December 20 2011
While 2011 was not a terrible year for online PC games, it wasn't a really exceptional year either. There were no new releases from Blizzard this year, but we will see Star Wars: The Old Republic launch before Christmas, and we did get the mandatory injection of military shooters. It's interesting to note that several of the year's most popular titles, including Deus Ex: Human Revolution and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, were single-player only, despite decades old predictions of the demise of single-player PC gaming. These are my picks for the best multiplayer PC games of 2011.
The latest addition to the Battlefield series has few rivals when it comes to spectacular graphics and environmental destruction. In this iteration they've brought back jets, 64-player maps on the PC, and several other features not seen in the franchise in a long time, such as deathmatch. Battlefield 3 is a very solid combined arms experience whether you just want to jump in and shoot some guys in the face, or you want to make the effort to get organized enough to work as a team. It has improved on its predecessor, Bad Company 2, and you'll likely get good mileage out of it unless you've completely had your fill of modern warfare FPS games.
Bioware's first MMORPG just launched, but the game has been going strong throughout the early start for those that pre-ordered, and I think it's safe to say this will be the best game of it's kind released this year. It's evident already that this is one of the most robust and polished MMORPG's we've seen in a long while, with a solid helping of Bioware's renowned storytelling. "Star Wars" is a much beloved franchise, and while I don't expect this game to revolutionize the genre or reach the towering heights of World of Warcraft, my beta experiences left me believing that SWTOR will be a hit.
Rift is a fantasy MMORPG from Trion Worlds where players fight back a common enemy that is invading the world through temporary links to other planes. It has an impressive feature set that was largely intact at launch rather than being patched in months or years after release, as is so often the case. While having a rift open next to you definitely injects some excitement into the routine, it's not quite enough to move the genre forward. Rift is another good MMORPG that leaves little to complain about, but it also does little to stand out from the crowd or entice players from other games.
World War II has been done countless times in the shooter, but Red Orchestra 2 does it with considerably more realism and depth than usual, in part because it is exclusive to the PC. There are robust movement controls including lean and prone, as well as a cover system, suppression system, and the ability to "blind fire." Ballistics and bullet penetration are also accurately portrayed. It falls nicely between the arcade-style Call of Duties and the hardcore simulation ArmA 2 approach.
We gave Minecraft an honorable mention in 2010 because the game has had a really incredible run ever since it went into beta. Not many games become huge hits prior to release, but that was definitely the case when Minecraft finally launched this year. As much a sandbox as a game, players mine materials and use them to build elaborate Lego-like structures. The graphics are primitive, but people have been busy replicating everything from York Minister Cathedral to working CPUs in Minecraft, leaving no doubt about how much we enjoy creating things with simple tools.
World of Tanks is a free-to-play online shooter from Wargaming.net. It takes high-energy tank combat with simple controls, mixes in a helping of old-school simulation flavor, and makes it highly accessible to anyone with a desire to blow things up. The game offers matches of 15 vs. 15 with a mixture of tanks from the Allied, German, and Soviet arsenals. Sadly, matchmaking is a bit of a mess and the pricing is questionable. They're definitely onto something with this concept, but it isn't quite fully realized. Still, if you want quick and dirty online tank battles, World of Tanks is about your only option.