End-of-Year Eleven: The biggest MMO surprises of 2021


Why do I love covering MMORPG news year in and year out? If I’m honest about it, I’m usually in this for the surprises. Pleasant surprises, that is. I love it when I sit down in the morning with a mug of hot coffee and then discover that I’ll be writing about some wildly unexpected development. It’s thrilling to learn about it myself and then share it with all of you.

Good surprises and bad ones are the topic for today’s list. Looking back across the whole field of 2021, we see that surprises popped up all over the place. But which ones were the most unexpected? Find out… starting in the next paragraph!

Fallen Earth and Shadowbane come back from the dead

When Fallen Earth was taken offline in 2019 to give the studio the opportunity to rebuild it into a stable product, I think pretty much all of us fans assumed we’d never see it again. It came as a shock, then, that Little Orbit reactivated the game two years later as a “classic” version to tide players over.

And let’s not forget that earlier this year, the long-defunct Shadowbane re-launched as a Steam product. We’ll take it!

World of Warcraft does same-faction battlegrounds

As the joke used to go, whatever unbreakable rules Blizzard decided about World of Warcraft was set in stone… until the studio abruptly changed its mind for whatever reason. Same-faction battlegrounds was one of those “we’ll never ever EVER do this” edicts that withstood the test of time… until this past July.

Kakao takes over ArcheAge

Watching Gamigo mishandle and milk Trion Worlds’ old MMOs has been one of the most obscene things I’ve ever witnessed, which is why I gave out a vocal cheer when I read the news that Kakao swooped in to take over the operation and publishing of ArcheAge from the studio of death. I mean, your mileage on Kakao’s competence may vary, but wouldn’t anyone be better than Gamigo?

lagic megends

Magic Legends dies before it can be born

There are not a lot of online games that you can point to and say that they were started and ended in the same calendar year. Magic Legends got that dubious distinction, going from early access to outright cancellation over the course of the year. While it had its merits, a switch-up from MMO to multiplayer and lackluster player reception certainly didn’t help.

New World shows that there’s a legion of hungry MMO players out there

The surprise of New World wasn’t that it did fairly well and brought a solid (if messy) major MMORPG to launch — it’s that it once again pushed back against this narrative out there that such games are dead and there’s no audience left for them. On the contrary, the hunger is real and the audience is waiting for bold new titles.

Palia shows up to play with the big boys

I’m always crossing my fingers that there are some great MMOs in development that we don’t know about, because every so often we get amazing announcements like Palia revealing herself to the world this past summer. A whole lot of us got instantly psyched at a gorgeous-looking community life sim, even though we’re in for a long wait for this to come to fruition.

Amazon gives up on a Lord of the Rings MMO

While Amazon is ending the year on a strong note with New World and Lost Ark, it started 2021 with a depressing announcement about the end of the Lord of the Rings MMO that it was helping to make. It seemed like a darn shame, especially with the new TV series on the way, and a lot of Middle-earth fans were suddenly robbed of a second MMO.

Riot Games and Gamigo announce new MMOs in the works

Going back to the subject of major MMORPGs entering development, 2021 was abuzz with how Riot Games was working on a Runeterra title and Gamigo is building a super-secret AAA-title behind closed doors. We’re very anxious to learn more details about both of these — including names! — but just knowing that we’ve got some heavy-hitters coming our way is satisfying in and of itself.

Chronicles of Elyria attempts to come back from the dead

With the studio running out of money and laying off everyone — and then being hit by class-action lawsuits from very disgruntled backers — Chronicles of Elyria was the one game that we could firmly say was DOA at the start of 2021. Yet for better or weirder, the project started picking up pace this year, as it hired devs and worked on bringing this concept to fruition. Oh, it was still a total mess, with censorship and NFT proposals and the like, but it was more than absolutely nothing, which is a surprise for sure.

BioWare ditches Anthem

Expectations of a revised and improved version of Anthem were cruelly dashed this past February when BioWare effectively announced that it was getting out of the Anthem business. The once-promising looter shooter proved to be an embarrassing failure for the studio, which in turn shifted devs and resources over to other projects.

Swords of Legends Online comes out of nowhere

If you go back to look at my “MMOs to watch in 2021” list, you’ll see a curious absence of a major launch that actually happened this year. That’s because Swords of Legends Online arrived out of the blue as a Chinese import this year, going from announcement to launch in a matter of months. Which, as you well know, is quite atypical of in this market. It may not have revolutionized MMOs, but SOLO did fairly well for itself even so.

Everyone likes a good list, and we are no different! Perfect Ten usually takes an MMO topic and divides it up into 10 delicious, entertaining, and often informative segments for your snacking pleasure. And per tradition, we’re cranking this column up to eleven with our annual special features in the End-of-Year Eleven!
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