In Pictures: The 21 PC games that matter most, right now

Spring (southern hemisphere) is here, and PC gaming is about to heat up. Starting with Borderlands 2 (pictured here), there's a bevy of new games coming to PCs this fall, and many of them look good enough to merit serious attention. From complex tactical strategy games to fast-paced, modern military shooters and everything in between, chances are there's a game coming out soon that will be perfect entertainment for all your holiday "down time." Have a look at this gallery, and tell us what you think in the comments section. Did we forget any critical nuggets of awesomeness?

  • Let the games begin! Summer is over, but PC gaming is about to heat up. Starting with Borderlands 2 (pictured here), there's a bevy of new games coming to PCs this fall, and many of them look good enough to merit serious attention. From complex tactical strategy games to fast-paced, modern military shooters and everything in between, chances are there's a game coming out soon that will be perfect entertainment for all your holiday "down time." Have a look at this gallery, and tell us what you think in the comments section. Did we forget any critical nuggets of awesomeness?

  • Borderlands 2 The original Borderlands was a sleeper hit in 2009, earning critical and commercial acclaim for offering players an addictive first-person combat experience that could be completed by up to four players cooperating together. Borderlands 2 seems to offer plenty more of what made the first game famous, including plenty of weird space monsters, complex skill and weapon upgrade systems, and plenty of frenetic action—all in a tongue-in-cheek mashup of future tech and old-fashioned spaghetti western sensibilities.

  • World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria Whether you’ve been playing World of Warcraft since launch week or you've waited until now to check out the biggest subscription-based MMORPG in history, there’s something for you to look forward to in the Mists of Pandaria expansion due to be released later this year. Players who purchase the Mists of Pandaria expansion pack gain access to the new Pandaren race, the new Monk class, and a new minigame that lets players pit their pets against one another in turn-based battles.

  • XCOM: Enemy Unknown The seminal X-COM franchise of sci-fi strategy games has lain dormant since the last game (X-COM: Enforcer) was published back in 2001, but die-hard PC gamers who miss the trademark turn-based tactical gameplay of classic X-COMs should keep their eyes peeled for XCOM: Enemy Unknown in early October. It’s being developed by Firaxis Games, a veteran studio responsible for classic PC games like Alpha Centauri, and promises to deliver what PC strategy gamers crave.

  • Medal of Honor: Warfighter PC gamers don’t have too many modern military first-person shooters to look forward to in the latter half of 2012. If you’re anxious to step back into the boots of the Tier 1 Operators who fought through a fictional Afghanistan in the previous Medal of Honor game, you’re in luck. Warfighter continues their story and offers you the opportunity to battle through Somalia, the Philippines, and other exotic locales rendered with the Frostbite 2 game engine. Frostbite 2 is a powerful piece of tech that powers beautiful games like Battlefield 3, and serious PC gamers with beefy machines will be able to push their systems to the max when Warfighter hits shelves in late October.

  • Assassin's Creed 3 The fifth (and hopefully final) game in the Assassin’s Creed series takes protagonist Desmond back to the past to stalk the wintry woods of Colonial America as Connor Kenway, a young man of English/Native American ancestry who gets pulled into the ancient struggle between Templars and Assassins at the height of the Revolutionary War. PC gamers with beefy rigs can look forward to putting their machines' graphical capabilities to the test as they roam around a sprawling swath of simulated New England.

  • Need for Speed: Most Wanted Don’t get confused by the name of this action-packed racing game; while there was a Need for Speed: Most Wanted game released back in 2005, this version is a completely new game, developed by Criterion Games (the studio that made the excellent Burnout games). As with the last Most Wanted game, players can look forward to selecting a souped-up sports car and competing against other racers and the cops in street races and highway chases to be first across the finish line.

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops II This is the other big first-person military shooter for PC gamers to look forward to this fall, but while Medal of Honor is sticking close to a contemporary setting the sequel to Black Ops is looking towards the future. Players return to the story of Alex Mason as he fights through the Cold War, and then step into the boots of Mason’s son as he struggles to survive cyberwar between China and the United States in 2025. Of course, competitive players appreciate the return of the series’ signature multiplayer modes, including an eight-player co-op zombie mode.

  • Disney's Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two The lion’s share of great PC games involve conflict resolution through combat, trickery, or skulduggery, so it’s refreshing to see a beautiful game coming to the PC that features a beloved cast of characters solving puzzles with paint, thinner, and charm. This sequel to Disney's Epic Mickey features cooperative play between Mickey Mouse and Oswald the Rabbit (who sways enemies' minds with a remote control and flies around by flopping his ears), new Disney worlds to explore, and what may be the first musical numbers ever featured in a PC game.

  • Hitman: Absolution Don’t let the hyperviolent advertising and grim title of Hitman: Absolution deter you from picking up this promising puzzle game when it arrives on the PC later this year. We call it a puzzle game because, while it’s possible to carry out protgaonist Agent 47’s assigned assassinations in a blaze of gunfire, the real challenge of a good Hitman game is figuring out how to solve every mission by leaving no trace and harming no one (aside from your target). We hope Absolution lives up to the quality we’ve come to expect from Hitman games; we’ll know for sure when it hits stores in November.

  • Far Cry 3 The Far Cry series returns to its roots with Far Cry 3, a first-person jungle adventure that leaves players stranded on a chain of tropical islands awash in violent conflict between local gangs and militia. The game encompasses a virtual world almost ten times bigger than that of Far Cry 2, providing you with hours of adventure either alone or with buddies in a four-player cooperative mode. PC players should be especially pleased by the expanded multiplayer options and robust map editor included in Far Cry 3; these features ought to keep you playing long after the game arrives in stores this December.

  • Starcraft 2: Heart Of The Swarm Like most Blizzard games, Heart Of The Swarm doesn’t actually have a concrete release date; all we know is that it will be ready “when it’s ready.” Blizzard has been conducting beta tests of the Heart Of The Swarm multiplayer mode for some time, suggesting that Heart Of The Swarm will almost certainly be ready for release this holiday season. Its length should be roughly equivalent to that of Starcraft 2: Wings Of Liberty, with about 20 single-player campaign missions that continue the story of the previous game while allowing players to take control of the Zerg race. More controversially, the multiplayer mode will likely be completely overhauled and will require players to master new units, skills, and tactics.

  • Dishonored Did you love playing games like Thief, Deus Ex, and System Shock when you were younger? Then you should be excited about Dishonored, a first-person stealth action game set in a fantastical industrial city in the grip of a supernatural plague. Imagine London in 1850, but with citizens who occasoinally demonstrate otherworldly powers and guards who travel via giant lightning-powered walking automata. You play Corvo, a disgraced former bodyguard imbued with supernatural powers and tasked with assassinating the corrupt elite who rule the city.

  • Doom 3 BFG Edition Doom 3 came out in 2004 to mild acclaim, and now Id is bringing it back with plenty of perks and added features aimed squarely at PC gamers with powerful gaming machines. The BFG Edition should be available this October and includes support for multiple monitors and 3D displays, and also improves the graphics, the level design, the in-game flashlight, and a host of other tiny tweaks and fixes that (combined) make this game worth picking up if you missed out on Doom 3 the first time around. If you played Doom 3 and simply want a little more, the BFG Edition will include new levels, enemies, and weapons just for you.

  • Skylanders: Giants The sequel to last year’s sleeper hit Skylanders propagates the Skylanders schtick of bringing physical and digital gaming together by requiring you to purchase an actual Skylanders toy, which you must use to pursue adventures in the world of the Skylanders game. Skylanders: Giants is totally compatible with the original Skylanders, and you can import your old characters using their figures, but the real draw for younger players (and even a few older ones) is the new Giant Skylanders, bigger and badder monsters that are twice as big as the previous generation of Skylanders and that come with all-new abilities and challenges to overcome. Skylanders: Giants seems like an excellent game for the younger players on your holiday gift list, but even seasoned PC gamers may be surprised by how much fun they have with this seemingly simple character adventure game.

  • Hawken It’s been a long time since we’ve had a really great mech game, but hardcore PC gamers who loved the original Mechwarrior games should be excited for Hawken’s unique take on traditional mech combat games when it launches this December. Hawken will be free to play and will feature a bunch of great multiplayer modes that let you choose and customize your mech before battling other players for glory and precious energy resources. We played a preview build of Hawken during a LAN party at E3 this year and really enjoyed the feeling of stomping around a post-apocalyptic battleground in hulking robots, using jump jets and giant cannons to blast other players for fun and profit.

  • The Banner Saga If you haven’t heard of The Banner Saga, know that it’s a tactical strategy RPG featuring a barbarian clan seeking a new home in a beautifully hand-drawn fantasy world. The Banner Saga is being developed by Stoic after being successfully funded on Kickstarter, and the developers (experienced veterans who created their own indie studio) promise this game will feature intriguing character customization options, a complex system of classic tactical gameplay, and a mature story that changes depending on what choices you make while conversing with other characters both within your clan and without. If classic turn-based strategy in a mature Norse fantasy world sounds like something you’d enjoy, get excited for The Banner Sage when it (hopefully) comes to the Mac and the PC this November.

  • The Walking Dead The most memorable PC game you’ll play all year is probably a point-and-click adventure game based on a comic book. Telltale Games has been releasing episodes of The Walking Dead game since April, and after three episodes we can’t wait to see how the series ends this fall. Each episode takes roughly two hours to play through and requires you to make tough decisions about who to trust when society falls apart. Though the games are available on almost every contemporary gaming device, they look best on the PC, with colorful characters and landscapes that look like they were ripped straight out of a graphic novel and then animated onscreen.

  • End of Nations Developed by Petroglyph, End of Nations is a futuristic real-time strategy game that’s free to play by thousands of players simultaneously. Whether you choose to subscribe or play for free when the game (hopefully) launches later this year, you'll need to log in and accept a mission from an NPC to do battle against the Order of Nations, the monolithic foe that most players are working together to defeat. From there you’ll enter into a strategic battle for resources using tanks, fighters, and other military units in typical RTS fashion. Unlike a typical RTS, you usually won’t be permitted to build new units or generate reinforcements, making End Of Nations a peculiar MMORTS hybrid that may become a sleeper hit among PC gamers looking to wage war alongside other players across a vast battlefield.

  • Mechwarrior Tactics Most gamers remember the classic Mechwarrior games, but fewer recall the fantastic Mechcommander tactical strategy games that came out on PC at the turn of the century. Those who do, remember that conducting real-time tactical combat with giant walking combat mechs is a pretty great idea, and now Piranha Games has secured the rights to create a free-to-play PC strategy game with the Mechwarrior license. We had a chance to play a beta version of the game during a press event, and it plays like a turn-based tactical boardgame with a twist: Players take time to issue orders to their Mechs, and then those orders execute simultaneously. While the game will be free to play when it launches this fall, players can pay to unlock new mech designs, equipment, and other perks.

  • Torchlight 2 Did Diablo III leave you cold? Check out Torchlight 2, the long-awaited sequel to the critically acclaimed Torchlight that promises to let players romp around in a lush fantasy world defeating monsters, smashing barrels and collecting plenty of sweet, sweet loot. Runic Games is building Torchlight 2 to be a bigger, better action RPG for the PC that features four playable character classes, a ton of new environments to explore, and (perhaps most exciting) new multiplayer modes, including some form of player vs. player combat and a cooperative mode that will allow somewhere between two and six players to venture through the world of Torchlight 2 together. While the launch of Torchlight 2 has been pushed back multiple times, we’re all for delays if it means we get a better game this holiday season.

  • Mechwarrior Online You’d be forgiven for thinking that 2012 will be the year that mech games made their triumphant return to PC gaming. Mechwarrior Online is the third mech combat game that we expect to be playing this year, and it’s the second to feature small-scale battles from a first-person perspective inside the cockpit of a hulking Battlemech. Developed by Piranha Games using the Battletech license, Mechwarrior Online is going to be a free-to-play multiplayer-only combat game where you can earn rewards and unlock new 'mechs with either experience or good old-fashioned cash.

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