Continuing from my previous column, I’m going to be running through the second decade of graphical MMORPG launches and picking the best title to debut in any given year. From doing the first decade, I know that this thought exercise isn’t always fair; some years have several great contenders, while others see one mediocre one rise due to a lack of competition.
Still, it’s kind of fun to look back at MMO history and to see which game was really the best of that year. And if you ever felt sore that a particular title got overlooked, well, consider this a retroactive awards ceremony of some sort.
Let’s dive right in where we left off with 2007!
2007: Lord of the Rings Online
Remember back when Turbine used to be an awesome indie MMO studio? I do, especially when the studio had great back-to-back releases with DDO and LOTRO. Lord of the Rings Online might have been initially seen as a WoW clone, but its devotion to recreating Middle-earth and giving players all sorts of roleplaying and housing tools helped to set it apart.
2008: Warhammer Online
Ugh, this was a hard year to decide. Age of Conan and Warhammer went neck-and-neck with strong IPs and fanatical fanbases, but if memory serves me right, WAR had the stronger launch and the greater amount of attention, despite coming out second. Yes, it faded quickly, but boy, what a launch!
Plenty of mid-tier entries this year, such as Runes of Magic and Champions Online, but Aion easily took 2009 by storm with a hugely popular launch and a lot of fan excitement. It’s done fairly well for itself in the time that’s followed, too, and remains a favorite for many.
2010: Star Trek Online
Rushed and only partially functional — like the Enterprise-A in Star Trek V — Star Trek Online nevertheless gained early traction due to a lack of really serious competition. Since its release, it’s become a great example of how a so-so MMO could be revamped over the years to become a really solid product.
It was a really busy launch year, including titles such as RIFT, but BioWare’s SWTOR dominated headlines and fan interests as the RPG studio branched out into MMOs for the first time. We don’t usually see a lot of huge December MMO releases, but 2011 was the exception with this title.
2012: Guild Wars 2
Remember back when interest in the MMO community seemed divided between the upcoming SWTOR and Guild Wars 2? That’s all anyone could talk or think about for a while, there. We had an embarrassment of riches, that’s for sure, and when Guild Wars 2 hit the scene that summer, ArenaNet proved that it could one-up itself.
After a deeply disappointing release back in 2010, Final Fantasy XIV was taken offline for extensive retooling. The end result, A Realm Reborn, became the poster child for making a wrong thing right and released to widespread acclaim. Considering that it’s still mentioned among the top MMOs on the market today, I’d say that Square Enix made a good decision here.
2014: The Elder Scrolls Online
It really irked me how much ZeniMax tried to dance around the “MMO” label for this game, outright denying it at times. In any case, with a huge built-in fan base and the promise of ever-expanding adventures, players flocked to this title en masse and haven’t left to this day.
Post-2014, we started to see a lot fewer major MMOs being developed with huge budgets, making way for smaller titles to shine. Trion Worlds’ Trove started off as a small side project for the studio and gradually blossomed into a genuine success story.
2016: Black Desert
Another consequence of the shift away from western studios making MMOs is that eastern games became the Great Hope of online gamers. This year saw a couple of good ones, including Blade and Soul, but Black Desert’s robust sandbox elements and gorgeous visuals propelled it to front-runner status for 2018.
2017: Revelation Online
I’ll admit it: 2017 was a terrible year for new MMO releases. A great year for expansions, yes, but not new releases. We only saw a small handful, and out of those, Revelation Online wins by default for not being horrible or a gankbox. Well, this was a cruddy way to end this list, but we’ll hope that 2018 and beyond picks up steam!