Some years are just bulkier than others when it comes to updates for existing MMOs. That’s the nature of the beast. Some years just about every major game gets another huge expansion or DLC or big update, and other years games just take a mulligan on a given year and hope for better next year. The latter was definitely the case this particular year, with a lot of updates being scheduled for 2022 and others still getting pushed back at the last moment so they don’t get to be on this list. Looking at you, BioWare.
Still, that doesn’t mean this year was devoid of updates. There were a couple of big ones along the way, even if one of them seems to have just barely slipped my mind. I’m sure it’ll come to me eventually. For now, let’s start having a look at the best updates and expansions that hit existing MMOs in 2021, all across the industry.
1. The Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood
The one thing I kept hearing about this particular update was companions, and while this would hardly make the game unique in the space (a lot of games have companions these days, after all), it’s still a good thing. I am relentlessly in support of any game that takes the NPCs you’re supposed to care about and makes them more front-and-center, with the possible (definite) exception of the original Guild Wars because Prince Rurik existed and you forever whiffed that one, guys. Sorry.
Beyond that? Well, it’s solid. It’s the sort of solid cadence and improvement that marks a lot of this game’s regular content updates, and I consider that a good thing and a mark in its favor. Sure, the regular drops and steady pace means that some of them might not stand out quite as much, but it feels like it’s rare to have a bad update here, and on the balance that’s a good thing.
2. World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade Classic
I saw a joke once to the effect that when a show is more interested in past episodes, it’s because that part of the show’s history is more interesting. I suspect it’s also the case when the best thing that a particular long-running game did was release a classic version of its first expansion. If we can forget for a moment about Blizzard being a trash fire, though, The Burning Crusade was a nice reminder of both how good this expansion really was as well as a show of all the things the game had to offer at its best moments.
And let’s be realistic, the launch of this one was pretty smooth. It was pretty terribly timed given everything else going on with the company (see aforementioned “trash fire” note), but TBC is still really good in its classic format.
3. Lord of the Rings Online: Fate of Gundabad
Look, I feel absolutely no shame about the fact that I will forever love each and every update that allows people in inappropriate settings to punch the crap out of monsters. Tolkien’s fantasy world definitely feels like one of those sort of settings, to boot. I absolutely think that this is a setting wherein it makes zero sense to have a martial artist like the Brawler punching and kicking through hordes of monsters, and I also love it. I love the idea of someone just walking up to an orc and decking him like it’s just a normal thing.
That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of other stuff to like in this particular update. I just feel it’s important to note my bias, which is that punchy options in games where they feel weird makes me very happen even if I rarely actually like playing those punchy options.
4. Black Desert: Atoraxxion
It feels like this year’s overall theme for Black Desert was less about having one big marquee update and more a steady stream of new content for player to enjoy along the way, although I freely admit that some of that might come down to being on the outside looking in. Still, although it’s a bit of a shame that the game’s first party dungeon was significantly less festive than the name “party dungeon” might imply, this was a big new addition to the game on a fundamental level that’s kept receiving updates and new installments since its first introduction.
5. Guild Wars 2: Icebrood Saga
I note without shame that I’ve been one of the people rather critical of how Guild Wars 2 has handled its story over the years and how it handled the whole need for an expansion here. I don’t think that the Icebrood Saga quite landed as firmly as it could have, and I don’t think it really obviated the need for the expansion. But that having been said? The game stuck to it and, by and large, stuck the landing on this one. We’ve got a much-needed and much-wanted expansion coming next year, but this slice of story and content was definitely fun along the way.
6. Warframe: The New War
Come on, people. It’s Warframe. I feel like we’ve reached the point where we should all have realized by now that Warframe is actually really good, and while it is definitely a flawed game in many ways that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep an eye on how good the game is on a whole. It’s not quite a full MMORPG and that’s really the biggest thing that keeps it off more lists, and that’s a shame, because darn is this a good game.
So another big update with a new story and a new frame for players to try out? You’d better believe that’s good soup.
7. Star Trek Online: House Reborn/House United
Sooner or later every single bit of Star Trek media does its Klingon arc. That’s just inevitable. There are always Klingons, there is always a Klingon arc, and it was past time for Star Trek Online to get in on that particular motion. This one came off better than some, in part due to the fact that it has so many different iterations of Klingon history to draw upon and just so many different concepts to all bring together in one story. Beyond that… well, it’s the same kind of solid remixing of the existing story that STO does well. What more could you want?
“Ships not in lockboxes”? All right, we’ll give you that one.
8. New World: Into the Void
I see a Void Gauntlet and thus I am counting it in my list of loving inappropriate settings to punch the crap out of monsters. Seriously, if not for the fact that every week this game seems to have some game-breaking bug, the fact that you can have your colonial settler just walk up and start punching some wicker monsters would be pretty appealing. If not for the aforementioned game-breaking bugs. Also, the colonialist aspects. Also… all right, yes, we all know that this game is kind of a mess, but it is punching!
9. Albion Online: Lands Awakened
Hey, look at that, it’s another punchy update! Why was this a whole theme this year? Did everyone just get together and decide that this was the year when everyone should be ready to punch the heck out of some monsters? Why does this feel more natural in Eastern games than Western ones? It’s not like there’s no cross-pollination there, Dungeons & Dragons has had a Monk class for ages. But for some reason this just tickles me.
Fortunately, there’s a lot of other cool stuff in this update even beyond the war gauntlets, because the core is a revamp of the five main biomes of the game that makes the whole game look prettier and gives players more to do besides. The gloves are really just a minor part of this overall update. This game is pretty cool, people.
10. Phantasy Star Online 2: New Genesis
I’m going to be honest with you, folks, I have no idea how to feel about the saga of Phantasy Star Online 2 when it comes to these shores. For the longest time it was this cool game we didn’t get, then it was a cool game we got but was released in the dumbest possible format, then we got this reboot that also wasn’t a reboot but also kind of was, and now… now I just don’t even know. I have no idea where to start.
Still, the point is that this was a big update that breathed new life into the game and helped expand its audience again, helped by the more recent and smaller-but-still-big Sandstorm update recently. It was divisive, but anything rewriting a core portion of an MMO like this was always going to be.
11. Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker
Oh, right, this launched. I forgot.