Age of Wonders III
A turn-based fantasy strategy game for PCs in 2014? A sequel to one of the best fantasy strategy series ever devised? By the original series developer, founded in 1997 and still intact some 17 years later? Gorgeous-looking 3D maps? A multiple-sides playable campaign? A random map-generator? Up to 8-player online multiplayer? Can I get a hallelujah?
PC / March 31
MLB 14: The Show
Sony's peerless baseball franchise takes its annual lap, initially for PS3 and Vita (the visually souped-up PS4 version is due on May 6) and packing improvements like an overhauled advancement system, year-to-year saves (you can carry your stats over to future versions), a quick-play option to complete a full nine-inning game in under 30 minutes, tweakable community challenges, online franchise mode sharing, a new dynamic difficulty option (it'll adjust to your performance) and scads of additional features I don't have room to list here.
PS3, PS Vita / April 1
Ragnarok Odyssey ACE
If you've always thought Monster Hunter could do with a bit more Odin, Thor and Loki, Ragnarok Odyssey ACE may be the action-roleplaying game you've been looking for. It's a revamped version of PS3-exclusive Ragnarok Odyssey, released in October 2012, but for both PS3 and PS Vita and packing all the original's DLC, plus a slew of tweaks and new music by Final Fantasy legend Nobuo Uematsu.
PS3, PS Vita / April 1
The Elder Scrolls Online
The Elder Scrolls finally takes a run at what it's probably been marching toward all along: an epic, deeply Dungeons & Dragons-indebted high fantasy MMO wrapped around its sprawling narrative history and IP. Look for PS4 and Xbox One versions to follow sometime this summer.
Mac, PC / April 4
Like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Daylight is a first-person survival-horror game you play without access to weapons, exploring an apparently haunted hospital while relying solely on the protagonist's in-game phone. The twist: the levels are procedurally generated, possibly adding a replay angle.
PC, PS4 / April 8
LEGO The Hobbit
Traveller’s Tales returns to Middle-earth in this obligatory LEGO Lord of the Rings followup. Your desire to partake, since the gameplay particulars are unchanged — puzzle your way through film locations and events through a cutesy comedy filter — probably depends on how many you’ve played already, or how invested you are in Peter Jackson’s voluminous trilogy. (Note: the Wii U version ships later in the month on April 22.)
3DS, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One / April 8
Developer Respawn’s multiplayer-only first-person shooter is coming to Xbox 360 roughly one month after arriving on Xbox One and PC (you can read my impressions here, and my colleague Jared Newman's play tips here), but gets to tap an install base tens of millions stronger, even if this last-gen version takes a notable graphics hit (note the video above uses footage from either the PC or Xbox One version).
Xbox 360 / April 8
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
What I’ve played of Final Fantasy XIV on the PlayStation 3 is fantasy retread, but we're talking about exquisitely executed retread — leaps and bounds beyond where this game was in 2010.
Since it’s been available for Windows and PS3 for months, we already have a gameplay verdict (thumbs up, all around), so with the PlayStation 4 version, you’re looking at a visual and performance upgrade and the option to play remotely with the PS Vita. As with the PS3 version, the game will not require a PlayStation Plus.
PS4 / April 14
Dark Souls II
Dark Souls II, we now know, is very Dark Souls, and that's probably as high a compliment as you'll pay a game that's basically about pushing the limits of designer sadism (and player masochism). The game's already out on PS3 and Xbox 360, of course, but this is the PC version, which in theory should be the best-looking, smoothest running of the bunch.
PC / April 25
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Before the Batman Arkham games, the best superhero game we'd seen (Freedom Force aside) was arguably Treyarch's Spider-Man 2. Somewhere thereafter, however, the series lost its way, and Beenox's rethink -- released in tandem with the film reboot in 2012 -- still felt like a B-list entry, as opposed to the Rocksteady-caliber Spider-Man game we've been waiting for.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 -- also releasing in tandem with the eponymous film -- retains the latter's sandbox feel, but lays claim to more metropolitan granularity, more reactive city elements (like police behavior, based on your choices), a narrative thread that sees you playing as Peter Parker and less linear missions that support multiple approaches.
3DS, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One / April 29
Child of Light
Just look at that trailer — who doesn’t want to play Child of Light, a roleplaying platformer “inspired by fairy tales” that’s as adorable as adorable gets? You play as an abducted child trying to return home while challenging the Queen of the Night, who’s snuffed out the sun, moon and stars.
Yes, I used “roleplaying” and “platformer” in a sentence. The platforming elements appear to lean more Castlevania than Super Mario Bros., but combat — when you’re not off solving environment puzzles — resembles something you’d see in a turn-based RPG. Imagine something like Rayman if enemy encounters summoned a Final Fantasy-style battle interface and you’re probably in the ballpark. Ubisoft adds that you can unlock over 200 skills and fiddle with over 600 crafting combinations, so beaucoup de RPG-ish customization.
PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One / April 30
Mario Golf: World Tour
The Wii U may be struggling, but the 3DS has been outselling everything else, including (on occasion) both of the next-gen systems. Mario Golf: World Tour should help keep the momentum going, designed by the same studio that's been making these acclaimed club-swingers from the beginning.
3DS / May 2
Kirby: Triple Deluxe
It's another Kirby platformer, this time in 2.5D and for the 3DS. And there are mini-games, too: one reminiscent of Super Smash Bros. where you're fighting other Kirbies, another in the rhythm-game tradition where you have to leap on drums in sync with retro-Kirby songs.
3DS / May 2
A roleplaying hack-and-slash that includes the option to saddle up and zip around on the backs of dragons, Drakengard 3 performed well with Japanese critics when it arrived overseas last December, so fans of this series have cause to be optimistic.
PS3 / May 20
Wolfenstein: The New Order
The latest Wolfenstein game has you squaring off against occult Nazis in a steampunk-gothic setting, still first-person style. It’s developed by Sweden-based newcomer MachineGames, though newcomer in name only — the team comprises designers who worked on both The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay (a surprise critical hit) and The Darkness (another surprise critical hit).
PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One / May 20
Sandbox, stealth, action, adventure, hacking, parkour -- what else could you want? I'm pretty sure that eclecticism's why Watch Dogs garnered so much attention last year (well that, and do-no-wrong design studio Ubisoft Montreal). If you want to see what something like Person of Interest meets Assassin's Creed meets Syndicate meets Deus Ex might look like, Watch Dogs could be that game.
PC, PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One / May 27
Mario Kart 8
Nintendo's been having to make its Wii U bones off first-party titles lately, but Mario Kart 8's one of the extra-heavies, with a massive fan base, which -- assuming internal studio Nintendo EAD Group No. 1 hasn't dropped any balls -- means bumper sales of this game through the summer could provide some respite for the company's troubled console.
Wii U / May 30
Gearbox Software's cel-shaded “looter-shooter” sequel adds better vehicle physics, new characters and classes (including the dual-wield “Gunzerker”), smarter bad guys, dynamic co-op play (drop in or out without restarting), a new gun system with “millions upon millions” of possible combinations and a storyline that actually changes based on your mission performance. And the company's now putting all of that, improbable as it sounds, on Sony's PS Vita (the preview clip in the Vita sizzle reel above starts at 0:51).
PS Vita / June 3
Murdered: Soul Suspect
A game about a deceased detective trying to solve his own murder while fending off supernatural adversaries? Give the marketing department its due. It’s by Airtight Studios, the developer of Dark Void, a so-so 2010 flight-based combat game, and Quantum Conundrum, a more warmly received puzzle-platformer, neither of which tell us much about the studio’s hand at story-driven action/adventures. Fingers crossed then.
PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One / June 3
We need more humor-informed MMOs to keep us chuckling as we fritter away hundreds of hours of our lives. If you agree, you'll probably want to keep tabs on Wildstar, a goofy-looking sci-fi romp by a bunch of ex-Blizzard developers who've been working on the game (in one form or another) for nearly a decade.
PC / June 3