Massively OP’s Best of 2015 Awards: Most Improved MMO

Massively OP’s end-of-the-year awards continue today with our award for the most improved MMO of 2015.

All MMOs, regardless of release date, were eligible for this award, provided they made improvements this year. Last year’s award, you’ll recall, went to Final Fantasy XIV.

Don’t forget to cast your own vote in the just-for-fun reader poll at the very end.

The Massively OP staff pick for Most Improved MMO of 2015 is…

Carbine’s WildStar

mostimproved

Brendan Drain (@nyphur): Guild Wars 2. While it would be easy to point to any of the new features in the Heart of Thorns expansion or the Revenant class as big improvements, probably the biggest and most unexpected improvement was Guild Wars 2’s base version going free to play. That helped me get several friends into the game who had never played before because of the box price, and playing with a full group of friends has brought the game back to life for me too.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): If I had opted to sit this vote out, we’d be looking at a four-way tie, no joke. I can see legitimately giving this award to any of the four nominated games, but I cast my vote for WildStar. Considering how badly off WildStar was and how it’s sitting right now, I think it deserves it, even if it does still have a long way to go.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): Only time will tell if WildStar can make the leap from “most improved” to “fully viable,” but it’s gone from being the punchline of lots of jokes – including mine! – to having some genuine buzz and interest floating around. This time last year, the game looked to be in a death spiral, but it looks like next year might be its watershed. Not that it necessarily will be, but it could be.

Jef Reahard (@jefreahard): Elder Scrolls Online. That thieving system was pretty cool. I didn’t see a lot of real improvements this year, though. 2015 was more of the same old grind in every game and every patch.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): WildStar. Free-to-play was only the start of WildStar’s lengthy roster of improvements in 2015. Practically every weak system was either strengthened or overhauled entirely while its assets were given more focus. It helped that Carbine noticeably backed off its “arr hardcore!” stance to embrace the more casual set. And the game’s first two holiday events were actually pretty awesome. Also Marvel Heroes. It’s hard to argue that Gazillion has been lazy, what with adding a new hero (class) every month on top of many great features and content additions.

Larry Everett (@Shaddoe, blog): When there are many games that have started pretty high, it’s hard to name one that has been the most improved. But my pick is Elder Scrolls Online, even though I still this it has problems. The game itself changed from this strictly linear game to something that’s a little more do-as-you-like. Of course, there is still a primary story and fairly straightforward zone-to-zone leveling, but the number of things that players can do as they level up has increased. Half of the justice system, the Imperial City, and even the latest DLC Orsinium have added a lot to the game, and there is far less hand-holding overall.

Matt Daniel (@Matt_DanielMVOP): Oof, this is a tough one too. I don’t honestly feel that I’m qualified to speak in this area because I spend so much of my time hopping between games that I rarely stick around enough to see how much a given game improves over time. That being said, I feel like Final Fantasy XIV has improved immensely, though my memory is wibbly-wobbly, so I’m not sure all of the improvement I have in mind has happened over the course of the past year. Still, I feel like between the updates that have hit FFXIV over the course of the year, plus the launch of Heavensward which I absolutely adored, FFXIV has improved enough to get my vote in this category.

Tina Lauro (@purpletinabeans): For me at least, Guild Wars 2 has been drastically improved by HoT’s launch back in October.The expansion has drastically improved and refined the endgame of the game, opening up the title to the raiding community and providing several new mechanics that enhance and reward the exploration that the game is known for. I adore the new zone and I think it’s a much better experiment in verticality than the team’s previous attempts were. It actually got me into PvP too with the introduction of Stronghold, which I thought would never happen!

WildStar won our pick for most improved MMO of 2015. What’s your pick?

What's the most improved MMO of 2015?

  • WildStar (20%, 314 Votes)
  • Guild Wars 2 (8%, 130 Votes)
  • Elder Scrolls Online (25%, 383 Votes)
  • Marvel Heroes (3%, 41 Votes)
  • Final Fantasy XIV (6%, 88 Votes)
  • ArcheAge (1%, 14 Votes)
  • RIFT (1%, 13 Votes)
  • World of Warcraft (2%, 27 Votes)
  • TERA (1%, 13 Votes)
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic (13%, 202 Votes)
  • Neverwinter (0%, 4 Votes)
  • Star Trek Online (1%, 18 Votes)
  • The Secret World (3%, 39 Votes)
  • EVE Online (2%, 32 Votes)
  • Trove (0%, 5 Votes)
  • EverQuest II (1%, 10 Votes)
  • Lord of the Rings Online (2%, 30 Votes)
  • DC Universe Online (0%, 3 Votes)
  • Elite: Dangerous (7%, 113 Votes)
  • RuneScape (1%, 11 Votes)
  • Defiance (0%, 2 Votes)
  • Ultima Online (0%, 4 Votes)
  • Dark Age of Camelot (0%, 5 Votes)
  • EverQuest (0%, 2 Votes)
  • Darkfall (0%, 2 Votes)
  • Dungeons & Dragons Online (0%, 3 Votes)
  • Aion (0%, 2 Votes)
  • Age of Wushu/Wulin (0%, 3 Votes)
  • Landmark (0%, 4 Votes)
  • Something else -- tell us in the comments! (2%, 32 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,549

Loading ... Loading ...
Poll options include all games nominated plus several other major MMORPGs.

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Scarecrowe
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Scarecrowe

Hurbster
I thought Wildstar was fine at launch. I didn’t see any issues. The only reason my wife and I stopped playing was that we had level capped a couple of characters and would normally be raiding but prefer smaller groups for that (10-person). So there still isn’t anything interesting to bring us back.

sray155
Guest
sray155

Quincha sray155 My position was never that the sub model is the only reason for the game’s decline: I said it was a contributing factor and that at this point their insistence on it is keeping customers away. As far as I can tell, you’re saying subscription has zero to do with the decline, and that is absolutely not true as we have seen time and again that the subscription model has had a negative impact on the number of people who will play an MMORPG, and WoW is no exception to that rule: there are millions of gamers will simply refuse to play any video game with a subscription only business model; and that obviously cuts into what Blizzard can make with WoW. 

As far as the expansion bounce that is some “proof” that the subsciptions are not in decline: your own chart repeatedly shows a thirty to sixty day subscription bounce followed by immediate decline that consistently results in a lower population low than the previous year which means the game is seeing tourists, not real returnees. The fact that expansions tend to come with thirty days “free subscription” show that there’s likely a large number of these returnees that have no intention of staying once real subscription kicks back in, again pointing to the subscription doing some level damage to player retention. 

WoW subscribers, for whatever reason, become disenchanted with the game and leave: increasingly, many of them are finding their way to other MMORPGs without the box price and subscription as a barrier to entry, and not returning to WoW. No not all of them, but many of them. The number of non-subscription alternatives, and the revenue they are generating, has been rising in direct correlation to WoW’s undeniable year after year decline. It doesn’t matter that it’s not at the exact same rates, the continued rise of one, and fall of the other show that there is absolutely a connection.

No, not every ex-WoW player is suddenly playing Rift, SWTOR or Wildstar, but many of them are; and many of them are doing so because they don’t have to pay $25 to $50 just to get through the door, then having to pay another $15 a month to stay there. And that is affecting Blizzard’s numbers.

sray155
Guest
sray155

Wandris sray155 I never said they were sub only. They’re a subscription game with an extensive free trial. There is no game out there that promises unlimited access to everything for free. Yes, their model is meant to bully you into subscribing: and it’s successful at doing that.

And their bullying model, distasteful as it may be to some, allows them to skip obnoxious crap like loot boxes with top end gear that you have to buy keys for, or high end crafting materials that can only be purchased via real cash, or flat out selling high end gear. It’s a merciless to those who aren’t interested in subscribing, but it also allows them to absolutely avoid faintest whiff of real pay to win items on their cash shop. There is no limitation that can’t be lifted for $15 a month, and what you get to keep if you only subscribe for even a single month would be worth hundreds in virtually any other “F2P” game on the market.

sray155
Guest
sray155

Quincha sray155 Their numbers conclusively show a population in decline. Your chart’s numbers show the story:rise for an expansion, and then shortly thereafter fall; and they fall lower than the previous year’s lowest number. Just because some players return for an expansion doesn’t mean that the population isn’t declining. At the same time as their subscription base is declining, the number of non-subscription alternatives is rising, and the amount of money that these alternative are making is rising. These are all facts.

Correlation does not equal causation, but when a trend is consistently seen over five years, it’s time to admit that there is some relation: non-subscription alternatives are taking some, not all, but some of WoW’s business; and WoW’s insistence on maintaining the sub only model is likely hurting their business at this point.

Wandris
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Wandris

sray155 Wandris SWTOR is sold as F2P, they sell unlocks for everything, and you can spend $100-$200 on upgrading your account easily. Even though it is stingy most of it is within reason with the exception of the credit cap and absolute forum restrictions. These two things go beyond any other F2P MMO and essentially cripple the play experience. You are forced to spend real money to buy half the stuff on the AH or to unlock legacy perks. This is a deliberate and underhanded deception. Absolutely unacceptable. At every possible point they try to make you sub, it is excessive and unnecessary. They stopped being a sub only game years ago and they did go F2P, yet they impose ridiculous restrictions to make people sub.

sray155
Guest
sray155

Quincha sray155  Players showed up for one -one- expansion in numbers equal to the previous one. An exception doesn’t disprove a trend. The numbers for Cataclysm and MoP were both lower than their predecessor: fewer people for Cataclysm than Wrath of the Lich King, and fewer for MoP than for Cataclysm. This shows that even the annual expansion bounce in population was in decline. Then after each expansion, the population fell lower than the previous year’s lowest point.

Even with a returning population equal to March of the Pandas for WoD, the expansion bounce is still significantly (over 2 million subscriptions) lower than the game’s population height four years earlier. And now players have left in even greater numbers, continuing the trend. The number for the expansion bounce isn’t the issue, it’s the number of the year’s lowest subscription point that shows the game in population decline; and that decline is happening while WoW insists on maintaining a box price + subscription, while the majority of its competitors have ditched that business model. 

Is the rise of games that have an alternative to the subscription only model the only reason for WoW’s subscription decline? Not likely. Is it a large contributing factor? Undoubtedly it is.

sray155
Guest
sray155

Wandris sray155 They don’t sell “Free to play”. They say you can “play for free”, which you can: the amount of access that you get isn’t unlimited, but more extensive than any subscription only game’s free trial.

Coincidentally, WoW also advertises that you can “play for free”.

7BitBrian
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7BitBrian

Baemir I’ve got love for EVE, but I also do not think it was the most improved MMO of the year, so I didn’t vote for it. I certainly love playing it, and loved what improvements we got, but it most certainly was not, in my opinion, the most improved.

sray155
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sray155

Your chart only backs up my point.
WoW stopped gaining new players at the same time that other MMORPGs moved into free to play and subscription optional models. Each year WoW releases an expansion that bounces their sub numbers up for a few months, and then they drop again, at least 1 million lower than the previous year’s lowest number. Many of those players are finding their way to non-subscription/optional subscription games and not returning for the annual expansion pack. The current content drought has only exacerbated a condition that has existed for several years, and directly correlates to the rise of alternatives to WoW’s subscription only model.

Wandris
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Wandris

sray155 It’s a lie. Why should they get away with selling “F2P” and then not meeting basic expectations of their customers. They have made it impossible to even dispute within game channels.

ColdinT
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ColdinT

It’s not like Wildstar was really all that bad though. It was about standard for a launch MMO. I think it more shows just how far they’ve come in a year.

sray155
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sray155

Sorry, on mobile and can’t see avatars well, which is how i identify people: on my screen, your avatars are both black blobs.

sray155
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sray155

WoW’s numbers have been dropping since reaching their height in 2010. Up to this year, the year over year loss has averaged to about 1 million subs per year, permanently. Right now their sub numbers are in free fall due to a content drought, that’s only sped up a process of attrition that was already happening. An argument can be made that this drop is happening due to their refusal to adopt a model more like SWTOR’s.

Baemir
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Baemir

No love for EVE…

sray155
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sray155

Furthermore, we can also argue that WoW’s model is hurting them as their sub numbers plummet, and the numbers we see from SWTOR keep going up year after year.

sray155
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sray155

When you say they have a “draconian free toplay model”. Your very first post.

zyrusticae
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zyrusticae

Is it cheating if I nominate Blade & Soul for changes it received in the overseas version? :p I mean, multiple full class overhauls, a complete revamp of the 3v3 mode (which turned it into a Marvel vs Capcom-style tag team match), the addition of weapon skinning… 
In all seriousness, since I haven’t really played any of the games on this list recently, I’m just going to abstain from voting. 
I do feel like games like Wildstar that started off so poorly are kind of unfairly advantaged in this category, because it’s a lot easier to improve utter garbage than it is to improve something that’s already middle-of-the-road. Or at least, that’s what my instincts tell me. My instincts can be wrong!

sray155
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sray155

I’m comparing it to F2P because you clearly are. By this reasoning, it makes more sense for us to complain about WoW’s restrictions and say that their numbers come solely from brand recognition.

Hurbster
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Hurbster

Blimey, I think this is an indictment of how bad Wildstar was initially than anything else.

sray155
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sray155

Brand will bring a certain number to the door, but if it’s not enjoyable, they won’t stick around, and they sure as hell won’t keep spending money. This game consistently makes 4 to 5 times the average of most other big name F2P games on the market, many of which also have “name brands” attached. In the end, it’s making that type of money due to having a decent product. IMO, complaining about the free game is looking at it from the wrong perspective: you see a crap F2P model; I see the most fantastic free trial ever.

ColdinT
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ColdinT

sray155 Working well pretty much based on it’s brand. I don’t think any other MMO would do as well with that model. But diehard Star Wars and KOTOR fans are totally willing to shell out a lot for lockboxes.

A Dad Supreme
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A Dad Supreme

Quincha That’s what the majority of players wanted in the first place.. KOTOR so.. win?

A Dad Supreme
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A Dad Supreme

Feodor They added the content, but I didn’t vote for my (former) favorite MMO simply because they decided to punish me as a crafter by limiting the things I can actually achieve, unless I want to grind ALL day/week/month/year.
The grind was manageable before, but I simply got tired of trying to be a Jack of All Trades, which I really enjoy in MMOs.
Between that and the elitist raiding attitudes that have emerged since launch, I can no longer call the game home and since unsubbed.

A Dad Supreme
Guest
A Dad Supreme

I’d have to say SWTOR for their renewed focus on storytelling, which was/is the meat of the game after all. 
We’ll see how often they meet the update schedule for new stories but I was pleasantly surprised by the new lines, the companion system, and other things.
As far as travel to/fro, it’s easily the best/simpliest game to get around in which makes a world of difference. The days of taking 10-15 minutes to get someplace unless it’s a sandbox are over for me; I want to be able to fast travel/port to action quickly, get things done and log the Hell rather than have an hour of that in travels.

sray155
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sray155

That’s right: SWTOR is a sub game with a cash shop and the most extensive free trial ever; but it’s not F2P. And it’s clearly working quite well.

ColdinT
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ColdinT

That’s a TON of votes for SWTOR. Frankly, while they did improve some of their core systems and made some things better….they’re still working with a draconian F2P model. They haven’t taken any steps forward there, and actually are basically still running a Sub game with a cash shop for all intents.

Wildstar does get my vote. There’s a lot they still need to do and refine, but every update the game gets better and better. Now we just need a nice big content update to sink our teeths into.

paragonlostinspace
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paragonlostinspace

Armsbend From what I’ve seen, yeah that might have been the one I’d have voted for if I actually had game experience with it. :) Like Estranged, I’m down with that”. :) I didn’t vote for it because I have no on hands experience and try to avoid voting when I don’t have the experience. But everything I’ve read here and elsewhere, yeah I’d have to agree with Estranged’s opinion to your post.

paragonlostinspace
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paragonlostinspace

I can’t vote for SWTOR, because for this year I felt that they took a step backwards towards stand alone rpg game play instead of mmorpg. I can’t vote for Wildstar because I don’t feel educated enough about the changes to form a good opinion. I can’t vote for GW2 because I don’t think that moving towards the trinity was a good move if they wanted to remain different from the pack of mmorpgs. Let’s see, I also can’t vote for WoW because the last expansion like SWTOR was a move in the wrong direction. 

Basically I voted “something else”, because I just don’t see a “most” improved here. I’m surprised about how many are voting for SWTOR, it’s a terrible expansion in my opinion and after so many moves towards improving themselves since launch the stuff they did with the new expac sucked. :(

confectionally
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confectionally

I voted SWTOR: I think the changes this year have brought their own associated large problems, but they also addressed some really glaring issues that have improved the game in a very real way for newer players.
Meanwhile if there was an opposite of “most improved” I’d be awarding that to Guild Wars 2.  It’s been my home game for 3 years and after the massive disappointment that was Heart of Thorns I find myself logging in less than I ever have.  I’ve taken hiatuses before, but for personal reasons, not because I was so completely let down by the game that I question whether I want to play anymore.

Dystopiq
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Dystopiq

I only half agree. Locking progression to meta events is stupid. Completely destroying dungeons also stupid. Making the gear grind even worse, also stupid. The drop rate in Fractals got worse. Also stupid.

Rohirrim
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Rohirrim

My vote goes to swtor for this year. Although I must admit that I have not played GW2 expansion yet.. ESO comes close second and it would be first if they had addressed the inventory issue..everytime I go back to ESO I find out that I sepnd most of time logging in/out with 10 characters to manage inventory…

Kazhamania
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Kazhamania

For 2016 this is one :

Armsbend
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Armsbend

Quincha I think ideally any studio of their size would be happy to update if they had those sales numbers ;)

Robert80
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Robert80

Miserymachine Wild_Phil  Depends on what you like.  Personally, I prefer not having as many buttons, having to consider my options carefully, and the extra stuff with the block system.  I also like that it isn’t quite as flashy in ESO.
That said, I think there is a lot of room for improvement with both combat systems.

Robert80
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Robert80

I really think that FFXIV is a sell out on this one.  The original upgrade in 2013 with re-release yes.  However, I really don’t believe that the xpacs for GW2 of FFXIV can compare with some of the other improvements made around the industry (mainly because they were already in a spot where they were beloved by their audience and not recovering from painful mistakes to be a solid game as several others have done.)

schmidtcapela
Guest
schmidtcapela

My first place would go for Marvel Heroes, but due to one thing that is almost a detail: removing the respec cost. I already liked the game a lot, but couldn’t enjoy it because potentially having to pay something if I wanted to try new specs spoiled the mood, so this little change alone was like changing from night to day for me.

My second place is Trove. There is still a lot to improve, but the devs are constantly adding new things.

On the other end of the spectrum, I would say GW2 lost the most in introducing raids. Not sure I will ever return after that, I certainly don’t feel like playing it right now. After all, promising to not add raids was a large part of why I even started playing GW2 in the first place.

schmidtcapela
Guest
schmidtcapela

Feydakin 
I’m waiting for Firefall to remove that ridiculous one red bean respec cost. I want to play and continue supporting the game (I’m, after all, the owner of a Locust bike), but respecs that cost real money, no matter how little, nag me enough that I don’t feel like playing.

Serrenity
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Serrenity

Polyanna While I’m still not sold on raids in the game, I think it’s a bit hyperbolic to say “Every single other aspect of it was utterly ruined.” The non-raid stuff in the expansion is a lot of fun, but not without it’s problems.  What’s really going to say whether raids had a negative impact is going to be down the line with subsequent releases.  If the lion’s share of the new content is locked behind raids or dependent on raids, then the game is not for me.  If they can continue to balance solo/small group play with raids, I’ll OK with it.  
I understand that their intent was that HoT is supposed to be challenging, I just find it frustrating that I can’t even really just wander around explore without stumbling on something that unless I’m 100% ready for it, will likely kill me. That’s not to say I don’t like the masteries or the current content, I just miss the ability to kind of wander around casually and ‘putz’ as it were.

Sigbjorn
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Sigbjorn

I voted GW2 because HoT is an incredibly strong expansion. It takes the great parts of the base game and takes them in fun, new directions. Masteries are excellent, horizontal advancement. The new zones are a blast. The specialisations rejuvenate the classes. Even Fractals and legendary grind are more fun. Now let’s hope Anet can keep up the pace of updates.

Estranged
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Estranged

Would like to add after reading this comment’s section that Elite and SWTOR should be 1 and 2.

Estranged
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Estranged

melissaheather I wasn’t thinking of them when I made my vote, that is a strong argument.

Estranged
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Estranged

Feydakin That is what I am talking about, people are too hung up financials versus actually game play.

Estranged
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Estranged

Armsbend I’m down with that, this expansion hitting next week is big time.

Estranged
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Estranged

Polyanna The development time required for raids takes away from open world content.  Same ole issue as any WoW clone.

Polyanna
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Polyanna

SWTOR wins this IF you like the parts of the game that Bioware spent so much time and effort improving this past year.

For both subscribers and free players, the 1-50 leveling game has never been better. And for new players whose enthusiasm for group content extends nowhere beyond casual dungeons and “easy mode” raids, the game offers a ton of quite good content accessible at any level from either level 10 (Flashpoints) or 50 (Operations) to 65.

If you were a dedicated progression raider before 4.0, well, it’s been nice knowing you. Bioware doesn’t seem inclined to offer you anything at all at this point beyond politely holding the door so it doesn’t hit you in the ass on the way out.

Heart of Thorns, on the other hand, basically destroyed Guild Wars 2 as we knew it. The game now “has raids,” for whatever that’s worth. Every single other aspect of it was utterly ruined.

Armsbend
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Armsbend

Elite:  they hot the ground running and haven’t stopped running since.

teppic
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teppic

I voted LOTRO — finally getting a reduction in servers, together with reaching Minas Tirith (a big milestone), and moving to new hardware to improve performance. It seemed to be in steady decline since Helm’s Deep, but this past year has seen a ton of quality of life improvements on top of these things that have managed to turn it around.

Feydakin
Guest
Feydakin

Wildstar I can see, definitely, and even ESO to a degree, but SWTOR? Maybe I just can’t get past the mismanagement of the business model… 

I voted other, and conspicuously absent from the list is Firefall. It improved SO much after Mark Kern was let go and it’s done nothing but improve last year. Not only should Firefall win this category but I think it should win most underrated. ;)

I do not work for Red5… :)

Shienne
Guest
Shienne

I voted for Final Fantasy XIV because I don’t think I played any other MMOs this year. Well, no. That’s not true. I played Defiance for a few hours. Spoilers: it’s still awful. 

Yes, I’m bitter. I wanted to like Defiance, damn it.

Siphaed
Guest
Siphaed

Wildstar is like a “duh” vote based on where it was standing at the brink of last year.  They’re going from a horrible state at launch -so bad that they canceled all scheduled holiday events for their first year- to what it is today.  Only could go up.  However their whole “subscriptions help us keep updates constantly” swiftly followed by one patch every 3 months kind of killed it for a whole bunch of people. I personally would have kept my subscription to the game had they not canceled Halloween or Christmas events for last year.  That was the final straw.     The game going F2P was just a saving grace to try to recover from a horrible reception last year.
  Oh and I wouldn’t say it “improved” so much either, considering that the F2P launch was a very bumpy ride.   I recall MassivelyOP  saying that “you only get one ‘2nd chance’ and Wildstar blew theirs”.   The developers even had to go so far as to make a bunch of bribery items to get players to return to the game for its relaunch.

Same goes for The Elder Scrolls Online.   Throughout this year,  TESO did “improvements” by dumping their paid-beta on the PC when they finally officially launched [on consoles].    The game obtained many adjustments to the problems that plagued its first year of launch.  The content expansions to the game are just features that were much touted about during the game’s development cycle leading to the PC ‘launch’.  The biggest offender of this is the Imperial City.

I see “Most Improved” as a good game getting better and not a bad game getting good.  That’s not improvement, that is obtaining normality.   Three games come to mind for Most Improved this year:   SW:ToR, FF:XIV, and GW2.  Each game in a good state that launched major game-changing expansions that improved a lot upon the base game. None of those games were climbing out of a hole that they dug themselves into.

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