Red 5 Studios’ Firefall is one of the most exciting shooters in development. A free-to-play online game, Firefall lets you switch between several classes that fulfill roles like long-ranged damage, healing and turret fire support to engage in player versus player and player versus environment battles. It’ll feature persistent elements and plenty of ways to customize your fighter, and based on what’s been shown off so far, could wind up in contention for best shooter of the year when it launches. The Borderlands-style visuals and jetpacks certainly don’t hurt Firefall’s appeal. Though the emphasis is on shooting things, story isn’t being ignored, as Ender’s Game author Orson Scott Card is working on the fiction.
2 Prey 2
Human Head Studios leaves behind the squishy alien corridors and gravity flipping of the original Prey, along with quite a bit more. Prey 2 is still a first-person shooter, but original’s protagonist Tommy is no longer the playable character. Instead you play as U.S. Marshall Killian Samuels, who gets ripped from Earth and dropped on an alien planet called Exodus. This is not a linear shooter; Samuels will roam Blade Runner-esque futuristic cityscapes as an intergalactic bounty hunter, amassing powerful weapons and gadgets to take on quests and capture targets in an open-world format. It’s quite a shift from the original, and based on what Human Head has so far shown off, looks like it’s a move in the right direction. In an interesting twist, Human Head also completely scrapped the multiplayer mode to focus on producing a lengthy single-player component instead.
3 ) Tera
Tired of clicking on a target in MMOs and watching while your character’s auto-attack whittles down the enemy’s health bar? You should be looking forward to Tera. Bluehole Studio’s game is structured like a standard MMO with dungeon content, quests and progression structures, but it plays like a third-person action game. Positioning and movement are of critical importance, as you can simply dodge out of the way of enemy attacks. Just because an enemy has targeted you doesn’t mean it can magically start hitting you. If its axe doesn’t make contact with your character model, you don’t take damage. It makes for especially challenging dungeon content, and should hopefully make standard fights against common monsters a lot more interesting than hitting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 over and over again. It’s also a visually striking game, which hopefully runs smoothly when it’s finally ready for launch in North America.
4 ) Borderlands 2
Loot games are going to be a big deal in 2012, and Borderlands 2 is part of the reason why. Gearbox’s shooter franchise blends the obsessive item hunting of Diablo with fast-paced first-person shooting. Every time you fire at enemies damage numbers explode then guns and equipment shower out of their corpses. You equip the gear, power up your character, then head into battle to do it all again, only more efficiently. Borderlands 2 will feature four character classes, including a dual-wielding Gunzerker and a reworked version of the Siren class from the first Borderlands. With a greater emphasis on story, humor and better co-operative play, chances are Borderlands 2 could wind up being one of the year’s most entertaining experiences.
5) XCOM: Enemy Unknown
2012 started off strong with a surprise announcement of a new XCOM game from Firaxis. Titled Enemy Unknown, this version of XCOM is built in the style of the 1994 original. This isn’t so much a remake as it is a reworking of the original formula. Combat still takes place in a turn-based format, but the gameplay systems will be altered somewhat along with the interface to make the title playable on consoles as well as PCs. Between sessions of turn-based combat the gameplay shifts to real-time as you manage research, upgrade your soldiers and send out craft after invading UFOs. Firaxis is a great fit, and we’re all hoping for a glorious return to form for a franchise that has been out of the spotlight for far too long. Keep in mind there are actually two XCOM games in development at the moment, the other being the XCOM shooter 2K Marin is working on. Firaxis’ XCOM: Enemy Unknown is scheduled to be released this fall.
6) Mass Effect 3
This is it, the finale to BioWare’s stellar science-fiction role-playing series, which focuses on Commander Shepard’s defense of Earth in the fight against the Reapers. Expect a heavy emphasis on character interaction and storytelling – the signature strengths of Mass Effect – alongside a few things new. While Mass Effect 2 cut out some of the combat and character customization present in the first game, Mass Effect 3 is putting more back in, as well as a simple melee system for close encounters. In a controversial move, BioWare also decided to add a multiplayer element, an odd addition to a franchise that had previously been exclusively single-player. The multiplayer will be kept separate from the single-player, though playing with others can affect your single-player game. Thankfully you’re not forced to play online, so if you really dislike the idea of Mass Effect multiplayer, you can avoid it. Barring some kind of disaster, Mass Effect 3 is a likely candidate for role-playing game of the year at the end of 2012.
7) BioShock Infinite
With the next BioShock title, Irrational Games leaves behind the watery halls of Rapture in favor of a new setting in the sky. You play as Booker DeWitt, tasked with finding a mysteriously gifted woman named Elizabeth in the floating city of Columbia. Doing so is no simple task, as you need to navigate between gangs of angry locals, bizarre temporal anomalies and an overly sensitive giant bird that never wants Elizabeth to leave its sight. You’ll fight with guns and magical powers, though the combat and upgrade system won’t be exactly same as the original BioShock’s. The story delivery will likely also be quite a bit different, as Booker DeWitt isn’t the silent type. He talks to Elizabeth and others, and he won’t be picking through a dead world playing the role of archeologist / warrior; the fight for Columbia is all around him. Given Irrational’s incredible track record, it’s hard to image Infinite being anything but amazing.
8) StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm
Since the release of Wings of Liberty, StarCraft II has spread across gaming circuits worldwide, helping to spur interest in spectating professional matches in a major way. Its traditional real-time strategy mechanics of base building and resource collecting along with its three diverse, meticulously balanced armies represent make for thrilling online contests. Heart of the Swarm, the second of three planned StarCraft II installments, should change things up in a major way. Zerg, Protoss and Terran armies will each be heavily modified, with some units stripped out entirely and many new units added in, which are sure to dramatically alter how each side plays. An all-new single-player campaign rounds out Heart of the Swarm, focusing on the Zerg faction and continuing the story of Kerrigan. If the missions in Heart of the Swarm match the incredible variety found in Wings of Liberty, StarCraft II should have no problem holding on to its title of best modern RTS.
9) Guild Wars 2
It’s been such a long time since Eye of the North. The last expansion to the original Guild Wars came out in 2007, and even back then ArenaNet teased the tie-ins to Guild Wars 2. Years went by without any information, until the studio finally revealed its plans for the sequel. Since then we’ve seen demos, we’ve played it, we’ve interviewed the development team, and every time we walk away with the same impression: Guild Wars 2 is absolutely brilliant. It’s beautiful and packed with creative takes on MMO standards, and will offer plenty for PvPers. Combining an open world, clever ways to encourage social questing and an amazingly flexible customization and combat system, Guild Wars 2 may very well wind up being the best MMO, well, ever.
10) Diablo III
It’s difficult to say any more about this game. We’ve been covering Diablo III at IGN for almost four years. We’ve played the beta, which shows off only a small portion of the game’s beginning, and had an opportunity to pulverize zombies and shatter skeletons with all five of the game’s classes. The skill design is amazingly varied, the sheer amount of things to find and customize irresistible to any drawn to loot games. There are a mind boggling number of progression systems in Diablo III that we hope will help keep us entertained all the way through the Inferno difficulty setting. The cinematics released so far are breathtaking, the gameplay polished and satisfying, and the possibility of making real dollars from item sales through the auction house intriguing. It’s been over a decade since Diablo II: Lord of Destruction. Finally, in 2012, we’ll find out if the wait has been worth it.