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The Sci-Fi MMO: The Future

William Murphy Posted:
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Over the past couple of weeks we've taken a look back at the past of the Science Fiction MMO and the current landscape of the subgenre. Today we delve into several of the upcoming games that look to further cement Sci-Fi's place among the traditionally fantasy-dominated industry. With a mix of both established intellectual properties and wholly new universes coming into play, the next few years are shaping up to be mighty interesting in the online gaming space. Without further adieu, let's take a look at some of the most hotly anticipated games and why we should care about them.

NetDevil's Jumpgate: Evolution has a lot of people waiting for its launch. Originally slated to be released last year, the game's now been pushed back to an undisclosed date, and some folks are even wondering if it will ever see the light of day. Despite the mystery surrounding the title's status, there is still a lot to be excited about when it comes to JGE. Reminiscent of classic PC games like Wind Commander, JGE is aiming to be a more action driven spaceflight game than the extremely popular EVE. Perhaps a wise decision to not go head to head with your main competition and instead offer a different experience in a similar arena. With multi-faction PvP and large-scale battles being touted as a core component of gameplay, one would hope the combat lives up to the potential of the setting.

Jumpgate isn't all about the "pew-pew" though. The game's official website touts an in-depth player-driven economy and a unique mission generator which tailors PvE content for players at their command. The space-flight MMO realm is pretty much dominated currently by CCP's EVE Online, but one of the pioneers in the setting was NetDevil's original Jumpgate: The Reconstruction Initiative. I'm sure I'm not the only gamer anxious to see what the developer has learned from their successors over recent years.

NetDevil won't be the only studio entering the fray with a space-flight oriented experience. Reakktor Media's Black Prophecy is nearing the Open Beta phase, even though as of this writing they're still in negotiations with a publisher. Also expected to be a highly action-oriented game, Black Prophecy is packing lore credited to renowned Sci-Fi author Michael Marrak (Lord Gamma). The game also features highly customizable ships which are designed in a modular manner. The best analogy I can think of is LEGO. Different essential parts of a player's ship are pieced together, allowing the player to customize their ship's shape and size, ensuring that if you want a sleek and sexy gunner, a hulking behemoth, or just a weird monstrosity of the stars you can make it happen. The same technology is applied to space-stations which can be built by clans and customized in the same modular fashion. A unique take on "Guild Housing", clans can add different functionality to their stations through the selection of these different modules.

Not all of the upcoming Science Fiction offerings will be set out in the great dark void of space, however. Not long from now players will be seeing the launch of Masthead Studios' highly PVP-driven Earthrise. Classless and boasting a number of different factions competing with one another for dominance, Earthrise has a lot of potential behind its proposed mechanics even if there's not yet a lot of hype coming along with it. Though I wouldn't say that's a bad thing. As we wrote recently in one of our weekly Lists, Masthead's title is also reportedly going to have a very significant story-driven PvE campaign that is very solo-friendly (even if the other players are out for your blood during your quest). Another noted feature of Earthrise is an offline progression system that will allow players to develop their characters even when they can't log in, albeit in minor ways that involve income or social aspects of the game's core systems.

Though arguably far less Sci-Fi and more along the line of Horror, there are two other titles on the horizon coming from two experienced developers that have players chomping at the bit for details. Little is known about both Funcom's The Secret World and CCP's World of Darkness, other than the fact that both share similar settings, and both are going to offer players something different to sample in the near future. Given how little is known about either title (though the former has a robust viral marketing campaign driving hype), I wouldn't put much stock in them releasing anytime soon. Still, it's nice to see unique settings coming down the pipe.

Less unique, but no less revered, is BioWare's first entry into the MMORPG space. Star Wars: The Old Republic was first announced on October 1st, 2008... an event which proceeded to break the Internet. Set to release in early 2011, the fact that this near-holy IP has such a highly acclaimed developer behind it has set the hype level beyond anything this writer's seen in recent years. Beta applications are currently being accepted, and no doubt millions of anxious gamers are chomping at the bit to find out just how BioWare's foray into MMORPGs will play out. Given that we know the game has entirely voiced dialog, a robust NPC-companion system, and storylines for each character class, it may be safe to say that BioWare is aiming to bring what they do best into online gaming: the ability to tell an engaging tale. One hopes that the gameplay lives up to the narrative.

Lastly, it seems impossible to write an article about Sci-Fi MMOs and not mention EVE. Though perhaps a less-traditional MMO, DUST 514 is the second game developed by CCP and will launch as a console-only title (Xbox 360 and PS3). More of an MMOFPS than traditional RPG, DUST 514 is unique in that CCP plans to tie it directly to their firstborn EVE. The game will consist of massive ground battles between players, the outcomes of which will determine who controls planets set in the games' universe. Two entirely different game experiences on two entirely different platforms, and yet they'll be joined at the hip through the lore and the universe. It's a mighty ambitious project, and should it play out it could be a mighty successful one given the popularity of FPS games on consoles these days.

At a glance, this is what the landscape of the next 24 months or so looks like for MMO gamers. In the past the Sci-Fi MMO has had a bit of a rock road, only really gaining prominence alongside the "sword & board" titles with the success of titles like EVE Online and Star Wars Galaxies. And yet most of the major releases slated on the calendar in the future are titles with a distinctly different flavor. The only question is, will any of them be worth, paying, playing and staying? Or will we look at this list of future releases a couple of years down the road with a sigh over the lost hopes of what could have been?


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.