There’s more to video gaming than highly polished, huge budget AAA titles like Call of Duty or Horizon Zero Dawn.
Sometimes, it’s in lower budget titles where you’ll find true innovation, finely-honed mechanics and pure good old-fashioned fun – and 2018 is set for a healthy haul of new indie games promising great things. Let’s dive into the release calendar to take a closer look at some of the upcoming highlights.
Warhammer: Vermintide 2 (Windows, PS4, Xbox One)
Fatshark’s Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide revived old Valve favourite Left 4 Dead’s spirit of frenetic 4-player first-person co-op, plonking it in Games Workshop’s grim fantasy world and replacing the hordes of sprinting zombies with hordes of skittering Skaven ratmen.
Its sequel, coming very soon to PC, PS4 and Xbox One, doesn’t do anything to change up the formula too much, keeping the same five player characters from the original (albeit giving each three distinct subclasses to choose from) and retaining a gameplay style that throws dozens of enemies at them in terrifying waves.
This time, though, the Skaven will be allied with Chaos God-worshipping northmen, and worse - giving players tons of twisted, disease-ravaged new adversaries to face.
Due: Early 2018
Phoenix Point (Windows, Linux, Mac)
With its development headed up by Julian Gollop – best known as the creator of the original 1990s X-Com games – Phoenix Point is shaping up to be one of the year’s biggest PC strategy games.
Mixing up the oppressive, horror movie-like atmosphere of the early X-Com titles with the faster-paced, cover-based combat of Firaxis’ new generation of XCOM games, Phoenix Point’s developers seem determined to deliver a “best of both worlds” solution.
Expect in-depth turn-based tactical combat with an overarching map-based strategic layer that sees you building bases and exploring a virus-ravaged Earth in search of allies and resources, all the while fighting off horrific creatures.
Due: Q4 2018
Frostpunk (Windows, Linux)
Fresh from developing a certified indie smash hit in the poignant This War of Mine, 11 bit studios’ next project is Frostpunk, a city-building survival game set on an alternative history Earth in which the temperature has dropped, leaving the entire planet an icy wasteland.
Luckily, the British Empire (before it collapsed) developed a method of powering cities with huge steam generators, one of which forms the centre and starting point for the player’s own post-apocalyptic attempts to survive and eventually thrive.
Players will have to manage both a city’s infrastructure and its inhabitants, balancing their wellbeing with the constant need to build, gather resources and explore further afield. 11 bit is promising that tough decisions will need to be taken along the way (do you ban child labour, or set every able-bodied person to work?) while, judging from trailers and let’s plays, the visuals do a fantastic job of portraying the frozen world that surrounds your tiny, fragile beacon of civilisation.
Due: Q1 2018
Kingdom Come: Deliverance (Windows, Linux, Mac, PS4, Xbox One)
A game long in the making and hotly anticipated, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a medieval open-world roleplaying game with a difference: it’s set in our actual world, rather than some dreamt-up fantasy universe. That means no magic fireballs flying about, no female knights smashing through the stained glass ceiling, no flesh-eating monsters roaming the wilds, and ultra-realistic (according to the makers) melee combat that can be over in a matter of seconds.
Yes, this game features first-person swordfights that in which you must parry, slash and prod your opponents, seeking out a gap in their armour to deliver a swift killing blow.
While there are fears that this adherence to historical accuracy may curb the game’s potential for sheer Witcher 3-style escapism, perhaps the world is finally ready for an orc-free adventure. Here, you play as the son of a blacksmith drawn into a vicious civil war, and Czech creators Warhorse Studios promise that your decisions will help shape the future of Bohemia.
Due: 13 February 2018
Two Point Hospital (Windows)
Given how fondly Bullfrog’s Theme Hospital is remembered, it’s surprising that we’ve never seen a true spiritual follow-up – until now.
Developed by Two Point Studios – founded by former Bullfrog and Lionhead devs Gary Carr and Mark Webley, both of whom worked on Theme Hospital – Two Point Hospital is a quirky simulation very much intended as an unofficial sequel. With cartoonish 3D graphics and outlandish illnesses, the idea is to create an ageless, comic game that balances the pure number-crunching of a management sim with plenty of levity and warmth.
At the time of writing, we still haven't seen it in action, but early screenshots impress.
They Are Billions (Windows)
Real-time strategy games have fallen out of favour in recent years, mainly owing to the sheer popularity of MOBAs – a genre spawned out of RTSes. But titles like They Are Billions, currently available in a very limited pre-release form for Windows gamers via Steam’s Early Access programme, want to bring the RTS back from life support – and they’re doing it in style.
Zombies and steampunk may be two of the most tired tropes in gaming, sure, but this steampunk zombie game (wait for it) feels anything but. Starting out like a standard RTS in which you must construct buildings, recruit units, gather resources and venture into the fog of war in search of more of the latter, They Are Billions quickly adds a tower defence element into the mix: every so often, a vast horde of zombies arrives on the edge of the map and makes for your settlement, crashing into it like a tidal wave of rotting flesh.
If you haven’t set up adequate defences, your city will quickly fall. If you have, you know another wave is coming soon – and it’ll be bigger. This gameplay loop has seen the game become an Early Access hit, and the full release will see much more, including a proper campaign mode.
Due: 2018 (Early Access available now)