A good year brings a handful of bold, even revolutionary games to the PC. A great year, as 2011 is shaping up to be, brings so many that we spend weeks trying to whittle the list down to just 10. In the following pages we report on those 10 games, what makes them so special, and why 2011 is going to be a spectacular year for PC gamers.
Dragon Age 2
- Release Date: March 8, 2011 - Developer: BioWare - Publisher: EA
Why it's a winner? An epic tale gets personal
I've put more hours into Dragon Age: Origins than anyone I know. I've played every origin at least twice, absorbed the majority of the story on 10-plus characters and completed it fully on three separate occasions. To say that I was skeptical of BioWare's plans to change the gameplay in the sequel to the all-consuming RPG that won my heart (and our 2009 Game of the Year award) is an understatement. I was legitimately terrified.
But that was before I played it. Now that I've had my mitts on Dragon Age 2, it's clear that the improvements BioWare is making are just that—improvements. The key mechanics that made DA:O great, like pausing combat to micro-manage your party members' skills for a tactical advantage and the engaging storytelling, are returning intact—and almost always with noticeable improvements. Abilities in DA2 combine across classes for much better results. For example, a Rogue's Backstab does bonus damage against an enemy that's knocked off balance by a Warrior's Shield Bash.
Although we can't see quite as much of the battlefield (zooming out has been reined in slightly), what we can see looks much better—filled with fast action and gorgeous visuals. Instead of watching a Rogue clunkily waddle behind a target to deliver a Backstab, in DA2 they ninja-teleport into position, and casually drop-kick smoking clay pots around the battlefield to stun groups of enemies. The tested concepts of DA:O's class designs (Warriors control the battle and stand firm on the front lines while Mages blast large groups of enemies and Rogues shred single targets mercilessly) are realized with these flashy and fun new abilities, like Backflip, which lets Rogues avoid spells and swinging axes with the grace of a trapeze artist.
The storytelling is also changing in both its style and sweep. Lead designer Mike Laidlaw explained the shift to me this way: “What Origins was, at it's heart, was an introduction. It's very big, it's very deep...It brought together a world that was seethingly rich and let you get perspective on [the different societies of that world] very quickly, very early.” He continued, “Moving to DA2 lets us say, 'OK, all that lore you know is important—it's crucial to what's happening—but this is a world that can be about more than the Grey Wardens, about saving the world.' It can be about an age of time: the events that shaped the world in this 100-year period.” This explanation echoes the reason so many of us loved Origins—the open process of discovering its world bit-by-bit—while suggesting a more intimate, personal narrative approach. I'm sure we'll return to the Grey Wardens' story someday, but for now, I'm looking forward to finding out all about the other key figures in Dragon Age's dazzling fantasy world, beginning with Hawke. JA
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
- Release Date: April 2011 - Developer: Square Enix - Publisher: Square Enix
Why it's a winner? Cyber noir!
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is like Blade Runner, in that it's a dark, gritty science fiction mystery set in the not-too-distant future—except that it has actual blades that extend from your wrists to impale shadowy conspirators. Square Enix promises loyalty to the blend of action, stealth and deep intrigue that won our cyber-augmented hearts and minds in Ion Storm's 2000 original, and what cinematic glimpses of DXHR's story we've caught make it our most-anticipated mystery. DS
Dawn of War II: Retribution
- Release Date: March 1, 2011 - Developer: Relic Entertainment - Publisher: THQ
Why it's a winner? Six flavors of blood
More than a simple standalone expansion, Retribution (see our full hands-on preview on page 36) is gearing up to reinvent the entire Dawn of War II experience next year. The blood-soaked battlefields of Sub-Sector Aurelia are about to become more crowded with the addition of the armor-heavy Imperial Guard, raising the total number of over-the-top armies to six (including the Space Marines, Orks, Chaos, Eldar and Tyranids), and each side gets a super-unit on the scale of the Eldar Avatar. Combined with the option to massively increase the number of troops on the field in single-player by leaving some of your heroes at home, this PC-exclusive RTS will be the biggest, bloodiest version yet. DS