Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The games of 2007

Readers of this blog might be excused if they think that this is a World of Warcraft blog. It isn't. This is a blog about whatever MMORPG I am currently playing, and the MMORPG I'm playing since 2 years now is World of Warcraft. I'm not always sticking to the same game that long, 2 years is breaking the previous record held by the original Everquest. In other years I might play a dozen different MMORPGs.

But for the moment I play WoW, and I'm looking forward to the first expansion early next year, so chances are that I will continue playing WoW until at least the first half of 2007. Whether I will continue after that, and whether I will reach the 3-year mark, I simply don't know yet. It is possible that all the new games coming out are not so great, and I'll stick with World of Warcraft. Or it could be that I'll get bored with WoW, and jump onto the next big thing as soon as it becomes available. So what would my options be?

One option would be Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, presumably out early 2007. Well, you know how reliable announced release dates in this business are. Vanguard was developed by a bunch of ex-Everquest developers, lead by Brad McQuaid. They started developing Vanguard for Microsoft, but in an ironic twist of fate ended up back with Sony Online Entertainment. The general idea behind Vanguard is that modern games have grown too soft and carebear, and Vanguard will specifically target the hardcore players, bringing back the original feel and "The Vision" of Everquest, with graphics more fitting for 2007. Unfortunately "The Vision" is all about making players suffer, so they feel closer social bonds to each other. That includes lots of downtime and timesinks, and heavy penalties for failure, like naked corpse runs. That doesn't sound very attractive to me, call me a carebear. Even more disheartening are reports from the beta testers that while the graphics have a high polygon count (and thus run badly on all but the most expensive computers), they are artistically rather bland and ugly. On the positive side Vanguard promises to be rather rich in features, having lots of races and classes, and every imaginable fantasy MMORPG feature up to and including player housing. I'm just not sure it will be any fun.

Something completely different is promised for Pirates of the Burning Sea. No more elves and orcs, in this game you get to play a pirate. Presumably out in June 2007. This is a big unknown, the developer Flying Lab Software hasn't got any previous experience with MMORPGs. As every player controls a complete ship, and combat is ship-to-ship based, the gameplay is probably much different than what you're used to from character-based MMORPGs. I sure hope that this will be good, it would be fun to play something completely different for a change.

Did you notice that most players solo all of the first part of a MMORPG? So did Funcom, the developers of Age of Conan, to be released Q2 2007. And as you solo the first part anyway, they just split their MMORPG into two halves, and turned the first half into a single-player game. So you play a classical single-player RPG, and at the end you are released into a massively multiplayer world. Interesting concept. Other major improvements promised over previous MMORPGs are the more interactive combat system, where you will actually need to target zones of the enemy's body, instead of just starting auto-combat and going for a cup of coffee. Would be great if it worked, but could be totally horrible if it gets messed up by lag. Unlike lets say WoW, Age of Conan will also have collision detection, that is you can't just run through another player. That could do a lot for realism, but you'd have to find a way to prevent some players standing in a doorway and blocking the access to the bank or something other important. I have no information how good or bad AoC is. The only thing that scares me a bit is that it is heavily PvP-centric.

A more PvE-centric game will be Lord of the Rings Online, from Turbine, expected for "spring" 2007. This one has my toes tingling. Turbine isn't my favorite MMORPG company, they produced too many bad or mediocre games. But who wouldn't want to walk on Middle Earth? And surprisingly leaks from beta testers seem to indicate that the game is more fun than you'd expect from the Turbine label. The difficulty will be to find the right balance between playability and being true to the Lord of the Rings license.

Also expected for 2007, with no release date given, is Tabula Rasa. This game is playing in a science fiction setting, and will presumably resemble more a shooter game than a classic MMORPG. Lead developer is Richard Garriott (aka Lord British), of Ultima Online fame. Personally I'm not a big fan of science fiction, but I can see how the combination of shooter elements with a MMORPG could make a great game. Could. Not sure that Tabula Rasa will be it, but there is always hope.

And that isn't an exhaustive list of the games of 2007. There are a couple of other ones, like Gods and Heroes, playing in ancient Rome. And half a dozen Korean games. Will any of these games kick World of Warcraft from its throne? Probably not. But I kept the game that is most likely to gain a solid market share from WoW for last:

Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning is also announced for 2007. Although honestly I wouldn't be surprised if it slipped into 2008. Developer is EA Mythic, previously Mythic Entertainment, whose claim to fame is having produced Dark Age of Camelot, which by many people is still regarded as the best PvP MMORPG ever. And just like DAoC basically took Everquest and added good PvP to it, WAR is trying to take WoW and add good PvP to it. Whatever you might think about developing a game whose screenshots looks suspiciously similar to World of Warcraft, and has the familiar dwarves, orcs, and elves, you can't help but wonder how successful WoW could have been if it had better PvP. In the end World of Warcraft came to its current prominence by being a better Everquest. It wouldn't be surprising if WAR would beat it by being a better WoW.

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