2012 was an action-packed year for MMO gamers. We've seen the launch of several high-profile, hotly-anticipated titles, played expansions for some of our favorite games, and tinkered around with previews and betas for potential blockbusters. In terms of variety, there's now always a smorgasbord available, and chances are that you have a ton of stellar games vying for your consideration. I know that I have several games, MMO and otherwise, that are sitting on my desktop clamoring for my attention, and while I've enjoyed playing a variety of 2012's MMORPGs for work purposes, there are certainly a few personal favorites to which I keep returning.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my shortlist for non-MMO games of the year, which includes Borderlands 2, FIFA 13, Forza Horizon, Touch My Katamari, and Football Manager 2013. In a year full of must-play games across genres and systems, these games have definitely garnered the lion's share of my non-MMO attention. There are also several of 2012's MMORPG expansions that I've either played for preview purposes or am chomping at the bit to get to, and just haven't yet had the chance to explore. These include Rift: Storm Legion and World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria. Inundated as I am with a plethora of games for work and pleasure, I haven't yet had the opportunity to dig into these expansions, but believe you me, they're on my list.
I feel like I've been anticipating the release of Guild Wars 2 since The Breakfast Club was on the big screen. I had played the game's predecessor, Guild Wars, and all of its expansions, followed all of ArenaNet's blog posts and developer diaries, read a bunch of wikis (and a good deal of the officially licensed novels) to catch up on lore, and covered the game for pre-release streams and content. I've always been a fan of ArenaNet's vision for a new type of MMO experience, and feel invested in the characters and world of Tyria that they have created.
The best thing that I can say about Guild Wars 2 is that it has met, if not surpassed, most of my expectations. It has an absolutely stunning aesthetic and art design, an engaging combat system that requires skill and flexibility, and a massive world that rewards exploration. It features a new approach to PvE content that emphasizes dynamic events and teamwork over the old hats of static quest hubs and mob tagging. Importantly, it also provides the basis for a complex and multi-layered PvP system in its instanced scenarios and World-vs-World combat.
My enjoyment of Guild Wars 2 can sometimes tiptoe around fanboyism, but I'm well aware of and vocal about the critiques that can be leveled against it. The game's events, for example, don't feel so dynamic after you've seen them play out ad infinitum in an area, particularly when you're rewarded for sticking around lower-level zones because of Guild Wars 2's level adjustment system. Crafting, while more accessible and streamlined than in other games, still doesn't make a convincing argument for my time over the game's other features. The state of structured PvP is a whole other story, and the game's rewards system is still undergoing a lot of tinkering to please high-level players.
Taking all of these criticisms in stride, I still find Guild Wars 2 to be pound-for-pound my most fun and engaging MMO experience of 2012. Its rich, open world demands exploration, and while some of the game's systems are not as revolutionary as expected, they are still innovative enough to revitalize traditional aspects of the genre. I like, for example, the combat and progression systems, which still utilize tab targeting and skill bars, but add features of mobility and experimentation that invigorate the PvE and PvP experiences. I enjoy sPvP and WvW, evolving spheres of the game that they may be. I get a kick out of Guild Wars 2's dynamic content, and am excited by how much of it already exists, with new areas for each of my five characters to explore.
Most of all, Guild Wars 2 is one of 2012's games that forced me to actively engage in learning how to play it, which is a characteristic that I value greatly. I don't mind telling you that for all of my anticipation towards Guild Wars 2's August launch, I had a hard time getting into the game because I was still approaching it with a traditional MMO mindset. After playing it more, and seeing for myself what ArenaNet was attempting to accomplish with the sequel to its flagship title, I began to understand the potential that Guild Wars 2 has to offer, and found its focus on cooperation and exploration to be a breath of fresh air. Guild Wars 2 requires a bit of a paradigm shift of your gameplay expectations as a bar of entry, but I find that giving it a little work and attention is well-worth the effort.
Funcom's The Secret World has been receiving quite a lot of press attention since its move to a buy-to-play model of monetization, which is exactly what it needs to thrive. Arriving in July with no small amount of fanfare but no large amount of advertising dollars, and a mandatory subscription that proved prohibitive, The Secret World seemed to capture the interest of many but the dedication of a select few. I really enjoyed Funcom's new game for a month or so after release, and found its storytelling and open character development to be particularly appealing, even if its investigation missions sometimes feel unnecessarily obtuse. I have the same issues as everyone else with The Secret World's clunky combat animations and work-in-progress PvP, but they're a small price to pay for the game's depth of gameplay.
I've recently gotten back into the game and have been pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoy it. Perhaps ruminating on the game's flaws has allowed me to look past them and adjust my expectations, but in any case, I find The Secret World to be a refreshing experience in its modern-day, conspiracy-theory setting. I highly recommend checking it out, particularly with the mandatory subscription fee lifted, and especially for those looking for a counterpoint to traditional fantasy and sci-fi MMO tropes. Just be sure to get your loyalties straight. And Illuminated. Illuminati!
Like every other Middle-earth aficionado out there, I followed my first viewing of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with a Lord of the Rings extended edition marathon, which refreshed my love for Tolkien's created world and stories. It also reminded me of why I keep coming back to Turbine's The Lord of the Rings Online, because throughout the movies, I was struck by how faithful LOTRO is to the books, and how much of the lore I've learned through playing it. This will make me sound like the biggest nerd ever, but I'm pretty sure that when they mentioned Dol Guldur in The Hobbit, I exclaimed something aloud to the effect of, "I've BEEN there, son!" Suffice it to say that I continually enjoy adventuring in Turbine's representation of Middle-earth, and even though I've yet to dip into 2012's Riders of Rohan expansion, I find myself returning to LOTRO time and again.
Over a year ago, I wrote in my re-review of Vanguard that it could greatly benefit from switching to a free-to-play model, which didn't look like was in the cards at the time. Lo and behold, in 2012, Sony Online Entertainment completely changed their stance on the subject and built a F2P system to suit Vanguard, alongside their new free-to-play initiative. This shift provided the impetus for me to jump back into Vanguard in 2012, and while the F2P implementation is not perfect, I certainly will take any excuse to play SOE's game for free. Coupled with the resumption of updates and new content additions, the game's switch to free-to-play in 2012 has given me the incentive to play in Telon again, and Vanguard's world is just as expansive, fantastic, and engaging as it always has been.
Runic Games' Torchlight 2 is more or less the perfect sequel. It adds a plethora of features to the base Torchlight formula, including new classes and pets, an open world, co-op play, and a whole lot more. I love that even with the amount of depth available in each class' progression trees, I can still spam my Engineer's basic Flame Hammer skill and feel like the destroyer of worlds. Torchlight 2 evolves most of the systems that were already polished in the original game, and builds upon the series' charming aesthetic and addictive gameplay. Plus, at its attractive price point of $19.99, it makes a convincing argument to be played, and is well worth the investment.
2012 was a fantastic year for video games, and I'd love to know what are your games of the year!
You can follow Som on Twitter and tell him that Torchlight 2 isn't an MMO @sominator.