World of Warcraft changed the way people look at MMORPGs when it launched on November 23rd, 2004. Since that time, according to our game list, 174 new MMOs have been launched and survive to this day. Of those launched prior to World of Warcraft, only 63 continue operation.
Sure, there are other games we have not listed yet (we’re working on it) and quite a few games have launches and died (I’m looking at you Tabula Rasa). I’m also suffering from some North American bias and only counting the games on this side of the pond.
Still, that’s a fantastic number of games in only five years that have either made it or – worst case – not died since WoW launched. Yet, despite the 174 new entries, not one has even flirted with a fraction of WoW’s success, let alone matched it critically or commercially.
What follows is purely my opinion and I looked over every game on our list with a launch date after WoW. There are some obvious omissions, so yes, if it's not there, I did consider it. I have done my best to include games of all types and not just those I necessarily personally enjoyed.
For some, it’s been a dark period for MMOs. Many hardcore forum posters and journalists, myself included, are often guilty of a bit of nostalgia. We tend to glorify the Dark Age of Camelots and the Ultima Onlines.
So today, I let this period in gaming stand on its own two feet. I’m setting aside every game launched before November 23rd, 2004 and running down my totally subjective ranking of the Top 10 MMOs Since WoW.
#10 – Vanguard: Saga of Heroes (link)
Launched by SOE on January 30th, 2007, Vanguard has overcome a lot to snag the last spot on this list. It definitely didn’t do itself any favors out of the gate. It barely made it out the door. Amid development problems, SOE scooped it up after former publisher Microsoft dropped it and despite a strong ad campaign and some impressive initial box sales, the game just wasn’t strong enough to retain the initial flood of players.
Since then, SOE has quietly been working on Vanguard and worked to iron out the kinks that plagued it. The game’s performance has always been an issue, but time and diligent work by SOE have made it much less of a burden. It’s also not quite as hardcore as it was initially and has finally delivered on some of that massive hype and become a real treat for someone willing to give an MMO a second chance.
They pushed through and survived to be a decent title, if not the massive hit that had once been projected. Hopefully, for their sakes, list omissions like Warhammer Online and Age of Conan can eventually chart a similar course.
#9 – Fallen Earth (link)
It’s tough to list a game that just launched a couple weeks ago, but Icarus Studios became one of the first independent American studios to launch a new game in quite some time. Fallen Earth has the deck stacked against it. It’s not fantasy. It’s not class based. It’s not traditional level driven. But what it is, at least so far, is a good bit of fun.
Will it succeed in the long term? Hard to say, but all indications are that Fallen Earth is off to a strong start. It has received vocal player support, a decent ranking on our MMORPG.com game list and what early reviews are in seem to be quite positive.
It offers players something different, which is rare on a list where almost every game you’re about to read about is fantasy. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic future, boasts a skill based system, and is one of the few true sandbox style MMOs out there.
#8 – Atlantica Online (link)
Set to turn one just before Halloween, Atlantica Online from NDoors has emerged as one of the most solid free to play, imported MMORPGs in the Western market. The game is generally well translated and adapted to the North American audience and seems to have faired quite well.
Our game list is jammed with imported MMOs, but this one has capitalized on some innovative features, such as the ability to control up to eight NPC mercenaries, to set itself apart from the crowd.
It came third in our reader voting for 2008 Game of the Year and seemed to pick up far more awards after launch than before it, which is testament on its ability to deliver a quality product without a heck of a lot of hype. Right now, it ranks second on our Top Rated Launched MMOs list.
#7 – Pirates of the Burning Sea (link)
Seattle’s Flying Lab Software put Pirates of the Burning Sea out quietly on January 22nd, 2008 and in nearly two years of commercial operation, the game has found its stride.
It may never take down WoW, but fans of a fully produced pirate experience have remained loyal and the game, like so many others, has really begun to find its sea legs after a few missteps.
The team recently announced the game’s first full – and free – expansion Power and Prestige and have diligently worked to shore up many of the generally issues that have plagued it since launch. They’ve reworked land combat entirely, for example.
#6 – MapleStory (link)
One of only two 2D games on this list, Maple Story proves that it’s not all in how many polygons someone can stuff onto the screen.
Another imported game, and the second highest ranked one on this list, Maple Story hit North America on October 18th, 2005 and quietly transformed Nexon into one of the top players in the business of imported South Korean MMOs.
It is also the highest ranked purely micro-transaction supported game on the list.
Aimed at a generally younger audience, this side scroller employs many familiar MMO concepts like guilds, dungeon crawls, etc., but does it in a whimsical, offbeat way that has really hit home with a lot of players.
#5 – Aion (link)
Like Fallen Earth, it’s tough to include a game that just snuck its way out the door, but Aion was already a hit before it came to North America.
NCSoft finally launched Aion on September 22nd, 2009, almost a year after it hit South Korea. It is the highest ranked imported MMO on this list.
Aion features high end graphics, flight as more than just travel, and a faction based PvP system that pits the demonic Asmodians against the angelic Elyos.
Its reviews have been solid, the localization top notch, and the fan response generally positive. As far as fully AAA MMOs go, this was easily the most successful game anyone has put out in a number of years.
Now, its 30 days in North America (the length of time someone who buys a boxed copy gets before they have to decide whether to subscriber) are not up, so maybe I’m jumping the gun, but all indications point to a strong product for NCsoft, who desperately needed some North American good news.
Time could deflate this rank, sure, but if I had to bet, I'd say it's only going to move up in the weeks and months to come.