Not So Massively: Looking back at 2020 and ahead to 2021 in the realm of not-so-massively games

    
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So another year comes, and the last one’s gone, and we dig deep just to carry on. Musical allusions notwithstanding, I thought it might be good to look back at some of the big not-so-massively stories of the past year, as well as look ahead to what’s ahead.

The year that was

While I haven’t talked about it much in this column, I think Animal Crossing: New Horizons was probably the biggest NSM story of the year. It’s not what I’m looking for in a game, but its cultural impact can’t be denied. It’s even been used for political outreach. It’s also provided much needed escapism to many people during this pandemic year, which is lovely.

Other major titles that passed me by were Fall Guys and Among Us. The former was very big for a short time but seems to have fallen out of the spotlight since, while Among Us seems to still be relatively hot, at least for the time being. Personally I’ve played enough Werewolf and Secret Hitler and other similar games IRL before the pandemic that I don’t feel the need for what amounts to a virtual version, but I’m glad people seem to be having so much fun with it.

(As an aside, why is Secret Hitler a game? Just… why. But I digress…)

For me, the big NSM releases this year were Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem and Iron Harvest 1920.

Wolcen impressed me with the sheer depth and versatility of its build system, which combines the best ideas from most of its competitors, like Path of Exile and Diablo III. It had some polish issues at launch but did an admirably job of aggressively addressing them. Wolcen went silent for a long time after that but then released new content in the form of Chronicle, Bloodtrail.

In the RTS realm, Iron Harvest 1920 impressed me even more than Wolcen did. It’s the most fresh-feeling strategy game I’ve played in a long time, and the campaign brought some surprisingly powerful emotion. If it has an issue, it’s that it’s currently a bit content light. There are as many multiplayer maps as some would like, and the current campaign is clearly just the beginning of the story. However, the developers have been quite prompt about adding new patches since launch. Already we’ve seen the addition of several new maps and the Drop Zone mode for multiplayer, and the Rusviet Revolution story DLC is planned for a December 17th release.

On the other hand, 2020 also had some disappointing news on the NSM front. Many were dismayed as Torchlight: Frontiers gave up on its MMO ambitions and rebranded as Torchlight III. While I can live with it not being an MMO myself, I was disappointed by its abandonment of horizontal progression, and I’m concerned about how much post-launch support it’s likely to have now. This fall, it launched to reviews that seemed lukewarm at best, so sadly a game that once had a fair bit of hype seems to have landed as a bit of a dud.

Also disappointing was the announcement that StarCraft II is effectively entering maintenance mode. While this is hardly a shocking development so late in the game’s life cycle, it’s still a shame. StarCraft II has been one of the all time greats of the RTS genre, and for my money one of the all time greats of video games period, so part of me will always wish for more.

On the bright side, SC2 has had an incredible run, and before announcing its transition to maintenance mode, it got an injection of new life with the Prestige system for co-op. This game is a long way from dead.

The year ahead

As for what’s ahead, I think Magic: Legends is the big NSM story to keep an eye on in 2021. It’s currently set for a spring release date, and it could be a major contender in the ARPG field. Personally I’m excited for its rich deck-building system, as well as seeing the lore of Magic: The Gathering come to life in this medium. My concern is it will be dogged by the lack of polish and general feel of low budget that seems to bog down all of Cryptic’s games. But all in all, I’m cautiously optimistic. Put it this way: If they start selling Founder’s Packs (and it’s Cryptic/PWE, so that’s probably coming eventually), there’s a better than even chance I’d spring for one.

I’d also keep an eye on Overwatch 2 in the coming year. It’s unlikely to launch in 2021 given where it stood at last year’s BlizzCon, but I expect we’ll learn a fair bit more about it.

One other wildcard would be Anthem and its promised reboot. As with Overwatch 2, I feel it’s unlikely (but still possible) that it would launch in the coming year, but we should at least start to hear more about it. I’m really curious just how extensive this reboot is, and how much of the original game will remain afterward. I’m generally not fond of throwing out content, especially story content, but Anthem‘s appeal was more in its setting than its main plot, so it wouldn’t be the end of the world if the reboot was treated as a sequel or just started over from scratch.

I do hope that they at least bring back the old cast. Sentinel Brin is bae.

In terms of what I want added, as I’ve said before I mostly just want to see the more of the world. It’s a really great setting, and I want to see more than just one small corner of Bastion.

More than anything else, though, I just hope that people the new version an honest chance, and that it allows the game to grow and prosper. I had a blast with Anthem, and I want to see it survive.

The world of online gaming is changing. As the gray area between single-player and MMO becomes ever wider, Massively OP’s Tyler Edwards delves into this new and expanding frontier biweekly in Not So Massively, our column on battle royales, OARPGs, looter-shooters, and other multiplayer online titles that aren’t quite MMORPGs.
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Harbinger_Kyleran

Bah, still no mention of FO76, one of the brighter spots in the Min-MMO space in 2020, it’s like the site doesn’t even know how to game.

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Box

2020 was definitely an interesting year. Made me go back and replay a lot of older mmos that have been basically in maintenance mode for years. Also no disrespect but that Magic Legends game looks awful. The deck building might be a neat mechanic but the gameplay they showed off just looks downright awful.

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Zero_1_Zerum

2020 I didn’t game much, because my laptop was already broken for years. While I was able to borrow a laptop from a relative the last couple months, it’s old and can’t run any recent games very well at all.

But, for 2021, I ordered a new pre-built gaming PC, which should be shipped to me in January. So, I’ll finally be able to game again, and play some of the latest games.

Not sure yet if I’ll get back into MMOS, but I probably will. Still have an expansion to ESO I haven’t been able to play yet. But, I’m really looking forward to being able to play games with more than minimum settings.

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Danny Smith

It feels like 2020 was the year live service games have started to die off. Something even more unexpected given covid keeping people inside. Putting aside companies running out of ways to push lockbox style things in them as the laws are starting to change in regards to them and the general failures of things like Anthem and Avengers and the like i think the most significant examples are Destiny and The Division. Technically two of the biggest live service success stories in terms of persistent, none mmo games put out in the west.

They aren’t suddenly worse than the used to be, sure theres questionable choices in new updates but thats par for the course, but it feels like they have now been running so long its looking like live service games have a sort of “hayflick limit” for games. You can only keep adding new power creeps, new mechanics and new subchoices in something where the core gameplay is reliant on “shoot button, grenade button and power button” outside of an arena game for so long before it just runs out of steam.

When i look at the most successful entries in the live service style game “running out of steam” seems to be a constant. Nobody would call Warlords of New York or Beyond Light irredeemable garbage because they aren’t. But they also bring to mind the old Bilbo Baggins line of “I feel thin. Stretched. Like … butter scraped over too much bread”. They are taking the Diablo idea meant for repeating small randomly generated maps and trying to apply them to static content and i think the near seven years of destiny has shown it can only go so far before it just doesn’t have anywhere fresh to go.

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SmiteDoctor

Wolcen huh, I guess the bar must have been set pretty low for 2020; like buried in the mud with the worms?

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kjempff

Yeah I had to read those lines about Wolcen several times looking for sarkasm, but I guess everyone is entitled to an opinion.
I would put my money on PoE2 being the next thing..assuming it will launch 2021 and that it should fix at least some of the many issues with PoE, and that there is a large PoE player base ready to drive the next gen of their preferred brand.