2014 was an incredible year to be a PC or Mac gamer, and even better if you are a fan of classic RPGs. I am both, so I got to enjoy one of the best years of gaming I can recall since before Microsoft entered the console wars! If you love PC or Mac gaming, you must check these out!
As someone who has been a rabid computer gaming fan since playing the original 1981 Castle Wolfenstein on the Apple ][+, I have seen the ups and downs of the PC gaming market over the decades. In the early 2000s with the launch of Microsoft’s XBOX there was considerable concern as Microsoft shifted focus to the console platform and paid developers to more from PC to XBOX. But through the years both Microsoft and developers have learned that both markets can thrive, and over the last several years we have seen a sort of PC gaming ‘renaissance’.
The year 2014 has been an incredible year for computer gamers – the games are both great and plentiful, most games ran just fine on mid-level laptops, and Mac gamers have gotten several simultaneous or near-simultaneous releases. And as you will see, the RPG genre has been particularly well served – as have games funded in some part on Kickstarter! So let’s take a look!
My Top 10 ‘Hardcore PC Gamer’ Picks
1. Divinity Original Sin (Mac/PC) – this isn’t just a fun addition to the Divinity universe, isn’t just a great RPG … it is one of the best games I have ever played. I found it interesting that they used ‘dual heroes’, which failed in the worst-in-series Beyond Divinity … but here it works as an effective platform for solo or cooperative multiplayer exploration. The turn-based combat is executed perfectly, the graphics are well done, and the world is huge, detailed and worth exploring. The story is well thought out and written, but anyone who has played a game from Larian was expecting nothing less!
2. Wasteland 2 (Mac/PC) – as the marketing message goes ‘before Fallout, there was Wasteland’. Which is all well and good, but we’ve seen plenty of reboots and late sequels that have been pure garbage (Duke Nukem Forever?!?). But Wasteland 2 isn’t one of those ‘in name only’ projects. inXile founder Brian Fargo – responsible for classic games such as Bard’s Tale and the original 1988 Wasteland – led the project, and brought in much of the original team as well as co-developing much of the game with Obsidian games. Wasteland 2 was a massive (almost $3 million) Kickstarter success, released in September after a few delays. It was worth the wait (and the couple of post-launch patches), as it is a tremendous game, epic in scope and realization.
3. Shadowrun: Dragonfall (Mac/PC) – the Shadowrun Returns game launched in 2013 as a video game realization of the tabletop sci-fi role-playing game (not to be confused with the mediocre 2007 shooter), and while it is a solid game to many it felt more like a framework or proof-of-concept than a fully realized production. The Dragonfall campaign was originally an expansion, but was expanded and turned into a standalone ‘Director’s Cut’. It retains the original game’s isometric presentation, graphics style, and turn-based combat system. The story and writing and characters and everything about Dragonfall make THIS the one to play if you haven’t tried yet.
4. Legends of Grimrock II (PC) – If you haven’t played the original Legend of Grimrock, do it! It is a modern reimagination of the classic tile-movement games such as Eye of the Beholder. There is a plot and characters and … well, not much else that matters but the combat. The action is grid-based and real-time, and absolutely wonderful for old-school RPG fans. The sequel has exactly ONE flaw … that it isn’t out on Mac/Linux yet! Seriously – the game is bigger, scope is broader, weapons and combat systems have been refined … all criticisms addressed. Now we just need the other platforms released, and the original game released on iOS (we’ve seen the beta as of last fall).
5. Might & Magic X (Mac/PC) – the earliest release on this list, coming in January, Might & Magic X also took a while to ‘work out its issues’, as well as being unpopular for being tied to Ubisoft’s UPlay service and the developer ending updates mid-year. But looking past those things, the reality is this is a much better RPG than reviews suggest – the story is worth enjoying, the difficulty keeps you on your toes, and the benefits of incorporating the best of all previous games in the series makes this a great game even if you have never played a Might & Magic game before.
6. Eschalon: Book III (Mac/PC) – another release from early in the year, this game got a tarnished reputation because it is the shortest and the ‘least’ of the Eschalon series, meaning it was a bit of a let-down for loyal fans. But I played it again later in the year and guess what? It is a solid game that has evolved from the first Book, and represents the series and the indie-RPG genre quite well. Now that they have finished this trilogy, I can’t wait to see what Basilisk Games comes up with next!
7. Blackguards (Mac/PC) – released the same day as Might & Magic X, Blackguards is a tactical role-playing strategy game based on the German ‘The Dark Eye’ role-playing rule set. The plot is paper-thin, and you have very few choices in what quests to take and how to accomplish things … but that is because the meat of the game is all in the combat system. And it has a glorious combat system that provided me with hours of enjoyment and helped bridge the gap between the King’s Bounty games and the upcoming Might & Magic Heroes VII. If you don’t know those games you can skip Blackguards … but if you do, consider this game something to grab for your next open slot!
8. Lords of Xulima (Mac/PC) – I would be lying if I claimed to have touched enough of this to even produce a detailed review – this is a massive 100+ hour campaign in a new and unique fantasy setting with a rich and detailed lore and story and characters and … whew! The developers used a ‘Crowd-finish’ approach on IndieGogo, and the result is a polished experience released in November and patched three times for Mac & PC already. Non-linear narrative story, tactical turn-based combat, all-new classes and progression system … what are you waiting for?!?
9. Risen 3: Titan Lords (PC) – the Risen franchise is from Piranha Bytes, the folks who brought us Gothic 1 – 3 (but lost the rights to use the Gothic name in a fight with the publisher). The original Risen was a breath of fresh air and return to form (Gothic 3 was a ‘troubled’ release), but the second game stumbled with the pirate focus and removal of key systems (especially for someone like me who plays their games as a mage). Titan Lords isn’t perfect, but it is huge, epic in scale and scope, has loads of options for all types of RPG fans, and has a massive story that will keep you exploring the world for dozens of hours.
10. Civilization Beyond Earth (Mac/PC) – when playing this game, after an hour I had a theme song in my head … it was the one for ‘Power Rangers … in Space’! Why? Because Civilization Beyond Earth feels like Civilization V … IN SPACE! But if you read my Civilization V review, you will see that isn’t a BAD thing. In fact, had I not played a couple of dozen hours of Civilization V earlier in the year I might have felt that the concept was really fresh. But whereas Civilization V launched as a mess, Civilization Beyond Earth is a gorgeous and stable experience that will keep feeding you that ‘just … one … more … turn’!
Other Games You Will Enjoy (some available on other platforms as well)
1. Wolfenstein: The New Order – forget the previous Wolfenstein reboot, THIS is the new Wolfenstein game you’ve bee looking for! The best story of the franchise, great FPS action, and an overall structure and aesthetic that will please all fans of the franchise and genre.
2. Dragon Age: Inquisition – the first Dragon Age was a great ‘spiritual successor’ to the Baldur’s Gate series, the second was a mediocre cash-in, and the third? Solid yet perhaps too reserved. Fails to innovate or push the genre in any way, nor does it break outside of the tried & true Bioware molds. That said, it is a solid game with many hours of role-playing enjoyment in store!
3. Banner Saga – gorgeous art design, intriguing world and Viking story, with tactical combat that will deliver many hours of fun. My personal preference is the iOS version, because of how well it travels! But you really can’t go wrong.
4. Metro 2033 Redux – another game that could be in my top 10, but this one felt like cheating since it is a remake of a classic 2010 shooter from the developers of the STALKER series. This version updates the graphics, streamlines performance, improves combat mechanics and polishes the experience. The definitive version of one of the best shooters of the last 5 years!
5. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel – sure it is a bit of a cash-in and carries forward too many of the flaws from the prior games, but these games continue to be amazing fun, and this game offers enough variety and diversion to make it a blast to play.
OK PC & Mac gamers … what was YOUR favorite game of 2014?