Whew. We’re finally getting close to the end of 2020, and I think I speak for all of us when I say that it cannot get here fast enough. This year has been awful, and I’m not even the first person to point that out. And as we start in on our end-of-year roundups, it’s kind of astonishing how many big surprises happened this year that almost immediately receded to memory. Seriously, with all the other things going on, some items on this list were ones I totally forgot about until they were pointed out to me again. And some of them – ahem, Daybreak being bought out – literally happened the day before this is set to go live, meaning it’s only barely making it on the list.
But then, that’s the nature of a surprise: You don’t see it coming, and sometimes it’s just so bizarre you don’t even have it in your rear-view mirror properly. So let’s take a look at the eleven biggest surprises that happened this year. That’s right, eleven. It’s the end of the year and we do these columns every year, from now on we’re changing things up. That’s a whole extra surprise for you!
1. The global pandemic touched even gaming
Yeah, this one… this was a big deal. The world was kind of covered in death this year. Events were cancelled and/or moved online to avoid people gathering in one place, studios had to shift over to working from home unexpectedly, and online spaces became even more vital because you sure as heck were not hanging out with your friends in real life.
It’s hard to overstate the impact this has had on online games or the year as a whole, but honestly, you are probably tired of hearing about this and you don’t need to reminder that it smacked all of our lives off-course. But it sure was unexpected.
2. Bethesda got bought out by Microsoft
I can safely say no one really saw this coming, even if it makes sense in hindsight. If you’ve spent this console generation getting kicked around and the next generation doesn’t look likely to change it, what do you do? You get yourself a new developer that’s assured to draw some eyes. And now players of The Elder Scrolls Online can wonder what the heck is going to happen in the future if they’re playing on PlayStation.
3. En Masse Entertainment folded
Some studio closures are pretty well broadcast ahead of time, with obvious issues and failures of various titles that leave the development team with nothing. Other times, you have something like this. As far as we all knew, En Masse Entertainment was flying along just fine with TERA, and then all of a sudden we found out that the studio was being closed up and dissolved by its parent company. It was a shock.
4. Phantasy Star Online 2 actually launched in the US (poorly)
I think I can speak for everyone when I say that pretty much no one expected this title to finally get brought over after years of being locked in Japan. I also think I can speak for everyone that no one expected the launch on the Microsoft Store to be so bad that a lot of people almost immediately were suggesting that you just go back and play the game on the Japanese servers in response to how broken it was. It certainly killed my own enthusiasm dead.
Hey, there’s another reason for people to be leery of the Bethesda acquisition, come to think of it.
5. World of Warcraft delayed an expansion
We’re not counting every single delay brought on by the switch to work-from-home due to COVID-19; that was already addressed with the first point, after all. But with the expansion having less than a month until it launched, World of Warcraft yanked the football away and announced that it would push the game later in the year, ultimately giving about a month of additional development time.
The expansion itself is one we’ve already posted our first impressions of, so you can evaluate on your own if it was worth it or not.
6. City State Entertainment and the two-game troubles
Oh, gosh, that was this year. It’s easy to forget if you aren’t still part of the Camelot Unchained fanbase, in which case you’re probably still mad about the announcement back in January that the team was developing a separate game using the same basic engine.
If you’d forgotten that, you probably haven’t forgotten about how poorly it was received. Back in January this seemed like the sort of thing that could occupy the whole year’s news cycle. Oh, how little we knew.
7. Amazon Game Studio launched and then killed Crucible
It seemed like such a smart move for Amazon to push Crucible out as a surprise launch to capitalize on greater time spent online. I mean, it must have seemed smart to someone, because it soon became clear that the game was kind of unfocused, resulting in the title being pulled back into beta and then quietly shuttered completely.
Gosh, these are all depressing surprises, huh?
8. Warcraft III: Reforged was a de-mastered mess
So much for the depressing part changing. After missing the original launch window of 2019, this title finally launched in 2020 and is currently still lacking features of the original like custom campaigns, not to mention the stuff that was quietly removed during development and only belatedly removed from marketing like remastered cutscenes. Far from a remaster, this one was a de-master.
Nope, not letting that joke go.
9. Chronicles of Elyria was pining for the fjords
So Chronicles of Elyria shut down its development this year. That, in and of itself, could qualify as a surprise. I even did a whole series of columns dissecting the arc of that game from its announcement and initial funding until the full layoff and shuttering of development. Honestly, I think a lot of people expected this as one of the likely ends to this story.
What people weren’t expecting, probably, was to hear that news and then watch the creator rather desperately claim that development wasn’t really stopping in the wake of possible litigation. Thus we’ve spent all year watching this slow-motion train wreck continue to play out.
10. Lord of the Rings Online succeeded, then failed, then failed again
When we were all getting used to what normal people felt was staying at home more than usual and what I personally found as a useful excuse for doing what I was likely to do anyhow, Lord of the Rings Online offered a great chance for players to get a ton of content for free. Good work, really! Unfortunately, the rest of the year seemed to be tailor-made to diminish any positive feelings that could engender. First it was servers not being actually up and online with little to no explanation for same, then it was asking players to pay for a content patch.
11. New World and the never-ending cycle of re-imagining
Last and certainly not least, New World was supposed to release this year. Have you forgotten that? Probably not, as this game increasingly feels like it’s what Amazon is pinning all its gaming hopes on. And it got delayed, previewed, and delayed over and over as the game steadily moves from being a PvP open gankfest into being a proper MMO with lots of non-player-stabbing stuff to do.
On the bright side, it’s actually looking pretty good at this point, so let’s hope next year it turns out to be a pleasant surprise. 2020 didn’t have many of those. Maybe 2021 can do better.