2008 was not a very good year for MMORPGs. I got excited about Pirates of the Burning Sea, Age of Conan, and Warhammer Online, and none of them managed to capture my imagination the way that Final Fantasy XI did when I first got hooked on MMORPGs, and the way EverQuest II does now.
There aren't very many high profile games coming out in 2009. But there are a few games I'm looking forward to that hopefully won't disappoint:
Jumpgate Evolution: This looks like it could be an MMO version of "Freelancer". Or Eve Online with free flight. Or Vendetta Online with a budget. I like that they are going for a sandbox environment with a fully player driven economy where you can be what you want to be.
Eve Online is the only place to go for that at the moment. But combat in Eve Online was mostly locking onto a target, orbiting around it, and watching your ship auto-attack until someone died, warped away, or whatever. The twitch based combat (like in Vendetta Online) would make for more exciting gameplay.
The Agency: I like the stylized graphics and the 'you are what you wear' "job" system which lets you change your role whenever you want. I especially like the focus on collection mechanics (finding and trading Operatives.) Its also nice to see a fresh IP in a genre that is increasingly being taken over by franchising (Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, etc., etc.)
Though one franchise that I don't mind seeing is:
Stargate Worlds: While we haven't heard much about it, the rumor is the gameplay includes noncombat methods of advancement that involve minigames, such as puzzle solving. I don't know how well they will be able to pull that off, but I look forward to seeing more diverse methods of gameplay in MMOs besides hitting combat skills on a hotbar.
One of my favorite features of Vanguard was the diplomacy feature, because it was realized as a card game which made it an interesting diversion from the standard EverQuest-style quest and combat game play.
Champions Online: I enjoyed City of Heroes, so maybe this will be City of Heroes done right. :) Some of the problems with City of Heroes that I didn't enjoy was that the leveling system prevented me from getting some of the powers I wanted right away. It didn't make sense to make a hero who only learned to fly after 14 levels. I THINK Champions is doing it differently; where every level you gain a point which can be used to increase the power of a skill or add a new skill, but essentially you still start with the basic powers that define your character.
The Nemesis system, where you design your own arch-enemy, is a great way to customize storytelling for your hero. I like the idea that I won't always be fighting the same villains that every other hero on the server are fighting. And this might be the next big step in MMORPG design: people always complain how the worlds are static and unchanging. Well, if we're fighting the same monsters and villains in the same storylines as everyone else on the server, of course it can't change. We can't defeat the villain because someone else has to fight them too.
But if MMORPGs created customized quests and storylines for our characters, the world can change. I can decide that yes, in fact, I DO defeat the villain for good and the world is better off for it. And then maybe a new villain catches my attention. Everyone would have different quests (though, underneath the hood, they might be very, very similar), so if I help someone else on a quest I won't be fighting the same people I fought before -- I'll be fighting THEIR enemies.
Well, we don't know yet that Champions will actually deliver what I'm imagining, but every baby step towards that future is one I look forward to.
And, on that note, happy new years everyone!