End of Year Review: MMO

Published on December 22nd, 2012

Celebrating the best/worst games and events of the past twelve months.

In terms of diversity and excitement, we think 2012 has been the most eventful year in MMOs for some time. So much so that we decided to do something different to mark the end of the cycle and give out some awards. Not regular awards, mind you. True there are a few of those along the lines of ‘Best Expansion’ and the like, but for the most part we’ve tried to convey award titles which most accurately indicate exactly what we think about the past 12 months’ most memorable titles.

This year saw the term ‘MMO’ widen to encapsulate more different types of game than ever before and we witnessed subscription-only games die a complete death with all mainstream games now offering at least some kind of free-to-play component. Who knows what 2013 will bring, but one thing is for sure, the MMO world will continue to evolve at a breakneck pace.

End of Year Review: MMO

proved that guns belong in fantasy MMOs as well.

Most Value-rific MMO:  Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2 was never going to be a failure after spending so long in development. ArenaNet possess some of the most talented gameplay and story designers on the planet and NCSOFT had given them two of the most precious resources a publisher can bestow on a studio: time and money. We had to wait years for the sequel’s arrival, but Guild Wars 2 features imaginative characters, well-written dialogue and a new and improved version of Tyria which made the switch to a persistent open-world a no-brainer.

For a one-time fee game, the amount of value on offer here is absolutely staggering, and even though large sways of the game’s content resemble rather bland public quests, there are plenty of hours worth of solid entertainment. ArenaNet still need to work on the end-game aspects, dungeon design and the in-game store (which still seems a bit too pricey for our liking), but those problems don’t detract from what is an immensely polished sequel. Guild Wars 2 represents the best £34.99 you’ll ever spend in your life

End of Year Review: MMO

Now has ditched its subscription-only payment model, there barriers to entry are very low.

The MMO We All Should Play More:  The Secret World

A lot of developers talked about innovation this year, but for us by far the most radical MMORPG to emerge was The Secret World. With its modern real-world setting, classless progression and constantly challenging and intelligent quest design, you’d think that MMOers from across the entire spectrum would be gagging to subscribe to Funcom’s efforts, but you’d be wrong. Merely weeks after release the Norwegian studio were hit with layoffs, despite their latest work being critically acclaimed across the board. This tells you two things: first, that gamers are no longer willing to spend a monthly fee on an unproven universe and second that critical opinion really means nothing.

Thankfully The Secret World has bounced back somewhat with the recent Halloween update proving popular. Still, we can’t help but think that we all should have gotten behind this game a bit more than we did. If we aren’t going to reward developers for going against the grain, then what’s the point of them even trying to innovate?

End of Year Review: MMO

Tribes: Ascend is about as far away from 'Pay to Win' as you can get.

Best New Free-to-Play Game:  Tribes: Ascend

This year the term ‘MMO’ branched out to mean so much more than hot bars and hard-to-grasp fiction. We still struggle with common labelling of games like League of Legends, Super Monday Night Combat and Warhammer: Wrath of Heroes as MMOs, but hey, all gameplay terms evolve over time.

The best example of the new breeds released this year was Tribes: Ascend. An self-described MMOFPS which placed skill over equipment procurement and reflexes over expertise. We’ve spent innumerable hours mastering the Soldier’s Thumper gun and trying to figure out how best to use the Fusion Mortar, but for us the Technician class gave us most joy. Keeping base equipment up and running and surviving multiple enemy assaults gave us some of our fondest gaming memories of the year. The real success of Tribes: Ascend though was the implementation of its generous free-to-play system. Everything in-game could be earned if you had enough dedication, and unlocking a new weapon didn’t necessarily make your existing loadout redundant.

An excellent release which is still going strong, Hi-Rez still need to do more to attract the eSports crowd, but those extra viewing mods and hosting options should become available in the future.

End of Year Review: MMO

We miss you City of Heroes, we really do...

Biggest Dissappointment of 2012:  City of Heroes

This award has nothing to do with Paragon Studios. They did a stellar job winning back players to City of Heroes, as the MMO went from subscription-only to free-to-play. The real recipients of this dubious honour are NCSOFT, due to the way they so cackhandedly announced that they were closing the original comic book MMORPG on the eve of San Diego’s annual Comic-Con event.

Even as servers were about to be closed the game’s surviving community still understandably wanted City of Heroes to be saved, yet the game’s publisher did little to engage with their efforts, other than two terse statements thanking them for their dedication. Stay classy, NCSOFT!

End of Year Review: MMO

Whatever you think of SWTOR now, you have to admit its launch was relatively issue free.

Best Launch:  Star Wars: The Old Republic

What a difference 12 months makes. This time last year we were all chomping at the bit to get into Star Wars: The Old Republic’s closed Beta, but now most of us have moved onto greener, more fulfilling pastures. Technically BioWare Austin’s debut launched on December 20th, 2011 but seeing as our last issue of the previous year was out before that time, we’ll allow SWTOR to be eligible for this year’s retrospective feature.

Launching an MMO at the best of times is immensely tricky. Trying to anticipate launch day demand is a challenge at any time of year, let alone Christmas and BioWare Austin did it without embarrassing server crashes, or account registration issues – we’re looking at you ArenaNet! Over a million people logged into servers on day one and that number only increased throughout January, causing some queue-related issues, but that’s part and parcel of a triple-A MMORPG launch. It’s unfortunate EA and BioWare Austin couldn’t keep up that momentum throughout the rest of the year, but MMO development isn’t like the rest of gaming; it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

End of Year Review: MMO

still has the best monsters to be found in any MMORPG.

2012′s Most Surprisingly Good MMO:  TERA

GameForge, the free-to-play MMO specialist formerly known as Frogster in Europe, had ‘bigged up’ TERA for at least a year or two before Western servers were launched, yet we were still surprised just how much fun we had with Bluehole Studio’s creation. The combat was fast, fluid and featured live-action targeting (still new when it was launched) and the game’s unique environment and enemy designs made exploring the game-world entertaining and addictive. Environments were vast and open and the end-game involved clan leaders taking control of actual parts of the world – setting tax rates, building up town facilities and other empowering activities. TERA was a very daring release, and even though some gamers couldn’t look past its more Eastern sensibilities or scantily-clad Pixie children, this still proved to an MMORPG that was absolutely worth losing yourself to.

End of Year Review: MMO

Being able to trot around the wide-open spaces of Rohan really is a delight.

Best Expansion:  Lord of the Rings Online: Riders of Rohan

Traditional expansion content was meant to be going out of the window this year as MMO developers concentrated more on smaller yet more regular updates, but it hasn’t materialised that way. With free-to-play now the MMO-funding model of choice, developers are resorting to putting out bulky expansions every couple of years to give their game a quick revenue jolt, and 2012 had two gems, RIFT: Storm Legion and LOTRO’s Riders of Rohan. Both are stunning pieces of content which take their base games in exciting new directions, but for us Rohan wins it by a nose.

Turbine has talked up the Epic Story side of LOTRO for a long time, yet for us they had never really delivered. Rise of Isengaard was too samey, Siege of Mirkwood was too drab, and Mines of Moria was when Turbine was still getting to grips with Tolkien’s fiction. Riders of Rohan broke that mould entirely with new momentum-based mounted combat, wide open environments and a visual upgrade which made Middle-earth look more enticing than it ever had been before. Sure the expansion was pricey ($40), but it packed lots of interesting content focusing on landmarks and core story events which is what we always wanted from LOTRO in the first place. This is an MMO which is only going to get stronger as ‘The War of the Ring’ continues.

End of Year Review: MMO

Wildstar is a game that is awash with potential.

Brightest MMO Hope for 2013:  Wildstar

Despite NCSOFT hardly making any effort to promote Carbine Studios’ debut game over the past 12 months, that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been any major developments. It’s understandable why NCSOFT wouldn’t be promoting this funny, sci-fi experience while they ensured everyone and their mum was excited about Guild Wars 2, but really it’s time for Carbine to get their dues.

The big reason why we’re excited for Wildstar is how open Carbine has been with the community that has religiously followed this game since it was announced. On the official forums and in the weekly posts from the development team, no issue has been considered too controversial to tackle. Carbine have debated the merits of sandbox versus theme park MMO design, what tools machinima folk need to be creative with a game, and they’ve addressed feedback publicly when it comes to Wildstar’s class and story design. That kind of thing is unheard of in MMO development, but these California dreamers are doing things their own way. For that reason alone, Wildstar is tremendously exciting and we’re expecting big things over the next 12 months. Here’s hoping the public Beta arrives by then…

MMOZine may be gone but gamerzines’ coverage of all things mmo will continue in 2013. keep an eye out for more updates!

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