The State of MMOs in 2017
Since the days of EverQuest, Ultima Online, and The Realm Online, MMOs have been the backbone of online gaming. These are the games 20-somethings like myself went to as a kid when they got home from school to escape reality. These are the games where you could be something online that years before you could have never imagined creating and experiencing. An immersive gameplay experience combined with social and competitive interaction with other players is something magical.
I see a lot of people saying that MMOs are a dying breed, though. Are MOBAs and battle royale shooters taking over? There's no questioning the success of games like League of Legends and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds as of recent, but let's not count MMOs out just yet. Let's talk about what happened with MMOs in the past year.
The Biggest Standouts
There were two games this year that really stood out to me. That's not to say that they were necessarily the two best MMOs of 2017, but they far exceeded my expectations. Both happen to be some of the most hardcore games of the year, too.
Black Desert Online
It'd be a cliché to say Black Desert Online came out of nowhere. It came straight out of Korea, and when it hit North America and Europe, it sent hardcore MMO enthusiasts into a frenzy.
Black Desert Online closed out its first year in March of 2017 with 1.5 million NA players and 1.7 million EU players. Bear in mind, these are statistics from before it came to Steam. When it did drop on Steam, popular variety streamer summit1g helped Black Desert Online hit a new peak when he was addicted to it on stream for several weeks.
Black Desert Online came to the West at a time when MMOs had already gone soft, and this game is anything but that. Everything is uncapped. When you grind in Black Desert Online, you grind hard. Players hit the soft level cap and will work for months and months just to get to that next level. It gets to the point where that next percent becomes the goal. It's grueling. The item upgrading in this game is just as unforgiving, and you're going to eventually lose pieces of the best items in the game just by sacrificing them to a completely RNG-based enchantment system.
The hurt brings the joy for hardcore players, though, and this game is incredibly addicting. It's non-linear in the way that you don't have to grind mobs or quest if you don't want to. You can do nothing but fish or cook all day, and you'll eventually be able to power level your character and make good money.
The year rounded out in a not-so-great way for the people behind Black Desert Online. Users were able to mine and leak extremely sensitive game data that helps players better understand stat efficiency on their gear. One of the biggest puzzles in this game lies within the way that gear statistics offer very little insight. Stats like AP, DP, and Accuracy have limited math behind them, and for a long time it's been up to the community to test and understand what they mean and how they perform on each item. In the last quarter of this year, that information was made public, and Pearl Abyss did everything in their power to cover it up.
Path of Exile
I know that there's a lot of debate around whether Path of Exile is a "true MMO" or not, being that you aren't interacting in an open world, but 2017 pushed the envelope on that a little further. While I'd still question the degree to which it's "massively" multiplayer, there are nevertheless features like guilds and trading. There are even ways to PvP in certain game modes. Not only that, but Path of Exile's community is a big part of the game. You're going to have to rely on them for a lot of things, especially trading, and this alone is going to make the game feel like more of a multiplayer experience, be it head-to-head or cooperative.
With that out of the way, Path of Exile is everything that Diablo III should have been (and more). I don't think it's even up for debate that Path of Exile is the best multiplayer online ARPG out right now, and easily one of the best of all time.
The Fall of Oriath, the sixth expansion for Path of Exile, was released in August of this year. As the largest content update in the history of the game, it's often called "Path of Exile 3.0." I don't think anyone expected a small, independent video game developer from New Zealand to come out as one of the most successful and celebrated companies among its customers. Nonetheless, Grinding Gear Games is just that.
Before The Fall of Oriath, Path of Exile was four acts. Afterward, it was ten. That's six acts in a single expansion, effectively doubling the content of the game. This information floored the Path of Exile community, including myself, when it was released. With these acts came 24 new bosses and a whole slew of balance changes that were mostly welcomed with open arms.
Path of Exile's depth and complexity make it a game that has near-infinite replayability. With every new character you make, every new node tick in the passive skill tree, every new Skill gem in every socket of every new weapon, it's a new experience. The looting system in Path of Exile is disgustingly diverse. The way you can socket gems to your gear reminds me of Materia in Final Fantasy VII. Every part of this game feels like you're writing the code of your player as you develop it, and that feels so good.
The "Holy Trinity"
World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XIV, and Elder Scrolls Online are at the top of the MMO food chain. Let's talk about what happened with these games in 2017.
World of Warcraft
2017 was the year of Legion, and with month after month of patches, Blizzard did a fine job in delivering a story and gameplay experience that's richer and more captivating than that of any other MMO that comes to mind.
World of Warcraft's year started with the release of a ten-boss raid featuring Gul'dan. Blizzard later introduced a micro-holiday system that gave players old and new a serious thirst to log in and see what special events awaited them for the day. PvP saw a new system of brawling, where 6-on-6 battles took over and really changed the landscape of a stale and boring PvP meta to make it fun and experimental again.
The year then closed out with two massive WoW-related announcements at BlizzCon that we'll get into later on in this piece.
Final Fantasy XIV
If you told me in 2010, when Final Fantasy XIV was released, that people would still be playing it in 2017, then I'd think you were crazy. We'd definitely be up to something like Final Fantasy XIX by 2017, right? Well, right now may actually be the best time ever to get into the game.
Final Fantasy XIV was originally received as a broken game that required far too much grinding. Square Enix even issued an apology for the quality of Final Fantasy XIV, and many fans were sure that its failures were leading to a major scar on the brand. In 2013, A Realm Reborn was released, and it corrected so many issues that originally plagued the game. In 2015, we were given Heavensward. With each expansion, Final Fantasy XIV was getting better and better. That seems natural and obvious, but games like World of Warcraft have playercount charts that peaked about five years after release and then declined from there. We're entering the eighth year with Final Fantasy XIV. Instead of falling off, it recently entered the list of top 10 subscriber-based MMOs in history.
We haven't even talked about the 2017 expansion, though. Stormblood started off rocky, but things have really panned out. Stormblood is another success that continues to push this MMO higher and higher on the charts. The newest expansion introduced swift swordsmen and red mages, underwater exploration, and a plethora of beautiful new zones.
Final Fantasy XIV is now at 10 million subscribers. To put it into perspective, the best MMO of all-time, World of Warcraft, is sitting at 12 million. There's no denying the massive success and continuation of this MMO powerhouse.
Elder Scrolls Online
Elder Scrolls Online started similarly to how Final Fantasy XIV did. Things didn't go as planned, promises were broken, and the community was fractured by a game that was less than they expected. You couldn't quest freely, you couldn't explore the world cooperatively, and friends couldn't even play together. It practically wasn't even an MMO.
That all changed years ago, and in 2017, Elder Scrolls Online is one of the most attractive and popular MMOs out. The game kicked off 2017 with fireworks upon the announcement of Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind. If you know anything about the Elder Scrolls franchise, you know the fanatical following behind this zone. Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind ended up being a massive success.
The Morrowind DLC also introduced the Warden class, the first new class in four years. It ended up being one of the most unique and diverse classes in the game. This year was also the year of player houses in Elder Scrolls Online. Homesteads allows you to purchase homes in Tamriel, and the decorating and customization options are fantastic. Player houses are fully functional, allowing you to craft, read, and participate in other activities. When you're not questing and developing your character, perfecting your house is something that you're going to spend an obsessive amount of hours on. It's a really great touch to the game.
Creativity and quirkiness is something to be appreciated in a game genre that is so old and on a very narrow path, and Albion Online does bring that. This is another one of those "super hardcore" MMOs, in a class with Black Desert Online, that I recommend for people who feel like they missed out on getting into games like RuneScape or Ultima Online.
Albion Online is an MMORPG with sandbox elements that are going to make you want to play for the long haul. That's what you're going to have to do too, because collecting resources is going to be a massive grind. Albion Online offers a medieval, cross-platform world where every battle is different and PvP is a looting extravaganza. Give this one a shot if you're a nostalgic gamer who wants something that looks and feels like the old days but really plays like new.
It's sad to see what has happened to ArcheAge. When it first released, my friends and I were extremely excited about the sandbox experience and claiming a small piece of the world's land as our own. What we instead got was an MMORPG riddled with hackers that used bots and other automated tools to claim those land plots the second they became available.
Unlike Final Fantasy XIV and Elder Scrolls Online, XL Games wasn't quick enough in correcting these issues, and 2017 was a year where we saw a lot of red in the playercount charts. There's just no reason to play ArcheAge when games like Black Desert Online were at their high point in 2017.
Yes, still. WildStar was released as one of the most hyped fantasy/sci-fi MMOs under NCSOFT in 2014. Three years later, it's sitting at an average of about 190 concurrent on Steam.
The sad part isn't that WildStar failed but that Carbine Studios doesn't seem to have any plans on how to fix it or what to do with it. WildStar just kind of ... exists. When's the last time you heard about this MMO? Probably not for years, and that's because nothing major and exciting has come out lately. Homecoming and Power of the Primal Matrix were both flops and not nearly as large as promised. It's sad to see such wasted potential in a game that looked incredibly unique and promising.
All the Rest
Guild Wars 2 actually had a pretty solid year despite it being one of the more "quiet" MMOs. You don't hear a lot about this game, but what if I told you it was reported to have 11 million active players back in September?
Path of Fire was a massively popular content expansion. ArenaNet dubbed Heart of Thorns a "feature expansion," so players really looked forward to this. This Guild Wars 2 expansion took players to the Crystal Desert to experience crazy new mounts, new masteries, and new elite specializations.
I was happy to see RuneScape continue to live on for yet another year, both OSRS and RS3. One of the oldest MMOs still kicking saw changes to weather, pets, the bank, mining and smithing, and the Elder Gods in 2017. It's not just nostalgia that's keeping RuneScape's heart beating, but it's surely a big part.
Although the Steam Charts don't seem to reflect 2017 being a great year for EVE Online, this space-based, persistent world is far from dead.
In October of 2016, it was announced that EVE Online would follow a new free-to-play model. In October of this year, we learned that this free-to-play program was about to get majorly upgraded. Free players now have access to a massive amount of new skills and ships that are surely going to bring a surge in activity to this economy-driven classic. Lifeblood brought mining and pirates, with more to come in 2018.
Conclusion and Looking Ahead
For MMOs, 2017 saw a lot of familiar faces, and there's nothing wrong with that. Those same familiar faces will very well be the ones steering us into a successful 2018.
Not only did BlizzCon 2017 tease us with one of the most amazing-looking expansions coming in 2018, Battle for Azeroth, but they also seem to be bringing vanilla back. World of Warcraft private servers that emulate the game's early days were massively successful, and Blizzard has been criticized for their actions against these servers. Will World of Warcraft Classic be the solution? It's got to be one of the most exciting things heading into 2018!
Other titles like Bless Online, Sea of Thieves, Chronicles of Elyria, and Crowfall keep us hopeful for the new blood of 2018.
I definitely can't close out this piece without talking about Camelot Unchained. As someone who absolutely loves nostalgic titles and personally believes that we're long past the glory days of MMOs, revisiting Dark Age of Camelot is at the top of my MMO bucket list for next year.
Games like Black Desert Online, Final Fantasy XIV, and Elder Scrolls Online show that 2017 isn't the year where MMOs surrender as ready to die, and I expect that this continues into next year.
What were your favorite MMOs of this year, and what MMOs are you looking forward to going into 2018? There are a lot of MMOs out there to talk about, and surely they haven't all been discussed in this article. Drop me a comment below, and we'll talk about your favorite (or least favorite) of the past year.
Check out more of our articles reviewing 2017 and looking forward into 2018: