Perfect Ten: The 10 saddest MMORPG stories
Every MMO tells a story through the run of its life. A lot of those stories are pretty happy, too. Ultima Online may not be the most happening place in the world right now, but its story is about launching a genre and then running for two solid decades. That’s a pretty great story. However much it’s become a tale of mismanaged expectations, World of Warcraft kind of became the most popular thing for a long while and brought in tons of new people to the hobby. Even titles with sad endings often have bright stories; the end bit for City of Heroes sucks, but everything leading up to that was a gas.
And then you have these 10 titles. These are titles where the whole story is a tragedy, start to finish, and in many cases the tragedy isn’t necessarily over, but the story is still just plain sad. There are reasons, of course, maybe even good ones, but the result is that the narrative for these titles is pretty sad all the way through.
1. Warhammer Online
Arguably, this is the least sad story on this list. After all, Warhammer Online came out of the gates with decent numbers and made a big splash. It was just ultimately kind of a hollow experience with lots of bugs, and that hurt it from the start.
What made the game a tragedy was that it basically jumped the gun so badly that it then spent a protracted period limping around with obvious fixes needed but no budget to actually make that happen. And the free-to-play conversion that might have actually helped the title wound up getting kneecapped, dooming the hopes it may have had.
Are you a fan of Firefall? Which version? Because there were like four or five complete top-down revisions of this title, and none of them ever quite managed to connect with a big audience. The game was also sacrificed on the ego of a developer who… let’s say made some questionable decisions. And might make them again.
The whole thing tipped over the edge into “tragic” when the game basically just stopped working for a while, then started up again with no explanation whatsoever. That was when the writing was on the wall, but instead of having a dignified send-off the game just went quiet, flitted between life and death, and finally just announced that it was going away with no ceremony.
You can, of course, play WildStar right now. I’d even recommend it. The game launched to great reception, and while the game has its issues, there’s a lot of fun to be had here. It was when people started colliding face-first with the unbelievably savage game at the level cap that everyone started leaving, and then it got worse.
At this point, the game has had several chances at bringing in new players without succeeding each time, and you get the sense of a team flailing and looking for traction to keep the lights on. It’s a really sad ending to a game we were highly anticipating as a site almost right up until, well, it arrived.
No story that involves going back into beta testing is a good one, and when the game in question is a remarkably charming and cute non-combat title, it’s even sadder. There were a lot of things about Glitch that required more time to cook, but the game just didn’t have that time. That’s the tragedy; not failure, exactly, but the fact that time was needed and wasn’t available.
5. The Repopulation
Here’s the short version of The Repopulation. As part of the effort to keep costs down, the developers behind the title license the Hero Engine instead of developing something in-house. The Hero Engine developers go deep into debt and basically wind up holding the game hostage. So then the developers behind The Repopulation decide to port the game over to the Unreal engine, putting out a survival sandbox spin-off in the hopes of getting money to keep their development rolling.
Unfortunately, Fragmented doesn’t do as well as the developers had hoped, and they’re left with half of the conversion done, not enough money to keep going, and no game to show for it. The Hero Engine developers buy The Repopulation, and now the actual people who made the game have been cut out of the loop with only Fragmented left to them, while the people behind The Repopulation, who once held it hostage, now are apparently struggling to get a patch out. There’s no part of this story that isn’t incredibly sad.
6. Pathfinder Online
It was always baffling to see someone look at the Pathfinder pen-and-paper line and conclude that Pathfinder Online should be a gankbox of the first order. But it gets downright tragic when you see that the game has been limping along half-finished forever with a paid early access that has stagnated badly. The game had two successful Kickstarters but never actually attracted the investors necessary to go any further, and now… well, there’s no ending to this story that sounds encouraging.
7. Asheron’s Call 2
A sequel shuttering before the original game due to launch bugs that rendered the title more or less dead on arrival? That’s a tragedy all by itself, but what makes this even more sad is that Asheron’s Call 2 had a bright spot of hope in the middle. Suddenly it got brought back as a free bonus for subscribers to Asheron’s Call, and fans were all excited that maybe something else would come about.
Then Turbine shuttered both of the titles when its other MMOs got spun out into a different studio, and it became just miserably depressing to think about how that all ended.
A fringe case? Perhaps. The way that Darkfall shut down is kind of sad. What seems worse, on some level, is the fact that there are obviously fans with a lot of investment in the game willing to work on revival projects… only to realize belatedly that there may not, in fact, be fans out there to support these revival projects financially.
Speaking personally, I’m not sad to see gankboxes fail. But I’m sad when people put a lot of effort into something that’s a labor of passion, only to realize after the fact that no one else is all that interested.
9. PlanetSide 2
There’s only so much to be written that Justin didn’t already cover in his whatever-happened-to-PlanetSide 2 bit, so I won’t retread that; just go read it. But it still winds up as a sad story of what happens with games that get shuffled off to the back with companies that don’t seem to much care about continuing to run them.
I can’t really count EverQuest Next as a tragedy. It wasn’t a game that did poorly, it wasn’t even a game. It was an idea that never got released, and that’s fine, it happens. What is far more tragic is that Daybreak had already been selling a companion part of that game that was designed to, you know, go hand-in-hand with that game. And so it seemed to support Landmark briefly as a perfunctory effort, only to axe it soon thereafter when it had been in beta for approximately seven million years.
There was so much player creativity and so many neat ideas behind Landmark, but the game never connected with a large audience. Maybe with more things brought over from its cancelled sister project, it could have. Pity the people in charge weren’t interested in giving it that real chance, although whether that was due to apathy or lack of funding will have to remain a mystery.