You knew it was coming — and here it is! 2011 Flushie awards doled out to MMOs themselves!
Best Launch: RIFT
Even with the huge amount of interest that Trion Worlds’ freshman title produced, the team got the headstart and launch off with nary a hitch (unless you count the quickly vanishing queues). The game worked on Day One and most everyone who wanted to got in. Considering the numbers of people involved, it was widely hailed as one of the best launches MMOdom has ever seen, and I agree.
Best Expansion: Rise of Isengard
To be fair, there really weren’t a lot of expansions this year in MMOs, and I predict that 2012 will be even sparser. That said, LOTRO’s Rise of Isengard takes the award by virtue of a sizable expansion to the game’s landscape, improvements upon the game’s storytelling techniques, and a shift to one of the series’ most iconic locales, the tower of Orthanc.
Best New MMO: Star Wars: The Old Republic
It may only be out mere days at this point, but already SWTOR has proven itself as a mighty storytelling machine with polished MMO mechanics and a lovely Star Wars veneer. I’d say that, more or less, this game has lived up to the hype that BioWare’s put out for years at this point. Love it or hate it, we’ve just witnessed the birth of an MMO juggernaut, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since…
Biggest Personal Project: Getting 20 Hall of Monuments points in Guild Wars
I know, it’s kind of sad — only 20 points? Why is that a big deal? Yet it kind of was for me, since I spent the better part of a year, off and on, playing Guild Wars to build up 20 HoM points so I could save up some goodies for Guild Wars 2. In the process I met a truly awesome guild, learned a ton about the game, and realized that as pretty as Guild Wars is, I’m definitely glad that there’s a sequel coming out so I don’t have to play it any more.
Promising Contender: WildStar
NCsoft’s Carbine Studios burst on the scene this summer with an instantly captivating title: WildStar. With a fun trailer, gorgeous art style, and a promise to allow us to pursue a variety of different playstyle “paths,” WildStar is definitely on my radar and probably will remain so for a while to come.
Most Improved: RIFT
Even after its major launch, Trion didn’t sit back and coast for a while; instead, the studio began an intense rollout of major updates to the game on a bi-monthly basis, pumping out feature after feature, world event after world event, and responding to player concerns at such a rapid pace that it immediately put the rest of the field to shame. While RIFT may no longer be the new kid on the block, it is the most improved game in 2011 and worthy of a looksee if you haven’t already.
Biggest Surprise: Star Wars Galaxies’ closure
As SWTOR’s release came near, I wondered more than once what it would be like to have two (radically different) Star Wars MMOs out there. I needn’t have bothered; SOE abruptly announced that it wasn’t/couldn’t fight to extend the Star Wars license for SWG and that the game would shut down right when SWTOR started up. It wasn’t the first MMO closure but it seems like the biggest to date — and perhaps the first to happen due to legal entanglements instead of declining subscriptions.
Best F2P Switch: Fallen Earth
There were more F2P transitions this year than you could shake a stick at, yet I was most pleased to see Fallen Earth take the leap. Not only is this a terrific, underrated game deserving of a much wider audience, but GamersFirst created one of the most generous F2P models I’ve ever seen. Players can experience the entire game free of charge without any content walls or pay-to-win foolishness.
Worst Idea: Final Fantasy XIV announces a subscription restart
After one of the worst major launched MMOs in history, Square-Enix were so fearful of players deserting that they fired the team and allowed everyone to stay in the game with no subscription cost for over a year while they reorganized and retooled the title. Which is great, don’t misunderstand. The bad idea is that starting in 2012, the company will restart subscriptions. And no matter how good the game is now, I don’t foresee a good outcome of going from F2P to subscriptions.
Sleeper Hit: Glitch
Good things happen when you least expect them, and I don’t think anyone expected Glitch. The browser-based 2D non-combat MMO became an overnight sensation in the community due to its whimsical humor, community building, and crafting focus. While it went back into beta for more tweaks (which is… odd), Glitch nevertheless proved that you don’t have to be a huge AAA MMO to steal headlines.