After 10 years of covering MMORPG news, I can assure you that I am still fired up to keep doing this. One of the reasons for this is that our game industry is constantly surprising — I never quite know what to expect next, and I want to be there when the breaking news happens. I love seeing how a good surprise can send ripples of excitement and discussion throughout our community.
As we begin our wrap-up of 2019, it is time to look back at a year full of surprises. Some of them were good, some of them heartbreaking, and some of them perplexing. In all of their cases, they weren’t something that we would have predicted when we started this year.
Let us relive the most surprising moments of 2019 with…
City of Heroes returns
It was the long-repressed secret that, once exposed, started an avalanche of gaming goodness. Back in April, a player revealed that there was an invite-only City of Heroes emulator that had been running for years (unbeknownst to many in the still-mourning CoH community). Once that server was brought to light, demand for the server code grew until it was released to the wild and several rogue City of Heroes servers were born practically overnight. The superhero MMO was back — and well on its way to legitimacy, as the community went into talks with NCsoft to obtain permission to keep the servers running. It was a gloriously surreal saga that delighted those who dearly missed the title.
Brad McQuaid passes away
In the annals of MMORPG history, Brad McQuaid has established himself as one of the key figures of the genre with his work on EverQuest, Vanguard, and Pantheon. Sadly, in November 2019, we heard word that McQuaid died in his home at the age of 51. It was shocking, to say the least, and sent developers and community into mourning. You can read our retrospective of McQuaid’s life and work to learn more about the man.
Final Fantasy XIV introduces gender-locking with Shadowbringers
While FFXIV fans eagerly anticipated new races, jobs, and zones with this year’s expansion, what it didn’t expect is that Square-Enix would regress back into an unfortunate design decision: gender-locking. The two new races in the expansion would each be confined to a single gender, a decision that seemed peculiar for a game that was otherwise all about choice and options. Square-Enix defended its decision while giving itself leeway to rectify this in the future.
Phantasy Star Online 2 finally gets a western release date
Here is something we never thought we’d be writing. In fact, we had been pining for Phantasy Star Online 2 for so long that it was almost a joke around here — and a foregone conclusion that it would never happen. But at E3 2019, SEGA revealed that it was working to bring a localized version of PSO2 to the west in spring 2020. Who’s ready for some sci-fi action?
Champions Online gets actual new content
If you had written off Champions years ago due to Cryptic’s lack of development, we wouldn’t have blamed you. So color us shocked when the studio announced that it would be producing new semi-frequent story arcs for the superhero MMORPG. The first serialized stories seemed to be a hit and a much-needed infusion of development for the title.
Kritika Online resurrects
The word that Kritika Online was to be shut down this past spring was of no great surprise to anyone. It was, by all accounts, a decent action MMO with a good amount of support, but it couldn’t get much traction here in the west. What did take us aback was the word that its own developer decided to resurrect the game and publish the title itself this fall. Goodbye Kritika, hello Kritika. Thanks for giving us whiplash.
Dungeons and Dragons Online officially supports permadeath
While the mention of “permadeath” was akin to a curse word in most MMO circles, Standing Stone Games obviously felt differently. The studio rolled out a limited-time Hardcore League server that gave player characters each a single life in which to live, adventure, and attain glory. The shard’s run came to a close recently, although SSG said it was successful enough to warrant another Hardcore League next year.
Raph Koster starts work on a new MMORPG
If we had to make a list of top ten most influential MMO developers, Koster would be near the top of that list. His work on Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies is legendary, which is why we celebrated the stunning news that he was emerging from semi-retirement to start up his own studio and make a new virtual world. “It’s time,” Koster tweeted, and we couldn’t agree more.
Shroud of the Avatar sells itself to itself (kind of)
It is hard to tell what, exactly, is going on with Shroud of the Avatar these days. Even though the title has faithfully pumped out monthly updates, there have been worrying signs of the game’s health and leadership. This came to a head in October when Portalarium sold Shroud off to Catnip Games, which was made up of much of the Shroud team (minus, of course, Starr Long and Richard Garriott). Is this a desperate move or the start of a new era for the game? Only time will tell.
Star Wars: The Old Republic loosens its legendarily tight free-to-play grip
Ever since going free-to-play, SWTOR has had one of the most restrictive models in the industry. Free players were hemmed in and discriminated against at every turn, bearing the full brunt of BioWare’s disappointment. That changed this year as the studio finally loosened up some of its F2P restrictions, such as giving players more hotbars and allowing them to use medical probes and quick travel. Good move!