Ah, yes. The personal computer. Always at the cutting edge of whatever’s happening in the world of video games. Pushing the boundaries with new technology, while almost always being the best place to play multiplatform games.
2019 was definitely an interesting year for PC gaming. You might assume that the space is largely detached from what the console folks are doing, and in some respects, especially on the technological side, you’re right. PC games have access to big new leaps almost as soon as they happen.
But if we just consider the PC as a platform where you play the latest video games, the landscape had a ton of similarities to that of the consoles in 2019. All of this is to say that, as I looked back on the big PC milestones for the year, it felt very transitional without any earth-shattering moments.
We weren’t biding our time for new hardware, but we did see a lot of distribution platforms and games publishers sorting out their arsenal, a hit new genre get birthed, and a bunch of new VR hardware come to market. Hopefully, when 2020 gets underway, all of this stuff will hit full speed, and only then, when all the good ideas take hold and the chaff falls away, will we be able to see how the next generation is defined. But for now, let’s reminisce.
Epic Game Store Grows And Grows
You might have opinions on Epic Games getting into the digital distribution market and taking on Steam. They’re taking games away from Steam! It’s just a big ruse to get people to play Fortnite! Something about China, maybe! But Tim Sweeney does not care what you think, and 2019 saw the Epic Store obtain exclusivity to a number of big-budget and independent games, keeping them away from Steam–a move Valve called “unfair” to consumers in regards to games that were already marketed on their platform). This includes stuff like Metro: Exodus, The Outer Wilds, The Outer Worlds, The Division 2 (in fact, all of Ubisoft’s games in 2019 became exclusive to the Epic and Ubisoft Store), Control, Shenmue III, among many, many others.
It’s caused a lot of commotion in a frustrated, vocal portion of the PC gaming community. And it’s put independent developers in a dilemma about how to best make what they do viable. Some consumers see the acquisitions as a hostile action, but with Epic’s ongoing offer to provide users with free games twice a month, and their notable transparency when it comes to revenue sharing and the development of their platform (they have a public development roadmap), the company is seemingly continuing to position themselves as the good-guy underdogs next to Steam. How that shakes out in 2020 is something we’ll be watching with great interest.
Steam’s Offering Grows Too
Not to be outdone by all of the big acquisitions of the Epic Store, Steam also picked up some significant partners in 2019. Once Bungie broke up with Activision, Destiny 2 made the jump from Blizzard’s Battle.net to Steam. Microsoft loosened their grip on their biggest first-party franchises in a move that helped increase their presence on PC–all the Halo games were made available on Steam, Gear 5 launched on the platform too, and State of Decay 2 is coming next year.
In a similarly surprising move, Electronic Arts also loosened its grip on a number of PC games, meaning many titles that were previously only available on their Origin storefront were brought to Steam, including their latest release, Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order–which also made its way to the Epic Game Store.
We Got Those Subscriptions Now, Too
Of course, some might say the moves made by Microsoft and EA were only made to draw attention to the value that their new subscription services provided. Microsoft’s increasingly popular Xbox Game Pass for PC launched during E3 2019 and has continued to provide access to over a hundred games for a relatively low subscription fee–$5 USD as of writing. Xbox Game Pass for PC includes new releases like The Outer Worlds and Gears 5, as well as a number of PC-exclusive titles like Hearts of Iron IV and Imperator: Rome from Paradox Interactive.
EA already had Origin Access on PC of course, but in 2019, it doubled-down with its Premier tier for the launch of Anthem and Apex Legends earlier in the year, as well as Jedi Fallen Order last month. Not to be left out, Ubisoft also launched Ubisoft+, which gives you access to the entire publisher’s catalogue, including DLC and expansion packs. There is an increasing number of ways for PC owners to consume games–almost too many–but it’s great to see so much competition and choice.
Yet Another New Genre Spawns
Remember how the MOBA genre spawned from a user-made custom map in Warcraft III, and then went on to be one of the most popular video game genres worldwide? Well, what if I told you that in Valve’s Dota 2 (the standalone game born out of the original Warcraft III DotA map) there was *another* user-made custom map that got so popular it spawned *another* hugely-popular genre and subsequent standalone games?
Say hello to the Auto Battler genre, conceived in January 2019 from the Dota Auto Chess mod by Drodo Studio. Its three major standalone competitors are Dota Underlords from Valve, Teamfight Tactics from Riot Games, and Auto Chess from Drodo themselves–games born from a mod for a game that was also born from a mod.
The concept is built around drafting units and positioning them on a battlefield, where they’ll fight the units from other players automatically until a victor emerges. There’s a depth of strategy in drafting, positioning, unit synergies, the metagame… it’s a whole thing that I don’t have the space to get into right now. But it’s compulsive, it’s massively popular, and like the MOBA and battle royale genres before it, it’s already spawned a ton of imitators. Good job, PC gaming!
We Got Those Exclusives
But hey, the PC doesn’t just have games from a brand new genre to flaunt–plenty of 2019’s fantastic PC exclusives came from old, boring genres too! We’re talking about things like the transcendent RPG Disco Elysium (though it’s coming to consoles in 2020); the greatest Total War yet, Three Kingdoms; and World of Warcraft: Classic, which seemed to surprise a lot of people.
That’s not to mention the countless gems still in Early Access–some of my favourites include Supergiant’s Hades, Risk of Rain 2, Subnautica: Below Zero, and Totally Accurate Battle Simulator. And there’s still more to come! At the time of publishing, Phoenix Point, the tactical strategy game from X-COM creator Julian Gollop, has just released, and Mechwarrior 5 will be out the following week.
PC gamers also leave 2019 with a few big names to look forward to in the future. Diablo IV, the next iteration of Overwatch and Cyberpunk 2077, are all on the top of the list, despite being multiplatform titles. And finally, a new entry in the highly-regarded and elusive Half-Life series, Half-Life: Alyx, was announced for a March 2020 release. There’s a catch with that one, though.
VR Hardware Steps Up
Next year’s Half-Life: Alyx will be a VR-only title, which has at least some folks thinking about obtaining themselves a VR headset. Well hey, guess what? 2019 was a particularly busy year for new VR hardware from the three major players in the space–Oculus, HTC, and Valve themselves.
Oculus released their new PC-powered headset, the Rift S, with room-scale tracking that doesn’t need external sensors (inside-out tracking) and new versions of the Oculus Touch gesture controllers. They also released the Oculus Quest, a completely wireless and standalone VR headset that can run games without the need to be connected to a PC by also utilizing inside-out tracking, and now also gives you the option to connect to a computer by using the recently-released Oculus Link beta.
HTC released the successor to the high-end Vive, called Cosmos, which also features inside-out tracking, new motion controllers, and a flip-up goggle design. Meanwhile, Valve launched its own VR headset, the Valve Index. This high-end headset boasts superior visual quality and gesture controllers (which track each individual finger), but oddly forgoes inside-out tracking in favour of using additional cameras to track positioning like the previous version of the Vive.
A variety of new, quality headsets to choose from is exciting, but the real question is: does VR have the compelling software to support it yet? For most people, the answer is still no. If you’re already deeply invested in the space, there are a lot of exciting experiences to keep you occupied–No Man’s Sky: Beyond, Pistol Whip, and Falcon Age were some of our highlights for this year. But is there a game you just have to run out and buy a headset for? Valve is probably hoping for Half-Life Alyx to be just that.
Other Matters, In Brief
As is tradition, Valve’s annual Dota 2 tournament, The International, once again broke the record of the largest prize pool in esports history, despite the Fortnite World Cup setting a new record the month prior. The final prize pool total for The International 2019 was $34,300,000–almost $10 Million more than The International 2018.
After Valve’s Steam Link hardware was discontinued and run out at trivial prices during Black Friday 2018, Valve has now discontinued the Steam Controller, running out the remaining stock during Black Friday 2019
Red Dead Redemption 2 finally got a PC release
With the introduction of Nvidia’s RTX 20-series line of graphics cards last year, real-time ray tracing is slowly introduced into a few big-name titles–Control, Metro Exodus, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and Wolfenstein: Youngblood were the notable examples, though they tech still requires demanding hardware specifications to utilise it.
- GPU manufacturers Nvidia and AMD both release new high-performing graphics cards at more affordable, mid-range prices. The Geforce RTX 2060/2070 Super are enhanced versions of their base models; the Radeon RX5700/5700XT are a new line of cards built under the new Navi architecture. Both ranges perform admirably well against their top-of-the-line relatives, but sit in the attractive $350-500 USD range.
|+ Microsoft and EA bring their games back to Steam
||– VR continues to be a niche experience for only the most enthusiastic users.
|+ A variety of worthwhile subscription services
|+ Lots of great PC-exclusive games
|+ Hey these Auto Chess games are real addictive huh
|+ Red Dead Redemption 2 finally came to PC
|+ Lots of fresh VR hardware