Posted Wed, Jan 03, 2007 by Ethec
by Jeff "Ethec" Woleslagle
At Ten Ton Hammer, we try not to speak definitively when nailing down release dates. Whether you're talking about a hydroelectric dam or home repair, any big project is sure to make bedroom eyes at Murphy's Law, and MMORPG development is no exception. We don't envy developers who, believe it or not, want the game to release as scheduled so much more than even the most rabid fan. Devs have lots of money, careers, and reputations riding on these games, after all.
With that in mind, 2007 is still a pretty big target at this point, so we give you the titles that, in all likelihood, will grace our hard drives in final build form this year. Here's your 2007 lineup, folks, in (probable) order of release (maybe):
What can you say about World of Warcraft? Numerically speaking, it owns the MMORPG category. The subscription base of every other Western MMORPG added together can't touch WoW's total. The Blizzard detractors among you can take some solace in the fact that expansions seem make or break (more often break) MMOs, and World of Warcraft is getting its first retail expansion with "The Burning Crusade." It's doubtful that TBC will be anything less than quality given Blizzard's typical game design genius and the two years it's taken to build the two new races plus level 1-20 zones, the new continent of Outland with dozens of instances and regions to get high level folks from level 60 to the new level cap of 70. It's all the good things about expansions: loot, levels, and a racial dance that's a frame-by-frame adaptation of Napoleon Dynamite's famous moves (?), and the Dark Portal opens on January 16.
Sigil Games Online suprised everyone by attacking a late January release date in earnest when everyone was expecting a late Q1 / early Q2 release. As of today (January 3rd) the game has yet to enter open beta, so one can envision a lot of bloodshot eyes in Redwood, Cali in the coming weeks. Vanguard is an ambitious fantasy title, the self-proclaimed "spiritual successor" to MMO granddaddy EverQuest, so best of luck to Brad McQuaid, Jeff Butler, and the entire Sigil crew as they push for a speedy release.
The game formerly known as Yulgang is set to make its western debut in February, following on the heels of other MGame Korean ports such as Hero Online and The Legend of Ares. Where does Scions of Fate succeed where other Asian imports have historically failed? It's all about the unique look of the martial arts comic book from which the game is derived, which coupled with the game's award-winning animations and accessibility, has been enough to gather a reported 35 million users worldwide with 600,000 playing concurrently. The fact that the game is free probably helps, too.
The most chaotic periods in history are fertile grounds for ruggedly individualistic hero types, at least in the imaginations of authors and game designers. The dark ages had the knight in shining armor, the wild west had the cowboy in a white hat, and post-Roman Asia Minor had Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian. Funcom hopes to relate the brutality and anarchic spirit of the age in the first "M for Mature" rated MMORPG western gamers will see, complete with flying limbs, blood, and heads, though language will stay low-key. Another twist: the first 20 levels are offline and single-player. Funcom promises a unique new experience with Age of Conan, and we can't help but be excited for a fantasy MMORPG without dwarves and elves.
Other games produce volumes of lore to support their games, Turbine skips that step and goes with Tolkien's highly developed, well-beloved fantasy world of Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings Online. No, you can't be Legolas- if you value your social standing, don't even think of naming your character Legolas, Leagoleas, or some variant of that, by the way - or any member of the fellowship; instead you'll help make up the roiling backstory surrounding Frodo's jaunt from Moria to Mordor. Plenty of innovations (such as PvMP) are in store when the Shadows descend across Middle Earth later this year.
If you love the pirate theme (and, um, who doesn't?), love the strategy of age of sail naval warfare and the look of the 1700s Caribbean, but aren't much for the supernatural stuff currently fashionable in piratey entertainment, Pirates of the Burning Sea might be the MMORPG you've been waiting for. The whole gamut of sailing vessels will be represented, from sloops to 'noughts (dreadnoughts, that is), along with all the major European powers of the period; not to mention that there's also plenty to do ashore as a first-person swabbie. Flying Lab Software announced a June release date at PAX last September, making the game one of the premier summer releases.
A shadow was cast over the development of Gods and Heroes with a rather large end-of-2006 layoff at Perpetual Entertainment. Perpetual played down the downsizing, which impacted game artists primarily, as simply a result of contracts expiring. Still, mass layoffs between a playable E3 demo and release are odd to say the least. Hopefully Stieg Hedlund, producer of Gods and Heroes and visionary co-creator of Diablo and Diablo II, can nonetheless make Ten Ton Hammer's Best of E3 2006 award winner an instant classic
If this smooth blend of MMO and FPS looks half as good as the most recent trailer, those of you with Battlefield tendancies are in for a treat. Webzen's "brave new world" pits three near future factions against each other in a bitter fight for increasingly scarce energy sources. Careful attention to the storyline isn't required, as this one's designed to be a pure shoot 'em up with a full-fledged character development scheme (and without the sketchy privatized internet framework and buzzkill bounce-outs to the server select screen found in other online shooter games).
Simutronics is developing Hero's Journey while simultanenously fleshing out the HeroEngine MMORPG development middleware suite. The result is a rare luxury for MMO developers: time and money. Simutronics has another thing going for it, a long and storied history of heavy community involvement in the creation and continuing development of their MUDs, and they hope to distinguish their first MMORPG with that same kind of freeform approach. Whether Hero's Journey releases in 2007 or if it's a coming-out year for the game, we're plenty excited to see what Simutronics has in store.
"What lies hidden... must be found" is the mantra of this decidedly different storyline-intensive fantasy MMORPG. Instead of pages of lore to read, a big part of the journey in this moody MMO is figuring out what happened in Spellborn's magically ripped apart universe. What's more subtle even than that: Spellborn's artists have figured out a way to draw humans that doesn't look outrageously cartoony or creepily photorealistic. An interesting partnership between Spellborn devs and the gothic euro-rockers "Within Temptation" for the soundtrack and the occasional trailer can't hurt either. Small indie developers are always an underdog when it comes to releasing a massive gaming project, but this is one title yours truly can't wait to see.
But Disney has it's own take on a pirate MMO waiting in the wings, and it's all the feel of the Pirates of the Carribean movies. However you felt about the last Johnny Depp con mascara sequel, this game focuses on the simple joys (and terrors) of the pirate's life. Battling kraken tentacles, swinging in from the ratlines, firing different kinds of cannon shot and sinking or capturing that unfortunate merchantman, then gambling your booty away in the local tavern. While not aimed expressly at the youngins like Disney's munchkin MMO Toontown, Pirates of the Caribbean Online is targetted toward a young teen audience. Think of it as a nice bonding activity parents can actually sink their teeth into during the "I hate you!" years.
As always, the Ten Ton Hammer forums are your place to discuss the newest MMORPGs coming down the pike.