Roman Conquest

The SUPER part of the title invokes the sidescrolling, 16-bit stylings of ye olde SNES games, but this is a strategy game, not a brawler. You guide your Roman troops to battle across 2D planes at multiple depths, crushing barbarian hordes, looting their stuff and using it to build better siege equipment and weaponry. You direct your conquest on a strategic overmap. A charming little strategy game built by ex-Lucasarts vets.

Meridian: New World


Developer: Headup Games
Publisher: In-house
Release date: TBA 2014
Link:Meridian: New World

Hooray, people are still making RTS games! Meridian will be a fairly traditional specimen of the genre, but will come bundled with map and campaign creation tools, and the developers say that they’ll be releasing official maps regularly, post-release. There’ll also be a bit of a metagame on your base ship as you chat to your crew between missions. there “the strategy you use and how many troops you sacrifice to reach your goal will influence the attitude of your crew towards you”.

Chaos Reborn


Developer: Julian Gollop
Publisher:
Release: TBA
Link:J. Gollop’s site.

The ZX Spectrum classic is getting a remake courtesy of its original designer, the man behind X-Com: UFO Defence, Julian Gollop. Wizards face each other across a board and summon monsters to engage in proxy battles on their behalf, lazy wizards! Development is coming along gradually, but in November last year an update popped up announcing level editing tools for players. Gollop is toying with the idea of a free to play release when Chaos Reborn is eventually reborn.

World Zombination


Developer: Prolateriat
Publisher: In-house
Release date: TBA 2014
Link:Proletariat site

Like a horde of undead rotters, the zombie games just keep on coming. This time you can play as humans or the zombies in a strategy game about taking over the world. The humans are on the defensive in this particular war, so their missions will play out like tower defence games, while the zombies rely on huge swarms to turn the remaining warmbloods to their side. There will be a mix of hand-designed and procedurally generated levels to play through when World Zombination hits PC and iOS this year.

Supreme Ruler 1936


Developer: Battlegoat studios
Publisher: Self-published
Release: 2014
Link:Battlegoat studios site

A real-time indie “geo-political” strategy set during World War 2, you can take control of any of the big political players of the era and try to alter the course of history using trade, intimidation and, of course, legions of tanks and chaps armed with guns. The latest in the Supreme Ruler series currently lingers on Steam Early Access while the final bugs are being squashed.

The Castle Doctrine


Developer: Jason Rohrer
Publisher: Self-published
Release: TBA 2014
Link:Castle Doctrine site

As a father and a husband, you must defend your home from invading criminals by creating networks of deadly traps (which can be just as deadly to you, if you’re not careful). You’re on a tight budget, however, and soon you’ll need to leave your house and invade others to steal extra funds to secure your fortress. The neat part? Those homes you’re invading belong to other players, and they’re also tricked out with deadly traps. Once your character dies, they’re gone forever, and you won’t be able to create a new character on that server again - that ought to add plenty of tension to your home invasions.

Rymdkapsel


Developer: Grapefrukt
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: January
Link:Rymdkapsel site

It means 'space capsule' in Swedish, but that doesn't really tell you anything either. Rymdkapsel is a gorgeous, minimalist strategy game where 'real time' thankfully doesn't mean 'rapidly clicking on stuff until your wrist seizes up'. It's a slow-paced and meditative affair, tasking you with building and expanding a flat, multicoloured space station, while protecting your base from those who wish to do it harm. This PC version adds new missions, tunes and game modes.

Check out our Rymdkapsel announcement post for a trailer and more info.

Luftrausers


Developer: Vlambeer
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release Date: Early 2014
Link:Vlambeer's Luftrausers page

Vlambeer's stark arcade shooter Luftrauser is due to receive an expanded sequel this year with the aptly named Luftrausers. It's a 2D dogfighting game, essentially, giving you the ability to customise your own 'rauser' from dozens of planey bits and bobs. Doing so will not only change how your plane handles but also rearrange the game's 'dynamic' soundtrack. After a bit of a delay, Luftrausers is now on track for an early 2014 release; Vlambeer haven't had the best luck recently, so we can only hope that some unscrupulous developer doesn't beat them to the punch with an inferior clone first.

Massive Chalice


Developer: Double Fine
Publisher: In-house
Release: September 2014
Link:Massive Chalice site

Double Fine's other Kickstarted game is a tactical strategy on a historical scale, giving you the opportunity to play as multiple generations of a family – a bit like Saga Frontier 2, obscure JRPG fans. The comparison isn't entirely unwarranted: the team have cited Final Fantasy Tactics and Fire Emblem as inspirations, along with Game of Thrones and XCOM.

Craft The World


Developer: Black Maple Games
Publisher: In-house
Release: TBA 2014
Link:Craft the World Facebook page

If you’ve played Terraria you might look at Craft the World and think “hmmm, that looks a lot like Terraria”, and you’d be right. Rather than a single character, you’re controlling a tribe of little diggers simultaneously, which makes it more RTS than adventure. The devs say there’s also a bit of Dungeon Keeper in there, as you build defences to fortify your dwarfish settlement. Mine the earth, craft, survive. It’s on Steam Early Access now.

Aerena - Clash of Champions


Developer: Cliffhanger Productions
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: TBA 2014
Link:Aether site

This turn-based, grid-based hero combat game lets you engage in cross-platform battles with IOS chums. There are more than 40 Champions to assemble into a competitive team, which can be upgraded and customised with ‘Aether Shells’. It’s set in an alternative reality version of 1955, in which humanity has decided to move into the clouds with the aid of a magical and powerful substance called Aether, a substance worth going to war for.

Endless Legend


Developer: Amplitude Studios
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: TBA
Link:Endless Legend's teaser site

Amplitude Studios have a bit of a thing about the word 'Endless'. Joining their space-based 4X strategy game Endless Space, and their in-development roguelike Dungeon of the Endless, is the slightly more traditional Endless Legend. It's a hexy fantasy 4X with a visual style that recalls the opening sequence from Game of Thrones (or alternatively, the entirety of Greed Corp). Height is important, you see, with terrain elevation granting various bonuses and affecting line of sight. Also of note: drug-addled elves, a rather beautiful interface, and a novel assortment of playable factions.

Amplitude gave us a tour of their intriguing 4X back in October. Click hereto see what we thought.

Dungeon of the Endless


Developer: Amplitude Studios
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: TBA 2014
Link:Endless Legend's teaser site

A counter-part to Amplitude’s 4X game, Endless Legend, Dungeon of the Endless is set miles below the surface of the fantasy planet of Auraxia. You manage a team of randomly selected survivors as they explore the cave networks, swat constantly swarming subterranean nasties and try and drag their ship’s valuable power source to the surface. Every time you open a door, a wide range of random happenings can occur. You could find helpful survivor who’ll join your team, you might find a horde of creatures, or a shopkeeper with useful items to sell. How do videogame shopkeepers get into such strange nooks and crannies?

Infested Planet


Developer: Rocket Bear games
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: TBA 2014
Link:Infested Planet website

Command a small squad of marines against an endless horde of ravening aliens in this indie RTS. Hold back the extraterrestrial flood long enough and you’ll be able to upgrade, improve and erect defences. It's nearly finished, apparently, and there's an early access build that offers plenty of procedurally generated monster-blasting action

Clockwork Empires


Developer: Gaslamp Games
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: Spring
Link:Official website

This Dwarf Fortress-like, Victorian-flavoured colony-settling sim has a touch of Lovecraftian darkness about it. Leave your laboratories and scientists unattended and they’ll likely start dabbling in forbidden magic, summoning unspeakable horrors. Exploration and scientific discovery are a big part of growing your colony, but in a world where such evil exists, this can be a dangerous pursuit. Your colony will have a distinct class system, with upper, middle, and lower class citizens needing different things, as well as artist, soldiers, and the wealthy. Buildings can be customised, giving your colony a distinct personality, and… well, we could go on. We’ll be covering this one a lot in future issues.

Read our preview of Clockwork Empires

Defence Grid 2


Developer: Hidden Path Entertainment
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: TBA
Link:Defense Grid 2 site

What started as a Kickstarted add-on has caught the eyes of investors and morphed into a fully fledged sequel. At this early stage, the game is known simply as Defense Grid 2, though there will likely be a catchy subtitle added further down the line. Since the first nearly five years ago, tower defense games are now ten-a-penny, but Hidden Path truly understand what makes a good one: satisfying kills, levels that mix up restriction and freedom, balance and readability. Oh and robots. Lots and lots of robots.

Cannon Brawl


Developer: Turtle Sandbox
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: TBA 2014
Link:Turtle Sandbox website

Cannon Brawl reminds us a lot of the glory days of Worms. Two players use colourful airships to drop artillery pieces on the map, firing great big honking missiles and lasers at one another until one player (and most of the ground they’re standing on) is destroyed. It's quick and easy competitive action with a cheerful disposition.

Tropico 5


Developer: Haemimont Games
Publisher: Kalypso Media
Release Date: 2014
Link:Tropico 5 site

While Tropico 4 was a steady if unambitious iteration, Haemimont's next game in the banana republic building series promises more dictatorial dilemmas and a longer term of office. This time, El Presidente will rule through the eras, starting in the colonial 19th century, and - if you can survive the wars and economic collapses between - through to the 21st. Tropico 5's other big back of the box feature? Nepotism. You'll be able to appoint family members to key political position, earning the benefits of their experience and connections.

Maia


Developer: Simon Roth
Publisher: In-house
Release date: TBA
Link:Maia site

Maia is a space colony management sim. Its creator, Simon Roth, describes it as "Dungeon Keeper meets Dwarf Fortress," but you'll also find hints of hard sci-fi film classics, like 2001 and Silent Running. Maia itself is the deadly planet your settlers are trying to tame, and - as a disembodied floating hand - it's your job to help them survive everything from solar flares to mental breakdowns. Aside from the promise of the game itself, it's also encouraging to see Roth's commitment to buyers. He's guaranteed that players will never have to buy extra content past the initial purchase, and that the game's development will go on "indefinitely," even after the end of its currently running Early Access beta period.

Pip recently went hands-on with the game. She failed to find the Queen.

March of War


Developer: ISOTX
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: May
Link:March of War website

A fast paced, turn based strategy game set in a dieselpunk version of World War 2, you take charge of one of six factions and set out to dominate the map. This free-to-play turn-based strategy game will be rolled out in episodes in the coming year. You can play the first right now on Steam Early Access.

War for the Overworld


Developer: Subterranean games
Publisher: Self-published
Release Date: TBA 2014
Link:Steam early access

War for the Overworld is a spiritual sequel to Dungeon Keeper built by modders of the original game. It was originally due for release in August, but like most games conceived in that heady summer of Kickstarter, it slipped. All we’ve got so far is a bare bones ‘bedrock beta’ with a couple of levels and basic building.

Castle Story


Developer: Sauropod studio
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: TBA 2014
Link:Castle Story site

Adorable strategy construction game which combines Minecraft style block building with a family friendly strategy game. You manage small beings called “Bricktrons” who build lovely looking castles on floating islands in the sky.

Galactic Princess


Developer: Mickaël Mancini
Publisher: Self-published
Release Date: TBA 2014
Link:Galactic Princess website

We don’t know much about Galactic Princess. It arrived suddenly less than a month ago, sporting the bestgifsever. We do know that it looks a lot like FTL, only with some lovely pixel art and an emphasis on smuggling. The developers say there’ll be a Kickstarter and Greenlight in January, so expect more information then.