Sometimes you have to exclude something from a list. I could, for example, praise World of Warcraft: Legion for being a really good expansion yet again… but I already did that. Heck, we already did that. It won an award and everything. And it deserves that award, but let’s be real, we did not suffer at all from a paucity of updates over the past year. So it’s time to honor some of the other updates that were great this past year that haven’t gotten enough recognition.
Of course, this is my own curated list, so if you’re looking for objectivity combined with a subjective rating like “best,” you may be looking for love in all of the wrong places. Let’s take one last look through 2016 at all of the really cool game updates that made the onslaught of deaths and tragedy at least slightly more pleasant.
1. The Elder Scrolls Online – One Tamriel
Yeah, this update is really a shoo-in. I can think of lots of updates in history that have managed to almost completely rewrite a game’s structure like this, but very few others that did so with what seems like such a small change… and one that’s been almost universally well-received. Between this and the upcoming housing update, The Elder Scrolls Online seems to be abandoning a lot of its initial assumptions about what players want in the wake of actual feedback; that alone deserves praise.
It’s a solid enough update that I can think of a lot of people who hated the game initially who might genuinely want to go back and try it again. That’s rare.
2. Star Wars: The Old Republic – Knights of the Eternal ThroneStar Wars: The Old Republic seems to have suffered from a bit of an identity crisis for a while. It feels like the developers know that something isn’t being handled quite right, but they’re not sure exactly what, so every new expansion brings a total focus on something else that doesn’t nicely mesh with the last installment. But Knights of the Eternal Throne is a pretty solid attempt to capitalize on what the game does well without outright discarding things like progression and group content.
Of course, it also launched with an endgame progression system that seems hand-tailored to annoy people, but no one gets things right on the first attempt. The question is where the game goes from here… and I wonder whether we’ll be surprised by the answer.
3. Star Trek Online – Agents of YesterdayStar Trek Online; it’s hard to really have that era be represented in a game that’s so resolutely focused on the bulk of the prime universe’s continuity in the TNG era.
Having the whole thing be a matter of time travel, then, is simultaneously appropriate cheese for the setting and remarkably clever, allowing the designers to indulge fans of the franchise while simultaneously moving things forward. It might not be as meaty in some ways as prior expansions, but it works and it works well, and for that it deserves a nice big nod.
4. Guild Wars 2 – Season 3Heart of Thorns does not appear to be what the Guild Wars 2 team expected. This does not entirely come as a surprise, seeing as how HoT did a lot of things to make GW2 into a game that it was not; much as with PvP in City of Heroes, the people who wanted those things had largely moved on by the time the expansion rolled around. So while I don’t think Season 3 of the whole Living World content is necessarily the best thing ever, it is something like a return to form. That alone deserves praise.
5. RIFT – Starfall ProphecyRIFT expansion we’ve ever seen, but that doesn’t mean it’s actually bad. Speaking as someone who’s generally an outside observer, I suspect most RIFT players are usually happy with a given expansion; it’s rare to see one that gets the same degree of criticism as Starfall Prophecy, which (not unlike HoT) has an awful lot of people complaining that it changes the game in ways that no one really wanted.
That having been said, it’s still a nice, big, meaty expansion for the game, and for every complaint I’ve seen about time-to-kill issues, I’ve seen another person who’s genuinely enjoying the expansion. So I’ll mark it as the Hawaiian pizza of RIFT’s expansions, the sort of thing that some people are going to loathe while still being well-made.
6. EVE Online – AscensionEVE Online‘s system for free players is a bit restrictive, sure, but it happened, and that shakes up the entire dynamic for the game. Probably. We haven’t had a lot of time to see how it’ll work out over the long term.
7. Final Fantasy XIV – Revenge of the HordeFinal Fantasy XIV patches is that the game is alarmingly consistent. The game puts out such steady, reliable patches that it’s hard to separate them and think of them as large, discrete units; each new patch contains lots of new content, lots of new stories, new systems, and so forth. Heck, it’s my main game and I sometimes forget things like getting new hairstyles in every single patch, which is pretty amazing when you think about it. Highlighting a specific patch outside of an expansion isn’t easy.
However, I’m still going to nominate the 3.3 update, since that was both when we got the Palace of the Dead (which I love) and the conclusion of the expansion storyline. That alone was a new approach, but it also meant that we have more time and space to set up the expansion while still feeling like the prior story came to a decisive close. I can only hope this lesson is repeated and taken to heart for Stormblood, as well.
8. ArcheAge – Revelation
Well, it was a great update for watching drama, at least.
I’m only half-kidding. On the one hand, yes, ArcheAge’s latest update had a whole lot of cool stuff including two new races, and that’s good. But I think the update is also worth noting because it is in many ways a perfect shot of how a poorly handled launch for a patch can mar its reception. The server issues that plagued the game have ensured that people will remember that rather than the actual patch content, and that alone should be taken as a lesson for the future. You can have the best content in the world, but you’re still not going to be able to deliver great memories if none of it works.
9. Black Desert Online – Constant imports
There’s something at once awesome and annoying about imported games with lag time (something FFXIV does not have, I’ll note). On the one hand, you know exactly what’s heading down the pipe in the future, so that’s a good thing. On the other hand, it also means that anything you’re doing now is tempered by the updates you know will be coming. In Black Desert Online in particular, adding new options and gameplay styles to the various classes (along with outright new classes) means that players really have to make a hard choice between what’s in the game now compared to what’s coming very soon.
So it’s nice to see that the localized version of the game has been going nuts localizing content at an incredibly fast pace; while the localized version of the game hasn’t quite caught up to its native version, the lag time has been narrowed significantly. It’s taken about a year to get the game within spitting distance, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s very little lag by the end of the year. Kudos.
10. Destiny – Rise of Iron
Sure, it’s not on PC and is a genre I don’t particularly like, but every time someone tries to argue that Destiny isn’t an MMO, I grow stronger, so that alone amuses me. And since we’re still seeing rumors that the game’s sequel will come to PC, I remain happy about each new installment teaching Bungie how to make a good MMO. Add in a third-person camera and I’ll be overjoyed.