Over the break we had a chance to do some serious scientific study of this business we call games, and it turns out that games are actually good. 2020 in particular has a healthy mix of big budget bonanzas and smaller indie plates to suit everyone's discerning tastes. And, as you know, the RPS treehouse is the most discerning, so to make it easier for you we've got a big ol' list of the games we're most looking forwards to this year. It's traditional.
Unlike our Advent Calendar/Greatest Games Of 2019 system, our most anticipated games list does not involve complex spreadsheets or voting systems. Everyone just wrote down a few games that they're looking forwards to, innit. There turned out to be a lot since, as aforementioned, 2020 looks set to be a good year for games. Which, to confirm, we think are fun.
New games 2020: the most exciting new PC games
The games in question are in chunks of five, and you can navigate through the pages using the links below. They're arranged roughly in order of when they're going to come out, with the ones that we have definitely dates for coming first, and then all yer vague TBCs or 'early 2020' types coming afterwards. There are a couple at the end that technically don't have a confirmed 2020 window, but we're living in hope for.
That's it. Fill your boots!
What is it? The third in Ubisoft's hacktion-adventure series has a right royal cockney knees up in good old Lahndahn tahn.
When is it out? March 3rd, 2020
Alice Bee: With every passing day the setting for Watch Dogs: Legion, a near-dystopian, near-future version of London which has gone a bit fascist police state with surveillance drones everywhere, seems a bit too on the nose. Like that mate you have who calls it "BrexSHIT, more like!" before slapping the sticky pub table, I have an urge to tell Watch Dogs: Lahndahn that its heart is in the right place, but it's being a bit obvious and needs to dial it back.
That being said, and based on the hands on I had, WDL looks like it will genuinely be a blahdy good time. This year's unique selling point is that you can recruit and play as basically any NPC you see in the game, which legitimately means you can have a gang of hacker grannies. I'm all for that. Plus, I'd probably get in trouble for destroying security cameras in real life, so in the game I can exercise any frustrations I have regarding the current political climate, with no consequences!
Additionally, and this cannot be overstated, it is amazing to see a game accurately depicting a location from the UK. Normally I am confronted by idealised images of North America at almost every turn, a place where even the buildings are more attractive, so it'll be a real treat to see the damp pavements and overflowing dogshit bins of my homeland instead.
What is it? The sequel to the best action platformer in the last decade, now with sad owls.
When is it out? March 11th, 2020
Katharine: I was mildly devastated when Ori And The Will Of The Wisps got pushed back to early 2020, as it was one of the games I was most looking forward to playing last year. Still, as the great Shigeru Miyamoto once said, "A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad."
It's an apt quote, too, as one of Ori's lead devs Thomas Mahler has described Will Of The Wisps as being "to Blind Forest what Super Mario Bros 3 was to the original Super Mario Bros." Them's fighting words if ever I saw 'em, but man alive does it get the blood going. Indeed, from the looks of last year's E3 trailer, Will Of The Wisps looks to be bigger, bolder and more cinematic than anything Blind Forest had to offer, and we've already seen several screen-hogging monsters chasing down tiny little Ori like an ant that needs squashing. As long as none of them are as frustrating to escape as Blind Forest's cursed Ginso Tree, Will Of The Wisps looks like it could be a real treat indeed.
And hey, even if the platforming and powers don't quite match the level of Blind Forest's acrobatic leaps or projectile-flipping Bash attacks, at least we'll have another beautifully orchestrated Gareth Coker soundtrack to enjoy along the way. Whatever happens with Will Of The Wisps, my ears are most certainly ready.
What is it? The follow up to id Software's 2016 reboot of their classic FPS series, with added meat hook and evil angels.
When is it out? March 20th, 2020
Katharine: I love a bit of Doom, me, and I'm Super Shotgun levels of pumped for id's latest hell fest. There's a reason why Doom (2016) is one of my go-to benchmarks for PC games these days. It's got everything. The sheer speed of it is great for pushing graphics cards and monitors to their absolute limit, and its pumping soundtrack is a real treat when it's being lobbed down your ear holes on a top notch gaming headset. And Doom Eternal looks as though it's going to dial all of that up to eleven. Or, you know, just punch the hype dial in the face and have done with it.
Like the very best Doom game in this long-running series, Doom II (yes, you heard me), Hell has come to Earth in Doom Eternal, but you'll be planet hopping all over the shop by the time your DoomSlayer's had his fill of demon guts, with Mars, its moon Phobos and the whole of heaven making an appearance as well. It looks to be Doom's most spectacular outing yet, with huge, eye-popping vistas hanging across the horizon, and I can't wait to run, jump and gun my way across them all. There will also be lots of nostalgic nods to classic Doom II enemies, too, including the spider brain on legs Arachnotron, the spongy, demon-spewing maw of the Pain Elemental and everyone's favourite resurrecting demon Jesus, the dreaded Archvile.
Doom Eternal isn't just about reliving the series' glory days, though, as there are plenty of brand-new things to get to grips with to round out the DoomSlayer's arsenal. Chief among them is the shiny new meat hook. Attaching to your trusty shotgun, this lethal grappling hook can lodge itself into tenderised demon flesh and pull you towards them, which will no doubt make for some even more gruesome and violent glory kill finishing moves. The meat hook isn't just for lassoing your next quarry, either. It will also let you traverse the highs and lows of id's fresh hellscape faster and more efficiently, bringing some much needed variety to its larger, multi-part missions.
id have also made some interesting changes to the way you find ammo and armour shards around the levels, and they've revamped the previous game's runes, perks and upgrades system as well, hopefully making everything a bit simpler, and more in the spirit of its 90s source material. Really, though, I'm just looking forward to having another excuse to shower Hell Knights and Cyberdemons with my Super Shotgun again - and if anyone or anything gets in my way between now and March 20th (except you, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, you're all right), there'll be hell to pay.
What is it? Valve give VR a significant shot in the arm with this, an FPS prequel to Half-Life 2 where you play as Alyx Vance.
When is it out? March 2020
Alice Bee: This is a weird one for me to be excited for, because I have played Half-Life 2 but it hasn't become a brick in the wall of my psyche like it did for so many others. I also do not own a VR headset because VR makes me nauseous, so I look forward to going round Graham's house and being sick on all his small furnishings when I play this. Because here I am, excited about Half-Life: Alyx.
It is Alyx Vance, everyone's favourite NPC from Half-Life 2, who brings us the closest thing to Half-Life 3 that has yet appeared (even though it is a prequel and therefore, like, a full numeral away from being HL3). The fight against the alien Combine will involve using your big VR hands to sweep things aside looking for bullets, and holding buttons down while you lean around corners to shoot.
I think the big VR hands is my biggest excitement. It'll be lovely, I'm sure, for fans to go back into that world again, but while I'm not not a fan, I'm also not that arsed about Half-Life. I am arsed about there being good, chonky games for VR, because that is interesting. Whatever else Valve might be, the are undeniably good at making video games. There isn't a Valve game that I haven't enjoyed, and I think my favourite VR thing I've ever played is Valves The Lab, and that's just a bunch of room sized experimental VR mini-games. I'm pretty sure if anyone can do an actually good VR FPS, it is Valve.
Also, Rhys Darby, one of the world's funniest people alive today, plays your aging mate in it. So actually scratch what I just said, that is my biggest excitement.
Resident Evil 3 (remake)
What is it? The remake of Capcom’s third game in their survival horror series chock full of bitey dead people.
When is it out? April 3rd, 2020
Dave: It seems that the rabid appetite of Resident Evil fans matches the snapping jaws of the zombies infesting Raccoon City. No sooner had they shot the hat off boss monster Mr. X in the Resident Evil 2 remake than the wails for a remake of Resi 3 began.
Resident Evil 3 was not as big in scope as Resident Evil 2, but it did give us Nemesis. He’s another large lad clad in leather that is, if you can believe it, more terrifying than the similarly clad Mr. X. While Mr. X loved to give you a swift slug around the face, Nemesis was packing a rocket launcher as he stalked the last surviving S.T.A.R.S. member and “master of unlocking” protagonist Jill Valentine across the undead-littered streets of Raccoon City. The Resi 3 remake looks to improve on this by giving Nemesis a flamethrower as well, but it doesn't seem like much else will have changed beyond what was improved in Resi 2's remake last year.
So, as if the remake of another classic in this most classic of series needed to be more inviting, this one instead comes with a multiplayer mode, stapled alongside it in much the same way that staples hold together Nemesis's big weird zombie face.
It's an asymmetric multiplayer, where the idea is that four surprisingly normal people enter a house of horrors, while a fifth ruins their day by unleashing monsters and traps. I can get behind that. After all, we’ve seen a few asymmetrical horror multiplayer games in recent years, so there’s clearly an appetite for this sort of thing, and they've mostly turned out to be a loada fun. I have no doubt in my mind, then, that the Resident Evil 3 remake will be just as tasty as the Resident Evil 2 one was.
What is it? “A game based on the paintings of the Avengers on the sides of fairground rides” - Nate Crowley, 2019.
When is it out? May 15th, 2020
Nate: Well, I don’t know about you, but I for one can’t wait to see Ron Weasley and the other folks from the space ship Enterprise take on Lex Luther and his Daleks in this thrilling adventure. May the 15th be with you!
What I’m saying is, the major pop culture franchises are starting to feel a bit like giant men with hammers, smashing me around the inside of a lightless shipping container as I whimper for help: they’re huge, I can’t get away from them, and my brain is now so damaged I can barely tell them apart any more as they continue their merciless pounding.
Given that context then, I’m excited for the release of Marvel’s Avengers, and it doesn’t even matter to me any more that all the superheroes in the game look and sound slightly, but eerily, different from their on-screen counterparts. After this long under the hammers of Disney’s brutes, I’ll take what I’m given, offering a thumbs-up as I wolf it down with a mouth full of shattered teeth.
What is it? After CD Projekt Red were done with The Witcher they decided to adapt a popular TRPG, and the result is a first-person action RPG that everyone is going pre-release bananas for.
When is it out? September 17th, 2020
Alice Bee: Sheesh, when I was a kid a cyberpunk was someone who listened to Rancid and whispered filthy things in chat to Night Elves playing in rp servers! Ha ha ha! I kid of course, because the first edition of the Cyberpunk tabletop game, on which this video game is based, came out before I was born.
I was initially lukewarm at best on Cyberpunk 2077, because all we saw were very pretty videos that were clearly extremely scripted and probably not representative of the actual experience of playing the game. Also the first video had what I consider an unnecessary amount of ice cold, nude, almost dead woman. Like, I don't need a close up of a damp nipple as a shorthand for your game being gritty and detailed.
The most recent big chunk of game shown off in a video still felt pretty tightly controlled - as show demos all do, in fairness. I also, alone of the 7.5 billion people on the planet, have concerns about Keanu Reeves appearing as a cyber ghost who lives in your head, because voice acting calls for more bombast than Keanu's brand of tender yet implacable hardman. Like, I love Keanu, I'm just saying, is this the right job for him? BUT...
... God, it does look like so much fun doesn't it? Not being a shooty punchmaster, but being a hacker, crawling through the walls, hiding in ur computerz, and garroting people with your laserwhip. Yes, that I will take unlimited helpings of, please. Jack me the fuck in.
What is it? A turn based combat and story creation game.
When is it out? May-ish 2020
Sin: I almost didn’t include Wildermyth because I fear that by banging on about it too much I’ll start to put people off. But a lot of you will understandably wait for a game’s full release rather than take a punt on it in early access, so it belongs here. It is already one of my favourite games. You lead three farmers as they defend their village, then head out into the world to fight a great menace.
Along the way they’ll grow and change more as people than as classes or piles of statistics. You must explore a strategic map, fighting and exploring and suffering and celebrating and dying across multiple generations, before the final showdown with whatever evil you’re up against this time. Travelling and fighting can kick off subplots for specific characters, which tell succinct but excellent micro-stories to flesh them out and tempt you to care about them a little too much. Its fighting is small scale but fierce and always threatening, losing anyone stings, and the strategy layer is just complex enough.
You’ll build occasional facilities like a tannery or woodcutter, to provide resources you can build weapons with in the next chapter of your story. You’ll make decisions you regret. You’ll get complacent and someone will lose an arm to an already wounded monster you underestimated. You’ll choose cruelty and feel guilt for it. You’ll take a full month away from saving the world to build a monument to your fallen friend.
It is very, very good already and I am excited to see it take off.
What is it? A sort of tactical king 'em up? Game Of Thrones simulator? You are a king, and you have to make political decisions, whilst also not annoying your family, whilst also not annoying your subjects.
When is it out? Early 2020
Alice Bee: I played Yes, Your Grace at EGX and absolutely loved it. The start of the game is sort of a massive spoiler, since a giant enemy army is already at the gates of your castle being very menacing, and you have to give an inspiring speech. But then it flashes back in time, and I don't know if you can actually do anything to avert military disaster, but boy I really hope so.
In Yes, Your Grace, you are the king, and you go around your castle solving different problems. Your daughters are at various stages of being headstrong and are not fans of arranged marriage for political reasons, the selfish children. Then you might go and inspect the dungeons, which are falling apart a bit, but also contain a drunk hooligan. There's a "we made a promise long ago and forgot about it" kind of devil's bargain in play with you and your queen. And, you get petitioned every day by your subjects, who come to your throne room and ask for stuff.
People need food, funds, and sometimes they need some big rough army lads to protect them from marauding bandits. It's got a similar vibe to Reigns, but instead of swiping cards you get to see people actually chumping up to your throne and paying obeisance. I'm fully on board.
What is it? A melancholy time travelling visual novel about relationships, regret, and music.
When is it out? Early 2020
Sin: If I’d given it more time this would likely have been my pick of EGX. Across The Grooves tells the story of Alice, a woman who’s sort of content in her unassuming life, until she listens to a vinyl record sent by a former lover, and gradually realises that something has changed in her past.
It’s a gorgeous game with an appropriate focus on music and sound, and the central conceit is a really interesting one. You investigate, of course, and try to track down this mysterious lover, while trying not to worry your friends, who you’re suddenly alienated from because your version of reality no longer matches theirs. The knock-on effects of some unknown change in your history have huge narrative potential, and from what I saw, Across The Grooves focussed on the personal and the emotional rather than the overworn science fiction angle many writers would have gone for. There’s a potent shot of wistful, existential sadness to it, but it’s mostly very warm.
I am very prone to reverie, wallowing and wandering and imagining all the possible ways my life would have changed had I said or done one thing differently years ago. It’s fertile ground for introspection, and a credit to the creators that amongst all this, I was thinking exclusively about Alice’s story and life instead of my own.
What is it? A Picross meets Phoenix Wright visual novel set in the 90s where you solve crimes with your cute robot bud.
When is it out? Early 2020
Katharine: Mediatonic's upcoming detective puzzle 'em up ticks so many boxes for me, I don't even know where to start. In a nutshell, it's a crime-solving visual novel set in the 90s where you play as Honor Mizrahi, an actress on a hit TV detective show who suddenly finds herself as the prime suspect in her real life boss' murder trial. While it's not yet clear whether you'll end up heading to court to prove your innocence, this visual novel is very much in the same vein as Capcom's excellent Phoenix Wright series, and its music is even composed by Phoenix Wright's head courtroom maestro, Masakazu Sugimori.
That alone would normally be enough to pique my interest, but Murder By Numbers goes one step further by adding Picross-style evidence puzzles to the mix as well. Instead of poking around crime scenes and gathering clues the old fashioned way with a simple click of your mouse, Murder By Numbers makes you work for your freedom by getting you to solve pixel-based nonograms before they can be added to your inventory, giving you brain as much of a workout as your text-advancing clicker finger. Round that out with a colourful cast of characters designed by Hatoful Boyfriend creator, Hato Moa, and you've got a positively criminal combination of visual novel heavyweights here.
Of course, a lot will depend on the twists and turns of Honor's case before it can truly hold its own against the detective juggernaut that is Phoenix Wright, but with a range of cases promised that will take us out of the TV studio and into award shows, drag clubs and more, Murder by Numbers could be just the thing we need to fill the Ace Attorney-shaped hole in our lives.
What is it? A post-apocalyptic RPG with a hearty smack of horrormeat.
When is it out? First half of 2020
Alice0: Looking at Death Trash gives me urges to shout “Hack the planet!”, both for the full-on wacky cyberpunk tinge and the fact that this planet is full of meatbeasts I may need to hack into tiny pieces. We’ve been posting about Death Trash for four years now (four years!) and I’m excited to finally have a go with this early access launch.
Stats, quests, and all that are great but I’m well up for some rude and grubby stylings, as well as mucking about with NPCs. Supposedly we’ll have a fair bit of freedom to complete our tasks, including picking fights for the sake of it (with real-time, top-down shooty combat) and I think eating our own vomit? I mean, sure, why not. While Cyberpunk 2077 has set many people wanging on about how serious and cutting a genre cyberpunk is, I’m glad to see more revelling in just how much crass B movie trash cyberpunk spawned. I love trash.
Also, the character the devs use in a lot of screenshots is rocking the same style as me circa 2014. Hack the planet!
What is it? A turn based strategy shooter and mobster sim.
When is it out? Spring 2020
Sin: I tried to get into Gangsters several times, but never made it. It was just a little too “90s strategy game”, that initial barrier of opacity just too much. Empire Of Sin (yes, yes, well done) looks very much like the answer I’ve been looking for.
You’re mobsters fighting over the criminal rackets of Prohibition-era Chicago, directing your goons to muscle and backstab their way to power however you see fit. But direct force isn’t always the way, as there’s political dealing and double dealing to be done, alliances to forge, favours to exchange with shady characters. And those goons are distinct personalities, formed of all sorts of backgrounds and characters including the ones most "nyeeeh, now listen see" genre fiction omits, as Alice Bee reported last year. She enthused about it all week, and I can see why.
Your people will pick up more traits and habits, and even develop relationships with each other based on their behaviour and your decisions in its turn-based shootouts. And it’s not all fighting - this is business after all, not an invasion.
What is it? Norman Reedus plays a post-apocalyptic postman in the first game from Metal Gear maestro Hideo Kojima’s new studio.
When is it out? Summer 2020
Alice0: I had feared that Kojima cut loose might fall into his worst habits but reactions from pals playing the PlayStation 4 debut last year have me proper stoked. It really is a game where we’re primarily walking around and delivering packages. Yes, absolutely, I do want to cross a blasted landscape while tapping buttons to keep my balance so I don’t stack it down a hill.
That really is what the game is, mostly. Off Norm goes into the hills, stacked high with parcels for Kojima’s pals, trying not to fall over and break the presents. Then maybe you lay some ladders. Lay ropes. Invest in transport infrastructure. Deliver more parcels, faster, and better.
I’m just disappointed to hear combat crops up. I’d be perfectly happy with delivering post in a world of Kojima-grade daftness and lovely landscapes. But from what PS4 pals tell me, I might mostly be pleased.
What is it? Big John Halo’s next thrilling adventure.
When is it out? “Holidays” 2020 (So, Q4, then?)
Nate: “He’s big, he’s green, he loves a plate of beans”. That’s what they say about good old Saint Motocross, the main geezer off of Halo. After the famous Heinz advert, in which our man bursts into a family’s home and calmly threatens to drown their dog unless they let him sit at their kitchen table and eat all of their baked beans, Microsoft’s flagship shooter series will forever be associated with those popular orange ovals that taste so good on hot, buttered toast. And rightly so: I, for one, will never forget the sight of Mr. Halo hunched over his seventeenth tin of the things, spooning them into a little hatch on the front of his helmet while emitting tiny, horrid gasps of satisfaction.
Of course, the reason I’m lying so much about beans - and I will stop now - is that there’s not actually much more to say about Halo: Infinite since its trailer dropped at last year’s E3. We know 343 Industries want to take the aesthetic of the series back to its perceived peak with 2007’s Halo 3, and re-centre the Chief after he jumped into the narrative equivalent of the Warthog’s passenger seat for Halo 5. It looks like they’re stopping short of a franchise reboot, opting instead to make “a great Halo game for our fans that also invites new players into our franchise,” (whatever that means), but there’s no doubt Infinite is taking former UK Prime minister John Major’s words to heart and going Back to Basics.
Still, there’s possibly one big change in the works: given the capabilities of the new game engine, and the huge vistas suggested by the trailer, there’s a lot of speculation that Colonel Fightgun’s next big day out might be a very big day out indeed, ditching the series’ famously tight level design (ok, usually tight level design), in favour of going open world. This had mixed results in 2009’s Halo:ODST, but seeing as they’ve had ten years to work on the formula, I’m open to it.
What is it? The long awaited sequel to a 2004 cult hit action RPG about being a cool, modern day vampire.
When is it out? TBC 2020
Alice Bee: They (I) said it would never happen! The first Bloodlines, wherein you mostly suck and sometimes fuck your way around LA county, was a bit of a mess, and it was the last game Troika Games ever put out. But if you love Bloodlines, you love it so hard. It is, to date, one of the only games I've ever played that understood how to be sexy without being cringy. Imagine my exuberance when I found out there was going to be a sequel! With the same lead writer in Brian Mitsoda! At long last!
People are going to expect a lot from Bloodlines 2, which is why I welcomed the news that the release was being pushed from March this year to an unspecified some time later this year. Previews so far show that it's a little rough in some places, but very much in the vein we want (i.e. there are cute girls and boys, and grim sewers, and you can drink people's blood pretty indiscriminately) whilst adding its own innovations, like different emotional resonances to blood.
Bloodlines 2 is set in Seattle, so it's a bit moodier than the first game, and it has an intriguing hook. You play as a newly turned Thinblood bloodsucker (a weaker sort of vampire) who was created in an illegal mass siring event. So, just like the first Bloodlines, you're immediately thrown into the mad politicking of the vampire clans in Seattle. Also you have a cool warehouse conversion flat with a Pepe Silvia conspiracy wall. Honestly. Be still my beating heart. Because of the vampire thing, see? Haha.
Disclosure: Cara Ellison is senior narrative designer on Bloodlines 2 and she used to write for us sometimes. Also she used to live with Alice0. You're used to these by now, surely?
What is it? GTA, but you’re a fool’s idea of a shark.
When is it out? TBC 2020
On the one hand (because each of my two minds controls one of my hands, apparently), it looks really fun, in a brash, bombastic, boneheaded sort of way. You’re a big angry shark! You zoom around the sea, doing sick flips, and only stopping biting people in half with a big, visceral GRUNCH of your jaws. This trailer even featured a big beefy lad using a catfish as an air guitar, just because it felt like it. It’s Grindhouse Ecco The Dolphin, basically, and on a certain level I can get behind that.
But on the other hand… well, there’s nothing in my other hand, because it’s slapped to my forehead in dismay. Sharks are nowhere near as constantly, psychotically aggressive as they are portrayed as being in almost all shark-based media. They’re ridiculously capable when it comes to murder, but we really, really flatter ourselves with the idea that they’ve got any real interest in humans as prey. Attacks, especially fatal ones, are vanishingly rare, and are usually either cases of sharks being provoked, or mistaking people for seals because of wetsuits. Honestly, we’re way more into killing sharks - according to research published in 2011 by Marine Policy, we probably get through an entire Battle-of-Arras’-worth every day, adding up to 100 million each year.
So yeah, we could probably do without yet another piece of media hyping sharks up as kerr-azee killing machines that exist purely to titillate us as objects of fear. I seem to remember Tripwire excusing it all away with an in-game story where it turns out the Main Shark is only being mean because he got Bambi’d as a pup by the aforementioned beefy catfish man, but… come on mate, that’s weak. I suspect I’ll still have a lot of fun with Maneater, mind, if the base pleasure centres of my brain can force my rational mind’s face into a toilet (while hissing ”shuddup, nerd”) for long enough.
What is it? A cosy little housebout management game where you sail with the deceased to their final destinations, but make them comfy on the way. Stardew Valley meets Charon the ferryman.
When is it out? TBC 2020
Alice Bee: Games feature death a lot, but are rarely about death in a meaningful way. Spiritfarer is nice and calm, and you get to build nice houses for the animals that you're ferrying. And you get to know them, and care about them, and then they go.
The end of 2018 and start of 2019 featured an unexpected amount of loss for me, so the idea of making death a positive, gentle thing is an attractive one. In Spiritfarer, your friends leave you, but they will also have taught you things, and you will never lose that.
And, if you like having things to do, there are islands to explore, a little garden to till, and fishing to be done. You can even cook, and trade with a weird little floating shop. Life sucks, and then you die, they say. But what if it didn't?
What is it? Grand Strategy/RPG hybrid about being a giant medieval bastard.
When is it out? Tbc the yeare of our lorde 2020
The Duke of Burgundy: Gadzooks, etc. We’ve written a lot about CK3 since it was revealed at PDXCon last October, which I imagine you’ll have already read if you’re a long-term fan of the series looking to find out what’s new for part three. If you’ve never played a Crusader King before, however, and you’re about to skip this entry in the post because you’re thinking it’s about to jump into the sort of jargon-heavy, serious business discussion that successive instalments of a famously complex historical strategy game tend to demand, well… don’t! Because there’s a good chance, from what we’ve seen so far, that even if you’re not into trudging, grognard map-pondering games at all, CK3 might just hook you in.
Crusader Kings 2, of course, is famous for being a weirdly silly RPG hiding in the shell of a strategy game like a fun snail that watches way too much Game Of Thrones. It seems like Paradox are capitalising on that strange duality for the sequel, too - while the game’s strategy shell is just as big as before, it’s prettier (with a whole new 3D art style), and seems to have undergone a real UI overhaul, making it far less easy to get bogged down in menus, windows and inexplicable numbers, without actually flattening out the underlying complexity of it all. But most importantly, the snail is MASSIVE now.
In fact, it’s not even a snail any more. It’s a semi-slug , which is a snail that’s evolved to the point where it’s still got a shell, but it won’t fit inside it any more. Or, to put it more plainly, if CK2 was a strategy game with an RPG built into it, CK3 is a massive freeform RPG, about running every successive generation of a dynasty of medieval gits, with an almost-as-massive strategy game stuck on the top.
You’ll be able to create your own religion! Of cannibals. Who are also giants! With Haemophilia. Who decide to conquer Venice! But fail, because the forgotten descendant of a son you disinherited for not being giant enough two hundred years ago has showed up to get his revenge, with an army of Bavarian mercenaries funded - in the name of stamping out heresy - by the Pope. Who’s a horse! Probably.
You get the idea. If you like things which look like games, but are actually just enormously convoluted machines for generating stories with player input, then CK3 is one you should have your eye on.
What is it? A critter-evolving survive-o-explore-a-puzzler from the makers of Zeno Clash.
When is it out? TBC 2020
Alice0: A blanket rule: I am interested in any game ACE Team make. They’ve yet to make a game looking like anything anyone else was making, and this will continue that with a vast crushing cylinder rolling across the surface of a planet filled with surreal life. We’ll be in charge of a species of hapless wee critters fleeing the deathroller, gathering new mutations to gain new abilities and trying to survive.
Furry critters good for the cold! Puffy critters who can carry more! Cubic critters who can fit into square holes! Hoppy critters who can leap! Webfooted critters who can swim! Cylindrical critters who can roll, like miniature versions of their incoming destroyer!
It seems a bit Pikmin, a bit Spore, a bit full-on ACE Team surrealness with strange and terrible wildlife and scenery. Their willingness to wham in buried vast statues and gangly elephants remains a treat.
What is it? Exploration adventure when you're swooping across an alien desert planet, and everything looks like a cartoon.
When is it out? TBC 2020
Alice Bee: Sable caught everyone's eye when it was revealed at E3 in 2018. "I don’t really know what Sable is going to involve," said our Alec at the time. "I’m not sure I much care, so long as it looks and sounds like this."
It looks like it'll fulfil some of the same need for loveliness and seamless exploration, and that feeling of boundless exploration, that you get when you play previous famous sandsurfer Journey.
But Sable also promises story and coming-of-age discovery on top of that, so I am extra intrigued. So often games that are achingly beautiful to look at end up being a bit empty, like violets made of sugar paste that crumble as soon as you touch them. How impressive, then, when they manage to have substance as well. Perhaps...?
What is it? A top-down RPG adventure with the most beautiful pixel art you ever did see.
When is it out? TBC 2020
Katharine: I first played Eastward back at EGX Rezzed 2019, and I was absolutely bowled over by its gorgeous, expressive pixel art, light puzzles and gentle, frying pan-whacking combat. It's like a Studio Ghibli reimagining of The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past, only with a shaggy, bearded bloke in a bomber jacket as the main hero instead of a pink-haired elven chap in a pointy hat.
Said shaggy bloke is a miner called John, who discovers a strange girl called Sam in a secret underground facility. Together, they make their escape, journeying to new, unknown realms in this rather handsome post-apocalypse to find out the truth about Sam's origins, and why the last remaining settlements of this near-future society are being attacked by strange, all-consuming monsters.
In truth, it's not just John that's the hero of Eastward. Sam deserves equal billing, too, as you'll be able to switch between this unlikely duo at will throughout their adventure. While some puzzles will call for a swing of John's frying pan, for example, others will require Sam's zappy, freezy magic powers. Throw in some light RPG elements and a score composed by Gorogoa and Hohokum music man Joel Corelitz, and Eastward has everything it needs to go down as one of this year's great indie games. Onward to Eastward.
What is it? A skateboarding sim in which you are a bird
When is it out? TBC 2020
Sin: SkateBird has been steadily sneaking up on us all for a few years. What could have been a wacky, disposable joke game is instead a sincere effort to make a genuinely decent skateboarding sim about small birds who are zooming about tabletops, using magazines as ramps and pencils as railings to grind down, and flapping their wings to gain a little extra height during jumps.
I don’t care for skateboards or games about them, but the appeal of these fluffy little dopes was hard to resist at EGX last year. It was immediately engaging and as delightful as it appears, without being saccharine or obnoxiously twee about it. You scoot, you jump, flip and twist and bash face first into the floor, but can instantly restart with a single button. Within a few minutes you’ll get the basics and start experimenting, and I felt myself improving even in that short time, leaving room for both people who love to master complex moves and those of us who are mostly happy to pootle about and mash our way into something resembling competence.
It’s all very silly, but if nothing else, it’ll be nice to play a skateboarding game without the threat of breadlocks or horrible 2000s brat rock.
What is it? Walking into the throne room of the Civ series with a serious expression, and reaching into its robe to- LOOK OUT, HE’S GOT A SHOOTER
When is it out? TBC 2020
Nate: If the term “4X” hadn’t been coined in the early 90s then, according to the naming conventions of today, your Endless Spaces, your Ages Of Wonder, your Gladiuses, and all the rest of those games where you put cities down on a hex-based map and make them fart out troops to take other peoples’ cities, would be called Civlikes. Because while there’s no shortage of good and even outstanding games in the genre, they’re all - to some extent, and with no insult intended - a bunch of Adams made in the image of the Sid Meier’s Civilization god. Case in point: I say these games have hex-based maps, but that only became de rigeur when Civilization 5 introduced them. Before that, everything was squares.
Now, however, that might all be about to change*. Because one of the aforementioned Adams - Amplitude’s Endless Space series - was actually only feigning loyalty to the almighty. In actual fact he was a plant; a prototype for a new, rival deity, who spent his time in the garden of Eden studying God’s habits, so as to be able to kill him when the time came. By which I mean - in the words of Amplitude’s chief creative officer, Romain de Waubert: “Amplitude was founded with the intention of creating this game, all the games we’ve created up until now have been leading up to this moment.”
That game is Humankind, and while what we’ve seen of it so far is surrounded by the usual hypey numberboasts that precede a launch like this (“one million civilizations!”,”a whole new approach to [concept]!”), a lot of them seem… well, fairly sober and accurate, to be honest. Unless they manage to completely drop the eggs on the way from the stove to the table, this should be one crikey of a breakfast. And while deicide might not be on the cards just yet, and it’s hard to imagine the Civ series as a whole falling by the wayside, it certainly looks like God might have some competition at last.
*maybe not the hexes, though. I’m not actually sure if the Humankind map is based on hexes, because from what I’ve seen, it just looks like… an actual map. Genuinely, there could be fuckin pentagons under all those hills and sprawling cities, and I’d be none the wiser.
What is it? A slow paced building and survival strategy game based on neolithic human settlements.
When is it out? “Some point in 2020”
Sin: Ancient Cities boast of a "simulated ecosystem where every plant and animal you see is growing, reproducing and dying", which is the kind of thing I live for even on top of the slow and gently cerebral village growing sim it looks like. Your little group of prehistoric humans must work together to build shelter, gather food for the winter, and build a settlement where everyone is a simulated person who can leave at any time.
As the fully simulated seasons pass, and optional natural disasters ravaged or bounce off your village, you’ll set down roots that could grow into a society over multiple generations and entire eras of technology, architecture, and even early politics. I’m picturing something a bit like Banished plus Age Of Empires, or a very small scale Civilisation. And also something sort of new. The developers’ Twitter feed is a regular source of interesting historical and archaeological articles and influences, and gives the strong impression that they’re interested in the way that real human towns and cultures are naturally shaped by their environment and circumstances.
The best building games aren’t about scale, but about being able to see vestiges of earlier forms of your own unique creation even in its later, drastically different stages. This one seems to understand that.
What is it? A first person multiplayer slapstick stabathon.
When is it out? 2020
Sin: Melee fighting games were mostly bad until Chivalry Colon Medieval Warfare. It’s not complicated. Two teams (in most game modes), distinguished by wearing either blue or red (a standard which, for the love of god, games where you can get covered in blood desperately need to replace with any other colour), appear on a map, and must run around and try to stick each other with various unpleasant bits of metal and wood.
The four classes offer distinct roles, with ranged fellas, slow but strong knights, middling polearm wavers, and weak but intensely irritating people dodging everyone’s blows and whacking them in the mouth with a stick. That would be me. I loved the quarterstaff, which with the right timing could rain constant blows on a hapless pre-corpse in full plate as he angrily swung his giant axe and tiny pecker about, screaming. The ludicrous violence, meaty crunching and hacking noises interspersed with frequent giggles and three or four people repeatedly going “yes, yes” to each other for no clear reason. Yes, I miss Chivalry.
I’m describing the original because everything we’ve heard so far indicates Chivalry 2 will be very much an iteration. There’ll be mounted combat now too, and more interactive maps, but mostly the devs seem devoted to refining the already great combat to feel more smooth, hefty, and to animate more cleanly, so you’ll have a better idea that someone simply out-feinted you rather than used tedious nerdly exploits.
What is it? Stealthy real-time tactics, with cowboys.
When is it out? TBC 2020
Matt: Shadow Tactics: Blades Of The Shogun was very chuffing good. It turned sneaky murder into chains of ‘what ifs’. What if I get my samurai to throw his saké in front of that guard, then have my ninja toss a stone to turn the head of his friend? Or what if my ageing sniper sends out his pet tanuki, while the little girl plays a flute that lures in the second guard for a stabbing?
Picking apart those puzzles was a joy, and I’m going on about them because developers Mimimi are gearing up to treat me to some more. I’ve already played a little of Desperados 3, and I’ve already rumbled it as a Shadow Tactics sequel wearing a cowboy coat.
What I’ve played and seen builds on Tactics in clever, interesting ways. There are social areas you can run around in without being attacked, letting you set up Hitman-type assassinations. Most characters have guns, letting you choose when to shift from stealth into shootouts, manageable thanks to a new button that lets you pause. Who knows what elaborate plans that extra control will let me concoct. I bet they’ll be gleeful.
What is it? A noir detective adventure where you are a private detective who is also a raccoon. But, y'know, a raccoon in a trench coat.
When is it out? TBC 2020
Alice Bee: Just like the Castles, also of this parish, I am a sucker for a detective story. Even terrible ones, like all the American police procedurals I watch. Luckily, Backbone looks like it might actually be very good. It's set in an alternate world where everyone is a big anthropomorphic animal. Dogs are better than people, etc.
You, detective Howard "Howie" Lotor, are a big raccoon with a big tail. Howie sits in the bath reading and smoking, whilst photo negatives develop on a line just above him. I would question the fire safety of doing that, but hey, that's just the kind of guy Howie is. Anyway, y'go around interviewing suspects, asking people questions and getting into appropriately private detective-y scrapes. Are you honest about who you are, or do you say you're Wallace, who works in publishing? Do you chat about your contacts family and listen to his stupid jokes, or try and cut to the chase?
If you're inclined, there's a free demo on Steam so you can get a taste of playing it yourself. There's a bit of the ol' interspecies prejudice as a stand in for racism, which is usually heavy handed and ineffective in my experience of games using it, but Backbone otherwise looks very good, and the way you navigate conversations, using different tones, really made me feel like a gumshoe.
What is it? City management, with space whales.
When is it out? “Coming Soon”
Matt: I don’t really go in for city building, but Before We Leave looks different. You build up charming wooden colonies on planets plagued by space whales, occasionally forcing you to pick up and leave. Then you start again on a new planet, foraging through ancient ruins for futuristic tech.
It’s the kind of structure I need to draw me out of my comfort zone. I find endless expansion and refinement too listless, improvement merely for the sake of improvement. Chuck some space whales at me, though, and I’ll happily cobble up some villages.
Apart from total annihilation at the flippers of those whales, there is no violence. Lead developer Sam Barham told me how he was keen to step away from murderous competition, to create something that “didn’t contribute” to all that. As someone who spends 99% of computer games stabbing or shooting everything in sight, this sounds like a refreshing change of pace.
What is it? A 2D action adventure with meaty combat and a very strong beard game
When is it out? TBC
Katharine: Unto The End was one of my top highlights of EGX 2019, and I've been looking forward to playing the full version of 2Ton Studios' side-scrolling sword 'em up ever since. It's quite a different proposition to your usual 2D hack and slash fare. Instead of waving your blade wildly at your orcish foes, you must parry, deflect and break their stance, Sekiro style. Then you can lunge in for the kill, using the directional buttons on your gamepad to counter their high and low attacks while dodging, ducking and generally staying out of harm's way.
Unto The End doesn't pull its punches, either, as your gruff action dad can be felled in just a couple of strikes. There's blood and butchery at every turn, whether it's lobbing the head off one of your foes, ducking to avoid a spear which then skewers some poor sod behind you, or getting a face load of steel yourself - and to help give you an indication of how your poor gruff action dad is faring, all you need to do is take a look at his beard. The more blood on your beard, the less likely you are to survive the next hit. It's just one of the many brilliant touches in Unto The End's deep and engaging combat system, and it helps bring a welcome sense of scrapiness and tension to every fight.
Indeed, it took me quite a number of goes before I finally saw the conclusion of Unto The End's EGX demo, but its hands-off approach to adventuring felt moreish and refreshing. I've never quite clicked with Sekiro and Dark Souls and the like, but Unto The End has me raring to see it through right to the end credits.
Phew. You've made it to the end. What a list of things to look forwards to, eh? Let us know if you're raring for something not on our list. Make an impassioned plea, and convert us to your game's cause.