If you want to look at the overall health of the MMORPG industry, one vital heartbeat that must not be missed is continual development. Sometimes, even, a fancy patch or expansion in a favorite MMO may be cause for greater celebration than the release of a brand-new title.
It’s good to report to you that the heartbeat of the genre is strong and pumping. Looking back over 2023, it was a truly solid year of patches, updates, and expansion launches. Whittling this down to just 11 of the best-of-the-best wasn’t easy, but we think that these are the ones that truly defined the year of continual MMO development.
WoW Classic: Season of Discovery
WoW Classic already was turning heads this year with the release of the official version of fan-favorite hardcore servers. But it was the surprise announcement and subsequent launch of Season of Discovery that really turned heads. Overnight, Blizzard transformed the old familiar landscape into a huge evolving scavenger hunt that invigorated the Classic community and kept everyone bunched up together through level caps.
New World: Rise of Angry Earth
Following 2022’s Brimstone Sands would be no small feat, but that’s just what New World did with this year’s Rise of Angry Earth expansion. Mounts made their way into the game, the level cap was increased to 65, the Elysian Wilds zone opened for business, and the flail became available for righteous smacking. Add in a new expedition, storyline, and an award-winning soundtrack, and this became a net-positive for Amazon’s younger MMORPG.
Final Fantasy XIV: Growing Light
The same day that New World released its expansion, Final Fantasy XIV put out a content offering of its own. Patch 6.5 promised to keep players busy for the rest of the year with more Island Sanctuary goodness, more storyline, a new trial, a new dungeon, and a new raid. But it was the addition of the “Duty Support” system that had a lot of players cheering, as this would allow them to solo their way through MSQ dungeons if so desired.
Black Desert: Land of the Morning Light
The big tentpole release this year for Black Desert was certainly Land of the Morning Light. This expansion, featuring a non-linear storyline, rolled out for PC, console, and mobile over the course of 2023. As we noted in our impressions, it was an unorthodox expansion that ended up being pretty exciting for the landscape of this sandbox MMO.
Lord of the Rings Online: Corsairs of Umbar
LOTRO’s high-level players breathed a sigh of relief at finally being able to progress again after a year-and-a-half of stagnation. Corsairs of Umbar brought players to the far southern region of Umbar and managed to created one of the best expansions that this MMO has seen to date. The pack included four new regions, the introduction of the Mariner class, and a level cap increase to 150.
Albion Online: Wild Blood
Year after year, Albion’s deeply impressed us with a richly featured game that continues to expand in significant ways. This past October’s Wild Blood patch was one such example, incorporating a tracking system, awakened items, multiple island ownership, and shapeshifter weapons that allowed players to change forms.
EVE Online: Havoc
Numbers don’t lie: Concurrency and engagement was sharply up in EVE Online toward the end of 2023, and the MMO’s Havoc expansion receives most of the credit for this. For the first time, players could choose to fight with or against pirate factions in a massive power struggle across the galaxy. The expansion also came with the Angel titan ship, corporation project management tools, and a new AIR ops portal.
Elder Scrolls Online: Necrom
ZeniMax couldn’t resist double-dipping into Morrowind with this year’s Elder Scrolls Online expansion — but trust us, nobody was complaining. Necrom arrived in early June with a two-zone epic storyline, the Arcanist class, two additional companions, the Sanity’s Edge raid, and the Bastion Numic world event.
Guild Wars 2: Secrets of the Obscure
Never before had Guild Wars 2 released two expansions in consecutive years — until now. Secrets of the Obscure may not have been as ground-breaking as End of Dragons, but it was still a new expansion in 2024 with a new daily system, skyborne zones, easier flying, and lots more story. And who’s ready for another expansion next year?
SWTOR: Chains in the Dark
The patch that capped off 2024 for SWTOR wasn’t quite as notable for its content offerings — new zone, storyline, dailies, and GTN overhaul — as the fact that this was the first update that emerged under Broadsword’s reign. It was good to see the first months of the Broadsword era starting on this strong note, leaving players curious and hungry for more goodness to come in the new year.
World of Warcraft: Guardians of the Dream
Weird as it is to say for the notoriously glacial Blizzard, but World of Warcraft actually pumped out a lot of stuff in 2023 that made picking just one patch difficult. Yet we’re going to give the nod to November’s Guardians of the Dream, which opened up the Emerald Dream zone, improvements to dragonflying, Blood Elf and Druid customization options, and a challenging raid. It also became the go-to area to gear up your alts with easy public events.