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The Digital Continuum: Fantasy's upcoming vacation

Kyle Horner

Is the MMO fantasy genre finally ready to relax and take its long overdue vacation? It does seem to be the case, as nearly all of the highly anticipated titles in the coming years are exceptionally not high fantasy or even really general fantasy. So while the sun is setting on the age of fantasy, a new dawn appears to be rising elsewhere. With it comes a tidal wave of new genres into the industry, some new and others a bit more familiar. Don't believe or agree with me? Keep reading and maybe you'll change your mind.

I just a few short years we're going to go from a couple worthwhile non-fantasy MMOs to around five or more tapping our shoulders for attention, and they'll very likely deserve it too. Right now I'd only consider City of Heroes and EVE Online to be non-fantasy MMOs that can stack up against some of the best fantasy titles on the market, in terms of their overall experience. However, I've got a lot of hope for projects-in-progress like Champions Online, Jumpgate Evolution, Star Trek Online, DC Universe Online, All Points Bulletin, The Agency and of course Star Wars: The Old Republic. I don't think that last one is coming out within two-to-three years, although I'd love for that to be true.

The only fantasy MMO left standing on the up-and-coming list of highly anticipated titles is Guild Wars 2, which I think will do fine because of its fan base and particularly unique non-subscription business model. But we have for the first time in this industry a looming tidal wave of fresh settings. Well, fresh in comparison to what we've seen for the past ten-plus years. In any case, it's extremely exciting when you stop and fully consider this proposition.

It may seem like I'm trying to joyously dance upon the corpse of the fantasy genre. I'm happy for this changing of the status quo not because I think sci-fi should reign dominate over all upcoming titles, but because it means MMOs could finally really come into their own. It's only a matter of time until we could be looking forward to a truly high-quality steampunk world, or even something so esoteric it can't be fully described without more than two modifiers. Some day we could all be discussing an upcoming "Macabre Medieval-themed Superhero MMORPG" or whatever wild concept gets big backing. Beyond even that, there'll be room for exotic fantasy settings like World of Darkness which has been described as fantasy-meets-gothic-punk on many occasions. This is about a chance for the industry to spread its wings, and for MMO devs to get the chance to go hog-wild with settings and worlds.

So let's welcome the end to high fantasy for a while, it's not as though it'll ever be gone forever. We can all agree the genre is in need of a vacation; of a recharging. The constant barrage of bright, colorful and whimsical worlds that try to sweep us away to a magical fairytale land isn't leaving us, but rather it's changing -- evolving. The bright optimism will remain, but instead we could find it while exploring new worlds and seeking out new life. Developers will certainly continue to try and sweep us into a far-away land, only now it's to a world where spies battle spies and cops chase robbers. I'm ready to be amazed by a barrage of fresher experiences, wilder worlds. And really, aren't most of us by now?

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