The future of MMORPGs

Despite great leaps forward over the last five years, MMORPGs have remained a minority pursuit. Jordan takes a look at the next batch hoping to make their way into the living rooms of gamers...

MMORPGs

If you’re in a relationship, you’ll have come across the following phenomenon before: something has set you off on a passionate monologue, extolling the virtues of some comic, film, or TV show, and you notice your partner shift in their chair. He or she straightens their back, and smiles, eyes wide open and encouraging.

“This is great!” you think. “They’re really interested in the breeding habits of banthas! Maybe tomorrow we can.. Oh. Wait.”

It’s dawning on you, isn’t it?

“They’re trying. They’re trying really hard to listen, because they love me.”

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Whilst this heart-warming thought bubbles away at the back of your mind, something more pressing refuses to give up its position at the front.

“I’m bloody well enjoying telling them about this, and I shall continue. Maybe they’ll even get into it.”

Wake up and smell the orange soda, fool. They may love you now, but don’t push your luck.

And there is nothing more luck-pushing than expounding your love for an MMORPG, that’s a Massively Mulitplayer Online Role Playing Game, for those noobs not in the know.

Even the act of explaining that acronym to a loved one marks you out as a special kind of nerd. If you try ‘grinding’, ‘EXP’ or ‘PvP’ you may as well just say goodbye now. No amount of “but it’s a social thing, really” will be able to save you.

MMO players are looked down upon even by other gamers, like the cool kids in the first-person shooter crowd, who are oblivious to the fact that the really cool kids are looking down on all of us. We all look the same from up there.

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Gamers have been told for many years now that we’re on the cusp of change in the world(s) of the MMORPG. Apparently, they’re about to ‘go mainstream’. Hmm. This is one hell of a cusp.

Developers are aiming for the next batch of games to be simple enough to be picked up by the average gamer, while still retaining the complexity beloved by veterans of the genre. That would be an impressive balancing act.

And so, here are our last, best hopes before we all just admit that anything that can only be summed up by an acronym containing more syllables than most full sentences is strictly geek only.

Final Fantasy XIV

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Square Enix’s previous massively multiplayer effort, Final Fantasy XI, is nearly eight years old now (at least as far as Japanese players are concerned), and the time is right for an overhaul.

The Final Fantasy name may provide enough appeal for JRPG fans to give this one a whirl, but for those unfamiliar with the gravity-defying hair and out-sized weaponry that are the hallmarks of this great series, there may not be enough here in terms of originality to draw in the newbies.

It lands on PC on 30 September, with a PlayStation 3 version set to follow in March 2011.

Guild Wars 2

The original Guild Wars was a departure from the typical when it came to MMOs. For a start, there was no subscription cost, and opinion settled on it playing more like a single-player game with multiplayer elements. That said, it was and is a much loved game by those who play it, and it is expected that those people will migrate over to the sequel upon its release, along with the hoped for influx of new players.

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It may not have the brand power of FFXIV, but this could be the fantasy title that finally gives World Of Warcraft a reason to look over its shoulder. Speaking of which…

World Of Warcraft

Yes, ok, so it’s not strictly upcoming per se, but since 2004, the Blizzard behemoth has been pulling in the punters like nothing else, and looks to show no signs of slowing down. Indeed, fans are preparing for the release of World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, an expansion which is expected to arrive before the end of the year.

WOW is the archetypal MMORPG, as well as the most successful, and for good reason. One of the great strengths of the game, from the time it was launched, was the ability to pull in players regardless of their previous experience of the game type or how powerful their PC is.

If you’re considering trying an MMO, you can’t go far wrong with the reigning champ. And anyone who saw the South Park episode Make Love, Not Warcraft would surely have been itching to at least give it a go.

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DC Universe Online

This could well turn out to be a comic book fan’s dream. Create your own superhero, and fight alongside your favourite DC characters (Batman, Superman, Flash, Green Lantern, and many others) against a legendary rogues gallery headed by the Joker.

Not much is known about the game yet, despite its November release date, but you can expect that there will be a good deal of player vs player ruckus.

There have been superhero MMOs before this one, City Of Heroes, as well as Champions Online, which grew out of the cancellation of a Marvel-based game. And this is where DCUO has the edge. It’s full of characters that we know and love, which may prove crucial to pulling in DC fans picked up from the comics, movies, games and cartoons.

The game arrives in November, and will be available for PC and PlayStation 3.

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Star Wars: The Old Republic

Now we’re talking. It wasn’t that long ago that Star Wars fanboys were salivating over the prospect of following in the footsteps of their favourite character in Sony Online Entertainment’s Star Wars: Galaxies. For many reasons, the game struggled to find an audience, and the audience it did find packed up and left when Sony decided to change the game completely without informing them. Whoopsy.

Bioware will have seen all of this unfold, of course, and hopefully will have learned from Sony’s mistakes. With its RPG pedigree (Baldur’s Gate, Mass Effect, Dragon Age: Origins) hopes are high for this, its maiden MMO.

The Old Republic is, essentially, a multiplayer version of Bioware’s fantastic Xbox hit, Knights Of The Old Republic. Which is reason to be very excited, indeed.

Bioware’s storytelling strengths combined with the Star Wars license may be the best bet yet of drawing in that elusive and sizeable group of gamers who have, up until now, seen no good reason to fork out a monthly fee for a game they already own.

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Star Wars: The Old Republic will be available for PC sometime in the first half of 2011.

Are any of these games going to persuade you to dip your toe into the dark waters of an MMORPG? Have we missed a classic in the making off the list? Let us know what you think!

Oh, and 10 EXP to those who got the Kenan And Kel reference.