The excellent DC Universe Online proved that World Of Warcraft: Catalysm didn't signal the end of the MMO market (massively multiplayer online games) as we know it. Bioware's much-anticipated The Old Republic is due for release before the end of the year, but even if Star Wars doesn't tickle your fancy there's still plenty to look forward to, both this year and beyond.
…that aren't The Old Republic
Guild Wars 2
It may not have toppled World Of Warcraft, but in many ways Guild Wars was ahead of its time. Rather than opt for the monthly subscription model that made Blizzard the richest developer in the world, ArenaNet released a series of three standalone episodes, which, once purchased, could be played online for an unlimited period. At the time it seemed risky, but Guild Wars remains one of the most popular MMOs out there, while more widely promoted, subscription-based competitors have fallen by the wayside.
That decision is indicative of ArenaNet’s general outlook. Formed by former Blizzard employees, it regards the MMO as imperfect, often speaking out against grinding, harsh penalties for dying, brainless quests, and the genre’s other less attractive qualities. Guild Wars 2 will go even further toward resolving these issues, with a higher level cap, better storytelling, much improve graphics, a slew of gameplay tweaks, and the same compelling pricing structure.
Warhammer 40,000: Dark Millennium Online
The fate of Warhammer Online: Age Of Reckoning is a cautionary tale to both publishers and developers. Mythic Games certainly had ability and Electronic Arts certainly had money, but neither was enough to make WAR a success. In the years since its release, EA has withdrawn its support and the number of active servers has dwindled to just seven.
However, the fact that it sold 1.2 million units in its first month didn’t escape the attention of THQ. It was proof that Warhammer had a substantial and loyal following, and Dark Millennium Online is an attempt to give the fans a game that does justice to the property. Very little is known about the game at present, and it’s unlikely to be launched until 2012, but Vigil Games - the studio behind last year’s under-appreciated Darksiders - is attempting to rip up the MMO rule-book and create an experience that captures the full-blooded action of the Warhammer universe.
The Secret World
Funcom is one of the few studios to find success in the MMO market. Not Blizzard-baiting levels of success, exactly, but after an uncertain start Age Of Conan found a large enough group of dedicated players to keep the game running, fund the creation of new content, finance the move to new offices in Montreal, and help pay for the development of The Secret World.
The setting is ostensibly the world we live in - the locations include London, New York and Seoul - but the completely original backstory involves a dark underbelly where secret societies like the Templars and Illuminati fight a menagerie of different enemies taken from ancient myths, urban legends and pop culture. The prospect of an MMO set in the modern world is certainly intriguing, and Funcom is also rethinking genre staples like combat and levelling to create a more accessible and fluid experience. Want to try a different class without creating a different character? The Secret World will make that possible.
If there’s a quality that unites all of the games on this list, it’s a desire to overhaul and improve the MMO experience. Tera is no different. Developed by Bluehole Studios - based in South Korea, where the game has already been released - Tera is notable for having arguably the deepest combat ever seen in an MMO. Having the best equipment will be just one aspect of winning a fight, with Bluenote instead opting for the tactical thinking and brutal difficulty at the core of games like Monster Hunter and Demon’s Souls.
Atari has recently signed a contract to distribute the game in Europe, and while we can’t see it becoming a major success, its approach to combat at least gives it a unique personality. What’s more, the millions of people playing Tera in Korea are effectively beta-testing it for worldwide release, so by the time it arrives on these shores it should have a strong community and a bare minimum of bugs.