Flying Under Most Radars
Experience tells me it's impractical if not impossible for anyone, myself included, to be completely familiar with the entire free to play MMOG category. Many people pay limited attention to the industry side including development, publishing, knowledge of trends in various geographical and demographic markets, etc. But even if we narrow our focus to simple name recognition, it seems unlikely that any one person is aware of more than a few hundred. While this is a lot, there are still many more, mostly originating in the Far East.
This past week, I spent more time than usual looking around for and at titles that, despite some degree of visibility in the other hemisphere, have yet to appear on many western MMO gamers' radars. While it's difficult to predict how many and which ones will make their way into this market, I thought I'd devote this week's column to introducing a few of the possibilities.
Age of Titan
This is an in-house project from IGG, which is quite unusual among Chinese publishers in that its primary audience focus is international rather than domestic. While it's fair to say the company doesn't possess a sparkling reputation among patrons of sites like this one, a lot of people do play its games, which makes Age of Titan a project to keep an eye on. I've yet to see an official announcement here, but it appears we can expect it sometime in 2011.
In the meantime, my understanding is that it will have a western mythology background in which the players are heroes from various civilizations. Their common goal will be to find and overcome the last member of the Titan race, who has escaped after being imprisoned for centuries, and who is still mighty enough to wreak great havoc in the world.
Unconfirmed reports suggest the play will be in the action RPG vein. IGG did absolutely nothing to dispel this still early impression - and probably fed it - by releasing a trailer last week with Diablo-esque lettering.
Recent word from Korea has it that Nexon, which already had an equity position, has completed the acquisition of Nclipse, the developer of this colorful, visually cute MMORPG, which has been likened to a 3D MapleStory. I don't know the extent to which this characterization is accurate since all I've seen of it to date is assorted screenshots plus a couple of trailers. My expectation is that this will change. It's hard to imagine bringing the studio in-house unless the game is regarded as having the potential beyond just the domestic market.
Legend of Blood
Also slated to join Nexon's portfolio, this mature-rated MMORPG from its in-house EXC Games team ran its initial closed beta phase for a few days late last month. Unfortunately, I've received no indication of how it went. What I do know is that it's described as a fighting game with a substantial guild element and rapid large-scale PvP battles. Four classes have been revealed including human warrior and governor plus dark elf archer and ancient elf mage. Whether there are more remains to be seen.
Ragnarok Online II: Legend of The Second
Grognards may recall Gravity's Norse-themed 2002 release, which ranked among the most popular of its generation. The company began working on a 3D sequel around two or three years later. Ragnarok Online II: The Gate of the World, also sometimes referred to as Epic of the Light, entered closed beta in 2006, then open testing in mid-2007. Despite generally positive reaction to the graphics, the game as a whole never clicked. This summer, after multiple reworks, it was scrapped in favor of starting over.
Legend of the Second is said to be truer to the original's gameplay, systems and mechanics. It's apparently still 3D, using Gamebryo; Gate of the World switched engines a few times, ending up with Unreal 2.5. This iteration is said to be approaching closed beta, which suggests it has been in development for a while. So, if testing goes better, we may be looking at a 2011 launch, at least in Korea. Assuming that happens, I'd guess it will be available here too, although not simultaneously.
Since it was only announced a week ago, there's still very little information to be had on this game. However, it's of interest because it's from leading Chinese publisher Tencent, which is rumoured to be preparing to take a serious run at the North American market. What I've seen so far suggest it will be action RPG-like in a setting derived from the popular classical novel Journey to the West, which would almost certainly mean a significant eastern mythological element.