It's hard to believe that it has already been more than a decade since EverQuest and World of Warcraft first got gamers addicted to massively multiplayer games. A lot has changed since the genre became popular, but in the last few years one of those changes has been a steady decline in subscription-paying players.
Many of the well-established MMORPGs have grown outdated and new launches have stumbled off the starting block. All of that was set to change in 2014 though, with some very reliable AAA developers rolling out a batch of new-gen MMOs. Unfortunately, many of the new games and expansions didn't quite live up to the hype. At the end of 2014, here's a look back at the best and worst of the current MMO landscape...
The follow list divides the five MMOs we were most excited for in 2014 into two categories: Best and Worst.
WildStar launched over the summer and offered PC gamers a trip to the fictional planet Nexus, where they can fight for The Dominion or The Exiles. The sci-fi MMO launched to positive reviews (it currently holds an 82 on metacritic) thanks to its fresh movement and combat systems. Things were definitely looking good for WildStar players working their way through the 50 levels available at launch, but the honeymoon period didn't last.
Unfortunately, WildStar's problems became apparent once players hit max level. As hardcore MMO players like to say, the game doesn't start until you hit max level, and in WildStar's case, there were some serious problems that many early reviews overlooked by not considering the end-game content in their scores (read: they didn't play it through). WildStar's end-game content catered almost exclusively to hardcore raiders, which is an end-game model that even WoW has moved away from. If you have hours and hours to dedicate to end-game dungeons, and are patient enough to work with large groups of other players on a regular basis, then you'll likely have a blast in WildStar. Unfortunately, there just isn't enough content designed to engage the more casual MMO players, who happen make up the majority of the customer base.
The Elder Scrolls Online
The first online attempt in The Elder Scrolls franchise caused a lot of complaints in the months leading up to its launch when fans found out that the game would require a controversial $15/month subscription fee. Aside from WoW (which has a decade of customer loyalty) and niche titles like EVE Online, very few MMOs have been able to successfully maintain a playerbase while requiring subscription fees. Despite the writing on the wall, ZeniMax stuck to its guns and insisted that TESO was designed from the ground up with a subscription model in mind. Considering that the game had 772,000 paying players over the summer, it's quite possible that the company made the right choice.
ESO isn't a bad MMO by any stretch, but the problem is that it is not worth the premium cost unless you are already very invested in the Elder Scrolls world. Hardcore fans of the series will likely get more than their money's worth questing through the fantasy world and leveling through the Veteran system. Unfortunately, the game just doesn't offer anything unique or new enough to justify the cost of entry for more casual gamers.
Star Wars: The Old Republic (Shadow of Revan)
In the last three years, SWTOR has evolved significantly. The game launched with the promise of delivering the equivalent of Knights of the Old Republic 3-10, but has since regretted that approach. In many ways, BioWare's greatest strength (cinematic story-telling) was one of the game's problems from the get-go. MMO fans wanted more MMO and less story and Star Wars/BioWare fans wanted more story without the MMO grind. The game has since dropped its required subscription fee and attempted to find a way to please all of its fans.
The latest expansion, Shadow of Revan, gives lore-heads what they've been asking for with a spotlight on the iconic franchise villain. The expansion streamlines the storymode by only offering one story for all classes with slight dialogue changes based on faction (rather than a totally original story for each class). The new content is a step up from the two recent free expansions, but doesn't do much to change the game aside from add a few levels and reset the end-game loot grind. Aside from the appearance of Revan, the expansion offers no real motivation for new fans to sign up or for old players to return.
There's no denying that Destiny could use a lot more content to keep grinders busy. The game lacks the variety available in other MMOs, but the first-person shooter still finds its way into the Best column thanks to its addicting gear progression and fresh spin on the FPS formula. Destiny's story may been generic and lacking, but for most of the fall we were too busy hunting down gear upgrades and experience while raiding to even notice. The Bungie MMO (the definition is debatable) offers an awesome variety of challenges for different skill and gear levels with Strikes, Raids, PvP, and the ability to replay any of the story missions at different difficulty settings.
Destiny has the benefit of managing to squeeze its launch and first major expansion into the 2014 window, but that really only earned it a few extra levels of content. At this point, Destiny is poised to stay at the top of the must-play MMO list as long as new Raids and Strikes are offered on a regular basis.
World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor
When Blizzard announced that Project Titan was dead, it was hard not to worry that the company may be ready to bury MMOs all together. A month after that announcement, Warlords of Draenor launched and totally reinvigorated the WoW community. The expansion puts an emphasis on an exciting story that drives players through ten new levels of content. Gameplay is simplified (yet again) to make it easier for new players to jump into the game at level 90 and not be totally lost, but the game doesn't feel dumbed down. Experienced players can level through most of the new content without much of a challenge, but there is plenty to keep them busy in the end-game.
Level 100 is a little light on raiding content right now, but the Molten Core anniversary runs are keeping raiders busy through the holiday. That, in addition to Heroic dungeons and Garrison quests, are enough to keep most fans logging in on a daily basis and getting good value for the $15 per month price of playing the new content.
If you're only going to play one MMO this year, Warlords of Draenor is the one not to miss. The level 90 character boost gives any gamer the opportunity to jump right into the fun in Draenor. Warlords may not reinvent the MMO, but it takes everything that has made it great in the last decade and throws players right into the middle of it.