The PC games industry has broken January. In years past, it was a quiet month—a time to catch up on all of last year's releases. For the consoles, that's still largely the case, but on PC there's already a broad selection of new games vying for your attention. Our respective reviewers deemed seven of this month's releases worthy of an 80%+ score—with a couple of others that just missed the mark. With so much going on, it can be difficult to keep up. Hence this: a new monthly digest of the biggest reviews, news and features.
Buckle up, this is going to be a big one—a fact exacerbated by the debut PC release of some former console exclusives. Take Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen. It's a four-year-old Xbox 360/PS3 RPG given a new lease of life on PC. It's heritage didn't stop Leif Johnson awarding it a score of 81% (opens in new tab). "It's rough in parts," he wrote, "and numerous other RPGs tell a better story or inspire greater awe. But Dragon's Dogma still feels enjoyably unique four years on and that's something few of its genre cousins can claim." A particular highlight is the pawn system, which lets you create a AI companion who can appear in other player's campaigns. The PCG community recently showed off some of their pawns (opens in new tab), and the results were... distinctive, to say the least.
Also arriving from the consoles, albeit in a much more timely fashion, is Lara Croft's latest: Rise of the Tomb Raider. It's a fantastic action romp, and builds nicely on Crystal Dynamics' 2013 reboot. "In many ways, Rise of the Tomb Raider is peak sequel design: an incredibly similar game with a set of expanded and additional systems," wrote, er, me, in my 83% review (opens in new tab). "But RotTR is also better because it lets you spend more time engaging with those systems." It's a good port, too, and looks positively sumptuous on PC. That's all well and good, but it doesn't explain where Lara's keeping her infinite supply of glowsticks.
Our highest score of the month was awarded to the surprisingly superb Pony Island. Weird and inventive, it's a game that's filled with tricks – drawing you into its fiction through some devious vignettes. "Not only does in succeed in having meaning and a point to make," enthused Angus, shortly before slapping on a 91% badge (opens in new tab), "but it remembers to be a decent game while it’s at it—a game, no less, that left me doubting my own grip on reality." If you've dismissed this, it really is worth taking a look. Although, I do have one question: can you still be a pony when you're clearly a unicorn?
It's always exciting when a good new RTS rears its head. It's just a shame it doesn't happen very often. Luckily, this month we got Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak. While some might view a planetary Homeworld as sacrilege, Rob Zacny was impressed—as evidenced by his 90% review (opens in new tab). "In spite of all the ways this could have gone horribly wrong," Rob wrote, "Deserts of Kharak succeeds on almost every count. It's not only a terrific RTS that sets itself apart from the rest of the genre's recent games, but it's also an excellent Homeworld game that reinvents the series while also recapturing its magic." High praise, indeed.
"That's all well and good, Phil," you might be thinking, "but what about me, a person who loves naught but meandering philosophy and mazes?" I'm not sure I like your attitude, fictional human, but I'll still point you towards The Witness. Edwin gave it 89% (opens in new tab), and matched that number to numerous sentences, including: "Though not without its flaws, Jonathan Blow's The Witness is one of the finest teachers I've studied under;" and "it's one of the toughest games I've played in years."
If 600+ maze puzzles isn't your thing—and frankly, I'm not sure I'd blame you—consider the Oxenfree, which has exactly zero mazes in it. It's a eerie, atmospheric adventure game about a group of teens dealing with [MYSTERIOUS EVENT] on an island. "If you like smart, well-written adventure games with rich characters, well-realised settings, and beautiful art direction, it’s worth playing," enthused Andy, awarding it 83% (opens in new tab). I played this in one sitting last week, and it's one of my favourite of this month's many games. Top soundtrack, too.
Lastly, but not leastly, Ian Birnbaum forced people to journey ever deeper into a series of crypts—prompting them to lose their minds. But enough about how he spends his weekends. He also reviewed Darkest Dungeon, granting it a stellar score of 88% (opens in new tab). "Dungeon diving and tomb raiding have been staples of PC gaming for decades, but Darkest Dungeon is the first time I felt how awful this quest must be for the people involved." I think that's a recommendation.
Other notable games:
On the next page: news, features and next month's outlook.