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The Digital Continuum: Five MMOs to watch out for in 2009

Kyle Horner

Out of all the games coming out or possibly being announced in the coming year, which are the ones everyone should train their eye on? What games -- or announcements -- should be watched more closely than others, and why? These are the questions that I'll do my best to answer in this week's The Digital Continuum. Of course, I'll also probably say some crazy things that may or may not come true, as per my usual agenda. So it's a win-win for everyone involved!

Champions Online

It's been a long time since a new superhero MMO made it to market, and Champions Online will most definitely be the first of the upcoming tights-themed titles released, which will give them an edge to exploit. Cryptic knows they need to steal the limelight with this game, meaning that they need to hook players as hard and as fast as they can. The more players are invested in their superheroes, the harder it's going to be for competitors to pull people away permanently. Although the lack of villains at launch could mean a little trouble, as there's definitely a group of players who want to be baddies.

City of Heroes could've played the very same "player attachment" card a year or two ago, but the game is old enough at this point that a subscriber vacuum effect in favor of Champions Online is entirely feasible. This, combined with CO being out first, means Cryptic has a lot on the line with its first post-NCsoft title to hit the market. Hopefully the presssure allows them to make the very best game they could possibly make, because of course, we'll all benifit from it in the end.

City of Heroes 2

Another reason why Cryptic needs to step up their game is because I'm almost certain that NCsoft will announce the sequel to City of Heroes around the same time that Champions Online launches. There's obviously nothing to know about the sequel, but if NCsoft is serious about leveraging their old player-base, then they'd better make sure to do something for CoH1 players going into CoH2. Beyond that, it's all about getting fresh blood into the new game. There's probably a lot of pressure to exceed the first title's subscriber numbers.

Just exactly how does NCsoft do that? Well, I think in two ways: CoH2 will likely run on the same engine that Aion is on, which should easily make it the most visually impressive superhero title. This is of course a double-edged sword of they make the system requirements too high. However, assuming they do it right, CoH2 could look hotter than any summer blockbuster actress in cut-off jean shorts.

Secondly, NCsoft really needs to allow CoH1 players to bring over their superheros/villains into the new game in an important way that doesn't break the game. That's a tough problem, but it's theirs to figure out. Beyond this, so long as the game is some kind of evolution of the first and isn't mechanically broken, NCsoft stands a really good chance at capturing a lot of the superhero market.

Jumpgate Evolution

I've said it before in The Digital Continuum, and I'll say it again: Any sci-fi fan worth their geeky-ness should have a vested interest in Jumpgate Evolution and its success. Obviously the biggest reason is because the essential mechanics of flying around and shooting stuff in real-time in space are already completely satisfying. So while we don't know how things like crafting, PvP and leveling will play out just yet, we can assume a better-rather-than-worse scenario.

In addition to a solid mechanical foundation, the game's visuals are pretty mind-blowing for something that's being developed with the intention of compatibility on low-end computers. So even in a worst-case scenario, Jumpgate Evolution should turn out to be a fairly decent game which would only get better over time via content updates.

Also, the success of any science fiction game is a boon to others. Games like Blackstar or Star Trek Online will only seen a boost in player interest if other titles are successful. Think of it as the "WoW Effect" if you want: Or in other words, a rising tide lifts all ships.

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