Posted in Torchlight

Torchlight II: The Torchening

Level 12 in Torchlight II, and I am plundering every dungeon that I can find. My trust healing bot and bulldog are by my side, and in my hands is a cannon that I apparently liberated from the deck of a ship of war. Evildoers beware, for I am literally gunning for you!

Level 13, and I’m starting to look pretty funky. I know this is as far from a fresh and revolutionary opinion as there can be, but I am so impressed how polished and fun Torchlight II is. Everything simply *works* in this game, and the more I play it, the more I am glowering at Torchlight III for becoming the massive failure that it is today.

Quick: Can you name an ARPG — or MMO or CRPG or JRPG — that doesn’t have giant spiders tucked somewhere inside of it? Gotta have that giant spider level! I anticipate this game will have at least five of them.

That got a snort of genuine laughter from me. My dog willingly hopped into the bucket, but no ride was to be had.

Level 21 and my build is coming along swimmingly. I’ve got a healingbot and gunbot, spider mines, an automatic shield, some additional interior armor, and my trusty lucky magic-finding shotgun. I feel like a steampunk tank rolling through dungeons, which is a blast.

Soon thereafter I beat the final boss of Act I and moved into Act II — officially the furthest I’ve ever been in Torchlight II! This means I’m now 25% the way through the game, so… groovy. I am making progress. It’s been a long, long time since I ever finished an ARPG, so I’m gunning for that moment.

Posted in Torchlight

Torchlight II is the Diablo IV antidote

I’m sure that I’m not the only one who’s feeling the ARPG itch right now with Diablo IV on the horizon. I’m still on the fence as to whether or not I’ll get it — $70 is a big asking price for my entertainment wallet right now — so I went looking for cheaper alternatives to scratch what will probably be more of a temporary itch.

Diablo III was a possibility, although my current account doesn’t have it. I’m genuinely surprised Blizzard hasn’t discounted it in the lead-up to the sequel, but I guess I could get it or Diablo II for $20 each. Cheaper than that, however, was looking at free options that I have access to. Grim Dawn is always there, as is Path of Exile, but I thought I’d give Torchlight II another try. The last time I jacked up the difficulty too high, so this time I’m going on normal, please-don’t-hurt-me-too-much mode.

And it’s been pretty great! As an older title, it runs silky smooth and has pretty much all I want out of an ARPG: loot, WoW-style graphics, helpful pets, simple quests, good feedback. The lighter tone is more up my alley, too. I’m rocking an Engineer with a cannon and bot pets (of course).

It’s become a perfect lunchtime diversion. Nothing too taxing on my mind, nor on my hand — I pretty much just play with a mouse, which feels so weird after always having a hand on the keyboard for MMOs. I can jump in, clear out an area or dungeon, get some loot, and exit out. I’m not putting any pressure on myself to complete it, but I do think that’d be pretty cool. Eventually.

It really does feel like the counter-agent to Diablo IV’s grimdark universe. Torchlight’s always had a bit of whimsy and cheek about it, and here I fight One-Eyed Willy (a pirate, of course) or a big frankenstein mob who “loves his stuffy.” Man, it’s too bad we never got a proper Torchlight MMO or a good Torchlight III. The franchise really came off the wheels there, didn’t it.

How cool would it be to go on an ARPG kick this summer? I could make it a thing, even, if this proves to be a groove. There’s D3, D4, Path of Exile, Grim Dawn, that Last Epoch game everyone won’t stop pushing on me, Wolcen, that Warhammer 40K one, maybe I could finally beat Dungeon Siege, Titan Quest, Lost Ark, Undecember… there are certainly a lot out there. But maybe that’s putting the cart before the horse, as it were. Let’s see how T2: Looting Day turns out.

Posted in Magic Legends, Torchlight

Torchlight III and Magic Legends shows how early access can bite you in the butt

If you didn’t catch the news last week, Cryptic announced that Magic Legends — which hasn’t even officially launched yet — is shutting down on Halloween, of all days. For the unfamiliar, this was the studio’s newest title which drew upon the popular Magic the Gathering franchise and adapted it into a Diablo-style online RPG.

It’s the second blow to parent company Perfect World, which is still wiping copious amounts of egg off its face from Torchlight III, another online ARPG that debuted to a lackluster response, meandered about, and eventually jettisoned its entire developer.

It’s also shocking for Cryptic, which has been riding high on Neverwinter and Star Trek Online for years. We’ve never seen Cryptic fail this quickly this badly. The thing was, having played Magic Legends and speaking to many who also did, it wasn’t a terrible game. There was a lot of potential here and even the groundwork for a cult following. But it was messy, buggy, and devoid of meaningful content when it came out in early access, and not even the Magic IP could rope in the crowds it needed for long-term success.

Magic Legends (and Torchlight III) are the latest examples of how badly early access can go for a game. Sure, it gets a whole lot of excitement and press on Day One, but by Day Two, the playerbase realizes that they’re engaging with a half-baked game that needs a whole lot more work — and they’re not going to stick around to see it get finished. There’s too many other options, both current and upcoming, that is beckoning for attention.

The only early access games that I see really making it are the ones that come out already pretty much ready to go. They have the essentials down and they’re fun and not frustrating from the get-go. Games like RimWorld, Stardew Valley, and Valheim all land in this far more rare category.

“Early access” is not a magical talisman that guarantees a second chance down the road. As always, you only get one first impression, and now more than ever, it’s vital that it’s a great one — or you might as well pack it in. It feels like such a waste that Magic Legends and Torchlight III and other “had potential but failed to deliver” early access games are tossed out too soon to be chewed up and abandoned.

Posted in Retro Gaming, Torchlight

Torchlight II: I’ve got a bone to pick with you

(This is part of my journey going playing through 2012’s Torchlight II. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

As my Outlander pushes her way slowly through another dungeon called the Bone Gallery, I make a great discovery: a summon skeleton scroll. Apparently, Torchlight II lets any classes learn spell scrolls if they find them, meaning that I now can call forth my own skelly once per minute. I’m going to need it, too, because I’ve died three times in this dungeon already. Not sure if I regret that veteran difficulty level yet…

I did get an uber-powerful bow with tons of stats, so even though I don’t want to specialize in archery, I’m going with it for now for the DPS. I also invested a point in an ability that has a chance to convert a vanquished foe into a spectral bat. I want *all* the minions!

Really, the only thing that’s disappointed me so far is that you can only respec the last three points you spent in your skill tree. That stinks, especially when you sink points into abilities you don’t want to use later on. Feels wasted. Apparently I’m late to the party on this complaint, so I’ll move on.

Allegedly there’s a story here in Torchlight II, but I’ve yet to meet an ARPG that has an interesting story of any degree. And YES, Legend of Zelda, I’m including you in that statement. Really, this is about running around and firing wildly yet responsibly. Such as against this armored gorilla dude who has achieved the rank of general solely through the act of growing huge.

One of the hallmarks of these kinds of games is a constantly chaotic battleground. Stuff’s always going on in T2, and I’m almost never ready for it. I saw this guy on an altar and clicked on him, thinking, “hey, reward!’ and before I knew it, I had summoned this mini-boss who was chucking slugs at me left and right. Ain’t no adventuring school that can prep you for that.

I liked this bit: In an enemy camp, there are these flammable huts. When I set them on fire, two bandits came rolling out of the front door to escape the flames.

I’ll tell you, there’s one thing I’ve learned to do: Make a temporary waypoint right outside of any dungeon I’m about to enter. Because when I die — and I most assuredly will die — having that fast travel back to the start beats a long, long run from town or the nearest permanent waypoint.

Postscript: So after writing this post, I effectively stalled out on Torchlight II. The higher difficulty level made this a bit of a slog and I kept thinking I might just restart as a different class. But in the end, while I did enjoy T2, I felt like I wasn’t going to have much more interesting things to write about it for this series and should move on. Good game, though!

Posted in Retro Gaming, Torchlight

Torchlight II: Light ’em up, boys

(This is part of my journey going playing through 2012’s Torchlight II. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

While I’m sure that none of you care very much about this, the pattern of retro games that I play for this series matters a lot to my temperament. If I do too many of similar-genre games in a row — adventure or RPG or what have you — it starts to drag me down. I need variety! I need a palette cleanser! I need… an ARPG I’ve never played before!

Thus, Torchlight II.

The well-received follow-up to Torchlight, a colorful Diablo clone that came out in 2009, the sequel improved the formula across the board. It was so well-liked, in fact, that it’s still being ported to various consoles and has more popularity around it than the newly released Torchlight III. So why not give it a whirl?

I’m going with an Outlander for this playthrough, because two guns is cool. Or so movies told me. I also picked a bulldog as a pet and veteran difficulty.

From the get-go, I get the feeling that there’s going to be a very low learning curve to Torchlight II. It’s all quite familiar with Diablo controls and MMO questing. I’m down for that!

There isn’t much ado before getting right into a questing area, which has that stylized World of Warcraft feel to it as I go about killing, looting, and killing some more. I really took a shine to the Outlander’s glaives, and I’m thinking about specializing in them. I like how they rip through targets and bounce around, spreading poison everywhere. Kind of like a bad Twitter thread.

On veteran difficulty, TII doesn’t mess around. I wasn’t paying attention during one pack of mobs and got steamrolled very quickly. I’m a little concerned that I might not have picked the most durable class for this, but I guess I can always pump up her dodge and hope for the best.

Pictured here: My first dungeon dive! I love that my dog is a pretty good fighter (with his own gear). That helps from getting too overwhelmed by mobs.

Oof, seriously, this is not an easy go, even on a first dungeon. Lots of mobs, very hard-hitting, and to make matters worse, they’re immune to my poison. Dodge, don’t fail me now!

What I’ve always loved about the Torchlight franchise is that it’s so intuitive and contains a lot of quality-of-life features. My favorite is the pet, which not only serves as an attack companion, but can be sent back to town to sell stuff — AND to buy potions. I already had to send Pixel to grab me more health pots, because I was not going to make it in here without them.

Dungeon done, I worked my way through the next area while hitting level 6. It was about here that I started to get better gear and some more interesting skill tree options. I experimented with full auto shot and found it really great — particularly for the pushback, which helped with bosses. The repeated vocal warnings that I was low on mana annoyed me… at least until I found out that you can disable those. Thanks, Torchlight II!

Killing a phase beast sent me into a special stage that featured a semi-apparent maze across a pond. Who doesn’t love a good maze in an RPG? Well, other than me, of course.

While I’m going to either stick with twin pistols or a shotgun, I have to say that lugging around and firing a cannon is hilariously fun.

Posted in Torchlight

Torchlight 3 screams, ‘Don’t touch me — at least not yet’

What we won’t put up with for games we want to succeed, am I right? I think I would have drop-kicked Torchlight 3 to the nether recesses of my ignorance by now if I wasn’t still holding out hope that there’s a solid salvageable game in here.

First there was the downgrading from MMORPG status, then there was the horribly rocky launch, and now there’s news of a full wipe coming over a month after the early access “launch.” Above all of it are mixed reviews and a team that’s frantically working to patch the world into this before people’s patience and attention runs out.

Listen, I want Torchlight 3 to make it, I really do. And I want to play it — I even bought it a couple of weeks ago. But everything about this game is screaming “Don’t touch me! Don’t play me! At least not yet!”

I’m too old to bother with online RPGs that are still vulnerable to wipes, and it’s very disturbing that such drastic retooling has to take place to warrant such an extreme measure. I’m only going to play when I know that character persistence is as assured as can be, rather than it being on shaky ground.

I think Torchlight 3 has the potential to be a really fun bite-sized gaming session experience, and I do fancy the graphics and housing system quite a lot. And the classes and character models. There’s a LOT of personality here, which goes a long, long way in a sea of bland MMOs and too-pretty-for-life Asian titles.

But man, I do hope that Echtra Games gets its head screwed on tight, because any studio that’s making such massive changes means that it doesn’t have its core vision down pat or confidence in what it’s producing. I mean, it’s good to listen and respond to “feedback,” but I’m starting to wonder if it’s letting the players dictate development at this point.

All of that tells me that I’m wise to just keep that icon unclicked on my desktop… for now.

Posted in Torchlight, Try It Tuesday

Try-It Tuesday: Torchlight Frontiers (alpha)

One of the (few) perks of being in the gaming media is occasionally getting a key for a game that you genuinely want to try out, and this past week I was the recipient of a Torchlight Frontiers alpha code. Now normally I wouldn’t go for an alpha, but Torchlight is one of my most-anticipated games this year, and I was pretty restless due to all of the DDO/LOTRO downtime. So why not?

And for a game that’s in alpha, TF is looking pretty slick. Apart from some placeholder art in the intro, I don’t think I encountered any bugs or rough spots while playing it. As a Diablo clone, the barrier to learning it is very low — you can literally play this entire game one-handed if you want, especially if you have a gaming mouse. Click to move, click to attack, reap rewards, repeat.

There were only two classes/races on hand, so I went with the steampunk robot because IT IS A STEAMPUNK ROBOT. That has a chest cannon. And can fire a blanket of burning coals. And has a pet llama.

As I said, everything is very slick here. It looks great, especially if you like the vibrant cartoon color style that this series is well known for, and I couldn’t help but being charmed by all of the character and mob animations. Watching little gobbos crawl in from a rock face or jump out of a tent felt a lot more natural than just seeing a host of mobs fading into existence.

Sure, it’s heavily instanced — although there are public areas and hubs — and it’s very much a combat clicker at the core. But the wardrobe and housing system give me hope for something beyond that. Speaking of housing, I love the fact that the game gave me a fort within the first 10 minutes. It felt like a cross between WoW’s garrisons and WildStar’s housing plot, in terms of both being able to decorate it and having a lot of functional workstations lying around. There’s also a lot of crafting in the game, although I haven’t quite gotten into that yet.

The first dungeon I ran was a total cakewalk — an enjoyable one, but a cakewalk nonetheless — until I got to the boss. Then I had to sit up and actually try hard, because his high health bar, attacks, and the ability to raise mobs from the dead kept me dancing around and hitting my potions on cooldown while trying to win the day. Which I did, because I’m awesome. Yay Syp, you beat a level 1 dungeon. Songs will be sung in your honor until the end of time.

All in all, the past weekend in TF has reassured me that this is going to be a fun time waster whenever it comes out this year. I’m looking forward to it more than ever now, but as I am wont to do, now that I satisfied my curiosity I won’t touch it until release. Which I hope won’t be too, too long!

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Online, Guild Wars, Lord of the Rings Online, RIFT, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Torchlight

Optimus PAX Prime 2010

Up at 3:30am.  Showered and at the airport by 4:45.  On board a plane heading from Seattle to Detroit at 6:00.  Cross three time zones and home a handful of hours later.

PAX Prime 2010, for me, was over a day before the event ended, mostly thanks to the cost of an airline ticket coming back Sunday vs. Monday, but that’s okay.  I had a genuinely great time and don’t regret a thing.  Well, I do have a few regrets, but they’re mostly the “Why didn’t you get a Fallout New Vegas t-shirt on Friday before they were all out you moron???” variety.

I have to admit that I wasn’t really that excited to go to PAX.  Logically, I should’ve been — a fun convention, a personal vacation away from the home, being part of the media, seeing cool games, etc.  But I just wasn’t.  I think I’ve been swimming through so much stress lately that PAX just seemed like same stuff in a different location.  Happily, it turned out to be an uplifting weekend, although it wasn’t as soul-rocking as I think it was for others.

What I didn’t get to see/do

As a gaming convention, PAX is simply huge.  There’s no way you can do everything, because so much overlaps.  There’s the exhibition hall, the many panels, tabletop gaming, shopping, parties, contests, and so on.  Because I was there to represent Massively, my main goal was to hit all of the interviews I had scheduled, which meant everything else went on the backburner.  If I got to them, great; if not, that’s how it goes.

So I didn’t get to see about 60% of the games on the showroom floor — some I simply wasn’t interested in, and some had lines so long that it wasn’t worth the wait (like Dragon Age 2 or the laughably guarded Duke Nuke ‘Em Forever).  I didn’t play any TERA, Aion, FFXIV or LEGO Universe (although I got a beta key for the last one).  I only hit one panel, and had little time to go off and really explore.

The convention atmosphere

I wouldn’t go so far to say that PAX is gaming nirvana, but it is pretty darn close.  It was clean, well-organized and everyone had a very pleasant attitude.  I found that the developers were friendly to the point of insanity, especially considering how tired they were standing in the same spot for three days talking about the same thing over and over.  There were gamers from all walks of life and all types of games, from the Xbox freaks to us MMO geeks.

Having a media badge was… kind cool, I guess?  The print on the badge was so small that nobody knew who you represented unless you told them, and it didn’t really grant you any special privileges other than the occasional dev who would go out of their way to shower you with info and swag.

Speaking of swag, I got more at PAX than any convention I’ve ever attended.  Seriously, it was crazy.  Not every company was handing out stuff, but a lot were, and I ended up with eight t-shirts, tons of buttons, tons of stickers, mints, shampoo, bacon salt (!), lanyards, an inflatable sword, beta keys out the wazoo, comics, a hat, a backpack, Magic decks, other card decks, and so on.  It was easy to fall victim to swag greed, indeed.  My wife appreciates all of the pens I picked up, as well as the signed zombie photo from Plants vs. Zombies.

There were quite a few great costumes, although not as many as I saw at GenCon.  Booth babes were present but not omnipresent — I generally felt embarrassed when I saw how others reacted when they came inside their sphere of influence.

Guild Wars 2 and The Old Republic

I told myself that if I got to play Guild Wars 2 and The Old Republic at PAX, I’d go home a happy man.  I am a happy man today, my friends.

ArenaNet — possibly because they’re already based in Seattle — had the largest presence at the show, bar none.  They had dozens and dozens of their staff roaming the place, a billboard truck circling the block, free (awesome) t-shirts and bandanas to hand out, several panels, and one of the most popular demos on the floor.  They were a very gracious company as well: I was able to get into a nifty designing dynamic events panel (where the smallish audience helped to design an event that will go into the live game) and their Saturday night party.

The one downside of it all was that they had probably 12 or so demo machines on the floor and gave everyone a whopping 40 minutes to play.  Now, you can’t complain about that when you’re playing it, but it created huge, huuuuge lines and not just a few people were irked how long it took to get your hands on GW2.  I myself stood in line three times — the first two times I had to leave before getting to play it due to appointments — spending a couple hours waiting.

That aside, what I saw in GW2 met my expectations, and I have to say that if that little piece of the game is representative of the whole, we’re in for a great ride.  It played smoothly, it was beautiful, and I loved swapping weapons and environmental objects to see how my skill bar would change.  I played a human necromancer and went through the beginning area.  Lots of fun.

TOR’s booth wasn’t as big as some of BioWare’s other convention booths, but it was decent and quite popular.  That demo had a 15-minute limit, and I only got to play once, experiencing the trooper.  As with GW2, TOR just “feels” right, and that’s probably the most important thing to me.  The animation and movement wasn’t quite on spec, but everything else — the sound, weapon effects, combat flow, quest system, conversations, cinematics — clicked together.  It’s not WoW — I’m tired of that comparison — but it is a MMO, and a really well-done one at that.  I could fire grenades at robots all day long.

Surprise of the convention: Rift

When we were handed out assignments for interviews, I didn’t think anything about doing the Rift one.  I feared — and still do — that the game is somewhat generic-sounding in a huge field of generic-sounding fantasy MMOs, and I had no strong preconceptions about it.  But after spending time with the devs and playing an hour or so, I pledged my allegiance to Rift.  Well, at least I gave it a couple enthusiastic thumbs-up.

I’m still not so sure that the rift events themselves will be as dynamic and world-changing as the devs claim — I got the feeling that it will degenerate into a meaningless back-and-forth tug of war like Warhammer’s RvR zones — the idea is intriguing.  Top that with a visually sumptuous art style and a seriously awesome character building system, and I might actually have to play this when it goes live.

The Rest

Although nothing at the Turbine booth was new, it was terrific chatting with the devs and CMs, and I’m glad that both DDO and LOTRO had a nice slice of floor space.  Turbine also rocked the swag — they were handing out buttons (for all of the games’ classes), autographed posters, free Turbine point cards, the LOTRO soundtrack, and even the One Ring on a necklace that I gave to my wife.

Gazillion had a cool booth, showing off both LEGO Universe and Super Hero Squad Online.  SHSO isn’t anything deep — it’s very kiddyish in play — but I suspect that us older folks might warm up to the CCG aspect of the title.  They also had a physical card tournament there, and were handing out packs left and right.

Torchlight II looks nice, although I still wish it was the MMO (multiplayer is a nice step in that direction).  Lots of Rock Band/Guitar Hero spinoffs were present.  People went nuts over the Red vs. Blue exhibit, although I never got into all that (or Halo for that matter), so I just avoided that general area.

Not all booths were equal in terms of design, and a few were just really impressive:

  • Bethesda had an awesome post-apocalyptic vibe going on for theirs, with a dinosaur statue promoting New Vegas
  • At the center of Rift’s booth dangled a huge greed pod-thing that looked utterly alien
  • TRON’s booth looked futuristically cool

All in all, it was an enjoyable convention, and I’ll definitely be returning next year!

Posted in Aion, Champions Online, Dungeon Runners, Dungeons & Dragons Online, Fallen Earth, Flushies, Guild Wars, Lord of the Rings Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Tabula Rasa, Torchlight, World of Warcraft

Presenting the 2009 Flushies!

Hey, if one of the perks of writing a blog is that you can arbitrarily create an award show with precisely one judge who hands out shinies from above, then you’d be a fool not to take advantage of that, right?  Right?  So I now present to you the 2009 Flushies, Bio Break’s first annual award show to whatever I remembered of the year previous.

Also, there are toilets.  We have a theme to uphold.

Sleeper Hit of the Year – Fallen Earth

If you told me back at the beginning of 2009 that I’d be playing this unheard-of MMO — and more than just playing it, raving about it and loving it to pieces — I would have smacked you silly with a smelly fish.  Yes, I keep smelly fish around just for that purpose.  But in one of the most delightful surprises of my MMO career, Fallen Earth slammed through my monitor and knocked me breathless.  Whether it be the post-apocalyptic setting, the bizarre sense of humor, the awesome dev team or the sum of its parts, I’m still recovering.

Innovation of the Year – LOTRO’s Skirmish System

Although I was only with LOTRO for a few months this year, I enjoyed my stay (but curse that North Downs duldrum!) and am continually rooting for this solid title.  Their mini-expansion, Siege of Mirkwood, unleashed a brand-new feature that’s already having other games lusting after it — the Skirmish system.  A fast-paced customizable instance experience, skirmishes let you hop into a quick battle either solo, in a small group or in a raid, and give you a companion character to equip and train for these encounters.

Flash in the Pan Award – [tie] Aion and Champions Online

While their settings, history or gameplay couldn’t be more different, both Aion and Champions shared a couple of eerie similarities.  Both released in September after roaring amounts of anticipation, both were praised for their looks and accessible gameplay, and both were dropped from the public consciousness (as well as several subscriber’s budgets) by mid-October or so.  Once the honeymoon ended, judgment hit these two titles hard, and both were found lacking of substance and long-term interest.

Fall From Grace Award – Warhammer Online

As much as Fallen Earth brought a smile to my face, the saga of Warhammer Online saddened my heart.  By January 2009, WAR was still fun and we were holding out for future greatness — greatness that never seemed to come.  2009 hit WAR hard, with layoffs after layoffs at Mythic, subscriber defections, and a much-hyped Land of the Dead “expansion” that didn’t do much to reverse WAR’s fortune.  Although they hit a couple of right notes with the unlimited trial and the Mac version, WAR’s fallen on hard times indeed.

Biggest Blog Spat – Soloers vs. Groupers

When you write or read blogs long enough, you see recurring themes that never quite get satisfied and/or agreed upon pop up over and over again.  Out of these percolating topics, the biggest blog spat I saw in 2009 was the intense debate between MMO soloers (i.e. those who prefer to spend most, but not always all, of their time in game soloing and appreciate titles that accomidate that) and MMO groupers (i.e. those who feel that multiplayer games should always favor, encourage and design for grouping).  My personal bit on this topic was here, but passions flared bright and hot for a good two-week period before all calmed down and we started jawing about why you might play a character of the opposite gender instead.

Renovation of the Year – Dungeons & Dragons Eberron Unlimited

Seriously, who thought we would not only be talking about DDO at great lengths this year, but actually praising a game that most expected to be on the way out the door?  Not me, that’s for sure —  but DDO’s renovation as “Eberron Unlimited” has injected a huge amount of new interest in the title, and proved that a MMO can switch from subscriber to F2P and make it work.

Trend of the Year – Free-to-Play/Freemium

Microtransactions, MMO stores, Turbine Points, Cryptic Points, Free-to-Play, Freemium and more were all the rage around the virtual water coolers this year, as several titles started exploring F2P options, giving players an unprecedented amount of variety and depth for no money down.  And the good news for both sides is that this is trending well for companies with making money (if they hook you, your wallet will come) and for players on a tight budget.

Most Improved Award – World of Warcraft

It wasn’t the best of years for WoW — the China syndrome hurt Blizzard in the pocketbooks — but the MMO-that-could showed that it wasn’t afraid of reinventing itself with the upcoming Cataclysm, nor of continually expanding the game to make it more accessible and attractive to a broad field of players, with features such as their acclaimed Dungeon Finder tool.  My history with this title might be contentious, but only because there’s still some love there, and I have to give credit where credit’s due.

Biggest Surprise – Torchlight

As action RPG fans continue to wait for the decade-in-development Diablo III, Runic Games quietly came along and stole the show with a casual Diablo clone that took their classic FATE and did it ten times better.  Bloggers and gamers almost everywhere were loving on this title, which is a good sign as they prep to transform it into a MMO of some kind in the next couple years.

Biggest Disappointment – No Guild Wars 2 Until 2011

In 2009, the silence surrounding Guild Wars 2 finally broke, as trailers and first details about this much-anticipated title poured out of ArenaNet.  But almost as soon as fans were whipped into a frenzy, the bombshell dropped — we wouldn’t be seeing this title until 2011… at the earliest.  Suddenly, 2010 became a barren wasteland of a year for many souls.

Best Hype – Star Wars: The Old Republic

Hype’s almost a dirty word for many MMO gamers, but around here, it is what it is — an acceptible and traditional part of being a fan of this genre, and even enjoyable as you anticipate a (hopefully) good game coming down the pike.  Hands-down, Star Wars: The Old Republic dominated the hype-o-meter this year, continually resurfacing to announce new features and classes, and dethroning temporary hype kings such as WoW, Champions and Star Trek Online.  TOR’s hype is a creature that’s grown beyond BioWare’s machinations — the community for this game is absolutely huge, with multiple podcasts, blogs and sites salivating over this MMO.

Most Impressive Numbers – EVE Online Tops 300K Subs

Hitting 300,000 subscribers in a MMO is a respectable number, for sure.  Hitting it after six years of constant growth is, well, almost unheard of.  So kudos to CCP, showing us how to launch and grow a small MMO into a veritable giant empire in a shade over a half decade!

In Memorandum – Matrix Online, Dungeon Runners, Tabula Rasa, Shadowbane

It wasn’t the happiest of years for all gaming communities.  Small and “niche” as they were, these MMOs received their pink slips and went into that final death spiral — some leaving too soon, some lasting far beyond what was expected.  In any case, a toast to the fallen and to players who miss their virtual homes.