Massively multiplayer online games have long suffered from a nauseating lack of originality, smothered in an endless monotony of grinding away on dire rabbits for experience points and completing a never-ending strings of cookie-cutter, carrot-on-a-stick fetch quests. That trend continues even to this day, as unimaginative clones promise a revolution while blatantly clamoring to be the next World of Warcraft. GamesBeat has sifted through dozens of current and upcoming MMO titles to see if any of them are actually worth a damn so that you don’t have to.
In the following pages, you’ll find the six most innovative and exciting MMOs available or coming soon as well as four more that look promising but that we haven’t had the chance to test out yet. You’ll notice that these MMOs mostly stray away from the typical fantasy settings as well as the mindless point-and-click combat that has dominated the scene for far too long.
Please feel free to share any standout MMOs of your own in the comments below or your thoughts on our picks. Not every game resonates the same way with every player, but we can’t denying that these handful of titles are at least pushing the genre in interesting new directions.
Blade & Soul
We listed Blade & Soul among last year’s most anticipated MMOs, and many months later, a Western release has yet to come. Still, the wait has only allowed the anticipation for this fantastical, highly stylistic martial arts epic to intensify.
Centered around famed Korean artist Hyung-Tae Kim’s beautiful visual design with gameplay inspired by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers, Blade & Soul really is positioning itself to stand out from its innumerable competition.
The game’s story arc has also seemingly received more attention than most MMOs, but we’ll have to judge that for ourselves at a later date. Either way, Blade & Soul is already one of the best-looking games in the world, period.
Guild Wars 2 publisher NCSoft is in the process of localizing Blade & Soul, but no release date or even beta details have been given at this time. For me, personally, Blade & Soul seems like it will be an excellent replacement for TERA, which featured equally beautiful graphics and similar action-based combat but became a little too grind-heavy around level 30. Now that TERA’s free-to-play, definitely check it out if you haven’t already.
Firefall made last year’s list as well, and since then, Red 5 Studios (comprised of former Blizzard Entertainment staffers, among others) has pushed forward on the player-versus-environment (PvE) content, which is where my interests lie. Up until recently, Red 5 have been focusing heavily on making Firefall a serious contender in the e-sports arena with state-of-the-art shoutcasting, spectating tools, and its signature fast-paced player-versus-player (PvP) third- and first-person shooting.
With open beta set for July 9, the team is rapidly expanding the variety of content in the game to appeal to a broader range of playstyles. The battleframe system has also been reworked several times over to provide more meaningful options to both new and longtime players. As a solo player, I started off with the Engineer battleframe so I’d always at least have a soulless, merciless auto-turret to keep me company, but I quickly upgraded to the advanced Bastion battleframe, which allows me to have three instead of one autonomous killing machines at my side.
Also of note is all the effort Red 5 has put into its community and lore-building. From celebrity livestream events to an ongoing manga fleshing out the in-game story, Firefall extends far beyond the walls of MMO trappings. It really feels like a developer who’s gone “all in” on this project, so whether it succeeds or crashes and burns like the ill-fated CMS Arclight, at least you’ll know that the game was made by people who wanted to and not people who had to because their publisher wanted an MMO on its résumé.
For those who want in on the game before the open beta, Firefall has three tiers of founder packages available with immediate access, permanent experience bonuses, and additional in-game items and currency.
When I first heard Digital Extremes was funding its own free-to-play online co-op space ninja game, I was immediately on board. The triple-A independent developer was behind the criminally underrated Dark Sector (a masterfully violent shooter whose proprietary engine rivaled the then-cutting edge Gears of War) and the more recent The Darkness II (as well as the Star Trek movie tie-in, which we’ll assume it did just to help fund Warframe.) So Digital Extremes has earned some trust, and it seems Warframe is the game it wanted to make all along, according to creative director Steven Sinclair in GamesBeat’s exclusive interview.
There’s a lot to like about this growing game and its increasingly varied content, but the crazy cinematic action definitely takes center stage. Unfortunately, no one can be told how awesome Warframe is. You have to see it for yourself:
The Warframe team also shared some of its favorite warframes to use in-game and its most memorable moments using them:
Rebecca Ford, Warframe community manager:
I’m going to have to go with Ember, the real Girl On Fire (take that, Katniss Everdeen!). I’m a sucker for fire-based things (Charmander, anyone?), and the execution of dominating fire attacks is my exact play style. My favorite moment with Ember would have to be when I hopped in a game mid-session, when a group of strangers were doing an infested mission. I spawned, grabbed one energy sphere, had my third power ready to go (Fire Blast), and jumped into a swarm of infested and unleashed. Havok and chaos ensued, and Ember was a hero!
Mitch Gladney, level designer:
The Warframe that I like the most is Excalibur. To me, this frame is the poster boy of the game, and I always play games as the title character. He also looks so cool; I often catch him looking at himself in reflective surfaces throughout the ships.
I’ve had a lot of memorable moments with Excalibur, but one instance stands out the most to me. I was playing with three other people, and we were holed up in a hallway with about two dozen Corpus Walkers and Crewmen advancing toward us. One of my squad members — we’ll call him Johnny — was always the bravest of us four, so without hesitation, he sprinted out into the firestorm. We all watched in horror as he was pummeled by bullets. He was lucky to survive, quickly ducking behind a data terminal for cover. Everyone froze up; we were all scared. The next seven seconds felt like eight seconds. I leaned out to scout the area and was shot multiple times. Johnny was still recovering, and the other two, Doris and Joshua, were cowering together, asking each other to give a note to their loved ones if they didn’t make it. I’d seen enough. I leapt from my cover and yelled, “I’m the hall monitor; show me your pass.” Nobody heard me because the gunfire was too loud and I may not have said it but rather just thought it … ah. I wish I had said it. Anyway, I performed my Slash Dash and obliterated a bunch of enemies. This brief break in their assault gave my squad the chance to come out from hiding and dispose of the rest of the Corpi. We don’t talk about that moment much these days — too many painful memories — but to this day, they still thank me. They don’t say anything, but I know they are grateful.
Steve Sinclair, creative director:
FROST! Because I go for the new and shiny. I love that [role-playing game] trope of freezing a dude and then shattering, like back in Baldur’s Gate Dark Alliance … . Frost is just too damn cool (sorry, couldn’t resist).
PlanetSide 2 is a truly impressive massively multiplayer first-person shooter. I honestly can’t even fathom the technical infrastructure it takes to pull off a game where thousands of players simultaneously battle it out in an open-world continent spanning 24 square miles, especially when so many modern “triple-A” games look worse and yet struggle just trying to keep six to 10 players in the same lobby.
I think the developers explained it best themselves when we asked them what some of their most memorable moments were:
Released publicly on November 12 last year, Sony Online Entertainment has laid out an extensive feature road map, which allows players to vote, discuss, and see upcoming game features. The free-to-play MMOFPS offers benefits for subscribers, with XP bonuses being a popular choice yet again, as well as in-game currency for purchasing cosmetic items.
The only real downside I felt PlanetSide 2 has embedded in its DNA is a convoluted unlock system similar to Battlefield 3, where players at lower levels, no matter how skilled they may be, will have a sizable disadvantage going up against less skilled players with better equipment. This is true of most modern shooters (and is creeping into many other genres as well thanks to the success of Call of Duty), but I felt the slog needed to get any worthwhile upgrades, items, or weapons was an annoying barrier to entry intentionally designed to draw out the overall playtime. The thing that so many developers and publishers looking to copy Call of Duty don’t seem to understand is that if the game is fun, players will keep coming back no matter what.
Although Dragon’s Prophet does dip a little too close to the standard repetitive gameplay that’s bogged down fantasy MMOs since before EverQuest, the Pokémon-esque approach to dragon collecting gives a worthwhile incentive to keep grinding on.
While I’m not condoning the unimaginative combat and quests or the game’s surprisingly aged visuals, there’s definitely something awesome about catching and training dragons and then riding them into battle against slightly oversized sheep.
And since that was a surprisingly succinct overview of my feelings on the game, here’s Sony Online Entertainment senior producer Todd Carson’s take:
Dragons are some of the most idolized mythological creatures, and we’re bringing that mythology to life with Dragon’s Prophet. Dragon’s Prophet transports players to one of the most imaginative worlds one could experience. Dragon’s Prophet allows players to fight, train, capture, and ride hundreds of unique dragons. The game features more fierce, fiery, and majestic legendary winged beasts than any other online game. Along with the obscene variety and amount of dragons in game, Dragon’s Prophet offers a unique open-crafting system that actually allows players to gather resources for and practice all crafting systems. The system is also fully dragon-integrated and will be the de facto game for dragon fans everywhere.
Dragon’s Prophet is currently offering “VIP beta access” and exclusive in-game content with a trio of premium Dragon Packs.
Speaking of collecting virtual pets, Spacetime Studios’ Arcane Legends definitely covers that area with dozens of animals, creatures, and even a shark with a mechanical jaw to purchase or unlock. The game resembles the same colorful visuals and dungeon-crawling action as Torchlight 2, but it’s for iOS, Google Play, and the Google Chrome Store.
After honing its craft with the award-winning and supremely successful Pocket Legends (as well as Star Legends and Dark Legends), Spacetime Studios has delivered a thoroughly enjoyable mobile alternative to all the PC MMOs featured in this article.
Games to keep an eye on
Unlike the rest of the featured games, GamesBeat hasn’t had a chance to take the following MMOs for a spin just yet. They’ve definitely got our interest piqued, so stay tuned for additional coverage on these promising titles: