With new AAA MMORPGs failing to meet players' expectations and older MMOs slowly riding off into the sunset, what’s an MMO fanatic to do? Turn to the innovation and uniqueness that only indie developers are willing to take a chance on. Whether you're looking for a niche product that AAA studios pass on due to lack of profits, are longing for the look and feel of your favorite old-school MMO, or you’re trying to find something to pass the time until a new AAA MMO releases, we have put together a list of the 10 best indie MMOs to play in 2023 and beyond.
One benefit of indie MMOs is the developer’s willingness to gamble on new and innovative features. For Whitemoon Games and their isometric MMORPG Broken Ranks, that means using a unique turn-based combat system. With seven classes to choose from and party-centric gameplay, players simultaneously make their attack and defensive choices. Without action combat to keep things spicy, players only have ten seconds per round to strategize and deploy their decisions before the fighting starts, making this an MMO that prioritizes big brains over fast hands.
Mad World - Age of Darkness
With all of the creature reveal videos recently posted by Jandisoft, there’s no doubt that Mad World is entering the hype phase of its development. The unsettling art style sets the tone for a truly grotesque and twisted world far outside the bounds any AAA studio would be willing to cross, making this 2D isometric MMORPG something to be excited about.
Ashes of Creation
Although 2022 was another year without a playable game, 2023 looks to be an interesting time for fans of Ashes of Creation. According to their December year-in-review stream, the team has doubled in size, so 2023 should be a very productive year. The Alpha 2 test will hopefully be dropping in early 2023 (followed by Beta 1 before year’s end?), giving backers their first chance to experience the Unreal Engine 5 upgrade.
If you are yearning for an old-school MMO experience, then Project Gorgon may be able to scratch your itch. Husband and wife duo Eric Heimburg and Sandra Powers have used their experience on games such as Asheron’s Call and Everquest II to create an exploration-centric MMORPG. Without the hand-holding found in many modern MMOs, players will forge their own destinies through the use of a skill-based leveling system (no predetermined classes here). Fights are tough, and dungeons are packed with puzzles and traps. And if you aren’t sure you are up to the challenge of an old-school MMORPG, there is a demo available on Steam with a skill cap of level 15.
Inspired by Pokemon, Temtem is a creature collection MMO with co-op and player vs player content, housing, and breeding. Temtem is proof positive that indie success stories do exist. Initially funded by a Kickstarter in 2018, Temtem entered Steam Early access at the beginning of 2020. Almost three years later, Temtem was officially released on September 6, 2022, completing a development cycle so many games fail to navigate. Temtem has gone on to sell over 1 million copies across PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Seris X|S, and Nintendo Switch.
City of Titans and Ship of Heroes
Okay, it’s sort of a cop-out putting both City of Titans and Ship of Heroes together, but it is hard to separate the two. Both superhero-themed titles started with Kickstarter campaigns (CoT succeeded, SoH didn’t). Although they bring their own unique story, they are both considered spiritual successors to City of Heroes (RIP, you left us too soon). And both developers, Missing Worlds Media (CoT) and Heroic Games Corporation (SoH), have found out that making an MMO is harder than it appears as development lingers on.
With City of Titans and Ship of Heroes fighting for the same player base, it’s hard to believe that both MMOs will live a long, healthy life after they launch. Which superhero title will be stronger, faster, bigger, and better? That still remains to be seen.
The longest-running MMORPG on this list, Albion Online was released in 2017. Like many MMOs, Albion Online struggled with gold sellers throughout its life. However, with a focus on PvP, Albion Online has matured over the years by expanding guild functionality and continually honing open-world and arena combat. Developer Sandbox Interactive has also tried to find a balance between solo, co-op, and player vs player content by adding a variety of activities for all types of players.
Zenith: The Last City
Released into Early Access in January 2022, Zenith: The Last City created a lot of buzz for a few weeks. Available on PC and Quest 2, the VR-only MMO was treading in untested waters but ultimately fell short of player expectations. According to our reviewer, it lacked content. RamenVR spent the remainder of 2022 fixing bugs and adding additional content for players to explore. In November, patch 1.2, Legends Untold, added creature catching, pet summoning, an updated new player experience, and both a dungeon and raid boss to the mix.
RamenVR already announced a new class, the Cyberninja, would be coming in 2023, along with player housing and a couple of unannounced major features. VR still has its skeptics, though, so 2023 could be a make-it-or-break-it year for Zenith and the VR MMO genre as a whole. No pressure, Ramen.
Scoot over Eve Online, there’s another MMO vying for the top spot on the Spreadsheets in Space podium. In Prosperous Universe, you’ll choose a planet, pick a profession, and build a base. From there, you’ll produce goods, transport them to market, and then sell them for a profit. Doing so requires resources, workers, buildings, and ships. You’ll make all of this happen and more through APEX, a windowed menu system that makes Eve Online look like child's play
It seems like Fractured Online was starting to find its stride in the second half of 2022. Along with several game systems being revamped, recent updates added new races and a second world to the universe. Unfortunately, it was announced at the end of December that Dynamight Studios was having trouble with its third-party backend platform and development would be going offline at the end of January.
The devs have stated that the move is only temporary and that development will continue. It will be interesting to see how quickly the devs can get Fractured back online and whether or not they can recapture the momentum they had created in 2022.