End-of-Year Eleven: The healthiest live MMOs going into 2021

    
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It is only natural that, when you are shopping around for a different MMORPG to play, to consider the health of potential play candidates. Your mind may not term it as such, but it’s not uncommon to be thinking questions like, “Does this game have an active and thriving population?” “Is this MMO seeing a lot of development from the studio?” “Do people talk about this title and enthusiastically encourage others to play it?”

That’s what this list is here to help you answer today! The Massively OP team sat down to consider several criteria for making this column, including player population, active development, financial success, and overall community engagement and perception. So if you’re looking for a healthy MMO going into 2021, here are 10 (plus one) suggestions to help you find a long-term gaming home.

RuneScape

For many, RuneScape was the jumping-off point into MMOs and thus remains a fond and beloved part of the past. For many, many more, RuneScape continues to be a raging phenomenon with a devout fanbase and even an annual official convention. With two versions of the MMO out there — and Old School RuneScape actually doing better than the newer version, somehow — it’s an excellent choice for players looking to experience a different type of MMO with in-depth quests and wide-open character development.

Elder Scrolls Online

Greymoor might not have been the Skyrim-sized revolution that ZeniMax had hoped it would be, but it still kept the game on pace for one expansion (or “chapter,” if you will) per year with plenty of other dungeon and zone content. Elder Scrolls Online continues to be one of the most robust MMOs out there with great worldbuilding, quest design, and flexible leveling options.

Fly free, too.

Final Fantasy XIV

We haven’t seen FFXIV slow down its loping stride yet — and hopefully, we won’t for a long time to come. This MMO seems to be a very popular alternative for those who are burned out on World of Warcraft and looking for an amazing saga, Final Fantasy trappings, classes that you can change on the fly, and a massive community.

World of Warcraft

Of course, there’s always the tried-and-true World of Warcraft for your gaming pleasure. Blizzard’s flagship MMO is wrapping up 2020 with the successful release of its Shadowlands expansion and the continued operation of WoW Classic. With content updates and a probable Burning Crusade Classic in 2021, there’s certainly a lot on the horizon to keep this community jazzed.

she's a killah

Albion Online

We discussed this entry at length in the MOP office and ultimately felt it warranted inclusion on this list. While Albion may not boast the large crowds of some of these other games, it’s certainly done a great job building up a population and establishing itself as a decent, frequently updated PvP MMO that gets a lot of positive word-of-mouth. It’s one of the better results from the crowdfunding generation and might deserve a second look if you passed over it early on.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Is SWTOR on the way up or the way down? This past year wasn’t the most exciting for the game, but it’s hard to overlook the fact that it did get a couple of adequate content updates and still harbors fleets of players who love gaming in a galaxy far, far away. There have been hints that something major is on the way for 2021, so it might be a great time to get back into this story-rich MMO.

Space me out.

Star Trek Online

Thanks to a steadfast community, a studio that’s been pumping out a regular stream of content, and an IP that’s enjoying multiple shows on air and in production right now, Star Trek Online is sitting in a very secure place. Cryptic spent much of this past year beefing up the Klingon side of the game, which makes us very curious what its 2021 focus will be.

Black Desert

Black Desert remains a solid recommendation anytime someone asks for a sandbox MMO to play. It’s been out for a while now and has continued to thrive thanks to its open world and huge content releases. Maybe its finances and profile are down somewhat, but that’s not enough to knock it off this list, especially with a new expansion on the way.

Guild Wars 2

While 2019 was anything but kind to Guild Wars 2, we’ve witnessed a slow-but-steady comeback for this top-tier MMO over the course of 2020. Somewhat regular story updates are keeping the narrative alive, voice acting finally was added to releases where it got skipped due to COVID, and — best of all — ArenaNet seems to have a plan going forward. With the End of Dragons expansion taking us into Cantha next year, it’s a perfect time to hop back on the Guild Wars 2 train.

Neverwinter

While it’s never anyone’s first example of a hugely successful MMO, Neverwinter is perhaps the most constant of this list. It keeps churning out new zones and content for its players, and the spread of PC and console players means that it has a sizable playerbase that continues to enjoy this D&D title. Cryptic knows how to make and operate MMOs for the long haul, that’s for sure.

It's really more like orbital space than ground, of course.

EVE Online

With a massive battle dominating headlines and positive financial growth this past year, EVE Online is doing pretty dang well for itself. Plus, the launch of EVE Echoes in 2020 was one of the biggest mobile MMO success stories we’ve seen to date, which shows you how much players love to dive into CCP’s sandbox.

DC Universe Online

Finally, we should probably give a nod to DC Universe Online – thanks to Daybreak’s buy-out and its new owner’s investor reporting, we now know that DCUO has 419,000 monthly actives users, a number high enough to propel it into this list again next year, we suspect.

Healthy not-so-massively options

Of course, there are plenty of additional options if you are looking for an online experience that isn’t quite “massively” — but definitely is extremely healthy. The big players swaggering about include the insanely popular Roblox, the MOBA champion League of Legends, the shooter craze Fortnite, the hack-and-slash scifi Warframe, and the ARPG Path of Exile. Genshin Impact stole a lot of hearts — and hours — with its release this year, and we see a big future for that one.

Need a few more options? Team shooter Overwatch still has the backing of Blizzard’s esports dreams behind it, Apex Legends did very well for itself in 2021, Dota 2 and SMITE are always acceptable MOBA substitutes, Destiny 2 and The Division 2 are strong picks, and PUBG is where all the cool kids go for survival training. And forget Hearthstone for a card game — Legends of Runeterra is hotter and less controversial these days.

Everyone likes a good list, and we are no different! Perfect Ten takes an MMO topic and divvies it up into 10 delicious, entertaining, and often informative segments for your snacking pleasure. Got a good idea for a list? Email us at justin@massivelyop.com or eliot@massivelyop.com with the subject line “Perfect Ten.”
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Rachel King

I love Never winter. Always evolving and staying fresh. 💜

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Riccardo Tavano

GW2 doing fine ?

Hell…I love GW2, but it’s not doing fine at all. The development is all over the place and the management is in an even worst situation…we do not even know who the new CEO and game’s director is.

GW2 is not fine at all…and if they can’t change something with EoD, I doubt it will do better later on.

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Robby Poole

Honestly a little shocked PSO2 isn’t mentioned here. Great game

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Motherball

Paladins is a pretty solid hero shooter as well, as an alternative to Overwatch. They so some things much better, even though I enjoy both games.

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Schlag Sweetleaf

No Lotro?!

lotrotag.png
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Danny Smith

I don’t think its dying but i also don’t know if “Extremely Healthy” fits Warframe to the degree it did two years ago. Theres paragaphs you can write about the game and its mounting issues but the second dream is now a ways back and i dont think theres a huge sentiment that anything post Fortuna has been anything but a balancing of an increasing number of plates that are growing increasingly wobbly as the crowd yawns and says they have seen this trick too many times from this act before.

I hope ’21 turns it around for them but Warframe is not what it once was.

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LevelCappedAtZero

ESO is unfortunately broken right now. If you looked at the forums, you’d see all the posts about the crashes happening.

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Stovakor21

really weird to not put like EQ and EQ2 on this list there both still making expansions . while half of these hardly put any content out anymore.

Sixuality
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Sixuality

I’m a bit surprised at the absence of LOTRO. I guess it’s still in the bad books after that whole ‘mini-expansion’ thing, but Daybreak clearly have plans for it (how realistic those plans are is a different matter) and that does suggest a healthy immediate future.

PlasmaJohn
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PlasmaJohn

Is SWTOR on the way up or the way down? This past year wasn’t the most exciting for the game, but it’s hard to overlook the fact that it did get a couple of adequate content updates and still harbors fleets of players who love gaming in a galaxy far, far away.

TOR is not a game I log into much these days. But thanks to XIV’s 24 hour maintenance for the 5.4 patch I had some time to kill and I’ve been meaning to chase down a companion story I’ve not done yet. The alt involved was still on Tython.

Were there other players there? Sure. Was it crowded? Not in the slightest. And before the inevitable white knights chime in this was during US prime time on starter planet. Compared to the tail end of 4.0 population is much lighter. And that’s after a significant reduction in the number servers.

Once the license expires in a couple years EA will have no obligation left to keep this game afloat.

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PanagiotisLial1

Obviously the starter planet isnt a hotspot(Fleet, Odessen, Onderon is where you should look) yet still you can see the instances on your map. Its not even a planet a newbie spends a lot cause, assuming you do ALL quests and not just main story, you leave between lvl 11 and 14 for the fleet where you can do the 1st flashpoint and you spend twice the time on the second planet. In fact the starter planets are always the least populated.