The down side of doing these columns at the end of the year every year is that there’s a certain challenge of writing the introductions. The up side? They’re not a vote! I can just put whatever I want on them in any order that tickles me, and no one else gets a vote on the matter! So, anyhow, this list is just Shadowbringers a dozen times, thus breaking every rule I have for the column. Entry number 7 prominently features Dulia-Chai.
I jest, of course; not only would I probably get yelled at for that, I don’t actually think that’s appropriate in the first place because there were a lot of good updates this year… and thankfully, this year it also feels like there were enough titles that deserved a nod that there’s even a reason to note the updates that didn’t make it into the list proper. So here’s a list for you about the best updates and expansions of 2019, in a loose order and with a note about those that were ultimately not quite in the core list.
1. Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers
It won our award for a good reason. Final Fantasy XIV hit it out of the park this year, and while I don’t necessarily agree with people claiming that it may be the best story in the series, it’s still an amazing story… and an amazing game besides. Seriously, you have to give this one its propers. It’s going to be hard to follow up on, but… well, that’s sort of the problem to have, isn’t it?
2. The Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr
Aw, The Elder Scrolls Online kind of got steamrolled this year with regards to updates. Elsweyr was fine! Heck, it was downright good, and it’s another installment in a long line of solid updates for the title. It probably would have been in play for the big prize if not for, well… this year. But the advantage to these lists is that we can look back at those titles, and let’s be real here, this was a solid year for updates to TESO all through.
3. World of Warcraft: Classic
You could argue that this one doesn’t count as an update, but I feel like it was, and it was World of Warcraft finally jumping into the progression-ish server thing that’s worked so well for other long-running titles. And as someone who actually was there back during the classic days, the feeling of the game is definitely true to life. It’s a weird time capsule. I wouldn’t say I love it, but that’s more a function of why we kind of needed to move on and… well, I already wrote that series of columns.
4. Lord of the Rings Online: Minas Morgul
Even though I’m not a main person of Lord of the Rings Online, the existence of Minas Morgul makes me happy just because it answers a longstanding question in my mind about where the game goes after Mordor. Like, it was always sort of there as a question, yes? How does the story continue when the story is done? As it turns out… it finds places to go. It keeps going. And I respect that and it makes me happy.
5. No Man’s Sky: Beyond
Gosh, No Man’s Sky just… kept going, didn’t it? After what we all expected would be the launch that leaves the game as a complete punchline, it wound up updating and improving, and then we got Beyond this year. I love this. I actually have had fun in NMS this year, to boot. No, it’s not an MMORPG in the sense of fully persistent servers, but it’s such a step in that direction it deserves a big nod.
6. Star Trek Online: Rise of Discovery
It’s really easy to kind of forget or overlook the fact that Cryptic’s two bigger MMORPGs routinely get major updates every single year, and Star Trek Online almost always includes voice cast from the on-screen actors in a series while tying into the continuity established across more than 50 years of shows and films. How do you tie into the Discovery show when it’s set long before the MMO? It’s Star Trek. Time travel is a thing.
7. Neverwinter: Uprising
While Neverwinter doesn’t have the advantage of recognizable stars to fans, it does have the advantage of having all those years of D&D to draw from, and sometimes you get things that are just tailor-made for some particular weirdo’s fascinations. Like, say, someone who really likes psionics and githyanki and the like. Cough.
8. Black Desert Online: Great Expedition
All right, so maybe that one’s a bit of a cheat, because Black Desert Online (as we discussed recently on the podcast) lacks the big marquee features it could kind of use as a single big update. This year is no exception. The game launched on multiple consoles this year and half a million consistent content updates! It just never had one big expansion-size burst, which is a bit of a downside for marketing. Still, we can kind of… moosh all of that together into one header, and the whole Great Expedition umbrella was good stuff. We just moosh it. Moosh.
9. Star Wars: The Old Republic: Onslaught
This really should have been a more solid year for Star Wars: The Old Republic, but I think to a certain extent Onslaught had the unenviable task of charting a course for the game ahead from the two very story-heavy (and solo-heavy) expansions back into a story that had things like the Sith/Republic split and things to do that were not a single contained narrative experience. That’s a lot of balls to keep in the air. Did it work? Well… it’s a step. It has to keep moving next year, but the first steps are the hard ones.
10. Guild Wars 2: Living Story updates
Guild Wars 2 was putting out Living Story stuff all year, but it never did get that expansion that everyone – including me – expected for the year. All that story never seemed to quite coalesce into one big update that really deserved the singular nod, and the tepid response thus far to the whole “saga” update left me with a not altogether pleasant feeling. Still, if I’m going to give a nod to some of the other items on this list that sort of smoosh a group of updates into one loose identity, it’d be unfair not to give GW2 the same credit.
Those of you who have read this column for a long while know that I generally have a dim opinion of adding honorable mentions, not for lack of love but simply because that makes it not a list of 10. But hey, if we keep having lots of things to pick between, some things theoretically deserve a spot but don’t fit in there, and there were lots of options this year. So, you know… keep that up.
Case in point: Warframe released an update that was remarkably solid, which is also kind of just how Warframe tends to roll but deserves a nod. It’s just a stuffed list, and given the choice between that and NMS, the latter gets the spot. The main WoW had its big update in the summer, but… well, even if you want to argue it should count as a different game entirely rather than an update, it wasn’t enough to clean up from the weakness of the expansion overall.
Villagers & Heroes released such a great summer expansion that it hopped its way to the top of our Indie MMO of the Year award for the first time in a decade. Path of Exile did a consistently great job over the past year, and that would have been just as viable; I think its updates for next year look even more compelling, though of course our commenters will feel free to argue amongst themselves over whether the game is MMO enough to make this list.
Then there’s ArcheAge Unchained, and its associated Shadows Revealed update, which I actually had on here initially, but since that game keeps being a trash fire, I ultimately demurred on that point. I think it’s a fascinating idea, but it doesn’t seem to be an idea that’s actually getting delivered upon. Quelle surprise.