As a PC gamer, I’m neck-deep in MMO releases to pick from. It’s both boon, and burden: so many possible worlds and communities, so little time and / or money to burn on subscriptions, cash shops, etc.
What I like most is seeing the crucible that happens whenever a new MMO releases, be it a big-budget project with big expectations or a smaller title with impressive word-of-mouth status. The moment you let rowdy gamers loose in your world, nothing is sacred and everything gets pushed to its limit. Sometimes the whole thing picks up steam and gets off to the races with active guilds, a booming economy and a healthy community; and sometimes, it doesn’t. Either way, the resulting explosion or implosion is impressive to watch.
With all that said, there are a lot of titles coming down the pipe I’m keeping an eye on. I’ll break each one down and tell you what I like, what I don’t, and what I think it needs to succeed past those dreaded first 30 days.
What: D&D-based Fantasy MMORPG
Who: Cryptic Studios
When: April 16, 2013
Neverwinter would have enough of a challenge to overcome if it was just another D&D MMO. It also has to overcome some fans’ expectations of what it started out as: a bigger, shinier version of the original Neverwinter Nights toolset which let you build in-game D&D adventures. Instead, Perfect World’s buyout of Cryptic Studios shifted the focus back to being a typical fantasy MMO, which will surely continue to draw complaints from people even as they plunk down $200 to look like some-drow-whose-name-starts-with-a-D.
For me, complaining about a free-to-play, free-to-download game which is licensed D&D material and uses the 4th Edition ruleset is like complaining about free candy just because it wasn’t mint sherbert ice cream which used THAC0. I’ll give it a go, and see whether it sticks or not. There are still adventure-creation tools in the game in the form of Cryptic’s Foundry system, which Star Trek: Online players will be familiar with. Otherwise the gameplay sounds like it’s going to be a slightly more active combat system, along the lines of Guild Wars 2 instead of World of Warcraft.
As with all D&D games, I’m concerned whether or not it will feel “right” to me as a longtime d20-jockey, which was and still is my chief complaint about Dungeons & Dragons Online. It’ll take more than just kobolds and dark elves to convince me that I’m in the Forgotten Realms, arguably the most well-known campaign setting ever put out. The choice of D&D rules is apparent in class titles like “guardian fight” or “control wizard”, but it’ll take getting my hands on them to really tell if the designers “got” the concept of the classes.
What will it take to last? – A very robust Foundry aimed at campaign creation, and hitting that very difficult middle ground of translation versus adaptation when turning a pen-and-paper strategy game into a video game. Also, plenty of Red Wizards for me to either slay or assist in their morally-questionable (but profitable) ventures.
The Elder Scrolls Online
What: Fantasy MMORPG
Who: Zenimax Online Studios
Ever since the release of its glorious cinematic trailer, The Elder Scrolls Online has taken up most of the air in the MMO room. There’s good reason for that: it has a massive following, there’s a ton of established lore from the prior Elder Scrolls games, and its design as well as recent successes makes it ripe for MMO
exploitation development. I mean, all you have to do is let a bunch of people share a big world like Skyrim and nothing could go wrong, right?
There was another MMO which just celebrated its first anniversary, though, and was in a similar situation. Star Wars: The Old Republic had all the same elements I just mentioned, including three pre-launch cinematics that were nothing short of stunning and drove anticipation for the game through the roof. That, combined with its hype of being a revolutionary MMO, led many players to be disappointed when they logged in and found a game that launched without several systems in place, including the much-vaunted Legacy system or a dungeon matchmaker and whose combat design was essentially a WoW clone in space.
ESO is already starting down that dark path with hype about its skill-based class system, using dynamic combat to get rid of the holy trinity, and the ability to wage massive war against the other factions. Some press and fansites got a big taste of the game during a recent event, but until more players get their hands on the system it’s too early to guess how this one’s going to turn out. We’re also still waiting to hear about the payment model, and the fact that other big subscription games like SWTOR and The Secret World eventually went free-to-play can’t have been lost on Bethesda and Zenimax.
What will it take to last? – The ability to deliver on the promises they’re making when it comes to classes and combat, as well as a pricing model that doesn’t make fantasy MMO players choose between which game they’ll spend their $15 on this month.
What: Sci-fi MMORPG
Who: Carbine Studios
Who: Secret Identity, Gazillion Entertainment
Star Wars: The Old Republic – Rise of the Hutt Cartel
When: Spring 2013