Everyone loves surprises, right? Not always. Even good surprises can be a disruption of our comfortable routines, and bad ones can downright ruin a day. Yet surprises keep life interesting — and keep us tuning in to MMORPG news day in and day out. As I’ve said many times in the MOP office, you never know what this wacky industry is going to throw at us today!
As we continue to wrap up 2018, in this column we will be looking at the biggest MMO surprises that happened this year. While some of these might also be big news stories, the qualifying factor is that each and every one of these stories was largely unexpected and even shocking (despite what hindsight prognosticators in the comments will claim). What made our eyebrows shoot up and our discussion come alive in 2018? Check it out!
While its update cadence is incredibly predictable, FFXIV does know how to surprise its fans every now and then. At the Las Vegas Fan Festival in November, Square Enix revealed that it was indeed bringing the difficult-to-conceptualize Blue Mage to the game — but in a twist, the job was coming in a “limited” format (i.e., it would be to overpowered for group content) and in a straight-up patch rather than an expansion. Delight, dismay, and discussion quickly ensued.
There are some closures that you could see coming from a mile away, but the rapid collapse and dissolution of Trion Worlds was not one that most fans predicted. The studio had been a fairly strong tentpole within the MMO community, fielding a wide range of games that should have kept the studio afloat due to its diverse portfolio. But the still-unknown saga of financial woes going on behind the scene apparently contributed to a fire sale to Gamigo back in October, sending shockwaves through Trion’s communities.
Yeah, so if you said that you saw this coming, you are a bald-faced liar. What would a Korean studio want with an Icelandic one? But the whole situation did make a strange sort of sense after some analysis, as both Black Desert and EVE Online are in the MMO sandbox business. And while some EVE players predicted the end of the world, it seems to be business as usual ever since.
By the end of the year, we’re supposed to know pretty much everything that we’re going to get before December 31st. But nope, Studio Wildcard had a crazy ace up its sleeve — a 40,000-player pirate MMO called Atlas that it was going to push out the door before the holidays hit. Players (and us!) scrambled to come to terms with this out-of-the-blue MMO, but we were not complaining.
Without much summer competition, Battle for Azeroth surged to one of World of Warcraft’s strongest-selling expansions ever. Yet despite praise for the new zones and storylines, the playerbase quickly turned on this release, calling it “Legion leftovers” — and worse. A lackluster BlizzCon showing, harried developer responses, and a “more of the same” Patch 8.1 didn’t help matters either.
Speaking of missed opportunities, Blizzard drummed up hype and expectations for a massive Diablo reveal at BlizzCon — and then completely misread its core audience by bounding out with a mobile game that PC players clearly did not want. While it might be a smart financial move in the long run, Blizzard walked away from the convention with a black eye and a whole lot of regret. At least we got a couple fun memes out of it.
Middle-earth inhabitants craving something new to do were (by and large) delighted when Standing Stone Games announced that it would be opening up a pair of progression servers that would foster a community of players that wanted to go back through the entire game together. While a massive initial success, the servers have since calmed down as players await the next unlock.
I don’t think anyone was really shocked to hear that Riot’s inner culture was rife with sexism, harassment, elitism, and preferrential treatment, but it was pretty stunning to see how an investigative essay managed to force the wider gaming community to take notice of how gross the studio was being. Since August, Riot’s made noise about reforms, but further investigations and lawsuits still show that this scandal isn’t anywhere near to being addressed.
Let’s return to World of Warcraft one last time, because it’s easy to forget just how up in arms the entire community got when Blizzard handled the very expected burning of Teldrassil in a very non-expected way. The over-the-top villainy of Sylvanas, the ham-handed fashion that Blizzard tried to reintroduce conflict between the factions, and about a billion other lore concerns created equal measures of shock and awe.
Who would have thought that this year’s best and most surprising presentation would have been Bethesda? But that’s indeed what happened with the studio took to the stage at E3 with a seemingly unending string of “just one more!” reveals. From Elder Scrolls Online DLC to the announcement of Fallout 76 to the reveal of a mobile Elder Scrolls game to hints of major future games in the works, the livestream had all of us glued to the screen and bouncing in our seats.