For a number of years now, the term sandbox MMO has been synonymous with old, dated, and empty. As players begin to get tired of the incessant handholding in most modern day MMOs, a resurgence in the interest of sandbox MMOs is developing quickly. While there are plenty of games coming out next year that focus on creating a theme park experience for players, more sandbox MMOs are scheduled to release than we’ve seen in a very long time. Before we go too much further, it’s important to realize what sandbox and theme park MMOs are. Here’s an excerpt from last night’s article explaining what theme park and sandbox-styled games are:
“Theme park MMOs are designed to set players on a set of rails, guiding them through the content of a game. Some people consider this a bad thing, but there are a lot of advantages it gives to developers. One of the biggest advantages to this method of game creation is that it allows the development team to create a very elaborate story or setting to deeply enhance the experience a player has. Whether this is through scripted events, quests, or mini-cut scenes, all of these things and more can be created knowing they won’t go to waste when a player travels along a designated adventure path. The biggest disadvantage of this style is that it limits player choice while adventuring.
Sandbox MMOs are nearly the complete opposite of this. Rather than choosing a predestined path for players to follow, this development style allows for the creation of an open world in which players are free to discover their own adventure at their own pace. The style of gameplay has its own advantages, the largest of which is player freedom. Players are free to go where they please, get into whatever trouble they find, and create their own adventures. The biggest disadvantage of this style is that players can easily become overwhelmed with too much choice, making them feel lost.
Early games such as Ultima Online and EverQuest followed the sandbox school of development. When World of Warcraft came along and dominated the market with its theme park style of gaming, this method quickly became the law of the land for most future games. For the longest time, “sandbox” was a four-letter word to most development teams.”
Fortunately for those of us that enjoy sandbox games, they seem to be making a return as more and more players clamor for this type of system. Will it become the new standard again? Time will tell, but while we’re waiting, here are six upcoming sandbox-style MMOs that bear watching in 2014.
Whether it manages to live up to all the expectations the team has created for the game, this is definitely one to keep an eye and may very well allow more freedom than any other game in the list. Whether you want to be a pirate on the open seas or a farmer harvesting fields on your land, everything is possible. Check out the impression our hands on time left with us when we got some time with the game at E3 this year.
5. Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues
Richard Garriott may be better known by his character name of Lord British, but no matter what you call him, he’s no stranger to the world of game design. The creator of the Ultima series of games that culminated in one of the first MMORPGs, Ultima Online, is going back to his roots. Shrouds of the Avatar appears to be a modernized version of Ultima Online, just without the name and that’s no bad thing. To get a better idea of what the game has in store for players, check out our exclusive first look at crafting.
4. Star Citizen
If there’s one name known among the space combat junkies of old, it’s Chris Roberts. The man behind Wing Commander, Freelancer, and even more titles, is bringing all his previous experiences to bear in an effort to bring us his most audacious project to date – Star Citizen. Currently backed by a rabid fan base to the tune of $22 million, Chris is creating a whole new universe for players to explore and live in. Whether you want to be a trader, a military combat pilot, a scavenger, or anything in between, Star Citizen aims to let you do just that. It may not be an MMO in the traditional sense, but it is expected to have persistent universe servers although there will also be single player offline options as well.
3. Pathfinder Online
Anyone that’s been reading my articles over the years already knows all about my obsession with Dungeons & Dragons. What may not be as widely known though is my lack of kind things to say about the majority of the 4th edition. To the dismay of many, the game took a drastic turn for the worse at that point. Enter the Pathfinder pen and paper RPG. It was everything D&D’s 4th edition should have been but wasn’t. As a result, Pathfinder’s popularity has continued to grow exponentially since its release. It’s become so popular that a Kickstarter project to create an MMO based on the franchise has been funded and green lit. We’re still not sure it will release in 2014 but it absolutely bears watching regardless.
2. Elder Scrolls Online
If there was one complaint I heard from all of my friends that were obsessed with the latest single-player RPG in the Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim, it was that they couldn’t play with any friends. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to play Skyrim with thousands of other players, that’s exactly what Elder Scrolls Online is looking to accomplish. It’s been delayed in order to port it to the next generation of consoles, but the hands on time I’ve had with the game (1st time, 2nd time) has left me excited.
1. EverQuest Next
We gave it our Best of Show E3 2013 award to EverQuest Next so you knew it was going to sit atop this list as is its rightful place. From the moment Sardu and I had our private viewing at E3 this year, I knew this would be the game for all others to compete with in regards to my interest. Heralded as the “largest sandbox MMO ever designed” fans will be keeping a keen eye on this title. I’d love to explain all the reasons this game is sitting at number one on our list, but instead, I’ll point you to your source for all things EverQuest (and our sister site), EQ Hammer, because they can do it far more justice than I.