Watch Dogs, The Witcher 3, and Tom Clancy's The Division: A Closer Look at the 3 Most Anticipated Games of 2014

GameSpot Trax's January survey of 3,500 gamers recently revealed the three most anticipated games of 2014: Ubisoft's (NASDAQOTH: UBSFF  ) Watch Dogs, CD Projekt/Warner Bros.' (NYSE: TWX  ) The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and Ubisoft's Tom Clancy's The Division, in that order.

Activision Blizzard  (NASDAQ: ATVI  )  and Electronic Arts  (NASDAQ: EA  ) , the two largest video game publishers in the U.S, surprisingly didn't make the cut. EA's Dragon Age: Inquisition and Activision's Destiny trailed in fourth and fifth place, respectively:

Rank

Title

Publisher

Platforms

Aware of title

Plans to purchase*

1

Watch Dogs

Ubisoft

Windows, PS3/4, Xbox 360/One, Wii U

75%

51%

2

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

CD Projekt/Warner

Windows, PS4, Xbox One

67%

48%

3

Tom Clancy's The Division

Ubisoft

Windows, PS4, Xbox One

45%

45%

Source: GameSpot Trax, Jan. 2014 survey. *Percentage of gamers aware of the title

The high rate of anticipation for Watch Dogs and Tom Clancy's The Division is great news for Ubisoft, which has become increasingly dependent on the annual releases of its triple-A Assassin's Creed franchise.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag has sold 7.2 million units so far -- a steep decline from the 12.1 million copies of Assassin's Creed III (including DLCs and Liberation) that have been sold since October 2012.

Without further ado, let's take a closer look at why gamers have such high hopes for Watch Dogs, The Witcher 3, and Tom Clancy's The Division.

Watch Dogs: Assassin's Creed Meets Grand Theft Auto and Shadowrun

Watch Dogs is a slick-looking title that follows the misadventures of a hacker vigilante named Aiden Pearce.

(Source: Youtube)

This setting should be familiar to anyone who's watched CBS' (NYSE: CBS  ) Person of Interest or played the classic cyberpunk RPG Shadowrun -- it's a wireless world filled with cloud-connected cameras and monitoring devices that can be hacked by the player.

Watch Dogs is an open-world sandbox title that combines elements of the Parkour mechanics of Assassin's Creed with the racing and cover-based shooting elements of Take-Two's (NASDAQ: TTWO  ) Grand Theft Auto. The game also shares elements with Warner Bros.' Batman: Arkham games, since Aiden can use a wide variety of gadgets to jam radio signals and turn off the lights to remain hidden.

Another notable feature is its "stealth multiplayer" mechanic, in which a second player secretly joins a single player session and attempts to hack the first player to increase his or her own power. A companion mobile app can also be used by a second player to disrupt a console player's progress. For example, a smartphone player can raise bridges and blow up cars to impede the console player's progress.

Watch Dogs has been in development since 2009, and Ubisoft Montreal creative director Jonathan Morin has noted that the title is intended to "go beyond the limits of today's open world games," since the player can use the game's hacking mechanics to eventually control the entire city.

Watch Dogs is scheduled to be released on April 30, according to retailer reports, but Ubisoft has not announced an official release date yet.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt -- The Game of Thrones of the video game world

Anyone who watches Time Warner/HBO's Game of Thrones realizes that there is a growing market for mature fantasy tales -- in which the PG-13 rated world of the Hobbits is replaced by R-rated graphic violence and gratuitous nudity.

(Source: Youtube)

Video games have followed that same path, and The Witcher is one of the most well-known M-rated RPG titles. Whereas other mainstream RPGs such as EA's Dragon Age, Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) Fable, and ZeniMax's The Elder Scrolls merely hinted at sexual content with fade-to-black screens, The Witcher bares all, Game of Thrones style.

While the first two games were widely praised for their slick combat mechanics, customization options, and well-designed environments, the franchise is generally known for its violence and nudity -- which arguably helped it pick up a lot of new gamers between the first and second titles:

Title

Platforms

Units sold

Metascore

The Witcher (2007)

PC

0.36 million

86% (PC, Enhanced Edition)

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (2011)

PC, Xbox 360

1.56 million

88% (PC)

Source: Vgchartz, Metacritic.

Granted, 1.92 million total copies sold isn't exactly blockbuster sales, but consider this:

  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will be released for three platforms (PC, Xbox One, PS4) instead of one or two.

  • A 333% increase in sales between the first two titles indicates that this title is gaining a lot of traction among gamers.

  • It's still the second most anticipated game of 2014, according to GameSpot's GameTrax poll -- making it a David amid a forest of Goliaths.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has a listed release date of Sept. 30 on Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN  ) , but that date has not been officially confirmed.

Tom Clancy's The Division: A brand new take on a classic franchise

The late Tom Clancy had his name attached to some of the biggest game franchises in recent history, including Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon, and Splinter Cell. These titles brought Clancy's world of stealth, espionage, and international intrigue to life with team-based tactical shooters and stealth-based third-person shooters.

(Source: Youtube)

The Division, however, is closer to an MMO (massively multiplayer online) RPG instead of a straightforward tactical shooter. The online game takes place in an open world sandbox set in a dystopia where the U.S. government has collapsed and society has crumbled.

The player assumes the role of a sleeper agent in a world populated by other online players. It utilizes hardcore survival elements similar to Day Z, The Last of Us, and the "hardcore" mode of Fallout: New Vegas. When the player first enters the game world, he or she is only given three days of food, water, and supplies.

In that respect, The Division is a radical departure from the structure of traditional MMOs, in which the gamers assume a class (warrior, thief, mage, etc.) and grind for hours on end to raise their skill levels.

In The Division, as agents gain experience, they can allocate points to a growing skill tree to improve skills such as stealth or combat, similar to ZeniMax/Bethesda's Elder Scrolls and Fallout titles. In other words, characters are shaped through necessity rather than pre-defined destiny.

Like Watch Dogs, The Division also has a companion mobile app for second-screen gameplay. Players can use the second screen to deploy surveillance drones to gain a strategic edge over opposing players.

The Division was scheduled to be released in 2014, but recent rumors suggest that Ubisoft might have to push back the release back to 2015, due to the size of the game. It's unclear if Ubisoft will charge monthly fees for The Division.

Some final thoughts

In closing, it looks like it could be a big year for Ubisoft, if both Watch Dogs and The Division are released in a timely manner. If these new titles are successful, it could also mark the start of a slowdown in Ubisoft's annual Assassin's Creed releases, which are now rumored to cost more than $100 million each.

Meanwhile, The Witcher is a small but rapidly growing franchise that could change gamers' perceptions of fantasy RPGs in the same way that Game of Thrones forever changed the squeaky clean reputation of Tolkien fantasy.

What do you think, fellow gamers? Which of these three aforementioned games are you looking forward to the most? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!

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