Blogger’s note: This list of upcoming games I’m looking forward to appeared recently in The Press Democrat, but I held it back for publication so that I could add a few more titles I didn’t have room for in print.
Now that every video game company has cleared the decks of new titles to get ahead of Christmas, gamers are catching up on three months’ worth of stellar games. But that doesn’t mean we can’t pause between sessions of “Skyrim” to look ahead to what we’ll be playing over the next few months.
Here’s a look at highlights for the first half of the year. I’ve placed an emphasis on stuff that I’m confident won’t be delayed.
“Star Wars: The Old Republic” (out now for PC): This is cheating a bit because this massively multiplayer online game set in the Star Wars universe is playable right now. But as it came out right before Christmas, I ruled it ineligible for my end-of-the-year list, and the bulk of time folks spend playing it will be in 2012. “TOR” is my obsession of the moment, and I’ll have a review later this week.
“Final Fantasy XIII-2” (Jan. 31, Xbox 360 and PS3): Judging from what we’ve seen of the year’s first major release to date, “FFXIII-2” seems to be Square Enix’s attempt to right the wrongs perpetrated by the inconsistent “Final Fantasy XIII” [review]. The sequel brings back stuff that worked, such as the excellent battle system, as well as classic “Final Fantasy” elements that were dropped from the 2010 game in the name of streamlining.
“Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning” (Feb. 7, PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3): One of my few gripes with Bethesda Softworks’ “Elder Scrolls” games is that the stories end up being fairly rote. Some great evil is menacing the land and only your character, who began the game as an anonymous prisoner, can set things right. “Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning,” the first game from former Major League pitcher Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios, gathers an all-star roster of talent. It pairs gameplay designer Ken Ralston, who worked on past “Elder Scrolls” titles “Oblivion” and “Morrowind,” with best-selling fantasy novelist R.A. Salvatore and comic book/action figure artist Todd McFarland.
“The Darkness II” (Feb. 7, Xbox 360 and PS3): The first “Darkness,” based on a popular comic, was a cult favorite back in 2007. The sequel continues the story of Jackie Estacado, a crime boss who’s possessed by an alternately benign and malevolent entity called The Darkness. It allows Jackie to sprout what the game calls “demon arms” that can unleash all sorts of carnage but prevent him from enjoying a meaningful relationship with a woman. Poor guy.
PlayStation Vita (Feb. 22): Sony is launching the successor to the PlayStation Portable at the end of February, and you can bet the gaming giant is hoping there are still enough players out there who haven’t moved on to using smart phones as their handheld device of choice. Launch lineups of games for any new device are always a bit spotty, so wait for reviews before plunking down a bunch of cash. The Vita is launching around $250 for the cheapest model.
“SSX: Deadly Descent” (Feb. 28, Xbox 360 and PS3): Snowboarding games were all the rage back in the PlayStation 2/Xbox/GameCube generation of consoles, but we haven’t seen much on the Xbox 360 or PS3 since the “Amped” series was canceled. It’ll be nice when EA Sports delivers an online-enabled title.
“Mass Effect 3” (March 6, PC, Xbox 360 and PS3): Lost amid “Mass Effect 2’s” streamlined gameplay and squad-focused story was the fact that “ME2” was the first video game whose story evolved in meaningful ways based on decisions you made in the first game. “Mass Effect 3,” which will likely close the book on Commander Shepard, will serve as the ultimate proof-of-concept for multi-game story arcs. Hopefully, BioWare will pull it off and we’ll end up with a trilogy we can revisit again and again, playing from beginning to end to see the whole range of possibilities.
“Kid Icarus Uprising” (March 23 for 3DS): The original “Kid Icarus” on the Nintendo Entertainment System is one of the first video games I can remember finishing as a kid, but the “franchise” consists of just two games and hasn’t seen a new entry in 20 years. The third “Kid Icarus” looks to have some old-school platform-jumping action, but I’m a little worried about the Saturday-morning-cartoon-style art direction and voice acting.
“Xenoblade Chronicles” (April 2, Wii): This sci-fi-meets-fantasy role-playing game was released to positive reviews in Japan and Europe in 2011, and it’s finally coming stateside now that Nintendo has shifted most of its development resources toward the 3DS and its next console, the WiiU.
“The Secret World” (April-ish for PC): This new massively multiplayer online role-playing game has one huge thing going for it: an original setting. The game is set in an alternate version of our own in which myths and legends of all types are coming true. Vampires stalk Transylvania, and mummies prowl Egypt. In a preview of the game I saw last year, draugr, an undead creature from Norse mythology that should be familiar to “Skyrim” players, were causing all sorts of havoc in Maine. (Funcom, the game’s Norwegian developer, seems eager to explore a potential supernatural legacy to Norse exploration of the fringes of North America.) Another nice deviation from many MMOs is the game’s inclusion of three player factions, rather than the usual good/evil tilt. Players choose from three shadowy secret societies: the templars, illuminati and dragons.
“Dishonored” (spring, PC, Xbox 360, PS3): This first-person action game is a blend of about a million awesome things. Its art style is reminiscent of a sci-fi version of Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York,” while the open maps, supernatural powers and stealth gameplay allow players to explore multiple solutions to the problems at hand. Think “BioShock” meets “Assassin’s Creed” and “Deus Ex.” The game’s designers at Arkane Studio previously worked on the original “Deus Ex,” “Thief: Deadly Shadows” and “Arx Fatalis.”
“End of Nations” (late spring/early summer, PC): The next game from Trion Worlds, the folks behind the “Rift” MMO, is “End of Nations,” which changes up the MMO genre by letting thousands of players team up online to play real-time strategy-style battles against computer-controlled enemies and each other. The little bit of the game I saw at E3 looked like developer Petroglyph is trying to focus less on the usual RTS resource/building grind and more on the combat. It’ll launch as a free-to-play MMO but will feature microtransactions, as well.