A Year in Review: 2021 - The Year of the MMORPG
2021 has been a trying year. Many people were still without jobs, we spent another year away from friends and family. Exchanges between Humans – interactions we had grown so familiar with, that had become a part of our daily life have been at an all time low.
Yet even amongst such a challenging, trying year, people have found ways of pushing through. Moving on with their lives. Gamers, especially, with many people finding new appreciation for the once mocked activity.
First, let me wish you all a Happy New Year. It’s January 1st right now, and the beginning of 2022 – which is honestly kind of surreal. I made it through another year without offending everyone and having the cancel culture mob after me.
I’d say, above everything else, that’s an accomplishment for me. Now I’m about as big of an MMO fan as fans come. I’ve been in the genre since 2004 – and have been actively playing MMOs for 2 thirds of my life.
I’ve played almost every single MMO available online, and have played well over 10 games to endgame, both raiding and PvPing competitively.
The experiences that I’ve had – both the pleasure, and at times displeasure of living through, have helped shape me and mold me into the kind of gamer I am today.
Every year is very different for gamers. Some years we get a release as massive as Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Final Fantasy XV. The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. Sometimes, we get several large releases all within close proximity to one another. Other years, all we get are teasers of what we can look forward to next year.
I wish I could say the same was true of the MMO genre, yet unfortunately, it’s been several years since we’ve had an MMO worth even dedicating time and effort to long-term.
Today, I want to do something a little differently. Today, I want to review 2021. The entire year. I want to look at every single MMO release, and give my thoughts on them.
I honestly cannot recall the last time we had as many MMO-related releases as we’ve had within the span of 2021. MMOs exclusive to the PC platform. MMOs released exclusively on the mobile platform. Even MMOs that have released on every platform: PC, mobile and console.
Yet as of December 31st, 2021 – the final day of the year, not a single MMO has retained any semblance of success.
January saw the release of 2 brand new MMORPGs, one of which was an entirely new intellectual property.
GRAN SAGA and Wild Terra 2: New Lands. GRAN SAGA is a cross-platform MMORPG released in South Korea for both PC and mobile platforms. The game is gorgeous, but features a lot of traditional mobile mechanics like auto-play. It also has atrocious Gacha mechanics in place that require you spend money to unlock other characters – or – “weapons.”
This game went on to earn over $100 million dollars within its first month alone, and had millions of active players worldwide. A Global release has since been confirmed, hopefully for 2022.
Wild Terra 2: New Lands on the other hand is a top-down isometric survival-esque MMO. It looks and plays about as poorly as any indie MMO without the backing of a larger investor would, and its lack of population shows.
There were no major releases from February through April, with May having a single MMO release in the form of Moonlight Sculptor. This was a mobile-exclusive title, featuring a cute, chibi-style Anime aesthetic.
While the game itself wasn’t bad, much like GRAN SAGA it featured far too many “mobile” mechanics to really allow for it to stand out in a world with much better alternatives.
June is when things really seemed to pick up for the genre.
ODIN: Valhalla Rising, a cross-platform MMO was released on to both PC and mobile platforms. This game went on to absolutely shatter records, making over $100 million dollars within Korea alone, and continuing to make tens of millions every week for.. well, as long as they continued to report as such.
There were an exorbitant number of players playing concurrently, and much like GRAN SAGA, ODIN: Valhalla Rising has been confirmed to be receiving a Global release in 2022. While this game does feature auto-mechanics as well, the developers have expressed interest in removing them all together for their Global release.
PSO2 New Genesis also launched within June. New Genesis was the critically acclaimed overhaul of the entire franchise for Sega, featuring a gorgeous new graphical style, faster more fluid action combat, a large, open world for players to explore instead of the instanced hub they were used to.
Unfortunately, due to a lack of content for players to consume the game quickly dried up and lost 90% of its active players within a few months.
The Elder Scrolls Online went on to release their latest expansion: Blackwood. Admittedly.. there wasn’t really any talk of the expansion outside of its immediate community. No mass influx of players. Nothing. I think it just kind of ended up being a.. mediocre expansion, which I’m sure will upset ESO players but it’s the truth.
There have been some incredible ESO expansions, and I don’t think this was necessarily one of them.
July saw the sudden release of Swords of Legends Online – a gorgeous Xianxia themed hybrid action MMO. This was a title nobody had ever heard of, nor seen. So when Gameforge revealed it was coming as soon as it was, players were confused.
This ultimately ended up being a rather niche title, with the playerbase dropping by over 90% within a few months of its release. The game, unlike most, was not pay-to-win, nor was there a lack of content. It was just that the game.. was bad.
Additionally, the crowdfunded “Crowfall” MMORPG was released. This title was highly anticipated, and expected to take the genre by storm by providing players a real-time, evolving strategic world and environment, described as “The Throne War Simulator.”
However, the game was so poorly received, with such a small number of active players, that ArtCraft, the developers attempted to hide the option of displaying the number of concurrent players in-game.
Something that players took notice of VERY quickly, with players proceeding to express their disdain for ArtCraft attempting to hide things like this on Reddit.
August was a busy month for Asian MMOs.
Bless Unleashed, one of the most reviled franchises in the entire MMO genre released onto PC. This was arguably the second largest release of 2021 – to the surprise of.. everyone, actually.
And honestly? It wasn’t even a bad game. It had some incredible world-boss encounters, decent graphics and.. mediocre combat. But the playerbase dried up very quickly, with 90% of the playerbase disappearing over a few month period, and the developers selling the property to another company to get away with as much money as they can.
Yes, this is how pathetic Neowiz, the developers behind the Bless IP are.
Blade & Soul 2 also launched. This was NCSoft’s first attempt at utilizing the Purple Platform for a mainstream title like this. A spiritual successor to the massive hit that was Blade & Soul built for mobile? And playable on PC via their custom emulator?
This was a gamble that really did not see the return they had expected. It was slightly less auto-play than both GRAN SAGA and ODIN: Valhalla Rising, and definitely looked better graphically, but did the worst – by far.
MIR4 was the first fully-operational NFT MMO, allowing players to earn money by playing the game. This shot up in popularity, and became the third largest MMO release of this year and has remained as such even months after launching.
Unfortunately it’s an auto-play mobile game ported on over to PC so the developers can make more money off of the gullible playerbase that is.. well, us. With auto-pathing, auto-combat, and auto-everything else.
September saw the largest release of the entire year – and what is arguably the largest release of the last several years: New World.
This was the MMO everyone was excited to play. An MMO developed by a company with more money than the entire rest of the world combined: Amazon. Yet even with all of that money, New World quickly became one of the biggest memes of the last decade.
There were countless bugs, glitches, hacks, abusers. You name an issue, and it was present within New World. And then it’ll surprise you with issues you couldn’t even imagine, like the immortality glitch from dragging your window in windowed mode. That was something else.
New World at its core is a decent game. Solid graphics. Solid gameplay. A lack of content, and a very repetitious cycle of things to do and no easy way of accomplishing your objective, but still, a decent game. If only Amazon was competent enough to make it a GOOD game.
October saw a single release in the form of ELYON, an action MMO that has been in development for years now, from the very same studio that brought us TERA, one of the best action MMORPGs to date.
Elyon had quite the horrendous development cycle, originally entering Beta testing as Ascent: Infinite Realm, but after being poorly received, quickly changed direction and focus from a unique aerial steampunk MMO set mostly within the skies, to a traditional fantasy MMO with essentially no flight whatsoever.
This also happened to be the worst release of 2021 in terms of active players – especially as a free title, with the game barely coming close to hitting peaks 1/5th the population of a PC port of a mobile game? Or worse yet, Bless Unleashed?
November saw 3 releases: On the one hand, Lineage W, the next game in the Lineage franchise released onto both PC and mobile platforms via NCSoft’s Purple Platform.
Unlike the previous Lineage and Lineage 2 MMOs, Lineage W was closer to Lineage 2: Revolution and Lineage 2M – a poor quality mobile MMO with very little to offer players.
But, The Lord of the Rings Online – an MMO that very few people even remember exists these days released a brand new expansion: Gundabad.
I genuinely feel bad as the expansion looked pretty solid in terms of what it offered players, yet with how little people actively play The Lord of the Rings Online.. it was mostly overlooked
And while New World may have been the biggest new release of 2021, I think it’s safe to say the largest release overall this year was Final Fantasy XIV’s Endwalker expansion.
Not only was this their most popular expansion to date, but with the exodus of players from World of Warcraft and the bulk of them joining Final Fantasy XIV, it also allowed for this game to dethrone WoW as the most played MMO of 2021. Of the last decade, even.
Endwalker went on to win multiple awards, and the general consensus is that Final Fantasy XIV has solidified itself as the reigning king of the genre.
And finally, December saw the rushed release of Tower of Fantasy. This was a cross-platform action MMO I was eagerly anticipating – that I feel everyone was anticipating.
This was supposed to be our genres’ answer to Genshin Impact. A game that looked and played as good as Genshin does, while simultaneously being an MMO. Unfortunately, due to new laws within China, Tower of Fantasy was unable to fully realize their vision and was forced to push out a half-assed game ahead of them perfecting it.
Many players have given up hope of ever playing the game as of the last week, with the developers expressing their disinterest in releasing the game outside of China.
While technically I could end this right here and now, I do think it’s worth noting the MMOs we’re all looking forward to. MMOs that were either going to release this year but were delayed, or MMOs that are expected to release within 2022.
These will be listed in alphabetical order, beginning with BitCraft.
BitCraft is looking to be a unique social MMO, with the developers having raised over $4 million dollars in investment for their game.
Blue Protocol is an Anime inspired action MMO that was expected to release in Japan in 2021, but looks to have been delayed into 2022.
Corepunk is a top-down isometric MMO like Diablo or Path of Exile that was supposed to release in December of this year, but was delayed indefinitely at present.
Digimon Super Rumble is a Digimon-themed Anime MMO set within the Digital World. It just held its full Open Beta test in anticipation of a full launch in 2022.
Guild Wars 2 revealed their End of Dragons expansion would be releasing in 2022.
Into the Echo is a self-proclaimed “next-generation” MMORPG built using Unreal Engine 5.
Lost Ark is a top-down isometric action MMO finally being published in the West by Amazon.. the same developers of New World in February.
Mortal Online 2 is the successor to Mortal Online, launching in the near future.
Noah’s Heart just finshed its first large Beta test with an expected release date of 2022.
Palia is a gorgeous new action MMO with quite the grandiose ambition – whether or not it’ll live up to that is another thing all together.
Project TL hasn’t had a trailer in years, but is supposedly releasing in 2022 according to NCSoft’s Quarterly Financials.
Project BBQ is supposedly launching in 2022 as well, and along with Blue Protocol is one of the most anticipated MMOs of 2022.
And finally Project Ragnarok is launching this year, but seems to unfortunately be an auto-play game much like GRAN SAGA and ODIN: Valhalla Rising. Not that we’ve had more than a single trailer to gauge this off of.
And that’s 2021. It might have been a slightly disappointing year in terms of the longevity of these releases, but there’s no arguing this was by far “the year of the MMORPG.” There were more releases this year than any other in recent memory.
I’ve found myself enjoying PSO2 New Genesis and Final Fantasy XIV’s Endwalker expansion more than I had ever realistically thought I would, and am going into 2022 with the knowledge that we might not necessarily have as densely a populated year as 2021, but maybe we’ll see a release or two that can stand the test of time.
Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking, I dunno. Either way, I’d say this year was actually pretty good. Nothing great, but I got to play quite a few new games for the channel. And while most of them were either mediocre or below, I’d still call that a win.
That’s how the genre used to be back in the early 2000’s after all with copy-paste Anime MMOs released every other month.