“MMOs are dead!” “MMOs are dying!” “We didn’t get any good MMO releases this past year!”
While I won’t argue with the last one there, I humbly submit today’s column as an exhibit for the immediate future of this industry. MMORPG development continues to go through an interesting period of transition, with crowdfunded titles nearing maturity, indie MMOs experimenting in new ways, and some unlikely contenders drawing increased interest.
Today, we’re going to explore the MMOs that are expected to launch, push out an expansion, or do something significant in 2021. It’s always hard to aim at the always-moving target of MMOs, but with what we knew at the end of 2020, here are the game we recommend you be watching over the next 12 months.
Fueled by Black Desert’s continued success, Pearl Abyss is hoping to bring another hit into the Desert franchise. Crimson Desert isn’t so much as a full-fledged MMORPG as a gorgeous online game with multiplayer and a strong solo campaign. Fans of this universe are going to have a whole new playground come winter 2021, when this title is expected to launch.
A year ago, we wouldn’t have thought that Amazon’s frequently delayed MMO would be the centerpiece of 2021, but after extensive retooling and strong word-of-mouth testimonies from testers, that’s exactly what’s happening. New World is coming out next spring, but if you can’t wait that long, you can read Tyler and Justin’s impressions of the beta.
While we on the MOP staff are pretty disappointed with studios like Cryptic who downgrade MMOs to something smaller and less exciting, Magic Legends still has a monster of an IP behind it and the expertise of developers who know a thing or two about making addictive online games. We’ll see how this Diablo clone shakes out when it launches in spring 2021.
While it hasn’t made the greatest of splashes yet, Corepunk is quietly building a fanbase of people (like myself) who are excited about its cyberpunk aesthetic and its commitment to building an MMORPG world for us to explore. Some players will get their first look at this game with spring’s closed beta, with a hopeful ramping up of testing and a release to follow.
Guild Wars 2: End of Dragons
By 2021, it will be four years since Guild Wars 2 last saw an expansion — and boy are the fans ready for one! Even better, End of Dragons promises a return to the fan-favorite land of Cantha, last seen in 2006’s Guild Wars Factions. Expect to be hearing an awful lot more about this pack in the opening months of the year, followed by a launch perhaps next summer.
Elder Scrolls Online: The Gates of Oblivion
Elder Scrolls Online has one of the most reliable content pipelines in the genre, and so we can most certainly expect a four-part content release around the theme of Oblivion in 2021. ZeniMax always publishes a chapter — what we lesser mortals call an “expansion” — in the late spring or early summer, and so you should be safe in putting that on your calendar. More specific details about this chapter and the year’s roadmap will be given on January 21st.
Final Fantasy XIV: Forspoken
As of this writing, the strong but unconfirmed rumor is that Final Fantasy XIV’s 2021 expansion will be called Forspoken. Fans are certainly excited to have Square Enix spill the beans on what the next setting and story for the popular MMO will be, and our FFXIV columnist Eliot predicts that the expansion will drop around August.
Burning Crusade Classic
Speaking of unconfirmed releases, is there anyone out there who doubts that Blizzard will release Burning Crusade Classic in 2021? The studio’s been indicating heavily that it’s going to be taking the legacy server into World of Warcraft’s first expansion, the only major questions regarding this are “when” and “how will the transition be handled?” In any case, it’ll help the studio have something to launch for WoW in the year between retail’s expansions.
While the beta has seen its fair share of controversies, Dual Universe is picking up steam as it readies for a 2021 launch. The space sim sandbox is one of the more underrated Kickstarter success stories as it attempts to make good on a universe where players can build their own ships, explore planets, and run businesses.
Lord of the Rings Online: Gundabad
Originally slated for spring 2021, Lord of the Rings Online’s upcoming expansion got rescheduled to next fall to allow SSG more time to work on it. Gundabad will be the culmination of the brewing “Orcs vs. Dwarves” storyline that kicked off this year and will introduce the new Brawler class to the roster.
Elite: Dangerous Odyssey
We like to imagine that Frontier is sticking its tongue out at EVE Online and Star Citizen as it prepares to open up its game universe to walking, running, and exploring on foot. Elite: Dangerous’ Odyssey will be the most significant upgrade to the popular space sim yet, and we expect that it’ll draw a lot of eyeballs back onto the game.
While it has been long — so, so very long — in the coming, Lost Ark is starting to roll out globally. There’s a good hope that we might see this gorgeous ARPG sometime in 2021, perhaps with Amazon Game Studio as its publisher. The only question is, will we still line up to play it or has the waiting killed our enthusiasm?
Phantasy Star Online 2: New Genesis
Just a year after it came out in North America, Phantasy Star Online 2 is re-launching in 2021 as New Genesis. Sporting improved gameplay and graphics, New Genesis will run parallel to regular PSO2 — and even allow players to swap characters between the two versions of the game. What do you have to lose?
Formerly known as Ascent: Infinite Realm, the extensively re-tooled Elyon is looking good for a probable 2021 launch. It may not be as steampunky as it used to be, but this MMO does have a lot of the trappings we’d expect from a full-service title — and it may just surprise us!
As it goes through a Japanese closed beta at the end of 2020, Blue Protocol gives us hope that this cel-shaded anime sandbox might be as impressive as it looks. If the eventual Japan rollout goes well, then there’s good reason to expect that a western audience is next — and we are fully ready to receive it.
Ultima Online: New Legacy
No, it’s not an expansion — it’s a new server type. The granddaddy of the modern graphical MMORPG is debuting a different ruleset called New Legacy that will theoretically serve as a more welcoming starting ground for Ultima Online newbies. Simpler and more streamlined, New Legacy beckons to you to check it out.
Listen, we know that pretty much the entire world has written off Bless at this point, but bless ’em, the studio keeps on trying. Bless Unleashed is the latest iteration of this MMO world (and should not be confused with its mobile spin-off), and after a launch on the PlayStation 4 this year, it is scheduled to arrive on Steam in spring 2021.
After five years of crowdfunding, development, re-development, and extensive testing, Crowfall may actually be launching in 2021. If so, it’ll mark the culmination of one of the more high-profile Kickstarter MMOs and a new twist on making campaign PvP work in a large-scale setting. Certainly, that’s a reason to be excited!
Book of Travels
It’s no secret that some of us on the MOP staff have a crush on this tiny, serene game and its creative approach to online exploration and roleplaying. Book of Travels is heading into early access sometime Q2 2021, at which time we’ll be able to get our hands on this title and see if it was worth our crowdfunding dollars.
Ship of Heroes
Could we be getting a genuine City of Heroes’ spiritual successor in 2021? It’s not a sure lock, but Heroic Games has already started the countdown checklist for an eventual release of Ship of Heroes. We’d certainly love to be playing it by Christmas this year!
Further out, but still exciting
“But what about…” you start to say, but I raise my hand and nod at the length of this column already. If we were to mention every single upcoming project, we’d be here until 2022. And besides, most of the rest of the titles you might mention in this space aren’t likely to see significant movement in 2021 — but that doesn’t meant that we’re not excited for their future. Those would include Raph Koster’s and Amazon’s unnamed MMOs (a 2021 reveal on those would be amazing), the afrofantasy Wagadu Chronicles, XLGAMES’ ArcheAge 2, the dynamic world of Ashes of Creation, Riot’s League of Legends MMO, the very long-in-coming Star Citizen, Amazon’s Lord of the Rings MMO, Project TL (which should see beta in 2021), Mark Jacobs’ Camelot Unchained, grimdark Mad World, Visionary Realms’ Pantheon, and Project Gorgon (which is aiming at a mid-2022 launch).
It’s kind of a good time to be an MMO fan, you know?