Free to Play MMO Outlook
by Jessica Brown, June 27, 2012
In some circles, using the phrase free to play is akin to a four letter word. In some ways, this is because the whole free to play genre has gotten a bad reputation in some ways from the many lackluster games that inundate the market each year, particularly from Asian regions. And while a grim opinion on the genre as a whole is not fully unwarranted, it would be foolish to assume that all free to play games have the same blandness as those that are pushed by these Asian corporations.
So far, 2012 has proven to be a good year for subscription games. Both RIFT and World of Warcraft have new expansions hitting the market, Funcom's new horror themed MMO The Secret World hits shelves on June 19, and games like Star Wars: The Old Republic and Final Fantasy XIV continue to do at least marginally well. Some of these no doubt cast shadows that cover up some of the free games hitting the market this calendar year, but some of these upcoming games really deserve to be looked at and anticipated.
One of the games I was really looking forward to back in 2010 was Neverwinter, an online continuation of the Neverwinter Nights series that was being done by Cryptic. Neverwinter was advertised as being free to play online. Although Cryptic was never specific, they appeared to mean that you did have to purchase the box but play was free after that. Neverwinter looked like it would build on the things that I enjoyed most about Dungeons & Dragons Online, including the addition of a user friendly map and quest modeler. Yet, last year Perfect World purchased the company and decided to toss out everything I liked about Neverwinter. Their logic? Free to play Asian grinders are apparently all the rage (yeah, right!), so now this beloved franchise is being devolved a bit. Still, there might be some light at the end of the tunnel: the action oriented combat system seems to have met with praise at different demonstrations. Perhaps the game won't be all bad; whether I'll be interested in playing it later this year, though, remains to be seen.
Things from Perfect World aren't all bad, though. There's a game in the works over there called RaiderZ that seems to model the ever popular Monster Hunter games in an online fashion. Initial views on the game seem fairly favorable and many players have enjoyed the fact that cooperation is essential to success in the game. The game's action comes from massive take downs of huge enemies, but the world is very realistic in that food and goods are necessary for survival, making crafting and cooperation with people who can craft very vital for survival. Whether the game will deliver on its classless system and prove as fun as other Monster Hunter titles will remain to be seen, but it plans to hit shelves sometime in the fall of this year.
One game that has been on my radar now for over a year is OtherLand, an MMO based on the universe provided in the tetrology of books of the same name. OtherLand is a game that is tough to fully describe. In some ways, it's almost like a cyberpunk version of Second Life, although there really is a game to it instead of being completely social driven. Players play as a digital avatar in a fantastical virtual reality that is complete with all sorts of different landscapes to explore, designed from the ground up with the Unreal Engine 3 to produce amazing graphics. Initially, the game was meant to be played in your browser with the Unity3D plugin, but that seems to have been nixed in favor of an actual game client. What really sells me on the game is that you can go around and capture "electronic DNA" of people and items and then use that so called eDNA in order to create a very original space that serves as your player housing.
I'm not sure whether OtherLand will serve simply as a social game for me or if it will be something a bit deeper, but I can say with voracity that it does a great job capturing the look and feel of the books it is based on. Gamigo has been pretty tight lipped about a target release date, although the official website lists 2012 as the release year.
There are a few lesser known MMORPGs on the horizon that might be worth keeping an eye on. For those of you who like the Diablo style of action RPG combat and multiplayer fun, Path of Exile is a game currently in beta (sign ups are available) that might meet these needs in a free environment. Another worth watching out for is Wizardry Online, an MMORPG installation by Japanese developer GamePot of the 30-year-old franchise. And then there's Grimlands, a post-apocalyptic MMO that goes into open beta this July.
This year there are a couple of non RPG MMOs heading to the market that have gotten fans very excited. First, there's Mechwarrior Online, which will require the purchase of a client but will be free to continue playing online as much as you want. MWO is also a game that many fans simply thought wouldn't be possible - they questioned whether the vast universe of Mechwarrior could be successfully encapsulated into an MMO. Apparently, it can be! For those who enjoyed EVE Online there will be Dust 514, a combat based MMO that ties in with EVE and of which a PC version is eventually planned.
Without question, though, Guild Wars 2 is likely the free to play (though not to purchase) MMORPG that people are looking forward to the most. Many years in the making, GW2 is the incomparable sequel to ArenaNet's popular Guild Wars that really redefines many aspects of the MMORPG genre. So far, the beta weekend events that ArenaNet have hosted have been wildly popular, and the general consensus seems to be that even in its beta format GW2 delivers an experience vastly superior to almost all MMORPGs on the commercial market.
In a time when budgets are tight, there certainly isn't any shortcoming of budget friendly, superior quality games to enjoy on the horizon. Some of these games may very well be better than their commercial counterparts, and that certainly isn't a bad thing. Perhaps we managed to leave a game off of this list that you are really looking forward to...if so, we would love for you to share what games you think we should pay closer attention to - let us know on the forums!