MMO Mechanics: 2017’s take on the sandbox MMO


I am finding it hard to believe that we are two months into 2017 already, especially since I’ve had so many pressing Guild Chat submissions recently that I haven’t had a chance to turn my hand back to MMO Mechanics in all that time! As an introduction to a new year, I usually like to include a predictions column that summarises my perspective on how I believe mechanics will change over the following twelve months, but I don’t feel as though the 2016 trends I mentioned have died out yet and wish to instead focus on the sustained emphasis on sandbox MMO development with strong holistic, character developing mechanics.

In this edition of MMO Mechanics, I’m going to talk about some upcoming MMOs and the non-combat, realistic, and technical mechanics added into the 2017 sandbox mix. Although I can’t guarantee that the titles I mention below will actually release this year, each of them has enough solid development behind them to make a 2017 release at least probable; besides, even if these titles don’t release in the next ten months, they will still bear the hallmarks of the state of the modern sandbox MMO and are worth noting. Add your thoughts on the common threads you’re finding in 2017’s planned MMO mechanics in the comments: I’m sure to miss several key mechanics development trends in this non-exhaustive list.

Worlds Adrift

What makes it mechanically distinctive?

I quite often see new game blurbs describe vibrant virtual worlds that work hard to create a sense of realism, but I frequently find that the world’s mechanics don’t back up those claims. In Worlds Adrift, loose objects that are discarded or left behind by a player will naturally deteriorate and sink into the ground, according to Bossa Studios, and the volatility of the environment will both entirely bury some artefacts whilst churning others back up to the surface. Object lifecycle mechanics is a stellar idea that I believe should be employed in far more MMOs. Add to this the well-developed physics system that powers everything from how fast a skyship flies to how much resistance wind will present to your crew, and I can see that this project has plenty of potential in terms of mechanics that enhance the MMO sandbox.

What state is it in so far?

This is relatively early in development and is still at an alpha testing stage, but you can tinker with an island creator tool the devs have thrown together that will give you the opportunity to create an island that will be featured in the completed game alongside the thousands of procedurally generated islands the team has promised. I suppose all that mathematical know-how takes time to perfect!

Life is Feudal

What makes it mechanically distinctive?

This is not this title’s first mention in MMO Mechanics and I’m fairly confident that it won’t be the last either! I adore the planned gritty PvP mechanics that include as many destructibles as I’d ever care to destruct and freeform landscaping, building, and terraforming tools that would impress any Minecraft or Sims fan. While I mention it, what particularly impressed me about the concept that LiF has going on was how the development team could seamlessly combine tools from so many different genres to enhance more traditional sandbox MMO mechanics. Bringing in terraforming and structure building and combining it with a complex triad of mounted, ranged, and melee combat that employs a solid physics system and targetless system is impressive, and that’s before you even touch on its world or setting.

What state is it in so far?

Life is Feudal is fairly well along in the development pipeline and is currently running its second closed beta for some lucky applicants and all those who backed the project for a minimum of $45. Development for this title has moved back and forth between both MMO and non-MMO versions of the project, meaning that although players have been waiting since 2014 without seeing the MMO of their dreams, the devs have promised an end-of-year MMO launch for 2017.

Peria Chronicles

What makes it mechanically distinctive?

This is one of those games that creeps up on MMO enthusiasts quite silently before blowing our minds with some once-in-a-blue-moon trailers that pack in so much awesomeness that we are left dying to know more. Not only is the cel-shading glorious and the characters stunningly depicted in what little we have seen so far, but we also had a teasing little glimpse of how rich the world might be and how detailed the creation mechanics are set to be. I’m particularly impressed with that snapshot of character customisation: I’m deeply passionate about games in which I’m supposed to identify with my avatar possessing the tools I require to make a character to my personal specifications, and those sliders did not disappoint. Height scaling in MMOs is a challenge due to terrain scale and object interaction difficulties, but Peria nevertheless rose to the challenge.

What state is it in so far?

I have to answer this one with an “I’m not quite sure”, even though it was playable at G-Star back in November. I’d say if it is show-floor ready then we won’t have too long to wait, however, so keep your eye out for this one. If this gets localised and it manages to be even half as good as it seems it will be, then we should all be very excited!

Albion Online

What makes it mechanically distinctive?

I appreciate the grassroots feel to the economy mechanics in this game: Every object that you can equip has been crafted by a fellow player, in turn affecting all those raw materials and gathering mechanics that you know and love from the traditional MMO. This works in tandem with a classless system in which a character is defined by what he or she wears instead of by whatever choices a player made in a stuffy menu at the beginning of play. A private island off Albion major allows players to kick back and regenerate after hard battling in the main world, and farming creates fuel for your guild’s war efforts or materials you can sell on. Fun and rewarding player housing mechanics nestle in too, granting players bonuses that are as distinct as their decor choices.

What state is it in so far?

This one has an actual solid release date, which is more than I can say for most of my sought-after MMOs in development. Hitting in summer, you can be sure that this game will not fail on the back of an unrealistic rush to the goalposts since its beta testing has so far been solid and well received. Communication is slick and I’m very optimistic about the future of Albion Online.

Over to you!

It seems to me that the 2016 trend toward sandbox development with as many freeform, future-focused mechanics as it is possible to throw in isn’t going anywhere in 2017. Each of the games I’ve mentioned could offer a robust and enduring player experience that shapes MMO development well into the future, so I can’t wait until I get my hands on these mechanics for myself.

I know some of you will be wondering where your MMO gem for this year ranks if it didn’t make my list, but I promise this was not an exhaustive exercise and that I could have gone on for much longer about what’s in store for 2017. I’d love to hear about your personal picks in the comments, of course, but I’d also be interested to hear any theories you might have regarding other MMO mechanics trends for 2017 that you’d like me to delve into in future.

MMOs are composed of many moving parts, but Massively’s Tina Lauro is willing to risk industrial injury so that you can enjoy her mechanical musings. MMO Mechanics explores the various workings behind our beloved MMOs. If there’s a specific topic you’d like to see dissected, drop Tina a comment or send an email to
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