May 10, 2008

Top 3 MMORPGs coming out in 2008

Looks like 2008 is going to be a great year for MMORPG players, with three new and amazing games coming out. First of all, there's obviously the brutal and mature Age of Conan, which is going to be released in a little more than a week. Then we have Warhammer Online, a promising PvP-RvR game based on the very popular Warhammer Fantasy world that should come out on September 30.

The third game doesn't seem to have such a large following as the first two, at least not outside Asia - you might not have even heard of it before if you aren't interested in Korean MMOs - but it offers some very interesting features, such as air combat. I'm talking about Aion: Tower of Eternity, the beautiful and stylish high fantasy MMORPG from the creators of Lineage 2. Don't write it off right away as "another Asian grindfest" because you might be in for a surprise. A tentative release date for Aion is October 30.

In all fairness, I should probably also mention Wrath of the Lich King which is slated for November 30 this year and will probably get tons of sales, but it's merely an expansion to World of Warcraft and by no means a new game.

Perhaps Darkfall deserves to be mentioned as well, as it offers more unique features than any other MMORPG to date ("on paper", at least), but I really doubt it will make a 2008 release.

Now let's see what's so good about these three games, and then compare their fanbases, features, and try to guess how successful they are going to be.

Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures

There is a number of things that set this game apart from other MMORPGs. To start with, it's the first ever mature MMORPG with violence, gore, implied sex and slavery. Conan's Hyboria is an unforgiving and harsh place, not fit for the weak; it's a realistic and brutal low fantasy world. Second, we have the incredible graphics - Age of Conan is the first MMORPG to use a DirectX 10 capable engine. Most of animations are motion-captured, so expect yet unseen level of realism.

Then we have the unique features of the game: the Real Combat melee system where you have to aim your blows yourself, the brutal Fatalities, Mounted Combat with horses, rhinos and even mammoths, and Spellweaving for empowering your spells at the cost of your own stamina and health. The first person view for Rangers is something that deserves to be mentioned as well. Overall Age of Conan is bringing a lot of new things to the MMORPG market, instead of just going with a tried and proved model.

I didn't mention Keep Siege among the unique game features, because there are many other MMORPGs which have this kind of thing (Lineage 2, for one). Still, it's very important to point out that Age of Conan uses a FFA-PvP model (Free For All), meaning there are no predefined factions, and all warfare is a result of guild conflicts. This is very different from the two other MMOs I'm writing about in this post since they both are RvR-PvP (Realm versus Realm) games. Plus, on PvP servers you are able to attack anyone not in your guild or party, which is a big thing for some hardcore PvPers, even if a bit diminished by practically nonexistent death penalties. In the Border Kingdoms, most powerful guilds will compete for domination and raid the Battlekeeps of the enemy clans, while trying to build up and defend their own - that's what Keep Siege in Age of Conan is about.

When compared to other two games, it offers most realism, in sharp contrast with beautiful, immaculate high fantasy world of Aion (AoC is like this scarred battle veteran in rusted gear, while Aion is a shiny, winged being with smooth skin and ornate armor) and to less extent with more gritty, but somewhat cartoony style of Warhammer Online.

Age of Conan screenshots:



Release date: 20th May
Developer: Funcom
Links:
Official site
Preorder Age of Conan

Warhammer Online

Warhammer Online is another big MMORPG coming out this year - possibly the most anticipated of the three as the Warhammer world has a big fanbase (but I'll talk about that later). Warhammer has highly stylized ("cartoony", so to speak) art style and a RvR PvP (Realm versus Realm) model, which is why some people say it's very similar to WoW (even going as far as calling it WoW 2.0). That's not entirely true, however; Warhammer Online is very much focused on the PvP content - the battle between Armies of Order and Destruction - and even accomplishing PvE quests will contribute a little to your Army's effort. The ultimate goal is to conquer the enemy cities, and then lay siege to their capital. This constant, ongoing war seems to be the main attraction of the game.

Some of the unique features of the game include "Tome of Knowledge" rewards, where a player is given some information on Warhammer lore (something fans will like, I'm sure) and advanced character combat ability customization with Tactics and Morale Skills that you can equip before each battle. The RvR system also seems well thought out and deep; here's a YouTube video explaining it in detail.

While Warhammer has what is probably the largest following, it also offers least innovations and new features. Even the graphics engine is an updated one from DAoC; no doubt it will work great, but I don't think we'll see any truly spectacular views. It really seems that WAR went with what is proven to work, unlike Age of Conan and Aion to some extent. They do give a lot of thoughts to the gameplay though, such as making sure even low level players can already engage in RvR battles.

Warhammer Online screenshots:



Release date: Fall 2008
Developer: EA Mythic
Links:
Official site
Preorder Warhammer Online

Aion: Tower of Eternity

Aion is a Korean high fantasy game from NCSoft - creators of Guild Wars, City of Heroes, Tabula Rasa and Lineage, which makes them the most experienced MMORPG developers. Forget being a weak, bound to earth human - in Aion, you will become Daeva - an immortal, winged being with the power to control Aether. The world of Aion is pure eyecandy: floating cities, lush forests full of fantastic creatures, sexy, beautiful and flawless characters, stunning spell effects and that sort of stuff. I guess it's either love or hate with Asian style MMORPGs; personally, I like the art style a lot. Like I said before, the contrast between the brutal Age of Conan and beautiful Aion is huge, so these games will probably attract separate crowds.

Aion is a complex game, with dynamic relationships between races, guilds and factions. The game model is RvR: there are two playable Daeva races (the Angelic race, Elyos, and the Demonic race, Asmodian) as well as the third NPC race - the Draconian race, or Balaur, which will also participate in RvR conflicts as enemies or allies. The main conflicts happen in the Abyss, which was formed after the Tower of Eternity was broken. There will also be castles available for capture; first, the guild will have to defeat the defending Balaur, and then protect the castle against enemy factions.

Among the unique features of Aion is the aerial combat: when your character reaches a high enough level, it can acquire "wings", which not only can be used for travel, but for fighting in the air as well. The game uses CRYtek engine (same as FarCry) so expect some stunning detail.

One of the main concerns that most players have when it comes to Korean MMORPGs is "grind" - repetitive actions needed to advance your character, basically. The developers have spoken about the issue in a Q&A session so they are aware of it, and the game will be released both for EU and US markets, so it seems more casual players will be catered to as well.

Aion screenshots:



Release date: Q4 2008
Developer: NCSoft
Links:
Official site
Preorder Aion

Innovation and features

So, which game brings most fresh concepts to the MMORPG market, and which one gives the player the most options on how to spend their play time? The comparison might not be fair due to the fact that there's not equal amount of information available on these games (Age of Conan's release being just around the corner), but let's do this anyway. I'll outline the most important points of each game - the ones that really sets them apart others, the ones that no other MMORPG has.

Age of Conan:

  • FFA PvP with siege system (similar systems done before in some MMORPGs)
  • "Real Combat" system
  • Mounted Combat
  • Spellweaving
  • Realistic DirectX10 graphics
Warhammer Online:
  • Complex RvR PvP with city siege (similar systems done before in some MMORPGs)
  • PvE quests which aid the PvP war effort
Aion:
  • RvR PvP with 2 playable and 1 NPC race (similar systems done before in some MMORPGs)
  • Both regular and aerial combat
  • Stylized DirectX9 graphics (cannot be considered revolutionary after Age of Conan's DX10 debut, but still better than majority of other MMORPGs)
Now there's obviously more information available about Age of Conan than the other two, but I believe it offers the most innovative, exciting new features. WAR is going with the "tried and working" stuff - which isn't a bad thing at all - but lacks anything really revolutionary. Here's how I would line up the games depending on how much innovation they bring.
Game features and innovation:

1. Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures
2. Aion: Tower of Eternity
3. Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning

Popularity

Let's see how popular the games are right now. First of all, you need to have in mind that Warhammer world already has a lot of fans; there are tabletop games, a PC game and more stuff based on the Warhammer universe that guarantee the new Warhammer Online MMORPG a big fanbase right from the beginning. Age of Conan is based on Conan novels by Robert E. Howard which don't have a following (at least not one that I know of), and Aion is an original setting, so no help there.

First of all, let's take a look at Google Trends: these show how many users searched for that particular query over a period of time.

WAR vs AoC:


WAR vs AoC

Interesting results here. People obviously search for Warhammer Online more, which shows a bigger interest in the game; however, Age of Conan takes over in a spike of searches, as it gets closer to release. It is obviously more often talked about right now, but it will probably be the same with WAR, and later Aion as each game gets closer to their respective launch.

WAR vs Aion:

WAR vs Aion

AoC vs Aion:

AoC vs AoC

Warhammer Online clearly overcomes Aion in number of searches, while AoC manages to take a real lead only in 2008.

Of course, number of searches is a pretty inaccurate way to determine the number of fans; there's also the amount of fansites, coverage by game portals and things like that which I took into account when making the following list. For example, IGN has portals for WAR and AoC but not for Aion. I also looked at how often the games I mentioned online, both by using Google Trends "News Coverage" and simply by doing a Google search and looking at how many results does it return.

Popularity:

1.
Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning
2. Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures
3. Aion: Tower of Eternity
As for potential subscribers, I'd predict WAR getting the most at it's launch, winning the most of the WoW players over as compared to AoC and Aion (since it's most similar), but by no means being a "WoW killer". It should also appeal to PvPers, and be accessible to more users because of lower system requirements.

Aion should eventually become extremely popular as well, if the success of Lineage and Lineage 2 is any indication (here's April 2008 info for MMOGs by market share; both Lineages are still alive and kicking). There's definitely demand for MMOs like these, and Aion will deliver some sexy new stuff like beautiful graphics and winged demigods as characters. Mmm.

Age of Conan is the biggest question out of the three, I think. The system requirements are probably highest out of the three MMOs reviewed here, and it offers many new and yet untried features. No doubt it has it's followers, but just how well it will do in terms of subscription count?

Comparison


Do you like tables? Cause... I do.


Age of Conan: Hyborian AdventuresWarhammer Online: Age of ReckoningAion: Tower of Eternity
SettingBased on Conan novels by Robert E. Howard (and some other Conan sources)Based on Warhammer Fantasy worldOriginal
GraphicsDreamworld engine (DirectX9 and 10 supported)Updated DaoC engine (DirectX9)CRYtek engine (DirectX9)
ContentFFA PvP, PvE (including raids)RvR PvP, PvERvR PvP, PvE (including something like raids)
Art style:RealisticStylized (Warhammer look, with exaggerated features)Stylized (High fantasy, Asian style characters and art – think Guild Wars, Lineage 2)
WorldZoned (with loading screens)SeamlessZoned (with loading screens)

Conclusion

All of the three games I wrote about in this post have something different and exciting to offer for the players. The MMORPG market has evolved: we have casual MMOs, hardcore MMOs, PvE or PvP MMOs, and so on - the MMO games have become distinct enough to attract different kinds of players. If these three games will be polished and complete enough at launch, they will all get a share of the market, and the "best" game will be the one you like most, be it Age of Conan with it's realistic and gritty world, Warhammer with the constant war, or Aion where you can play as a mighty, winged demigod.

I hope you enjoyed the read; remember that it's merely my opinion, and feel free to critique.

9 comments:

Droniac said...

Nice overview, you obviously put a lot of work in. Personally I'm liking the Age of Conan open beta quite a bit.

The list does leave out a few major MMO releases for this year. One would be The Chronicles of Spellborn, which offers a very unique setting/design & lots of unique features. I think it might just pick up more subs than either Warhammer or Aion if they do things right. Another is Jumpgate Evolution which, with a bit of luck, might just grab some attention this time around and might just attract the former Earth&Beyond crowd which would seriously help sub-counts.

They might not seem like huge titles, but if Aion is listed then these two should be mentioned too. I do expect Aion (and AoC) to do better than Warhammer, but it's definitely not hyped up as much as AoC or Warhammer.

P├ętur Hinrik said...

Warhammer isn't entirely seamless. Certain Zones are split up, and there are instances.
Other than that, excellent work.

Ben said...

do you mean farcry when you referenced the crytek engine?
or do you mean crysis?

there's a big functionality and graphical difference

Andrew said...

It's Crytek 1 engine, so FarCry. I'm pretty sure Crysis uses Crytek 2, but Aion doesn't.

Bildo said...

Not to hijack a post, but I just posted a LONG in depth beta review, if you want to read it Andrew.

http://bildos.blogspot.com/2008/05/bildos-age-of-conan-beta-review-long.html

Andrew said...

Sure do, seeing how I wasn't ever in beta (heh). Thanks!

Mac said...

Warhammer Wins it all, as you most likely know AoC was a COMPLETE Failure to most, but since Preview weekend and all Warhammer kicks everyone's Ass, and to me its better than WoW

Anonymous said...

Theres a good one coming out soon called blade and soul from the aion guys. www.mybladeandsoul.com tells you all about it!

Anonymous said...

Too bad Aion was delayed, I always thought it was the most promising of the three.

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