2006 was definitely a landmark year for consoles, but, with a few notable exceptions, titles from earlier years continued to dominate the PC game space. One of the most highly-praised new releases was Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, a single-player game which walked away with quite a few Game of the Year awards. There were, however, some excellent multiplayer PC games that came out this year, even though a lot of people were still too busy playing World of Warcraft to notice. These are my picks for the top online games that arrived in 2006.
Company of Heroes ties real-time strategy to a WWII setting with great results, and the multiplayer side of the game was also a big hit in 2006. The graphics are spectacular and the game allows you to make effective use of the terrain. Company of Heroes doctrine system encourages teamwork in online matches, although there are only two factions, the Axis and the Allies. There are a few limits to the the type of skirmish you can configure, but it really takes nothing away from this outstanding game.
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 and the skill system is quite unique. Two additions to the series were released in 2006: Factions and Nightfall. Nightfall was probably more popular, but if you play for PvP, Factions has some great features, including actual territory to fight over. PvP fans that want quick action in an immersive world without the huge time commitment should definitely take this game into consideration.
The second game in a popular RPG series based on D&D, Neverwinter Nights 2 has a single-player campaign as well as a healthy variety of online options. The graphics have been upgraded and, once again, a toolset for building your own adventures is a central feature. Several player-made modules have already been released, and there are some persistent worlds in the works as well, but it's still too early to say whether NWN2's online component will catch on to the same extent as its predecessor's.
Although it was a pretty weak year for PC shooters, the latest addition to the Battlefield series went over quite well. As the name implies, it is set about a century into the future when war is fought with a variety of high-tech weapons and vehicles, including large 2-man Battle Walkers. Battlefield 2142 is similar in many ways to its predecessor, Battlefield 2, but some appealing new features such as a new objective-based gameplay mode and a deeper item unlock tree.
Medieval 2 is the latest addition to one of the most engaging RTS series to date, renowned for its depth, large scale battles, and unparalleled levels of strategic detail. Total War games are always a hit with history buffs, and the graphics in Medieval 2 are also quite stunning. Campaigns are managed using a turn-based system, but battles are conducted in real time. One of the only drawbacks is that you can still only play battles, not an entire campaign, in multiplayer mode.