Let’s face it, the massively multiplayer gaming arena has become stagnant. With only a few exceptions here and there, anyone looking to join in on a new MMO can expect to see the exact same ideas churned out with slightly different graphical styles, from the beautiful but overly grindy Asian titles, to a slew of by-the-numbers fantasy games with the same basic quest layouts and crafting mechanics, they are all the same.
Games going free-to-play propped up the genre for a time, but even that seems to be failing to draw in huge numbers lately as players tire of talking to the village elder and killing X wildebeest time and again.
All is not lost though, and there’s hope for some serious game changers to arrive in the future. A handful of titles coming in the next year or two have the possibility of revolutionizing what it means to be an MMO, and thus saving this dying genre by injecting a fresh level of enthusiasm.
Key to this possible renewal are several game changing mechanics, from permadeath to survival elements.
Aging and Permadeath
Considering that developers want you to play in a living world for multi-year stretches, it’s odd how few MMOs have tried to implement legitimate aging systems where infrastructure crumbles and characters die of old age.
Looking to fill that void and permanently change the gaming landscape is Chronicles of Elyria, an incredibly ambitious game that features a mechanic normally thought anathema to all things massively multiplayer: permadeath.
That’s unquestionably a good way to get you invested in your character, knowing he/she’s going to die permanently if you aren’t careful. It also helps prevent the end-game boredom so typical of any MMORPG, as there will regularly be a new character to build up in a different way.
Like in real life, death is inevitable, as your character will age and eventually pass away. Further adding realism is how characters will change based on personal habits, from clothes getting dirty to bulges around the midsection developing if you eat more than you exercise. A much bigger look at this still early in development title is expected to be launched in just a handful of days at PAX East, so keep your eyes peeled!
On a similar note but with a different execution is Crowfall, featuring resetting campaigns that prevent any one player from always being on top and giving the player base a reason to keep going even after reaching “end game” content.
If one character is good, five characters would be better, right? We’ve already seen some squad-based MMO implementation recently with Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade, and there’s more of this style slated to come soon. It may not radically change everything about the genre, but it does expand the scope at least.
Long in the doldrums with no active news for years, it seems like Lineage Eternal is actually getting pushed towards a western release now and will put you in control of a four person squad. You primarily run one character at a time, with the others trailing behind, but you can switch between members of the group frequently, changing up the basic concept of one character at a time in any other MMORPG.
Did you dig the freedom and mass combat of Mount & Blade? The early access Tiger Knight takes that concept and puts it in a Chinese setting while offering each player a large group of soldiers to command in addition to your main character. It’s basically online large scale warfare as the main game mechanic, allowing the Total War crowd to have its own historical warfare MMO.
Once upon a time the term MMORPG exclusively meant something like World of Warcraft or Everquest. Nowadays the lines between massively multiplayer and other genres are starting to blur, with MOBAs in particular sitting in a position where they may as well already be called MMOs as well.
For instance, is Overwatch a “massively multiplayer” game? After all, it has no single player mode and revolves around large groups of players coming together for matches.
Now in beta, Mu Legend’s aesthetics strongly bring to mind any of the huge MOBAs like League of Legends, and adds in a strong action RPG element to the massively multiplayer style.
Going a totally different direction while combining some of those same MOBA aspects is the upcoming Cloud Pirates, taking us off the ground and going up into the sky. Who doesn’t want to be a sky pirate every now and again? Rather than upgrading your thief’s skills or your warrior’s sword, instead you unlock new airships, upgrade your cannons, and utilize new modules.
These cross genre games certainly aren’t limited to online battle arena mechanics either, and its a good bet we’ll see other styles continue to collide with MMOs in the future as developers break out of the typical massively multiplayer comfort zone. For something really unexpected, check out StarBreak, a Sega Genesis style platformer that also happens to be an MMO.
The perpetually early access Ark: Survival Evolved is essentially already an MMO, even if it isn’t officially labeled that, and has fewer players on a server than in a traditional massively multiplayer entry.
For those who want a true MMO experience where you can freeze or starve to death, there’s the long, long, long in development Dark And Light, which curiously also features dinosaurs, extracting ingredients from the landscape, and has a very similar menu screen.
The survival genre is just getting started to be explored in a serious way in the MMO genre, and expect to see more of these types of elements added in the future and to become just as much of a staple as player economies and crafting.
Other Potential MMO Changes
It remains to be seen if the promise of these upcoming MMOs can truly be delivered. Talk is cheap (just ask anyone who bought No Man’s Sky), while making good on all those development goals is much harder. With any luck we’ll get something akin to what’s been advertised, with aging, survival elements, cross-genre mash-ups, and squad-based play changing the face of the MMORPG world for years to come.
While the four major changes outlined above are very likely going to have a big impact on future MMO development, there are plenty of other welcome changes that could be game changers, like mixing offline with online (something Ultima: Shroud of the Avatar is currently working on).
There’s of course the long shadow being cast by the sorta kinda MMO Star Citizen, which increasingly feels like it will never be released, so its hard to gauge how well its claims will be implemented and what sort of impact the end product will have on the overall genre.
Another style change that hasn’t been implemented to the level it could is the non-combat focused MMO. Sadly, those that have been attempted so far — like the now-dead Seed — haven’t managed to hit the big leagues yet, so combat remains a major MMO focus over other possibilities.
Which of these impending games has you ready to jump back into the massively multiplayer arena, and what’s the biggest change you’d like to see the genre make in the coming years?