As many have observed already, 2013 was something of a mark-time year for MMOs. The biggest event of the year was either Neverwinter or the re-launch of FFXIV. When the best the genre has to offer is a choice between the latest project on the Perfect World/Cryptic assembly line and the second coming of a game that failed hard the first time round it would be tough to claim we'd had a vintage year.
That said, a lot of people seemed rather to enjoy Neverwinter although they often seemed to be admitting to something of a guilty pleasure whereas FFXIV: A Realm Reborn, to give it its full, unwieldy title, generally received the warm, if bemused, reception accorded to an old dog as it unexpectedly manages to learn a new trick. That the FFXIV revival was done so well did surprise people but nowhere near so much as that it was done at all.
For me, Neverwinter turned out to be one of those games that I like in theory but never get around to playing very much and now that it's decided not to run at all on my PC even the theory part is, well, theoretical. FFXIV I liked a lot and played a lot, for a while, but the combination of extreme alt-unfriendliness and subscription payment model did for any plans I might have entertained for playing it long-term.
The biggest new story of the year, in my opinion at least, was the combined EQNext/Landmark reveal at last summer's SOE Live. For a couple of weeks that seemed to be just about all anyone was talking about. More surprisingly Sony just about managed to keep the buzz going for rest of the year with a seemingly inexhaustible series of pointless polls and uncomfortable videos.
As I explained, while I think I'm relatively clear on what to expect from EQNext (nothing this year for a start) but I'm still not much wiser as to what Landmark actually is. The time is fast approaching when all will be revealed. According to Smed alpha should start sometime in January. Will I be there? The Magic 8-Ball knows.
Other than that, 2013 was all about GW2. It's an odd game. In some ways it turned out to be nothing like most people expected or ArenaNet claimed. With amazing sleight-of-hand ANet contrived to replace the usual vertical end-game gear grind progression with a similarly exhausting version based on crafting, while at the same time converting the hitherto sprawling, cyclical, unruly open world into a tidy, manageable sequence of numbered and packaged limited-duration events. The promised flat leveling and horizontal progression elements still exist but have deftly been rendered almost entirely irrelevant. A remarkable achievement.
While the entire game was being re-purposed around us, however, one of the original articles of faith at which many, myself included, had scoffed turned out to be no more than simple truth. It had been claimed before launch that World vs World vs World would provide all the endgame that was needed and after a coughing, stuttering start so it proved. The part of the game I never expected to pay any mind to has become, over these last few months, almost the entirety of my concern. I'm not saying I like that. Indeed I may be saying I don't like it much at all. But it's a fact.
Of course there were other MMOs, foremost among them EQ2, with whose expansion before last I finally caught up and whose current expansion I am just about ready to begin to explore. Then there was City of Steam, which came badly off the rails before righting itself after a fashion and carrying on along a new track altogether. I rode herd on dinosaurs in DinoStorm, jetpacked around Firefall, snuck back into The Secret World and even revisited World of Warcraft. I thought, often, about Getting Something Done in Everquest and Vanguard but rarely did.
And so it goes. 2013, the Year of More Of The Same. A comfortable year. Not much got done but by and large I had fun not doing it. What about 2014? Are we stuck in this cosy little rut for another twelvemonth? You know, I rather fear we may be.
The prospects for 2014 look uninspiring. I imagine the Big Three on the watch list of most Western MMO fans would be WildStar, TESO and EQLandmark.
Landmark I've already mentioned. To elaborate and prognosticate, I think it will confuse and disappoint in equal measure. Half the potential audience will be wishing they were playing EQNext and lobbying hard for Landmark to be a Full Feature MMO while the rest will just want to be left alone with a toolset to make their own worlds. I predict the two demographics will not play happily together and few will feel satisfied. On the other hand, I could be the blind man at the back of the elephant telling his friends he's found a piece of old rope...
TESO, on the other hand, looks set to disappoint just about everyone. I don't have any residual affection for the IP so if it ends up appealing to me even in the slightest I'll be both surprised and delighted. Plenty of other people, however, are very heavily invested indeed and when an MMO gets made from an IP that people love it doesn't often seem to go down as well as either the developers or the fans might hope or expect. LotRO might be the exception although even that's had its ups and downs, but the commercial and/or artistic history of the rest - SWG, SW:ToR, Warhammer, AoC, STO, DDO, Lego Universe, to name just a few of the better-known - well, it doesn't make pretty reading.
WildStar, being an original property, should at least avoid disparaging comparisons to its source material. Instead it risks the usual fate of would-be mainstream themepark MMO launches of latter years - being largely ignored by most of the audience it would like to attract while at the same time drawing unflattering comparisons with established titles from those who do give it a try. Nevertheless, while WildStar doesn't hold much interest for me, I wouldn't be that surprised to see it making the best showing of these three in 2014, at least until something better comes along. It smacks rather of Rift, a clean, well-designed MMO from a commercially-focused and adept team with a lower megalomania co-efficient than the average MMO development House.
So WildStar's my horse in this three-way race. I'll back it but I don't plan on riding it. Most likely I'll spend much of next year hacking around the same familiar landscapes on the same spavined, slouch-backed old nags or bumbling around Landmark with my eyes on the horizon and the distant promise of EQNext.
Oh come on! Let's not be negative! Perhaps Landmark will surprise us all when its really A Thing. Maybe the climax of GW2's year-long Living Story will blow our socks off and leave us cheering for the next installment. Maybe something none of us has yet heard of will roar in out of left-field and bowl us all over.
Or maybe 2014 will just be The Year Of More Of More Of The Same. Could be worse.