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
Wildstar has me the most excited out of the “traditional” MMOs coming down the pipe. It’s developed by former Blizzard staffers, which makes everyone nod their head and go “Ohhhh…” in reaction to the very stylized, cartoony animation. I am of the opinion that most MMOs today are still asking us to kill ten rats due to dubious motivations and a reward anyway, so if you admit to yourself that’s what you’re doing the next best thing is to do it with an entire solar system full of style.
That’s definitely what we’re getting with Wildstar: the early videos and previews have just oozed the fantasy-fused-sci-fi-spacer style Carbine is shooting for with the game. The two factions, the Dominion and the Exiles, feel like whimsical caricatures of your typical Good Space Rogues and Evil Space Overlords. The big features of combat include more of a focus on enemies telegraphing their attacks, making players duck, dodge or block incoming damage rather than just rely on their stats to see them through. Carbine also plans to release monthly content updates and re-establish the hardcore raiding role by running competitive 40-person raids, two things World of Warcraft either scaled back or hasn’t been able to fully implement yet. There will also be player housing with the ability to customize the world around you to your liking, two other things frequently asked for and yet not often found in big MMO titles.
Wildstar also risks falling into the same trap of promising too much and not being able to deliver to fans’ satisfaction. The Secret World launched last year with a similar combat telegraphing system and promises of monthly content updates, but developers weren’t able to keep up with the schedule before layoffs hit and subscription numbers declined. That MMO is (relatively) back on track after going free-to-play,
What: Comic book hero MMORPG
Who: Secret Identity, Gazillion Entertainment
lets players slip into the skin of their favorite Marvel hero: at least, their favorite among the heroes they’re purchased
through cold, hard cash or in-game currency. It’s still in beta at this point, but Gazillion is pushing their pre-order Founder packs
hard. The free-to-play game will likely make most of its money off these packs, whether people splurge early to unlock tons of heroes and costumes at once, or pick up a few here and there as they go along.
The previews I’ve seen painted the gameplay as very similar to Diablo, with lots of enemies, clicking, and loot drops. That loot includes powers and abilities as well as gear, and the ingredients to create more costumes and skins for your heroes. Heroes have attributes that look like the back of a trading card, and players spend points to boost those levels. Powers can be quickly swapped out in the handful of slots you have access to, letting you change things up as you go.
My concern is that the novelty of being Classic Iron Man or Ultimate Spider-man will wear off, probably rather quickly, leaving many players solely concerned about the gameplay and mechanics. So far, those are the things most previewers have said need the most improvement. We’ll see what happens when they stop focusing their previews on the shiny suits and start focusing them on the crunchy gameplay.
What will it take to last? – A much deeper combat system than just click-and-loot, and other proof the developers’ attraction to this MMO isn’t just skin-deep.
Star Wars: The Old Republic – Rise of the Hutt Cartel
What: First expansion to BioWare’s Star Wars MMO
When: Spring 2013
Star Wars: The Old Republic
has been kicked around by haters in comments sections and message boards so much that its bears resemblance to a beaten and battered old YT-1300 freighter
. Some complaints do have merit, but others have been addressed including some of the stickier launch issues I mentioned above. I recently started playing regularly again, rediscovering the things I liked about it and the things that made me frustrated. That’s why I’m very excited about the first expansion for the game, Rise of the Hutt Cartel
. It pushes the level cap up by five, brings in new abilities and skill trees for all the classes, adds another planet, and gives a brand-new story for players to focus on.
The other reason I’m excited is because any frustrations I feel in the game now are very similar to what I felt before World of Warcraft‘s first expansion, The Burning Crusade. Raiding was a mess, class design wasn’t exactly easy to grasp for someone still brand-new to MMOs, as I was way back in 2007, and the content being delivered wasn’t exactly helpful for anyone who wasn’t in a large, dedicated guild. Then everything changed, and WoW started growing in leaps and bounds as more and more people were drawn to the game. Further improvements followed, leading it to be the MMO juggernaut it is today.
I’m not saying the exact same thing is going to happen to SWTOR
, but Rise of the Hutt Cartel
is going to be another opportunity for BioWare to put their best face forward and draw in fresh subscribers or free players. The first set of changes for the pre-expansion patch went live recently on the Public Test Server
, which means a lot more info is going to be coming out about just how the game is changing.
What will it take to last? - If BioWare can fine-tune the areas that need it, provide new and compelling content, and ignore those who will never have anything good to stay about the game no matter what changes are made, it could be in a good position to grow further than it has since going free-to-play last fall.
– I’m not an MMOFPS person, if you couldn’t tell by all the RPGs I listed above, but the PlayStation companion to EVE Online
is one I’m paying attention to. Developers at CCP have already coupled the beta test to their space sandbox, and it won’t be long before eggers are looking for ways to exploit the ground-pounders for their own personal profit or amusement, and vice-versa. I spent some time in EVE
last year to get a solid feel for it, and while I ultimately decided it’s not my cup of tea the tech required to pull something of this magnitude off is definitely impressive.
World of Darkness
– Another CCP game, this one’s still cloaked in a shroud of secrecy and uncertainty. Not much has been revealed since an early animated trailer, which does little than set the mood for the world of vampiric domination. CCP said last year
they want the game to be bloody, with players struggling for dominance of cities ruled by PC Princes; these Princes have some serious authority, including the ability to authorize a blood hunt on players which could result in permadeath. At least, that was the discussed goal; a lot could have changed since we last heard about the project. As a fan of the pen-and-paper RPG I’m definitely hungry for more information about what’s going on with this title, slated for sometime in 2015.
– While many games have been getting attention for raising gobs of money on Kickstarter, the spaceship MMO Star Citizen
has been very successful at taking things a step further. Since their successful campaign they’ve raised more than $8 million in crowdsourced funds, only a quarter of which actually came from Kickstarter. The game is slated to go into alpha later this year, and has a huge list of features: a persistent MMO-style universe where players have to earn the right to be citizens on the galactic stage, a single player campaign which can be played online or off, and mod-able multiplayer play which can be hosted on private servers. I’ve said several times that I remain skeptical of the Kickstarter craze, so I’ll definitely be watching this one to see what happens when actual assets hit greedy backers’ hands.
– Like Star Citizen
developers Goblinworks plumbed the Kickstarter well to get their game funded not once, but twice. The first round was for a tech demo
to show potential investors, the second round was to actually fund development of the game
; both reached their goals, though it was down to the wire for the second one. Based off an Open Gaming License variant of the 3.5 Edition of D&D, Pathfinder Online
aims to be a sandbox game with public-y dungeons, player-created towns and regions, and wilderness threats that get more dangerous if players ignore them; a goblin camp, if not wiped out, could take root and turn into a veritable fortress of the toothy critters. Another game that’s long on promise and is still neck-deep in development, it hopes to go into beta in mid-2014.