The MMORPG genre is far from dead, but it could surely use a boost from a top player in the industry. Can you imagine if the masterminds behind the Witcher franchise decided to make an MMORPG? Just how splendid that would be.
This thought alone led me to ponder on other studios that could potentially deliver your dream MMORPG. I chose to leave some renowned developers out of the equation as they clearly need a respite to reflect on their recent blunders. Who exactly, I hear you ask?
Bethesda, to begin with. The mess of a game that is Fallout 76 didn’t do any favors to its reputation, so they need the time to realign their focus – The Elder Scrolls fans are watching. BioWare also seems to be stuck in a rut following the lackluster releases of Mass Effect: Andromeda and the highly anticipated and equally unfulfilling Anthem. Finally, Destiny 2 is clearly showing that many players are getting tired of Bungie’s microtransaction-laden sci-fi worlds and the studio needs to move on to more rewarding and fair experiences.
Without further delay, here are ten studios that wouldn’t let you down – hopefully.
CDProjekt (The Witcher Franchise, Cyberpunk 2077)
The storytelling gurus at CDProjekt delivered three of the best RPGs ever made but are yet to prove themselves outside of Geralt de Rivia’s universe. Cyberpunk 2077 is its first stab at another setting, trading medieval fantasy for grim futuristic sci-fi. Here is a studio that doesn’t shy away from a challenge and is known for pouring its heart into each game. CDProjekt deserves extra honors for its crusade against DRM technology and the belief that players should feel compelled to buy a game for its sheer value, instead of pirating it.
The Witcher series has all the trappings of an MMORPG. Great lore, captivating characters, exciting combat and large regions to explore. CDProjekt could probably build on this to create a massively multiplayer world and considering that it owns the rights to video games based on The Witcher novels, there is no shortage of potential or visible blockades along the way – except when Witcher creator Andrzej Sapkowski realizes he needs more money.
Or they could go for something completely original instead, no strings attached. No matter CDProjekt’s decision, it’s a proven fact that they value their players and would go the extra mile to create something utterly memorable.
Rockstar Games (Grand Theft Auto Franchise, Red Dead Franchise, Bully…)
No matter what Rockstar sets out to do, Rockstar achieves – even if it means putting its staff through excruciating long hours. That’s the ugly side of the video game industry, sadly not as unusual as it should be.
But back to the matter at hand. Rockstar Games is a huge publisher with several subsidiaries with proven track records. Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead are its two major franchises, where they show their skills both in single-player and multiplayer. There is no doubt that they would work wonders in an MMO environment…
… “But isn’t that a thing already with GTA Online and Red Dead Online?,” the observant crowd asks. Well, you ingeniously inquisitive fellows, the answer is both yes and no. These online modes for the popular franchises may be robust and excitingly entertaining, but I want to see Rockstar doing something bigger and bolder. Not just multiplayer revisions of the original gameplay, but something supporting way more than 32 players. An entirely new IP, featuring the same open world ideas from the above-mentioned games but with a more elaborate, story-based approach to the game world.
It would be an interesting challenge to tackle, and I’m convinced that Rockstar would be successful. Business as usual.
Ubisoft (Far Cry Franchise, Assassin’s Creed Franchise…)
Currently, Ubisoft is synonym with Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry, but the French company has a lot more under its sleeve. The Division 2, for example, is just one of several games that happily dabble with online gameplay, but is it a true MMORPG? I wouldn’t say so. Oddly enough, there isn’t a single full-fledged story-driven MMORPG anywhere to be seen in Ubisoft’s enviable backlog.
Ubisoft’s experience with rich open world settings would be invaluable when it comes to building a vast and diverse map for an MMORPG. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey shows a developer with several great ideas and a brilliant grasp on art direction, storytelling and combat system. The Assassin’s Creed franchise is a potential candidate for a massively multiplayer release, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Ubisoft using its expertise and resources with an original IP.
The overwhelming success of Fortnite Battle Royale coupled with the industry-leading Unreal Engine are the two main drivers of Epic Games’ unstoppable growth. The failure of third-person MOBA Paragon wasn’t enough to deter the studio, and it was convinced that Fortnite would come out of development hell and convince the masses. It did, but the “help” of a rival to steer it in the right direction was essential: PUBG introduced it the wondrous world of Battle Royale.
For a studio that was founded in 1991 and enjoyed several successes over the years, Epic Games is sitting at the top of its game. They could easily design a traditional third-person MMORPG as they have the resources – mainly the engine –, the know-how and the financial freedom. They are proven masters of every visual style, so they could go for a sci-fi fantasy theme enriched with realistic features (as seen in Paragon) or choose a laid-back cartoon approach (Fortnite). While it is early days for fully-fledged Unreal Engine 4 MMORPGs (Nexon’s Project BBQ, Blade & Soul’s Vision update, NCsoft’s Project TL…), Epic Games could easily stand out from the competition with its expertise with the engine.
Is Path of Exile an MMORPG or is it not? That’s a discussion that could go on for days, but the general opinion is that it is an ‘online action RPG.’ Rightfully acclaimed as one of the best examples of the Diablo school of hack and slash, Grinding Gear Games’ title could work as a great prelude to an MMORPG.
Grim and gloomy just as Diablo is – or was? –, Path of Exile could serve as the stepping stone for an isometric MMORPG in the style of Lost Ark. With open world areas and world bosses for dozens of players to cooperate, along with the traditional instanced dungeons, it’s not like GGG’s first and only game strays too far from MMORPG territory. Their updates are renowned for being huge and going in the direction of player requests and aren’t afraid of drastically changing something that doesn’t feel right – as they did with the Fall of Oriath expansion, completely altering the campaign structure.
The big question here is if it would be worthwhile developing a second game that fundamentally would borrow many mechanics from Path of Exile. Perhaps going for a different, less grisly theme would be the best choice?
Digital Extremes (Warframe)
Through perseverance and unshakeable belief in its original vision, Digital Extremes managed to surpass everyone’s expectations and showed a thing or two to many publishers of little faith. Warframe went from being a niche game to a behemoth of an online action RPG.
It’s this perseverance and long-term vision that would ultimately set them apart from other developers. Ironically, it was absent from hero shooter The Amazing Eternals, but realizing early on that something isn’t going to take off may be a positive as well.
Digital Extremes is absolutely at ease with sci-fi and fast-paced movement, so it would be the perfect candidate for a frantic action combat MMORPG. They are no strangers to open world MMO gameplay as well, with Warframe’s updates Plains of Eidolon and Fortuna showing that they can hold their own in this department.
The only downside would probably be that this hypothetical MMORPG would be, just as Warframe, in open beta for all eternity and beyond. But we all can live with that, right?
Riot Games (League of Legends)
Riot Games must step up its game soon or risk seeing the fountain of riches that is League of Legends eventually dry out. How fun would it be to see Runeterra becoming the stage for an MMORPG? It’s not as crazy as it sounds either; it was Riot Games’ co-founder Marc Merrill that came up with the thought and fans reacted accordingly.
Of course, this is nothing but speculation. While Riot Games is said to be “experimenting a lot of stuff,” and considering the implications of going head-to-head with World of Warcraft, nothing is set in stone.
However, it should happen. League of Legends has some terrific characters and intricate lore that could work nicely in an MMORPG. The colorful cartoon aesthetic feels just right for a third-person perspective, and it goes without saying that the League of Legends player base would jump at the thought of seeing its favorite world expanding. This MMORPG must be made while the MOBA remains at its best, so that gives them… two to three years?
KOG Studio is something of a weird case. While an expert in online games, the South Korean studio still hasn’t dipped its feet in traditional MMORPG territory. Grand Chase and Elsword are acclaimed MMO games but they are action games at heart and couldn’t be further from the likes of World of Warcraft or EverQuest.
Nonetheless, Elsword is considered a 2.5D action MMORPG, which means that it includes core mechanics such as guilds, PvP and item trading. KOG’s latest game, KurtzPel, switches to a third-person perspective but is a focused PvP brawler experience with boss raid PvE gameplay tacked on.
So why do I reckon that KOG could deliver an outstanding MMORPG? Because they have years of experience in online games, a couple of successful titles under its belt, and a mastery of action gameplay. The cherry on top is the combat system developed for KurtzPel, which would work impeccably in an MMORPG. The same thing goes for the beautiful anime graphics.
I don’t want to sound like a grumpy old curmudgeon, but adding hub towns with proper quests to KurtzPel would be a great place to start. Follow it with complete dungeons, let it cook for a couple of years and we would get a stunning anime MMORPG. Sadly, KurtzPel isn’t going to be that game, but KOG may eventually get to it in the future.
For many of you, the name DevCAT may not ring a bell, but what about Mabinogi and Vindictus? Now that tells you something, doesn’t it? The South Korean studio is behind these classic MMORPGs, with Vindictus being one of the best examples in action combat before TERA or Black Desert Online showed up to the party. This game is live and getting updates up to this day, further proof that DevCAT stands by its work.
A sequel to Vindictus is long overdue and was once in development, but it felt more like an arena brawler spin-off than a proper follow-up. It ended up being canceled, with DevCAT moving on to other games. The monster-hunting online game Dragon Hound is one of its upcoming titles and a very promising one, and DevCAT is also reimagining Mabinogi for mobile devices, and it looks terribly cute. DevCAT’s catalog shows that it is a studio capable of tackling any challenge, from MMORPGs to MOBAs and even card games.
DevCAT should consider updating Vindictus to the current generation, just as Neople is doing with Dungeon Fighter Online’s sequel (codename Project BBQ). A third-person, brutal action combat MMORPG mixing Vindictus’ varied character selection with an open world like Black Desert Online could be a pleasant recipe. Nexon just needs to give them the go-ahead and we’ll all be happy.
I’m not even going to bother with Phantasy Star Online 2 anymore. I gave up on the promised western release a long time ago, but SEGA could at least be so kind as to officially confirm that this version is dead and buried, something that they didn’t even worry about telling their fans. We need some sort of closure on this subject, guys!
SEGA is no stranger to MMORPGs, as you can see, so it’s peculiar to realize that it has all but abandoned the genre. A new Phantasy Star Online game would result in millions of joyful players worldwide, but I wouldn’t rule out something based on the Yakuza franchise as well. This prolific series is acclaimed for its open world and story, as well as for the abundance of mini-games and entertaining side-quests. Aren’t those some of the fundamentals of a full-fledged MMORPG?
Between a new Phantasy Star Online and a Yakuza MMORPG, the choice is far from easy. Recently we were fooled into thinking that the latter one was happening, but Yakuza Online turned out to be a mobile card game. In your face, expectations!
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