There’s enough titles on the horizon to warrant a post hitting the highlights. In no particular order, here’s what I’m looking forward to.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, likely late this year or early next. My initial impression was that we’d see it well before the end of the year, and the timing of the start of the opt-in beta seemed to back me up. Yet the details coming out of that beta reveal that much remians unfinished – too much to take a release now and fill in the gaps later approach. Maybe we’ll see it this year, but I’m starting to think February or so is a better estimate.
In any event, I’ve cooled on it considerably. I’m still interested, and I still think it will make WoW a better game in a number of ways, but I’m no longer stoked about it. Although I’ve certainly got my ear to the ground.
Star Wars: The Old Republic is looking mighty tired from where I’m sitting. It’s still at least a solid year away from release, so there’s hopefully aspects to the game we haven’t seen yet (with starship combat being the big one,) but what I see is a WoW-model game with Mass Effect-style dialogue and cinematics. Which is cool, as far as it goes, but it’s pretty obvious we’re not getting any significant innovations out of this game. That’s disappointing, especially considering how frustratingly close Star Wars Galaxies came to really fulfilling the potential of an MMO.
That doesn’t mean that SWTOR won’t be good or successful or fun. In fact, I’d be quite surprised if it weren’t all three, and I definitely plan to play it myself. However, BioWare appears to be trapping themselves even deeper in the fatigue/expansion cycle than Blizzard has with WoW, because the content is so elaborately constructed, and without some form of emergent gameplay I think the title’s long-term prospects are mediocre. Hopefully BioWare has surprises up its sleeve.
Guild Wars 2 is the title I’m currently most excited about. Enough that I’m fooling with GW1 again, as noted earlier. Of everything on the horizon it appears to embrace a form of emergent gameplay the most, even if it’s in a somewhat truncated and scripted form.
GW essentially takes Warhammer’s public quests and fixes them by doing two things: letting them scale to the number of player involved and making them the primary engine of character advancement. Then it ups the ante by promising tangible (but either temporary or instanced,) changes to the world resulting from the outcome of those encounters. This looks like a recipe for a type of game experience we really haven’t seen before.
GW2 also gets away from the GW not-really-an-MMO both in the game itself and in the marketing – ArenaNet is embracing the label this time around, by eliminating henchmen/heroes and adding a persistent world to adventure in. I’m a bit disappointed that ArenaNet didn’t follow one of its original ideas (batted around in the initial announcements back in 2007,) of having levels but no cap – that’s something I’d have liked to have seen, and I don’t think it’s impossible, even though no developer has done it yet. My best guess on a release date is late 2011.
Rift: Planes of Telara is the earliest of these four titles in its development, at least judging by appearances, and it’s by far the mostly likely to stall significantly before release. On the plus side it looks to have potential; on the minus it positively screams Vanguard all over again. Assuming development doesn’t fall apart what we might get is something that appeals to the old EQ nostalgia crowd, along with whatever post-EQ gamers with similar leanings it can pick up.
I actually think there’s a market for this. Although such a game is unlikely to be a big hit, a title that’s intelligently budgeted, well-designed and has realistic expectations as to how many subscribers it’s likely to get could stick around for a long while as a modestly successful entry in the market. And as CCP’s example shows, it is possible to build from there. Is Trion the next CCP? Or is Rift the next Vanguard?
Final Fantasy XIV, Dark Millennium and The Secret World are games I’ve no interest in currently, although I think the last has some potential and I’ll be keeping one eye on it. I may check out DC Universe Online for the PS3, but the video I’ve seen of it looks terrible, so I hope to all the gods there’s a demo – otherwise I’ll be passing.
Lastly, there’s the game we know the least about, CCP’s World of Darkness Online. I expect to start seeing some real details on this some time in 2011 – all CCP has confirmed so far is that it’s in development, and I expect that EVE’s Incarna is the major holdup, since WoDO will use the same engine. So we’ll likely see details on both within the same general time frame. In any case, though, I wouldn’t expect a release before 2012 at the earliest, which tempers my enthusiasm in the here and now. Nevertheless, CCP is the company that best understands what an MMO is and should be, and WoDO has the most potential of anything currently in the pipeline.