Our pick for Most Improvements in an MMO for 2008 goes to NCsoft's City of Heroes & City of Villains. While only Issue 12 and Issue 13 came out this year, both were fairly hefty in terms of giving players new options on their beloved game. In Issue 12 "The Midnight Hour" we saw Powerset Proliferation; Villain Epic Archetypes; the addition of the Midnight Squad, introducing the Roman Cimeroran maps; the Hollows overhaul; and even some smaller and greatly needed things like the ability to convert three Inspirations to one of a more useful type and more character slots. Issue 13 "Power and Responsibility" added in Day Jobs for offline character progression; multiple builds for solo and group play; Pain Dominance and Shields as new powersets; Leveling Pact; SuperGroup base re-pricing, saving millions of Prestige across the board; and Merit rewards along with lots of other good stuff.
In short, it's been an awesome year for the Heroes and Villains of Paragon City, and with Issue 14 Architect planned for next year, it looks like 2009 is on track to rock, too. Hats off - and capes on - for the City of Heroes & City of Villains developers! Runner-up: Lord of the Rings Online (writeup by Dan O'Halloran)
Lord of the Rings Online has always had one main strength: immersion. Turbine recreated the lands of Middle-earth perfectly, from scowling Lobelia Sacksville-Baggins lording over the Shire in Bag End to the Fellowship stationed in the elven stronghold of Rivendell. But the class balance problems were there as well, including the lack of a true wizard class and not enough tanks.
With the launch of their first expansion, Mines of Moria, this past November, Turbine built on their strengths and shored up their weaknesses in a big way. Like, in Balrog-big way. Despite most of the expansion set underground, Moria is gorgeous and well-thought out. The caverns go so high, you can't see the ceiling and so deep you know a slip of your foot will send you tumbling into oblivion. It's not just the lore of the area the developers got right, it's the feel of the place. From the broken bridge where Gandalf fell to the waterworks that flow through the underground city. And down, deep below you know there lies a Balrog waiting for you to challenge it.
The other great leap forward LotRO took this year was in plugging a few holes in its class line-up. Since the lore of Middle-earth dictated there can only be a handful of true Wizards, Turbine avoided making a glass cannon class at launch and opted instead to give that role, more or less to the Hunter class (high ranged dps, fairly low survivability). But the cry went up from the player base that they wanted to throw lightning with the best of them, so Turbine dug into the stories of the world and came back with the Rune-keepers who use the power of ancient artifacts to harm or heal. And to keep the class playable but not overpowered, Turbine made them a top notch healer and a top notch nuker; they just can't be both at the same time. As for the tank shortage, Turbine made available the new Warden class, which uses combos to power their biggest taunts, defense and debuffs.
Between the expansive new zones and the much welcomed new classes as well as the streamlined Traits system and new Legendary Weapons system, Lord of the Rings Online is Massively's runner-up for "Most Improved in 2008."