With the next generation of consoles fully underway, the prior generation still alive and kicking, the PC going from strength to strength, and a mobile market that’s as vibrant as ever, 2014 looks like it’ll be a vintage year for gaming. But which games are we most excited about? And what are you most looking forward to?
I'm cheating a little here since, being a Brit, I already have my hands on a copy, but… Bravely Default for 3DS. (To be fair, I've only put about five hours into it so far and at the rate I'm going I will almost definitely be playing it well into the new year.)
Bravely Default is what Final Fantasy fans have been clamoring for in that it's a new old Final Fantasy, if that makes sense. We're talking Job system, Phoenix Downs, white mages, elemental magic, the works -- none of that Paradigm Shift nonsense. It's got a beautiful Final Fantasy Tactics-esque art style, some spectacular music and an absolute ton of content to work through, and I think it's going to be a very pleasant surprise for those who have been hungry for a good JRPG of the non-moe variety.
I can live without the enforced social features and microtransactions, though -- thankfully, from what I've seen so far, though, both aspects are entirely optional and easily ignored.
If you'd prefer I look forward to something that I'm not already playing, I think I'd have to go with Assault Android Cactus from Witch Beam Games. I've been playing the Steam Early Access version for a while now, and it's absolutely one of the best, most satisfying twin-stick shooters I've played for a long time -- I can't wait to see it in its final form, with all its additional modes and extra bits and pieces. It's already a treat to play; it can (hopefully!) only continue to get better.
Aside from Assault Android Cactus, I'm also looking forward to seeing how Yoshi-P and the team continue to evolve Final Fantasy XIV in the new year. The first content update has already gone live, and it brings some significant and welcome changes as well as a whole host of new things to do. If this is the sort of thing we can expect every three months from the game, I'm in it for the long run.
I think that just every year I do one of these “what do I want in the new year” my answer amounts to “something new and exciting, not the same stale franchises.” Which means at this point I’m as guilty of mining the same soil as all the publishers I’m indicting with my remarks. So let’s switch it up this year. In 2014, I’m most looking forward to: The games that will justify my being a PS4 and Xbox One early adopter.
At this point, I’m not sure which ones those will be. Will it be Thief, which will serve as my induction into the well-loved stealth action franchise? I’ve seen a lot of criticism of the direction the new game is taking, but without previous Thief experience my perspective works out to be the same as all the newcomers who are experiencing a franchise I love for the first time right as it changes gears in a new and frustrating way. I suspect old Thief fanatics feel about the new game like I do about last year’s Tomb Raider -- and my enthusiasm for such a contentious title gives me newfound sympathy for folks who totally liked Tomb Raider.
Or maybe it will be Destiny. I’ve been a fan of Bungie for nearly 20 years, and -- no offense to 343i -- I began to enjoy Halo a lot less once they began to detach themselves from the franchise. Halo 3: ODST remains my favorite chapter in the series, because it shows an eagerness to explore new concepts within the context of familiar mechanics, but ODST was shouted down by the masses for being too different. Destiny is its own thing, similar in many obvious respects to Halo but not tied to existing lore or expectations, so I’m eager to see what Bungie can do with the play style it’s polished to a shine and no franchise constraints. And co-op Halo has always been my favorite aspect of that franchise, so I’m A-OK with Destiny nudging players toward teamwork.
Either way, my consoles are ready to find renewed purpose.
2014 has me heading in a wealth of directions as I attempt to broaden my gaming horizons now that I’m doing this game writer thing full-time.
On the big-budget side, I’m always looking forward to the new Assassin’s Creed, but Ubisoft finally has me hyped for Watch_Dogs as well. I love me some open-world games and Ubisoft has mastered the art of bringing their best stuff to everything they make. Of course, this means they’re in danger of feeling stale across their entire AAA line-up, but so far the games have been different enough to avoid that fate.
In the mid-range, I’m waiting for a few story-based experiences: Bravely Default, Broken Age, Pillars of Eternity, and Torment. The first is Square Enix’ apparent return to the classic Final Fantasy style, Bravely Default. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the title, which stands as a spiritual sequel to Final Fantasy: 4 Heroes of Light, but it won’t be out on our shores until February. On the bright side, the sequel is already coming in Japan, so we don’t have to worry about the series being a done-in-one.
The latter three games are all titles that I’ve backed on Kickstarter because I trust the teams behind the ideas. All three games are expected to release sometime in 2014, but I expect that Torment: Tides of Numenera will probably slip into 2015, as its planned release date is in December. 2014 is the year that many larger Kickstarter projects finally start showing the fruits of our financial hopes (certain titles like Wasteland 2 and Shadowrun Returns are already out in release or early access), so it’s a make-or-break time for the entire idea. Is there a bright future in Kickstarter, or will players’ trust in the entire endeavor crash and burn?
Before I even think I’m thinking, Hearthstone elbows its way to the front of my mind and sits on everything else. It’s doing to me what Magic the Gathering did to me when I discovered it in very early 1994. I wander round, constructing decks in my head, swapping out cards and thinking through combos and strategies. I’ve stopped playing Beta for the moment, just because I was already getting too sucked into it, and I thought it best to wait until the real thing starts up, because when it does… See ya!
However, if peer past that fat lump of obsession, there are other things I’m looking forward to. Driveclub is one. I was disappointed that it didn’t make launch, but then it did give me time to enjoy Gran Turismo 6 and Forza 5. So when it trundles out of the garage next year, I should have some time to play it. Then there’s the mystery racer, Project CARS from Slightly Mad Studios. That’s looking quite good too, and I can’t wait to take it for a spin.
Watchdogs was another game that missed the next gen launch party, but I didn’t mind that much. I’d prefer to have a great game than a rushed one, and I’m hoping that when it gets released, it’ll be as interesting as it looks.
Next year might be a vintage one for MMOs. I’m keen to get my teeth into Everquest Next, which looks like it has the potential to push the genre forward - something that hasn’t happened for years. Then there’s Elder Scrolls Online, which has a more traditional MMO feel about it. I’m still highly intrigued by it, but it definitely doesn’t come across as quite as exciting as Sony’s game. And then there’s Warlords of Draenor, the expansion that’ll take World of Warcraft into its 10th year. I’ve been playing that entire time, apart from a short break during the disappointing Cataclysm expansion, and I’m keen to see where the game goes next. I can’t believe I’m still playing it, but it still has a certain magic about it that keeps me coming back.
But really, the game I’m most looking forward to is Titanfall. The word “epic” gets bandied about a lot these days, but this is one game where the word’s true meaning is the perfect description. I just can’t wait to play it.
Oh, god help me. Believe it or not, I’m most rabidly anticipating Everquest Next. See, the thing here is that I like MMOs. I like them a lot. I’m also burnt out on them. Everquest Next managed to surprise me in a big way when I went to Vegas earlier this year. I had expected ‘Meh’ and got blown away by what they had to offer. Minecraft smooshed together with a procedurally generated universe and adventure to spare? Kay. Let’s do this. More importantly, perhaps, there’s also the fact that indies are powering this upcoming behemoth. That amazing world editor and all those destructible voxels? It’s the work of one dude. It’s the proven work of one dude. Same with Storybricks. Except more people were involved. Ignoring the fact that all this sounds like it might come together in an intelligent mix of personal creativity and epic fantasy, there’s the fact I want to support the idea of blockbuster outfits like Sony coming together with the little indies to make spectacular things.
On a slightly less frantic note, I'm eagerly waiting for Starbound's full release. While the game is currently fully playable, it's also in a rather volatile state of beta. Things are constantly being added, removed and modified. Don't get me wrong. There's a certain sort of magic associated with being able to watch as a game blossoms before your very eyes but I'd really like to be able to build my sci-fi magnum opus without the risk of it being demolished. Starbound isn't the only indie game I'm panting over. The upcoming The Banner Saga completely wow-ed me as did footage of Hyper Light Drifter. I wish I could say I'm excited for Wayward Manor because I'm blown away by what I've seen but it's really a case of unabashed fangirlism. (We're allowed, right?) Neil Gaiman forever, people.
Also: Hearthstone, Hearthstone, Hearthstone, Hear -
News about Zelda. I can't help it. A Link Between Worlds whet my appetite for Zelda games. Now I feel like a Moblin waiting in a dark cave, hoping someone will toss me a piece of bait.
I've little doubt 2014 will have a juicy Wii U Zelda reveal. The question is where it'll happen. E3, perhaps? Will Nintendo join the party again, or will the first footage of the new Zelda unfurl on a crummy, choppy uStream feed? I pray to Din this will not be the case.
I think most of us are expecting the new Zelda to use the realistic art style we saw in the 2011 Wii U demo, but Nintendo is no stranger to veering sharply in the opposite direction - often with interesting results. Sure, we sing Wind Waker's phrases now, but the 2001 reveal trailer left a lot of furious Zelda fans in its wake.
In my mind, Dark Souls was the best game of the last generation, so you'd better believe that I'm looking forward to playing the sequel. I'm even willing to overlook the fact that the original creator is no longer the director, and that Namco Bandai seems bent on turning the series into a franchise. Dark Souls will overcome... or it'll be a crushing failure. Either way, it should be interesting.
Both of the original Dark Souls and its predecessor continue to stand out to me for their fantastically realized worlds, terrifying boss fights, and creative use of online elements. It's a series that knows how to use quiet moments to maximum effects, lulling you into a false sense of security before scaring the crap out of you with a massive dragon or a terrifying knight. And I don't think I've ever played an action game with quite the same sense of weight as Dark Souls. When an enemy lashes out, you really it. It's for all these reasons that I tend to get a little irritated when people drone on about Dark Souls' difficulty. Yes, it's hard, but it has so many other merits apart from sheer difficulty.
It will be interesting to see if From Software has it in them to capture lightning in a bottle for a third time, particularly given that it has new directors at the helm. Dark Souls II has a lot to live up to, but that's precisely why it's my most anticipated game of 2014. If Tomohiro Shibuya, Yui Tanimura, and the rest of From Software have it in them to pull this off again, and I believe they do, then Dark Souls II is going to be something special.
A little over a year ago, I wasn't so sure that the South Park RPG would ever come out. Its developer, Obsidian, had suffered multiple rounds of layoffs in recent years, and the company appeared to have grown more and more invested in Kickstarter projects as the game's publisher, THQ, fell apart.
Now, with Ubisoft calling the shots, South Park: The Stick of Truth looks like it might actually ship to stores early next year. South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone seem less than convinced, but I'm hopeful -- not only as a fan of the show and Obsidian's previous work, but also because I'm always up for an RPG that doesn't take itself so seriously.
Besides South Park, I'm also looking forward to getting my hands on Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. I thought the first Lords of Shadow was a beautiful, entertaining action game even if it owed more inspiration to God of War than Symphony of the Night. The developers at MercurySteam claim to have built a far less linear sequel with more room for exploration, which should please a lot of folks who were down on the studio's initial efforts. Personally, I'm just excited to see whether or not Lords of Shadow 2 makes good on the promise of the original game's ending. Without spoiling anything, there's potential to take the series into some weird, unexplored territory in terms of narrative and setting. Count me in.
I’m ready for a next-gen experience that truly feels “next-gen.” I’m basking in the glow of content like Battlefield 4, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, and Killzone: Shadow Fall, yet not one of them give me the impression that we’ve entered a brand new age of gaming. Instead, I’m content to zip around in Resogun again and again, having completed it several times over already. The fact that it’s a side-scrolling shooter and I’m compelled to come back to it over these so-called triple-A, cream of the crop games is telling in a terrifying way. Are we content to drool over gorgeous graphics and call it a day?
There has to be more. I demand more, and I think I’ll see it in games like No Man’s Sky or Final Fantasy XV, which I’m hoping will renovate the stagnant Final Fantasy series in ways I hadn’t even counted on. There’s a better use for the hardware we’re playing with than what we’ve done so far, and I’m waiting for it. While I’m cautiously optimistic for games like Watch Dogs and The Order: 1886, there’s a niggling feeling at the back of my mind that they’ll end up being more of the same, and I don’t want to end up being massively disappointed. I’m still excited for the “standard” lineup of 2014 releases however, and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into Bravely Default, Thief (though I’m sure there’s no “taffing” left in), Destiny, D4, Bayonetta 2, and Persona 5.