Although online gaming gets bigger every year, 2009 was notable for several very big single-player releases such as Dragon Age Origins and Batman: Arkham Asylum. There were also great single-player surprises like Torchlight and Plants vs. Zombies. The selection for multiplayer fans was more limited, with no World of Warcraft expansion, only a couple major MMOG launches, and a few new shooters. Even so, there were some appealing releases for online gamers. These are my picks for the best multiplayer PC games of 2009.
It may not be the most memorable game to arrive in 2009, but Left 4 Dead 2 is sure to have tons of people slaying zombies well into the new year. The sequel to the hit horror-themed FPS Left 4 Dead, Left 4 Dead 2 features a new set of survivors and new melee weapons like axes, chainsaws, and (you guessed it) frying pans. It also has a new multiplayer mode called "Scavenge" and an improved AI Director. You'll fight your way through 5 campaigns set in the cities, swamps, and cemeteries of the Deep South. Left 4 Dead has been highly-praised both for its co-op play and its "Versus" mode, which puts one team on the zombie side.
The original Dawn of War was a big hit with multiplayer RTS fans, but this didn't keep Relic from taking some chances in the sequel, Dawn of War II. Building bases has been dispensed with and replaced with RPG elements that allow you to highly customize certain units. The emphasis is on the tactical side of the battle rather than on resource gathering and base construction. You also have far fewer units at your disposal, so you have to deploy them wisely. Like World in Conflict, it's a different approach to RTS gameplay that won't appeal to everyone, and it's also a significant departure from the first Dawn of War.
3. BorderlandsBorderlands is a sci-fi shooter/RPG set on the mythical planet of Pandora. Like most RPGs, you start off with a couple of rusty weapons and loot your way to better gear, but in this case some of the loot is procedurally generated, which adds an element of the unexpected. The game has some terrific bosses and an engaging world to explore. While it's fun to play through it by yourself, it's even more fun with a few friends. Co-op play is very popular and scales well to the number of players, and small PvP battles are possible in the game's arenas.
4. Free RealmsThis family-oriented online game from SOE made a big splash in 2009, garnering several million users in just a few months. True to its name, Free Realm's basic features can be enjoyed at no charge; premium features are available by subscription or through an item mall. The world of Free Realms is a lot like a theme park with a wide variety of different games that include 2D puzzles, an RPG, kart racing, soccer, a trading card game, and more. It isn't as deep or immersive as conventional MMORPGs, but few games have as broad an appeal as Free Realms.
The biggest MMORPG release of 2009 was NCsoft's Aion, and it has been satisfying some MMORPG fans cravings for something a little different. The game introduces flying combat as a central mechanic and it's set in a high-fantasy world with impressive graphics. Aion has many elements in common with other RPGs, but it's a PvP-centric game where high-level play involves capturing fortresses and artifacts in direct competition with the other player faction as well as an NPC faction.
The Call of Duty series is well-known for its single-player campaigns, but multiplayer has also become very popular on both PC and console. Modern Warfare 2 dominated the video game scene when it launched in November, taking the multiplayer experience further still with more perks, more killstreak rewards, additional gameplay modes, and new items such as the riot shield and throwing knives. The annoying part for PC gamers is that they dropped dedicated servers in favor of a console-style matchmaking service. Games are hosted on one of the player's systems and have a maximum player count of 18, all of which seem like steps backward to most PC shooter fans. Modern Warfare 2 remains popular, however, and it also has solid co-op play.
7. Men of War
Best Way has released several ambitious WWII RTS games, and Men of War was added to the mix in 2009. Like their earlier games, they aim for a high degree of realism, and they forego the usual simplistic base-building system. Instead, attention is given to parts of battle that are often ignored in games of this kind, such as supplies of ammunition and fuel. Men of War also lets you take control of individual units in a shooter-like fashion, which makes tank engagements that much more fun. The game has a good selection of multiplayer modes, including co-op, although there is no way to include enemy AI in skirmishes, which can make finding a suitable match more difficult.