Everyone is healthy! Good news! Every game is super healthy and absolutely no one has a terminal playerbase disease that may result in the game shuttering within the next year. Wouldn’t that be nice to say? I’d love it if next year we had no titles sunset whatsoever. That’d be great.
Fortunately, this slice of our our annual end-of-year roundups is not where we’re looking into the games that are struggling to stay afloat; that comes later. Instead, we’re looking at the games that feel the healthiest at the end of 2019, based on a combination of social media, financial numbers, overall cultural footprint, preferred Pokémon starter type, and a general vibe check based on spending a good portion of my life reading and talking about these games. We have some returning favorites in here, some ranks shifting, and some general new discussions to have. So let’s get into the list, shall we?
1. World of Warcraft
Let’s not mince words: This has been a terrible year for World of Warcraft in every respect except the record-breaking launch of WoW Classic. Even that has had problems, as communities have had to address longstanding and familiar toxicity that too many classic gamers had blinded themselves to. But it did keep WoW in the cultural discussion regularly, which was a really good thing after the whole year was one disappointment after another when it came to Battle for Azeroth.
Fortunately for WoW, cutting off its leg to spite its lower torso has not actually changed the fact that the game is still healthy, simply because the sheer health of the game at one point has allowed it to stay remarkably healthy even as it bleeds itself (and Blizzard itself manages to earn tons of ire). Let’s hope for better next year, hmm?
2. Final Fantasy XIV
One brings shadow, one brings the light…
Despite the title of the expansion portending a year of darkness, this has been a great year for Final Fantasy XIV. The MMO’s third expansion, Shadowbringers, launched to rave reviews, players are happy and excited, and even the missteps don’t stop people from being enthusiastic about the game and its overall direction. It feels like a steady climb upward, the sort of growth that makes you wonder when it’s going to fall apart even as you enjoy the sheer acumen on display.
I certainly didn’t expect how solid everything this year would wind up being for my personal favorite title on the list. But when it’s going well, you don’t need to fake it, and so it goes in Eorzea and other environs. I wonder what this year’s expansion announcement will be?
3. The Elder Scrolls Online
I feel like The Elder Scrolls Online now is what FFXIV was a few years back: an amazingly solid game that often doesn’t get its full due for putting out excellent, steady content on a reliable schedule. Seriously, if you remember the game’s launch state (and we do!), it’s almost amazing to think that this is one of the most routinely crowd-pleasing MMOs out there, one I myself panned pretty thoroughly when it launched. But the team puts in the work and produces good stuff, and it feels secure in its space and deservedly loved.
Pity about some of that cash shop, though.
4. Black Desert
Black Desert feels like everything an import title should and could be. (No, FFXIV runs on the same servers in both its native country and here; that’s different from an import.) It brings in a unique aesthetic and approach to fantasy tropes while also still delivering a good experience. This year in particular has seen the game firing on all cylinders and putting out hefty updates and additions, including releases on three (yes three) new platforms.
It’s good, in other words. It deserves the success it has. Although that gender-locked classes thing still bugs the heck out of me.
This has been… maybe not the greatest year for RuneScape. It seems like the Old School version is the one that’s drawing in the majority of the game’s money and players these days; one might argue that this one may be closer to WoW than anyone wants to admit, a game that maintains its health even as it slowly bleeds simply by virtue of starting far ahead.
Despite this, RuneScape is still one of those fixtures in the MMO space, something that feels pretty firmly ensconced in its place and like it can bounce back. Of course, that’s the thing about being in fixed places. The lineup can feel as solid as iron… but then, iron doesn’t feel very solid once it melts.
6. Guild Wars 2
Speaking of melting… if any game on this list spent the year in full-on meltdown mode, it was probably… well, actually WoW. But Guild Wars 2 didn’t do so great either, between layoffs, a lack of an expansion, player discontent, bad cash shop decisions, and a general sense of a playerbase collectively sighing with, “oh, now what?” every time a new decision came down the pike.
None of this is enough to knock it out of health, joking aside. Despite the lack of a new expansion, the game still pulled in solid numbers financially and NCsoft is clearly banking on big stuff from ArenaNet and NCwest. But overall player response to things like the current “saga” seems to be less a matter of excitement and more a matter of making the best of what’s being offered. There’s a real sense that things need to get better, and the game behaves as if it’s wounded. Whether that’s from bad management and time will improve it or from a serious wound remains to be seen.
7. EVE Online
The past few years have been… less solid for EVE Online, as if the game is stumbling a little bit as the endgame of the sandbox grows a bit stale in spite of CCP’s efforts (and what sort of impact Pearl Abyss is having on CCP, which it bought up last year). Despite that, and despite the fuss over playerbase dips this year, the game still feels solidly healthy simply because, well, there’s nothing quite like it. Its uniqueness and relative size mean that even as it might seem to be in more shaky territory, it persists just fine.
8. Star Trek Online
Do we just toss a coin when it comes to Cryptic’s core operational MMOs? No. But this year Star Trek Online seems to be coming out a bit ahead, with an active series that people enjoy and the usual steady pace of content, as well as multiple large expansions with tie-ins to the larger franchise. It’s not in a perfect place, but the developers definitely seem to be hitting their targets and taking advantage of having new media. Plus, it’s Snoop Dogg approved.
9. Star Wars The Old Republic
How is this here? Not on this list, but why is Star Wars The Old Republic not able to cap off the year with a triumph? All right, it kind of is, as last year it was actually off this list, but it feels like the game’s big Onslaught expansion didn’t quite make the splash it (and we) wanted. It may be a case where the game just has to keep producing that sort of content instead of what it had been before; as it stands, it’s got a hope, but it’s still got a long way to go.
All of this might not matter if rescuing Anthem just eats up all of BioWare’s resources next year, to boot. We’ll see.
This one is going to feel wild to some people, I’m sure. And I wouldn’t disagree with anyone who would be quick to point out that Gamigo has some real issues, or that ArcheAge managed to completely botch its whole pass system twice now. That’s entirely true. Yet ArcheAge Unchained launched, got people interested, and seems to have done all right for itself despite that.
Put more simply, while there’s a lot wrong with this game here and there, none of that seems to keep it from having a chance to resurge. If it could clean up its immediate pass issues, it’d probably have nowhere to go but up. So… you know, Gamigo and XLGAMES… do that.
As always, this feature lends itself to a certain amount of debate. Some stuff just can’t fit on here because it’s a numerical list that goes up to 10, which is why games like Neverwinter aren’t on there. Some stuff isn’t on there because other factors obscure their health; DC Universe Online sure does seem to keep making money for Daybreak, but Daybreak’s steady implosion makes its overall health suspicious. Some things aren’t on there because however enthusiastically people greeted its return, City of Heroes is in rogue server territory and thus doesn’t get to feel totally healthy.
And some things aren’t on there because this year I lost the fight with Bree to put online games like Warframe, Path of Exile, and No Man’s Sky on the list instead of pure MMORPGs. Last year, the former two were on the list, but this year we could fill it up differently. Go ahead and guess where those would have gone if I had put them in there, if you’d like. All three of them are solid and doing great and definitely worth your time and faith, but whether they are “true” MMORPGs and should be bumping self-avowed MMOs off a list like this is contentious indeed.
It should also be noted that while the list is in a rough order, it is not the result of elaborate math being used to calculate the exact power ranking of a given game; it’s more a matter of which games feel right in their overall internal rankings. Maybe I should start doing merge sorts on Twitter with codenames.