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The Future of MMOs: Looking Ahead At Star Wars, Titan, Firefall, The Secret World, and Beyond!

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Posted October 17, 2011 - By Guest Writer



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The Future of MMOs: Looking Ahead At Star Wars, Titan, Firefall, The Secret World, and Beyond!

This week of Epictober is dedicated to PC gaming, and MMOs are the perennial PC-only genre. In the article below, we whip out our crystal balls and look into the future of the genre.

What's coming in the future of MMOs? Ding. Grind. Ding. Grind. Every MMO is the same old repetitive time drain. Except they're not, not even close, and it only takes a look to the future big names of the online scene to see how MMOs are changing. From shooters pitting thousands of players against each other in what can only be described as a territorial war to players working together to unpiece the mystery of the lost city of Atlantis, not one of the MMOs on this list fits neatly into the mould. Developers now have the hardware and bandwith power to set their ambitions sky-high and attempt incredible things, and that's exactly what they're doing in the name of bringing people all over the world together to play and have fun.

Some of the MMOs don't even have levelling, while others are shunning subscriptions. Three of the 10 games aren't even close to role-playing games, while seven are brand spanking new IPs. Some are set deep in the realms of futuristic space, be they with lightsabers or bunny girls, while others throw into lush fantasy worlds full of splendour to be explored. Some are set more modern-day, with players travelling all over the world to investigate the unknown or to simply take it from the enemy with big old tanks. And bless 'em, some just give you a gun and send you on your way.

And that's just the games on the list. Even outside of the 10 picks, the honourable-mentions section is so star-studded with the kind of names that get any player, be they a long-term MMO fan or no, salivating with anticipation. This may just part of a series of articles looking at the future of games, but let's face it, the future is here and it is spelt with three letters.

The Secret World Gamescom 2011 Cinematic Trailer »



The Secret World
Release Date: April 2012

MMORPGs set in more contemporary settings than those of your typical fantasy or space-based affair have had a history of not faring well; just look at Hellgate: London, The Agency, and The Matrix Online.

The Secret World looks to change all that. It mixes traditional MMORPG combat with a world and plot that has more in common with the likes of The X-Files, Buffy, and The Da Vinci Code. As with Dan Brown's work, the world of Funcom's MMO is one where the conspiracy theory nuts are always right; there are incredible secrets dormant in the pyramids, living cities hidden in the earth's core, and noxious zombies wandering the streets of New England. Players will join secret societies to investigate these paranormal happenings and work together to decipher the methods behind the madness. With such an emphasis on plot and personality, it's unsurprising that in-game missions will be built heavily around cut scenes and voice acting, but it's the riskier ventures that tickle my interest.

The Secret World will shun classes and levels, instead basing progression around the 500 or so available skills players can acquire and build sets of like card decks. Missions will be tiered, meaning players can drop out and back into them in stages. Some missions will even ask players to surface their inner Robert Langdon as they search for real-life historical clues to unlock the game's mythical secrets.It's an ambitious project and it goes against the tide, but if The Secret World can bring alive its real-life modern locations with a high quality story then it could prove the most exciting MMO on this list.

Defining Feature: A contemporary-set MMO which hopefully works -- it's somehow still a rarity

WildStar Cinematic Announcement Trailer »



Wildstar

Release Date: TBA

At this year's Gamescom, NCSoft finally revealed what the all-star team of Carbine Studios had quietly been working on for the last few years. I was there in Germany and was one of the first lucky enough to see Wildstar in action, and I was impressed. Derivative-looking it may be, but it's definitely a MMORPG to look out for.

Everything these days is essentially derivative at its core anyway, and Carbine clearly isn't fussed about its futuristic fantasy characters and worlds looking familiar. If you couldn't gather it by looking at the chiseled jaw of the gruff-talking space cowboy or by the revealing plate armor of the purple-haired bunny girl, the emphasis in Wildstar's presentation is on lush, colorful fun. The innovative elements will hopefully be found in the dynamic play. The actions players take, be it in the creatures they choose to kill, the characters they talk to, and the skills they acquire along the way will all have ramifications for the landscape of Wildstar's world. It's very early days so it's hard to know just how deep those ramifications will go, but the notion of dynamic play is an exciting new movement in the MMO scene. Wildstar is one of the games looking to be at the forefront of it.

Defining Feature: The buzzword is dynamic play, and Carbine thinks Wildstar will deliver it in spades

End Of Nations "RTS Goes Massive" Trailer »



End of Nations
Release date: TBA 2012


Those following the progress of End of Nations may be concerned by the news that it will now be free-to-play, but developer Petroglyph and publisher Trion Worlds are convinced it's the right move for the MMORTS.

I hope they'll be proven right because End of Nations certainly has the potential to be a success. Stripped down to its core, the game is essentially a standard and familiar futuristic military RTS with rock-paper-scissors play reminiscent of classics like Starcraft and Command and Conquer. However, sat on top of this is an interesting layer of MMORPG progression, customization, and interaction. Players are able to unlock new units and abilities as they level up, letting them tailor and fine-tune their armies. They can take part in huge battles involving as many as 52 players in versus and co-op, as well as the Risk-like "Conquer the World" meta-game.

Encouragingly, non-paying players will have access to everything significant, with in-game purchases seemingly limited to cosmetics. Hopefully the model will work for Trion, and the game will work for players.

Defining Feature: Taking part in huge-scale multiplayer battles which impact upon long-running meta-games

Star Wars: The Old Republic "Signs of War" Trailer »



Star Wars: The Old Republic
Release date: December 20, 2011

Is it really two months away? Are we really going to see the bastions of the Western RPG, BioWare, release their debut MMO which is no less than a follow-up to one of their most highly acclaimed projects? Really?

It somehow appears that the answer to these questions is positive, and in two months we'll have to confront the reality of whether or not what is arguably the most highly anticipated MMO since the likes of World of Warcraft and Everquest 2 is actually going to deliver on expectations. Over the last three years BioWare have talked the talk of a fully voiced Star Wars MMO, of branching storylines which are deep and rewarding, and of empowering combat and role-playing which will make players feel like an integral part of the universe, able to wield lightsabers and use the Force at will. Here we are, and the many beta players seem pleased, the game has received so many shining previews, and at last year's E3 it won our Best of Show. So it's an undoubted success, right?

Let's not forget that this the year of the underwhelming Dragon Age II, or that The Old Republic is the first MMO from BioWare and a game following in the footsteps of the maligned Star Wars Galaxies. There are certainly doubting voices out there. For many of us, The Old Republic will be how we kick off 2012; let's hope it proves to start the new year with a bang.

Defining feature: A BioWare penned story is exactly what MMOs have been waiting for

 

 




Blade and Soul
Release date: TBA

NCSoft's Blade and Soul has been on the radar for a few years now, and this year it entered the closed beta phase in South Korea. A release seems imminent over there, but news of an international version is sparse.

That's not for a lack of wanting because as an action-MMORPG Blade and Soul looks captivating. The game's world has the kind of impossible lushness of a Final Fantasy, and its characters the exaggerated muscles and chests of a Soulcalibur, but the combat looks like something out of Devil May Cry or Bayonetta.

It's fast and furious, combining rapid-fire martial arts with deadly magic including the ability to summon a line of swords and launch them at enemies, as well as throwing enemies high into the sky for some mid-air pummeling. Best of all, it's not point-and-click. With a clever auto-targeting camera as well as a dynamic skill system which adapts based on who you're fighting, how far you are you from them, and the skill you last used, Blade and Soul aims to provide true action combat in a MMORPG. If it can then I'll start to forgive it for forgetting to provide its ladies with outerwear.

Blade and Soul is expected to get an international release, but don't expect to find out when anytime soon.

Defining feature: Incredible-looking fast-paced action combat for both PVE and PVP

Firefall Gameplay Preview »



Firefall
Release Date: Q4 2011

Firefall is ticking a lot of boxes. Red 5 Studios' debut game is a futuristic MMOFPS with both first-person and third-person shooting. It is set in a persistent open world which has a Gears of War feel about it, and that world features both single-player and squad-based co-op missions. The game features PVP action too. It's class-based like Team Fortress II with players able to take on big-gunning Assault, stealthy Recon, supportive Engineer, and curative Medic roles. However, classes are derived from customizable equipment which can be changed pre-battle, giving players the flexibility to approach every single mission with a customized strategy and the class of their choice.

Firefall also has loot, bosses, jetpacks, aliens: oh, did I mention that it's free-to-play? 2012 is shaping up into a year of MMOFPS games with great potential, and Firefall is looking like the pick of the bunch. Hopefully we won't have to wait until then for a release date.

Defining feature: Customizable Team Fortress II-like shooter in both first-person and third-person

TERA "The Journey" Cinematic Trailer »



TERA Online
Release date: 2012


Distinguishing between TERA (short for The Exiled Realm of Arborea) and Blade and Soul is rather tricky. Both are upcoming Korean MMORPG with a focus on real-time action combat, a penchant for clothing their female characters in very little, and some very tasty Unreal Engine 3 powered graphics.

There are, however, some subtle but key differences. TERA has much more of a Western feel to Blade and Soul, or at least what feels like an Eastern developer building on Western tropes. In TERA you'll be fighting huge dragons, armored basilisks, and giant spiders with swords, shields, and arrows. Targeting is manual compared to the auto-aiming of Blade and Soul, placing more emphasis on positioning correctly to pull off fighting game-like combinations, all with fewer hotkeys in play. The biggest difference, however, is that TERA is already out in South Korea, and an international release is looking reasonably likely for 2012.

The action-MMORPG movement has been gathering steam in Korea with the likes of Dragon Nest and Vindictus, and now Blade and Soul and TERA leading the charge this year. Watch this space, definitely watch this space.

Defining feature: Skill-driven real-time combat designed to strip down the number of hotkeys

PlanetSide 2 Overview & Combat Preview »



Planetside 2
Release date: TBA


Sony Online Entertainment hasn't had the best run of late, so it needs the recently announced and highly anticipated Planetside 2 to be a success. It's the right time for it too; there has been a surge of activity in the MMOFPS scene and it seems only fitting for one of the grandfathers of the genre to make a return.So far it's early days and few details, so we have more of a general outline rather than a grounded idea of what Planetside 2 will be like, but there are things to be excited about. 

 

For one, there's the concept of territory control playing a part across the entire open world of the game, and how controlling different territories affects the resources factions and squads accumulate, mission objectives for squads and players, and how players advance within their squads and factions. On a more basic level, the idea of a single continent of space being able to support 2000 simultaneous players for large-scale PVP across varied environments sounds terrific. Meanwhile, Planetside fans can look forward to all of the first game's sci-fi weapons and vehicles returning for an encore.

It would be great for the genre and for SOE if Planetside 2 was a home run - early days yet, though.

Defining feature: Huge numbers of players fighting for vital territorial control

Guild Wars 2 Gamescom 2011 Trailer »



Guild Wars 2
Release date: TBD 2011/2012

Guild Wars 2 is starting to feel a bit like a juggernaut. ArenaNet's follow-up to its popular 2005 fantasy action-MMO is so amibitious that it's hard not to be overwhelmed by the scale of it potential. It doesn't help that every single glimpse of the game is very, very impressive.

For starters there are the character-driven stories which are built upon choices made during character creation, their origin stories, and throughout the whole game - a case of anything BioWare can do, ArenaNet will try to do better. Then there's the versatile combat system which changes skills around the weapons equipped, giving players the flexibility to switch on the fly from, say, the explosive shots of a pistol to the flame jet of a flamethrower. There's the promise of a Dynamic Event system in which the choices players make will have both immediate and long-lasting ramifications upon the world around them. And of course there's the scale and detail of the endgame boss fights, the stunning art style, the large-scale PVP, and the...

See how easy it is to get carried away? That's the worry with Guild Wars 2; it's so exciting right now, but there's a heck of a long time between now and release and we've all been plenty burnt by MMOs with such potential. Nonetheless, right now I'm positively itching for a concrete release date...



Titan
Release date: TBA

Blizzard has said that there won't be any sign of Titan at Blizzcon this month, Titan being the codename for the new Blizzard MMO. So here we are, twiddling our thumbs oh so patiently for more details on the project that has lured away the top brass of WoW designers. What do we know? Well, it's been quoted as being a "casual" MMO, whatever that means. We know Blizzard think it will "eclipse" World of Warcraft, and we know that Blizzard is already playing it -- whatever it is. As for that, we only really know that it isn't a WoW 2.

As much as it would be remiss to not mention the next MMO from the makers of the most successful MMO of all time in this article, there isn't much more I can say. I could try making things up, I suppose. How about this: Titan will be about giant cats. Giant cats with swords and motorbikes. Motorbike-driving, sword-wielding cats who are large in size. There.

Defining feature: Still needs to be defined in the first place!

Honorable Mentions

Technically Minecraft isn't out yet -- I know, right -- and that's as good an excuse to mention a product that will undoubtedly have a lasting impact upon MMOs and their inclusion of player-generated-content. Otherwise some of the nearly-made-its include Trion's shooter-TV show hybrid Defiance and yet another pretty Korean action-MMORPG in the form of ArcheAge. There's not much out there about 40K: Dark Millennium Online beyond rumor and speculation, but Warhammer fans will be plenty excited regardless. A few other franchises are entering the MMO scene; look out for Transformers Universe and Marvel Universe Online, and certainly plenty of eyes will already be on the Torchlight, Fallout and Neverwinter MMOs. We might be a little spoiled for choice in the coming years.

Sinan Kubba is a London-based freelancer whose work has appeared at Kotaku, GamePro, and The Escapist. He has been known to wear his girlfriend's Pikachu slippers on occasion. 

Top flickr image courtesy of Dusty Smith

The Future of MMOs: Looking Ahead At Star Wars, Titan, Firefall, The Secret World, and Beyond!
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