Looking back at the genre's beginnings, who would have ever thought such a staggering number of massively multiplayer titles would be available today? Or that a lot of them would be thriving? While some have fallen to the wayside, many of the biggest names are continuing on a decade or more later, somehow still finding hundreds of thousands or even millions of players to populate their servers.
Not only has the number of MMOs steadily increased over the years, but overall interest in them continues to climb from gamers who normally prefer other styles, in no small part due to the gradual shift towards a free-to-play model. Most notably this year, Wildstar just went the free route and Guild Wars 2 is still going strong using that strategy.
The advent of Early Access titles is also a boon both for the genre and (more importantly) for the players, as it ensures quality titles with strong mechanics will get the funding and word of mouth required to thrive, while those games that are more half baked either get the extra attention needed to succeed or they fall by the wayside.
Despite those advantages, there have been some major speed bumps in the industry, with a handful of anticipated titles getting cancelled or failing in early access. Looking forward to the year ahead, you can expect more to succeed than fail as expansions to classic games arrive, long-running series finally enter the MMO realm, and entirely new IPs arrive to shake things up.
It was beyond time for this to happen: the eternal war raging through the grim darkness of the 41st millenium hits the MMORPG circuit! Now entering closed alpha, Eternal Crusade pits Imperial Space Marines, the forces of Chaos, Orks, and the enigmatic Eldar against one another in mission-based, third-person combat.
Eternal Crusade is reportedly redesigning the standard MMORPG quest system to be quite different from the overused genre norm of approaching someone in a city and having them ask you to kill X number of enemy Y. Projected to see release in 2016, the base game will have to be bought like any other, but it will also be available without a monthly subscription fee (as they put it in Orkish terms, it will be “Free to Waaaaaagh!”)
While the ever-evolving hive of the Tyranid is listed as a faction, it seems like they'll again be the enemy and sadly not a playable race – an option that's been missing from most Warhammer 40k titles. You can all fight for that desiccated corpse emperor on his broken throne, but I'm going to spill blood for the blood god and spread the glory of Chaos!
Although they have a sizable and dedicated fan base, the Lineage games have been oft-maligned for their unnecessary level of grinding and absurdly inflated prices for even basic gear. We'll have to see if any of that will change in latest entry Lineage Eternal, which has been in development for several years without any major updates, but is expected out finally next year.
Based on the footage and brief snippets of info that have made it online so far, it looks like Eternal is going more of a hack 'n slash route, with a greater focus on large scale battles with significantly more enemies on the screen at any one time.
It's been a crazy roller coaster ride following Star Citizen's development, from the huge ups of the crowdfunding campaign and massive hype to the lows of some very negative articles about what's going on behind the scenes. Whether you believe it's never coming out or were swayed by the negative press, there's no denying that what Star Citizen proposes is a very ambitious melding of different genres, aiming for total immersion in a near future space society.
While it remains to be seen if Cloud Imperium Games can deliver on the promises made, a mashup of first person shooter, space combat and intergalactic economy simulator in a persistent world sounds like an excellent time if the game actually arrives next year as projected.
It's been a long development cycle so far for this upcoming sandbox entry in the MMORPG genre; its development has been going for almost six years now, and beta testing has been open in Korea since all the way back in 2013.
A finished product is finally expected to launch for European and North American fans in 2016 as that development draws to a close (or at least to a low simmer, as work on massively multiplayer games never really ends). For fans of the high fantasy genre who want to fling fireballs while laying siege to an enemy castle, this is the big title to look out for next year.
In a promise that is hopefully delivered on fully, the huge and seamless environments are reportedly going to be much more interactive than in the standard MMORPG, and of course the visual appeal is worth mentioning, with both the environment and characters showcasing a high level of polish.
A legend returns as Richard Garriott arrives with the spiritual successor to Ultima Online, one of the first true MMORPGs to actually catch on and show what could be done with the genre. As a bonus to fantasy fans, Tracy Hickman of Dragonlance fame is handling the story design in this re-imagining of the standard multiplayer dungeon-stomping good time.
Of course there's the usual massively mutliplayer aspects, but in an interesting twist, the game can actually be played entirely offline for those who don't want to interact with other players, and a separate mode is also being implemented where only your specific friends show up in your instance of the game world.
Partially funded through a Kickstarter campaign, this successor to Dark Age Of Camelot will focus more on PvP over the PvE that so many games highlight these days, as large realms of players come into conflict.
Rather than going for dwarves and elves, the three major factions focus on berserker vikings, Arthurian knights, and the fae-inspired Tuatha De'Danann. If you want to be part of a band of brothers battling against foes from a rival faction who lack in chivalry and honor, this one's for you.
We've had post apocalyptic MMORPGs and zombie-based shooters, but now the two finally collide, allowing you to live in a persistent sandbox world overrun with the undead. Scavenge supplies from dead cities, avoid hordes of shambling zombies and above all, be afraid of your fellow man!
If The Walking Dead is a weekly event for you, you'll want to get in on this title that's already available in Early Access through Steam. Unfortunately the game suffered from negative reviews over reports of hackers and exploits in the early days, and hopefully that gets resolved before the final release in 2016.
Following the Warlords of Draenor update from back in 2014, Legion will be the sixth expansion to the MMORPG that just won't quit: the world-famous World Of Warcraft. If you're still clinging on to the most famous multiplayer fantasy game of them all, Legion will raise the level cap to 110, pop in additional areas and dungeons, and even offers up a new demon hunter class.
Closed beta starts at the end of the month for this upcoming free-to-play fantasy entry. A strong focus is being placed here on player interactivity with the economy and locations, with shops carrying primarily what people have previously sold and areas changing based on player conflict.
The overall aesthetic and siege-based combat against large groups of attackers almost gives off a MOBA meets MMORPG feel. I'm looking forward to seeing what comes of this one in particular, and while waiting for some beta game play to drop, check out a video from the developers below.
This crowd-funded game with a slick, stylized graphical theme aims to blend a real time strategy with a persistent MMORPG, described by the developers as a “throne war” simulator.
The ideas for mixing together those opposing genres are intriguing, with different campaigns available that will last for several months of real time before wiping out and moving on to another iteration. Stay tuned for a lot more info on this one to come shortly as a release date is nailed down.
Another Korean developed fantasy title, Bless is shaping up to be an excellent addition to the 2016 MMORPG lineup for fans of anything from Lineage to Lord Of The Rings Online. This one looks like it will hit all the classic tropes, from the JRPG graphical styling to the large class and race combination covering everything from elven wizards to cat folk rangers.
The coming year is bringing an absolute storm of new massively multiplayer worlds, with a heavy focus on the fantasy side this time around. Unfortunately some of those games that fans have been looking forward to for years probably won't arrive as expected.
One of the biggest upsets comes from Pathfinder Online, which is technically available in an Early Access version, but isn't finished and is unlikely to ever actually be completed. This one hurts for me specifically as I've been a huge fan of Paizo since long before the pen and paper Pathfinder RPG came to dominate the roleplaying landscape.
It was a gamble to begin with as a book company ventured into developer territory, and sadly it didn't pay off. All but three of the employees working on Pathfinder Online were just laid off, and there's been a lot of discontent from beta players about the ruleset going a different direction than expected, focusing on PVP in a way the base Pathfinder rules really don't support. Of course its always possible some other publisher will pick it up, polish it off, and get it released in full format, but for now if you want a Pathfinder PC experience, you'll have to instead look towards the upcoming Obsidian-developed rendition of the Pathfinder card game instead.
In another cancellation with a silver lining, the World Of Darkness MMORPG officially got a stake through the heart now that White Wolf has been bought out by Paradox Entertainment. While that's a downer for fans of huge online worlds, that's also a plus for fans of the various World Of Darkness lines, as it means we'll likely get some Vampire, Werewolf, or possibly even Mage single player games in the near future.
Last off, the newest iteration of Everquest, simply titled Everquest Next, is now solidly in development but doesn't have a specific release date or even basic window. There's not a ton of solid info yet, other than that it will be a re-imagining of Norrath rather than a sequel game in the exact same setting.
What MMORPG are you most excited about diving into next year, and what didn't make this list that you think should have been added? Let me know in the comments!