With the holidays offering plenty of free time for gamers to catch up on the first crop of next-generation titles, that extra Christmas money is already being spent on pre-orders for the big games of 2014. According to research firm Newzoo, the video game industry is expected to grow 7% from the $70.4 billion it's expected to generate this year, riding the wave of next-generation and lower-priced, current-generation hardware. "With two new consoles fresh on the market, it will be another very interesting year for the games industry," said Peter Warman, CEO of Newzoo. "Traditionally, current-gen console use outnumbers gamers on next-gen consoles for a number of years. To a large degree, games launched for the new devices will help determine the successful growth of next-gen consoles." With Xbox One and PS4 being neck-and-neck with visual fidelity and performance at this early juncture, exclusive games will be a key driver for Sony (SNE) and Microsoft (MSFT). But the industry, as a whole, will continue to support the 80 million PS3s and 80 million Xbox 360s in homes around the world. Publishers will release many games across the key platforms (you'll notice, however, that Wii U isn't included in many publishers' plans) to deliver both a next-gen experience for early adopters as well as a current-gen game for the masses. The following list of 10 games focuses on some of the most anticipated officially announced cross-platform games from third-party publishers coming in 2014.
The developer behind Halo has teamed up with the publisher behind Call of Duty to deliver a brand new sci-fi shooter experience. Destiny has been designed as an always connected experience that gamers can play solo or team up with friends in cooperative and competitive multiplayer modes that seamlessly combine public and social interactions. Players create a custom Guardian avatar, choosing from powerful hunters, warlocks, and titans, and set out to defend the last city on Earth using a combination of weapons and magic. This is the first original game from Bungie since Halo, and the studio reinvented the shooter genre with that franchise. The new focus on community and social play, which will invite multiple players to take a break from their individual or cooperative game experiences to team up and battle a giant enemy boss, has great promise. And even at this early stage, the game looks incredible, offering a wide variety of different worlds to explore and enemies to defeat.
Tom Clancy lives on in the virtual world, thanks to a deal he cut with Ubisoft (UBSFF) back in 2008 that granted the French game publisher ownership to his name and franchises across all media. Ubisoft has sold over 76 million Clancy games across franchises like Splinter Cell, Ghost Recon, and Rainbow Six. The Division is a brand new franchise, and the first that offers a persistent, connected online gameplay experience. Set in New York City three weeks after a lethal virus has transformed the city into a deadly wasteland, the President activates The Division, a top secret unit of tactical agents trained to operate independently of command. The online connected experience allows players to take on mission objectives solo or have friends jump in and out cooperatively at any time. The goal is to eradicate the virus and uncover who is behind it. The persistent online world will evolve over time based on your actions and those of other Division operatives. The latest real world weapons and cutting-edge technology will be at your disposal as the game blends action and role-playing elements with tactical decision-making. This one has all the elements of a great Clancy thriller.
The Elder Scrolls Online
For 20 years, The Elder Scrolls games have provided console and PC gamers with massive storylines to explore with each blockbuster release. Given that a single game could captivate players for 80 hours or more, Zenimax Online Studios has upped the ante with the first massively multiplayer online (MMO) game set in this fantasy universe. Spanning locations from previous games such as Tamriel, Skyrim, Daggerfall, and Morrowind, players will create a character and embark on an epic role-playing experience. The entire game takes place on one massive server, which opens up new connected options for players embarking on solo quests. Alliances will be forged, opening up massive battles with hundreds of players on screen at once battling for one of three factions within the game. The Elder Scrolls games have managed to appeal to both a mainstream audience and core gamers over the years with gameplay that allows players to explore at their own pace and immerse themselves in the rich mythology. This game takes those trademarks online, creating a world that will continue to live on. This brand is one of very few that has the potential to take on Blizzard's World of Warcraft, and win.
Game of Thrones
After experimenting with older Hollywood licenses like Jurassic Park and Back to the Future, Telltale Games delivered the critically acclaimed and award-winning The Walking Dead episodic interactive adventure. The Walking Dead games (a second season is in development) are based on Robert Kirkman's original comics, rather than the hit AMC TV show. Now the game developer is taking the same approach that saw The Walking Dead earn 90 Game of the Year awards in 2012 and apply it to Game of Thrones. The game makers are working with HBO to deliver an episodic adventure that follows George R.R. Martin's bestselling fantasy book series. While not much has been revealed about this just-announced game, it's expected to deliver virtual seasons of interactivity as players explore Westeros and the seven noble families vying for control of the Iron Throne and the Seven Kingdoms. A key focus for Telltale's games are the interpersonal relationships among characters and the hard decisions that need to be made. Game of Thrones is the perfect vehicle for this type of gameplay. And Telltale should deliver a much different experience than the free-to-play Game of Thrones Ascent Facebook game that's currently available from developer Disruptor Beam (and also licensed through HBO).
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
Gamers are in for a double-dose of Solid Snake from game director Hideo Kojima. Developer Kojima Productions is first serving up a $30 Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes game in spring 2014 that will set the stage for the full-scale Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain game. This pair of games, running on brand new Fox Engine game technology, introduces open world gameplay to the bestselling Konami franchise. It's also the first time Kiefer Sutherland steps into the role of Solid Snake. Whether they employ stealth or run-and-gun tactics, it's now completely up to players how they want to accomplish missions in these huge interactive playgrounds. Ground Zeroes boasts a central story mode that will lead into the events of The Phantom Pain, while delivering Side Ops missions ranging from tactical action, aerial assaults, and covert missions. The Phantom Pain is set in 1984, after Snake has awakened from a nine-year coma with a prosthetic hand and enemy soldiers infiltrating the hospital he's in. The game's story sends the newly dubbed Punished Snake on a mission to find out who sabotaged him. The open world setting, which features plenty of combat in Afghanistan, should open up this already popular game to an even bigger audience. Look for both Snake titles to rise to the top of the sales charts.
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
While the new LEGO: The Hobbit game from developer TT Games is sure to be a hit in 2014, the game J.R.R. Tolkien fans are really salivating over is Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. This action role-playing game is a virtual prequel to The Lord of the Rings books (and films). Set between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, players take on the role of the resurrected ranger Talion, who seeks revenge for the murder of his family by Sauron's army. Players will explore Mordor before it's transformed into the dark hell depicted in the books and movies. Developer Monolith Productions is using new Nemesis System technology to deliver a personalized gameplay experience. Every enemy player's face has a name and a personality and, if not killed, they'll grow in power and become archenemies as the game's story progresses. This promises to create a unique fantasy experience for players as they explore a brand new chapter in Tolkien's universe filled with new monsters and surprises.
This reboot of the successful PC franchise re-imagines the world of Thief, while retaining the stealth first-person action gameplay that made the original games stand out from the crowd. Players will slip into the role of Garrett, a master thief who's not a swash-buckling warrior. Gameplay revolves around Garrett's cunning and sleight-of-hand, rather than swordplay, which is refreshing in this day and age. He is adept with a bow and arrow, which is the primary weapon in the game. The open world at your disposal is called The City, which harkens back to post-Victorian era London. After being away for some time, Garrett returns to find a rotting and dismal landscape and embarks on a mission to re-establish himself within town as the master thief, while hunting down an ex-apprentice who's gone rogue. It's up to the player how they go about robbing from the rich and corrupt Baron and his cohorts through an assortment of "jobs" available for thieves. The evolving story, which involves a revolution, reveals itself through interactions and eavesdropping on characters. There's also multiplayer gameplay to keep fans coming back for more after the campaign has been completed.
Respawn Entertainment was founded by the ex-heads of Infinity Ward, creators of Activision's (ATVI) Call of Duty franchise. Now aligned with Electronic Arts (EA), the development studio hopes to push the shooter genre forward with this new franchise. Titanfall does away with the campaign mode altogether, given that Respawn noticed most gamers ignore single-player and jumped into multiplayer. What's in store for gamers is a streamlined multiplayer experience that takes the best elements of various shooter franchises out there and wraps them into a truly original battlefield. Players can take control of giant hulking mechs, called Titans, which are controlled by agile pilots. This opens up combat that includes on-foot and short-distance jetpack fighting with pilots, while Titans are battling it on a much larger scale. With such varying styles of gameplay, multiplayer maps like Angel City are always fresh with new challenges. Respawn has also added scripted events to the multiplayer, creating Hollywood-style, tentpole moments to the frenetic action. At the end of the day, Titanfall is just fun to play. It has a low learning curve and endless replay value, thanks to a steady flow of new maps and downloadable content.
Fans of the hit CBS show Person of Interest will find some similarities with the themes of Watch Dogs. While the TV show is set in New York City and this game takes place in Chicago, both focus on Big Brother's watchful eye. With the recent NSA spying revelations, Watch Dogs launches at an interesting time. Gamers take control of Aiden Pearce, a hacker with the ability to tap into any camera, any computer and even any smartphone in the city. Players turn into a new age superhero, or super villain, depending on the choices they make throughout the course of this open-world game. The entire city of Chicago is at your command, as Aiden can control everything from traffic lights to trains through the Central Operations System (ctOS). The game blends on-foot stealth and action gameplay with driving (more than 65 vehicles are available), allowing players to work their way through the overarching storyline any way they wish. And multiplayer allows players to hack into other player's games and toy with them in different ways.
The Witcher 3: Witch Hunt
Developer CD Projekt has created the third game in its bestselling franchise exclusively for PC and next-gen consoles. If you haven't played the first two games in this franchise, they're worth your time. But they won't be required for players who are jumping into this fantasy world for the first time. Based on bestselling Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski's novels, Witch Hunt wowed gamers at the German Gamescom convention with its next-generation visuals. But what will ultimately captivate gamers are the deep and complex relationships that develop throughout the game's storyline. Gamers will be challenged to make hard choices throughout the epic adventure as the world evolves based on each decision that the protagonist, Geralt, who's a Witcher, makes. There will also be plenty of vicious monsters to slay, inspired by European ghost stories and Celtic legend. A dynamic weather system and day/night cycle impacts the gameplay, as some creatures only come out in the dark. This game promises to deliver the first truly next-gen fantasy role-playing experience.