As far as online gaming goes, 2004 was a tough act to follow. It brought us several titles, such as World of Warcraft and Counter-Strike: Source which show no signs of relinquishing their dominance to the new releases of 2005. Nevertheless, with Guild Wars innovating in the RPG genre, and Battlefield 2 taking modern warfare to the next level, it was a pretty good year for multiplayer games. These are my picks for the top releases of 2005.
Guild Wars gives you an epic adventure akin to those of single-player classics and highly-competitive team PvP battles right out of the box, with no monthly fees. The graphics are terrific, the skill system is quite unique, and the technology behind the game works wonderfully. If you want quick action in an immersive world without the huge time commitment, this may be the game you've been looking for.
Modern combat is the focus of this popular Battlefield sequel, complete with guided missiles and artillery strikes. New features include built-in voice chat, a persistent player ranking system, and a commander position which introduces some unique tools to facilitate team organization. The game now has an enormous community, and despite the release of some fine shooters in 2005, none were as popular online as Battlefield 2.
City of Villains extends the no-nonsense fun of City of Heroes into the nefarious Rogue Isles, where you can pursue the life of a master criminal. This stand-alone sequel lets players build their own bases and brawl in the new PvP zones that overlap with City of Heroes.
Excellent graphics, an historical setting, and the same solid RTS gameplay as its predecessors have made this title a best-seller. Persistent home cities add another dimension to the strategy, and there is a good matchmaking service for finding online games. Note that Age of Empires 3 is available for Windows XP only.
Although the Civilization series has always been a big hit on the PC, it has never really stood out for its multiplayer features. One reason for this is that turn-based strategy games typically require a lot of patience from people while they wait for other players to move. Civ IV allows players to move at the same time and set a time limit. If you enjoy Civ and you want to play with a friend, Civ IV has the best online options of any game in the series.
There were a number of excellent multiplayer racing games released in 2005, but Project Gotham Racing 3 for the Xbox was right on target when it comes to online play. A variety of competitive leagues are available, there is a good player matching system based on skill level, and you can even watch live races between the best players on "Gotham TV." This title is a shining example of what the future has in store for online console gaming.