Perfect Ten: Best MMO debuts by year, 2007-2017

    
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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!

Wings.

2009: Aion

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.

2011: Star Wars: The Old Republic

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.

Flight of the Matrimony.

2013: Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

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.

2015: Trove

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!

Everyone likes a good list, and we are no different! Perfect Ten takes an MMO topic and divvies it up into 10 delicious, entertaining, and often informative segments for your snacking pleasure. Got a good idea for a list? Email us at justin@massivelyop.com or eliot@massivelyop.com with the subject line “Perfect Ten.”
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Bryan Correll

Well, I predicted 7 out of 11 correctly. Not too terrible I guess.

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Crowe

STO was a ghost town less than a month after launch. 2010 must have sucked far worse than I remembered… Sure, STO got a bit better later on but launch was pretty dismal.

butterpanda888
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butterpanda888

Wow, I really am temporally challenged. My head hurts.

Veldan
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Veldan

While you’re correct about SWTOR dominating headlines and overall hype, I’d argue that doens’t qualify it for “best debut”. All that anticipation is in the end just the PR machine and not the game itself. I’d argue it didn’t really live up to the hype. It had a nice story where choices mattered, and then you got to max level and there was… nothing, really. Just a bunch of very poorly balanced dungeons with a reward system that should have never passed QA.

No, RIFT was a much better game at launch. Some people argue, to this day, that the “vanilla” days of RIFT were the best overall. I don’t agree, but I understand why they’d say that. It was great.

After RIFT launch, I played it for 7 or 8 months straight, which I’ve done only 2 or 3 times in my life, with any game. After SWTOR launch, I lasted 4 weeks. I finished the leveling, joined the rest of the community in laughing at how bad or nonexistent endgame was, and quit before I had to pay sub.

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Oleg Chebeneev

RIFT vs SWToR is like cripples fight. Both are meh and you trying hard to find at least something good in them that makes it better then the other. SWToR wins imo. At least it has some story.

Veldan
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Veldan

You’re saying that to someone who played thousands of hours of RIFT. The current state of the game is meh, yes, because RIFT’s prime is years in the past by now, but it was once a fantastic game. Far better than SWTOR will ever be, in my opinion.

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Oleg Chebeneev

I didnt need to play even 10 hours to know that RIFT is soulless WoW clone.

Veldan
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Veldan

Well, your sad attitude made you miss out on a great experience.

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Tiresias

That’s an objectively wrong take. The story elements in SWTOR kick it to the lead by a mile. The Sith Agent’s storyline, for example, is movie-worthy. Even the weaker storylines, like the Jedi Counselor, are still solid experiences, even if somewhat predictable.

Rift offers nothing of the sort.

Veldan
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Veldan

I don’t think you know what the word “objectively” means

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Crowe

Yup, nicely put. I lasted a bit longer in SWTOR but it wasn’t much of a game.

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Robert Mann

I remember rolling my eyes at the hype for a lot of these… and then telling friends “Yeah, it was hyped, but it just never caught me.” LOTRO, ESO before the beta nerfs (and just for the social group for a while after launch), and… yeah, nope. That’s it for the ones on the list I really got into at all. By that I mean more than playing to see if I liked it.

LOTRO was all about the attempt to do more than just play the same old tune (literally with the music system) that was so common so quickly after WoW. It was that refreshing element of doing more, and being a really creative faithful design that set it apart. ESO was great for me with the higher difficulty, needing to plan things out and be smart about how you engaged instead of just rolling your glass cannon and rushing forward yelling YOLO. Then they made it YOLO rush 2014 and I… well, I only played after launch due to having the game and having friends in it. That eventually grew too old still. The harshest dungeons around in it just don’t have that interesting tactical feeling that the beta had for me (I’ll admit, the storyline encounters needed some nerfs but otherwise it felt great.)

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Ashfyn Ninegold

I was in the Closed Beta (remember those?) for LOTRO and WAR and on board for their launches, got EA for SWTOR, GW2, FFXIV: ARR and ESO. Haven’t touched Trove and don’t intend to. Recently played a bit of BDO after I bought it on Steam for $5. Played RO at launch and haven’t touched it since.

The thing I remember most about Aion is that a fair number of people in LOTRO thought it would be a great game and departed for those skies, only to return within a few weeks with tales of how unbalanced it was and how the PvP sucked worse than PvM.

And Star Trek Online, I was pretty disappointed in this title. I would never consider this a AAA MMO, especially in the year it launched. I think I played it for all of 2 hours when it launched, uninstalled and haven’t given it another look.

Looking back at this list, how excited I was for so many of these launches and how hard I played them, it’s kinda sad the state of MMOs these days. ESO was the last title I was truly excited about, only to be turned off completely by a game overwhelmed by bots. I play it now, but only for a few hours a week, hardly the 20-30 hours I used to put into games even while working full-time.

After you pull away all the hype ginned up around recent title releases, it’s been a pretty lacklustre four or five years.

Headed back to the new WAR Inquisitor: Martyr, while not an MMO, has the potential to seriously scratch that D2 itch. Die, heretic!

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Oleg Chebeneev

“Remember back when interest in the MMO community seemed divided between the upcoming SWTOR and Guild Wars 2?”

Nope, I dont remember this at all. Community was devided between TSW and GW2 and there were tons of hot debates which one was better.
Also, Justin, you could at least mention Vanguard. Yeah, it didnt have a good start, but it was a strong contender

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Caley Kastigen

I’ve fond memories of nearly all the mmos on the list apart from Trove+ War (never tried) and Revelations@LOTR (played very little). FF 14 1.0 was such a weird flawed hybrid of a game and I had CE for that launch, the problems were so strong in the beta that it was such a stunning thing they launched it in that condition. Swtor had some really great set pieces, Aion was the 1st game I ever did 48hr all nighter for (dont ask about the last day I can’t remember anything). GW2 was ok but at the time Anet were so strong on the journey there was no end game at all. ESO was fun played it as a vampire for a long while and BDO is just so grinding cash shoppyness(its a word..I swear) its a shame.

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Fervor Bliss

2011 I would have picked Glitch. Nice list.

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IronSalamander8 .

I was there when WAR was so packed that our first 2 choices for server were full before we could start! and they had to add a bunch of servers back then before the catastrophic fall from that point. This was a game that just went from bad to worse. Also having all that parry on my Magus’s gear didn’t endear them to me.

I joined SWTOR late in the beta and they had to add servers back then as well. We were on Sanctum of the Exalted and it was packed then even after adding the other servers although that didn’t last too long before we got merged into Ebon Hawk. I had a mixed launch experience there; the bugs that people still point out today were there plus so many gathering nodes that were bugged hampered it but I did still enjoy it.

Before the revamp for FF14 I never even knew it existed and that relaunch was impressive as heck when we gave it a try. And unlike the first 2 games I list here, it’s still doing well.