There's nothing like a move halfway across the country to remind a person what chaos looks like. All the packing, house-hunting, driving, and unpacking added up to be one hell of a maelstrom. I'm still not fully settled, but all the big things are taken care of and the rest will come with time. Nevertheless, I thought in all my distance from coverage it would be a great time to examine the landscape and point out a few observations.
Quiet Chaos at Daybreak
Just like myself, Daybreak games (a company whose games I have been following and writing about almost exclusively all of last year) formerly known as Sony Online Entertainment is one hot mess right now. While the remaining team is doing a great job of keeping a tight lid on all of the behind-the-scenes evolution we all know is happening. The fact that zero significant news releases about EverQuest Next have emerged since the buyout tells me that their internal discussions about the future direction of the game might not be over yet. I believe they still want to make the same game, but I think even they now know they can't. There's still a great team in place, and I am confident they can produce a fun and compelling title, but it won't be the bomb that was dropped on us at SOELive 2013. Hoping they will is quite unrealistic at this point.
There just hasn't been much to report, even for Landmark; which has seen all of its former weekly updates and Landmark Live Streams consolidated into more of a monthly timeline. I can't say I can blame them. If it was me running the show, I'd have moved to less frequent (but consistent) updates right after the move into "closed beta" (which still really feels like an alpha client without all the core gameplay elements). It's just too much stress on the development team to be pumping out new features while they're still so heavy in the R&D cycle. The reality is that they aren't using tried-and-true engines and systems, and that requires a ton of iteration to make sure new ones are solid, enjoyable, and impactful.
The team definitely faces a future uphill battle in catching the attention of the masses, as only the very core fan-base is still active in the game. I honestly don't even think it should be a priority right now. They really need to just get the game into a more complete state, and if that means a lot more "radio silence" for a while, then so be it. I want to see that game (and EQNext succeed), so I don't mind if they stay low for a while. The game clearly has some work ahead of it before it will appeal to a the wider audience of non-builders that it's going to need to become market viable.
Staying the Course at Riot
I've long been a fan of League of Legends and have been an active player since its in-store release (yes I bought a physical copy of the game at Gamestop several years ago). Riot has done a great job of constantly and consistently improving the state of the game, not just by adding new champions and content but by routinely updating core game elements to ensure the competitive and casual environments are both fun and engaging. Last year was no different. I actually think they stepped things up a notch with the most recent slew of updates.
The biggest and most noticeable of all was the visual and mechanical update to the competitive map Summoner's Rift. Not only did the changes sharpen the playing mechanics, but it also made the map much more visually appealing (perfect for a game that revolves very much around catering to spectators). For casual players it also added a bit more flavor to the map that was otherwise lacking compared to the maps for other game types.
Less obvious was Riot's recent commitment to utilizing a wider variety of media to describe their game. Champion updates and revisions have long been a thing, but they recently began adding a lot of visual flair to the entire process when reworking champions. Sion's was a perfect example. They put out a flash video teaser, a short web-comic, and tied other champions to the rework to make it feel much more significant. They've also been tying more lore into each new release that's beginning to add more style and flavor to the game than ever before.
Riot has also started doing a lot more on the music and audio side, releasing an extremely well-made skin for Sona (the game's poster-child for music). She can actually change the music of the game mid-match. Riot has set the bar extremely high in the genre and it makes sense why they're still king of the mountain when it comes to MOBAs. I expect Blizzard to be fully capable of contending for the title at some point, but it's still quite early for Heroes of the Storm. Blizzard is also putting out a completely different flavor of the same concept, much like they did with World of Warcraft in the MMO genre.
Commitment to Change
More than anything else, I've really begun to notice the winds of change happening in all my favorite areas of gaming - particularly MMOs. Last year I was full dive into the concept of EverQuest Next, and while that game may still be possible, it's sure to see some features trimmed. That doesn't mean Daybreak isn't still pioneering ambitiously. Whether or not all this R&D pays off for the rebranded studio, the rest of us should still reap the rewards of their efforts. Due to the fact that SOE's ambitions were so public and because of where they stand as solid AAA-quality MMO makers, I believe they've given pause to everyone in the genre.
There isn't a single developer I've talked to that isn't paying attention to Daybreak's ambitious game. It's given many small developers the inspiration to be a little more ambitious themselves. I see games on the horizon that, like EverQuest Next, are truly committing to innovation. They won't all pan out, but some of them will, and some of them might become huge. While I doubt any game will see the perfect storm of circumstances that led to the rise of World of Warcraft's market domination, I do believe this next generation of MMOs will finally start to bring down the long-time giant collectively.
Sharing New Discoveries
Games like Landmark, EverQuest Next, Revival, Saga of Lucimia, Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, H1Z1 and Outward are just a few upcoming games that are on my personal radar - all for various individual reasons, but still with one common goal of innovating core systems. They are revamping the whole MMO game-play experience itself, each in their own unique ways. While a couple of those future titles may share similarities with MMOs of today and the past, they are more different than you might realize.
If you're unfamiliar with any of those, stay tuned - as this week I'll be going over each one of them and describing what makes them interesting. Starting tomorrow I'll be posting a daily edition of the Gravity Well that will focus on an individual upcoming game. I'll talk about why I like it, why it's different, and why it's worth paying attention to - whether you ever plan on playing it or not. Keep in mind not all these games are ones I'm going head-over-heels for, but that doesn't mean I haven't fallen in love with what they are trying to accomplish.
The kind of innovation they're pushing is healthy for the this genre and should infuse a lot of new life into a category of games that's grown far too complacent and stale. I'm very excited for the future and this imminent revolution of MMOs. That may sound extreme or far-fetched, but I believe a large make-over is currently in the works. I've only listed a handful of titles that I am personally interested in; those aren't the only titles attempting to make sweeping changes to the massively multiplayer experience.
Check back tomorrow for episode one of the all new Gravity Well: Insight series.
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