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Runes of Magic Column: Five Most Interesting MMOs of 2009

By Jon Wood on September 08, 2009

Where the game does mirror its counterpart is in its rich and detailed character creator. City of Heroes set the MMO bar with its level of personal customization and Champions could ill afford to tarnish that legacy for Cryptic.

So, in the decision to list Champions as one of the most interesting MMOs of 2009… so far, I took its past history into account. I also looked at the fact that the MMO world watched to see how a second super-hero MMO would be received by the masses. Would CoH prove to be a genre blip, or does the comic-book based sub genre have staying power. Some might be ready to make that call, but I think I need to see something just a little bit more different to be sure, so I’ll look toward DC or Marvel Universe Online before I make a final judgment.

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Oh yeah, then there’s the fact that somehow Cryptic managed to create a game that made use of both a subscription model and microtransactions on top of that. We’ll have to wait and see how that turns out.

Still not seeing Champions as an interest grabber? Well, take all of the hubbub that’s been blown up about their lifetime memberships that “sold out” only to be re-offered due to public outcry. Or, we could look at the fact that those same lifetime memberships were sweetened with access to Cryptic’s Star Trek Online beta. That’s a whole can of worms right there, interest-wise.

Then, of course, you also have to consider the issues that surrounded launch, the respec changes and all of the other enjoyable post-launch brouhaha that has rocketed Champions to near the top of my most watched games list.

#2 Free Realms

I talked earlier in my list about free to play, microtransaction based games and how Runes of Magic was able to change perceptions about F2P fantasy games. I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t take this opportunity to discuss Sony Online Entertainment’s massive release at the end of April, Free Realms.

Free Realms is an MMO with a much younger target audience than the other games on this list, but has somehow managed to hook young and old alike. Personally, I think that it has to do with a) the casual nature of the game and b) the way that the developers managed to design the game in such a way as to be familiar to MMO players and highly accessible to those who might be new to the genre.

I think the thing that makes this game stand out for me as interesting though, is its approach to the classic MMORPG formula for classes. Instead of offering classes, the game offers jobs. Instead of a single choice at the beginning of the game, the developers chose to allow players to switch between jobs willy-nilly. This leads to more of an achievement based system than most MMOs have, with players constantly wanting to work on this or that aspect of one of their various jobs.

You also have to look at the extreme casualness of the game: you don’t have to pay if you don’t want to, you can jump in and accomplish a little, or play for hours, you’re making little to no direct commitment to the game (up to and inclusive of “class”), and it’s all presented in a very cartoony-looking, family friendly atmosphere. In short, this ain’t your grandpa’s MMO.

Free Realms is a great example of the way that the MMO genre has grown and expanded well beyond its previous teens and up, hack-and-slash mentality. Sure, there have been kids MMOs before, but Free Realms is the first one to launch that adults speak so highly of not only for their children but for themselves.

If you’re a hardcore old school MMO gamer, it is easy to dismiss Free Realms as “just another kid’s game,” but if you take the time to look more closely, I think you might find a game that has the potential to chance the way that those outside of the MMO world look at our genre.

#1 Darkfall

Well, it had to happen eventually, Darkfall had to make its way onto one of my weekly lists as the number one selection and honestly, I can’t think of a single release even in recent memory that would compete with it for pure interest value.

Now, whether you like the game, or you hate the game, it is difficult to argue that the game didn’t garner a huge amount of attention that surrounded its launch in the early part of the year. Supporters and detractors alike focused their attention in on this small game put out by independent MMO studio Aventurine because if it was nothing else, Darkfall was of interest.

What’s not to be interested in? Personally, I like the fact that it’s a title that I literally watched rise from the ashes. I’m not too embarrassed to admit that, by the eighth year of development and without much to prove that eh game actually existed, I thought that the title was one that would never see the light of day. I had personally discounted it as vaporware, and then, almost suddenly, it was there.

Then, there’s the fact that Aventurine set out to create a sandbox MMO, something that has been tried scant few times even since the now seemingly ancient Ultima Online came onto the scene.

Don’t think that’s enough? How about the controversial nature of the game’s core design that supports FFA PvP, full loot rules and presupposes that the only true sandbox is a bloody sandbox?

Ok, so you’re still going to sit there and yawn? Well, why not take a look back at the controversy that followed the game’s most heard from representative, Tasos Flambouras? Over time, he’s made any number of statements that landed him in either hot water or gained him an almost cult-like following. Throughout Darkfall’s development cycle, Flambouras embodied the game’s hardcore attitude and even went so far as to publicly denounce a poor review of the game.

Or maybe we should look at one of the most bizarre staged launches I have ever witnessed, as potential players were forced to clamor all over themselves and each other to get a spot even in the released version of the game.

It may not end up with the most players, but it definitely got the MMO tongues wagging. If you’re not on board with me by now in the thought that Darkfall has been the most interesting game launched so far in 2009, then I can’t help you. I just know that its progress over the last few months has been entertaining to say the least.

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