Perfect Ten: The MMORPGs to watch in 2016
A long time ago on another website far, far away, I held a tradition of kicking off the new year by listing the top 10 MMOs that deserved attention and were likely to launch that year. These days, however, the industry has changed quite a bit, most notably with early access, open development, soft launches, and crowdfunding blurring the lines of testing and play.
Therefore, I felt that a slight change was needed with 2016's list. Instead of rattling off 10 titles that I think are going to release in the following 12 months, I'm going to mention games that strongly bear watching in the new year. Some of them will undoubtedly release, while the rest remain in alpha or beta testing, but all could have an impact on the industry and in our online communities.
Because I'm limiting the list to just 10 entries, some up-and-coming games won't be mentioned. I have my reasons (secret, dusky reasons), but if you disagree about these or the exclusion of any title, pipe up in the comments!
1. Late to the Party: Blade and Soul
January's launch of Blade and Soul in the west has my keen attention at the moment -- not because I want to play it, but because this is a game that western players have wanted for years now. In fact, it became a running joke that NCsoft would never bring it overseas no matter what the demand.
Now that it's about here, will there be a suitable audience for this wuxia title? I've heard some despairing that the publisher waited too long and that the timing isn't right. I'm not so sure, especially considering how few major MMO launches we've had over the past year. Will it boom, bust, or middle out? I am dying to know the answer. (Eliot wasn't so impressed, however.)
2. Eye Candy: Black Desert
Speaking of Asian imports, Black Desert is coming our way sooner or later, although there are strong fears that this sandbox will be altered too much from its original state to be as beloved. But if any game can succeed based on its visuals alone, it might well be this incredibly beautiful title. Personally, I predict that it will be a spitting cousin of ArcheAge, looking to draw in players disenchanted with that title. Will players trust another Asian sandbox import that's been tweaked and modified?
3. Return of the King: Camelot Unchained
Dark Age of Camelot forged itself a strong niche in the early 2000s by taking PvP and turning it into something grand and meaningful. Players who have been yearning for a sequel will soon get a spiritual successor in Camelot Unchained, led by DAoC's Mark Jacobs, now bearing years of experience and lessons learned. With an insanely robust crafting system, 30 classes, and good ol' RvR, Camelot Unchained could well be an indie breakout hit that earns your subscription dollar.
4. The Next Generation: Star Citizen
You might not have heard of this game, but Star Citizen has quite the ambitious spirit fueling its space sim development. While the MMOish persistent universe won't be seeing a 2016 release, there will definitely be some significant steps toward a full-featured game as testing goes forward and Squadron 42 prepares to ship. Or, according to some, Star Citizen will collapse and implode all universes, real and digital. I'm banking on a more successful run, myself.
Hype and drama aside, it's easy to understand why this game has so many people excited for it. Space sims aren't the same-old fantasy rehash, and there's sheer desire on the part of both backers and the game's developers to play in a world with such a wide feature set.
5. The Grimdark Sandbox: Revival
Not every MMO is looking to rope in the entire family. Revival, for example, is downright proud in showing off its ugly, gritty side and appealing to a much more mature crowd. Mixing gothic horror and a grimdark world would certainly set any game apart from the pack, but what Revival offers past that is a desire to create a sandbox world is drenched in true roleplaying systems. If you can get past the shock value of having things like prostitution and slavery in an MMO, you might see that there's a whole bunch more to consider.
6. PvP Valhalla: Crowfall
Take a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, toss in industry veterans who know their stuff, and create recyclable PvP campaigns that have beginnings, middles, and ends. What will we get when Crowfall comes out? Maybe a lot of talk and little substance. But maybe a high-profile title that seduces the PvP set while wooing first time combatants with its housing system, art style, and choice of campaigns. Crowfall has a long, long way to go, but 2016 will definitely ramp up its testing and spark more conversation about what kind of game this will be when it finally does release.
7. The Brilliant Indie: Project Gorgon
Perhaps the best-kept secret of in-development MMOs, Project Gorgon is a veritable treasure trove of creativity that's been masked by sub-standard graphics and an unfortunate name. If you're looking for a game that rethinks how MMOs work and offers so many interesting things to do (including leveling up as a cow or fighting a conspiracy of psychic mantises), you're going to want to check this out.
At least the visuals are due for an upgrade with the game's Kickstarter funds, and a Steam release is due some time in the early part of 2016. Fingers crossed that it picks up momentum and gets the attention it deserves. Yes, I am totally biased for this game.
8. The Old-School Revival: Shroud of the Avatar
Speaking of spiritual successors to old-school MMOs, Shroud of the Avatar is definitely the closest we'll ever get to a straight-up Ultima Online 2. Even better, the game is being developed by Richard Garriott without the string-pulling of EA, which means that he's making the game he's wanted to make for years. With a highly active community behind it, Shroud could be a sleeper hit if and when it comes out with its first episode. My concerns primarily have to do with its accessibility and macrotransactions (get a mortgage on your home so you can buy one here!), but I'm really liking what I'm seeing elsewhere.
9. The Cross-Platform Wunderkind: Albion Online
It seems as though indie sandboxes are a dime a dozen in the MMO space these days, making me envision some sort of weird reality TV show where they knock each other off until only one remains. While I'm not going to mention many of the others here, I will say that Albion Online is most definitely worth noting. It's got some... interesting ideas in regard to its housing and PvP systems, but the visuals are charming and the efforts to make this a truly cross-platform MMO (including mobile!) bumps it up in my estimation.
10. The Fallen Angel: EverQuest Next
Saying that you are looking forward to EverQuest Next's release is kind of like being a middle-aged adult who still believes in Santa Claus (apologies to our younger readers, who totally know that Saint Nick is real and has them on the "nice" list). People look at you funny and offer up a slew of snide comments.
But you know what? I haven't given up on Daybreak's next chapter in the EverQuest franchise. I hope that it's still being worked on and that in 2016, we're going to suddenly start hearing a lot about it. I think it's the kind of big-budget, big-idea, next-generation MMO that we need, and I don't see anyone else picking up that mantle right now. So go, you crazy EQN. Prove your doubters wrong!