2022 is going to be one of the best years for strategy games in a long, long time. Whether it’s the return of long-lost classics like the Dune RTS or a match made in heaven from left field like Marvel’s Midnight Suns, 2022 might be the year of the strategy game.
It’s hard to say that without sounding like I’m falling into the PR hype machine, but this year really is a perfect storm of variety, quality and novelty. Firaxis Games, the studio behind one of the most beloved series in the genre, is tackling a beloved IP. Ubisoft Milan, who proved that strategy games didn’t need to be unnecessarily dense to be fun, are releasing a sequel to their 2017 hit.
While franchises like Starcraft, XCOM and Fire Emblem have put the genre under the spotlight thanks to their critical acclaim, depth and broader appeal, recent years have seen the genre come into its own in a new way. Sure, each year will still see somewhat quiet launches of big strategy releases that review well and see popularity among fans of the genre but don’t break through into mainstream popularity, but recent strategy and tactics games are promising to hit that mark.
What’s most exciting about these games becoming more popular among a general audience is that instead of compromising what makes tactics games so great to reach a wider audience, more games with unique takes on the genre are being made. Some might simplify and streamline, others might break the mold with a bold innovation to a staple of the genre.
XCOM 2, Into The Breach and Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle are all fantastic examples to point at and see where the genre’s future lies. Not just because of their popularity, but because of their influence over the genre and the lasting innovations they brought about.
XCOM 2’s not the first game of its ilk, but it modernized and set the bar for turn-based strategy games that followed. Into the Breach delivered a snappy, addictive and masterfully-paced take on the genre that trimmed nearly any fat. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle not only made something as complex as a tactics game accessible, but also broke the mold and delivered a game that was both family-friendly and challenging.
A sequel to Mario + Rabbids and a new game from XCOM 2 developer Firaxis alone would be enough to make 2022 a notable year for strategy games, but those are just part of the offering of confirmed strategy games set to release in 2022. Between Metal Slug Tactics, Triangle Strategy, Advance Wars 1+2 Reboot Camp, Total War: Warhammer III and Homeworld 3 and rumors of a new Fire Emblem on the horizon, Mario + Rabbids and Marvel’s Midnight Suns are in good company.
While the genre isn’t necessarily stale or uninteresting, what’s most exciting about these specific releases is just how mechanically diverse 2022’s swathe of strategy games is. Not only are long-time strategy franchises, like Homeworld and Warhammer, receiving new entries, but new studios — both independent and corporate — are starting to invest in the genre.
Marvel’s games division is on a hot streak. While Marvel’s Avengers was mostly a disappointment, recent releases like Guardians of the Galaxy and Spider-Man: Miles Morales have set a strong, impressive pace. As exciting releases like Insomniac’s Spider-Man 2 and Wolverine are, Midnight Suns promises something extremely fresh.
Instead of the third-person, cinematic, narrative-driven experiences like Spider-Man or Guardians of the Galaxy, Midnight Suns has a unique charm and promise to it. Characters like Spider-Man, the Guardians of the Galaxy and of course the Avengers have seen so much fanfare across games and movies in recent years thanks partially to the popularity of their on-screen counterparts, so it’s exciting to see characters like Ghost Rider and Blade make such prominent appearances.
Beyond fan favorites showing up again after years in limbo, Midnight Suns is also the first narrative-driven AAA card game we’ve seen. Games like Legends of Runeterra and Hearthstone brought AAA polish and popularity to the genre, but Midnight Suns stands alone in its approach to card and strategy games.
Midnight Suns is only one piece of the pie, though. Triangle Strategy, Metal Slug Tactics and Mario all promise more classic strategy experiences, all with their own uniquely lush visuals. Whether it’s Triangle Strategy’s HD2D wizardry, Metal Slug’s classic Neo Geo-reminiscent sprite work or Mario Rabbids’ comical take on the world of Mario, strategy games are seeing increasing visual and artistic diversity.
Visuals and concepts charm easily. In an age where the conversation around gaming is so dominated by fans of a genre or game begging a developer to hire X artist or pursue Y concept, it’s deeply exciting to see something that sounds like one of those requests come to fruition. Of course, that excitement can be blinding; a card-based tactics game based on Marvel’s Midnight Suns team sounds like something my roommate and I would talk about wanting that’d never happen.
The same goes for a lot of this year’s high-profile strategy releases. It’s easy to scoff at the idea, but given the studios and ideas behind so many of these games, it’s nearly impossible to expect anything other than greatness. There’s no guarantee that every single one of these games will be a slam dunk, nor is there a guarantee that each game will even come out this year, but introducing a relatively niche genre to a broader audience usually leads to more innovation and diverse takes.
Charlie Wacholz is a freelance writer and college student. When he’s not playing the latest and greatest indie games, competing in Smash tournaments or working on a new cocktail recipe, you can find him on Twitter at @chas_mke.