Another year is coming to a close! That means we’re doing all of our usual end-of-year recaps, and that also means that we’re once again taking a look at the healthiest games at a glance for the end of 2018, which is always a fun ride because there are always people who assume that we must be insane for having game X on the list, why isn’t game Y on there, and so forth.
As is stated every year, this is a list compiled and put together using a variety of sources, including a glance at obvious metrics of the game’s community, population estimates, overall news, and so forth. It is not an objective or infallible measurement of health, but rather an evaluation of which games look like they’re in the best state based on several factors; it is eminently possible for us to be proven wrong as 2019 rolls on, but here’s the list for 2018.
1. World of Warcraft
It’s hard to find new things to say about World of Warcraft at this point because it’s always on here. Is it less healthy than prior years? Well… probably, although it’s hard to be certain. There are reasons to suspect that. But it’s still doing fine just the same, which is more than can be said of the company’s other franchises after this past year.
No, I’m not making a joke at this point about who does or does not have phones. Y’all can make a joke for yourselves.
2. Final Fantasy XIV
Hold on, let me double-check to see if I was in a jam-packed Final Fantasy XIV convention filling up a Las Vegas convention center for three days just a couple of weeks back. I was? And people were howling with excitement at an expansion trailer we all knew was coming? Cool. I think we’re good.
Would someone like to point out in the comments that Square-Enix canned its further plans for Final Fantasy XV and thus wrote off projected losses while trying to extrapolate that the company must be in dire straits? Please don’t.
3. The Elder Scrolls Online
And again, there’s not much more to be said about The Elder Scrolls Online. It might not have had as much of a banner year this year as last, but it’s still doing well after some launch rockiness. I suspect there may be a hope to replicate that pattern elsewhere, although actual success in that field may be a bit more reliant on time and a degree of luck.
Oh, RuneScape. You are a strange, blocky enigma to me, a game that I know is popular with no one whom I know as a player. It had some side projects shutter this year and some others start up, as usual. Standard operating procedures.
5. Black Desert Online
You know, I remember when Black Desert Online was a controversial pick. It seems less so now; the game keeps humming along, its community is active, and while there’s rumblings of discontent in the playerbase for varied and sundry business decisions, it never seems to manifest in an actual upheaval. So it may not be perfect, but it seems to be maintaining a decent health all the same. Especially when you consider some of its large-scale updates this year.
It has not been a great year for Neverwinter, but it hasn’t been a bad year either. It’s just been a year. In many ways it feels like a year in which the game has managed to keep on keeping on, not making any community missteps big enough to merit incoherent screaming while not really expanding beyond its base or its usual pace of updates.
Of course, sometimes that in and of itself is indicative of health, when you can just roll out a reasonable stream of content and avoid faltering in the process. It hasn’t been a good enough year for the game to bump it up at all, but it hasn’t fallen off the list. We’ll count that as “doing all right.”
7. Guild Wars 2
By contrast, this has been a year of… extremes for Guild Wars 2. Let’s put it that way instead of recounting the many things that happened in the news for the title this year, all right? Anything more would probably get into a whole lot of bad decisions that make us wonder about how the game manages to continue being as healthy as it does… a question best answered by pointing at the game and just accepting that it does.
Come to think of it, this one was similarly swinging between wild extremes last year, wasn’t it? Let’s get some new blood in here, maybe a title that doesn’t feel like it’s about to explode from controversy or enthusiasm every other week.
All right, with its second big open-world update, we’re putting Warframe on here, and gosh does it ever deserve it. This is one of those games where it seemed impressive looking in from the outside until I actually tried it, and then I tried it… and now I’m even more impressed, this game really does its job well. There’s so much to like in here that it’s a small wonder the game keeps attracting more players, getting more praise, and offering bigger updates.
Launching big new open-world systems and providing players with wholly new ways to play seems to be a casual exercise for this game, and the community is at once enthusiastic, welcoming, and fun. I look forward to seeing where else the game can go from here.
9. EVE Online
Speaking of the days when Black Desert was controversial, EVE Online managed to dig itself a big enough hole that it got knocked off of this list last year. But this year it’s been bought by Pearl Abyss, and… look. On the one level, that was shocking and unsettling and weird. On another and far more relevant level, that means that CCP Games is no longer desperately floundering for a buyer, and that means the game feels more stable now.
And let’s not ignore the fact that the EVE community isn’t going anywhere either year, which means that in terms of overall strength of playerbase, this one still has a lock on its position. Welcome back to the list, spreadsheets. We missed you.
10. Path of Exile
Aw, yeah, here’s one I’ve been arguing should be on here for years. Remember how I mentioned that there are internal debates over this one? Path of Exile has come up every year for these, because the main argument against it being on the list is the same as the argument against Warframe, that it’s just not “MMO-y” enough. This year, the sheer health of the title won out against that argument.
This title is actually a lot like Warframe, in fact; small studio with a growing community that manages itself well and keeps growing player hype. It’s a good show of what can be accomplished in the space, and perhaps most importantly, it has never asked if its players have cell phones. I cannot stress that enough.
If your favorite title isn’t on this list and you take it as a personal slight? Don’t. There are a lot of games that were easily jockeying for slots 11-20, including TERA, Blade & Soul, and Star Trek Online. Bree even suggested just doing a big list of games for the last slot, but that generally doesn’t sit well with me. Just know there are a bunch of candidates not far below the ones here.
Worth noting here is that the lack of Trion games isn’t due to the idea that none of them is healthy; in another year, ArcheAge would have gotten a slot. This year, however, Trion’s unexpected acquisition and unsteady future have made those options feel much less stable. Which is a real shame.
And the most notable fall from the list this year? Star Wars: The Old Republic, which has held on unsteadily for a long while but finally just doesn’t deserve a top 10 spot. We’ll have to see how December shakes out, huh?